By Harry Turtledove
In a universe during which Constantinople by no means fell, the Byzantine Empire has flourished via constructing expertise and spreading its impression yet reveals itself on the mercy of its jealous enemies.
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Extra resources for Agent of Byzantium
Your first guess was better. ” His sibilant accent made the name end with a menacing hiss. Argyros started to cross himself, but checked the gesture before it was well begun. Even without Orda’s remarks, the church vessels Tossuc had stolen showed how little use the Jurchen had for Christianity. And no wonder—the Empire used religious submission as a tool for gaining political control. Now that he was living with the nomads, the Roman did not want to antagonize them. But he felt a chill of fear all the same.
He snatched the tube away, rubbed at his eyes in disbelief. Repeating his earlier prayer, he cautiously brought the tube up once more. Sure enough, there were the trees on the far bank, but minute, as if seen from an immense distance instead of a couple of hundred feet. And they were—by the Virgin, they were —upside down, their crowns where their roots should be and the stream above them where the sky belonged. He lowered the tube, sat tugging at his beard in perplexity. For the life of him, he could not see how looking at the world as if it were minuscule and head over heels would help the Jurchen beat the Romans.
He had known that for years; now he saw why it was so. They took to the bow at the age of two or three and began riding at the same time. And herding and hunting and struggling to get enough to eat merely to stay alive hardened them in a way no civilized man could match. He was glad he was a good enough archer and horseman not to disgrace himself among them, though he knew he was not equal to their best. And his skill at wrestling and with the dagger won him genuine respect from the Jurchen, who had less occasion than the Romans to need the tricks of fighting at close quarters.