Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 13)

Chapter 23 
Constantinople. 24 November 1634

The two men, dressed in the simple monk’s garb of the Eastern Church, had arrived from the seat of the Patriarch riding on pure white asses. The Patriarch's residence was situated in the ancient 11th region of Constantinople on the lower slope of the city’s fifth hill. It had taken much longer than usual to travel the distance of two miles to the Seraglio palace as the narrow streets of the bazaar quarter had been thronged and waiting for the monks in front of the Imperial Gate, somewhat impatiently, were the French and English Ambassadors, the Venetian bailio and their huge respective retinues of servants and chaush guards. 
The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, and head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Kyril Loukaris, dismounted from his ass and greeted the English Ambassador warmly. He then threw a curt bow in the direction of the French and Venetian envoys before turning back to introduce his own companion. “Excellencies. May I present Patriarch Theophanes of Jerusalem.”
Most of the diplomats gave the elderly priest, who after dismounting his own ass leant heavily on a strangely patterned stave, a formal if frosty greeting. They were all annoyed at this unscheduled early morning summons bringing them from the comforts of Pera to the Seraglio and were in no mood to be civil. The French Ambassador, the Comte de Cesy, in particular made least effort in trying to hide his contempt. Kyril Loukaris pretended not to notice and passing between the two lines of kapiji palace guards made for the first court of the Seraglio. “Let us not delay here then,” he said curtly.
As the monks passed through the archway the sight of a severed head set in a niche to one side unnerved them somewhat. Theophanes asked Loukaris about it once they were through. The cautious Patriarch of Constantinople looked around before replying, “Three years ago there was a military revolt in the city and the soldiers turned on the palace killing the Grand Vizier, the Grand Mufti and fifteen or so other advisors, ripping them to shreds. Six months later with a new Grand Vizier in place, a man you will meet shortly, the Sultan took his vengeance. He rounded up the mutineers and by killing, it is rumoured, upwards of 20,000 soldiers, vented his rage in a sustained bloodletting. The Sultan also banned coffee, tobacco and boza and that head you see belonged recently on the shoulders of one of the lesser viziers who was foolish enough to be caught with tobacco. By the way Theophanes, do not mind the cold reception of the Frenchman. The French nobility all suffer from folie de grandeur.”
The ambassadors in contrast remounted their respective horses and with their whole retinue of about two hundred people followed the walking monks through the archway into the First Court. Loukaris pointed out to his fellow prelate the hospital on the right and the Church of Haghia Edrine and the hazineh or Imperial Mint on the left. The distance to the second gate was about a quarter of a mile and as they walked they were astounded by the enormous number of people and horses moving in all directions. When they finally reached the second gate of the Seraglio - called the Gate of Salutations - it was also guarded by a company of kapiji. Here the Ambassadors dismounted and with the two Patriarchs were shown into a small room built into the wall on the right side of the archway. As they entered they had to step aside for a fierce-looking and elaborately dressed Turk who then crossed the portal and disappeared into a similar room on the opposite side. The French ambassador bristled.
“Who was that?” Theophanes asked his colleague as the Frenchman bundled past him.
Loukaris smiled. “That was the head gardener of the palace.”
Theophanes was puzzled. “No wonder the Comte was angry. Why should we show such a menial person such deference by stepping aside?”
Loukaris winked at the English Ambassador, Sir Peter Wyche, who had overheard the enquiry. “Because he is also the Chief Executioner. A sample of his work you saw earlier.”
Theophanes suddenly felt less confident about his mission and keeping a wary eye on the opposite door for any movement turned to Loukaris. “What happens now?”
The French and Venetian envoys were huddled in deep conversation in a far corner. Loukaris and Theophanes sat down on one of the benches. The English Ambassador approached them. “May I join you. My colleagues have made it clear they do not wish my company.” Both of the Patriarchs nodded and made room on the bench for Sir Peter, who then continued. “In answer to your question, Patriarch Theophanes, we are likely to be here for some time. It is the custom of the Turks to let us stew here awhile. Showing us our place in the scheme of things, as it were. Although with such a high powered delegation I suspect that at most it will only be an hour and we can look forward to a better table than we might expect when presenting ourselves alone.”

It was nearly two hours later - with the watery November sun reaching its zenith - when a commotion could be heard in the passageway and somebody shouting, “Let the dogs be fed and clothed!” The ambassadors stood up as one. They took no real offense at the by now customary insulting summons for foreigners presenting themselves to the Divan of the Great Turk. They removed their swords and handed them to their pages who remained outside the gate. They were joined at this point by two younger men clothed most elegantly in the Italian fashion and an elderly cleric dressed in the habit of the Franciscans. Around the neck of the first rider to dismount was a golden collar formed of laburnums and from which hung a figure of the Cross and Saint George. He was greeted warmly by the Venetian ambassador, who then introduced him, “Gentlemen this is Marco Angello Comneno, Grand Prior of the Constantinian Order in this city. He has been asked to represent the Ethiopian church in this dispute.” The young knight bowed to the other envoys but then went up to Loukaris and kissed both his cheeks.
Loukaris’s response was warm. “Grand Prior Marco it is good to see you. How is your brother?”
Behind them the Venetian envoy seemed puzzled by the familiarity between the Patriarch and the young Comneno. “Very well, your eminence. He sends you his best wishes. He has been very busy since my father Giovanni Andrea’s death.”
The second younger knight and the priest had by now dismounted. Marco Comneno turned to introduce them. “Gentlemen this is Bishop Denis O’ Driscoll, Bishop of Siguenza and representative of the Franciscans in this dispute. He is accompanied . . ." Comneno pulled the other young man forward,  “ his cousin and soldier of Spain, Dom Dermico O’Driscoll. They only arrived yesterday from Genoa and bring news of an important defeat of the Dissenting Forces by the Spanish and Imperial Armies at Nordlingen.”
The reaction to this information was very mixed. The English Ambassador was obviously disturbed by the news but restrained his initial urge to enquire further while shooting a quick glance at Loukaris to see his reaction. None was discernible. De Cesy seemed happy but his enthusiastic interrogation of Dom Dermico was soon interrupted by the approach of a troop of soldiers. The Ambassadors, the Patriarchs and the younger knights were then escorted by a detail of the Janissaries, led by the muhzir aga, across the second courtyard. The sight of gazelles grazing amongst the magnificent cypress trees and fine shrubbery plots gave a parkland air to the area. In contrast, the massed ranks of about 2000 Janissaries, sipahi and chaush which stood out from the galleries on either side of the inner wall of the gate made a splendid and yet intimidating sight in their immaculate and detailed uniforms. As the ambassadorial retinue passed between the rows they were greeted by low bows. Every now and then one or two of the soldiers would suddenly break ranks and rushing furiously to a large soup kettle would start to consume the food with feverish intent before rejoining their comrades and becoming stationary once again.Theophanes remarked on this and Loukaris whispered back to him, “For some reason the Janissaries promote this display of frenzied eating as a sign of their contentment. We are expected to notice and to be wary of the cohesion and purpose within the army. Indeed if they remain sullen and immobile there is trouble ahead for both the Sultan and the people of the city.”
After a short walk they reached the covered walkway which surrounded the Chamber of the Divan. On entering the outer room, the Ambassadors were presented with silk kaftans. Twenty four in total were given to de Cesy, and as dictated by protocol, sixteen and twelve for the English and Venetian envoys, respectively. After this ceremony they were ushered into the presence of the Grand Vizier, Beiram Pasha, who sat on a low bench with his other viziers sitting on his right. On his left-side he was attended by the two kadiaskers of Rumelia and Anatolia. Standing to one side were the three Revenue commissioners, known as the deftendars. The nisaaniji or keeper of the seal was also present as was the secretary of the divan who stood in close attention at the Grand Vizier’s side. In addition there were various Aga’s and scribes all resplendent in their elaborate and splendid regalia. 
The Grand Vizier lifted his head slightly to survey the envoys, and uttering a few words he then dropped it again as if annoyed by the interruption. To his left the chief dragoman or interpreter, the terjumanbashi, translated. Unknown to most of the envoys he was also a Greek Phanariot and cousin of Loukaris. He spoke in a loud voice, “You are welcome. What is your business with the Gate of Felicity?”
At this point Loukaris prodded Theophanes and pushed him forward. The Jerusalem Patriarch spoke in Greek, “Your excellency there is great conflict in Jerusalem among the Christian brethren as to who controls the Holy Places, particularly the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I wish to assert the rightful pre-eminence of our Greek Church.”
The Grand Vizier waited as his dragoman made the translation then lifting his head slowly, studied all of the faces of the delegation carefully for some time, before speaking again. The terjumanbashi waited until Beiram Pasha had finished and then translated, “Have you proof of this?”

Theophanes reached into a shoulder bag and pulled out a silver cylinder. Removing its lid he extracted with great ceremony, and deference, an ancient rolled parchment. Kneeling down he placed it in front of the Grand Vizier’s feet. “That is a letter from the Caliph ’Umar to my predecessor Patriarch Sophronius in the year of Our Lord Jesus Christ six hundred and thirty eight - six years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad - granting the Greek Church control of the Holy Places.”
At this point the French envoy de Cesy could not contain his restraint any longer. Puffing his chest out as much as his confined arms would allow he tried to place himself between the Patriarch and the Grand Vizier. This necessitated a great deal of manoeuvring given his close attendant escorts. “Your Excellency. I must protest! That document is almost certainly a forgery. The Holy Places must remain the responsibility of the Pope’s representatives, the Franciscans, in Jerusalem.”
Theophanes however was not to be deterred. Stepping to the side of de Cesy he produced more recent documents from the reigns of the Sultans Selim I and Suleyman which also supported the Greek rights. In the next half-hour each of the envoys present made their position clear. Sir Peter Wyche, the English ambassador was the only one who supported the Greek position with all of the others siding against them. Loukaris took very little part in the debate, content in the knowledge that he had laid the ground well with suitable and well placed bribes to various members of the Divan as well as a direct contribution to the Sultan’s Treasury. He watched, with amusement, the spectacle of Europe’s powerful envoys squabbling with each other like children. 
Beiram Pasha did not share the Greek Patriarch’s amusement and standing up, suddenly, spoke in perfect French. It was nearly noon. “Enough. The Divan will discuss your petition and because today is a Tuesday we will later place your arz or petition before the Sultan. In the meantime please partake of the light refreshments provided.”

