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The Demons of Constantinople: Chapter Eight

       Last updated: Friday, December 27, 2019 06:55 EST



The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 23


Location: Royal Palace, Constantinople

Time: Mid-morning, October 24, 1372

    The Ottoman ambassador bowed slightly to the Byzantine emperor, John V noted with distaste. His sons were both here, Andronikos and Manuel. Neither looked any more pleased by the lèse-majesté than John was. But he gritted his teeth and stood it. For two reasons. First, he had promised to give Murad I suzerainty if Murad got him free of the Bulgarians, which Murad did. The second, more pressing, reason was that John didn’t have the army to stop Murad if the Ottoman sultan decided to force the matter.

    “King of Constantinople,” Halis Bey said, “the Ottoman Empire calls you to your promise. You must raise an army and lead it south, placing it and yourself under the sultan’s authority.”

    John looked at his sons in light of his discussion with Tiphaine de Raguenel and her horoscopes. If he left Andronikos here, his older son would rebel, and with the aid of Savci Bey, Murad’s third son, the two of them would rebel against both him and Murad. They would lose, but the war would leave Savci Bey dead, Andronikos half blind, and the Byzantine Empire much weaker.

    Andronikos looked back at him, angry and belligerent. For, after seeing Tiphaine’s horoscopes, John had showed them to his son. Andronikos denied any such notion, insisting that Murad wasn’t going to call John out of Constantinople anyway.

    Now, here was the demand that Tiphaine said was coming and Andronikos insisted wasn’t. He looked at Halis Bey. “We will consider Our brother monarch Murad’s request.”

    “It is not a . . .”

    “Stop,” John bellowed. “Whatever My relationship with Murad, this is My hall, in My city, and you do not demand or command here.”

    He made a gesture and the guards slammed their pike butts into the floor.

    Halis Bey looked at the guards, then back at John. “I will have to report this, King of Constantinople.”

    “Emperor of Byzantium,” Andronikos corrected him.

    John waved Andronikos down, then said to Halis Bey, “You are dismissed.”



    Leona sat on a chandelier, half in the natural world and half in the netherworld, as Halis Bey marched out of the big room. She didn’t understand what was going on. She had never understood what was going on with humans, but having the magic of the will o’ the wisp, the brain structure of the crow and, especially, being around Wilber was helping. It was turning what had been meaningless noise into a puzzle to be solved.

    Leona had never been able to leave a puzzle alone, and she still wasn’t. She flicked most of the way into the netherworld and flew after Halis Bey.

    A few minutes later, in Halis Bey’s rooms, she heard a great deal of what she assumed was cursing and quite a bit of discussion. But it was in a language she didn’t understand. In spite of the help that the crow’s brain gave her with language and speech, she still couldn’t learn human speech or understand talk without practice.



Location: Guest Quarters, Magnaura, Constantinople

Time: 1:00 PM, October 25, 1372

    “Anyway,” the maid told Lakshmi in an excited half-whisper, “the emperor almost threw out the Ottoman ambassador.”

    “Do you know why the Ottomans need the Byzantine forces?” Lakshmi muttered her response in English, then the computer, in an excellent imitation of her voice, spoke the question in Greek. By now the process was second nature to the twenty-firsters, and the locals of whatever country they were in seemed to get used to it quickly.

    “It’s the demons,” the maid said with confidence, then hastily added with a frightened look at Lakshmi’s computer sitting open on the table, “Not your demons.”

    DW and Lakshmi soothed the young woman and assured her again that not all demons were evil. Then she got the conversation back on the subject of the rebellion in southern Anatolia.

    “The Karamanids called up djinn to fight against Murad. They have taken Beysehir using magic. The bey’s servants say that’s why Halis Bey demanded your magics.”

    “Has there been time for Murad to learn of our arrival?”

    “Oh, yes, plenty. His capital is only a few days away by fast horse, and less if you go part of the way along the coast. He took Adrianople a few years ago, renamed it Edirne, and put his capital there. That’s why Thessalonica is so important.”

