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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning
Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, A Vicar's Schemes

HistoryDude

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Sinope, September 490 AD

The Vicar of Pontus mulled over who else he could recruit. He could easily gain the aid of the Monophysites, but he would need to get in contact with them. How would he do that? The majority of the Syrian Monophysites lived in, well, Syria and Palestine. He needed to get in contact with the rulers of those places.

“There was another way to go about this, and it might be an easier way,” Vicar Niketas of Pontus thought. “Many organizations exist in the shadows. Unfortunately, these were often alliances of convenience and ridiculously hard to get in touch with, so he wasn’t going to try. That would be a waste of his time because the chances of any communication actually reaching a conspiracy was very low, much less the chance of a request actually being answered by one.”

Because of this reason, he figured that he should get into contact with the landowners in Syria and Palestine, and he had to hope that their subjects, most of whom were Monophysites, would pressure them into accepting the offer, or perhaps their greed or their fear would do the trick. He didn’t particularly care why his allies supported him, only that they did, indeed, support his cause… The only time he cared about the why was when it would affect his newly independent Despotate after the war.

He decided that he would write to the rulers of provinces likely to revolt. He wrote letters to Duke Addai of Phoenicia and the Praetorian Prefect of Oriens. Phoenicia would be afraid of being overrun by Oriens during the war if Duke Addai didn’t join the coalition. He also hoped he could ally with a newly independent Phoenicia and secure his Southern border by putting Phoenicia and Oriens against each other, where they would be too distracted to be a threat to anyone else. He hoped that they didn’t go looking for other allies across Europe because he did not need them to cause a continent wide war, and if they got allies, that would be what happened.

He also knew that when war finally was declared, it would not only be fought in pitched battles. No, this would also be a war of intrigue and spies. He could easily hire assassins to attack landowners sympathetic to the Imperial Throne. He would use this method to not only strengthen the coalition, but also to strengthen his own, personal, allies within other members of the coalition. Of course, the Imperial Throne, and likely other members of the coalition, or at least Despot Stephanos of Achaea, would also use this strategy against him. He would need to warn his own allies to be on the lookout for assassins…

He should also contact the Ghassanid Kingdom and offer them a position in the coalition. He could offer them protection, but also greater autonomy. This would put him at odds with Lakhmids, and, by extension, the Sassanids. However, he was pretty sure that he would already have to face the Sassanids just for owning Anatolia. At least, this way, he would be able to make the first move against them...
 
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, Planning for the War

HistoryDude

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Sinope, February 491 AD

He had gotten positive responses from Oriens and Phoenicia. That was good, indeed, very good, news. He could make a move on the coalition’s behalf soon, if he so wished. That was not the most strategic move, though, and he knew that. He had recruited the varying landowners that wished for independence, but those that wished for independence were not the only enemies, or even the only internal enemies, of the Imperial Throne.

There were many men who wished to rule over the Eastern Roman Empire, and all of them wished to rule in the Queen of Cities. He began to write letters to offer these men a spot in the coalition. It was, after all, a coalition against the current, Isaurian, holders of the Imperial Throne.

This had other benefits. An empire constantly engaged in infighting between its vassals, where all wished to rule or to be, at the very least, the power behind the Imperial Throne, would pose little threat to anyone at all. It would be too distracted with its own civil infighting.

He had other preparations besides just recruiting allies to do, however. He needed to hire some mercenaries to aid the coalition’s army. He needed to create a new standing army for his soon to be independent Despotate.

He also needed to gain the services of numerous assassins, in the hopes to win this with as little bloodshed as possible. These assassins could easily be used to increase his own allies within the Empire, and, therefore, to increase the total combined might of the coalition. He needed to figure out where spies could be hiding, so he could either root them out or feed them false information, or, perhaps, he could feed them true information that would encourage the Imperial Throne’s current holders to act as he wished them to.

Of course, there was always the possibility that he would fail to root out all of the Emperor’s spies. This meant he needed to lower the amount of people he trusted with critical information to as low as possible. He knew that Emperor Longinus, and, probably, Prince Justinian, were well versed in the arts of intrigue. He would be required to outspy them if he was to win this war.

If he could, he would burn the Queen of Cities down to catch the Imperial Throne in the flames. He would do that, if he must, but Constantinople was a beautiful city and to destroy it would be a pity. He would do what he had to, but he deeply hoped that it wouldn’t come to that.

