Wheel of Fortune moral: if you don't wear pants, you are on fortune's downturn.
Someone requests to chronicle our family’s history, which was at first a shock. But then I suppose our tragic story might serve as a moral instruction, a sort of literary “wheel of fortune.” You never know which way that Blind Lady Fate will turn the wheel, whether you are ascending towards wealth, health, and happiness, or descending to be crushed like… well, like the Zagwe Dynasty. The chronicler might use this writing to make the fortunate more stoic in the impermanence of their comforts and the downtrodden more hopeful in the potential for positive change. Or it could just be a story to laugh at. Let’s face it, it’s probably the latter.
At least my mother doesn’t hate me... yet.
Since my mother still likes me and her husband is dead, it occurs to me that she might be willing to come back to live in my county. It would be nice to have more people who like me and who I trust around. Unfortunately, Unia would rather live among those who hate her as a heretic than set foot in this area again. But the fortunes of the Zagwe Dynasty are bigger than just she or I, so I go above her head. I ask her infant son liege what he thinks of a marriage proposal to Hakeem, my steward whose chief aim currently is finding love. What Unia’s infant liege thinks is what the Regent actually controlling the power thinks, which is that one less heretic around is a fine idea. I am soon welcoming my cynical mother back and giving her away to my steward in a traditional Monophysite marriage ceremony.
Great, now my mother doesn’t like me anymore. What did I do wrong? I should try to minimize personal relations with people. Every relationship I touch spontaneously combusts.
You think you can fool me? My intrigue is 57.1% better than yours.
How did I know that Nikodemos was playing me for a fool? Nikodemos was a chancellor for a Greek count. He knows how inheritance laws work and how claims are correctly and incorrectly pressed. And yet he made what to him must be an extremely elementary mistake: he said if I successfully press his claim on Hellas, he will be my most loyal vassal. But the truth of the matter is that if I press his claim, he will be a count of equal rank to me. He will then be independent of me, and free to toss me to the side, my usefulness to him past. He misjudges that I am such an ignorant barbarian that I do not know this simple fact.
I will outsmart him at his own game. Since his backstab of me would occur only after he had helped me get everything I need, I will just wait until that point, and then find reasons to not press his claim. Unfortunately, I will soon find that I neglected to follow a basic rule in intrigue: if someone is playing you for a fool, you should strongly consider doing the opposite of everything they tell you to do.
As part of Nikodemus’ plan, I betroth my sister to Roman. When she asks for details on her husband-to-be, I keep mentioning that he is kind, trusting, content, brave, and can press an enormous number of land claims. I tell her I am sketchy on other details, such as his approximate age, give or take a few decades.
If I was a more spiritual man, I might think that the Fates had decreed that Fethee Qaquit was to live all his days only within the dejure Kingdom of Abyssinia. On his way to an appointment with certain doom in Byzantium, Fethee ensures my hands remain clean by dying of natural causes while crossing the Nile moving from Hayya County in Abyssinia to Makuria in Egypt. His second-in-command, Jima, tells me in a letter that Fethee choked to death on a date while they were taking a ferry across the Nile. Jima takes command of the “army,” and I send orders for the (surely relieved) men to return home.
Immediately after news of Fethee’s death, my steward offhandedly mentions that Nikodemos already picked up the ceremonial marshal helmet and has begun assuming the duties for his new office, on my orders. I don’t mention to Hakeem that I never gave these orders. Yes, Nikodemos and I certainly plotted for this end, but I would have thought it proper for me to confirm it. My talents and experience at intrigue, average as they are, are making me feel uncomfortable. As a safety precaution, I send messages to Bishop Afework, Mayor Abai, and the captain of my guard at Sennar Castle: I remind them that any order to raise the levees must come directly, signed and sealed, from me alone.
My council is starting to look Greek.
My spymaster dies in his bath, and Nikodemos advises me to take the opportunity to import another sophisticated Greek into my court. I learn through Nikodemos that a young master at intrigue, Anastasios Kantakouzenos from Mesembria in Greece is dissatisfied with his liege and is also miscast as a chancellor. I invite him to my court. He makes it clear that he is only interested if I will press his claim to some or other title. I have no intention in the world of doing such a thing, and this should be obvious to anyone with the least amount experience in intrigue. But with regard to inherited land rights, hope seems to run eternal, and this master at the art of intrigue is tricked by me, who am just simply competent at the game. He accepts. At first Anastasios is unhappy with his new home, but I give a small stipend of gold to ease the transition, and now he appears to like me. I feel safer already.
What are those two always whispering about?
I almost have the feeling that Nikodemos and Anastasios already knew each other, as they hit it off so well. But I suppose it is natural that two outsiders to our culture would feel thrown together. They can often be seen whispering to each other before or after council meetings, or even in the council hall when no meetings are scheduled. Nikodemos has explained that whispering is just a harmless Greek habit. Still…