Piri waited a few minutes longer. He was an old man now, and felt every year of it. He never thought that this job would fall to him, for he believed that he would have died long before Selim. But, the cancer that ate at the Sultans organs cared nothing for age, taking Selims life when he was still in his forties.
Piri sighed in the darkness, and stretched his aching shoulders. How he longed for the peaceful life. How he wanted to return to his home and his treasured tulips. He saw himself tending his garden, perhaps adding some more roses to it this year. He wanted to see again the wonderful view of Istanbul across the waters of the Golden Horn. But, there was a job to do first. He, and only he, could protect the succession. Only he could assure the survival of the empire.
He moved toward the two soldiers. "It is much too late an hour for gambling such as this!" Piri spat out the word saat, hour. This was the prearranged signal that the time had come, that the Sultan was dead. The two soldiers stopped immediately. Abdullah wrapped the wooden dice in a leather sack, which he stuffed into his robes. Then Achmed Agha bowed his head and whispered, "May Allah smile upon his soul and upon you, Piri Pasha, and upon all of us."
This high-ranking officer knew the great dangers of the next few days.
Piri took a piece of paper upon which was scrawled a few words in his own hand. Then he said, loudly enough to be overheard by the nearby horsemen, "See that the Kabarda Horses are accounted for and correct!" There was contempt in his voice. The other soldiers who overheard him believed that the Sipahis were being punished for gambling while the Sultan was so sick. This was the excuse for the men to go to their horses and leave the camp.
The two men stood up and leaped upon their waiting mounts. Nobody had noticed that their saddles were already loaded, the saddle bags packed with food and water. The two sped from the camp at full gallop. Achmed Agha would head east for Istanbul, one hundred fifty miles away. His duty was to maintain the peace and take command of the Palace Janissaries at all costs until Piri Pasha could arrive. The two would ride together for a while, and then Abdullah would turn and ride directly south across the Dardanelles at its narrowest point and into Asia to find and deliver the news to his new master, Suleiman.
Piri Pasha could not stop thinking of his years as Grand Vizier to Selim. Selim had always been so difficult. Always. The life of the Grand Vizier was not easy and often short. He might well be the second most powerful man in the world, but the price was so high. Though he was only in his early sixties, he was weary beyond those years. Seven Grand Viziers had served Selim before Piri, and all had been quickly beheaded in fits of anger. There was a death curse heard in Turkey in the reign of the Sultan Selim that said, "Mayest thou become Selims Vizier!"
One Vizier had come before the Sultan and asked to know the date of his own execution. He said, "My Sultan, I need to know when you plan to kill me so that I may put my affairs in order and bid my family farewell."
Selim had laughed and said, "I have been thinking for some time about having you killed. But, at the moment I have nobody in mind to replace you. Otherwise I would willingly oblige."
The long wars had taken a great toll upon Piri, and his body now obeyed his commands only with great reluctance. Selims military campaigns had taken the two of them to the farthest reaches of the Empire. During those years, Piri was always at Selims side. That empire now reached from the waters of the Nile, north to the Danube; from Asia to Europe; from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea.
Now Selim was dead. It was up to Piri Pasha to assure a peaceful succession. He must carry out the pretense that the Sultan was still alive. He needed ten full days for Suleiman to learn the news, and return to Istanbul. The new Sultan must be girded with the Sword of the House of Osman at the Tomb of Ayyüb just outside the city walls. Abu Ayyüb al-Ansari had been the Standard Bearer for Mohammed, the Prophetthe Messenger of Allah. Ayyüb was slain in Islams first siege of Constantinople in the seventh century. His tomb outside the walls of Istanbul was among the most sacred places for Muslims of the Ottoman Empire. To be seen by the people and the Janissaries to be the Sultan, Suleiman needed to be girded with the sword at Ayyübs Tomb.
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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