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Thread: The Walls of the City - Snapshots from Constantinople

  1. #1
    Lt. General merrick's Avatar
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    The Walls of the City - Snapshots from Constantinople

    A long time ago, when I first started playing EUII, my imagination was caught by Byzantium (whose isn't?), and once I'd learned the ropes, my first serious game was as Byzantium. The game was never finished (most of my games aren't - they get slower and slower as my empire grows and eventually I get bored and go on to other things), but the idea stuck, and when I started to think seriously of doing an AAR, Byzantium was my first choice.

    Well, I played quite a long time and took quite a lot of notes, but somehow I never got round to the writing. Instead I played on more and more and the pile of notes got bigger and more intimidating and I began to forget things from early in the game. Then with one thing and another, I got distracted, and eventually I had to admit to myself that the AAR would never get written.

    But I still had my notes and my memories and it seemed a pity to waste them, so I came up with the idea of doing a brief little one-shot short story using some of the events from the game as background. Well, it was much harder to write than I'd thought and it took longer than I'd expected and it came out longer than I thought it would, too long really to make a single post.

    So I've broken it up into scenes, and now I'm not sure what to call it - it's not really an AAR, not really a story. Scenes inspired by a game, perhaps?

    Anyway, here it is. Enjoy.
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  2. #2
    Lt. General merrick's Avatar
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    Elena is 4

    "I remember this was all Greek, once."
    The old man's voice made the little girl look round from watching the seagulls wheeling over the Bosphorus. "What was, Grand-da?"
    "All this." His gesture encompassed the walls on which they stood, the water before them and the Asian shore beyond. "All this and more."
    Little Elena's eyes widened. "All of the water?"
    He actually smiled at that, his lips curling with bitter humour. "All the water and all the land. See those hills?" His finger stabbed out towards Asia, "they're our hills. And the land beyond them is our land. My land! Ten sections my own grandfather left me, outside Nicaea."
    "Will we go there some day, Grand-da?"
    "No!" The sudden fury in her grandfather's voice stunned Elena into white-faced silence. A pair of pigeons that had been prospecting for seeds in the cracks in the old stonework flew up in flurry of wings. Other strollers on the sea-wall stopped their pacing and turned to look at the pair.
    Elena felt very small and scared. Her grandfather's face was red and angry, like it was on the bad evenings when he drank and shouted and threw things and her mother hustled her off to bed early, and cried. Elena suddenly wanted her mother very badly. She bit her lip, trying not to cry too.
    Grandfather Nikkos must have seen her expression, for his face softened, and he bent and patted her awkwardly with a calloused hand. "No," he said again, more gently. "it's gone. The Turks took it all, long before you were born."
    Elena wasn't sure what a Turk was, but she knew they were very bad. She had heard him raging against them, on the bad nights. "All gone?"
    "All gone. Nicaea and Smyrna and Thessalonika and all the rest. All gone." His knees bent and he slid wearily to the ground. "Just this city left and that's nothing. It won't be long now."
    Elena's eyes were huge. The City, with its streets and its markets and its churches and the sea-walls where they now stood, was her whole world. She thought of it going away and her lip quivered. "Grand-da, will the Turks come here?"
    For a moment, Nikkos could find no words, and that moment was fatal. The little girl broke down and bawled. "Grand-da! Grand-da! Don't let the Turks come! Don't let the Turks come!"
    The old man caught her clumsily in his arms and hugged her gently. "Don't cry, sweetling. Don't be afraid. Grand-da's here. He'll keep the Turks away."
    The bundle in his arms stopped sobbing. "Promise?" said a small voice.
    "I promise. They won't come while I'm here." He lifted his head, looking out across the roofs of the City. Softly, so the child would not hear, he muttered to himself. "They'll come while you're here, unless you're more than lucky. How did it come to this?"
    He lifted his head and looked out over the rooftops, seeing their decay. Tears welled in his eyes.
    "How did it come to this?" the old man asked the City, but the City could give him no answer. He shook his head, defeated. "This was an Empire once!"
    Litle Elena heard him, of course, but she was only four years old and she did not understand.
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  3. #3
    Sweet prolouge, I'm lookinh forward to reading the rest
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  4. #4
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    I've been anticipating your next AAR ever since your Ayutthaya one was completed, Merrick. Hopefully you took some screen shots when you were playing, they always make a good story better

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    What are your territorial plans for the City Of Mens Desire? Is ther to be mass expansion beyond the horizon, are you going to bring the Eastern Roman Empire back to its former glory!
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  6. #6
    StoreytellAAR Storey's Avatar
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    A very good story merrick. Are the events you're writing about linked together in the story or are they random in nature.(Jumping around it time)

