Anna of Byzantium

Anna of Byzantium by Tracy Barrett

Book: Anna of Byzantium by Tracy Barrett Read Free Book Online
Authors: Tracy Barrett
The woman is the head of the household, and when I was empress, I would have an enormous household to supervise. I would have to makesure there was food for everyone in all the palaces in the imperial compound. I would need to see to it that new servants were properly trained, that livestock was kept in good order, that everyone was properly clothed, and that the children received their education. The health of my family would be in my hands, and although the imperial family had the best physicians in the empire, final responsibility for everyone’s health would be mine. I enjoyed medical studies the most, and my cousins soon learned to flee from me when they saw me approaching with bandages, or the box of herbs used to mix up remedies.
    And when my husband was out of the city (as Constantine would often be), I would also be in charge of defense of the palace against invaders. I secretly hoped that would happen. I knew I would be good at battle.
    Lessons continued with Simon. I think my mother must have spoken to him about her encounter with my grandmother, for suddenly he was dwelling longer than usual on the philosophers and church fathers who said that maintaining one’s word is the only way to govern fitly. He also had us read and memorize gruesome stories of war. My favorite book was the
Iliad,
and one day Simon set me a reading assignment from the part where Priam, the king of Troy, went to beg the Greeks for the body of his beloved son, Hector. Hector, with his golden helmet and athletic prowess, reminded me of Constantine, and tears stung my eyes each time I read of his death. Please let Constantine be safe, I prayed silently each time we came to that part.
    The Greek Achilles, blinded by his fury over the deathof his best friend, Patroclus, killed by Hector, had slain the Trojan hero and mutilated his body by dragging it behind his chariot. I was standing on the table with my back to the doorway, declaiming as Simon had taught me, and had just reached the part where Hector’s father pleads for his son’s body when I saw Simon’s eyes drop and his hands cross submissively on his round stomach. This usually meant that my grandmother had come to take me for private study, so I turned to the door, ready to go, when I saw that instead of her black columnar figure, my mother was standing there, robed in red.
    She approached. “And what does this story teach us, children?” she asked. No one spoke, so she answered for us. “Achilles refused to obey the laws of his gods and of man, and he was himself killed. Even in war,” she said, emphasizing the last word and looking me in the face, “even in war, there are rules to be followed. A leader must lead honorably.”
    The others looked bored. What had this to do with them? And the battles in the
Iliad
were glorious to read, despite the talk of rules and leading honorably. My mother looked at me meaningfully once more, then left the room. We returned to our studies, but the episode had lost its fascination for me.
    In my rare free time, I returned to some of my childish games. My brain was weary, and as Constantine was with my father he would never know if I helped amuse my sister Maria by playing with her dolls. One day we had avoided the midday sun by going into the Balchernae Palace’s inner courtyard. This was our favorite place, sincethere we were outdoors but still enclosed in the safe walls of the palace.
    We were pretending that our dolls were soldiers. Maria was then only eight, so she had to obey me when I told her that her dolls were the barbarians and mine were the Greeks. Remembering my medical lessons, I had torn up tiny scraps of linen to make bandages, and crushed the small grass seeds around us to make medicines for my wounded heroes. My troops were massacring Maria’s in vast hordes, and she wanted to provide them with Christian burial. I told her that infidels weren’t Christians, but she said, “Mine are,” and refused to continue the game until

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