So, I was extra productive last night...
Vesimir – That’s a lovely prediction of what could happen—Andronikos in exile, using the Athloutokoi to claw his way back to power would be an interesting scenario. We’ll have to see if that is what actually happens!
Eternaly_Lost – Welcome to the boards, and welcome to the thread! And thanks for de-lurking! I’m always interested to hear what new readers have to say, and I’m glad to hear you’ve liked the story so far!
Carlstadt Boy – Welcome to the thread also! Nineveh just seemed the appropriate place to end Demetrios’ reign. He lived a few years after that, but that battle and the resulting massive gain in territory was what really cemented his position in Roman history, and fulfilled his life’s goal. It just seemed… right.
Siind – The truthful answer is that Sekighara is the battle I was intentionally patterning after with an army sitting on the flanks doing nothing. The other aspects (a bloody hill, stalemate) were side effects from several conversations about medieval battles I had on IM, not intentional copying of anything… questions about the Anatolikon are going to get answered below…
Frozenwall – Well, the rest of the world hasn’t been silent. After the end of the campaign we’ll see how some of them react—though at this point for many it’s not really a civil war… its an invasion (Gabriel hasn’t been ‘Roman’ to many since Albrecht’s slander campaign decades before…).
And someone that is pro-Angelid emperors? Tsk tsk tsk…
FlyingDutchie – Cannae is something both sides would’ve definitely been aware of, and hiding troops behind a hill has appeared before (Yaik). Andie’s definitely got a tough choice ahead of him…
Sled Dog – If Simon Angelos was smart, he would’ve picked a side at the beginning and stayed consistent. Or, at the very least, as both sides grew entangled fell on one or the other. Staying his hand almost the entire day is liable to earn the ire of whichever party he sides with—if he even sides with anyone. That said, even the dullest (or most spineless) of men can have a moment of brilliance…
AlexanderPrimus – In essence, their roles have been juxtaposed—Andronikos wants to stay clear of the fight, but to win he must wade into it. Gabriel, on the other hand, wants to wade into the fight but risks losing it because he’s lost control by doing so. Both leaders are going to have to step out of their shells and do something they wouldn’t normally do if they want to win. We’ll have to see who does it first, and if it even makes a difference…
Kirsch27 – Now Andie riding over to Angelos and cajoling him into the fight, that’s definite thinking outside the box! That would probably be my strategy if I was in Andie’s shoes, but then again, it’d be showing weakness to Angelos. Who knows if it’d provoke him into siding with Gabriel, not Andronikos?
von Sachsen – Now, if I personally were in Angelos’ shoes, waiting till both were worn down and then falling on them at once would be my personal strategy—its bold, its all or nothing and its risky, but hey—you’ve been threatened by everyone, why not go for the gold? Shortly it’ll be revealed what has stayed Simon’s hand so long… and if he’s willing to move it for one side or the other…
armoristan – Why is it necessary plot-wise? I could have been building Andronikos up for an epic fall… not unlike how his father got built up…
asd21593 – I still play around with MTW2 occasionally, though now that my computer is running better I think I’m going to give Broken Crescent another whirl…
Qorten – Stories aren’t perfect without cliffhangers, though! Andronikos’ charging turns his back on Simon—it’d be the perfect time for someone devious to hit Andronikos in the rear…
humancalculator – The conclusion is appearing faster than you expected!
vadermath – In game, Andronikos did get the ‘coward’ event… so this is holding true to what happened in game!
RGB – For someone like Andronikos, yes, the Imperial Library definitely has the potential to be a huge timewaster! And Kulikovo, etc. have already appeared here multiple times before, most notably during the Mongol invasions. There just aren’t many paintings of the Byzantines in battle, and tons of paintings of medieval Rus. The equipment and standards are close enough they fit appropriately, so I borrow when I can!
Nikolai – That’d be the definite lucky dice roll for Andronikos, but that’s a definite longshot as well… especially considering how much of a SNAFU the entire Battle of Nikaea has become for both sides…
Zzzzz… – Which prophecy would that be?
