Excerpts From Count No Man Happy



It had been fifteen hundred and thirty three years from the founding of the city of Rome, and seven hundred and eighty years from the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. It was now four hundred and fifty years since Constantine the Great had founded a New Rome at Byzantium where Europe meets Asia on the Bosphorus.

With the melting of the last snowfall, infantry from that New Rome, more commonly called Constantinople, were retreating from a small fort on the Dacian frontier, pursued by Bulgar warriors.

It wasn’t much of a fort; just a stockaded trading post fifty miles beyond the frontier proper and not very different from a forward post on the U.S. or Canadian frontier in the nineteenth century. It was just a place to trade with the locals or seek refuge if the natives turned enemy.

At first the Byzantines held formation but not for long. The peasants who lived outside the palisade just ran — those able to.

In the past Bulgar raiders would have been content just to kill a few troopers, fire the buildings, grab what loot they could carry, and return east to where a relief army would not follow.

This time they hunted down and butchered both the soldiers and the refugees.

But in the new Rome a beautiful empress reigned in the name of her young son while in Western Europe Charles the Great – Charlemagne – was entangled with warring German tribesmen, A Bulgar incursion hardly stirred the court life of either state. Charles was stretching the boundaries of Christianity and his kingdom, while the courtiers in Constantinople were more concerned with trade, fashion, and forms of worship, than with a minor raid outside the frontier proper.


Here we continue publishing of excerpts from Paul Kastenellos new book, Count No Man Happy… with one from chapter one.



Beth Pagane climbed the three flights to her one bedroom apartment over a bakery on Broad street in Newark, New Jersey. Balancing a bag of groceries on her hip as a mother might a small child, she unlocked the door and entered. Beth was not a mother, not even married yet, and the clock was ticking. The year was 1956. Women were “girls” until “matronly,” or were “ladies,” depending upon the circumstances. Men were “boys” until married and “unavailable.” Eisenhower was president and The Great Pretender by The Platters was the hit song of the month. Beth liked The Platters; everyone did.

Beth put the groceries away and began to undress, slipping out of a pair of well-worn flats, a simple white blouse, and the tan pedal-pushers that accented her rump. Except for that concession to the boys Beth preferred to dress comfortably when not working. But in the mirror wearing only her undies she scrutinized another Beth, the pinup model — the fantasy gal — Beth with the big butt who had to constantly watch her otherwise slim figure or be out of work. She knew she was pretty, but no more so than a lot of other girls. True, God had blessed her with a beautiful body, winning smile, and light blonde braids that fell to her waist when she let them; but still, with her hair up and without makeup she might pass most men unnoticed. That was good. Not that she didn’t like men; oh, she surely did, but she didn’t like being stared at when she wasn’t working.

On her bedside table were two crystal bells – Christmas ornaments she’d bought on a lark some weeks before. She held them, listened, and watched them take the light before placing them in the far back of a drawer behind an Arabian harem pajama and a pair of frilly panties. The panties she’s purchased more for their frill than their coverage which was minimal, but she wasn’t sure if any of these things really belonged in her trousseau. That would depend on what sort of guy she would marry one day, and at the moment that day seemed to be very far off.

Evening was approaching and she had nothing scheduled for the night. That too was good. Too much partying had become boring. She had to dress for parties and if she did guys drooled all over her, which did little for her popularity with the other girls and wasn’t fun for her either. She would have loved a guy who’d ignore her a bit –- just a bit –- not too much, mind you. Tonight she’d just put on her old jammies and relax. Perhaps read a bit, she thought. Read some history. Beth had always liked history. If she’d not taken up modeling she’d intended to get a degree in it; probably teach, do some research, maybe specialize in the eighth century when according to historians Charlemagne was inventing Europe.

Tonight there was nothing on her schedule so after a quick TV Dinner without the TV Beth grabbed her old blanket and settled herself on the couch to read. If she was hoping for exciting reading Beth was to be disappointed. The first pages were anything but promising.





Beth was without fear or worry. She had a mission to be sure, but no care. She was entirely young and pretty in both the eyes of God and his children. Her image began to float earthward. On his bed Constantine sensed her. As the priests taught, he forced his mind to matters not of the flesh

“In the morning when thou art sluggish at rousing, let this thought be present: I am rising to a man’s work.” Constantine tried but it was not easy to emulate Marcus Aurelius. Come to think of it, Marcus must have had the same problem getting up, otherwise he’d not have had to encourage himself. “Flinch not, neither give up nor despair if the achievement of every act in accordance with right principle is not always continuous with thee.” Constantine rolled out of bed with a small smile on his lips. Maybe the old emperor wasn’t such a perfect model after all … Stodgy though.

