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Chapter 33 ALEXANDRIA
Autumn, 531 a.d.
Alexandria was famous throughout the Mediterranean world for the magnificence of its public thoroughfares. The two greatest of those boulevards, which intersected each other west of the Church of St. Michael, were each thirty yards across. The intersection itself was so large it was almost a plaza, and was marked by a tetrastylon—four monumental pillars standing on each corner.The buildings which fronted on the intersection were likewise impressive. On the north stood a huge church, measuring a hundred yards square. The edifice was hundreds of years old. Originally built as a temple dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, it had been converted into a Christian church well over a century earlier. Most of the pagan trappings of the temple had been discarded—the crocodile mummies in the crypts had been unceremoniously pitched into the sea—but the building itself still retained the massive style of ancient Egyptian monumental archi-tecture. It loomed over the intersection like a small mountain.Across from it, on the south, stood a more modern building: the gymnasium which marked Greek culture everywhere in the world. And, next to it, the public baths which were a hallmark of the Roman way of life. The eastern side of the intersection was taken up by another archetypal public structure, a large theater in which the city's upper crust was entertained by dramatists and musicians. Only on the west were there any private buildings—three stately mansions, as similar as peas in a pod.Taken as a whole, the entire effect was one of grandeur and magnificence.But Antonina, studying that intersection from her vantage point atop the steps of her palace, was not impressed. She had grown up in a part of the city which was very different from the Greek aristocracy's downtown splendor. She had been born and raised in the native Egyptians' quarter, which still bore its old name of Rhakotis. There, the streets were neither wide nor well-paved. They were dirt alleys, which doubled as open sewers. The buildings in Rhakotis were ancient only in the sense that the collapsed mudbrick of one house served its successors as a cellar. There were no gymnasiums—no schools of any kind. As for public baths—She snorted, remembering. The human population density in Rhakotis was bad enough. The animal population was even worse. The quarter teemed with cattle, pigs, donkeys, camels, goats—and, of course, the ubiquitous pigeons. And their pigeon shit.The snort became an outright laugh. Zeno, standing next to her, eyed her quizzically."I was just thinking of the provisions of a typical Alexandrian rental agreement. For a house or an apartment. You know, the one about—"Zeno smiled, nodding. "Yes, I know." His voice took on a sing-song cadence: " 'At the end of the term, the tenant shall return the house to the lessor free of dung.' "He laughed himself, now. "It was so embarrassing for me, the first time I rented an apartment in Constantinople. I was puzzled by the absence of that provision in the contract. When I inquired, the landlord looked at me as if I were crazy. Or a barbarian."Antonina began to say something, but broke off."They're coming!" she heard someone shout. One of the Knights Hospitaler, she assumed.The entire boulevard in front of her was packed with them. A thousand Knights were arrayed there, in rigid formation. They stood in lines of twenty men, covering the entire width of the boulevard, and fifty lines deep. Each man carried a quarterstaff in his hand, held erect. Their only armor, as such, were leather caps reinforced by an iron strip across the forehead. But thick quilted jerkins and shoulder-pads lay under the white tunics emblazoned with the red cross of their order, providing added protection against blunt weapons. And most of the Knights had wound heavy linen around their forearms, as well.The majority of the other Knights were positioned in the various side-streets debouching onto the main thoroughfare, but Zeno had crammed hundreds below the street itself. Familiar with Alexandria, the Knights' commander had taken advantage of the labyrinth of cisterns which provided the great city with its water supply. If necessary, those men could either pour out onto the street from the basements of nearby houses, or they could move surreptitiously elsewhere. Zeno had twenty couriers standing nearby, ready to carry his orders when the time came.All in all, Antonina was more than satisfied with Zeno's dispositions. It remained to be seen, of course, how well the Knights would do in an actual fray. But Zeno, at least, seemed fully confident of their capabilities."There they come!" came another shout.Peering at the distant intersection, Antonina saw that a huge mob was pouring into it from the east. Within two minutes, the intersection itself was packed with people, and the first contingents of the crowd were advancing down the boulevard toward her palace."Ten thousand, I make it," murmured Zeno. "Not counting those who are still out of sight."As it drew near, the mob began to eddy and