June 1216: After laying near death for several days, Henry, called Hendrik by his family and "Ares" by his Greek subjects, the Latin emperor of Constantinople, rose from his bed at last. A man of action by inclination, he was well-ready to quit his sick bed. False reports of his death had spread to Epiros, where the new despot, Theodoros Komnenos Doukas was emboldened enough to lead raids into Thessaloniki. His men broke and ran at the appearance of the Latins, led by their emperor, miraculously returned from the death. The despot slunk back to Arta, plotting his revenge. Henry was back in Constantinople for Christmas, managing his unruly barons and writing letters to the pope, asking for reinforcements. His army numbered less than a thousand men, and even more than ten years post-conquest, Constantinople had yet to regain its vigor or population. He was cheered to find his teenaged empress, Marija of Bulgaria, had made progress on her French. Marija's father, the notorious Kaloyan, had defeated Henry's elder brother Baldwin at Adrianople in 1205. Many fine lords and knights had lost their lives that day, and Baldwin had disappeared into a Bulgarian prison, never to be seen again. Henry had only married Marija under duress. He'd had no desire to shackle himself to the daughter of his brother's murderer, and Marija herself was a barbarian, half-pagan, with no French to speak of. Her progress under the tutelage of the ladies of Constantinople was coming along excellently, however. 1217 Boril of Bulgaria, the cousin and stepfather of Marija, was in a fine mess. His cousins, Ivan Asen II and Aleksandr, had returned from their long exile in Russia with a pack of Kuman screamers at their backs, determined to take Bulgaria from him. He'd appealed to his brother-in-law, King András II of Hungary and Henry, emperor in Constantinople, to no avail 1. His armies kept falling back, until all he had left was Trnovo, and he held that with little more than a prayer. As he huddled in his citadel, Boril remembered the curse his former wife, Anna the Kuman 2, had put on him before he packed her off back to her tribe. She'd told him he would die as a traitor must. Trnovo surrendered to Ivan Asen II. Boril was handed over to him, blinded, and thrown into prison. Asen kept Boril's Courtenay wife at court, hoping she would be a useful bargaining chip against the Latin emperor. In Constantinople, Henry watches with a concerned eye. Boril had been no true friend to him, but he knew what to expect from the man. Ivan Asen II was an unknown element. His empress Marija had grown up with her cousin in childhood, but had last seen him in 1207, when her father Kaloyan was murdered and Asen forced to flee for his life from Boril. Regardless, he had Marija send a small delegation to Trnovo, bearing a courteous letter. 1218 In February, the ambitious young ruler of the Bulgarians, Ivan Asen II, captures king András II of Hungary as he makes his way home from the Crusade 3. He makes András pledge to send him his daughter as a bride before releasing him. In Nikaia, Theodoros Laskaris was pondering his own marriage. He had recently rid himself of his Armenian wife 4 and was ready to make a new alliance. His eldest daughter, Irene, by his first marriage to Anna Angelina 5 was engaged to the promising young nobleman, Ioannes Vatatzes, and Laskaris was aware that there was much debate as to who would eventually succeed him as emperor in Nikaia. Would it be Vatatzes, or one of Laskaris' own brothers, or even Laskaris' half-Armenian son, Konstantinos? The truth was, Laskaris was keeping his options open. He was not elderly, and he felt sure that one day, Constantinople would be his in truth and not just in name, or failing that, it would go to his son or grandson. Henry of Flanders spends the spring and summer campaigning against incursions from Bulgaria and Epiros; his rivals don't feel confident in launching full-scale invasions, but brigands and pirates are everywhere. While he is in Thessaloniki with his ward, the boy-king Demetrios 6, news arrives from Constantinople. The empress Marija is with child. While his soldiers toast to the future prince, and he receives congratulations from near and far, Henry can barely contain his private dread. While he wants a son and heir, and badly, he superstitiously believes this will end in disaster. His first empress, Agnese of Montferrat 7, died after many painful hours in childbirth, trying to give him an heir, along with the child. Henry, who had grown to love her, had been devastated. Although he doesn't feel for Marija what he felt for Agnese, he can't help but be concerned. 1219 The Epirotes have encroached on Bulgarian territory. Unable to make much headway against the Latins, Theodoros Komnenos Doukas has turned to chipping away at Asen's territory. Instead of war, an alliance is proposed: Theodoros' brother Manuel should marry Asen's illegitimate daughter. Manuel is twenty years older than the girl, but that is no great bar. Komnenos Doukas has learned of the emperor Henry's overtures on behalf of his niece, the ex-queen of Bulgaria, now a "guest" at Asen's court. He wants to get between Asen and Henry now, before they get any ideas. The alliance is made. Gallantly, Manuel agrees that his little wife should stay in Trnovo until she is of marriageable age. A Venetian ship arrives in Constantinople, bringing with it two more nieces of the emperor Henry. Eleanor and Marie were the daughter of Henry's sister Yolande and her husband, Pierre de Courtenay. Their elder sisters have already made good marriages to the kings of Hungary and Bulgaria (well, the marriage with Boril didn't turn out so well) and to the future prince of Akhaia 8 and their parents believe Henry can do as well