We continue publishing excepts from Paul Kastenellos new book, Count No Man Happy…



The fall from his horse had not seemed bad. Constantine had been stunned for only a moment, or so he thought. His companions had quickly gathered around him. Even Stauratius and Aetius had laid aside their hot rivalry and cold courtesy to tend the boy together. Nasoforis himself brought cool water from the stream the party had been about to cross. He wiped off a trickle of blood and made a compress to cool the emperor’s head. At everyone’s urging Constantine agreed to rest awhile under a large elm while the others gathered in concerned groups talking together.

Alone under the elm Constantine allowed his mind to wander, or rather urged it to wander away from the groups of old people talking together and into another view. The scenery was the same: the stream, the trees, the undergrowth; but he chose to imagine that he was in Rotrud’s homeland with all their courtiers and guards gone.


Had he been standing Constantine would have spun on his heel. But he was lying under the elm and could only look up into the sky as a grin bore down on him.

“Rotrud?” the boy stammered.

It was Rotrud – but not at all as Constantine had expected her. True she was blonde and pretty and had long braids and her face was that of the image he carried against his heart, but this girl who flashed a smile like the sun seemed no retiring daughter of the Frankish court, happiest surrounded by books and pets. This Rotrud was out of the northern legends themselves, or from his dreams. She bent over him and let her braids touch his face. Her skirt, which did not come even near to her knees, was all of black leather. It snugly hugged a large round rump. Her bodice was mostly black leather straps, and it too was filled to overflow. Rotrud had been but twelve when first they had been engaged, but obviously in the several years since, the child had changed. In her hand she held a whip. Vaguely Constantine recalled some images, all black and shades of gray.

“Do you like your wife, my lord Emperor of the Romans?” Rotrud spoke in a bright, cheerful laugh of a voice. Her bright wide eyes lit the smile she smiled on her husband-to-be. Nor did Constantine take any offense at her playfully mocking tone – How could he, beneath that sunshine grin?

Constantine said nothing; he had never seen anything like the girl who stood before him gently swinging a whip. Even in the theater women dressed more modestly even if actresses did not often behave so.

“Hey, it is the fault of the great autocrator himself, Your Sovereignty, if I’m not like the picture you’ve carried for so long. It was you who wanted to see me here in my woods. I’d have been more than happy to go to your city, Illustrious Sir. In fact I was looking forward to it. Then I’d have dressed like a proper princess for your stuffy friends. Would you rather that? I can leave you….”

“No. Absolutely no.” Constantine jumped to his feet. He was so stimulated to actually see the fiancé whom he’d only dreamed of until now that his superheated mind and glands raced with each other, neither winning his undivided attention. He was so overwhelmed by that smile that his bowels became queasy in his belly. He actually liked the disrespectful tone this Frankish bride took with his august self.

“Dare you to catch me!” Rotrud took off like a deer and Constantine chased after her bouncing leather-clad bottom. She spun round in a clearing and grabbed her future mate as he almost plowed into her. Briefly she looked into his eyes. Then she slipped to the ground under him and pulled him down onto herself. She felt so nice that they play-wrestled for many minutes till finally Rotrud ceased squirming and Constantine lay quiet on his stomach next to her, not thinking of anything but what fun married life would be. Then, unexpectedly. she jumped onto his back and bounced again and again while he feigned pain and fear. But it was all play-acting like his cheetahs’ cubs playing at fighting. After a few long seconds she stopped bouncing and lay her golden head next to his. The fifteen year old emperor heard Rotrud whisper in his ear. “You are sweet, milord; not at all like an emperor should be.” Then she was gone.

When Constantine awoke he was being carried on a litter by four of his guardsmen back to the city where court physicians would worry over him hourly for a week before they agreed that the mild concussion had done the emperor no lasting harm. Strangely, the empress-regent continued her usual routine at court showing little more than formal concern for her son. He hardly cared.