|Agent of Byzantium |
POD: c. AD 597
|Appearance(s):||"The Eyes of Argos"|
|Type of Appearance:||Direct POV|
|Date of Birth:||1277|
|Occupation:||Soldier, Spy, Federal agent (Magistrianos)|
|Spouse:||Helen Moskha (d. 1307)|
|Children:||Sergios Argyros (d. 1307)|
Basil Argyros was born in AD 1277 in the town of Serrhes (province of Strymon, in the Balkans) in the Roman Empire. He was a tall, lean man with dark hair and beard and a single, solid, dark bar for eyebrows. He served the Empire both as an officer of scouts in the army and then as a magistrianos.
1305 ("The Eyes of Argos")
In Etos Kosmou 6814 (1305 AD), Argyros was an officer in the army of the Empire, leading a unit of scouts in an army commanded by John Tekmanios and hypostrategos Andreas Hermoniakos on the Danube frontier. The army had crossed into the steppe country north of the river on a punitive mission against the Jurchens for their raids into the territory of the Empire.
Argyros managed to find the position of the Jurchen force on a rise, and reported directly to Hermoniakos, who ordered an attack on the Jurchen. The opening phase of the battle was an exchange of arrows between both sides. Then the Romans advanced, but the Jurchens drew their sabers and prepared. During that charge, Argyros noticed a white haired Jurchen holding a long tube to his face with its other end pointed at the Romans. Argyros first thought the Jurchen had created a spell for projecting the evil eye. Then the battle was joined. After a brief skirmish, Argyros saw the larger Jurchen army approaching. Argyros sounded the retreat towards their own camp, save for Argyros' fellow scout, Demetrios, who broke through the Jurchen line and died in a storm of arrows.
Argyros and the scouts held their position until the Roman army under the command of Tekmanios approached in an effort to outflank the Jurchens. They should have been out of sight of the Jurchens, and yet, the Jurchens shifted their own position to meet the Roman advance. Despite Argyros' efforts to warn Tekmanios, the Jurchens attacked Tekmanios' men, and were able to meet every one of Tekmanios' counter-measures. Finally, Tekmanios retreated. Argyros and the scouts also had to retreat now that the Jurchen were between them and Tekmanios. Taking a wide path, they reached the camp before Tekmanios' men, but the Jurchen soon followed, beginning a siege.
The Jurchens besieged the camp for three days until their resources ran out. Once it was clear that the Jurchens had indeed withdraw, Tekmanios then an officers' council to determine what happened during the attack, and suggested a retreat back south of the Danube. Constantine Doukas, the merarch who commanded the right division, added that the devil was probably telling the khan what the Roman troops were doing, because the Jurchen were carrying out movements that apparently showed foreknowledge of the Roman army's movements. When Hermoniakos retorted that some people blame the devil to cover their own shortcomings, Argyros spoke up in support of Doukas, reporting the presence of a white-haired Jurchen shaman who pointed a tube at the Roman army as it maneuvered. Argyros suggested that the tube might use some sort of magic involving the evil eye. Tekmanios and Hermoniakos agreed that the secret behind this strange magic had to be discovered. The task fell to Argyros.
They began their scheme the very next day. Hermoniakos publicly denounced Argyros as a coward for refusing orders and demoted him to private soldier, but still on the scout unit because Argyros had been a good soldier once. Word of Argyros' demotion spread throughout the camp. His former aide, Justin of Tarsos, was now his commander. Awkwardly, Justin placed Argyros on the eastern three-man patrol with Bardanes Philippikos and Alexander the Arab. On their mission, Argyros did his best to downplay his demotion. When the opportunity arose, he defected to the Jurchen.
Argyros was found by a Jurchen scout, and brought before the Khan, Tossuc. Tossuc was initially suspicious, and only after many protestations and the Jurchen in their raids against the Empire, claiming that he was defecting for the disservice done to him. However, it was only after a shaman named Orda convinced Argyros to swear by the Christian God that he was telling the truth that Tossuc accepted him. Argyros recognized Orda as the white haired Jurchen with the tube.
