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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Lucius Sulla

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Apocatastasis / ἀποκατάστασις : Restoration, return to the original condition

Apocatastasis / ἀποκατάστασις : The controversial theological term that implies as found in Acts 3:21 that no eternal punishment would be delivered but at the end of times 'all things' would be pardoned, even the devil itself, and would be restored to its pristine and absolute good and graceful origin and condition. Such interpretation was dennounced as heretical several times, as punishment had to be eternal for the sinful, and that the meaning could only mean the restoration of the bodies of the people of god, the good and/or the chosen people of Israel

"The whole city [of Constantinople] is full of [arguments about Theology], the squares, the market places, the cross-roads, the alleyways; old-clothes men, money changers, food sellers: they are all busy arguing. If you ask someone to give you change, he philosophizes about the Begotten and the Unbegotten; if you inquire about the price of a loaf, you are told by way of reply that the Father is greater and the Son inferior; if you ask 'Is my bath ready?' the attendant answers that the Son was made out of nothing."
—St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Deity of the Son

__________________________________________________​

Hello and welcome to my new project in AAR land, so long ago after my last and exhausting project. I am currently already writing an AAR in the Spanish forum using my beloved House of Barcelona from their humble origins as Counts of Roselló, written in a 'historical essay' and 'gameplay perspective' style, but I was craving to write something more narrative after so long. That AAR is also being written after actually finishing the whole campaign with it, and it's currently half finished.

Unlike in that AAR there are two significative differences. First, I am going to write the AAR as I play. When I pose next the first chapter of this AAR that lasts 7 years of gameplay that will mean I will be just at that point in the game, or just a bit more along the way as I am just playing the next following years already. Also, from the gameplay perspective I swear myself and I give my sacred word to no save scumming. I will repeat the magical mantra 'Losing is Fun' and I will endure whatever fate holds against me. Not that I plan to lose. I have played two full campaigns with the Byzantine Empire before this one and I think I have got the hang of it. It is my oppinion that the Byzantine Empire start in the 867 start is a pure behemoth made of awesome. And the reward of re-creating the roman empire is just... too good to be true, granting you a trait that all but guarantees safe successions and very few civil wars, specially when united to the also quite broken 'born to the purple' trait. With a bit of luck I will be able to demonstrate it.

I will also try to convey the traits of the characters to the narration, without the need to overcharge the story with screenshots of the characters themselves. I must warn, anyway, that I am not an English native speaker and I fear at some times things might read a bit... odd. But I try, I promise :)

But let's begin the story...
 
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Lucius Sulla

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CHAPTER 1: THE ITALIAN CAMPAIGN (867-875)

May 20th, 867 A.D.
Night Hours - Several miles deep into the sea east from Syracuse

It was harder to fish each night, Gregorios thought, with those damn moor pirates in the rampage. Just three weeks ago he could only barely escape, and leaving all his load of fish. It was only his luck that he had found that small fleet of damn pirates. Life was hard in Syracuse and the little communities it protected, and even more when the news that yet another emperor had been killed. Heck, and things were starting to look up. Pah, fucking thracians all of them, all the time conspiring behind their bloody huge walls, while the poor man had to go out in waters infested with muslim vultures and as all protection a prayer for the Jesus Christ and an icon of Saint Peter. Oh well, and one damn fast fishing boat, that just had to hurry to very shallow waters to leave back any other vessel. Only this time... he had to sail deep. Johannes had told that a big army had arrived to the walls of Syracuse and were besieging the old city. If that was true, it was the end, and he would need all the money he could to escape to Tarentum.

He threw his nets and waited, starting to drag and pray to saint Peter, the fisher of men, that could give him a nice catch tonight. And waited, in the darkness and the goddamn humidity. He was lucky it was a pleasant night, but even then he could only hope no sudden storm would be coming. It was hours and then he noticed them. It was hard to remain awake, though, it was his second night and he could not yet had the right load to make it worth.

Hours passed and suddenly, in the darkness, he could see the shape of another boat sailing in his direction. Another fishing boat! And... a damn muslim one at that! Heck, had they taken the old city that they dared to get this close?! He took a metal hook and waved it menacingly in the direction of the other boat "Go the fuck away! You rotten bastard towelhead! The fish here are mine, you son of your camel mother! Go the bloody fuck away!" He tried to sound as fierce as he could. He was not the fighting sort but he hoped it would not get to that.

All he got was insults in return from the distance, with the a very incomprehensible language but a very familiar tone. Heck, he could even see under the lights of the half moon how the damn towelhead was even waving a sort of spear. Well, a damn heathen would not move him from his turf. He kept waving his hook and shouting a tirate of insults, and he knew he could do that for hours. And finally, the other guy threw the spear, screamed and then hurried to ready his sails. Heck, he was even trying to row, the craven! "Scared you, hah!" He smiled to himself and then realized that he had sounded scared. Then he turned.

The sea at the East was filled of lights. A lot of them. No, not really. A bloody awful lot of them! Ships! A fleet, bigger than he had ever seen. Big ships too. Warships. He never got bothered by those. They would never bother with a small fishing boat. Easy to go around them. Only... he suddenly realized it would not be easy to go around that. They literally covered the horizon now from side to side. God, was there enough wood on the earth to build that many ships? He suddenly understood why that heathen was scared, and it mattered very little with what flat they would be sailing under. He hurried, cursed, rushed...

But it was too late. the huge Byzantine fleet, the grandest to have sailed into the western mediterranean since the fall of Carthage just went over the little fishing boat, making it bounce first like a pebble from one ship to the other, to finally crush it under the ramming bow of one of the biggest dromon of the fleet. It would be no comfort that the Basileus himself was on it.


Six months earlier
The Palace of Constantinople

"... and that's that." Ioannes said to Basil as he used the edge of his cloth to clean the blood from the sword. He smirked and said with a funny voice "... don't kill me... you are my best friend...", making a poor and only remotely fun imitation of the last pleads for mercy of the late Basileos Michael. He was not a funny guy but at least he was the most honest of the group, Basil considered sadly. He never would have gathered such a group, unless his life would have depended on it. A wild bunch, the whole of them, and that said something of the state in which the high possitions of the Imperial Court were filled these days.

Well, that included him, after all. And he wondered what sane court would have allowed to ascend someone like him to the glory of the throne of the Empire of the Romans. Quite a far short from the captured peasant slave in the more openly violently court of the Bulgarians and his Khan Krum. But even then he had taken their attention... he had always been huge... but skillful. And he had never, ever feared anything in the world. Which made such a perfect body as his quite handy in the... well, calling them gladiatorial matches would be insulting the practices of the pagan emperors of old. No, just crude and cruel pitfighting, against men and beasts. And he had emerged victorious each time. First to earn even the recognition of the big bastard... enough to give him enough leeway to escape south and find a place in the city guards of Constantinople. Antonios had been already the lord of the castle of the Blachernae, in the northwest edge of the walls, and home for the city guard. It was him the one he won with a charm that was even stronger than his body could ever be. It was easy to get promoted, and leadership came to him naturally. And when the young emperor found him on the wrestling matches of that year, that he won easily, he fell under his spell, as the rest of the public had, cheering his name. The Macedonian, they called him and he did not have to pay for a drink during the next month.

The sky was the limit, and the capricious favour of the emperor showed him nearly immediately what meant falling from grace. One of his first tasks was to help kill the uncle of the king, the great Bardas that had been the victorious general that had saved the empire against the arabs and had repelled the Rus assault. He even earned the lover of the Emperor, Eudoxia, from the nordic invaders. And then he had the dubious honor of marrying the girl so she could keep a decent facade. He had smiled, swallowing the humiliation. After all, he was a peasant, just a over muscled guard and wrestler, and he could not ask more from life. And all the time he was charming everybody he met as much as he had the emperor and even the beautiful Eudoxia, who bore him a son named Leo. Of course, the paternity was... debated. But he always defended to the pleasure of Michael and Eudoxia was his son. Even when Eudoxia had the... prudence to give birth in the Purple Room of the palace. For some it was as much as admitting it was the Emperor's son. Well, now Basil was the emperor, and he would have to decide yet wether to name as candidate his previous son Konstantinos or to use the added legitimacy under the eyes of the court of his little son Leo. There would be time to see how they would grow. Unfortunately none of them had inherited his prodigious physical prowess. But Eudoxia loved the young Konstantinos, and in return he made sure to love the little Leo.

"What about Sicily?" As always Tiberius, the new Magistros and the one that had warned him of his waning fortune at the eyes of the Emperor was the first to point the obvious. The moors of Tunis, lords of all the island of Sicily but for the old citadel of Syracuse had been taking during the last generation city after city, castle after castle as the young Emperor had his hands full with the Arab and the Bulgarian frontier. Or rather his uncle Bardas had his hands full as the young Emperor enjoyed the throne, its luxuries and its pleasures. It was clear that he believed the cities that remained in old Italy, the ancient seat of the Empire, were just a bother, not worth keeping. The south of Italy had fallen in disarray and independence, one by one each territory declaring all but practical independence from the Empire. And the false emperors of the north, the descendants of that Frankish barbarian were looking forward to reap a long past harvest in the north. And there were these... northmen, eager to earn a kingdom with the sword by the sunny south. Bloody pagans, but excellent mercenaries that had been very useful in the fights against the Bulgarians.

The new emperor seemed lost in thought, but his decision had been made. "No... enough is enough. We recover what is ours today. Not just keep Syracuse. We take back *all of it*." His friends and closest advisors, his co-conspirators looked astonished. It had been tried... before. But now... Even now the people were celebrating the name of the new emperor in the streets. His past in the shows in the Hippodrome, his incredible physical prowess and courage had given the new emperor a shining reputation, and even now Tiberius' agents were... making sure to exaggerate the lifestyle of Michael and to darken his character in comparison. Even if the young man was just a friendly, jovial and even kind man, just with a tendency to trust too much others to carry the affairs of his empire and a too great love for lovers, wine and parties. Well, there was no risk that Basil would let anyone rule in his stead. He had a poor education but... who knows. Certainly none of them, the most important people in the Empire, wanted his throne. Tiberius himself was just too lazy and he knew it. Ionnes the Doux of Armeniacon, the Strategos, was a cruel and crude beast that just cared for loot and raping but was still a good general on the field. Antonios was... too genuinely loyal to Basil even when he had been the most difficult, as head of the Guard in Constantinople, to join the conspiration. The man was a good christian, god may forgive him for that. And Dux Ioannes could not tell a lie without showing it in his face. He envied and was wary of all except for Basil himself.

"It... it might be the moment. Our enemies, all of them, have their own problems. The Bulgarians have their hands full with the Magyars. The Arabs have all that bloody awful mess of Samarra. The seed of that false and diabolical prophet of theirs is surely losing its potency, with the turkish beys commanding and killing one Caliph after the other when they feel displeased. The heirs of the Frank kingdom too. Fractured and fighting with each other. The Aghlabid... if we can put all our efforts into it... we can do it." The new Sekallarios, the faithful Antonios spoke "The treasure is not bad. Whatever we might say of Michael he never overspent in his, uh, entertainments."

Basil smiled. He always managed to shock them and this would not be an exception "Good, because we are not just leading the fleet to Syracuse. Ioannes... as my Strategos you will lead a second fleet to Bari. There, you join our Italian forces, that will have retreated from the south, to strike the Longbardia. You coordinate your forces with Doux Isidoros, and just reserve your wrath for the muslims... and our unruly and schismatic vassals in the area. They have a choice, submit to the Emperor or be crushed. And... I trust you will crush really hard. I can count you on that?" The others winced. Of course he could count on the Strategos to sack the ressisting fortesses bare. But under the encouragement, the warning. He should not overstep his mandate. "Of course, Sire!"

Basil smiled "Let's bury that drunkard and let's prepare ourselves for glory".


June 12th, 867
On the walls of Syracuse

"Is this it? All of it?" The emperor said as he surveyed from the walls of the city the remains of the field of battle. The comites Konstantinos could only wonder at this god of war that had come to save him. He was... huge, well over six feet. He had heard that the man was a wrestling champion and he could believe it watching how he had fought in the thick of the battle. He lead by example as much as for bravery, even when his tactics were... a bit direct. But he could not complain. The battle had been a total victory. The light cavalry was still harrassing the survivors fleeing north to take refuge in Messina. The bulk of the byzantine army would be following soon.

