The Shadow of Ararat

The Shadow of Ararat by Thomas Harlan

Book: The Shadow of Ararat by Thomas Harlan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Thomas Harlan
brother's voice.
    "This can end, my brother. The Empire can know peace again, free from fear of barbarian invasion, even of civil war." In the darkness, Galen's voice assumed the cadence of an orator, though it remained low and direct. "After hundreds of years of strife, the West is at peace. Beyond the Rhenus the Franks and Germans are quiet. They have at last attained some semblance of civilization. They live in towns, welcome merchants, till the soil and build homes of stone and wood. To the west there is only endless ocean, to the south only vast deserts. Only in the east do enemies remain."
    Maxian, sitting quietly in the darkness, stirred. "The barbarians we saw today, in the vision?"
    Galen laughed. "No, the Avars and their subject tribes are an annoyance, not a threat. They have overrun most of Thrace and Moesia, but they will not hold that land long. The true enemy, my brothers, waits in the true East, in Persia. Even today, though we saw it not in the vision, one Persian army is encamped on the eastern shore of the Propontis, viewing the ancient walls of Constantinople with avaricious eyes. Another is gathering in northern Syria, preparing to strike at Egypt. By good luck, my brother Emperor is still in possession of a strong fleet, and the Persians have none. So they are held at bay—for now."
    Maxian spoke. "Then by use of this device, you will coordinate the relief of the city with Heraclius? Some thousands of men could be sent, I suppose, upon our fleet to reinforce the city and convince the barbarians to abandon the siege."
    "In a way," Galen answered, his voice smiling, "we will convince them to abandon the siege. But, still, the real enemy is not the horse-riders but Persia. It is Persia that we must defeat to attain a true peace for the Empire. Peace for both the East and the West. Your plan is fair, my brother, but far too limited in scope. Heraclius and I, through our letters, have struck upon a permanent solution."
    It was quiet in the circle of the temple, though now the moon had settled below the great oak and yew trees. A silver light filled the temple and Maxian could see both of his brothers. The healer suddenly felt cold and there was a sensation much like that which had pervaded the boathouse in Ostia. With slightly trembling fingers he drew his own cape closer and wished for a heavier wrap. The wind died down.
    "My brother Emperor proposes, and I agree, that Rome and Constantinople—both Empires—must invade Persia itself and destroy it. Once this is done, there shall be no treaty, no border agreements, no tribute. Persia will be a province of the Empire and will serve us forever. Then there shall be peace."
    Maxian coughed, his throat constricted by an unreasoning fear. He spoke, though—unaccountably—it was a struggle to force the words from his lips. "Brother, this is... an unwise plan. The West is only beginning to recover from the plagues and the last civil war. Our realm is at peace, true, but the people are still recovering, the army is still rebuilding. An effort to raise the siege of the city of Constantine, yes, I agree it must be done. But to invade Persia itself? That would be mad..."
    He stopped, coughing. A sense of great pressure surrounded him, more than could be accounted for by the angry look on his brother's face. Maxian held up a hand for a moment, all his attention focused inward. His mind was flooded with confusion and unsettling images, but he managed to calm his conscious thought with the Meditation of Asklepius. Once he began its well-remembered lines the confusion faded and the pressure eased. It did not depart, but now he could feel its boundaries and strength.
    With an effort of will, he spoke again: "Persia is vast and its armies uncountable. It has been at peace for decades. Chrosoes is a strong king, ably served by his generals. It is wealthy even by the standards of Rome. To assail it, you would need tens or hundreds of thousands of men. The cities of the West

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