The Lost Regiment series and all related characters belong to William R Forstchen and Roc Publishing; the Videssos cycle to Harry Turtledove and Baen publishing. There I said it. Bad enough I have to make this stupid disclaimer every chapter I update.
Two days after the audience with Mavrikios, miners from Company A were sent to an iron mine over a day outside of the city, with a letter authorizing them stamped with the imperial seal, to show what they could do, with the agreement that the regiment could keep one part in ten of the mine's yield as payment.
Within a couple weeks the results had been enough for the Emperor to agree to let the Yankees proceed with their planned operation, based at a stream not far from Imbros that actually let out into the Videssian Sea where they could build a wharf for the Ogunquit. Houston soon sent word that there was a good site for a dam, and arranged for labor with Vourtzes in Imbros to help build it. Keane arranged for a rotation between companies to help out with the building of the dam, powder mill, and iron works that would be run by Sean Dunlevy, the 44th's blacksmith.
Almost as soon as they began work a whole new village seemed to spring up nearby as various merchants and traders set up shop to trade with the Yankees. Though there had been orders against any trade involving powder, bullets, even the percussion caps for the muskets since their winter at Imbros, Andrew found himself forced to make them even stricter once they arrived in Videssos itself, and now in this new campsite.
The issue of powder had really worried him, since one merchant had appeared one night, offering significant sums in gold for nothing but a single cartridge. Fortunately he had approached Sergeant Barry, who had spurned the offer and reported the incident. Knowing that the mystery of powder was important to their survival, he had paraded the entire regiment immediately and placed down a law that any man caught in such a trade would receive six months punishment duty for such an action.
Fortunately the men had taken the warning to heart, knowing it was in their best interest. But as an additional precaution all men were to turn in their loose rounds and were issued two ten-round sealed packages for immediate use, which were to be checked daily by their company officers.
He had been alarmed about the possible consequences of another form of trade as well, especially after seeing a woman sauntering around wearing an infantryman's kepi hat.
Emil had dragged the entire regiment out on parade that night and given them a bone-chilling lecture about what might be caught, spiced with dire warnings about the ultimate effects. He had been in a boil about that and disease in general. Nothing had happened yet, and he could only hope that Emil's precautions would spare them.
In the free time Andrew granted after a day of labor on the myriad tasks needed to settle in, the men started to show their creative skills. Nearly every day a delegation of men came to him looking for his approval for a project.
One such project, inspired by Tzimiskes' reaction to gin and the weeks spent drinking nothing but wine, ale and mead, had been the manufacture of distilled alcohol. Due to the preponderance of wine in Videssos, James from the 44th had decided to use his knowledge to make brandy. His project received wide approval from the men of the regiment.
James had bought a copper kettle easily enough in Videssos' coppersmiths' district, but copper tubing had proven somewhat harder. After some experimentation with the assistance of some other men in the regiment, James had finally had his still. The first run, while not the best brandy, was celebrated with by several men of the 44th, as well as Andrew, O'Donald and Emil.
James soon came to Andrew to ask for permission to start selling brandy to the Videssians. Andrew had thought that over, and then stated that if any profits were made selling goods to the locals, half would go to the company that sold it, while the rest went to the regimental coffers.
James had readily agreed and after further runs, he began selling bottles of brandy at his own merchant's stand in the forum of Palamas. After some initial hesitation the drink had taken off and several taverns throughout the city had become regular customers. Before long, James was able to expand his business by building more stills.
To Andrew's delight, Jacobsen and Gates, both from Company C, had also come to him. Jacobsen pointed out that he knew how to make paper, while Gates suggested he might be able to carve out a set of type and thus start a newspaper. Andrew readily gave both of them permission to try their hand at it and exempted them from all duties except the daily drill.
Jacobsen's paper making came along well enough, but Gates was hampered by his limited knowledge of written Videssian which the newspaper would have to be published in. With the help of one of the wandering scribes from the forum of Palamas, Gates was able to carve a set of Videssian type.
There were numerous other scribes in Videssos that Andrew soon realized might become hostile if Gates' printing business was successful. Gates disarmed any ill-feeling by the curious expedient of enlisting them as reporters. He made a standing offer of a couple silvers per story for acceptable news items.
It wasn't the scribes, however, that ended up making the better reporters. Hawthorne's Videssian friend Phostis Apokavkos, who had become well-known through frequent visits to the regiment's barracks, used the street connections he'd made in the city to come up with some quality stories himself. He and Vincent were now both studying written Videssian together so that Apokavkos could write his own stories as well as discovering them.
The first edition of Gates' weekly newspaper, the Videssos Herald, was published with a lot of relatively innocuous news items, a short poem contributed by one of the scribes, an editorial by Gates in which he introduced his paper, and an advertisement for James' brandy.
Andrew was surprised when not only did the first issue sell out, but Gates was busy for days turning away people who wanted copies that were not to be had. While literacy was far from universal in Videssos nearly everyone in the city knew somebody who could read, and would eagerly buy the newspaper so their literate friend could read it to them.
A few scribes, as well as Apokavkos, would drop in every day with more news items. Gates also ended up making a brisk business selling advertisement space for various merchants and shop owners.
Before long the expansion of James and Gates' businesses, as well as other projects the men kept dreaming up, required more space, and Andrew requested an audience with the Emperor to ask for the use of two other nearby barracks halls. Mavrikios instead expressed his own curiosity regarding the booming businesses of the inventive Yankees and was granted a tour.
"Regiment, present arms!"
As one the men of the 35th snapped muskets to the present position, the dark blue of the state flag snapping in the wind and dipping in salute, while the national colors stayed upright.
Marching into position, Andrew positioned himself in the middle of the hall's door and saluted.
Preceded by twelve silk parasol-carriers, Mavrikios Gavras approached the Yankees drawn up in salute. Rhadenos Vourtzes had been proud of the two sunshades to which his provincial governor's rank entitled him; the imperial retinue was more splendid by six-fold.
There was a long flourish, and the regiment broke into an old favorite, a slightly obscene version of "Dixie" that made Andrew wince. Of course, Mavrikios and his companions wouldn't know the words, but it was something he'd give Hans a chewing-out for later.
Gavras, Andrew saw, had shrouded himself in the imperial dignity for this public occasion. When he drew closer, however, he said, "You've been busy."
Andrew supressed a smile. "Yes, Your Majesty. Would you like to look around?"
Mavrikios smiled himself and replied, "Yes I would. I've tried that 'brandy' drink your man has been selling. Phos, does it have a kick to it."
Andrew smiled back and, following Mavrikios, walked into the barracks hall.
In the space set aside for James' business, Gavras was fascinated by the stills. "Now that's interesting. Are you sure there isn't sorcery involved in those things?"
"No magic is involved at all." Andrew replied.
Andrew turned to see Hawthorne standing there.
"What is it, son?"
Hawthorne stepped forward, pulling his knapsack off from his shoulders. Opening it up, he brought out a small wooden clock, carved by hand.
"Sir, I thought with your permission I could give this to Emperor Mavrikios as a token of friendship from myself and the enlisted men."
Andrew could not help but smile at the boy's earnestness.
"Does it keep time well?" Andrew asked.
Smiling, Vincent pulled out a small pendulum, attached it beneath the clock, and set it to ticking.
"There's only an hour hand, sir-it made the gearing a lot simpler. But it'll do."
"Well done, lad," and Andrew patted the young Quaker on the shoulder. Tzimiskes quickly translated the conversation and following Hawthorne's lead explained the workings of the clock.
Opening the back panel, Vincent showed Mavrikios the gears working inside, and the Emperor looked suitably impressed by the newest Yankee curiosity, which he accepted with evident delight.
Mavrikios smiled warmly at Vincent and thanked him personally.
The tour went on to the printing presses and on to the 44th's field pieces. By the end, Mavrikios was shaking his head in amazement.
"You and your men are far more than a mercenary company, that's certain."
Andrew nodded his thanks, then asked, "About those two other halls..."
Mavrikios smiled and looked back at the printing presses. "Get me a copy of this Videssos Herald every time it comes out and you'll get the use of those two extra barracks."
Smiling, Andrew agreed.
While the men of 35th and 44th kept coming up with various projects, the senior officers found themselves frequently invited to the Videssian Academy, to discuss how the regiment had come to Videssos, as well as to learn about the land from which these strangers had come from. Andrew and Emil made most of the visits, both being learned men they were on familiar ground. Andrew also took the opportunity to learn the Empire's history, and found himslef struck by how similar yet vastly different it was with the Byzantine Empire from the history of his own world. The Emperor Genasios seem almost like the Byzantine's Phocas, with his successor Maniakes as Heraclius-although Videssos had been fortunate that there was nothing like the Arab expansion that had crippled the Byzantines. And the Emperor Krispos of several generations later seemed almost a combination of Basil I and the II.
