First, thank you everyone for all your thoughts for my boyfriend--he appreciated it a great deal. I'm trying to talk him into posting in here himself, but so far he's being shy.
Oh yes, and after the loads of replies I owe people, there's an update! I hope I didn't miss anyone's comments, if I did so, I apologize in advance.
Enewald – Realistically trade ships from the Med wouldn’t be venturing too far out into the Atlantic—they’d mostly be hugging the coast and known landmarks. Ships out in the Red Sea are directly linked to the Indian Ocean trade network, at this time the largest and most sophisticated trading network in the world. While Roman merchant ships themselves likely don’t go any further than India, places like Ceylon and Malacca are already going to be rich trading ‘warehouses’ where ships from the Far East unload their cargos and ships from further west pick them up. As for an Egyptian canal—nope. Despite overland travel being slower and costing more, it’s still far cheaper to unload everything at a Red Sea port and haul it by camel to the Nile.
Carlstadt Boy – You’re welcome! The navy often gets overlooked, so I thought it was time to show it some love!
asd2195 – There’ll likely be quite a few history book ones left before this thing comes to an end.
ray243 – Prior to their submission to the Komnenid Empire, the northern Italian city states had already enjoyed a century or two of de facto independence. No doubt there’ll be some efforts to tie themselves to the Komnenid imperial dignity—much of that, however, is the upper crust of Italian families marrying into distaff branches of the Komnenoi. In this future Italy, there will likely be Comnenomedicis running around, but they will probably still be espousing the ideals of a city-state and a merchant republic—it’s what they had before the Komnenoi arrived, and they had it for longer than the Komnenoi have been lording over them.
Von Sachsen – Exactly. I’m thinking they’d still point to their Rome as the ‘better Rome.’ The Komnenid Rome was great, but the ancient Romans are there for the claiming, and the differences are apparent enough once a philosopher applies his brain (or his patron’s coin) to debating why the Komnenoi are different from the ancient Romans. The Komnenoi are, just as you said, likely playing up their ‘Romanness’ as well.
Zzzzz… – The Mesogeios I think, is the Mediterranean in Greek. I might be wrong…
Leviathan07 – Whew! You’ve been really active lately! I’m not sure I can keep up!
Amerigo Vespudopoulos? Amerigo, son of Vespudios, hahaha! In truth, I haven’t decided what to name the New World. There’ll be plenty of time to sort it out though… Amerigo could always make a cameo.
As for naming things, I’m not sure. There’s a definite fine line between immersion, and readability. I try (and probably fail, often times) when I use some of pseudo-Greek to make sure that someone completely unfamiliar with the word itself or the story can piece together what the term generally means. They might not know the specifics of how many people are in a tagma, but hopefully the context leads them to understand it’s a military unit, or that a Spahbod is a general. It’s the best I can do with that fine line.
I’ve got a bit of a reply on the continental division issue with Bagricula’s reply as well.
Ksim300 – Good to see you again! On the predictions, much will depend on first how Scotland fared after the surprise demands from the Norse. Lord Comnen has done much to help Scotland, but a defeat and subjugation by the Norse could lead to a fractured British Isles for years.
Second, we need to see if a unifying factor for France arises—the great dukes have basically been unhitched, and except for a distant and not-over-powerful Hypatos, have more freedom to do what they want than they’ve had in a long time. Will the Hypatos centralize things and begin ruling as a de facto Exarch? Or will one of the dukes emerge with enough power to start the reunification process? I’d say these are the two best chances for a reunified France. If France does reunify, it still has prime position, population, and resources to be a powerhouse. Considering what the nobility will likely start once they’ve gotten back on their feet (start settling old scores via the patented hack and slash method), a reunification isn’t likely in the short term… long term (30+ years), who knows…
vadermath – Don’t know who will colonize it yet. Waiting for EU3 to find out! Burgundy wins and loses if Andronikos’ plan succeeds—yes, the Burgundian king becomes HRE, but chances are high he’ll face immediate rebellions from his new subjects, especially the Arpads, who still hold the Kingship of Hungary in family hands. If Dietmar can secure his throne, the HRE could end up more solidified down the line. If he fails, it could all fall down as it did in our timeline…
I told the boyfriend about the cookie. His response: “Awww! That was sweet of them!”
4th Dimension – Gottfried doesn’t know its significance… he thinks it’s a simple sword…
Hannibal X – Colonization in EU3 will be a real race. The Andalusians, the French (whatever shape they’re in), the nation(s) of the British Isles, and especially the Burgundians, are all primed and positioned to be quickly into the colonialism game. Game-wise, Mali would lag from tech group. Practically, she’d have reason to explore, but would need some reason other than economics to colonize the areas she would be likely to find first (Brazil). Mali produces sugar already in the lands it would control—there’s no real surplus internal demand for the product. However, if European demand skyrockets, that could be an impetus for Mali to set up plantations in new, sugar-friendly territories. The question for Mali will be if or when she gets around to exploring, if she’s not going to find some European colonists squatting on the land already…
Kirsch27 – Islam as we know it is, but variants will continue to survive and thrive. Mali becomes a Caliphate, following its own brand of Islam untouched by Aionism or other reform movements. Islam also has a firm rooting in India, as well as the lands of the Turks and Arabia. It’s definitely been pushed back from its formerly predominating influence around the Med, but it’s by no means dead…
Morrell8 – Well, I can’t reveal too much about Wales or Ireland yet, as AlexanderPrimus’ interim on Scotland isn’t done yet. However, last we saw them they were both under the united crown of the King of the Scots, Irish and Welsh. The Welsh were rather grumpy that they had a Greek regent, while the Irish barons were indifferent.
