Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 15)

Chapter 26 
April 10th 1637

Catherine was annoyed by the summons to the reception rooms at the far end of the hospital but was surprised however when she was greeted warmly by a tall dark-haired man. It took a moment or so for her to recognise the Janissary officer as he had grown a very full beard and had aged noticeably. “Murad. It is good to see you. I heard that you had gone to Persia with the army. Are you well?”
Black Murad watched as she dismissed the eunuch who had accompanied her. “You look very well Catherine, although a little pale. The sea air suited you better.”
Catherine brought him a glass of sherbet from a nearby table. “Thank you Murad. It has been a busy winter here in the hospital. The plague has been cruel on the women and children. The tears of Allah!” She sat down on one of the rug-covered divans. He joined her saying very little. “What is it Murad? Have you news of Djivo or Murat Reis? I have heard nothing this last season.”
Murad looked at her warmly. “No Catherine. I am not here with news of your young Ragusan. I am sorry...” He paused for a few seconds, “I hear that you are considering converting to Islam and that you continue to test the best of the ulema and cadi, with your enquiries and your understanding of the shariah law.”
Catherine realised that it was futile to hide anything from the corbasi. His information could only have come from the very highest sources. “It is true Murad and my decision is imminent. It is not a difficult course to accept the farz and it is one that I embrace.”
Murad smiled. “God by his Grace guided the Believers to the Truth, concerning that wherein they differed. For God guides whom He will, to a path that is straight.” He looked at her with understanding eyes. “I knew that this day could possibly come Catherine. Rabbi Joseph had intimated as such and now my role is to help you fulfil the destiny of your path.”
Catherine had recognised the quotation from the second Sura of the Quran and then remembered the words of Rabbi Joseph on the ship in Smyrna and how they had confused her at the time. Their meaning was now suddenly clear. 
Murad continued, “I have been instructed by our patron, the Valide Sultana, to ask whether you would consider becoming an asik or candidate for membership of the Bektasi order. As an ’arif of the organisation I will be your guide to becoming a muhib or friend.” He sipped the sherbet while trying to gauge Catherine’s initial response. “What do you say?”
Her thoughts were racing. She knew that of all the Sufi Orders, the Bektasi was the only one that fully included women. This would be a great honour but unlike her freemasonry initiation, would accelerate her contemplated departure from her Christian roots. “Murad. Do not take what I say as a rejection but it is my nature to try and fully understand before stepping forth. Are you able to explain what is involved?”
Murad relaxed, this he had expected and Catherine had not said no outright. “As you aware in earlier times the frontier societies were served by semi-mystical clerics known as baba’s. From these men arose a number of teachers whose individual piety and learning elevated them to sainthood. They carried with them the inheritance of millennia of knowledge and aspired to formalise this in such a way that would provide a meaningful structured experience for society. With each generation certain individuals are chosen by God’s intercession to tread the Path to perfection so that by their example all our lives become enhanced. Whether you wish it or not, Catherine, this is your destiny.”
Catherine’s eyes flickered brightly. 
Murad continued. “The Bektasi order was founded by the Saint - Hacci Bektas. For an individual to attain the summit he or she must pass through the Four Doors of the Path.”
Catherine stood up to refill their goblets. “The Four Doors. Whatever do you mean?”
Murad looked puzzled for a second, searching for a cohesive explanation. “The First Door, called the seriat, challenges the candidate with the task of understanding orthodox shariah law. A challenge you have already overcome Catherine. The Second Door, the tarikat, when opened demands that the candidate learn the body of the religious teachings of the Order. When these two pathways have been travelled and the candidate is deemed suitable then the marifet door is opened. The steps of this avenue reveal, progressively, the experience and knowledge of the baba’s such as ibn-al’-Arab and al-Sutirawandi and it initiates the candidate into the mystical secrets of God. This is the area that Rabbi Joseph was instructing me in, as the similarities with the Cabbal and freemasonry are striking. The final door and one that is opened to very few is the hakikat . This is where the candidate carrying the keys of the marifet can finally attain the immediate experience of God. The Truth. The journey’s end of the Path.”
Catherine looked at the Janissary soldier. “Have you attained this Murad?”
His face became passive and a sense of deep calmness settled in the room. “To be truthful I am not sure that anyone apart from the saints truly attains the hakikat but I do at times feel the warmth of Allah’s hand on my shoulder. I am a seyh and you, in time, could become my khalifah or successor. What is your answer Catherine?”
She smiled at him warmly. “I will accept your offer of guidance Murad. It is the will of Allah.”
Murad came and embraced her. “You will be surprised by some of the people that you will meet at the tekke and its only fair that I warn you now. For instance the Patriarch Loukaris is also a member of our lodge. For him the Path is an intellectual exploration rather than a route to Islam. His curiosity, however, carries with it great danger. I understand that the spies of France have an inkling of his involvement and plan to use it against him with Beiram Pasha, the Grand Vizier.”
Catherine looked at her companion for a long time before asking. “Do you wish that I use this information to warn the Patriarch?”
Murad had turned to leave the room but stopped short of the doorway. “Perhaps. You will have to judge for yourself Catherine. I know that you and Loukaris have become friends. I will talk with you again next week when I will introduce you to our tekke for the first time.”

