Milites: I'm only briefly familiar with Long Ships, and it would have well slipped past me altogether if it wasn't for Arn of Gothia being in the related wiki category. As for Vancouver - there's definitely upsides to it and I do love it; I'm just having post-vacation blues.
Ivashanko: thanks for the interest; and I hope you catch more echoes in the storytelling than I am able to convey in English. Moscow will make an appearance in the story a few times as well.
canonized: welcome back; the pictures are acquired by months of trawling the internets for them, so much so that I can't remember where the individual ones are from. However, most of the ones I used were either Osprey or Gorelik or Dzys; thank you very much for the thumbs up about the map.
As for what follows: I decided to adjust the format yet again. Perpetually torn between pseudo-scholarly exposition and the need to continue with the story, I think creating dedicated digressions is detrimental to the flow and distracts me too easily. Perhaps attaching a relevant mini-essay to the narrative chapter would satisfy both the readers who like history and the ones who like a (hopefully) good story. To that end, I shall refrain from pairing the narratives; hopefully this will be beneficial for update speed.
Once again, immeasurable thanks to Calipah for help with the Arabic poetry. The first one is definitely as clever as it's supposed to be.
Cheers and enjoy!
From Rus to Russia
Waves of Blood and Grass
Ishak returned from the grand hunt in good spirits, blood flushing his cheeks. The pheasants hanging off his saddle were plump, and the doe, the great prize he brought down with the bow (the escort respectfully let him take the first shot), was being transported by the huntsmen to the center of the large and well-groomed field that hosted the day’s – and Ishak chuckled a little when he thought of the word – picnic. It was supposed to be a small affair, which would allow him to properly meet his mother visiting from Edirne outside the echoing palace walls, but the local Gelibolu notables caught wind of it. Before anyone knew it, the … picnic … transformed into a sizeable outdoors feast celebrating the achievements of the local people – the timariots, the ghazis, and, he privately admitted, most of all, the privateer captains of the navy in the last war against the Athenians. It also marked the near-completion of his first year as the governor of the strategic town which oversaw the narrow straits that were the quickest link between the Osmans’ Anatolian and Balkan holdings. In all the pomp, the visit of the Sultana was almost overlooked. Perhaps it was better that way.
She had declined the hunt, of course. It wasn’t unknown or improper for the women of the princely houses to hunt – they were still of Turkish lines after all. Ishak’s mother, however, was Baghdad-born and in her polite, cultured way disdained the blood-flushed pleasures of the chase and the kill, though it didn’t stop her from admiring her second son, taller now in the saddle than the time he rode with his father to accept the Tzar’s admittance of defeat, on a taller horse, as well-appointed as ever. He was clever, but respectful of the locals, a prince and yet one aware of his youth. The turnout to the festival testified to his rising popularity in this corner of the nascent Empire. The timariots milled around, interacting with the moneyed almost-nobles of the great merchant houses, and the blue-blooded Byzantine defectors, ever displeased with something but oh so useful at times. Around them were the cultured hangers-on; the white-robed sheiks and the bearded mystics and the occasional Christian intellectual with Hellenic pretensions. More numerous but less colourful, the army of servants around them, cooking, cleaning, setting up tents.
His mother came from an Empire far older; far grander; far wearier and worn, too. Baghdad escaped the Mongol destruction that many of its rivals to the east suffered, but even so it slowly fell from the pinnacle of power it had been under the Grand Seljuks. The Jundays – the Turkish warrior clans who elected to serve the Caliph – were slowly losing their influence on the city and its lands, and losing influence, they also lost interest. A steady trickle of them headed to the beyliks of Anatolia to rough it out for a generation so that their children could obtain more wealth and power than they themselves had; more yet came to the court of the Osmans.
Zafira’s father was one of them. He got his wish – his daughter's beauty caught the Sultan’s eye, and her intellect, trained by fine and expensive tutors, his final interest. The Sultan’s favour turned him into a wealthy man, and his skill with selling silk and buying farms into an important landowner. She was as good a hostess as anyone could have wished for while Ishak was gone hunting, and he was grateful for it.