Laur – Post-Komnenid Empire, Central Europe certainly doesn’t face nearly as massive an invasion menace as it did in our timeline. However, when the empire implodes, chances are the region is going to get sucked into the maelstrom, if only by proximity to the blast. As for Islam, there’s definitely going to be a ‘outward push’ component. There are likely sizeable Muslim trading colonies in southern India for example, and I’d imagine Sumatra and Java are in the process of converting as well.
Frozenwall – That’s incorrect. Those are Banpantoloukomnenokratolikoi running around. In all seriousness, though, do I drop enough hints by context for someone to figure things out?
Bagricula – I’d almost imagine the Komnenid version of the Ptolemaic division would work out much the same as the original: Europe is everything west of Konstantinopolis, Asia is everything east, and Africa is everything south. If the Komnenoi use this division with their own capital as the centerpoint, things become interesting in terms of Russia. The border between ‘Europe’ and ‘Asia’ would then fall roughly around the Dnieper River basin, not the Urals…
RGB – I’d like to say there’s some specific, genius way why support ships weren’t covered. The simple truth was lack of author oversight. The ouisakos was an actual Byzantine warship, with a standard compliment of 108 men which included both sailors, and specialized marines who also functioned as rowers. For small scale operations, you’d just use those rower-marines.
For larger operations, they would almost have no choice but to impress merchant ships or build hulks from scratch. I’d imagine this was also part of the reason regional armies were formed in the 1260s—the costs of shipping troops to Spain are far higher than simply making a standing Spanish army to have on hand.
Frrf – Thank you for the good wishes! The boyfriend is feeling better, and the weather has calmed a bit (though it snowed today AGAIN). Your wish has come true—look below!
Nikolai – Ha! Places near us got 21 inches (about 50+ centimeters) of snow in 18 hours… it was bad enough the American state I live in declared a state of emergency and basically shut down all east west travel. Half the problem isn’t the weather though, it’s that people in this city don’t know how to drive on snow. So if you dump even 2-3 inches of snow on their laps, they’re sliding and crashing left and right. 21 inches in that short a time does most people in period.
FlyingDutchie – Burgundy, if it can keep itself together, would definitely start the EU3 timeframe as one of, if not the, predominant non-successor European power. It’s got wealth, and prime positioning to play the colonial game. As for Andronikos—there is a definite crisis brewing. Nikephoros has made a name for himself, but should he sit on the throne he’ll need a co-ruler (just like Manuel). The problem becomes who gets the nod?
cezar87 – In most cases, you’d be right. Keep in mind however that Byzantine succession followed the traditions of the old ancient Roman custom, rather than Western European lines. Successors can be simply ‘adopted’ into the family to have the same rights as full on family members, it can be passed to the most capable members as opposed to simply the eldest son. That said, if Manuel was to officially get the nod, there’d be a great deal of palm greasing involved. When there are this many claimants, and potentially even more dynatoi sticking their noses in to rise on a claimant’s coattails, the bastard card goes from inconvenient to extremely powerful.
TC Pilot – Sounds like you were stuck in Chicagoland or Michigan when the storm got there. That video from Lake Shore Drive was insane…
Alan deLane – Glad to see you’re still following! And actually, it was Andronikos II, not III. No red herring there!
armonistan – That sounds like the setup that hit the south side of St. Louis where I live. Ice, then sleet, then snow, then a dab of ice on top. The end result had the hardness and slickness of a hockey rink, with triple the thickness. When we walked on it, our feet didn’t sink into it like normal snow (or even normal snow with some ice). We slid on the top without making an impression in the white mass of doom at all…
“Victory belongs to the swift, glory to the bold. Act swiftly and boldly, and you shall enjoy triumph after triumph.
– Alexandros Komnenos, Autokrator
“Speak sweetly to hide the mace behind your back.”[/i] – Manuel Komnenos, son of Emperor Andronikos I, 1301
May 21st, 1292
Gaston Capet was a man used to many things. He’d never been in a boat before, and in the day since he and his brother had boarded ship at Cherboug, Gaston decided he didn’t mind the sea as much as he thought he would. The salt air smelled invigorating, its freshness a far cry from the stink of latrine pits and horse manure that’d filled his nose for the past few years.