"Yes, Sire. This is it. Er... I must say they were not prepared for you, or that the whole might of the Empire would crush them. When I heard your instructions to send whoever could not fit in the fortress for the siege north to be sailed to join the army in the north, I... I was not sure. They truly believed you... you had abandoned us to our luck". Heck, he had believed that himself. He had to withstand five long months of siege.

The emperor laughed "Oh yes, they were quite surprised at seeing an army that for a change doubled their numbers. Their cavalry is not bad, but their infantry? Pah. Rabble." Well, he should know. He was killing them himself. An emperor should not... risk himself that much, even when he was a much more terrifying visage in his huge horse, and completely armoured in the battlefield. Still, the comites' thoughts were broken as a messenger arrived, bowing low before the huge man and saying "Sire, a message has arrived from Strategos Autokrator the Doux Ionnes Kourkouras, Strategos of Arm..." The emperor cut the messenger "Yes, yes... I know all that." He smilled to Konstantinos and said "That means it's good news, or he would not have ordered the messenger to parade all his tittles. He checked the seal, broke it and then started to read. With some difficulties but he managed, though.

"Disembarked in Tarantas... made contact with the local armies of the theme the next week. Blah, blah, blah. He has not killed Doux Isidoros in a duel, it seems. Let's see... marches north... ah... great victory before the town of Trani, matches forces but we defeated them soundly. We start the siege of the castle of Cannae. Heh, I hope the name will be better luck for us than to our forebears, eh?" Well, the emperor was happy and that was a good thing. But he found to his dismay that he was not a man to lose time. "Let's follow them north before they can regroup, and after taking Messina you will take charge for the armies to go East and take this island for the Empire.. and for you." He smiled wide "if you are victorious, I will grant you the whole island as the new Doux". Now that was unexpected... and very welcome! "Sire! That... that's a great honour! I... I will not disappoint you." He was already asking for his armour and his horse as he smirked and said "I am sure you will not..."

August 25th, 867
The Emperor's tent in the Byzantine army camp, outside of Melfi

"... come on. Hurry! God, I will blind and castrate you all if you don't bloody hurry in taking the emperor to the tent and bring the damn physician bloody now!" The men certainly rushed even when the body of the emperor was... heavy. God, he was an ox of a man, and he still was wearing his heavy chainmail. But they had seen what the Strategos did with the prisoners and they could really believe he would be good in his words "Why the hell did you have to always be in the thick of everything, you damn fool!" Strategos Ioannes muttered between his teeth.

The campaign had been going so bloody good. The local leaders were taking care of cleaning the trash... Comites Constantinos was carefully besieging Palermo in the south, while that fool Doux Isidoros was securing Lukania in their rearguard. Salerno had been easy, they could assault the fortress without a problem. But the Republic of Amalfi was rich. And richness meant they could hire mercenaries. Bloody good mercenaries... huge northmen called the Varangians, from the very far and cold north. The Emperor was a huge man, but he had his pairs on those warriors. And as such, when attacking the city, he had been more than happy to charge directly to where their leader was. The emperor's guard against the varangians, and the leader had fought hand to hand with the Emperor as the whole battlefield held their breath... and saw how the huge varangian managed to sink the edge of his double handed axe to sink into the emperor's shield... and into his left shoulder. He was about to intervene himself directly at this nonsense. If the emperor died... god, all his favourites, like himself, would perish in the following political nightmare back at home. But to the surprise of everybody, with the axe still biting into his flesh... the emperor used his sword to send such a powerful blow that the head of that giant of a man was sent flying. The men renewed their charge and the city was taken, the patricians rewarded for the ressistance being tortured and put to the stakes, from their anuses to their wasteful mouths. Or upper bodies, he did not mind if his men were not too... accurate. And the emperor fell to the ground, bleeding way too much from his wound.

When the doctor came he knew how much his life was in danger. If the emperor would die he would feel the wrath and the not so refined cruelty of the Strategos in his flesh. But to his relief not only the blood loss was contained but the emperor himself managed to recover his consciousness to speak weakly despite the protests of the doctor who was begging him not to overexert himself, having just sewn his wound. "S... sire, what is it?" "The... varangians... don't kill them... bring... bring me his new leader. Hope he s... speaks greek... bring him now... to me... God, put me... more outright... I want to look imperial when he arrives..."

It took four hours to bring the captured mercenary leader... well, the new leader at that. And to find out that even when captured they had no problem fighting a duel to the death to just tell the Strategos who was their new leader. Finally, they still had to wait as he could enter the tent, to find the emperor, huge as always in an improvised campaign throne... covered with furs but... not the bandaged and still bloodied wound. "This is Solvi... uh... Solvi Svenson" He did not care much to pronounce well the name of a pagan barbarian and actually he smirked and said "Kneel before the emperor, you heathen swine". The guards actually advanced to put the stubborn northman to his knees, but the emperor raised his right hand "No, that's alright. Solvi, your men have fought... extremely well. Your leader was tough to kill. As you can see." Solvi nodded and spoke with a clumsy but still quite understandable greek "He dines and feasts in Valhalla tonight. We chant to his death and runic stones will be erected to his glorious death, at the hands of an emperor. We heard the greeks were coward and treacherous" The guards and the Strategos were about to kill the man in the spot "... but you are a great warrior, worthy of Valhalla despite your weak lamb god." What followed surprised all but to the Varangian leader himself.


"Will you serve me, Solvi son of Sven? Will you serve me and my line? Will the brave men of the north be my personal guard?" The northman nodded "You promise with your bravery much honour, much plunder. We will be very happy to follow you and yours. I will swear on your sword, leader of the Greeks" Ioannes sneered "Of the Romans! This is the Emperor of the Romans!". Still, the emperor ignored the outburst and motioned for a sword, holding it by the hilt and offering it to him. But Solvi stopped and refused to kneel "I will refuse the point, as it's our custom since old time to swear with a ring and by the hilt." That... put in tension everybody in the room, as that would mean the wounded Emperor would have a sword pointed at him. "Let me kill this swine, Sire... he thinks he can finish the job of the other beast!"

But Basil laughed.. not too strongly to not disturb the fresh stitches in his shoulder. "Alright... it has been long since I last met your kind..." He motioned for a servant to take off one of his golden rings, and then he turned the sheathed sword, holding it near the point, and putting the ring on the cross hilt to offer to the pagan warrior. Then, Solvi knelt and took the hilt with his hand, reached to kiss the ring of the emperor first and pressing it into his hand and said in a deep, resounding voice that impressed even the Strategos "I receive your sword with pleasure, O Lord of Battle, and I will seek to slaughter your enemies with joy. We have both done well, you get a loyal housecarl, and I get a good liege lord!". With that, he kissed the hilt and the ring again, raised unsheathing the sword... and to everybody's relief he went back at the side of the Strategos.

"Ioannes... his men are free.. and... supply them. They will help you in the rest of the campaign. Let their share of loot and we are finished... they will come to Constantinople."

The Strategos did not dare to complain in public, but much later in private he expressed to his friend what he thought in all manner of ways what he thought of those pagans.

"Oh, come on Ioannes... you were always telling me not to charge in the middle of the battle... would not you want those around me? Anyway... I will be more... careful from now on, I..." And then the emperor fell unconscious.

Christmas day, 872
Neapolis

The recovery of the emperor was slow... he fell in a high fever during two weeks, and many would fear he would day despite all the cares he was receiving. He spent bedded during five months, and it was only then that he could travel to the safest city of Neapolis, where the local comites that had submitted to the Emperor peacefully and as a reward would be the Strategos of the new Theme of Capua would protect him, and make sure he was updated on the campaign. And it could be said the good news were helping the recovery of his new lord.

The man himself was sitting on his bed, several pillows holding up straight his huge chest, now just wearing the huge scar of his terrific wound. The wound itself had become infected and it had left quite the scary mark now that it was finally healing. The emperor was exercising already, but the physicians were begging him not to overexert himself, something that the emperor only grudgingly accepted. And the dispatches from Sicily had arrived, with the fall of the great fortress of Monreale and the following fall of Palermo. Only the far fortress of Agrigenton remained in muslim hands, and they knew the Aghlabid emir was too busy fighting in his western frontier, leaving the island of Sicily as lost already. The taking of Capua and Benentum was going much slower, and the Strategos was having a rough time with securing the area, always complaining about the lack of collaboration with the new local Douxes. But it was going well.


The campaign would last two years, after the final victory in Sicily, and just leaving Ioannes in Italy to besiege the last fortress of Lucera, where the latin overlord was taking his last and gritty stand. As he was travelling back, he leant how all the Empire was celebrating the huge victory, and his name was celebrated among all men. All mentions of the murder of the previous emperor were supressed or forgotten, the name of Michael the third blackened forever as a drunkard and a craven. When the emperor arrived to Constantinople a huge parade was made, and festivals were celebrated. It was clear the emperor had recovered fully, but still he was an impressive sight when he joined the wrestling contests showing a huge scar that crossed from his left shoulder well down to his chest, impressing both men... and specially the women, the empress Eudoxia the most envied woman in the Empire. And nobody was surprised when the emperor himself won in good fight one of the main contests, even when he just managed to lose against the final victor in the main wrestling event.

It was a happy time, but when the Strategos Ioannes returned, the maps with the borders of Anatolia and the island of Crete were awaiting him in the chambers of the palace.

 
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VILenin

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Ah, I love Byzantine AARs. :) Best of luck restoring the glory of Rome.

A nice start. The scare with Basil getting wounded and ill right at the start must have been unpleasant, but he survived and ended up with a successful campaign. Winning battles and retaking land are no bad thing for a new emperor trying to establish a dynasty.
 

tuareg109

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I`ll follow this if you turn off Mediterranean Portraits DLC.
If not, good luck.
 

Lucius Sulla

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I`ll follow this if you turn off Mediterranean Portraits DLC.
If not, good luck.
I hate with a passion Mediterranean portraits myself... in fact if you dare to check my ongoing and very advanced AAR in Spanish you will see that I have that turned off. Still that's a Hispanic AAR, and I always felt it was ridiculous to have the Goth origined christian nobility looking as if they had interbred with the muslims extensively. The same with Italians... it's ridiculous, since the nobility will be local population if anythign mixed with goths and lombardians and so on. Still... I was not too sure about the Greek side, to be honest, and there's those byzantine old icons showing a darker skin... that's why I left it on for this one. I heard they improved them a bit and I was willing to give it a chance for this DLC...

I... well, anyway I am not showing too many portraits as you can see. I have started this way and I am afraid I am going to go on this way, really sorry you will not stay for the story.
 

tuareg109

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I... well, anyway I am not showing too many portraits as you can see. I have started this way and I am afraid I am going to go on this way, really sorry you will not stay for the story.
Well...ah, what the hell, if your writing style and prose remain as good as they are, I`ll stay.
Also, just noticed your username, LOVE IT!
 

Viden

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I hate with a passion Mediterranean portraits myself... in fact if you dare to check my ongoing and very advanced AAR in Spanish you will see that I have that turned off. Still that's a Hispanic AAR, and I always felt it was ridiculous to have the Goth origined christian nobility looking as if they had interbred with the muslims extensively. The same with Italians... it's ridiculous, since the nobility will be local population if anythign mixed with goths and lombardians and so on. Still... I was not too sure about the Greek side, to be honest, and there's those byzantine old icons showing a darker skin... that's why I left it on for this one. I heard they improved them a bit and I was willing to give it a chance for this DLC...

I... well, anyway I am not showing too many portraits as you can see. I have started this way and I am afraid I am going to go on this way, really sorry you will not stay for the story.
Muslims are a lot paler.
 

