|The Circassian From Istanbul
Author: VADT PM
This is the story of one man's life. His name was Albek Nicolaou, son of a Circassian father and Greek mother, and he came from one of the greatest cities of his time. His life journey would be a long one, but where in the world would fate bring him to?Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Drama - Chapters: 3 - Words: 20,973 - Reviews: 1 - Updated: 02-26-13 - Published: 01-26-13 - id: 3095516
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
IMPORTANT: Please note that some medieval/early modern practices (such as using the name "Mohammedans" instead of "Muslims" and referring to them as infidels – and also the other way around, with Muslims referring to Christians as the infidels – although the latter can be considered among Muslims as "People of the Book") may be considered normally inappropriate or even offensive today. The author does not intentionally attempt to offend anyone with this work and only tries to emulate early modern life in this story.
This work is not meant to be entirely historically accurate; there may be some fictional or even dramatized elements implemented into this work.
The English dialogue is only there to help readers understand the story. Unless otherwise noted, the characters are assumed to speak Greek in day-to-day life. The author imagines the characters speaking with that language and advises readers with sufficient knowledge of Greek to do so. There may be scenes of confusion in this story where non-Greek characters with little to no knowledge of Greek are unable to comprehend what Greek characters are talking about.
Enjoy reading the story!
Chapter 1 – In Istanbul and Home
All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.
-Muhammad, prophet of Islam, Last Sermon (632 AD) (from Wikiquote)
January 16, 1595
Istanbul, Ottoman Empire
Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji'un. (إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ)
"Verily we belong to God and to God we shall return."
These words were heard all across Istanbul that day as news spread of the death of Murad III, the 12th man to serve as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire since Osman I declared his territory independent from the Seljuks in 1299. Inhabitants of the city, mostly Muslim, gathered around Topkapı Palace, the place where Sultan Murad finally expired after more than 48 years of life and 20 years of rule marked by economic decay and several setbacks at war, most prominently exemplified by the 1593 Battle of Sisak where the Habsburgs and Croatians halted Ottoman advance – temporarily, perhaps – into Central Europe.
Art, however, prospered: the Sultan commissioned a heavily-illustrated work on the life of Prophet Muhammad called the Siyer-i Nebi. He took an interest in miniatures and gave his support to the Society of Miniaturists in his royal court.
All businesses in the Ottomans' capital city – formerly capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire as Constantinople (which was still the city's official name), and one of the largest cities of Europe – were expected to close during the next few days in a show of respect for the deceased Sultan. There would be no exceptions here, meaning that a blacksmith shop owned by one Saouslan, a Circassian who came from Crimea in the early 1580s, had to close too if the owner wanted to avoid punishment for his 'disrespect'.
However, even if the Sultan's death had not occured, Saouslan knew that he would close his shop anyway. His Greek wife, Eudocia Nicolaou, had been pregnant for nine months and the blacksmith predicted that she would give birth in less than a week. That night, as his Muslim neighbors mourned the death of Sultan Murad, Saouslan was resting in his house, located right behind his shop. He was accompanied, as always, by his wife Eudocia and his two Greek servants, the older and somewhat short but energetic Alexios along with the taller and stronger Constantine.
"Ah, it's our neighbors the Mohammedans," Alexios said as he looked out through the window and saw a group of Muslims walking on the streets, carrying torches. "I wonder why they are carrying torches. Protesting against something, perhaps? Or maybe they are traveling to their house of worship? That place they call a 'mosque'?"
"They are probably only walking the streets mourning the death of the Sultan," Saouslan spoke from behind, sitting on a chair. "Not being a Mohammedan, or a Muslim – that's the term they use for themselves, I don't really understand their rituals, so I can be wrong here. At least they are not angry mobs demanding to kill the sons and the brothers of the deceased themselves."
"What do you mean, sir?" Constantine suddenly emerged from the room in which Eudocia was now resting.
"In this nation, the Sultan usually secures power by putting an end to his brothers' lives," Saouslan explained. "This is usually done to prevent the emergence of a powerful pretender to the great throne. Luckily, this doesn't happen in Christian nations – but that doesn't mean that Christians are really morally superior than the Mohammedans. After all, we still see those wars between Christian rulers and Christian peoples, Christian troops."
Saouslan was quiet for a few seconds. With him the house seemed to be entirely silent during the long seconds before the man spoke up again. He looked at Constantine. "How is my wife doing, young man?"
"Perfectly fine, sir," Constantine said as he slightly bowed at Saouslan. Alexios then walked to them.
"You do not have to act as if you are so lowly in comparison to myself, Constantine," Saouslan commented. "And you too, Alexios. You may be my servants, but you have every right to, uh, have some self-respect. If you want to complain to me, just complain then."
