The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 38

Bertrand wanted to keep pushing. Partly because it was the right strategic move. But politics were involved too. His king, Charles V of France, wanted the Christian powers to push the Turks back across the Bosporus. So did Pope Gregory. And because of the phones in Paris, they could tell him so. The pope was in Avignon again, but Avignon wasn’t Rome. It was only a few days away for a fast rider. And besides, the pope had a crystal set enchanted by a cherub in Avignon.

The effect of these things was to allow the royalty, secular and ecclesiastical, of Western Europe to stick their oars into the management of Eastern Europe, completely bypassing Venice, Rome, and Genoa — which wasn’t calculated to make them happy. The phone in Vienna was a major coup for Austria because it put them in the same club.

“If we are to have any hope of continuing this campaign,” Helena Kantakouzene, John V’s wife, said before Bertrand could get his mouth open, “we must have more money.”

“I understand, Majesty. However, I can’t provide it. And if you are to generate more revenue, you must recapture at least some of the territory that you lost to Murad and to the Bulgarians,” Bertrand pointed out. “And if you are to defend what you have, we must recapture and fortify Gallipoli and control the Sea of Marmara.”

It was a long afternoon. Phones were brought out, phone calls were made to Paris and Vienna. Money was promised, and an embassy arranged from France to Venice, in an attempt to get Venice to return the crown jewels without giving them the island of Tenedos.

At the moment the Turks controlled the Sea of Marmara, to the extent anyone did. The introduction of cannon or rockets and the ships to carry them would change that. But that wasn’t going to happen fast, and in the meantime the Turks needed to be distracted.

Bertrand’s plan for that was straightforward. Take back the Byzantine Empire north of the Sea of Marmara. To do that he would need Roger, the janissaries captured from Murad I converted into a standing army paid for out of the royal purse, and the ability to recruit more. An army that was loyal to Byzantine, not its paymaster or the noble who called them up from his lands. They could use the janissaries as a core because all of the janissary cavalry had been with Murad I at Tzouroulos.

Location: Prisoner Camp, Outside Tzouroulos

Time: 8:30 AM, November 24, 1372

Wilber walked along the camp street outside Tzouroulos. He heard a meow and turned in time to catch Leona, who landed on his shoulder. Four kilograms of gryphon landing on your shoulder is something you need to be braced for.

“You can walk,” Wilber complained in Gryphon. Gryphon, it turned out, had aspects of cat and crow but was neither. At least Leona’s Gryphon. Wilber imagined a lion-eagle gryphon would have a different dialect.

“Indeed I can,” Leona said in gryphon-accented Greek. “But that’s what humans are for. To carry us, pet us and, most of all, feed us.”

“Why don’t you go visit Roger?”

“Roger doesn’t speak Gryphon.”

“Well, you’re heavy,” Wilber said. “So you can walk or fly.”

Suddenly the weight on his shoulder lessened. He turned this head to find himself facing a sharply pointed cat face that was translucent. “How did you do that?”

“I’m not sure,” Leona said. She became heavy again, then light, and as she did her transparency varied in sync. The lighter, the more transparent. Now, on the edge of invisible, she looked around. “There’s a djinn over there.” She pointed with her nose.

Wilber couldn’t see anything, but he was experienced enough to make a good guess at what was going on. A big part of a will-o’-the-wisp’s power was its ability to appear and disappear, and the way it did that was to slip back and forth from the natural world to the netherworld at will. It didn’t need a rip in the veils to slip through, and it could exist in both the netherworld and the natural world at once.

Wilber decided to try something. His voice, like his hearing, was magically enhanced by the little bit of Merlin left in his cochlear implant. He was now, at least in small part, a magical being. What the limits on that were, he didn’t know. Pitching his voice to pass into the netherworld, he spoke Djinn. “Hello. What are you doing here?”

He didn’t see anything, but suddenly Leona was off his shoulder, and she disappeared.