The meal lasted about one hour and it was notable for the complete absence of conversation and the chaotic way in which the plates were suddenly cleared by the ajemioglans or officers of the kitchen. When it was over a tall white eunuch appeared in the chamber with a silver stave in his hand. First the kadiaskers stood up and filed out of the Divan chamber followed by the deftendars and then the viziers and Grand Vizier. The envoys retook their seats to wait, their goblets refilled with rosewater and sherbet from a servant carrying a large goat skin luthro.
The awkward silence persisted until at last they were summoned to an Audience with Sultan Murad IV. After donning their kaftans they were led by two eunuchs from the divan chamber and escorted to the Third Gate, the Gate of Felicity. There they were met by the kapi agasi - the Chief white eunuch - who had appeared earlier in the Divan chamber with the silver stave in his hand. He led them through it to the Throne Room or what was paradoxically called for such an inner sanctum the Public Divan. The Sultan dressed in black and amber silks with a magnificent bejewelled turban atop his head sat on a low golden stool. To the side of the room stood the viziers and kadiaskers all with their heads bowed. Behind the throne were crammed the stern-faced soldiers of the Sultan’s elite personal bodyguard the muteferrikas. The Ambassadors were frog-marched into His presence and after bowing low three times were encouraged - as was the custom - to kneel and kiss the hem of the Sultan’s kaftan. They then had to stand stiffly with their hands held rigid by their sides.
Sultan Murad IV, although surrounded by the throng of his praetorian guard, the audience agas and other agas of the Stirrup - as the palace functionaries were known - appeared to attract what little light there was in the room. He was a young looking man, fit and battle hardened. He appeared taller than they expected with a broad face and eyes of cold steel. He looked directly at the envoys, his mood difficult to ascertain masked as it was by his impassive countenance. “I Sultan Murad, son of Sultan Ahmed, son of Sultan Mehmed, who am the Sultan of Sultans, the Shadow of God upon the Earth, the Sultan and Padishah of the White Sea, the Black Sea, Rum, Anatolia, Dulkadir, Kurdistan, Damascus, Cairo, Jerusalem and all other countries of my ancestor’s conquest, have today issued a firman in favour of the Greek petition. They are to have control of my favour in the Holy Places of the Christians in Jerusalem.”
The terjumanbashi completed the translation and almost immediately before any debate could be entered into, the escorting soldiers forced the envoys to retreat backwards through the connecting door and into the second courtyard once again. The light was startling bright after the dense darkness of the Sultan’s throne room.
Behind them the Grand Vizier was ushered into the presence of Murad. “Beiram Pasha, your final thoughts on this matter?”
The Grand Vizier knelt before his Sultan. “My Emperor. I have cast the yoke off my neck. On the day of judgement henceforth you will answer. It is a good decision, my Sovereign Lord. The Christians are best kept at each others throats. The Venetians have already intimated that they would be prepared to offer a substantial sum to procure the Holy Sites for themselves. This will be a good source of bloodless income for your treasury if your divine favours are judiciously granted.”
In the courtyard de Cesy stormed ahead with the Venetian Ambassador and Marco Angello Comneno in tow. He stopped suddenly and turned to look at them. Seething with rage his voice crackled, “We must try and neutralise Loukaris. He has far too much influence.”
On reaching the second gate and retrieving their swords Comneno leant forward to whisper in the Comte de Cesy’s ear. “Leave it to me to formulate a plan. I have other business to conclude with the Patriarch Loukaris.” The young Grand Prior of the Constantinian order then turned to watch as the two Patriarchs walked slowly, accompanied by Sir Peter Wyche. They all appeared to be in animated conversation. 
Loukaris caught Marco looking at him and placing his hand on the Englishman’s sleeve drew him to a stop. They were still out of earshot. Loukaris kept his voice low, “Thank you for your support with the Sultan. As agreed with your predecessor Roe and as a token of my continued desire for a closer communion between the Eastern Church and your reformed church, I have made arrangements for an ancient commentary on the Codex - the famous fifth century Greek bible given by Loukaris to Roe - to be delivered to your residence in Pera.”
Sir Peter Wyche gave a slight but grave nod of acknowledgement. He knew from his correspondence with Bishop Laud that the Codex Alexandrinus had been an invaluable acquisition and the commentary could be of equal importance. The credit would probably go to Roe but there would be enough reflected glory for him as well. He hesitated briefly before replying, “Patriarch Loukaris we are most grateful. There is another matter however that my King has instructed me to sound out with you. If you could spare me some time?”
They had just caught up with the others when there was a sudden shout of warning as three horses sped through the archway sending the de Cesy sprawling against the wall. The Frenchman immediately drew his recently donned sword but was set upon and restrained by the nearby Janissaries. The horses crossed the courtyard and made for the entrance of the Imperial harem which was in a recess behind a corner of the Divan Chamber they had been in earlier. They watched as a eunuch passage guard rush out to take the reins. Recovering his composure somewhat and shrugging off the attentions of the scowling soldiers de Cesy blustered. “I am certain that one of those idiots was a woman. She rode saddle like a man, however. Who is she?”
Kyril Loukaris attention was fixed on the now dismounted figures. They were hurrying to enter the harem through the Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs. “That person, excellencies . . .” Loukaris spoke, without once averting his gaze from the distant group. “. . . is the female surgeon appointed by the Valide Sultana Kosem. I hear she was a Christian captive in Algiers and is here as a free agent. From Ireland . . .” He looked over to catch the attention of the O’Driscoll cousins who were in deep conversation. “. . . I understand.”
De Cesy was still fuming, his face crimson with anger. “A female surgeon! How preposterous. Whatever next. A witch more like. The heathen Turk are welcome to her spells. Ignorant imbeciles that they are.”
Loukaris looked at the Frenchman as he waddled his way towards his horse lashing out sideways to strike one of his nearby retinue for their perceived failure in failing to protect his dignity. “I also hear she has a great skill with eyes. Perhaps Comte de Cesy, she could help with your vision.”
The Frenchman bristled at the sarcasm but ignored the Greek Patriarch. By now all the others were shaking their heads in bemusement as they mounted their own horses. They then rejoined their own retinues and began making for the Imperial Gate. The French Ambassador turned to look down at the two Patriarchs. Fixing Loukaris with an evil sneering gaze he rasped, “Patriarch Loukaris you have not heard the last of this. I would advise caution in challenging the wishes of France.’ De Cesy then pulled at the reins so fiercely that the ornamental bit cut into the horses mouth. A few drops of blood dropped to the ground. Loukaris stretched out a hand towards the poor animal to try and relieve the pressure but the Frenchman pulled again twisting the horses head away. At the same time he dug his spurs into the stallion’s flank forcing it to rear up and just miss the Patriarch’s head with flying hooves. Loukaris did not flinch. The Frenchman without a look back then cantered away towards the Imperial Gate followed by most of the others at a gentler pace. 
The two Patriarchs walked beside their asses. As the dust laden haze thrown up by de Cesy's departure settled a single horseman could be seen to have remained behind. Loukaris recognised him. “Dom Dermico, what holds you back? Is there a problem with your horse?”
The Spanish envoy shook his head and then swung down from his saddle with a lithe grace. “That woman surgeon from Ireland. You did say that she was once a captive in Algiers?”
Loukaris looked at passive face of the younger man trying to discern a reason for the enquiry. The intensity of his eyes was the only clue. “That is my information. Is there a specific reason for your enquiry?”
Dermico O’Driscoll had prepared himself for this response. “No, not really. Only you said that she was Irish. I know that about 100 people were taken captive by Algerian corsairs from a small fishing village in my family’s lands in Ireland about three years ago. I would welcome news of their well-being. Do you know where I can contact this female surgeon?”
Loukaris was still a little guarded. “At the women’s hospital attached to the mosque of Haseki Hurrem . So my informants tell me.”
O’Driscoll looked pleased. “Thank you Patriarch Loukaris. I am most grateful.” He then remounted and made to spur his horse off, but stopped. “There is one other request, you might grant me.”Loukaris waited, saying nothing. “Apparently it is common knowledge that you are giving a valuable commentary on the Codex to the English. Might I have a look at it before you do so?”
Loukaris was surprised by the question and uncomfortably searched for a reply. He decided not to deny the fact. “I did not think it was common knowledge. You are remarkably well informed Dom Dermico. Why would you want to see it? Are you a scholar?”
O’Driscoll’s eyes were jewels of practised innocence. “Yes , in a small way. Would it be possible?”
Loukaris treaded the moment as if he was in water. “Of course.”
“That is most kind of you. Where and when might I be able to view it?”
Loukaris drew a breath. “Tomorrow at the Patriarchate. Noon. Would that suit you?”
O’Driscoll made a show of turning his horse towards the gate. He leaned back to look down at the Greek and asked in a nonchalant tone. “Do you have a big repository in the Patriarchate? I would be most interested.”
By now Loukaris was concerned. The conversation was almost echoing the one he had just had with Wyech. It was too much of a coincidence. “No. Not really. Because of the ever-present threat of enforced moves within the city and the small size of the Patriarchate most of our most valuable manuscripts are scattered in several locations. Perhaps Dom Dermico, if there were documents of specific interest to your studies, the Protosyncellus, Nathaniel Canopuis might be able to track them down. Was there something specific you wished to see?” 
Dermico O’Driscoll shook his head. ‘No. It was just a thought. Do not put yourself to any trouble Patriarch Loukaris. A look at the commentary would be fine. I do not have much time before returning to Spain.”
Loukaris stroked his long beard, his thoughts clearer. “I am sure Dom Dermico that this dispute is not the only reason you are here. Not implying any offence, but you made little or no contribution in the Divan.”
O’Driscoll realised he would have to be as direct as possible with a plausible answer. “You are right Patriarch Loukaris.” He looked first at the Jerusalem prelate and then back at Loukaris. “With apologies to your sensitivities Patriarch Theophanes, the King of Spain has few cares in regard to who has the keys to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, as long as it remains in Christian pockets. By accompanying my Franciscan cousin it has provided me with a good cover to sound out the Divan on a sensitive matter. The King’s concern and that of our allies, the Republic of Ragusa, is the amount of forged silver Turk coin that France is producing to de-stabilise the Sultan’s economy. As silver is the major export of our Mexican Territories we are anxious that its value is maintained. I am here, on the orders of Olivares, to appraise the Divan of the threat. Given the success of your business today, against the odds I might add, you Patriarch Loukaris would be a valuable ally to have.”
Loukaris relaxed with the compliment and put aside some of his previous doubts about the young Spanish Knight. In any event the information was valuable and he would have to analyse the impact of this new threat for the Sultan on his church’s well-being and safety in Constantinople. “Thank you for your candour, Dom Dermico. I will be happy to try and help. Until tomorrow then. At noon!”

©R.Derham 2001,2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

Goodbye John . . .

John, my next-door neighbour, died today. A 51 year-old father of three he had been an instigator and beneficiary of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ development surge both at home and abroad over the past 10 years. I can only suppose that with the financial and credit implosion caused by the worldwide recession he must have come under enormous personal pressure in trying to uphold his commitments. I wish I could have helped in someway but I had no idea that the pressures that must have been applied were so severe as to exhaust his coping mechanisms. We were not extremely close personal friends, in that we did not socialise together, but for 14 very happy years in our home he and his wife were the best neighbours you could ask for, a life-journey of association that had been marked at the beginning with the privilege of my delivering their youngest child. With a presumed suicide death that is not perceived as heroic people often cruelly comment that it is an extremely selfish gesture, an abrogation of responsibility, on the part of the deceased. John was one of the least selfish people that I have known. I fully understand that others may have had a different perception, a different encounter with John but I can only speak for myself. The abridgement of his life is a terrible waste. 

May he rest in peace . . . now! 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 12)

Chapter 21 
Windsor Castle, England. 5th November 1633

The Knights had all gathered, as directed, at the Hour of Tierce on this the eve of the prorogued Grand Feast of the Order of the Garter. Dressed in full regalia they greeted each other in the Prive-Chamber of Charles the Ist, King of England. In silence thereafter they waited for the king to complete his robing. They watched as he positioned the eponymous Garter with its motto of HONI SOIT QVI MAL Y PENSE - shame on him who thinks ill of it - composed of over four hundred diamonds, a little below his left knee. Charles appeared agitated as he then stood upright to allow a servant place a surcoat of crimson cloth - which was lined with white taffeta - around his shoulders. His attendants then brought forward and placed about his neck the blue silk ribband to which was attached the gold mounted medal known as the lesser George. It had been cut in onyx and sparkled with numerous diamonds. This was then followed by the great purple velvet mantle with its arms of Saint George set within an embroidered Order of the Garter ensigna on the left shoulder. The large terminal knots of the Venetian gold and silk robe-strings attached to the collar nearly reached the ground. Finally the large gold collar with the heavily jewelled depiction of Saint George killing the dragon dangling from its middle - this was known as the greater George - was brought out and placed about his shoulders.