The late Archbishop sighed, and looked over at the reason for his first voyage. His brother Hugues was leaning over the ship’s railing, staring ahead at the long, dark mass of land ahead. Gaston did not prod what caused his brothers outburst—they were frequent, and Hugues was prone to bellowing about his discomfort if one gave him a half second.
“I hear England is full of nothing but fog!” Hugues thundered. “Their wine tastes like cat piss! And who would want to drink that?! An Englishman, that’s who!” The former King of the French spat over the railing. “Blasted sheep buggers!”
“Your former loyal subjects?” Gaston sighed under his breath.
“I’d rather roast in the bowels of hell than visit Londres again, that pile of horse swill and cow urine!” Hugues rumbled on, not hearing his brother. “And speaking of things not worth a sheep’s fart, I don’t want to see Charles!”
Ah, Charles—the name made Gaston smile wryly. Charles was no genius, but the young man had a good head on his shoulders, and a knack for picking good men to listen to. He’d commanded the main French gendarmeries, and he alone was the reason the Romans were stalled as long as they were. Hugues was content to swing his warhammer—Charles, as well as the Duc d’Essex and the Duc d’Normandie were the ones who decided where the King got to swing his beloved Martel. Fontainbleau had been a work of skill, and the Romans seemed stunned. For a full year, they pulled back to Aquitaine and Toulouse, giving Charles, Essex and Normandie time to retool the army, fill holes, and draft up more levies with their dwindling coffers. For a moment, Gaston had thought the inevitable had been staved off…
For a moment.
“…cowardly swine!” Hugues rant continued. “Only someone with the intestinal fortitude of a maggot would surrender France to keep cat-piss England!”
“He did it to save you,” Gaston murmured under his breath, staring off into the salt spray as the boat rocked yet again. Yes, Charles had surrendered after the disaster at Versailles—who wouldn’t have? He’d also saved Hugues and Gaston from Roman imprisonment too. Gaston looked over at his brother—no, Hugues would never recognize that.
“I mean, what is England? It’s full of people who know how to be good shepherds and take care of their sheep instead of their wives!” Hugues thunderously laughed at his own joke. “Sheep-shaggers, the lot of them!”
“Who’ll still pay taxes to your son,” Gaston muttered to himself. In the distance, the famous White Cliffs of Douvres stood stark and commanding through the fog. Gaston had been promised a nice room in the royal palace, the famed Tor de Londres. His nephew had arranged for him to have six servants even.
“And this stupid tower in Londres,” Hugues rumbled onwards. “I hear its drafty! And the Romans took my hunting dogs!” Hugues threw his hands up in frustration. “How am I supposed to chase off the kerns and other proles when I’m travelling through the city?”
“You won’t,” Gaston grumbled, drumming his finger on the railing of the ship. Hugues was no longer his lord and master, merely his half brother. Gaston smiled thinly—words were beginning to come to his head.
“And rocket carts!” Hugues went on, laughing humorlessly. “Who in God’s name is scared of a little smoke and stink? My God, at Versailles you would have thought our gendarmes were nothing more than a flock of geese, running from a mangy fox!”
“A flight you led, screaming the world was ending while your dropped your warhammer,” Gaston hissed under his breath. Yes, plenty of words were coming to mind quickly now.
Gaston’s men had word that the Romans were going to use some new weapon that spat fire and smoke—he’d warned Charles. The soldiers had been told the Romans might use a new weapon and to stand their ground. The French knew, they’d planned, they’d hoped, but no matter what Charles, the Constable, or any other man planned, nothing could prepare them for the terror that was a Roman fire-cart barrage. The Battle of Versailles had been lost before the Romans even closed to archery range, as horses and men panicked under the thunderous roar of fiery, stinking 3 foot bolts. The Roman advance in the aftermath was a mere formality.
As was the subsequent list of demands that arrived in the panicked courts of Paris—The Capets would recognize the ancient Komnenid claim to the title through the daughter of Drogo II, mother of Emperor Alexios I in the West, and surrender the title ‘King of the French’ as well as all the rights and responsibilities thereof to the distant Roman Emperor in Konstantinopolis. They would agree to retire to their English lands, where they would continue to rule unmolested. Charles even managed to get the Romans to agree to let him take on the title of his distant cousin, the Duc de Normandie, who fell at Versailles with a fire bolt through his groin—at the price of Hugues forcibly giving up his crown to Charles.
All in all, in Gaston’s mind, the Capets escaped the hatchet block rather cleanly, all things considered.
“They’re all weak men!” Hugues thundered on. “Weak bastards! If only I had Martel, I’d go back and clean the lot up myself! Alas, poor Martel, my friend!” Hugues waxed on, “Lost! One day I’ll return to you, dear friend! One day!”
“Hugues?” Gaston finally said.
“For God’s Sake, shut up!”
