Alexios awoke at the crack of dawn, when the sun lies at the horizon. He knew that he had to do something today. What should he do, though? He had to write that letter telling Vicar Niketas of what he had learned, but, after that, he had almost no idea of what to do.
Okay, okay. He needed to think. What could he do? He couldn’t do anything much for a month yet, which was the next time he was due to meet the Emperor. That was fine. He wanted a break after the stress this spying mission had been causing him.
For a month, all Alexios did was eat, sleep, and do research. The research was in case he could find anything relating to what the Imperial Throne might do. It was barely successful. History would say that the Emperor would try to crush the revolt before it started, but the Isaurian dynasty had only recently ascended to power. Ergo, history wasn’t an extremely reliable source.
Also, Alexios had had cryptic dreams during that month. They showed burning cities. In some, the flames were quickly extinguished, but, in others, there were entire cities that consisted of nothing but ashes. Alexios thought he heard the words, “make your choice”, in them, but he wasn’t certain. Did these dreams mean anything? And, if they did, what was the choice he had to make? He didn’t know.
Regardless of such dreams, Alexios was going to the Imperial Palace today. Here, he would get his first assignment from the Emperor. He would do his best to get his assignments done, of course, because he needed to be in the Emperor’s good graces to be an effective spy. He quickened his pace. He wanted to get this meeting over with as quickly as possible.
He arrived at the Imperial Palace in the early afternoon. It wasn’t hot, and it wasn’t raining. Alexios liked that kind of weather. However, that also meant that he was early. He waited at the Palace’s imposing front doors. Finally, it was time.
He entered the Palace, and he went to the meeting and dining room. Alexios silently wondered if all of the Emperor’s meetings were held over food.
He saw that Emperor Longinus was chatting with somebody else. He frowned. He did have the right time, right? Fears of this kind were quickly assuaged, thankfully. Emperor Longinus spotted him, and he quickly disentangled himself from his conversation.
“Sorry about that,” the Emperor of Eastern Rome said. “I presume you are here for your assignment.”
“Yes,” Alexios confirmed. “I am.”
“Very well, then,” Emperor Longinus replied. “I will begin with an easy assignment. All you have to do is find out exactly when your direct liege plans to begin his revolt.”
Alexios blinked. That was going to be easy, although he actually didn’t know that information right now. Vicar Niketas might’ve mentioned it once or twice, but, if he did, Alexios didn’t remember it. Out loud, Alexios said, “Very well, then. Should I take my leave?”
“No,” the Emperor responded. “You’re staying for a quick meeting.”
“Wait,” Alexios thought. “There was a meeting? He wasn’t informed of this, but it wasn’t like he had anything better to do, anyway.”
Out loud, however, he said, “Of course, Your Majesty.”
The Emperor then told Alexios and the man he was talking with earlier to sit. His table had food and drinks on it, and Alexios figured that meant that they were having a meeting over lunch again. It was a later lunch, but it was still lunch.
“So,” Emperor Longinus began. “Let us begin this meeting. First, introduce yourselves to each other.”
“Okay,” Alexios said. “My name is Alexios. I’m spying on the Vicar of Pontus for the Emperor. Nice to meet you.”
Alexios looked at the other man closer, then. He had a Mediterranean complexion, and he looked like he came from Greece. “Ah,” Alexios thought. “He must be a Greek.”
“Nice to meet you as well,” the man replied. “I am Demetrius. I’m here because I’m commanding my private army.”
“He has a private army?” Alexios wondered mentally. “That’s interesting.”
“I had a brother named Alexios once,” Demetrius commented. “He died at Chalons. Of course, I got revenge for that.”
“I got revenge for that?” Alexios thought. “What’s that supposed to mean… oh. Oh. I’m going to need to be extra careful around him, then. If he can manipulate an entire empire into destroying itself, he must be very good at plotting.”
In addition, Alexios caught the underlying threat. Don’t cross me, or you will regret it. Now, he really wanted to just get on with the meeting. Badly.
There was a long silence, as none of the three men did anything but eat and drink. Finally, Emperor Longinus broke it.
“Well, I’m sure you guys were bonding fine,” he said sarcastically. “I did call this meeting for a reason.”
“Right, of course,” Demetrius said. “Go on.”
“Thank you,” Emperor Longinus said. “Now that you know that you are actually on the same side, we can get on with it.”
“Right,” Emperor Longinus began. “Demetrius lives in Epirus, Alexios. Here is his mailing address.”
He handed Alexios a small piece of papyrus. Alexios accepted it quickly.
“You are to send any reports on Vicar Niketas’s planned troop movements to both me and Demetrius,” the Emperor said, “Any questions?”
“No,” they said in unison.
“Very well,” Emperor Longinus said. “In that case, you may leave.”
Both Alexios and Demetrius quickly left.