"But, sir, there is nothing to complain about here," Alexios replied. "I mean, this place is so comfortable and life is good."
Upon hearing Alexios' words, Saouslan started looking up. He said in a low voice, "O Theotokos... O Jesus... God... I thank you for the good life that you have granted to us all under this roof: I, my wife Eudocia, and my servants Alexios and Constantine. We live in a city of Turks, of Mohammedans, and we continue to prosper even among the infidels."
Alexios and Constantine looked at each other. "I do not know that our master is a religious person," Alexios told the other servant of Saouslan. "It is, indeed, very unusual for him to pray, or say thanks or whatever to God, in front of us. We are only his servants."
"I agree with you," Constantine quickly said his own words as Alexios finished speaking. "But I do appreciate Master Saouslan for this."
Saouslan then stood up and entered his wife's room. Eudocia was awake already and appeared to be comfortable. Saouslan's two servants followed behind him.
"How do you feel, my dear?" Saouslan asked his wife as he fell on his knees at her bedside. "Are you alright?"
"Ah, I feel good right now," Eudocia answered. "After several years, finally we are about to have a child of our own. Surely we are blessed by God. I feel good about it."
A smile flashed on Saouslan's face, which was initially small but then became larger. "I'll go talk with my servants outside, my dear. I shall be back in a few minutes." He promptly walked outside along with his two servants and closed the door, again leaving Eudocia alone in her room. As light from an oil lamp shone bright enough around them, Saouslan cleared his throat as the two servants stood in front of him. "Now, Alexios and Constantine, will you please call one of our trusted friends to this humble house that we live in? I want him to-"
"Doctor Salathiel is not working today, sir," Alexios interrupted his master.
"How did you know that I was going to mention Doctor Salathiel?" Saouslan asked.
"You always mentioned that Jewish doctor as 'one of our trusted friends'," Constantine responded quickly. "Of course, there is an element of truth in it. We can always trust him. Besides, judging by the current situation, in which Lady Eudocia is expected to give birth soon, we will soon have to rely on Doctor Salathiel to watch over Lady Eudocia and keep her alive against the dangers of giving birth."
"And why isn't Doctor Salathiel working today?" Saouslan gave his next question.
"Obviously because the Sultan has died and the people of this city would not dare seek treatment on this gloomy day," Constantine said. "Particularly the Mohammedans or the Muslims, very obviously forming the majority of the population. Besides, it's night already, master."
"You are right," Saouslan said. "I-"
"Ahh!" Eudocia suddenly shouted from her room. Saouslan and the servants immediately rushed inside and saw the woman holding her abdomen while looking up.
"My dear, are you alright?!" Saouslan held his wife's hand tightly, panicked. Eudocia took several rapid breaths in pain. "It must be..." He was then silent again and looked at his servants. Constantine, meanwhile, stared at Alexios.
"Well, Lady Eudocia is about to give birth this night!" Alexios broke the silence. "What are we waiting for? I and Constantine can go to Doctor Salathiel's house now! How do you think about it, my good friend and fellow servant?"
"Just... just... call him here!" Eudocia managed a yell before taking more rapid breaths. "This... baby... wants to get out!"
"Then what are you waiting for!" Saouslan jumped forward to his servants and pointed at the still-open door. "Call him here! Call him- wait, isn't Doctor Salathiel not wor-"
"I... don't care! Just... do it!" Eudocia yelled again. The servants quickly made their way out of the room and, within the next few seconds, out of the house. Saouslan stayed at Eudocia's bedside and spent the time comforting her.
"Do not worry, Eudocia, soon the doctor will be here, the child is born to the world, and it is all over," he said to Eudocia. "It will soon be over."
Meanwhile, the two servants were racing across the streets, eager to reach Doctor Salathiel's house as fast as possible and seek help from him. "You know, Constantine," Alexios shouted as he and the other servant cut their way through a sizable crowd on one of the larger Istanbul streets. "That doctor may be a Jew and you can call him even worse than a Christian who genuinely thinks that Jesus is God, but the fact that he actually and genuinely likes to help people... speaks for something!"
"I can understand what you are talking about, Alexios!" Constantine shouted back. He realized that he was becoming more and more separated from Alexios within the crowd. Just a few seconds earlier, he could see and distinguish Alexios' head from all the other heads in the crowd, but now even that head slipped away from view, lost among the other heads. "Alexios! Alexios! Where are you?!"
"Here! Here! Constantine, my good friend, can you see me?!" Alexios yelled louder in desperation. "Can you hear me?!"
"I can hear you! We're going on the right way, right?!" Constantine shouted even louder and then coughed. Holding his neck tightly, he heard Alexios' reply, but the voice seemed to fade a bit: "Yes, we are going on the right way!"