She waited for him, in her rich robes of blue and pale green, the pearls adorning her still-dark hair, and smiled, and thanked him graciously as he presented her with the birds, the bounty he obtained as a hunter and a rider. It was well done, and the guests approved. He dismounted and had the servants lead away the horse.
“My prince – a poem!” someone called out, and greying Ahmedi, Gelibolu's most famous poet, stepped forward and offered one up:
سيف مقطع كحجب الولية, وضر كزهر ناصع, أميرنا للعدو الاثم يدميه دما ,كلهو الحديث
The sword which cuts like the gaze behind a veil of the beloved, and a pain from the thorns of fragrant roses; thus Our Prince induces the sinner to bleed, easily like the passing talk
The poet did a good job; not only was the word for the sinner, the enemy – A'thm – a clever play on the defeated Athenians, the man managed to slip in a personal compliment, while completely within the customary imagery. Ishak's thanks was sincere.
And where there was one, there had to be another. Another man jumped in -
By God, to whom Taymiyya has attested figuration, I beseech the noble prince, to take pity on the pheasant as thou pitied the Roman!
Ah, but this one was an unfortunate one; praise for the hunting skills in a playful couplet contained a reference to the last campaign; pity the Roman – whether an aspersion on his martial character and diplomatic efforts, or shameless flattery, Ishak didn't approve. He was there simply in charge of logistics by sea to his army, and his task was done flawlessly, and that was that.
He smiled and replied with one of his own:
'Tis but a dreamer's musings when compared to the blood and toil of the Ghazi Azap
The approval was plain; the answer was well-chosen. The nobles remembered their tribal roots, the lessers, the contributions of the humble. And then, there were people to greet. Some greetings were easy.
"It is good of you do come, good master Cenan; I hope your ships sail well on the Sultan's seas!"
Some were less so -
“Your son was a hero, Kamal Agha; this city grieves for him”
But the greetings had to end, and Ishak had to know something important before the day was done.
“Friends,” he addressed the followers, “I am most pleased to offer you the humble hospitality of this field; please, partake of the food and the refreshments. In the meanwhile, I must pay respects to the noblest of my guests, who travelled far to be here this day.”
“Yes, lords and ladies,” Zafira's voice announced from the throng of wellborn ladies as she stepped forward with a smile, “the mother's heart is never happy when far away from her child, and this mother has braved the road from Edirne to see him, and she won't accept any excuses!”
All men have mothers, and many smiled despite themselves into their martial moustaches. The prince and his mother were finally left alone – almost alone, except for the servant woman standing discreetly outside the white pavillion where the two took their meal.
“How was the journey?” Ishak asked as they sat down with roasted fowl, bread, and honeycakes.
“Not nearly as terrible as I feared; I thank God for the weather, and give special thanks for the almond blossoms along the road”
“How is the Sultan?”
“He's well, your father; he had an ivory carver make some new tower markers for his big board to mark all the new castles he conquered, and he finally gave up on trying to break in the striped horses from Africa; they are entirely unsuited to riding by temperament.”
“Perhaps I should have someone carve the map of Gelibolu as well; alabaster, of course. What do you think of it, this little town of mine?”
“It's a pretty place in the sunshine; and your former tutors, my sunshine, definitely raise the standards for the rest of the youth in the Madrassa; Abu Faris especially. And you do a good job, Amir.”
“You could, if you have time, go down to the quay. We're building a new mosque, all in white stone, and the planted trees have finally flowered last year.”
“Don't worry; it is as beautiful as I remember. What of you? How do you find life here?”
“I am busy; I see potential here, for me, for the Sultan. It is hard not to, when you look out over the sea from the window.”
“You have moved your seat to the Princess's Tower, I see.”
“It's much closer to where the center of the town is; the castle is far. It would perhaps please the timariots – but though they are fine men, the timars here will never amount to a full sanjak.”
“It is a good choice.”
“And it is close to the market; one can find many things, perhaps those not even easily found in the capital.”
“Then I shall perhaps take an interest during my stay here.”
“The merchants may be pleased to donate half again of what we purchase to the school and the new fountain; or perhaps do better when seeing a great and gracious lady.”
Zafaira laughed with both her voice and her eyes, though the two laughs each sang a separate song.
“Ah, but you really do try to make the best of what you're given.”