In all of his planning, though, Vicar Niketas of Pontus forgot the most important thing to remember when dealing with the Emperor and his heir. They were good at intrigue, yes, and they did, indeed, often use spies, but they worked best when they were manipulating others to do their bidding. They worked best when those that they were manipulating did not even realize that they were being manipulated at all. He forgot that, as much as you planned, as much as you schemed, you could never defeat your own self. You know all of your weaknesses, and the Isaurian dynasty thrived on pitting their enemies against themselves.
 
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So our ambitious Vicar has made a critical error, or so it sounds, of underestimating his prey
 
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, The Achaean Perspective

HistoryDude

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Corinth, Achaea, April 491 AD

He had a distraction for the Vicar of Pontus. The Sassanids would invade, but both the Imperial Throne and Vicar Niketas would expect an invasion from the Sassanids. It was no secret that the Sassanids wanted Anatolia. It would be a distraction, yes, but not a shocking one. He mused over who could be an enemy of the Imperial Throne, but who also was not a vassal of the Imperial Throne and would be hostile to the new state of Pontus after the revolt.

Ah. They would be a good choice. Yes, they would not likely be friendly to Pontus or the Eastern Roman Empire proper. They would probably like to “liberate” the parts of Anatolia that shared their religion. Yes, the Crimean Goths of Cherson would be a very good choice. All he needed to do was write a letter to their chief.

They would also likely be willing to invade Pontus during the Sassanid invasion to come. Pontus would be forced to fight on two fronts, and, if they did not give Ionia to him, three fronts. Pontus would not be able to fight on three fronts successfully. The people would not like such a devastating war, and, perhaps, they would pressure Vicar, or Despot - as he was likely to be then - to sign a peace.

Divide and Conquer was a tried and true strategy. In order to win the war, Despot Stephanos knew that they could not fall prey to it. The coalition was very fragile, and a few wrong moves could collapse the entire house of cards keeping it intact. He knew that Vicar Niketas knew this, so he would not make any obvious moves against Despot Stephanos until the war was won.

He worried about how impulsive some of the other coalition members could be, though. The fact that the two coalition leaders knew that the coalition could not be divided did not mean that every member of the coalition knew this. Impulsivity could cloud their judgement, even if they did know this.

In addition, the entire revolt could be classified as a really complex game of chess. There were two kings on each side. Despot Stephanos and Vicar Niketas were the kings on the coalition’s side, and Emperor Longinus and Prince Justinian were the kings on the Eastern Roman side. He needed to write a letter to Vicar Niketas telling him to increase security on his person, just in case he had not already realized that. He would hire assassins to attempt to kill the Emperor and his heir, but he knew that they were probably smart enough to realize that they were holding the Empire together. In this complex chess match, the kings must be protected at all costs. If the kings were taken, then the game would be lost outright. They must be protected at all costs, and both sides knew this. It was highly unlikely that any kings could be taken, but they could, and would, take many pawns.
The Despot of Achaea was, in some ways, correct about how much like chess the revolt was. Unfortunately, he failed to realize that everyone wanted to be chessmaster, and no one wanted to be a pawn. The game that was actually being played was far more complex than chess was.
 
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The Despot isn't quite ready for the big leagues, as it were.
 
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, Morality

HistoryDude

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The Imperial Palace, May 491 AD

The Emperor of Eastern Rome and his heir sat together and talked about the wars to come and the schemes that affected their empire. They sat in a private room in the Imperial Palace. They talked about their schemes and about what they must do.

“What must be done to restore the Pax Romana?,” Prince Justinian asked his father.

“You already know that answer, my son, and it is war,” the Emperor responded.

“Yes,” the Heir to the Imperial Throne said. “We must bathe the Mediterranean in a crimson tide. We are to be wicked.”

“Unfortunately,” Emperor Longinus agreed. “We are the necessary evil, the evil that must exist in order for peace to be.”

“We shall achieve our goals of peace by manipulating those that threaten it into threatening it before their actions actually threaten the lasting peace that is to come,” Prince Justinian murmured.

“Unfortunately, that is exactly correct,” Emperor Longinus commented. “Ideally, no one would realize that they were being manipulated at all.”

“Unfortunately for us, many people and organizations can recognize when their ideas are not their own,” Prince Justinian said.

“My brother, Zeno, was always better at manipulation than I was,” Emperor Longinus commented.

“Wait, if that was the case, why didn’t Zeno use his manipulative talents when he actually ruled over the Eastern Roman Empire?,” Prince Justinian asked.