In the weeks that followed Tobias had found a task as well. Looking to add to the regiment's resources, he began using the Ogunquit to start shipping various cargoes between Videssos the city and the Empire's other ports in the Videssian westlands. Andrew felt a sense of relief that the quarrelsome captain was out of his hair for a while.
Also, as the weeks passed, Videssos began filling with warriors mustered to wage the great campaign the Emperor had planned. Every street, it seemed, had its contingent of soldiers swaggering along, elbowing civilians to one side, on the prowl for food, drink, and women...or simply standing and gaping at the wonders Videssos offered the newcomer's eye.
True to his promise, Mavrikios sent his neighbors a call for mercenaries against Yezd, and the response was good. Videssian ships sailing from Prista, the Empire's watchport on the northern coast of the Videssian Sea, brought companies of Khamorth from the plains, and their steppe-ponies with them. By special leave, other bands of nomads were permitted to cross the Astris River. They came south to the capital by land, paralleling the seacoast and, in the latter stage of their journey, following the route the regiment had used from Imbros. Parties of Videssian outriders made sure the plainsmen did not plunder the countryside.
The Namdaleni also heeded the Empire's rallying cry. The Duchy's lean square-riggers brought Videssos two regiments to fight the Yezda. Getting them into the capital, however, was a tricky business. Namdalen and the Empire were foes too recent for much trust to exist on either side. Mavrikios, while glad of the manpower, was not anxious to see Namdalener warships anchored at Videssos' quays, suspecting the islanders' piratical instincts might get the better of their good intentions. Thus the Namdaleni transshipped at the Key and came to the city in imperial hulls. The matter-of-fact way they accepted the Emperor's solution convinced Andrew that all Gavras' forebodings were justified.
Khatrish, whose border marched with Videssos' eastern frontier, sent the Empire a troop of light cavalry. In gear and appearance they were about halfway between imperials and plainsdwellers, whose bloods they shared.
Shortly after their arrival Taso Vones, the Khatrisher ambassador, sent an invitation for Andrew and the regiment to attend a feast he was putting together. Remembering how Vones was at the banquet that had welcomed the regiment's arrival in the city, Keane was sure it would be anything but dull.
Torches, lamps, and fat beeswax candles kept the courtyard in front of the Hall of Ambassadors bright as day, though by now the sun was a couple of hours gone. The Hall, as was only natural, lay close by the Grand Courtroom, so foreign envoys could attend the Emperor at their mutual convenience. Above it flapped, fluttered, or simply hung the emblems of twoscore nations, tribes, factions, and other political entities less easily defined.
The courtyard, most of the time a pleasant open place, was full of splintery benches and tables hastily made by throwing boards over trestles. The benches were full of feasters and the tables piled high with food. Except for an unlucky handful who had drawn sentry duty, all the regiment was there.
Roast pork, beef, mutton, and goat were the main courses, eked out with fowl and the fish and other seafood so easily available in the city. The Videssians present gave everything a liberal dousing with a spicy sauce that some men of the regiment decided to try.
"What is this, anyway?" Fletcher asked one Videssian as he chewed a bite of beef annointed with the stuff.
"You don't know?" the Videssian asked, amazed. "It's garum."
"Garum?" Fletcher frowned. "What goes into it?"
"It's made from fish. They make it by salting down fish innards in pots open to the air. When the fish are fully ripe, a liquid forms above them, which is then drawn off and bottled."
Fletcher immediately looked a bit green, and quickly gulped down some wine. Then he shoved his plate away, saying, "I don't think I'm hungry any more." By the way other men who had partaken of the garum eyed their plates, they felt much the same way. The Videssians were only too glad keep most of it for themselves.
Wine, ale, and mead flowed like water; brandy was there, but was less common due to scarcity despite James' efforts to up its production. Andrew found he liked thick, dark ale the Videssians brewed. But when he mentioned that to Hemond nearby, it was the islander's turn for surprise. "This bilgewater?" he exclaimed. "You should come to the Duchy, my friend, where you drink your ale with a fork."
Nearby sat the envoy from far northwestern Shaumkhiil; the Arshaum had given his name as Arigh, son of Arghun. The night was mild, but he wore a wolfskin jacket and a hat of red fox. His hard, lean frame and the lithe, controlled intensity of his movements reminded Keane of a hawk. Until now he had been too busy with heroic eating to say much, but the talk of drink gained his interest.
"Ale, mead, wine-what difference does it make?" he said. He spoke Videssian fairly well, with a clipped, quick accent in perfect accord with the way he carried himself. "Kavass, now, is a man's drink, made from his horses' milk and with a kick as strong."
The stuff sounded horrible, Andrew thought. He also noticed that Arigh's derisive comment about the drinks before him was not keeping him from downing quite a lot of them. That was especially true whenever a bottle of brandy made it within his reach.
At the rate food was vanishing, it was no easy task to keep the tables loaded. Almost as if they were a bucket brigade battling a fire, serving girls made never-ending trips from the kitchens with full platters and pitchers and back to them with empties. Here and there, pats and pinches brought as many laughs as squeaks of outrage.
More and more drink was fetched as time went by, and less and less food. Never sedate to begin with, the feast grew increasingly boisterous. Most of the Khatrishers that had arrived with the troop of cavalry seemed to have the outspoken cheeriness of Taso Vones. Soldiers from Videssos and its neighbors, as well as the men of the regiment, learned each other's curses, tried to sing each other's songs, and clumsily essayed the other's dances. A couple of fights broke out, but they were instantly quelled by the squabblers' neighbors-good feelings ran too high tonight to give way to quarrels.
Eventually most of the tables and benches disappeared. Eager Namdaleni put in their place circles chalked on the ground for dice-throwing, wheels of fortune, boards for tossing darts, others for hurling knives, a wide cleared space with a metal basin set in the center for throwing the dregs from winecups, and other games of skill or chance that Andrew didn't immediately recognize. In a few spots were men from the regiment who had had decks of cards with them when they set out from City Point, and were showing enthusiastic audiences how to play poker.
Andrew rummaged in his own pocket to see what money he had. It was about as he had thought-some bronze pieces of irregular size and weight, some rather better silver, and half a dozen goldpieces, each about the size of his thumbnail. The older, more worn coins were fine gold, but the newer ones were made pale by an admixture of silver or blushed red with copper. With its revenues falling, the government had resorted to cheapening the currency. All its gold coinage, of whatever age, was nominally of equal value, but in the markets and shops the old pieces took a man further.
He had learned Videssian rules at dice during the long winter at Imbros. They used two dice, and a pair of ones-"Phos' little suns," they called them-was the local goal. You kept the dice until you threw their opposite-"the demons," a double six-in which case you lost. There were side bets on which you would roll first, how many throws you would keep the dice, and anything else an ingenious gambler could find to bet on.
The first time the dice came his way, Andrew threw the suns three times before the demons turned up to send the little bone cubes on to the Khatrisher at his left. That gave him a bigger stake to play with, one he promptly lost in his next turn with the bones-on his very first cast, twin sixes stared balefully up at him.
His luck was mixed; he would win a little before dropping it again, get behind and make it up. His area of attention shrank to the chalked circle befor him-the money in it, the dice spinning through, the men's hands reaching in to pick up the cubes, gather in the winnings, or lay new bets.
Then, suddenly, the hand that took the dice was not masculine at all, but a smooth, slim-wristed lady's hand with painted nails and an emerald ring on the forefinger. Startled, Andrew looked up to see Komitta Rhangavve, with Thorisin Gavras beside her. The Sevastokrator wore ordinary trousers and tunic and could have been in the game an hour ago, for all Keane had noticed.
Komitta slightly misinterpreted his surprise. Smiling prettily at him, she said, "I know it's against custom, but I so love to play myself. Do you mind?" Her tone warned that he had better not.
That he really didn't care made it easier. "Of course not," he replied.
She won twice in quick succession, letting her stake ride each time. When her third series of rolls ended by wiping her out, she angrily hurled the dice away and cursed with unladylike fluency. The gamblers snickered, while Andrew had to stop himself from gaping. Someone found a new pair of dice and from that moment she was an accepted member of the circle.