After a period of intense questioning from Tossuc and Orda, Argyros was accepted into the band. He rode with the them for some weeks, developing insight and respect for them and their way of life. He became fairly close to Orda, who'd synthesized a religious view that combined the Christian God with the notion of animist spirituality. Eager to prove his point, he shared the truth of the tribes' magic with Argyros: Orda had actually created a device capable of seeing at far distances, formed by two tubes with crystals attached on each end, the working of which he discovered by accident when holding two crystal pieces at a distance. Thus, he was able to warn his own warriors about the Roman army's movements long before they made contact with them, thus gaining a great tactical advantage. After drugging Orda, Argyros successfully stole the tube with the crystals and returned to the Roman camp, using what he'd come view as the "eyes of Argos" along the way. As he experimented with them, he realized that they were not demonic, but were instead made possible by natural law.
When he finally found the Romans several days later, he was nearly killed by Justin, Bardanes, and Alexander. While Bardanes and Alexander couldn't see the point, Justin agreed, and forcefully ordered his men to find Hermoniakos. When they did, Hermoiakos revealed the truth of Argyros' mission.
Tekmanios, realizing that Argyros should probably not be returned to command the men who nearly killed him, offered to send him to Constantinople with a letter urging his admission to the Roman secret agency, the Magistrianoi. Tekmanios was related to the Master of Office, George Lakhanodrakon, by marriage. Argyros accepted the offer.
1307 ("Strange Eruptions")
In Etos Kosmou 6816, Argyros held the position of magistrianos in Constantinople, where he lived with his wife Helen, and his son Sergios. Contrary to his expectations before taking the position, being a magistrianos was almost exclusively a bureaucratic position, and most of his work was related to reading documents from field agents and other offices to determine potential issues that could threaten the Empire, from contraband to other spies.
However, his daily routine was interrupted when he found a man on the ground that suffered from smallpox, an illness that was rightly feared its infectiousness and high fatality rate. Despite efforts by doctors to contain the disease, a smallpox epidemic hit the city, claiming, among others, Helena and Sergios. Argyros fell into despair.
During the period of Helena's illness, Argyros brought cow milk from a nearby milkman to feed Sergios. Argyros was surprised to learn that no one in the milkman's family was affected by the smallpox; all of them caught cowpox from the cows they milked, usually through small cuts in their hands, but they barely felt the illness before it remitted. Argyros himself had caught the cowpox from milking the cows, but he did not even know it. Soon, Argyros, with the help of Gian Riario, a medic who tried to help Helena and Sergios, realized the truth: anyone infected by cowpox was protected from smallpox. Argyros and Riario started a program to infect children with the cowpox to stop all smallpox epidemics.
1309 ("Pillar of Cloud, Pillar of Fire")
He presented a letter of introduction to Mouamet Dekanos, the deputy of the Augustal prefect, in order to determine what was being done to rebuild the pharos and why reconstruction had stopped. Dekanos explained the Egyptian practice of anakhoresis or "withdrawal" had been exercised by the guilds. If the authorities attempted to return the craftsmen to work by force, Dekanos feared the anakhoresis would spread. On a couple of occasions in the past, the whole Nile valley had been paralyzed by anakhoresis, from the delta to the first rapids.
With the lighthouse, convicted felons could be forced to grub rock in the quarries and common, strong-backed and brainless laborers could haul it to the pharos. But the skilled craftsmen, the stone-cutters, the concrete-spreaders and the carpenters who built the necessary scaffolding had all withdrawn their labor. All three guilds had also indicated that none would return to work until all demands had been satisfied. When Argyros asked what had caused the anakhoresis, since some work had been done previously, Dekanos replied no one knew. Argyros planned to find out.
As a first step, he sought to interview leaders of the guilds. The carpenters, having shops in the business district of the city, were easiest to find. Argyros, after a few missteps, found the area the carpenters congregated. He entered a shop with both Greek and the local Coptic on its sign and convinced the proprietor, Teus to take him to a guild leader. Teus brought Argyros to a carpenter by the name of Khesphmois.
