Children of the Fatherland: In the Midst of Life

To avoid confusion: Michael the Elder died of old age in his fifties; Michael the Younger, my God-King, died of a wound he got from an assassination event, not from a player sending an assassin. (Being a God-King, he had Intrigue of 17 and was well protected from that. But the RNG goes whither it wills, and no lock nor bar hinders its coming.) However, for AAR and roleplaying purposes, someone had to send that assassin, and retrospectively the death of the elder Thomas looks suspicious too.

Man proposes, God disposes. The elder Michael dreamed of glory, of an act of conquest that would fix his name in the firmament among his illustrious ancestors; to that purpose he built armies, fortified important passes, created military colonies in abandoned lands, and obsessively collected maps and city plans. He died, ingloriously, in his bed. There was no warning sickness, no cough that refused to die. Just – a man no longer youthful, not even middle-aged, but seemingly healthy enough for all that; going to bed one night and never waking. A tragedy, a disaster; a commonplace, not worth remarking on. The Lord gives, the Lord takes away; praised be the name of the Lord.

Man proposes; yet when his plans are disposed twice in a row, the wise man thinks, not of God, but of enemy action. The younger Michael, Michael the Blessed, with all the God-given gifts the elder had been denied, wished – as a monument to his father; as a thing worth doing in itself; who can say? – to use his father’s preparations, to expand the Empire’s boundaries and leave to his sons a greater realm than he had himself inherited. In his case the assassins were less subtle. A disloyal servant, a knife glinting in a darkened chamber, a struggle, a wound that festered and turned mortal. The killer did not live to confess, but he hardly needed to. Cui, after all, bono? The Roman people invented that adage, and the intrigues of the Byzantine court have made its application a high art. Who benefits, when a warrior Emperor of the highest possible gifts died, and a child took the purple? Who is known for interfering in the affairs of other realms with the use of highly-deniable assassinations? Who, indeed, has adjusted the Cypriot Succession in their own favour not once, but three times, each time more openly?

The Emperor Basileios, Imperator, thrice-anointed chosen of the Senate and the People of Rome… is a child of six. Until he is grown, power rests in the hands of the court, and with so many strong and capable personalities without an acknowledged leader to give them direction, the Empire is, in effect, incapable of concentrating on anything but domestic matters. The courtiers are not disloyal, and they know their politics. They go out of their way to demonstrate that they do not threaten each other; they understand that the first time any one of them feels forced to shore up his position in self-defense, the avalanche will be unstoppable, and none of them wishes to be the snowflake. Yet by the same token, they all know that every one of them is subtle and clever: Any movement that is unambiguously against internal dissent could be the opening move of a long campaign to discredit this one, or to put another in an unassailable position as vanquisher of an external enemy. Thus the court is paralysed, not by suspicion, but by the loyal desire of the court not to cause such suspicion. The effect is much the same: Rome cannot act.

But it can remember.

The fortresses that Michael built are still there; the military colonies still exist. The affairs of the State may wait for a decade, while the boy Emperor grows into a man capable of avenging his father. It is no matter; the State is millennia old. It can afford to wait. Rome is patient.

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