With his landed wealth, Thorisin could easily have run the other dicers from the game by betting more than they could afford to cover. Remembering his hundred goldpiece bet with Vardanes Sphrantzes, Andrew knew the Sevastokrator wasn't averse to playing for high stakes. But, matched against men of limited means, he was content to risk now a goldpiece, now two, or sometimes a handful of silver. He took his wins and losses as seriously as if he were playing for provinces-whatever he did, he liked to do well. He was a canny gambler, too; before long, a good-sized pile of gold and silver lay before him.
"Did you get that at swordpoint, or are they losing on purpose to curry favor with you?" someone asked the Sevastokrator, and Andrew was amazed to see Mavrikios Gavras standing over his brother. The Emperor was no more regally dressed than the Sevastokrator and attended only by a pair of Haloga bodyguards.
"You don't know skill when you see it," Thorisin retorted. "Hah!" He raked in another stake as the Namdalener across from him rolled the demons.
"Move over and let your elder show you how it's done. I've been listening to accountants since this morning and I've had a gutful of, 'I'm most sorry, your Imperial Majesty, but I cannot advise that at the present time.' Bah! Sometimes I think court ceremonial is a slow poison the bureaucrats invented to bore usurpers to death so they can sneak back into power themselves." He grinned at Andrew. "My daughter insists it's otherwise, but I don't believe her anymore." With a murmured, "Thank you, sweetheart," he took a cup from a passing girl. The lass whirled in surprise as she realized whom she'd served.
The Gavrai, naturally, were on opposite sides of every bet. As he'd been doing most of the evening, Thorisin won several times in a row after his brother sat down. "Go back to your pen-pushers and leave dicing to people who understand it," he said. "You'll get a fart from a dead man before you collect a copper from me."
Mavrikios snorted. "Even a blind hog stumbles across an acorn now and then. There we go!" he exclaimed. Andrew had just thrown suns, and Thorisin had bet against him. The Emperor turned to his brother, palm out. With a shrug, Thorisin passed the stake to him.
Andrew soon decided these were two men who shouldn't gamble against each other. Both were such intense competitors that they took losing personally, and the good humor in their banter quickly disappeared. They were tight-lipped with concentration on the dice; their bets against each other were far greater than any others round the circle. Thorisin's earlier winnings vanished. When Mavrikios rolled the suns yet another time, his brother had to reach into his pouch to pay.
Mavrikios stared at the coins he produced. "What's this?" he said, flinging half of them to the ground. "You'd pay me with money from Yezd?"
Thorisin shrugged once more. "They look like gold to me, and finer than what we mint these days, for that matter." He scooped them up and tossed them far into the crowd. Glad cries said they weren't lost for long. Seeing his brother's expression, Thorisin said, "If it won't pay my scot, what good is money to me?" Mavrikios slowly turned a dull red.
Everyone who saw or heard the exchange between the two brothers did his best to pretend he had not. Nevertheless, the camaraderie the dicing circle had enjoyed was shattered, and Andrew wasn't sorry to see the game break up a few minutes later. It could only be bad when the Emperor's brother showed him up in public, and he knew the story would only grow in the telling.
Climbing a stairway in the great building that housed the Grand Courtroom-the opposite side of the building from Nephon Khoumnos' workplace-Andrew wondered how much the story had grown in the past few days. Ahead of him on the stair was the thin clerk who had brought Keane the invitation to this meeting, and ahead of him was a destination to which Andrew had never thought to be bidden-the offices of Vardanes Sphrantzes.
"This way, if you please," the clerk said, turning to his left as he reached the top of the stairs. He led Andrew past a series of large rooms, through whose open doors Keane could see whole companies of men busy with stylus and waxed tablet, pen, ink, and paper-the last made him smile-and abacuses with which skilled Videssians could calculate incredibly fast. Watching the bureaucrats at work in this nerve center of Empire, Andrew couldn't deny that power dwelt here.
A pair of stocky nomads from the plains of Pardraya stood sentry at the door the clerk was approaching. Their faces, blank with boredom before, turned alert when they spied him, and smiles broke out when they recognized the Yankee behind him.
"That brandy drink is good," one of them said to Andrew.
"Stand aside, will you?" the clerk snapped. "You'll win no thanks for interfering in the Sevastos' business."
The Khamorth gave way. Andrew nodded to them as he stepped past, and the plainsmen grinned back.
Keane readied himself as he walked into Sphrantzes' office. When the functionary who led him announced his name, he nodded to him respectfully enough. No reason to make things worse than they could be on purpose, he thought.
"Come in, come in, you are most welcome," the Sevastos said. As always, his smooth, deep voice revealed nothing but what he wanted in it; at the moment, a cultured affability.
Before Andrew could fully focus his suspicions on Sphrantzes, the office's other occupant, a gangling, scraggly-bearded fellow in his early twenties, bounced up from his seat to shake his hand. "A pleasure to meet you, truly a pleasure!" he exclaimed, adding, "I've heard so much of your men and their weapons. I am eager to see how you wage crimson-handed war. I am certain the ground will be a thirsty sponge to drink the enemy's blood!"
"Er-yes," Keane muttered, at a loss to reconcile this unwarlike-seeming youth with his gore-filled talk.
Vardanes Sphrantzes coughed drily. "One of the reasons I asked you here, my outland friend, was to present you to my nephew, the spatharios Ortaias Sphrantzes. Since your arrival, he's done nothing but pester me to arrange the meeting."
While spatharios had the literal meaning of "sword-bearer," it was a catch-all title, often with little more real meaning than "aide." In young Ortaias' case, that seemed just as well; he looked as if the effort of toting a sword would be too much for him.
He was, though, nothing if not an enthusiast. "I watched you practices with you rifles and cannons," he said, pronouncing the foreign words carefully. "In his Art of Generalship Mindes Kalokyres recommends footsoldiers for rough terrain and strongly implies only cavalry is proper on level ground. It's a great pity he is a century in his grave; I should have liked to hear his comments on how your weapons affect matters."
"That would be interesting, I'm sure," Andrew agreed politely, wondering how much of Ortaias' speech he was understanding. The young noble spoke very quickly; this, coupled with his affected accent and his evident love for long words, made following his meaning a trial for someone with Keane's imperfect grasp of Videssian.
"Kalokyres is our greatest commentator on things military," Ortaias' uncle explained courteously. "Do sit down, both of you," he urged. "Keane, take some brandy if you will. I must admit, your man James had made quite a name for himself with this extraordinary drink."
As he sipped politely, Andrew eyed the Sevastos carefully as he drank with him. The obvious effort Sphrantzes was making to put him at his ease only made him wonder further what the real object of the meeting might be.
Whatever it was, the Sevastos was in no hurry to get around to it. He spoke with charm and with bits of gossip that had crossed his path in the past few days and did not spare his fellow bureaucrats. "There are those," he remarked, "who think the mark for a thing in a ledger is the thing itself." Raising his cup to his lips, he went on, "It takes but a taste to see how foolish they are."
Andrew reluctantly agreed, but noted how possessively Sphrantzes' hand curled over the polished surface of the cup.
The Sevastos' office was more richly furnished than Mavrikios Gavras' private chambers, with wall hangings of silk brocade shot through with gold and silver threads and upholstered couches and chairs whose ebony arms were inlaid with ivory and semiprecious stones. Yet the dominant impression was not one of sybaritic decadence, but rather of a man who truly loved his comforts without being ruled by them.
On earth Andrew knew of the popular hobby in Britain of ornate aquaria in cast-iron frames that started after the Great Exhibition back in '51. The decoration on Sphrantzes' desk was of similar kind-a globular tank of clear glass with several small, brightly colored fish darting through waterplants rooted in gravel. In a strange way, it was soothing to watch. Keane's eyes kept coming back to it, and Sphrantzes gazed fondly at his little pets in their transparent enclosure.
He saw Andew looking at them. "One of my servants has the duty of catching enough gnats, flies, and suchlike creatures to keep them alive. He's certain I've lost my wits, but I pay him enough that he doesn't say so."
By this time Keane had decided Sphrantzes' summons masked nothing more sinister than a social call. He was beginning to muster excuses for leaving when the Sevastos remarked, "There are a good many innovations your men seem to have brought with you."
"Indeed yes! Most astonishing!" Ortaias said enthusiastically. "The destructive power of your weapons is legendary. When linked to the specialized infantry skills you Yankees possess-"
His uncle, apparently knowing how his nephew could go on, cleared his throat.