At first, Khesphmois wanted nothing to do with the magistrianos, ordering him out of his shop. However, Zois his wife, intervened suggesting that Argyros was a stranger and so knew nothing of the dispute. She said it would do no harm to talk with him and that some good may come of it. Reluctantly, Khesphmois agreed to explain his side.
Khesphmois took Argyros to the worksite of the pharos. Arriving, Argyros saw a group of men marching in front of the partially built tower, carrying signs that said things like "This labor is too dangerous" and "Paltry pay for deadly work". There was also a group of soldiers present but their function was to ensure no pilfering took place rather than to drive the carpenters away.
Khesphmois took Argyros to the top of the half finished tower, a couple of hundred feet tall. Khesphmois explained that several workers had fallen to their death during the construction to date, and that the risks to the workers would increase as the space to work in would narrow as the tower grew. Argyros swore by God, the Virgin, and by Saint Mouamet to find an answer.
Argyros' next step was to meet again with Dekanos. He sounded him out on the possibility of meeting with the leaders of the guilds exercising anakhoresis. Dekanos was appalled at the precedence this could set but Argyros convinced him that the urgency of rebuilding the pharos outweighed it. He conditionally agreed provided all three guilds agreed to meet with him.
Argyros then set out to speak again with Khesphmois. He was not in his shop, but away working on a parade grandstand and not due in until the next day. As Argyros was leaving, Zois once again stopped him and asked what she could do to help. Argyros explained and Zois agreed to try to convince Khesphmois to meet with Dekanos along with the other two guilds.
The meeting took place several days later. In addition to Khesphmois, Hergeus of the concrete spreaders and Miysis of the stonecutters also attended. Representing the Empire was Dekanos and nominally Argyros but he mediated rather than negotiated directly.
After some discussion, Khesphmois and Hergeus felt that sufficient silver would mitigate the risk but Miysis disagreed stating no amount would be enough especially since there was plenty of other, safer work. He then left the meeting. Khesphmois and Hergeus remained and, in response to Argyros' question, stated their comrades would return to work if the wage was doubled. Dekanos was outraged, stating he might go up one part in 12 more but anything higher was thievery.
Neither side trusted the other, but all agreed that Argyros, as an outsider would give the fairest judgment as to what the wage should be set to. All swore a might oath to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to the Virgin and to Athanasios, Cyril, and Pyrrhos saints of Alexandria that they would abide by his decision. After some thought, Argyros split the difference and set the wage for work on the lighthouse to half again the standard. In addition, he stated that the government of Alexandria should pay for the funeral of any worker killed rather than his guild. Finally, the wife and children of any married worker would receive six months of his pay as compensation.
Two weeks after the meeting, the stonecutters remained withdrawn. Argyros spoke with Miysis again but the latter indicated he was content to work at a lower paying but safer job and so were his colleagues. As Argyros walked away, he had an inspiration. He ran to Dekanos' office and convinced him to issue an edict, in the prefect's name, to halt all construction in stone for three months.
The lack of work was effective. The stonecutters agreed to resume work on the lighthouse. Although Argyros was tempted to withhold the extra wages for the dangerous work since Miysis was not a party to the agreement, he elected not to since the disparity in wages would only create more problems than the revenge was worth.
When Argyros set sail back to Constantinople, work had resumed with all the craftsmen that could fit in the worksite.
1315 ("Unholy Trinity")
In Etos Kosmou 6824, Argyros was assigned the task of investigating the recent successes of attacks by the Franco-Saxons in Ispania, and chose to pose as a trader in garum. Upon arriving to Ispania, he was forced to bribe a bureaucrat to meet with Isaac Kabasilas, deputy strategos of the province, as strategos Arkadios was on the field.
Argyros was told that the Franco-Saxons had managed to seize at least eight fortresses and four cities, including Tarrago, and that the attackers were apparently in league with Satan, as witnesses reported seeing great red demons ripping open the gates of the city. Argyros was skeptical, but when he talked with the witnesses, all of them told the same thing. It was then that he met two Anglelanders: Wighard, a tin merchant, and his niece Hilda, an apothecary.
