The Syromean Gulf
(Collab of Serp and Wernher)
On the horizon of Nova Syrome, the masts of 3 ships began to appear and inside, dozens of eager warrior looking as if they were some peasants that never left the countryside at the Celestian jewel, the so called second capital of Baltia. Those onlookers were the young recruits dragged from the pits of Tautom who knew little but their own city and Baltian-Chlotar farmland. There was however little awe as they approached closer and the city was made more visible. Finally a young blonde man of significantly higher status than most but who yet had been the most eager to see this sight spoke the common thought.
“Its kinda small, isn’t it?” It looked clean, the architecture was nice but they had all seen the towers of the richer districts. Nonnonso, a prince as he was, had seen even more of Tautom’s good side. Behind him a hearty laugh was heard as a tall and handsome man slapped the youthful prince on the back of his bronze cuirasse.
“You’ve seen Tautom Nonnonso, so you’ve seen all that is worth seeing. I guess this city is much like its lord.” The man tilted his head to the side, as if trying to see another angle to this city.
“A microcosm of Celesean glory, juuust a tiny spec of an old culture refusing to die.” Nonnonso could see what Theodonus was saying, though there was a major difference between Tautom and Nova Syrome. In Syrome, some of those magnificent buildings looked new, everything in Tautom was old.
“My Doux!” Someone at the other side of the boat made sign for Theodonus to approach, which he did to look down at a small coast guard vessel. The men of the Doux had smirks on their faces and rolled their eyes and Theodonus could see why. The sailors bellow they looked like… well, peasants. Weren’t they part of the military? These people are the first people to greet strangers into the city and they are a bunch of weaklings! “I cannot allow your vessels entrance to the city if you will not tell me your business!” Visibly someone had already tried to tell this man that the business of a Doux was no one else’s but his own but it didn’t seem like an acceptable answer.
Theodonus leaned against the railway and looked down sternly on the men on the craft bellow. “You tell your master that this is an official visit by the king’s Grand Domestic of the Royal Stool, Doux Theodonus son of Valaris, I’ve come to talk about important business. And tell him the Grand Domestic expects fresh wine and a meeting without delay.” He insisted on that last part. For some reasons nobles always loved to act like they were too busy to receive him, making him wait for no reason and it pissed him off.
Palace of Aetius, Nova Syrome
‘’Which one is it?’’ Belisar asked the runner, a young militiaman who had ran the way from the docks.
‘’Doux Theodonus, your excellency.’’ The runner said, panting from the long run. ‘’He… he claims to be the domesticus of the royal stool…’’
Belisar sighed. It was this imbecile again. And now the grand domesticus of the what, royal stool? He couldn’t tell if such a frivolous title was actually handed out by Orso or if Theodonus had just made it up. Of all the Douxes of Tautom, it was solely this man he could not stand, perhaps more so than even King Orso. The street fighting thug and whoreson who charged into any possible catastrophe he could create. Whenever he appeared, it always spelled bad tidings for Belisar and the kingdom as a whole… he really ought to have this man killed.
‘’Your excellency, he is demanding wine and an immediate audience, declaring he has ‘important business’’ The runner continued.
‘’I am sure’’ Belisar spoke deadpan, looking over his drawings and alchemical ingredients as if to continue grinding poisonous plants and volatile earths before sighing again. Belisar turned to his side and made hand motions to allow pages forward.
‘’Bring wine and my robes’’
Belisar upon this announcement watched as the pages ran off to do as he said, and then returned to working on his alchemy. The runner waited patiently for some five minutes before growing confused. The pages returned with wine and begun dressing the Doux. Belisar took a goblet of wine and handed it to the runner.
‘’Why, the runners of Syrome have always been lazy, useless men who are always late, the Doux Belisar will regretfully not be able to receive Theodonus’ request for another hour due to this dreadful negligence.’’
‘’Uh… as you say your excellency’’
‘’You may drink the wine.’’ Belisar then turned back to his contraptions, and went to work deliberately wasting Theodonus’ time. It was petty, but Belisar had better things to do with his time than deal with the thug lord of the ghetto scum. It would not be until an hour and twenty minutes that he would finally respond to Theodonus request accepting an audience.
But it would not be 20 minutes after the messenger had been dispatched that Theodonus, standing motionless with his troops (2 of the 3 ships had entered the harbor, unloading 80 men as the rest remained at sea), decided he had enough.