Second after second passed, one minute ended and the next minute began. Both servants were still running to the front, going along the street. They kept shouting to each other, but each servant thought that he was going too far away from the other, the fading voice each man produced as heard by the other being proof of it. They tried to find each other in the middle of the crowd, but the situation seemed not to improve for both of them. In Alexios' case, caught in the chaos of the crowd, he found himself pushed into a dark, narrow alley. Deciding that going back to mingle in the crowd was no better, he decided to walk through the alley, hoping to make it to another major street that he could recognize and then make his way to Salathiel's house – reluctantly leaving Constantine to his own fate.
"With faith in God, I hope that I can find him later," Alexios told himself as he kept walking down the alley. "Or he can go his own way and we will meet again somewhere on the road... in the doctor's house perhaps. Also, I hope that I am not going to get robbed by some criminal here or even worse... my life must not end in this stinky, smelly place deep within clean, majestic Istanbul!"
After just under five minutes spent in darkness, walking and running, Alexios finally found his way back to light. Fearing that he had arrived at a section of Istanbul which he did not know well, he just wandered around the streets while continually reassuring himself. Eventually, however, fear and distress overwhelmed him. Panicked, he ran to whatever street he saw, sometimes going to another alley before emerging on another street. This fast-moving situation continued for the next few minutes until Alexios finally stumbled upon a large structure, which he promptly recognized. "The Hagia Sophia! The Hagia- eh, Aya, oh, whatever. It's a mosque now."
He was now standing not so far from the large mosque, recognizable by its extremely large dome and the minarets which surrounded it. People – mostly Muslims – were walking into, out of (for some), and around the building. His spirit restored, Alexios was now determined to find Doctor Salathiel. "The suffering of Lady Eudocia must be stopped. Poor Master Saouslan. Constantine can wait. I can explain anything. I know the road."
As he started to walk on the direction to the doctor's house, a man suddenly put his hand on Alexios' shoulder. The confused servant turned around to see who the man was. "Constantine! Where have you been all the time?!" He hugged his friend.
"Well, I kept moving forward on that street," he explained. "I eventually came upon the shore not far from here. I looked around for you and I found you here! I don't mean to offend you, but I assume that you have lost your way somewhere along the street. Am I wrong?"
"Sort of," Alexios said. "Some unruly people in the crowd just suddenly pushed me to an alley. They were probably uneasy with the congestion and wanted some space for themselves. Whatever, we have to go to Doctor Salathiel's house now. Think of Lady Eudocia and Master Saouslan!"
"Agree," Constantine replied. "Let's go! Waste no time!"
The two men then made their way across several streets close to the shore, to the house of Doctor Salathiel. They finally arrived in front of that house; it was small and appeared to be modest when seen from the outside, and painted in brown. Constantine then knocked on the door. "Good night, Doctor Salathiel, or whoever is inside. Will someone open this door?"
A man did eventually open the door. He was old, in his late sixties, had a long white beard, and his hair, while still plentiful, was fully white. His tall, still-fresh appearance and vigor compensated for his age. As always, he was bringing the necessary 'doctor's equipment' everywhere with him. "Ah, aren't you the servants of that prosperous Circassian blacksmith Saouslan?"
"Indeed, sir," Constantine said to the man, none other than Doctor Salathiel. "Lady Eudocia is to give birth and you are to follow us to Master Saouslan's house now." Next to Constantine was Alexios, who clearly nodded in approval of his friend's words.
"Give birth?" Salathiel held his beard. "Strange. I had predicted that her child would be born in a few days and- wait, what is this?!" All of a sudden, he could feel himself strongly pulled forward, away from his house by Alexios. Constantine closed the house's door and soon caught up with the two men.
"You are to follow us now!" Alexios yelled at the elderly doctor's face. "Do you understand?"
"Yes, I shall follow you!" Salathiel replied. He could feel the world gradually move faster and faster around him. "Oh, you want to run, young men?!"
"Of course!" Constantine said. "No offense, but you are too old to move quickly. That is why we have to pull you. Otherwise you will not be able to catch up with us youngsters."
As Constantine finished the last word, Salathiel suddenly grabbed Alexios' hand and pushed it away. "I may be old, but I can still run!"
"Prove it," Alexios simply responded. He looked at Constantine and smiled as Salathiel ran forward. "We'll see if that old doctor actually can still run. How do you think, Constantine?"
"I'm skeptical, Alexios," Constantine said. "Even if he does try to run as fast as possible, I know that we can catch up with him in less than... um, 20 seconds?"
"Hey, come on! Follow me!" Salathiel shouted as he ran only to stop before he became too far from the servants. "I've already proven myself to be a good runner!"