swirl. Seeing the stern-looking and disciplined formation of the Knights Hospitaler filling the street—not to mention the much scarier sight of armored cataphracts behind them—the faint-hearted members of the crowd began trying to get out of the front line. Pushing their way to the rear, or simply standing in one place uncertainly, they created obstacles to their more fanatical and determined compatriots.For a minute or so, Antonina even hoped that the mob would grind to a stop and retreat. But that hope vanished. Soon enough, the disparate elements which made up the huge crowd had separated themselves out. Those who were timid, or vacillating, or merely curious, fell to the rear or pressed themselves against the walls of the various shops which lined the boulevard. The diehards surged to the fore.The great majority of them were monks, thought Antonina. It was impossible to be certain, since the custom of monks wearing distinctive habits was still in the future. The uniform of the Knights Hospitaler was another of Belisarius' innovations. But Antonina knew the breed well. Only fanatic monks, as a rule, were quite as disheveled, shaggy-maned, and just generally dirty-looking as most of the men leading the mob. And the practiced, familiar way in which they handled their clubs and cudgels reinforced her supposition.Antonina smiled ruefully, remembering Belisarius' description of a vision Aide had once given him of the monastic orders of the future, a time which would be called the Middle Ages. He had described to her the good works and gentle demeanor of the Bene-dictines and the followers of a man who would be called St. Francis of Assisi.His Alexandria-born-and-bred wife had goggled at the description. The monks she knew from her youth bore as much resemblance to St. Francis as a rabid wolf to a lamb. In the Egypt of her day, the monastic orders (orthodox and Monophysite alike) were as prone to street-fighting as the thugs of the Hippodrome factions—and probably better at it. Certainly more savage.A particularly beefy monk in the very forefront of the mob caught sight of her, standing on the steps of the palace. He raised his thick club and bellowed, "Death to the Whore of Babylon!"Whether by predeliberation or simple spontaneous enthusiasm, the call was immediately taken up as the mob's warcry."Death to the whore! Death to the whore!"The front lines of the mob charged the Knights Hospitaler barring the way. There was neither hesitation nor halfheartedness in that ferocious rush. The monks in the van were veteran brawlers. They had no fear whatever of the bizarrely-accoutered Knights, and even less of their quarterstaffs.What the hell's the use of a six-foot-long club, anyway? No room to swing it in a street fight. Silly buggers!Knowing what was coming, Antonina held her breath. Quarterstaffs, too, were one of Belisarius' innovations—at least, used in this manner. Shepherd's staffs were known, of course, and had featured in many a village brawl. But no-one had ever placed them in the hands of an organized force, who had been systematically trained in their use.When the monks were just a few feet away, the captain of the front line called the command. In unison, the twenty Knights flipped their quarterstaffs level and drove them into the oncoming monks like spears. Expecting club-blows to the head, the monks were taken completely by surprise. The iron ferrules of the heavy quarterstaffs crushed into their unguarded chests and bellies.The damage done was horrendous. Two monks died instantly, their diaphragms ruptured. Another, his sternum split and the bone fragments driven into his heart, died within seconds. The rest collapsed, tripping the ones piling up from behind. Some wailed with pain. Most didn't—broken ribs and severely lacerated bellies produce groans and hisses of agony, not loud shrieks.Instantly, the spear-thrusts were followed by two quick, swirling, pivoting side-blows all across the line. Iron ferrules slammed into heads and rib cages, breaking both.The captain cried out the command. Again, the stabbing quarterstaffs. Again, the scythe-like follow-on blows. A dozen more were struck down.The mob piled higher, pushing forward, floundering on fallen bodies. Some managed to force their way through the first line of Knights, only to be mercilessly dealt with by the line which followed.Again, the command. Again, the spear thrusts. Some of the mob, this time, knew what to expect. Tried to protect their midsections.The Knights had expected that. This time, many of the iron-shod quarterstaff butts went into faces and heads. Skulls broke, jaws broke, teeth shattered. One throat was crushed. One neck broken.The mob staggered. Eddied. Hesitated.Zeno bellowed an order. Immediately, the front line of the Knights swiveled and stepped back. The second line moved forward.The captain of that line used the forward momentum to drive through the next thrust savagely. The front of the mob reeled back—but only a few steps. The press from behind was too great. The monks in the very fore were trapped, now. Stumbling on fallen bodies, jammed up, unable to swing their own