"Your pardon," Ortaias said, flushing. Thrown off his stride, he finished with the simplest sentence Keane had heard from him. "You'll fight really well for us!"
"I hope so," Andrew replied. Interested by Vardanes' mention of his mens' projects, he decided to stay a bit longer. Maybe the Sevastos would be forthcoming after all.
"My nephew is right," the elder Sphrantzes said. "Your weapons and, indeed, all the other innovations your men have introduced are quite intriguing. It is my hope that you and your men will serve us well. There is too much strife within our army, too much talk of native troops as opposed to mercenaries. Every soldier is a mercenary, but with some, paymaster and king are one and the same."
Andrew remained expressionless and didn't reply. The Sevastos' last statement, as far as he was concerned, was nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that. Nor did he think Sphrantzes believed it any more than he did-whatever else he was, Vardanes Sphrantzes was no fool.
He also wondered how Vardanes was using his "we" and "us." Did he speak as head of the bureaucratic faction, as Sevastos of all the Empire, or with the royal first person plural? He wondered if Sphrantzes knew himself.
"It's regrettable but true," the Sevastos was saying, "that foreign-born troops do not have the fairest name in the Empire. One reason is that they've so often had to be used against rebels from the back of beyond, men who, even on the throne, find no more dignity than they did in the hayseed robbers' nests from which they sprung." For the first time, his disdain rang clear.
"They have no breeding!" Ortaias Sphrantzes was saying. "None! Why, Mavrikios Gavras' great-grandfather was a goatherd, while we Sphrantzai-" The cold stare Vardanes sent his way stopped him in confusion.
"Forgive my nephew once more, I beg you," the Sevastos said smoothly. "He speaks with youth's usual exaggeration. His Imperial Majesty's family has been of noble rank for nearly two centuries." But by the irony still in his voice, he didn't find that long at all.
The conversation drifted back toward triviality, this time for good. A curiously indecisive meeting, Andrew thought on his way back to the barracks. He had expected the Sevastos to show more of his mind but, on reflection, there was no reason why he should do so to a man he felt to be of the opposite side. Then too, with one slip of the tongue his nephew probably had revealed a good deal more than the senior Sphrantzes wanted known.
Two other things occurred to Keane. The first was that Taso Vones was a lucky acquaintance. The little Khatrisher had an uncanny knowledge of the various affairs in the capital and was willing to share them. The second was a conclusion he reached while wondering why he distrusted Vardanes Sphrantzes so much. It was utterly in character, he decided, for the Sevastos to delight in keeping small, helpless creatures in a transparent cage.
Awakening in the hour before dawn, Andrew stretched sore muscles as he stepped out of the cabin he was using.
It had been four months since the regiment had arrived in Videssos the city and been enrolled in the ranks of the Imperial Guards. Was his war still going on back home, or was it over by now, and Lincoln working instead on binding up the wounds of a nation?
Funny, he realized, he was thinking less and less of home in these last two months. They'd been remarkably peaceful, and with that peace the men had turned to their various projects with a will.
In this quiet time, which Andrew had come to love so much, he walked among the newly constructed buildings listening and thinking. The regiment was as happy as could be expected. The young single men had seemed to adjust the easiest. Two had already asked for the right to marry, and he now found himself in the uncomfortable role of being something of a father, telling them to wait and let the courtship develop a little longer.
Among the hundred and fifty or so men who were married, some with children back home, it had been far worse. A day did not go by when a grim-faced soldier did not come to him asking if there was any hope of seeing Maine again. He had kept up the lie, offering assurances which he doubted would be true, hoping only that in time they would come to accept whatever strange fate it was that had cast them here.
Despite Emil's warnings, several of the men did go to whorehouses in the city or solicited with the prostitutes who frequented around Fort Lincoln, the name they gave their new camp. More than once Andrew had seen a handful of the married men in such company. He could not find it in his heart to condemn them, realizing they were trying to kill their pain.
There'd been three suicides, all of them married men, despondent over their fate. Ten others were now sitting quietly throughout the day, talking softly to themselves, or to imagined loved ones. Kathleen treated them with loving care, hoping to lure them back, but in his heart Andrew knew there was little hope; they had found a gentle world in their thoughts and would most likely dwell there for the rest of their lives. Other such men found the will to go on, one even telling the colonel, "My wife would want me to go on, sir. That's what keeps me going. It's hard but we have to face our situation and make the best we can of it."
He pushed the thoughts aside as reveille echoed in the morning air. From the cabins curses and groans cut through the early morning, and Andrew smiled at the familiar sounds. He'd always found those who could not wake up easily to be a source of amusement, realizing that to such men, a man who could awake instantly, feeling refreshed, was somehow unnatural.
The camp came alive with morning routines, which he watched and participated in with quiet satisfaction. With breakfast soon out of the way, the various Videssians and Yankees set off to their appointed tasks. New projects had sprung up almost overnight. Company B was up in the northern Videssian province of Kubrat by the Astris helping an established quarry increase it's limestone production, while H Company was nearly finished with building its first raft for the ferry service to support the operation.
Roused from his thoughts, Andrew looked up to see Captain Mina of E Company standing before him expectantly. He looked especially dapper this morning, his dark thin mustache freshly waxed, his uniform neatly pressed.
"Well then, John, let's go see what you've got."
Together the two strolled out of the camp constructed for the project's workers, and to what was called the Mill Stream Road and started up the hill. Andrew found it amazing how far back the forest was retreating because of the unending harvest of wood. Rounding the first bend in the road they came past a pile of fresh-cut boards, still oozing resin. A loud continual rasping cut the morning air.
Smiling, Andrew paused for a moment to watch the sawmill in operation. If anything could remind him of Maine it was this. The building had yet to be framed, the rough logs of its skeleton still bare to the weather. There was a good head of water this morning coming down the chute and the ten-foot overshoot wheel turned easily. The driveshaft was a beam engaged directly to the wheel. From there a leather drive belt provided power to a five-foot circular sawblade, on the main floor of the building.
Logs were snaked into the back of the mill, straight out of the pond which was still growing and spreading out in the narrow gorge behind the mill. Andrew watched as a team of men guided a log onto the cutting table, strapped it into place, and started to push it forward. A shower of sawdust suddenly kicked up as the blade bit in with a rasping whine.
"How goes it this morning, Houston?"
The captain turned around beaming, and as usual his excitement over this pet project was unlimited.
"It's a-growing, sir," Tracy said, beckoning for Andrew to come in and have a look around. "We're rigging up a power winch line off the wheel," and leading the way he started down the ladder to the lower floor. The clatter of the wheel and the shrieking of the blade echoed like thunder as Houston pointed about and shouted.
"One of my boys is almost finished cutting the blocks out now. If we had the right tools I'd have it done by now. But Dunlevy says he's too busy on other projects, and we should be happy about getting the blade, and that's that."
Andrew could see Houston wanted his support to shift the blacksmith back under his command, and smiling, he shook his head.
"Dunlevy gave you your blade-now he's under John here for a while," and John smiled with good-natured rivalry at his friend.
"All right. Well, at least I can tell the boys I tried," Tracy said with mock dejection. "Anyhow, we'll rig up a winch here off the main driveshaft, and when we need a new log, we hook the cable on, I push down on this lever here, which engages the gears, and in it comes, saving my boys a lot of sweat. The tough one, which won't be finished for a week yet, is mounting the cutting bed to a sprocket. Once that's in, then the boys won't have to feed the log in by hand. The sprocket will simply push the bed, with the log strapped to it, and a nice even plank will be cut out easy as pie."
"Good work," Andrew said enthusiastically, clapping Houston on the shoulder.
"Now if only I could get all the water I need. You John," and he pointed an accusing finger at Captain Mina. "That dam of yours is taking forever to fill."
"Look, do you want my products on not?" John said quickly. "You need me if you want to expand this second-fiddler operation."
"Second fiddler is it!"
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, please," Andrew said, holding up his hand. "We both need each other here, remember. I want John's operation with full water as quickly as possible-we all need what he can produce. Once that's done, you'll have all the water you need. All right?"
"You heard him, John," Tracy replied. "Once that dam of yours is filled, don't hold back on me. We've all got to use the stream."
"All right, all right, but colonel, sir, my men are waiting for you. Besides, Private Ferguson is just dying to show you his new plans."
Refusing a hand, Andrew made his way back up the ladder and leaving the sawmill continued up the hill. They soon came upon the latest addition to the mill stream's industries. The furnace and attached forge were small, with only a ten-foot wheel for now. But Mina was already talking about expanding it and building a great twenty-foot wheel.
