"Come with me, please, Doctor. I need you to assure me that he will be comfortable. And I need you to tell me when the end comes. You have served my Sultan well. As did your father, Joseph."
Hamon nodded his thanks, but he said nothing. He could sense that Piri had more to say. The silence lasted several minutes, and the men filled the time nibbling at the fruit. Finally, Piri said, "Doctor Hamon, I trust your discretion as I trust almost no one else. The Hamons have never betrayed their position in our household, and have always given us the best of care."
Hamon nodded again, and still he waited.
"So, I must ask you to bear a burden for me."
Hamon smiled. "But, you, Piri Pasha, are the Bearer of the Burden, are you not? I have heard the Sultan call you that many times."
"Yes, I am, Doctor," Piri acknowledged with a smile. "But, I am old; and for now, I must share this heavy weight. Only you can be trusted to help me."
"Tell me what to do, and I will do it."
"First, you must wait with the Sultan until life has left his body."
"This, I can do. This is my job. My duty."
"But, you must tell only me, when he is dead. Nobody else must know for ten days. We must make the pretense that he lives, until I can bring his only son, Suleiman, back to Istanbul. Right now, Suleiman is in Manisa, where he governs. It will take me two or three days to get word to him, and then another five days for him to return to the capital. I must make sure that the succession is unopposed, and that there will be no obstruction to his taking the throne."
"I understand, Piri Pasha. You can rely on me."
"I know I can, Doctor. Let us go directly to the tent of Selim. I will tell you more when we have seen to the Sultan."
The two men rose, and left together.
The last months had been so difficult for Piri Pasha. Selim had been sick for years, but toward the end, the pain had intensified his anger and wrath, and many of those close to him had suffered because of it. Piri tried to intervene when his master dispensed cruel and unreasonable punishment upon his subjects. He had been able to prevent a few death sentences from being carried out. But, he could not push too far without risking his own life.
Piri knew there was nothing the doctor could do for his master. Hamon might be able to bring a little comfort to the Sultan dying in his tent. Piri and Hamon entered the tent, while the young Janissary guards remained outside. Piri led him to Selims bedside, stepping back into the dimness to wait. Hamon kneeled on the carpet and examined Selim. He felt for the pulses, and carefully lifted each lid to gaze into the eyes. Then, he gestured for the oil lamp to be brought nearer, as he looked carefully at Selims pupils, which were tightly constricted from the opium.
When the doctor first touched the Sultan, Piris hand went instinctively to his sword. He had to restrain himself when anyone touched his master, for he was always at the ready to protect the Sultans person. So many years as the nearest sword to Selim had made it Piris instinct that nobody should get within a swords length of his Lord without Piris express permission. There was a line in space that no one dared to cross, and it was Piri who defined and defended that line.
Hamon examined the Sultan for what seemed like a very long time. He pressed his palms against Selims chest, and felt inside his robes for the beat of his heart. Then, Hamon placed a thin sheet of silk over the bare breastbone of the Sultan, and laid his ear to Selims chest. He listened for the sounds of the heartbeat, the silk preventing his ear from actually touching his Sultans skin. He touched the neck and the wrist through the silk as well, and the angle of his jaw trying to find a sign of the blood flowing through the royal vessels. Though understanding of the circulation of the blood would not reach the West for a long time to come, it was already well understood throughout the Arab world.
Copyright 2002 by Anthony A Goodman. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form - except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews - without written permission in writing from its publisher, Source Books, Inc. www.sourcebooks.com.
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