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At the Edge of the Eurth


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As Droungariokomes (Commodore) Sofia Ooryfaina looked the bay and the town of Basilikolimanion that was nestled around it, there were several things that struck her.

The first was that was a good, sheltered anchorage for ships, and the concrete wharves that jutted into the bay would make the unloading of equipment easier. So long as they were still in good condition, although they likely wouldn't have been used intensively for decades. They could well be corroded and weakened by years of being battered by the elements and unable to take much heavy equipment moved across them.

The second was that the large cathedral and equally large palace were incongruous amidst the dilapidated and crumbling houses and industrial buildings. They were from a significantly more prosperous time, when the Hermitages were at the centre of Arhomaneia's whaling industry a century ago. The islands where then, briefly, used for coal and iron ore mining until the Long War made it too dangerous for ships to cross. An attempt was made thirty or forty years ago to restart the mining, but it was deemed uneconomical to ship it across the Sea of Storms. She couldn't tell what state the wharves were in from out where her ship was. Or the palace and the cathedral, as they were just dark silhouettes against the the bare rock and small patches of vegetation that made up the hinterland behind the main settlement of the Hermitages.

The third was that it looked bloody cold out there. The wind was whipping off the tops of the waves and it looked like there was snow in the air.

“No sign of any life?” She asked the ship's captain, or Droungarios in her nation's naming conventions, taking her binoculars from her eyes and turning to her left to look over her shoulder. His name was Eufemios Kamoteros and he looked like the typical Basilikoploimon officer – smartly turned out in his black uniform, with a dark beard that was starting to show edges of grey. He was of below average height, not much taller than Ooryfaina herself. Both of them had regulation short hair and were wrapped up against the cold, despite being on the bridge of the command ship of the mission.

“None from the Foussatores or Vestiaritai, Kyriossa,” came the reply from the officer standing at her left shoulder. The Border Guard and the Financial Guard respectively, they were only on the island to protect what little Arhomaneia considered to be of worth on islands. Which was little. “The monks, though, have acknowledged our approach. I've asked them to get in contact with the others.”

Droungariokomes Ooryfaina gave a heavy sigh. The need for secrecy and the speed at which the operation was assembled meant that it hadn't been able to contact the remote stations that kept the Tagmatine claims to the faraway islands alive. It also didn't help that the islands were considered such a backwater deployment by the organisations in charge of them that it would probably have taken weeks for them to contact their subordinates on the islands. It was considered by the Epistrategaion to just contact them once the flotilla was close enough to the island. It could well have been something of an oversight on the part of the High Command.

“Well, keep having your people try them, Droungarios. I don't want any unfortunate accidents taking place.” The Droungariokomes turned away and walked over to the windows on the bridge's starboard side to look at the handful of vessels that were following the cruiser BPP Trapezon she was on.

Three tenders, filled with supplies and equipment to establish a proper base on the island, as well as a troop ship with a Apelatai regiment on it. Although it had initially been deemed a risk to withdraw a unit from the western border, the elite infantry were equipped and prepared to deal with the harsh conditions this far north. There were two corvettes and a destroyer accompanying the flotilla, watching for any ships or aircraft that might have suspicious intentions. A pair of submarines lurked nearby, acting as an unseen screening force. A conspicuously civilian vessels with too many antennas lurked between the tenders and the troop ship. It was from the Arhomaiki Diktyo Pliroforion and other than its presence and its immediate movements, no one had explained to the Droungariokomes what it was going to be doing.

Ideally, the attention of the Gharoi would be on both Corinium or the Prognostikator watching them in the Thalassa ton Kataigidon, the Sea of Storms. No one should really have seen anything as the Tagmatine ships slipped anchor in the various ports on the Kentriki Thalassa, the Central Sea and then amassed on the eastern side of the island of Vanarambion. They kept to international waters as best as they could as they did so. The vessels then made their way north by slipping through the Fillipou Thalassa, the Kosscow Sea and between the islands of the Hexanesa under the cover of darkness. Nights were still long at this time of year and this latitude. The flotilla was approaching from the east, in order to try to further escape any possible prying eyes from other countries. The few ships they had seen were trawlers, although you could never be sure.

It seemed a good enough plan to the Droungariokomes when she'd been briefed on it but it was clear that it could spark off something, especially as the Seilosioi (@Seylosians) and the Iberikoi (@Ivericans) had tried to block Gharoi (@Haruspex) plans for Corinium. Only partially successfully, as the Gharoi pretty much now controlled the northern entrance to the Adlantic. There was a good chance that the northern barbarians were eyeing up the Hermitages, probably to create naval bases and despoil of their natural resources. Which was something that the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion wanted to avoid, as it would entirely put the seas surrounding Arhomaneia at their mercy.

As the Droungariokomes ruminated on the chances that Arhomaneia might kick off something bigger with establishing direct control to the northern islands, another officer leaned over to the Droungarios and muttered in his ear. He nodded and turned to Ooryfaina.

“It looks like we still can't get a hold of anyone but the monks, Kyriossa, but they've sent someone over to to warn the Foussatores and the Vestiaritai,” he said, a frown on his face. “Apparently it's common, or at least common enough, that someone's radio goes down and they rely on the others to communicate.”

Ooryfaina grunted. “Good start.”

The other officer shrugged. “As good as any, really. I suppose it can't be expected that this out-of-the-way shithole would be up to scratch. They have to get everything sent up to them and it's not like any of them are trained military.”

“Well, two of them are law enforcement of some sort,” the Droungariokomes said, shaking her head and walking over towards the windows in the bridge that looked towards the islands. “The buggers should really have their shit together a lot more. Especially out here.”

“It'll be a shock when two-odd thousand pissed off soldiers start stomping around the island,” replied the captain, a grin showing through his beard. The smile disappeared and was replaced by a more serious look. “The monks also suggest that we use the eastern wharf, as the western one is a bit degraded.”

“What's 'a bit degraded'” the female officer asked her subordinate, turning towards him, eyebrow raised.

“They didn't really say,” the other replied, with a shrug. “I suppose that we'll have to see as soon as we get there.”

Both of them turned to look towards the island. It was low down towards the sea but rose up towards the north east to a hill. A glacier covered the mountain and below that, bare rock. They were much closer now, able to see the individual houses that made up much of the settlement, as well as the walls of the fortress. Most of the houses were little more than ruins. The palace and the cathedral were easily seen.

“They call it the Palati ton Oston,” said Kamoteros. “Pretty ominous. Apparently, they made much of the flooring and door frames out of whalebone, from all the years of hunting.”

Again, the more senior officer grunted in reply.

 


 

The BPP Trapezon was too large to moor directly alongside the wharves, as it was much bigger than the colliers and iron ore cargo ships it had been designed for, some seventy or more years ago. That didn't bode too well for the plans to bring the port itself up to the standards necessary for acting as the Europan end of the Argic trade route. But, Ooryfaina considered as she stood in ready to climb out of the ship's boat she had left the cruiser in, it was likely already known by the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion. The iron rungs of the ladder from the water level up to the top of the wharf were slippery, corroded and occasionally missing. She almost lost her grip a couple of times. Getting a dip in the frigid Thalassa ton Kataigidon was not something that she was planning on doing today. As she hauled herself onto the top of the wharf, a band struck up the Arhomaiki national anthem.

Badly.

The smell of incense wafted over the sea air and was whipped away by a strong wind and she looked towards where the music was coming from. The band was made up of ten musicians, half in the winter uniform of the border guard and half in that of the financial guard. It did not sound like they had every practised together. A group of monks, well wrapped in winter gear, were waving thymiata and carrying holy relics to bless the new arrivals. Striding towards the Droungariokomes was an elderly-looking priest carrying a crozier and with a mitre perched on a woolly hat, followed by what must be the two senior officers of the enforcement agencies that occupied the Herimitireia. They seemed to be having a typically Aroman struggle over who would greet her first in their order of seniority. The border guard could trace their roots to the forces that conquered Europa and Amutia whilst the financial guard were, strictly speaking, a unit of the Tagmata. Thus the two officers were surreptitiously trying to step in front of the other. Soon it was likely going to come to elbows jabbed in ribs.

“Welcome to the Herimitireia,” said the Arkhiepiskopos Dorothios Maliasenos, vapour from his breath curling away in the wind. He gave an appraising glance over Ooryfaina's rank tabs. “It is rare that we get anyone from the Basilikoploimon here, let alone a droungariokomes. Usually, it's a ship chartered from a civilian firm that drops of supplies for us. A supply tender for them comes from the navy but it's never someone of such a rank.”

The archbishop punctuated the last part of the statement with a jab of a gloved hand over his shoulder. The two behind him had finished their bickering but waited until the archbishop had finished talking to the naval officer. The statement of the archbishop seemed to be a bit dismissive of the other two officers but she couldn't quite tell.

“And now you arrive with that,” he said, giving a nod towards the flotilla sat in the bay.

“Yes, your beatitude,” replied Ooryfaina. “The Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion has decided that it is time for the Herimitireia to truly become part of Arhomaneia again.”

A pretty pompous line. The naval officer winced internally almost as soon as she said it.