August 15th, 1292
“…while Marzban Kaukadenos reports that the Mazovian force was beaten back,” Spahbod Makarios Ioannopoulos sighed, a finger sliding across the crudely sketched map of central Germany and Poland towards a region labeled ‘Silesia.’ “His artesht was outnumbered slightly, but the Athenai thematakoi held their ranks well. Our reports were rather inaccurate—yes, there were many knights from the lands of the Liths, but the core of the army was Bohemian sellswords come south.”
“Did we capture that fool of a bishop?” Ioannopoulos’ lord, Basilieus Alexandros of Persia, grunted as he flipped through the hand-drawn maps. “Von Franken said the wretch signed an armistice two years ago—peace for 2,000 pounds of silver.”
“Apparently he was merely buying time,” Makarios grunted as well. “We didn’t capture him, or the commander of the force, some Bohemian named Kreivi Konrad Karp. They took heavy losses, and are retreating.”
“Good,” Alexandros stood up, glancing out the tent flap. Makarios followed his gaze—in the distance they could make out the squat shape of Berlin’s unfinished cathedral, along with the rudimentary wood palisade that passed for a city wall. The town was little more than a stopover—no one expected much loot, the city was more useful as a place to plunder of food before the army continued its march north and west.
The city was the endpoint of the planned campaign, now no more than a raid on a grand, everlasting scale, even Alexandros would admit. It was a great trading hub, the center of the northern routes of trade between the British Isles, Scandanavia, and the lands of Bohemia and Rus. But more than the wealth of countless rich burghers attracted Alexandros’ eye. It was also on the North Sea—poetically, reaching the city would have meant that the Persians had crossed the entire length of Germany from south to north, a feat Alexandros was sure no one had ever done with an army before.
Makarios dismissed such worries as silliness, even childish, but the city held even his gaze, if only for a different reason—for almost a century it’d been home to the Pope and the College of Cardinals. Stored in the Papstenpalast were all the valuable treasures the Papacy had carted north all those years before—priceless pieces of art, gold and silver, loot and treasure to dwarf that of the Arpad holds in Vienna or Pest. Should it fall into Persian hands and safely go all the way back to Isfahan, it would be enough to fund more than a few years of the entire Persian army’s wages…
Makarios blinked, as the shape of one of the pages blocked the small walls of Berlin in the distance. At Alexandros’ nod, the boy came further into the tent, and bowed. “Majesty, there is a messenger here from the court of Emperor Andronikos.”
“Bah,” Alexandros sighed, setting his maps down, “what does he want?” The page stood hestitantly for a moment, until the Persian King nodded, and waved for him to admit the unwanted intruder.
The man that stepped into the tent might have worn mud splattered trousers and a cape that’d seen too many winters, but one didn’t need to see the double eagle on his doublet to know he spoke for the Emperor of the Known World. His rigid back, and imperious bearing as he stepped inside and disdainfully glanced around the Persian royal tent spoke volumes—even before he opened his mouth with a soft, Konstantinopolis accent.
“Greetings, Alexandros, Basilieus ton Persion,” the man said with a flourish.
“Hello,” Alexandros nodded, before motioning towards his open campstool. The herald looked for only a moment, before shaking his head no.
“What is your message?” the King asked.
“I am charged to inform Your Majesty that His Majesty, the Megas Komnenos, has agreed to a peace proposal sent by His Majesty, King Dietmar of the Germans,” the herald said haughtily.
“W…wait?” Makarios frowned. “Dietmar is King of Burgundy, and wasn’t even at war…” The Spahbod cast a confused look over to his master—the Persian King had a quizzical look on his face as well. “But Emperor Hesso…” Makarios started again, before looking back at the herald confused. The messenger looked back at him, blinking.
“Ah,” he said after a moment, a condescending smile coming to his lips, “Surely Your Majesty knows that the Armies of the West took Pope Celestine and the College of Cardinals prisoner?” the herald prodded. At both Makarios and Alexandros shaking their heads, the man cleared his throat. “Ah, well. Pandomestikos Makrinokomnenos defeated the French outside of Versailles, completely breaking their army, on the 16th of April, forcing the French to surrender to his terms. A month later or thereabouts, the Hispanikon laid siege to Trier, and Pope Celestine came to terms, abolishing the office of Holy Roman Emperor and naming King Dietmar of Burgundy as King of the Germans,” the herald said. “Dietmar came to terms within the day.”
“And the terms are?” Alexandros asked quietly. Makarios noticed the King’s hands were shaking slightly—he braced himself. Without fear, the messenger produced a series of papers, all bearing the imperial seal. He handed them to the king as he spoke.
“Roman and allied forces will withdraw from Germany, and be allowed to keep any and all plunder taken,” the herald said. “The German King agreed to a Pact of Friendship with His Majesty the Emperor, pledging to support him in all future endeavors,” the herald said with fearlessness borne of ignorance.
For a second, Alexandros stared at the document once more, before looking up at Makarios, then the heralds. His eyes were wide.
“Out… please,” the Persian King said, his voice a dead quiet whisper. The herald bowed, amd having executed his duty, left the tent and the upcoming firing line. The tent flap barely had time to close, before the King’s pent of fury exploded to the surface.
