The Last: Kýrie, Eléison

If you read one historical fiction novella about the Byzantine Empire this year, read mine!

the-last
Theophilos Hatzimihail painted this depiction of the final battle for Constantinople. As in other Hatzimihail paintings concerning this subject, Constantine XI is featured on a white horse.

Writing The Last in June and July of 2014 was an exciting time for me. I started writing at the beginning of summer and the first draft was finished within 24 days. Two years and four drafts later, I have a historical fiction novella that I am genuinely proud to claim as my own work. The Last benefited greatly from several volunteer readers over the last two years. The feedback I received from those individuals spurred the various revisions that created the present novella. Insight from Father Bob Lubic was of considerable help. His suggestions and wisdom were of special worth to me and I greatly appreciate the time he invested with The Last.

The first draft of The Last was also the final piece of my writing that my grandmother read before she passed in July of 2014. She had always been the greatest advocate of my writing and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to share this one with her. 

I have seriously kicked the tires on making The Last the final novella in a trilogy of historical fiction pieces (each with a slight supernatural edge) concerning the Byzantine Empire. I had even seriously considered using the Battle of Yarmouk and the Byzantine Iconoclasm as potential foundations for the two other (“previous”) installments (the Battle of Manzikert and the Fourth Crusade are two other options). 

Researching for this project also opened the door for my love affair with Byzantine history. I am simply unable to read enough about the topic and I don’t intend to bring this romance to an end anytime soon. If you are looking for just a taste of Byzantine history, I suggest you start here.

The fall of Constantinople was one of those amazing turning points in history and I do believe I’ve captured the essence of that event’s significance in The Last. Below, I have shared quotes that really helped me capture the characterizations of George Sphrantzes, an imperial courtier, and Emperor Constantine XI Dragas Palaiologos. These quotes communicate a great deal about the foreboding that existed in Constantinople just before the Ottoman siege in 1453. 

“On the same night of May 28th [1451] I had a dream: it seemed to me that I was back in the City; as I made a motion to prostrate myself and kiss the Emperor’s feet, he stopped me, raised me, and kissed my eyes. Then I woke up and told those sleeping by me: ‘I just had this dream. Remember the date.’ ”

                                                                                 -George Sphrantzes

                                                                                   Roman (Byzantine) Imperial Ambassador

 

“But how can I do this and leave the clergy, the churches of God, the empire and all of the people?

What will the world think of me, I pray, tell me?

No, my lords, no: I will die here with you. ”

                                                             – Constantine XI Dragas Palaiologos,

                                                                in Christ true Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans

The quote from Constantine XI is really at the heart of The Last. The sense of responsibility and determination in that man must have been absolutely astounding. 

Including the prologue, a list of characters, and a handful of illustrations, The Last runs 13,473 words over 45 pages. 

The Emperor raised his sword into the air.

Kýrieeléison!” He called, “Lord, have mercy!”

The Last: Prologue

“The Last” reveals the reflections of Emperor Constantine XI during the final surge of Ottoman soldiers against the walls of Constantinople on May 29th, 1453.

I started to take serious my desire to become a writer in December of 2011. I had certainly tried my hand at significant writing before that – as early as 2001. However, life offered me plenty of distractions in the decade between those years, preventing the accomplishment of any noteworthy work. Even once I knew that writing was my passion, time remained in very limited supply. Between my career as an educator, coaching girls’ and boys’ basketball, and the handful of other jobs that I worked during the holidays and summer, I found that I struggled to consistently allow time for writing.

Between 2011 and 2014, I did complete a handful of short stories and novellas. Despite the feeling of accomplishment, I struggled to find time to return to those works for the purposes of editing and improvement. Quite honestly, there just wasn’t enough time in the day to write regularly during those years. My dreams waited.

Constantinople Map.jpg
This is possibly the oldest surviving map of Constantinople. Created by Florentine cartographer Cristoforo Buondelmonti in 1422, the map shows the city as a shadow of its former glory.

That changed on June 9th, 2014. On that day, I began work on what I consider my best piece of writing to date. Less than a month later, I had completed the first draft of The Last. Writing this particular novella, a historical fiction piece, was a true labor of love. I thoroughly enjoyed telling the story of the Emperor Constantine XI and his valiant defense of the vestiges of the Roman Empire in the 15th century. My research for The Last spurred a great appreciation for Byzantine History. A quick glance at my bookcase will suggest that my fondness for this topic has only increased in the time since I first started writing on a warm June day over two years ago.

The Last is set on May 29, 1453 – the final day of the Roman Empire. This alone may come as a surprise to those recalling that the Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century. The Last concerns the eastern region of the empire around Constantinople, which survived the fall of Rome and the western provinces by nearly a millennia. Those living in this surviving portion of the Roman Empire considered themselves Roman and the inheritors of all that Rome had represented and accomplished. These Medieval Romans must defend their identify and culture from the invading Ottomans or be lost to history.