Lucius Sulla

Dark Lieutenant of Sauron
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CHAPTER 2: THE ROAD TO ANTIOCH (875-888)

January 30th, 875
Imperial Palace in Constantinople

It was a cold winter, the city finally resting after the wild celebrations of the late Autumn. But the emperor did not rest. The emperor rarely rested, as if an inner fire was burning inside him, reflected Antonios, captain of the militia of Constantinople and Imperial Sekallarios. That's one of the things that had always attracted him to Basil, even when he was just a starting penniless immigrant in the city of cities, just an escaped slave from the Khan Krum of Bulgaria, his family origined in Macedonia and captured during the disgraceful defeats of the latest generations against the bulgars. He had something... that fire that did not burn, but made everybody feel warm around him. And he was such an excellent soldier. Not that anybody would have imagined the statesman and the general in him. But it was hard to look past the mass of muscles and his bostful, no nonsense an boisterous behaviour. He made people feel at ease... warm. He certainly made emperor Michael felt at ease.

But he was nobody's fool, even when he liked fooling around. When the uncle of the Emperor, the victorious general Bardas felt menaced by the ascendancy that this... wrestler for the gentle but weak minded emperor, he committed the grave mistake of understimating him. The next thing he knew was that he had been strangled by the wrestler personally when the man had learnt the sort of poison that was readied for him. Maybe that was the beggining with the end with Michael. The emperor was weak, and liked booze too much... but he was not that much of a fool either, and had realized the man that he had put so close to him. He tried to be careful, but again Basil surprised everybody, discovering the plot of the emperor to get rid of the suddenly dangerous Basil. Antonios had been the one to talk with Basil about Michael's plan. He had seen the torment in the eyes of the man, learning that the man that had raised him so high now wanted him down permanently. He liked the young drunkard, he really did. But Basil had always known that if it came to choose between his life and anybody's else... it was no choice at all. No other sort of person survives the bulgar pits. Even then he knew that the murder of his protector still hanged in the depths of his eyes each time he looked at some... memento. And this was more than a memento, he reflected as he entered the office of the emperor and he was studying the old maps of Bardas. The old maps of Michael, all in all.

It has been old Bardas' plan, to claim back the island of Crete. They were muslim pirates, with no true connection to the Caliph, and they had been a thorn on all the Aegean trade for a century. The man had been planning to invade the island for a year, and he was good enough to have pulled it off. But he felt his possition was menaced by Basil in the court, starting the chain of circunstances that had ended up with the murder of an emperor. Antonios did not lament the necessity, and certainly not their fellow conspirators who had been slighted in the past by Michael in some petty form or other. But Basil would always carry that shame, he knew that, even when everybody else would not even guess. The emperor had changed from that big strong fellow that you could always rely upon... his office was filled with books... his year ill in Neapolis, he had surprisingly taken to read the old treatises he had found them. Old treatises, but he had found and been fascinated by a miraculously preserved copy of an old Strategicon by no less than Quintus Minucius Rufus, from the old republic itself. Now the works of previous emperors and generals covered the side tables where his old wrestling tropies used to be. Heck, he did not even know that Basil could read Latin.

"Ah, Antonios... come in... look. Our Muslim neighbours, eh? In a big mess, it seems." He gestured towards the anatolian border, surrounded by independent muslim shieckdoms. "Antioch..." he tapped with strength the map "This is our prize, but we can't go straight for it, as you know... ah, come in..." The others were arriving. The Strategos Ioannes had gone fat during the last years, the gluttunous bastard certainly had enjoyed the looting of Italy. The doux of Thesalonnika looked with envy at his former friends... that could be some trouble... he had seen how Antonios had remained the closest to the Emperor... and the success of Ioannes in the Italian Campaign. How long until the old game of poison and daggers was renewed? He should take measures for himself, and the emperor... well, those Varangian sure were... loud, but they were huge bodyguards for the Emperor. And they even ignored the attempts of the court to... civilize them. Which basically meant corrupting them to one faction or other.

"Ioannes, good... look, this is me being prudent. We will not sail to Crete as Bardas wanted, you see? First... we secure the Anatolian frontier. It seems the new Caliph is... not as weak and prone to getting assassinated by the turkish officers as the previous one. That's a pity. But that means we must move before he unifies the frontier again. He had no luck in his persian war, and now he is desperate for a success. But still not ready. Well, not ready as we are. We start... here..." He pointed just at the East of Anatolia, signaling the old theme of Koloneia.And then we go... south. The armies of the Anatolian themes already have started the war, invading Cilicia, but with mixed luck. Even now they are besieging Tarsos... but it's too slow this way. As you have noticed I have enlarged the imperial retinue. The plunder of Italy has not only allowed to largen our purses, but the imperial ones. I will lead my Varangians past our frontier, until we sack Koloneia and plunder the mosques that they have built there. Then... we proceed south. Then my new Thegmata will act as soon as we invade the Sirian plane..."

Both the Sekallarios and the Mistikos were surprised by the term, and for once he was happy to know something that his learned colleagues had not guessed "The emperor noticed how our cataphract made mincemeat of the muslim cavalry in Sicily. A new corpse, just composed of selected riders from all the themes will enter the direct employ of the imperial house, and will be supplied and paid by the imperial purse" Nicolas opened his eyes wide, the cost to keep them supplied would be... too high! The cataphracts were the elite cavalry of the empire. Basil learnt his thoughts "My good Nikolas... suffering for our purse already? Don't worry. We can pay it! You have told me that the imperial treasury is filled and that we should invest it"

"B... but Sire... I thought of walls... of churches... not... not more troops. They will end up drain us dry." Basil smiled "Not after we plunder the riches of Siria. I heard that Antioch and Damascus have prospered quite under the Arab Yoke". The Sekallarios could only swallow and did not dare to say what he was thinking. Those riches would be theirs... if they won, if not, Anatalia would lay open to the muslim jyhad. May God protect them all.


August 6th , 880
Imperial Camp besieging Aleppo

And here we go again, thought the Strategos Ioannes...

"Damn, bloody bastards!" the voice of the emperor thundered as his Varangian personal guards "We bloody had them... have we managed to go through the door? let me know as soon as... AARRRGH!" The Estrategos sighed, specially when he saw the emperor screaming with pain as he still had the sarracen arrow still sticking from his left side. "We do this too often, sire... you should still be more careful." The bloody Varangians were smiling, though... the bloody pagans loved when their leader got injured in battle, charging forward as one of their own. The emperor had learnt a lot of strategy during a decade of campaigns, but not acting as a bloody hero was not something he was keen to learn. Of course, it was great for the troops, but what the heck would happen if the next arrow or the next axe went into his heart instead of his side? With two teenagers waiting in Constantinople as potential emperors and Basil had not yet decided clearly who was to inherit the throne... It was clear that Leo was the favourite of the empress, but even then there was the question of the parentage. The fact that young Leo had nothing of the body of his father, and reminded everybody of a previous happy imperial prince that ascended the throne not so long ago. At least the youngster seemed... well, certainly nicer than Michael had ever been but...

"Ah, God would not will that to happen, you see? Neither your pagan gods, I am sure of that!" He replied laughing and then of course coughing, the bloody full as the merry could only damage him as the campaign doctors rushed to take his armour off and tend his side wound. It was bad but if it would not get infested... he had seen many soldiers recover from such wounds. "It's good luck, you see? It was going too well. Edesa was too easy, you must admit that..." Ioannes sighed "Easy is fine. I can deal with easy. Easy is no problem for me, sire..." The emperor smirked "Come on. Soon you will be whoring inside the city, you will see. And then we can move to Antioch."

He had to shut up finally with his tiresome overoptimistic crap when a messenger arrived. "Oh, the dispatches... read them... as you can see... owwww... oof. That burns, come on... be more careful or I will flay you alive...! Damn it... read them aloud, I need something to take my mind off the bloody needle...!" The doctors only smiled... they had attended the Emperor for years now and they knew he was not serious. The Strategos sighed and said "Alright, Sire... mmm.... three dispatches, one from Alexandretta, one from Constantinople from our dear Magistros, the other from our scouts..."

He reached first "The siege of Alexandretta is proceeding... slowly. The new Doux of Cilicia is requesting more troops. How not. It's not as if we are not having them busy before bloody Aleppo, one of the best castles in the region. He complains that the muslims get supplied by sea... We should have really gone for Crete first, Bardas was onto something there" The emperor said "Already been taken care off, the themes of Italy had been busy recruiting and they are sailing already to them to reinforce them and finish that bloody business once and for all. Alright, the second" He holded himself tight to one of his guards as they doctors tried to cure and then seal the wound as the Strategos read "Alright... it's from our good friend the Magistros. Ah... good news. It seems the King Iacov of Bulgaria has troubles. His defeats against the magyars are costing him a lot. It seems his brother Symeon thinks he is a better king and you know how that usually goes." The emperor nodded "Alright... damn, this comes while we are bogged here... the northern themes should take care of that, write to our good Doux of Dioclea that we should get ready to grab as much as we can. They would expect an attack towards the Danube... but we will go from the opposite way... that would be to the taste of Ioannes, he was born in those mountains, right? Ok, let's see how good the third dispatch is..."

The Strategos opened it and then... remained silent. His face went slightly pale and gulped. The silence was awkward and the emperor had to urge him "Come on... what is it! They are sewing my skin now so don't keep me like that"

"Sire... a great caliphal army is heading towards the frontiers of the emirate of Aleppo, they are near Petra now. They are nearly ten thousand..." The silence now occupied the whole tent, even the doctors stopped their work, the old tales of the Arabs riding with their devil Caliph commanding them still filling the nightmares of nights past in Byzantium. The emperor gestured angrily for them to go out of their stupor to finish and then said "Give the immediate orders to raise the camp. Send a dispatch to Tarsus. I want just them to keep besieging the city and no others, the troops coming from Italy must hurry to join us as soon as possible or we are doomed. We should start marching to meet them as soon as we can."

Ioannes, Strategos of the Empire of the Romans, was a lazy man usually for all matters... but for military ones. He could not be more dilligent as he rushed to start shouting angry orders. They were in a bad possition if the arabs reached Aleppo. Thanks God that the Emperor had been so careful now with the supplies, a lesson well learnt after the campaigns in Italy. Or they would have been slowed too much. And would god will that indeed the wound would not fester and leave them with their beloved emperor at their command.


October 9th , 881
The road from the Euphrates ford in the old route to Antioch

The plains between the Eufrates River and Manbij were crossed by the old Sirian road that went to Antiochia, following the old trade route with the old capital of Seleucia. Now a lot of the trade rather went to Damascus and then just sailed to the Mediterranean through the ports of Acre and Tyre. But the road still clearly saw good use. The old road could be seen in the plains, leading to the main ford over the Euphrates at the East, leading straight towards the West, with the town of Manbij overlooking it, the usual rest after a long journey. When the byzantines arrived at Birjand, the arabs had already crossed the river and were camping, securing the ford.

"Even then, that would mean the Caliph would have to fight with his back to the river..." There was a small hill where the high command of the Emperor had planted the camp, near the town. He surveyed the not too high heels at the south and said "Our archers are in possition, right?" The Strategos nodded "Yes, yes... I am just worried about those damn turkish horse archers. The cataphracts will be too slow for them." The emperor smiled "And that's why they will just take their small arrows against their heavy armour, ignore them and charge straight against the flank of the bulk of their infantry. They are not used to such a concentration of heavy cavalry. It has been centuries until the Empire could field such a force, and even in the old times it was not the same than now. The Persians could do it, but they did not have our Varangians to hold the centre in place." He turned to the Strategos and said "Ioannes, it's vital that your men are drilled to go at the flanks of the Varangians. Vital, you hear me?"

And the day dawned on both armies, and the Emir Hamdir of Mosul, marshal of the Caliphe looked at the strange formations at the other side of the road. The massed heavy cavalry on their left flank, so he readied spears and archers on that side. The turk riders should harass them to death, and the fact they had put such a weak infantry front would make them lose the center and then turn to cut them from the cavalry. The archers in the heights would harass their advance but... that could not be helped. Damn but this Rum emperor could move quick his army. Last time he had heard of them they were just raising the siege of Aleppo. He was sure he could meet them in Edesa. But here they were, ready for battle. Allah would favour his warriors for sure, as he had always done.