Argyros bought a horse and began to travel north, along the coast, crossing the Eberu river: since the Franco-Saxons did not patrol their lands, he never met them. He had to bypass several cities, such as Tarrago and Barcilo, which were garrisoned by the Franco-Saxons, and crossed the Pyrenees. Argyros took refuge in Pertuis, a fortress in the Pyrenees, and there he discovered clues that pointed him towards the Monastery of St. Gall, in the Alps. He also met Wighard and Hilda in Pertuis, and found out that they were actually part of the equivalent to the magistrianoi in Angleland.
The three of them traveled together towards the monastery, and Argyros changed his identity to Petro of Narbomart, an amber merchant. This was avoid being pointed out as an Orthodox - who were disliked by the Catholics ever since the Roman Empire captured Rome.
Hilda was injured at Turic a few days ride from the monastery. They put her up in the town at an in run by Gerda. Wighard was reluctant to leave Hilda behind but she convinced him to continue to the monastery with Argyros.
When they arrived at Saint Gall, Wighard remained behind in the woods a mile away, and Argyros infiltrated the monastery. There he discovered the secret: a potion, made of sulphur, saltpeter and charcoal, in proportions related to a certain prayer, that exploded when it made contact with fire. However, during the next mass, he accidentally revealed to the monks his orthodoxy during the prayers, and he was forced to run away at all haste. Wighard helped him escape, but later threatened to kill Argyros if he did not tell him the truth. The magistrianos deceived him, and eventually managed to return to Constantinople with the secret.
In Etos Kosmou 6825, Argyros was sent to Mesopotamia to investigate a potential Persian conspiracy to destabilize Imperial control over the region, including the strategic fortress of Daras. The Persians were spreading leaflets exhorting the many sects within the region to rebel against the Roman Empire and swear loyalty to the King of Kings. Curiously, all the leaflets were identical, including several orthographical mistakes that were never corrected between copy and copy.
Upon arriving in Daras, Argyros took a false identity as a merchant to avoid being discovered. He started to investigate, learning from his contacts in the city that there was no way the leaflets were coming from outside, as every trader coming in was always carefully searched. During one of the nights he spent away, he met and had sex with an exotic dancer, who behaved suspiciously when he learned more about her. Meanwhile, his investigation continued, and Argyros had an idea to ask the Daras' garrison commander about where each leaflet was found. By noting the positions on a map, he saw that there were two buildings around which no leaflets had been found. Argyros decided to investigate the one he found most suspicious, a potter's shop, which had previously received supplies that could potentially be used to make paper.
That night, Argyros sneaked into the workshop and found another room he had not seen before, which had several small pieces of pottery that had strange symbols he could not recognize, and a bowl with ink. When he touched one piece that was inked and saw that the mark it left on his hand was a letter, he realized the plan: by placing all of those pieces on lines and inking them, a person could make many copies of the same text at a very fast pace. This accounted for both how quickly the leaflets were spread and why the guards could not find anyone bringing them in.
However, when he enthusiastically began to use the pottery pieces to experiment, he lost track of time, and was discovered by the potter. The potter locked the building from the outside to warn his co-conspirators. Cornered with no way out before the Persians (one of them the exotic dancer he slept with, a Persian spy called Mirrane) arrived, Argyros took advantage of the fire the Persians had lit to burn him alive to make his way out. He put two pots full of the potion he discovered in Saint Gall to break the door down and shock the Persians, as well as causing great damage to the potter's workshop.
After a short encounter with Mirrane in the streets of Daras, where she confirmed her identity, Argyros returned to Constantinople. He showed his findings to the Master of Offices, who wanted to make the discovery a secret of the state to prevent someone from taking advantage of the invention. However, Argyros convinced him to do otherwise by showing him multiple copies of a book he had printed containing the Master of Offices' poems.
In Etos Kosmou 6826, Argyros faced a troubling situation with the iconoclasts, a religious movement opposed to icons that started to grow across the Empire. He first became aware of it when he was injured during a riot started by an Egyptian monk.
