By Harry Turtledove
In a universe within which Constantinople by no means fell, the Byzantine Empire has flourished by way of constructing expertise and spreading its impression yet unearths itself on the mercy of its jealous enemies.
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He was not, however, markedly sober. Argyros, for his part, did not quite pass the first part of Maurice’s test. For one thing, his eyebrows grew in a single black bar across his forehead. For another, his eyes were strangely mournful, the eyes of a sorrowing saint in an icon or of a man who has seen too much too soon. Yet he was only in his late twenties, hardly older than Demetrios. He said, “We’ll go on another half mile. ” “Yes, sir,” Demetrios said resignedly. They rode on, the tall grass brushing at their ankles and sometimes rising to tickle their horses’ bellies.
Squint though he would, he could not quite make out the nomad with the tube. He frowned. He had never seen anything like that before, which automatically made it an object of suspicion. The scouts cheered. Argyros’s head whipped around. The Roman army was coming into sight. Seen from the side, as the scouts did, Tekmanios’s plan was plain. He had a couple of tagmata on the right wing riding slightly ahead of the rest, concealing a strong force behind them that would dart out to outflank the Jurchen once the two armies were engaged.
He went on, “The Emperor’s counting on us to drive these damned nomads away from the frontier. Once we’ve done it, I know we’ll get the reward we deserve for it; Nikephoros, God bless him, is no niggard. ” Having made that point, Tekmanios used it to lead to another: “Once the battle’s won, like I said, you’ll get what’s coming to you. Don’t stop to strip the Jurchen corpses or plunder their camp. ” Again, he got the tension-relieving laugh he was looking for. He finished, “Don’t forget—fight hard and obey your officers.
Agent of Byzantium by Harry Turtledove