"Say what you want, old man," Alexios shouted back, "but we will- wait, where are you?!"
Constantine soon noticed Salathiel standing in the distance. "God, God, he is already a bit far away from us! Come on, Alexios! He is a fast runner! Now we have to catch up with him!" They promptly tried to catch up with Salathiel. As it turned out, Salathiel was apparently not interested in running with the two young men. Once he decided that they were in a "safe distance", he would resume running, even if that meant he often had to run through large crowds of people, while Alexios and Constantine tried to catch up from behind.
"Hey, stop! Doctor Salathiel, stop!" Alexios said as he ran through only one of the many crowds on that large street. "For God's sake, Constantine, you get in front of me! My legs just can't- ah!" He was suddenly on the ground, struck by an unassuming man in the crowd. That man, along with Constantine, helped him stand. The man apologized, but Alexios and Constantine did not hear him apologize as they resumed chasing Salathiel, who had again stopped and waited for them, careful not to get too far from them. This time, he decided to himself that he would run along with the other men. "I just hope that they are not going to get exhausted enough," Salathiel told himself. He waved to Alexios and Constantine as they finally caught up with them. They then looked forward – to the scene of crowds and congestion.
"So, what do you say?" Salathiel turned to the servants of Saouslan. "We go through the crowds?"
The two answered together: "Yes."
"Excuse me! Please make way! Thank you very much!" Doctor Salathiel shouted as he pushed either in a gentle or a harsh manner – several people in the crowd, with Alexios and Constantine running closely behind them. "We have a woman in distress!"
"This is outrageous!" A young woman yelled as she was pushed down to the ground by Alexios. "What have you done?!"
"Look, we have a desperate woman in need of our help. Please understand!" Alexios yelled as he kept running closely to Constantine. "Once again, please understand!"
They went from street to street between the many two-story buildings there, struggling to get through one crowd after another, as they attempted to reach Saouslan's house as quickly as possible. They walked and ran through some alleys, cut through the streets, pushed more unassuming people to the ground to escape from congestion in the crowd. "Come on! We are coming closer and closer to Master Saouslan's house!" Salathiel shouted, trying to encourage the servants. He then saw a cart and a horse parked next to one of the streets that they passed. The owner could be seen nearby. "Stop," the doctor told the servants. "I have to speak with the owner."
As Alexios and Constantine watched, Salathiel tried to convince the owner to lend his cart and horse to him. "I am sure that you know how we feel right now," Salathiel told the owner, a middle-aged, clean-shaved Turk named Mustafa. "If we do not arrive in time, that woman may die along with her poor, unborn child. Don't you have... pity, eh, compassion on them? I mean, that woman is also a human like you. We are all the same."
"I can understand your concerns, but I am very concerned too about the safety of my cart and my beloved horse. Without them, how can I bring all the goods that I have to the Grand Bazaar?" Mustafa said. "So, yeah, you will have to try to convince me if you want to get both of it. With words, for your information."
"Um..." Salathiel made his first attempt to convince Mustafa. "Let's see what I can do here... um... what about 'you are handsome'?"
"No," Mustafa said.
"Alright, I'll try again," Salathiel replied. "Your wife loves you?"
"No and I am celibate," Mustafa said.
"Fine then. May Allah condemn the infidels?"
"May Allah preserve you?"
"May Allah preserve the nation and its people, and may He condemn the infidels?"
"Fine. You get my cart and my horse," Mustafa pointed to the cart and the horse. "Just make sure that you can return it before the next afternoon. You got it?"
"Sure!" Salathiel said as he ran to the cart and boarded it. "Alexios, Constantine, get on the cart now! I will control the horse, you sit behind me! We have to be fast!" He then looked behind to Mustafa. "Don't worry, your cart and your beloved horse will be back by next afternoon! Don't worry!"
The horse soon rode away, bringing the cart with him. Mustafa could only look as his two precious belongings disappeared from view. He sat down on the edge of the street. "O Allah, please grant safety to those men, who hold the cart and my horse now. Make sure that my cart and my horse will return to me in good condition. Please do not let those men damage that two things, especially that good horse that I have," he prayed in a low voice. "Do not let those men damage that two things."
"Quickly!" Salathiel shouted as he held the rein tightly. "Hiiyaa! Come on, horse, come on! Quickly! The faster the better!"
"You cannot speak to a horse, doctor," Constantine said. "This is simply ridiculous."
"Well, I am hoping that I can speak with a horse," Salathiel replied. "Besides, I just want the horse to know that we have to be quick. We really have to be quick." He looked around the cart and saw the necessary 'doctor's equipment' right next to him. "Ah, thankfully everything I need is with me. I always fear that I somehow forget to bring it with. Luckily, not tonight. Indeed, indeed, there were several horrible days in the past in which I did actually forget to bring my equipment. Forgetting to bring the necessary equipment has always been regarded as outrageous, at least by myself. I know, I know, I am a somewhat forgetful person. I always pray and hope that I am not going to forget everything."
