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Storey

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A sad ending but I had a feeling it was coming. :( At least it sounds like the Turks are just about finished.

Joe
 

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Elena is 23

She would not have been among the crowds when the next war came three years later, were it not for Spyros. Spyros, her little brother, now her only brother and her father's last hope. Spyros her mother's favourite, the bright-eyed little scamp to be teased and scolded and protected from all harm. Spyos, still an apprentice, younger even than Simeon had been when the first army rode out, who had somehow got himself caught up in the levy for the City tagma and offered up a sacrifice to an Emperor's ambition.

A great expedition was being raised - destined for Egypt, of all places, as if one Empire was not enough for any man - thousands had been claimed above even the normal levy, and the Emperor's servants would spare none, no matter how much her father might bluster and her mother weep. "My boy, my baby," she sobbed as Elena half-carried her home, "my little one." Elena, dry-eyed by necessity, tried to reassure her that Spyros was a grown man now, strong and sensible, who could well look after himself, and even as she spoke she knew she lied. She only had to shut her eyes to see the curly-haired toddler, held high by a proud mother so he could see his big brother go off to war.

Now Elena was the one with the child in her arms, and Spryos on his last visit had chucked little Nikkos under the chin and laughed. "You won't even remember me when I come back, will you?"

Elena had made herself smile back. "We won't forget you." Well, she would not forget, and Nikkos, if he was lucky, would have no memories to lose. But she brought him to the harbour, the day the fleet sailed, and even held him up as the sails unfurled and the crowds cheered. She turned away from them then, and went up on the sea-walls and watched the ships out of sight, joggling the fractious bundle in her arms and listening to her heart tell her that she had seen her brother's face for the last time.

This time Elena did not strain after news. What was done was done, she could no more alter it than stop the flight of angels or halt the turn of the seasons. Whatever befell, unless the Turks broke forth from a forgotten nightmare or the Latins came again to lay the City in ruin, there was still food to be cooked and washing to be done. Two households to look after - for her father could not work, now, and her mother's health never recovered - and a growing family took up her time, and she could almost - almost - forget there was a war in Egypt, or a world outside the city at all.

When the Patriarch of Rome demanded the City submit to his creed, and the City denounced him from a hundred altars, Elena found it hard to to be properly indignant. God willed what He willed; if the Latins were foolish and arrogant it was no doubt His design. When the Pope sent Hunyadi and his Hungarians down on the Balkans, to wreak havoc from the Danube halfway to Thessaloniki, it touched Elena little. The City had stood against the Turk, it would stand against the Magyar, and another war was a small thing when she had nothing it might claim. (Her husband was a clerk in the Ministry of Marine and exempt from the levy; Elena gave thanks every Sunday, and felt guilty about it).

The Magyars did not reach the City - Giustiniani drove them back - and the war rolled away into Croatia, and the bells rang for victory but not for peace. There was war in Anatolia again, she heard, and even in Palestine. She told herself she did not care. What did it matter where Spyros fought, so long as he lived, and if he died what matter where he fell. Even when Bursa burned for the last time, and the whole City came out to see the last Sultan led in chains through the streets, Elena was not with them. The Emperor could always find a new enemy, and Spyros had not come home. And when at last the wars were won (six years they took, since the fleet had sailed), she did not exult, even for peace, for she knew in her heart that the wars would come again. Such was the way of the world, and the best that could be hoped for was to snatch a little happiness while the sun shone.

Spyros never did come home. He met a Coptic girl in Aswan and took land in the Fayum. Elena prayed for them often, when news came of the riots and uprisings that wracked Egypt for a generation after the war.

* * * * * * * * *

coz1. Troggle - Thanks for the support! :)
jwolf, Storey - The Ottomans are finished - but the Emperor dreams of greater things.
 

Storey

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Its been fascinating watching you tell the story through a young girls eyes. I would hesitate to try it but the feel of the story has a melancholy aspect that is appealing. I find myself hoping that Elena doesn’t have to watch he son-sons go off to war or is that inevitable? After all the emperor dreams of greater things. ;)

Joe
 

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Storey took the words right out of my mouth. Telling the story from Elena's perspective gives a completely different twist to the Emperor's glorious conquests. Your writing is a wonderfully understated style which nevertheless conveys vividly the human cost of Imperial ambition.

PS -- Congratulations on the final defeat of the Turks! Sweet!
 

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Elena is 32

Elena had never dreamed of leaving a mark on the world - that was the dream of young fools like Simeon and old fools like the men who had sent him to die - but Fate or Heaven had other ideas, and touched her, quite unexpectedly, near the end of the old Emperor's reign. Peace had lasted two years before the tagma were called again and sent away again to Egypt. Spyros had escaped the levy, or so his letters said, but the war was spreading and the whole valley of the Nile was alive with brigands and raiders.