Smoke was billowing out from a brick chimney, and with each turning of the wheel there was a loud rush of sparks as the bellows driven by the waterwheel pumped in a fresh draft of air.
This project had been the most complex, requiring in one way or another the labor of over three hundred to get it ready. Nearly a hundred woodcutters had been busy felling wood for weeks, and following the lead of several charcoal makers from the north country of Maine had soon cooked up hundreds of bushels of charcoal of at least passable quality. Apothecaries and wizards in Videssos both used sulfur and saltpeter in their potion and concoctions. The regiement was able to purchase an ample supply of both for gunpowder production.
Even the powder mill and refinery for fulminate of mercury were up and running. Soon, Mina assured Andrew, they would have enough cartridges and percussion caps to engage in regular target practice without fear of depleting their ammunition stores.
The men of B Company were working as hard as they could to expand the limestone operations further north, cutting limestone with the few tools available, crushing it with hammers to serve as a flux which would draw off the nonmetallic parts of the ore to form a brittle glasslike slag.
Finally there'd been the mining of the ore. A site had been located farther up in the Paristrian Mountains, and thirty more men had labored intensively with Videssian miners to cut the ore into workable chunks and then haul it back down.
Others had worked at building the dam, which now was nearly twelve feet high and would finally rise to twenty-two feet to power the larger wheel already planned to replace the temporary ten-foot one now in place.
Still others had helped to fashion the bellows from two whole cowhides, and the huge earthen ramp to the top of the furnace, where the crushed lime, charcoal, and ore were dumped in for the cooking-down to the final product.
"We're ready when you are, sirs," one of Mina's men called as the officers approached.
Today's runoff would be modest; Mina had calculated it to be about five hundred pounds of iron, which as soon as it had cooled would be turned over to Dunlevy and his crew of apprentices.
As Andrew looked around he realized that a good portion of the regiment was there, since so many had participated in getting this project started. Their pride and excitement was evident in their looks of eager anticipation as Andrew approached.
"Colonel, sir," a grimy private said, stepping forward and saluting, "me and the boys working this here mill would appreciate a couple words from you."
Andrew looked over at John, who smiled broadly. It was a common joke with the regiment that the professor, whose job before the war had been talking, somehow got tongue-tied when asked to give a speech to the men.
Andrew looked around at the men and smiled good-naturedly.
"I'm proud of all of you," he said. "Proud that you're Union men tested in battle, the finest regiment in the Army of the Potomac," and with that the men cheered at the mention of that most famed army of the war.
"I'm proud as well that you're Mainers, the best from the finest state in all New England," and with that an appreciative growl went up from the ranks, peppered with witticisms about their neighboring states to the south.
"This mill will be the foundation from which other projects will spring that will be the envy of this world."
He looked about and suddenly realized that he had unwittingly slighted the men working on other projects.
"Not to mention the sawyers, miners, and heaven knows what other projects you boys are cooking up," he said hurriedly, and the crowd laughed appreciatively.
"All right, then, enough of the speechifying and let's see what we've got here."
With a ceremonial flourish, John stepped forward and handed Andrew an iron pole and pointed at the clay plug at the base of the kiln. Feeling somewhat clumsy with his one hand, Andrew grasped the pole and thrust it at the plug. After several attempts the clay broke, and as if by magic a hot river of metal poured out into the rough troughs laid out in a bed of sand at the foot of the furnace.
A loud cheer went up as hundreds of pounds of molten metal flowed out, shimmering and sparkling, the heat so intense that Andrew held his hand up to protect his face from the glare.
Beaming with pride, John could not contain his excitement and jumped up and down, until the runoff finally trickled to a stop.
"All right, load her up again!" John shouted. "Let's have a ton of this beautiful stuff by tomorrow!"
John looked around and finally spotted the man he wanted. "Ferguson, come over here."
From out of the crowd, a slight form appeared, smiling nervously. His glasses made his pale-blue eyes appear owl-like, giving the man an almost ridiculous appearance. Andrew had always liked the man, even though more often than not he was in the infirmary, the hard rigors of campaigning simply too much for his body. Several times he had expected to see Jim's name stricken from the roll, but a week later he'd come dragging back, ever eager to try again. He had offered Jim an easier job behind the lines with the quartermaster, but the private had always refused.
Here, however, he had come into his own, his student days studying engineering before the war now making him one of the more valuable men in the regiment.
"Shall we take a look, private?" John asked.
His head bobbing up and down, Jim pointed to a rough cabin next to the mill and led the way, the two officers following.
Stepping into the darkness, Jim lit a couple lamps. Pointing over to a table, Ferguson rolled out a sheet of paper.
Andrew leaned over the diagrams and could not help but shake his head.
"Are you serious, Jim?" Andrew asked quietly.
"Of course I am, sir. I'm always serious about such things."
"But a railroad?"
"Why not?" Mina replied enthusiastically. "Ferguson here's got it all figured out. It'll be a narrow-gauge line of two and a half feet, saving a lot of effort on grading and tracks. The line would start at Imbros and come up to the camp and then up Mill Stream Road, then continue on up past here and then to where the ore supply is. Since it would be a light gauge we could use wooden tracks covered with iron straps to get started. I figure we'll only need twenty tons of iron a mile that way.
"The line could haul lime flux, bricks, anything we wanted, from Imbros on up. At the top it could haul charcoal and ore down to the mill, and then run lumber and finished iron back to Imbros again."
"It'll take a lot of work," Andrew said quietly.
"I've got that figured already," John replied quickly. "I was talking to Vourtzes only yesterday about it-he claims he's got some men that'd make excellent gang bosses. There'll also be several landholders who'd loan out their peasants as laborers. We could pay for them with the regiment's half of the lumber and some of the Franklin stoves I'm planning to turn out from the foundry."
Shaking his head, Andrew looked back at Ferguson. "What about power? You'll use horses, I take it?"
Ferguson broke into a grin.
"Steam power, sir-a regular locomotive," and as he spoke he rolled out a set of plans for the engine.
"How in heaven's name do you plan to pull that one off?"
"Sir, we have two engineers in the regiment, Kevin Malady and Kurt Bowen, both of I Company, and a couple of firemen as well. I've already been over the Ogunquit's engine from one end to the other, and I must confess to having learned a little something about such things before I joined the army.
"We'll need to expand the foundry, putting in a couple of tilt hammers, an engine lathe and a reheat furnace for steel. I figured it out, and inside a month they could be operating, along with a couple of flat cars and hoppers, and the MI&V Railroad will be ready to run."
"MI&V?" Andrew asked, unable to contain his curiosity.
"Maine, Imbros, and Videssos Railroad."
"Why, of course, sir-that's the next step, to run a line straight down into downtown Videssos."
"One thing at a time, Ferguson, one thing at a time."
"Then you approve?" Mina asked excitedly.
"All right, I approve. But no more than forty men from the regiment working on this-the rest of the labor comes through Vourtzes. The first priority on labor now goes to the making of more tools. Then comes expanding Dunlevy's smithy shop with your trip-hammers, then the expansion of the foundry here.
"Can you manage that, Mina?"
"Of course, sir."
"All right, then. John, I'm appointing you coordinator of labor for the various operations involving ironworking and the railroad, but you're not to pull men away from Houston, or he'll be raising hell. Is that settled?"
"Of course, sir, and thank you, sir."
"I've been away from the city too long as it is, gentlemen, and I'd better start back. Good day to you."
Walking out the door, he turned quickly and looked back. Mina and Ferguson were exuberantly slapping each other on the back. Shaking his head, Andrew started back down the trail. They'd most likely been planning this one for weeks, thinking they'd have a tough sell job.
Frankly, he loved railroads and was already eager for the first ride on the MI&V.
Of all the people they came to know in the capital, the regiment seemed to blend best with the Namdaleni. It embarrassed Keane, who rather liked the Emperor and knew the men of the Duchy would cheerfully gut Videssos if they ever saw they had their chance.
Maybe it was simply that the Namdaleni were less reserved than Videssians and more willing to meet the Yankees halfway. Whatever the reason, the regiment's soldiers were always welcome in taverns that catered to the easterners, and traffic flowed between the islanders' barracks and those housing the regiment. Hemond's wife Helvis had become a good friend to Kathleen, and the two women frequently visited each other's quarters and went to market together.
Andrew worried his soldiers' fondness for the men of the Duchy would undermine the friendships he'd built up with the Videssians. But there was no getting around it-Yankee and Namdalener took to one another like long-separated relatives.