"But you didn't actually forget to bring anything this night," Alexios added. "That is good. Really good. Otherwise we would have to mourn the death of benevolent Lady Eudocia Nicolaou. What a pity. God bless you, God bless us all, God bless everyone in this nation, God bless everyone in the whole world and all other worlds if there is indeed another world out there. God bless all His creatures. That is good. Obviously you agree with me, Constantine. So, do you agree with me on what I have said?"
"I always agree with you on anything, Alexios," Constantine replied. "I just hope that we can reach Master Saouslan's house quickly. I really worry about the health of Lady Eudocia. She is good to us, despite the fact that we are only her servants. And we are also lowly servants. Lowly ones, my friend. God bless Lady Eudocia and her so-far unborn child. I hope they are going to be safe ever after."
"I hope so," Alexios muttered. "I hope so, Constantine. Anyway, we are close to Master Saouslan's house, right?"
"Well, yes," Salathiel confirmed. "But we have to face yet another large crowd. We cannot force the cart and this poor horse to go through the crowd, so we have to go on foot again." He directed the horse to stop and pointed to the front, where large numbers of people were walking to the Eyüp Sultan Mosque. "Alright, people, we have arrived at the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, where a close companion of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, named Eyüp Sultan, is buried. The Muslims – or rather Mohammedans but that depends on your taste on name-calling – also call him Abu Ayyub al-Ansari. I don't know much about Islamic history beyond this, so don't ask me anything about it."
"Fine then," Constantine said as he dropped from the cart and looked at the mosque. "You are right, Doctor Salathiel. We have to walk. I fear, however, that the crowd is too large and we will only be able to move so slowly."
"I have an idea, but this is dangerous one," Salathiel replied. "Look, you two, do you think your master is a generous person? You know, generous enough – and perhaps pious enough – to save you from punishment?"
"What do you mean?" Alexios asked. Salathiel then looked at the entrance into the mosque.
"In Istanbul and in my home," Salathiel said. "Everything can be dangerous and spectacular. There is always the punishment. Dramatic actions... must be taken if necessary."
"Assalamualaikum," the old khatib in the mosque delivered his greeting from the raised pulpit, which was promptly answered by those listening to him: "Wa'alaikumsalam."
Once the answer came, the khatib proceeded to speak in Turkish: "Today shall be remembered as a bleak day for us all, the people of Osman and other Muslim faithful of this world, with the passing of our beloved ruler: His Sacred and Imperial Majesty, Emperor, Sovereign of the House of Osman, Sultan of Sultans, Khan of Khans, Commander of the Faithful and Successor of the Prophet of the Lord of the Universe, Custodian of the Two Noble Sanctuaries, Emperor of Rome, Emperor of The Three Cities of Constantinople, Adrianople and Bursa, and many other great titles awarded to him who truly deserved it, Sultan Murad."
"12th to be Sultan of the people of Osman, son of Sultan Selim, son of Sultan Suleiman the great lawmaker and leader of his men against mighty enemies, son of Sultan Selim the first caliph from the House of Osman, son of Sultan Bayezid, son of Fatih Sultan Mehmed who took this noble city from the Christians, son of Sultan Murad, son of Sultan Mehmed, son of Sultan Bayezid, son of Sultan Murad, son of Sultan Orhan, son of Sultan Osman the founder of his majestic House and the leader of his people, son of Ertuğrul Gazi the great leader of the warriors of Islam, Allah protect them all."
"Sultan Murad shall be remembered as a great leader in times of war and peace, upholding the greatness of the nation which he ruled in life. His people supported him, his enemies recognized his bravery, and the nation prospered under his glorious rule. He- wait a second... hey you!" He pointed his finger to Doctor Salathiel and his small box of necessary equipment. "You are not allowed to bring anything unimportant to this sacred place!"
"What?! You are speaking in your own language? I speak Greek, I do not understand you!" Salathiel shouted from one of the prayer rows not so far from the pulpit. Alexios and Constantine were next to him.
The khatib promptly replied back in Turkish, "What language is that? Do you understand what I have said to you? Do you speak Turkish? Are you a Muslim?"
"Eh, well, I cannot understand you and you probably cannot understand what I am saying! We are speaking a different language!" Salathiel said. At this moment, distracted by his shouting at the khatib, he accidentally put his foot on the back of a man sitting in front of him. As he tried to walk a little bit forward, he lost his balance and fell, landing right next to the man whose back he had put his foot on. His small box was thrown backwards.
