This is a small part, a draft really, of a much larger project I am working on. I am hoping to one day incorporate this into a novel on the Fourth Crusade, which would be the first part of a trilogy of historical novels on the Decline and Fall of Constantinople, focusing on the years 1204, 1261 and 1453. Please enjoy this segment and let me know what you think or if you have any thoughts on this subject. Please enjoy and I hope you will like it.
The Fourth Crusade: The Fall of Constantinople, 1204
December 1205, Constantinople
"It is time, Emperor." The jailer said with disdain in his voice to the prisoner within after he opened the cell.
The former emperor Alexios V Doukas Mourtzouphlos was lying on his cot when he heard the door opening, the hinges squeaking loudly from old age and the dampness of the underground dungeon. Getting up, he looked in the direction of the jailer's voice. Dressed only in ragged clothing generously provided to him by his captors, he moved toward the voice, knowing this was the last time he would ever be in this cell.
Once he got to where the door was, the jailer barked another command. "Hold out your hands."
Mourtzouphlos brought his hands forward and his wrists were bound by the jailer with rope. Then he tied more rope to the cuff and made a leash, with which the blind Mourtzouphlos could be lead by another. Mourtzouphlos hated having to be led to his doom. He wished he was not blind, so that he could march to his death with pride, as a Roman emperor should, without being lead by a leash.
Once he was ready, Mourtzouphlos was pulled by a guiding hand on the other end of the leash out of the cell and upward, into the Great Palace where he had lived, if only for a short time. Once he walked through this palace with pride. He could see the treasure that was here, the beautiful mosaics, and the halls that Constantine, Justinian and Alexios Komnenos had once walked through. Now all he heard were footsteps on the marble floor. All he could see was blackness.
After escaping the sack of Constantinople with his beloved Eudokia Angelina and her mother, they traveled to Thrace to the only place that they believed they would be safe: The town of Mosynopolis, where her father, the former emperor Alexios III Angelos, was ruler. At first, Mourtzouphlos was worried what kind of reception he would get from his father-in-law and fellow deposed emperor, but his beloved convinced him that they would be fine and the letters he received from Alexios were more than cordial. He suggested an alliance between them, so that they may fight to regain the imperial city quickly. Once they had liberated Constantinople, they could both rule her, as co-emperors, and drive the Latins back to the West. Once they reached Mosynopolis, Alexios III greeted them warmly and had a marriage ceremony held for his daughter and Mourtzouphlos. It was one of the happiest moments of Mourtzouphlos' life, despite everything that had happened before. He loved Eudokia with all his heart.
However, that very night, during the wedding feast, Alexios approached him, asking if he could speak with him privately. "Come, my son, I would have words with you. We must discuss plans to regain the City, but not here. The Latins may have spies in our midst." He agreed and followed Alexios to a private room. Alexios held the door to the dark room and let Mourtzouphlos enter first. Then, the moment Alexios closed the door behind him, he was set upon. The men beat Mourtzouphlos to the ground. Mourtzouphlos' screams were so loud that his beloved wife heard him and started pounding on the door in terror but the door held fast. "FATHER, NO!" Eudokia cried. Mourtzouphlos cried out to her and begged Alexios to spare him, his own son-in-law. But Alexius would not listen. "If you were willing to murder my nephew for the throne, you would certainly be willing to murder me for it." Once they had him restrained, they proceeded to gouge out his eyes! The pain and the terror were unbelievable and unbearable and once the bloody deed was done, Mourtzouphlos was thrown in the dungeons. He never saw anything ever again and his wife was barred from visiting him.
As the Latins got closer, Alexios hurried to escape Mosynopolis. However, in the chaos of the retreat, he failed to notice when his daughter visited her poor husband. "I have the key, my love." Eudokia said. She unlocked the cell and led him by the hand to the edge of the town. "I'm coming with you, my husband." But Mourtzuphlos knew this was not possible and she would be far safer with her father. He and Eudokia shared one last kiss. "Now, go. Run. Run far away from here." She told him through her tears. That is what he did. He ran… straight into the Latins.
