Azure Three Bezants: Byzantine Intrigues

March 3rd, 1850
A basement in Constantinople
Afternoon

It’s easy to stir up a mob. Especially against foreigners.

Salomone’s words echoed in Abramo’s thoughts as he listened to the howling outside; deep bestial roars, communicating nothing except drunken anger, punctuated by shrill screams when the rioters found another woman and dragged her into the street. The screams didn’t last very long, now. The drinking, and the incoherent primate rage, had progressed beyond the point where anyone could muster the intelligence to rip off clothes and force legs apart. Instead they kicked, punched, and trampled, unable to keep even the most primitive goal in mind for the ten seconds it would take to make progress towards it, and unleashing violence not because violence would help, but because all the other parts of the brain had been blanked out.

“We got our riot, anyway,” he observed, turning away from the window to his companion. Eliezer’s mouth was compressed into a thin line, his face set; it was he who had made sure the brandy barrels – a warehouse full; thousands of ducats’ worth, on the free market – were liberally spiked with the Egyptian drugs.

“Yes,” he said heavily. “That part worked. Now we need them to remember why they were mad in the first place, and go kill some Danes.”

Abramo glanced at the window. “You can go out there to remind them, if you like.”

A heavy thud on the door made them both whirl toward it, reaching for the long-barreled pistols strapped to their inner thighs; useless against any significant fraction of the mob, but – but nothing, Abramo realised. They might gun down two or three of the apes outside; then it would be fists and teeth, and death. The door was oak, and stoutly barred, but not proof against a concerted effort by a dozen men – but there would be no concerted effort; there weren’t a dozen men outside to deliver it. Just apes, drunk and drugged beyond sanity. Realising it, Abramo and Eliezer relaxed. The single thump wasn’t repeated; perhaps a rioter had kicked the door experimentally, and wandered off in search of easier prey when he found it solid.

“Not just now, thank you,” Eliezer said, polite as though he were turning down a cup of tea instead of refusing to go out to certain death. “It’ll work or not, nothing we can do about it except wait and see.”

Abramo shrugged. “This is an outlier of the main riot. The epicenter is in the right place.”

“Yes, and it’ll still work or not as God wills – hang on, what’s that?”

Abramo turned to the window again; a rhythmic thudding, tramp-tramp-tramp, came in from outside. “Men marching,” he reported. “The army’s here.”

“Fast work,” Eliezer commented. “I thought it would take them until tonight to get troops here.”

Abramo’s eyes narrowed as the marching column came into better view. Bayonets out, ranks filling the street from edge to edge in the approved anti-riot style – but the white bands on both arms were decidedly nonregulation.

“You may be right,” he said slowly. “I don’t think those are government troops. Not anymore.”

The troops stopped, the first rank going down on one knee; a volley rang out. The deep shouts of a riot in progress changed to screams of pain and fear. But a single volley wasn’t enough; while the troopers reloaded, the mob separated. The ones who were still sane enough for fear to reach them made for the alleys; those who had drunk deepest of the drugged brandy, or of the free-floating resentment of foreigners that was endemic in this city that had once been the capital of civilisation, picked up rocks and bottles and ran towards the soldiers, shouting.

Well-drilled troops can reload a musket in twenty seconds. These Roman regulars, heirs to the Legions that had conquered all the known world, who still wore lorica segmentata for their dress uniform, were… not quite up to that standard; but it would not have mattered. At the close range of a narrow street, the first rioters reached the soldiers’ line in ten seconds. Bayonets met them, and screams of unbearable pain filled the street; but the body of a human male is heavy, and blades tend to stick in them. The first ones bought, with their mindlessly expended lives, gaps in the line; gaps through which their comrades could fling themselves, to flail blindly about with broken bottles and knives.

If the berserkers had had behind them a solid mass of more cautious comrades, that would have been decisive; there had been enough rioters in the street to overwhelm a single company of soldiers by simple numbers, once their line was broken and it was hand-to-hand and chaos. But a riot is not a cooperative or disciplined affair. The cautious rioters, the ones who still had enough brains not to face bullets, had gone to ground; there was no backup for the berserk ones, and they went down in a flashing blur of bayonet thrusts. The company closed ranks over their dead and continued their march.

“We can get out now,” Abramo noted.

“Right, but – where are we going? If there are troops putting down our riot -”

“We’d best hurry then, hadn’t we?” Abramo interrupted. This was no time to dither. “Besides, we’ve seen one company; for all we know, there’s exactly one officer in the whole Roman army with some initiative and fire in his belly, and that was him. Let’s go.”

