Antonius parades through the vast open streets from Gate of Eugenios to the Palace of Bataneiates, riding on the back of an elegant short-haired destrier horse, donned in full glistening armor, exceedingly luxurious scarlet cloak on his back, and a headband made of flower buds given to him by a young lass.
It is not hard to see what the true state of the great city now, deeply sunk in the pathetic state of poverty despite having a thousand years of rich history. The infrastructures in the port is poorly maintained. The cranes in the dockside, used to elevate cargo days and nights from thousands of passing ships in the past, is now mostly dysfunctional beyond repairs.
From the scenery of the city it is not hard to imagine how prosperous it was once, a few generations ago these streets that Antonius is walking now must be full of citizens streaming through enjoy their lives. The summer Mediterranean climate with its moisture kissing the commuters faces and fertilising the soils of the city. In the business districts shouts and yells of advertisements can be heard everywhere, the paths are so crammed that passer-byes can only walk shoulder to shoulder.
But what about now?
In the fog the city is as blurry as an ancient painting drawn by the most professional hands of Medieval artists. Theodosian walls, the wall that forms both the spiritual and physical defense of the citizens in the city, is falling, literally. It has cracks and vine plants crawling all over its bricks when looked closely. The banners hanging on the walls showing the Empire's past glories are covered in dirt and stains, only to be read by the warm Mediterranean wind, the stores in harbor is still awaiting for their owners to come back for trade, main roads wide enough for six chariots laid like a carpet for their emperor to hold victory parades are covered in brown soil and dust, seems like it is never ever used again.
Most importantly, the people, the last of the Romans. Antonius smiled and waved at them; they look distinctively different from the mercenaries that he has brought alongside with him. The citizens of Constantinople lacks everything, they don't have enough cloth to shelter them from the wind, the women looks malnourished, the children looks skinny to the bones, and most men, Antonius doubt that they can pull open a bow to start with.
The soldiers of the Roman army are also the same thing, as they raise their swords pointing up the sky Antonius observed them closely and salutes them on the horse. Most of them lack the most fundamental leather army and helmets, their swords are already blunt with openings on their blades. The only thing worth commemorating is perhaps their eager to fight and their spiritual strength in defending their last hometown.
What further gave Antonius a shock is that he heard the sound of domestic animals like cows and chicken. Yes , some parts in the capital city of Nova Roma- new Rome, has became farmlands or barns for cultivation of crops and live stocks to feed the shrinking population, instead of being full of estates, palaces, art museums, theatres, gardens like it used to be.
This is the harsh reality of Constantinople, hard to relate to what Antonius has heard about in his bedtime stories when he was a boy. Difficult to accept, but it is the truth, it is there and cannot be unseen.
Abdullah is still filled with joy as he is exempted and allowed into the inner capital of the Romans by the emperor, looking here looking there filled with enthusiasm.
Antonius rode to Giovanni and asked him. "My friend, what are your thoughts about this city?"
"Hard to defend." Giovanni, with a worrisome face, replied. "This job might be a little too hard for us."
"I shall have my ships anchored in the Golden Horn, anything not right we can sail straight to Galata, the Sultan won't make the Genoese colony their enemy…for now."
"The Genoese government? Don't forget that they have brought charges against us for ransacking ships from Eygptus."
Antonius accepted a banquet of white lilies from a young, fair girl, who is full of astonishments and shining stars in her eyes looking at her idol. He accepted the flower, rose it above his head, smiled and saluted the young girl like a true Frankish knight.
"Don't forget, my friend Giovanni." Antonius replied back, still smiling at that girl. "We have a thousand men, fully armed, you think the colonial government of Galata will be foolish enough to lay their hands on us?"
Antonius turned in front and looked at Giovanni's men, fully equipped with Milano crossbow, halberds, Genoese long swords and shields from Palermo. The leading ones flying the Genoese national flag and the flag of Saint George, while the Byzantine vanguards standing by the streets flying their unique Roman flag and insignia, some holding the Tetragrammatic cross of the Palaiologan emperors, while white clothed clerks holding the Christogram of Chi Rho at the doorsteps of every churches as they pass by.
The legate from Candia, Venice, Stephano rode up behind them and commented in a plaint tone. "What a pity, such a great city with great monuments diminished to such a pitiful state." He shook his heads but immediately exclaimed. "if the city is governed or administered under Venetian hands, we would definitely be able to make it even surpass the glory of its former days!"
Giovanni peeked at this Venetian at his back as-if he is looking at a joke, he is always not fond of sailing together with a legate of a rival state ever since the start of the journey."
"It is still a great city, greater than that Venezia of yours, Venetian."
Giovanni continued jeering at Stephano in a sarcastic tone. "Ohhh, and did I forget to mention, that it is the Venetians and the crusade who destroyed the city! Such a pity that it is destroyed right , Stephano?"
Stephano, clearly embarrassed of this, coughed slightly and said. "Ahem, lets forget about this matter, it is already two centuries back! It is the doings of Enrico Dandolo and those cursed crusaders, not every Venetian wants to destroy such a fine piece of art you see…"
Giovanni gave him a cold snort and turned back, while Antonius gave him a look of apologies for the rudeness of his friend.
The army paraded past the Forum of Constantine, built to commemorate the famous emperor in Roman history Constantine the great. Roman soldiers horned heir war-horns which sent the pigeons in the square away, forming a unique picture that make them feel they were having a victory parade last the good old times.
In the far horizon the Valens Aqueduct, still functioning, transporting fresh water from one hill to another hill, supplying water for the massive city of Nova Roma which is built on Seven hills same as the Old Rome. The Aqueduct standing in defiant against ages just let people wonder how powerful ancient people's architecture technology is.
Did Europe improve through the ages since the fall of Rome? OR have they been stagnating, or has it become worse.
They paraded through the streets of Argyroprateia, which by now is still well maintained, cobblestone streets being polished and repaired as it is the main road for foreign ambassadors, trying to impress them like the city always did for thousand of years.
The road ends at the gate of Milion, from this point onwards shall be the renowned Hagia Sophia, Bath of Zeuxippos, the Patriarchate, and most importantly, the Augustation where the lavish welcome ceremony shall be held by the emperor himself and the senate, together with all the citizens of Rome.
Antonius looked up the Arch of Milion, on a fleet of stairs stands one man ,well built, dressed in prestigious purple, wearing the Imperial Diadem, there looking at Antonius with a polite smile on his age-ridden face, holding a double-eagle Chi-Rho scepter.
Antonius looked up at him, while the man looked down at Antonius.
Antonius nodded at the man with a smile, while the man also rose his scepter and smiled at Antonius.
From his face Antonius can see hope, joy, tiredness, and perseverance.
A fallen empire, a dwindled capital city, a malnourished population, a capable but hopeless emperor, and a legacy of her past glories.