There was a stunned silence as the Hedgehog took in the historian’s statement. It blinked and opened its mouth to speak, but no sound came out and it closed it again. “It’s true, Hedgehog,” the Classical Grandmother said gently. “There never was such a thing as the Despotate of Mykonos. The Humans who made the toys were fooled, and their customers with them.”
“How do we know this?” the Hedgehog finally managed to articulate. “Thucydides would never assert such a thing without solid proof.”
The historian smiled. “Oh, there are dozens of indications, some so small that they appear to be negligible to non-historians, others entirely obvious. Look at the Gatatzis manuscript, for instance.” He made his way to the pile of rubble and extracted a torn page from the colouring book. “This is claimed to be a 13th-century illustration, but the costumes worn by the characters do not match the Byzantine military dress of the time. This type of footwear came into use much later. The calligraphy style itself can be dated to the 15th century. Western European rather than Byzantine would be my guess.”
“Couldn’t this be a later copy of the original manuscript?” the Hedgehog asked.
“In theory, yes,” Thucydides answered. “But then the question arises, how could a secret chronicle have been copied, if it was a secret?”
The Hedgehog gave it some thought. “You make a fair point, but this is not solid proof. There are a number of admittedly far-fetched scenarios where this could have happened.”
“Indeed. A second and more important indication is the chronicler himself. Not only is there no reference to his existence anywhere in the bibliography, but his very name is a clue to the fact that this manuscript is a forgery. You see, the only certified surviving illuminated Byzantine chronicle that we possess is the ‘Synopsis of Histories’ by Ioannes Skylitzes. What are the odds that we would discover a second one by Ioannes Gatatzis?”
Skylitzes… Gatatzis… Now that the Hedgehog thought of it, it sounded a bit like a lame joke. “The odds are astronomical,” it said. “But they are still merely odds.”
Thucydides’s smile widened. “You have a good investigative mind, Hedgehog. Let us continue our quest for the truth. Nicephorus Palaiologos placed great emphasis on the fact that his brother Andronicus stayed comfortably in Constantinople while he was fighting the Naval Battle of the Aegean, which allegedly coincided with the moment their father vanquished the Franks. However, history tells us that Andronicus was born mere months before the Battle of Pelagonia. He couldn’t have participated in the military campaign even if he wanted to, seeing as he was only a baby.”
The Hedgehog was beginning to enjoy this verbal joust. “We could chalk up the despot’s comments to sibling rivalry. He did come across as a rather envious person, wouldn’t you say?”
“Most definitely. There is however another point where the dates just don’t add up. Theodora Palaiologina, who was the mother of Andronicus and would have been the mother of our so-called despot, was born around 1240 and married the future Michael VIII in 1253. How could she have had a son old enough to fight a naval battle on behalf of his father in 1259?”
At this there was nothing the Hedgehog could say. Thucydides was right: Nicephorus Palaiologos could indeed not have been the despot of Mykonos, since he could not have been born.
“How could the Humans not see that?” it asked.
“Humans are gullible,” Hera said contemptuously. “They’ll believe anything as long as it’s about power and glory.”
“Or rags-to-riches, especially if it involves titillating bits of vulgarity with an air of scandal,” Theodora added. “Just look at Procopius’s ‘Secret History’, they take it all for granted.”
Haseki gave her a naughty smile. “About that… I always wanted to ask you –”
“Humans also love conspiracy theories, such as the one Nicephorus Palaiologos presented,” Thucydides interrupted. “Somehow they always manage to turn such stories to their advantage. If we had allowed the Despotate toys to exist, I would not be surprised to see a new claimant to the Byzantine throne emerge. In difficult times, such a fraudster would rise to prominence in a heartbeat and claim to be the saviour that the nation has been awaiting.”
“Meanwhile, our shop would attract all sorts of lunatics,” Suleyman added. “And those who don’t buy this sort of nonsense would consider all of us complicit in this scam. So instead of teaching proper history to children in an enjoyable way, we would become the darlings of those who seek to make history a tool for their ambition.”
“Which is why that toy collection could not be allowed to exist beside ours,” Constantine the Great concluded. “As far as we are concerned, we have made the world and this shop a better place by removing the Despotate of Mykonos from our ranks. The matter is in your hands, Hedgehog. The Humans will be here in an hour. What would you like to do?”
The Hedgehog considered its options carefully. It was a fact that a bogus historical game did not belong in the shop, and it found it rather galling that Nicephorus Palaiologos had sought to exploit it as the mascot of the company to make a name for himself. At the same time, it was a kind-hearted little clay animal and it was deeply uncomfortable with the idea of murder – but then, did killing someone who did actually not exist truly qualify as murder?
“I believe that we should keep this among ourselves,” it said finally. “But I want you all to promise me that, if any such issue arises again, we’ll try to deal with it without going around eviscerating dolls.”
The toys nodded in assent. “We need to clean up, then,” the Hedgehog went on. “But we still have a problem. How are the Humans not going to notice that an entire collection of toys is missing?”
The Serpent Goddess smiled. “There is a solution to that in the memory game about the Beasts of the Bronze Age.”
When the Humans arrived an hour later, the shop was in pristine condition and all the toys stood immobile on their shelves. The store manager unlocked the door and walked in. She let out an exclamation as she stepped on something.
“Look,” she told her colleague. “A memory card with the goat-demon of Mycenae fell down.”
From the shelf where it was sitting, the Hedgehog could see the glow of a magical spell being cast on the two women. The demon winked at the assembled toys as the manager put the card back in its box. The Hedgehog breathed a sigh of relief. The Humans had forgotten everything they thought they knew about the Despotate of Mykonos.
“We must really have been tired yesterday,” the colleague said suddenly. “We didn’t even notice that we’d left a whole shelf empty.” She pointed at the empty spot in the window where the Despotate toys had been.
The manager shook her head in dismay. “This is the sort of mistakes beginners make when they open a new store. Hopefully none of our customers noticed it either. Let’s redo the window, then. That spot would be great to display the Constantinopoly board game, don’t you think?”