The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 25

“There is this,” Manuel said. “The demon-locks are expensive to make. The flintlocks are cheaper, but not as good. But, Mother, we will need the flintlocks to face Murad in the field.”

His mother returned to the couch. “Was their world then ruled by the mob?”

“They come from three countries. America, which is across the Atlantic Ocean, France, and India. All of their countries appear to have been republics, in which the senate and most of the other offices were elected by the vote of the people. As to how that worked . . . it was a longer discussion than there was time for that afternoon, but I am assured that they did work.”

Again his mother considered. “Fetch me some wine, my son. I need to think.”

Manuel fetched her the retsina, and waited while she sipped.

Finally, she said, “Arrange for me to meet the ladies. And, in the meantime, do Doctor Delaflote the favor of having Theodore Meliteniotes released into Doctor Delaflote’s custody.”

“Not simply released?”

“No. Make it clear that until his case is decided, he is part of the delegation and their responsibility. If that isn’t acceptable, he can stay in gaol.”

Location: Guest Quarters, Magnaura, Constantinople

Time: 2:00 PM, October 29, 1372

The guard knocked on the door, then announced in French, “There are a bunch of Greek soldiers here. They say they are delivering a prisoner.”

“What prisoner?” Amelia Grady asked, also in French.

Some discussion in the Greek they spoke in this century, then the soldier said, “Theodore Meliteniotes, into our custody.”

“What does ‘our custody’ mean?” Amelia asked.

More Greek, then, “The custody of the delegation.”

“Now that’s interesting. Have them bring him in, and any documents.” Amelia opened her computer. “Will, would you contact Merlin and have him translate some papers for me?” Shakespeare, as a muse, could translate, but the container of the demon had an effect on the magic. Because Merlin was first put into Wilber’s cochlear implant, his magic was focused on allowing Wilber to hear and understand any sort of language. Any muse level demon could translate, but Merlin, with that extra focus, was less likely to miss a nuance.

When the guard handed her the parchment, she unrolled it and held it up before Will, who photographed it and emailed it to Merlin. Merlin read it and sent back a translation. The release, it turned out, was based on their diplomatic status. The fourteenth century didn’t have twenty-first century diplomatic norms, so they had had to invoke a special treaty between John of Byzantium and King Charles of France, co-signed by Amelia herself as the “ruler” of the twenty-firsters. That treaty, agreed to and confirmed by John V before most of the party entered Constantinople, gave the party essentially the same status as embassies would have in the twenty-first century. Using that, this document dumped Theodore out of Constantinople into the custody of the twenty-firsters. He couldn’t leave the guest quarters save in the custody of a twenty-firster or he was subject to arrest. He was thrown out of the Byzantine Empire without ever leaving the city.

Amelia wasn’t at all pleased at the speed at which the locals were learning to use twenty-firster customs, but Gabriel would be pleased that his pen pal was out of jail. “Excuse me, but I don’t know your title?” Amelia said in French, trusting Will to translate. “What would you like to be called?”

“I am Magistros Theodore Meliteniotes,” then, with a bitter twist of his lips, “Or was, until I was arrested.”

“May I call you Theodore?”

He gave her a hard look than looked at the guards, those who had delivered him and those surrounding the woman. “It appears, madam, that you can call me anything you like.” He didn’t sound particularly happy about it.

“Yes, but I try to be polite, sir,” Amelia said. “In the meantime, you need to know what is going on.” She spent a few minutes explaining diplomatic immunity and diplomatic territory and finally the fact that he was being released to them — but only if they agreed to take him. If they didn’t, it was right back to jail for him. Amelia finished up with, “We are willing to take you in and be responsible for you. But only if you agree to obey our rules.”

He asked for the proclamation and read it carefully, then bowed. “I will follow your rules to the best of my ability.”

“Very well. The guards will show you to the baths. Get cleaned up and join us for dinner.”

The guest quarters in the Magnaura had their own bath, in the tradition of Roman baths. The twenty-firsters had added soap made in France.


Four hours later, a cleaned and much more pleasant smelling Theodore joined Gabriel and Amelia for dinner. Wilber and Merlin were also in attendance, as were Annabelle, Lakshmi, and Liane. And so, by use of the phones, was Pucorl. And in a corner was a medium-sized cat that had wings, and its fore-claws were the talons of a bird.

The discussion was lively and far ranging. And while at first uncomfortable with women at the table joining in the talk, especially women whose heads were uncovered, Theodore gradually relaxed enough to share his insights into the political situation in Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire in general. Over the course of the evening, several comments suggested that he regretted the fall of the republic. That kings and empire were a retreat to an earlier, less civilized, time. He also insisted that Constantinople and the eastern empire had not fallen so far as Rome and the western empire.

“In terms of military power, it has,” Wilber pointed out in flawless Greek.

“But the power of armies is not the only, or even the best, measure of a nation. We study philosophy and the arts, reason and oratory.”

“Sure. And that’s good, but who studies these things? Do the children of cobblers? Or is it only the children of the titled who have that opportunity?”

“What use would the child of a cobbler have for philosophy? It will not help him with his awls.”

“You would be surprised,” Annabelle said as she forked a bit of sautéed black sea bass in mustard sauce. “My grandfather wasn’t a cobbler. He was a roustabout.” She held up the fork now empty of bass, chewed, swallowed, and continued. “Roustabout is a job you don’t have. Unskilled labor on an oil rig. Hard, dangerous work which pays okay because of the danger. But he went to school. He could read and write, do math, and had a good basic understanding of physics and mechanics. That paid for my mother’s education. So I was born into wealth and status and went to schools as good or better than any you have. But a lot of what I know comes from Grandpa’s experience. Given the opportunity, people will often surprise you in what they can accomplish.”

Theodore considered the young woman. He knew from Gabriel’s book that Annabelle Cooper-Smith was the magistros of the “body” of the demon Pucorl. And finally having seen Pucorl and the computers, he realized that the skills and knowledge involved in making and maintaining such devices was real and not the skills of a dressmaker or cobbler. Theodore was a scholar and member of the religious bureaucracy of Constantinople. He had spent his life learning and teaching. He had correspondents around the world, and for at least the last twenty years had been among the best in his fields of study.

It was a severe shock to realize that these children knew more of astronomy than he did. They, some of them, understood the math that held the moon in place and guided the planets around the sun. And it was the sun, not the Earth, that the planets moved around. He had seen an image of the Earth from the moon.

Theodore did not like being the ignorant one. Not even a little bit. He needed to get access to one of their computers so that he could study.