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After Belisarius and Valentinian were aboard the dromon, Belisarius stared up at John of Rhodes standing on the pamphylos' wood-castle.
"Are you certain, John?" he asked.
The naval officer nodded his head firmly.
"Be off, Belisarius!" Then, with a wicked grin:
"I'll say this muchyou may be the craziest ship captain who ever tried to commit suicide, and certainly the most lethal."
He waved his hand about, encompassing half the Bosporus in that gesture.
"You destroyed six out of the eight akatoi and another half dozen corbita. And I sank three corbita with the galley. That's well over a third of Aegidius' entire army and three-fourths of his cataphracts. Look at them!"
Belisarius scanned the Bosporus. Even to his landsman's eye, it was obvious that the enemy fleet was scattering in fear and confusion.
A sudden thought came to his mind. John voiced it before he could speak.
"Besides, I think Aegidius is dead. He was probably aboard one of the akatoi, which means that the odds against his survival are three-to-one."
"That has all the signs of a leaderless army, if I'm reading the ship movements correctly."
John snorted. "They're like so many motherless ducklings paddling every which way." Again, he waved his hand.
"Be off, Belisarius. You're needed in Constantinople now, not here. The dromon will bear you to shore faster than any of those ships can reach land. I, meanwhile" He patted the scorpion next to him. The wicked grin returned in full force. "will continue to put the fear of God in those bastards." With a fierce glower: "From a distance, like an intelligent man."
Belisarius smiled and turned away. Then, hearing John's next words, smiled broadly. " `Crossing the T.' I like that!"
At the general's signal, the war galley's keleustesthe rowing officer; literally, the "orderer"immediately began calling the time. The galley's oars dipped into the water. Swiftly, the dromon headed to shore.
For a time, Belisarius watched the enemy ships milling around aimlessly in the Bosporus. The ones nearest to John's artillery vessel, he saw, were already trying to evade the Rhodesman's approach. One of those enemy ships, apparently, had had enough. The corbita was heading directly back to Chalcedon, on the Asian side of the Straits.
Soon enough, a half-dozen of the corbita were following. Among the remaining ships in the enemy armada, confusion still reigned. A small cluster of the shipsseven in all, led by one of the surviving akatoiwere heading toward Portus Caesarii. Someone among the surviving cataphracts in the Army of BithyniaAegidius himself, possibly; more likely, one of his top subordinateshad apparently decided to continue with their treasonous scheme. But, cautiously, they were now planning to land in the more distant harbor.
A wordless cry of triumph coming from Menander drew his eyes back to the main fleet. One of the corbita in that milling mob of ships, he saw, was burning fiercely. John had struck his first blow.
The confusion in the main body of the traitor fleet was dispelled. The majority of the remaining ships, within a minute, were fleeing back across the Bosporus. Only four of themincluding, unfortunately, the last of the cataphract-bearing akatoidecided to make for Portus Caesarii.
Belisarius noticed that Ashot was now standing next to him. Ashot was the Armenian cataphract who led the small party which Antonina had sent to meet him in Egypt. Antonina and Maurice had chosen him for that mission, among other things, because Ashot was one of the few cataphracts among Belisarius' bucellarii who had any experience as a seaman.
"What do you think?" he asked.
Ashot immediately understood all the parameters of the question. The Armenian pointed toward the artillery vessel.
"If I were John, I'd follow the ships retreating back to Chalcedon. Harry them mercilessly. Put them completely out of the action. Leave the ones heading toward Portus Caesarii for Sittas and Hermogenes to deal with. They shouldn't have any trouble."
For a moment, Ashot gauged the eleven ships now heading for the westernmost harbor on Constantinople's southern shore.
"Two akatoi," he murmured, "and nine corbita. To be on the safe side, let's call it three hundred cataphracts and three thousand infantry. Against Sittas' five hundred cataphracts and the two thousand infantrymen Hermogenes brought."
Ashot spat into the sea. "Lambs to the slaughter," he concluded.
Belisarius smiled at the Armenian's ferocious expression. Then, curious to see Ashot's reaction, he remarked:
"Heavy odds, against the infantry."
The Armenian sneered.
"Are you kidding? Against Hermogenes' infantry?" The cataphract shook his head firmly. "You've been gone for almost a year and a half, general. You haven't seen what Hermogenes has done with his troops. And the ones he brought to Constantinople were his best units. The finest Roman infantry since the days of the Principate. They'll chew their way right through that Bithynian garbage."