One of the servants struggled as he brought forward a large mirror. Once satisfied Charles donned his plumed cap, straightened his ear-rings and turned to survey the assembled Knights. He noted that not all were present, the Stranger Knights abroad having being excused. “You are welcome, companion Knights. Because of pressure of time I plan to proceed to Chapter the private way rather than by Public Procession. There are a number of items to discuss before Vespers. Let us proceed.”
Charles did not move but watched as Sir William Segar gave a signal at the door of the chamber. Outside in the Presence-Chamber much activity was taking place. As the Sovereign and the Knight Companions prepared to file out two rows of Pensioners took guard with their pole-axes. The gentleman-usher holding the Sword of State brought it to the Earl of Danby, who had been delegated by Charles to carry it. The Yeoman Guard went ahead to clear the passage.
At this moment all of the Knight Companions turned back to look at Charles and simultaneously removed their plumed caps as a sign of reverence. He slowly removed his own to return their salute and then put it back on. The Garter Knights followed suit and this was the signal to start the procession. Ahead of them their attendants - all of whom had lined the stairs awaiting the signal - formed up behind the Yeomen and led off the procession. Behind these came the lesser officials such as the Alms-Knights, the Vergers, the Prebends and the Officers of Arms. The Knight Companions then filed out, some side by side and some in single file depending on whether their paired Knight Companion was in attendance. They were then followed by the officers of the Order and included the Black-Rod, the Register, the Garter, the Chancellor and the Prelate. Behind these came the Earl of Danby carrying the Sword of State and finally Charles himself with his train-bearers. Once they had cleared the Presence Chamber the Pensioners and their Captain fell in behind.
The procession wound down the stairs to the terrace and then along the walk on the north side of the castle to re-enter through a door in the Castle wall and into one of the canon’s lodgings adjoining Winchester Tower. On entering the cloister passage between the Tomb House and the chapel they turned to enter the chapel by its east door. All of the attendants then fanned out to line the north aisle as far as the west door. The Knight Companions, on entering, turned sharp right to enter the Chapter-house on the north east corner. Followed by the officers of the Order and Charles all others remained outside, including the Earl of Danby with the sword. The door was then closed by the Black Rod.

Charles was in good spirits. Since suspending Parliament for their treasonous mutterings one of his only ways of gauging public opinion was the advice he received from his fellow Garter Knights. He took his place at the north end of the table where his chair, cushions and cloth of state had been prepared. The Knight Companions whose designated position or stall in the Chapel were on the Sovereign’s side sat to his right and those who were designated stalls on the Prince’s side sat on his left. The Prelate - Nele, Bishop of Winchester - came and stood at Charles right side and the Chancellor Sir Frances Crane stood on his left. The Register Dr Matthew Wren, Dean of the Chapel of Windsor - and successor to de Dominis - and the Garter Sir William Segar stood at the end of the table. Wren recorded the names of those present and proffered the excuses of those missing.
The Chancellor Crane - in his peculiar high pitched town-criers voice - then recounted the achievements and life events of each of the Garter Knights since the last Chapter. Much time was taken up with the details of the coronation of Charles as King of Scotland. He then went on to recount what had been discussed in the last Chapter and gave a summary of the various outcomes of their deliberations. With the satisfied smile of a smug servant creasing his face he announced that despite the difficult travelling conditions abroad he had ensured the successful delegation of William Boswell Esq - the Sovereign’s Agent in Holland - and John Philpot Esq - the Somerset Herald - to deliver the ensigna of the Order - the Garter and greater George - to the Order’s newest member Charles, Prince Palatine of the Rhine. Finally finishing, to the relief of all present, Crane passed a bound sheaf of letters to the King who placed them on the table in front of him. 
Charles rested his hand on these for a moment before looking up at the Knights. “I have received a dispatch from Marie de Rohan, the Duchess of Chevreuse and wife of our fellow Garter Knight Claude de Lorraine. She, as you know, was a good friend of my beloved Buckingham and writes from Touraine having been recently expelled by Richelieu from France for stealing state secrets.”
One of the Knights on the King’s side leant forward. “It is said that they were extracted in the bed-chamber from the Marquis de Chateauneuf, keeper of the French seals.”
Charles frowned slightly at the interruption but then continued, “That may be the case Hamilton. Nevertheless de Rohan has always been a friend to England and the letter contains some interesting gossip.”
One of the Knights near the head of the table began laughing but stopped just as suddenly as Charles glared at him. “I am sorry for my outburst Sire. I was just wondering how long my poor Lord Hamilton would last in the company of the bold Duchess. I had the pleasure of meeting Marie de Rohan when Claude was invested with his Garter and methinks the struggle would be short-lived.” Robert Barty, the Earl of Lindsay, continued to smirk and even Charles had difficulty suppressing a smile.
“Indeed Lindsay. In any event she relates that one of the Spanish Orders has been actively pursuing the suspected but heretofore, secret legacy of our brother Order, the Angelicks. We, in Chapter, have been aware of the possibility of such a legacy but are not sure exactly what it comprises. The Duchess reports that the Grand Master of the Angelicks, Dom Giovanni Andrea, was foolish enough to let the legacy out of his control and that it is currently in the possession of the Patriarch Loukaris in Constantinople. I have instructed Our ambassador to try and determine what exactly the legacy is and to retrieve it, if possible, for our Order.”
Most of the senior Knights were stunned at the significance of this report and nodded their assent. Some of the younger ones looked bemused. 
Charles then continued. “I know that some of you are aware of this legacy and its possible significance. However as they have not been discussed in Chapter for some time . . .” Charles looked at Matthew Wren - the Register - who stood opposite him at the end of the table. 
He sprang to attention. “Sire. My searches show that the first mention of the supposed legacy is in the French Language in the Registrum Ordinis Chartaceum which is stored in Whitehall. The next mention is in the Black Book, page one hundred and sixty-one, and again in the Blue Book, page seven, both of which are available here in Windsor if any of the Great Knights wish to consult. There is not, I fear, much information and thus we are little the wiser.”
“Thank you for your due diligence Doctor Wren. Noble Knights you may consult at your leisure.” 
Charles then grew sullen as he detailed the other important news from the Duchess. This warned Charles of Richelieu’s plans to have France enter the war in the coming year. The information was met with a grave silence before a heated debate on the implications began. It was some time before Charles suddenly stood up bringing instant silence. “Enough argument, my brother Knights. Chancellor Crane will provide a detailed report with Our possible response. The Chapter is now closed. Let us proceed forthwith to the choir. The Earl of Dover will act as proxy for the Prince Palatine.”
The Knights watched as the door opened. The Earl of Dover entered and on receiving the missing Prince’s mantle at the door turned to walk - bareheaded - back into the chapel carrying the mantle on his right shoulder. The Knights and Charles followed.