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    Lets hope that grand-da can keep the turks away

  8. #8
    Lt. General merrick's Avatar
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    Elena is 8

    Elena knew more, a little more, four years later when she stood with her family on the side of the Mese and watched the army march away. She had heard her grandfather talk - harshly, over wine - of the power and cruelty of Turks and the the greed and folly of Emperors and above all the black treason of the Latins and the Catalans and villains like Cantacuzenus, who had sold their souls for power and wealth and laid the Empire open to the Enemies of God She had heard her father talk - quietly, to her mother - of new taxes, higher prices, falling trade, of debt and empty purses, and of the war in the south, that ground on and on with no end in sight. She had heard her brother Simeon talk - loudly, to his friends - of battle and glory and victory and how they feared the war would end before they were old enough to fight.

    The war had ended though, a bare three months ago, and they had found money for a little feast and Elena had drunk wine for the first time as her brother toasted victory and her father toasted peace and her grandfather laughed nastily and toasted the ruin of the Latins, that at least they would not see the Empire's end . Her father had looked shocked and her mother had looked stricken and the wine and the laughter had ended quickly after that. The next morning her father had taken his wife and children to the church and they had all prayed, very devoutly, that this was not the end, that God would hold His hand over the City and preserve them from the Turks.

    Yet the end had been written, despite their prayers. Even Elena could see it, though she knew nothing of the world of palaces and counting-houses, nothing of the court and its plots and schemes, nothing of the prayers and dreams and desperate hopes that drove the Emperor to his final throw. Suddenly the City was full of foreigners, not Slavs or Latins or even Arabs but strutting Teutons with yellow beards and blades stuck in ther belts. The smithies were loud with hammering and the docks were pilied with stores and open spaces were full of tents, and young men drilled on horseback or practised with spear and shield.

    It was war with the Turk. They all knew it, even Elena, long before the final Sunday when the priest mounted the pulpit to announce that Heaven had decreed a Crusade. Why else would the Emperor open his coffers, hire mercenaries from the Catholic lands, call up his young men, the last vestiges of the Legions? Why would he grind his seed-corn, unless there was to be no new planting? Old men drank the wine to the dregs, young people ran wild in the streets, children watched, wide-eyed. The world they knew was ending, a new age rushing on them in blood and fire. War with the Turk.

    And so Elena and her family and all the City came to the Mese one still, still morning, to watch the army leave. Elena had grown to big to pick up and her mother was busy with little Spyros, so she held her father's hand on one side and her grandfather's on the other and stood tall between them, on the edge of the street, close enough to touch the soldiers. There was movement in the crowd, at first. There were voices, at first. They knelt to the Emperor, splendid in his purple, cried blessings on the generals riding behind him, cheered even the strutting Teutons marching at the head of their companies. Then the brightness was gone and the cheers died and all that was left was the trudge, trudge, trudge of laden men on the hard stones of the road and the silence of a people awaiting their fate.

    Only once, in the last hour, did Elena break her stillness. A cavalry regiment was passing, one of the new-raised tagma, and Elena looked up and saw her brother's face, strangely small in the unfamiliar helmet. She pulled her hand free of her father's and waved after him and shouted. Simeon did not look back. The cheer was lost in the clatter of hooves on the cobblestones, and the Last Army of the Romans rode out from the City, heading for Macedonia and destiny.

    * * * * * * * * * *

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  9. #9
    GunslingAAR coz1's Avatar
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    A very strong begining, merrick. You quickly get into the action against the Turk while setting up an interesting character in Elena. I think the snapshot approach may work well with the time span too. I look forward to seeing where we go from here. Hopefully victory next.
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  10. #10
    Lt. General merrick's Avatar
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    Elena is 9

    It was next year before the Turks came. There had been victory in Macedonia, people said, and victory on the Dardanelles at Gallipoli and victory even before the walls of the City itself, but even victories cost lives and the Turks were many, too many, they were as numberless as the sands of the shore and their armies came down from the west like a winter storm and settled round the city, quiet and intent as mourners around a deathbed. And the people of the City went up onto their walls and looked out at the new forest of pavillions, so incongruously bright and gaudy, that had sprouted overnight on the plains. There they saw the Turks, thousands of Turks, Turks in silk with bow and lance and Turks in homespun with sword and spear, an army beyond counting, before their City, waiting for the end.