Enewald – Oh the emperor has the right, but without the backing of the army its meaningless. Retreating would be a good option if Andronikos’ legitimacy was higher—Gabriel is obviously pounding the crap out of his army, why not withdraw, let him hang on his tenuous supply lines while Andronikos brings up more men. But alas for Andronikos, he lives in the shadow of holy names like Megas and Megaloprepis… if an Emperor can’t win on the field, he is no emperor, at least in the eyes of the army…
October 24th, 1263
Andronikos Komnenos stared at the battlefield, sweat rolling off his brow.
“Ioannis?” Andronikos asked. He could barely hear himself over the drums and bugles of war, and he was glad. He knew his voice was shaking, wavering as he saw the blades, the storm of steel all around. He looked nervously at the messenger, the lone man besides Angelos who could have heard the tremble in his voice. The man was attempting to look impassive, but Andronikos could sense the contempt in his gaze.
“Hmmm?” Angelos turned, frowning. “Ready?”
“My sword’s stuck,” Andronikos said. He could feel the quiver in his voice. His friend’s frown deepened.
“Hold still,” Angelos commanded, as his hands went to work. Andronikos heard his friend grunt something about keeping a blade in a sheath when it was wet, but he couldn’t make out the whole thing before he felt a tug on his thigh. “There!” Ioannis pronounce, “it’s free!”
“Thank you,” Andronikos whispered, keeping his face calm even as his he felt a shiver run down his body. “God,” Andronikos blasphemed quietly, “I’m terrified.”
He started to climb onto his own charger—a great beast of a thing, white as snow and covered with gilt barding more expensive than a thousand slaves. When he’d ridden out of Konstantinopolis, when he’d ridden with the army, the barding, the armor, it all seemed such a good idea. A way to show the men their emperor was with them. Now, it made him stick out. Every eye on the field would know where he was! He started checking his reins, just like his tutors taught. Yet he’d never done it before with the clang of swords, the screams of the dying, all dancing in his ears.
“You’re what?” a voice said next to him as he worked. Andronikos looked over—Angelos was smirking.
“I’m terrified,” the Emperor repeated, the numbing task complete.
“So am I,” Ioannis grinned. “If we weren’t, we’d be insane, wouldn’t we?” he said, eyes glinting in the afternoon light. Somehow, the words didn’t make Andronikos feel any better. Angelos gestured towards the messenger. “What about him?”
Andronikos instantly knew the double question, and his reply was instant. “He rides beside me at the front,” the emperor said with a nod. In spoken words, the man had been according a place of honor in the attack. In unspoken words, his doom had been sealed. If he didn’t fall in the melee that was about to ensue, Ioannis would make sure he met an untimely end. He’d seen Andronikos shake—something the Hetaratoi far behind had not. If Andronikos won the battle but word went around he was afraid, it’d all be for naught…
Slowly, the Emperor drew his sword, a garish thing with a ruby in its pommel. The cold steel screeched against the scabbard. Andronikos fought to keep his arm from shaking, trying to think of something, anything—Cecilia, hunting, the lyre. He didn’t know if it worked or not as he held his sword aloft. Behind, he heard the rumble as hundreds of shields found their way onto arms, and kontoi shifted into charge position. Andronikos started to open his mouth, but his mind blanked. What were the words! Charge kontos? Kontos ready? Charge line? He couldn’t say the wrong words! Then his arm would shake, and they’d all know how afraid he was…
“Ioannis, I…” he started to look over at his friend. Without a word, Angelos nodded, his own blade out, high, matching the emperor’s move. As Andronikos felt his teeth chatter, he heard Angelos’ voice ringing loud and clear above the thunderous clank and roar of war.
“Hetaratoi! Ready kontos!”
From Pietro Gandolfini’s Empire of Lies: Reassessing Andronikos Komnenos, University of Rome Press, 1965:
Even before the so-called “Silent Charge,” the Battle of Nikaea had slipped far from the grasp of either of its commanders. The loyalist upper echelon had been devastated by wounds and injury, while Gabriel Komnenos was, as usual, in the thick of the fray on “Bloody Hill” and out of touch with the rest of his army.