Chapter 22 
Nordlingen, Germany. 7th September 1634

The thanksgiving mass held in the Church of Saint George was over and the officers of the combined Imperial and Spanish forces were filing out into the square. The ‘Daniel’ clock-tower rising high above the church roof chimed the hour. To the watchman perched in his turret at the top of the tower, it appeared, as he looked south over the covered parapets and battlements of the city walls, that the floor of the Reis valley - in which Nordlingen was centred - was smouldering like a volcano about to erupt. Some locals believed that the valley had been formed by a giant throwing a large boulder at a rival and that this rival lay crushed beneath the ground waiting to be released. He knew of course that on this day the putrid smoke drifting over the town, borne on a freshening south-westerly wind, came from the hundreds of makeshift pyres burning some of the battlefield dead. He could also see, scattered at intervals across the valley, work details of peasants and townspeople digging large communal graves in which to hurry the disposal of the mounting piles of lifeless corpses.
The watchman had been told by people coming back in to the town that it was estimated that somewhere between six and ten thousand men had died in the battle that had raged over the previous two days. In the distance the waters of the Eger river ran blood red as it meandered for its meeting with the mighty Danube. It had been a dry summer and the low level of the river meant the waters were likely to do so for many days to come. He could hear far below him the pitiful cries of injured and dying men as they were still being brought from the battlefield to the hospital in the city. As he looked down he watched the groups of Spanish soldiers descend the steps of the church and begin crossing the square. 
Most appeared to be in good spirits, talking animatedly with each other still excited at their victory over the Swedish army. Some even responded to the demands of the begging women and children who approached them on the steps. These were the camp followers whose dead husbands’ and fathers’ ashes now floated down to cover them in a fine layer of dust. The majority of the older and hardened officers knew that these creatures would now have to fend for themselves and they ignored their pleas.
In their anxiety to move away quickly from the begging crowd the exiting officers did not stop to notice a small group of uniformed Spanish soldiers remaining behind in a small side-chapel of the church. They waited patiently for the Bishop and his priests to disrobe and leave the sacristy. This they seemed anxious to do as if somehow concerned about being in a church that had up to very recently been a Protestant sanctuary. After an arrangement with the sacristan the Spaniards then barred the doors to ensure privacy. The smell of wax hung in the vaulted vessel and aisles.
Dom Diego de Cardenas, the Grand Commander of the Montaluan in Aragon detachment of the Sant’Iago Order, looked at his officer Knights. The Imperial army’s great victory at Nordlingen had been achieved at some cost to themselves. About 80 of their Order’s number had died in the battle, including two council members. Asking the assembled soldiers to kneel he offered a private prayer for the repose of their comrades departed souls. The chapel remained silent until all had finished and were sitting back in their pews.
Dermico O’Driscoll was the first to speak. “A good victory Dom Diego. Don Fernando will be pleased.”
The Grand Commander sat down wearily on the steps of the chapel altar. “Yes Dom Dermico. However I think we were very lucky. There appears to have been a disagreement on initial tactics between Horn and Saxe-Weimer and although they had the best of the early fighting Horn allowed his cavalry to become separated from the infantry when attacking the hill. It also appears that he lost communication with Saxe-Weimer’s troops at a vital time. This confusion precipitated a retreat right into the path of our troops and the subsequent carnage.” The older man hesitated, wiping the perspiration from his forehead. “The absence of the veteran Protestant regiments -dispatched to the Polish front - also worked in our favour. The Cardinal Infante Fernando and his cousin Ferdinand of Hungary were right to make a stand and although I am not an ardent supporter of Matteo Gallas his handling of the tercios was masterful.” 
They all nodded in agreement. There was silence before Dom Dermico spoke again, “I understand that Horn and about three thousand of his men have been taken prisoner. Gallas will be well rewarded.”
“I hear he has already laid claim to some of Walleistein’s estates,” One of the other Sant’Iago Knights near the back rasped resisting the urge to spit.
Dom Diego looked up at the altar and then back at the others. “The Aulic’s will do everything in their power to prevent that but it is a lesson for us all.The balance of power, gentlemen, is passing from the nobility to men of courage and arrivistes who can marry economic might to military strategy. Almost like the dreaded corsair captains of the high seas, their landlocked warlord counterparts like Walleistein and now Gallas, will bring a far greater influence to bear on all our destinies in years to come.” He paused for a moment. “They will as a matter of course, aspire to the prestige and entitlements of established nobility but these privileges will be gained by force and not birthright. We in the Order must recognise this change and be prepared to adapt. We will only survive as a credible force by constantly harvesting the energies of the moment. History, as we know to our cost, has the ability to await the return of its gifts to any one generation or people.”
All of the Knights grew pensive at these words but just as quickly the senior officer broke the spell. “Dermico. Your musket men were magnificent! You are to be congratulated. Did you lose many?”
O’Driscoll smiled wearily at the compliment. “Unfortunately yes. About 300 all told, mainly the remainder of my Irish troops. I am afraid that the initial attack on the enemy hill ordered by Don Fernando was not in enough force nor well enough supported. We were very exposed and the tactic that we have developed of kneeling between enemy volleys is not very effective when climbing a hill.”
The older man pursed his lips as he nodded his head slowly. “I understand that Juan de Necolalde, our brother Knight and the charge d’affaires in London has arranged for the recruitment and transfer of six thousand Irishmen to Flanders. This was achieved with the help of Sir Thomas Wentworth. He also reports, however, that many of the English, particularly the Londoners, are beginning to object to the passage of armed Catholic soldiers through their territory. I would hope to replenish our tercio with some of these when we arrive there. In addition most of the soldiers taken prisoner today will be conscripted into the Imperial Army.”
Dermico O’Driscoll delighted at the news of possible replacements stood up to congratulate the Grand Commander but the older man held up his hand with a resigned shrug of his shoulders. “It is only a possibility Dom Dermico. The supply of Irish recruits is sure to dwindle as I have no doubt that France is preparing to enter the war soon. Indeed our spies report active recruitment on their part in both Ireland and Scotland.” He paused for a moment, composing his thoughts. “If France does enter the war, we will have Catholics fighting Catholics. The days of Imperial allegiances and wars based on religious divides is waning. You all heard our troops on the field today, in their moment of victory calling out ‘Viva Espana’. Increasingly there are going to be well demarcated national entities and wars will be fought to protect those interests and nothing else. Spain will have to go it alone. I believe . . .” He looked up, interrupted by a loud pounding on the Church door. One of the Knights went to investigate and soon returned accompanied by another. Dom Diego de Cardenas smiled at the latecomer. “Dom Salvador you are most welcome. Give us your report.”
The tall bearded man hesitated for a second as he looked at the gathered Knights before approaching the Grand Commander and to place a small object in his hand. “I was unable to communicate with you before you left on campaign and when I arrived here the battle had already commenced. I can now confirm that the traitor, council member Dom Diego de Haro, is dead. That in your hand is his Calatrava ensigna.”
There was a murmur of surprise from one of the younger Knights present. One, whose rank in the Order, had excluded him from the internal politics. Dom Diego was quick to explain. “Dom Luis. You were not privy to some of our secrets but from this point on, you and Dermico are to be Chevalier Fiscaux and council members of the Sant’Iago Order. I must have your oath of loyalty and silence.”
Both men hastily knelt and vowed their loyalty. The Grand Commander then placed the blood-stained ribbons and ensigna of the rank of Commander of the Sant’Iago Order - taken from the council members who had been killed in the battle - around their necks. 
Dom Diego de Cardenas continued to speak as he lifted Dermico and Dom Luis gently from their knees, “It was the report from Algiers documenting the redemption attempt and subsequent botched assassination on Dom Djivo Slavujovic by the Calatravans, that alerted us to the possibility of such a traitor being in our midst.” He held his Irish commander by the shoulders. “Dermico. Is Dom Djivo still alive? Is there any further news of the search for the Scrolls?”
Dermico tried to compose his thoughts and the others became uneasy at the undue delay. “I am sorry Sir. Dom Djivo has not been seen in Algiers since May when the Galleys put to sea. I do not know whether he is alive or dead nor do we have any further information on the Scrolls whereabouts.”
Dom Diego released his hold on Dermico and shrugged his own shoulders in a resigned fashion. “We will pick up their trail again once this war is over. That is our immediate priority. For my part, I am returning to Spain. The Order must be protected from its enemies within the corridors of power, particularly Calatrava. Remember my brave brother Knights, we must learn to bend with the winds of change. Dom Salvador you will take command of the tercio.”
The bearded tall knight bowed deeply. “It is a great honour you bestow on me. I will not fail you.”
The Grand Commander smiled benignly before continuing, “Dom Dermico I have a special mission for you. Please remain behind. To you others I offer my profound appreciation for your endeavours. Return to your troops. Reorganise and serve Dom Salvador as well as you served me. May God and Saint James protect you all.” De Cardenas embraced each man warmly before they kissed his ring and left the church. Dermico remained seated and silent, wondering what was in store for him. Once everybody had departed the older man closed the doors and came and sat down beside him. They both were looking at the altar. “Dermico, I did not want to say it in front of the others but there is a possibility that we may have another lead to the Scrolls. The Emperor mentioned the name of a man who might be of some help. I need you to go to Constantinople to follow through on this matter and have arranged for you to be attached to a papal delegation that is leaving from Genoa on a Ragusan vessel in three days. . .” De Cardenas was suddenly distracted by a pigeon landing on the altar.
Dermico waited. 'Who is this man?' he wondered.

©R.Derham 2001,2009

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 11)

Chapter 19 
Smyrna, West Coast of Turkey. 27th May 1633

Martino’s ship lay at anchor in, what was called by English sailors, Pagg’s Hole. It was a sheltered harbour overlooked by the castle of Smyrna and all around the vessel the waters were busy with small tenders ferrying large bales of cotton from the shore. From her vantage point on the fore-castle Catherine could make out Pelican Point and beyond it Long Island and Partridge Island in the distance. The ship was already low in the water from the sherbaff of silk from Aleppo that they had loaded in Scanderoon, however this was to be the final port of call before making for the Mamara. It was also carrying pumice from Santorini and mastick gum and turpentine from Scio and whose fused scents filled the air with each agitating wave.
Scio, or Chios as the Greeks called it, was only a short distance away but it had taken them nearly two days because of unfavourable winds to reach Smyrna. To Catherine while they were anchored there, the harbour of Chios had appeared like the cross-roads of the world as also anchored inside the Diamond was the great fleet of the Kapudan Pasha of the Sultan’s navy beginning its annual tribute tour. Murad Corbasi had pointed out with pride the Royal Galley and twenty others from Constantinople. There were also nine galleys from the Rhodes squadron, and others supplied by the Governors of Cyprus, Alexandria, Tripoli, Nauplia, Negropont, Caballa, Damietta, Bizerta, Mytiline as well as the three from Chios itself. The spectacle of the fleet’s departure for Negropont was something that Catherine would always remember. Murad had said that the fleet would be joined by other ships from Tangier and Algiers once it left the Archipelago. 
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by someone calling her name and she turned to see four men hailing her from the main-deck. She descended the ladder to greet them. Of the four she did not recognise one was dressed in the garb of an English cleric. The smallest of the three men, bent by the rigors of extreme age yet with a voice as strong as his younger companions, beckoned her to where they stood. She made her way towards them, dodging on the way some sailors portaging provisions for the galley.
“Surgeon Cullen, this is the Reverend Edward Pococke, Fellow of Corpus Christi College in Oxford and Chaplain to the English Levant Company in Aleppo. I will be returning with him there and thus our paths must now diverge. I have come to say my farewells.” Both Catherine and the priest seemed surprised by the introduction and eyed each other suspiciously before cautiously leaning forward to shake hands. “Pococke is one of the many reasons that I undertook this journey as I have been asked to instruct him in the history, philosophy and teachings of our beliefs. Currently many of our own northern rabbis are erroneously propagating a dangerous interpretation of the powers of Cabbalistic knowledge and this will only serve to alienate, eventually, our few allies. It is my duty to try and correct some of these tendencies by instructing people like Pococke. With the development of the printed presses our ability to directly influence individuals in power by becoming personal translators, teachers and doctors is lessening. Because of this we, as a community, now have to try and reach a far wider and more dispersed audience. Towards this end seek out sympathetic gentile individuals whose learning and writing will be seen as more acceptable. This clergyman Pococke is probably the most erudite man of his generation.”
At this compliment the English priest grew embarrassed. Catherine however was dismayed. “But Rabbi Jacob I also have much to learn.”
Jacob ben Moses, Uzzah of the El-Gharida community took her hand. “That is not true. In our discussions, you have been like a sponge and there is little of the Path that you remain ignorant of. The remainder of the journey is yours to take. My duty to you is complete.” The old man was fixing her with his child’s eyes. “Do you want Pococke to contact your family?”
Catherine realised that the answer to the question would probably be the defining cross-road of her life. Jacob was testing her and she needed to think carefully. An image of Djivo flashed before her and at that moment she also knew she did not have to think at all. Her eyes drifted briefly towards the west, before coming back to focus on Jacob. “No, it would only cause further misery. My destiny is now in the Levant. I am happy to continue the discovery. I will write a letter on reaching Constantinople.”
Jacob ben Moses came and embraced her. He turned to the English chaplain and asked him to give them a few moments of privacy. Pococke withdrew and Jacob fixed Catherine with his intense eyes. Thanks to her expertise they were now free of cataracts. “Binti, you are a true daughter of the Path, and your life will be long and of true consequence. The duat of the eastern horizon will determine your destiny and El will guide its celestial provenance. Always remember that the mysteries and secrets of the Cabbal, that I have initiated you into, are no more than a framework of ancient knowledge, left behind by others who have trodden the same road as you. In turn you will also contribute and others will benefit. Do you understand?” 
Catherine nodded her head slowly. 
Jacob then squeezed her hand tightly. “There is something else that you can do for me. The community understands that in addition to the Scrolls that you seek, the only surviving copy of Manetho’s Egyptian History are in the hands of the same person. We are anxious to recover this and require your help.”
Catherine relaxed somewhat anxious to help. “Manetho, who was he?”
Jacob continued, “An Egyptian priest, fluent in Greek, employed by King Ptolemy II Philadelphus to translate the ancient historical hieroglyphic records in the temples. Although he was very antagonistic to Jews his parchment account of the time of the Pharaohs Ramses II and Merenpath and the exodus of the people of Israel is a crucial link in our understanding of our past and our future. We are very anxious to recover it. Will you help?” Catherine nodded. Joseph drew out a package from under his cape and pressed it into her hand. “You will always know when to loosen the shackles of your Path. As the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, remarked ‘My companions are like the stars; whichever of them you follow will guide you.’ That thought and this book are my final gifts for you. Farewell.”
Catherine was slightly bewildered by the Rabbi’s Islamic reference but watched silently as the old man gingerly made his way to join the two younger men and the other older man who stood beside them. He suddenly stopped as if remembering something he ought to have said. Catherine moved to join him. “What is it Rabbi Jacob?”
The old man pulled at his beard. “Pococke the English cleric. . .” he paused. 
Catherine glanced to where the pale priest was standing by the gunwale. “What of him?” She saw that he was making his way towards them.
“You will meet up with Pococke again in Constantinople. He has an academic’s insatiable lust for old manuscripts and part of his future destiny, although unaware of it yet, is to search for those that you seek also. Make use of the contact.”
Pococke and the younger man then joined them and led Jacob to the gunwale and helped him carefully climb down into one of the empty shorebound tenders. She looked then at the book he had given her, a Latin edition of Maimonede’s Guide for the Perplexed, and as she moved her finger along its spine she thought of the day when Jacob ben Moses had entered her life.