    Rumour ran wild through the City that autumn. The Turks were bringing cannons, which could shatter the walls with one shot. The Turks were stricken with plague, they would be gone within the week. The Army was destroyed, somewhere in Bulgaria. The Army was victorious, and marching to their rescue. The Army was fighting in Asia and could not return across the Bosphorus. A Latin fleet was come, to force the Marmara and bring grain and fresh soldiers. The Latins were allies of the Turk, who had granted them Thessaly and Attica for their treason. So it went for weeks and months while the Turks pressed ever closer and the City hoped and waited and succour did not come.

    Bread was scarce now, and meat scarcer and a thin gruel was most of their meals. Elena's father measured the bowls himself and spent hours counting and recounting their stores and what little money there was left, muttering to himself about the folly of Emperors. Her mother lit all her few candles and spent hours on her knees before them, praying for her children. Her grandfather drank what wine he could find and laughed a damned man's laugh and promised to meet Cantacuzenus in Hell and repay him his treason.

    When she could, Elena would escape from the house and go up on the sea-walls, where at least there was air. Sometimes, from perversity or at her mother's pleas, her grandfather would come as well. So it was that they stood together on the wall one chill day on the edge of winter when the wind blew from the east and a cloud that was not a cloud came over them from Asia.

    At first Elena thought it was a storm-cloud, though she had never seen one so black or so low. It swept upon them from the Bosphorus, and Elena hunched her shoulders and pulled her cloak up over her head, but what fell around her was not rain, or even the snow her father spoke of, but ash, big fat flakes like black feathers. Elena's eyes stung and her nose was full of smoke and she wondered what fire could be so great, to make a smoke as big as this.

    "Bursa!" her grandfather cried, pointing to the east. Eyes watering, Elena squinted down the line of his arm. Far on the horizon, a black pillar was rising beyond the hills. "Bursa is burning!" The old man threw up his arms and then, to Elena's horror, began to dance, skipping jerkily in the smoke like some devilish Daniel. He bobbed and stamped and spun and leapt, wilder and wilder as the ash fell heavier, until at last his knees buckled and he pitched on his face on the black-smeared stones.

    He was dead before they brought him down, so Elena went alone to the land-walls, a few weeks later, to watch the Turks fold their bright tents and ride away, back to Anatolia and ruin.

    * * * * * * * * * *

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  11. #11
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    Things are going well, except for Grandpa of course

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    Yes, it sounds like it. Some wonderful description in this last post, especially the "cloud that was not a cloud" line. Really very nice.
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  13. #13
    Lt. General merrick's Avatar
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    Elena is 13

    It did not end then, of course. Wars are always messy things, and this one was messier than most, sprawling across the whole Balkans and deep into Asia. The tents of the Turks did not return to the fields around the City - though their arrival was prophesied daily for months - but food was still scarce and coin scarcer and every season brought a fresh trickle of refugees - Greeks and Slavs and Bulgars and even Dacians - to squat in empty houses and beg in the markets and tell tales of burned towns and pillaged farms. There was fighting in the Slav lands by the Danube, on the shores of the Black Sea, in Greek Macedonia (where the Teutons, true to their salt, were two years before Thessaloniki until the Turks at last surrendered). And even when that was done at last and the church bells rang in celebration of the driving of the Turks from Europe, the war burned on in Anatolia, the heart of the Turkish lands and their last strength.

    Elena went to her grandfather's grave on the day they heard that Nicaea was Greek again and said a prayer and hoped his soul would find some peace. She went alone; her mother was ill and her father had become more greyed and pinched and silent with every passing month. Only to the men who had come back from the war did he speak much, in desperate bursts of questions, always about Simeon. Few of the men - hideous wounds many of them had, missing hands and legs and eyes - knew much of her brother and those who did could only shake their heads and say 'he was alive when I saw him'. The news-criers spoke of victory and the priests of glory, but the tales of the soldiers had little enough of either, only hard marches and cold camps, thirst and hunger and pain and loss. Elena listened in the shadows and prayed in the nights.

    Even Nicaea did not bring the fighting to an end, it flowed on eastward, beyond Bursa and Smyrna into lands whose names Elena had never heard, even from her grandfather. There was more victory, or so she heard, but there were also more cripples, and more beggars on the streets (there was plague now in the western lands, to add to their misery). And still the war went on. When news came at last of Ankara's fall, it was a week before she realised what it meant and two more before she allowed herself to believe it.

    She was not the only one. The whole city seemed to hold its breath, not daring to trust itself to what must surely be a dream. The end of the war? The end of the Turk? Impossible, unthinkable - but true. Only slowly could this wonder be accepted. Only in time could the bells ring out in triumph. But ring they did, and the men gave thanks for victory and the women gave thanks for peace and the City began to dream again of the glory it had and had lost. And on a bright spring day in the golden flush of victory, the people of the City came out onto the Mese to welcome the army home.