One morning, Hemond came to invite several of the regiment's officers to that day's Namdalener drill. Andrew had seen Hemond and other Namdaleni observe the regiment's own drills, and figured this was just the men of the Duchy's idea to show off their own specialized skills.
A few Khamorth were practicing archery at the drill field's edge. Their short, double-curved bows sent arrow after arrow whacking into the straw-stuffed hides they had set up as targets. They and the party Andrew led were the only non-Namdaleni on the field that day.
At one end stood a long row of hay bales, at the other, almost equally still, a line of mounted islanders. The men of the Duchy were in full caparison. Streamers of bright ribbon fluttered from their helms, their lances, and their big horses' trappings. Each wore over his chain mail shirt a surcoat of a color to match his streamers. A hundred lances went up in salute as one when the easterners caught sight of the Yankees.
"Ah, now there's a brave show," O'Donald said admiringly. Andrew merely smiled; that thought had already occurred to him. He resolved to judge it on that basis if he could.
The commander of the Namdaleni barked an order. Their lances swung down, again in unison. A hundred glittering leaf-shaped points of steel, each tipping a lance twice the length of a man, leveled at the bales of hay a furlong from them. Their leader left them thus for a long dramatic moment, then shouted the command that sent them hurtling forward.
Like an avalanche, they started slowly. The heavy horses they rode were not quick to build momentum, what with their own bulk and the heavily armored men atop them. But they gained a trifle at every bound and were at full stride before halfway to their goal. The earth rolled like a kettledrum under their thundering hooves; their iron-shod feet sent great clods of dirt and grass flying skywards.
Andrew tried to imagine himself standing in a hay bale's place, watching the horses thunder down on him until he could see their nostrils flaring crimson, staring at the steel that would tear his life away. A chill went over him at the thought of it.
When lances, horses, and riders smashed through them, the bales simply ceased to be. Hay was trampled underfoot, flung in all directions, and thrown high into the air. The Namdaleni brought their horses to a halt; they began picking hay wisps from their mounts' manes and coats and from their own surcoats and hair.
Hemond looked expectantly to Andrew. "Most impressive," Keane replied. "Both as a spectacle and as a show of fighting power." His praise made the Namdalener grin, and the day, the islanders agreed, was a great success.
But the Yankees were in fact less overawed than they let the Namdaleni think. "They're rugged, but a couple of good musket volleys would break their charge right up," Hans said gruffly.
Andrew looked back to the mounted warriors in shining armor, and shook his head. It wasn't that Hans didn't have a point; more, he felt a tinge of sadness that what they were bringing to this world would wash away such a proud sight.
While Mavrikios readied his stroke to put an end to Yezd once and for all, Andrew was surprised to note that Avshar made frequent visits to the Grand Courtroom for imperial audiences. He hadn't thought the Yezda ambassador would be one to play the peacemaker.
However, Yezd itself did not stand idle. As always, there was a flow of wild nomads down off the steppe, over the Yegird River, and into the northwest of what had been the land of Makuran. Thus had the Yezda entered that land half a century before. Khagan Wulghash, Andrew thought, was nobody's fool. Instead of letting the newcomers settle and disrupt his state, he shunted them eastward against Videssos, urging them on with promises of fighting, loot, and the backing of the Yezda army.
The nomads, more mobile than the foe they faced, slid through Vaspurakan's mountain valleys and roared into the fertile plains beyond them, spreading atrocity, mayhem, and rapine. The raiders were like so much water; if checked at one spot, they flowed someplace else, always probing for weak spots and all too often finding them.
Despite the calamities pouring into the westlands, still Avshar remained in Videssos the city. His imperial audiences became less and less frequent until he barely showed himself outside of the Hall of Ambassadors. Knowing how men in similar stations were usually sent back to their home countries when war broke out on earth, Andrew wondered why Avshar remained, and even more why the Emperor hadn't expelled him.
High summer approached and still Mavrikios marshalled his forces. Local levies in the west fought the Yezda without support from the host building in the capital. None of the regiment's officers could understand why Mavrikios, certainly a man of action, did not move. "He might as well be McClellan," Hans grumbled.
When Andrew put the question to Neilos Tzimiskes, the soldier replied, "Too soon can be worse than too late, you know."
"Six weeks ago-even three weeks ago-I would have agreed. But if matters aren't taken in hand soon, there won't be much of an Empire left to save."
"Believe me, my friend, things aren't as simple as they seem." But when Andrew tried to get more from Tzimiskes than that, Neilos retreated into vague promises that matters would turn out for the best. It wasn't long before Keane decided he knew more than he was willing to say.
The next day, Andrew decided to ask Phostis Apokavkos. He was Videssian, and was one of the better informed individuals in the entire city due to his reporting. His friendships with the regiment, he reasoned, might make him more open than Tzimiskes.
"Do I know why you're not out on campaign? You mean to tell me you don't?" Apokavkos stared at the colonel. He plucked at his beard, then replied, "Answer to your question's a simple thing: Mavrikios isn't about to leave the city until he's sure he'll still be Emperor when he gets home."
Andrew sighed and shook his head. Like the Byzantines indeed, he thought. The faction politics wouldn't even subside with a foreign foe pressing hard at the border.
"You're getting the idea, all right," Apokavkos said, seeing Keane's reluctant agreement. "Besides, if you doubt me, how do you explain Mavrikios staying in the city last year and not going out to fight the Yezda? Things were even tighter then than they are now; he plain didn't dare leave."
The Videssian reporter's comment made clear something Keane had puzzled over for some time. No wonder Mavrikios looked so bleak when he admitted his earlier inability to move against Yezd! The past year had seen the Empire's power vastly increase, though its unity still seemed anything but certain even in the face of the Yezda threat. Andrew better understood Mavrikios' pouched, red-veined eyes; it was strange he dared sleep at all.
That power and unity did not walk hand in hand in Videssos Andrew had confirmed a few mornings later. Phostis' report made him thankful Hawthorne had befriended the Videssian, making him well-disposed towards the regiment.
Andrew had been going over a message sent down from the mills near Imbros, considering requests from the Presbyterians and Methodists to build churches at the camp, when Phostis showed up and Andrew waved for him to sit.
"If it didn't have you in it, too, I likely wouldn't tell you this," Apokavkos said, "but I think it'd be smart for your men to walk small the next few days. There's trouble brewing against the damned easterners, and too many in town put you and them in the same wagon."
"Against the Namdaleni?" Andrew asked. At Phostis' nod, he said, "But why? They've fought with the Empire, true, but every one of them in the city now is here to fight Yezd."
"There's too many of 'em here, and they're too proud of themselves, the swaggering rubes." Phostis' friendship with the Yankees did not stretch to the men of the Duchy. "Not only that, they've taken over half a dozen shrines for their own services, the damned heretics. Next thing you know, they'll start trying to convert decent folk to their ways. That won't do."
Andrew suppressed an urge to scream in frustration. "If the followers of Phos as sure victor over evil fight those who believe in Phos' Wager, then the only winners will be Skotos-worshippers," he pointed out.
Phostis replied, "I don't know but what I'd sooner see Wulghash ruling in Videssos than Duke Tomond of Namdalen."
Giving up, Andrew went off to pass the warning to Hemond. The barracks of the Namdaleni were, if anything, even more comfortable than the regiment's quarters. Part of the difference, of course, was that there had been a Namdalener contingent in the Videssian army for many years, and over those years the men of the Duchy had lavished much labor on making their dwelling as homelike as they could.
Because many of the mercenaries spent a large portion of their lives in Videssian service, it was not surprising that they formed families in the capital, either with women of the Empire or with wives or sweethearts who had accompanied them from Namdalen. Their barracks reflected this. Only the bottom floor was a common hall like that of the regiment, a hall in which dwelt warriors who had formed no household. The upper story was divided into apartments of varying size.
Remembering Helvis waving to him from a window above, Andrew climbed the stairway, a wide, straight flight of steps. Thanks to his memory of Helvis, Keane knew about which turns to take through the upper story's corridors. He reached the doorway a helpful islander pointed out and knocked.
"By the Wager!" Hemond exclaimed when he saw who was knocking on the door. "Look who decides to pay us a visit." He grinned and invited the Yankee colonel in, slapping him on the back.
Andrew paused as he saw another Namdaleni sitting with Helvis; he recalled seeing him with Hemond quite a bit. Perhaps an underofficer?
"Ah, yes, you two haven't met, have you?" Hemond remarked. "Andrew, this is Soteric Dosti's son, my second-in-command and Helvis' brother."
