Friday, January 30, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 4)

Chapter 5 
Baltimore, SW Ireland. 20th June 1631 

Combined Speed and handrawn Stafford Map of 
Baltimore in the 1630s.

It was just past midnight when the longboat containing Murat Reis and the reconnaissance crew returned to the anchored ships. Pulling alongside his own ship the captain quickly climbed aboard and with an obvious good humour made straight for his cabin. There he was joined by the corbasi - the commander of Algiers’ Janissary palace guard orta company known as the Hasekis - and his lieutenant who had been with Reis in the boat. Both had to stoop to avoid the low ceiling knocking off their elegant caps. The senior officer was very dark-skinned and tall, which was a further disadvantage in the small cabin. His Janissary uskuf cap, in addition to its decoration by a jewel encrusted spoon on the front also had a plumed crest to the side. Murat knew this to be the celenk, a crest only awarded for extreme bravery, and which the corbasi had won as the leader of an elite serdengecti assault unit of the 64th ‘Zagarcis’ orta of the Janissary Corps. Two of the soldiers remained in the passageway guarding the door.
“There are good prospects,” Murat began in Italian, their common language, “Murad Corbasi.” 
The Turkish officer nodded. The way Murat had addressed the corbasi had been formal and expected. Although captain of the ship and current Admiral of the Algerian corsair fleet Murat Reis had to defer to the Janissary, who as military commander and representative of their political overlord the Dey, was the person with the final military decision on board the ship. They had sailed together many times and Murad Corbasi trusted and respected the Dutchman more than almost any other northerner he knew.
The worst aspect for Murad Corbasi of his Algerian assignment - after transfer from Istanbul to head this orta - was seeing the blasphemous way that many of the northern corsairs flouted the laws of Islam with their drinking and whoring. Their nautical expertise was necessary but their indiscipline angered him. This Dutchman on the other hand, although ambitious, appeared genuine in his submission to the will of Allah and Murad respected him for this. Turning to his lieutenant he enquired in Turkish, “Mehmet Odabasi what is your assessment?”
The younger man had been recently promoted and being on his first seabourne mission tried to contain his enthusiasm. “I concur with the Reis, Murad Corbasi.”
“Very well,” Murad continued speaking in Turkish, for he knew Murat Reis to be an excellent linguist who would understand the orders being given to the odabasi. “Mehmet. Take 75 of the company and form three troops, a cavus in command of each. You will take one in the longboat with the Reis and the others will go in the captured fishing boats. All soldiers are to be armed with muskets and mec swords and each troop must be equipped with door rams. I will remain on board.”
The odabasi stood up and adjusting the long leather strap that hung down his back turned for the door. Just at that moment there was a knock. Reis moved to the door and opened it. “Yes bosun, what do you want?”
“Captain, one of the Irish fishermen in the hold requests permission to speak to you concerning the raid.” The sailor looked uncomfortable in the presence of the two Janissary officers.
Murat Reis looked briefly back at Murad before turning to his boatswain and nodding his assent. Presently a chained man of about thirty years was brought to the doorway. The Turkish lieutenant turned away from the smell. Murat did not have him enter the cabin. “What do you want?” He asked in Turkish.
The ruddy-faced fisherman, his shirt covered in scales and his hands blackened - like most sailors from handling tarred hemp ropes - was puzzled. He had not understood the question. The corsair captain soon realised that he had spoken in Turkish a language obviously foreign to the fisherman. Annoyed, Murat Reis repeated the question in heavily accented English.
Somewhat relieved that he would probably now be able to communicate the fisherman spurted out, “My name is John Hackett. You took me, my brother and ten others yesterday off the Waterford coast. I overheard some of your sailors saying that you are planning to raid Baltimore and I would like to offer my services as I know the lie of the cove and town well.”
“Why would you do this?” Murat was intrigued and it somehow added to the excitement ahead.
“Well there is no love lost between the men of Waterford and Baltimore. A number of years ago during a dispute between the towns my grandfather was one of those who raided Baltimore and burnt the abbey on Sherkin, the island that you can see on the western side of the approach. He was killed in the action and I would welcome a chance for revenge...” Hackett hesitated for a moment. “...I also hoped that if I served you well you might release my brother and me.”
Murat translated the conversation for the Turkish officers and receiving their consent instructed his boatswain to have Hackett put in the longboat, unarmed. Let his quick wits alone get him out of any trouble he may meet there, Murat thought to himself.

By this time the longboat and the two captured fishing seines were along the leeward side of the Yildirim and filled with mariners and Janissaries. Murat Reis and the odabasi left the cabin and on reaching the gunwale climbed down the rope ladders to take their places. The tide was turning and it took some time to reach the small bay that lay just inside the entrance to Baltimore haven. A low hill separated the bay from the cove beyond. Dawn was approaching fast as they cut the fishing nets strung between two small boats anchored about fifty yards from the shore. Three small cottages were visible but only one had a chimney and Murat Reis reasoned that it alone was occupied. He questioned Hackett about this.
The fisherman peered into the morning twilight before answering. He pointed towards the shoreline. “The chimneyed cottage is William Arnold’s place. He has a wife and children. I do not know how many. The other two buildings are the pilchard palaces.”
The boat rolled suddenly as it touched the shore. Quickly four of the sailors hopped over the sides to land waist-deep in water and to drag the bow forward. The rocky foreshore made keeping their balance difficult. Nearby a dog barked and Murat Reis cursed. At the same instant six of the Janissaries had jumped ashore and were rushing to the chimneyed cottage. On reaching it they had - without hesitating - rammed open the door. Initially there was a loud shout and the sound of children screaming but yet within a minute all was silent. More of soldiers were checking the other buildings and by the time Murat, the odabasi and Hackett had reached the compound a man, a woman and three small children stood ashen-faced in their night-clothes. Their hands were already tied and mouths stuffed with rags to prevent noise. The man was crouched, bleeding from a wound near his eye - the blood already seeping down his chest - and as his children tried to nestle against him it threw him off balance so that he toppled over. He lay there sobbing curled on the ground. 
Murat Reis hardly gave the family a glance as the soldiers prodded the man into standing and then herded all of them, roughly, towards the boats. He was already surveying the hilltop for movement, its brow now lit by the eastern sunrise. Behind him the Turkish soldiers were regrouping and checking their muskets. A barked order came from the odabasi and they smartly formed into file. Murat and the odabasi then led the troops up the gentle slope to the hilltop. On reaching the summit it was apparent that nobody was aware of what was about to befall. The early morning light showed no signs of waking life in the whitewalled houses.
Moving quickly the Turkish troops descended the hill and fanned out to surround the village. On a signal from the odabasi the doors of the cottages were rammed open almost simultaneously and with wild screams the Janissaries poured in. Above the sounds of screaming Murat thought he heard the sound of musket-fire. From the last house, nearest the road to the main town of Baltimore, he saw the figure of man running or at least attempting to run. He was dragging his right leg. At the same moment another figure appeared, a Turk this time, who chasing after the hobbling fugitive soon caught up with him. Drawing his sword he arced it down to sever the mans left ankle tendon. He then bent down over the suddenly felled and flailing figure, pulled his victim’s head back and butchered his throat.
From the same house another soldier appeared carrying the severed head of Jon Davys. He walked slowly towards the shore with his dripping trophy and past the group of herded captives so they could see the head, its mouth still twitching as if trying to speak. Their resultant fear and revulsion caused many to instantly retch. Having achieved his desired purpose the soldier casually tossed the head into a nearby pig pen and spoke to the odabasi.

