The Komneniad

I ought to have posted this last week, as it chronologically precedes “Marching Through Georgia”. Think of it as a prequel.

November 22nd, 1391
Nicaea, Imperium Romaion

“What of the Croatians?” The tension in Emperor Alexandros’s voice left unspoken the thought the expensively-bought Croatians, whom you insisted would be our salvation. His chancellor was stony-faced as he reported: “They have won several battles, and recovered Herakleia and Ephesos to our obedience. And… they are withdrawing to deal with the al-Andalusi invasion of their Italian domains, and promise to return in force as soon as they may.”

The Emperor sat back with an air of finality. “So… the Persians remind us that two can play at the game of bribing allies.” Seeing those who had spoken in favour of the Croatian intervention flinch, he waved his hand irritably: “Oh, relax. It was our best move at the time. And besides, fairly shortly all the little games of who does or doesn’t have the favour of the Throne are going to be interrupted by Persian swords. You might as well drop it and concentrate on who is sleeping with whom. In two years the favour of the Throne is going to be worth rather less than a fast horse.”

There were shocked breaths, but no immediate protestations of loyalty and of nothing being more valuable than the regard of the one who wore the Purple; itself a sign that the Emperor’s words were accurate. The silence stretched; the meeting held almost two dozen Komnenoi, representing every department of State as well as most of the peacetime wealth and influence within the Empire, none of whom had anything to say. At length the sound of breathing was broken by a near-wail: “But then what are we going to do?”

Alexandros sighed, and counted on his fingers. “Our armies in the field are outnumbered three to one. We have lost the passes, and can expect the Persians to strike for the coastal plain as soon as the weather clears. The Croatians are out of it. Our city walls cannot stand against their necromantic weaponry. And the Persians have sent no demands, only the heads of our envoys to them, packed in salt. They won’t be satisfied with a moved border, or concessions in the Holy Land, or even the gain of large provinces; they are in this to finish Rome as a power in the land, to avenge the campaigns of Alexander and Julian and end the millennial strife of Greek and Persian. And they are succeeding; I am the last Emperor of Rome. So what is there to do? Only to face the end with dignity, as citizens of Rome should.” He straightened his shoulders, and the others in the room could see him accepting his own apocalyptic reasoning, and his role in it. “As for me, I will take a sword, and lead the defense of Nicaea’s walls; and that will be a fate suited to the Last Emperor. Let it not be said that Rome could not face disaster as well as triumph; if all else is lost, we shall make many Persians pay the price, and leave a lasting monument to our two millennia.”

“Bravely spoken, my lord.” The Komnenoi jumped in unison at the harsh, grating voice. The speaker had just entered the room; he was dressed in the uniform of a captain of Cossacks, and his spurs jangled on the marble floor as he advanced towards the conference table. “Strong words! To face death with dignity, to remain unbowed in the face of the destruction of two thousand years… indeed, let it not be said that the Komnenoi are unworthy of their ancestors. But in the face of death, men concentrate too much on defying the Reaper. I would offer another way.”

Alexandros’s face was closed, uninterested; but he gestured permission. “Speak then.”

The Cossack took a deep breath, and spoke, not in Greek but in the original Latin, accented but clear. “I sing of war, and the man who, forced by fate, And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate, Exiled, first left the Trojan shore. Long labours, by sea and by land, he bore, And uncertain war, before he won The Latian realm, and built the destined town.”

Alexandros spoke dismissively; but none could miss the spark of hope in his eyes, the return of energy to his movements. Here was a man who hoped to be persuaded, but who could not, quite, bear the pain of dragging himself from resignation. “Myth. Legend.”

The Cossack shrugged. “Perhaps so. But a powerful myth; and who’s to say it could not be made real? And besides, think of this. Aeneas fled a doomed city, with enemies inside the wall; he escaped with his weapons and what he could carry. Nicaea is doomed, too; but the enemy is yet a long month’s march away, and there is a deal of ruin in a nation. We need not flee helter-skelter in a few leaky boats; we can gather all the gold and steel of many rich cities, and all the good families, the ones who will lose everything when the Persians come. Let them conquer a desert. The Persians are not seafarers. Gather ships and men, gold and steel, and flee; all over Anatolia is Chaos and Old Night, sufficient to cover our escape.”

“Aye…” Alexandros spoke thoughtfully, once again the Emperor who had led Rome through a decade of war and disaster, responding to every fresh catastrophe with measured calm and triage. “But wait. Aeneas could escape to Italy and create a new realm, because civilisation had not yet spread far from the Levant. He and his warband moved into emptiness, opposed only by a few scattered villages that they could easily subjugate. But where shall we go, the few hundred or few thousand Romans that we could gather for an exodus? All of Europe is held by strong kings ruling broad lands. Where can we settle, to rebuild our city in peace until the time comes for a triumphant return?”

The Cossack smiled. “Once, the Emperor Konstantinos broke the Don; and then he gave us new homes, and a place in the Empire, and honourable work. Let us return the favour. The steppes are still empty of great realms; who can hold together a hundred different tribes, all of which can be on the horizon with their herds and their tents at a moment’s notice?”

“Who, indeed?” asked Alexandros. “The steppes are empty of great realms for a reason. How shall we build one, where all others have failed?”

“By abandoning cities, and living as the nomads do. I have heard it said that Rome is not a city, nor a place, but an idea: An ideal of citizenship and manhood. Cossack and Roman, cavalry and infantry, citizen and nomad: The opposites come full circle in this, and meet, in the ideal that men are of equal worth who bear arms. Carry that idea to the open plains, and let it find its fullest expression, unfettered by walls. And the horsetail banners shall flock to the Eagle.


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One response to “The Komneniad

  1. Pingback: The Komneniad: Ferocious Soldiers Roaring | Ynglinga Saga

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