“The swine!” Alexandros hurled the crumpled paper across the tent. “The foul bellied, yellow-ninnied…” he stumbled over his own anger, before finally spitting out, “swine!” He looked around, before his eyes found his campstool. A well placed kick sent it aloft.
“Maj…” Makarios started, but the royal geyser of anger erupted on anyways.
“That amale! He’s no more than a khange kodah! Gendeh!”
Makarios ducked as the royal inkwell sailed through the air as well. Several lower ranking officers and pages stuck their heads through the tent, clearly alarmed by the long string of high-pitched, vile curses that roared through the air. Makarios looked at them, and shook his head. He’d try to calm the king down—there was no reason for them to put themselves in the way of flying missiles.
“Majesty!” Makarios yelled at a pause in the flinging, grabbing his lord and master by the shoulders. The King was in mid-reach to grab one of his wooden camp-plates. He stopped.
“I’ll march to the city of Hamburg anyway!” Alexandros snarled at no one and everyone. “I’ll take that town, and all the Papal treasures, and buy out all Gottfried’s sellswords and march on Konstantinopolis, by God! I’ll show that son of a whore what a son of Gabriel can do!”
“Majesty!” Makarios bellowed again, this time giving Alexandros a good shake. “Majesty, you’ll play right into his hands!” Makarios begged. He could see the fire in his liege’s eyes—Alexandros had been undercut, had been undone, and he wanted his revenge. But no—it couldn’t come this way.
“Play into… his hands?” Alexandros asked, breathing heavy and eyes still wide. The Perisan King was by no means calm, but Makarios pressed on.
“Majesty,” Makarios said again, “continuing to march would make you an outlaw waging an unlawful war. Right now, you are popular with the dynatoi—do this, and you become a liability—Andronikos could move against you with all his might, while you were stranded in hostile lands, cut off from home! Nothing,” the Spahbod said gently, “would make Andronikos happier than to be able to let you wither in Germany until he has his tagmata readied to crush you. We’ll have Germans at our backs, and Andronikos at our front, Majesty!”
“I…” Alexandros started to protest. Makarios could see it in his friend’s eyes, his mind searching, begging for a way where he could get to Hamburg, or destroy his lame adversary in Konstantinopolis. It took a minute, but the King’s eyes fell when he saw Makarios’ point.
“Well,” the Persian King sat down, staring off at distant Berlin, “what should we do?” He spoke with a voice of resignation, dejection.
Makarios didn’t take a second to enjoy his rare triumph, instead…
“Demand a triumph,” Makarios said. “He’ll have no choice!” the Spahbod went on. “His nobles have grown rich from your victories, his people have heard your name. If he said no, his nobles would have another reason to begrudge him, and his own people would rise up in hatred! And perhaps,” the Spahbod thought aloud, “it might be just the thing to do your grandfather justice?”
“A triumph…” Alexandros said slowly, quietly. For a moment he looked off into space, before a quick smile lit up his lips. “Ironic. It’d mean the grandson of Gabriel will march through The City in triumph five years after the Desert Lion passed on. Maybe it could even…” Alexandros’ voice dropped away, his face growing serious with thought.
Ioannopoulos frowned—he dreaded where the King’s silent thoughts were going. Just as the first of his protestations touched the tip of his tongue, Alexandros turned back, sad smile once more on his face.
“Nah…” the Persian monarch sighed wistfully, before walking over and picking up the campstool he’d rudely thrown aside minutes before. He sat down, and stared off towards the south and east—towards home? Towards Konstantinopolis? Makarios wondered which, just as the Basilieus said something under his breath. Just barely, the Spahbod thought he heard the words:
October 18th 1292
Andronikos Komnenos grunted unpleasantly—his leg was stinging, his foot was burning, and he wanted nothing more than to prop it up on a chair and to rest.
But alas, he could not—the cherry with inlaid gold table in the center of the Council Chambers of the Kosmodion was simply too expensive for even an emperor to plop his feet on its immaculate surface however he pleased. The Megas Komnenos knew he didn’t have to wait much longer, though. The busy of the day was done, and one by one, the logothetes and commanders were paying their respects, then leaving.
And what a meeting it’d been. Nikephoros’ return to the capital was planned in detail—Andronikos planned to spare no expense. If he had to give a triumph for Alexandros, he was for damned sure going to make sure it was a shared triumph, with Nikephoros and Makrinokomnenos taking bows on behalf of the Western Armies. Before that even, Andronikos wanted a chance to introduce the city to his son as a general and soldier—so Nikephoros’ ship was to be greeted by the full might of the Palatoikoi in parade kit, who would then escort him with the full pomp and circumstance of a sitting emperor to the Kosmodion palace, throwing gold and silver along the way. It’d be an expensive spectacle, the logothetes on genikou had moaned, but despite coffers shortened by war, Andronikos felt it was money well spent.
A smooth succession was priceless.
