"One no longer needs to wonder why the Romans of Anatolia don't mind the yoke of the Turk anymore," - Artemios, Droungarios of the 6th Droungos of the Hikanatoi, remarking on Pursa.
January - February
The start of the year went about as expected; with several issues that needed tending to rolling in from all the corners of the Empire.
The highest amongst them was the continued entrenchment of the Genoese further up the Aegean and even in the Black Sea with their colonies--and Galatia was making itself a permanent fixture within the Empire's trade network. It was simply troubling to have such a powerful mercantile and naval rival right on the doorstep of the capital.
The other on the list was the Ottoman Turkish assault against the Empire's remaining stronghold cities in north-west Anatolia; Nicaea, that jewel of Roman history, being the one under the longest siege--for almost 30 years. The reports coming back from Nicaea weren't good--and they were sparse at that, making clear how strong the siege was becoming.
Orhan Gazi was a siege expert in comparison to his noted father Osman, and the Ottomans had had years to cut their teeth on the practice while taking Pursa ; their now capital. They were on the cusp of taking Nicaea--the only thing stopping them was the uniqueness the city had with its lake-harbour that allowed it a semblance of supplies when the Ottomans let their guards down.
This was the spark of a fire for Andronikos; something military he could understand and get attached to . He placed the task of creating a functional supplyline to contest the Turks at Nicaea on Alexios; relying on his general naval cunning and skill with finding the right people for any job that needed doing. In this he also wrote letters in his own hand to the leadership of the city; promising support in a few months time, and then a more watchful eye from then on out to ensure they didn't suffer as they did now.
It was only by the end of January that Andronikos, with the aid of John, had made a dent in the reports and requests flooding in--mostly from the frontiers of Albania and around the fortress of Kastoria in upper Macedon. The reports weren't any better than those from Anatolia; the Serbs were more restless than ever, and were starting to pressure the Bulgarians more heavily--even exerting soft power over Macedon as Andronikos had feared a year earlier.
The requests? They were pleasingly mundane by comparison. One of the most pleasing Andronikos himself got was from Mount Athos, an important religious community given effective rights of control over the Athos Peninsula of Macedon by his grandfather; one of the few things Andronikos found himself agreeing on with his predecessor .
It was a simple letter from Gregory Palamas, a noted monk from Athos who had become the effective spokesperson for a unique ideology of Orthodoxy champion on Anthos. The letter in question offered Gregory's adoration of the Emperor and his piety, as well as hopes and well-wishes for his health, with the monk asking for small trading rights so that the monasteries on Athos might sell their self-produced goods in order to gain an income to keep themselves afloat without help. Such a simple thing brought a unique joy to Andronikos' heart, and he wrote back in kind--noting that he hoped to meet Gregory when times were easier, and giving him the asked for trading rights.
While John himself raised a brow at this he didn't contest it, considering his own piety, and went about piecing together the needed documentation to make it happen; this coinciding with similar trade issues that were starting to crop up now that the Imperial Fleet was getting strong enough to police sections of the Marmara and extract tariffs from merchants without the concessions given to Venetians and the Genoese.
The Genoese in particular began to feel like the Empire was stepping on its toes within the region, and rumblings began to be heard as the end of February came into focus , but with the eyes of Alexios on the region due to his task of supplying Nicaea they held their actions in check for now.
March - April
It was around late-early March that letters began to come from Michael III of Bulgaria; they were pressing for Andronikos' to decide on an official time to make a joint effort against the Serbs led by Stefan III. Andronikos himself was rather simple and honest with Michael III in his replies; indicating that his Anatolian cities needed him at this time, but he did not wish to leave Michael out in the cold.
To correct this he used some of the wealth the Empire had begun to recoup in order to extend the contracts of the remaining Mercenaries in the Empire; most of which were Bulgarians and Turks anyway. This contract extension was set until 1332, and in this Andronikos transferred their command to Michael, sending them to Tarnovo to serve him. These mercenaries numbered roughly 5,000 men.
If Michael wanted to continue using them past 1332 he would have to pay them himself--but the gesture elicited a uniquely pleased response from the bellicose and prickly Emperor of the Bulgarians , and saw him ease off his efforts to court Andronikos for further aid when the news reached him at the end of March.