The Latins captured him, brought him back to Constantinople and threw him into yet another prison cell underneath his own palace. As if that weren't enough, they put him on trial for treason and the murder of Alexios IV, the man who brought them here. It was a show-trial, nothing more. Mourtzouphlos knew that the judge, none other than the elderly, blind Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, and the Latins had already made up their minds to kill him. They were just giving his execution a feeling of legitimacy. So, Mourtzouphlos fought against them once again, this time with words:
"I killed young Alexios Angelos, yes. The murderer stands before you. However I had the support of the people of this city when I did. He was an enemy, a traitor to his people, blinded as I am now, but by greed and desire for power. He brought the likes of you here, heretics, and servants of the anti-Christ and men who were willing to destroy their own God's city, his heaven on earth. His murder was just and I, as the new emperor, defended my city to the end, just as you would have for your cities and homes. Kill me if you must, but do not insult me by calling me a traitor. I love this city and I served her as best I could. You have it now, but God willing, not long from now, our children will take it back."
Mourtzouphlos finished his speech but the Latins were unmoved. Only more enraged. They found him guilty and sentenced him to death. The only remaining debate was how to execute him. Some suggested he be dragged through the streets. However, that was ruled out most of the city were still loyal Greeks. Others suggested hanging, but that was rejected as Mourtzouphlos, as former emperor, was of too high status for such a common death. Then, Enrico Dandolo spoke: "For a high man, give him high justice. Toss him from the top of a column." The others agreed and Mourtzouphlos was put back in his cell, now knowing how he was to die.
Mourtzouphlos was brought to the throne room, where the regent Henri of Flanders waited for him. The false emperor Baldwin, Mourtzouphlos heard, had not been here for some time. He had been captured by the Bulgarians earlier this year and no one had seen him since. Until his return, this man was emperor in all but name. "You are to die today, Alexios. At least you can take comfort in that it will be quick. However, I feel it is fitting enough to grant you one last request. What would you like? Food? Wine?"
Mourtzouphlos looked toward the source of the voice. "Neither. I request only one thing. I wish a letter be written and sent for me, to my wife, Eudokia Angelina, the daughter of Alexios Angelos, the elder. I wish to say farewell."
"Very well." Henri consented and summoned a scribe. Once the scribe was prepared, Mourtzouphlos was allowed to sit and dictate his letter. Once the letter was done, Mourtzouphlos thanked Henri, who promised to have the letter delivered, and he stood, ready to began his march.
Once again being pulled by the leash, Mourtzuphlos marched as straight as he could out of the Great Palace, out onto the Augousteion. He could not see them, but he heard the sounds of a large crowd having gathered outside of the Hagia Sophia which he was passing now. Some were jeering at him, cursing him, no doubt Latins. Some began throwing rotten fruit and vegetables, but when one of the escorts was hit, it was promptly stopped.
My dearest Eudokia, my wife and the love of my life,
I am to die today. I am ready to die and I thank God that I die in defense of Constantinopolis. The one sadness I have, in marching to my death, that I will never see you, kiss you, speak with you or feel your soft hands and lips or the warmth of your body again.
They marched out of the square on the Mese, the Triumphful Way, the main road through the city. Once out of the square, Mourtzouphlos noticed a change in the atmosphere. There was silence as he marched past the crowd. He could tell there was still a crowd, but no one spoke. There was some crying. Finally one man bravely shouted out, "Hail Alexios, the true Emperor of the Romans!" These were Romans, his countrymen. No doubt they were being held back by Latin knights though.
I am a pitiful sight now. No eyes and my clothes are rags. I did what I felt was right, but sometimes I find myself wishing we could have just run away and lived a long life together. However, I fear we have no time left for wishes now. Take care of your mother and your children. Tell them I am dying for the City. They will understand, as I hope you do.
Mourtzouphlos had walked on the Mese many times before and he knew exactly where he was when he felt his leash pull him in an arch. They were at the ancient Forum of Constantine. The column of Constantine stood in the center. Underneath were the ancient relics that Constantine the Great himself had buried under it, the hammer that Noah had used to build the Ark, crumbs from when Jesus fed the people of the Holy Land with a single loaf of bread and two fish, and a gold statue sacred to Athena, the pagan goddess of wisdom. As they left the Forum, Mourtzouphlos knew for certain where they were taking him now.