clubs—which were too short to reach the Knights, anyway—they were simply targets.Command. Thrust; strike; strike. Command. Thrust; strike; strike. Again, Zeno bellowed. The second line of Knights swiveled, moved back. The third line stepped forward.Command. Thrust; strike; strike. Command. Thrust; strike; strike. Zeno bellowed. Third line back. Fourth line up.Command. Thrust; strike; strike. Command. Thrust; strike; strike. Zeno was silent. The machine-like routine was established, automatic. Practiced—over and again—on grain ships. Now, tested and proven in action.Fifth line. Sixth line. Seventh line.The boulevard was awash in blood. The monks forced up by the surging mob behind them were like sausages pressed into a meat grinder. Their frenzied club swings could only, at best, deflect a thrusting quarterstaff—into the monk jammed alongside, more often than not. Until the next quarterstaff drove through. Then—downed, or staggering. Dead, often enough; crippled or maimed; or simply stunned or unconscious.As the eighth line moved forward, the great mob of monks were seized by a sudden frenzy. They had seen enough to understand that their only hope was to surge over the Knights by sheer brute mass, damn the cost.Shrieking and howling, at least two hundred fanatics lunged forward, trampling right over the bodies of the monks in front of them. They weren't even trying to use their cudgels, now. They were simply trying to close with the Knights and grapple—anything to get through that horrible zone where the quarter-staffs reigned supreme.The surge hammered the line back. Several Knights were driven down, knocked off their feet. One was seized by the ankles and dragged into the mob, where he was savagely stomped to death. Another was pinioned by two monks while a third crushed his skull with three vicious cudgel blows.But this, too, had been foreseen. Zeno bellowed a new command. The ninth line immediately sprang forward, bracing the eighth. Both lines locked their quarterstaffs, forming a barricade across the street. The mob slammed into that barricade, pushed it back, slowly, slowly—The tenth line strode forward, drove their quarter-staffs through the gaps. Head-thrusts, these—there was no room for body blows.Skulls cracked. Jaws shattered. Noses flattened. Eyes were gouged out. Teeth went flying everywhere.Thrust. Thrust. Thrust. Swivel. Step back. Eleventh line forward.Thrust. Thrust. Thrust. The lines holding back the mob were tiring now, and suffering casualties. Again, Zeno bellowed. The twelth and thirteenth lines stepped forward and took their place, forming the barricade.This maneuver was ragged, uneven. Switching places with a man forming a barricade is awkward, even when the man isn't bleeding and half-dazed—which many of them were. But the mob was in no position to take advantage of the momentary confusion. The monks in the fore of that mob were completely dazed, and a lot bloodier.Soon enough, the hammering resumed.Standing next to Antonina, Ashot whispered, "Jesus, Son of God. Mary, Mother of Christ."Antonina's face was pale, but her stiff, cold expression never wavered."I told you," she stated harshly. "I told you."She took a deep breath, almost a shudder. "Belisarius predicted this. He told me—told Zeno and the Knights' captains, too—that if they learned to use their quarterstaffs in a disciplined and organized way they could shatter any mob in the world. Easily."Ashot shook his head. "I'm not sure the casualties in that mob are going to be much less than if we did it.""Doesn't matter, Ashot. People don't look at clubs—which is all a quarterstaff is, technically—the same way they do edged weapons. A sword or a knife is an instrument of murder, pure and simple. Whereas a club—" She smiled wryly, and spread her hands in a half-comical little gesture."Tavern brawls, casual mayhem," continued Ashot, nodding. "Not really a deadly weapon."He chuckled, very grimly. "Yeah, you're right. If a thousand monks got sabred, or lanced, they'd be martyrs. But if that same thousand just gets the living shit beaten out of them—even if half of them die from it—people will just shrug it off. What the hell? Fair fight. The monks had clubs too, and they've never been shy about using them. Just too bad if this new bunch of monks is a lot tougher."Seventeenth line, now. Thrust. Thrust. Thrust. "A whole lot tougher."As the eighteenth line stepped forward, the mob finally broke. More accurately, the monks in the van broke. The crowd itself—the great thousands of them—had already begun edging away from the brutal battle. Edging, edging, walking, striding. Running.There was room to retreat, now. Once they realized it, the battered fanatics suddenly lost all their fight. Within seconds, they were running away themselves, driving the onlookers before them.Instinctively, the Knights Hospitaler began to pursue. But Zeno, without waiting for Antonina's command, bellowed again. The Knights halted immed-iately. Stopped, leaned on their staffs, drew in deep gasping breaths.Antonina turned to Ashot."I want you and your cataphracts to ride through the city's center. Break up into squads."She