He was growing up and he knew it. Last year he had been betrothed to the daughter of Charles of the Franks and this year his military training had begun in earnest. For two hours each day he trained with sword and ax and bow. For another hour he studied strategy and tactics at the palace command school. This was the first time in his life that he had shared a classroom with other boys rather than studying alone with a tutor; but these things were not arts to be studied alone. He had to match and hone his own skill and insights against other boys in argument and tabletop war games. Then too, when he would come to command armies he would need subordinate commanders whose judgment and abilities he understood as well as he did his own. Commanders in the Byzantine army came from many places, including the ranks, but it was those he knew now who he would most trust in battle because he knew what they would do. As a later commander would say: “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”

Yet Constantine was not so old that he did not enjoy lying abed with a pet cat and that was what he would do this fine morning. Old Furface was not just any palace cat. A social climber, she had somehow become the emperor’s own pet many years before when they had both been very young. Not that Constantine wouldn’t stoop his serene self to chuck a rival under the chin; but there was a special place in his heart for this animal which shared the imperial bed and could be counted on to wake beside him each morning with an annoyed look, wondering no doubt why her friend had to always rise so early.

They both had breakfast and, although it was not the usual thing, Constantine then returned to his chambers with Furface, or rather he followed the cat back to the bed. The sun was bright and warm through the marble lattice and while they’d been eating breakfast the pale green and white marble room had been cleaned and decorated with small sculptures and brightly colored flowers. Just as it should be, the cat was probably thinking if it was thinking anything at all. Her eyes were slowly closing and the emperor lay quietly so as not to disturb her. Though Constantine was still young, Furface was not as the lives of felines go. At best she was middle aged going on elderly and the emperor dreaded the day which must come when she would die. Of course being emperor, he already had enemies. It was possible that she would outlive him. He was unsure which thought depressed him more.

Am I brave or a coward?, the young emperor questioned himself. He did not know and Furface, if she knew, was not answering either. When will death come? When I am young or old, or sometime in between? The question was pointless as Marcus would have noted. It would come at God’s chosen moment and that was that. But how he would meet it worried the boy. A shepherd or farmer, even a soldier, might die crying and soon no one would remember either him or his death; not so one born to the purple. He must die well as he must live well. It must have troubled old Marcus Aurelius despite all his protestations. After all, their memory among men was all the pagan emperors had to trust in. For a certainty, he too had known fear and been uncertain of his own bravery. “Do not worry about it,” the patriarch had assured Constantine: “You will die well if you have lived well.”

Is that so? Constantine hoped so, for he was trying his best to live well. The priests had given him the martyrs to emulate and John Pikridios had given him old Marcus. What was it Homer sang? “It is not unseemly for a man to die fighting in defense of his country.” He could try to die well if he died in some battle against some enemy of his people – he owed them that. But how would he face some assassin in the night without his friends and comrades about him to steady his resolve? What if he were wounded and his dying took days or weeks? How can a man die well like that? I am not an ancient hero. I will try, but I am not a hero. What if I am tortured?


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.





“Beth, with those long legs you should have been a dancer.” Eddy Miller was posing his favorite model.

“Oh, I did take a few lessons in school, but I didn’t like the teacher. ‘First position … second position … en pointe.’ Not a lot of fun.”

“Do you think you could still pose those positions?”

“Not on my toes. I never really got on pointe before I quit; and I haven’t the ankle muscles.”

“It would make a nice spread. You could wear something long with those stems peeking out when you spin.”

“It wouldn’t be much of a pinup. I can’t see guys who look at Titter being turned on by ballet.”

“I’d like to see you dance, Beth.”

They looked at each other for a long moment. Beth was smiling her famous smile, but Eddy seemed lost in thought. It was time for Beth to leave. When she had gone Eddy walked into the night in search of relief.



It was evening in Constantinople. Constantine with a few disguised guards had slipped away from the palace. The teenager wanted to see the city, the real city which had not been prepared for a visit by the Anointed of God: swept, decorated and perfumed, and strewn with flowers….

It was evening but not yet night. There was still light on the streets lined with stucco and terra cotta houses. Some of the houses also served as shops or workspace for their tenants but others were just dwellings. Those who did not work in their houses but on small farms, or were merchants, or were employed in the city’s many workshops were headed to their homes. Many looked tired from the hard work of their day but others were walking together in pairs or small groups, sometimes talking quietly and seriously but sometimes laughing too. God told Adam: “By your sweat you shall earn your bread” and so they do. It was not an unhappy populace just a weary one. Soon they would be with their wives and children. There would be food enough. Even those who could not afford much meat would still have plenty of bread and vegetables. Bread was free for the poorest and anyone could grow a few vegetables in the fine Constantinoplian climate. Good water was brought from the mountains by the city’s aqueducts and was free at the fountains. Simple table-wine was inexpensive.