God help you and may He grant all of you long happy lives. May He free Constantinople, His City. This is not the end. I feel my death will inspire the next generation. One day, Constantinople will be free again. My death will be the first blow to the Latins and their ever waning power over the City. It will not be long. A few years, perhaps decades, but it will not be long until our flag flies over the palace and the walls once more. Once that happens, long may our descendants defend this city in our name.
The Column of Theodosius, in the Forum of Tauros. It was a good choice. It had an interior stairway up to the top of the Column, 120 feet above. It was a fall that would kill for sure and the Forum of Tauros allowed for a crowd, yet space to keep them back. It would not be long now. They passed the Tetrapylon, on the intersection of the Mese and the Makros Embolos.
My most beloved Eudokia. My wife. My love. My sweetheart. Thank you for everything you have been to me. You were always my comforter and my advisor, even when things were most uncertain and perilous. Even now, I imagine you marching beside me as I walk to my death, and that calms me.
Finally, after another few more minutes of walking, Mourtzouphlos was ordered to halt. They were here. He turned up toward the column before him, knowing that he could not see it, but using his mind's eye to remember it.
A priest, probably from Rome, was waiting for Mourtzouphlos there. "Alexios Doukas. Have you confessed all of your sins and do you declare your love, devolution and belief in God and his risen Son, our Lord Jesus Christ?"
"I have and I do." Mourtzuphlos said.
"Very well. I grant you absolution of all your sins. Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat; et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis et interdicti in quantum possum et tu indiges. Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen." The priest then stepped away.
Thank you, my sweetheart, for everything. Everything you have been to me and everything you have done for me, everything you sacrificed.
Only one man was to bring him up. Before they entered the door to the stairs, however, Mourtzouphlos made one last request. "Let me walk up without assistance, my hands to my sides. I am blind, I will not resist and I remember these stairs well. I will have no trouble climbing them."
"Very well." His escort guided him into the door and allowed Mourtzouphlos to put one foot on the first step. He then undid the bonds and Mourtzouphlos could move his hands freely for the first time since he was in his prison cell. His hands to his sides, he began to march up.
My only regret in leaving this life is leaving you in this way. I can only imagine the sorrow you are probably feeling as you read this and I would do or give anything to be with you right now. I am so sorry.
After 120 feet, Mourtzouphlos and his escort behind him emerged at the top of the column. "You have a few moments, emperor. Say your prayers." his escort said.
Mourtzouphlos stood at the top and looked around. He could feel the space all around him. He was high above the city. He used his mind's eye to imagine the view of the City that he had seen when he last came up here, when he could see, and when Constantinople remained inviolate, before the Latins came. The sheer size of the buildings, the columns, and the city itself, was stunning, even to a native. To a foreigner, it must have seemed all the more incredible. Only the smell in his nostrils, the smell of burning and brunt wood, betrayed this image.
Please stay strong, my love, until we meet again before God. Be strong in the knowledge that I die a noble death for our City and our Empire.
Mourtzouphlos began to pray. "Almighty God and my Lord Jesus Christ, I beg for Your forgiveness for giving away this life You have so generously given me. Know that I give my life in my love for Your City and in my devotion to You. Please save Your City and Your people. I have done all I can and my part is now done. Please keep my wife, Eudokia, safe. Grant her long life and let her become happy again one day. Let her know I love her as I go to join You in Your everlasting kingdom."
Have hope and be brave, Eudokia. I love you and I always will. My heart will always be with you.
Mourtzouphlos indicated to his escort that he was done. Then he turned back to the city before him and remembered it one last time. "Farewell, Queen of Cities." He felt two hands against his back. Mourtzouphlos started to breathe heavily and struggled to keep his composure. Then he was pushed forward, into the void. For a moment, he felt as if he was flying. He was free at last. The air blew all around him as he began to fall head first, his limbs flailing about. Soon, he felt nothing.
Your loving husband,
Alexios Doukas, Emperor of Constantinople and Autocrat of the Romans