“Oh, he most definitely did,” Emperor Longinus replied. “Many believe that his advisors manipulated him, and that he rarely came up with his own ideas. Those that know of what lurks in the shadows assume that he was manipulated by the conspiracies. Of course he agreed with what the conspiracies and his advisors suggested, they only ever suggested his own ideas to him. They were made to believe that they were manipulating him, but that was never the case. The best manipulators are those that you never know are manipulators, that nobody ever knows are even remotely manipulative. The best manipulators are those that you would never, ever suspect to be manipulating you. My brother was always better at that. People know me as someone who would be willing to manipulate people, even if they rarely know when I am being manipulative, or when they are being manipulated.”

“Yes,” Prince Justinian realized. “You are known as manipulative, so people are more on guard around you, but your brother was not, so no one was on guard around him. They didn’t think they needed to be.”

“Indeed,” Emperor Longinus agreed. “One last thing, beware the quiet ones, for there is always a reason for their quietness. For that matter, everybody has a reason for what they do.”

“We are good people,” Prince Justinian commented. “Although we do not seem like it, we are still the light.”

“That is a gross oversimplification,” the Emperor of Eastern Rome rebuked. “We have a reason for what we do. We long for peace, and that is a good cause.”

“Then, why are we not the light?,” Prince Justinian wondered.

“We are not the light, my son,” Emperor Longinus responded. “Because everyone has a reason for what they do, and many of them are good reasons. Many of these reasons are good, but they contradict one another. Things are never black and white, and they are always varying shades of grey.”
 
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“We are not the light, my son,” Emperor Longinus responded. “Because everyone has a reason for what they do, and many of them are good reasons. Many of these reasons are good, but they contradict one another. Things are never black and white, and they are always varying shades of grey.”
Ah, so he is one of those.
 
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One should always beware the quiet ones.
 
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, The Despot of Achaea is Annoyed at Everybody

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Corinth, Achaea, July 491 AD

No one had tried to assassinate him yet, but he knew that that particular fact was almost certainly not going to stick. The revolt had not started yet, but he had a sinking feeling in his stomach that the Emperor and his Heir knew that there was a revolt being planned. He also had a feeling that they weren’t doing anything about it for a reason. Either they didn’t care about the coming revolt, or, far more likely, they actually wanted a revolt.

The Despot of Achaea knew that Vicar Niketas had thousands and thousands of contingency plans, but he feared that even that meticulous planning would fail. He even wanted some of it to fail, as that would suit his own purposes. The Imperial Throne was extremely likely to be planning something, and Despot Stephanos wanted to know what it was and why it was being planned.

Deep down, the Despot of Achaea feared that this was, indeed, a game of chess. He feared that he was a mere pawn. He liked to think that deepest fear was that he was a pawn for the Emperor, that they were all pawns of the Imperial Throne, and that they did not, and, more importantly, could not, oppose his will. Truly, though, his deepest and darkest fear was that there was a manipulator that manipulated all life that has ever existed. He feared that he didn’t have free will…

He needed to take his fate into his own hands, and he had already gotten started on that. The coalition existed, yes, but it had not acted yet. It would not act until the time was right. The problem was that the coalition’s hand could be forced to be played. If the Emperor managed to play his cards just right, he could force the coalition to play their hand too early, or at least, he could right now. That situation could not be allowed to continue. He knew what he had to do.

He wrote letters. These requested that the coalition members, or, at least, representatives of them, meet in Corinth to talk over their plans. They would also clarify what the backup plans were, and also the backup plans of the backup plans. The Despot of Achaea was preparing the coalition’s hand to be played, so that it could not be forced before it was ready.

The Eastern Roman Empire would fall. It was dying as it was. The Pax Romana was long over, and, now, it was time for a new age to emerge. The new age would have many players. The various powers would compete for influence, but all-out war would be mostly avoided. That was the new age that Despot Stephanos of Achaea planned on helping dawn.

There were way too many obstacles to that vision for it to be realistic, but, hopefully, at least the Mediterranean would be free of outright war. The world was far too divided, and the once blinding light of the Roman Empire was extinguished. The twin lights of Rome were almost dead, as well, and their shadows cast more of influence than they did, at the current moment.

The Eastern Roman Empire was holding civilization back, in Despot Stephanos’s opinion, and it needed to perish. If that was not occurring naturally, and it wasn’t, then it would have to perish in flames. The Despot of Achaea was more than willing about being the one to light the match. Were his opinions somewhat colored by what he stood to gain? Of course, but weren’t everybody’s?

Besides, he could rule much better than the current governors of Greece. Clinging to old traditions was a terrible idea, and way too many people were doing it. Rome was dead, and people should stop pretending like it still lived. A shadow should not be cast from something that had no light.