“Alright, the Doux has certainly been warned of my arrival.” With this Theodonus decided to simply… walk forward. No way someone of his status wouldn’t be invited to the palace after all, and anyways, a milksop like Belisar certainly wouldn’t leave his palace during the heat of the summer. His men followed his lead without a single hesitation, the water in the canals of the city suddenly vibrating due to the disciplined footsteps of the hoplites.
A port administrator, worried of having foreign soldiers on the loose within the city, tried to interpose himself.
“W-wait! What are you doing!?” Theodonus would visibly not stop for him and so the bureaucrat was forced to walk alongside him. The warrior didn’t care however for the interloper.
“The Grand Domestique of the Royal Stool is going to the palace of Doux Belisar, out of my way!” The man was powerless, the guard uncertain and Theodonus, unimpressed. It was like he could walk in the damn city and do a coup! It was tempting to do so, though he probably didn’t have the men. Not that it had been his choice. One might think Theodonus only brought a hundred men because it is an appropriate escort for a man of his position, but the truth was that he didn’t have many blue water ships, he brought what he could. Thankfully, else Nova Syrome would have had an army at its doorstep.
“MAKE WAY, MAKE WAY FOR THE GRAND DOMESTIQUE!” At this point, it was impossible for Belisar to fail to know that Theodonus didn’t want to wait as his hero screamed at the top of his lung, the mass of spears advancing down the mainway to the palace.
The walls surrounding the palace were manned, heavily armoured Viigocs looking downwards in disgust. The gates opened regardless, a drawbridge over another canal lowered. Formations of Viigoc Household Guard assembled beyond, fully armoured and carrying swords, axes and banners of the House of Aetius, a single page walking out to greet the Grand Domesticus.
The assembled warriors stopped in front of their peers when their commander did. Theodonus and his men eyed the armored guards for a moment. In comparison Theodonus’s men wore bronze cuirasses of sculpted muscles with leg and arm protections, though nowhere as extensive as the Syrovigocs they’re facing. For their weapons, long sarisas, a bronze and wood shield, 2 javelins and a short sword each. To be honest, Theodonus’s men would be at a severe disadvantage in a fight against the heavily armored men facing them, but they couldn’t help but snicker, trying not to laugh at them, their cowardice and how they were probably all ugly trolls under all that armor who didn’t dare to show their faces and other features.
Theodonus raised his fist in the air to restore discipline in his rank as the page finally reached them. Theo removed his helm as a sign of respect and smiled to the page.
“Ah, you must be Belisar’s son! The future looks promising. He chose his wife well if she bore him a child that doesn’t look as sickly and frail as he does.” A step behind him, Nonnonso, his shield bearer, smiled and held himself from laughing. Theodonus obviously knew this man was just a page, but instead of offending himself about Belisar sending someone of such a low status to greet him, he prefered to make a joke. Though… the prince wished his teacher would sometimes be more serious. Belisar wasn’t known to be one to take ‘jokes’.
The page, dressed in robes rather than armour appeared youthful and decidedly effeminate, seemingly smiling as he ignored Theodonus.
‘’His Excellency the Chancellor and Doux of Syrome will see you now, if you would leave your guard here and follow me, my lord’’ the page declared. He then swept his arms to indicate for him to follow.
“Of course. PATHOS!” Theodonus turned around and a 7 feet tall bearded giant saluted his lord before turning around and signaling the guard to be at ease… not that any of the warriors would dare to show a lack of discipline in front of Belisar’s men, either by pride or fear of Pathos’s lashing once they were back in Tautom. Theodonus walked, followed by Nonnonso and… five other men, armed and one of them carrying a foldable chair of an especially decorative design.
“You islanders are too far from civilization, you’re forgetting basic civilities. Where is my wine?!”
The page continued walking, through sections of gardens and courtyards. The palace had clearly been voided on its occupants, as there were signs of food, equipment and other objects of the goings of noblemen, pages and courtly (and not so courtly) women left behind. All that remained were silent Syrovigoc guardsmen, their faces hidden behind steel.
Finally, the page stopped before a rampart of sorts at the edge of the palace, the decorative stone and marble facing the sea of Tears, connecting to a gazebo facing the sea. Behind rippling white silk sheets and purple flags was Belisar, sitting in a chair waiting. Around the gazebo were yet more Viigoc guardsmen.
Theodonus and his companion meant business, not stopping for details. Nonnonso on the other hand, being by far the youngest person present, was curious, his eyes wandering around.
“Seems like they don’t want the ladies to look at a real man…” He whispered jokingly. Theodonus looked back at him with a smirk.
“Stow that, my protegee, this is business now.” Although Theo had said with a smile and a wink, Nonnonso knew when his teacher was serious.