This movement grew large enough that the Emperor Nikephoros III and Eutropios, the Patriarch of Constantinople, were forced to call for a ecumenical council to determine whether the iconoclasts were right or not before it could break the Empire. One of the foremost supporters of the movement was Arsakios, the Patriarch of Alexandria, who argued in favor of taking down all icons, stating that they were heresies, while others argued against it.
Meanwhile, Argyros tried to find what was the mood in the streets, and was attacked several times by people that were proclaiming in favor of iconoclasm. Then, one night as the council was close to its end, Argyros found out by chance that Arsakios had taken in a lover: Mirrane, the Persian spy. This provided him both with the reason behind this sudden rise of iconoclasm and with an idea. After sharing with an archbishop in the council several ideas on what could be said, Argyros used the archetypes to create a leaflet in order to convince the people on the street about iconoclasm being an heresy, putting them against the iconoclast preachers. Meanwhile, the debate in the council ended up in favor of icons, and this movement was again named as a heresy.
Argyros finally had another encounter with Mirrane, who congratulated him for his success and for surprising her in Daras, before leaving once more.
In Etos Kosmou 6829, Argyros found a tavern that sold the strongest wine he'd ever drank, making him drunk with just two cups. He returned to the tavern on the next day, and suggested a trade to the bartender. The bartender showed him how he made the wine stronger, using a still and assorted devices, to distillate the wine and increase the concentration of alcohol. Argyros bought the still and most remaining amphoras of hyperoinos for potential use.
Almost immediately after, word of problems in Alania, an independent kingdom in the Caucasus, arrived in Constantinople. Alania had always taken advantage of its location to gain advantages from both Persia and the Roman Empire. It maintained an apparent religious equality, as temples to both the Christian God and the Zoroastrian religion existed within. Argyros was tasked with bringing Alania back into the Byzantine Empire's sphere of influence, and planned to use the hyperoinos to bribe the King of Alania.
Soon, the hyperoinos proved to be a hit among the Alanian guards, and the King asked for several pots of it for a party, also attended by several envoys of the barbarian raiders north of Alania. There Argyros found out that Mirrane had become the King's lover. The next night, Mirrane met with Argyros and informed him that the northern barbarians were planning to cross Alania in great numbers in order to raid both the Byzantine Empire and Persia unopposed. Given the threat to both of their respective nations, Mirrane also proposed she and Argyros work together to prevent the attack.
A few days later, Mirrane, Argyros and his companions left for the passageway between the northern lands and Alania. Mirrane did not know what this was for, but Argyros had not only brought the hyperoinos with him; he also had many pots with the explosive potion in his cart. He placed them at strategic points along the passageway, and then he lit them up just as the raiders were coming through it, but the explosions kept them distracted enough for the last plan to work. The explosive pots loaded into their carriage exploded, killing most of the raiders and destroying the passageway.
With the danger to their nations finally defeated, Mirrane found herself Argyros' prisoner, who proposed that Mirrane come to live with him in Constantinople and retire from the business of spying.
- See, e.g. Agent of Byzantium, loc. 34, ebook.
- Ibid., loc. 37-142.
- Ibid., loc. 142-167.
- Ibid., loc. 167-201.
- Ibid., loc. 201-218.
- Ibid, loc. 227-263.
- Ibid., loc. 263-306.
- Ibid., loc. 324-520.
- Ibid. loc. 561-598.
- Ibid., loc. 598-654.
- See e.g. Agent of Byzantium, pgs. 126-127, tpb.
- Ibid., pgs. 128-129.
- Ibid., pgs. 129-134.
- Ibid., pgs. 137-138.
- Ibid., pgs. 141-143.
- Ibid., pgs. 144-155.
- Agent of Byzantium, 2018 edition, pgs. 194-197.
- Ibid., pg. 204.
- Ibid., pg. 211.
- Ibid., pgs. 218-221.
- Ibid., pg. 218.
- Ibid., pgs. 216-217.
- Ibid., pgs. 224-230.
- Ibid., pgs. 235-236.
- Ibid., pgs. 232-235.