scribblings from THE Empire: Evdokia Escapes
Updated: Oct 15, 2019
From previous blogs, you are aware of my love affair with the Byzantine Empire which began when I was a young girl of 13 and further enriched, enflamed by the four years I lived and studied in its capital Constantinople, now the teeming metropolis and beautiful Istanbul.
I began my scribblings for a possible novel a while back, but wishing to remain true to historical facts, lost myself in the dusty enlightenment of research. Seeking to free myself of Clio, the muse of history, I made a decision to delve into the pantheon of fantasy, all the while maintaining as a backdrop the fall of two cities: Thessaloniki, now the second city of Greece and then the second city of the Empire; and Constantinople, referred to by Greeks to this day as H Polis, The City, the capital of Constantine I, ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire and, after whom the former Byzantium was renamed, today’s Istanbul. Thessaloniki fell to the Ottomans on March 29, 1430, Constantinople on May 29, 1453.
As of right now, my writing begins with Thessaloniki, transitions to Constantinople, and from there, following the fall of Constantinople, to uncertainty. Actually, I have come up with two endings, thereby leaving the fate of my protagonist (for now, anyway), Evdokia, to the reader’s preference. Right now, I have pages representing a cornucopia of events longing to be woven into a tapestry. And so, I come to my debut, the first thread to be revealed, though not in sequence, of my story
The Ottomans are advancing on Constantinople. Enemies are always at our gates. Who they are is of no importance. Suffice: they are outsiders, threats to the lives of Constantinopolitans within the walls, those willing to fight to the death. So it is now, the spring of 1453. Sitting in our garden amid a plethora of roses, climbing jasmine, I fear the worst. How long before these splendorous complexions of nature will be no more than colorless, lifeless ash? Yes, the Turks are at our gates, our Emperor, our Empire doomed. How many times has Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos and those who preceded him managed to put off this day? Now our demise is inevitable. The church bells are pealing out their last.
But it was not always like this. There were other times, filled with uncertainty, yes, but happier. When one looked forward to the adventures life proferred. When my grandparents always looked forward to tomorrow; my grandmother tending her garden; my grandfather serving the Emperor on travels, missions. But even during those times, our Empire had shriveled to become not even a shadow of its former self, a Byzantine sanctuary surrounded by Ottomans, Bulgarians, Slavs, Venetians, Genoese, Franks. All seeking possession of this pearl surrounded by the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus, and tipped by the Black Sea: all gateways to other lands.
It was Loukas who led Evdokia away from the protection of her father’s home and through the shuttered avenues. Though the buildings, houses were locked, many abandoned, one felt the tremors of fear emanating from the doors, seeping through the walls. The silence was unnerving. Streets once tumultuous babels of merchants bartering their wares; foreign travelers passing through to admire the beauty, wealth, art entrenched within the churches, palaces, markets; men arguing politics in the squares; scholars bustling from their classes and debating as they went, heads down in concentrated discussion; priests and nuns tending their communities; officials looking official, thoughtful, skeptical; courtiers passing on their horses or on foot going to or coming from the palace; bejeweled patrician wives, hidden from the public eye, but watchful of one another’s beauty, robes and jewels; courtesans in the public eye, smiling and looking toward an evening of amusement and luxury. Now only empitness. All lifeless. All atremble. All waiting the inevitable: Mehmet’s army at the gates, surrounding the walls of the City. It was the beginning of the end. The end of the cross. The advent of the star and crescent.
Arriving at the shores of the Golden Horn, Loukas found an empty, unattended rowboat, abandoned by one of the many oarsmen, who in normal times transported passengers and goods daily across the slim body of water. What good would it serve to hide the boat? It, along with its owner, was doomed to serve or be destroyed by the enemy at the gate. The lonely boat along the quay: symbol of the inevitable, of abandon. Like the citizens of the City, it was rudderless, left to the mercy of the tides of fate, entrapped by the once open waters; ensnared by a rope binding it to the shore, like a noose tugging at life but not killing. Yet, this little rowboat was the only hope to keep Evdokia unfettered from her own impending chains of slavery or death.