The world, at the moment, did not make sense. The coalition could bring some extremely needed coherence to the lands of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Pax Barbarica should not be allowed to stand, but the Pax Romana was long dead. He was very annoyed that almost everybody refused to acknowledge those two facts. The Eastern Roman Empire was not necessary for civilization to exist. Civilization existed before Rome did, and it would continue to exist after Rome died. Rome was not civilization, and, in due time, everybody would acknowledge that.
 
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Constantinople, August 491 AD

Emperor Longinus slept in his palace, and, therefore, the Emperor dreamed.

A great ocean lay spread before him. The world lay spread before him, and it was colored both blue and green. A great tide swept upon Europe, and, soon, it receded. Unfortunately, it would continue sweeping across the entire world. It would sweep and recede, sweep and recede. Soon, small, almost unnoticeable figures, emerged, and they held back the tide. When it would not be held back, they trapped it, and, if it still would not be held back, they attacked it. The miniscule figures worked together for a while, but, as the tides were tamed, they began to fight one another. Sometimes, the tides would sweep in, and they were blue. When they receded, though, they would be a harsh shade of crimson.

For the briefest of moments, the globe turned black, and the Emperor of Eastern Rome saw absolutely nothing. It was a brief respite. Soon, he saw the miniscule figures attack and, sometimes even eat or sacrifice each other. They shed acres of blood for the smallest of reasons. Large patches of greenness turned blood red, but they would always gradually switch back, as the crimson tides had.

The miniature globe shrinks down, until it only covers Eurasia and northern Africa. The figures are larger now, but they are still really small. The figures begin to organize themselves. They now follow various kings or despots. They attack each other, so that their rulers will gain glory. Some people kill each other for the sheer fun of it. The states collapse, and thousands perish as civilization slowly dies. The mini figures now kill for food and to survive. It is a dark age for all of mankind.

Small city-states remain, but these are the last bastions of a much more civilized age. Thousands of people fight over the Middle East, and it turns crimson many times. Demonic-looking figures egg on their fights, eager to see the carnage. From a small area filled with city-states, many new states are founded as colonies. Tribes slaughter each other across much of the West, and the colonies become safe havens. From an area filled with many city-states, a new power emerges. They paint most of Italy in a horrifying crimson. That recedes eventually, but wherever they walk, they leave rivers and lakes that are completely crimson.

For a very brief moment, it seems as if the miniscule figures have decided to mostly stop fighting. Mesopotamia remains coated a harsh shade of red, but, other than that, blue oceans and green lands abound. It is not long, however, until crimson once again spreads across the continent. Demonic figures encourage this, but, now, they whisper of temporal glory and revenge.
The map disappears, and, then, it reappears. Now, however, the entire continent is covered in crimson and black splotches, or, rather, it seems as if the blue and green are mere dots in a sea of crimson and black. The map continues to move in its representation of time, but, for centuries, the sea does not disappear.

The worst part of the dream, however, is that Emperor Longinus sees himself, and his family, as demonic looking figures. Eventually, the sea of red and black recedes from the map, almost a millennia later. Crimson is almost entirely purged from the map, and it rarely reappears.

A feminine voice whispers, “Is this worth it, Emperor? Is it?,”

The Emperor responds with, “Necessitas non habet legem”.

Necessity holds no law.

And the Emperor does not change his plans. He may be evil, but he is necessary, and that is all that matters.
 
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Constantinople, September 491 AD

Alexander mused on what he should do. He could tell the Emperor of a few of the documents that he had intercepted. That was probably the safe thing to do, but the Emperor’s messenger was not required to do the safe thing. At all. He had leeway.

He probably wasn’t going to be giving the Emperor new information, anyways. Emperor Longinus, and the Imperial Throne in general, was known for scheming and plotting. The Emperor probably already knew of the slowly festering rebellion amongst his vassals. For that matter, Alexander wouldn’t be surprised if he was encouraging it. He most likely wanted it, honestly. The Emperor was known, and somewhat feared, even in the shadows.

Alexander really needed to get going to the Imperial Palace, though. He had been summoned. He didn’t know exactly why, but he was not about to ignore a direct imperial summons. Those that did ignore that usually weren’t happy that they had, and they almost always regretted it. He had no wish to know why that was firsthand.

The palace was beautiful and ornate, as always. Alexander didn’t really have time to admire it right now. He had decided to give the Emperor the letters that he had managed to intercept, just as a precaution. He entered one of the palace’s many meeting rooms, and he kneeled to the Emperor of Eastern Rome.

“You summoned me?,” he asked, though they both knew what he really wanted to know.

Why have you summoned me here?