“Some of it has already been explained to me by a communication from emailed over to me,” the archbishop said. “I am not sure I wholehearted approve, for many reasons. For one, we have got used to the peace and tranquillity of these islands. I rather it wasn't disturbed by building work, ships or soldiers.”

“I believe that will come a bit later, your beatitude,” the Droungariokomes replied. “I'm not sure when but I think that, considering what the Gharoi and Seilosioi have done, I imagine it will be soon. I'm not in charge of the building work, just securing the islands.”

Again, the expression on what little of the archbishop's face was visible between his beard and his woolly hat was unreadable. He turned on his heel without another word and started to walk back down the wharf towards his waiting entourage, who were still waving incense and chanting. Ooryfaina found herself staring after him, frowning. She hadn't been told anything about the Church disapproving of the increase in activity on the islands but, as she had said to the archbishop, that wasn't really her problem. Her job was to stop any other nation to trying to meddle in the affairs of the island.

Another woolly hat bobbed into view, but this with a tall domed hat crammed on top of it.

Tribounos Pankratoukaina Tzamplakonissa of the Foussatores,” said the well wrapped little shape that lay under the hat. From the name, Ooryfaina guessed that the speaker was female but the amount of clothes rendered any physical appearance hard to discern. And in order to nip any pretensions of the other officer being anything other than inferior to the speaker, they continued. “And this is Komes Theognostos Maroules.”

The other officer narrowed his eyes at the slight but gave a half-bow towards the naval officer.

“Welcome to the edge of the Eurth, Droungariokomes,” the shorter figure said, with unnecessary dramatics. “We'll get you and your staff somewhere warm.”

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“The Herimitireia, also known as the Nisia Herimtion, as well as some barbarian names” - Eugenios Goulielmos made a dismissive had gesture as he said that part, despite being the foreign minister - “are amongst the most northerly islands in the hemisphere, well within the Argic Circle. Officially, at least to us and that is what is counting right now, they have been part of the Megas Agios Basileia since...”

Paulos Narses wasn't really listening to the Megas Logothetes ton Barbaron talk. Fundamentally, he knew about the islands, their geography, their ecology, their history and so felt he didn't need to listen. He had been a geologist, a respected professor and a minister before he became a priest and then a minister again. He'd even undertaken an oil exploration survey on the islands some twenty years ago, which had determined that there were no exploitable reserves there, at least at the time. He didn't need to listen to Eugenios talk about something he already knew. Instead, he looked around the room.

Unlike many of the other meeting rooms, virtually interchangeable, this one was well lit. It must have been on the second or third floor of the Basilikon Synkrotima Palation, the Imperial Palace Complex. Tastefully painted in light colours in a surprisingly modern style – the clean lines gave the room an almost utilitarian style, with very little of the ostentation often prevalent in much of the palace. Even the table was not some giant oaken edifice but brushed aluminium. Of course, there were still touches of the typical Arhomaiki mindset – a cross or a chi-rho in places, as well as gaudily-uniformed guards and the ever-present priests. Narses, of course, was one, as was the minister of the Logothesion ton Deeseon, the Ministry of Information but the ones around the rooms were wafting incense and muttering prayers.

“Of course, we never truly abandoned the islands, or at least that is what we'll maintain,” Eugenios continued, unaware that at least one of his audience just wasn't listening. The minister-priest sneaked a look around the room and it seemed like there were several others who had zoned out. Their aides had probably given them a briefing on the Nisia Herimtion before this meeting to make sure that they were up to speed.

Eugenios' glasses had slipped down his nose slightly and he used the thumb of his left hand to push them back up. It was a consistent habit of his and Narses wondered if the man had ever bought a pair of glasses that fit properly. The Megas Logothetes ton Barbaron continued. “The Church has a small monastery there, which maintains the cathedral, as well as some other monastic cells scattered about the islands. The Foussatores have a small force there, roughly fifty or so, as do the Vestiaritai, who have a similar number deployed there. The former to make sure no one else lands there and the latter to stop anyone trying to mine anything. Or smuggle. Other than a handful of people carrying out ancillary services, there is no one else there, at least not officially.”

The foreign minister moved the sheets of paper in front of him with a finger, as if he'd lost his place. This was one of the strange briefings that Kommodos preferred. Effectively, the plan had already been set into motion and the Tagmatine monarch made everyone else carry out the briefing for him. The monarch himself sat at the head of the table, his chief bodyguard and private secretary stood behind him whilst the rest of the cabinet listened to what was put before them, as if he was to be swayed by some argument. Usually, the Agios Basileos kai Autokrator, the representative of God on Eurth, had already made up his mind on how to act. Typically, it was Goulielmos and Kontarian who were carrying it out, although the latter was yet to say anything.

“Your imperial majesty, I may correct the Endoxotatos on that last point, there is also a small group from my Logothesion on there at the moment,” said Narses, taking a advantage of Eugenios taking a breath. “They're undertaking a wildlife survey as spring arrives on the islands. I believe that there is also an archaeological survey taking place there to take advantage of the rising temperatures.”

“And, your imperial majesty, if I may correct the Endoxotatos, that archaeological survey isn't going to take place until the summer,” a small, prim woman who the Minister-Priest had barely registered before spoke up. She looked over to Narses as if she'd scored some sort of point. Narses smiled and gave a shrug back. Goulielmos looked between the two and gave a slight frown, as if the rambling flow of words had been interrupted, rather than pattering to a stop of its own accord. “They're going to use the extra hours of daylight to get the work done a bit quicker.”

“Well, what I was saying is that no one else has bothered with them in recent years,” the foreign minister carried on, sounding slightly annoyed. He shuffled the papers around in front of him again. “Although if anyone else did try to stake a claim to them, there would be little we could do beyond the main island and Basilikolimanion. There has been the occasional concern that the Akhbisoi, the Deltanoi, the Gharoi or the Adaptoi might try to exercise historical claims to the islands, or one of the other nations that once had a whaling station there at some point.”

Of those four countries, the latter two either looked, or were looking, to southern Europa or the New Wurld to try to expand their influence. The former two had collapsed in one way or another, with Akwisia becoming a protectorate of the Greater Holy Empire before they could try to make any independent claim to the islands. They might still try to press a claim but that was something Eugenios and Kommodos were going to have to try to sort out. It was nothing to do with Narses.

“It is also hoped, imperial majesty, that the islands might become a link in the chain between us and the Iberikoi, who are trying to set up a trade route through the Argic Circle towards Europa.”

“And successfully so, too, imperial sovereign,” piped up the Megas Logothetes tou Kommerkiarionikou, the Minister for Trade. His bald head and impressive beard put many in mind of his head being upside down and it was a very unchristian thought for Narses to think as he turned to look at him. “If their own news reports are anything to go buy. It seems like at least some of the petty states along the coast of the Argic Ocean are open to trade with civilisation nations.”

Whether it would be enough to cover the expenditure on getting the port facilities of Basilikolimanion up to modern standards, or even just repaired, was another matter. Let alone the regiment of infantry that was being deployed there, along with anti-aircraft defences and a large naval presence. Likely, these would be scaled down in the next few months, depending on whether any other nation decided to react unfavourably to Arhomaneia's increase in presence on the island.

“I would have thought that going south through Adaptiki waters would always be the safer bet, imperial majesty, now the Gharoi have lodged themselves into Korinion,” pointed out the Minister of Internal Affairs, leaning back in his chair and putting his hands on the armrests. He seemed to take a delight in trying to point out the flaws in other people's ideas, always attempting to prove himself more intelligent. Usually, it was accompanied by a smug air of self-satisfaction but Pantaleon Tonaras seemed to be genuinely thoughtful this time. It wasn't as if he didn't have a point with that comment, either. “The bases that the buggers are undoubtedly building, dread fortresses with iron spikes and cruel chains no doubt, put any extension of the Iberikiki trade route in doubt. Even if either side didn't any overt moves against the other. Just going the long way round might make more sense, even if it does take a lot longer.”

The heads of most of the people sat along the table slowly swivelled to the map projected on the short wall of the room. The same thought, the words of Tonaras, were probably going through their heads. Going down through the central Europan seas, out through the Raga Sea and then across the Adlantic would completely avoid Korinion. The Throat was a bit of a nightmare of overlapping territorial claims and national waters, and the inner Argic seas were little different but they weren't nests of pirates. At least it seemed like the Dolch Sea was poised to become a safe route again. Why spend money on trying to make some frozen rocks useful when there wasn't any need to?

Kontarian finally spoke and broke the silence.

“Your majesty, I feel that Megas Logothetes Tonaras does make a sound point,” the Minister for War said. “We all know that trying to make these islands workable will be a significant and costly project. We have all seen the estimates of the outlay, in money and resources, or at least I hope everyone has. Both my Logothesion and several others have worked on estimations and proposals. Obviously, we can't pretend that it isn't going to be expensive.”

None of the Agios Basilikon Vestiarion seemed surprised at that. After all, the plan was to overhaul facilities in the frozen north of the wurld.

“However, it is considered to be vital, for strategic reasons,” Kontarian continued. “Which have been outlined. This alone will mean that we have to push forward with the reintegration of the islands.”