for the younger two. The well-bred girls are shocked at the sight of Constantinople. The city had been half-burnt and ransacked during its conquest in 1204; even now it is depopulated. The famous palaces have been stripped of much of their treasure. Their aunt, the pregnant empress Marija, is not much older than them but she is a half-Kuman Orthodox who can read and write in Cyrillic and Greek but can barely speak French. The girls do find their brother-in-law, Geoffrey de Villehardouin, very dashing and handsome. Theodoros Laskaris reaches out to Henry, interested in one of the Courtenay girls as an empress. Negotiations begin. In October, empress Marija goes into labor. Henry expects the worst, but their young son is born to surprisingly little fuss. The choice of name is political. Henry wants a name that will appeal to his Greek subjects as well as his Latin. He chooses Philippe, a proper Greek name, and also the name of his brother-in-law the king of France 9. The birth is celebrated in the streets by the common people; Henry is a popular emperor. The child is baptized by the cardinal legate, Giovanni Colonna 10, but some of the Latin barons are concerned about the possible influence of the empress Marija. Now that she is the mother to the heir to the throne, she is the most likely choice of regent in case of Henry's early death. Henry responds by creating a new will. In the event of his death, the baron Narjot de Toucy should rule as regent alongside Cardinal Colonna and the empress Marija, in an effort to appease the barons and the pope. 1220 The negotiations for the marriage of Theodoros Laskaris to one of the Courtenay girls have succeeded. Laskaris' brothers, Alexios and Isaakios, are given safe conduct to Constantinople to select the girl. They choose Marie, the elder girl, on the advice of some of the Greek courtiers. The marriage is unpopular in Nikaia. The common people are not happy to have a Catholic and foreigner as an empress, much less one of the hated Latins. Laskaris is privately thrilled with Marie de Courtenay, who he finds very clever and pretty. She beseeches him with sweet words and caresses to keep the peace with her dear uncle in Constantinople. Laskaris' daughter and son-in-law, Irene Laskarina and Ioannes Vatatzes, become concerned. The Epirote-Bulgarian alliance lays siege to Thessaloniki. The emperor Henry must once again ride to the rescue of his ward, Demetrios. Between Ivan Asen II and Theodoros Komnenos Doukas, the boy-king is squeezed on almost every side. His mother, Margit, is constantly asking her brother the king of Hungary for men and aid. Although Henry knows the Latin Empire needs a buffer-state between itself and Bulgaria and Epiros, he has to face the possibility that Thessaloniki is living on borrowed time. Asen is growing dissatisfied with Komnenos Doukas. He finds him personally unlikeable, and their vaunted 'alliance' doesn't seem to be accomplishing much of value. He receives letters of an ambiguous nature from his cousin Marija, the Latin empress. He takes heart, believing she is supporting him. Happier news comes from the Holy Land, as John d'Ibelin, the Old Lord of Beirut, arranges for his nephew Philip to marry Henry's remaining niece, Eleanor de Courtenay. The tearful bride embarks from Constantinople in the company of Cardinal Colonna, who will escort her to Tyre. Henry writes to France, requesting that one of his sister Yolande's sons join him in Constantinople to seek their fortunes. 1221 In March, Robert de Courtenay arrives from the Hungarian court where he has been visiting one of his sisters 11. He meets with his uncle Henry and is introduced to his little cousin, Philippe. As the Latin Empire has been at peace with Nikaia since the marriage of Laskaris and Marie, Henry takes the opportunity to visit his vassals in Athens and the Peloponnesos. He and Robert visit Thessaloniki, then head down to Athens, where Otto de la Roche is the duke. From there they visit Robert's sister Agnes and her husband Geoffrey in Akhaia before swinging 'round to Constantinople again. In November, Theodoros Laskaris dies. His son-in-law Ioannes Vatatzes seizes power, displacing Laskaris' young son Konstantinos. Vatatzes' wife, Irene Laskarina, gives birth to a son, named Theodoros. The widowed empress of Nikaia, Marie de Courtenay, arrives in Constantinople. Brother and sister greet each other warmly. Marie is accompanied by her brothers-in-law, Alexios and Ioannes Laskaris, who want to return to Nikaia and dethrone Vatatzes. 1. Boril and András were both married to nieces of Henry, daughters of his sister Yolande and her husband Pierre de Courtenay (OTL future emperor and empress of Constantinople). 2. The widow of Kaloyan, and mother of Marija. 3. He had quit the Fifth Crusade early and opted to return home. 4. Her uncle, King Levon I, had passed her off as his daughter when he sent her to Laskaris. It took over a year for Laskaris to learn the truth, and in his rage he divorced her and returned her to Armenian Cilicia, even though she'd given him a son. 5. Daughter of Byzantine emperor Alexios III Angelos. 6. Son of the Crusader lord, Bonifazio of Montferrat, by his marriage to Margit of Hungary, widow of emperor Isaakios II Angelos. 7. Daughter of Bonifazio, and thusly half-sister of Demetrios of Thessaloniki. 8. Geoffrey de Villehardouin, who's father is the prince of Akhaia. His great-uncle is the chronicler of the same name. 9. Henry's sister Isabel had been Philippe II's first wife, before dying in childbirth with twins in 1190. 10. OTL, captured in the mountains of Epiros with Pierre de Courtenay by Theodoros Komnenos Doukas, and only released in 1218 after the pope threatened a Crusade against Epiros. 11. Yolandette, queen of András II.