Consequently, it was up to individual commanders, even individual kentarchoi, to adjust to the situations at hand. In some cases, this failed—the domestikos of the Mosul thematakoi facing Andronikos’ impromptu charge didn’t close ranks with the nearby Gond tagma quickly enough, and the imperial heavy horse found the gap and punched through, shattering the thematakoi and cracking Gabriel’s line. In other cases, it worked spectacularly well—a young chillarchos by the name of Gennadios Tornikes on the Persian side managed to wheel his companies of light infantry around in time to charge Andronikos’ men as they were rolling up the Gond tagma, instantly turning what could’ve been a decisive imperial breakthrough into just another confused melee in a massively confused battle.
This historian suspects that much of the reported ‘heroics’ on the part of Andronikos I in that confused melee were either deeds of another (possibly Ioannis Angelos, a man known for his taste for combat), or simply made up. Compared to his later actions and activities, as well as his young age, it is hard to imagine Andronikos Komnenos unhorsing seven men, or personally taking the standard of the Gond tagma. Several sources do mention the Emperor was unhorsed—but this likely had far more to do with the ferocity of the fighting at hand, not the sixteen year old seeking danger. The Hetaratoi took tremendous casualties in the fighting, nearly 30% of their number if reports are to be believed, yet they managed to extract themselves from the trap. The early darkness of late fall likely helped.
Perhaps most amazing in all of this is the continued saga of Simon Angelos, Despotes of Anatolia and traitor to both parties. Throughout the entire battle, Angelos had held back—not from a desire to see either party worn down before he struck, but through simple indecision. If the chroniclers are to be believed, his eldest son was a prisoner of Gabriel, while his youngest fought alongside Andronikos—an unenviable position if there ever was one. Forced to make an unthinkable choice, Simon Angelos instead chose nothing—one of his chillarchoi, Alexios Photios, reported:
“The Prince paced back and forth as the sun arced upwards during the day.
He would issue orders for the army to deploy in battle line, but then
would pause, incapable of issuing the final order as he was unable to determine
which son he would sacrifice to the evil of others. The men would thus
fall out of line, angered and upset at standing in battle formation in full kit
for no reason. Rumor sped through our ranks as well—some said that the
Persian offered ten silvers to each soldier who fell on the loyalist lines, while
others said Andronikos offered twenty-five. There was much discontent and
rancor in the ranks as to whose side should be joined. By the late afternoon,
I, along with two other chillarchoi and Strategos Asen, approached the Prince
and told him the men would be useless fighting as they were tired and ill
disposed to any movement towards either party. I, not alone, expressed a
fear that a movement to one party might cause the dissenting part of the
army to fall on its brethren, in a haste to collect a reward. The Prince did
not chastise us—he merely nodded and sighed, as if a great weight had
been lifted from his shoulders. This took place about the same time as
the Emperor [Andronikos] and his cavalry fell on the Persian flank before us.
Photios’ words soften the harsh reality—by mid-afternoon, Angelos’ men were in full revolt against their commander, and split amongst themselves as to who to strike. They had taken battle formation no less than six times since the morning. Even in the cool of October, standing in full kit armor would be an annoyance. In the heat of combat, one forgets the weight of armor, shield and spear—in the boredom of waiting, all of these things drag down the spirit. Rumors amongst their ranks as to who would offer them a higher reward speaks to agents of both Gabriel and Andronikos at work in the Anatolikon. Both sides likely sought to pry the potentially decisive army into their grasp. Instead, they assured it stood, immobile and impotent by division, throughout the entirety of the battle.