We have to do it, just in case someone else gets there first. That was probably one of the oldest arguments for meddling in others' affairs that there was. It wasn't the first time that it would have been said during a meeting of the Agios Basilikon Vestiarion and it would not likely be the last time, either.

“Amongst the potential trade benefits, there is the idea of ecotourism on the islands,” It now sounded like Takitos Khalkeos was a travel agent. “They're a pristine environment. There is similar environments in other parts of the Argic, but those places are either in countries that are suffering as part of the Europan Collapse or... uncivilised and undeveloped. That we are probably one of the only stable and prosperous countries in northern Europa would likely attract tourists from all over the wurld.”

Narses shifted in his chair. Development of the main island's port facilities, both for civilian and military traffic, now talk of tourism to the island. His role as Minister for the Environment, at least in his own mind, was to make sure that the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion's plans didn't cause too much damage to God's Eurth. He stroked his own beard before shifting forward and resting his arms on table in front of him. He looked down the table and met the eye of his monarch.

“Imperial majesty, I realise there does appear to be a necessity to develop these islands, but I must insist that we still keep all due environmental oversight. We can't water down our controls just because it seems like this is deemed important, especially since these are such rare habitants.”

“Of course, Endoxotatos,” replied the Tagmatine sovereign, looking at Narses back. “There is no suggestion that we will do such a thing. Indeed, I do hope that your Logothesion will play a leading role in making sure that does not happen. Whilst this will be primarily about strengthening links with the New Wurld, we must make sure that our nation's role as protector of Eurth in a literal sense.”

Well, that seemed like a start in Narses' eyes. “Thank you, your imperial majesty.”

Endoxotatoi, I believe that will be all. These islands need to be secured, to protect them from those that would loot them as well as Arhomaneia's interests. This is the time to do it and I do not feel that we can wait any longer.”

The Agios Basileos kai Autokrator kai Isapostolos, the Holy Emperor and Autocrat and Equal-to-the-Apostles, stood. The ministers and cabinet members stood as well and bowed to their monarch, who swept out of the room with his entourage in tow.

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  • 1 month later...

The small room that the two naval officers were led into was a lot warmer than standing around outside. The building it was in was a squat concrete structure, almost like a bunker, overlooking the palace and cathedral. It probably was a bunker, leftover from either the Long War or afterwards. It seemed like it even had what looked like embrasures and loop holes although they had double glazing and curtains on the inside. Still, it was surprisingly comfortable in there. The floor had a carpet, although threadbare in places, and the furniture looked battered and worn. But it was a comfortable battered and worn, as if it had been lived in for a while. A TV and a VCR was sat in one corner and a couple of tables were scattered around the room, as well as some ancient looking, mismatched armchairs. There were no signs of a heater in the room but Ooryfaina guessed there was underfloor heating and the radiators must be out of sight. The walls had a few cheap prints of warmer parts of Arhomaneia on them, pictures of sunny fields and light glinting off of church domes.

That was kind of tragic. The VCR alone must have dated from before Kommodos was elected to the Leopard Throne. Ooryfaina and Kamoteros shared a look. Spending years up here in the dark of winter would definitely get oppressive. No wonder there seemed to be an element of eccentricity amongst the population of the island.

But the room seemed like it was the closest the Foussatores had for an officers' mess. There didn't seem to be any sort of orderly and the Tribounos herself scuttled off to get the naval officers a cup of tea herself, despite being the commanding officer. The financial guard commander chose a table and chair nearby, but not too close to the other officers, wanting to keep a distance. They had all shed their coats in the entrance hall of the command bunker, in a warm cubby hole set aside for that purpose.

“You don't know it,” said the Tribounos, looking over her steaming mug of tea at the Droungariokomes, the look in her eyes unreadable, “but the Arkhiepiskopos already hates you.”

Ooryfaina was taken aback and the look of surprise was plain on her face and her captain raised his eyebrows at the comment. She'd been wanting to ask the local commanders candid questions about what they truly thought the islands forces' were capable of, although ideally apart from each other. That way, they wouldn't have tried to bluster and show off. Being told the island's chief cleric hated her was not something she expected in the least.

“Why?” was all she could manage.

“It's kind of convoluted,” Tzamplakonissa said, putting down her mug and sitting back in her chair. Despite having a senior officer's rank, the woman didn't look to be out of her twenties. On top of that, she was quite chubby and a cruel person might suggest that that was a response to the Argic climate. The naval officer decided the glint to her eyes was one of enjoyment at the discomfort of others. “But, basically, your ship is a massive 'f*ck you' from Tagmatika. Like, really f*cking huge.”

“It's not even my ship. It's his,” Ooryfaina protested, jabbing a thumb towards Droungarios Kamoteros. “I'm using it as my flag ship. It's got the best facilities on it. It's old, certainly, commissioned under the Navarkhokrateia but finished under Theodosios, may he rest in peace.”

“May he rest in peace,” the three other officers echoed. Theodosios had been very popular, loved where the old tyrant was just respected and feared.

“It's not the ship or when it was made,” the Komes said, elaborating a bit. He seemed to be a man of few words and it the first time that the naval officer had heard him speak. Out of his winter clothing, the man looked even more of an opposite to his border guards counterpart. He was tall, skinny and likely at the upper age range for his rank. “It's the name. Trapezon.”

“About thirty years ago, when the Arkhiepiskopos was an Episkopos, he was thought to be the front runner for the Patriarkheion,” said the Foussatores officer, cutting the man off. She paused dramatically and looked around before continuing. “Of Trapezon.”

Maroules gave the younger officer a hard look. “It was seventeen years ago. Bonifatios VII, the old Patriarkhes of Trapezon had kicked it and it looked like Maliasenos was a shoe-in for the position.” He stopped at that point and looked cautiously around, as if there was someone else that might be listening in. As a gesture, it was almost normal for any Arhomaios under the regime of Kommodos. It wasn't as if speculating over internal church affairs was a crime. It was often a big topic of conversation but parts of the country had definite leanings as to how conservative or liberal they were. But nonetheless, the secret police could be listening and could be taking offence. “He was thought to be much too conservative for Theodosios, God rest him, and he and Kommodos managed to get Nikolaos installed in the position instead.”

“Although Kommodos was the Rhaiktor back then and Nikolaos was the Mesazon. And called Maurikios Amfonos.” The Tribounos' additions weren't news to Ooryfaina and Maroules rolled his eyes. The female officer just seemed to be keen to fill any possible pause in the conversation.

“Anyway...” continued Maroules. “As I was saying, Maliasenos was, as you imagine, pretty f*cked off with being replaced by someone who was just a political appointment. He kicked up a stink about it. Supposedly, Theodosios and Kommodos ended up pressuring the Church enough that Maliasenos was given a Arkhiepiskopos position. To try to shut him up.”

The two naval officers didn't say anything for a moment but exchanged another look. These were uncomfortable facts for any Tagmatine. On the one hand, it was public knowledge. On the other, the government had a literal secret police that went around and monitored any chance of disloyalty towards the current regime. Being a member of the navy, the Droungariokomes knew that she was in a similar twilight wurld. Naval officers had been the key architects of the Navarkhokrateia, as the name implied – 'The Rule of the Admirals'. But the disloyal elements of the navy had effectively got rid of themselves in the Civil War of 2005, as they were decisively defeated in that conflict, along with the elements of the army that had supported them. She hadn't yet made it through a naval academy yet at that point, and so avoided any of the purges. Promotion had been rapid in the aftermath. But still, unlike the army or the air force, the navy still was watched very closely.

“And to shut him up more, they made him the Arkhiepiskopos of the Hermitage Islands.” Maroules leant back in his chair and made a gesture with his hand, circling his finger around as if to take in all of the islands. “On paper, it's a promotion. In reality, it puts him as far away as possible from Arhomaneia without being on a different continent. Of course, it came around and bit the ABK on the arse, as Nikolaos went and became just as much of a hardliner as the Arkhiepiskopos would have been. If not more so, as he had something to prove.”

“And your flag ship is named after the position he wasn't allowed,” added in Tzamplakonissa, almost gleefully. She took a long drink from her mug, evidentially enjoying the discomfort of the naval officers. “Even I know it's not the only one of the class in service, so they could have sent a different one if they had wanted to. Clearly, it's a calculated insult by the ABK. I mean, literally. Someone in Tagmatika is trying to piss him off.”

That sounded like a crazy conspiracy theory on the part of the two local officers. Ooryfaina looked from face to face, trying to judge the level of seriousness they both put in it. The Tribounos seemed to regard the whole thing as nothing other than a source of amusement whilst the Komes looked like he thought there was something to it.

“You don't think that's actually true, do you?” the Droungariokomes asked, scepticism and an edge of dismay sounding in her voice. She didn't really want the local head of the church being hostile towards her mission here. There was probably little the archbishop could do to obstruct it, especially when the ball truly got rolling, but he could certainly make things frustrating.

The grin on the Tribounos' face got broader. She looked over at her counterpart, who nodded. She leant forward in her chair and propped her elbows against the table.

