The Empire Strikes Back 83 - Empress Veronica
In December of 1835, Senator Nicolai Stathopoulos was summoned to the Imperial Palace. This was quite odd, because no-one had been to the Imperial Palace in years.
Years before, it was common for the aristocracy to visit the palace. There would be parties nearly every night, and constant events fawning over the Emperor throughout the day. Not only was it cultured, but it was a way to be seen by the Emperor and so to gain a valuable posting in the Empire.
All that changed when Andronikos was appointed heir. He had always been a strange sort, but not being in the line of succession, he was not often seen. Once he was heir, his presence at the State events made everyone uncomfortable. No-one could quite figure out what about him was so off-putting, but the effect was real. So when State events began happening less frequently, and finally ceased altogether, everyone was relieved.
Many of the aristocracy who lacked positions returned home, where the more apt of them found that the Imperial bureaucracy had replaced them as the governance in the provinces. Though few truly noticed this, as the more savvy of the aristocrats had already recognized this fact and stayed in Constantinople.
The Imperial Bureaucracy kept the Empire governed, even as orders from the palace slowed to a trickle and then stopped. Those who sought orders, an audience, or simply to investigate at the palace where turned away by the Varangian Guard. And so the most ambitious of the aristocrats reformed the Senate, in order to ‘ensure the safekeeping and functioning of the Empire’. The presence of the fanatically loyal Scholai Palatinae in the city ensured that the ambitions for the Senate went no further. Between the bureaucracy and the Senate, the Empire was kept stable. But the lack of word from the Emperor meant that international relations faded.
Years passed. Food and supplies were delivered to the palace (the servants silent and frightened-looking when they took the deliveries), but no word came out. Until December of 1835. The Varangian Guard had been summoned inside. And then new servants were hired. Supplies were delivered, and it was clear that the palace was being cleaned and refurbished. And then days later, the summons came for Nicolai.
When he arrived at the palace, he was escorted in by a silent guard. He was led to a room where bodies lay in state: the royal family. Many of the bodies were in poor shape, little more than skeletons. Some where more recent. Least honored was the obviously recent body of Andronikos.
After Nicolai recovered from the shock of this revelation, he was escorted to a waiting room. He tried to recall the lineage of the royal family and which bodies he had seen. Where there any survivors?
When a servant came to wait on him, he tried to ask questions, but the servant merely shook his head. When Nicolai shouted “Why will no-one speak to me?!” the servant looked up with sorrowful eyes, then opened his mouth. He had no tongue. Nicolai fell back in his chair as the servant left. What horrors had happened here?
Eventually, he was led to an audience chamber, where there was a young woman, in her late teens. She greeted him. “Senator Stathopoulos, thank you for coming. I am Veronica, the last of the Doukas family.” Nicolai remembered that she had been an infant when the palace had become closed off. She would be nearly seventeen now. “I am afraid that the reign of my Uncle Andronikos has not been a good one. But it is now over. He died at his meal the other day. As I am the last of my family, I am the heir to the throne. The coronation will be in a few days. But I wanted to greet you beforehand to thank you for your service to the Empire. You will, of course, be reappointed to the Senate as my reign begins.”
After a short time, Nicolai was led out of the audience chamber and out of the palace. He was stunned, and it took him some time to meet with the other Senators, who had also had similar experiences this morning. By now, rumors were spreading throughout the city regarding the day’s events, and speculation as to the fate of the royal family was rampant: the family had been stuck down by plague and Veronica the lone survivor, raised by servants; the family had turned on each other for power, killing each other through the years; Andronikos had led a reign of terror before he was struck down by God; Andronikos had led a reign of terror, but had been killed by Veronica when he sought to assault her; Veronica had willfully murdered her whole family; Veronica was a demon-monster who drank her family’s blood and had only emerged when she ran out of victims. It would never be known what had happened, the only witnesses other than Veronica were unable to speak and so could never tell.
The next day, the announcement went from the palace: Veronica would be crowned Empress on New Year’s Day, and immediately after would address the Senate.