Constantine stumbled on a paving stone that stood up too high. He recovered just as one of the guards rushed to support his emperor. Together they entered a small square where an unimpressive fountain took the last gleams of twilight. It was not one of the great forums but a simple crossing of streets with a fountain. Some merchant who might have been busy a few moments before with a last minute sale was still closing his stall and rolling his awning. An hour ago the little square would have been very busy and noisy. Now it was quiet and pretty in a simple way that Constantine noticed more than those who spent their days there would have. It was nice to just look around at the things that generations of plain folk had produced. Simple things like paint on wooden window sills instead of the marble-work that was polished daily at the palace. He noted the roofs of red clay and the tastefulness of arches and vaults about him. There were no trees, only stone and stucco and a few plants in pots for their color. This was the city. It felt almost enclosed, and every sound was loud. Some reverberated. There was enough of nature not far away, olive groves and orchards even within the walls. People here were happy to be clustered one family upon another where they could chat together without even leaving their windows. Besides, the summer had been unusually cool so the stench was tolerable and nothing more than Constantine was used to. At night the mule shit would be collected for monastery farms. Gutters beside the traveled way removed much of the other wastes when it rained. His people lived in this scene and were so accustomed to it and so busy with their routine chores that they hardly noticed it was pretty — except maybe sometimes, when the seasons changed and the breeze was fresh, and there was nothing of importance for one of them to deal with. Then he might take a moment to rest by the fountain and sip a little water before heading home to dinner, children, and finally bed with the wife he loved.

The last rays of the sun gilded the simplest things. Constantine was totally relaxed and without a care. Far down a street with a view of the sea behind her, a dancer pranced from one doorway to another. Her steps and clothing were not of his century. Back-lit by the sunset her whole long legs flashed beneath a full-length skirt. For just a brief moment she stood en pointe. Constantine was amazed. It was the most beautiful pose he had ever seen, in its way more erotic than when Beth wore boots and a thong.



With the next dawn Constantine joined his troops. The memory of Beth was nothing but the remnants of a very pleasant dream which he shook off with the light. Of the map he remembered nothing at all.

Services were held before dawn in the Great Cathedral. As he afterwards rode through the crowds that lined his path to the triple walls he thought of how beautiful the earth can seem when death may be near. “In saffron-colored mantle from the tides of oceans rose the morning to gods and men.” Outside the city defenses he blessed the city and prayed the prayer of victory with his men. John Pikridios had given him another Homeric quote with which to address his troops:


“Oh friends, be men and let your hearts be strong,

And let no warrior in the heat of fight

Do what may bring him shame in others’ eyes;

For more of those who shrink from shame are safe

Than fall in battle, while with those who flee

Is neither glory nor reprieve from death.”


Only the emperor could see a figure flitting in and out between some cumulus clouds above the marching army, or hear a far away voice singing: “Ho-jo – to – ho!” For just a moment Constantine imagined that the figure swept very close through the sky above him and that the sun reflected off a gilded and bulbous breastplate almost blinding him. He had prayed that Saints Sergius and Bacchus would fight along with his men but certainly this was not one of the military saints. The Valkyrie drew a cape across her glinting bosom and when her mount reared in the sky above him Constantine saw or imagined that her legs were bare under the shortest of leather skirts, reinforced with iron plates. Beneath it the straps of a leather panty showed. She was not wearing her usual high heels. Instead her legs were encased in short boots and bound with bands that crossed and recrossed from her pretty feet to the straps of her panty.

“Ho-jo – to – ho! How Say you, Your Serenity? Do you like my battle-dress?”

Nice, Constantine thought in answer, but said nothing. His head hurt. “Listen to Bertmund.” What was it Bertmund said? “Belisarius would remind us that a few cataphracts attacking at a decisive moment are of more worth than thousands trying to engage infantry in the woods. He would not hesitate to use those thousands in other ways than combat.” Constantine himself thought that too many cataphracts encumbered the army. There are also light cavalry and archers. But to rely on them would displease the cataphracts who think they have a right to own the battlefield. They must not feel slighted.



The Bulgar khan planned an ambush, planned it well to intercept his enemy two day’s march from the Via Egnatia, the great stone road along coastal Thrace. The Romans would have to move inland to reach the Struma where according to the blind Nasoforis, they intended to chastise the barbarians who had broken them four years before, destroying their army and enslaving its remnants. The khan thought he knew every important detail of the Roman attack; its route through the mountains, the strength of the cataphract troop, Constantine and his officers; their strengths and weaknesses.