“Well, I'll put it this way,” she said, but took a sip of tea before she continued. “A few years after he was made Arkhiepiskopos, he petitioned the government to be allowed to turn the islands into a monastic state, to allow the whole place to be solely devoted to God. Amongst other things, females of any sort banned from the island.”

“I think he was doing that to try to piss the government off, mainly,” added in Maroules before he elaborated a bit more. “He was still in the bad books. It got some level of support, though, especially in the north. Nikolaos was in support of it but that's probably a whole different thing in itself. But Tagmatika didn't want to let go of any territory, even nominally.”

“So they sent me as the next commanding officer of the Foussatores unit here,” said Tzamplakonissa. She sat quietly for a bit before shrugging. “It's been a bit of a pain in the arse. I wasn't allowed in the cathedral for a few months, before the Church itself got wind of that and told Maliasenos to stop being a dickhead about it. You're likely to face the same thing. I doubt he'll be able to f*ck up the ABK's plans here but he'll definitely try to be obstructive.”

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The doors to Honorios Kontarian's private office slammed open, rebounding off the walls. Kontarian looked up from his lunch. He had got one of his ministerial secretaries to go and get a takeaway from a local Esonikiki (@Esonice) restaurant that had recently opened a few streets away from his ministry's main office in Tagmatika. He had wanted to try it for a while and today had looked like the best time to do so. The Megas Logothetes tou Stratiotikou had even gone as far as to clear his schedule to make sure that he wasn't disturbed. He had been glad that he had done so, as he was finding the strange little sticks the barbaroi used instead of good Christian cutlery a bit difficult to use. He pulled his napkin from where he had tucked it in to try to stop his suit from getting covered in sauce and wiped his face before turning away from his lunch.

“I've just read a very interesting paper.”

Paulos Narses stood framed in the doorway to the private waiting room of Kontarian's suite of offices at the top of the office block. What gap there was between the minister-priest's hairline and his large beard was creased by an angry frown. Behind him, civil servants and members of the Logothetes tou Stratiotikou peeped around several open doors. Even several of the white-robed and gold armoured bodyguards accorded to a high-ranking minister of state seemed to have been brushed aside by the angry environment minister. Their golden sallet helms peeped around the door frame directly behind the Presbyteros. They had been unsure whether they should have stopped another Megas Logothetes from storming into Kontarian's office. The man didn't have an appointment but he was a high minister in the Tagmatine government. Equally, it wasn't unheard in the long history of Arhomaneia of for one minister to come to blows with others, even attempt to kill each other. Sometimes successfully.

But then he did look so very angry.

“Paulos, it is good to see you,” he said, standing up as the Megas Logothetes ton Agelon thundered towards him. Honorius never seen him quite so angry before and he was glad that there was a table between them.

“Don't you 'Paulos' me, Honorios,” snarled Narses. “I've read your damn request. I don't know how you could have thought that it would slip me by.”

The other Megas Logothetes shuffled uncomfortably in his chair. “Ah. This is about – ”

Narses slammed a sheaf of papers onto the table in front of Honorios, who dived forward out of his seat to stop them from knocking over the bowl holding his lunch and the glass of watered wine he was having with it. He put both fists on the table and leaned towards his friend, although at that moment an outside observer would not have known that from looking at the two. The seated Megas Logothetes leaned around Narses and caught the eye of a shocked guardswoman and gave a pointed glance at the double doors. They were quickly and quietly closed. It wouldn't do to have two Megas Logothetai bickering in public. He leaned back to meet Narses' eyes again.

Sub pens, Kontarian?” demanded the minister-priest. “Really?”

“Yes,” Honorios nodded, sitting back down and shuffling the papers so that he could skim over them again. He knew the contents of the paper, at least in broad terms. He had told an under-minister to contact the Logothesion ton Agelon to request a broad, cursory study into the potential harm that constructing fortified submarine pens in the Herimitireia would cause, the amount of CO2 that might be released through the amount of concrete and steel used, the animals affected by the construction and to investigate a range of alternative sites in case one was more damaging than the others. The Minister for War leafed through the sheets quickly and placed them down next to him before looking back up at Narses.

Both men were silent for a moment. Kontarian met the angry gaze of the Minister for the Environment with a calm, measured look. The silence drew on before the latter felt that he had to break it.

“Is that all you're going to say about it?” Narses said, his incandescent anger having cooled significantly but still clearly simmering beneath the surface.

“I'm not sure that there is much more I can say about it,” the other minister said, sitting back in his chair and putting his hands on the table in front of him. “I could say how much I personally regret any such building on the Nisia Herimtion and this would be true. But you know as well as I about the strategic concerns that we have.”

“'We'?” asked the minister-priest, his tone significantly more controlled than when he had grossly shattered ancient protocol by barging into the private office of the other Megas Logothetes. He was still leaning his arms on the desk and he slowly straightened up.

“Myself. My ministry,” Kontarian said, shrugging his shoulders. “The Epistrategaion. The Agios Basileos. Any Arhomaios with any sense. All of those together. The point is is that whilst all of those also have similar worries about any environmental damage but we also must be aware of the fact that the islands are eminently strategically placed, especially now that Gharoi (@Haruspex) and the Seilosioi (@Seylos) are on Korinion and the Iberikoi (@Iverica) are in eastern Argis.”

“Those are all our allies,” Narses pointed out, although there was a half-hearted tone in his voice that showed he agreed with where the other minister was going with this.

Kontarian brought his glass to his lips and took a sip. With it still in his hand, he shrugged his shoulders again. “Indeed they are. Nonetheless. And I know you're not naïve enough to think that that doesn't mean we could not or should not put contingencies into place.”

The aristocrat gestured to the seat that Narses was leaning over. “Please, sit down. I'll get you a drink.”

That was a turn of phrase rather than a literal statement. A flunky emerged as if from the shadows and poured a glass of watered wine and placed it at Narses' right hand before fading into the background again.

“We are not seeing a repeat of what seems to have happened in Korinion to us,” said Kontarian. “I am not asking for this to be done off of my own back. There is no place in Arhomaneia for wayward ministers or generals to decide to build ridiculous fortifications, only to then be told to tear them down again. This is at the behest of the Agion Basileos Arhomaion directly. None of us want to see a militarised Argic Circle but it does not look like something that can be avoided, especially since the barbaroi are doing it.”

“I realise this.” Narses looked into his drink and was quiet for a moment. “I am going to insist that a full evaluation takes place and that every attempt to limit the ecological damage is made.”

“Of course,” the Minister for War nodded. “I don't doubt it. Kommodos is keen that this is taken into account. We don't know yet as to how any military concerns might impact on the island but I will warn you that there is a likelihood that they might override, to an extent, your issues.”

The gap between Narses' beard and hair still showed a frown. “As it is, even the plans to increase the civilian traffic through the islands and the seas to the south of it are of concern. There is evidence to suggest that ship noise has a detrimental effect on marine life. The Argic Seas are getting busier, especially since it's becoming a an area of squabbling between us and the other three.”

“Environmental and ecological protection has always been a concern of this government.” That was a line regularly trotted out by spokespeople of the Agion Basilikon Kounsistorion on such matters and it was true. It was just never the right answer all the time. It felt like stonewalling and Kontarian internally winced as he said it. He put his glass of wine down and put both palms on the table. “Look, Paulos. This is not ideal. None of it is. I know the corner you're fighting and I completely respect it. But if we don't exert our control over the Herimitireia, then someone else will.”

The minister-priest opened his mouth as if to say something and Kontarian cut him off. “If not us, then it'd likely be the Gharoi, as they're the closest. Putting aside the fact that they'd have to evict our people from the islands if they wanted to draw them into their orbit, their control of the islands would be little short of disastrous for the environment. You've seen their schemes for deep sea mineral extraction in the seas around their own territory and everywhere else they feel they can get away with it.”

“I have, yes.” And it was viewed by most as little short of a disaster wherever it happened. Protests had been entirely futile. The Gharoi didn't seem to care much about things like ecological concerns, just attempts to gather whatever resources they could to make their stinking, frozen hovels more habitable.

“Increased presence on the Herimitireia will allow Arhomaneia to properly police our exclusive economic zone and force them to f*ck off and take their mining elsewhere.” The Minister for War gave a smile at that but the man opposite him was still unmoved.

“'If not us' is not a great justification for any action, however,” Narses said, bringing the conversation back a bit. He now sat with his arms crossed on his chest. The wine that had been poured for him sat untouched on the table. “It is a creeping justification for all sorts of things.”

“It can be, certainly,” agreed Kontarian, nodding. “But we Arhomaioi are the best ones in this case. You know it.”

The frown on Narses' face deepened but he didn't say anything back. Both of them sat in silence for a moment. Narses pursued his lips and sat back in his chair. Obviously, he was thinking about the situation and likely weighing up replies to Honorios. Who, in turn, hoped that this performance was over. He really wanted to get back to his lunch.

“I will authorise my Logothesion to undertake these studies, and any further that you might have.” Whatever anger was still in Narses had been replaced by a frosty calm but Kontarian guessed that the minister-priest was still quite annoyed. “But I will pass on my objections to his Imperial Majesty and make it clear that despoiling the islands is not a route that we should be going down. The historial example of the overexploitation of the whale populations in the seas around those islands is too pertinent and obvious to go unmentioned.”