"Allahu Akbar!" The khatib abandoned his seat and went down to the pulpit. He directed his next shout to the mosque doors. "Are the Janissaries here? We have troublemakers down here! Chase him!"
"Alexios! Catch the box!" Salathiel shouted as Alexios ran and took the box – several prayer rows behind – just in time to prevent it from falling to the floor. Constantine was following behind him. Salathiel slowly stood up and then saw a group of Janissaries – infantry troops who served as policemen during peacetime – running into the mosque and chasing him. "You two, we are leaving this mosque now! Come on!" The doctor ran to the servants, kicking several people to clear his way as the Janissaries ran behind him.
In less than a minute, the mosque was in chaos. Salathiel, Alexios, and Constantine raced across the interior and tried to reach the exit as the Janissaries refused to abandon their chase. A sizable number of the faithful actually stood up and joined them in chasing the three men. The still-sitting faithful, meanwhile, were pushed away so that nothing could block the way. "It's the exit! Faster! We are almost there!" Constantine yelled as sweat ran down his face. "We are almost out of this mosque!"
"Get out of our way, sir!" One of the Janissaries said as he pushed away a sitting old man as gently as possible. "I do not want to hurt you, but I – or rather we – have to do this!" He raised his sword highly.
The doctor and the servants tried to run faster as they finally passed the exit and went back to the streets, attempting to disappear in the middle of one crowd after another. The Janissaries found themselves slowed down and chasing became increasingly difficult. "Come on, we have almost reached Master Saouslan's house! I think they will soon abandon us!" A hopeful Alexios said as he looked behind and saw only a few Janissaries.
About five minutes passed and they finally returned to Saouslan's house. "Master Saouslan! Master Saouslan! Are you there?!" Constantine knocked on the door. Saouslan quickly opened the door and pulled everyone inside. "Master, how is Lady Eudocia doing?" Constantine asked.
"No better, still in pain," Saouslan hastily replied. "Come on, doctor! Go inside! My wife is in urgent need of treatment!" He quickly pushed the doctor into the room, where Eudocia was desperately fighting for her life and her baby's life. Once the doctor was inside, Saouslan then exited the room and closed its door from outside. Then, he turned to Alexios and Constantine. "What takes you so long?" Saouslan asked his servants.
"There's really a lot of the people taking to the streets this night," Alexios attempted to explain. "I guess they are mourning the death of the Sultan or discussing about it with their friends. Also, I was separated from Constantine on the way thanks to the lack of patience of some people there."
"This is not good," Saouslan said. "Luckily, my wife is still alive by this time. Let's just hope and pray to God that she will survive, along with our soon-to-be first child."
15 minutes later...
"My servants, surely you know how much..." Saouslan spoke to Alexios and Constantine, "how much I... you know... my life..."
"What are you talking about, master?" Constantine asked. "Something about good Lady Eudocia? Or your prospering business as a blacksmith?"
"Well, I am worried about... my life," Saouslan said slowly.
"You should not worry, Master Saouslan," Alexios smiled. "I mean, life is good and you are not going bankrupt any time soon. Aren't you under the protection of the Sultan? You should be safe."
"To be specific, the protection of the deceased Sultan Murad," Saouslan countered. "What about his successor? You know, he had 20 sons. Which one of them is going to get the throne? Those contenders who fail... they are going to be transported to the next life. That is a long-running Ottoman tradition."
"If I somehow find myself in great danger," the blacksmith continued, "what will happen to me? What will happen to my family? To my wife? To our child?"
"But there is a chance that the new sultan will trust you," Constantine said. "He will continue to protect you and, of course, buy some high-quality swords from you."
"And if he doesn't?" Saouslan said. "If he thinks that I am a dangerous person who can be used by another claimant to the throne?"
"You may be arrested and sentenced to death right away," Alexios stated the possibilities. "You can also be killed by a professional assassin, or you can be simply poisoned. Then the state will take over your shop and your business, and give it to someone else they can trust."
"What a dangerous world we live in," Saouslan lamented. "What a dangerous world."
5 minutes later...
"Why does it take so long?" Saouslan said, looking at the door of the room where the doctor was now taking care of Eudocia. "Alexios, Constantine! Tell me, are Greek doctors so slow when it comes to operating on a patient? Especially one who needs to be given adequate treatment as quickly as possible?"
"I don't know, but maybe the procedure is just somewhat complex," Constantine responded. "You know, master, I don't think we can just cut open the belly and then take out the baby."
"I understand," Saouslan replied. "I just hope that doctor can be a little bit faster with his operation on my wife. We Circassians are more simple!"