The departure from Algiers had been painful. She had waited until the last possible moment on the mole. After the signal gun of Martino’s ship had been discharged she said her farewells to Ali Bitchnin and Suarez and accompanied by Murad was ferried to the ship. With a favourable wind and current they soon cleared the roads of Algiers and its white walls faded all too fast. The intention was to make directly for Alexandria and she was surprised when coming on deck one morning to find the ship dropping anchor just outside a small harbour. She thought it an eerie place. There was no town and although the harbour was big enough for six or seven galleys, there were none to be seen. Indeed even the large tower commanding the harbour appeared deserted. She sought out the corbasi. “Murad Corbasi, what is happening? Why are we anchoring in this place?”
The Janissary was watching the sailors hoist the longboat from its recess on the maindeck and drop it over the side. “This is the island of Lampadosa. We are taking on fresh water and meat, and it seems we will be picking up a passenger.”
Catherine continued staring at the harbour. “But it looks deserted. What passenger would wait here?”
Murad was already climbing over the side. He looked back up at her. “I do not know but come and we will find out. I am as intrigued as you appear to be.”

On rowing into the harbour and landing on its small slip- way, she followed Martino, Murad and two sailors as they crossed the sandy foreshore and headed inland. As they walked she was astounded by the number of turtles on the shore and she saw some of the other sailors gathering them up and loading them alive into the longboat, where they were turned on their backs. They were to be the fresh meat for the ship.
The land was flat and only the dense shrubbery made the walk difficult. After a short time they came to the mouth of a cave and on entering it she was astonished to see a small altar surmounted by a wooden slab on which an image of the Virgin and Child was painted. On the altar and floor around it were offerings of bacon, oil, wine and even some money. Murad noticed her surprise and joined her. “This cave, according to Martino, is a sanctuary for shipwrecked sailors and runaway slaves. Both Christian and Turk will hide out here, sustained by these offerings, until one of their own ships anchors. Further down the cave is the grave of a Muslim saint, and so it is a refuge for all faiths. Nothing is ever taken from the cave and miraculously that lamp on the Virgin’s altar always remains lit. . .”
His whispered words stopped suddenly with the emergence of two figures from the shadows. One was a young man of nineteen or twenty and he was helping another of very great age. Martino was rushing forward to greet them warmly. After a brief moment they all retreated out of the cave and into the bright sunlight. Martino was sweating - even more than normal. “Rabbi, it is so wonderful to see you.”
The old man nodded, dismissing the Italian Jew’s exuberance and coming to where Catherine and Murad stood. He greeted Murad in Arabic and Catherine in English before continuing in Italian. “My students, it is good to meet you.” 
Both were taken aback and almost simultaneously asked. “Your students, what do you mean ? Who are you ?”
The old man, took her hands in his and Catherine was surprised by their coolness and strength in somebody who looked so frail. “I am sorry. My name is Jacob ben Moses, I am from the nearby island of Djerba. This meeting is part of all our destinies. I am sure Dom Djivo mentioned me.” Catherine slowly nodded her head, no longer surprised. 
They then all returned to ship to continue the journey. And what a journey it was. In the weeks that followed both onboard and in the ports of Alexandria, Tyre, Scanderoon and Rhodes, Jacob ben Moses had spent endless hours with both of them, together and as individuals, instructing, questioning, educating and imparting a breath of ancient knowledge that she had never realised existed. It was obvious that the Corbasi’s Path was to be different and it appeared that hers was to be far more mystical. She had observed only yesterday, by invitation, Rabbi Jacob presenting a cloak or khirqa to Murad. Hers would come at a different time, he had said.

Now it was ended and as the tender drew away bearing Rabbi Jacob and the Reverend Pococke and the fourth man to the docks of Smyrna, her very soul ached for his continued wisdom. She saw too that there was almost a tear in the eye of Murad Corbasi, who was also watching the departure. Such was their, by now, shared experience he did not attempt to hide it from her. She moved to join him. “Murad. Who was the other older man? Rabbi Joseph did not care to introduce him.”
Murad’s face burst into a smile and he laughed. “His name is Franceso Luppazzoli, the Lonewolf. He is the Venetian bailio in Smyrna. He has been here forever and is rumoured to have had at least five wives and a score of children. In addition it is also said he has fathered about a hundred bastards. I do not think that Rabbi Joseph approves but the English priest and himself are guests in the Venetian’s house.”
The ship’s cannon roared and Catherine could hear the capstan engaging the anchor chain. “Finally, ” she shouted.  “We are making for Constantinople. ”

Chapter 20 
Constantinople. June 12th 1633

It was nearly sunset when Martino’s ship finally rounded the Seraglio Point to enter the Golden Horn and the very busy outer harbour that lay between Galata and the city of Constantinople. Catherine could feel the boat shudder as its two bow anchors scraped along the bottom before finally holding fast. This caused the ship’s stern to swing slowly with the flood-tide towards the Arsenal. A small tender drew alongside and Catherine could make out the liman reis of the port telling Martino that he could land his cargo at the Custom House in the morning but that nobody was to disembark that night. As Catherine watched the tender pulling away she rubbed her eyes and her thoughts drifted back over the last part of her journey. She murmured quietly to herself. “Be patient. Only one more night.”

It had taken longer than expected to enter the sea of Mamara for the final stage of the journey to Constantinople. After leaving Smyrna their ship had lost the favourable wind and it had been nearly four days before they rounded Janissary Point to enter the Hellespont. Catherine had been very surprised by the amount of sea-traffic that hitched the currents on either shore and it took a great deal of manoeuvring to enable them to reach the narrows between the imposing castles of Sultaniye Kale and the Kilitbahir Kale. Here they had remained anchored in the harbour for three days compulsory quarantine and inspection of their goods. Neither presents from Martino or the sulky irritation of Murad Corbasi would hurry the port official’s bureaucracy.
After being allowed leave the quarantine harbour - and avoiding the dangerous rocks marked by the lighthouse near Gelibolu - they eventually entered the Mamara Sea proper. As Martino pointed his ship close to the island of Mamara Adasi, Murad had pointed out the galleys loading cut stone for the ceaseless building work going on in Constantinople. From there they had made for Rodosto where some of their merchandise was unloaded. 
Martino appeared to be in his element in this unusual city of synagogues, lording his sea-borne prosperity over his shore-based exiled Andulasian fellow believers. Finally they had entered the Bosphorous but appeared despite a favourable wind to reach an impasse just before the Seraglio Point. Catherine had been amazed to see ships with full following winds coming from both directions suddenly lose their momentum. It had taken many hours to navigate the last half mile but it had given her all the opportunity to marvel at the city’s imposing and beautiful presence.
The cacophony of noise emanating from the hundred minarets of the west bank and the Christian bells of the east bank carried on the still evening air. All around them there was tremendous activity on the water as numerous small craft darted across the waves. The Greek caramusals and caiques with grain, the gebes with sheep and the many tartans, frigates and Genovese polaccas arriving with their full holds to feed the insatiable appetites of this the world’s most glutinous city.
Everywhere was evidence of the city’s ordinary inhabitants winding down the day’s business. For some like the fishermen who were being collected from their hazardous pole perches - where they had watched for shoals of fish - today had been no different from any other. A better catch perhaps but then there would be lean days. What was important was survival and duty. On the Galata shore the karatia nets were been withdrawn by their long yards into the houses. One of the Greek boats - free of all taxes as a result of their ancestors’ services to Mohammed the Conqueror - was landing a dolphin caught among the islands. Tomorrow it would become the Sultan’s medicine.
Small ferries powered by between four and eight perspiring oarsmen - not all free to bargain their labour - were returning many of Galata’s foreign residents at the end of that day’s struggle with the multitudinous layers of official Ottoman bureaucracy. The obvious frustration was etched in some of their faces. Other boats and oarsmen were straining against the fast flowing Bosphorous to make their way to Scutari on the Asian side. These ferries had mainly Turkish passengers and the heavily jewelled turbans of some of them sparkled in the last embers of the dying sun.

Her thoughts were interrupted when one of the ship’s crew, who was busily belaying a loose halyard near to where Catherine was standing, excitedly pointed out to her the boat of the chief of the Imperial ice-porters as it made its way filled with compacted snow from the Anatolian highlands. This was destined - the sailor went on to inform her - for the palace kitchen. Catherine remained there watching for some time before retiring to her cot. With the night closing in fast a slight breeze got up to cool the air and by the time the muezzins had completed the asha’ prayers the minarets and the city had became strangely silent. What noise there was - apart from the creaks of the ship’s timbers beneath Catherine’s cot - came from the distant occasional barking of disturbed dogs and from agitated animals on late arriving boats. Near midnight however there was a loud cannon roar and Catherine - who had not in any event been able to sleep - came back up on deck to find Murad staring at the city’s glittering lights. “What was that cannon for Murad?” Catherine enquired in a quiet voice as she joined him at the gunwale.
Overhead disturbed birds were returning to their roosts. On a nearby gebe the horses onboard were clearly agitated and their whining cries took a long time to settle. The sharp crack of a whip bullied the silence back.
“Somebody has been executed. Probably on instructions from the Serai given the late hour of the cannon.” Murad spoke in a detached manner. The night air became suddenly colder and Catherine shivered. She waited for him to explain. “When somebody of noble rank or importance is dispatched, usually by strangulation, the bodies are then placed in a sack which is weighted and thrown into the Bosphorous at night. Women are less lucky as they are usually put in the sacks alive. The cannon acknowledges the deed.”
Catherine stared at the dark waters. “Murad. Does this callous disregard for life, ever bother you?”
The corbasi’s dark skin rendered him a barely visible dark shadow. Suddenly the flashing eyes caught what light there was and focused with a blazing intensity on Catherine.
Mashallah! Never! We all have our duties and our destinies. Whatever happens is already ordained. The threads of time that we weave for ourselves can unravel in an instant.” Murad paused for a moment as if regretting his outburst. He relaxed his strident tone. “I must retire to prepare for tomorrow’s disembarkation. I will be leaving at sunrise. Somehow I know we will meet again Surgeon Cullen and until then I wish you the protection of Allah’s angels. Good night. Ma’as-salama.”
Fi aman Illah, Murad. Thank you for your kindness.” Catherine called after him as she watched him descend to the hold below. 
Pulling a linen shawl tight around her shoulders she turned once again to stare at the city of fireflies. The light from the necklace of braziers placed at intervals along the city ramparts reminded her of the Towers of Kilitbahir and the nearby ancient site of Sestos which they had sailed past in the Hellespont. There Leander and Hero had consummated their love until one night the guiding beacon failed and he drowned, dashed against the rocks. The thought made Catherine suddenly think of Djivo. She looked up at the night’s constellations. 
“Orion watch over my love. Let him come to me soon.”