Belisarius nodded. He was not surprised. Still, he was gratified.
"The enemy'll be disheartened, too," added Ashot. "Confusedhalf-leaderless, probablyscared shitless."
Again, he spat into the ocean. "Lambs to the slaughter. Lambs to the slaughter."
Belisarius saw that John had apparently reached the same conclusion as Ashot. The artillery ship was veering off in pursuit of the corbita retreating to Chalcedon.
"Will he catch any of them?" he asked.
"Not a chance," replied the Armenian instantly. "They're sailing almost before the wind, on that heading. The advantage now is with the heavier corbita and their square-rigged sails, especially since the rowers on John's galley are bound to be tired. But once they reach Chalcedon, those ships are trapped. John can stand off in the mouth of the harbor and bombard them with impunity. He'll turn the whole fleet into so much kindling."
Another spit into the sea. "The Army of Bithynia's out of it, general. Except for the few who are heading for southern Constantinople."
For a moment, Belisarius examined the cataphract standing next to him. The Armenian was now watching the enemy ships sailing toward Portus Caesarii, oblivious to his general's gaze.
Abruptly, Belisarius made his decision.
"In a few months, Ashot, I'll be promoting several of the men to hecatontarch. You're one of them."
The Armenian's eyes widened. He stared at the general.
"You've only got one hecatontarchMaurice. And I don't" Ashot groped for words. Like all of Belisarius' cataphracts, he had a towering respect for Maurice.
"Oh, Maurice'll be promoted also. A chiliarch he'll be, now."
Ashot was still wide-eyed. Belisarius shook his head.
"We're in a new world, Ashot. I never felt I needed more than a few hundred bucellarii, before. But among the many things I learned while I was in India is that the Malwa don't have genuine elite troops. Not ones they can rely on, at least. That's a Roman advantage I intend to maximize."
He scratched his chin, estimating.
"Five thousand bucellarii. Seven thousand, if possible. Not at once, of courseI want them to be elite troops, not warm bodies. But that's my goal." His smile grew crooked. "You'll probably wind up a chiliarch yourself, soon enough. I'll need several for all those troops, with Maurice in overall command."
Ashot, again, groped for words.
"I don't thinkthat's a lot of Thracians, general. Five thousand? Seven thousand?" Hesitantly: "And I'm Armenian. I get along well with the Thracians you've got now, that's true. They've known me for a long time. But I don't know that new Thracian boys are going to be all that happy with an Armenian"
"If they can't handle it," replied Belisarius harshly, "I'll pitch them out on their ear." His smile returned. "Besideswho said they'd all be Thracians?" He chuckled, seeing Ashot's frown.
"I don't have time, any longer, for anyone's delicate sensibilities. I want five thousand bucellariithe best cataphracts anywhere in the worldas fast as I can get them. A big chunkpossibly the majoritywill be Thracian. But they'll be lots of Illyrians and as many Isaurians as we can find who are willing to become cataphracts. Isaurians are tough as nails. Beyond that" He shrugged. "Anyone who can fight well, and can learn to become a cataphract. Greeks, Armenians, Egyptians, barbarianseven Jews. I don't care."
Ashot had overcome his initial surprise, and was now tugging on his beard thoughtfully. "Expensive, general. Five thousand bucellariieven if you're not as generous as usualyou're looking at"
He broke off, remembering. He had seen the Malwa treasure which Belisarius had brought back from India. True, Belisarius had given three-fourths of that bribe to Shakuntala. But the remainder was still an immense fortune, by any except imperial standards.
"Yes, you can afford it. Even with liberal pay and equipment bonus, you've got enough to cover five thousand bucellarii for at least four years. After that"
"After that," said Belisarius coldly, "there'll either be plenty of booty or we'll all be dead."
Ashot nodded. "A new world," he murmured.
A cry from Anastasius drew their attention.
"There's Sittas! I can see him!"
Belisarius and Ashot looked forward. The dromon was just passing through the double breakwaters which marked the entrance to the small Harbor of Hormisdas, the private harbor of Rome's emperors. Behind the harbor rose the hills of Constantinople. The Great Palace, though it was nearby, was hidden behind the slope. But they could see the upper levels of the Hippodrome. And they could hear the roar of the mob gathered within it.