As Saouslan finished speaking the last sentence, someone knocked on the door. He stood up from his chair and walked to open it himself. "This must be someone saying congratulations on our family's soon-to-be-found happiness in the form of my first child," he said to himself. As it turned out, he was wrong. The door was opened, revealing a man with a moustache, wearing white clothes and a rather tall hat. He was holding a sword. A few other similarly-dressed men could be seen just behind.
"Janissaries! I've seen people like you before!" Saouslan jumped in shock. Alexios and Constantine looked at each other.
"We are doomed. They have found us," Constantine said. Alexios just nodded and then looked to the front as Saouslan started talking with that one Janissary right at his doorstep.
"Are... aren't you and your friends soldiers? You are not a policeman, right?" Saouslan spoke in discomfort to the Janissary in front of him. "Have I done anything wrong? No... don't tell me I am going to be arrested!"
The Janissary looked at his friends and they all laughed. He turned his attention back to Saouslan. "Look, sir, unless you are guilty, you are safe! Based on the physical description provided to us, you do not seem to be a prime suspect."
"What do you mean?" Saouslan asked. "Is this some kind of a joke?"
"No joke, sir," the Janissary replied. "Some people have caused chaos in the mosque where the Prophet's companion is buried. They have entered and exited the mosque, and treated the faithful in such a disrespectful manner. We would like you to say whether you know those people or you do not."
"Can you give me the physical description?" Saouslan said. "And please guarantee that I am safe, that I will not be arrested."
"You will not be arrested, sir," the Janissary said. "Alright, now on to the physical description. Three men have caused chaos in the mosque. Based on what the eyewitnesses have said, one man appeared to be in old age, his hair was white. He had a long beard which was white like everybody else and-"
"Did he bring... something like a, uh, tool?" Saouslan asked.
"Well, he did bring a box. We think that he is a doctor, considering that he is also well-dressed," the Janissary replied.
"Was he accompanied by two Greek men?" Saouslan gave his next question.
"Well, yes," the Janissary said. "He was indeed accompanied by two men. We are not sure if they are Greek, but judging by their- wait a second, how did you know that he was accompanied by two men?! Did you..."
Saouslan turned to Alexios and Constantine, who were now panicked. "Listen to me, my servants," he said. "What have you and Doctor Salathiel done? Do you know how much-"
"So they are two of those men!" The Janissary shouted as he saw Alexios and Constantine. He told his friends, "Two of the men are here! They are in this house, under the protection of this man!" He pointed his finger at Saouslan.
"I assure you, sir, I am not guilty!" Saouslan yelled, desperately trying to defend himself. "I... I have absolutely no knowledge of anything about this! They are my servants, those two men! I sent them to find a doctor named Salathiel so that he could tend to my wife! She is about to give birth to our first child! I was not involved in their antics! I stayed at home the whole time!"
"Your wife is pregnant?" The Janissary said to Saouslan. "I guess the doctor is now operating on her."
"Yes, he is," Saouslan said, pointing to the door to his wife's room. "You can arrest him, but I suggest that we wait until the operation is finished. In the meantime, you may want to hear Alexios and Constantine's explanation, so that you can better judge whether they are really guilty. If you do arrest them now, without hearing an explanation, then I beg for mercy. Anyway, what is your name? And what's with all the other Janissaries here?"
"Oh, I am Ahmed and all the other Janissaries here are under my command."
About 2 hours later..
"Then so be it. We shall explain everything to the authorities of this city," Ahmed said. "You two, Alexios and Constantine, you will be free. The doctor, however, will still be arrested for his larger share of causing the public disturbance at the mosque and also unlawfully abandoning someone else's possessions, in this case a cart and a horse. We can only hope that he did not disturb the peace of the Prophet's companion in his grave and that Allah will forgive that doctor's sins."
"Thank you very much!" Alexios said. "You are so good!"
"Don't be so dramatic, my friend," Constantine laughed. "Where are the other Janissaries, by the way?"
"I told them to hide outside, just in case the doctor comes out," Ahmed replied. "When he does come up, they will show up and arrest him properly."
Suddenly, Saouslan felt as if he heard footsteps from the other side of the door. "I think he is about to come out," he told everyone else. "Besides, it's been a long time since he entered that room. My child should have been born by this point."
The door soon opened and Salathiel went out. Saouslan, Alexios, Constantine, and Ahmed all stood up and walked forward to the doctor. "Congratulations, Saouslan, your wife- wait, who is this man? I have never seen him before? A family friend?"
"No, my good friend Salathiel," Saouslan replied. "This is Ahmed, just another customer who has said his blessings to me and my family, just like many other of my loyal customers. He is of perfectly no danger to you and us all. In fact, I can safely say that this man is a generous and well-mannered one. I'd say he is the best customer I've ever had."
"Oh, good then," Salathiel said. "Now, Saouslan, there is good news. Your wife is alive and well. She has given birth to a boy. Both of them are now sleeping."