“The Sultan is lucky to have such a faithful servant and such a dutiful son, and your city is lucky to have to tell them what to do. Lucky Gelibolu.”
“...are there other cities as lucky, then? Tekirdag? Bursa?”
“Oh, Kamal is a fool like his mother, and Bursa is across the straits and in tribal country.”
Zafira fell silent, then replied, deliberately, carefully:
“Yusuf is my son, as you are, and Kavala is a lucky city. There's too many others to worry about without making enemy of your own.”
“What if I told you, that the blood bond would become real chains in the future, and that I know it plainly?”
She closed her eyes briefly.
“You, you would find a way. And Yusuf is my son.”
It was much later, in the dark inky hours before the Aegean midnight, that Ishak realised he couldn't find escape in his reading anymore. Yes, the Rumi and the Turk rival families had just previously made alliance through an improbable, though romantic, exchange of marriages and blood oaths, but some characters from previous books found the True Faith and returned as neighbours and rivals, this time across a valley in the Levant. The dramatic fate of the two clans, forever near, yet forever enemies, continued in a new location; wherever Rum met Islam, the story went on. Ishak loved both the artistry of the retellings and the raw epic feeling of the sources from which the Jerusalem Greek compiler put the tale together; but not today. Today, the Prosoikoi could wait.
It was all wrong, and no amount of reading would change that.
“She will not choose.”
She didn't deserve to have to choose. But she had to; perhaps, he thought previously, she didn't know what Yusuf thought of him, but now it looked like that was just empty hope.
Bitterness welled up inside him, then anger. He nearly crushed his precious parchment, with its neat lines of Greek and Turkish, side by side. He set his teeth, stood up, and put the book away neatly, then sat back down.
His father wouldn't live forever, and it was clear he no longer wished to divide his lands the way that the ancestors had done. His uncles and distant relatives were all but independent, and not always cooperative. It was obvious that to continue doing so would be to squander the strength, especially in this new land, where the Rum and the Slavs outnumbered his people twenty to one; to fade away or to be overthrown in the near future, instead of forging a new Empire out of what they were given.
Nor would the Balkans forgive splintering; the Christian states, divided as they were, were easy pickings now. He could see how the reverse would be true – had already been true once. The Great Seljuk tide washed over this land before, then broke into small pools, then puddles; and the Rus swept them away when they took Constantunople. Anatolia was large, sparse. Thrace was closer, nearer, more connected. There was no space to let each son take up a Sanjak and go his own way.
Ishak dug under his pillow, and brought out a piece of paper, to read it. He had already read it before, again and again, and it still said the same thing.
To his careful offer of a strong right hand in the indefinite future, written vaguely so to be deniable, his fool of a brother replied in plain words -
“I promise you one thing: you shall have all the books you want, and some paper for when you run out of reading material. But when I rule, little brother, I will put you in the prettiest cage I can find, and keep you there.”
And his mother knew, and she would not choose.
He again wanted to scream, or cry, but he was better than that. He did the best with what he had, and something had to be done.
He threw the letter on the fire, then opened the door and summoned a servant.
“Bring me Orhan. Wake him if you need to.”
Historical Note - the Late Acritic Epic, or What Does the Sultan Read for Fun?
The Pepromenoi Prosoikoi, (Fated Neighbours) also known as “Antonids and the children of Ziyad” and “Across the Border”, is perhaps the culmination of the rebirth of neo-akritic literature in the post-Byzantine world, but in many ways a departure and a synthesis with another genre, the Byzantine Romantic novel. While Ioannis Horsemaster, or Killikias the Wanderer despite their pastoral theme are clearly courtly in origin, and Annika the Warrior is a Slavic imitation, this was compiled by a mid-14th century Greek author, most likely in the Tsardom of Jerusalem. Its foremost innovation is creating a framework for the individual episodes included in the cycle. Though the deeds of the heroes are in fact quite unselfconsciously borrowed from prior or contemporary epics, and the general emplotments would be familiar to most of the intended readership, they are rarely directly lifted from the sources without extensive rework. The format is poetic prose, reliant on rhythm for ease of reading, consciously avoiding rhyme and alliteration, a large but logical change from the poetic song structure of other, earlier Akritic works and in line with other late examples of the genre, such as Maria’s Son and the Wolves.