In all about 100 captives including men, women and children were found in the cove. While one troop continued searching the houses for valuables another was delegated to get the captives to clear the pilchard palaces of their fumados and then to escort them with the smoked fish, back to the boats. Murat and the odabasi held a conference and after consulting with Hackett decided to make for the town of Baltimore itself. Hackett had pointed out that the majority of dwellings were on the near shore and that the only defences of note were walls which protected from a land attack. They quickly formed up the two remaining troops and began a quick-march towards the town. Passing by the still warm body of the cottager who had tried to run Hackett saw where his right hip had been shattered by a musket ball. His blood was trickling down the gentle slope in a crimson stream. Bending down Hackett turned the body and recognised that it was Timothy Carter the son of one the town’s most prominent men. A puzzled frown swept over Hackett’s face as he wondered silently why Carter had been lodged with Jon Davys, one of life’s true mongrels. Whatever pleasures they shared were now ended. His thoughts were soon interrupted by the sound of a beating drum. In the distance shouts of "To arms, to arms!" could be heard. Murat and the Janissaries had stopped ahead. Unsure as to the strength of any resistance they decided to retreat.

By ten o’clock they were all onboard and the captives safely restrained on the orlop-deck. Murat had watched everyone being loaded and had intervened at one point to order two of the captives to remain on deck. Once a preliminary identification and recording was performed by the ship’s clerk the captives were bound and transferred to the hold. The process completed Murat called his mate to one side. “Put Fawlett, Hackett and his hewer into one of the boats and sink the other. Send those two captives to me.” Murat pointed to two shivering people standing by the port rail. They had been tied to one of the demi-culverins - its barrel turned directly at them. They were released and shuffled towards him. “What are your names?”
The first to speak was a man of about seventy years, his left eye opaque with a large cataract. “I am Osbourne and this is Alice Head.” His voice was defiant.
Murat smiled sarcastically. “Well Osbourne, you and the crone are far too old for my purposes. You might not survive the journey and you are likely to be worthless in the slave market. Bosun throw them overboard.”
They started to plead with him but Murat turned away towards his cabin. They were immediately dragged to the ship side and their terror turned to confusion when they found themselves being lowered into the fishing boat to join Fawlett, Hackett and his brother. Murat Reis did not look back as the boat cast off and the three men rowed with as much force as they could muster expecting at any minute to become target practice. He noted the freshening wind and the turn of the tide and his barked order was met with the unfurling of the main foresail and mainsail. He could feel the vibrating grind of the capstan below his feet as the anchor was hauled up and even before it had left the water the sails had filled and the ship was making way.
“Anchors catted and fished, Captain.” 
Murat heard the shout from the bow. He paused on his way to his cabin for a well earned meal and sleep to instruct the helmsman. “South by south east, helmsman. We make for Finistere.”
“Aye Captain.”

©R.Derham 2001,2009

Chapter 6. 
Toledo, Spain. 25th December 1630

Moll map of the Mediterranean 

The Bishop was finishing mass in the fortress chapel. All communicants were kneeling with their heads bowed, to receive his blessing. For the most part the congregation were prisoners and as their hands and feet were chained he waited for the noise to subside before delivering it. “In nomine . . .”
Djivo was kneeling at the lower rung of the altar. He had been requested to serve as altar attendant and this privilege had necessitated the release from his chains. Two armed guards stood close by. He was unsure why he had been singled out but the freedom, although temporary, was welcome. The Bishop finished and standing up Djivo walked to the side of the alter and picked up a long pole decorated at its summit by a silver cross. He then lead a procession of the Bishop and his fellow concelebrant priests in a solemn march down the nave to the main doors. Once outside they turned to enter through a side door to the vestry where they were to disrobe. This would take some time as the heavily brocaded and embroidered silk dalmatics, albs, stoles and copes of the high-mass set had to be folded carefully. Once this was done the Bishop dismissed the priests and sacristan. With their departure the two guards responsible for Djivo wanted to enter to escort him away but were ordered to remain outside the door by two elegantly dressed officers, just arrived, and who continued on into the room. As they closed the door shut behind them Djivo was surprised by the Bishop addressing him directly.
“Dom Djivo we do not have much time, suspicions will be raised. I am Father Denis O’Driscoll of the Franciscan order and auxiliary Bishop of nearby Siguenza. These two gentlemen are Dermico and Daniel O’Driscoll, my first cousins and fellow Knights of yours in the Order of Sant’Iago.” 
Both men parted their upper tunics to display their insignia, a silver commanders star of the order, sewn over their left breast. Djivo recognised the espada and nodded. One spoke. “What news of your mission?” Djivo looked towards the Bishop and then back at the Knights. They recognised his reluctance to speak. “Our Franciscan cousin is fully aware of our quest and has sworn an oath of secrecy. We trust him completely.”
Djivo began his report, whispering. “I am certain now that the Scrolls do exist and are in the keep of the Venetian order, the Constantinian Knights of Saint George. Their exact whereabouts, however, remains a mystery.”
“Why?” The O’Driscoll brothers said simultaneously as both men leant forward to listen.
“Giovanni Andrea Angelo Flavio Comneno, Duke of Durazzo and Prince of Macedonia, former Grand Master of the Constantinian Order, ceded the grand magistery - because of financial problems - to Marino Caracciolo, Prince of Avellino, on the 20th July 1623. The magistery will return to the Angelo-Comneno family’s hereditary stewardship when Caracciolo dies. Up to the transfer of the magistery the Scrolls were held at Giovanni Andrea’s palace in Venice. It is my understanding that they were not part of the transfer arrangement and indeed I do not think that Caracciolo even knows of their existence. My information is that the Scrolls have been removed from Venice and deposited in secrecy elsewhere until such time as the grand magistery is back in Angelo-Comneno hands. My informant continues to search.”
“Who is this informant? No word of our quest must out.” The older looking O’Driscoll brother who had been introduced as Dermico questioned.
“That, my brother knights, is my secret,” Djivo said firmly.
The younger brother who was pacing the room behind Djivo asked loudly,“But what if you are killed?” 
Djivo turned to face him giving him an icy glare. “Then you must ensure I am not.” 

A silence descended on the room until a loud knock at the door disturbed it. The younger O’Driscoll opened it to allow the guards see Djivo. He assured them that their prisoner would be ready to leave very shortly and closed the door. Dermico O’Driscoll spoke again. “We are unable to intercede here in Spain, but have arranged for an escape from Oran as soon as you arrive. On no account accept an offer to serve your time in the mines of Almaden. If the mercury does not kill you first then the Fuggers will ensure that you never leave alive. The mines are the property of our brother Knights of Calatrava of which the late Captain de Bazan was a member.” Dermico O’Driscoll stopped speaking as the door opened again. This time, accompanied by an irate officer, the soldiers entered without apology and replaced Djivo’s chains. The others in the room said nothing as he was marched out and back to his cell.
Once there, the cold dampness of his dungeon reinforced his isolation particularly after the incense laden warmth of the sacristy. Djivo drew some comfort from the knowledge that efforts were being made on his behalf but recognised that it was because of the importance of his quest and not him personally, that these were been undertaken.
He began to think about how he had spent the last four years trying to unearth, perhaps, one of Christendom’s most important and hitherto secret relics. His urgent return to Spain had been ordered so that he could report on these efforts to the Council of Sant’Iago. In order to convince de Bazan to accept him as a passenger Djivo had told him that it was to seek further instructions for his negotiations with the Levant company in Naples with whom Djivo was trying to obtain their influence with Charles of England to allow Spain recruit infantry in Ireland. Plague in Spain, and the ongoing war in the Low Countries and Lombardy had meant a dearth of able bodied men and the Knights of Sant’Iago had promised Olivares, Spain’s chief minister, their help in recruiting Irish volunteers - whose reputation as soldiers meant they were much sought after. The story was plausible and partially truthful and de Bazan had accepted it willingly. 
Given his current predicament Djivo now felt he was paying for the deception. “Are the Scrolls worth all this?” he murmured aloud. As he drifted into a tormented sleep Djivo dreamt he was being tortured by the dead de Bazan and his Calatrava brothers. ‘Tell us what you know of the Scrolls,’ they screamed at him. He no longer had the strength to resist. The Sant’Iago order is under the rule of Saint Augustine and about fifteen years ago, the archivist of our order - while documenting material from Hippo Regius held by the Recollects in the monastery of Talavera de la Reina - came across a parchment written in 429 suggesting the possible existence of the original execution order signed by Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, for Jesus of Nazareth. This order, apparently, gave a full account - with typical Roman efficiency - of the interrogation and trial of Our Lord Jesus. In addition there was also thought to be a copy of the forma or ‘wanted-poster’ produced by Pilate’s officers in which a detailed description of Jesus’ physical appearance was given. These are the Scrolls.
Djivo by now was curled on the floor. His hair was wet with sweat. ‘Continue you son of a whore.’ The dead de Bazan scowled in his dreams. 