    “In that case, Murad is an idiot,” Lakshmi said.

    The maid looked shocked. “You shouldn’t say things like that. He’s a powerful man.” She looked around then whispered, “More powerful than the emperor.”

    “Maybe, but that’s not saying much,” Lakshmi said. “Both the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Turkish Empire are a lot smaller than I thought. The Byzantine Empire is old and feeble and the Ottoman Turkish Empire is still a baby. It wouldn’t take much to shift the balance of power. The question is whether there’s anything in the Byzantine Empire worth saving?”

    “We’re Christians.”

    “I’m Hindu,” Lakshmi said. “Well, sort of. My family’s relatively secular. But I don’t see a lot of difference between a Christian and a Muslim from this century. Either is as likely to try to burn me as a witch as the other. And it’s not like either side has a great record on women’s rights — or even human rights — in this century. So what does Byzantium have in terms of culture or government that is worth saving?”

    Then Lakshmi closed her eyes, ending the conversation, confident that the maid would report it to those who needed to hear it. It was true that the goal of the party was to save the world, both worlds, from whatever had torn the rifts in the veil between the worlds. But the probabilities had already shifted so much that Pucorl, Themis, and Merlin, all agreed that it was unlikely that they would ever get home. This was the world they were stuck with. And this world was in desperate need of things like democratic republics, governments by and for the people governed. An economic and industrial system that would not leave ninety-nine percent of humanity below the poverty line.

    And certainly not least, bills of rights. Lots and lots of bills of rights, in every country.



Location: Royal Palace, Constantinople

Time: 8:23 PM, October 25, 1372

    Helena Kantakouzene, queen of the Byzantine Empire, daughter of a former emperor, and wife of the present emperor, lay half-reclined on the Roman-style couch and waved her majordomo, Constantine Korolos, in.

    The majordomo, who also acted as her spymaster, bowed, then stood and recited almost word for word the report of the maid assigned to Lakshmi Rawal.

    Helena didn’t call for the headsman. She wasn’t even tempted. Well, not very. The twenty-firsters were powerful. It was hard to tell what kind of power they had. The stories from France said that Roger McLean defeated Philip the Bold in single combat when Philip still owned the Sword of Themis. They went on to say that he then gave the sword back to Themis. But that last part must be a lie, because Roger still carried the sword. Besides, no sane man would ever do such a thing. It was the act of a saint. And deep in her heart of hearts, Helena wasn’t convinced that even the saints of old were really so selfless.

    So, after a short fantasy about headsmen and seizure of goods, she brought her mind back to the point. “Find out what she wants. What would make her want to save Byzantium? After all she is the first chink in the armor of the French delegation.”

    “Doctor Delaflote,” the majordomo corrected. “We may well be able to get his help in exchange for releasing Theodore Meliteniotes.”

    “Maybe. But he is only a wizard, and one who is presently without familiar.”



    Helena had a copy of Delaflote’s book and had used it to summon a demon to her white-winged lark. The demon turned out to be a strix, which was under her control but as uncooperative as it could get away with. That left her with a less than high opinion of Delaflote’s skill as a wizard.

    She looked over at the cage where the lark resided and it cawed like a crow and she heard in her head, “You’re an idiot.”

    “Shut up,” she muttered.

    Constantine, looked over at the cage, and frowned repressively. Then he smiled and looked back at her. “You know, Majesty, the delegation has with them a gryphon. I heard that it was made by feeding a cat an enchanted bird.”

    “Bad idea, bad idea!” the lark insisted.

    Helena looked at the bird, then said, “Find out if that’s true and if it is, precisely how it was done. And find out how tractable the gryphon is.” She shook her head. “More importantly, find out how to get the twenty-firsters on our side.”

    Constantine looked at her and she could see him hesitate. “Well, spit it out,” she commanded.

    “Manuel has shown considerable interest in Lakshmi Rawal. It wasn’t something I thought we needed to worry about, but if you are looking for a way to bring the girl under –”

    “Under our control. Not into the family. And not Manuel. She would rule him, not he her.”