    Elena was too old now to need her hand held, and she jumped and clapped her hands and cheered as the whole City did, even the cripples and the beggars, until her throat ached. They cheered the young Emperor, heedless of protocol. They cheered the generals behind him and the icons paraded at the head of the legions. They cheered every rank of the soldiers, these lean, scarred, sun-browned strangers who had shattered the Turkish armies and brought the Sultan to his knees. Simeon was one of them, captain of a company now, and it was all Elena could do not to rush out into the street and throw her arms around his neck.

    But there was one man the City cheered above all others. You could mark his progress along the street by thundercloud of voices that surrounded him. It was the man whose doings were now as familiar to the citizens as the lives of their own fathers, whose skewbald horse and purple cloak had become as distinctive as any icon in the churches. It was the man who rode at the very end of the column, at his own request, so as not to overshadow his brother. Konstantine Drageses, Strategos of the Armies, Conqueror of Edirne, Bursa and Ankara, Liberator of Thessaloniki, Smryna, Nicaea and the whole Balkans. Chosen of God. Hero of the City. Konstantinos the Dragon. When he passed, the people screamed, roofs rang, the flowers rained down upon the cobbles. And Elena shut her eyes and, like every maiden in the City, dreamed herself the Dragon's bride.

    * * * * * * * * * *

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  14. #14
    Field Marshal jwolf's Avatar
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    Bravo! Victory over the Turk is always sweet, all the more so from the desperate situation Byzantium has in 1419.

    So did Elena's dream come true?

  15. #15
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    She still seems a bit too young to be getting married, I would think.

    And no, I want more victories! MORE!

  16. #16
    GunslingAAR coz1's Avatar
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    The Turk is beaten, but surely not gone forever. But I'll take that victory every time. Quite a hero's welcome, and certainly deserved it seems.
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  17. #17
    Lt. General merrick's Avatar
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    Elena is 16

    The dream could not last. No dream can in the light of day, not even in the golden dawn of a reborn Empire. The fall of the Turks brought scavengers from all around to worry at the corpse. Barely two years after Konstantinos's triumph, while the embers of the war still smouldered, the Hungarians crossed the Danube and Simeon rode north under the Dragon's banner to drive them back. He was gone two years this time - two more years of fretting and waiting and grasping at every scrap of news, while taxes rose again and the blood of the City drained away to lands that had been no part of the Empire since before the first Konstantinos. Then, impossibly, there was peace again and the Hungarians were gone and Simeon was back again, praised by the Strategos for his valour in the Vlach lands, with a dark scar on his cheek and a hat full of Latin silver he promised to Elena for her dowry.

    Another two years and the call came again, this time to the mountains of Anatolia where the Turks were attempting to rise again. He left with a laugh and a kiss for their mother and a promise to return with the riches of the East. This time, Elena could almost believe him. Almost. Then it was waiting again, waiting and hoping as the weeks turned into months and then seasons, while the war ground on in the distant east and the City - incredible to Elena - seemed to forget all about it and give itself over to the new joys of wealth and commerce, fine clothes and rich foods and politics and pleasure. It was wrong, Elena complained to her parents, that there should be racing in the Hippodrome and new plays in the theatres while the Legions still risked their lives against the Turk. And her father nodded, stone-faced, but her mother just smiled and said "Let them have their fun. It will be over next year."

    And next year was almost come when a trooper of Simeon's tagma - in the City with despatches - came heavy-eyed and shuffling to the house with Simeon's gear tied up in a cloak to tell her father that his eldest son was dead to a Turkish arrow in distant Konya, a petty little ambush on the Ankara road. And her mother fell to the floor in a faint and her father stood open-mouthed and staring and through her tears Elena for the first time saw them as old, old and broken as her grandfather had been in his last days. That evening, Elena's father bought a jar of cheap wine from a street vendor and drank it all, and in spring, when Konstantinos returned again in triumph bearing the keys of Ankara, Elena was not among the crowds.

    * * * * * * * * * *

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  18. #18
    Field Marshal jwolf's Avatar
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    No victory is ever cheap, and you have shown the human side very admirably in this tale. So Elena will seek elsewhere for a husband? Too bad, but I understand her grief.

    By this time the Turks should be pretty much at your mercy, right? Badly weakened, and you with a permanent CB on them.

  19. #19
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    Beautifully written. I think that sums it up.

  20. #20
    GunslingAAR coz1's Avatar
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    I agree, the horrors of war have been very well suggested here. A rather sad ending to that last post, but with what Elena has seen thus far, quite fitting. Once again, wonderful.
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    Find all my AARs listed in The Ink Well

    Visit my blog at Hear the Hurd

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