Narses stood and put his chair back. He strode towards the door, which was opened as he got close to it by one of the guards outside. The minister-priest didn't look back at Kontarian as he left.

Kontarian put the sheaf of papers aside and picked up the fiddly little sticks again. They were difficult to use and his hand had been cramping up a bit before Narses barged in. His lunch had become cold. As he tried to fish out a scrap of meat using the sticks, he looked down at the document that Narses had been waving around again, grinned slightly and shook his head. The irony was was that the document had been produced only in digital form in order to reduce paper usage. It would have had to have been printed out especially for use in Narses' dramatic and ostentatious display of anger.

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  • 1 month later...

It had been only a few months since the BPP Trapezon had arrived off of the coast of the Hermitages but already the small town was a very different place. In all honesty, Tribounos Pankratoukaina Tzamplakonissa was not sure it was for the better.

She drummed a hand against the parapet of one of the artillery bastions that overlooked the entrance into the port whilst looking down at the cluster of civilian and naval ships that were now gathered about the refurbished wharves. It was, on the face of it, a nice day – the sun was shining and there wasn't much of a wind off of the sea or down from the Argic. Behind her loomed one of the 10.5cm anti-aircraft guns that guarded Basilikolimanion. The recently installed commander of the island, the Komes (colonel) of the regiment that arrived with the navy, had cancelled the Foussatores' quarter-yearly drill with the elderly guns. The officer had cited the fact that they now had modern defences and using museum pieces with old live ammunition was a dangerous and stupid thing to do. She had protested that the guns had never failed before but even Droungariokomes Ooryfaina had backed up the army officer. Despite the friendship the two women had struck up, she had looked appalled at the idea of firing the guns off. They also didn't want to put off the civilian workers, who were working almost round the clock to get the port facilities ready for the role Arhomaneia had given the island.

A gust of wind blew up off the sea and Tzamplakonissa adjusted how her tall domed hat sat on top of the woolly hat she had on underneath it. The first was a typical Tagmatine officer's cap – ostentatious by the standards of other countries' militaries but pretty much par for the course for God's chosen nation. The second, of course, was a measure against the summer temperatures, which had never crept into double digits above freezing in all recorded history. She wrinkled her nose almost in disgust and turned away from the busy docks. Even the noise of Basilikolimanion was different. Before, there would just be the sounds of seabirds and sometimes snatches of songs from the monks in the monastery around the cathedral. Now, it was the sound of construction work almost all the time. It only ever halted on Kyriake.

The border guards commander walked along the parapet, slapping the palm of her gloved hand against the AA gun's mounting almost affectionately as she went past it. Sooner rather than later, there was probably going to be a move to deactivate the guns that guarded the town. Which, too, was coming back to life. Well, in a way. Most of the buildings that weren't used and maintained either by the monks, or border or financial guards had been judged too decrepit to keep. Some were being kept as examples of old architecture. The rest were being torn down to make way for prefabricated structures for the workers and new garrison. Which was totally fair enough in Tzamplakonissa's mind. They were death traps that the usual occupants of the islands had not ventured into for years. She was almost surprised that the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion was going to the expense of renovating the Palati ton Oston. From a distance, it still looked like the residence of a viceroy but up close it was clearly falling into ruin.

A few years before Pankratoukaina had taken up her posting, one of the border guards had been mauled to death and another given life changing injuries by a polar bear in the palace. After that, neither the Foussatores or Vestiaritai went into it or its outbuildings unless in a group and armed with assault rifles. It had definitely needed to be renovated.

Visitors to the island, so long as they weren't on the business of the Church – and the archbishop got very annoyed about the last time they'd stopped anyone who had been on Church business – used to be only allowed to land at whim of the Foussatores. If they'd been allowed within the islands' waters by the Vestiaritai. They could turn away anyone that they wanted, at least in theory. It was all in the hands of either the navy or the army now. Considering the small fleet sat offshore or patrolling around the islands, no one came here that wasn't invited and those who tried would probably get buzzed by aircraft from the BPP Trapezon and given very clear and very emphatic warnings. There were even a few Tagmatine-flagged “trawlers” who didn't seem to be doing much fishing hanging around at times that had “spy ship” written all over them.

When Tzamplakonissa had raised the issue of the new arrivals being here on the sufferance of her organisation, the garrison commander had merely raised an eyebrow. That had almost caused an argument, as Tzamplakonissa in theory possessed that power still and was not used to being treated in such a condescending manner. The commander had politely, but firmly, declined her offer to at least have a Foussator to check people's identity papers.

“We are all Arhomaioi here,” he had said. “I can assure you of that.”

This was, of course, part of the typical Tagmatine infighting - to try to refuse a rival organisation any semblance of power and fight bitterly for any possible sharing of it. Adding to it was the fact that the Basilikostrates was the Senior Service in the Tagmatine military but still junior in lineage to the Foussatores... The bastard was just trying to be an arsehole and rub the fact that the Basilikostrates had long since relegated her own organisation to being merely a border guard and not the wurld-conquering force it had once been. He had gone on to point out that he had a unit of the Vigla, the military police, on hand to check any documentation of the workers, if it needed to be done. And stated that it would have been done by Foussatores before the workers had left the mainland anyway.

In short, the bastard was trying to be an arsehole.

So Tribounos Tzamplakonissa dug her heels in. No one higher in the Foussatores had told her to dispense with her duties and the army officer couldn't order her to do so without explicit authority from her own organisation. She directed groups of her underlings to ambush civilian workers to check their papers as they were going to and from their work sites. It was carefully planned so that it didn't slow down the schedule of work but was, by all accounts, bloody annoying. Eventually, in order to defuse the brewing argument that could well have risked delaying the entire project, the army officer did allow the Foussatores to oversee new arrivals to the island.

Tzamplakonissa turned towards the gun mount. She knew where the army Komes was staying, a semi-temporary eco-home near the Palation and guessed she could probably have the 10.5cm turned on it before the occupants knew anything about it. If she got the rest of the Foussatores into gear, then they could probably hole the ships in the harbour quickly enough using the other heavy AA guns... and then get slaughtered by the Apelatai with their weird curved knives or bombed by the navy forces.

The Tribounos tapped the gun again and looked out to sea. In reality, she knew she didn't really have much to be pissed off about. Decades before Tzamplakonissa had joined the Foussatores, the posting on the Herimitireia had become known as a career dead end. Six months, at least, but more likely a year or more, away from one's family meant that no one was keen to go there and so anyone posted there got a bit of a career inflation, in order to make the post tempting. By the time Pankratoukaina had joined, it had got to the point that the Foussatores commanding officer was a colonel-level position. It was a career dead end, as soon as anyone else in the organisation saw that one had been on the Herimitireia, no other command of the organisation would want you, as it was assumed that you'd only got that level due to the career inflation. So, Tzamplakonissa was a twenty seven year old Tribounos with no career prospects within the Foussatores. But colonel-level pay and retirement benefits. It was a shame, though, as she actually did like working for the border guards.

As she was dwelling on these thoughts, she heard a regular tap behind her. It sounded like a metal-shod staff and Tzamplakonissa knew exactly who it might be. She closed her eyes and unironically muttered a prayer for patience to herself.

Turning, the Tribounos bowed low and offered her right hand out in front of her.

“Your eminence, bless,” she said whilst staring at the boots of the clergyman.

The Archbishop made the sign of the cross over the border guards commander and took her hand in his and Tzamplakonissa straightened up enough to kiss his hand.

“You may rise, my child,” said Maliasenos.

Usually, that was all the man ever said to her directly. They avoided each other outside of the official functions and expected appearances. To the Archbishop, she was a living slight to his position by the government of Kommodos and a reminder that his life's ambition had been stolen from him through no fault of his own. To the Tribounos, he was a sexist old dickhead who intentionally made her life difficult out of spite.

She straightened up and looked into the eyes of the archbishop, trying to stare him down as he did the same. Both were silent for a moment, old opponents judging each other, trying to search for any signs of weakness in the other. If someone else had seen it, they would have probably laughed at the sight of a short, chubby woman in a brown winter uniform and an elderly man in the flamboyant robes of an Arkhiepiskopos of the Aroman Church glaring at each other with narrowed eyes like circling duellists waiting for a chance to strike.

Whatever battle was fought, it ended in something of a truce, as both of them looked away at the same time. The archbishop walked over to stand next to Tzamplakonissa, who turned to look out over the port again. It was probably the most comradely moment the two were ever going to share. A cargo ship was being pulled into the mouth of the port by a tug. Maliasenos broke the silence first.

Tribounos, it should make the heart of any true Christian and Arhomaios sing for these islands to have a strengthened Arhomaiki presence on them.”

Although the tone of his voice was carefully neutral, the Foussatores commander guessed that he felt almost exactly as she did, if not worse. The archbishop had been virtually exiled here, a proud man with his dreams taken away from him in favour of a political appointee. He had borne his exile by trying to make the islands almost his own personal fiefdom and now whatever independence he had grown used to exercising would no longer be tolerated.