The second year of the war brought more levies and more taxes, for the Emperor was fitting out another great fleet, this time against Syria, the Dragon himself in command. Little Nikkos, of course, was as excited as only a ten-year old could be, running off to the harbour every chance he got and filling his head with ships and banners and tales of glory. Elena wished it otherwise, but did not try to break the spell. He was a child yet, and it kept his mind away from the world of poor food and old clothes and the long slow tearing of her own mother's last illness. Let him play in the sun while he may.

She had gone out early, to the little farmers' market near the land-wall which sold the freshest milk and the softest bread (but only if you got there at dawn). Hurrying back in the half-light, she cut across the Square of Heraclius and was shocked to see an old man, robed as a priest, prostrate before the old Emperor's statue. At first she took him for a victim one of the robber gangs that plagued the poorer districts, but when she went to his aid, she could find no blood or wound on him. His eyes were open, but they stared at nothing and he muttered broken words she could not catch. There was no wine on his breath, and his clothes were too fine for a wandering madman, so Elena decided at last he must be having some kind of seizure. Wrapping her cloak around his frail form, she endeavoured to keep him warm and quiet until the fit had passed.

The old man, however, would not be comforted. Pushing off the covering, he forced himself to his knees and reached out toward the statue as he struggled to rise further. The effort was beyond him, but still he tried, beating away her attempts to calm him until she could catch his flailing arms and hold them. Their eyes met, and for the first time he seemed to see her. Help me, the eyes said. Help me.

With Elena's aid, he was able finally to reach up and embrace the statue's legs and lay his cheek on the marble feet. "A return, my Emperor," he said quite distinctly. "I have seen it! A long return to Syria!" Then, abruptly, his grip slackened and he slumped in Elena's arms.

He came to only slowly, groggy and muddled as one roused from a deep sleep, but the bread and milk and some wine from a nearby shop revived him enough to sit up and speak. By now quite a crowd had gathered, and one of them recognised Demetrios, titular Patriarch of Antioch (who had never once seen his diocese). He thanked Elena gravely and promised to remember her in his prayers. She thanked him in turn, and would have put the event out of her mind, except that it was later determined that it had taken place on the very morning that Konstantinos routed the Mamelukes before Damascus. The story became a part of City lore, and so came to the ears of one of its young artists, a fresco-painter in the new Italian style. By the time Konstatinos returned in triumph - to take up the purple on his brother's death - Elena's figure (or at least the artist's approximation) graced the wall of the new church of St Ignatius as part of his 'Vision of the Blessed Demetrios'. Elena went there often in the years that followed. Glory was a fool's dream, but there was still something warming, somehow, in being a part of the greatness of the City.

* * * * * * * * * *

Storey - Thank-you for your kind words. I wasn't sure the style would work either - I re-arranged it at least twice before I could find a version I was prepared to put up.

jwolf - This was written partially as a counterpoint to all those "... and then I conquered France ... and then I conquered Spain" AARs out there - I'm glad you like it.

P.S. - You're very welcome - the Turks were crippled after the first war but it was nice to finally be rid of them.
 
Last edited:

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HOLY CRAP!

This is one of the best Byzantine AAR(?)'s I have read. Everyone is right, the change in perspective is fantastic. I only wonder who will take up the story once Elena is gone?

What does the revived Roman Empire consist of now?

Keep it up! :D :D :D
 

coz1

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I must agree with the others. It is fascinating to read of your conquests in a non-celebratory way. It seems that you war machine is doing very well, but each time it takes a little something more from your characters. That last update included a very nice scene with Elena and Demetrios. I fear for little Nikkos, however. He will soon be taken up in the levy as well and then what shall poor Elena do?
 

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I can't believe I misssed this AAR for so long! Merrick, it's very refreshing to see how what we consider a successful campaign actually means. How many more Patriarchs are you going to free?
 

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I simply cannot believe I did not know you had begun another project.

I've written this and deleted it several times, trying to find the right phrase. Everything I typed seemed hyperbolic...

So all I will say is that the approach is fitting, the technique is excellent and the story is compelling. With stnylan's 'Alone in the Night', this may be the best 'human-scale' AAR on the board.

Bravo!
 

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Elena is 41

Elena went to St Ignatius's church for the last time six years later, on the day of Nikkos's funeral. She did not see the fresco as she came in. She did not see the iconostasis over the altar or the candles that flanked it. She was not even aware of her husband's arm around her or her daughters' tears beside. All she could see, all she could understand, was that hideous, mocking, black thing on the dias before the altar. Her tears fell, but could not hide it. She lowered her head, and could still see it in her mind. Nikkos. Nikkos, her boy, her baby, her golden child, cut down in a pointless scrimmage with Venetian raiders on the banks of the Golden Horn. With cruel, knife-edge clarity, she remembered how happy she had been when when he got the post with the customs service, an Imperial office like his father's that carried the same exemption from the levy. She remembered how tall he had grown, how handsome, how dashingly he had twirled his new cloak the morning he set off for his first day at work, a young man of the City with his whole future before him. Not six months before...