Andrew saw the resemblance as soon as their relationship was mentioned. That their coloring was alike was not enough; many Namdaleni had similar complexions. But Soteric had a harder version of Helvis' ample mouth, and his face, like hers, was wide with strong cheekbones. His nose, on the other hand, was prominent enough to make any Videssian proud, where hers was short and straight.
He realized he was staring rudely. "Excuse me. Good to meet you, Soteric."
Andrew and Helvis' brother shook hands. Helvis asked, "Would you care for some wine, or some bread and cheese?" when he was comfortable.
Before he could answer, a boy of about three darted into the living room from the bedchamber beyond. He had Helvis' blue eyes and Hemond's shock of blond hair, and was carrying a tiny wooden sword. "Kill a Yezda!" he announced, swinging his toy blade with three-year-old ferocity.
Hemond caught up his son and swung him into the air. He squealed in glee, dropping his play weapon. "Again!" he said. "Again!" Laughing, Hemond swung him up again, then set him down on the floor.
"And this fierce one is Malric," Hemond said, ruffling the boy's hair. Recalling his brother Johnnie at that age, Keane knew all small children were either going at full tilt or asleep, with next to nothing in between.
Malric looked squarely at Andrew. "You're the one who leads the men with the thunder-flash spears!"
Andrew smiled; that was as apt a description of the regiment's muskets as any he'd heard. "Yes I am."
"Why do you have only one arm?"
"Malric!" Helvis reproached her son, but Andrew held up his hand.
"It's quite all right," he assured the boy's mother, then looked at Malric. "I lost it in a battle I fought in, before I came to Videssos." Malric shrugged, then took off at the same speed he ran in.
Once Malric was gone, they all sipped a while in silence. Finally Soteric put down his wine and looked at Andrew over his steepled fingertips. "You aren't what I thought you'd be," he said accusingly.
"Ah?" To a statement of that sort, no real answer seemed possible. Andrew took another sip of wine.
"Hemond and my sister both claimed you had no patience for the poisonous subtlety the Empire so loves, but I own I didn't believe them. You were too friendly by half with the Videssians and too quick to win the Emperor's trust. But having met you, I see they are right after all."
Andrew smiled thinly, and said, "I'm glad you think so, but in fact my subtlety is so great you take it for frankness."
Soteric flushed as Hemond and Helvis laughed. "I had that coming," Soteric said, smiling wryly.
"You would know better than I," Andrew replied, smiling back.
"So why have you stopped by, my friend?" Hemond asked. "Not that I'm not glad to have you here."
Andrew told him the story he had heard from Phostis Apokavkos. The islander's expression went grim. Soteric, on the other hand, met the news with smoldering eagerness. "Let the rabble come!" he said, smacking fist into palm for emphasis. "We'll clean the bastards out, and it'll give us the excuse we need for war on the Empire. Namdalen will inherit Videssos' mantle soon enough-why not now?"
Andrew stared at him. He knew the men of the Duchy coveted the city and the whole Empire, but Soteric's arrogance struck him as being past sanity. Hemond and Helvis were staring at him, too. As softly as he could, Andrew tried to nudge him back toward sense. "You'll take and hold the capital with six thousand men?" he asked politlely.
"Eight thousand! And some of the Khamorth will surely join us-their sport is plunder."
Hemond coughed and, shaking his head, placed a hand on Soteric's shoulder. "Quite true, I'm sure. And once we've disposed of the rest of the plainsmen, the Emperor's Haloga guards, and the Videssian warriors in the city, why then all we need to do is keep down the whole town."
The Namdalener officer looked at Hemond as Malric would if he'd snapped the boy's toy sword over his knee. Some of the ravening glitter in Soteric's eye faded as he saw Hemond's rejection. He looked to his sister for support, but Helvis would not meet his glance. They were as ardent Namdaleni as Soteric, but too firmly rooted in reality to be swept away by a vision of conquest, no matter how glowing.
"I came to stop a riot, not start a war," Andrew said into the silence. "With Yezd to be dealt with, neither you nor the Empire can afford secondary fights."
"Aye," Hemond agreed, nodding to Andrew.
Soteric stopped to consider that for a bit. The smile on his face had nothing to do with amusement; it was more like a stifled snarl. "What would you have us do?" he asked at last. "Hide our beliefs? Skulk like cowards to keep from firing the rabble? The Videssians have no shame over throwing their creed in our faces. I'd sooner fight than kowtow to the street mob, and damn the consequences, say I!" But mixed with the warrior's pride in his speech was the frustrated realization that the outcome of such a fight would not be what he wished.
"I'm glad you let us know of this, my Yankee friend," Hemond said, "We won't knuckle under, but perhaps a little restraint now could stop trouble later."
"Let the bloody Cocksures show restraint," Soteric snapped, using the Duchy's nickname for the orthodox of Videssos.
Continued contact with the Namdalener's hot temper was beginning to fray Andrew's own. "That's the sort of thing I'm talking about," he said. "Call someone a 'Cocksure' once too often and you can be sure you'll have a brawl on your hands."
Up to this time Helvis had listened to the three men argue without taking much part. Now she said, "It seems to me you're only touching one part of the problem. The city people may like us better if we're less open about some things they don't care for, but what we do can only go so far. If Videssos needs our service, the Emperor-or someone-should make the people know we're important to them and should not be abused."
Hemond grunted agreement, then said, "But who would put their neck on the block for a miserable band of mercenaries?"
It was plain he did not think there was a good answer. Thinking of the government leaders he knew, Andrew didn't find it likely either. Mavrikios or Thorisin Gavras would sacrifice the men of the Duchy without a qualm if they interfered with the great campaign against Yezd. Nephon Khoumnos might sacrifice them anyway, on general principles. True, the Namdaleni were part of the power Vardanes Sphrantzes wielded against the Gavrai, but the Sevastos, Keane was sure, was too unpopular in the city to make his words, even if given, worth much.
But Helvis did have a reply, and one so apt Andrew felt like an idiot for not finding it himself. "What of Balsamon?" she asked. "He strikes me as a good man, and one the Videssians listen to."
"The Cocksures' patriarch?" Soteric said incredulously.
Hemond himself raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Any Videssian blue-robe would send us all to the eternal ice, I think, before he'd lift a finger for us."
"Of most of them I would say that's true, but Balsamon has a different feel to him. He's never harassed us, you know," Helvis said.
"She's right, I think," Andrew said to Hemond and Soteric. He told them of the startling tolerance the prelate of Videssos had shown in the Emperor's chambers.
"Hmm," Hemond said. "It's easy enough to be tolerant in private. Will he do it when it counts? There's the rub."
Soteric rose to his feet. "Well, what are the three of you waiting for? We'd best find out-myself, I'll believe it when I hear it."
The ruthless energy Soteric had wanted to turn on Videssos now was bent against his commander, his sister, and the Yankee colonel. Helvis paused only to pick up her son-"Come on, Malric, we're going to see someone."-and Hemond and Andrew not at all, but they were not quick enough to suit Soteric. Scoffing at Helvis' idea at the same time as he pushed it forward, her brother had her, Hemond and Andrew out of the Namdelener barracks, out of the palace complex, and into the hurly-burly of the city almost before Keane could blink.
The patriarchal residence was in the northern central part of Videssos, on the grounds of Phos' High Temple. Andrew hadn't visited that, but some of his men who had taken a look marveled at its splendor. The High Temple's spires, topped with their gilded domes, were visible throughout the city; the only problem in reaching them was picking the proper path through Videssos' maze of roads, lanes, and alleys. Soteric led the way with assurance.
More by what did not happen than by what did, Andrew got the feel of how unwelcome foreigners had become in the capital. It was as if the city dwellers were trying to pretend they didn't exist. No merchant came rushing out of his shop to importune them, no peddler approached to ply his wares, no small boy came up to offer to lead them to his father's hostel.
Malric was entranced by the colors, sounds, and smells of the city, so different from and so much more exciting than the barracks he was used to. Half the time he walked along among Helvis, Hemond, Soteric, and Andrew, doing his short-legged best to keep up; they carried him the rest of the way, passing him from one to the next. His three constant demands were, "Put me down," "Pick me up," and, most of all, "What's that?" Everything drew the last query: a piebald horse, a painter's scaffold, a prostitute of dubious gender.
"Good question," Hemond chuckled as the quean sauntered past. His son was not listening-a scrawny black puppy with floppy ears had stolen his interest.
