Previous Page Next Page

Home Page Index Page

The Demons of Constantinople: Chapter Six

       Last updated: Friday, December 13, 2019 07:06 EST



Location: Constantinople

Time: 3:05 PM, September 29, 1372

    Bertrand stepped out of the large inn and looked around. The broad streets were dirty and there were as many vacant lots as buildings in the large wall-enclosed city. The gate guards had let them through with only a modest bribe and the hostel they were staying in was large enough for their party. Constantinople was a complex mix of wealth and poverty, of grandeur and decay.

    He walked along the side of the building to the stables where their horses were housed and checked on the mounts. And while he walked, he considered. Tomorrow would be soon enough to look up Gabriel Delaflote’s friend, Theodore Meliteniotes. It was already evening. The Magnaura, where he worked, was likely closed to guests. It served several functions, a collegium much like the University of Paris, guest quarters for ambassadorial groups, and a training ground for the bureaucracy of Constantinople.

    Meliteniotes’ job, aside from being a philosopher, was as what amounted to rector of the Magnaura. From what Gabriel said, he was also a strong adherent of Greek orthodoxy and opposed to any rapprochement with the western church.

    Bertrand looked down the street. It led over a mile to a turn and from there probably another mile and a half until it reached the Magnaura and the royal palace. Out here near the outer wall, half the lots and more were empty, the buildings torn down or left to rot.

    The people, of which there were many even out here, were mostly dressed in sewn together rags, with a gaunt look about them. They avoided his eyes but that was clearly due to his sword and armor.

    He turned back to the inn.



Location: Magnaura, Constantinople

Time: 8:37 AM, October 2, 1372

    Roger McLain sat his horse in good armor and the sword looked perfectly ordinary, so ordinary that most people failed to notice it at all, and those who did see it saw it only as the sort of sword any man at arms would wear. No one noticed that it had no sheath, but floated, not touching his back. People tended not to notice him at all. He wasn’t sure whether that was because of the sword or because he was riding next to Bertrand du Guesclin, who carried an aura of command around with him that had nothing to do with the demons that now infested the world.

    Bertrand, Roger, Gabriel Delaflote, Monsignor Savona, and Father Dalpozzo dismounted. A couple of the armsmen took their horses in hand, while the five of them walked up the steps to the front doors of the Magnaura.



    Roger stayed in the background once they got inside. Father Dalpozzo waved at a clerk and asked, “Where can I find the director of the Patriarchal School?”

    The clerk looked at Father Dalpozzo, then at Monsignor Savona, and then at Bertrand, and whatever snide remark he’d been planning died on his lips. He gave them directions, and a few minutes later they reached a set of fairly luxurious offices. The clerk seated by a lectern asked, “Who are you here to see?”

    “The rector,” said Gabriel Delaflote.

    “Rector Tacitus is busy at the moment. May I tell him what this is in regard to?”

    “Tacitus?” Gabriel asked. “Theodore Meliteniotes is the rector of the university.”

    “Shh,” the clerk hissed. He waved them closer. “Theodore Meliteniotes has been arrested for consorting with demons.”

    “That’s surprising.”

    Father Dalpozzo interrupted before Gabriel could put his size twelves further down his throat. “Meliteniotes doesn’t even believe in astrology. Now you’re saying he believes in demons.”

    “Not only believes,” the clerk whispered. “He summoned a demon into a statue of Erato with a speaker attached.” The word “speaker” was in French. “He got the technique in a book published by the heretical sorcerer Gabriel Delaflote, all the way from France. Including the design for the speaker. She was singing obscene love songs in ancient Greek when they arrested him.”

    “Really?” asked Delaflote. “What happened to the statue?”

    The clerk smirked. “It was seized by Prince Manuel, and it hasn’t said a word since.”

    Manuel obviously referred to Manuel II Palaiologos, the second son of the present emperor of Byzantium, John V Palaiologos. Manuel was supposed to be something of a scholar in his own right. Roger had been well briefed on the royal family and what was known of them through the history books and what Tiphaine and Themis had determined through casting horoscopes. Back in the world, Roger hadn’t believed in astrology at all, but he wasn’t going to argue with a god about its efficacy.

