It is said that we should all be fools to pray for justice. Yet sometimes, with or without prayer, justice is done in the world. An Abbasid still vaunts the Peacock Throne; but of the empire that once drove Rome into exile little remains – and none of it in the Iranian heartlands. The Shah’s ragged armies make their last stand on the western coast of Anatolia, where once the last kataphrakts were ground to dust in doomed resistance to the unending streams of Aryan troops. Justice – and irony; most of these ragged remnants, and the guerrilla bands that support them in the uplands, are recruited from the Greeks that still, after half a millennium, populate Anatolia. Consequently their officers are not, in the main, of Aryan stock; the Aryans were many-times-decimated in the desperate struggle to hold Baghdad. Instead, the Peacock Throne is now defended by Komnenoi, descended from the stay-behinds that did not join the Diaspora. Among these men the bitter jest runs, that after all their bloodline has much practice at dying in the defense of doomed empires; and they go out and fight bravely, and die gallantly for lack of artillery and modern weapons. The end cannot now be long delayed; but for this generation there can be no Long March into the empty steppes, for the steppes are no longer empty. And is this not justice?
And yet, is it truly justice, when a hard fate is inflicted, not by those who suffered the wrong, but by the mere random meanderings of history? The Eagle still flies; from the Aral Sea to the Pacific, men take the soldier’s oath of fire, scourging, and salt, and swear to defend Rome from its foes. But the ancient flame has waned, and the Komnenoi no longer look eagerly to the West for vengeance. The Middle East, where Trajan’s columns conquered and those of Justinian died, is the battleground of other Powers now; Axumite and Afghan, Croat and Czar jostle for advantage whence Rome has retreated. What good is justice, delivered five centuries too late, to men innocent of the crime? Perhaps, after all, there is only irony. Or perhaps there are only events, on which men impose their categories: Justice, mercy, irony – all in the minds of men. The artillery shell that wipes out a guerrilla position in an ancient fortress knows nothing of history; nor would it care, if it did.
Let justice go, then; let irony go as well. Ask instead, without imposition, what the events are. What has happened in this world that contains a thriving Roman Khanate and a dying Persian Empire? What else is there for men to interpret, to call justice or irony or randomness as the mood strikes them?
There is Axum, Rome’s ancient ally, whose writ now runs from the Cape of Good Hope to the plains of Iraq, and from Rift Valley to Ayer’s Rock. For four centuries the Black Navy has grown fat on the commerce of the Indian – the Ethiopian, some call it – Ocean, protecting it as a sheepdog does its flock, and skimming off the cream of the wealth that comes from trade. That wealth has paid for roads, dams, bureaucrats, guns, and for the endless ranks of black soldiers that man the fortress outposts in Egypt and the Levant, in India and Oceania. The Ethiopian thalassocracy survived the transition from wind to steam, from wood to steel; it remains to be seen if it can also survive the eclipse of the great battleships, and protect the foundation of its wealth against submarines and aircraft.
There is Congo; “of the Cannibals” as it is sometimes called, although it is three hundred years since the Dread Rites were last formally invoked, and a ruler proved his worth by ripping out and eating the heart of his rival. Memories are long for the breaking of taboo. And besides, formal rites in the capital are one thing; who knows what happens in the deep jungle, where even now few white men ever set foot? But even in the sunlit metropoles of the West African coast there is danger. Within living memory Congo was the foremost Power in the world, and lesser nations conspired to break the threat of its hegemony – which was done. The loss of Korea, with its rich coal mines, still has the power to sting. But a nation that rules from Morocco to Namibia is not to be counted out of the councils of the mighty; and a wounded beast is all the more fierce. Who knows what is plotted, in a dark continent that still remembers the days of its glory?
There is Russia, as ever a conundrum wrapped in a riddle; and there is Croatia, and Punjab. The three jackals of central Eurasia have finished their squabble over the corpse of Persia; will they awake to discover that they are surrounded by larger Powers? Or will they continue in their dreams of martial glory? Germany to the west, Ethiopia to the south, the Khanate in the east – the situation of the middle countries is not to be envied, as the Shahanshah has learned. Perhaps there he takes comfort in the thought; perhaps he dreams of justice being done. Or perhaps he sees only irony, that a Persian should dream of vengeance for the Peacock Throne being exacted by Rome! And yet, ancient enemies are sometimes more tightly bound together than even the closest allies.
There is Japan, an empire even more maritime than Ethiopia, the only state that might challenge the Black Navy – although doing so has not, historically, led to prosperity for the islands of the Rising Sun. If imperial dreams are dreamt there, they are perhaps more likely to be of expanding Japan’s foothold on the mainland beyond the Treaty Ports. The Japanese have often looked towards China for inspiration, and for wealth. But the islanders have been very quiet, this past generation; they work industriously, but show no more aggression than so many cherry blossoms. Let them not be accused without evidence.
Across the water there is the California Republic, still maintaining a native sovereignty against the encroachments of the white man. But it is long, now, since war flamed across the Great Plains, and Rome sent troops to maintain the independence of its distant ally; not since the days of musket and pike has anyone attempted to finally subdue the last American nation. On this hemisphere, at least, peace reigns. But the world is smaller now; the route that the Legions sailed for three months can be steamed in a single week. The security that comes from friendship on a single continent may no longer be enough. It may happen that men of the Condor and Coyote brotherhoods, of Rattlesnake and Raven, of Buffalo and Bear will return the aid that their ancestors once got from Rome, and travel to fight across the Ocean Sea. Then again, there is little gratitude among nations; it may just as well be that the red men will fight against Rome, in the service of their country’s interest. No eternal friends has California, any more than other nations; only interest is eternal.
No eternal friends, indeed; yet the peace between California and Catalunya seems, at any rate, unusually long-lived. From its base in Spain – which vestigial motherland is still, indeed, retained as a sort of appendix, a European afterthought to an American power – the Umayyad caliphate (the Islamic origins of the modern secular republic are easy to forget) has conquered most of the New World by force or trade. Only California resisted, and then with the aid of half of Eurasia; but where the sword of Islam stopped, it decisively stopped. Interest is eternal; but if modern Catalunya has any interest in conquest, the drive is very well hidden. The American powers are, to all external appearances, peaceful and neutral, uninvolved in the territorial disputes of Eurasia. But still waters run deep.
And there is Germany.