Then there was the triumph itself. Andronikos knew what his Persian rival was trying to gain support with the masses of the city, but the Megas Komnenos would outdo him. It’d taken a great deal of persuasion to get the new Patriarch to bend, but Andronikos found Thomas of Aquino was an easy man to manipulate. Andronikos won the debate arguing that the coronation of Nikephoros as Nikephoros V, Emperor of the Romans and co-Emperor with his father, was something that as many people as possible should witness. In all of Konstantinopolis, nay, the empire, there was no better place than the Hippodrome, the culmination of every triumph since the days of the Megas.
As the shuffle of parchments and muttering of voices continued, Andronikos looked up, only to find his logothetes ton dromou staring back at him.
“Yes, my dear?” Andronikos asked sweetly as the last of the logothetes left. He nodded curtly to the two servants beside those great bronze doors—they silently went into the hall, pulling the doors shut behind them. Before the rumbling clang had finished echoing through the chambers, the diplomatic smile fell from Andronikos’ lips—he suspected what was coming from the almost heated words of the Inner Council meeting...
“Why do you prop up the Exarch?” Sbyslava asked sharply. Yes, she was going to rehash that point again.
“Sbyslava,” Andronikos pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed, “I do not ‘prop up’ Makrinokomnenos. The man broke the French, and forced Celestine to come to terms. I really don’t…”
“You let him wait a year before beginning his campaign,” she said, starting the litany that she’d use to hound Andronikos for the better part of two years, “then fully propped him up!” the Empress-and-logethetes cut him off. “He is dangerous, and he is biding his…”
“…He was trying to ensure that the Hispanikon was adequately…” the Emperor offered once more. Keep it calm, he told himself.
“…time to put his men in place!” Sbyslava rumbled onwards. “Now he’s flush with victory and will be expecting his share…”
Andronikos stopped his protest in mid-word. It’d be wasted breath as his wife and logothetes ton dromou berated him about domestic security—something completely outside the foreign affairs and relations she was supposed to focus on. There were times when Andronikos treasured having someone as obviously smart and keen as Sbyslava in the Inner Council, as well as his bedchamber. She, like Doryotta, had shown tact regarding Andronikos and the memory of Cecilia—she understood he laid with her as his husbandly and imperial duty, but that he would never love her. She was young, but she had excellent instincts when it came to dealing with foreign dignitaries, and estimating what their masters truly were planning. She’d deduced that the King of Makuria was planning a snatch and grab raid on the important ironmaking center of Meroe, south of Egypt, and sent warning to the Aiguptokomnenoi. When the Makurians arrived, they found two tagmata of the Aegyptikon present performing an ‘unscheduled deployment.’
The Makurians turned and left.
Yet for that, or the time where she resolved a dispute between the Princes of Alania and the Golden Horde, there were times like today, where he wished her mouth could be mortared shut. For all her gifts, Sbyslava was, with her husband, blunt. Andronikos had no doubt there were many in the Empire who questioned him, who said he was misruling on this, or chose badly on that. Over the years, he’d ignored those voices—he’d defeated Gabriel twice, destroyed Arghun, and reunited the Empire, after all. And all those voices went quiet—he had no doubt they all wanted to correct him, to ‘steer’ him this way or that for their own interests. Sbyslava was merely the only one with the courage to speak it in front of the Megas Komnenos.
“How many strategoi did he promote, and from where? How many bandarches? How many…”
Andronikos steepled his hands as the barrage went on. Yes, Makrinokomnenos had requested no less than 10 promotions of men from the Mauretanikon to the position of strategos of tagmata in the Hispanikon, now wintering in Aquitaine and Toulouse. Yes, he’d put forward his son as well as his own domestikos for two of the leaderless banda, whose commanders fell the previous year. Andronikos didn’t doubt the Exarch had been bolstering his own position, and he knew the man was ambitious.
“I know he’s ambitious, but I couldn’t do anything!” Andronikos finally hissed in frustration, both at her and the situation. He was the most powerful man in the Empire, with an unparalleled network of spies and assassins, but still he could not strike at Makrinokomnenos—not without proof! It’d anger the dynatoi, it’d break the image Andronikos had steadily nurtured among the people for the previous two decades that he was a civilized, cultivated ruler, not some tyrannical butcher!
Makrinokomnenos had been clever and lucky—losses from previous campaigns had gutted the upper ranks of the Hispanikon, either through injury, or dismissal for incompetence. The Exarch could simply say he was promoting men he knew, men he’d commanded, to these important positions. He’d delayed the start of his campaign to both give his new officers time to get used to their new commands, as well as waiting for 120 pyrokaroi, bolts, and the requisite pyritida, or black powder, to fire them. If Andronikos had acted against a popular man with such reasonable reasons for his actions, it would’ve stirred the quiet beast that were the dynatoi of the Empire, as well as enraged many of the strategoi in the West. Now that Makrinokomnenos was flush with victory, forcing the Pope to heel and the French King across the Britannic, he was nigh untouchable.
And he knew it.