The Augustinian archives in the Recollects’ monastery had originally come from the community of Hippo Regius, shipped out before the final destruction of that city in 430 by the Vandals when they invaded North Africa. The ancient document that mentioned the Scrolls was thought to be one of Saint Augustine’s own diaries. It was incomplete but the Bishop had written a few brief lines mentioning the fact that he had learnt from reliable sources about the possible existence of an execution order and forma relating to Our Lord’s death and that these had at one stage been in the repository of the Jewish community in Djerba. His informant also had suggested that they had been transferred to the Therapeutae community synagogue on the shores of Lake Mareotis near Alexandria about thirty years previously.
No further mention was made of the documents, and their obvious importance, in any of the other material he had studied and the Sant’Iago Order’s archivist was puzzled at Augustine’s apparent disinterest in such a possible find. This was probably deliberate, he eventually surmised, as Augustine at that time was in vigorous conflict with the schismatic Donatists, from nearby Carthage and possibly did not want to run the risk of bringing to their attention the existence of the Scrolls. It was also possible that the Jewish Community in Djerba had a similar concern about the violently anti-Semitic Donatists and thus removed the manuscripts to Alexandria.
The President of the Council of the Sant’Iago Order on learning of this discovery, realised that finding the Scrolls could provide a crucial lever in his efforts to achieve his Order’s independence of the regal and papal imposed amalgamation of Sant’Iago, Calatrava and Alcantera in the Council of Orders. He had immediately dispatched the archivist, with utmost secrecy, to Egypt. Here - after carefully researching all extant material relating to the time period in particular the surviving Coptic manuscripts of Severus, Bishop of Al-Ushmunain and others in the library of the monastery of Nahya - the archivist had determined that the Scrolls had probably came into the possession of Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria in about 414. Records of the time had shown that when Cyril had orchestrated the sudden and unexpected sacking of all Jewish synagogues in the city - by ultra orthodox Christians - in that year it was to try and obtain many of their most valuable manuscripts.
The archivist further determined that the Scrolls once identified had been most likely stored - along with the relics of Saints Cyrus and John - in the monastery at Canopus, east of Alexandria. Their existence was only made known only to successive Patriarchs of Alexandria... 
There was a sudden commotion in the prison corridor outside Djivo’s cell. The piercing screams of a convict’s suffering broke the spell of his demented dream. De Bazan’s ghostly image disappeared as Djivo woke wild-eyed with fear. It took sometime to get his bearings and yet he could not help continuing to think about his quest... 

Djivo had been told that the discovery of the involvement of Patriarch Cyril was a most vital clue linking the Scrolls with the Sacred Military Order Constantinian of Saint George. The Angelicks - as the Order was sometimes known - traced their origins to the foundation of the Order of the Golden Knights by Constantine the Great following his triumphal march into Rome in 312. This select brotherhood had consisted of fifty of the bravest battle-hardened nobles of Constantine’s empire and were to form an elite praetorian palace guard. They were also to follow his lead and convert to Christianity. Following the Emperor’s death in 337 the Order was renamed in his honour.
In 456 the Constantinian Order was formally recognised by Pope Leo I and placed under the rule of Saint Basil. At that time Alexius Angelus Flavio Comnenos was the Grand Master and as part of this arrangement one of his descendants was always to hold the hereditary position of Grand Master. Over the next eight hundred years - following the dictates of Saint Basil - the Order evolved into a philanthropic organisation promoting public works such as the establishment of xenon or hospitals. One of the last of these acts of charity was the hospital established by the Grand Master of the Constantinians, Issac Comnenos in Ainos in 1250. 
The re-birth of the Constantinian Order as a military force was to occur a short time later. This was to be painful occurring as it did amid the death-throws and final demise of the short-lived Latin Empire of Rum - established by the Fourth Crusade - when the Venetians and their puppet Baldwin were forced to flee the City of Constantinople in 1261. This allowed the Orthodox Byzantine Empire to be re-established under Michael VIII Palaeologus. One of the new Emperor’s most bitter enemies had been the current Constantinian Grand Master Michel II Angeli Comnenos, Despot of Epirius, who although distantly related to the Emperor had allied himself - and the Order - firmly to the Latin and Catholic cause. Angeli Comnenos commanded a mixed Albanian and Vlach mercenary force which were to hold out against the Byzantines until Michael II’s death in 1271. 
It was about thirty years later that the remnants of the Epirian Angelis were to recreate the semblance of a military rather than monastic order in the service of the Pope. The encouragement for this came from an opportunistic alliance with the mercenary Catalan Company of Roger de Flor. 
Following the Sicilian Vespers of 1282 - when they helped rid Sicily of the French Angevian overlords - the Catalan Company had supported the rights of Frederick II of Sicily against his brother James of Aragon, the Company’s liege lord. When peace was signed at Caltabellotta the Company knew they would not be welcome back in Aragon and under their leader Roger de Flor, decided to take their fighting force of Almuvagar light cavalry and infantry into the service of Bysantium. Roger had organised the higher echelons of the Company along the lines of the Templar Knights of whom he - Roger de Flor - had once been a warrior monk. They carried the banner of Saint George as their patron saint and their battle cries of ‘Arago’ and ‘Sant Jordi ’ were to strike fear into friend and foe alike.
The Catalans enjoyed immediate military success and quickly became very powerful - inviting envy and opposition within the Byzantine Court. Roger de Flor was eventually murdered - as were many of its subsequent leaders - but the Company however, maintained its Templar organisation and remained fierce in their loyalty to Aragon and the Catholic faith. This allowed them their final triumph in the Battle of the Kephissos in 1311 before settling into relative obscurity as rulers of the Duchy of Athens for seventy years. It was this group of nobles that joined with the remnants of the Epirian Angelis to reform the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George. 
During the sack of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmet II in 1453 the Order served as a mercenary unit with the Catalan merchants near the Hippodrome. By now it had an Angelo-Comnenos prince, Paolo, as Grand Master, a descendant of Michael II Angelos, the Despot of Epirius. Following the taking of the city some of the unit commanders had escaped the wholesale slaughter - including that of Paolo - by sailing from the Boucoleon harbour and making for the Morea. Here the Sant’Iago Order knew that the Constantinians under their new Grand Master Andrea II - Paolo’s brother - had gathered recruits amongst the staunch Catholic and anti-Turkish descendants of the Albanians settled in the Morea by the Emperor John V Palaeologus and who were now in open rebellion. These were formed into a light cavalry unit that fought with Iskanderbeg - the Albanian leader - in his continued war with the Ottomans. In 1463, following a treaty between Iskanderbeg and the Venetians, the unit entered the service of Venice, carrying the banner of Saint George and the Templar legacy of de Flor’s Catalan mercenaries. 
The Order re-constituted along the fused Templar traditions of the Catalan Company and its original Constantinian inheritance was recognised formally - once again - by Pope Julius III in 1551. It was unexpectedly placed under the spiritual protection of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria in 1575 as part of yet another attempt at reconciliation between the Greek and Latin Churches. Djivo had been told that, as part of this agreement, the Scrolls which the Constantinians had always claimed ownership of, were finally given back to the Order as their most sacred relic and covenant with the past. Only the Patriarch and the Angelo-Comneno hereditary Grand Masters were to continue to know of their existence and contents.
Djivo had also been told that further proof of the likely existence and provenance of the Scrolls had been provided by the inquisition of the former Catholic Arch-Bishop of Spalato, Marco Antonio de Dominis, in 1623. A native of the island of Arbe in Dalmatia de Dominis had been trained by the Jesuits and became Professor of Mathematics in Padua. As Archbishop of Spalato he sided with Venice in its conflict with Rome and condemned the Jesuits for the abuses of their clergy. In a most unusual move he suddenly had renounced his Catholic faith and was re-ordained into the Anglican religion and mysteriously appointed by King James of England to be the Dean of the Chapel of Saint George in Windsor and therefore Register of the Order of the Knight’s of the Garter. A few years later de Dominis just as suddenly appeared to tire of this role and after writing a retraction the wretched Bishop had returned to Rome and its Church, knowing full well he would face a counter-reformation inquisition. 
Most of the details of de Dominis’ inquisition were kept secret - securely hidden away as they were in the private files of Pope Urban VIII - but it was apparent that something the Bishop had discovered in Windsor had brought him back to Rome which he felt would protect him from the full sanction of the Holy Office. By all accounts he had paid dearly for this miscalculation and died ‘suffering great hurt’ two years later.