Location: Royal Palace, Constantinople

Time: 9:15 AM, October 28, 1372

    Manuel II looked at the clock in the hall. It was brand new, built from a design sent from Paris, and it gave the time to the second. Good. It wasn’t too early. His mother was not an early riser and approaching her quarters before nine wasn’t a good idea.

    He walked down the hall and nodded to the guard who stepped into his mother’s room to announce him.

    “Come in, Manuel,” his mother called.

    He went in as the guard went out. “Mother, you wanted to see me?”

    “Yes. What do you think of the twenty-firsters?”

    Manuel hesitated. Generally, when his mother asked him what he thought, it was the first step in her telling him what to think. “They are interesting. All of the French delegation is interesting. Cardinal de Monteruc didn’t even try to convert me to the Catholic faith.”

    “The patriarch will insist that that is because the Catholics are not the true Christianity, and they know it from their own angels. Additionally, from what the icon says, he’s correct.”

    Manuel had been in the Hagia Sophia and heard the enchanted icon speak, but he had also talked to Raphico. He kept his mouth shut.

    After a moment his mother waved away that concern. “With your father’s blunder in dealing with Murad, we are going to need the twenty-firsters and their knowledge. We need some way to compel their loyalty?”

    She made that a question, not about the need, but clearly about how they were to get it. Unfortunately, Manuel didn’t have an answer for that. “They aren’t all Christians, not that the Christian monarchs have shown any great interest in aiding us against the Ottomans.”

    “Can they be bought?”

    “Perhaps, if you can convince father and Andronikos to pay the price.” Even though his father and brother were badly angry at each other at the moment, Manuel knew that once they got over their mad, Andronikos would return to being co-emperor and heir to his father and Manuel would return to being the spare. Which suited Manuel fine. He had no desire to sit on the throne and suffer constant neck pain from spending his life looking over his shoulder. “The twenty-firsters won’t come cheap, and the treasury is far from full.”

    “Well, they managed to convince your father to anger Murad easily enough. Feel them out. We might even consider a royal marriage if that will buy them.”

    Manuel failed to notice her tone as he considered the proposal. Especially as he worked hard to avoid thinking about Lakshmi Rawal in terms of the proposal.

    There were four, no, five twenty-firster women. He must include the Widow Grady. However, she was enamored of Doctor Delaflote. The same was true of Jennifer Fairbanks, who was enamored of Bill Howe. That left Annabelle Cooper-Smith, Liane Boucher and Lakshmi Rawal, who was by far the most interesting of the twenty-firsters. Most attractive, most charming, most astute.

    He cut himself off. In spite of all that, she might not be the best choice. He forced his mind back to the basic question, how to get the French delegation on their side. There might be another way.

    “Are you sure that we need to get them on our side?” he asked, then waved a hand, asking her to wait. “I don’t mean we can afford to have them as enemies. If they are neutral but here, teaching us about not only the magic that brought them here but the techniques and devices that they had in their time, we might gain almost as much benefit without having to give them more than a place to stay and the chance to talk. In our discussions last week they were free with information about all manner of things.”

    “So they like to talk. What is the benefit in that?”

    “Do you know what a drop forge is?”

    “What? You mean like a smithy?” Manuel’s mother sat up on the couch. “Have you lost your wits? What on earth would I, or any person of quality, need to know about the tools in a smithy?”

    “And if that knowledge meant we could make rifled muskets small enough that a single soldier could carry them? Quickly and in large numbers?”

    “Are you saying that they know how to do this?”

    “It seems so,” Manuel said. “Bertrand du Guesclin, who was as you know, the constable of France until he was dispatched on this mission, showed me a device he calls a breech-loading demon-lock. It was the day after my party and he let me fire it. It’s no longer than a bow, but you hold it out like a pike and it throws a lead bullet.” He shook his head. “I am not explaining this well. But the device is amazing. It took me only moments to get the basics. A man, according to Bertrand, can learn to use one well in as little as a few weeks. They used them extensively in the battle of Paris. Roger McLean killed Philip the Bold with one in the sally that ended the battle. Bertrand’s entire force carries the things.