©R.Derham 2001,2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 10)

Chapter 17 
Algiers. 20th February 1633

Catherine was puzzled by the sudden summons from Ali Bitchnin. She was pensive as she left the harem and walked the short distance along the link corridor towards the exit to the inner courtyard. Outside she immediately noticed the fine carriage being held by the stablehands and saw Ali Bitchnin and another man seated in deep conversation. Unusually, Murad Corbasi was also present. On her approach Ali Bitchnin seemed agitated but indicated for her to sit near him. The men stopped talking and for an eternity they all sat in silence.
Presently an elderly cadi arrived and handed Bitchnin three pieces of paper. He checked them over carefully and handed one to Catherine and one to the other man. Catherine looked at the page but apart from Ali Bitchnin’s stylised monogram she was unable to read the Turkish script. “That is your jeskenet. I will arrange for an Italian transcript later.” Ali Bitchnin was very curt.
“What is a jeskenet?” Catherine was nervous. She looked over at Murad but he said nothing. 
Ali Bitchnin continued pointing to his visitor. “Surgeon Cullen, may I present Signor Job Martino from Livorno. He has just arranged your redemption. The jeskenet is your certificate of release from my bano. You are free to leave us here in Algiers.”
Catherine was stunned. Although a captive, Ali Bitchnin had never made her feel like a slave before, something to be bartered and sold. This Martino reminded her of a bull frog that had just left the water such was his perspiration and appearance. “My release to go where? To whom?” The questions she needed to ask tumbled out. “Who has paid for this Signor Martino? Am I free or have I been sold as a slave? What if I refuse?” 
Catherine stopped as Ali Bitchnin suddenly got up to leave. She thought she could see a flash of sadness in his eyes as he spoke to her. “Martino here will explain the arrangement. You are entitled to appeal the sale to the cadi here, but you would be wise not to refuse, as the opportunity will not likely come again. I will talk to you again later.” With that, Ali Bitchnin and the elderly judge left.
Martino turned to her and spoke in a rasping voice. “Surgeon Cullen, your full redemption has been paid for by the Sultana Valide Kosem, mother of Sultan Murad IV. This was an offer from Constantinople that Ali Bitchnin could not refuse. He has been well rewarded for your services.”
Catherine stared down at the paper and could only watch as her trembling fingers left it drift to the floor. “What are the conditions?”
Martino leant forward with difficulty and picked it up. “You are invited to enter the service of the Valide as a freewoman. You will contract your skills for four years and then you may leave Constantinople.”
Catherine was angry and spat back at him. “In three years I should be able to pay my own redemption here. Where is the advantage?”
Martino shifted uncomfortably and looked over at the corbasi who was pacing the yard. “The Valide has also arranged that Dom Djivo Slavujovic will be brought to Constantinople at that time where he will be fully redeemed and allowed to join you in freedom. If you agree to the contract it is also arranged that he will become part of Bitchnin’s bano rather than the Dey’s. This we have agreed with the Dey and it will ensure his safety for those years. We are aware of your growing attachment.” Martino paused for a moment and took the opportunity to hand the paper back to Catherine. He then stood up abruptly. “I have been instructed to tell you that the alternative to this arrangement is a return to the galleys for your Ragusan friend.”
Catherine thought about her growing love for Djivo. The last year had awoken emotions she had always suppressed and now to her great surprise could not think of a day without looking forward to seeing him. “That is not a choice. I will not appeal the arrangement. When do I have to leave?”
Martino visibly relaxed at her response and wiped some of the sweat from his forehead. This had been his most important commission and now that it appeared to be successful, the thoughts of future profits from similar arrangements made him lick his lips. Catherine fully expected his tongue to start pulling the hovering flies from the air. “In two days time, once my ship is loaded and my other business done. I will send my carriage for you then. Be ready.”
Martino then left stopping briefly to talk to Murad Corbasi. Catherine sat there fiddling with the paper and rocking back and forth. She did not notice him approach. “You made the right choice.” 
Catherine looked up at him. “I did not really have one Murad Corbasi, did I? What is your role in all this? ”
Murad took Catherine’s arm and walked with her towards the centre of the courtyard away from hidden ears in the partitions behind the divan. “Very astute, Signora Cullen. Very little escapes your notice.”
“And why use Martino? I find him offensive.” Catherine was increasingly angry at the morning’s events and her helplessness in controlling her own destiny. 
Murad Corbasi stopped walking and had a careful look around the courtyard before continuing, “I was taken into the devshirme from the country of Montenegro. As you might be aware people call me Black Murad because of my colouring. My father was a hill bandit and my mother a black Christian Ethiopian slave bought from the pirates nest established at Ulcinj by the Bey of Algiers in 1571. Selected for the Imperial School, I was seconded to the household of the Sultana Kosem and somehow attracted her favour. The Valide Sultana is a patron of the Bektashi deverish sect and as most Janissaries are also Bektashi she is our greatest defender. She has been my personal sponsor and at her request I was sent with my troop from the 99th Cemaat division to support the ocak here and to gain further experience particularly in marine engagements. Thus it was I who brought your skills to her attention.”
Catherine was surprised at this revelation. 
Murad smiled as he turned to look at her. “As Murat Reis has probably already told you the Janissary force here in Algiers has all but broken away from control by Constantinople and formed its own ocak or regiment. There is an independent Divan and the Dey is elected by its own officers. However following the Janissary riots of November 1631 in Constantinople when the Grand Vizier, Grand Mufti and fifteen of the Sultan’s advisers were ripped apart by the soldiers, Murad IV has reaped his revenge and killed about twenty thousand of the mutineers. Sultan Murad has also banned tobacco, coffee and boza - the favourite drink of the soldiers in the city.” Murad paused for a moment and once again looked around the courtyard. “The Janissary council here realises that if the Sultan so wished he could turn his attentions on Algiers so they are more than willing to accommodate. If I had approached the Dey directly, even in the small matter of acquiring a slave, the sensitivity over possible interference might have created tensions. The Valide Sultana commissioned Martino to negotiate with Ali Bitchnin and to make a satisfactory financial arrangement before he revealed the source of the money.”
Catherine bristled at the reference to being a slave but her mood relaxed a little as she appreciated Murad’s candour. He noticed this and continued his explanation. “You are to be honoured by an appointment to a woman’s hospital and also to attend the harem of the Imperial Palace. By now there are nearly seven hundred women in the serai and your surgical expertise is required for their care as well as their children. In addition the Valide has picked two women for apprenticeship to you for the four years. It will be your duty to train them.”
Despite Catherine's reservations about how it had come about she felt a strange sense of wonderment and expectation at the opportunity afforded to few westerners. ‘Constantinople. The city of gold,’ she dwelt on this thought momentarily until an image of Djivo interrupted it. She needed to find him. “I must go Murad. Do you know where I might find Djivo Slavujovic?”
Murad smiled. “He is working near the Mosque at present. I will arrange for him to meet you later at the villa of Murat Reis. He may spend the night with you. I will clear the arrangement with the bano commander.”
Catherine stuttered. “Thh . . . thank you Murad Corbasi. Is there any news of Murat?” The Janissary officer had already begun to leave the courtyard but he stopped and turned back to look at Catherine. “No, except that he is still alive.” Murad smiled again. “By the way, do not worry about Martino. I will be travelling to Constantinople with you. I have been promoted to Aga of the Bursa orta. Think of me as your shaykh or guide in your voyage of discovery.”

Chapter 18 
Algiers. 20th February 1633

Once the meal had ended Catherine was led to the guest quarters of Murat Reis’s villa. She tried to protest but Su`da, the Dutchman’s wife would have none of it and giggling like a schoolgirl conspirator helped wash and comb Catherine’s hair before presenting her with the most beautiful embroidered silk gown. In the room the low bed was covered with its winter furs and she sat on its edge feeling their warmth. She could hear movement outside and then with great ceremony and much mirth Su`da came in with a pair of slippers which she placed at the end of the bed. She then withdrew laughing quietly to herself.
After what seemed an eternity to Catherine, Djivo entered, the passageway light casting his shadow across the floor to meet her. While watching her watch him he slowly removed his robes and washed his hands and feet. Finishing he held a towel about his waist and shivered slightly in the cold night air as he walked towards her. She laughed at his nervousness and picking up one of the slippers threw it at him. “Serves you right for preening about like a shorn goat.” 
He plucked it out of the air and dropped it to the floor. “And you my darling look like a goddess.” Djivo dropped the towel and sat down beside her.
Catherine flushed at the compliment as she could feel his warmth beside her. When he finally reached out to touch her she felt all previous restraint evaporate and her passion ignite explosively. It flamed as he lifted her gown over her head and keeping her arms aloft ran his hands down from her finger tips, gently and slowly, to touch every part of her by now quivering body. He then kissed her soul and the two joined first in the instinctive animal passion of mating but soon again in the mutual exploration of each other’s pleasure. Many days later Catherine tried to remember the moments but could not isolate one crescendo from another, fused as they were in an exhausting finale. They did not speak apart from calling each other’s name and sleep soon enveloped them both.