    The clerk was still talking, and while Roger was distracted they had switched to word of the delegation from France and the Pope.

    “No, they aren’t here yet. But they are supposed to be on their way, and the patriarch is arguing to have them arrested as soon as they arrive. The emperor wants to hear what they have to say, so he probably won’t arrest them on the spot.

    “I heard they are traveling in that demon-enchanted magic wagon, puck something. It’s supposed to be the size of an elephant and made all of glass and steel. Like a steel cathedral on wheels.”



    They, with a hefty bribe, got into see Emperor John V Palaiologos. Emperor John V Palaiologos was forty-one. What had once been sandy brown hair was now almost white. Apparently being a prisoner first in Venice, then in Bulgaria, had left him in poor shape physically. He had a big nose and dark bags under his dark eyes. His face was lined and bitter, and his mouth was loose. “Where are the rest of you? The enchanted wagon? For that matter, how did you get here without being spotted?”

    Roger left it to Bertrand to answer.

    “We came by the Danube to the Black Sea, and the rest of our party is in a village called Gari. We rode ahead to confirm that Your Majesty’s government would recognize our diplomatic status — especially in regard to magic — before bringing Pucorl and the rest of our magic into the city.” Then they waited while Father Dalpozzo translated.

    Bertrand didn’t mention Roger’s enchanted phone or Raphico in the phone Monsignor Savona carried. Gabriel was without familiar at the moment, Archimedes having decided to return to the netherworld without his crow body after Leona dined on Carlos. He was working with Wilber, Annabelle and Jennifer on an enchanted radio on wheels. But that was still in the design stage.

    John V said something short in Greek.

    Father Dalpozzo translated. “He said, quote ‘We agreed.’ The royal we, I assume, not him and his co-emperor.”



    In the Byzantine Empire they had two emperors as a sort of a holdover from the two consuls of the old Roman republic. And John V’s son and former co-emperor Andronikos IV was no fan of his father or his father’s decisions. Especially John V’s conversion to Catholicism. So it was a safe bet that he wasn’t thrilled by a bunch of Catholic wizards with diplomatic immunity. Manuel, the recently crowned co-emperor, was something of a cypher.

    “As you say, Majesty. Please excuse the ingrained caution of an old soldier.” As Father Dalpozzo translated, Bertrand turned to Roger and said, “Give Pucorl a call and let him know we have confirmed our diplomatic status with His Majesty.”

    Roger pulled Clausewitz out of his inside pocket and checked. “No bars, General. We are too far from Pucorl, and will be until we can install a pentagram link or until he gets closer.” They were a bit over fifteen miles from Pucorl, and without a network to go through, that was too far.

    Again the emperor said something abrupt in Greek.

    “He wants us to explain about the phones,” Father Dalpozzo said. “I told him we were out of range.”

    Roger explained with Father Dalpozzo translating. “It’s like having a bunch of people standing some distance apart, yelling one to the next until the message gets to where you want it, or using signal fires. But when you add in the netherworld and the fact that distance and location aren’t constant there, it can get confusing. In this case, the issue is that we are too far from the nearest signal fire. If we had a link to Themis here, we could do it, because these are all her lands.”

    “What?” John V shouted and the guards near the door turned to them. John waved them away, but his mouth was now almost firm. His lips pressed together in anger. “Does your titan ally claim my empire?”

    When Roger got Dalpozzo’s translation, he tried to explain. “No, Your Majesty. Themis’ lands are in the netherworld, and a couple of energy states lower than here. She doesn’t claim any earthly lands.” That last wasn’t, Roger thought, entirely true. She didn’t claim direct rule over any earthly lands, but she — like any titan — could affect the luck of the king of a land. Especially a land that corresponded to her own as closely as this place did. And with the veil between the worlds in tatters, she could have even greater effect with less effort.

    “I was simply pointing out that once we have a connection from the natural world to Themis’ lands, she will be able to facilitate communications all through ancient Thrace and Macedonia, since Themis is the land as well as its queen. That sort of sympathetic magic works consistently in the netherworld.”

    “Can you contact this titan of yours?” John V asked, getting what Roger could only call a crafty look in his eyes.