“As it does, your eminence,” said Tzamplakonissa. “I am gladdened by the fact that what we see here will not only strengthen our glorious nation, but keep these islands out of the reach of any barbaroi, too.”

The archbishop nodded. He may well have gleaned what the Tribounos meant, that all this new attention from the homeland will mean that nothing will ever be the same again. That she will be reduced to little more than a rubber stamp for the military or civilian authorities that were to come.

“Now, these islands will be a hub of trade and we will see much in the way of visitors, even those from foreign lands, I don't doubt. They will be able to see the glory of God and Arhomaneia, how can we bring civilisation to even these far places.”

“I pray that that will be the case, your eminence. With the presence of our nation's brave and vaunted armed forces, it will likely mean that the barbaroi will never be able to take these islands from us, either.”

Or mean that the Foussatores or the Vestiaritai ever have an important role to play again.

“That is something that I pray for, Tribounos. Just as I hope that the closer contact these islands have with our ancient land mean that it is easier to make sure that we do not stray from God's light.”

The pair lapsed into silence to watch the cargo ship again.

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  • 2 months later...

“Is it all going to plan, then?”

The tone in Paulos Narses' voice made it sound as if he didn't want it to happen. The Hyperlogothetissa (“Upper Minister”) from the Logothesion ton Koiaisitoron, the Ministry of Works, shifted uneasily in her chair on the opposite side of the Megas Logothetes' desk. She had barely sat down before the question had been asked and she had yet to have been offered the customary refreshments and polite small talk that were offered out of courtesy and respect. To not do so did not just snub her personally but one of the great and ancient institutions of the Megas Agios Basileia. An aide hovered at her elbow, waiting with the traditional cup of tea, glass of water, watered wine and wafer biscuits.

Katherina Hyrtakena had been briefed by her own ministry on the hostility that the Minister of the Environment had towards the project, despite the fact that it stood to strengthen Arhomaneia. The hostility had been demonstrated by the amount of time she had been forced to wait outside of his office before being invited to enter and then the discourtesies given to her afterwards. And the fact that the minister-priest had chosen to have intentionally placed pictures of various Argic animals around his spacious office. She wasn't used to this level of disrespect – after all, Hyrtakena was a full hyperlogothetes, not some minor underling. It took at least a hyperlogothetes to brief the chief minister of another ministry and the onion layers of protocol demanded that certain actions were always taken.

Narses seemed to realise the rudeness that he showing and gave the aide a nod. They laid the refreshments on the desk itself. Clearly wanting to make up for his actions of a moment ago, the Megas Logothetes himself stood and poured the cup of tea for her himself. He sat down and stroked at his beard. From what little of his face that Hyrtakena could see between the beard and hairline, it seemed as if he was looking somewhat apologetic.

“They are, Endoxotatos-Pappas,” she replied, using the somewhat clumsy honorifics for both a high minister of state and a priest. The Hyperlogothetissa reached down to pick up a briefcase placed by the side of her chair. She put it across her knees and popped it open and took out several sheaves of paper. Placing one in front of herself, she then reached across the heavy oak desk and laid one opposite Narses. “If you wouldn't mind turning to page five, you'll see a breakdown of the work programme and its projected milestones laid against the milestones actually achieved. There's been a few things like delivery issues and the levels of light is starting to drop. The midnight sun there has meant that the work teams there been able to work around the clock over the summer.”

The other minister's face was blank as he thumbed through to the page stated. He looked down at it as the Hyperlogothetissa continued. “No need for electric lights at night to keep up with the timetables, which I am aware was a concern laid out by the desk-based assessment and studies put forward by your logothesion. The worry that it might impact on nocturnal or crepuscular animals has hopefully been at least reduced.”

Reduced because of the fact that the months-long midnight sun completely eradicated both twilight and darkness. Either the Logothesion ton Koiaisitoron completely missed the ramifications of that, were being obtuse or intentionally obtuse about it. It didn't seem like Hyrtakena cared or knew that she was trying to pull the wool over the eyes of someone who knew exactly how she – or they, her ministry – was trying to do it. A slight sigh issued from Narses but the Hyperlogothetissa didn't pick up on it.

“Noise levels, though, Epifanissa?” asked the minister-priest. His politeness had returned – Narses used the form of address that befitted a minister of Hyrtakena's rank. It meant 'illustrious'. “They can have an even more adverse affect on wildlife than unusual lighting levels.”

“If you could turn to the next few pages, Endoxotatos-Pappas, you'll see some graphs showing the noise levels over time.” She turned the pages of the copy in front of her, which displayed a series of lines going up and down. They demonstrated how the noise being produced by the building work wasn't having that much of an affect on the animals, at least in the view of the Ministry of Works. It may well have been complete nonsense, however, just a smokescreen laid down by the ministry to try to fool anyone looking at it. There were even excerpts from papers and reports written by ecologists employed by that ministry, backing up the claims that the wildlife on and around the islands weren't suffering from the increased noise that the construction work was causing.

The Logothesion ton Agelon had its own ecologists on the island and the work was certainly having an impact. The port had been expanded and modernised, disrupting a colony of harbour seals and the increased maritime traffic was also having an adverse affect on the fish in the area. The restoration of the Palati ton Oston, the Palace of Bones, had seen the polar bears that had often made their lairs there turfed out. At least one had been shot. There were strenuous attempts to stop invasive species from getting a foothold on the island, especially rats. Rats had destroyed island bird species across the wurld time and time again and Narses was damned if he would let that happen on these islands. Wind turbines were being built, both on the island and out to sea, and if the mitigation strategies put forward by Narses' ministry were not stuck to, then these could kill the birds of the islands. Admittedly, nowhere near as many as other human activities or even cats did.

And no damn mention of the submarine pens. It was likely that the Hyperlogothetissa was unaware that they were even being built. Narses had not been able to win on that one, only mitigate the damage as best he could. Kontarian had been right and the strategic concerns had outweighed the environmental ones. However, it might be the only naval base in history built to take into consideration the local wildlife, albeit not as much as not building it in the first place.

“It looks as though your logothesion has been thorough in its precautions, Epifanissa,” said Narses, thumbing through the pages of the document. The woman looked warily at the minister-priest's expression for a moment, obviously trying to work out if the man was being sarcastic. After a slight pause, she had obviously decided to take it at face value. A smile broke out across her face.

“Thank you, Endoxotatos-Pappas,” she replied, giving a slight nod of thanks. Hyrtakena picked up her tea cup and took a slight sip from it before putting it back down. She also picked up a biscuit and took a bite before she continued. “Safeguarding the environment is not just the command of his imperial majesty, but also our Christian duty. Our redevelopment of the islands is not just a step towards strengthening our holy nation but also making sure Eurth is protected. If it wasn't us in control of the Herimitireia, then it would be some barbariki nation, intent on plundering it for its natural resources.”

At what point did something stop being a platitude? When enough people believed in it? Kontarian had said almost exactly the same thing several months ago. Maybe Narses was falling too out of step with the belief of his fellow Aromans and that this was not some mere platitude, something repeated so often it lost all meaning. Had it actually shifted towards being a genuine belief?

“I am not sure that God would have allowed it to happen, Epifanissa,” said Narses.

“I pray that that is the case,” the Hyperlogothetissa returned. Both of them were then silent for a moment, as if in that very prayer. Around the room, the discrete aides, secretaries and priests that were always attendant on a great minister of state also bowed their heads and the smell of incense became stronger for a moment.

And it might have very much been the case for Hyrtakena but the minister-priest's mind was, ironically, elsewhere. Narses did believe that God would have intervened before allowing another nation a toe-hold on the islands. But then again, no nation would have been foolish enough to risk the wrath of the Greater Holy Empire to do it. There were noises from Akwisia that they would like to get a slice of the pie, especially as they had been the ones that had discovered the islands originally, before Tagmatium had forced them off of them. There was likely going to be a cabinet-level discussion over what exactly the small protectorate might think that it was owed. At this point, with the Anglia Crisis still on going, they were likely going to find an answer more in their favour than at any other point.

“How long do you think that it will take to be completed?” Narses asked, breaking the moment of thoughtful silence.

“Well, Megas Logothetes, the document does lay out the milestones that we've achieve and hope to achieve.” She wasn't rude enough to turn back to the pages she originally indicated but there was obviously the temptation there. “As I said, we're on target. It's only been three months since we started and then about two since we did so in earnest. The main focus of work was to get into place enough accommodation for the workers. And the port in at least working order, or better than it has been for decades.”

She looked leant forward, as if she was sharing a conspiratorial moment with the Megas Logothetes. Narses wasn't sure why. Hyrtakena would know that he would be able to get any information not considered to be a state secret. Although she wouldn't know that he would likely be able to get a lot of information that was considered to be a state secret. “In all honestly, we've got a few months before work will have to more or less shut down again for the winter. By October – next month, that is – the temperature will have started to really drop. We'll be able to squeak along with general stuff until December. By January, temperatures will average at a high of about -11 or -13 below zero and an average low of about -21. f*cking cold, if you forgive me.”

The Hyperlogothetissa looked sheepish for a moment, realising that she'd sworn in front of a priest. Narses gave her a shrug. Being a priest was merely one of many things he had been over the years. A swearword wasn't going to offend him.