But Allah probably did not count for the Thegmata. The new armoured cavalry army was... massive, and the harrasment of the turkish horse arches could only dent them as they rode, making the earth of the plains tremble as they headed towards the Arabian right flank. And while the Arabian infantry were starting to surround the three thousand varangians they were surprised at the ferocity of the Norse. More than shocked, horrified. The blonde giants, with their strange armour and their incredibly furious fighting were like djinns for the soft armoured muslims. The northmen charged back against them despite their obvious inferiority, and such was their push that their halted the advance of the whole army, pinning it into place.

Then the Anatolian heavy and light infantry started to overwhelm the left flank, and reinforce the Varangians when they started to falter... and suddenly the no less than 1500 cataphracti finally arrived to their flank like the biggest mace that God might have forged. They had only lost 30 to the turkish arrows but when they slammed in their wedge formation into the infantry ranks, who just were so impressed and shocked at the sight of the huge and fully metal covered horses and knights that they could only falter and flee. Then the massacre started.


It was a total disaster for the Arabs. The Emir could barely escape with his life, as most of the turkish cavalry, indeed too fast for the heavier roman cavalry to follow, specially as they hurried through the ford. But the infantry was utterly exterminated, nearly to the last man. Even then the losses had been relatively high among the Varangian, but that very night the Emperor feasted with them as one more pagan... and it was clear the norse adored the huge emperor as their leader and their king.

The Caliphate was shocked at such an unexpected and crushing defeat, and when the damn Tulunid Sultan, aptly named by all as 'the Cruel' invaded the Sinai he knew he was defeated. The emperor recieved an embassy from the Caliph, a huge wealth in gold, silver and jewells, and hurried to save his southern frontier now that northern Siria was seemingly and utterly lost. And the Roman armies arrived finally before the walls of Alexandretta and Antioch and Tripoli, attackign and besieging all the levant.


September 18th, 885
Fortress of Kandia, Crete

The imperial servants were witnessing something rare: the emperor was furious. He was shouting at the top of his lungs, and the object of his displeasure were none other than his two sons, Konstantinos and Leo. He had good reason, though.

"What you did was unforgivable, and it reflects on me! How did you dare to behave so disgracefully! Did you think the empire were just court and politics and flowers!"

Even then it was hard for Basil to go so hard on them. They were good boys. Polite, charming and had a mind for justice and moderation that pleased everybody in the palace. But they had never been in combat or commanding an army. He had ordered them to come for the invasion of Crete. Before taking the cities on the coast he had to make sure that those damn pirates would not supply the besieged fortresses. And old Bardas had been right. The fall of Crete was a must for that. It would give full control of the East Mediterranean to the Roman fleet again. The two young princes were of age now, ready to be started in the art of warfare that one of them would need when he would pass. What had happened had been worse that he could ever imagine.

The two princes had been caught at a bad situation, that was true... but nothing nowhere desperate, as the desperate counterattack of the crudely assembled force of the muslims pirates had tried to suddenly attack the invasion fleet. The group of ships where the princes where, supposedly safe. Their reaction had been... more than disappointing. The princes had panicked, and had basically forced the captain of their ship to run away and leave their side of the fleet fighting while they retreated.

"All the army and navy knows of this now... did you think something like this could be hidden?!" Damn, he had expected something like this from Leo, considering... well. Considering. But Konstantinos was his own son for sure... why had he not inherited his brown, his courage. Does the luxurious life in the court turn the men into... into these? Of course, he did not wish them his own childhood, a slave of the Bulgars but... but... but this. "You disgust me. You are not worthy of my name, you both... Konstantinos, you are the older... you should have been an example. I want you out of my sight. Go to Aleppo... you will be appointed as Doux there. In a frontier theme. When the Caliph comes knocking next time I want to see something more of you than... than this!" When the intimidated young man left, he turned to Leo.

He sighed. He could not bring himself to punish him. He had been always too indulgent with him, and... well, with Konstantinos too. It was more clear to him now that he was son of Michael. And everytime he looked on those fine features, he could not help to see his old friend. He had accepted long ago that Leo would be his sweatshirt. He would repay on his person the treason he performed so long ago. God had given him so much... he had to pay some back less he would earn His Wrath. And the poor thing was pale, horrified to have displeased his father so much, but realizing he could not prevent it "You... come on, recompose yourself. Sit down. You don't even deserve a prefecture. You have not only behaved here disgracefully, but I have heard you ignore your tutors, disregard your studies. You are to return to Constantinople, and you are in charge as Curopalates. But this is not an honour. You are restricted to not leave the palace. You have demonstrated you are child yet, and as such you are to be punished. And if I even hear you have touched liquors or organized parties... I will disown you, purple born or not. I am serious." The young man paled and nodded humbly "I understand you, father. I... I wish I could be more like you I... I... I just can't." The young man was in the verge of tears, and Basil had never been immune to those. Still, he could only turn his back on him.

He heard him leave and he thought that despite all he would have to name him his successor officially. He would need to prepare everything for it but... well, if Konstantinos would have been better... but he was not, and that settled it.

May 21th, 888
Constantinople

The conquest of Southern Italy had earnt celebrations and tourneys, there had been wild celebrations at the return of the victorious emperor during a whole week. Compared to what was unfolding, that now seemed like the summer fair of Thesalonika. As his chariots passed through the Golden Gate through the Theodosian Walls he had to admit that Leo had a taste for grandiosity. The whole main road towards the upper city was adorned with double headed eagels and the bull's head that he had adopted as his personal emblem, so long ago when he was a pit fighter. The crowds were cheering him... and his personal servant was holding a laurel wreath over his head, while, as a novelty for the old ceremony, the abbots of the monasteries of the Pantokrator and the Myrelaion walked at his sides, sprinkling the road before him with baptismal water, blessing his very path.


The first stop was at the Forum of Arcadius, where the representatives of the guilds and the neighbourhoods received and cheered him. Behind him, the chariots with the spoils of Varna, Sofia and Skopjke. The overall invasion of the Bulgarian frontier had gone easily enough, the bulgars ravaged by civil war as each king was overthrown by the next brother, first Vladimir having plotted and overthrown his brother Iakov, then Iakov betrayed by their brother Symeon, then Symeon finding that Vladimir had came from the exile with Magyar mercenaries to recover his primacy in his realm. As such, the fortress of the frontier with the Empire were either freshly taken and poorly defended, or outright abandoned, the garrisons emptied to fight the succession war. The crowd cheered high and loud when the golden coins with old bulgarian khans engraved on them, that had robbed that very same gold from the Empire generations ago.

The second stop was at the Forum Tauri, that had been dedicated to the dinasty of the emperor, all adorned with golden bull heads that shined under the wonderful spring day. The abbots that were walking at his side went to join the chanting monks of his monasteries, spreading incense. And the crowd went wild when the Emperor stepped down and kissed their hands, thanking them humply and recieving their blessing. The third stop was at the forum of Constantine, and before the Column of the Serpents a platform dressed with golden and purple cloth had the Ecumenical Patriarch himself, Dyonisios I waiting with the appointment for the new Pentarch, Eugenious of Galata, one of the most famous priests of Thrace. When the emperor again stepped onto the platform, the Patriarch of Constantinople oiled his forehead and his face, and handed him a golden orb. And Eugenios reached to hand him a precious cross of gold and rubies, waving to the crowd so they would cheer for the glorious Emperor, now rightfully called Basil the Great.


The emperor arrived to the high city, the nobles and the court welcoming him after two decades of nearly continued campaigns, and the empress Eudokia, still a blonde beauty welcomed him and put a purple cloak over his shoulder, to receive his blessing and then enter side by side the Hippodrome, received by their sonds Konstantinos and Leo, even when the two princes had a clearly discrete possition. When the Imperial Family arrived their presiding box in the Hippodrome, the chariots showing the spoils, including some of the lost relics of Saint Paul in Tarsos and Antioch were displayed and venerated, but also coffers of gold and full loads of curved arabian swords and damaged shields taken from the very field of battle before Manbij.

And only the empress noticed how from time to time the Emperor glanced at his sons and his features went hard.

 
Last edited:

Lucius Sulla

Dark Lieutenant of Sauron
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CHAPTER 3: CHANGE OF THE GUARD (888-900)

June 30th, 888
Imperial Palace in Constantinople

"... and Strategos Konstantinos of Sicily defeated the rebellion of the peasants. The berber population still have not accepted our rule, and the situation had turned sour if it had not been for his swift interception. We should reward him. An appointment as anthypatos, maybe?" The faithful and ever loyal Sekallarios reached to start putting some dispatches from the new themes in the south, regarding activity in the frontier. There was always activity there. The situation was uneasy, but the last defeat and the war with southern Arabia kept the situation under control. Still, of course, there was the usual attack to caravans, and the occasional plunder from both sides.

The emperor was sitting behind his huge mahogany desk, the view of the palace on Hagia Sophia and then on the golden horn as magnificent as ever. The amounts of documents and manuscripts now covered the walls, bundled on rolls or papyrus, even when the new 'books' of parchment where starting to get more used for their better durability. For once the emperor had stayed now for three years, to put in order the empire. Not that the emperor did not indulge himself in barechested wrestling matches, always happy to impress with his huge body, and the tremendous scars that graced his left shoulder and his right side. And the great huntings that did not only not tire Basil, but actually revitalized him after weeks of dealing with papers and bureaucracy.

Currently, a big discussion was going on in the inner council of the emperor about wether to return to the larger despotates or to keep the themes composition. But it was a moot point with the emperor. The empire was not yet big enough for old provincial governos that could with such power menace the power of the emperor himself "The way that the revolts in Sicily have been handled prove it that we can muster the force fast enough. And my new Thegmata will help to face better the bigger menaces... That's what old Bardas never could do, you know? He still thought old fashioned." Still the emperor paused and frowned his brows as he looked at the Sekallarios "But you are just... bidding your time. Why is that?"

Damn. He still saw him as a charming brute, and this man had already 20 years of experience of command now. Well, it was no use giving it more time. "Sire... the... the reports from the northern themes... The Magistros seems to have been... well..." Basil looked with a bothered expression and said "Spit it. Whatever Ioannes has done." The Magistros and the Emperor had become more and more stranged with the years. He was very angry that his years of service to the empire had not been reward with the expansion of his theme, as he had asked many times, and when the frontier against the Bulgars had been pushed closer to the Danubium he had become rabid when nothing had been awarded to him. He had got quite close with the younger brother of the Emperor, Marinos. A younger man that had no other merit but to be in moderate good terms with his powerful brother, he had been awarded the neighbouring theme of Croatia, having led the imperial thematic levies of the zone to reclaim along the Dalmatian shore. Marinos had always been a greedy bastard, and while he never would have dared to do a thing against his powerful brother... "Please, allow me to introduce one of my best men..." A young auburn headed man, dressed with a tunic that was more fitting for a priest than for a bureaucrat. The man had bright eyes but the emperor could only wince when he realized he had the markings of an eunuch slave.


Antonios noticed the wincing of his lord. The emperor never had liked employing eunuchs, as he probably had seen many of his fellow captured slaves in his youth suffer this horrible fate, but Antonios had used them extensively in the imperial bureaucracy. They were loyal to the empire and not to any family, and indeed they were actually castrated by their own families to be sold into the imperial service for a very great price, when the boy showed promise and intelligence with letters and numbers. "This is Ioustinianos. He has been working in the documentation and census of the northern themes and he had found some months ago many interesting details." The eunuch bowed low and awaited the permission of the emperor to speak.

Basil looked at the young man with distaste and sighed "Ioustinianos, eh? So, are you from the city?" The young man had a natural charm for sure, that Basil could recognize. "I was born in Nikopolis, sire... my family was one of traders, and they sold me to the late king Symeon. I was later captured in the north when the Magyars invaded the northern plains, but I could manage to escape, first to the latin lands, and then found my way to the Imperial Service" That made the emperor blink, and Antonios could only smile to himself at the fact that he already knew that the story would get to the emperor and his humble past. "I see... eh. Alright. What's the matter with my Magistros?" The eunuch was not tall but he could certainly project his own space when readying himself to talk "I have been serving as aide your brother Marions in the frontier. My... experience with the Bulgarians and Latins made me be chosen to participate in border negotiations on behalf of your brother the Doux Marinos. The situation in Bulgaria has been very... volatile, with the three sons of old king Boris fighting for the throne for years now. I knew the langugage and the customs. And that's how I noticed that they were hiding something. Indeed they really did not behave as merchants... but they were clearly nobles in the bulgarian court. They were there to see your brother... and your Magistros."