The light of the next morning’s sunrise filtered into the room and both stirred lazily before disentangling. After rising to wash and perform their ablutions they once again returned to their lovemaking, this time like two tiger cubs playing in the long grass. Later still when sitting back on the bed, Djivo told Catherine all about his life and how he had finally come to be in the galley. He briefly outlined his mission from the Order and the significance of the Scrolls. He had planned on telling her more but was afraid that it might place her in danger. 
Catherine realised that he was being cautious about something but said nothing. She then told him of her own life including the relationship with Boyle, back in Ireland and also of what had had to do more recently when she realised she was pregnant following the rape. 
Djivo held her tightly. “I wondered about that. What happened?”
Catherine moved away slightly so she could watch his face as she spoke. “About a week after the bleeding was finished I developed a fever and began bleeding again. Only for the skill of Suarez I might have died.” She paused for a second, tears welling in her eyes. “Because of the caustics he used to stem the flow it is unlikely that I will able to bear children in the future.”
Djivo leant over and gently kissed away the first tears tracking down across her cheek. “That will never be an issue between us Katerina. My brother Stefan has more than enough progeny to ensure the survival of the Slavujovic clan. If we have each other, my darling, it would be more than I dared hope.” Djivo stopped briefly to push the dampened hair away from her face. “My heart has longed for the love that I feel for you, and the beginning and end of that love will always be you. Nothing else matters and whether we die old or tomorrow it will only beat its rhythm to your drum.” Djivo then leant over to caress Catherine’s breast. 
She pushed his hand away gently. “Stop for a moment. I want to organise some food. I have regained an appetite I had lost, in more ways than one.” Catherine laughed as she got up. Putting on the embroidered gown she left the room and could be heard talking with Chico’s servant in the courtyard. As she returned to the room she paused in the doorway, watching him before slowly moving her hand until it was held close against her knee. 
Djivo glanced up at that moment and she saw that he had noticed. The shocked expression on his face said it all. “How do you know the signal of recognition?” 
Catherine joined him at the bedside. She held her finger up to his mouth until the servant she had organised to bring in some food had left. Both were ravenous and little was said again until they finished. Catherine was the first to speak. “There are very few female masons as indeed there are few female surgeons. The Guild of Barber-Surgeons in Dublin, the Guild of Saint Mary Magdelene, also functions as a Lodge. That is how I first met Boyle, although I am very low in the ranking.”
Djivo studied her for a moment. “Why did you decide to test me?”
Catherine shivered in the chill February morning air. “I guessed you were holding something back and I wanted no secrets between us, either personal or because of oaths. In any event I feel somehow that our meeting was pre-ordained.”
Djivo leant forward and wrapping her in a sable shawl, kissed her again. “You are right - our being together is no accident.”
Catherine was disturbed by Djivo’s matter of fact acknowledgement. “What do you mean?”
Djivo settled her back against the pillows and pulled the furs around her. He remained seated at the edge of the bed and with almost palpable relief then began telling her of his quest. “We, and by that I mean you and me, as initiates of the Scottish Rite are supposed to be the modern inheritors of a world order that has existed in some form or other since time immemorial. Freemasonry has its origins in the discovery of ancient and sacred histories which were found hidden in the vaults beneath the site of the old Temple in Jerusalem in 1120 by the founders of the Templar Order. The discovery was apparently no accident as the founding Knights had deliberately set about establishing the Order’s headquarters in Herod’s former stables. This then allowed them to begin excavating in secret beneath the old Temple walls. Their primary purpose in digging however, was not - as many generations have supposed - to recover the treasure stored there by the Jews before the Romans destroyed the Temple but ancient copper scrolls and other parchments which purported to document the relationship of mankind and God from the beginning of time. Nobody apparently knows how the Templar Knights came to know of the existence of the treasure and these Scrolls but the secret degrees of Freemasonry are apparently a map to understanding their provenance.”
Catherine frowned - aware now that her own level of initiation was restricted. 
Djivo noticed. “For this reason the President of the Council of the Sant’Iago order ensured I was initiated into a degree of masonry which would provide a starting point for my search. The rituals involved implied that there continued to exist pockets of men of priestly virtue who had kept their faith pure throughout the centuries of time and who were instructed in the great secrets and knowledge of the past. Furthermore the ritual of the Perfect Lodge suggested that some of these priests had accompanied the First Crusade to help regain Jerusalem and had initiated some select Knights - those who subsequently became the original nine members of the Templar Order - into the ancient ways of secret lodges. Thus the rebirth of Freemasonry in the West. I reasoned from all of the available information I had access to, that the most likely guardians of these secrets would have to have been some form of priestly or monastic Jewish cult who had remained isolated from Judea and thus Roman persecution. If I could prove that such a cult still existed I might then be able to get a lead to the Scrolls.” 
Catherine watched as Djivo stood up and walked across the room to the window. He began to close the shutters. 
“I, in all reality Katerina, did not know where to start. By chance, shortly after my masonic initiation in Naples, I had to travel to Sicily to investigate quarries that might produce suitable stone for our work in Naples. I was accompanied there by a certain Captain Alonzo de Contreras, a Knight of Saint John and recently Governor of the Island of Pantanalea. He regaled us with barely believable stories of his numerous exploits. My other companion was an engineer called Gever de Triana who was also an Arabic scholar, and who acted as our interpreter. Throughout our travels in the regions of Calabria and Sicily I kept hearing about the golden age of Roger II de Hautville, King of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily. This King Roger was renowned for his wisdom and most of all his religious tolerance.”
Catherine patted the side of the bed indicating for Djivo to sit down again. 
“This, needless to say, was a most unusual trait for a Christian King of his era, particularly given the ferocity of the war waged by his uncle Robert Guiscard and father Roger, the first Count of Sicily to defeat the Arab and Berber tribes of Sicily, and the subsequent barbaric deeds perpetrated by their fellow Normans in exterminating Jews and Muslims in the cities of the Holy Land, during the First Crusade. I was intrigued about the circumstances that might have led to this enlightened and almost spiritual leadership so soon after those bloody conquests. This and all we had heard prompted me to search for more information on the Norman king. By accident we stumbled upon some writings of his, in the archives of the sacristy of the Cappella Palatina on the first floor of the Palazzo Reale. These again were a most unusual finding as given the fact that most Knights of the time were probably illiterate, Roger II had the apparent facility to write in Greek, Latin and Arabic as well as Italian and Norman French. In one of the documents Gever found that Roger refers to a friend of his father, one Geoffroy de Montescaglioso also known as Geoffroy Bise, who had fought with the Count when he removed the Arabs from Noto in 1091.” Djivo looked at Catherine to see if there was any reaction and when none was obvious continued his story. “This hit me like a thunderbolt. Was this the same Geoffroy Bise whom I knew to have been one of the nine founder Knights of the Templars? Something must have happened in Sicily that influenced Roger II and his father’s friend Geoffroy Bise to establish an enlightened regime in Sicily and yet encourage the continuation of the Holy War further afield. Were they trying to protect their interests in Sicily by encouraging Pope Urban’s call to arms and the subsequent crusade to rid the Holy Land of the Seljuk and the threat to Sicily? Unfortunately there were no further clues to this but of more interest Roger II’s writings kept mentioning the name of a man whom Geoffroy Bise and his mother Adelaide had arranged to be his tutor when they moved the seat of Norman rule from Messina to Palermo after the death of Roger’s father when he was only six years of age. The tutor’s name was Benjamin al-Ukbari and he was a Jew from Djerba - an island off the coast of Tunisia. This provided the second fortunate coincidence for my search as the Sant’Iago order had already established that the Scrolls had been kept at one time on that very island. My excitement was enormous but I needed to establish the connection.”

Panel in Church of Santa Mari dell'Ammiraglio, Palermo, Sicily
 showing George of Antioch

Djivo stopped for a second and leaning over squeezed Catherine’s hand. “As chance would have it the Jewish quarter in Palermo is very close to the church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio. Interestingly, the church which had been built by Roger II’s admiral George of Antioch - the man who created a brief North African empire in eastern Tunisia for his King - had a mosaic which showed King Roger being crowned directly by Christ and not by the Pope, whose blessing was normally represented. I learnt that most of the people in the quarter were descendants of Jews who had emigrated from Tunisia during the time of the brief Norman occupation. As I walked, one day, down its central street I approached a group of old men and asked if anyone who could tell me more of the life of Benjamin al-Ukbari. They were polite but gave no information.
That same evening I had a visitor to my lodgings. He was a very old man, nearly blind from cataracts, and accompanied by a small boy who showed him the way. He wore a white hooded cloak. and introduced himself as Jacob ben Moses Erridah. After greeting Gever and de Contreras in Spanish he spoke to me in Venetian. Now very few people speak Venetian, least of all in Sicily where the Genovese had more influence but he indicated that he knew I was a Ragusan and would understand. He asked that Gever and de Contreras would take the small boy outside so that he could talk to me in private. I agreed and once alone, no more than with you tonight, he then gave me a secret sign.
I was flummoxed. I asked if he was Jewish and he said yes. I then asked him how he was aware of the secret acknowledgement and his story is so incredible that I still cannot fathom why I was entrusted with the information. I remember leading him to a cushioned bench near the window. Outside you could hear the light hearted voices of people returning from their evening stroll on the Marina. The peeling bellsounds of the many nearby churches seemed to vibrate for an unearthly time in the still night air. The old man Jacob settled himself and began his story.” Djivo hesitated and then moved up the bed to sit closer to Catherine. He wrapped one hand around her shoulders and she snuggled into his warmth.
“Go on Djivo, complete the whole story. It really is most interesting,” Catherine purred from beneath the furs.
He looked at her for a long time before pulling her even closer. “There are moments in one’s life like tonight and that night which, no matter what else transpires, will always remain etched in clarity. At the start I was only half listening to him, still puzzled by this old Jew’s knowledge of the secret signal. As if he could sense this, Jacob ben Moses Erridah asked me to sit down as well. I remember him talking my hand and tracing the palm lines before he spoke again, ‘Do you know that today is the 9th of Av, the holy day that most Jews observe as the anniversary of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples? It is also the anniversary of the fall of Bethar, the final battle of the revolt that Bar Kochba led against the Romans. Tomorrow is the day that I and my brothers observe but none the less it is still a day of great significance. My knowledge of the secret signal that you associate with the rites of what goyim call freemasonry, is a mark of the sequence of my identity and predates, by thousands of years, your own knowledge and current comprehension. However, I will explain. If you look to the east you can see the Palace dell Vittoria allo Spasimo. On the ground floor is situated the small church of Sancta Maria in one of whose chapels is the door through which Robert and Roger de Hautville entered the city in 1072. You will be surprised to learn that my ancestor acted as a dragoman or interpreter to Roger I, Count of Sicily.’ I become excited at the mention of King Roger’s father and tried, unsuccessfully, to hide it from Jacob.” ‘Your ancestor?’ I enquired. ‘Yes, Benjamin Al-Ukbari,' he continued. 'The man you asked about in the street today. That is why I am here. Not many Christians since the time of King Roger II have asked of him. I want to know why.' I felt by now completely at ease and did not hesitate to tell this old man of my quest and how I had found mention of his ancestors name in Roger II’s writings. When I finished my account, the old Jew said nothing for a while before whistling softly. ‘badonenu! ’ Jacob then continued . . .”
Djivo saw that Catherine looked puzzled. “Sorry Katerina I am probably going too fast. Badonenu is word of surprise used in the ghetto’s of Venice.”
Catherine shook her head. “No Djivo. Go on.”
“Well. Jacob explained that by the time Roger de Hautville, Count of Sicily, had captured Noto he had been joined by about one hundred and fifty knights from Apulia. One of those Knights was Geoffroy of Montescaglioso also known as Geoffroy Bise - a nickname which means ‘north wind’. He and Roger had become firm friends and when Geoffroy was injured in the attack he was put in Roger’s own headquarters and tended by a Jewish physician called Benjamin Al-Ukbari. This man was highly skilled and during Geoffroy’s recovery spent a great deal of time in conversations with both himself and Roger I. He let it be known that he was a senior member of the community of Hara Seghira or Erridah a number of whom had settled in Palermo about twenty years earlier. According to Jacob it was because of these conversations with Benjamin that Roger and Geoffroy became aware of the possible existence of a secret legacy buried beneath the site of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and both made an oath to try and somehow recover them.”
Djivo shivered slightly and Catherine pulled another sable around them. “I was anxious that Jacob ben Moses would come to the point. La Magione was a Teutonic Order preceptory and I was unsure whether there were hidden ears in its thickly panelled walls. Although, as we continued to conduct the conversation in Venetian, I felt reasonably safe. ‘What do you mean by the community of Hara Seghira and what was their interest in the Temple?’ I asked of him. Old Jacob then gave an another signal which left me in no doubt that I was being sworn to secrecy.
‘Why me ?’ I enquired.
‘It is ordained. May I have some water?’
I got up and poured some water into a goblet from a cloth covered pitcher that lay on a nearby table. Jacob took a long draught before continuing-
‘About 500 years before the birth of Christ a small group of Jews escaped from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple of Soloman by the Babylonians. They were Jebusites –' ”
“What are Jebusites?” It was Catherine’s turn to ask the question.
Djivo thought for a moment. “Jacob told me that when David became King of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah he had to contend with the presence of the city state of Jerusalem right in the heart of his new Kingdom. The city was inhabited by the Jebusites a people of Caanite origin whose God was called El Elyon or God most high. The taking of the city was without bloodshed and the Judeans and Jebusites integrated. Indeed Zadok the chief priest of the Jebusites ultimately became the Chief Priest of the Temple of the Arc of the Covenant and all subsequent Chief Priests of Jerusalem have had to been able to trace their lineage to Zadok since then. There existed among the Jebusites a group of priestly initiates who were instructed in the secret and ancient knowledge that stretched back thousands of years. It was a group of these who were forced to flee Jerusalem from the Babylonians. I remember that Jacob became very intense at that point and began speaking in a much lower voice. Perhaps, he also was concerned about hidden ears. I had great difficulty in understanding him at first as he began to speak in Hebrew before realising my discomfort and switching back to Venetian, ‘This group of initiates were known as the ‘pious ones’ and traced the origin of their devotion to the discovery of the book of Deuteronomy in the Temple and Joshua’s enforcement of the rules contained within it. They travelled through Egypt and settled on the small island of Djerba off the coast of Tunisia. They had also taken with them from Jerusalem the sacred histories of the Jewish people and they established in the centre of Djerba the Synagogue of El-Gharida and the community of Erridah. From its very beginning these priests rigidly applied the dictates of scripture. The community was only for celibate men and they had to undergo a series of secret purification’s, the tohorot. These initiations included most of the Jebusite tradition and others that had been developed by the Jews of Egypt, when they formed secret craft societies following the death of Joseph. These craft societies had both a practical and spiritual purpose designed to preserve a pure Jewish religious tradition undiluted by outside influences as well as a powerful and exclusive repository of the knowledge of human sciences. The community of Erridah and its practice of mitzvot or separation from society, was instrumental in the establishment of the Sadduces and more secret sects such as the Essenes and the Quamrans. Indeed it also has influenced our Islamic neighbours as Djerba is home of the extremely orthodox Kharijites’. Jacob then asked for more water at that stage. He seemed inordinately thirsty and I also noticed, as the night wore on, that the shakes in his hands were becoming much worse. When at one point some of the liquid spilt from the goblet as he brought it to his lips I, without thinking, dabbed it away. He smiled warmly at me, I remember, showing a mouth near empty of teeth. ‘Thank you Dom Djivo. My seventy years on this temporary journey will soon rattle to an end. Where was I? Oh yes - the community of Erridah. Since the sixth century of your calendar, Djerba has been the home of the amoraim and the guardian of the true cabbala. The elders as inheritors of the esoteric Jebusite tradition of yorede merkabah - the heavenly chariot ride - would, when it was deemed necessary at critical junctions in our history, in order to preserve the Jewish faith from external forces, ensure that gentiles were initiated into some of the ancient secrets. By exposing selected individuals to this knowledge and gently guiding them along the pathway to the Truth, our faith’s survival could be ensured. The development of other mystical societies such as your Freemasonry lodges and the tekkes of the Turks, were secretly encouraged to formalise the acquisition of the Knowledge among influential groups of individuals. Indeed the rituals of the turuq or organisations of Sufism are very similar to your mason’s rites. The founders of these secret societies would never know that they were being manipulated. The only requirement the ‘pious ones’ insisted on was a belief in the almighty and an acceptance that there was good and evil and that evil, the lot of Belial, could be marginalized. Once initiated into the knowledge each individual was permitted to find his own pathway to the Truth. In Sufism, for instance, the final degree of initiation of an individual’s path to ma’rifah - or self-knowledge - is known as arif bi llah which means ‘known by God’. You are now well along that pathway –' ”