gave him a hard stare. "Don't attack anybody. Not unless you're attacked yourselves, at least. I just want you to be seen. Put the fear of God in that crowd. By nightfall, I want everyone who came out on the street today to be huddling in their villas and apartments. Like mice when the cats are out."Ashot nodded. "I understand." Instantly, he trotted toward his nearby horse.She turned to Zeno. "Call out all the Knights you had in reserve. Divide half of them into your—" She hesitated, fumbling for the word. "What did you decide to call that? Your two-hundred-man groups?""Battalions.""Yes. That should be big enough for anything you'll face now. Send each battalion marching through the streets. The big thoroughfares, only. Don't go into the side streets. And stay out of the purely residential quarters."He nodded. "We're doing the same thing as the cataphracts. Scaring everybody.""Hell, no!" she snarled. "I want them to avoid trouble. I want you to look for it."Scowling, she pointed with her chin at the bodies of dead and unconscious monks which littered the boulevard."Think you can recognize them? Pick them out from simple residents?""Sure," snorted Zeno. "Look for a pack of men who'd put any mangy alley curs to shame.""Right." She took a breath. "Hunt them down, Zeno. Don't go into any side streets—I don't want to risk any ambushes in narrow quarters. And stay out of the areas where orthodox Greek citizens live. But hunt the monks down in the main thoroughfares. It's open season, today, on Chalcedon fanatics. Hunt 'em down, bring 'em to bay, beat 'em to a pulp."She fixed him with a hot gaze. "I want it bloody, Zeno. I don't want those fucking monks huddling in their cells, tonight. I want them lying in the streets. Dead, bruised, maimed, broken—I don't care. Just so long as they're completely terrorized.""Be a pleasure," growled Zeno. He cast a cold eye at the bloody street below. Not all of the bodies lying there were those of ultra-orthodox Chalcedon monks. Here and there, he could see a few wearing the white tunic with the red cross. Already, their comrades were picking through the casualties, hoping to find one or two still alive.There wouldn't be any, Zeno knew. Not many Knights had been pulled into the crowd. But those who had could not possibly have survived."Be our pleasure," he growled again. Then, calming himself with a breath, asked, "And what of the other half? What do you want those Knights to do?""They'll be coming with me," replied Antonina, "along with Hermogenes and his infantry.""Where are we going?""First, to the Delta Quarter. I want to see what happened there. Then—assuming that situation's under control—we'll be heading for Beta Quarter."She swiveled, facing Theodosius. Throughout the street battle, the new Patriarch had stood quietly a few feet behind her, along with three of his deacons.His face was very pale, she saw. Wide-eyed, he and his deacons were examining the carnage on the street below. Sensing her gaze, the Patriarch jerked his head away and stared at her."What's the name of that monastery?" she deman-ded. "I know where it is, but I can't remember what the bastards call it."Theodosius pursed his lips, hesitating.Antonina's face was as hard as steel. Her green eyes were like agates. "You know the one, Patriarch."He looked away, sighing."The House of St. Mark," he murmured. Then, with a look of appeal: "Is that really necessary, Antonina?" He pointed down to the street below. "Surely, you've made your point already.""I'm not in the business of 'making points,' Theo-dosius," she hissed. "I'm not a schoolteacher, instructing unruly students."She took three quick steps, thrusting her face into the Patriarch's beard. For all her short stature, it seemed as if it was the Patriarch looking up, not she."I am the rod of authority in Alexandria. I am the axe of the Empire." She stepped back a pace. Waved toward the city's main intersection. "It's good enough to simply intimidate the average orthodox citizen. That's what Ashot and his cataphracts will be doing, now that the crowd is already broken up. But those—those—those—"All the pent-up hatred of a woman reviled all her life by self-proclaimed holy men erupted."Those stinking filthy putrid monks are a different story altogether!"She ground her teeth. Glared at the bodies lying on the street."Whore of Babylon, is it?"When she turned back, the hot hatred was under control. Ice, now. Ice.The agate eyes fixed on Zeno."The monastery called the House of St. Mark is the largest monastery in Alexandria. It's also the center of the city's most extreme Chalcedonians. Ultra-orthodox down to the cockroaches in the cellars. Before they made him Patriach, Paul was its abbot."Zeno nodded."That monastery is history," grated Antonina. "By nightfall, it's nothing but rubble. And any monk who hasn't fled by the time we get there is on his way to Heaven."The hate flared up anew: "Or wherever eternity calls for him. I have my own opinion."Zeno moved away, then, rounding up his captains and explaining their new orders. Theodosius, for his part, fell back into silence. Long accustomed to the ferocious debate of a high church council, he recognized a hopeless argument when he saw one. And, even if he hadn't had the benefit of that experience, he could not misunderstand the meaning of the phrases which, now and again in the minutes which followed, came hissing out of Antonina's mouth like steam from a volcano. As she stared at the bloody street below, her face filled with cold fury.Whore of Babylon, is it? I'll show you the whore. Come back to my home town, I have.And, of course, again and again:Fuck Alexandria.  