The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 19
Andronikos IV was still avoiding them, but Manuel II was anxious to meet them all.
“We have an invitation to a small party in the town house of Prince Manuel,” Roger continued, “even if the Orthodox clergy wants to have us all, especially Monsignor Savona, burned as witches.”
They continued to chat as they waited for the rest of the party to disembark from their riverboats and mount their horses. Then the whole bunch made a parade to the Magnaura.
It was a well watched parade. The streets were lined with crowds like they had been in Paris. Well, the mix of emotion was a bit more to the “curious” and less to the “burn them.” The population of Constantinople was mostly literate, at least to the “sign your name and read a broadsheet, the Bible, or a book of fables” level. And it contained more scholars and bureaucrats than Paris did, even with the university of Paris in the mix. At this time, the Magnaura was dominated by the church, but the history of secular scholarship was still there.
Location: Guest Quarters, Magnaura, Constantinople
Time: 9:52 AM, October 8, 1372
Lakshmi Rawal waved the dressmaker into the room. Silk all the way from China. Cotton from North Africa, gold thread made with real gold leaf wrapped around the silk threads . . . Lakshmi was going to have a dress made. Part of that, even a large part, was that Lakshmi liked beautiful clothes. But another part was that Lakshmi had sized up Constantinople within minutes of their arrival in the city.
Constantinople was all about appearances.
Partly that was because The City — as the locals called it, as though there was no other city on Earth — was living to a great extent on the leftovers of the earlier eastern Roman Empire. The aqueducts that provided fresh, clean water to the city averaged eight hundred years old and some of the buildings were even older. But The City was full of tumbled down buildings and vacant lots, and the finery of the local potentates was rich in jewels and precious metals, but worn and cut down or expanded, as though the whole city was a hand-me-down. In spite of its strategic location for trade, as well as for the military, the city had not recovered from the sack in 1200, or the plague and the dynastic wars that had, over the last century or two, shrunk the Byzantine Empire to a shadow of its former self.
That meant that the people here were going to judge by appearance. Because people everywhere did, and people who lacked substance did it most of all.
Liane Boucher came in, carrying her computer, Thelma, under one arm and her camera bag over the other shoulder. She didn’t knock. “Blowing your allowance on clothes again?”
That was sort of true. When they arrived in this time all they had was what they were wearing or carried with them, and much of that had been sold to pay for their living expenses. When Mrs. Grady gave Pucorl to himself and later, when Pucorl had gained the lands and substance of the demon lord he defeated in combat, the van had felt he owed all the twenty-firsters for his body and freedom. His lands in the netherworld acted as a place to store goods and then access them from wherever he happened to be. So he rented space in his lands to store the goods that they were bringing with them. Part of that income went to the girls as something like an allowance, in addition to the funds they acquired by selling things. In Lakshmi’s case, she had sold her phone to the king of France for several chests of silver coins.
“It’s important,” Lakshmi told Liane. “If you would come out of your editing room sometime, you would know that.”
Liane rolled her eyes. “I need you for some voiceovers.”
“Later.” Lakshmi was the voice for the documentary of their travels that Liane was making. It was more travel log than movie, but it was good and it let them both keep working at the artform they both loved, if in different ways. “For right now, we need to study these people and make a plan.” Lakshmi spoke in twenty-firster English because she didn’t want the dressmaker to understand. “J5 –” She didn’t want to say John the fifth. ” — is going to be a problem.”
“I thought it would be A4,” Liane picked up her cue calling Andronikos IV A4. “He’s the one that Tiphaine’s horoscope says is scheduled to revolt next year.”
“Yes, but that’s because his mom’s a manipulative bitch who never forgave J5 for the fact that her dad married her off to him in order to take the throne. And then J5 had the gall to win the civil war and depose her daddy and brother.”
This, too, was Tiphaine’s horoscope, with liberal interpretation. And some advice from Themis.
“I think A4 is enough of an asshole all on his own. Did you see the way he was looking at us as we rode in? I didn’t know whether he wanted to rape us or burn us at the stake.”
“First the one, then the other, though I grant he’s likely enough to do it backward. I’m not saying that he’s either bright or stable. He’s a conniving little backstabber. But his dad loves him in spite of the fact that he left him in the hands of his enemies until M2 rescued the old fart.” M2 referred to Manuel II, John V’s second son who, according to Tiphaine’s horoscopes, was destined to be the emperor of Byzantium somewhere down the line.
There had been a sea change in the attitudes of the twenty-firsters in regard to astrology. Partly that was because of Themis’ endorsement of it, but also because they had done tests. They had a good bit of French history between all their textbooks. And using that they had Tiphaine run horoscopes based on the dates of birth they knew, then compared the accuracy of those predictions to the historical record. Tiphaine had something like an eighty-five percent accuracy rate and the rest could be explained by her not having exact birth times.
On the downside, that predictive accuracy dropped a lot when you included the demons. For instance, Philip the Bold never rebelled against his brother, according to Tiphaine’s horoscope. So they knew that the demons changed things. If they could convince John V not to recognize Ottoman suzerainty they might stop the rebellion.
So while the dressmaker measured and pinned, displayed fabrics and threads, Lakshmi and Liane talked politics and movies, makeup and murder.