Chapter 27
Archbishop’s Palace, Lambeth, London 
30th June 1637

There was a loud knock on the door of the study and William Laud - the Archbishop of Canterbury since 1632 - was visibly irritated at the disturbance. His small oval face, pushed up by the high frilled clerical collar he wore, reddened quickly. In addition the continuous flapping motion of his arms gave a fin-like motion to his hands. The overall effect was, as one observer said, like ‘looking at a mullet’. 
“Come in,” Laud barked. “I thought I left instructions that we were not to be disturbed.”
The door opened and his secretary’s apologies were cut short by the figure of Bishop Matthew Wren pushing past him and into the room.
“I am sorry my Lord Archbishop but I have hastened here from the Palace Yard at Westminster where there was an unruly commotion at the pillorying of Prynne, Burton and Bastwicke.”
Laud did not rise and accepted Wrens formal kiss of his outstretched ring finger. His other guest got up to leave. “If you so wish my Lord Archbishop, I will go and let you and Bishop Wren have your privacy.”
Laud motioned for him to resume his seat. “No Pococke. Stay! This will be instructive and it has pertinence for our own discussions.”
The Archbishop then turned back to face Wren and it was only at that point he saw how agitated he was. Laud stood up to get a glass of wine for his guest indicating at the same time a chair for Wren to sit in. “What ails you Matthew? What’s happened at Westminster?”
Wren slumped into the chair and accepting the wine, gulped it down unceremoniously. It was some time before he recovered his composure and was able to speak. “There was a huge crowd gathered at the Yard in support of the seditious three. As they were marched to the pillory these supporters scattered the leaves of rosemary and sweet herbs ahead of their path. They were also offered cups of wine and agua-vitae to fortify their spirits and . . .” Wren paused for a moment then slowly raised his eyes to meet Laud’s, “...worst of all was when Burton’s wife got up on a stool to kiss him to great acclaim from the rabble. The three then stood in the hot sun for two hours each giving a sermon. Prynne the longest of all.”
The Archbishop’s face had reddened again and he spluttered into his own wine glass. Wren stopped talking but Laud waved him on.
“When at last the executioner approached to cut off their ears, Bastwicke, the physician, took the trouble to instruct the man in how to do it properly. He even produced a new surgical scalpel for the purpose. The executioner was particularly rough with Prynne before taking his ears but once done the mob surged forward to dip their handkerchiefs in the spilt blood. The rabble by this time had become very angry and I had to make my exit. As I left I overheard someone remarking that Papists would not have been treated worse. It was an ugly scene and, I fear, bodes ill for our efforts.” Wren appeared to crumple, exhausted by the effort to suppress the frightened tremor in his voice. 
Laud said nothing for a while but then looked directly at his fellow Bishop. “Wren. Steady yourself. I was right to prosecute those men for speaking against the Bishops and if I need remind you, you in particular, if we do not take the Puritans and the Calvinists head on then our beloved Church in England will sink without trace.”
Wren sat erect with the rebuke ringing in his ears. “My Lord Archbishop. I am your most fervent champion but even in Norwich I sense the rising tide of popular hostility against our deliberations.”
Laud stroked his goatee with rapid strokes. “I am also concerned Matthew but it must not deflect us from our course. Return to Norwich with my blessing. Stoke the fires and put today’s events behind you.” There was a sudden lull and unsure Wren stood up and made to leave. Laud called after him in almost a detached voice. “Tell me was Prynne branded as ordered.”
Wren was no longer suprised by his Lord Archbishop’s single-minded pursuit of justice as he saw it. “Yes with the letters SL on his face.”
Laud smiled for the first time. “Good. Now Matthew. Do not let me detain you any longer. I thank you for the information. We will meet again in August at Oatlands with the King. By that time today’s commotion will be forgotten. Good night to you.”

