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The Damascus Road: part four

the fall of the Amir

Jess seemed a bit sulky after the Princess left. Eventually I did what I knew I was going to have to do, and asked her what was wrong. I was not sure I wanted to hear the reply, but sure I did not want a day of sulks.

'She will be your next one then? The Princess. I could see you two devouring each other with your eyes.'

'Darling, don't be jealous, it isn't as though we are monogamous. I love you, you know that.'

I went to hug her, but she froze. It was not going to be easy.

'Jess, if knowing I love you isn't sufficient, we are going to have a problem.'

Touching her chin, I turned her face toward mine, and kissed her lips.

'Much though I wanted the Princess, and don't bother to deny that you did too, this is politics, not pleasure.'

Jess smiled.

'I begin to wonder, my darling Pixie Rahab, whether you know the difference any longer?'

'Does it matter?" I smiled back.

She shook her head.

And that, for a while, put the green-eyed demon back in its box.

I had asked to be alerted at once, the moment the Sultan returned. I had asked to see him at his earliest convenience. One did not tell the Lord of All the World anything, one petitioned him.

'So, what is so urgent my kitten?'

The Sultan smiled.

He was a tall, handsome man. An obvious leader, I could see why so many of my fellow concubines longed to be in his bed chamber.

Prostrating myself, I rose, as he bade me, and sat cross-legged on my couch opposite him.

I told him the story of my encounter with the Princess. He listened with interest. His first question was so him.

'And is it true that her eyes are like the night stars?'

'Highness, they are like opals in a silver setting, and her beauty is like that of Helen of Troy in my stories.'

Strictly speaking they were Homer's stories, but as some said they were not by him, but another man of the same name, I took the liberty of arrogating them to myself.

'And did this Helen direct us towards another war?'

'Quite the opposite, Highness. She offered us an alternative to war.'

I explained that we had discussed what would happen if the Shihab Amir were to meet with an accident.

'Clever kitten. But why would I not then lay waste to the Druze strongholds and destroy their power forever.?'

'Can even the great Padisha destroy an idea? They are a people of faith, and unless you exterminate every last one of them, and who then would pay your taxes, they will hold to that religion. Is it not better to divide and rule?'

He listened while I outlined how the Amal-al-dins would work with the Shihabs to create a government loyal to the Empire, with Bashir holding the reins in Beirut.

'And why, having brought my armies here, would I go without a great victory?'

'Highness, why fight with your arm when you can win that victory with your brain?'

He gave one of his great bellowing laughs.

"My little Vizier is a delight. So when can we expect the development you mention? When will the Shihab Amir die?'

That was the question. We agreed to see what would happen in the next twenty-four hours. I sent a note via Bashir, assuring the Princess that the Padishah might be merciful if there was swift action.

Early the following afternoon, a messenger craved entrance as I was telling the Sultan one of my stories.

"Highness, the Shihab Amir met with an accident whilst hawking. He is said to have died this morning.'

'Praise Allah! And is there other news to go with this?'

'Highness, there is a request that a delegation from Mount Lebanon should be allowed to see you and submit to your authority and await your will.'

'Rahab here will draft my response. Await her pleasure.'

Pens and ink were brought. I scribed fast.

'He will do as the Empire needs. He is the great one.'

That was all I wrote. I knew his emissary would report my words back to him, but I knew, too, that the Princess would understand.

And so it was that the Druze stronghold was not laid to siege, and many men who would otherwise have died, lived. Many maidens who would have been ravished, were not, and the piping days of peace were preserved. The Amir went to meet his maker, whilst Princess Damila came to meet her Lord.

The Grand Serail was aflutter.

Bashir greeted the Sultan, and they had a private audience - with me in attendance. It seemed to be accepted all round that I was there by right. There were sour looks from some of the Imams, but the day the Caliph took any notice of such men would be a cold one in hell.