Much of early April was spent checking the equipment of his Hikanatoi in order to ensure it was at least up to basic par, before he and the city were consumed with Easter Celebrations and the Emperor's mind was drawn off by the need to indulge his wife's needs and wants for a time. Andronikos himself at least wanted to keep her on side, as they'd known each other a while, and while they disagreed on many things there was still an underlying love there.
It was only by late April that the Emperor found himself able to pull away from domestic affairs and approach his Hikanatoi once more. Ever a military mind, Andronikos had devised a system of swapping out the core of the forces for each campaign--as the surrounding enemy states rarely had a core of professional troops as large as 4,000. In this he hammered in a system in which the 10th Droungos led by Theodore would remain at the capital at all times as a defense force, while the core of 5 Droungos he took with him would be interchanged following each campaign; while the 6th would always remain at the core of it.
Thus, for the planned expedition to Anatolia, it would be the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th and 9th, and Andronikos ensured to begin their drilling and equipping accordingly; as an early start to this would give them a leg up.
May was effectively consumed entirely with preparations for the campaign; Alexios had told Andronikos bluntly that the Turks were well-aware of the fact that the Romans were coming in soon due to the supply-efforts Andronikos had instructed Alexios to handle, and thus warned the Emperor that the latest they could viably get to Anatolia without interference from the nearby naval Beyliks of Karasi and Aydin would be late-early June.
Andronikos made the drills about one thing and one thing only; Turks. The Turks were famed for their use of horsearchers and akin, as well as their current lack of a real infantry body and reliance on Ghazi raiders. Andronikos hammered his chosen troops into shape; carefully lessening the natural fear 'civilized' men had of horsearchers with a firm hand.
The Emperor understood however that all soldiers needed rest, and would often intersplice training with allowances--such as allowing them to make use of the secondary baths at the Palaiologian Palace to ease their bodies after a long stint of training.
What really endeared Andronikos to his troops is the fact that he endured everything they endured; making a point to be the first 'subject' of the training to show the functionalities of it--as well as always eating with them, as well as what they ate. He made it clear that as their commander he would suffer through everything they suffered through, and created a bond with those he would take with him to Anatolia by the time the month ended and the Romans were forced by news of Karasi activity along the Hellespont to get moving.
The last days of May were used to stockpile supplies and prep the transport ships to cross the Bosporus--that time also taken to lay out some directives for John and Alexios to follow considering the fact that the Emperor would be away from the capital for a good few months and it was unlikely he'd be able to keep up regular communications considering the circumstances.
The army of the Emperor, and it's Emperor, left Constantinople at roughly 2 am on the 1st of June; arriving in Chalcedon roughly 3 hours later under the cover of the early morning. The army itself rested for a day in Chalcedon, checking through supplies and equipment as well as taking in the arrival of messengers and scouts to get a lay of the land.
It became clear quite early on that there would be fighting before they even reached Nicaea to relieve it--as there were reports of Ghazi raids across Bithynia--notably around Nicomedia. During the stay in Chalcedon Andronikos unloaded excess equipment he and his forces did not need--mostly excess armour, and gifted it to the militia of Chalcedon, as well as ordering that trees be cut down from the western side of the city along the coast in order to build simple defenses so that the city might have more flexibility in a siege.
When everything was ready the Emperor and his forces departed Chalcedon at around early day, the 3rd of June, marching down with a managed pace to Nicomedia. This march was interrupted when the scouts reported that there were Ghazi raiders within the vicinity of the city; Andronikos breaking his forces up into two sections along the lines of foot vs mount.
Andronikos gave control of the cavalry detachment of his forces to Artemios, ordering the Droungarios to curve around the local forestry and keep a distance until the Palaiologian banner went up. The archers and footmen led by Andronikos caught the Ghazi raiders that had been terrorizing Nicomedia roughly an hour after that, resting at a watering spot and weighed down by their plunder of the local villages.
The ensuing battle was a sort of test case for Andronikos and his men--his footmen holding firm behind their shields and spears and keeping the Turkish horsearchers off of the archers as said archers began to gradually pick away at the riding Turks with sustained fire. When it looked as if the Ghazi might flee that is when the banner was raised and Artemios arrived to firmly cut them off.