As the sun hung low in the sky, the fighting continued elsewhere. Word reached Alexandros Komnenos that Andronikos was now in the rear of the Persian army, and the Autokrator, unable to find his father or any other commanders, unilaterally gave orders to withdraw to regroup. We’re told to the south, on the Persian right, the withdraw went smoothly. The chillarchoi of Juan de Silva, part of the Athanatakoi heavy cavalry, launched an impromptu, unordered chargeon the withdrawing units of Alexandros, briefly causing a panic in the Persian’s ranks. We are told Alexandros rode up and down his lines as the sun set, keeping his men organized until an arrow in the shoulder sent him, too, to the churigeon tents. Fortunately for the Persians, the rest of the hammered imperial right was so badly tangled and mauled that no one supported the lone chillarchoi. Alexandros’ troops continued their withdraw unmolested as night fell.
However, on “Bloody Hill,” the orders were not relayed, or were simply lost in the confusion. Sometime close to 6 PM, Gabriel Komnenos was unhorsed for the third time, breaking his leg in the process. His personal guard conducted a ferocious defense of the imperial person, losing 40 of its 50 members before he could be rescued and pulled to safety. His injury marked an end to the last semblance of organized fighting on that hill—simply too many men, and too many officers, had fallen. We’re told, for example, the Basilikon Toxotai lost its strategos, three of its four chillarchoi, and no less than seven kentarchoi—as well as nearly 1,800 of its supposed 2,500 man strength. Without any more press and darkness encroaching, the fighting on “Bloody Hill” finally petered out on its own, leaving men from both sides to struggle to find their own lines.
Andronikos Komnenos slowly walked towards the small copse of lights between the lit campfires of two armies. Beside him, the armor of the remaining strategoi of the Basilikon as well as their bodyguards jingled in the cool October night. The Megas Komnenos was thankful for many things that day—most of all, he was thankful for the darkness—the wall that separated the triumphant Andronikos on the field of Nikaea from the terrified boy who’d launched a charge only hours before.
The cavalry had started at a walk—an agonizing pace. For what seemed an eternity Andronikos watched as the enemy slowly grew closer. Arrows flew by his head—he was sure he ducked several times—spears lowered at him. He remembered Ioannis yelling something about Hagios Demetrios, and Ioannis spurring his horse to a gallop. Andronikos had no choice, and followed. The last thing he remembered before the clash was one of the Persian spearmen—his spearpoint was shaking, his eyes wide with terror as the Emperor rode into him.
Ioannis nodded—everything was ready. Andronikos swallowed hard, trying to push the succeeding two hours of terror from his mind. It couldn’t have been more than two minutes after his glorious slamming into the Persians that he was unhorsed. He found himself surrounded—men in light armor, wooden shields, short spears, warily circling, stabbing desperately but just as fearful as he was. He distinctly remembered stabbing one in the armpit and the amount of blood that spurted. Some kavallaroi then rode by, cleanly lancing one just as another blocked Andronikos’ blow with his shield and hit the emperor full bore with a mace.
The Emperor gingerly brought one of his bloodied gilded gauntlets to the lower part of his torso lamellar—the mere action made his ribs ache. He’d doubled over, and never saw the Persian raise his mace. Ioannis told him it’d been the messenger, the man Andronikos had silently sentenced to death only minutes before, who’d cut off the Persian’s hand just before he could land the killing blow. Ioannis managed to fight his way to Andronikos and got him ahorse. They hadn’t found out yet what’d happened to the messenger himself—three men said he fell a few minutes later. Others said it wasn’t till near dark, two hell-filled hours later, that he was stabbed by a retreating Persian. Angelos promised they’d find a body, or the man would be taken care of.
But even as Andronikos limped slower than usual towards the torchlight of that tent, he could smile. He’d survived.
Beyond surviving, he’d won.
He wasn’t a fool—Romanos, Bataczes, and the other strategoi had technically ‘won,’ and only by the slimmest of margins. Andronikos knew his personal role was no larger than launching a charge that got mired in the growing darkness. But in his few years alive, he’d already learned that the past could be shaped, and molded, but those who were clever in the present. If one repeated a lie often enough, people would assume it was the truth. His people in Konstantinopolis would soon be at work—winter would give him several months to sponsor a few artists and writers to create songs, poems and accounts of the battle. All would suitably embellish his achievements, though to create an image of fairness Andronikos would publicly chastise an example or two that went too far above and beyond.