Finally they arrived at their destination. The prince eyes Belisar, curious about the man while the rest of the companions continued to look forward. Theodonus entered first and was followed by Nonnonso and the stool bearer who began to announce his lord.
“Presenting the Grand-” He was interrupted by Nonnonso who stepped back and reached for his sword. “Watchout!” A snake! A cobra slithering on the ground! Before he could unsheath his blade however, Theodonus reached to place his hand atop of his. “Relax…” He commenced, seemingly not flustered in the slightest. “The islands are filled with snakes, there’s been hundreds around us, you just haven’t noticed.” He said, turning his gaze to stare at Belisar in the eyes, heavily insinuating things. “Let it skulk in the dark, it will do us no harm”
Still staring at the beast in its eyes, Nonnonso swallowed but controlled his fear, releasing his sword as his mentor took a seat, not bothering to be offered one. The hero cleared his throat once again to continue.
“Presenting the Grand Domestique of the Royal Stool, Doux Theodonus, son of Valaris.” And with this, the man unfolded a Curule seat, the ‘Stool’, and placed it opposed to the two men sitting, as if it was the third person of the group. Casually, Theodonus handed a ring to Nonnonso who diligently placed it on the cushion of the seat. King’s Orso’s seal. The gesture was symbolic, but it meant that the two men were to speak as if King Orso was watching and of course, meant that in this matter Theodonus was his agent and his voice.
“SO!” Began Theodonus, turning his attention to Belisar. “How have you been Belisar? I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen you in Tautom!” He said, indulging in the ritualistic small talk that was the custom, not really caring about it… though maybe he could fit in an insult or two to the Doux, that was always fun.
“Speak, what do you want Theodonus?” Belisar said.
“So quick to business. Well then!” Said Theodonus enthusiastically as he reached to pour himself a cup of wine. “I want a great many things, but it’s not about what I want. It’s about what the KING wants.” He said, raising his glass to the empty chair.
“I am sure” Belisar said, drumming his fingers on the table in boredom. ‘’Let me repeat, what is it that you want?’’
You like to make people wait? Enjoy, asshole. Theodonus thought, taking quite the pleasure to waste the time of his fellow vassal.
“Again, what the KING wants, is an increase in the contribution you make for the defense of the realm!’’
‘’Is that so? I would have thought the Steward or master of the treasury would have informed me of this… rather than the Grand Domestic… of the Stool’’. Belisar asked. ‘’Perhaps an overeager or sloppy bureaucrat has misinformed you.’’
“Oh nononono…” Theo answered, shaking his head. “Its a tax hike.” He clarified with a smile. “Also, that’s ROYAL stool for you. And the reason I’m handling this rather than a taxman is that we’re trying to change things you know? Make the bureaucracy leaner, cleaner… lighter. Less chances that coin go missing. Less bureaucrats to pay.”
“And this cutting of redundancy has led to the Grand Domestic of the.. ‘Royal’ Stool in charge of reporting changes in taxes - instead of the Steward. Clearly there must be some mistake among his highnesses council in the relaying of orders and positions’’ Belisar too then sipped his wine.
‘’I will have to speak with his highness so that we can gain clarity over this… aberration. I am sure you would agree, since you are so keen on seeking leaner… and cleaner bureaucracy’’
Meanwhile in the hallways leading up to the doors a commotion is heard. Muffled murmuring of several voices, just loud enough for the two Douxes to discern, disrupting their talks as all their eyes turned towards the back wall for a moment.
With a large ‘BLAM’ the door flies open, and in there appears the same page as before, doubtlessly with something important. His face looked disturbed.
‘’...What is the meaning of this?’’ Belisar proclaims impatiently, tapping his foot as he frowns.
‘’M-my Doux… It is news from the Capital. It’s… It’s..’’
Theodonus leans backwards, turning his face towards the page.
‘’What is it now, boy? It had best be worth interrupting our very important discussion.’’
The boy, quite flustered, stammers out his report.
‘’The City is being overrun by the Chlotars! They’re inside the city!’’
Belisar doesn’t blink, but his stern frown and wide-open eyes express a shock he can barely restrain.
Theodonus immediately shoots up from his chair, looking at Nonnonso.
‘’Talks can wait! Nonnonso, muster the men!’’
The young prince jumps up and darts past the page and into the hallway. Theodonus once more turns to the Syromean Doux, smugly.
‘’Seems this puts a premature end to our talks. This is what your negligence of Baltia’s defenses has brought us. But rest assured, old milksop, you’ve not heard the last of me!’’
And with that last show of swagger, Theodonus too leaves the hall to head out towards the pier.