Arms of the Garter Knights in 1630s 

The Sant’Iago order had discovered that de Dominis’ defence had depended on his description of an unusual sculpture portraying a disfigured Christ and God the Father, holding an open book between them, which was present high on the east side of the choir of the Garter Chapel in Windsor. Beneath the book was an orb which had a raised equator demarcating a representation of land and sea and which was surmounted by an ancient crux commissa or tau cross. The sculpture had apparently been commissioned by Philip II of Spain about 1580. A number of Catholic nobles - including Philip of Spain who had married Queen Mary of England - were members of both the Garter and the Constantinian orders, Saint George being the patron saint of both. Nobody was quite sure, at the time, why such a seemingly trivial architectural detail of an English chapel should be mentioned in the context of an inquisition. It was now thought by the Sant’Iago Order that de Dominis was convinced that the carving was a hidden message deliberately commissioned by Philip to allude to the existence and provenance of certain secret parchments of immense importance. Its position high above the east window in Saint George’s Chapel was a signpost to their likely whereabouts. The carving showed a young, disfigured, and therefore military or ‘mishpat’ Christ on the left representing the Constantinian Knights being handed Pilate’s scrolls by the older established ‘tsedeq’ portrayal of God on the right, representing the Patriarch of Alexandria.
The Sant’Iago Order had long suspected that in select chapter, the Knights of the Garter, particularly under King James I’s direction - when he had elected Esme Stewart, the Earl of Lenox and James Hay, the Earl of Carlisle as Companion Knights - had seen themselves as the Regal and therefore purest lodge of speculative Freemasonry and thus the true inheritors of the Templar’s legacy. The appointment of de Dominis to the Garter Chapel was to be the final part of James’s, Francis Bacon’s and William Schaw’s reform of the Freemason organisation when they attempted to incorporate the Templar, Rosicrucian and cabbalistic mysteries.
Djivo had been entrusted with all of this information because the President of the Council of the Sant’Iago Order knew that Djivo, like himself, had been initiated while at university in Salamander, into the ‘Scottish Rite’ and some of its secrets. The president furthermore arranged for Djivo’s elevation to the fourteenth degree of the Scottish Rite. Armed with this insight Djivo had then been delegated the most secret mission to try and determine the Scroll’s exact location. This was to be Sant’Iago’s best opportunity, given the confusion and discord brought about by the recent, albeit temporary, transfer of the Constantinian Grand Mastership. What the O’Driscoll cousins did not realise, even now as they rode away at speed to make their report, was that Djivo already knew where the Scrolls were most likely to be found.
For Djivo - as he sat dejected on the cold cesspit slabs with crawling rats his only company - this knowledge was of little consolation. Although the provenance of the Scrolls seemed plausible, he had seen enough parts of the ‘True Cross’ and ‘Heads of John the Baptist’ in his travels to remain sceptical. He also realised however, that his future safety depended on keeping this information to himself.

©R.Derham 2001,2009 

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gaza: Another Kristallnacht?

On the 10 January I e-mailed the following letter to the Irish Times:
It is a terrible indictment of the official attitude of the Israeli Government and its Armed Forces when their official representative in Ireland, H.E. Zion Evonry protests more the lost ‘multimillion-dollar glasshouses’ (Irish Times 9 January 2009) of Gaza, left behind when Israel withdrew from its illegal occupation of Gaza, than he does the disproportionate eschewal of any semblance of protection for Palestinian citizens from the norms of International Humanitarian Law.
Yours Sincerely,

The letter was not published, not altogether surprisingly given the huge amount of submitted correspondence to the editorial page concerning the actions of the Israeli Armed Forces in Gaza. Indeed, one writer complained that all the words expended were a complete waste of time. For me I’m not so sure. I want to believe that Israel cannot continue to promote a memory of the Holocaust (the International Day of Remembrance was two days ago) and yet denigrate an entire society with its military actions. For me the imagery of broken and destroyed glasshouses in Gaza, evoked by Evonry, as a result of Israeli bombardment was all the more poignant when one recounts the enormous significance for Jews of Kristallnacht, “the Night of Broken Glass”, and the sustained memory of when the Nazis instigated the riots of November 9, 1938 that resulted in the destruction of Jewish property across Germany and Austria as well as being the signal for the mass concentration camp exportation of people simply because they were Jews. Institutions such as Yad Vashem have striven enormously to sustain this memory of Kristallnacht and of the entire Holocaust, as a lesson to all humanity. Yet, and it must be said, Israel (In my mind I have always made a clear distinction between someone being Israeli and being Jewish) refuses to recognise that the broken “glasshouses” of Gaza are an equal abomination as the original Kristallnactht. As long as Israel, like Germany under the Nazis did, embargos the economy, the spirit, the hopes, the dreams, the physicality of another people it will continue to erase any semblance of a humanitarian response, even amongst the Righteous Gentiles, attached to the victims of the holocaust. Their memory deserves a far greater testament. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part3)

Chapter 3 
Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice. 23rd October 1630

