Pro Senātus Populusque Rōmānus
The rolling landscape of Europe rolled before him, every castle bearing the Aquila. From the Atlantic to Egypt...Rome!
Emperor Manuel awoke. Lightning crashed outside his window. He rose and looked east, across the Bosphorus, to the rocky hills of Anatolia. The dreams had been coming more often, of late.
But dreams were just that, of course. Byzantium was a far cry from the Roman Empire of old. Only Morea and Constantinople herself remained to the Eastern Empire now. Grasping Italians had seized most of Greece, or pretenders to his own Imperial glory, and the Turk...
He looked East again. The Turk! The Seljuks had come like a storm, turning Anatolia into their "Sultanate of Rum" within a single decade at the end of the 11th century. Things had only gotten worse since then, and his father and his father's fathers had never seen and end to the savagery of the Turkish warlords. Now they ruled east of Constantinople as well, in the palaces of Alexander! Not that much of the east was Roman in any event, after the treacherous Catholics and their Crusade. Truly, it was only by divine intervention Greek hands held Constantinople today.
But nothing could be done. His lands could not sustain the mighty armies his grandfather had led, and the lands of Greece were fractured and under the Italian sphere. Still he could not stop hoping. Perhaps...perhaps if he were to assault the smaller Muslim kingdoms...their ties with the Ottomans were not so close these days... But with what money? What men? All night he sat and thought, and in the morning, he called his Strategos.
"Empty the treasuries, Stefanos. We need steel, timber...I'll make a list. Gather the armies and meet me at the docks...I will not sit and wait until they come knocking at my gates."
While Stefanos went to follow his orders, he left instructions with those members of the Senate whom he permitted to retain some degree of power, then girded and armed himself. It must be now, he knew.
He sent word before him to call the levies of the Governor Diogenes of Morea.
When he arrived at the Morean docks, the Emperor was met by a crowd of armed men, the Governor at their head.
"Philemon....you betray me too?"
"Betray? Hah! Your Empire is dust, Manuel. We must turn to the Italians, to Rome. Give up your pretense, fool. You are no Roman Emperor."
Without a word, Manuel returned to his ships. There would never be men enough to conquer Candar now. he must go to the Doge. The ships rounded Greece and moved for Venice.
But as they came north across the Ionian, they saw fishing boats making for shore with all haste. When interrogated, the fishermen said they were running from the Neapolitans. They had set sail for Epirus with war in mind. The Emperor quickly ordered his ships to guard the fishermen and launched his armies to shore. Arriving on the first ferry, he raised his standard high, the eagle shining in the sun. He commanded the Epiran army to yield, and lay down all arms.
Which they did.... with minimal persuasion.
King Louis de Valois II of Naples-Provence met Manuel on the field when his men disembarked.
"What are you doing here? We had guaranteed these people's freedom!"
"Oh?" The Emperor snorted. "Is that why you bring five thousand soldiers? All Europe knows you wanted them for yourself. Do not be so upset, I simply got here first, Louis."
"Bah!" Valois spat on the ground. "These lands belong to me!"
"They were mine first, King. Do not forget who you address." Manuel stood tall, his ceremonial armor glistening and regal, looking every inch an Emperor. "Greeks within the city, and Greeks without. Go home, or stay and watch the siege. Epirus is mine." He held the King's gaze until he looked away.
"Affanculo! Well this city is yet under my claim, Roman." He said the word with a sneer. Perhaps we will be having this conversation again soon." He strode away, his troops camped on the hillsides watching the siege, perhaps hoping to grasp some part of the sack. They were to be disappointed. The city was taken without a fight. But in the meantime, the fleets, and the Strategos, had already returned to the capitol and loaded up with more troops, send without delay to Candar. Word had found the Strategos that a vast horde under a man called "Timur the Lame" were raiding the Eastern reaches of Anatolia, and the Ottomans wholly occupied. The armies were spread dangerously thin now, but the Strategos knew his Emperor's plans, and could forsee no better time to act. With the fleet holding the straits, their allies from the south should be kept at bay.
The Reconquest of Byzantium had begun.