"The Sultan sleeps. The tabip will stay with him and feed him." He had used the Arabic term, tabip, for "doctor." He did not refer to Hamon by name in front of the soldiers. "The tabip will give the Sultan the medicine he needs for his pain. See that food is brought to the tent for our master and for the tabip. Leave the food outside the serai, and call the tabip to fetch it. Nobody is to enter the tent except I. Not even you. No one! Do you understand me?"
The Janissaries saluted their reply and resumed their position on guard. Each of these heavily armed young men would give his life for his Sultan without a thought. Nowhere on earth was there a more loyal personal guard than the Janissaries of the Ottoman Emperor.
Piri Pasha walked through the encampment, past the tents of his men. He spoke with his servants briefly. "The Sultan is asleep now, Allah be praised, and I am going to get some rest myself. He is well guarded, and I do not want his rest disturbed. Make that known amongst you."
Finally, he reached the perimeter of the camp, where the horses were tethered, and guarded by the Sipahis, the Sultans elite cavalry. These were the finest mounted troops in the world. Three hundred years earlier, Genghis Khan had conquered the earth from China to the shores of the Black Sea. His Mongol troops had ridden to the edge of Europe, and showed the western world a war machine the likes of which had never been seen before. The Khans mounted troops would ride two hundred eighty miles over rugged terrain in less than three days. When they arrived at their destination, without further rest, they were ready to fight. While riding at full gallop astride their powerful ponies, they could fire their armor-piercing arrows with deadly accuracy at two hundred meters. Mere rumors of the arrival of the Khans armies were enough to send their enemies scattering in panic before them.
Now the Sipahis would ride into battle as had the troops of the Khan. They, too, inspired such fear in their enemies that some battles were won at the news of their approach. Whole armies fled when they heard that the Sultan Selims Janissaries and Sipahis were marching in their direction.
Two Sipahis had been waiting for word from the Pasha for several days. During that time, they never left their post, nor did they sleep for more than an hour at a time. Their food was brought to them on Piri Pashas orders, and they were ready to move at his word.
Piri moved through the camp, appearing to refresh himself in the brisk mountain air. He showed no sign of the terrible events of this day. More than ten thousand Janissaries and Sipahis were gathered in this camp outside the city of Edirne. The night was peaceful with the low noises and stirrings of a great orderly encampment. Water carts rumbled by, and night soil was removed from the latrines. Everywhere in the camp there was complete order. Tents were lined up in perfect rows; not a scrap of garbage ever hit the ground.
Cooking fires crackled under giant copper pots. Piri could hear the quiet murmur of men talking in respectfully low voices, lest they disturb the sleep of their Sultan. Nowhere was laughter heard, for this might incite the wrath of the Pasha at this terrible moment in his Sultans reign. Smoke drifted through the trees, and among the tents. The wind carried the smoke away from the camp, down along the fading green hills of that early autumn evening. There was a softness in the air that would soon be replaced with the cold, wet winds of winter.
Piri approached the camp of the Sipahis, and settled himself near a trough where two of the horsemen were silently gambling with wooden dice by the light of their dying cooking fire. He stood a while and watched. In their uniforms and the settling darkness, all the soldiers looked alike. The two men had been handpicked by the Pasha. One Sipahi, Abdullah, was a young sword bearer. He was the best rider in his corps, and his was the best mounted corps on Earth. The other was not a Sipahi at all. He was Achmed Agha, Commander of the Army. Achmed had pulled a cape over his uniform, and looked for all the world like an older version of the Sipahi with whom he gambled.
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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