When Antonina and her escort of Knights Hos-pitaler and Syrian infantry reached Delta Quarter, by midafternoon, they were immediately met by Euphronius. The commander of the Theodoran Cohort trotted up to her, along with Triphiodoros, the officer whom Hermogenes had placed in charge of the grenadiers' infantry support.As he peered up at the woman perched on her saddle, looking a bit like a half-broiled little lobster in her armor, the young Syrian's expression was odd. Half-apologetic, half-accusing."I'm sorry," he said, "but—"He gestured at the surrounding area. Looking up and down the street which marked the boundary of the Jewish quarter, Antonina could see perhaps two dozen bodies lying here and there. Hippodrome thugs. All Blues, from their garments. Killed by gunfire, for the most part, although she could see one storefront which had obviously been caved in by a grenade blast, with three bodies mixed in with the rubble.Her eyes scanned the roofs. Six of the heavy wooden beams which braced the mudbrick construction were festooned with hanged corpses. No more."They ran away," complained Euphronius. "As soon as we fired the first volley." He turned, pointing to the shattered storefront. "Except that bunch. They tried to hole up in there. After we tossed in a couple of grenades, the half-dozen survivors surrendered." A self-explanatory wave at the grisly ornaments on the crossbeams.Then, apologetically:"We couldn't catch the rest. They ran too fast."Then, accusingly:"You didn't give us any cavalry.""Can't catch routed men without cavalry," chimed in Triphiodoros. The sage voice of experience: "Men running for their lives always run faster than men who are just wanting to kill them."Sage voice of experience: "Got to have cavalry, to really whip an enemy."Antonina laughed. Shook her head, half-regretfully, half-ruefully. "I'll remember that!"She turned her eyes to the Delta Quarter itself, just across the wide thoroughfare. That side of the street was lined with Jews. Young men, mostly, armed with cudgels, knives and the occasional sword or spear. As Hermogenes had predicted, the Jews had been quite ready to fight it out with the Hippodrome mob. Wouldn't have been the first time.But, just as obviously, the tension of the moment had passed. Even the young bravos were relaxed, now, exchanging half-amicable words with Syrian grenadiers. And she could see women and children, too, here and there, as well as old folks. The children, filled with eager curiosity. The women, beginning to banter with the Syrian wives. And the old folks, of course—not for them this useless time-wasting—were already setting up their foodcarts and vending stalls. Life comes; life goes. Business is here today."Very good," Antonina murmured. "Very good."Euphronius tried to maintain an officer's dignity, but his quiet relief at her approval was evident.She smiled down at him. "Leave half your grenadiers here, Hermogenes. Along with Triphiodoros and his infantry. Just in case. Doesn't look as if the Greens showed up today. Maybe that's because they usually side with the Monophysites, but maybe it's because they're just dithering. If they change their minds, I want grenadiers here to change it back."Euphronius nodded."Meanwhile, I want you and the rest to come with me."She cocked her head, admiring the collapsed storefront. Her smile turned positively feral."I need some demolition experts." By nightfall, the House of St. Mark was a pile of rubble. Buried beneath that mound of wooden beams and sundried brick were the bodies of perhaps a hundred ultra-orthodox monks. Nobody knew the exact number. From the rooftop and the windows, the monks had shrieked their defiance at the surrounding troops. Vowing never to surrender. They had particularly aimed their words at the figure of the small woman in armor sitting on a horse.We will not yield to the Whore of Babylon! And other phrases—considerably more vulgar—to that effect.Antonina had not minded. Not in the least. She would not have accepted their surrender even if it had been offered. So, cheerfully, she waited for several minutes before ordering the grenadiers into action. Establishing, for the public record, that the monks had brought their doom onto themselves.Murmuring, under her breath, a gay little jingle, as the grenades drove the monks into the interior of the huge monastery:She's back, she's back! The whore is back! Chuckling quietly, as the sappers set the charges:Alas, Alexandria! Thy judgement has come! Chortling aloud, as the walls came tumbling down:How are the righteous fallen!  
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