The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 23

Chapter 8 — Suzerainty

Location: Royal Palace, Constantinople

Time: Mid-morning, October 24, 1372

The Ottoman ambassador bowed slightly to the Byzantine emperor, John V noted with distaste. His sons were both here, Andronikos and Manuel. Neither looked any more pleased by the lèse-majesté than John was. But he gritted his teeth and stood it. For two reasons. First, he had promised to give Murad I suzerainty if Murad got him free of the Bulgarians, which Murad did. The second, more pressing, reason was that John didn’t have the army to stop Murad if the Ottoman sultan decided to force the matter.

“King of Constantinople,” Halis Bey said, “the Ottoman Empire calls you to your promise. You must raise an army and lead it south, placing it and yourself under the sultan’s authority.”

John looked at his sons in light of his discussion with Tiphaine de Raguenel and her horoscopes. If he left Andronikos here, his older son would rebel, and with the aid of Savci Bey, Murad’s third son, the two of them would rebel against both him and Murad. They would lose, but the war would leave Savci Bey dead, Andronikos half blind, and the Byzantine Empire much weaker.

Andronikos looked back at him, angry and belligerent. For, after seeing Tiphaine’s horoscopes, John had showed them to his son. Andronikos denied any such notion, insisting that Murad wasn’t going to call John out of Constantinople anyway.

Now, here was the demand that Tiphaine said was coming and Andronikos insisted wasn’t. He looked at Halis Bey. “We will consider Our brother monarch Murad’s request.”

“It is not a . . .”

“Stop,” John bellowed. “Whatever My relationship with Murad, this is My hall, in My city, and you do not demand or command here.”

He made a gesture and the guards slammed their pike butts into the floor.

Halis Bey looked at the guards, then back at John. “I will have to report this, King of Constantinople.”

“Emperor of Byzantium,” Andronikos corrected him.

John waved Andronikos down, then said to Halis Bey, “You are dismissed.”


Leona sat on a chandelier, half in the natural world and half in the netherworld, as Halis Bey marched out of the big room. She didn’t understand what was going on. She had never understood what was going on with humans, but having the magic of the will o’ the wisp, the brain structure of the crow and, especially, being around Wilber was helping. It was turning what had been meaningless noise into a puzzle to be solved.

Leona had never been able to leave a puzzle alone, and she still wasn’t. She flicked most of the way into the netherworld and flew after Halis Bey.

A few minutes later, in Halis Bey’s rooms, she heard a great deal of what she assumed was cursing and quite a bit of discussion. But it was in a language she didn’t understand. In spite of the help that the crow’s brain gave her with language and speech, she still couldn’t learn human speech or understand talk without practice.

Location: Guest Quarters, Magnaura, Constantinople

Time: 1:00 PM, October 25, 1372

“Anyway,” the maid told Lakshmi in an excited half-whisper, “the emperor almost threw out the Ottoman ambassador.”

“Do you know why the Ottomans need the Byzantine forces?” Lakshmi muttered her response in English, then the computer, in an excellent imitation of her voice, spoke the question in Greek. By now the process was second nature to the twenty-firsters, and the locals of whatever country they were in seemed to get used to it quickly.

“It’s the demons,” the maid said with confidence, then hastily added with a frightened look at Lakshmi’s computer sitting open on the table, “Not your demons.”

DW and Lakshmi soothed the young woman and assured her again that not all demons were evil. Then she got the conversation back on the subject of the rebellion in southern Anatolia.

“The Karamanids called up djinn to fight against Murad. They have taken Beysehir using magic. The bey’s servants say that’s why Halis Bey demanded your magics.”

“Has there been time for Murad to learn of our arrival?”

“Oh, yes, plenty. His capital is only a few days away by fast horse, and less if you go part of the way along the coast. He took Adrianople a few years ago, renamed it Edirne, and put his capital there. That’s why Thessalonica is so important.”

“In that case, Murad is an idiot,” Lakshmi said.

The maid looked shocked. “You shouldn’t say things like that. He’s a powerful man.” She looked around then whispered, “More powerful than the emperor.”

“Maybe, but that’s not saying much,” Lakshmi said. “Both the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Turkish Empire are a lot smaller than I thought. The Byzantine Empire is old and feeble and the Ottoman Turkish Empire is still a baby. It wouldn’t take much to shift the balance of power. The question is whether there’s anything in the Byzantine Empire worth saving?”

“We’re Christians.”

“I’m Hindu,” Lakshmi said. “Well, sort of. My family’s relatively secular. But I don’t see a lot of difference between a Christian and a Muslim from this century. Either is as likely to try to burn me as a witch as the other. And it’s not like either side has a great record on women’s rights — or even human rights — in this century. So what does Byzantium have in terms of culture or government that is worth saving?”

Then Lakshmi closed her eyes, ending the conversation, confident that the maid would report it to those who needed to hear it. It was true that the goal of the party was to save the world, both worlds, from whatever had torn the rifts in the veil between the worlds. But the probabilities had already shifted so much that Pucorl, Themis, and Merlin, all agreed that it was unlikely that they would ever get home. This was the world they were stuck with. And this world was in desperate need of things like democratic republics, governments by and for the people governed. An economic and industrial system that would not leave ninety-nine percent of humanity below the poverty line.

And certainly not least, bills of rights. Lots and lots of bills of rights, in every country.

Location: Royal Palace, Constantinople

Time: 8:23 PM, October 25, 1372

Helena Kantakouzene, queen of the Byzantine Empire, daughter of a former emperor, and wife of the present emperor, lay half-reclined on the Roman-style couch and waved her majordomo, Constantine Korolos, in.

The majordomo, who also acted as her spymaster, bowed, then stood and recited almost word for word the report of the maid assigned to Lakshmi Rawal.

Helena didn’t call for the headsman. She wasn’t even tempted. Well, not very. The twenty-firsters were powerful. It was hard to tell what kind of power they had. The stories from France said that Roger McLean defeated Philip the Bold in single combat when Philip still owned the Sword of Themis. They went on to say that he then gave the sword back to Themis. But that last part must be a lie, because Roger still carried the sword. Besides, no sane man would ever do such a thing. It was the act of a saint. And deep in her heart of hearts, Helena wasn’t convinced that even the saints of old were really so selfless.

So, after a short fantasy about headsmen and seizure of goods, she brought her mind back to the point. “Find out what she wants. What would make her want to save Byzantium? After all she is the first chink in the armor of the French delegation.”

“Doctor Delaflote,” the majordomo corrected. “We may well be able to get his help in exchange for releasing Theodore Meliteniotes.”

“Maybe. But he is only a wizard, and one who is presently without familiar.”