The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 17
Chapter 6 — Constantinople
Time: 3:05 PM, September 29, 1372
Bertrand stepped out of the large inn and looked around. The broad streets were dirty and there were as many vacant lots as buildings in the large wall-enclosed city. The gate guards had let them through with only a modest bribe and the hostel they were staying in was large enough for their party. Constantinople was a complex mix of wealth and poverty, of grandeur and decay.
He walked along the side of the building to the stables where their horses were housed and checked on the mounts. And while he walked, he considered. Tomorrow would be soon enough to look up Gabriel Delaflote’s friend, Theodore Meliteniotes. It was already evening. The Magnaura, where he worked, was likely closed to guests. It served several functions, a collegium much like the University of Paris, guest quarters for ambassadorial groups, and a training ground for the bureaucracy of Constantinople.
Meliteniotes’ job, aside from being a philosopher, was as what amounted to rector of the Magnaura. From what Gabriel said, he was also a strong adherent of Greek orthodoxy and opposed to any rapprochement with the western church.
Bertrand looked down the street. It led over a mile to a turn and from there probably another mile and a half until it reached the Magnaura and the royal palace. Out here near the outer wall, half the lots and more were empty, the buildings torn down or left to rot.
The people, of which there were many even out here, were mostly dressed in sewn together rags, with a gaunt look about them. They avoided his eyes but that was clearly due to his sword and armor.
He turned back to the inn.
Location: Magnaura, Constantinople
Time: 8:37 AM, October 2, 1372
Roger McLain sat his horse in good armor and the sword looked perfectly ordinary, so ordinary that most people failed to notice it at all, and those who did see it saw it only as the sort of sword any man at arms would wear. No one noticed that it had no sheath, but floated, not touching his back. People tended not to notice him at all. He wasn’t sure whether that was because of the sword or because he was riding next to Bertrand du Guesclin, who carried an aura of command around with him that had nothing to do with the demons that now infested the world.
Bertrand, Roger, Gabriel Delaflote, Monsignor Savona, and Father Dalpozzo dismounted. A couple of the armsmen took their horses in hand, while the five of them walked up the steps to the front doors of the Magnaura.
Roger stayed in the background once they got inside. Father Dalpozzo waved at a clerk and asked, “Where can I find the director of the Patriarchal School?”
The clerk looked at Father Dalpozzo, then at Monsignor Savona, and then at Bertrand, and whatever snide remark he’d been planning died on his lips. He gave them directions, and a few minutes later they reached a set of fairly luxurious offices. The clerk seated by a lectern asked, “Who are you here to see?”
“The rector,” said Gabriel Delaflote.
“Rector Tacitus is busy at the moment. May I tell him what this is in regard to?”
“Tacitus?” Gabriel asked. “Theodore Meliteniotes is the rector of the university.”
“Shh,” the clerk hissed. He waved them closer. “Theodore Meliteniotes has been arrested for consorting with demons.”
Father Dalpozzo interrupted before Gabriel could put his size twelves further down his throat. “Meliteniotes doesn’t even believe in astrology. Now you’re saying he believes in demons.”
“Not only believes,” the clerk whispered. “He summoned a demon into a statue of Erato with a speaker attached.” The word “speaker” was in French. “He got the technique in a book published by the heretical sorcerer Gabriel Delaflote, all the way from France. Including the design for the speaker. She was singing obscene love songs in ancient Greek when they arrested him.”
“Really?” asked Delaflote. “What happened to the statue?”
The clerk smirked. “It was seized by Prince Manuel, and it hasn’t said a word since.”
Manuel obviously referred to Manuel II Palaiologos, the second son of the present emperor of Byzantium, John V Palaiologos. Manuel was supposed to be something of a scholar in his own right. Roger had been well briefed on the royal family and what was known of them through the history books and what Tiphaine and Themis had determined through casting horoscopes. Back in the world, Roger hadn’t believed in astrology at all, but he wasn’t going to argue with a god about its efficacy.
The clerk was still talking, and while Roger was distracted they had switched to word of the delegation from France and the Pope.
“No, they aren’t here yet. But they are supposed to be on their way, and the patriarch is arguing to have them arrested as soon as they arrive. The emperor wants to hear what they have to say, so he probably won’t arrest them on the spot.
“I heard they are traveling in that demon-enchanted magic wagon, puck something. It’s supposed to be the size of an elephant and made all of glass and steel. Like a steel cathedral on wheels.”
They, with a hefty bribe, got into see Emperor John V Palaiologos. Emperor John V Palaiologos was forty-one. What had once been sandy brown hair was now almost white. Apparently being a prisoner first in Venice, then in Bulgaria, had left him in poor shape physically. He had a big nose and dark bags under his dark eyes. His face was lined and bitter, and his mouth was loose. “Where are the rest of you? The enchanted wagon? For that matter, how did you get here without being spotted?”
Roger left it to Bertrand to answer.
“We came by the Danube to the Black Sea, and the rest of our party is in a village called Gari. We rode ahead to confirm that Your Majesty’s government would recognize our diplomatic status — especially in regard to magic — before bringing Pucorl and the rest of our magic into the city.” Then they waited while Father Dalpozzo translated.
Bertrand didn’t mention Roger’s enchanted phone or Raphico in the phone Monsignor Savona carried. Gabriel was without familiar at the moment, Archimedes having decided to return to the netherworld without his crow body after Leona dined on Carlos. He was working with Wilber, Annabelle and Jennifer on an enchanted radio on wheels. But that was still in the design stage.
John V said something short in Greek.
Father Dalpozzo translated. “He said, quote ‘We agreed.’ The royal we, I assume, not him and his co-emperor.”