The Eagles’ New Eyrie
The celebrations had been spectacular and prolonged. Everywhere one looked there seemed to be flags and images of double headed eagles, in various combinations of gold, black, silver,white, red, yellow and blue – a heraldic extravaganza on a single theme. They had been carried as standards by the troops as they marched in procession through the streets. They served as backdrops to the Royal and Illustrious personages who had traveled so far to greet each other, be seen by their troops and attend long and magnificent, if little understood, services in the incense scented cathedral. They were threaded across the streets, around squares, over doorways,in trees, and most thickly and colourfully draped over the front and from the minarets of Hagia Sophia, and the Topkapi Palace. Indeed, the utility of the minarets as flagpoles had helped to preserve them, against the desires of those who had wished to demolish them as Islamic excrescences spoiling the original design. The firework displays had also featured these magnificent birds in many colours. The cannon had roared victory salutes, the eminent personages had driven around in their carriages of state to the cheers of the crowd – not many of whom were locals, the lesser persons had enjoyed the free food and wine.It was certainly a historic occasion, the celebration of the liberation of the great city of Constantinople after well over a millennium under the Mohammedan yoke. No doubt the new day would bring it’s headaches, hangovers for the simpler souls and knotty matters of diplomacy, protocol, strategy, logistics, planning and business for the men who made made things happen; whilst the remaining Muslim inhabitants were mustered again in their work groups to continue their new campaign to clean up the accumulated grime and repair the neglect of centuries, under the orders, eyes, boots, fists and canes of their new German masters.
Thane Richard Stephenson had enjoyed the celebrations. He had been astonished by the prevalence of the old emblem of the double headed eagle in the flags and heraldry of all the main allies in this crusade, Germany, Russia, Serbia and lesser Balkan principalities, the Orthodox Church,and even his own kingdom of Mercia. He was impressed by this not quite coincidence, since they had all been derived from the old Byzantine imperial sign. He wondered whether this signified a revival in the fortunes of the conjoined spiritual and physical rulership indicated by the bird, and whether it would be long before the amity between the various claimants dissipated and they turned to tear each other apart. Perhaps the continued and continual threat posed by the Caliphate would induce them to hang together. The unfathomable ways of Wyrd had dissolved the power of another world-girdling empire emblemed by an eagle more than half a millennium since, and now appeared to be reviving another such empire or imperial ideal which had gone to oblivion a millennium before that. All the busy-ness and self-important bustle of success was soon stilled and laid in earth, but no man knew whether the whimsy of Fate might not revive it and show it again as having undergone ‘a sea-change, into something rich and strange’.
He considered that he he had been extremely lucky to have been chosen as one of the two assistants of Sir Henry Wright, the Mercian political representative and military attache to the German High Command, as it had enabled him to get a good view of the campaign. He had seen a good deal of the fighting, and had talked to many of those involved in various capacities, as well as to colleagues in the delegations from other powers also attached to this historic enterprize of the Second Holy Roman Empire of the German People. He thought that he might write a book about it. He was well placed to meet knowledgeable people, his German was good, and he had already collected a lot of material. His tasks included collecting letters to be carried home from the soldiers of the Mercian Regiment along with Sir Henry’s despatches to the Royal Council, so he had come to know a great deal of what happened and how it appeared at different levels. Sometimes he had helped to compose and write these letters for soldiers who were less than literate, and whose families would get friends, neighbours or employers to read them when they were received. For that matter, he had sometimes written Sir Henry’s despatches, at his dictation; not that Sir Henry was lacking in literacy or in style, but Richard wrote a fairer hand, which would be easier for the Royal clerks to decipher. Sir Henry saw Richard and his other assistant, John Bishop, as his charges to be trained and guided as observers and representatives and budding courtiers, so he often discussed situations with them, drew out the implications of their observations, and even sought their opinions occasionally.
These letters and packages were carried home in those most effective vehicles of German diplomacy, their airships. They maintained a sketchy, (approximately quarterly except in winter,) service between the front lines and the capital towns of Germany’s allies. These huge gasbags passing almost silently overhead, until they came down to be tethered overshadowing a large field, impressed both kings and commoners. Everyone wanted a ride in one of them, and Richard was envied because he had carried home the mail in one on several occasions.The commoners enjoyed the sight of them, felt they demonstrated the might of a friendly power, and were happy to receive news of their Toms Dicks and Harrys in the field far more rapidly and reliably than would otherwise have been the case. They talked excitedly of anyone who had seen one close up, or had had the rare treat of being allowed aboard and even taken for a brief flight when they came on diplomatic missions. The kings and their councillors smiled more coldly upon them, but with a thoughtful appreciation of how unwise it might prove to refuse the courteously presented requests of the masters of these machines. The artificers who saw them were awed by the technical achievements, and many were inspired with determination not just to replicate them, but to think and tinker over other inventions. Without the airships, communications would have been much slower, and the participation of some of the allies far less certain. At what point, Richard wondered, did the agreement of a neighbour become the acquiescence of an ally or the obedience of a province of the mighty German Empire, or the Second Holy Roman Empire of the German People,as he must now get used to calling it without breaking into laughter.