Belisarius' eyes were drawn lower, to a large figure standing on the nearest wharf.
Sure enough, Sittas. Standing next to him were Hermogenes and Irene.
As they drew nearer, Sittas bellowed.
"What took you so long? Don't you know there's a war to be fought?"
The boar, in full fury.
The mob, too, was in full fury. The seats in the Hippodrome were packed with armed men. Blues on one side, of course, Greens on the other. Even during this unusual alliance, the faction leaders were wise enough not to mix their men.
Balban, watching the scene, was delighted. Narses, standing next to him, was not.
"Almost forty thousand of them!" exclaimed the Malwa spymaster. "I'd been hoping for thirty, at the most."
Narses almost spoke the words: "I'd been dreading more than twenty thousand." But he restrained himself. There was no point, now, in getting into another futile argument.
Called upon to settle some petty dispute between the factions, Balban left. Narses and Ajatasutra remained, standing in the fortified loge on the southeast side of the Hippodrome which was called the kathisma.
The emperor's loge, that was. Reserved for his use alone. By seizing it, the conspirators had announced their full intentions for all the world to see.
Narses glanced over his shoulder. At the rear of the loge was a barred door. That door was the only entrance to the kathisma, other than the open wall at the front. Behind it was a covered passage which connected the emperor's box in the Hippodrome to the Great Palace.
The door was barred on both sides, now. On his side, Narses saw eight Malwa kshatriya standing guard. On the other side, he knew, would be an even greater number of the Emperor's personal bodyguard, the excubitores, anxiously fingering their weapons.
The passage from the Hippodrome to the Great Palace was now the frontier between Justinian and those who sought his overthrow.
Narses looked away. That frontier would fall too, and soon. Brought down by further treachery.
Ajatasutra's low voice penetrated his musings.
"You do not seem to share Balban's enthusiasm for our massive army."
Narses sneered. "Let me explain to you the reality of the Hippodrome factions, Ajatasutra. Both the Greens and the Blues have about five thousand men who can be considered real street fighters. Charioteers and their entourage. Gamblers and their enforcers. That sort. Serious thugs."
He pointed out over the vast expanse of the Hippodrome. "Those will be the ones you see carrying real weaponswell-made swords, and spearsand wearing a helmet. Maybe even a bit of armor."
His lips twisted further. "Then, each faction will have another five thousand menat the mostwho can handle themselves in a fight. On the level of a tavern brawl, that is. The rest"
His pointing finger made a little flipping gesture. Dismissive, contemptuousalmost obscene.
"Pure rabble. Carrion-eaters, drawn by the smell of rotting flesh."
Narses lowered his finger. His sneer became a scowl. "I remember a conversation I had with Belisarius, once. The general told me that one of the worst errors people made when it came to military affairs was to confuse quantity with quality. A large, incompetent army, he told me, got in its own way more than it did the enemy's. And then, if they suffer a setback, the mob's panic will infect the good troops."
"So let's hope there's no setback. I wouldn't trust that mob in a pinch any more than I'd trust so many rats."
Ajatasutra shrugged. "Don't forget, Narses. We still have four hundred kshatriya to stiffen their resolve. With their Veda weapons. That should hearten the mob."
"We'll soon find out." Again, Narses pointed. The gesture, this time, was purely indicative. "Look. They've finished setting up the rockets."
Ajatasutra followed the pointing finger. At the far northeast side of the Hippodrome, where the race track made its curve, the Malwa kshatriya had erected several rocket troughs on the dirt floor of the arena. The troughs were pointed upward at an angle, aimed directly across the Hippodrome.
Balban wanted to cement the allegiance of the factions with a demonstration of the Veda weapons. The spymaster was convinced that the Romans would be filled with superstitious awe. For his part, Narses was skeptical. In their own crude way, the Hippodrome thugs were not unsophisticated. They were residents of Constantinople, after all.
But the eunuch had not objected to the plan. While he did not think the thugs would be overawed by superstition, they would be impressed by the sheer power of the devices.
Watching the last few Blues and Greens scampering along the tiers, Narses smiled. The Malwa had assured the factions that the rockets would pass safely over the southwest wall of the Hippodrome, but the thugs were taking no chances. The entire southwest half of the Hippodrome was empty.