Dom Giovanni Andrea Angelli Flavio Comneno, Prince of Macedonia and the Duke and Count of Drivasto and Durazzo stepped gingerly from beneath the felze canopy and out of the bissona ferry that had brought him from his own palazzo in Burano to the Ca’Mocenigo Vecchia, one of the two side by side palazzo belonging to the Mocenigo family on this part of the Canal Grande. Despite the strength of the cold bora wind, which was whipping up the waves between the gondola and the mooring jetty and which threatened to topple him at any moment into the pitch-like waters, he could hear the Campanile marangona signalling the end of the day’s work. He leant heavily on one of the coloured palina to regain his balance before handing the chief boatman who had ferried him a small purse. He hurried up the jetty and into the Ca’Mocenigo. Once inside he was brought up the ornate stairs to a beautiful salon on the piano nobile where Giovanni Mocenigo, one of the Procurators of Saint Marks, was waiting to receive him. They greeted each other warmly.
“That is a bitter wind coming from the steppes this evening,” Comneno spoke through puffed out lips and allowed himself a shake of his shoulders as he removed his cape.
“Yes. I fear that given the equally strong sirocco of the past week we should expect a severe aqua alta.” Giovanni Mocenigo remarked sagely as he indicated a chair for his visitor to take a seat. “How fares it with you Giovanni Andrea? I have missed your company this past while.”
With a signal from Mocenigo a servant moved to a nearby console and poured some wine for them both.
“Well, thankfully Giovanni. The. . .” Comneno paused as he accepted the beautiful goblet of gilded Burano crystal and waited until the servant had left the salon. “...the forty days of quarantine passed without incident. Thanks be to God! As the Lazzaretto Nuovo was full the provveditori allowed my family to be isolated in our own residence. For this I was truly grateful as I have always failed to understand the rationale of quarantining both sick and healthy together. In any event, my own families exposure was limited to a brief contact with the maidservant of a visitor, whose sister had reportedly died from the pestilence. I hear that other families that we both know were not so fortunate. Indeed! On the journey here I could see that there were still many houses with the doors cross-barred and the sight of the multitude of boats laden with the pizzicamorti making their way to Lazzaretto Vecchio was a bad enough testimony. Is it as cruel as it seems?”
Mocenigo appeared exhausted and barely touched his wine. “Yes. Unfortunately far worse than the plague in 1576. It is rumoured that it was the retinue of the Duke of Mantua, when driven out by the Austrians to take refuge on San Clemente, who brought the pestilence with them. The Provveditori of the Health Office estimate that about thirty five thousand persons have been taken by the disease so far. It has been particularly bad in the Geto Nuovo at San Hieronimo.”
Comneno smiled trying to lighten the mood. “That will make Patriarch Tiepolo and his Inquisitor’s work easier, no doubt.”
Mocenigo eyes flared slightly as he looked at his visitor. His voice had a sharp edge to it. “I am old enough, Giovanni Andrea, to have lived through the worst days of Rome’s infernal Inquisition here in Venice. Thankfully, as an member of the Esecutori contro la Bestemmia, I was able to introduce guidelines that helped distinguish between heresy and apostasy and thus would not share your simplistic view. The Germanic Jews in particular have been strong supporters of the state. Did you know that the Luzzatti bankers have leant some ten thousand ducats to the Council of Ten for relief of the present pestilence?”
Comneno realised he had upset his friend and quickly moved to repair the damage. “I am sorry Giovanni if I offended you. I have been out of touch with recent events but am well aware of your concerns about Rome’s power here in Venice.”
Mocenigo relaxed a little. “It is true that I am somewhat zealous on the machinations of the Holy Office but I do resent their assumed power, Siamo Veneziani, poi Christiani. ” He paused for a moment. “According to my nephew, our ambassador in Madrid, it seems that even in Spain the Inquisition’s energies may also be somewhat on the wane. I do have my doubts however. The Holy Office appears to have gained a new energy from the recent frenzy of burning witches and this appears to be its preoccupation at present rather than investigating questions of faith.” Comneno remained silent, watching Mocenigo as he took a draft of wine before continuing. “We are not without piety, however, Giovanni Andrea. Only yesterday the Senate resolved unanimously, and with bareheads, to build a church dedicated to the Holy Virgin and to name it Sancta Maria della Salute. With this gesture and our prayers, it is hoped to attract divine intercession to try and rid the city of the pestilence. There are to be devout processions on each of the next fifteen Saturdays.”
Giovanni Andrea Comneno nodded his head. “Yes our prayers are indeed required. My own first port of call on the way here was to San Giorgio degli Schiavoni where I received communion from the Grand Prior.”
Mocenigo stood up to refill their glasses. “How fare the affairs of our Order and what news of the Scrolls?”
Comneno accepted the refilled glass of wine and removed a small piece of sediment from its rim. “That happens to be the main purpose of my visit to you Giovanni. Concerns for the safety of the Scrolls have occupied my thoughts, nearly exclusively, these past weeks. Only you, my son Angelo Maria and I are aware of the Scrolls and where they are being kept. I have increasing doubts about Patriarch Kyrillos Loukaris and the sooner I can recover the Scrolls from that phanariot the happier I will be.” Comneno paused. “There is also intelligence of a new threat. From another quarter I have heard that one of the Spanish orders, probably Sant’Iago, have got wind of the Scrolls’ existence and have sent a spy. We must all be on our guard.” Comneno again waited for a moment to allow Mocenigo to digest the information. He then continued “My other news is better. I am leaving tomorrow for Regensberg as I have it on good authority that the Emperor is, at last, about to recognise our Order. Also, I hear that Marino Caracciolo is unwell and soon the Grand Magistracy will be again in my possession. Once this is so I will be able to bring greater pressure to bear in order to gain the Dogato for yourself.”
Mocenigo smiled weakly. “Thank you Giovanni Andrea, but even after my years as a Procurator it is unlikely that I will achieve my wish. The curti families still blame my grandfather for many of Venice’s misfortunes and they are determined to ensure I will not become Doge.”
Comneno knew this to be the truth. He got up to leave. “I am sorry Giovanni I could not do more these last few years.” He paused briefly at the door and turned to see his visibly older friend staring at the floor.
Mocenigo’s hands were shaking so much that the wine was spilling. He had difficulty speaking. “It is strange and I never thought I would hear myself say it. High office and the crown of the Dogato in particular, is a bitter-sweet gift. For example if I wished to remain a Procurator I would have been forced to leave this beautiful house and to take quarters in the lifeless warren that is the Procuratie Nuovo. No, my friend, I like my freedom. I have the shakes of an old man and my remaining energies are best directed elsewhere.” Mocenigo paused for a moment. “In fact I may be able to offer some practical help in easing your concerns for the safety of the Scrolls. I am endeavouring at present to promote my nephew Pietro for the ambassadorship to England. He is an able and trustworthy fellow who is well connected with some of the Spanish envoys. I will see him tomorrow evening at my sisters and will direct him to seek out as much information, for you, as he able.”

Comneno moved to embrace the older man. “Thank you Giovanni. You are a true friend to the Order and to me. Forgive my rudeness for leaving so soon but I have a lot to achieve before I depart for Germany. Give Pietro my best wishes and my thanks for his help in trying to surface the spy. However ask him to be circumspect in the extreme.” The evening had already closed in as Giovanni Andrea Comneno stepped into the waiting boat. The bell of the Campanile announced it was one hour after sunset and he wrapped himself tightly against the biting wind for the journey home, northwards across the lagoon. Somewhere behind him in the darkness of a small waterway he heard a loud cry. "The braves have their first victim of the night," Comneno thought to himself before making a hurried sign of the cross.