That made the emperor straighten on his chair "The bastards... Marinos, Marinos... damn. But... they could not hope to... to try anything against me. The Bulgarians are finished if they keep going this way". The eunuch nodded "Indeed, and it is comforting that your brother and your friend, as I managed to convince the... let's say, weaker of those bulgarians, did not quite want to conspire against you." He took a breath and said "They were conspiring against the princes. For when... you are no longer among us. They think both your sons have a bad reputation as... well, not martially inclined, while your brother had a certain success with the fighting in the north. They believe in fact that you would not want yourself to allow young Leo to ascend the throne, nor young Konstantinos, neither the very young Nikephoros. They are indeed taking Bulgarian gold to finance their... bid for the succession, channeling it to key governors in the north."

Basil felt his heart go smaller. He wanted to feel angry... but could he blame his brother for having the very same thoughts that he had himself. It took a while for him to see again the dead body of Michael to realize what was the Christian thing to do. But he could not punish them for... for this. "I see. That's a very keen eye on you. You seem... very learned" The eunuch just nodded and neutrally said "Sire." Basil was already gesturing to Antonios "Make them come here. Think a good excuse. Mm... we are planning on those cities in the north of the Sea. Our colonies in the Cherson are just so lonely. And we have had so much problem with riders in the past. Time to get those lands back in the fold. Start preparing my thagmata and the fleet..."

The Magistros was finished... but even then Antonios knew that again Marinos was going to escape with a slap on the wrist for this. Marinos would not forget Antonios' role in this though... mmmm. Well, it seemed that even while the emperor had never officially said so, it was going to be Leo after all. The young man could not hold a sword, much less direct soldiers in the field of battle, if his life depended on it. But he had an eye for the court, and he was... well, he was as good natured and fairminded as his father, something that the Sekallarios could certaionly appreciate. Certainly more patient, though. It was time to prepare things for him. The emperor was over fifty, he was prodigiously healthy, yes, but with so many wounds in the past... such a rough life. Yes, it was time to start moving the pieces... if he wanted to save his life when the emperor died.

September 30, 895
City of Palmira

It was a normal day. It had to be a normal day in the rocky and hot place he had been exiled. He knew he should not complain... his younger brothers were in the luxury of the capital at least. He was supposed to be the lucky one... given the newly conquered territory. Defending the Empire. He was the older brother but he had never been meant to govern. He hated it... to come and go through the frontier, checking the defences in this... bottom of the world. He had been told that if he distinguished himself, he still had a chance to recover the favour of his father. But he did not want it. He missed his brother Leo. Could the people not understand that they simply liked each other? He had heard the stories, true, that Leo was the son of the emperor Michael. But Leo had just ignored it with a laugh. If it was true that meant that he was the son of two emperors instead of one. And was not that far better? They promised each other when they were young that they would never fight, no matter what. Even when their own father somehow wanted Konstantinos to... well, to be more like he had been. But he could not do that.

His thoughts were shaken when he noticed a disturbance in the distance. His provincial guards formed around him, but even then it was clear that there were two riders of the light cavalry hurrying through the wide street towards him and his group. They stopped and were clearly excited. No,disturbed and... scared, rather. He felt a knot in his stomach when he already guessed what was happening. The first rider was dirty, as after hours of fast and exhausting riding, then he said "My prince... the arabs... they are in the frontier... they are a full army... they... they are heading here. They shoot one of us with... with this." He handed an arrow and with trembling hands Konstantinos unfolded the cloth with writing on it and the seal of the Abbasids.


The prince was clearly frozen with fear, and his captain of the guard shook him and said "Your excellence! They... they are just a day from us! What should we do" He swallowed and tried to think what his father would do. A rousing speech, putting everybody in motion and in a rush as he knew so well how to do. regrouping in the castle of Arak and ressist for reinceforments. But he could not do that. He had not enough soldiers and levies to stop the full might of the Caliph and he just swallowed and not even managing to hide the panic in his voice he said "G... g... gather all... we are leaving... leaving for Aleppo... no... no, for Antioch... we need to defend a port... so... so the reinforcements can arrive from the City... we must leave now!" The captain could not believe it "But.. but that's hundreds of miles away... we..." The prince shrieked at him and shouted "DO IT! Let's LEAVE NOW!" He could not help but to feel the shame as he saw the faces of the people of Palmyra as he abandoned them, but he could not help but to imagine his head on a pike, on the gates of the city he was hurrying through.

January 18th, 896
Antioch

The doux of Antioch returned to the room where the leaders of the themes had gathered. "Arak and Palmyra has fallen. The turk bastard is having its winter quarters there, with our supplies, and he is marching. To where... god knows. He could march to Aleppo. He could go to Beirut and then here. I personally think that is what will happen." The room fell silent, the provincial leaders of Cilicia, Edesa, Tripoli and his own Antioch were already there, and the rest of the empire had been alerted, the troops arriving as fast as they could. The prince Konstantinos and his uncle Gennadios... actually an uncle younger than the newphew, the father of the emperor having married again late in life when he was granted the theme of Edessa, huddled toguether, the prince saying "They are so many... we should wait for my father to come and he will..."

Helias, doux of Antioch had been one of the best commanders of the emperor in the last campaign, and had even marched in the last triumph. It was hard for him to understand that this was the son of the Emperor, that god of war he admired so much. And they said that the other prince was not his real son? Heck... he could not be worse than that. He cut him with a gesture and looked at him grimly "Your father is not coming. He was on the north shore of the Black Sea, that was the last news we had, with the imperial army busy in the Cherson. We don't even know if he even knows yet that the arabs are attackign us. He might not know for months." He sighed and says "The fleet will take reinforcements, but without defenses in Aleppo and Tripoli... they will be here soon enough. When that happens, we must march towards them. We will have what we have. And we fight."

Prince Konstantinos paled "Without the cataphracts we can't stop them... they are... they are too many... they will..."

"Oh, shut up already!" He had enough with this princeling, and he did not feel that he would be punished for it. "With all respects, your excellency, we have no choice in the matter. We have a good option when the nearby theme armies gather. If we give them enough time to entrench themselves all over Aleppo and Tripoli... we will not be able to root them out. It's now or never, if we want to hold what is ours." He looked with disgust at Konstantinos and then said "You can stay in Antioch to direct the militia and hold it for your... father's arrival if things go bad." It was an insult, that made his uncle Gennadios gasp, but it seemed it had gone over the prince's head as he hurried to say "That's a great idea...! I... I will hold the ground here." Gennadios blushed, and said with a tone that begged to save the reputation of his older half-brother "I will go with you, of course..."

May 11th, 896
East of Damascus


At the end the Doux of Antioch managed to gather more than twenty thousand men to face an army of roughly the same size. Still, he knew that the caliphal armies were already putting siege to Aleppo. He would not try to lift the siege there, though. The muslims would be fortified around the siege and they just simply could not face them there. No, his plan was to separate the main muslim army. And to do that he would go towards Damascus itself. With the grand capital of the Caliphs menaced, they would not have other chance but to separate their armies, to keep the siege safe in the north and to hurry south to defend Damascus.

When he saw the Arabian army displayed near the village of Otaybah, just miles east of Damascus, he did not feel now so sure of himself. They were just as much as they were, he guessed, and he was enough of a seasoned veteran to know those things at a glance. As his army was mainly provincial he had more infantry and archers, but he could see they had way more cavalry. Even quite a lot of those damn horse archers. They just had their brown and their experience to push through. They were a bit more than them, sure, with the arrival of the troops of southern Greece and the isles. The strategos of Epirus and Dyrrachium were very good generals and since more than half the army was from that area and knew and respected their leaders, he put them in charge of the center and the left wing, and consulted with them the battle plan. It was remarkably similar as what the arabs tried last time, which was quite unauspicious... but the circunstances were different. The heavy infantry would just try to punch and collapse the center of the arabian infantry, the smaller cavalry trying to divert as much as they could the turkish riders and their heavier lancers. The difference would be the arabs did not have any varangians on their side to hold their center. With the orders given, the horns sounded, and the armies readied themselves for battle.


It was a close business all in all, and all might have turned sour if the provincial army of central Anatolia had not arrived the battle when it was engaged, just on the flank where the arabian knights were starting to overwhelm the cavalry. They had got delayed in their way to Damascus, and it was just god's will that they had arrived just where and when they did, alarming the horsemen that just thought a full new army was arriving to the field from the north, rather than just one single regiment of a thousand and a half soldiers.

That bought the Roman army the time it needed, and with cries of victory the heavy infantry started to push deep into the centre of the enemy ranks. Slowly the arabian lines started to fold... and then to break. It had been a bloody and long business, but he could only cheer with the rest of his staff as they could see how the enemy collapsed and started to flee and escape the push of the huge shields of the Greek heavy infantry. It was a pity that this was not old Rome, as triumphs were only awarded to members of the imperial family for long. But god he deserved one so much for this. Well, the emperor was generous with victorious soldiers, and surely he would be rewarded in one way or other for this.

April 21st, 897
Siege of Tyrus, Byznatine Camp

The news arrived to the emperor, by a twist of fate the news of the invasion arriving at the same time than the news of the great victory at Otaybah. That made Basil take his time to consolidate the conquests and then during the winter sail south to arrive at Tripoli with the imperial army. As soon as the weather was good enough and the army gathered the invasion of Galilee begun. The Doux of Antioch was busy chasing the northern army that had remained besieging Aleppo. The prince Konstantinos was sent with him, and it was said that the Emperor had slapped in public his son for his cowardice. When the imperial army advanced south, they had just one problem taking Beirut. The problem being that the Strategos Ioannes, the marshall of the Roman armies during his whole reign, caught an stray arrow and died on the spot. The captain of the Varangian guard had died in a charge during the conquest of the Cherson, so for the first time the Emperor was no longer with his most faithful war companions.

Even then, the campaign was going well. The seas were firmly in the hands of his navy, and the coastal fortresses were hard, but nothing he could not chew. In no time, he would secure the region and force the Caliph to admit defeat. And Jerusalem would be then just so close... and Damascus. To have the blue jewell of the arabs so... close, at his grasp. He fancied he could reach and take it, when he wanted. But no, he should center in what was in front of him, as always. Anything else was a waste. He felt old, though... his old friends, dead but for his faithful Antonios, the best Sekallarios he could ever had. He called for the captain of the Varangians to discuss the camp placement and the defenses for the siege engines, and could not feel the same sympathy for this... Dan than for captain Sölvi. That night in his tent in Italy. That brought a smile on his lips. He retired for the night and asked his servants to wake him up at the first light of the morning. He never woke up.


The cries of the servants alerted all the camp, and the news spread like a sickness through the men. The Great Basil was dead, and the men felt... orphans. Without the direction of the ever victorious emperor, how could the triumph? The captain of the Varangians took charge of the army, but may of the Greeks strategos refused to serve under a pagan, and the incredulous garrison of Tyrus could see how the siege was clearly... faltering. When they heard that the emperor of the Rums was dead, there were celebrations in the besieged city, and several smaller boats sailed with the safer ports at the south to inform of the sudden stroke of luck.

October 25th, 897
The Phoenician ruins of Sarepta


"It seems our luck has ran out..."

Helias had become quite friendly with his fellow provincial governors of Epirus and Dyrrachion during the last year. They had driven out the arabs from Aleppo, and had hurried south at the horrible news of the death of the Emperor. They had taken charge of the siege of Tyrus just before the remaining anatolian troups were about to fight with the Varangians and provoke a real disaster. He managed to separate the pagans from the christians, and it seemed the problems had started when the norsemen had insisted and tried burning the corpse of the emperor against the outrages complaining about such a thing. It seemed it was a sign of respect but... he managed to convince Captain Dan before things could go worse, and finally push to surrender Tyrus.