Bashir and I had spoken earlier, and we had agreed that he would advise the Sultan as I had done, and that in return, I would recommend him as Governor of the whole province. As that was what my Master had intended, this was not difficult, but when the Sultan confirmed it, Bashir was lavish in his praise of me. All of this was as well, as I needed his help to convince the Sultan not to slaughter the whole of the Shihab tribe. Bashir confirmed this would leave the Alam-al-dins in sole charge, which was, as I had argued, bad policy.

The Padishah did, however, want to make a mark in the region, and knowing this, I had cudgelled my brains to find a way that did not involve slaughtering large numbers of people. Then, recalling an episode from a collection of stories in Rabbi Glickstein's collection, I suggested that he should hold a great audience in Damascus, at which all the regional governors should be invited to bring tribute to him. The idea appealed to his instinct for the dramatic, as well as to his sense of avarice.

That the great Sultan should hold court in the city of the Umayyad, the first Caliphs, would emphasise the legitimacy of Ottoman rule, and its rightful descent from the Prophet; that, as I explained, would go down well with the severe branch of Islam which, in my view, had been behind the assassination attempt. Bashir supported me, and so the die was cast. To Damascus we would go. But first, there was the great banquet at the Grand Serail at which Princes Damila would attend on behalf of the Amad-al-dins.

Her entrance would have done justice to the Queen of Sheba or Cleopatra. Rich gifts were laid before the Sultan, and two beautiful slave girls were presented for his delectation. In truth he had eyes only for the Princess, and who could blame him? He received her graciously, and so we moved into the courtyard where we were dining.

Against the backdrop of the tinkling of the fountains, and the playing of the musicians, the assembled notables dined and talked. It was rare to see two women at such an occasion. The allowance made for the Princess was obvious, but I could see those who did not know, wondering who I was and why I was there. The rumours amused me when Jess reported them back. I was, according to taste, the bastard child of the Sultan, or a little witch who controlled him. I'd better make sure, I thought, that that last one did not get back to him.

Watching the Sultan and the Princess, I thought to myself what wonderful examples of human beauty they were. Him tall, strong, muscular and handsome, her, tall for a woman, graceful and beautiful as an early summer morning sunrise. Had I the slightest inclination toward men, I would have been honoured to have been the object of his attentions, but I had not. The Princess was another matter.

At the end of the evening, the two departed for his chambers. Bashir and I smiled at each other.

’You have done well, little Vizier. For my time, peace will be kept. If the Amad-al-dins can restrain their lust for total control, it may last a little longer. But Mount Lebanon will never be a scene of peace.’

’If the Sultan and the Princess can consummate the peace settlement,’ I giggled, ‘then who knows what might occur.’

Bidding him a fond farewell, I retired to my quarters - and to Jess.

I could tell that things were not right. She pleaded her menses as her reason for wanting to retire to her own quarters. I could have commanded her to attend on me, but we both knew I would not do that. I respected her right to sulk. She seemed grateful.

I settled down. I always read before sleep, if I was alone. I picked up my Homer and read.

The lights were burning low when one of the Nubian slave girls approached me. She handed me a note.

'I will attend on you. Damila.'

I will not say that my heart did not beat faster; it did. I had thought that she would be with the Sultan the whole night, and here she was, at my divan. I bade the slave let her enter.

She came to me.

'I want you, and I want you now.'

Her full lips met mine. I felt my nipples harden, and a familiar feeling of dampness between my thighs. Her tongue invaded my mouth, as her hands assaulted my small breasts. I fell back onto the couch. Her full breasts pressed against mine; her nipples rubbing against me. Her hand snaked down inside my harem pants, and my mound was hers. Her fingers pressed home their advantage, my petals parting, yielding.

Any attempt I might have wanted to make, even for form's sake, to resist, vanished as she took me. I wanted her. I wanted her to take me.

Then, looking across, I saw a figure in the shadows. She was silently moving around the edges of the room. In the dimness of the guttering candles I could not make out who it was, but we were being watched.




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