The Fiction of Philip Kaveny
If you missed Part I click here
If you missed Part II click here
If you missed Part III visit here
Section II, The moving finger writes and having writ moves on.
From the almost invisibly cloaked observation platform at the top of the camouflaged cylindrical observation tower that rested on the ivory breast like dome of the great church of Hagia Sophia extending hundred yards into the sky the Emperor Basil took a moment to reflect on the outlandish events of yesterday morning. If any of his subjects chose to look up, which people never do, they would only see the mountains and sky on one side, and the sea an sun on the other because Basil’s artists knew the art of blending things together so that figure and ground became one, as the tower directed all eyes to a vanishing point and away from itself.
They events the last two days cascaded across his mind , and spun like a vortex as the three of them blended together, his daughter’s Zoë’s wedding, Igor’s conversion to Christianity, and the wedding party and Vikings moving north. He could still see Igor & Zoë through his telescope and he could see the company of his personal Imperial cavalry following them and guarding them like grey ghosts that were outside their event horizon. They would be like Guardian Angles unknown to them yet guardians of their safety, and Basil’s gold, until they safely reached the place where the where Basil’s agents could follow them no further.
Basil’s agents stopped at the icy hell of the great Northern Ocean in which was infested with monsters, and was guarded by the deadly soul eating Kraken (Which was as large as a mountain) that could snare a trireme galley and a hundred rowers in a single tentacle, and then one by crush the hapless voyagers in its horrible beak in a single bite. After they reached the sea shore they were be on their own, because no Byzantine, no matter how brave, even at the Emperor’s orders, orders or threat of dismemberment, would sail on the North Sea.
Now Basil felt lonely and isolated, and sad, strangely like the father of the bride when the wedding party is over, though there had been no real feast, since the wedding was kept hidden from most. Even a great Emperor Basil needed a confidant to share his inner thoughts with. Sometimes he chose the greatest minds in the empire who were heirs to the great Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and sometimes he called in his greatest theologians, to ask the question, could it ever be an evil thing to do “God’s will, and might one be dammed for eternity as a fulfillment of “God’s purpose”, which was greater than any single soul, or to put it more succinctly, did the great God of the Nicene Creed exits or was he simple an extension of the power of Basil’s forbearer Emperor Constantine the Great founder of the city Constantinople, and, did he only use the creed, which was to be the great truth that all Christians might share, to extend his own power, and divide the empire.
One would have never thought the Emperor, who was officially the rock upon which Orthodoxy Stood with both the citizens, and the army, was, in fact, the worst heretic in the empire. He was engaged in long debates and discussions with those who were condemned to the stake for what they believed, and for what they professed, and wrote, all of which ended up in his great library. He always promised the heretics a pardon, and free passage to anywhere in the empire, yet all went joyously to the stake, in their conviction of martyrdom, knowing in their hearts that though they burned and suffered for a few minutes, those who sent them on top of the stake would burn for eternity as part of God’s justice.
Only two heretics ever recanted. The two exceptions, were father Cyril, who Basil sent north with Igor & Zoë and the other Patriarch Petrovich who now ran the grand inquisition that made certain all in the empire believed and professed the same thing, except Emperor Basil.
But today Emperor Basil wanted to talk to an ordinary man in the words of as the commander of the soldiers of the empire. He walked back inside of his tower which was the source of all the strength of his empire for the thirty generations of emperors who preceded himself. Basil, knew from the day his nurse, Ruziicka who sometimes saw darkly into future and would give him her breast until he was nine, told him would he would never be known as Basil the Great, and if he was not master of the tasks and choices before him would simply be known as long as the world remembered as Basil the last Byzantine Emperor. She told the day she took her breast away from him forever ending his childhood yet making it a place he always longed for.
Within five years, nearly a half century before Basil became Emperor, Ruziicka only a few years older than Basil was sent to the ends of the earth for her own safety, because, some would call her an enchantress, or even a witch, for the rest of his life Basil would long for what he could not have, and sometimes, see her face looking back at him, form his polished silver backed mirror, which had just happened moments before, and always filled him with longing, and emptiness.
So the Emperor Basil ordered everyone but a few bodyguards out of the room and summoned Zeno the Centurion of his archers to his presence. Zeno was terrified when he was summoned from his humble lodgings in the shadow of the walls of the Imperial palace. His heart stopped when he saw the gleaming armor, and polished gold plated helmets of the four Imperial Guards sent to summon him. The word of Zoë’s attempt on Basil’s life had worked its way down the ranks. Zeno was sure his situation was hopeless and his only thought was to save his wife and three little girls from the rigors of integration. The grim faced guard said nothing as they triple timed back to the palace, and then rode to the top of the observation tower in the hydraulic lift which saved them five hundred steps.