Entrance to Palatine Chapel, Palazzo Reale,
Palermo, Sicily.

There was a sudden gust of wind and one of the shutters flew open. Djivo got up from the bed and went to close it. Outside he could hear the ‘kewick’ call of a young tawny owl. He lingered there for a while, listening, before returning to sit beside Catherine. “Jacob then went on to tell me that Benjamin Al-Ukbari, his ancestor and the man I had enquired about, was a nasi or prince of the karaite sect, the eighth century messianic movement whose founder Anan ben David had been initiated in the synagogue of El-Garida. He had apparently come to Djerba to seek out his spiritual home and once fully purified had been sent to Sicily to establish contact with the Norman invaders. The Jewish community recognised that their people faced increasing pressure to convert not only from the forces of Islam but now also from the militancy of Christendom. It was Benjamin who planted the seeds of a new order by telling Roger I, Count of Sicily and Geoffroy Bise of the treasure and secrets hidden by a group of Essenes beneath the Temple of Jerusalem before the Romans sacked the city about 70 years after the birth of Our Lord. It was also Benjamin who had initiated these Normans into to the ancient knowledge of the ‘great light of the day and the lesser light of the night’.”
Djivo shivered and Catherine once again pulled the fur covers around him. He snuggled closer before continuing, “Roger and Geoffroy shortly afterwards joined forces with Bohemond, Robert Guiscard’s disinherited son, to help suppress a revolt in Apulia. When Bohemond then joined the First Crusade he took many of Roger’s Knights with him including Geoffroy Bise. Roger and Benjamin, who by this time was the Count’s dragoman, returned to Sicily to consolidate the Norman dominion there. Bohemond was successful in capturing Antioch from the Turks and was still in that city when Jerusalem fell. He was unable, therefore, to prevent the massacre of its karaite inhabitants who were burnt alive with their rabbinical counterparts. Jacob told me that his people had a word for the majority of these blood thirsty Crusaders. They were known as to’im or misguided wanderers. Bohemond and Geoffroy, the ‘guided’ initiates, however soon made their pilgrimage to the Holy City to survey the Temple but as Bohemond was soon fully occupied governing Antioch, Geoffroy was delegated to seek out other Knights and initiate them. At the same time he sought permission to have these stationed on the Mount, ostensibly to guard pilgrims. Two of the earliest initiates were Hugues de Payen and Henri St Clair and when they returned to Europe, to drum up more support, Geoffroy stayed on in Jerusalem. Roger de Hautville in the meantime, before dying in 1101, had established in Messina a centralised efficient government for the island of Sicily. He had also ensured that Benjamin Al-Ukbari would become his young son’s tutor. This is the child who grew up to become Roger II and whose reign in Sicily was characterised by religious tolerance and learning and who from very modest beginnings became one of the most powerful political figures of his day. Although fully initiated by Benjamin he never went to Jerusalem as he felt his path to the Truth lay in Sicily. His influence however was not lost as his father’s friend Geoffroy arranged for Roger II’s widowed mother, Adelaide, to marry Baldwin I of Jerusalem. It was from the same Baldwin that Geoffroy Bise was trying to get permission to station his new Order of Knights on the Temple Mount. Roger II hoped to help Geoffroy by using his mother’s new position as Queen of Jerusalem to obtain it. The plan did not work however as Baldwin proceeded to spend all of his Adelaide’s dowry then divorced her on spurious grounds and had her returned to Sicily three years later.
It was only when Baldwin II succeeded his uncle, in 1118, as King of Jerusalem that permission was finally granted to Huges de Payen and Hugh of Champagne to establish the Templar Knights and have them stationed in Herod’s stables. This permission had been ensured by Roger II’s nephew Bohemond’s influence with Baldwin who had been the Count of Antioch’s neighbour Odessa before becoming King in Jerusalem. Over the next few years the founding members of the Templars, including Geoffroy Bise, excavated part of the Essene legacy in secret and it is that legacy that we - you and I, Katerina - have encountered in its Freemasonry dressing. I knew then that I was the latest link in the sequence of the Secret but was still hesitant. I remember trying to get old Jacob to elaborate some more about my own role and also about the Scrolls I had been searching for. He smiled indulgently at me. The way my father sometimes would, ‘Dom Djivo - you must find your own way to the Truth. I am just Uzzah the guide. The Scrolls you seek will shadow your destiny’. I remember feeling exhausted at that point, trying to digest all of the information. I did not understand the riddle he posed and said so, ‘What do you mean by Uzzah?’
Jacob I remember sighed indulgently. ‘Whenever the community of Erridah felt it necessary to intervene they would delegate an elder and senior initiate to make contact with the world. Uzzah was the son of Abinadad, a priestly Levite and descendant of Kohath, in whose house the Arc of the Covenant was kept before King David ordered its transfer to Jerusalem. On the journey the oxen pulling the cart stumbled and as the guide Uzzah put his hand out to stop the Arc from falling over God immediately struck him down for touching the Arc. We acknowledge this possibility as a community that in our efforts to distract the oppressors of our faith, our covenant with the Lord, it is equally likely that we may meet the same fate. The commonweal of the nation is far more important that the hurt of one individual. I am a guide and no more. The journey you must take’. Jacob suddenly got up at that point and was making to leave. I moved towards the door, aware that I was rudely blocking his exit. I felt ill at ease at the necessity to do so but it was important. ‘Moreno ben Moses, what of the Scrolls?’ I asked. He looked at me with tired eyes. ‘After Pilate’s brutal attack on the Samaritans at Mount Gerizim and his recall to Rome, and subsequent execution, by Gaius Caligula, one of his retinue, Marcus a nephew of Philo of Alexandria, had taken a number of megilloth or parchment scrolls from Pilate’s palace in Caesarea and made his way to Fostat. In year seventy of your Christian calendar at the sack of the Temple, despite what the Templars may have found, much of the Essene repository was rescued and taken via Fostat - the Cairo of today -to Djerba. There the sacred Pentateuch, the Aramacic Targum of the Prophets, the Targum Onkelos and the Scrolls that you seek, were stored in the synagogue of El-Ghriba. It is also said about the synagogue that one of the doors of the Temple of Soloman was rescued and incorporated into its structure. You know of the rest and what you have told me is accurate. My only advice to you is to think of our nasi’s island on your quest.’ - ”
Djivo lifted Catherine’s hand and placed against his forehead. “Jacob ben Moses then placed his hand on my forehead like this and spoke as if about to impart a blessing. ‘Do you know that El-Ghriba means the ‘God of strangers’. El was the God of Canaan whom we now call Yahweh. For you however the pathway to truth is linked with another. She is to be the true guardian of your destiny. A gift of the sea. I must go now. By the way be wary of the Spanish Captain, de Contreras’. ‘She - a woman, what do you . . .’ I stuttered. But before I could finish the question the old man had pushed passed me and finding the young boy waiting they left as silently as they came.”
Djivo had finished recounting the story and his head sagged. Catherine could feel his arm drift from her shoulders and she looked at him. He was watching her with tired eyes. “The woman he referred to, was obviously you Katerina. The morning after our meeting a package arrived for me. Opening it, I found a copy of al-Farabi’s De scientiis with an inscription from the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon, Chapter Ten, Verses thirteen and fourteen on its inner leaf. There was no signature but beneath the verse, written in very ornate script was the single word, Asithane.”
Catherine felt a shiver race down her spine. All her life she was sure that her destiny was been shaped by forces unknown. “Asithane, what is that?”
Djivo looked eastwards towards the rising sun that now appeared in the veranda doorway. “It is the Persian for Constantinople, it means ‘House of State’. It is our destiny that we will next meet there. In the meantime I will be true to your memory and my love for you.”
At that moment - before Catherine could say anything more - a servant entered and informed Djivo that the corbasi was waiting outside for him. He robed quickly and left the room. After some minutes he returned and Catherine rose to meet him. “What is it Djivo?”
He embraced her. “I am also to depart Algiers. I am being sent to Constantine for my own safety and to work on the aqueduct there. I am to travel with the tax collectors. Immediately.”

With that Djivo dressed and after giving her one last - almost suffocating - kiss was gone. For some time after he had left, Catherine sat on the bed, rocking back and forth as she held one of the fur spreads close to her face. The scent of their lovemaking was everywhere. Su’da eventually came in and the two women held hands, sharing for a brief moment in time their mutual pain. “Su’da I will do everything I can to have Murat returned to you. That is my solemn promise.” 
The beautiful Moroccan girl’s tears fell freely as she embraced Catherine.

©R.Derham 2001,2009