The Mosaic Soliloquies I

Joseph P. Farrell

The Lord Patrician Vardas’ Strategem:

…So, there is a spy, a traitor, in the High Council…

A spy… a problem to be considered, and resolved, to our advancement. And then, a sister, who would wed not power, but a common soldier, another problem to be considered, and resolved. And yet a third problem: His Imperial Majesty’s scheming ambition…. I must own to a certain fondness for these dilemmas, exquisite and fancy puzzlements all three, each with a beguiling fullness of complications, Elegant, and compelling to a fourth difficulty: To make but one dilemma of them: with force of intellect And of will to stitch and weave them together, And with one efficient strategem, surmount them.

As to the first dilemma: there are to be two imperial standards, My dear Nikephoros, for but one army? Is this to confuse the enemy thereby, be he Bulgarian or assassin, with the false impression of a vaster Host, appearing first here and then there with terrible swiftness and destruction? Or is it to impress falsely, with two armies that do not exist, each with the Emperor Nikephoros at its head, But in one, thy filial likeness Stauricios pretending in thy stead? Thou hast subtlety, my Emperor! and in great measure! But with it, thou wouldst upset the careful balance and timing of Empire.

No, Your Majesty, No. Thou hast not correctly weighed the matter Nor heeded the intricate calculus of human action: for I have rightly sifted Pope Leo’s soul, and he strikes hardest when the Frankish foe seems surest, and is subtlest, when all subtlety be apparently denied him. Therefore, a surmise: the Bulgarian king for the present must needs be maintained; tip his throne, and Charlemagne wavers, and if he falter, Leo also; if there be no Frankish challenge, there will be no papal resolve.

But come, Vardas! why dissemble? The truth of it, then: if Nikephoros returns, Vardas goes down. And if Vardas goes down, the spy goes unharnessed, and forever so. And if the spy be not discovered, the Empire and City, they cease! Conclusion, and therewith, the dilemma: the Emperor must quit his body, or Vardas quits his.

Blood! And Death! To him and his whole house! May he and his son win but Heaven upon the field of battle! And therewith the operational parameters of the related problem: in Aachen, plans are laid for schism and war, and bold designs are crafted to pluck Old Rome and its pope from the Roman fold and name, to secure papal vindication of that false doctrine, and with it, Charlemagne’s claim to the Faith of Rome, and with that to the Sole Imperium, and with false Theology and pretence of authority, war upon us. Pope Leo is moral, but will not be so, unless compelled! And how remain he firm, lest he be confronted — openly — with Frankish barbarity and naïvete, stripped bare of silken protocols and velvet words, and demanding complete submission.

And wherewith shall Charlemagne gain such confidence if we topple Bulgaria, and hold it poised as the dagger to his empire’s heart? And so shall it be annexed and toppled by our superior skill of arms. Unless…unless the Frankish emperor anticipates…unless he anticipates thine every move, mine Emperor, thine every move!

Observe then, Nikephoros, how skillfully the problems are thus woven together in cold and pitiless strands: for with what prescience doth Charlemagne spy out all thy grand strategy, while his spy remains unhindered and unmasked Just long enough to betray our arms to the Frank, and himself to us? So then, Vardas! How to the deed?

In Damascus, I learned the art of compounding certain philtres And to blow them upon flowers for a sweet, asphyxiating fragrance, and once upon an embassy to the caliph of Baghdad did I thrust a needle from one to the other of an infidel’s ears whilst he was asleep. But there is a better way than these….

Therefore, Nikephoros, art thou, thy son, thine army, thy hopes and strategem and Throne betrayed, and into Bulgaria’s hands delivered: for their Khan shall first receive a proposal, of alliance, from Charlemagne, with sweetened gift, ill-gotten of espionage: that the Roman hosts before him are not really two, nor the reported swiftness of one army supernatural, but a trick of the eyes, marshalled by thee and thy son in confusing likeness, as I surmise thou dost conspire. And thus receiving from Charlemagne the subtle ruse of thy campaign, he shall pursue thee, and make thy death thy life’s most hoped-for good. And how to the deed?

Charlemagne shall in his turn first receive A glad tiding from new Rome, from his spy, Containing two items: the first: a list of names of “Greek Spies Who Infiltrate” his court under the pretence of a most dutiful service, but these names shall in truth be of them that have before much harmed us; and the second item: supply another list to each suspected Frankish spy, which doth contain the order of battle of Nikephoros’ campaign and the ruse therein concealed. And then let Charlemagne reason thusly: “Here is proof, unverified, of the Greeks’ anxiety at Our power and designs, for these they think to ruin by casting Bulgaria down, and so indeed would they be ruined: but, good fortune! We have an ubelievable report: Our best ministers be traitors and Greek spies! I would be a fool not to heed, and yet a fool to heed too hastily.”

And behold! Charlemagne puts it to the test by betraying the military ruse with the Bulgarian. If the ruse be true, so he imagines, then his ministers be false! So betraying the ruse, he betrays his best ministers, and then for treason tortures and executes them, faithful, and with their murders, executes our will upon them.

And how pang and hang them to our Empire’s good? Secretly, remotely, by circumstances seemingly contrary to my purpose. And so my bloody syllogism concludes where the act must commence: here, in Constantinople.

Who is the Frankish spy, the eyes and ears of Charlemagne? To answer, proceed by logic: neither the Emperor nor his son can he be, the general Sergius’ character is antithetical to the act of treason, nor hath the other marshal, Leo the Armenian, the stealth or the patience and will to keep up the appearances for it. Therefore three remain to me: Stephen, Michael, and his monkish son, Ignatius.

So then: I shall throw a party, a betrothal party — yes! exquisite! — a betrothal party for my sister and her commoner lover, before he — happy coincidence! — offs to war with his Emperor against Bulgaria! And I shall send invitations, three in fact, and when the suspects have sated themselves on food and wine and easy conversation, draw them apart, one by one, on some pretence of politics and feigned confidence, to huddle and whisper to their grasping egos, and tell to each the ruse of Nikephoros’ campaign, but to each tell out different names of Frankish ministers who allegedly work for the true Empire. And then shall my true asset Herald from Aachen to me those ministers from whom Charlemagne peels the skin and drains the life. And knowing these, I know his spy.

And so, the final, the least, problem: my sister. Give her the false security of my blessing, and if her lover-soldier doth not die for his Emperor, then it shall be an easy matter to arrange to have him wounded where never again they consummate their love. She cannot, by law, marry what is dead. And Theodora is Theodora, lacking love, she will have Power.

Exquisite craft! Observe! Observe Eusebius! How with one artful and efficient deed, I send Nikephoros and Stauricius to their dooms, deprive Charlemagne of loyal and capable ministers, and puff him up with confidence counter to his purpose! Observe with what craft I bring the thing hidden to light, hooked by the truth, and swallowing wholesale falsehoods. And when Charlemagne’s confidence surpasses his moderation, the pope shall be sure made, and with him, the Church, and with that, our Empire.

So…the matter comes back to me.

So it comes…

So it comes…

So be it! To the deed!

The other installments in the Mosaic Soliloquies can be read in our serial archives.

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