She remembered his footsteps on the stairs and the bang of the street door as he dashed out of the house, three mornings ago now. She hadn't seen him - he had slept late and she had been busy with the girls, but it hadn't mattered. There was always the evening, and the next day. The evening... He had been working late - he was always so diligent, always so keen to impress - and he must have heard the disturbance on the docks (Godless Venetians from their fleets in the Marmara, sneaking over the harbour chain in small boats to kill and burn). He had come running down to the waterfront with a lantern - he didn't even have a knife! - and some Latin crossbowman had put a bolt through his heart. Killed on the instant, they had told her when they brought his body home. She hadn't even told him goodbye.

She felt her husband lift her - the service must be over - and as they turned to leave her eyes caught the fresco, lighted by a shaft of sun through the eastern window. For a moment she looked up, unable to move. There stood her younger self, solid and strong, loyally supporting the blessed cleric as he received his vision of - what? Battle and death on the plains of Syria? Why did you do it, God? No comfort for a woman, no mercy for a child, but You found time for a mad dream for an old man, the sort of dream that makes old men start new wars and bring fire and death to Your people? Her eyes filled again, rage as much as grief. I hate you, God.

The graveside was worse. Nikkos looked so small, so helpless in his coffin, it was all she could do not to bend down and embrace him. Instead she had to stand and watch and listen to the tributes and condolences of his family and friends. She would treasure them in the years to come, but for now they were needles in her heart, every one. A girl she had never met crept up shyly and threw flowers. A pompous official from the Ministry gave a pointless speech about how the whole City shared her grief, if such a thing was possible for a woman who had lost her first-born. And the priest of St Ignatius, horribly sincere, had laid a would-be consoling hand on her arm. "He is with God now," he had said gently, "and he would not wish you to sorrow." Then, with one final twist of the knife, he had continued, "You must be strong. You have other children who need you."

For a moment she had wanted nothing more than to hurl him into the grave with Nikkos - or to leap in herself and leave the pain behind. But the man was right - terribly, hideously, mercilessly right. There were people who needed her - her husband, her girls. She could not cut her throat and end the pain, could not crawl into a corner and die of grief. Why us, oh God? she whispered. Why me?

The pain faded at last, though it never died. For months a voice, the cut of a cloak, even a hairstyle could crack her heart or set her to weeping, but one day she found to her surprise she could think of Nikkos without hurting,as she had learned to think of her mother and even of Simeon. That was the year the Venetians were driven out of the Marmara, the year tales of plague and revolt in the provinces were replaced by reports of bountiful harvests and even the hope of peace. There was life in the City again and life even in Elena. But she never went back to St Ignatius's church again.

* * * * * * * * * *

Apologies for the delay - I meant to update yesterday but the board wasn't taking submissions.

wildwolf - I'm glad you like it. :)
If it matters, the Empire at this time contained all the former Ottoman territories, plus Hellas, Wallachia, Antalya, Kastamonu, Aleppo, Syria and about half of Egypt.

coz1 - I fear I have already answered your question :(

Semi-Lobster - Good to hear from you!
To answer your question, Antioch & Alexandria are already done, so there only remains Jerusalem...

Director - You people are beginning to scare me. How will I ever live up to the hype? (;)). Well, all praise gratefully accepted, especially from such a fine writer as yourself.
 

coz1

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A very sad and touching episode. Very effective having her confront her younger self as she left the church. I knew something bad would end up happening to Nikkos but I didn't expect it so soon. I am tempted to say great job driving away the Venetions, but at such cost it is difficult. Still, great work here as usual. :)
 

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I can't say it was a surprise but it still saddened me to read about Nikkos. It's time for Elena to have some good news in her life or your readers will revolt. :D

Joe
 

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Elena is 55

The years went on, as years will. Yet it seemed that the Venetian War had marked a sort of ending, the final spasm of the long agony of battle and siege, rebellion and ruin that had wracked City and Empire for more than thirty years. No more enemies rose to threaten the frontiers, no hostile fleets to block the seas, taxes fell and trade flowed. As the markets filled again so too did the streets of the City, not with beggars and cripples but with workers and artisans come to ply their trades. New buildings rose, new distractions beckoned, and heroes were made in the Hippodrome and no longer on the battlefield. Elena, even, found herself sliding into contentment. Her household prospered, her daughters became mothers themselves, she found she could even enjoy the theatre again and the buzz of the markets. It was almost a blessed time, a warm slow autumn after the summer she had lost.

