Her name is Anna. She is porphyrogenita, born in the purple, the daughter of the emperor. She has lived within the sheltering walls of Constantinople all her days, hidden away from the sun and the prying eyes of barbarians. She recites Xenophon and Thucydides, and studies the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. At night when she sleeps she dreams of shooting stars and blood-soaked swords, and awakens with her heart pounding.

She speaks to no one of these dreams.

His name is Bohemond. He is the most dangerous, the most devious, the most ruthless of the barbarian warlords. Or so her father, the emperor, tells her, and Anna has never questioned a word her father has told her. She is seated beside her father, partially hidden behind the throne, and watches raptly as the barbarians enter. Some of her handmaidens squeal with fright and hide their faces. Anna scorns their weak, womanish ways, and looks the barbarian in the eye.

Anna has never been so terrified in all her life. Bohemond's eyes are so blue, so cold, eyes like nothing any Greek has ever possessed. When he looks at her, she feels naked, as though he has stripped her of all her clothes. Her hands are clammy and her heart pounds in her breast like a drum. For some reason she thinks of stars streaking across the heavens. She has lost all power of speech, all the words of the philosophers fail her.

Bohemond's eyes linger on the little princess for longer than appropriate. Anna's father the emperor has to clear his throat to catch Bohemund's attention. They speak of state, and warcraft, and homage, all things Anna prides herself on knowing, but now sound like the droning of bees to her ear. She's terrified, but can't look away from Bohemond's white skin and red-gold hair, his powerful arms and shoulders. For some reason she thinks of blood soaking a sword. He is like a nightmare made flesh.

Anna is fourteen. Bohemond is not yet forty. She doesn't understand the feelings he evokes in her, the deeply adult feelings she is tasting. He speaks of a Crusade in his thickly-accented Greek. No holy war was ever so passionate as the war excited within Anna. He is a barbarian, only a generation or two removed from paganism. She is porphyrogenita, a scion of the ancient Greek empire. She is awed by his physical beauty, and horrified by his brutality, and more than a little fascinated as well, and this shames her.

That night, she throws herself on her bed and enters a fitful sleep, tossing and turning. The things she dreams of wake her in the middle of the night, flushed and hot and hungry. She wants to see him dead. She wants to wrap her legs around him. Anna falls to her knees and prays until dawn.


This is my take on Anna Comnena, the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I, and a chronicler of the First Crusade. You can find a link to an online edition of her major work, The Alexiad, in my profile.

Bohemond was a real person, one of the leaders of the First Crusade and, later, the prince of Antioch. Anna has quite a bit to say about him in her Alexiad; she hated him, and feared him, and was fascinated by him as well.