"Wait, why didn't I hear him cry?" Saouslan asked.
"Really? I am not sure about that. He did actually cry, but maybe not loudly as can be found with most other newly-born babies," Salathiel explained. "Perhaps this can be taken a sign from the above that he will grow to be a calm person."
"Or maybe we are too busy discussing among ourselves to even hear someone else's voice," Constantine suggested. "Of course, it's maybe. Only maybe. There can be other possibilities on this."
Saouslan smiled and looked above. "God, I thank you for this wonderful gift that you have granted to my life. Truly a very great gift that I have received." He looked down and turned to see Salathiel, standing in front of him.
"Now, Doctor Salathiel, for your great kindness and effort," Saouslan said. "I have decided to give a special present to you, in recognition for your deeds. That present is not far from here."
"What is that present that you will give to me?" A very curious Salathiel questioned the blacksmith. "Is that a large sum of money? A golden cup of coffee?"
"You'll see it soon," Salathiel said. He whispered something to Ahmed, who then went out of the house. A couple of seconds later, he returned with his friends – the Janissaries. "Behold, the greatest military unit of this nation, warriors at wartime and policemen at peacetime!" The Janissaries then proceeded to take Salathiel and drag him out of the house.
"Saouslan! Wha... what is this?!" Salathiel asked. "Have you tricked me?"
"Believe me, Doctor Salathiel, I have not tricked you, nor turned against you," Saouslan told the doctor. "These men simply came to my house searching for you, Alexios, and Constantine. They have heard everything about you and my servants causing chaos in the mosque and also abandoning those things rightfully owned by that one man named Mustafa. I have secured mercy for my servants, but I have no power to do the same to you. Not to worry, at worse you will be imprisoned for only about a week or two."
Salathiel stared at the tall man standing just in front of him, with his light skin, short moustache, and a black pompadour hair – upswept around the sides. "I believe you," he said as he was dragged away by the Janissaries. "Just don't forget me!"
"I won't!" Salathiel said as he closed the door. He and his servants then walked into the room where Eudocia and the baby were sleeping. The three sat on the floor, waiting for Eudocia to wake up.
"Ah, so sweet," Alexios said as he saw the baby. "Good boy, good boy, keep sleeping and-"
"Don't be so childish, Alexios," Constantine interrupted. "You are an adult already! Try to speak more maturely. It's just so disgusting."
"No need to take it so seriously, Constantine," Saouslan replied. "Alexios is Alexios and he can be annoying at times. There is absolutely no need to worry about him or remind him. Trust me, he will go back to normal within a short time."
The three sat for nearly an hour in that room, waiting for Eudocia to wake up. Eventually, Saouslan grew bored and moved to – carefully – take the baby. "How do you think about my son? I know he will grow to be a strong man!" He spoke, looking down at the baby. "God grant you a long and prosperous life, my son. You have a great potential and you will reap the rewards. God bless you and God bless us all."
And then, Eudocia opened her eyes. "Saouslan, is that you?" She asked. "Is that Alexios and Constantine, our servants?"
"Sure it is!" Saouslan responded swiftly. "And this is our baby. He is our first child to be born to this world." Suddenly, he started dancing, bringing the baby with him.
Eudocia smiled widely. "Be careful, Saouslan! Make sure he – our son – is alright! Have you already decided on a name?"
Saouslan then stopped. "A name?"
"Em, you haven't decided on name?" Eudocia said from her bed.
"Oh yes! The name..." Saouslan said. "Well, Eudocia, why not just give this boy a Circassian name, along with your family surname of Nicolaou. This is one Circassian that will integrate into Turkish-Greek society and live in great prosperity!"
"That would be a good idea," Eudocia replied. "But I don't know much about Circassian names, so it falls to you to name our son."
"Alright then," Saouslan responded. "I'll name him... well... how about Albek? That name just popped in my head. I think I've heard that name several times back in my homeland."
"That sounds like a good name," Eudocia said. "Is there any particular meaning or, you know, history behind that name?"
"What? I don't know about that. I am not really well-versed in the matter of names, Eudocia," Saouslan said. "But, still, since you and I agree that Albek is a good name, then the name shall be Albek... Albek Nicolaou. Now, does that full name sound good? I think so."
"It is good enough for my ears," Eudocia grinned. "Now we just have to arrange for Albek's baptism. You know a priest around here? There should be some around the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Considering your importance as the favorite blacksmith of the Sultan, I think Patriarch Jeremias would be interested in personally participating in Albek's baptism."
"Let's see if that is possible," Saouslan replied. "Let's see in eight days. If the Patriarch is indeed willing, very good then. If not, then we don't have the right to insist or even force him to baptize our son Albek."