The framework itself is unique for its time; the majority of the epic tales about the Akritai, the Byzantine military settlers and border guards in the time of the Macedonian Dynasty, are centered on one undefeatable protagonist, whose lengthy tale includes overwhelming amounts of heroic deeds – wrestling wild beasts, defeating Saracens, rescuing talking horses, captured maidens and aging fathers, defeating the armed robbers that plagued the lands, and even slaying dragons – the Prosoikoi lessens its heroes by giving them far more limited accomplishments, and instead splitting the familiar list between several generations of the same family. In that way they are more in line with the songs of Andronikos and Armouris, centered around a central story, though somewhat lesser nonetheless, than the expansive Digenis Akritis.
The long stringing of heroic achievements of, to use a standout example, Digenis Akiritis, serves as a great contrast to his inevitable mortal end; the Heraclean imagery of many of the akritic heroes (double ancestry, slaying lions, wielding a club) serves especially to prepare the reader for the hero’s confrontation with Death, in the person of Charon or Thanatos, often implied and behind the scenes, though sometimes explicit. In all versions, the hero dies. The writer of the Prosoikoi avoids the centrality of a hero’s death, by splitting the double-origin into two rival families, always destined to hold plots right across the border between the Roman and the Saracen worlds, affirming and trivializing the individual mortality of the temporary protagonists, but giving the fated bloodline itself a semblance of perpetuity. If the Antonids are collectively a personification of the Roman Akritai, and the Ziyads are a collective image of the Muslim, Turkish ghazis, we may for the first time be dealing with a literary hero that is in some ways immortal, locked forever in a struggle with an equally immortal antagonist.
Yet for all that, the two sides retain nobility that is common in all medieval Chivalric epics, and a human realism that is less common in epic verse. This is where elements of a grand love story, repeated almost unchanged in all Greek novels from the late Roman era to the early Renaissance, really come in. Every generation has one, or two central love stories, many of them crossing the border of the two worlds, and to achieve the reunification of the separated lovers, former enemies may make temporary cause with each other, especially in defeating the ubiquitous brigands, pirates and dragons. Like in the classic novel, the protagonists must resist the charms of other characters and remain true to each other – courteous Amirs and fiery Amazon warrior-women being the most common examples. In a remarkable demonstration that provides a sort of prequel to the kind of cross-cultural love story that could produce a Digenis, the Ziyads and the Antonids become one house after several books of confrontations, with the young men leading the houses swearing an oath of friendship and marrying each other’s sisters. However, fate wins out in the end; some characters from the families’ side branches have formed a similar union on the other side of the border, and once again the Muslim and Roman worlds find themselves in confrontation.
The work is also unafraid of situating its protagonists in history, unlike the more generalized Akritic epic that vaguely takes place in the time of the Arab invasions; the first generation faces each other across a gully in Syria, before the fall of Antioch; the second occupy two sides of the same hill in Thrace in the time of the Selujk invasions and the Doukid anarchy. The third generation finds themselves, after the Seljuks’ defeat, in Galatia, during the reign of Heraklios Monomach; then the Syrian border once again, in the wars of Emperor Alexander. The two lines merge when moving into the holy land, advised so by the Angels (a popular set of cult figures in late Byzantine Levant), only to be faced with their own kin once again in the Jordan valley in the last book of the cycle. The book was quite popular and several well-preserved copies exist. Several have parallel texts in two languages; normally Turkish and Greek, but sometimes Arabic or Slavonic are substituted instead. A single example of a Galician and Arabic exists with several inaccuracies that were later propagated through the Occitan and French examples.
Despite the popularity and the influence of this work, the Generational Akritic epic did not establish itself as an independent genre in the post-Byzantine world; in the next wave of heroic story revival, in the 16th century Balkans and Russia, the transference of the heroic impulse is done through swearing of brotherhood or passing on of a symbolic item, such as a magic sword, another new development. It is in late Burgundian chivalric romances that writers really took up the idea, creating heroic deeds for the entirety of the family line of the Burgundian Kings, beginning where Charlemagne-centric stories leave off and finishing in the mid-15th c.