The day had been bloody, that was for sure. Strategos Godwinson, the senior unwounded man left in the Basilikon, openly said it’d be days, weeks even, before they truly knew how many men had fallen. Angelos, as always, had his own estimate—at least 15,000, perhaps half again as many.
No one knew for sure what had become of Gabriel’s army, save it’d suffered at least as horrendously as Andronikos’ own men. Strategos Petroloiphas, the highest ranking man left unscatched on the right, swore that the Persians on his front withdrew in good order. Bataczes and others who had seen the hell that was the center claimed the Persian withdraw was haphazard and didn’t begin until dark. The few prisoners taken murmured all sorts of things—a few said Gabriel had been wounded, one even claimed his son had been. No one truly knew—the light cavalry had been so badly banged up it’d take at least three days to sort out who would be in command, let alone reshuffle units to make up for their losses.
So Andronikos decided, for now, he would assume Gabriel’s army was mauled, but cohesive. Yet, Andronikos still had two reasons to smile as he walked into the torchlight of that tent. The first was simple—he had a victory. A slim victory yes, but a victory nonetheless, and more importantly a victory against the vaunted Gabriel. The Lion of Persia, the Desert Demon, the Unbroken One—the man’s reputation had been bloodied. The remaining strategoi had all been unanimous—the field was theirs, but the Basilikon Stratos itself was too badly beaten up to mount anything like a serious pursuit for the next few days. Too many units were tangled, too many officers dead.
No matter—Andronikos had his jewels added to his crown, and could join the list of Komnenid warrior emperors. He’d proven himself in the field—charged the enemy, seen combat, and came out more or less unscathced. He had legitimacy in the army, and the army was power in the state. He knew he now had a measure of pull with the senior officers that remained—if only because so many of their comrades would be convalescing for weeks, if not months. It was an influence he intended to use to the hilt, both immediately and for the rest of the campaign.
The second was something far more immediate, the thing he thought would guarantee him not just a tactical victory, but a successful campaign. It’d lain next to his army, throughout the battle—unbloodied, untouched.
Andronikos halted just inside the tent, glancing around momentarily. It was well apportioned for how quickly it’d been erected—one hour was not much advance notice to pitch a tent worthy of a major meeting between two armies, but the servants of Simon Angelos had performed impressively. A few guards from the Anatolikon watched the opposite entrance, and Andronikos smiled thinly as the five strategoi of the Anatolikon Stratos watched Andronikos’ own few guards in kit—Simon Angelos himself looked apprehensively between Andronikos, and his own youngest son behind the emperor.
“Greetings, strategoi of the Anatolikon,” he nodded politely.
“Hail, Megas Komnenos Andronikos!” one of the generals shouted. Andronikos noted with pleasure how his sword clinked in its scabbard. The others looked no less fearful, and at least one looked over at their titular leader, Simon Angelos, with a momentary glare. All of them fell to the ground, then pressed their foreheads into the cool earth. Another crawled forward, kissing Andronikos’ boots, whispering blather the young Emperor didn’t care about.
Andronikos wasn’t sure what it was that stayed the Anatolikon’s hand—was the it the offer of bribes? It’d cost Andronikos only a few coin to local farmers and the word had spread far and wide. Was it that Simon Angelos himself was a spineless fool? It didn’t matter—he had won the day without them, and they were here, in his power, desperate, and obviously afraid. Even mauled, the Basilikon dwarfed the Anatolikon alone, and whatever had hold then fast to their position all day still held them. Ioannis said he could hear shouting sometimes from their lines—angry tones, not orders.
“That is not necessary, Konstantinos Iasites,” Andronikos kicked his foot slightly, forcing the old man, “Please. I don’t want proud men like you kissing my boots.” It was only a part lie.
Slowly all six men rose. Some had looks of relief, others disbelief. Andronikos put forth his warmest smile—good. Fertile ground for what was to come. He glanced back at his own few strategoi present. Their faces were impassive, but Andronikos could sense their displeasure at his apparent magnanimity.