“You are Megas Komnenos, you can do something!” Sbyslava rejoined. “You are the undisputed Emperor of All Christendom, the unrivalled heir to the Caesars! A Pope bowed to your demands, and legions await your call! Why…
“It’s not that simple!” Andronikos slammed the flat of his palm against the ebony frame of his chair. The sharp crack hurt his ears and his hand, but it brought him a moment of silence. He went into the gap. “Makrinokomnenos is popular with the nobility and the army! He’s a successful general, and a useful counterweight to the Persian…”
“Another issue you should’ve handled earlier…”
“And how?” Andronikos crossed his arms gruffly.
“You have the Oikoi!” she said quickly. “Have him arrested on suspicion of treason! There’ll be evidence, plenty of evidence, I warrant you! And while you are about that, get rid of that Mauretanian scab in before he…”
Andronikos felt his lip curling upward as she spoke. Sbyslava knew what power was, yes, but she didn’t understand what it meant to wield it! Andronikos was the Emperor, he could command armies and nobles from Spain to Samarkand, but there were limits. Rules. Invisible lines that kept the demons of the empire at bay. The Emperor was as much an actor and illusionist as he was a powerful ruler. If he did what he could do, he’d destroy the façade his reign had been built on! The dynatoi were already grumbling in their sleep—Andronikos did not want to awaken them
“…usurps the throne from your beloved Nikephoros!” she finished her sentence.
Andronikos felt the sneer finishing on his face. Why drag him into this? The young man had proven himself—he’d been wounded more times than Andronikos had seen field battles, he’d fought bravely, fought honorably, and with more sense than many of the other commanders there. He was no Basil III, but in all other cases, he would have been the undisputed successor.
Would have been.
But he wasn’t—not with rumors of disease. The Vice Gerent of Christ was supposed to be whole of body, more or less. Andronikos glanced darkly at his cane—he was an exception. The people, the Church, and the dynatoi would make no such exception for a leper.
“I’m raising him to Autokrator,” Andronikos rested his hands on top of his cane, “to ensure his succession. Surely you don’t believe any of the phantoms you see,” he gestured about the room, “will come and snatch the diadem from his head? When I am gone, he will already be emperor!”
“He needs to have a co-emperor appointed by you to rule alongside him after he dies,” Sbyslava said.
Ah, so there it was—the subject no one would broach, but everyone was thinking about. Andronikos had pondered it himself—who would rule? Certainly not Demetrios—the boy’s impatience, lack of judgment, and drunkenness would only cause trouble. Alexios was whiny and stubborn, and yes, he was too much under the influence of Makrinokomnenos to be considered for the purple. Theodoros was too unproven, not that a prankster had much to prove. Leo seemed like a pious, dutiful boy, and he adored Nikephoros, but he was simply too young for now. Sbyslava’s toddlers as well. There was always Manuel however…
“I need time, Sbyslava,” Andronikos growled the conclusion he’d reached long ago. He’d planned on legitimizing Manuel on his promotion into the Oikoi,” though plying the dynatoi to make him a co-Emperor would take time. Leo, with time, could prove his worth and become a formidable young man. Sbyslava’s boys could grow up into noteworthy men. All of these could happen.
“Time? Time is the one thing you do not have, husband!” Sbyslava snapped. “How old was the Megaloprepis when he passed? Thomas II? Nikolaios? Nikephoros has donned the mask, Andronikos!” she said, “His poor wife…”
“How old was the Megas?” Andronikos gritted his teeth in reply, cutting her off. Enough was enough! "Do you speak to me as my logothetes, or as mother of two more contenders for my throne?” Andronikos heard himself say. He winced instantly—he hadn’t meant to be that blunt, that direct, that sharp, but it slipped out, and by the thunderous look that crawled over his wife’s face, he’d clearly hit a nerve.
“I speak to you as someone with common sense!” her voice dropped to a bare hiss, only slightly audible. For some reason, the words made him see red. He had no common sense? None?!
“Do you wish to nag me to my death?” Andronikos heard someone explode, the whipcrack roar echoing around the study. Sbyslava’s nostrils flared—it was then the Emperor realized the voice was his own.
“Nag you?” she snarled right back. “I am trying to save you, save your throne from those who would tear it asunder! As long as you live, Andronikos, they will stay in line! You are unassailable! But the moment you die…”
“Are you daring to envisage my death?” He was furious at her obstinence, furious at her yelling, and furious at himself that he couldn’t do anything about any of the problems she’d brought up—or even her! He wanted to jump to his feet, to snarl at her only inches from her face, to make her cower and quiver. He managed to rise only halfway before pain pounded through his foot and his bad leg trembled. Too late, he reached for his cane. Instead of rising thunderously to his feet, the Emperor of the Known World awkwardly collapsed back into his chair with an unroyal grunt.
“I do not envisage your death,” Sbyslava snapped, “I know it is coming, it will happen one day and I want myself and my sons to be safe!”