©R.Derham 2001,2009

Chapter 4 
Cartagena, SE Spain. 10th December 1630

“Dom Djivo Slavujovic of Ragusa, Knight of Sant’Iago, stand before the bench,” the court clerk called out.
A tall raven-haired man aged about thirty years rose to his feet. His face, mahogany in colour from the long Mediterranean summers, was creased by a pink scar that ran from below his left ear to his jaw. As he pushed back a long lock of hair from his face he touched the scar and could be seen to flinch at its still raw sensations. His stature and bearing brought a sudden increase in the tempo of hand-held fans in the room. Because of the numbers of interested spectators that had packed into the small courtroom the air appeared stuffy to Djivo and yet as it was such an unusually cold day the particled breath of the judge was easily visible. Djivo watched as it came in quick sharp wheezy bursts. He appeared very ill at ease.
The clerk fixed his gaze on Djivo. “You are charged with the unlawful murder of Captain Dom Luis de Bazan of the Squadron of Spain’s galley Sandovala in September of this year of our Lord and with the subsequent attempt to evade arrest and interrogation.” The clerk paused to let the murmuring in the court subside. “How do you plead?”
Before answering Djivo looked around him searching for friendly faces. Sensing none he was comforted by the outstretched hand of his lawyer. “Not guilty!” He made his voice resonate as strong and clear as possible.
“Very well,” The judge who was seated facing him, said gravely. He had not looked up at Djivo, but breathing a little faster made a brief note in the folio opened in front of him. “Prosecutor Nunez proceed with your case.”
Djivo listened intently as the letrado Nunez outlined the facts of the prosecution. How on the 27th of September this year of Our Lord, about one day’s sailing distance from Cartagena, the accused had killed Captain Luis de Bazan and that, after having landed in port, had attempted to escape while being taken to the towns presidio. Djivo noted the dismissive way that Nunez referred to him as ‘the accused’ and watched as a number of mariners were called to support the claim of an apparently unprovoked killing. All appeared nervous and avoided looking at Djivo directly but were resolute and consistent in their stories despite cross-examination by his own lawyer Doctor Perez de Herrera. The day passed slowly but by the time the judge called a halt to the proceedings, Nunez had completed his presentation.
“We will adjourn until tomorrow morning when the defence will begin its case. Sergeant at Arms. Take the prisoner down!” The judge stood up and after gathering his notes, left the courtroom.
Djivo, his legs stiff from standing throughout the trial, was prodded ahead by the two soldiers who had guarded him all day. They were very impatient to get some food and join their friends in the barrio outside the city walls - where the prostitutes were plenty and occasionally free of the pox. His gait was heavy and his chained hands clinked with every forward step. As they passed behind the line of harbour-side buildings and towards the presidio - which stood isolated at the far end of the wharf - Djivo looked up at the fortifications on the hill that lay on the south-western side of the harbour entrance. Their solidity reinforced his isolation. On reaching the jail he was bundled into a cell on his own. Dank straw and a reed mat lay on the ground. There was no window and a bowl in the corner served as his latrine. The smell of sickness was heavy in the air. He was attached by a neck chain to a wall ring and leaving a flagon of water and a plate with a ration of beans and bread the jailers left. Djivo could hear the laughter as they left discussing the night’s sport ahead. Although not having eaten all day Djivo could not bring himself to eat the food. He slid down the icy wall, slumping to the floor, his chest heaving, tears welling up in his eyes. What had brought him to this vile place? Who was to save him?

Djivo Slavujovic was an architect by training and the scion of a wealthy Ragusan family. Although surrounded by the Ottoman Turks, his and the other noble families of Ragusa had negotiated a mutually beneficial trade treaty with the Sultan which had maintained their independence for the cost of an annual tribute of ten thousand zecchins and one boatload of pitch to be paid yearly, in Constantinople. This had also ensured that Ragusa had remained intensely Catholic and an ally of Spain. Indeed Djivo’s own father had equipped two ‘men of war’ in 1588 to sail with Philip II’s armada against England and as a reward was given a Spanish title and became a Knight of Sant’Iago . 
Immediately after receiving his doctorate at Salamanca, and almost before the splattered blood of the butchered bulls of his graduation corrida had time to congeal, Djivo had departed to join Philip IV’s army in Naples. Here he had been delegated to help design and engineer the enlargement of the Castel Sant’Erasmo. In due course he also had been admitted into the Sant’Iago order. It was because of the urgency and absolute secrecy of a mission on behalf of the Order that he had approached Captain de Bazan to obtain a quick passage to Spain on the galley Sandovala. Leaving from Salerno they had called at Scalea and Parghelia. After that it had been onto Messina, Palermo and Trapani before making a straight dash for Sardinia.
Luis de Bazan was the son of one of Spain’s greatest admirals, Dom Alvarez, the Marquis of Santa Cruz. Djivo, however, found him to be a coarse individual, harsh on his paid crew and cruel in the extreme to the slave oarsmen of the chusma. This had first become evident on the Sardinia passage. The route they were taking was dangerous and usually only attempted in high summer. The lack of wind and fear of corsairs meant that instead of the normal quarter mode used for long passages de Bazan had ordered the oarsmen to work for extended periods at passé-vogue pace and by the time they had docked in Cagliari seven of the forzados and two of the slaves had died, still chained to their oars. Once discovered the broken bodies were dumped, with little ceremony, overboard. The whipping of the forzados and the dousing of their wounds with vinegar and salt was unremittingly merciless. Djivo pleaded with the Captain to restrain his cruelty but de Bazan had taken great offence at the intrusion and thereafter the feelings of mutual hatred intensified. Leaving Cagliari and rounding Cape Spartivento a more favourable levante wind took them swiftly over three days and nights to the Baleares. After landfall in Porto Petra, Palma and Eivissa the mainland was finally reached at Calpe two weeks after leaving Salerno. De Bazan’s final destination was Cartagena and when he decided to bypass the badly needed night’s respite in Alicante and press on, Djivo could feel mutiny in the air.
This was particularly evident among the Negro esclavos del rey and they protested loudly. When de Bazan was informed of this, his anger exploded and ordering the isolation of the supposed ringleader personally cut off the man’s nose. Even this act did not appease his rage and he further ordered a whipping of the deck-master. Seeing this Djivo could not restrain himself any longer. He caught up with the captain at the bow palmetto and pulling at his shoulder, in full view of the watching crew, ordered him to desist. De Bazan, his dagger already drawn, turned, his face contorted by a cruel smile and began an attack on Djivo. Caught off guard by the aggression Djivo had to retreat backwards along the central corsia between the benches of the oarsmen. They had finally clashed near the main mast and fought each other furiously back and forth along the corsia. After what seemed an eternity the two men suddenly separated and there were excited shouts from the chusma as de Bazan’s body went limp. He collapsed to the deck, dying, blood streaming from his mouth and the wound where Djivo’s dagger had lodged in his chest. 
Djivo had looked down for sometime at the lifeless corpse of the Captain before walking to the aft cabin. Nobody said anything in the hours that followed but on reaching port, word of the fight spread rapidly and a troop of soldiers soon arrived to arrest him. Djivo tried to resist, aware of the urgency of his Order’s mission, but was soon overpowered.

By now Djivo was gulping down his food. Sleep did not come and it seemed an eternity before the returning jailer announced a new dawn.