At the base of the troughs, the kshatriyas had piled up bundles of elephant hide, which they were wetting down from a nearby drinking fountain. The Hippodrome was provided with many of those fountains, fed by a small aqueduct. The same water was being used to wet down the large wooden palisades which the Malwa had erected behind the firing troughs. Despite their assurances to the faction leaders, the kshatriya had too much experience with the fickle rockets to take any chances. Most of the Malwa soldiers would stand behind those barricades when the missiles were fired.
"Here comes Hypatius," announced Ajatasutra. "And Pompeius."
Narses glanced down at the stairs leading from the Hippodrome to the imperial loge. The stairs ended in a wide stone platform just in front of the kathisma. For reasons of security, there was no direct access to the imperial loge from the Hippodrome. But dignitaries saluting the emperor could stand on that platform and gaze up at the august presence, seated on his throne above them. And separated from any would-be assassins by a nine-foot-high wall.
Clambering up those stone steps, escorted by Balban, came the two nephews of the former emperor Anastasius. The faces of Hypatius and Pompeius were pale from anxiety. Their steps faltered; their lips trembled. But, still, they came on. Greed and ambition, in the end, had conquered fear.
"Finally," grumbled Narses.
A minute later, the new arrivals were hoisted over the wall into the imperial loge. The royal nephews made heavy going of the effort, despite the assistance of several kshatriya. Balban, despite his heavyset build, managed the task quite easily.
Seeing Narses' scowl, Balban smiled cheerfully.
"You are too pessimistic, my friend. Such a gloomy man! Everything is in place, now. The factions are here. The kshatriya are here. The new emperor is here. The Army of Bithynia is on its way. And the Cappadocian is about to slide in the knife in the Great Palace."
Suddenly, from beyond the barred door leading to the Great Palace, shouts were heard. Cries of alarm, from the excubitores. Then, the sounds of clashing steel.
Balban spread his arms, beaming.
"You see? John has unleashed his bucellarii in the palace. What could go wrong now?"
John of Cappadocia's final treachery, when it came, was brutally simple.
One moment, he was standing on the floor of the small audience chamber where Justinian was holding his emergency council, vehemently denying Theodora's latest charge against him:
"It is absolutely false, Your MajestyI swear it! The excubitores in this room"he waved at the spear-carrying soldiers standing along the walls and behind the thrones"are the very finest of your personal bodyguard."
"Which you selected," snarled Theodora.
John spread his hands, in a placating gesture. "That is one of my responsibilies as praetorian prefect."
Justinian nodded his head firmly. The five other ministers in the room copied the gesture, albeit with more subtlety. They had no wish to draw down Theodora's rage.
The Empress ignored them. Theodora half-rose from her throne, pointing her finger at the Cappadocian. Her voice, for all the fury roiling within it, was cold and almost calm.
"You are a traitor, John of Cappadocia. Irene Macrembolitissa has told me that you have suborned a dozen of the Emperor's excubitores."
Suddenly, the clangor of combat erupted beyond the closed doors of the council chamber. John of Cappadocia turned his head for a moment. When he faced forward again, he smiled at the Empress and said:
"She is wrong, Empress."
The Cappadocian made a quick chopping motion with his hand.
The four exbubitores standing at the rear of the chamber strode forward and seized the Emperor and the Empress by the arms, pinning them to the thrones. Ten others, standing along the walls, immediately leveled their spears and stabbed the six remaining bodyguards. The attacks were so swift and merciless that only one of the loyal excubitores was able to deflect the first spear-thrust. But he died a moment later, from a second spear-thrust under his arm.
"It was fourteen!" cackled John of Cappadocia.
Ten of the traitor bodyguards now lunged at the five ministers standing to one side. Four of those ministers, stunned by the sudden havoc, never even moved. They died where they stood, gape-mouthed and goggle-eyed.
"As it happens," giggled the praetorian prefect, "all fourteen are in this room."
The fifth minister, the primicerius of notaries, was quicker-witted. Despite his advanced age and scholarly appearance, he nimbly dodged a spear-thrust and scampered toward the door. He managed to get his hand on the door-latch before a hurled spear took him in the back. A moment later, two more spears plunged into his slumping body.
Even then, even as he fell to his knees, the primicerius feebly tried to open the door. But the first of the traitor bodyguards had reached him, and a savage sword strike sent the old man's head flying.
John watched the minister's head roll to a stop against an upturned rug.