    “If we can equip an army with them, they might well let us defeat Murad in the field.”

    “And how long until Murad gets them and turns them on us?” Helena asked. She got up from the couch and started pacing around the room like a caged cat. “Anyone can use these single person guns? It doesn’t take a lifetime’s training like the sword or bow?”

    Manuel nodded.

    “We should kill them all,” Helena said. “Including Bertrand.” She stopped pacing and considered for a moment. “And the king of France, plus every peasant in Paris who has seen the damned devices. Yes, I know it’s utterly ridiculous. The djinn is free of its bottle and will ravage the world whatever we do. But, Manuel, you must see that these devices are even more dangerous to us than the demons. Remember the Zealots of Thessalonica. They murdered the aristocracy and took control of the city for almost a decade, and through most of that claimed to be working for the populari.”

    Populari meant, literally, “the people,” but it had another meaning from the old Roman republic. It meant “the lower classes,” not even the equestrians, but the poor and the merchants, those without any title more than “citizen,” the peons.

    And those people, armed with the demon-locks, was a terrifying notion.



    “There is this,” Manuel said. “The demon-locks are expensive to make. The flintlocks are cheaper, but not as good. But, Mother, we will need the flintlocks to face Murad in the field.”

    His mother returned to the couch. “Was their world then ruled by the mob?”

    “They come from three countries. America, which is across the Atlantic Ocean, France, and India. All of their countries appear to have been republics, in which the senate and most of the other offices were elected by the vote of the people. As to how that worked . . . it was a longer discussion than there was time for that afternoon, but I am assured that they did work.”

    Again his mother considered. “Fetch me some wine, my son. I need to think.”

    Manuel fetched her the retsina, and waited while she sipped.

    Finally, she said, “Arrange for me to meet the ladies. And, in the meantime, do Doctor Delaflote the favor of having Theodore Meliteniotes released into Doctor Delaflote’s custody.”

    “Not simply released?”

    “No. Make it clear that until his case is decided, he is part of the delegation and their responsibility. If that isn’t acceptable, he can stay in gaol.”



Location: Guest Quarters, Magnaura, Constantinople

Time: 2:00 PM, October 29, 1372

    The guard knocked on the door, then announced in French, “There are a bunch of Greek soldiers here. They say they are delivering a prisoner.”

    “What prisoner?” Amelia Grady asked, also in French.

    Some discussion in the Greek they spoke in this century, then the soldier said, “Theodore Meliteniotes, into our custody.”

    “What does ‘our custody’ mean?” Amelia asked.

    More Greek, then, “The custody of the delegation.”

    “Now that’s interesting. Have them bring him in, and any documents.” Amelia opened her computer. “Will, would you contact Merlin and have him translate some papers for me?” Shakespeare, as a muse, could translate, but the container of the demon had an effect on the magic. Because Merlin was first put into Wilber’s cochlear implant, his magic was focused on allowing Wilber to hear and understand any sort of language. Any muse level demon could translate, but Merlin, with that extra focus, was less likely to miss a nuance.

    When the guard handed her the parchment, she unrolled it and held it up before Will, who photographed it and emailed it to Merlin. Merlin read it and sent back a translation. The release, it turned out, was based on their diplomatic status. The fourteenth century didn’t have twenty-first century diplomatic norms, so they had had to invoke a special treaty between John of Byzantium and King Charles of France, co-signed by Amelia herself as the “ruler” of the twenty-firsters. That treaty, agreed to and confirmed by John V before most of the party entered Constantinople, gave the party essentially the same status as embassies would have in the twenty-first century. Using that, this document dumped Theodore out of Constantinople into the custody of the twenty-firsters. He couldn’t leave the guest quarters save in the custody of a twenty-firster or he was subject to arrest. He was thrown out of the Byzantine Empire without ever leaving the city.