The courthouse was even more crowdwed with spectators this day. Djivo, with gentle prodding from his lawyer, related his story of the fight. This was supported, despite threats to their lives, by two brave buenos boyas, the non-convict salaried oarsmen on board. Written testimony of statements obtained from some of the forzados had also been submitted. Perez de Herrera, Djivo’s lawyer, was standing in front of the judge. “Under the Maritime Ordinances of Trani, Section 27, no master may beat a mariner. For the purposes of this voyage Dom Djivo Slavujovic was considered a mariner as no fare of passage had been demanded or contracted. When attacked by Captain de Bazan he had the right to escape and did so by moving from the bow to the chain of rowers. You have testimony to the fact that my client was heard to utter on three occasions to the Captain. ‘ In the name of the Lord do not touch me’. ” 
At this point de Herrera paused and looked first at Djivo and then at the crowd. He raised his voice. “In the name of the Lord do not touch me.” The lawyer waited for a moment before turning back to face the judge. “In the name of the Lord do not touch me.” De Herrera raised his left hand and pointed at Djivo. “Dom Slavujovic said this three times but Captain de Bazan continued to press his frenzied attack. In these circumstances it is accepted that a mariner may defend himself and even in self-defence kill the master if necessary.” The lawyer smiled as he looked directly at the judge who now appeared even more agitated than usual. He would have to accept the legal argument that Djivo was to be considered a mariner and not a passenger and Perez de Herrera for his part, was relishing the judge’s obvious discomfort. He expected a recess to be called.
De Herrera was not to know however, that the judge’s powerful position as auditor de las galeras had been secured for him by Alvaro de Bazan, the dead captain’s father and no amount of legal argument would remove that obligation. Sweating profusely despite the stinging cold air the judge suddenly closed his folio of notes, and without looking up at either de Herrera or Djivo, began delivering his judgement. “Djivo Slavujovic, on the count of unlawful murder I find you not guilty.” There were gasps of astonishment throughout the court. “However . . .” He waited for silence and then resumed, this time raising his eyes to cast a sneer at de Herrara before fixing Djivo with a menacing glare. “. . . on the charge of evading arrest you are found guilty and I sentence you to four years banishment as a desterrado in the presidio of Oran. You will be taken to the Alcazar in Toledo to await transfer in the spring and pending your leave to appeal this sentence. Take the prisoner away.” 
Djivo slumped visibly, his shoulders sagged and a heavy fatigue finally overpowered him. He was not to notice the quick and silent exit of two members of the Fratres de Caceres from the back of the courtroom.

©R.Derham 2001,2009

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 2)