"I made sure they were all here today, of course. That's my job, you know. As praetorian prefect."
He smiled at the Emperor and the Empress. Justinian was silent, pale with shock, limp in his captors' hands. Theodora had also ceased struggling against the hands holding her, but she was neither pale nor silent.
Furiously, she hissed:
"Only fourteen, traitor? That leaves five hundred loyal bodyguards to cut you down!"
John of Cappadocia laughed gaily. With a mocking bow, he waved at the great door leading to the corridor beyond. Not five seconds later, the door burst open. Gore-stained soldiers poured into the audience chamber. They were grinning widely and gesturing triumphantly with their bloody swords. They wore the livery of John of Cappadocia's bucellarii.
"All of them, John!" howled one of his retainers. "I swearall of them!"
One of his fellows demurred: "Not quite. There's a number of excubitores forted up in the mint. And all of Theodora's bodyguards are still in the Gynaeceum."
"Deal with them," commanded the praetorian prefect. His bucellarii immediately left the chamber.
John turned back to the imperial couple. Theodora spit at the Cappadocian. John dodged the spittle, then returned the Empress' contempt with a cheerful smile, before turning his gaze to Justinian.
"Do it," he commanded.
The two excubitores holding Justinian hauled the Emperor from his throne and manhandled him off the dais onto the carpeted floor of the chamber. Brutally, a third bodyguard kicked Justinian's feet out from under him. A moment later, the Emperor was on his knees, bent double. Each of his arms was pinioned. Another excubitore cuffed away the tiara, seized Justinian's hair in both hands, and jerked the Emperor's head back.
Justinian's eyes, rising, met the eyes of the torturer entering the room through a side door. The man bore an iron rod in his hands. The hands wore gauntlets. The tip of the rod glowed red.
It was the last thing the Emperor would ever see, and he knew it. He barely had time to begin his scream before the rod plunged into his left eye. A moment later, the right. The torturer was quick, and expert.
The Emperor's scream, while it lasted, seemed to shake the very walls of the chamber. But it was brief; very brief. Within seconds, sheer agony had driven consciousness from Justinian's brain. The bodyguard holding his head relinguished his grip. A moment later, so did the excubitores holding his arms. The Emperor collapsed onto the floor.
There was no blood. The red-hot tip of the iron rod had cauterized the terrible wounds as soon as it made them.
Which John of Cappadocia immediately pointed out.
"You see how merciful I am, Theodora?" he demanded. Another mocking bow. "A different mansuch as the cruel and despicable creature you have so often proclaimed me to bewould have murdered your husband. But I satisfy myself with mere blinding."
Gaily: "And an expert blinding at that!" Then, with the casual insouciance of a connoisseur:
"It's quite an art, you know. Most people don't appreciate that. It's very difficult to blind a man without killing him outright. Less than one out of ten survive the average torturer." He gestured grandly at the gauntleted man who had mutilated the Emperor. "But I use only the best! The very best! I estimate" He paused, studying Justinian's sprawled body with exaggerated studiousness. Concluded: "that your husband hasone chance in three!"
Throughout, Theodora said nothing. She did not look at Justinian. She simply kept her eyes on John of Cappadocia. Black eyes, like the gates of damnation.
Even John, in his triumph, flinched from that hell-gaze.
"There'll be none of your haughty ways now, bitch," he snarled. He pointed to Justinian.
"One chance in three, I say. Unless he's given immediate medical attention. The best medical care."
Sneering: "Which, of course, I also happen to have available. For a price."
Theodora said nothing. The hell-gaze never wavered.
John looked away. His eyes fastened on Justinian. The Cappadocian seemed to draw strength from that piteous sight. Although his eyes avoided Theodora, his voice was cold and certain:
"Now that Justinian has been blinded, he can no longer be Emperor. You know the law of Rome, Theodora. No mutilated man can wear the purple. Neither the Senate, nor the populace, nor the army will accept him. As Emperor, he is finished."
The sneer returned in full force. But, still, his eyes avoided Theodora's.
"You maymaystill be able to save his life. What there is of it. If you offer no further resistance. If you publicly hail Hypatius as the new Emperor."
When Theodora finally spoke, her voice matched her gaze. Hell-voice.
"I will do no such thing. If you bring the worm Hypatius before me, I will spit on him. If you drag me to the Hippodrome, I will curse him before the mob."