The sun was not yet very high when advance units of the Bulgar force reached a pretty meadow wet by a shallow stream. The day was bright and seemed yet brighter here where the forest gave way to open marshland. The warriors expected that in another day they would reach the place of their planned ambush of the Roman force moving up the coast. Had they any cause for concern here, Khardam might have sent a few mounted men to scout a rise just beyond the marsh; but his mind was focused elsewhere. After we eliminate Constantine’s army again, the way will be open through Thrace. We’ll scare his mother and her gelding general Stauratius plenty. They’ll be more than happy to provide us with everything we’ll need to reach the Adriatic. Ah, the nice warm sea. My people will forever praise me. A land of grapes and olives with an easy winter.

The Romans had endured the chill of the previous night without fires. Breakfast had been cold sausage and cold eggs cooked the day before. There was a little wine but the older cataphracts had kept the younger from drinking to the point that they would not be clearheaded. A pink dawn had spread across the sky and lit the marshy field that stretched along the stream a little below them. They had early formed a ragged battle-line hidden among the cypresses. Now they waited concerned only that their mounts might give them away with a noisy display or that the sun might find a bit of chain mail beneath their cloaks to glint from. Neither happened. If a Roman horse occasionally whinnied to its neighbor, a pat on the neck silenced the mount and the sound was lost among the noise of several thousand moving Bulgars.

The day would be cool; a good day for hard work if entirely too pretty to be killing and mutilating. Some troopers had images of saints painted on their kite-shaped shields. These they kissed. All crossed themselves, their thoughts a mix of fearful devotion and wary attention to the enemy that straggled in bunches of friends into the field below them. Priests moved silently between the cataphracts offering icons to be kissed, prayers for their safety, a few words of faith for the younger men, and absolution. Now Roman battle standards took the morning breeze and their icons were raised before them. A line of dismounted archers, who had been resting on the hill’s reverse slope, formed up behind the cavalry.

When the Bulgar men were well away from the tree-line which still hid their families and animals Constantine, who had been standing beside one of the cypresses, mounted his war-horse and trotted to the line of lancers. He took the banner bearing Christ’s Labarum from a standard bearer and rode along the line. He had no brave words of Homer now nor would his soldiers want to hear a speech. He did not even signal the trumpeters but made a hand-signal to the officer commanding the archers.

The air was filled with heavy-headed arrows. After three salvos of agony and death fell on the confused enemy below him, Constantine did give an order to his trumpeters. Before the war trumpets had sounded three notes, many hundred — but not several thousand — cataphracts were forming up in front of the tree-line. Within a minute they were proceeding at a quick walk toward the marsh, being sure to maintain a proper line. The trumpets sounded again and the cataphracts urged their armored mounts to a trot. A third trumpet blast when within a hundred yards of the enemy brought the horses to a gallop and lances to the ready. Now they were so close that they could see the last volley of arrows falling like a summer hail storm before them in the sun.

It was not a pitched battle of thousands but it was a humiliation for Khardam. It was a slaughter but not the slaughter Khan Khardam had planned. His own foot soldiers lay where Roman arrows felled them en mass. Roman lances had dispatched hundreds more and Roman spathions several times as many; for Constantine had led an advanced guard into the mountains two days before Khardam.

After much death and many failed attempts to rally his warriors, Khardam and most of his supporting cavalry managed to disengage from their own foot soldiers and escape. Soon the Bulgar infantry followed him into the forest as best they could. A few days later the large and heavy Roman main force finally joined up with their emperor, bringing with them the fire-weapon and the baggage. An attack on Struma had never been intended; nor would the fire-weapon be needed to defend Roman positions against counterattack. Constantine had understood the terrain better than Khardam and had used his light forces effectively without offending the pride of the imperial cataphracts. The Bulgar advance was halted. For seventeen days Constantine’s cavalry pursued Khardam with his main army, but the khan would not be brought to combat again. He retreated deep into the forest, then had to face his angry clan leaders. Why was it, they demanded, that he had survived when so many of their kinsmen lay dead? Had he not mocked the Roman emperor for that after Markella?

Back in the city Stauratius seemed friendly and spoke informally with his emperor in as man-to-man a manner as protocol allowed. The old eunuch now offered advice, rather than discoursing as he had when Constantine had been only a little younger. That might have been because Constantine had proven himself against the khan. It might also have been to promote himself over his rival Aetius in the emperor’s mind. In fact it was to put Constantine off his guard.