“And they're pretty much iced in over that period,” said Narses. “At least, from about January or February until about early summer.”

“Almost apart from Basilikolimanion, but that's why it's the main port.” She was silent for a moment, looking thoughtful. “Only port. And only real settlement.”

Narses raised an eyebrow, although the Hyperlogothetissa didn't seem to catch the expression.

“All the project is hoping to do at the moment is get the Palati ton Oston ready to have a governor live there and act as a suitable venue to receive his Aroman Majesty.”

There. Something about Narses meant that people tended to tell him more than they initially meant to. It was something that joining the ranks of the Aroman clergy had only added to. As a lecturer and then professor, it had been a useful thing to help put students at ease. Now it always seemed to mean that information came his way when sometimes it ought not to. That the Old Tyrant was going to visit the island at least explained the show of force that had been taking place on the islands for the last few months. Otherwise it was absurd that an entire regiment had been deployed there, even with the Gharoi, Seilosioi and Iberikoi squabbling to the south east.

“Well, Hyperlogothetissa, this interview has been most helpful,” Narses said. “You have certainly laid at least some of my worries about the work on the islands to rest.”

Hyrtakena smiled, looking as if she'd won some sort of victory.

“But, of course, I will insist that the level of oversight and scrutiny that the Logothesion ton Agelon current exercises continues as long as the project does. Thank you for coming.”

The smile faded away as those words sunk in. She rose to her feet and the two ministers bowed to each other before the Hyperlogothetissa turned and left the office.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Tribounos Pankratoukaina Tzamplakonissa looked up at the door of her small office as someone banged on it. She sighed to herself and put down the book she was reading, shoving it to the side of her battered desk. It wasn't even her book, just one of the ones that had been in the library that existed in the Foussatores' base in order to keep the occupants amused over the long winter nights. It was a well-thumbed and dog-eared book set three hundred years ago, during the Andronikopoulid dynasty, when the imperial authority didn't extend much beyond the capitals. It focussed on a wandering warrior who brought justice to peasants through his sword and his faith, protecting them from the machinations of barbaroi, secessionists and heretics, often all three. It was the fifth in a long series and it was escapist crap but it helped Tzamplakonissa remember that there was some point in her job as a protector of Arhomaneia's borders and the authority of the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion, far away from the mainland's shores. And it was pretty much-turn-your-brain-off sort of literature. Just what she needed when she felt somewhat adrift after the recent changes on the islands.

“Come in!” she shouted at the door.

There was a moment as the heavy fire door stuck briefly as the person tried and momentarily failed to open it. The person was dressed in the mud brown uniform of the Foussatores and stood and offered the traditional Tagmatine salute in front of a superior, a half-bow at the waist.

Axiothaumastos, I have a message for you,” said the man in an overly formal manner, using the title that she was accorded due to the ancient prerogatives of her rank. That immediately set Tzamplakonissa's alarm bells ringing. She knew all of her troops well, considering they'd worked together closely for years and new faces only rarely got stationed on the island. They were never that formal with each other unless outsiders were watching, which was never particularly an issue until recent months. Pankratoukaina narrowed her eyes and looked at the man. He was one of her junior officers, stationed at the main command centre of the Tagmatine military on Eadred's Island.

Despite the cold temperature outside, the office was relatively warm and the underfloor heating made it almost comfortable but it was still a handful of degrees below what would be considered a normal room temperature on back home. The man had noticeable beads of sweat on his forehead and the Tribounos guessed that it wasn't anything to do with the change in heat from outside of her office to the inside. A grim expression came over her face and she leant back in her chair. It wasn't some comfy office chair but a barely padded thing of tube steel and rough fabric over sponge foam. Some might suggest that she added her own padding but not at least to her face.

“Come on, Manouel,” she said, thumping a fist against the table, which knocked over a mug full of pens that were sat there. Pankratoukaina sighed at the result of her action and both her and Manouel spent a moment picking all of the spilled pens and pencils up again. After that, she sat upright in her chair and looked at her subordinate. “What the f*ck is this 'Axiothaumastos' shit, man? None of us has ever said that to me, not for years. Have the Gharoi landed in force? Or the Volskoi?”

“No, Pankra,” Manouel replied, giving a bit of a shrug, suddenly being informal enough to use her preferred shortening of her first name. “Possibly worse, possibly better. At least both of those who have either shelled or bombed us to pieces before anything else happened.”

Now that was a f*cking ominous statement. If the ancient enemies of the Aroman Empire could be considered both better and worse than whoever or whatever had just aimed a message at the commanding officer of the border guard on the islands, then who could it be? Tzamplakonissa didn't really want to interrupt her subordinate, even if his beating around the bush was really annoying. It didn't seem that Manouel was drawing any pleasure from it. He stood with his hat in his hands, nervously running the brim through his hands so that it was revolving. Whatever it was, the thought of it had thrown him enough to apparently stop him from even saying it.

Douplarios, stop f*cking me about,” said Pankratoukaina, using the title of Manouel's rank as a junior officer. She got to her feet and looked him dead in the eye. It was clear that the junior officer was shitting a brick about something. “If it's that f*cking important, you really should not keep me f*cking waiting.”

Even then the Douplarios dithered still. “The message is that Adrianos is about to arrive.”

The Tribounos frowned to herself. Adrianos? It wasn't a common name, certainly, but it wasn't exactly uncommon. Why did it ring a bell?

As if guessing his superior's puzzlement from the look on her face, the Douplarios clarified what he was talking about. “Adrianos. As in Adrianos Belissariotes.”

Tzamplakonissa paused for a moment before shaking her head. It seemed to Manouel that the Tribounos was either playing dumb, being obtuse or having some sort of brain attack. She wasn't really that stupid. Despite being a lot younger than those appointed to the rank she had, Tzamplakonissa had taken to the role very well. He muttered a quiet prayer as his superior looked on. Obviously, he needed to be a lot more specific.

“The Protospatharokandidatos?” he said, clarifying things much more than he felt that he needed to. Usually and somewhat oddly, 'Adrianos' was enough to identify the person he was referring to.

It was a typically long Tagmatine title, meaning the 'First Sword-Carrying White Robed One'. What it actually meant to the average Tagmatine was the Chief Personal Bodyguard of the Holy Emperor and Autocrat of the Aromans. If the chief bodyguard was coming to the island, then it meant that he was there to inspect the defences and the forces on them. And, in turn, that meant only one thing. Whether they could defend his charge when he himself came there.

Pankratoukaina went pale and sat back in her chair heavily. For a moment, the wurld span before her and she gripped the tubular steel arms of the chair until her knuckles went white.

“Oh, f*ck.”

“Yeah, right,” replied Manouel, knowing exactly what his commander was thinking.

“Why didn't anyone tell me?” the border guard commander asked, not so much of her officer but of the wurld in general. Her voice was little more than a high-pitched squeak.

“I just did, Pankra,” he replied nonetheless. It was his turn to be obtuse.

“I mean earlier than that, for f*ck's sake!” the Tribounos almost wailed.

“This is the first anyone's heard of it. The army's running around like headless chickens and so are the Vestiaritai. Even the navy's having a bit of a moment.” Manouel paused for a moment and considered what he'd said. “It was actually kind of funny. Komes Sperantzas is shitting a brick and actually running around and screaming at people, then screaming more when they say anything back. You'd have thought that they'd have guessed something like this was going to happen eventually, but apparently not.”

The memory of the army colonel running around and shouting at anyone who came near him made him smile but didn't seem to have any affect on the Tribounos.

“But no one rang me or anything,” said Pankratoukaina, pointing at the phone on her desk accusingly and ignoring what Manouel was saying. Suddenly, she decided it didn't matter. She could try to find someone to blame later. The senior officer got up from her desk and walked over to the bank of filing cabinets opposite and opened the top drawer nearest to her. She thumbed through it, closed the drawer and then opened the one below. Somewhere, there was a file that laid out procedures for exactly this. The Tribounos had seen to relatively recently. Well, the first winter she had been deployed to the islands. She had been pretty bored during the months-long night and had decided to see if there was anything interesting in the old files. There hadn't been much in there to entertain her.

“Who was the last Agios Basileos to visit here?” she asked Manouel as she poked around. In her feeling of panic, it was tempting to lob them over her shoulder but it'd just mean that she'd have to clean them up later.

“Theodosios, I think, may God rest him,” replied the Douplarios. He was still standing in front of the desk but he had turned around to watch his commander. “At the start of his reign. He'd gone on a tour of the country, so that people could see him and know that he was on the Leopard Throne now. I don't think much really happened.”

She straightened up at that and turned around. “So our security plan will be pretty up to date, then?”

Manouel raised an eyebrow.

“Not really? It'll be, what...” he counted off on his gloved fingers. “Twenty five years old? At least? And the strategic situation has completely changed since then. And that's assuming that it was even made under Theodosios. It could have been done under the Navarkhokrateia and just re-used. So it might be a decade older than that. Or it might even date from after the Long War. Or maybe before that, even?”

“Balls,” the Tribounos said, stopping what she was doing and wiping dust from the files off her hands and on the front of her jacket. “So it could be completely worthless.”