She jerked her right arm loose from the excubitores who held it. Pointed to Justinian:
"All you have done is blind a man who would someday have been blinded by death. You threaten to kill a man, when no man lives forever. Do it, then. Kill me with him. I am the Empress. I would rather die than yield."
She reared in her throne. "There is an ancient saying, which I approve: Royalty is a good burial-shroud."
"Do your murder, then, traitor. Kill us, coward."
John clenched his fist, opened his mouth. But before he could utter a word, one of his bucellarii sprinted into the room. He skidded to a halt, almost tripping over the rumpled carpet. Sweat poured from his brow. He gasped for air.
"The Army of Bithynia's been routed at sea! Half their ships burned! Most of the survivors fled back to Chalcedon!"
"They say an army's moving toward the Hippodrome. Cataphracts. They say"gasp"the whore Antonina is leading them."
"And they sayBelisarius is here!"
Theodora's pealing laugh had no more humor in it than Satan's own.
"You are all dead men. Kill us, traitors! Do it, cowards! As surely as the sun rises, you will join us before sundown."
Every traitor in the room stared at the Empress.
John of Cappadocia was famous for his sneer. But Theodora's sneer, compared to his, was like the fangs of a tigress matched to a rodent's incisors.
"Do it, cowards! Boast to Belisarius that you killed his Emperor and Empress. Do it! Tell the loyal man of your treachery. Do it! Tell the man of honor that you are murderers. Do it!"
"After he spits your heads on his spears. After the flesh rots from your skulls. He will grind your bones to powder. He will feed them to Thracian hogs. He will have the hog-shit smeared on your tombs."
"Do it, cowards. Kill us, traitors."
John snarled wordless fury.
"Keep them here!" he commanded the excubitores. "Until I return!"
He stalked out of the chamber, followed by his retainer. By the time he reached the door, he was almost running.
Once in the corridor beyond, he did begin to run. But Theodora's taunt followed faster.
"I will await you in the Pit of Damnation, John of Cappadocia! Before Satan takes you, I will burn out your eyes with my urine!"
After the Cappadocian was gone, Theodora lowered her eyes to Justinian's body.
"Release me," she commanded.
Hesitantly, but inevitablyas if giving way to a force of naturethe excubitores relinquished their grip. They were traitors, now; but they had been too many years in the imperial service to refuse that voice.
The Empress rose and walked down from the dais, onto the floor. She knelt beside Justinian. The Emperor was still unconscious. Firmly, but carefully, Theodora rolled him into her arms. She brushed the hair back from his ruined face and stared at the gaping, puckered wounds which had once been her husband's eyes.
When she spoke, her voice held not a trace of any emotion. It was simply cold, cold.
"There is wine in the adjoining room. Fetch it, traitors. I need to bathe his wounds."
For an instant, something almost like humor entered her voice. Cold, cold humor: "I come from the streets of Alexandria. Do you think I never saw a man blinded before? Did you think I would shrink from death and torture?"
Humor left. Ice remained: "Fetch me wine. Do it, cowards."
Two excubitores hastened to obey her command. For a moment, they jostled each other in the doorway, before sorting out their precedence.
A minute later, one of the excubitores returned, bearing two bottles. The other did not.
Theodora soaked the hem of her imperial robes with wine. Gently, she began washing Justinian's wounds.
The man who had brought her the wine slipped out of the door. Less than a minute later, another followed. Then another. Then two.
Theodora never looked up. Another man left. Another. Two.
When there were only four excubitores left in the room, the Empressstill without raising her headmurmured:
"You are all dead men."
All four scurried from the chamber. Their footsteps in the corridor echoed in the empty room. Quick footsteps, at first. Soon enough, running.
Now, Theodora raised her head. She stared at the door through which the traitors had fled.
"You are all dead men. Wherever you go, I will track you down. Wherever you hide, I will find you. I will have you blinded. By the clumsiest meatcutter in the world."
She lowered her head; turned her black eyes upon her husband's face.
Slowly, very slowly, the hell-gaze faded. After a time, the first of her tears began bathing Justinian's face.
There were not many of those tears. Not many at all. They disappeared into the wine with which Theodora cleansed her husband's wounds, as if they possessed the wine's own hard nature. A constant little trickle of tears, from the world's littlest, hardest, and most constant heart.
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