But things were not promising... the news of the death of the emperor had reached the Caliph, who surely had taken this as a sign of Allah. A new army had been arranged, this time with bedouins from Arabia and the freshly conquered south. And on the contrary there were no news from the City.

"Who the heck knows what is happening there... do you think that they have made that Leo emperor? There might be a huge mess in the capital right there, not caring what happens to us to stab and poison each other. I am old enough to remember how things were with the other emperors, you know? Heck, even Basil murdered the previous one, he did not even try to hide it. You know the guy, Theodosios, you have been in the City much more than me. Do you think he has a chance? Gosh, if he is half as his brother, we are screwed". Indeed, the doux of Epiros had been much more in the imperial capital and knew the imperial family "Well... he has behind him the empress and Antonios the Sekallarios. He is a pansy, right, but he is a nice guy. Pretty charming. Great parties, you know? It was about "

They took a look at the arabian army camped in the distance... way more than they were, weakened after the siege of Tyrus and Beirut. "Great, we should tell them how nice our new might-be-emperor be. They sure will back off, right?" Their laughter was loud, but it was gallows humour. They could not escape, pressed against the sea as they were. The following days it was clear that the arabians smelled their blood, and soon they were deploying for battle. The only concern of the generals were to try to escape north as well as they could, when a handsome but delicate looking man entered the tent... at the side of none other of Antonios, the Sekallarios.

The very sight of the very competent bureaucrat made the generals hurry "Antonios... bloody finally! This means the thracian themes have arrived? Where the heck has happened in the City?" He looked nervously and directed his words to who he assumed was one of Antonios' faithful eunuchs "You...! Bring us some wine and hurry!" The man blinked surprised and actually grinned a bit sideways "what the feck are you waiting... hurry!" Everybody fell silent, and clearing his voice Antonios says "This is... er... Leon, the sixth of his name, Emperor of the Romans"

The blood drained from the doux of Antioch's face. He felt his tongue feeling like frozen water in his mouth, unable to move until he forced the clumsy and idiotic thing to do so "S... sire... I... I am sorry. I have never... I... I..." The man, to his relief, laughed with a gentle voice, that soon was joined by the others "Come on... I know that I am not such an imposing figure as my father, but at least I have brought you something way better than wine..." He took a step back and opened the flaps of the command tent. Through them they could see an army of ten thousand thracians and Macedonians that were joining the camp. "It seems that the Arabians have not noticed us during our night... disembarkment, I have been assured by my good Captain Dan that they will be moving on us. Better to receive them... right?" The doux swallowed and he nodded "Of course, Sire..." The man smiled... he was no longer a young man, but was in his thirty years of age already "You will command the armies. You have done an excellent work so far." He noticed something on the other side of the room... the golden brooched cape of the late Strategos Ioannes, that had been left as part of the baggage of the army. He turned to the Sekallarios and said "That belongs to the Strategos Autokrator of the empire, right?" Antonios smiled and nodded, then the emperor just simply walked, grabbed the cape and put it on the shoulders of the Doux of Antioch. As he did he leaned to whisper "I know who I am, my good Helios... it's time you all do too, don't you think?" The new Strategos of the Empire could only be grateful that the new Emperor was gracious enough to be fair and forgive his faux pas, that would have been... letal with other emperors of the past.

The emperor left soon after talking with his men, to get his own tent ready, and not to disturb the military deliberations. Antonios stayed and the old man gave him a dangerous smile and said just to the general "You see, the emperor is a good man... forgiving and fair. Gracious, you might say. But... remember I am not, alright? He is in fact surrounded by people that is not and that love him dearly. Isn't that fortunate?" Helios gulped and nodded, only able to say "Very!" and then focus on the battle at hand.


Christmas day, 899
Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

The huge interior space at the main nave of the Hagia Sophia was all furnished and clothed for such a quite a rare occasion, the wedding of the ruling Basileos of the Empire. Of course, the ecumenical patriarch himself would be directing the ceremony, and all the main lords of the Empire were in attendance. The emperor himself would advance first, while the proud father in law, the Strategos of the Aegean isles and main admiral of the fleet. The engagement had taken all by surprise, even the old admiral, who had never imagined that the emperor would have find so interesting his youngest daughter. Youngest daughter out of five daughters. Well, legitimate daughter. Despaired for his lack of sons he had tried bedding a lowborn... and yet she had still given birth to a sixth daughter! He thought he was cursed, until in a way all made sense.

The emperor had become from the great triumph against the arabs. After the great victory at Sarepta, it was the time to sail back to the City, but the faithful Sekallarios Antonios fell gravely ill during the journey and they had to stop at Naxos. The man had spent his last days of life... an old man, after all, older than the emperor he had served so faithfully. It had been his young daughter Irene, barely 14 years old, the one that had captured the attention of the emperor, who had remained unmarried, some say that as a punishment by his father for his acts in Crete, an action that he had been himself. The fact was that after the sad passing of his friend, and to his utter surprise, the doux had been approached by the man about marrying the young girl. When she would be soon of age, but he would not wait more. Of course, that was an offer that no man could refuse. And the fact that young Irene had been also charmed by Leo did help to his final decision.

Indeed, the doux and his daughters sailed to Constantinople after the emperor did, as great celebrations of the victory started, brighter and more cheerful than ever, to celebrate the actual coronation. The young man seemingly had decided to do a bold political move, adviced by Antonios and his mother, to go with the army to Beirut without securing his own coronation. The empress Eudoxia had been gathering a loyal party around her and her son, and while his charge as kuropalates had seemed a bit low key for the heir of the empire, it had matched Leo's particular virtues perfectly. And then the timing had been perfect... no matter how the army knew that the Emperor had not directed the battle but just see it unfold with the Strategos, that still was good enough, specially once privately paid agents masquerading as soldiers used the victory celebrations the following night to make a greatly exaggerated account of how the emperor had saved them bringing the new army.

What counted was that the new emperor, regarded as a craven and derisevily spoken about by many, was now wildly popular, and he did know how to exploit that. The emperor was an impresionable man for sure, and he did not project the sort of presence that his father had. Indeed, he was easily given to be lured to other viewpoints easily, but yet he had an innate sense of justice, and a patience that helped him in his endeavors. He had an attention for the detail that had helped him to always find the right thing to say, the right clothing to wear and... certainly the perfect celebrations to make the people go wild. The festivals and celebrations were wild, but the people was promised even more for the upcoming wedding. The celebrations were even kept as the leaders of the empire were called for a week of lavish banquets in the palace and new celebrations in the Hippodrome for the winter, and the people nearly had time to breath before the wedding had arrived. And some of the more troublesome theme governors had some generous gifts to make them convinced that the wild ramblings of the Emperor's uncle Marinos about the fact that he would have been his older brother's favourite successor would go in empty ears.

The emperor himself wanted to give a prominent possition in the festivities to his brother Konstantinos but he had rejected the honour. Better for everybody to think of him badly, lest he would attract more conspirators than their uncle Marinos ever could. He had never wanted this honour, and he had a family now...he had married low, but happily, and he promised he would defend the frontier better for his brother than he had done for his father. When the brothers hugged just before the wedding, they knew this would be the last time they would ever meet. He wished as he was waiting for his bride that his father's friends would be here. But Antonios had been the last one of them. Antonied died ill and old... The old Strategos Ioannes dead in the siege of Beirut. And the last of the conspirators that killed his... well, his maybe father Michael, dead in the dungeons of the Blachearnae castle five years ago.

He had his own close council now... the eunuch Ioustinianos would be as faithful as Antonios, even in his possition of Magistros, and the Doux of Antioch, Helios, had a quite close temperament to his, calm and fair, to feel friendly with him once he had gone over his repulse to physical conflict. The new sekallarios was more an unknown to him, a friend of Antonios, Prokopios of Dalmatia, but he had to trust the oppinion of his old friend. Konstantin of Abkhazia was... maybe not the best one for his personal head of intelligence, but the man, a georgian, was very savvy regarding that kingdom, and he had the sensation he would need some insight in that direction soon enough. Still, he knew that his council wanted him to speak about the chances that the weakened state of the hated Bulgarians, after the Magyars had driven them from north of the Danube, presented. But that was going to be after a very pleasant honeymoon...

 
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Lucius Sulla

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CHAPTER 4: GARDENING (900-912)

July 5th, 901
Imperial Palace, Constantinople

As Ioustinianos entered the imperial private office he could not help but to feel how much different the ample room looked than the times that Basil occupied it. The books and treatises on ancient war and history that Basil had been so fond of reading, and usually lied in piles all over the ample desk and all over the shelves, sometimes with quite some disorder. Not so now. The desk was clean and clear, just some clean papyrus, and a neatly arranged flask with ink and a a group of three sharp quills. At the corner of the desk, out of the workspace, there was just small figure depicting Saint Paul, a small bronze cast image of him on the ground, covering his face and his horse at his side, as if he had just fallen. The ledges had also been replaced, with sparsely and elegantly placed tapestries depicting religious and historical images, but still leaving a sense of space that the old decoration never had, giving an ample frame to the big window behind him and framing the image of the towers of the Hagia Sophia in the north. He wondered about the orientation, on winter it was a bit cold in the room and braziers had to be taken to warm up the room. But he guessed the emperor and his late father could not ressist the glorious sight of the work of the great Anthemios. And the emperor had taken during the last years great care and worry to bring the upper city alive with gardens and flowers all over in the main roads... the palace itself surrounded now by the most wonderful fragances all through the year.

Then there was the man, of course. Basil had made the room look small because... he was huge. A glorious beast of a man indeed, muscles rippling even at his old age. The late emperor had just used this room for work and for his reading sessions, but usually he spent his spare time hunting in the woods. Not so much Leo. He was a thin, delicate even when not frail looking man, with sharp but gentle features. He always had a smile on his face and made everybody feel comfortable around him. He did not exude the raw energy that Basil did, invading and claiming the space around him. But... the emperor, even with his naiveté, usually made the man just not want to take advantage of him. The women certainly favoured him. He had been the favourite of his mother for sure, and he had the rare chance to enjoy a purely loving marriage.


It had been fortunate for him, but even more fortunate for his father in law the Strategos of the Aegean islands, who had enjoyed favours and the command of the Imperial Fleet now as supreme Megadoux. He would suspect a bit of shrewdness from the part of the Leo. The Navy never had the strength to rebel on itself, but could be vital in the case of some insurrection or to gather some support in the case of some palace coup. Not that there was now any risk of that. Doux Marinos, his uncle, had no pull in the court and just lived practically exiled now in the northern frontiers of the empire. There were some... funny noises coming from the Cherson, where the very younger brother of Leo was the imperial governor. Nikephoros was 12 years younger than his imperial brother and had never enjoyed the close friendship that his older brother had with their half brother Konstantinos. Well... probably Nikephoros was also half brother to the emperor, sharing just mother and not father. He had never met the late emperor Michael, but he had privately talked with the older servants of the palace and they had confessed that the closeness of character and features of Leo with Michael was... remarkable. Fortunately he had clearly avoided the vices of Michael, his parties and celebrations the paragon of good taste in the empire. And all the luck that Leo had in life, Nikephoros had recieved the most disgraceful misfortune instead. Exiled from the far north, the unfavourite of his mother and brothers, he had even been captured and tortured by a raid from the Alan barbarians in the north, rescued but... disgracefully castrated.

"Ah, my dear Protomagistros... how is the north going?" Ioustinianos knew that the emperor did not really want to talk about the real reason that had him worried, trying to busy his mind with the slow war of conquest in the north. "It's going well, Sire. Theodosios is an excellent general, and slowly we are recovering the Danube frontier. The Bulgars are finished... they are also being pushed fully out from the north. Those Magyars... they could be dangerous for the future." The Emperor just made a dismissing gesture "The Danube will hold those barbarians... they are just settling in, anyway." Still, he sighed and said "How... how is the empress? Everything is going ok?"