Konstantinos, and then Demetrios, let a whole decade go by without summoning the levies, and even when Andreas at last sounded the trumpets again, it seemed a minor thing, a peripheral thing, like the first war in Athens so many years ago. Elena listened to the pronouncements without enthusiasm but also without alarm. The Mamelukes were a broken foe now, too far and too weak to threaten the City or its people. She turned away to her own life, and trusted fate to leave it in peace. There was nothing left to her, anyway, that the Emperor might claim - bar Spyros, whose letters still came, but whose face she now had to strain to remember.

When Argyros famously leapt ashore before his ship had docked and sprinted all the way to St Sophia, bursting in on the Emperor's Mass to cry "Jerusalem is ours!", Elena was re-weaving baskets in the garden. She regretted it not at all. It might have been pleasant, for a day, to stand once more in the eye of history, but destiny had a hard hand, and she had learned well the price of glory. "Let them be gentle," she prayed as tales of conquest filled the streets again. "Let the cities stand and the children come home. Let us not become the Turk."

* * * * * * * * * * *

jwolf, coz1 - I hope you're still enjoying the story despite the depressing theme.
Storey - I'd hate to have a readers' revolt, I had quite enough revolts in-game during and after the Venetian War (one of the reasons I did pretty much nothing for ten years except pick off Trebizond). So, a short sunny chapter where no-one dies. ;)
 

coz1

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And even brings us the good news that the crusade is accomplished. Great news indeed, especially since no onw beloved by Elena gets it this time...this time, however, I'm sure will not last. We'll take 'em however we can get 'em. ;)
 

Storey

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Ah peace and tranquility. Usually a boring time in the game but I'm glad for Elena's sake that the last ten years were as non-eventful as you've written. :)

Joe
 

merrick

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Elena is 64

The sun dipped towards the western hills, and the bells of the Cathedral of the Redemption rang out for evening prayers. From the great campanile - the highest in Christendom, and the most beautiful - the sound washed over the City, scattering the pigeons in the market squares and putting even the gulls on the sea-walls to screeching flight. For the first time in over a year, since the great carrilion had been hoisted, Elena did not notice. She had more immediate problems on her hands.

"Grandmama! Gran'mama! I can see the other side!" The old woman hastily reached out and hauled the madly-excited little girl back before she could climb onto the parapet. "I can't see!" Little Alcina wriggled in anger. "Lift me up!" she commanded.

"I can't," Elena protested weakly. "you're too heavy."

Alcina took no notice. "Lift me up!"

With a grunt of effort, Elena managed to raise her granddaughter far enough that the girl could get her feet on the low part of the parapet. She sighed with relief as Alcina took her own weight. The girl leaned out immediately, looking out across the Bosphorus. "I can see a white ship and a black ship and" she wriggled forward "a big ship with legs!"

Elena smiled. "Those are oars, dear."

Alcina wasn't listening. "I can see houses on the other side." Abruptly, she sat back down into her grandmother's arms. "Who lives there?"

Elena caught her, her old muscles protesting. "Mehmet, give me a hand here."

Mehmet did not respond immediately. Elena glanced across at the man she would never have chosen for her younger daughter. Mehmet was a Turk by birth, his family one of hundreds that had moved to the City in the wake of the Sultan's fall. He claimed to be good Orthodox, as they all did, but Elena knew his parents prayed to the East and would allow no images in their house. Still, he was sober and honest and a good father to Alcina. "Mehmet!"

"Who lives there?" Alcina squawked, irritated at being ignored.

Mehmet made no move. He was looking out over the Bosphorus, not straight at the Asian shore but towards the south-east, as if he could see past plains and mountains to where the waters of the Mediterranean lapped the rocky shores of Cilicia and the last Turkish sultanates waited to die.

"I remember this was all Turkish, once."

* * * * * * * * * *

That's all folks!

* * * * * * * * * *

Byzantium has reached superpower status by this point. From here, the game was all about how big I could win - nothing, bar an outrageous series of random events, was likely to threaten the City ever again. Plus, I have somehow mislaid my second set of notes. So the completion of my first manufactory (FAA in Thrace, 1477) and the annexation of the Mamelukes to end the crusade (1479), looked like a decent place to stop.

coz1, Storey - Thanks for sticking it out to the end - all compliments gratefully appreciated.
 

Storey

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It was a pleasure to read. :cool:

Joe
 

CatKnight

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merrick said:
"I remember this was all Turkish, once."

BRAVO!!! Excellent ending to a great story!
 

Braedonnal

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This AAR has something that so many AAR's lack and that's the effects of ones actions within the game. We play the game, we march troops to fight and die and win victories but because it's a game there are no consequences. You've captured that element of human suffering within the vainglory of war (victorious or not) and that truly is a remarkable thing.

Well done, Merrick! :)