The result of the battle was a decent spoil of horses, Turkish armour and arms, as well as some prisoners. Andronikos gave his troops rite to take as they wanted from the spoils; many riders taking to new and better horses while the infantry equipped themselves with extra pieces of medium Turkish armour. Much of the spoils had only been possible due to the unique approach the archers had taken to the horsearchers; one only open to them considering their history of being hunters prior to being recruited .
The prisoners, roughly numbering around 100 all and all, were sent as military colonists along the Roman-Serbian border--split up amongst those villages in need of excess men with soldiering ability.
It was the 5th of June by the time the Emperor and his troops reached Nicomedia; confident they'd cleared out enough of the surrounding Ghazi to move onwards. Within Nicomedia the troops sold what could be sold from their spoils, and they and the Emperor held a service in the Hagia Sophia of Nicomedia in thanks for their victory.
Their time in Nicomedia was time enough for Andronikos to write to his wife Anna as well as his administration--namely John, on the progress made and to affirm their movements now southward to Nicaea. John himself would later arrive with a small personal guard of roughly 100 men, as well as fresh supplies. After some time affirming things with John, the Emperor would order the Hagia Sophia of Nicomedia restored with local building materials and inspect the fortifications before he and his troops left after a decent rest on the 9th of June.
The march further southward wasn't an easy one--as the area was heavy with death and destruction due to the continued raiding of the Ghazi--as well as the simple fact that Nicaea's environs had been hit over and over again with no chance to recover for nearly 30 years. This march began to pick up stragglers--namely militiamen wanting to fight alongside their Emperor--and by the time the Romans were intercepted roughly a days march from Nicomedia, their number had grown from roughly 2,100 to 2,700.
This interception would be along the hilled interior environs of Nicomedia by Orhan Ghazi himself, and his mustered column of troops. The Ottoman Bey had camped upon the strongest positions of the area, and effectively blocked their passage forward with a superior force outnumbering the Romans almost 2 to 1. If Andronikos wanted to progress forwards he'd need to deal with the Turks.
The following battle, known as the Battle of Nicomedia, would be of importance to the entire history of the Romans.
Hostilities truly began when Orhan sent roughly 300 riders down from his encampment to harass the Romans--hoping to at worst disrupt their own encampment and at best draw them off into a fight they couldn't win. The outcome was that the Romans refused to budge--they stonewalled the Turkish riders until they were forced to retreat back to their Bey without achieving much.
Andronikos would wait until the light of day began to fade before sending out John and his 100 man escort; ordering them to return to Nicomedia and bring its garrison to aid in the battle. John himself and his men were almost caught by the Turks patrolling the area; this only avoided by the distraction caused by Artemios and his riders; who turned the event into another inconclusive skirmish that only saw both parties retreat back to their camps.
This is how it was for the rest of the daylight, before both groups permanently retreated back to their camps. Orhan himself wrote to Andronikos--urging the Emperor to simply retreat; saying that he and his troops would allow it. Besides this being a slight snide remark at Andronikos' expense, the Emperor also knew it to be nonsense. Orhan's efforts had been to cordon off the Romans and stop them from retreating--not to drive them off.
The following day hostilities flared up massively--as Orhan made a genuine effort to dislodge Andronikos and destroy the Emperor and his troops. It wasn't long before they were forced to abandon their camp due to a fire started by the Turks.
The only things holding the Romans together was the fact that the Turks couldn't make full use of their riders due to a combination of Andronikos' archers and continued cavalry blows led by Artemios--the lance-equipped Roman riders doing serious damage to the Turks with each pass. To bolster moral Andronikos made a note of riding up and down the line; yelling encouragements.
This would suddenly cease following a particularly deep attack which saw the Emperor hit by an arrow and thrown from his horse. While the wounds were comparatively minor rumour quickly spread that the Emperor had been killed--or at least mortally wounded. When this news hit the army at full force one would have expected them to break, but instead they flew into a rage and threw themselves at the Turks.
The following enraged battle seemed to only be another inconclusive skirmish--at least until John arrived with Nicomedia's garrison. The sudden arrival of reinforcements, as well as the moral boost it further caused, saw a surge that forced Orhan to retreat--his surviving troops managing to escape due to them all effectively being riders.
It was a major day--one made sweeter when it was realized that Andronikos himself was simply wounded, and not in any way close to death. The Romans had lost roughly 300 men--mostly infantry, while the Turks had lost around 2,000 . The battle ended properly on the 11th of June.
