Now I Rise Page 36

“Thank you,” Cyprian said. His relief was visible, a relaxing of the tightness around his eyes and the strain in his shoulders.

There was a knock at the door. Valentin left and then returned, accompanied by a liveried servant wearing a vest with the double-headed eagle crest of the emperor. “The emperor wishes to see you immediately.”

Radu stood. “I am at his disposal. We will go at once.”

Radu and Cyprian fastened their cloaks as they stepped out into the chilly afternoon. The servant walked at a pace so brisk he was almost running.

“Is there anything I should know before I go in?” Radu asked, seized with nerves. This first meeting was the most important. If he could gain the emperor’s trust now, he would be positioned perfectly. If he could not …

Well, that would be a much more unfortunate position.

Cyprian put a hand on Radu’s shoulder. “You have nothing to fear.”

Radu could not agree with that.

 

Constantine, just like the city he ruled, was not what Radu had expected. He was older, nearer to fifty than forty. His hair had thinned on top. In place of an elaborate crown, he wore a simple metal circlet on his head. Though every other man adhered to the fashion of layers, the emperor did not follow suit. His white shirt and purple breeches were simple, even austere. He seemed utterly devoid of pretense.

What a luxury honesty was.

Radu and Cyprian stood at the back of the crowded room. Constantine paced near the front, his tall, thin body leaning into the movement so that his head led the way with every step. With a start, Radu realized the emperor’s feet were bare. He stifled a surprised laugh at the absurdity of the emperor of Rome walking around without even stockings.

“What of the Golden Horn and the seawall?” the emperor asked.

“We have nothing to fear there,” a man said, waving dismissively. He was tall and broad, his body a blunt instrument of war. “A handful of poorly trained ships against my Italian sailors is nothing. We are perfectly safe on the seawall.”

Radu saw his opportunity. Telling Constantine the truth, and about something easily confirmed, would solidify his status. Knowing what they faced would not magically replace the seven ships that had already fled, or line their walls with men that were not coming.

“You are not safe there,” Radu said. Every face turned to him with curiosity. “When I left, Admiral Suleiman had six large galleys. Ten regular. Fifteen small. Seventy-five large rowboats for transporting men and navigating small spaces. Twenty horse transports.”

The change in the air was palpable. “Who are you?” the Italian man demanded.

“Radu of—” Radu paused, again not knowing what name to give himself. “Radu most recently of Edirne, where I served at Mehmed’s—the sultan’s—side these last several years. Most particularly overseeing the secret development of his navy.”

Cyprian put a hand on Radu’s shoulder. “This is the man who saved my life, Uncle.”

Constantine pointed at a man near the door. “Send word to the governor of Galata. Tell him we are drawing the chain across the horn to block all entry.” No one moved. “Now!” he shouted.

The man stood, bowing, and ran from the room.

“Is that to be his main point of attack, then?” Constantine asked.

Radu shook his head. “He means to press you on all sides. If he can get through on the seaward side, he will. But his focus is the land walls.”

“The walls will stand,” a priest said. “They have always stood. They will always stand.”

“They have always withstood attacks before, but attacks change,” Radu said. “The sultan spares no expense on new methods and weapons. He has studied the walls, has even been here in person. He means to focus on the Lycus River Valley and the section outside the palace.”

A man near the front frowned. He wore clothes closer in fashion to the Ottomans than to the Byzantines. “Those are obvious choices. We already know this.”

“Orhan is right,” the Italian man said. Radu startled, looking closer at the oddly dressed man who had just spoken. Orhan was the false heir to the Ottoman Empire—a man whom Constantinople had used to threaten Mehmed’s rule since before it began. Even now, Mehmed had to send money periodically or else Constantine would send Orhan into the empire to stir up civil war.

Orhan had been and was an actual, active threat to Mehmed’s life. Anger flared in Radu’s heart. He wanted something to hurt these people, to make them feel the fear they should. “He has artillery.”

“We have seen artillery!” a portly man shouted. “So he throws some stones. Our stones are bigger.” Laughter echoed through the room. Encouraged, the man continued. “The Ottomans have never had stones as big as ours.”

Radu offered a tight smile in response to the man’s dirty bravado. “They have a cannon four times my height that can shoot a six-hundred-pound ball over a mile.”

No one laughed at that, though several scoffed visibly. Constantine sighed. “We may as well bring in food. And I hope someone is writing all this down?” He gestured for Radu to take an empty seat nearby.

Radu sat. He was in, for good or ill.

Constantine looked at the ceiling as though an answer were there. “What if we relinquish Orhan’s claim?”

Radu looked at the pretend heir. Orhan stared down at his hands, which were soft and pale. Not warrior’s hands, like Constantine’s or the Italian’s. Orhan nodded.

Constantine reached out and squeezed the other man’s shoulder. “We release any threat against Mehmed’s legitimacy. We graciously decline payment for the land the Rumeli Hisari is built on. We increase our payments to him.”

Radu wondered if he should encourage that. Perhaps Mehmed would want it. But he would still attack. And everything here would be Mehmed’s in the end, so it did not matter. Radu would tell the truth. “His mind is set on the city with a singular focus. He has spoken and dreamed of little else since he was twelve. I do not think anything will deter him now. You can offer, but short of surrender, you should prepare for siege.” Radu dared to hope that after hearing his tales of men and cannons, they would surrender. He could deliver the city, unharmed, directly to Mehmed!

Constantine turned to the Italian, eyebrows raised expectantly. “Giustiniani?”

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