Let them think.
“Please, gentlemen,” the Emperor motioned to the long table set up in the corner. “I have prepared a dinner for all of us.” He raised an eyebrow, “We were victorious today, but I want to discuss how the Anatolikon will join the Basilikon in evicting Gabriel once and for all…”
The men nodded eagerly, saying words of affirmation, of loyalty. Andronikos played along, smiling, chatting pleasantly as they assembled around the table. Servants came in from both sides, setting out a rather paltry meal for the Emperor and gathered commanders—salted pork, hardened bread, turnips, and wine. As many of the expected loyalist commanders were injured, their places remained vacant—Andronikos’ servants left their silverware in a conspicuous pile at the end of the table.
Just as planned.
As the first servings of salted pork came out, Andronikos watched bemused as the Anatolikon commanders stumbled over each other to keep talking in a clumsy attempt to make the Emperor and the Basilikon officers eat first. Ioannis must have sensed it too—he devoured his pork with gusto. That made them relax, and they began to eat and drink, fat and happy. Simon Angelos was happily chattering about how much he’d enjoy commanding a wing of the new united imperial army when Andronikos finally nodded to his son. Ioannis looked up, and nodded as well, before both looked at the Anatolikon commander closest to the pile of silver. Old Iasites.
So be it.
Ioannis rose and stretched, conspicuously leaving his sword and scabbard on the ground next to his campstool. After a momentary look, none of the Anatolikon commanders paid much attention as he walked over to Iasites, as if to talk to the man about something private as servants swarmed about, refilling drinks and laying down more food.
They all paid attention a second later.
Ioannis suddenly grabbed hold of Iasites’ hair, and slammed the man’s head down in the midst of the silverware. The [i]Strategos[/]I screamed as Ioannis ripped his head back up by the hair, then slammed his head down in the table again, then repeated it again, and again. “This…” Slam! “…is…” Slam! “…what…” Slam! “…happens…” Slam! “…to…” Slam! “…traitors!” Angelos roared as he slammed the bloody mess down one last time. Andronikos smiled thinly at the look of horror amongst all the gathered commanders. He could resist a glance towards Ioannis’ father. Simon Angleos had a hand over his mouth, his eyes wide with terror.
Andronikos was dimly aware of the Anatolikon’s guardsmen starting to draw their blades, and the Athloutokoi that had been functioning as servants turning into a blur of movement. It was over in a second. Ioannis, breathing heavily, lifted Iasites’ head up one last time. The mangled ruin of what was once a face dragged up forks, knives and other dinnerware with it. One by one, they fell back to the blood-covered table with a clink. Ioannis grunted in satisfaction, then let the head drop. His eyes looked up, challenging all in the room just as the final body of the Anatolikon guards thumped to the floor.
“Does anyone else feel like they want to be a traitor!?” Angelos roared, as the Basilikon strategoi finally broke their own shock to draw blades against their treacherous brethern.
One by one, the eyes glued to Ioannis turned, wide, horrified, to Andronikos. Hands shook, lips trembled. Finally it was Simon Angelos that broke the horrified silence.
“Eternal Majesty!” he screamed, knocking on his campstool falling to the ground as he scrambled for Andronikos’ boots. “Lord of Caesars! Majesty! Please!” he begged, kissing those muddy boots, “We have…”
“I said I don’t want men like you kissing my boots!” Andronikos roared, kicking him roughly in the jaw. The Prince of Ikonion roughly tumbled backwards. Andronikos slowly rose, keeping his face grim even as he wanted to laugh at the stunned fools before him. He let them stew in terror for a moment before, before he finally spoke, his voice quiet but with the power of a thousand thunderbolts.