The Archbishop and Pococke watched as Wren departed. Laud waited for the door to close behind him before turning back to face his other companion. “You look somewhat bemused Pococke.”
The younger cleric nodded his head. “I have been out of touch for sometime but since returning have heard rumours that you are negotiating with Rome. Is it true?” Pococke was pensive, unsure of what Laud’s reaction would be.
The Archbishop appeared nonplussed but replied in a reasonable tone. “My young friend. While you have been abroad in the east, the Puritans and the Calvinists have tried to stymie all my attempts to revive the Church in England which, as you know, has fallen into a sorry state of physical and moral decay. Some of these measures are as innocuous as the wearing of surplices or having a communion altar at the east end of church naves. Of more radical consequence however, is the re-introduction of the Book of Cannons for services in Scotland. This plan has been delayed for a year but next month will see its resolution.” Laud stopped to study his visitor carefully, then continued, “It is true that I have had discussions with leaders of the Catholic Church, such as Franciscus of Santa Clara but I am also in communication with leaders of many other Christian Churches. This exercise is intellectual however and not some errant popish plot. My foremost duty is to the King and his desire to formalise the workings of the Church he is responsible for. Regardless of the rumours you hear do not misjudge my intentions.”
Edward Pococke moved uneasily in his chair as Laud continued. “As you are aware the King’s beloved queen is the god-daughter of the Pope and she has gathered about herself an influential group of Catholics and converts. She dislikes me but in the interests of His Majesty I have maintained good relations with Panzani the Vatican envoy and with Hamilton the Queen’s envoy to Rome.”
Pococke was by now remorsefully embarrassed. “I am sorry, my Lord Archbishop, if I implied any wrongdoing.”
Laud was conciliatory. “It is not necessary to apologise Edward. I have always appreciated your forthrightness and the sincerity of your views. Indeed, it is my respect for your integrity that prompted our meeting today. I have an important mission for you to undertake.”

Pococke although relieved had a puzzled look on his face. “Mission, my Lord Archbishop! What do you have you in mind?”
Laud dithered somewhat before coming to the point. “I want . . . I want you to return to the Levant.”
Pococke sat bolt upright in his chair. “But my Lord, I have only just taken up the Chair of Arabic Studies that you created for me in Oxford. Why return now?”
Laud motioned for Pococke to relax. “As you are now aware the King and I are been assailed by our detractors and it is essential that we collect ammunition with which we can suppress their rantings. There is news of an ancient manuscript in the hands of Patriarch Loukaris in Constantinople which might be all the gunpowder we would need to blow those pestilent Puritans out of their righteous waters. I want you to go back there and try and obtain it.”
Pococke’s face suddenly beamed with obvious excitement. Laud knew he had chosen well and his young protégés legendary appetite for sourcing and collecting old manuscripts was obviously true. “What manuscript?”

Laud took a great deal of time to detail what information he had concerning the provenance and purported contents of the Scrolls. It was late in the night as he finished explaining, “This mission is extremely urgent as I fear for the King’s rule. The country’s mood is becoming ugly firstly at losing their parliamentary voice and secondly at the reintroduction of ship-money. Despite the undoubted brilliance of the King’s lawyer, the late William Noy, and his master-stroke of developing the concept of royal patents to replace monopolies, and his advocacy of ancient ship-money levies to further line the royal purse, has left us with a legacy which has alienated much of his Majesty’s support. Our Church reforms are further fanning the fires. The Scrolls could offer salvation.”
In truth Pococke was little interested in the politics but the thought of retrieving the Scrolls excited his agile intellect. “Of course I will go.”
Laud smiled indulgently and shook his hand. “Good man Pococke. I knew I could count on you. I must warn you, however, that you must be on your guard as there are others who also seek the manuscripts. I also want you to impress on Loukaris that his life is endangered. I have it on good authority from Santa Clara that the French are anxious to dispose of him. Some dispute regarding the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, I am informed. I count Loukaris and Wentworth among my most intimate confidants.”

©R.Derham 2001,2009

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