The High Temple of Phos sat in lordly solitude at the center of a large enclosed courtyard. Like the area by the palace complex, it was one of the city's main gathering points. At need, lesser priests would speak to the masses assembled outside the Temple while the prelate addressed the smaller, more select audience within.
The residence of the patriarchs of Videssos stood just outside the courtyard. It was a surprisingly unassuming structure; many moderately wealthy traders had larger, more palatial quarters. But the modest building had a feeling of perpetuity to it that the houses of the newly wealthy could not hope to imitate. The very pine trees set round it were gnarled and twisted with age, yet still green and growing.
The door opened before them; a high-ranking ecclesiastic was ushering out a Videssian noble in white linen trousers and a tunic of lime-green silk. "I trust his Sanctity was able to help you, my lord Dragatzes?" the priest asked courteously.
"Yes, I think so," Dragatzes replied, but his black-browed scowl was not encouraging. He strode past Andrew, Hemond, Helvis, and Soteric without seeming to notice them.
Nor did the priest pay them any heed until his gaze, which was following Dragaztes' retreating back, happened to fall on them. "Is there something I can do to help you?" he said. His tone was doubtful; Hemond, Helvis, and Soteric were easy to recognize as Namdaleni, while Andrew himself was quite obviously one of the mysterious group known as Yankees. There was no obvious reason for folk such as them to visit the head of a faith they did not share.
And even after Andrew asked to speak with Balsamon, the priest at the door made no move to step aside. "As you must know, his Sanctity's calendar is crowded. Tomorrow would be better, or perhaps the next day..." Go away and don't bother coming back, Andrew translated.
"Who is it, Gennadios?" the patriarch's voice came from inside the residence. A moment later he appeared beside the other priest, clad not in his gorgeous patriarchal regalia but in a none too clean monk's robe of simple blue wool. Catching sight of the five outside his door, he let loose his rich chuckle. "Well, well, what have we here? Heretics to see me? Most honored, I am sure. Come in, I beg of you." He swept past the spluttering Gennadios to wave them forward.
"But, your Sanctity, in a quarter hours' time you are to see-" Gennadios protested, but the patriarch cut him off.
"Whoever it is, he'll wait. This is a fascinating riddle, don't you think, Gennadios? Why should unbelievers care to see me? Perhaps they wish to convert to our usages. That would be a great gain for Phos' true faith, don't you think? Or perhaps they'll convert me-and wouldn't that be a scandal, now?"
Gennadios gave his superior a sour look, clearly finding his humor in questionable taste. Hemond and Soteric were staring at the patriarch in disbelief, Helvis in delight. Andrew had to smile, too; remembering his last meeting with Balsamon, he knew how much the prelate relished being outrageous.
Malric was in his mother's arms. As she walked by Balsamon, her son reached out for two good handsful of the patriarchal beard. Helvis stopped instantly, as much in alarm at what Balsamon might do as to keep him from being tugged with her.
Her fright must have shown, for the patriarch laughed out loud. "You know, my dear, I don't eat children-at least not lately." He gently detached Malric's hands from their hold. "You thought I was an old billy goat, didn't you?" he said, poking the boy in the ribs. "Didn't you?" Malric nodded, laughing in delight.
"What's your name, son?" the patriarch asked.
"Malric Hemond's son," Malric answered clearly.
"Hemond's son?" Balsamon looked up at Hemond, eyes twinkling. "That would be you, yes? A fine boy you have.
"You must be Helvis, then," he said to Malric's mother. As she nodded, Andrew was impressed-not for the first time-with the patriarch's knowledge and memory of detail. Balsamon turned to Helvis' brother. "I don't think I know you, sir."
"No reason you should," Soteric agreed. "I'm Soteric Dosti's son; Helvis is my sister."
"Very good," Balsamon nodded. "Come with me, all of you. Gennadios, do tell my next visitor I'll be somewhat delayed, won't you?"
"But-" Realizing the uselessness of any protest he might make, Gennadios gave a sharp, short nod.
"My watchdog," Balsamon sighed as he led his visitors to his chambers. "Strobilos set him on me years ago, to keep an eye on me. I suppose Mavrikios would take him away if I asked, but somehow I've never bothered."
"It must amuse you to bait the ill-humored fool, besides," Soteric said. Andrew had thought the same thing, but not in the cruel way Helvis' brother said it.
Hemond gave him a warning glance, and Helvis laid her hand on her brother's arm, but Balsamon did not seem disturbed. "He's right, you know," the patriarch told them. He looked musingly at Soteric, murmuring, "Such a pretty boy, to have such sharp teeth." Soteric flushed; Andrew was reminded that the patriarch could care for himself on any battle of wits.
Balsamon's audience room was even more crowded with books then Apsimar's had been back at Imbros, and far less orderly in the bargain. Volumes leaned drunkenly against shabby chairs. Others jammed shelves, swallowed tables, and did their best to make couches unusable for mere human beings. Piled on the floor were what editions of the Videssos Herald that had been published.
Peeping out from the few spaces parchment and paper did not cover was a swarm of ivories, some no bigger than a fingernail, others the size of a big man's arm. They were comical, ribald, stately, furious, what have you, and all carved with a rococo extravagance of line alien to the Videssian art Keane had come to know.
"You've spied my vice, I fear," Balsamon said, seeing Andrew's eye roam from one figurine to the next, "and another, I admit unjust, cause for my resentment against Yezd. These are all the work of the Kingdom of Makuran that was; under its new masters, the craft does not flourish. Not much does, save only hatred.
"But you didn't come to hear me speak of ivories," the patriarch said, clearing things enough for them to sit. "Or if you did, I may indeed become a Gambler, from sheer gratitude." As usual, what would have been a provoking name in another's mouth came without offense from his. His hands spread in a gesture of invitation. "What do you think I can do for you?"
Hemond, Helvis, Soteric, and Andrew looked at each other, none of them anxious to begin. After a few seconds of silence, Soteric took the plunge, blunt as always. "We've had reports the people of Videssos are thinking of violence against us because of our faith."
"That would be unfortunate, particularly for you," Balsamon agreed. "What am I to do about it? And why ask me to do anything, for that matter? Why should I? After all, I am hardly of your faith." He pointed at the patriarchal robe draped untidily over a chair.
Soteric drew in a breath to damn the prelate for being the stiff-necked fool he'd thought him, but Helvis caught the gleam of amusement in Balsamon's eye her brother missed. She, too, waved at the crumpled regalia. "Surely your flock respects the office you hold, if nothing else," she said sweetly.
Balsamon threw back his head and laughed till the tears came, clutching his big belly with both hands until his wheezes subsided. "One forgets what a sharp blade irony has-until stuck with it, that is," he said, still chuckling. "Yes, of course I'll pour water on the hotheads; I'll give them ecumenism enough to choke on. For your presumption, if nothing else, you deserve that much. We have worse enemies than those who could be our friends."
The patriarch turned his sharp black stare on Andrew. "What are you, the silent partner in this cabal?"
"If you like." Unlike the Namdaleni, Keane had no intention of being drawn into a verbal duel with Balsamon, knowing it could only have one outcome.
Hemond thought he had little to say out of modesty, not policy, and said, "Andrew brought us word of trouble brewing."
"You have good sources, my quiet friend, but then I already know that, don't I?" Balsamon said, gesturing to the pile of newspapers. "I thought that was your role here-it's too soon for externs like the islanders to have caught the smell of riot. I haven't been working on this sermon more than a day or two myself."
"What?" Andrew said, startled from the calm he'd resolved to maintain. The three Namdaleni simply gaped. Malric had been almost asleep in his mother's arms; startled by the sudden noise, he began to cry. Helvis calmed him automatically, but most of her attention was still on Balsamon.
"Give me some credit for wits, my young friends." The patriarch smiled. "It's a poor excuse for a priest who doesn't know what his people are thinking. More than a few have called me a poor excuse for a priest, but that was never why."
He rose, escorting his astounded guests to a door different from the one they'd used to enter. "It would be best if you left this way," he said. "Gennadios was right, as he all too often is-I do have another visitor coming soon, one who might blink at the company some of you keep."
Thick hedges screened the side door from the front of the patriarchal residence. Peering through the greenery, Andrew saw Gennadios bowing to Thorisin Gavras. Balsamon was right-the Sevastokrator would not be pleased to see the Yankee colonel with three Namdaleni.
"Right?" Hemond exclaimed when Keane remarked on it. The islander was still shaking his head in wonder. "Is he ever wrong?"