“Georgios Tmipirovich, Raphael de Medici, Pulad Chersonikios, Isa ibn Sharif,” he intoned the names of the four remaining subordinates quickly, simply, directly, “You all will surrender your command positions, immediately. You will surrender your red capes, your chains of office, and all your papers. Those of you who hold lands will surrender them to the crown. You will be given passage aboard the ship Hagia Maria for France, as well as 1000 silver solidii. There you will remain in exile, for the rest of your days.” His eyes went across the Anatolikon assemblage. “Failure to do any of this will result in Ioannis becoming angry…”
“My men will kill your children,” Ioannis walked amongst the disgraced officers, eyes aflame, “rape your wives, and shove hot pokers up your arses before we castrate you, blind you, and throw you to the dogs!” The men stumbled over each other nodding, unclasping their red cloaks, and dropping their swords. Andronikos let himself smile as his eyes swept to the hapless cause of the whole mess squirming uneasily on the floor.
“As for you, Simon Angelos,” Andronikos could feel his eyes getting hard, “you will surrender your chains of office, powers, and authority to your son, Ioannis, immediately.” Andronikos stepped over, looming above the man. “You will surrender your red cape, your papers, your command of the Anatolikon to the same.” He leaned down, to make sure the man could hear his words, “You will remain my personal prisoner,” he growled, “until such time that I don’t find any more sport in keeping you on a leash!”
Slowly, the Despotes nodded. Andronikos slowly rose—part of him had wanted to flay all of them alive—Ioannis had convinced him that the execution of one would be an example, and a hollow show of mercy would play well with others.
“Guards, take them to Chrysopolis,” Andronikos hissed at the Athloutokoi, pointing at the four mere strategoi. One by one, the men were hauled off in their armor—no chance to pack, no chance to bid their troops farewell. That, Andronikos had decided, would have been far too dangerous. Several minutes of silence followed—it was Godwinson who broke the muted moment.
“Aye, blast it,” his famous mustache quivered, “Majesty, are ye making a mistake?” Andronikos frowned—the man’s accent was atrocious. When the meaning sunk in, he chuckled, and looked over at Ioannis.
“Let’s just say the Hagia Maria is a rather… ‘holey’ ship,” Ioannis smirked at his own pun. His father audibly gasped.
“Ah…” Godwinson nodded. “Well then. What be yer plans for the Anatolikon? Can’t send ‘em home, can’t have him wanderin’ in our rears!”
“The plot wasn’t deep,” Andronikos reached down and started to nibble on the salted pork left behind by the miscreants. “Only the strategoi—else the army would have moved this afternoon.” He licked the salt off his fingers. “We bring them into the army—promote a few worthy chillarchoi here and there to fill gaps, consolidate commands. It’ll instantly erase our losses from today, and then some!”
“But how do you know the new commanders will stay loyal?” Godwinson rumbled. “They all served a turncoat. Any one of them could do the…”
“Fifty silver coins a head for the infantry, estates from the lands of the traitors for the cavalry?” Angelos arched and eyebrow, and Godwinson’s mouth clicked shut. “A pretty sum, you think? Enough to win them over for the a decade of service easily, let alone a single campaign. Their commanders will have to stay loyal, at that pretty sum!”
“Aye then,” Godwinson grinned. “Clever, Majesty, you ‘tis a clever one. So…” the senior commander left uninjured in the field army tossed back a goblet of wine. “…when we’re done, we head after Gabriel? Boys,” the Varangian looked at the other strategoi, grinning hugely, “he’ll be outnumbered badly next time! We’ll bag ‘em!”
Andronikos swallowed slightly. Truth be told, he’d wondered about that this afternoon. If Godwinson’s guess was right, and they’d lost 15,000 men, with the Anatolikon they, in effect, gained 15,000 after losses. That meant the Basilikon Stratos was nearly 85,000, versus Gabriel’s what… he couldn’t have more than 60,000 left, maybe less…
No. Andronikos mentally shook the cobwebs of lineage and tradition from his mind. Gabriel might have suffered a setback, but he was still Gabriel. That name still rang dangerously, and Andronikos had no doubt that his opponent would be doubly dangerous on the battlefield next time with his back in a corner. Yes, the Basilikon had bludgeoned itself to victory in the first spar, but a battle does not necessarily make a war…
He took a deep breath. Time to use that pull he’d earned hours before.