The Romans were forced to march back to Nicomedia after this--the city receiving the returning Emperor with as much pomp as it could muster in these trying times. Andronikos and his men needed time to recoup and reequip; especially the Emperor considering his injuries. It would take roughly two weeks for the Emperor to get back on his feet fully.
By the 24th of June the Emperor and his forces had been reinforced by new men levied from Thrace, as well as resupplied from Chalcedon and Gallipoli. John himself would return to Constantinople to take the wheel of state back into hand, but leave most of his guard behind to aid his friend. By the time the Romans left Nicomedia for the second time they numbered around 2,500.
The last days of the month, as well as the first 5 of the next, were spent along the coast of the Marma; clearing out the towns and little fortifications Orhan had gradually conquered with his columns; drawing in recruits and resettling unwilling Turks westward once more along each port they came across. This process only stopped at Cyzicus, which had its walls reinforced and its garrison reequipped with captured supplies, before Andronikos led his men back up northward .
 The Ottomans had absolutely no skill with siegecraft prior to their taking of Pursa, now known as Bursa. It had been an ordeal taking around 6 years that effectively boiled down to starving the city out. This had only been possible because the Empire was too focused on fighting itself in the Civil War of 1321 - 1327. By now the Ottomans had begun producing counterweight trebuchets, but in only small numbers; which when combined with Nicaea's unique harbour allowed the city to survive a multi-decade long siege up until this point.
 Andronikos III was a military man first and foremost. John Kantakouzenos himself was actually considered the representative and 'beacon' of the younger generation Andronikos III led against the older one of his grandfather. John was also responsible for the continuation and expansion in scope of the Palaiologian Renaissance, and is still considered a very important figure within Greece today for his contributions. Considering there will not be a Civil War caused by Anna of Savoy's unfair distrust of John he will instead serve as the tempering factor in John V's development; resulting in a man with a more measured approach to rule that won't rely on someone like John Kantakouzenos to run the entire administration for him.
 Andronikos is a rather religious man, and this will play a large part in how the Empire diverges from the OTL, which will be explored later. Athos at this point is at the center of an, as of now, small scale revolution in Orthodox ideas with the introduction of hesychast spirituality--something which will have a larger impact, and earlier, than it did OTL.
 While many rightfully hate the Venetians for their tendencies, the Genoese are unique in that they actively go for the throat at any sign of Imperial recovery. They have a history of directly attacking the Imperial Fleet when its in port and burning it--as well as threating the Empire more deeply considering the position of Galatia. These will be responded to in a rather brutal fashion by Andronikos, and his successor John V, when it does occur.
 Something in need of clarification, the Romans themselves don't mind foreign 'Emperor's as a concept--contrary to what most think. While it needs the state and its leader in question to be powerful enough--or rather threatening enough to Constantinople, to be 'allowed' the title. What the Romans took issue with explicitly was anyone proclaiming themselves as Emperor over the Romans, rather than their own people, which is why the Romans played broken telephone with Charlemagne and Otto; allowing them the title of Emperor, but not Emperor of the Romans. The direct result of the rising number of Emperor's around them saw the Romans adopt the title of 'Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans' to make sure their title was still 'superior' to those Emperor's around them. A bit of classic Roman one-upmanship.
 The archers used by Andronikos were known to make use of 'Lipsi' shots, or 'Taking' shots--careful volleys designed to kill or incapacitate enemies--especially riders--so that the horses would be left alive to sell later alongside their gear. It was a practice Andronikos allowed because it gave his troops spoils they could sell and earn excess money from; thus making them more loyal in the long run.
 This was the first time the reigning leader of the Ottomans, and the Emperor of the Romans, ever met in battle. The Roman victory set a precedent, and the Ottomans never found the stomach to truly hammer the coast of the Marmara again after this--instead choosing eastward expansion at the expense of other Beyliks. Funnily enough this contributed to their survival, and eventual auspicious movement to Mesopotamia in the late 1300's.
 Andronikos ensuring Nicaea had a supplyline from Roman Europe ensured it could last the siege longer--as well as making it clear the Romans still supported the city. This put Andronikos in the unique position of being able to meander his armies around and clean up everything behind him so that he could fully focus on Nicaea when the time came.