    “Yes. I carry her sword. I can contact her at any time.”

    “Do so. I would have words with her.”

    After consulting with Bertrand, Roger agreed. He drew the Sword of Themis and laid its point on the marble floor of the throne room. Then, beside him, holding the hilt of her sword, was Themis. Roger released his hold, and stepped back while Themis grew until the sword became little more than a short sword in her hand.

    She spoke in Greek, but the Greek of Achilles and Homer. “What do you want of me, John?” She gave him no other title. Nor did she need to. The crafty look was gone from John’s eyes, and Roger thought the old guy was going to climb off his throne and prostrate himself.

    With a lift of her hand, she stopped him. “Do not fall on your belly before me. I abhor slavery in all its forms.”

    “It is true,” John murmured. “Themis, she of the lovely cheeks, she of the good counsel. Counsel me, Lady. Advise me.”

    “Hm . . .” Themis sat on a golden throne that hadn’t been there a moment before. “No, I don’t think so. At least not in any detail. I would not have you the slave of my counsel any more than a slave in chains. I will not tell you all. Speak to your astrologers and counselors. Listen and consider, but consider first not what is best for you, but what is best for the land. I will make a request . . .” She held up a hand. “A request only. Not a command. Find a place in the city and build a temple for me, so that those who wish may come to lay what offerings they choose before me and ask what boons of me they seek.”

    “The church would never allow it,” John said. And both Father Dalpozzo and Monsignor Savona nodded agreement, while Raphico said, “You got that right.”

    Themis smiled — well, smirked — then handed the sword to Roger and disappeared.



Location: Pentagram in Gari

Time: 8:50 AM, October 2, 1372

    The pentagram glowed and Pucorl got a phone call from Themis. “I’m having a chat with John V Palaiologos. You have your guarantees. At least, so far as the emperor is concerned. I wouldn’t count on its preventing the church from getting involved.”

    The remaining twenty-firsters and their company started packing up and getting ready to travel along the Bosphorus to Constantinople.



Location: Docks of Constantinople

Time: Mid-afternoon, October 4, 1372

    The crowd was large as the not so little flotilla of riverboats docked on a pier of the large port of Constantinople. Joe Kraken pushed out his ramp and Pucorl drove onto the stone pier. Then, down the pier to the streets of the city, where Roger met them with Clausewitz in hand.

    “The emperor is putting us up in the Magnaura,” Roger said as he turned his horse to lead them to the large building. Aside from being a school, it also had fairly luxurious quarters for diplomatic guests.

    “So, any word on Gabriel’s friend?” Amelia Grady asked.

    “Unlike Gabriel, Theodore Meliteniotes doesn’t have anything approaching diplomatic immunity. Negotiations are still under way to get us in to see him. On the upside, John V would like to have Tiphaine run up a detailed horoscope for him and one for each of his family.”

    “I already have,” Tiphaine said. “And after reading them, I did one for Savci Bey.”

    None of this was really news. They had been talking on the phone since Pucorl got within range. That was how they knew which pier to use.



    Andronikos IV was still avoiding them, but Manuel II was anxious to meet them all.

    “We have an invitation to a small party in the town house of Prince Manuel,” Roger continued, “even if the Orthodox clergy wants to have us all, especially Monsignor Savona, burned as witches.”

    They continued to chat as they waited for the rest of the party to disembark from their riverboats and mount their horses. Then the whole bunch made a parade to the Magnaura.

    It was a well watched parade. The streets were lined with crowds like they had been in Paris. Well, the mix of emotion was a bit more to the “curious” and less to the “burn them.” The population of Constantinople was mostly literate, at least to the “sign your name and read a broadsheet, the Bible, or a book of fables” level. And it contained more scholars and bureaucrats than Paris did, even with the university of Paris in the mix. At this time, the Magnaura was dominated by the church, but the history of secular scholarship was still there.



Location: Guest Quarters, Magnaura, Constantinople

Time: 9:52 AM, October 8, 1372

    Lakshmi Rawal waved the dressmaker into the room. Silk all the way from China. Cotton from North Africa, gold thread made with real gold leaf wrapped around the silk threads . . . Lakshmi was going to have a dress made. Part of that, even a large part, was that Lakshmi liked beautiful clothes. But another part was that Lakshmi had sized up Constantinople within minutes of their arrival in the city.