“Yes, I did,” Emperor Longinus began. “First of all, do you have anything to tell me?”

“Yes, actually,” Alexander responded. “I have managed to intercept these letters. It seems as if your vassals are plotting against you…”

“I know that,” the Emperor responded. “It is good to know some of their plans in detail, though, so thank you for the letters. Now, moving on to why I have summoned you here. As you have noticed, my vassals scheme and plot against me. Their plans would be valuable, so I am asking you to join them, and to report what you have found back to me.”

“Why me? I’m just a messenger,” Alexander asked.

“You’re more than just a messenger,” Emperor Longinus answered. “And I’m sure that we both know that. At the moment, we can help each other.”

“Very well, then,” Alexander replied. “How do you know about… the other thing?”

“I have eyes and ears almost everywhere, my messenger,” the Emperor of Eastern Rome answered. “And the shadows conceal many things, but they cannot cover everything. To rule this empire is to know of what threatens my authority… Everything that threatens my authority.”

“Ok, then,” Alexander said. “I will take my leave.”

Alexander exited the palace. He began to think on who he could contact to “join” the plot against Imperial authority. He had figured out that Vicar Niketas of Pontus and Despot Stephanos of Achaea were probably organizing it, but which one of those men should he contact?

He sighed. He would decide on that later. For now, he would go home and sleep. He would need the rest. He could prepare his donkey for what was sure to be a long and arduous journey in the morning. He would need to sleep well to be prepared for his journey, so he would probably not be up before sunrise. He would probably leave around noon. It was September, and he wasn’t in a desert, so he probably wouldn’t be too hot.

As he walked home, and made travel preparations mentally, he wondered, mentally, who really ruled over the Eastern Roman Empire. He was most definitely not expecting a response to that question, but he got one anyways.

A feminine voice murmured, “I do… nowhere else is more like a viper’s nest. All would be chessmaster, even the pawns”.
He was probably going insane. Mind readers didn’t exist. He really needed to get to sleep. He was going to have a really long day tomorrow, and he would prefer to not hear voices in his head during it. Hopefully, he was just tired and imagining things, because if he wasn’t…

Well, if he wasn’t, he would probably need to rethink things. A lot of things. However, he almost certainly was, so that shouldn’t be a problem… right?

Of course, there were more things in heaven and earth than imagined… in philosophy, or anywhere else.




Here's today's update. Also, this AAR has a cover image now!
 
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I imagine that might have caused Alexander to get a little additional cardiovascular exercise, being found out.
 
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Sinope, October 491 AD

Alexander had been travelling for about a month. He had finally reached his destination, and he could get his job started. First, though, he was going to take a much-needed rest (he had been travelling all day). Then, he would get into contact with Vicar Niketas of Pontus.

First, though, he was going to need to find a place to stay while he was in Sinope. He had thought of this, but he had a small vacation villa in Sinope. The city was nice, and it wasn’t that far from Constantinople. That coincidence was proving to be very useful right now. He entered his villa, and he figured that he would unpack the stuff he had brought with him in the morning. It was late at night, and he was very tired, so he crashed on an actual bed for the first time in a month.

He slept deeply, and he, perhaps mercifully, did not dream of anything. When he woke up, he unpacked his stuff. He had a very small bit of leftover food, but most of it was gone, eaten on his long journey here. He had mainly chosen to come to Sinope, and not Corinth, because he already had a villa in Sinope, and he had no property in Corinth. He needed to go to the market to get more food. Once he had done that, he would go to the ornate building that he had seen.

Said building was ornate, and it looked suspiciously like a palace. He figured that this was where the Vicar of Pontus made his residence. Vicar Niketas was not being subtle about his ambitions. He had built a palace, for Heaven’s sake, so he clearly wanted to rule an independent state. Of course, Alexander was somewhat grateful for the Vicar of Pontus’s vanity. He knew where he should go at least.

The palace still grated on his nerves, though. There were two reasons for this. First of all, it represented Rome losing its power, and Alexander liked the Roman Empire. Second of all, it clearly violated the rule of not celebrating your victory before you’ve won.

Alexander wondered how he should spy on Vicar Niketas. The Vicar of Pontus was notoriously untrusting. Given that he was plotting a revolt against the Eastern Roman Empire, that wasn’t exactly unreasonable. It did make his job harder, though, because it meant that Vicar Niketas would be watching out for spies, especially spies from the Eastern Roman Empire. Alexander would need to get the Vicar of Pontus to trust him, and to do that he would have to be extremely discreet about getting information back to Emperor Longinus.

