The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 16
Location: North Shore of the Bosphorus
Time: 2:17 PM, September 27, 1372
The rain dripped off Roger’s helmet and down the back of his neck. His horse nickered at him in what Roger was sure was a complaint.
His phone, Clausewitz, added, “Wilber says Beau would like you to turn off the rain.”
Having someone who could talk to animals was often a convenience. However, having your horse know that it can complain and be understood was not always a boon. Like now. “Have Wilber tell Beau, for the fourteenth time, that I don’t control the weather.”
The phone neighed as they rode slowly into the village. No one heard, thank goodness. Because of the rain, no one was outside.
Bertrand guided his horse to the little stable on the north side of the mud patch that seemed to think it was a road through the village. As near as he understood, had this been the netherworld, the mud patch would truly have thought that it was a road.
There were two mules in the stable, but no horses. There was also only room for about a half-dozen horses and there were twenty in their party. There was a fenced-in paddock where most of the horses would have to reside.
What there wasn’t, was anyone in the stable area. Across the mud was another building that might be a small tavern. Or maybe an over-large hut for a relatively well off villager.
Bertrand pointed. “Father Dalpozzo, would you mind riding over there and seeing if that’s an inn? And, in any case, where the stable keeper might be found.”
They waited. A few minutes later, the priest waved for them to come over, and a moment after that, an old man and a boy came out of the door. While Roger dismounted, the two locals made their way to the stables, shouting in the worst accented Greek that Roger had ever failed to understand.
Clausewitz translated. “Hey you, what are you doing putting your horses in my paddock without my permission?”
“Bargaining,” the phone added in Wilber’s voice. “He isn’t really upset at all.”
“Shut up, Wilber,” Roger said. “At least until we have the lay of the land.”
In the tavern several minutes later, Roger wrung out his cloak before hanging it on a peg. The inn was smoky and stank, but it was dry and it was also full, mostly of fishermen. Waiting for the rain to end so that they could take their small skiffs out into the Bosporus, Roger guessed.
The party sat around three large wooden bench style tables and ordered a meal with the local sour wine. Then they asked for the news from Constantinople.
The barmaid, who looked about forty — and Roger figured was the tavern keeper’s wife — proceeded to look them over, then started talking. Roger couldn’t understand a word, but he got a report later. She first asked, “Are you the wizards from France?” Then without waiting for an answer, she went on. “Magic is illegal in Constantinople.”
Father Dalpozzo asked, “But not here?”
“It’s illegal here too, but we don’t care much. Certainly not enough to fight armed men over it.”
At that point, Father Dalpozzo had Roger pull Clausewitz out, and from then on Wilber — safe and dry in Joe Kraken’s cabin — provided a running translation.
They talked over magic with the locals. The local priest was Greek Orthodox and while still doing services to God had set up an altar next door to Poseidon, and was offering prayers to the Greek god of the sea for the protection of the local fisher folk.
Father Dalpozzo wasn’t pleased with that, but Father Grigoris didn’t much care what some Catholic thought. He had a village full of people to look after.
Over the evening, they learned that though the political powers tried to outlaw magic, and especially heresy, the old gods were being prayed to again, in a way that they probably hadn’t been even when they were the only gods available. For one thing, prayers to Poseidon were occasionally answered.
While that was going on, Roger was aware that he was in that part of the natural world that correlated to Themis’ lands, or at least close to it. He could feel it. Roger wasn’t exactly anxious to give up the sword, but he felt he should. For one thing, the netherworld was affected by the natural world, and having the physical sword in her part of the netherworld would give Themis back that part of herself that was perforce left in the sword when he released her from it.
Themis had never said anything about it, but Roger felt like he was holding the sword under false pretenses.
And there was one other thing.
The Sword of Themis was, in a way, like Excalibur of legend. It could act as the sword of state for the Byzantine Empire. And that would give Themis a say in who was to be emperor of the Byzantine Empire.
The histories in their little collection were limited in regard to royal families in Constantinople, merely recording that the Byzantine Empire was to fall to the caliphate in a few years. But Themis was a god, one who remembered history, and not only the past history, but history into the future. Even many histories, probabilities, as Pucorl called them. It struck Roger as important that Themis have a say in who sat on the throne of the Byzantine Empire.
Others might be going to Constantinople for other reasons. But that was Roger’s reason.
After a lot of discussion, they decided that they would move a bit closer to Constantinople, then send a small party into the city to find out the situation and see if they could get some sort of prior agreement before bringing Pucorl and Joe Kraken, not to mention the other enchanted boats, into the city.
