The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 20
Chapter 7 — Settling In
Location: Gaol, Constantinople
Time: 10:30 AM, October 8, 1372
Gabriel Delaflote walked down the hall to the barred wooden door. The guard lifted the bar and Gabriel stepped through to see an old man seated on a stool before the lectern-style desk like Gabriel had used his whole life until the twenty-firsters arrived. The clothes the old man was wearing were dirty and the man on the stool stank. No, it wasn’t the man. It was the bucket in the corner. There was a high window that let in a bit of light.
The man looked up and in a creaky voice asked, “Who are you?” in Greek.
“You! This is all your fault!” The man who had to be Theodore Meliteniotes pointed an accusing finger at Gabriel. “That idiocy you spouted in your book was never supposed to work.”
Gabriel stared at Theodore in shock for a moment, as his mind raced around the history of their correspondence, and he realized that what apparently happened was exactly what he should have expected. Theodore knew with great certainty that magic didn’t work, that all gods but God were false, nothing more than superstition. He would see the weird reports since the ripping of the veils as the ravings of superstitious dolts. So his reaction to Gabriel’s book would be to disprove it by testing it. One question still remained, however. “Why a muse of erotica?”
“Not erotica. Lyric poetry.”
“I did say that magic worked,” Gabriel said. “I pointed out that I had tested it and confirmed it.”
“But you must have known that no one in their right mind would believe such nonsense.”
“Honestly, I would have thought you would believe that I wasn’t lying!” Gabriel said. “I refuse to take responsibility for actions you took because you didn’t believe me.”
Theodore lifted his hand, again ready to declaim Gabriel’s guilt, then stopped and lowered it. “Well . . . yes. There is that. But it was so completely ridiculous.”
“How is it you’re not in jail, Gabriel? Did you leave your familiar in Paris?”
“Not exactly. On the road here, a cat ate a crow that was inhabited by a will o’ the wisp, and managed to digest the will o’ the wisp in the process. After that Archimedes asked that he might be released from my service. Having a crow’s body was not worth the risk.”
“When a demon is summoned by its right name, it has no choice but to comply. Much like you have no choice in where you currently reside.” Gabriel waved at the cell.
“Then why did you release it? From what you said, I assume you did release it?”
“Yes, and for basically the same reason that I hope to obtain your release.”
“Do you think that you can do that?” There was more surprise than hope in Theodore’s voice.
“I don’t know,” Gabriel said. “We, our party, the twenty-firsters and the papal legation, as well as Bertrand du Guesclin, even the demons, have diplomatic status so our magic is legal. And if ours is, why not yours?”
Theodore went back to the high stool that was the only chair in the room. He waved at the bed, which was a bag of reeds on the floor. Gabriel shook his head.
“At least half the reason I’m in here is politics. You know from my letters that I am opposed to giving the bishop of Rome who resides in Avignon rulership over all Christianity. To my mind he is, in truth, only one more bishop. Not even a patriarch. That has made me enemies in the government. And when I did the experiment your book suggested, I was left exposed. The patriarch couldn’t defend me without looking like a hypocrite.”
Gabriel nodded. “Who would I have to convince to pardon your actions?”
“Emperor John or his co-emperor Andronikos. Andronikos would be my best hope. He at least tried to keep his father from giving the empire to the west one island at a time.”
“Andronikos isn’t the co-emperor anymore. He has been put aside, probably because he was willing to leave his father in prison in Venice. Manuel is co-emperor at the moment.”
“Then I see no chance for my release.” Theodore’s whole body drooped.
“You could apologize.” Then, seeing Theodore’s expression, Gabriel continued. “Look, my friend. You were wrong about magic. Isn’t it possible you are at least not wholly correct about the best place to make alliances? Our astrologer, Tiphaine de Raguenel, has drawn up horoscopes for the major players and one for Constantinople itself. She is convinced that if something doesn’t change, it will become a Muslim city within a century.”
“Astrology! Astrology is superstition.”
They talked for another hour, and Gabriel almost convinced Theodore to apologize to the emperor. But Theodore was afraid of what that would do to his relationship with the patriarch and the theological establishment of Constantinople.
Location: Salon of Manuel II, Constantinople
Time: 4:25 PM, October 10, 1372
Manuel II, newly crowned co-emperor, had only arrived back in the city a few weeks before the delegation from France. He was excited and deeply concerned about the fact that magic had started working, and hopeful that the French scholars would be able to allow Constantinople to use magic, not be used by it.
He stood in the receiving line as a huge man in armor with a face that seemed almost beastial or, perhaps, like the half-finished statue of a face walked in with a middle-aged redhead on his arm. Bertrand du Guesclin introduced his wife Tiphaine, then came Monsignor Savona, who introduced the angel Raphico. That was a flat panel with a front that was like a painting, but a painting that changed. The phone offered a blessing on his house in flawless Greek.
Then came the twenty-firsters and Magi Delaflote was with Amelia Grady and her son, Paul. She too had a phone, which she introduced as Laurence. And then the rest came in. Wilber introduced him to not only a phone, but a winged cat — a small gryphon which still had the head of a cat. That, more even than the talking boxes, convinced Manuel that these were people of power.
The cat, having been introduced — and having meowed, which Wilber translated as a greeting — then took two quick steps and leapt into the air. Its wings flapped twice or three times to get some height, then it glided to a table of savories, where it snatched up a smoked pheasant.
“Leona,” Wilber shouted, “have some manners.”
Leona looked up from her pheasant and growled. Then she leapt from the table, pheasant in her mouth, and glided to a corner.
“Let her have it,” Manuel said quickly, not wanting to have difficulties with a being of magic. “How did you manage to get a gryphon from the netherworld in its own form? I was told that the creatures from that other place needed a form to inhabit when they came into this world.”
“That’s not always true,” Wilber explained. “But in this case, the cat is local to this world and so are the wings and talons. Leona managed to eat an enchanted crow. Our companions are being surprisingly closed mouth about precisely how Leona managed that, and I prefer not to make an issue of it.”
“Are they so chancy to deal with?” Manuel asked, and then at a cough from his majordomo, he added, “We can perhaps discuss this in more detail later.” He waved Wilber on into the large room.
Then came Bill Howe and Jennifer Fairbanks. After them Lakshmi Rawal and Liane Boucher. Lakshmi wore a strange piece of jewelry. It was a sparkling blob that was in her left ear and a string that went from the blob to her pocket. He remembered now that Jennifer and Bill had worn the same odd bit of adornment, but theirs didn’t call attention to themselves by sparkling.
Lakshmi said in broken Greek, “It’s a headphone.” She pulled the blob from her ear and reached out with it as though to put it in his ear. Almost without his consent, his head pulled back away.
“It’s not going to bite you,” she said in even worse Greek.
He moved his head forward and she put the thing in his ear. Then, in a deep baritone, a man said in perfect Greek, “I’m DW, Lakshmi’s computer and director. Happy to meet you, Your Highness. I’m translating for Lakshmi.”