The Despotate of Mykonos | Chapter II

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By mid-afternoon all the toys had settled on their shelves and excitement reached its peak as the guests for the opening of the store began to arrive. The Hedgehog stood by the door to greet them and did its best to direct the flow of people to whomever was available to look after them, but it soon became clear that the Humans were overwhelmed. Visitors wanted to know every detail about the toys and their historical background, they were curious about the Hedgehog itself and it appeared that each and every one of them had some peculiar taste with regard to the way they liked their coffee. This one wanted it with brown sugar, that one with saccharine, yet another one wanted a half-decaf so as to have the taste but not the caffeine… This would not do, the Hedgehog said to itself as it watched the Humans run around in a panic. It sped around the shop from one shelf to the other and instructed the toys to introduce themselves to customers on their own. 

Soon the shop was abuzz with dozens of voices. The aristocratic woman with the peacock that the Hedgehog had identified as Hera was explaining the family tree of the Olympian gods to a young couple, the Serpent Goddess and the goat-like Demon were telling a group of small children about the Bronze Age, Empress Theodora was delivering a scholarly lecture about the Art of Byzantium while Constantine the Great and Suleyman the Magnificent guided customers through the monuments of Constantinople, and the Albanian butcher tried (and failed) to hide his annoyance as he told an inquisitive elderly lady about European travellers in Greece in the 19th century. The Classical Grandmother was explaining to anyone who would listen the different artistic currents in Ancient Greece and how they had been adapted to depict the Seven Families, and the Duchess of Plaisance held a group of young men under her spell as she told them about the importance of the Greek Revolution, until a nasty-looking, bearded man with a turban came by. 

“You should know that Greece was far better off during the Ottoman era,” he rasped. “As long as we were in charge, it was a country of law and order. Anyone who broke the law” – he gave a rather unpleasant snarl – “was taken care of immediately. We –”

“You mean that you were hanging people and chopping off their heads, don’t you, Haseki?” the Duchess interrupted heatedly. “You never learn, do you? Sometimes I wonder why they included you in the Attic Biriba if you were going to use it as a platform to glorify your crimes.” 

“I am merely stating a historical fact, my dear Duchess,” Haseki said mildly. He was visibly greatly enjoying himself. “And that fact is that Greece became quite chaotic after independence. It was pillaged by its own politicians and people. Under Ottoman rule –” 

“Under Ottoman rule you were selling the Parthenon marbles to Lord Elgin! Tzistarakis destroyed a column of the Temple of Olympian Zeus to make lime for his mosque! What was that about pillaging again?” 

Hera had turned around sharply at the mention of the looting of her family’s temples, and the situation seemed to be on the brink of degenerating into an all-out brawl. The Hedgehog hurried in that direction to try and soothe spirits, but Nicephorus Palaiologos’s shrill voice caught everyone’s attention. 

WHY is anyone paying any attention to these minor facts while I am here, I wonder? Are you all so determined to erase me again from the record of history?” 

All eyes turned to the shop window to see Palaiologos’s doll climb down from the platform where it was displayed and come to stand on the table at the centre of the room. “Now, ladies and gentlemen,” he said importantly, “I will teach you a little history that none of you are familiar with.” 

Thucydides rolled his eyes. “I can’t imagine why,” the Hedgehog heard him mutter. 

Fortunately, Nicephorus Palaiologos didn’t hear him. “I will tell you how one of the most glorious periods of Byzantine history was swept under the carpet,” he said. “You see, I am Nicephorus Palaiologos, son of emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, brother of” – he scowled – “Andronicus II Palaiologos. In 1259, while my father was beating the Franks at the Battle of Pelagonia and took the Principality of Achaea back for its rightful rulers, he sent me to conquer the Cyclades for him – all this while Andronicus was sitting comfortably in Constantinople, I should add.” His eyes became dreamy. “Oh, it was a glorious battle! The entire Byzantine navy sailed out to Mykonos to face the barbaric Franks. We were…” 

His voice was lost in the hubbub as the other toys began a running commentary among themselves. “I would like to have a word with his mother,” the Classical Grandmother said. “She seems to have forgotten a few crucial lessons about humility.” 

“… and once I had retaken the Cyclades in the name of the true emperor, my father gave them to me as a despotate. Yes, a despotate, well before any other Byzantine despotates came into being. My coming to light is a revolution for historians! I was…” 

Theodora sighed and shook her head. “There he goes again!” 

“…  but Andronicus was jealous, oh so jealous of me. Here I was, with a major victory under my belt, and he hadn’t done anything for this glorious campaign. How would he claim the throne after that? So he erased me. He forbade Pachymeres of recording my feats – my exploits, I should say, for this was truly a moment worthy of the foundation of Constantinople…”

Constantine the Great snorted. “Is he truly comparing himself to me? To ME?” 

“… only Ioannes Gatatzis was faithful to me. He kept a detailed record of my story in his Chronicles and hid the manuscript, so that, someday, I would be remembered. And now” – he pulled the Hedgehog up on the table and wrapped his arm around its little shoulders – “thanks to my friend here, I have been remembered! I was restored to my rightful place in history, and everyone will pay homage to me. As they should, of course.”

The Hedgehog disentangled itself awkwardly. “This is all very interesting, Your Grace,” it squeaked. “Perhaps however we should let our visitors have a look on their own?” It lowered its voice. “This is the opening of a toy store. I am certain that they will purchase all the toys about you and see for themselves.” 

“Purchase?” Palaiologos gasped. “I will not be sold off like any cheap trinket! This is good for you peasants, not for royalty like me!”

A murmur of anger ran across the room. The Albanian Butcher vanished from its shelf and materialized on the table, towering above the despot and fingering the broad knife tucked under his belt. “Who are you calling a cheap peasant?” he asked menacingly. 

The Hedgehog sighed. This was going to be a long day.


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