March 3rd, 1850
Embassy Row, Constantinople
Evening

The Danish embassy, built in stone and iron, was not actually burning, but a heavy smell of smoke made clear that it wasn’t for lack of effort. Sounds of drunken singing coming through the broken windows, and the Cross of the King of Kings flying from its flagstaff where Dannebrog ought to have been, made it clear what had happened: The riot had washed over the guards, or perhaps through the back gate that Abramo had spent many ducats ensuring would be carelessly left open, and into the building. Then there had been a massacre. The high fence had a literal head on one of its spikes, apparently the detritus of someone trying to climb it to escape rather than a deliberate decoration, since the rest of the body lay underneath it. The head had long hair; Abramo unfocused his eyes to avoid taking in any other details. Of course, an embassy had clerical staff and families as well as diplomats; people to work the kitchens, polish the silver, change the beds…

And so does Venice, Abramo reminded himself. The Venetian embassy had stood empty since the year before, when the Basileus Basileonton banned the representatives of the Senate and the Doge. Which was his sovereign right; but nobody doubted that the Vermilion Decree signed by the King of Kings had been written, red ink and all, right here in the Danish embassy. Anyway, nobody had forced these people to take the Danish silver that the Volga Agreement had extracted from the Mediterranean trade. All Venice wanted was an opportunity to sell their goods; if they could sell cheaper than Denmark because they had better weather and shorter shipping distances, that was in the nature of things and nobody’s fault. A treaty that sent men with muskets to bar some nations’ grain from hungry ports, that was something else again. To keep cheap grain from poor men’s children was surely the work of the Devil. Admittedly, the Aiello might well have left the Devil alone if his schemes hadn’t interfered with their profits. Every man has a line, and god or devil crosses it at their peril. Abramo looked again at the dead woman, and pressed his lips together; it wasn’t a pleasant sight, by any means. But he did not flinch.

“I think we have done our work,” he said.

“And we can go,” Eliezer agreed.

They started towards the harbour, where a ship – registered in London, flying the three fox tails of the Red Empire; which wasn’t to say that it had ever been outside the Straits of Gibraltar – waited to take them elsewhere. Then the musket fire broke out behind them, punctuated by the heavy thud of a cannon, followed by a drawn-out metallic rattle. Grapeshot on stone walls, Abramo realised, and turned towards the sound of the guns; it was coming from the palace.

“I think, perhaps,” Eliezer said softly, “there may be more than one officer in the Legions who has fire in his belly. And troops hidden near the City, to take advantage of whatever disturbance there might be. We may have called up something we can’t easily put down.”

“Not the first time a new Emperor has been elected by counting bayonets,” Abramo said. “Nor likely the last. In any case, no affair of ours.”

Easy to start a riot, he thought as they made their way through the deserted streets to the harbour. Not so easy to say where it will end.

Azure Three Bezants

I began Victoria at war with Byzantium, which being AI put up no real resistance to speak of; my main problem was attrition while occupying the mountainous Balkans. This gained me most of the Levant, the exceptions being the Fortress City of Acre and a few scattered Japanese possessions; also, somewhat to my surprise, Great Power status, least among the six. (Our mod reduces the Great Power count from the usual eight, on the grounds that we only have eleven player countries left and no significant AI.) I colonised Australia (losing a competition with England for the final useless province, down in the corner; apparently his inventions fired late) and maneuvered to get my reactionaries into power so I could build factories that don’t use resources the World Market hasn’t got, thank you capitalist AI. In the latter I failed, but at least I have conservatives so I can subsidise what does get built. I also skirmished with the other powers for influence, as one does; Peshawar was briefly in my sphere, but Japan’s same-continent advantage and vast investment in railroads proved decisive – apparently every flat province in India now has a Japanese railroad in it. I turned instead to Byzantium, where Denmark had snuck in ahead of me. Although I generated influence faster, the more so after building some railroads, that prior position meant I would get banned and then de-influenced every time I got up to Friendly. Well, really now; cutthroat market competition is one thing, using the power of the State to prevent me from buying at very favourable prices is something else again, and wouldn’t happen in libertarian utopia. I’m not saying I had anything to do with the reactionary rebels that reset Byzantium’s diplomacy; but if Victoria had such a mechanic I totally would have. Starting from zero, with my investments and position nearby, I was able to generate influence fast enough to get to Friendly first, and then keep all three other contenders – Denmark, Germany, Fox – permabanned. I did not, however, sphere Byzantium, firstly because I believe in free markets and actual competition, secondly because I wasn’t sure if it would be played the next session and wanted a free hand to invade if necessary.

The current situation appears to be that Blayne is moving to North Korea, leaving Byzantium playerless and unprotected; obviously this is relevant to my interests. Reuniting the two successors of Rome, to form a single Mediterranean empire again, would go a long way towards making the world safe for profit.

World Map, 1854

World map, 1854. Note Venetian Australia, Japanese Siberia, and the re-emergence of the Tortured Man outlined by Egypt’s possessions in Africa. I’m not the only one who sees that, right? Right?

MidEast, 1854

Closeup on Venezia-oltre-il-Mare, now expanded to the north by the successful Balkan War, and made contiguous with my Persian possessions by the land-swap treaty with Egypt. Too bad the province resources are all trash. Note the Fortress City of Acre still holding out just north of what would be Israel in OTL.

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Filed under Azure Three Bezants, Recessional, Reeking Tube and Iron Shard

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