The growing emphasis on the association with the Roman Empire seemed a bit strange, but Richard thought it was understandable. The old Fourth Reich had emerged from the ruins of the European Community. Those ruins were quite literal after the Israeli nuclear attack had destroyed the main cities of Europe, except those of Germany and Russia. This left Germany as even more obviously a giant surrounded by pygmies and their obvious, irresistible, leader. The immediate and prolonged struggle against Islamic invasion had summoned associations with the medieval Holy Roman Empire, and the leadership expected from the Emperor. This had passed over to the Hapsburgs, and their double headed eagle, in leading resistance to earlier Islamic aggression. The Russians had fitted neatly into the symbolism of the situation, and it’s parallels to the eastern Roman Empire and the medieval and renaissance struggles of Europe against Islamic attack. The old Romanov double eagle was dusted off for Russia, whose Orthodox clerics were still quick to claim that Russia was the successor state to the eastern Roman Empire. Russia also had it’s problems with Islam, and these echoed those of earlier times, and spurred a strong Russian determination to avoid a repetition of the humiliations of the centuries under Muslim Mongol rule, and the long centuries spent driving the Tartars and Ottomans out of southern Russia, the Caucasus and the Balkans. An alliance was natural in these circumstances. The querulous Poles, though lacking a Roman connection, could also be included and soothed with reminders of their gallant ancestors heroic relief of the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, which had saved central Europe from being overrun.Thus, Constantinople, it’s strategic, political, religious and symbolic importance revived, became the obvious target for a great campaign to liberate Europe from the renewed threat of Islam. The success of the campaign was more than military, and this had been reflected in the prolonged celebrations. Both the German and Russian Emperors had traveled there to participate in joint ceremonies of revival of the eastern and western Roman empires, coronation and installation as Emperors of East and West. They would continue to rule from Berlin and Moscow, but Constantinople now stood as a symbol of joint interests and intentions. It might be political theatre, or even political thaumaturgy, but popular emotion and loyalty would be stimulated by these actions, and the sense of identity of the peoples of Europe would be altered.
The city itself and a strip of land bordering the Straits linking the Aegean and Black Seas was under the nominally independent control of the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, guaranteeing free access to the troops and fleets of both the German and Russian Emperors. In practice this meant it was under German control; but it was important to acknowledge Russian rights there also, in view of its symbolic importance to them, and in recognition of the centuries their predecessors had spent vainly seeking to obtain control of the city (thwarted by the 19th century British). By religion the Patriarch would be expected to sympathise with the Russians, but as a practical matter he depended on German troops, and was in their power.
In any case, Richard was sure that without the airships to motivate the diplomacy and carry the troops and supplies, a British Division consisting of brigades from Yorkshire, Mercia and Wessex, would not have fought their way across the Balkans as part of the German army,and participated in the liberation of Constantinople. Sir Henry had commented on the fact that the Germans had such a good understanding of the state of affairs in Britain and were such accomplished diplomats that they had been able to obtain a contribution about as large as was possible, and had it provided voluntarily. It was strange, he thought, that the unity of Britain, the United Kingdom, which had been lost in the Time of Chaos, was being somewhat restored as it’s main successor states, the Kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and Yorkshire came together emotionally in fighting a common foe, and in the closer economic and social contacts and wider knowledge of the world encouraged by the airships. Letters from his father told him that business was booming, with strong demand for cloth and metal ware, weapons and transport. There was a fever of new inventions and speculative projects, fortunes to be made and lost at home as lives and reputations were made and lost at the front. His father and his friends among the local gentry and merchants were looking for worthwhile, but not too speculative, investments. The smiths, mechanics and engineers were seeking to improve their skills and machines, keen to learn from and copy the Germans when they could get training and machines to copy. That reminded Richard that he needed to complete his letters home.
This time he would in addition be carrying some packages of tulip bulbs. He had found that the Turks and Russians were both fond of tulips, the archetypal flower of the steppes, and through his contacts he had managed to obtain packages of several varieties with which he was unfamiliar. He hoped they would flourish at the family estate, near Tamworth, the capital of Mercia.