“Who would harm you?” Andronikos hissed sullenly, angry at her for frothing at him, and angry at himself for not rising to challenge her like he would have even five years before. The anger was ebbing—a moment before, he had wanted to harm her for her stubbornness.
“Makrinokomnenos,” Sbyslava said without hesitation, “is growing closer Alexios, and is no doubt filling the boy’s mind with all sorts of vileness. Now that he is a successful commander with a loyal army behind him he will use Alexios to cause all sorts of mischief…”
“He’s taken the boy as a page so he can learn a little of the world and war!” the Emperor countered.
“…Your pet Syrenios does the same with your bastard Manuel…” the Empress plowed onwards.
“…the boy is to become one of the Oikoi!” Andronikos snapped again, only to have his wife thunder on over his words. He rolled his eyes, furious at her, furious at fate that he couldn’t hush her like he wanted.
“…and Demetrios sulks in Italy, crowing to all in earshot that the diadem is his when he’s not busy fathering bastards amongst the noble women of Tuscany or stumbling through the streets dead drunk!” she spat. “[i]Any[/] of them, husband, would gladly be rid of me and my two babes! And this isn’t even counting the Persian who’s armies will be marching in triumph through your capital!”
“Would you have me deny them?” Andronikos growled, his own voice unnaturally quiet. “Enrage the Persian lion, as well as the Balkan dynatoi that ‘marched’ with him? If you have as many enemies as you say, madam,” he heard his voice coming back, rising in anger, “then you had best not offend this Alexandros! Give the lion his morsel and he’ll be on his way back to his cave!” Andronikos yelled.
To his fury, his young wife, all of 24 years old, shook her head slowly, scorn pulling her lips into a mockery of a smile.
“Bribes and time do not kill some men,” she shot back, “they only make them stronger. You think you rule the world,” she growled, “but you let men rule you. Every day your finger slips further from the diadem! You are surrounded by men who say yes, who smile, who gut other men while they sharpen their knives for the day you are gone! By age or by men, it does not matter, one day you will not rule! And when that day comes, I fear for my sons!”
“I would fear for them too if they had to deal with such naggery!” Andronikos spat. The biting words did their work—Sbyslava without a word turned and threw open the doors by herself, storming into the hallway. Andronikos sighed with relief—it was over. As confused servants closed the doors yet again, the Emperor looked over to the left. As if cued by an invisible messenger, the door opened, and Antemios Syrenios, temporary head of the Oikoi walked into the room, his unreadable, dark smile dancing across his lips.
“You heard?” Andronikos rubbed his beard quietly.
Syrenios nodded. “Majesty,” Syrenios said in that quiet voice of his, “if you wish…”
“No,” Andronikos shook his head. No—this war had started because men in the West spread the rumor he’d murdered his wife. For him to actually kill his latest wife—no. The death would serve no purpose, and cause more harm than good. “No,” he said again, this time with more conviction, “no need.” He glared quietly and the door, then settled into his chair more—she was young, she was beautiful, if he didn’t lay with her, rumors would spread about the court, even if he didn’t want to give her any more sons to drag out as potential heirs. “She’s a foreigner in this city. She’s not a threat,” the Emperor said grimly.
“Shall I have her followed more closely, Majesty?” Syrenios offered.
Andronikos smiled slightly—good Syrenios. The man seemed to know exactly what Andronikos wanted and always tried to be helpful. That was a rarity these days, its seemed, when all about schemed as if Andronikos Komnenos was dead and got, not just a 44 year old with a bad case of gout.
“Do you think so?” Andronikos asked quietly. He didn’t want to make Sbyslava any angrier than she was—she was no threat, but she could cause all manners of headaches, both in public embarrassment and private torture.
“Majesty,” Syrenios folded his hands in front of himself, “If there were enough men and money, I would have every person within Your Empire followed.”
Andronikos laughed, pulling his cane close. “If only such money existed!” The emperor eyed the golden tip of his cane gleaming above the pitch black of ebony, and sighed. It gleamed brilliantly in the daylight, save one spot—a fingerprint smudge made one tiny part of the tip dull. Andronikos frowned.
“Do you think she’s right?” he whispered to himself. “Am I losing my…” His words ground to a halt, and he looked up at the new Archeoikos. Syrenios smiled pleasantly, but gave no sign he’d heard those fatal words. Andronikos gently tapped the cane on the floor, then pushed his ponderous mass upwards.
“Follow her discreetly,” he ordered, limping towards the door. “Oh, and,” he added quickly, “if an opportunity presents itself, take care of Alexandros, please.”
The war has ended, Roman arms have triumphed, and the empire stands at its largest extent, and the dreaded Capetians have been almost kicked off the continent. But victory abroad has not meant peace at home—the Empress is worried about plots, while Andronikos increasingly realizes his own lack of power to stop the situation. Time is his ally, time is what he needs. Will he get that time? Is Alexandros seriously contemplating a bid for Konstantinopolis? More to come, on Rome AARisen in Where the Diadem Falls!