This is a historical novel based on real events.
Author: Harold Lamb
Retold by Hassan Asif
CHAPTER 1: THE NEW SULTAN
The two foreign physicians confirmed that the great Yavuz Sultan(1) Selim had died due to cancer. Piri Pasha knew the sultan’s time had come since he had been ailing for the last 8
years, but as he was the sultan’s most intimate(2) companion and staunch(3) supporter, it was hard for him to accept the tragedy that was happening before his own eyes. The Sultan was not just a warrior but a great poet as well, but he only shared his poetry with Piri Pasha. He trusted Piri explicitly – that was why he appointed him to be Grand Vizier(4) of the Ottoman empire. His last words before dying were “Those who ride to the hunt, do they ask In truth who are the hunters and who may the hunted be?”. He had written these down on a piece of paper and given it to Piri Pasha alone.
Sultan Selim was survived by a son – the future 10th ruler of the Ottoman Empire and the one who the astronomers and the Sufis(5) had predicted to be the king of the sky and the sun, with the heart of a lion and the eyes of an eagle. He had been predicted to become a lawgiver, unlike his father. That son’s name was Suleiman, and he was born far down the Asian coast.
More than anything else, Piri Pasha distrusted the imperial city, where the imperial treasures were stored, where foreigners still dwelt in palaces and a riot might be set going by a chance word or a bribe. He, the Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, had was alive when first the Turks reined their horses into the city. After sixty-seven years he still thought of it as alien, and he had made his own home by the blue water out of sight of its walls.
Piri pasha walked out of his tent and looked at the riders who were playing with a wooden dice near a huge rock by the wall. After some minutes had elapsed(6), the Vizir said, “The hour is late for such gaming as this.” He emphasized the word “ the hour”. This was the key word, to start them on their secret mission. The three had already agreed on what must be done. Obediently, for the Vizier of the empire spoke with the authority of the Sultan himself, the players pouched(7) their wooden dice and rose. “May God be with you, Piri Pasha,” responded the older officer courteously(8). The Vizier handed the younger one a piece of paper.
The Vizier himself went outside to give the news of the death of sultan Selim. Ten thousand army troops grieved their loss by tearing appart their armors and tents. They didn’t just lose a commander but a true father. The Vizier handed over his seal to a general, advising him on how to lead the funeral cortege(9) south.
Meanwhile, Sultan Suleiman was serving his apprenticeship with a few officials in a miniature court like his fathers’. Piri Pasha’s note conveyed the message to the prince that his grim father had died and the sword of the House of Osman awaited him at the shrine(10) outside the city. Straight away, Sultan Suleiman hurriedly rode to the kingdom.
As he reached the city there were people waiting him, and he instinctively knew that they had heard the news. As he rode between the throngs of people, voices murmured, “Now may good fortune be with the son of Selim!” As he entered the palace everyone without any command came to greet him.
On that first morning, Suleiman ate his breakfast alone as he was thinking hard about the rumors he had heard about his father’s death being due to poison. After a while, Piri Pasha came, and he and the high officers swore obedience to Suleiman. After eating Suleiman had a conversation with Piri Pasha about the upcoming funeral and how to do justice to Sultan Selim. Piri Pasha could sense that though young, Sultan Suleiman was no less than his father. He had what it would take to be a great sultan.
At the funeral, Suleiman repeated the customary phrase, “Let the tomb be built, and a mosque joined to it. Let a hospital for the sick and a hostel for wayfarers be joined to the mosque.” Then he added a thought of his own. “And a school, that should be made near the hill.”
Then he went to the dais where the people surrounded him and the dervishes(11) honored him with the sword of the house of Osman. His name was acknowledged in the evening prayer. Terror arose among the other parts of Europe.
Suleiman was really kind with every member of his family. Harem, the place where they used to keep the women of the palace as either servants or slaves was under the control of the mother of the sultan and no male member except for the sultan was allowed to go there, and even he had to submit an early notice.
Yet either because he disliked the old Serai(12) or because old customs required it, Suleiman spent most of his time at the Serai Burnu, the Palace Point. Here at the edge of the city in courtyards surrounded by plane trees and gardens the he carried on his administrative tasks. At times after eating, the sultan would have long conversations with his new Vizier, Ibrahim Pasha. He had appointed him to replace Piri Pasha, who was too old to effectively act as Vizier. Suleiman had known Ibrahim since his youth and they would mostly talk about poets or kings or the strategy to gain the people’s trust. The sultan was sometimes astonished by Ibrahim’s bold suggestions and his vast knowledge about things. With the vazier’s advice, Sultan Suleiman did an exceptionally good job of uniting his people. He also gave new orders in favor of merchants and foreigners, like lowering their taxes.
Sultan Suleiman was the Sparta of the east and he feared nothing. He sent letters to King Henry and the Pope telling them to not underestimate his power because he will rise. He knew that he could fulfill his father’s dream of capturing Belgrade and Venice and for once, King Henry and the Pope did fear the young sultan. They tried to remain calm, hoping that Suleiman was just bluffing, or that his ambitious, hod-headed nature would lead him to his own demise(13). This never came to pass.
- Sultan (n): Military and political leader with absolute authority over a Muslim country
- intimate (adj): advisor
- staunch (adj): unwavering
- Vizier(n): advisor (to the sultan)
- Sufi (n): The branch of Islam that believes in a more mystical connection with Allah.
- elapse (v): to quietly terminate: said of time.
- pouch(v): place in a small bag often closing with a drawstring and used especially for carrying loose items in one’s pocket.
- courteously (adv): politely
- cortege(n): funeral procession
- shrine(n): A place of worship that is often dedicated to a sacred object or person
- dervish (n): a member of any of various Muslim ascetic orders, as the Sufis, some of which carry on ecstatic observances, such as energetic dancing and whirling or vociferous chanting or shouting.
- serai (n): palace
- demise (n): (n.) the end of existence or activity; death