The guns of the ship of the line Morea roared into action, bleaching fire and smoke from the port broadside of 38 guns. Vice-Admiral Mikhail Morthonios felt the deck shake from the powerful blasts. This was good, very good. The crews would get used to the sound and din of battle if not the ghastly sights.
He had taken out of Monevasia both ships of the line for their routine monthly firing exercise. The Morea and Mahitis where in a line of battle, firing on a barren island off the coast of the
Peloponnese. Both ships had been going at it for two days now, working the crews and also competing with each other. Another blast came with the wind as Mahitis 35 portside guns also opened fire. The day had a slight Levantine breeze and was sunny. It was a good day thought Morthonios. The Morea’s gun blasted in reply to the Mahitis. Morthonios looked at Captain Antvazzi.
“Let us stop for now, order the hands to stand down, and have food served to them in half an hour. Than we will fire five more broadsides and retire to Monevasia. ”
“Yes your Excellency”
Morthonios turned around, as his majesty the King of Romans, Basil the 1st, came covered in black powder.
“Well your majesty how was it?” The 16 year old king looked at him with intelligent and enthusiastic black eyes.
“My dear admiral I for one am glad that I did not serve as a midshipman in the navy. I must say though that the crews performed admirably, and that the feeling of power you have when those guns go off is exhilarating”
“That may be so my king, but believe me when those guns are used in wrath they make terrible work of human beings.” Morthonios thought that he came out a little too harsh. But the king just gave him a sad smile.
“I am sure my dear admiral. Let us hope that my grand-mother keeps us in peace, and that God keeps her alive. But with the events of the last months, I fear that even her capabilities will be taxed.”
Morthonios agreed. The King was right. Typically Morea would save money by only having one of the ships go every months on the fire. But ever since the problems in the
Adriatic started, and the resurface of Dukas, the Principality’s navy had gone on alert. Morthonios was waiting for the order to come, that would have his squadron join Admiral Traianios at Corfu. Hopefully though it wouldn’t come to that.
“Well then”, said the prince, who was helped wipe the soot, by his Mameluke manservant. “I will retire below to eat with the hands, and then go and study your nautical maps if that is in agreement with you, admiral.”
“Yes, my king. Just make sure you are at your post at the next broadside.”
The Morea and Mahitis had entered Monevasia at dusk. Morthonios, his captains, King Basil, and his retinue of friends and teachers had retired to the castle, where they would dine with Domestikos Theofilos, and governor of Monevasia. Before they could dine though, an emissary of the Princess had arrived. King Basil would leave the next day for Morea, escorted by 5 Janissaries and 5 Hungarian Cuirassiers. It seemed that his rand-tour would start earlier. The Reich Duke of Beerstein was visiting and her OSE had decided to have Basil travel to a point with the experienced ruler.
“Well”, thought Basil, “I hear he is mighty fond of drinks and knows old stories. German folklore is fascinating”.
“Yes indeed my liege”, said Theofilos, “I have heard from the Palace that his ambassador is a jovial and good man. If he is any indication, Beerstein should be a very interesting man.”
“They say he is an old warhorse, it will be interesting to ask him on the re militaria. Compare his knowledge with old man’s Andritsiotis.” said Fernando diCapella, an 18 year old youth and companion to the King.
“Actually I look forward to it. De Saxe’s treatise was really interesting, but I am not so sure how applicable his recommendations are in
Southern Europe. Maybe Duke Wilhelm or someone in his entourage can indicate an answer.”, said enthusiastically the young King.
Morthonios thought that the young King did bear a resemblance to his grandmother. Then again how could he not. His mother, the late Catherine, had died when he was just 4 years old. And his father Theodore, had sunk into a depression that had ended with suicide, when the King was only 6. His grandmother, the Princess, had weathered those personal storms and had brought up Basil as her own son. And he was so like her, and so unlike her. He was intelligent and quick thinking like his grand-mother, and could be decisive when needed. But he was also in many ways naïve, and thought in the abstract a lot. But a lot of that abstract thought went into military affairs. He was a good student, and could learn technical matters well enough. But on the other hand his passion was law and history. He read the philosophers with abandon. No, not a warrior King, but maybe a lawgiver. Maybe that was her OSE goal from the beginning.
“Well, then my liege”, said Morthonios, “you should sleep well. From what the emissary said, the festivities will take three days. Their will be foods from the West and East, wines and beers, belly dancers, wrestlers, acrobats. They will have the play “Erotokritos” played. Then there will be a military parade by the Guard elements. Their will be a large mass at the Cathedral of St. Demetrius. And the Reich-Duke will be laden with gifts. 5 barrels of fine Greek wine. Golden weapons and armor. An Arabic stallion and many books. Truly her OSE wishes to make the Duke feel like at home.”
“Well he did extend us a great honor. But I do suspect that their also political reasons. Yiayia is worried about the situation in
Europe. Best to have allies.”
And so the conversation went on into the night. But good reader please picture yourself as a gust of wind. One that starts somewhere in the Libyan sea, and races north to Monevasia’s foreboding rock. From there you fly to nightly Mystra and enter a Princess bedchamber. Two forms lie there in an embrace. And one in German asks “So why are you being so lavish with your gifts to the Duke.” And another, a woman’s voice, silky with pleasure answers “My dear ambassador. Three reasons. First he is an interesting fellow. Second he gave me a great honor. But mostly because I need a matchmaker.” The German voice tried to raise a question, but was drowned in sweet kisses.
Now my dear wind, let us fly through the cities darkened streets, and into the basement of a low tavern where hunched figures plot an act so foul, that they hide their faces from each other. And from there let us follow you across the Mediterranean, to the sights and sounds of an Anatolian bazaar, and the sweet perfumes of
North Africa. And there in a harbor, lies a ship, flying a maroon pendant with a golden cross, and in its deepest hold a man lies shackled but defiant.
“A whore, that is what she is, a damn whore and if you had any brains you would had joined me..ugh!” The sound of a heavy hand slapping flesh broke the stillness of the Maria-Louisa’s hold. The janissary stepped back. The fine dressed man stepped up to the captive.
“Signor Dukas, please keep a civil tongue or we will cut it. Your sentence has been passed, and the only think we need on you are your eyes. So please keep yourself civil.”
“Too hell with you ksene! You foppish Frank. What do you know! Your family didn’t lose anything in 21’. No you and your God-cursed lot gained everything !”
“My child”, said a more elderly voice, “please do not take God’s voice in vain. Pray for forgiveness and lay yourself as a supplicant before her Excellency and maybe you will be shown mercy.”
“Lay before her, maybe you laid before her priest. Hell you may had laid with ….”
The Janissary had stepped forward and smashed his fist on Dukas.
The Chevalier De’Corfu sniffed. “Let us see how defiant you are when they put the salt to your eyes traitor. You let yourself be blinded by gold, and that is the last thing you will see.” The three others left the room. In the darkness Dukas smiled and muttered to himself.
“Gold, huh, yes you fop, but not the gold you think.”
The wind died, and the stillness of the night, except for the gentle rocking of the ship ruled supreme.