“We won’t be marching immediately after Gabriel,” Andronikos said. Bluntness would work over tact.
“We what?” Strategos Petroloiphas blinked.
“Why?” Godwinson, true to his reputation, was more direct in his questioning. “Um… Majesty?” he hastily added at the end. Andronikos frowned at the breech in protocol, but the Varangian evidently didn’t understand. “We have the larger army by far,” he rumbled on, mustache bristling, “why do we not…”
“Because, it is nearly winter,” Andronikos sharply cut off his commander, “and I would rather not see my armies starve in the cold!” He’d put as much umph and fire in his voice as he could—the rains and cold of winter could sap the fight of even the greatest of armies. If Gabriel Komnenos was worthy of his name, that moment—when the Basilikon was most tired, most weak—was when he would strike, and strike hard.
By the way the Varangian giant stopped in mid-sentence, jaw agape, Andronikos knew he had him. He pressed on into the silence. “We make winter camp!” he looked around. The pressed commanders looked as if they’d seen a ghost of iron. “Godwinson, you’ll supervise the dispositions. I want the soldiers buffering the defenses of Nikomedia, Nikaea and every walled town in between!”
“Yes, Majesty,” Godwinson murmured, clearly not happy at having a quartermaster’s job and no upcoming final battle.
“But,” Andronikos added, “we don’t remain quiet. De Silva!” Andronikos barked.
A small, rather ragged looking man, still muddy and with a fresh cut across his cheek, stepped forward. He didn’t look anything like the chillarchos the wounded Bataczes had described in such glowing words.
“You’re getting a red cape,” Andronikos grinned thinly, “and I’ve giving you the light cavalry of the Anatolikon,” the emperor added before the young man could even grin in pride at his promotion. “You’re going to ride around Gabriel’s army, and burn everything you find. Don’t wear your regular kits. Arm light and ride fast!”
“What are we to wear…Majesty?” the young man asked clearly as perplexed as everyone else gathered around.
“Go about the battlefield tomorrow, and find as many Persian caps, shirts and other clothing as you can. Wear that,” Andronikos replied.
“But Majesty!” Simon Angelos started to whine, his first words since his sudden, utter demotion.
“Those are no longer your peasants, they are no longer your concern!” Andronikos snapped. “I must think for an entire Empire, not a small patch of squalid villages! No,” Andronikos turned back to de Silva, “burn them. Burn the granaries, burn the crops, slaughter the cattle, steal the chickens. I want the land for thirty miles around Gabriel’s army to be a wasteland.”
De Silva started to turn towards Ioannis, by law the new lord of Ikonion and Despotes of Anatolia. Andronikos smiled grimly as his friend shook his head silently, then pointed at the Emperor.
“If Gabriel can stop the Mongols by refusing battle,” Andronikos went on, “then we can stop him by doing the same!”
The idea came just after he’d publicly knocked the Patriarch from his high horse. It was obvious there would be a military clash, and Andronikos had peppered the Megos Domestikos with as many questions as time would allow—questions about Gabriel, his methods, his means. The epic fight against Hulagu had come up again and again. The only thing that’d held Andronikos to the altogether brash plan of seeking immediate battle had been the need to bring the army into his bosom. Now that it was there…
“We’ll make the area around his army such a desert that even the crows will need to pack food before they fly over the place,” the emperor went on. “Gabriel’s army is battered, but not broken. We shall rest, recuperate, and recover, and let the rain of winter and the pain of hunger break his men. By the start of the new year, he’ll come crawling to me…”
Nikaea has sputtered to a halt, and Andronikos wins a victory by judge’s decision after both armies pummeled each other. The senior conspirators of the Anatolikon are being dealt with, and Andie plans to spend his newfound legitimacy letting Gabriel hang himself in winter. Will his plan work as he expects, or will Gabriel use his powers and conjure a miracle to keep his army together? A Meeting of Lions, next time on Rome AARisen!