    Constantinople was all about appearances.

    Partly that was because The City — as the locals called it, as though there was no other city on Earth — was living to a great extent on the leftovers of the earlier eastern Roman Empire. The aqueducts that provided fresh, clean water to the city averaged eight hundred years old and some of the buildings were even older. But The City was full of tumbled down buildings and vacant lots, and the finery of the local potentates was rich in jewels and precious metals, but worn and cut down or expanded, as though the whole city was a hand-me-down. In spite of its strategic location for trade, as well as for the military, the city had not recovered from the sack in 1200, or the plague and the dynastic wars that had, over the last century or two, shrunk the Byzantine Empire to a shadow of its former self.

    That meant that the people here were going to judge by appearance. Because people everywhere did, and people who lacked substance did it most of all.

    Liane Boucher came in, carrying her computer, Thelma, under one arm and her camera bag over the other shoulder. She didn’t knock. “Blowing your allowance on clothes again?”

    That was sort of true. When they arrived in this time all they had was what they were wearing or carried with them, and much of that had been sold to pay for their living expenses. When Mrs. Grady gave Pucorl to himself and later, when Pucorl had gained the lands and substance of the demon lord he defeated in combat, the van had felt he owed all the twenty-firsters for his body and freedom. His lands in the netherworld acted as a place to store goods and then access them from wherever he happened to be. So he rented space in his lands to store the goods that they were bringing with them. Part of that income went to the girls as something like an allowance, in addition to the funds they acquired by selling things. In Lakshmi’s case, she had sold her phone to the king of France for several chests of silver coins.

    “It’s important,” Lakshmi told Liane. “If you would come out of your editing room sometime, you would know that.”

    Liane rolled her eyes. “I need you for some voiceovers.”

    “Later.” Lakshmi was the voice for the documentary of their travels that Liane was making. It was more travel log than movie, but it was good and it let them both keep working at the artform they both loved, if in different ways. “For right now, we need to study these people and make a plan.” Lakshmi spoke in twenty-firster English because she didn’t want the dressmaker to understand. “J5 –” She didn’t want to say John the fifth. ” — is going to be a problem.”

    “I thought it would be A4,” Liane picked up her cue calling Andronikos IV A4. “He’s the one that Tiphaine’s horoscope says is scheduled to revolt next year.”

    “Yes, but that’s because his mom’s a manipulative bitch who never forgave J5 for the fact that her dad married her off to him in order to take the throne. And then J5 had the gall to win the civil war and depose her daddy and brother.”

    This, too, was Tiphaine’s horoscope, with liberal interpretation. And some advice from Themis.

    “I think A4 is enough of an asshole all on his own. Did you see the way he was looking at us as we rode in? I didn’t know whether he wanted to rape us or burn us at the stake.”

    “First the one, then the other, though I grant he’s likely enough to do it backward. I’m not saying that he’s either bright or stable. He’s a conniving little backstabber. But his dad loves him in spite of the fact that he left him in the hands of his enemies until M2 rescued the old fart.” M2 referred to Manuel II, John V’s second son who, according to Tiphaine’s horoscopes, was destined to be the emperor of Byzantium somewhere down the line.

    There had been a sea change in the attitudes of the twenty-firsters in regard to astrology. Partly that was because of Themis’ endorsement of it, but also because they had done tests. They had a good bit of French history between all their textbooks. And using that they had Tiphaine run horoscopes based on the dates of birth they knew, then compared the accuracy of those predictions to the historical record. Tiphaine had something like an eighty-five percent accuracy rate and the rest could be explained by her not having exact birth times.

    On the downside, that predictive accuracy dropped a lot when you included the demons. For instance, Philip the Bold never rebelled against his brother, according to Tiphaine’s horoscope. So they knew that the demons changed things. If they could convince John V not to recognize Ottoman suzerainty they might stop the rebellion.


    So while the dressmaker measured and pinned, displayed fabrics and threads, Lakshmi and Liane talked politics and movies, makeup and murder.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image