Naturally the emperor could not stop thinking at what was going on at the Porphyria, the purple room where he had been born himself. "The midwives assure me everything is going fine. It should be due any moment." Still, Leo looked tormented. He could not live with his wife, and it was just lucky that the young empress could not have eyes to other but to the emperor himself. They were insepparable for sure, and just this occasion was being sheer torment for the man, even when everything promised a troubleless birth. Still he knew the fear of the emperor. He shared in a way the guilt that his father Basil had for his disgraceful murder and usurpation of the Empire. Just after the great wedding celebrations he had made sure to recover the remains of Michael III and bury them with ceremony even when he was convinced to do it with a certain amount of discretion, knowing how that would fuel the rumours about his true parentage. Suddenly there was a rush, the mystikos Konstantin, his private secretary, appearing at the door and smiling to the relief of the other two men, Leo having just abruptly stood up and waving the man to talk.

"A beautiful little baby girl, Sire... everything is fine!" There was of course a bit of hesitation as the emperor really wanted a heir. But there would be time for that. The basilissa was very young yet, there would be time, all in all. At least the current imperial heir was a good friend to the emperor, but it was well known that the man did not want the empire, which would stir trouble until the succession would be secured. As they rushed down from the office and towards the outside of the Porphyria he could only smile as the emperor was just planning to commission a great work of art, depicting John the baptist...

June 30th, 904
Didymoteichon, Thrace

It had been 3 years from that happy day, and the empress still had, to his dismay, still had not get pregnant again. Unfortunately there were grave matter at hands. Well, probably just worse in the short term. He would wonder what these northern barbarians saw to keep coming south, thirsty of plunder and riches. That is, he would wonder if he had not been living in the City for years now. The golden domes, the precious art, the very heart of civilization that these barbarians could not even have dreamed about in the cold north, filled with huts and dirt.

"Quite a show, eh? A bit different than there in Damascus, though. Less heat. Home advantage."

Ioustinnianos turned to see the Strategos Theodosios. The man was quite different from the previous Strategos of the Domestikos. Lean and elegant, he reminded him of a predatory hawk. Quite far from the jolly but brutal fat man that lead the imperial Cataphracti before. He shared one trait with the late Ioannes, though... he had heard rumours of the cruel fate that the Bulgarian prisoners had. After taking Nikopolis he had taken the Bulgarian garrison and blinded them all, then setting them as beggars into the Bulgarian lands. He disapproved, personally, but he was currently the best general the empire had "They look quite a lot"

The man laughed and nodded, looking at the camp fires in the road coming from the East. "You did not think they would be happy just getting the lands north of the Danubian, right? This was bound to happen. Those fucking pagans..."

Ioustinnianos looked serious and noticed the Varangian guards and their officers not so far away and said "Do you speak like that to them?" The general chuckled "Of course. And they love it. They told me the old man was insulting them all the time. Of course the old man used to spar with them. I would not try that myself." He noticed how neutral the stare of the eunuch directed to him was and he sighed as he remembered how this man was the right hand of the emperor, sent here to make sure that he did not have any 'funny' thoughts after some big victory. The man would not even get near a sword, but he knew damn well how it could be employed against her. He just smirked and said "Don't worry, they don't like me that much. They still revere the old man, and even if the son will not come here to fight himself, they know who really pays them. That is, you."

"They are as much as we are... do you give us good chances?" Theodosios put his boot over a rock and then overlooked the field that would be covered in blood tomorrow "These Magyars... they had found the Bulgarians easy prey. They thought we would be too easy, and certainly they have cut through into the theme of Karvuna quite easily. Mind you, I was there just some years ago and did not leave the cities in very good state, so there was not much to defend themselves with, the poor bastards. They arrived at the sight of the golden gate and... they shat themselves, just thinking about besieging the citadel of the seven towers. They just marched east, down the imperial way to Athens. And here we are, waiting for them. They know they have to go through us or get chased and nipped to death in their retreat. And you know how these pagan warlords are. If they even dared to suggest turning back their own men would cut them to pieces. Only they would have done better invading east in the mountains. In the plains of Thrace..." He reached for a soft dried piece of mud from the ground and then crushed it inside his hand, letting the bits slide through his fingers "We are going to make mincemeat of them..." He signalled towards the Erith river at the north of the road. "We will get the best part of the cataphractas of the Thegmata along the river, going in a line and then charging in embolon formation to their flank. They have no idea that a force can be as well trained as our boys to go in a line and then get organized that fast. The other flank we will cover and harass, get their Alan cavalry distracted with our horse archer and a second unit of cataphracts when they are disarrayed enough. They have a bigger body of heavy infantry, they will try to push through to our fortified camp to get our supplies. We will align defensively the Macedonians and Greeks and my good Albanian troops to withstand the assault. I know the old man liked putting the Varangians in the center, but that was against the arabs... their infantry is rubbish and punched them in the gut. But no, I will put them in the flank, once the Alan cavalry gets done with they assault their left."

Ioustinnianos studied the field and nodded "Like Epanominondas in Leuctra. I see. They are in the heartland of the Empire... they should be anhilated. Send a message nort of the Danubium" The Strategors smirked darkly, and not just because it was night time, and nodded "Oh, I know all about messages..."




Ioustinnianos witnessed the battle from the wooden walls of the camp. Certainly the magyars were badly outmatched. He even winced when he could see the dramatic moment that the heavy armoured cavalry sank into their right flank. They collapsed fully under the sheer weight of the horses and from there... everything rippled. They were doing well in the center, though, giving more a match to their infantry that the Strategos had imagined. Heavy casualties there. But it was too late. They were in a vice now and soon they began to get slaughtered. Not many could escape, just some hours later, mainly the Alan cavalry, who had not suffered that much and had realized what a total disaster this had become for their side. He wondered what sick game the doux of Dyrrachium would play on the captives. Probably send their heads over the Danube... He did not care. He was here to make sure that neither defeat or victory could become a menace for the empire, and he knew that the Strategos was honest about his lack of political ambitions. The north was... unstable, that for sure, with the disappearance of the Bulgars as a force. The croats in the north too. The Slavic people that had come to the south were a thing of the past now.


June 9th, 907
Dungeons of the Blachernae, Constantinople

"Bring him. Now."

The emperor gestured... well, imperiously, and while the thin man was not that impressive, nobody lost from their minds who he was and the power he commanded. They brought his brother loaded with chains, the man looking with big wide furious eyes and then with a pure venom at the figure he was taken too, starting to struggle.

He could remember how kind his brother was... how serious in all things. Honest and charming as Basil had been, he always felt a bit envious about how he had inherited those qualities from... well, maybe not his father, but yet... "Does he have to be... carrying those many chains?" Indeed, they were practically weighting him down, but when he looked into the once gentle and smart eyes he knew that he had gone crazy with hate and frustration and... who knows. "How far have you felt, my brother... it was too much for you, I guess, after all these years."

At his side his personal secretary, the maybe not so faithful but certainly skillful Konstantinos just cleared his throat "We should put him out of his misery. He is a rabid dog now. And he is a traitor." Leo just shake his head "How could I do to my own... little brother. Poor Nikephoros, that thing they did to him... was too much for his mind." Konstantin was unrelenting though "He is a magnet for disenters... he should be executed" Leo turned his eyes to him and the mystikos could only lower his "But it will be as you say, Sire."

Leo reflected that here there would be no explanation, not even a conversation. The man had gone completely mad, starting to scream "You BASTARD... son of a DRUNKARD! You are the TRAITOR! I will KILL YOU FOR FATHER!! YOU KILLED FATHER!!" He was foaming at the side of the mouth and even tried to launch himself at him despite the chains and the guards holding him down. He sighed... he never had lacked courage, another good thing that reflected on Basil. Unfortunately that meant that after getting tortured and castrated, he had let his thoughts... wonder. Suspicions and paranoia had got to him, fancying himself the only truly legitimate heir of the empire. He had shouted his claim in the Cherson, and all the disaffected and adventurers, including a good number of Alan and Magyar mercenary troops had gone to him to go south towards the city of Constantine.


He did not have a chance.In Sestos and Mesembria his ragtag but very abundant army were exterminated as the plague of locusts they had become, his brother captured and put in chains, and seemingly having lost his mind. Maybe he did not desserve the empire, all in all... they were paying for Michael's murder yet, he guessed. Maybe... Nikephoros, his father's son for certain, was paying the price for such a treason. Betraying your benefactor... they said that deserved a very special place in one of the circles in hell. His father had not respected him, but... Leo had loved his father, maybe more for his brothers' sake than his own. And his wife... he had another daughter. Not that he was not happy but.. he started to wonder if he would be cursed. It was early to say, though, and something told him that he would never be able to divorce his wife if she would get too old to produce a heir. But heck, she was still in her early twenties. There would be enough of that, and certainly they kept trying. Very pleasantly at that.

July 5th, 912
Imperial Palace, Constantinople

As Ioustinianos entered the imperial private office he could not help but to reflect on the fact that the old Emperor had not stayed more than two years in Constantinople since he started his campaigns. And Leo had been in the city for fourteen years already, without any intention to leave or to command any army. Well, that made sense. He abhorred the campaign life, and that little episode in Crete of his youth had proved to him that he should not be put in command of men in the field of battle. He even made sure that his horses were the gentle and calmed time, even when he cheered like the most rabid public when he assisted to the races in the Hippodrome. Fortunately people could not call him effeminate, despite his manners and sensibilities, thanks to his very obvious passion for his wife. And the basilissa was beloved by all. The woman was devoted to her husband and to be the new Mecene of the arts for the Empire. The capital had never been more beautiful with the new sculptures added in the main Fori, and the gardening projects all over the city made... well, he had to admit made everybody happier in the city. The Emperor never left the City, but the Basilissa had insisted in doing a pair of visits to Athens and to Ephesus to overlook the constructions of new churches and help to settle her protected artists. A true patron. Or patroness, rather?

"Ah, my dear Protomagistros... how is the south going?" Ioustinianos knew that the emperor did not really want to talk about the real reason that had him worried, trying to busy his mind with the projects of resettling and fortifications in Damascus and the freshly conquered Syrian fortresses. When three years ago there were news of the bloody war in Persia, with the Caliph trying to subjugate the mountanious and rough land, they realized it was the time to strike a fatal blow to the Arabs. And strike into the very old Capital of the Caliphate in Damascus, even when now the Caliph had moved his court to Baghdad. The blue gem of Syria, it was called, and the invasion was prepared in all detail. The emperor hated the military but had a knack for logistics, and certainly was not just just looking at the plans the Strategos proposed.

"Your cousin David is settling in... He is young, but wilful." It was a good idea to settle the young cousin of the emperor in such a valued land. David was the youngest son of the youngest brother of Basil, Gennadios, and had been eager to prove himself in the campaign as companion to the Strategos. He had no possible claim to the imperial throne, as he did not descend from an emperor... but was family, and he knew his prestige and future would depend on the permanence of the throne of his line. He hoped the two brothers of Basil kept spawning that well... it would prove really handy. If not for governorships, for important court possitions that he wanted to ensure.

"It's fine, Sire. We are... still having troubles with the settling of the veterans of Zarqa in Sicily. They are not happy going that far away. And with lands open to the Tunisian pirates" Well, that was the point of settling veterans in non secured lands, after all. They had a more serious revolt in Nicea, when the veterans camped at the other side of the Bosphorus realized where their reward was going to be. Nothing serious all in all but...

"I can't settle them here or in the north, you know that. We are assimilating the bulgars into the empire. It's just too many of them to displace, or we will have bigger problems. Still... it was a glorious victory. The Strategos Theodosios was proving to be a new Belisarius with his victory in different fronts. With the bulk of the Caliphal troops in Persia, he still had to face the local Emirs that had gathered an army that could match the vanguard of the Imperial army. In Zarqa they had faced him. And In Zarqa they had tasted defeat.