The junior officer just gave Pankratoukaina a rather blank look and shrugged. She found the look and gesture very irritating and she let it get the better of her for a moment. Without turning around, she slammed shut the drawer she'd been looking in with a vicious shove of her elbow. It closed with a loud clang and knocked over some of the random ornaments that had been put on top of the drawers, from decades of old Tribounoi who had used the office over the years.

“Khristos Pantokrator,” she exclaimed whilst looking towards the heavens. “You're no f*cking help, are you?”

Manouel's expression of deep, genuine hurt made her immediately apologise.

“I'm sorry, Douplarios,” Pankratoukaina said, walking across the room to pat her subordinate on the back. “That was unnecessary. It's just this is a bit of a shock.”

The other border guard gave a stiff nod but he looked like he was about to burst into tears. She patted him on the back again.

“Tell you what, we'll take a moment to look for this file, then we'll go over to the headquarters and we can at least show them something.” Pankratoukaina spoke in a calm and measured tone, a lot more calm and measured than she was actually feeling. “That way, it'll be the rest of them who look stupid, not the Foussatores.”

The systemic enmity that all Tagmatine organisations nursed for all others was enough to get Manouel working again. For a few moments, the pair of them looked through the bank of cabinets before Manouel found what they were looking for. They turned around and laid it out on the desk. They opened up the brown cardboard file and looked through the yellowing pages. The first page stated that the document dated from the reign of Arhomanos IX, who was indeed one of the emperors of the Navarkhokrateia, some twenty years before the reign of Theodosios VI. So it was thoroughly redundant. A page of handwritten notes was taped to the top of the first page, which seemed to have been written by the Magistros, the head of the border guard, at the time of Theodosios' visit. It advised that the document was completely out of date and the best thing to do was do as the Imperial Bodyguard dictated, who would liaise with the Foussatores in how best to do that but then take control of it once they arrived.

The pair of them were silent for a moment.

“Well, that's f*cking useless,” stated Pankratoukaina, straightening up and crossing her arms. “We already knew that.”

“Yes but it's our f*cking useless,” pointed out Manouel, tapping the document with a forefinger. “We can wave it in their faces, since we've at least got a document saying it. It says that the Protospatharokandidatos will liaise with us and not any of the others.”

That heartened Pankratoukaina. She gathered up the folder and tucked it under one arm as she strode out the door. It was going to be a delight to rub it in the face of that prick Sperantzas. That all these upstarts would come to their islands and tell them what to do. The pair of them bustled through the corridors of the Foussatores' headquarters and stopped to pull on their coats before they went out into the cold. The Tribounos decided that they'd call in on Maroules along the way and grab him, so that the financial guard commanding officer could also bask in the glory of telling the interlopers from the army and navy that it was them they had to listen to. At least until Belissariotes and his staff arrived.

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  • 4 weeks later...

To: the Foreign Ministries of the the Christian Commonwealth of @Ebrary, the Sovereign Imperium of Machina @Haruspex, the Federated Commonwealth of New Iberium (@Iverica) and the Kingdom of @Seylos

From: the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion of the Megas Agios Basileia ton Arhomaion

 

Honoured allies and friends,

The Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion does not doubt that your nations are aware that Arhomaneia has recently begun to expand its holdings on the Hermitage Islands, the small group of islands to the north of my nation's mainland. These islands have long been in the possession of Arome and have until recently been something of a backwater, inhabited only a small monastic group, who treasure the seclusion that the islands provide. They have been guarded by two small detachments from the Border Guard and Financial Guard, who have been on the islands to make sure that it is known that the rule of Arome still extends to these territories and to make sure that the islands do not become the site of illegal activities. Though past events have meant that they are no long as central as the policies of the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion, due to their distance and climate, they are still Aroman land and they always remain inviolate and regarded as another part of our mainland, as all Aroman territories are.

However, more recent wurld events in and around the Cetan Sea have meant that the Hermitage Islands are once again key to the prosperity of not just Arhomaneia but Europa and beyond. The Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion has been undertaking a revitalisation of the islands, with the port facilities of Basilikolimanion being modernised and updated, their capacity expanded in order to accommodate modern shipping. The end result will be that they become a stopping off point for the Argic Passage, as well as for shipping that might wish to avoid the possible flashpoint that exist in certain parts of the Cetan Sea. This is, of course, not an aspersion on the actions of any of those nations that this message is addressed to – far from it, in fact. It is merely an observation of the impact that recent events have had on shipping through the islands that mark the divide between the Sea of Storms and the Cetan Sea. Some of those nations that edge both seas would have been able to observe the deployment of the Basilikoploimon to the Hermitage Islands in some force. This was not done to overawe or threaten other nations but make it clear that the islands were still key to my government and nation.

Therefore, an opportunity has arisen for our nations to come together. His Aroman Majesty, Kommodos III, by the Grace of Christ the God, Holy Emperor and Autocrat of the Aromans and Equal-to-the-Apostles, is visiting the islands to inspect the work undertaken there, as well as to invest the new civilian governor of the islands. At his request, I am inviting a representative, or representatives, from your nations to observe the investiture ceremony, as well as to inspect the facilities, both historical and modern. The Palati ton Oston, the Palace of Bones, is the old governor's palace of the islands and is decorated in whalebone from when the islands were the centre of whaling in northern Europa, in the 1700s and early 1800s. Whilst now obviously somewhat distasteful, it remains a sight to behold. The Cathedral of Saint Iaskonios is the most northerly place of worship of its size and age, and equally worth visiting, although it may not be the taste of all of the nations that have been invited. The defences of Basilikolimanion are one of the finest examples of Long War military defences and retain their anti-aircraft cannon, which are in working order and will be utilised for a gun-salute in honour of all those nations that attend. As follows standard protocol, his Aroman Majesty will be offered a one hundred and one gun-salute, the representatives of other nations offered a gun-salute equivalent to the ranks of those that attend. A briefing can be provided of the number to be offered if there is confusion involved.

Although this is not a formal conference and his Aroman Majesty will be available for a brief conversation with each of the attendees, it is hoped that this might sow the seeds for a more peaceful understanding between the nations based around the Cetan Sea, and those that have interests there. All of the nations are invited to take part in the service in the Cathedral, although it is understood that there may well be underlying reasons why representatives may wish to not do so. This will not be taken as a slight. The Argic Passage will be a key trade route between the continents of Argis and Europa, and once our nations begin to interact and trade with each other more, it cannot be doubted that peace will then flourish. It is suggested that attendees take this opportunity to discuss any possible issues with each other, although this is not something that the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion could possibly press upon any that wish to take up this invitation.

With faith in God, this may be the opportunity for a new understanding between our nations,

Eugenios Goulielmos

Megas Logothetes

of the

Logothesion ton Barbaron

of the

Megas Agios Basileia ton Arhomaion

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To: His Excellency, Eugenios Goulielmos, The Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion of the Megas Agios Basileia ton Arhomaion @Tagmatium Rules

From: Eduard Blanco, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republica Christian de Ebraria

Your Excellency,

It is with great honor the Christian Commonwealth of Ebrary accepts this invitation to send a delegation to the Hermitage Islands on this momentous occasion. Ebrary is supportive of Tagmatine sovereignty over the islands, and we are respectful of the beautiful history the islands hold and their natural beauty as well. Our delegates will be attending divine service at the Cathedral of Saint Iaskonios, and are looking forward to meeting His Aroman Majesty in person.

Included in this delegation will be the Ebrarian ambassador to Arhomaneia, Henrico Alexandros, who himself is an Aroman Christian and member of the Aroman Church in Ebrary. In addition, Deputy President Abraham Morgano will also be accompanying us. I (Foreign Minister Eduard Blanco) will also be attending this event. We hope our delegation signals to you our strong commitment to the continued safety of the Cetan Sea and the willingness of the Ebrarian government to forge closer bonds between us. 

With Humble Regards and Blessings,

Eduard Blanco
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Republica Christian de Ebraria

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From: Ministry of Tagamatine Relations and Affairs (SDNY)

To: His Excellency, Eugenios Goulielmos, The Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion of the Megas Agios Basileia ton Arhomaion @Tagmatium Rules

Subject: Delegation

By decree of Empress Kira'Karn Vlos Elemmiire, First Daughter Sa'Karn the Wise, Matriarch of House Vlos Elemmiire and Lady of Battle of the Combined Houses, First Speaker of the Kaldana Colonial Hegemony, Rightful Princess and Claimant to the Throne of the Sovereign Imperium of Machina Haruspex;

Vice-Lord Terak Ve'Elemmiire - Senior Diplomat of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, adjutant to Duke Sias Hu'yan. Serving as an intermediary between the Imperium Throne and that of the GHET, will be making an appearance to the Hermitage Islands.

We are most curious as to the development of the islands, and to the future of prosperity and trade. Therefore the long standing officer that has served both the needs of the Imperial Throne, and that of the Holy Empire's leadership and associated ministries, shall be sent to represent and have the power of full authority in matters concerning the Hermitage Islands.

 A naval vessel carrying our representative will be sent to the requested coordinates.

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