Actually… he did have an idea about how he could get information back to the Emperor without having to be discreet. If he could convince Vicar Niketas that he heavily supported the idea of an independent Anatolia, but he was establishing trust with Emperor Longinus, he could easily be assigned to spy on the Eastern Roman Emperor. He would need to build up enough trust with the Vicar of Pontus to learn many of his plans and backup plans. He needed to get the Emperor information, after all.
 
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Sinope, October 491 AD

Alexander had been in Sinope for a few days now. He had finally gotten around to visiting Vicar Niketas’s palace. He needed to choose what he said to the Vicar of Pontus, or he would fail his mission. He did not want to know what Emperor Longinus’s punishments were like, and he most likely would experience them if he failed, so he had no desire to fail.

He had sent a letter to the Vicar of Pontus, offering his aid against Emperor Longinus. If Vicar Niketas was smart, he would not trust such a letter. However, the Vicar of Pontus would also not deny any potential allies. As such, Alexander was now invited to a dinner at the palace in Sinope.

Alexander entered the palace. He did not let his face show any emotion, for emotion could give away that he was spying. The dining room did have a luxurious table, but not much more than that. Alexander figured that Vicar Niketas probably had a taste for luxury, or, perhaps, his vassals did.

That brought up a good point. The plans of Vicar Niketas might not align with the plans of the vassals that govern under him. Alexander suspected that the Vicar of Pontus probably had some way of ensuring his vassals were kept in line. It was also possible that some of his vassals were loyal to the Emperor. It might not be that difficult to drive a wedge between the Vicar and his vassals. Then again, Vicar Niketas was somewhat known for having numerous backup plans, so that was probably a possibility that he’d accounted for.

Alexander sat down. He was worried, although he had an idea of what to say. He worried that Vicar Niketas would see through him.

For a few short moments, the Vicar of Pontus and Alexander ate in silence. Then, Vicar Niketas broke that silence.

“So,” the Vicar of Pontus said. “You say you support the idea of an independent Anatolia. Why have you come to me?”

“It is well known that you are planning a revolt,” Alexander began. “If I assume correctly, you are doing this to assure your own independence and rule over Anatolia.”

“Yes,” Vicar Niketas responded. “I am curious, however, how you came upon this information?”

“You are not known for your loyalty to our current liege,” Alexander answered. “And there are rumors of a great coalition against Imperial authority. You are known to be ambitious, so it can be deduced that you wish to rule Anatolia, and you have likely aided in the formation of this coalition.”

“In this case, the rumors are correct,” Vicar Niketas commented. “But taking rumors and hearsay as fact is probably a bad idea, as a general rule. How would you be able to aid this endeavor, if I did decide to employ you?”

“Well,” Alexander thought. “I wasn’t taking it on rumor alone, as I had evidence. I can’t tell you that, though, because that would jeopardize my spying mission. Honestly, though, the Emperor has eyes and ears everywhere. You’re being much too open about the coalition’s existence.”

Out loud, Alexander answered the Vicar’s question with the words: “I am a messenger for the Emperor. I occasionally overhear things, and I could tell you these things. Sometimes, the things I overhear are the Emperor’s plans, so I could tell you those.”

“Very well, then” the Vicar of Pontus answered. “That could prove to be very useful. You could tell us of what the Imperial Throne is planning. We could take this into account in our plans. Yes, you will advise me, but, until we make our move, continue spying on the Imperial Throne. The knowledge will do us well when the revolt finally starts.”

“Hmm,” Alexander mentally mused. “I will need to find a way to ensure that the Vicar of Pontus lets me know his plans, but that should not be difficult. I can tell him some of the smaller Eastern Roman plans, and, perhaps, some false information…”

And the part about him overhearing things was not just limited to the plans of the Imperial Throne. He overheard many other things from many other nobles, and he had taken note of some of them...
 
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A most dangerous game Alexander is having to play
 
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Sinope, October 491 AD

Alexander really needed a way to get the Vicar of Pontus’s plans. How could he word this without being suspicious, though? Oh. Yeah, that’ll work.

“How will I get this information to you, though?,” Alexander asked.

“I will allow you to sit in on meetings with my inner council. They are loyal to me and me alone, so spies should not be a problem,” Vicar Niketas said.

“Hmm,” Alexander thought. “If they are loyal to him alone, that means they are probably where at least some plans get discussed. I can report these plans to the Emperor. Also, the part about spies not being a problem is so ironic, considering who he is talking to.”

Out loud, however, he simply said, “I will tell you the information I have gathered at these meetings, correct?”

“Yes,” Vicar Niketas confirmed. “You will.”