As the lift moved slowly upwards on the telescoping hydraulic ram, and Zeno’s escorts stood silently at his sides in encirclement Zeno could see the what was the inside the imperial tower. He saw the wellsprings which were the sources of the Empire’s greatest strength, even more important, its persistence and endurance against the ravages of history. This was the place where Basil kept his dearest, most costly treasure. It was not the Mint of Byzantium, nor, was it the secret of its, most horrible weapons like “Greek fire “, which a thousand years later would be called Napalm, and turn the world against those who used. Nor was it Archimedes’ great burning glass which could make the sails and rigging an enemy trireme galley burst into flames miles out to sea. It was not even the “True Cross”, which Emperor Constantine’s mother Saint Helen had brought back from the Holy land as nine centuries before, and since been replaced seven times by identical replicas as it wore out, and even once lost in battle.
It was the scrolls of information about things that happened at the ends of the world. The tower had twenty four levels and each level had a floor with a 144 concentric circles and on these levels, and every floor was linked together by an open atrium which would allow the hydraulic ram to makes its way to Basil’s observation platform. But normally the monks used the lift to retrieve the scrolls which were organized in way know only by the Emperor and a few members of the Order of Saint Ignatius whose motto was the wave of the future and might wash away all that was before it. Their motto was simply, “knowledge is power”, and by this they meant knowledge of what was on earth, not what was in heaven.
This tower contained the knowledge of that had ever been written about what happened in the world. Two monks were balanced on either side of a hydraulic another boom that moved up a shaft between the floors. The information had been converted to a binary cipher which was only intelligible to Basil with his decoder which was imbedded in his imperial signet ring, as the information was supplied to him in canisters through flexible pneumatic fibers woven from linen and chainmail which was too precious (strong and flexible )to be used for anything else but the Emperor’s armor.
Even in this the gravest of all his moments, Zeno smiled as the monks moved madly around on their boom the second always replacing what the first had taken. The tower was there since the great days of Constantine, but lately even the top level were filling to the outermost concentric circle. A new way of storing and accessing Byzantium’s real treasure was essential, if not all that was proud and good and noble in that old was lost.
Zeno and Basil faced each other, and the Emperor told him to stand easy in the vulgate Latin that was the command language of all the nationalities that filled the ranks that defended the Empire. Basil said the word of redemption to Zeno.
“You are not in my presence for interrogation, we have found and punished the guilty parties, and the matter of the attempt on life is closed.”
Basil to spoke to Zeno frankly because he had sent all others away even his bodyguards away as he invited him to be seated
Zeno continued to stand at attention, and finally spoke when Basil gestured him that he must.
“But my good Emperor none may remain seated in your presence, all must humble themselves before you, since you speak for God on this earth.”
Basil smiled and said,
“Say the rest of the catechism the nuns taught you.”
Zeno trembling replied,
“Because, because you will sit next The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, on the Day of Judgment.”
Zeno smiled and said,
“Be seated Zeno, I know you and your archers cursed men under your breath yesterday at the wall”
“You knew my Emperor. How could you know that?”
The Emperor smiled and said,
“Odin is not the only one who has his ravens that fly around the world and tell him everything, and, some of my ravens don’t have wings.
“But what you said will not be written down; it is simply what every soldier says as they do a difficult duty. You cursed me and I was an instant from death if you released your arrows”
Zeno was dumbfounded as the Basil continued,
“I knew that Prince Igor was my man the instant I knew he wanted you and your hundred archers to kill all of us. But that’s not how it was written, and then the next instant he wanted it to go on. It was strange I could somehow feel him laugh inside”
The Emperor stood up and poured them the finest wine that Zeno had ever seen in his life. Zeno pressed the wine glass made of singing Venetian crystal to his lips following the Emperor’s lead as Basil drained then him and continued to speak.
“Before Igor’s marriage with Zoë is finished we may all wish that your archers fired that volley.”
The platform on which the both stood was seven yard circle with a canopy which made it nearly invisible and a four foot railing which made it safe to stand at the edge. Then Basil summoned a scribe to read from the Igor files and translate it into the vulgate for Zeno’s ears so could understand and hear some of the events that started this chain more than a quarter of a century before. The scribe sang forth that was somewhere between a song and a narrative, adding an unexpected beauty to the martial language to the events it described, that had transfigured young Prince Igor a quarter century before, and made him different from every other Viking prince before him.