Damascus had fallen... and certainly if Leo had been like Basil a triumph would have been celebrated through the streets of Constantinople. As it was, the man was richly rewarded with gold and a personal fortune... and sent back to coordinate any possible counterattack through the dessert "God will that the Caliph will break his teeth against the persian rocks. I was hoping to receive dispatches from Antioch today. It has... been too long we have no news from the frontier. The arabs must be furious with us in Damascus, and the rumours say the war in Persia had a good turn for them". Still, Leo had his head in other thing and finally got up and starting pacing nervously from side to side in front of the window "Oh, screw dispatches... how is my Eirene?" Ioustinianos could not help but to smile at the tender love of the Basileus for his Basilissa "Everything is going fine, Sire. This is her third birth, and god willing, this time it will be a boy" Leo sighed and nodded "God willing... indeed. I was wondering if..." He cut his words as an errand page boy appeared at the door and said "S... sire! The basilissa has given birth!" Immediately the Magistros hurried "It's a boy? Tell us!" The boy blinked and in his rush they realized he had not been told that vital detail. Ioustinnianos cursed and hurried, Leo hurrying after him through the halls of palace to rich the Porphyria room.

When they were mid way they saw the messenger the Magistros was waiting. Without a word he just stopped to grabbed the sealed imperial dispatches and followed to the room, where a radiant Eirene was holding...

"A boy... it's our beautiful boy. The next Basileus, my love..." Leo was exhultant. He carefully reached to kiss on the forehead his beloved wife, and with tears of emotion going down from the sides of his eyes he grabbed his son. His heir... "Michael. His name is Michael." That would provoke an outrage for sure... but... as he moved apart from the happy scene, feeling as an eunuch better to be apart of such occasions that he could not enjoy himself, he reached to open the dispatches.

The Caliph had subjugated Persia and had returned victorious. The armies of the Crescent were massing near the frontier. Invasion and war was inminent. He sighed and looked at the emperor holding his son, laughing with pure joy, kissing again the love of his life. Well... this cold wait... some hours. A day maybe. He hurried to start putting in motion the gathering of the Thagmata and the Varangians and the bulk of the fleet.

 
Last edited:

Lucius Sulla

Dark Lieutenant of Sauron
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Oct 23, 2002
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CHAPTER 5: DIVIDED THEY FALL (912-920)

December 12th, 913
The Fortress of Homs, Syria

Anthemios could only look nervously towards the horizon at the East. He could not help to look at the far desert that the newly enhanced fortress was defending against. The fact that doux Konstantinos, the older brother of the emperor had already arrived with the levies of the nearby themes did nothing to hold his nerves. He had travelled not even two years ago, when he was told the local theme of Aleppo was still recruiting. Every young man in the empire knew what that mean. Land that you could own and keep for your family. As long as every time the imperial bannermen would come, you would jump to put on your chainmail, take your weapons and go to train and then to war for the Empire. It usually was a fair deal, all in all, it was the only way a man with nothing but the strength of his arm. And this time, when there was the alarm of how the Caliph, may he soon rot in hell, had come knocking on the frontier, arriving in the old Palmyra rout just again, the riders had come all over to gather all the soldier-farmers of the theme.

He hoped as hell the Tagmata would arrive soon... those were really tough bastards. He remembered when he was a child, in Cilicia, and those huge horses had passed through their little village. His father had served in the campaigns of the great emperor Basil, earned his own farm that way. Now he had heard that the Emperor Leo was just happy to sit and celebrate in the imperial palace and cheer at the horse races for his pet team. And what is worse, his brother the doux Konstantin, who happened to be the military Strategos of the theme of Aleppo, was not better. Everybody whispered about how he escaped like a scared chicken the last time the Arabs had come... and everybody feared he would do the same. At his side, one of the older soldiers that was serving his turn as sentinel just chuckled and said "Don't worry... we will hold the heathen bastards..." he patted the stone. "I was last time in Aleppo, and Basil was in the other side of the world. The empire is in peace... the armies of the emperor will come in time to save your sorry ass, don't worry about that." Anthemios just sighed and nodded, then... he narrowed his eyes and noticed a rider rushing from the road coming from the East "Damn, damn, damn, here they come!" He gripped nervously his bow and gave the shout of alarm.

His more veteran companion, an Anatolian named Paulus, just said "No... damn it... look... it's one of our messengers... still, it probably means that the arabs are already at the gates of Palmyra... Let's go down and open the gate for him." Anthemios just gulped and said "What if it's a trap... he is... a muslim really?" The old soldier just laughed "What, an invasion force of one? Ready to stab us and hold the gates for an army that would take days to arrive? Sure... maybe you should serve in the Doux personal guard... now shut up and let's see how far those bastards really are."

As such, it was indeed one messenger that had rushed to the fortress, with a message to the Doux, and both Anthemios and Paulos had the honour to escort him to the man himself and his military staff. The messenger hurried to kneel down and then offered his sealed scroll, then remained waiting for instructions. Everybody could notice how Konstantinos' face paled a bit, but yet he had promised never to suffer the same shame he had suffered the last time this happened. He may shit himself, but he would shit himself fighting. Or trying to, at least. Still, the news were... surprising, to say the least.

He turned to the messenger as he finished reading and said "Take him to some quarters, and stand ready for my messages to Antioch..." He turned to his counts and advisors and Anthemios and Paulus and hurried to take the man to the barracks, eager to learn the news, and as soon as the man had sat down and been given a cup of wine and some bread. Anthemios was clearly anxious and he said "Well... how far are the damn muslims? When will they come?" The mesenger, a lean, short fellow that looked half syrian himself smiled and finished munching his bite of bread "They are not coming."

That left both men blinking, and Paulus just said "What... they are invading north... south?" That looked like a silly idea... the best entry point for an Army was through Aleppo, everyone, even the lowly soldiers such as themselves knew that. The messenger chuckled "They are not coming at all" he said savouring the last word. "What... how? Why?" "There was a big battle just at the frontier... the caliph's army was defeated." It was clear he was holding more, amused at teasing the two simple soldiers, but Paulus had enough of it "Well, now fellow... I guess you have had enough fun with us. You better tell us what the heck is happening, because I have left a wife and five children and I better know if I have left them for the winter for nothing." His made a point of closing his fists, as he was really losing his patience.

The messenger raised his hands and said "Wow... keep calm... jeez... and I was bringing good news and all. It was not a battle from our fellows... those arabian fellows were advancing towards us. I was one of the scouts checking their progress as soon as we knew they were there. From a big distance, of course, but with the plains that's not difficult. Then, another huge army arrived. Tanned fellows also. Only when they met... they did not seem in friendly terms. They first argued... then they outright started to fight. Quite a messy business, and at the end, they tore the banners and raised another one, with a five point star like this..." He reached to dip his finger in the wine and drawed it roughly on the wooden table, then his finger dipped again to get more wine and drew a red circle around the star.


"How did it go... uh... who did it won the battle?"

The messenger chuckled and then says "Ah, I did not stay, we hurried away to Palmyra and then to here when we were told that the doux of Aleppo was gathering the troups of the themes here. But, you know, that's an easy thing to answer, who won that battle." He smirked fiercely and said "We did."

December 20th, 916
City of Aleppo, ducal residence

As the emperor advanced into the bedchamber, the people gathered around the bed parted, but for the two older children of Konstantinos, his son Basil and his daughter Zenobia. He knew the two siblings did not like each other, and Zenobia in particular disliked very much the emperor himself for his decree that only males could inherit the imperial throne now. But she still bowed to the presence of his imperial uncle with an odd gleam in her eye. Still, Leo had no eyes, even when covered with tears but for his half brother Konstantinos. His heart hurt as he saw his brother in horrid pain and fever, his body shaken as he coughed blood to his side, Zenobia making sure to be the one cleaning it and attending her father.

When Konstantinos looked up at his little brother, he gave a sad smile, and as Zenobia cleaned carefully his lips and his neck, then watered his sweaty forehead he said "Tell me we have won... that we have done... as Father would have wanted". Despite the looks of alarm from everybody around him, Leo took the hand of his brother, weak and too warm, and said "We have. Syria is fully ours now. The arabs are in disarray... the Caliph is in prison in Baghdad, and the Ismailids are still fighting his faction all over the land, with the Persians and the local emirs revolting all around."


The doux just coughed again and sighed "And I missed it all... this damn illness, striking when I could have demonstrated... when I could have finally fought... overcome..." Leo just gulped... he never cared much about his lack of martial prowess, but it had been a hard thing to bear for his older brother "Father would be proud of you now, you know that." Konstantinos just looked away and sighed again "He would not... I was never good enough for him. He... wanted me to be the emperor, you know? He so much strongly wanted it to be me and not you... and then... I failed him. Nothing will ever change that." Leo looked down as Konstantinos faintly smiled, his first smile for days and said "Oh, now that I am going to die I can finally say that, without anybody daring to accuse me of wanting the throne. It was for the better, brother. You were the atonement for father's sins. And that's good. That's sacred. I rest better now that you have made the empire a better place to live... I have been told of the wonders you have made into the City... and I will not be able to see them now..."

Leo wanted to tell his beloved brother that he would survive, that he would see the wonderful gardens... the beautiful sculptures that graced them and the main avenue of the city, from the golden gate to the hippodrome. But the physicians had been clear that he was in his last days, maybe his last hours. This consumption was not contagious, they assured him, but once it got such a bad hold in a man... there was no chance for him. "Brother... Your... your name will be honoured, I assure you." Konstantinos shaked his head "I... I don't need that. All my wealth is in my son... my daughters... and look at them. They hate each other." Zenobia and Basil tried to look away "They are not trying to deny it now, to comfort me... I heard... your Eirene has given birth to other son... Three sons, and you were... worried..." He had to stopped to cough heavily to the side, again staining the sheets with blood. Leo sighed and kept holding his weak hand "You... you must rest brother..." The cough went on for more than a long minute, and then Konstantions, his eyes injected with blood just said "Rest... yes... leave me... leave me all... all but you... my brother... don't... blame yourself for Nikephoros... just promise me that..."

Everybody left the room, leaving the Emperor to escort his brother, his friend, to his final rest.

September 20th, 920
The Hippodrome, Constantinople

The triumphal parade arrived from the big gates from where usuall the teams entered the arena. Basileus Leo did not ride as his father had. Despite his misgivings the aged Strategos of the Thegmata, Theodosios of Dyrrachium, was riding at the front of the troops, even when he had not covered his face with red minium as Basil had in his triumph decades ago, and when he arrived before the imperial box, he humbly descended from his chariot and even more humbly knelt down, producing something in the ground. The royal diadem of Georgia, captured in the sacking of the capital of that upstart kingdom that had denied they were the imperial province of Iberia. It was a very difficult terrain, an d so far they had only been driven off from the shores of the black sea and had their capital of Narikala taken. But, all in good time. Some of the nobles had proclaimed Leo king of Georgia, but soon they would know what that really meant for the Emperor of the Romans.

It could not be denied that Leo had a flavour for the dramatic. His protomagistros, the eunuch Ioustinnianos appeared in the arena and crowned with laurels the victorious general. Then, he grabbed the crown from the floor and turned to a small furnace that had been readied just under the imperial box. He took the golden crown with long tongs and then put it into the furnace, over an already red hot plank. Music erupted from all over, and purple banners with the bull of the house of Makedon and the imperial double eagle fall simultaniously all over the estadium.

Ioustinianos the eunuch helped Theodosios the general to get up, now that they were certainly not in the full attention of the public, and they could look up and notice their master, in his full regalia and the very beloved basilissa Eirene at his side, with the princes and princesses around them, receiving the cheer of the public. Theodosios looked up and said "Huh, and he even not got one hundred miles close to a battle, eh?" Ioustinnianos arched one eyebrow and said "Do you think anything of this would have been possible without him? He is... our center, it took me a bit to learn that. I do believe he was the son of Michael, and that god judged him innocent and has blessed his line. But... let's better not speak of that, right?" Theodosios smirked. It was time for retirement he felt. Even when in a secondary possition, it was not good to stand too much in the limelight, and he had his own lands to take care of after so many years of campaign. He felt old, even when he was ten years younger than the emperor. Yes, he felt it in his bones. Time to retire while he was ahead.
 
Last edited:

Lucius Sulla

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Sigh, stupid photobucket... if I had known... I will try to pass all the images to other host.
 

Lucius Sulla

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And all fixed... although this makes me wonder if anybody at all is actually reading this :D
 

Byzan

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Could I ask where you get the battle maps, and what you are using to create the Title-card?

Other than that, I like it.