“In that case,” Alexander began. “I should probably be going back to Constantinople. Emperor Longinus might get suspicious, otherwise.”

“Very well,” the Vicar of Pontus said. “I suppose I shall see you soon.”

“Goodbye, and thank you for your hospitality,” Alexander replied.

Alexander left the palace. He needed to get back to the Emperor, as the Vicar of Pontus had let slip some new information. He returned to his villa in Sinope, and he began packing for the trip back to Constantinople. He would need to buy some food at the market, but that should not take long. Then, he could finally leave. Overall, he figured that he had done his job very well. He now had an opening to further spy on Vicar Niketas, and he had gotten some information.

Alexander, however, was also worried about who his loyalties were truly to. Emperor Longinus seemed aware of his interactions with certain organizations. He was spying on Vicar Niketas of Pontus, and he was a messenger for Emperor Longinus. He was a member of an organization that wanted revenge for the Greco-Persian Wars, that is an organization that wanted to conquer Persia. He was also part of an alliance of multiple organizations that wished to see the Roman Empire recover at least some of its lost glory.

At the moment, these organizations were not opposed to each other. Emperor Longinus was probably manipulating a few of the organizations that existed in the shadows, and that might include the ones that he was a part of. He was aware that the Persian Conspiracy, the Alliance to Restore Roman Glory, and the Emperor were in an alliance currently. He was worried about what he would do once said alliance collapsed, and it would collapse.
He did not trust his technical allies at all. He had learned that all alliances that exist in the shadows were temporary at best. The Persian Conspiracy would collapse as soon as their goal was achieved. The Alliance to Restore Roman Glory consisted of numerous organizations that had one common goal, but numerous reasons why they wanted that goal to be achieved. It would collapse, and its various member organizations would begin to fight one another as soon as that goal was achieved.

Emperor Longinus, meanwhile, was trustworthy. This was mainly because he was clear about what his ultimate goal was. Alexander knew that he could exchange information between the various organizations and people he was serving easily. He would give Emperor Longinus as much information as the Emperor needed. He could easily spy on more than one person.

Also, those things he overheard. The various Imperial nobles would most likely not want them getting out. Ever. He could blackmail many nobles. That could prove very useful in the coming months, and, therefore, during the rapidly approaching civil war.
 
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Constantinople, October 491 AD

In the halls of the Imperial Palace, Emperor Longinus thought about his plans. He had sent Alexander - who was going to be loyal for fear of the consequences - to spy on Vicar Niketas of Pontus. Having only one spy in what was likely to end up as a war of intrigue was a terrible idea, though, so he would need to have more spies. He could probably also have vassals remain loyal by assassinations, so hiring some assassins was probably not a bad idea.

He had the Vicar of Pontus’s plans, or at least a way to get them. However, he knew that Vicar Niketas was the only enemy he had made, so he needed ways to spy on his other enemies. He had many enemies, and the Eastern Roman Empire as a whole had even more.

He was going to need a few spies, but he was the Emperor - gaining allies was not a problem. He figured that Despot Stephanos of Achaea was also one of his opponents - The Despot of Achaea was ambitious.

Unfortunately, there were also numerous claimants to the Imperial Throne who might have been convinced to join a temporary coalition against him. He was not worried about these men, however. They had not acted against him, and, if they ever did, it would be because someone convinced them to. They were not good puppet masters, which is also a reason why they were not running the Empire - the Eastern Roman Emperor needed to be a good manipulator.

Despot Stephanos likely wanted to rule all of what he considered to be Greater Greece, though. This would most likely include Ionia, which was also almost certainly coveted by Vicar Niketas. Both of them likely knew that they wanted the same region. They probably had contingency plans to distract the other governor from Ionia.
This was good for the Emperor, and the Empire proper, because it meant that Vicar Niketas of Pontus and Despot Stephanos of Achaea would be easy to pit against each other. The coalition as a whole was fragile, yes, but it was likely divided into pro-Achaean and pro-Pontian camps, as well as a third camp, those that simply didn’t care.

This division would be ridiculously easy to exploit. Both the Despot of Achaea and the Vicar of Pontus were likely to keep their rivalry on the down-low, but that didn’t mean that their allies knew that. All Emperor Longinus had to do was to concede a few defeats, and then to watch as the coalition utterly destroyed themselves. He could then swoop in and rule over the coalition’s ashes…

He could make this best work if he knew exactly who was in each camp, though. The Vicar of Pontus would likely attempt to keep Greece divided, as the Despot of Achaea would attempt to keep Anatolia divided. As such, Emperor Longinus suspected that Vicar Niketas had recruited the Despot of Epirus to the coalition against the Imperial Throne.

