The Walls of Byzantium

The Walls of Byzantium by James Heneage Page A

Book: The Walls of Byzantium by James Heneage Read Free Book Online
Authors: James Heneage
Tags: Fiction, Historical
perhaps the monks of St Sophia drank too much of their altar wine and couldn’t spell Geraki? Tell me, Nikolaos, which part of the contract does the Archon not understand?’
    ‘I don’t know, Majesty. He’s always too busy to see me,’ said the man wretchedly.
    ‘Too busy? Too busy to see the appointed representative of the Despot?’ yelled Theodore, his face purple with rage.
    Simon Laskaris stepped forward. ‘Majesty—’ he began, but the Despot rounded on him.
    ‘Don’t, for once in your life, Simon, tell me to be reasonable! I’m sick of being reasonable! I’ve been reasonable for three months, written letter after letter and nothing has happened! Reasonable does not work!’ Theodore stopped suddenly and eyed Eudaemis malevolently. ‘Is he bribing you as well?’ he asked, his voice more even.
    ‘Majesty!’ cried the Kephale in shock.
    ‘Well, it wouldn’t surprise me. He seems to bribe everyone else,’ said the Despot moodily.
    Simon Laskaris coughed, judging this change in tone to be a good time to intervene. ‘Sire,’ he said, ‘why don’t we allow Nikolaos to go and rest after his long ride and we can talk to him later when we’ve had more time to consider things. You’d like a rest wouldn’t you, Nikolaos?’
    The Kephale looked at him with gratitude. He glanced at his sovereign, who was still watching him darkly. Then Theodore nodded. Eudaemis bowed his way backwards from the room, leaving the Despot alone with his Protostrator.
    ‘He’s taking bribes, isn’t he?’ said Theodore, looking at the door through which the Kephale had left.
    ‘Oh yes, lord,’ said Simon Laskaris cheerfully. ‘Do you imagine he could afford that Goulas mansion on the salary we give him?’
    Theodore groaned. ‘Whom can I trust beyond you, Simon?’ He took his old friend by his arms. ‘I’m sorry for shouting at you.’
    ‘It’s nothing, lord.’ The Protostrator smiled. ‘And there areplenty of people you can trust. Alexis, for one. He’s outside waiting to give his report to you.’
    ‘Good, good,’ said the Despot, tiredly. He went over to the table and poured three goblets of wine. ‘Show him in.’
    Alexis had been sent by his father to Monemvasia a week previously to check on reports that the fleet had yet to set sail to the support of Constantinople. He had travelled alone and incognito. Now he was walking through the door, his clothes and face grimed with the dust of a long ride.
    ‘Alexis!’ beamed the Despot, all signs of tiredness vanished. He walked over to embrace his godson and thrust the goblet into his hand. ‘How were the roads?’
    ‘Free of bandits, my lord. The country seems at peace since the Turkish raid, and the people are happy.’
    ‘That’s good, that’s good. And much praise must go to you and your men for keeping it so.’
    Alexis bowed and turned to his father. ‘I’m afraid I heard no word of Anna, Father. They say she keeps to the palace and barely takes a step outside.’
    Laskaris shook his head. It was unlike his daughter not to be curious about her new home. And what of the many letters he’d sent her, none of which she’d answered?
    Theodore glanced at his friend. ‘I dare say she’s busy coming to terms with her new life, Simon. It must all be very strange to her.’
    Simon was not convinced. He walked over to the table where the papers were laid out. ‘Lord, we have here a list of the Empire’s warships that have been resupplying in the deep-water ports around Monemvasia. Now, Alexis, are you able to tell us how many have left for Constantinople?’
    ‘None, Father.’
    ‘ None ?’ exclaimed the Despot. ‘But only last week we were told that eight were ready to sail!’
    ‘I know, lord,’ said Alexis. ‘But the Archon has ordered further repairs to them so they are to stay at the docks.’
    ‘He can’t do that!’ Theodore’s voice was beginning to rise again. ‘He knows how badly they’re needed at Constantinople!’
    ‘Alas, he

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