The End of an Empire

Written by Jerry Yu

The palace is empty – too empty to believe that not long ago it was the pulsing heart of a great empire. Constantine XI walks through its empty corridors and halls. 

There are no people. All able-bodied men were armed and sent to the wall. No decorations, save for the murals and the original architectural structure of the palace, are left. All were sold to hire mercenaries. 

Walking inside this great palace, a building almost as old as the empire itself, he wonders what the Turks will do when they take the city. Will they sack it and burn everything down like his ancestors had done to Carthage? Would they rebuild the palace or the Hagia Sophia into a mosque? 

He tries not to think about any of this, but it is hard, for he hasn’t slept well for years and weariness overwhelms him. Nothing more can be done. The Pope and the Kings of Franks and Latins had promised him reinforcement. There was none, save for a group of Genoese mercenaries. He remembered how the people of the West answered the call to arms of his ancestor Alexius, and had helped the empire to expel the Turks away from Asia. This time is different, and now he stands within an empty echo chamber of a palace watching as the glory of the empire fades to nothing. This thought hurts him worse than the blade of Turkish Janissaries. 

Suddenly, the sound of an explosion, of wall stones falling down and of the faint sounds of firearms shifts his attention. The ground beneath him begins to shake, and he hears someone approaching him fast. 

“My Lord?” A Genoese man kneels before him, and asks with heavy wariness in his voice. He is clad in chainmail with a breastplate, the armor stained with blood and ash. “There was an attack on the Golden Horn.”

“And it failed?” He asked. The Turks had launched innumerable attacks on the bay in attempts to cut their supplyline and to destroy their defense. Until now, all had failed, so he had not been worried.  

“Yes, my Lord,” the Genoese said, voice trembling with fear. “But there is something else you should see.”

Constantine says nothing. He follows the Genoese out of the palace into a  street filled with refugees and wounded soldiers. They don’t  even look up when their Emperor traveled past them. Above them all, the sky is filled with smoke and ash. All around them is the smell of gunpowder, blood and rotten dead flesh. The smell intensifies as they approach the frontline.

The wall is surprisingly peaceful when he arrives. The soldiers are not fighting, nor are they  patrolling and plotting either. They all watch ahead of them. 

There are ships on the land. The Turks drag them from the ocean with thousands of logs toward the Golden Horn. Archers and crossbowmen are standing aside to provide cover. A few cannons on the wall attempt to fire, but they miss their targets. Soon, the first ship reaches the water of the Golden Horn and begins to unload its crew members. 

As the last Byzantine Emperor watches centuries of power drift away, the Turks begin to cheer. And the foreign language fills the sky, echoing endlessly like thunder. 

Published by haringeyunchained

Haringey Unchained is a collective of students aiming to show case the creative talent of Haringey Sixth Form College in Tottenham, London. We think that through the promotion of our creative thoughts, we can educate our community, bringing to the foreground the critical and creative consciousness of a vibrant school in a deprived part of London. We are endeavouring to provide this blog as a platform for our community, giving the space to those whose work otherwise might not be seen or read. Being that the cuffs are off, we are able to express through our photography, art, short fiction and poetry, what’s really on our minds. We are free.

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