However, Emperor Longinus knew that Despot Fridarik of Epirus had only a small force that he had the personal loyalty of. A local noble, and once mercenary, had, by far, the largest force in Epirus, and he was named Demetrius. Demetrius was at least loyal to the Empire, if not the Emperor, so the Eastern Roman Emperor was not worried about Epirus.

There were no obvious enemies of Pontus in Anatolia, but Emperor Longinus knew that the Despot of Achaea was not foolish. He would have found another solution to deal with Vicar Niketas’s lack of local enemies. It was possibly that he had spitefully activated a Dead Man’s Switch for the coalition, perhaps even multiple times. Emperor Longinus knew that he needed to begin planning for foreign invasion, but that could wait for tomorrow. He was tired, and he needed to sleep.
 
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, The Emperor Muses On His Foreign Enemies

HistoryDude

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Constantinople, October 491 AD

In the early morning, Emperor Longinus considered his situation with a revolt being planned. He had already considered how to deal with most of his domestic enemies the previous days, but he did have many foreign enemies, as did the Eastern Roman Emperor as a whole. Presumably, the coalition would attempt to recruit at least some of these enemies to their side, so he needed ways to deal with them.

The great Sassanid Empire was practically the Eastern Roman Empire’s archenemy. Heck, their animosity extended very back. It was older than the both the Sassanid and Eastern Roman Empires themselves. Parthia and Rome had been enemies in bygone times, and Persia and Greece had been at odds even before then.The Sassanids would be willing to invade the Eastern Roman Empire, if given the chance, and everybody in the known world knew that. Emperor Longinus was going to have to make a plan for dealing with them.

Although their animosity was more recent, the so-called “Kingdom of Italy” had a grudge against the Eastern Roman Empire. The Eastern Romans had taken about half of Dalmatia from “Italy”, and they had weakened the state enough that the entire northern half of the peninsula could revolt and establish independence as “Annonaria”. Italy would want all of their lost territories back, so the Emperor was going to have to make a plan to deal with them.

However, neither “Italy” nor the Sassanid Empire of Persia would outright attack at the same time as the coalition. They might become informal members of it, yes, but they would not make it absolutely clear that they were meddling in internal Eastern Roman affairs, as that would give Emperor Longinus even more reasons to attack them. However, they might assist the coalition in subtler ways, like supplying money and soldiers.

Outside of the two main foreign enemies that Emperor Longinus had made, there were multiple people who might want to take advantage of Eastern Roman weakness. There were many tribes living north of the Danube, and some of these might want more living space, so Emperor Longinus was going to have to fortify the Danube line to keep the northern border defended. The Vandals would probably have wanted to attack the Eastern Roman possessions in Africa, but, thankfully, there were states that acted as a buffer against them. In addition, Emperor Longinus had heard rumors of them having their own internal struggles. No, the Vandals would not be an immediate problem.

In addition to all of that, there were states that were required to pay tribute to Eastern Rome. Both Eastern Roman tributary states probably wanted to gain a greater degree of independence. The Ghassanids required Eastern Roman protection from both the Lakhmids and the Sassanids, but they might bail out of that agreement if somebody else offered them what they thought was a better deal. The Thracian Goths likely would have wanted to gain greater independence, but they were also a relatively pragmatic people. Thrace proper was very loyal to Emperor Longinus, and he was well aware of that fact. The Thracian Goths would be utterly crushed if they tried to revolt, so they wouldn’t attempt a revolt.

He still needed to deal with the Sassanid Empire. It was possible (and, given the divisions within the coalition, likely) that they were going to attack after the war. Presumably, they were trying to take advantage of temporary weakness in the Eastern Roman Empire. He was going to have to prepare his armies and march to their border. If the Sassanids wanted to take advantage of his weakness, then he would launch a pre-emptive strike on them. It would also make certain organizations happy, and it would help his public opinion.

He also needed to deal with Italy. They would want revenge, first of all. Secondly, their ruler was poised to inherit territory within Greece itself. That could not be allowed to stand at all whatsoever. He could use the opportunity to take the rest of Dalmatia, as well. He would launch the first strike here.

The defeat of all his enemies was likely to last into his son’s reign, so he would need to update Prince Justinian on his plans. His dynasty’s ultimate triumph would be glorious, and they would be remembered as peace bringers.
 
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stnylan

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Lois McMaster Bujold in one of her works puts the following perspective into the thoughts of one of her characters, which I will paraphrase

Many people envy the Emperor's throne, not many people envy the Emperor's inbox.
 
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