Location: Village on the North Coast of the Bosporus
Time: 10:15 AM, September 29, 1372
The sun was bright and shiny as Joe Kraken pulled up to the beach at the village and extended his ramp. Pucorl drove down, and then up into a field to the north of the village. He would be staying here, along with most of the party, while Bertrand, Monsignor Savona, Father Dalpozzo, Dr. Delaflote and some of the armsmen went into Constantinople. Jennifer was a bit upset about being left behind, but stopped arguing when Tiphaine told her some horror stories about women alone in this time.
But they wouldn’t lack for occupation. The village was fairly prosperous for a village in the Byzantine Empire of 1372, but that meant that they usually — but not always — had enough to eat. There were a lot of fallow fields here because of the loss of the population over the last half century or so. Besides, they were anxious to exploit the oceanides, the ship fairies of legend. They were, variously, the daughters of Oceanus and Tethys, or the spirits of the sea or boats. And while Oceanus was no longer lord of the sea, his daughters were still running around in the netherworld, performing all sorts of functions, including the protection of boats and ships on the ocean or any other body of water.
At least that’s what the local legends and mythos said. Half-believed stories told around the fire. But since the ripping of the veil, these nymphs had often been seen cavorting in the waves. The villagers wished to capture these creatures and put them in their boats to help protect the fishermen and insure a good catch.
After listening to all this, Tiphaine shook her head. “It is most unwise to try to enslave the creatures of fairie. It is better to offer them a home in exchange for service.”
“And considering their father might well be a titan of old,” Wilber added, “it’s doubly unwise. I have met a titan. They aren’t the sort of folk you want to piss off.” He pulled his phone from his pocket. “Igor, can you contact Themis directly for us?” He turned to Father Grigoris and explained. “Themis’ lands are around here, where ancient Thrace and Greece were, so I am wondering if Igor can reach her directly without going through Pucorl to his lands and to the pentagram that connects his lands with her lands in the netherworld.”
Igor tried, and did make contact of a sort, but it was patchy. He only got one bar. So he went through the network, and got put off on one of Themis’ assistants, Iris, who they had kidnapped, then released, during the Pretendership War in France last year.
Iris didn’t hold a grudge. Not exactly. But neither did that noble lady of the netherworld think that the twenty-firsters — aside from Roger McLain — were of such a rank to disturb her mistress.
“What do you want to know?” she asked.
“We were wondering about the sea nymphs and boat nymphs,” Wilber said. “What sort of container they might find acceptable.”
“You should speak with Oceanus or Poseidon. Not bother Her Majesty with such questions. As well, you will want the owner’s permission.”
“Well, can you connect us with Oceanus?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Why would Oceanus consent to speak to you? I will contact one of the oceanids. Maybe she will consent to help you.” At which point Wilber was put on hold.
The ancient Greek Muzak coming out of his phone made Wilber shake his head and laugh. “Iris isn’t a fan.”
“Well, she should be,” Tiphaine said. “If it weren’t for us she might well have been locked into a decaying body.”
That got her asked to tell the story, and she did until the oceanid KorÃ¡lli came on the line. She spoke a language that was more akin to the speech of dolphins than anything a human might know. Her language was made up in part of sonar images or perhaps sonar descriptions, combining echolocation with squeaks and whistles which allowed her to communicate the shape and compositions of undersea features, including fish, with a clarity that human language couldn’t hope to emulate. Wilber quickly became so engrossed in his conversation with her that he utterly ignored the staring villagers.
Lakshmi said, “Wilber, you’re being rude.”
“Oh, sorry. But I am learning things. There are things you will need to do to your boats, additions that you will need to make. Aside from the eyes, you will want to make sonar clickers and microphones. So that the oceanids won’t be left half-blind from human ignorance.”
At the blank looks, Wilber explained sonar in Greek. It was a new concept to the villagers.
“Do fish truly see that way?” asked Katos, the village headman/master fisherman.
“Not all fish. Dolphins, killer whales, and whales in general, use echolocation. Sharks, aside from eyesight, also use electromagnetism to locate prey and avoid threats. Squid have several means of communication, including their camouflage ability.” Some of this was from Wilber’s twenty-first century, but more was from Joe Kraken and the conversation he’d had with KorÃ¡lli.
There was more conversation, and eventually a design of modifications was worked out.
Leona sat on the branch and meowed at the local tom, a big, strapping fellow that she would have found quite interesting a few months ago. But he didn’t have wings and Leona wasn’t in the mood anyway. So she chatted from a safe altitude, confident that she could fly away if the need arose.
He wasn’t convinced that she was truly a cat, even if she did speak cat. And in any case, he wanted her to know that this was his hunting ground, not hers.