    Amelia wasn’t at all pleased at the speed at which the locals were learning to use twenty-firster customs, but Gabriel would be pleased that his pen pal was out of jail. “Excuse me, but I don’t know your title?” Amelia said in French, trusting Will to translate. “What would you like to be called?”

    “I am Magistros Theodore Meliteniotes,” then, with a bitter twist of his lips, “Or was, until I was arrested.”

    “May I call you Theodore?”

    He gave her a hard look than looked at the guards, those who had delivered him and those surrounding the woman. “It appears, madam, that you can call me anything you like.” He didn’t sound particularly happy about it.

    “Yes, but I try to be polite, sir,” Amelia said. “In the meantime, you need to know what is going on.” She spent a few minutes explaining diplomatic immunity and diplomatic territory and finally the fact that he was being released to them — but only if they agreed to take him. If they didn’t, it was right back to jail for him. Amelia finished up with, “We are willing to take you in and be responsible for you. But only if you agree to obey our rules.”

    He asked for the proclamation and read it carefully, then bowed. “I will follow your rules to the best of my ability.”

    “Very well. The guards will show you to the baths. Get cleaned up and join us for dinner.”

    The guest quarters in the Magnaura had their own bath, in the tradition of Roman baths. The twenty-firsters had added soap made in France.



    Four hours later, a cleaned and much more pleasant smelling Theodore joined Gabriel and Amelia for dinner. Wilber and Merlin were also in attendance, as were Annabelle, Lakshmi, and Liane. And so, by use of the phones, was Pucorl. And in a corner was a medium-sized cat that had wings, and its fore-claws were the talons of a bird.

    The discussion was lively and far ranging. And while at first uncomfortable with women at the table joining in the talk, especially women whose heads were uncovered, Theodore gradually relaxed enough to share his insights into the political situation in Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire in general. Over the course of the evening, several comments suggested that he regretted the fall of the republic. That kings and empire were a retreat to an earlier, less civilized, time. He also insisted that Constantinople and the eastern empire had not fallen so far as Rome and the western empire.

    “In terms of military power, it has,” Wilber pointed out in flawless Greek.

    “But the power of armies is not the only, or even the best, measure of a nation. We study philosophy and the arts, reason and oratory.”

    “Sure. And that’s good, but who studies these things? Do the children of cobblers? Or is it only the children of the titled who have that opportunity?”

    “What use would the child of a cobbler have for philosophy? It will not help him with his awls.”

    “You would be surprised,” Annabelle said as she forked a bit of sautéed black sea bass in mustard sauce. “My grandfather wasn’t a cobbler. He was a roustabout.” She held up the fork now empty of bass, chewed, swallowed, and continued. “Roustabout is a job you don’t have. Unskilled labor on an oil rig. Hard, dangerous work which pays okay because of the danger. But he went to school. He could read and write, do math, and had a good basic understanding of physics and mechanics. That paid for my mother’s education. So I was born into wealth and status and went to schools as good or better than any you have. But a lot of what I know comes from Grandpa’s experience. Given the opportunity, people will often surprise you in what they can accomplish.”

    Theodore considered the young woman. He knew from Gabriel’s book that Annabelle Cooper-Smith was the magistros of the “body” of the demon Pucorl. And finally having seen Pucorl and the computers, he realized that the skills and knowledge involved in making and maintaining such devices was real and not the skills of a dressmaker or cobbler. Theodore was a scholar and member of the religious bureaucracy of Constantinople. He had spent his life learning and teaching. He had correspondents around the world, and for at least the last twenty years had been among the best in his fields of study.

    It was a severe shock to realize that these children knew more of astronomy than he did. They, some of them, understood the math that held the moon in place and guided the planets around the sun. And it was the sun, not the Earth, that the planets moved around. He had seen an image of the Earth from the moon.

    Theodore did not like being the ignorant one. Not even a little bit. He needed to get access to one of their computers so that he could study.

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