Baltimore, SW Ireland. 19th June 1631

The setting sun captured the moisture on the upper rigging of the mainmast and as Murat Reis stared upwards he almost expected some sort of ghostly spider to descend from its glistening web. There was a steady wind coming from the south-west and it was only when a sudden burst of cold spray, whipped up by a squall, reached high to the poop-deck to catch his face that his fixation was ended. Looking down towards the main-deck he watched as the mariners belayed the sheets of the mainsail in response to a change in the wind direction. He could also feel the ship falling away from its line in an effort to fill the sails. He leaned over the small guard rail and growled down to the quarter-deck in coarse Italian. “Helmsman, hold your course wretch.”
The sailor shouted back without looking up. “Aye Captain, steady north by nor’west.”
Murat could just about hear the response as another squall caused the lateen or triangle-shaped mizzen-sail beside him, to luff. “Tell the bosun to bring the Englishman here.” He bellowed, unnecessarily loudly, to the young boy who acted as his quarter-deck runner and who followed him shadow-like around the poop-deck. The lad shot down the ladder to the main-deck and went to the base of the mainmast where a small figure stood accompanied by two taller dark-skinned men wearing bright red tunic tops, breeches and simple turbans. 
Presently, a man with a peculiar bobbing head motion that tossed his sandy-speckled grey hair like the tentacles of a jellyfish, ascended his way back up the ladder leading from the quarter-deck. His progress was slow and it was only when he had finished the short climb that Murat realised the man’s ankles were still tightly manacled. He instructed the accompanying soldiers to release him. They did so but remained in close attendance watching him carefully. “I trust the soldiers have treated you well,” Murat spoke in English, his accent guttural and harsh.
“Yes, Captain.” The small man with the jellyfish hair, whose reported age was younger than his sea-scarred face implied, was quick to respond. “I am glad to be out of the hold though. Them Frenchies down there, sure stink.” His remark was rewarded by a slight but briefly sustained smile on the Captain’s face.
Edward Fawlett was only in his early forties but his body ached as he bent to rub his ankles where the manacles had left their mark. Most of his pain, however, was the result of the beating he received at the hands of this renegade and his heathen Turks when they had boarded his boat whilst fishing off Dartmouth the previous day. He and his five men were taken captive and his boat sunk. They had been kept below in the orlop deck since then, chained in the company of a number of French, Portuguese and since earlier today, Irish captive sailors. He looked upwards at the younger captain with the intense eyes, unsure as to what was going to happen.
“You say you know your way in this area?” Murat asked while he watched the mainsail fill, enjoying the feeling of his beloved ship lurching forward in response.
“Yes, Captain,” Fawlett’s voice became stronger with his certainty. “The pilchard grounds in the narrows and Bristol haven are about played out and many now do their fishing in the plentiful waters of this coast. I have been here a good number of times.” He could not hear the Captain’s response as Murat had turned his back to look towards the coast off the ships starboard side.
“Lodeman this is where . . .”
The words were lost as another squall hit the deck but Fawlett brightened at the official title used by the Captain. Under generally accepted sea-laws it implied a reward for a job well done but equally personal disaster if there was any mistake. He decided to press his opportunity. “Sorry Captain, I cannot hear you with the wind,” He shouted.
Murat Reis turned to face him one hand resting on a poop lantern. “I said that this is where you begin your work, and if I am satisfied and the attack is successful then you might be released.”
Fawlett moved to join him near the starboard rail and scanned the shore that lay about one mile away. The evening light was good and the headlands were easily identified because of intense shadows cast by the setting sun. He raised his arm and pointed in a north-easterly direction. “Those rocks to our stern quarter are the Staggs Castles and those on our bow quarter are the Kedge Rocks. Directly ahead is the Gascanne Sound between Sherkin Island and Cape Clear Island. Point the ship at the sound and once the Kedge Rocks are cleared to the north-east you can reach towards the opening to Baltimore haven. The entrance is only thirteen score fathoms wide and is guarded by the Beacon promontory on the land side and a lesser cliff on Sherkin side. To the seaward side of the Beacon outcrop is Eastern Hole Bay where you can safely drop anchor. There is about eight fathoms of water at full ebb. Luckily by that time it will be dark and our approach obscure. There is a . . .” The Englishman did not want to stop but Murat Reis held up his hand.
“It looks like a lee shore.” Murat was always wary of a trap in unfamiliar waters.
Fawlett looked to the horizon. “Not tonight I think. The wind is swinging west nor’west to come off the land.”
“Very well. Instruct the helmsman accordingly.” The words were spoken sharply as Murat, dismisively, turned away once again, this time to look aft. The fisherman and his silent escorts descended from the poop-deck and a slight smile again crossed the captain’s face as he imagined the English sailor trying to explain his instructions to the Corsican helmsman. “Who said salvation should come easy?” Murat murmured to himself as he looked at the sea and the faint phosphorous trail in the stern’s dark wake. Below him the ropes pulling the longboat and the two seine fishing boats, taken earlier in the day, slackened and tautened as they surfed and crested each successive wave. Further astern again was his second ship - a captured French polacre of about one hundred tons armed with four culverins and an extra eight demi-culverins that Murat had placed on board, accompanied by a prize crew of about sixty mariners and soldiers - with his long time friend Alratache Reis in command.
His own ship Yildirim, the Thunderbolt, named in honour of the fourth Ottoman ruler Beyazid I, was a three master of about three hundred tons. It had twenty four guns and was normally manned by fifty sailors and about forty mariners of the ta’ifat al ru’sa - the militia of the corsair captains. On this voyage there were also about one hundred Janissaries of the Algiers ocak. The ship itself had been built in Sale, although its design came from stolen plans of Phineas Pett, the master of Chatham yard. This latest experimental design for a fast frigate, with its gun ports bowed forward, was an attempt to counteract the manoeuvrability of the Dunkirkian ships, which were causing havoc in the English channel. Modifications also included lowered decks, a smaller tumble-home and altered mast steps. The poop-castle, typical of the larger galleons, had almost been completely dispensed with. In addition a more responsive lateen rig on the mizzen-mast, allowed much greater progress into the wind. The Yildirim’s design, like many of the galleass that the Barbary corsairs sailed, had also included portholes for oars which allowed the ship to make way even in conditions of no wind. Its speed advantage over the older and often bigger English ships that patrolled these waters was further enhanced by deliberately dry docking the boat every two months to clean and tallow its hull. Since Buckingham’s death, Murat thought to himself, the English navy has become toothless. By common agreement the once powerful navy had been destroyed on land by political ineptitude and at anchor by the teredo worm. By depending more and more on prize ships and commandeered merchant vessels - whose sea worthiness was often better than ships of the line - the English had given corsair captains like himself the advantage in sea-battles.’
Murat Reis did not often take time to dwell on his destiny but the realisation that this opportunity for personal revenge was almost within his grasp caused a flood of buried images to burst upon his consciousness. He remembered his youth in the United Provinces as the young Jan Janssen, growing up in Haarlem to become a privateer in the North Sea and raiding the Spanish supply routes with Dutch letters of marque. Captured in 1618 by Algerian corsairs he converted to Islam and sailed as mate to Soliman Reis. After Soliman died he had decided to throw his lot in with the corsairs sailing out of Sale-Rabat. Here the Hornachero moriscos had established a pirate haven on the southern bank of the Bou Regreg estuary and were more than welcoming to a renegade Dutch seaman whose mutual hatred of Spain had been forged by the brutal campaigns of the army in Flanders. With their finance he was able to establish himself as an able corsair captain, plundering in particular, the West Indies’ trade as it made for the Gibraltar narrows. Murat enjoyed the life, the freedom and the riches it had brought.
He also remembered, with deep bitterness, how the authorities in Amsterdam would not let him disembark when he put in at Veere in 1622. Despite his wife’s pleas for him to remain in Holland he returned south without her and their children, as her family would not let her go. Sailing from his homeland for good he had returned to Morocco and taken a local woman as his wife. ‘Jan Janssen’ had become ‘Murat’. The Turkish captain’s title of Reis being added in deference to his professional ability. Although many renegade captains had converted to enhance their prospects and profit margins he personally had found a strange and unexpected peace in the submission of Islam. Unusually for a convert he was accepted by his Turkish allies as being a sincere Muslim but also dedicated enough to be considered mu’min.
The Sale-Rabat sojourn had soured however with the arrival of more and more English pirates. They never integrated and indeed maintained northern havens on the south-west coasts of England and Ireland - havens to which he had no access. Increasing friction between the more powerful English Salee Rovers, as they were called, and those northerners who had converted, led to his decision to transfer his allegiance to Algiers. He was immediately rewarded by being made Admiral of the taiffe - the league of sea captains. In Algiers he was known as ‘Yanse’ in deference to another Murat Reis, a famous galley corsair captain who had been admiral about thirty years earlier and who was now Beylerbey - the Turkish regional governor - in the Morea.
The rivalry between the corsair captains of Algiers and Sale-Rabat was long standing and as he dwelt on this thought, Murat spat with anger into the sea far below. He remembered in particular the events of September 23rd, 1627 with bitter clarity. On that day after a long-fought battle between his ship and the Portuguese galleon Rosario - with the loss of many of his best men - he had finally succeeded in boarding her. He was about to claim its rich cargo of sugar when the ship of the English corsair pirate Neasdon, happened upon the battle and landing a fresh crew of mariners on board the Rosario forced Murat and his exhausted men to relinquish their prize. Despite protests to the taiffe at Sale he got little support and no recompense. Neasdon had taken his prize to Bristol and although another English captain was dispatched from Sale to counterclaim, Murat had felt his pathetic attempts with the Privy Council were half-hearted. He had vowed his revenge then - that day of reckoning was finally here. To raid Baltimore - one of the most staunch northern havens of the Sale-Rabat English corsairs - he knew would send the right message. Indeed if Allah favoured this voyage, there would be captives to bargain with those dogs in Morocco.
“Coming up on Eastern Hole!”
The helmsman’s shout tore into Murat’s thoughts. He raced from the poop-deck almost knocking the young deck runner over. On reaching the main-deck he sought out his first mate. By now it was almost dark but a clear star-filled sky and a rising three-quarter moon was giving them some light. All around him was intense activity as men scrambled up the rigging to reef the sails. He could just make out their shapes, like scurrying rats.
“Issue instructions for a silent approach. Any man who disobeys will feel my wrath! Once the anchors are holding bring up the longboat and have the oars covered in sarambo.”
As the mate disappeared into the shadows Murat listened for the echoes off the fast approaching cliffs. There were no lights visible and the sailor casting the sound whispered his findings each time he passed the captain.
“Drop both bow anchors,” Murat suddenly ordered when he was satisfied with the depth reading.
The sharp splash was followed by the noise and smell of burning rope as it played out. The screech faded as the anchors hit bottom but was soon replaced by the creaking agony of the rope as it strained against wood cleats. Ever so slowly the ship’s forward momentum halted with the bow turning to point seawards as the flood tide caught its hull. Murat went to the rail to watch his second ship complete the same manoeuvre and drop anchor about one hundred yards away. They had expertly followed his course using the Yildirim’s poop-deck lanterns as a guide. Once he had satisfied himself that they were also holding fast Murat ordered the runner to douse the lights. The Yildirim’s longboat was then pulled alongside and very quickly six mariners and four of the Turks - armed with muskets - climbed down and took their places on the benches. Murat turned to the English fisherman who had been brought back to the poop-deck and stood there silently. “Fawlett, you are to come with me to survey the approach. Get down into the longboat.”

©R.Derham 2001,2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rihla (Journey 2): Copenhagen, Denmark – I AM A DOUGHNUT

Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355 CE) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian, Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.

This Rihla is about Copenhagen.

I, like many others, when watching what up to then had been a perfectly stage-managed inauguration process felt for Barrack Obama when the Chief Justice of the United States fumbled the formulaic sequence of the Presidential Oath. Obama hesitated, like a child in a school play who has practiced and practiced for the moment but who has to rely on the prompt of another character to begin to utter his own words. Obama, characteristically serene, maintained his poise. I suspect if there had been anything to hand but the Lincoln Bible it would have been flying in Robert’s direction. Afterwards I was reminded of another time and place when a mismatch of words resonated in my brain. The plane was on its final approach to Copenhagen airport.

I am a doughnut, I remembered thinking, feeling the sudden change in cabin pressure suck a hole in my eardrums. Swallowing hard I had looked up from my newspaper, and stared out the window to watch as the plane dropped out of a puffball sky, and banked southeast over Oresund. Returning to the paper, I had wanted to finish the obituary of Robert Lochnar, John F. Kennedy’s favourite translator of all things German, and his voice coach for the famous line inserted into the Berlin speech in 1963 at the height – or depth – of the cold war. Kennedy’s pronunciation did not leave his coach down whereas the syntax did. The inclusion of the article ein in Ich bin ein Berliner meant that Kennedy had in effect said “I am a doughnut”. Berliner was the local common word for that particular type of pastry.

I remember smiling the stupid smile of secret associative thoughts and got ready for the landing. When you exit a plane in Copenhagen for once in your life you know exactly where you are. Each landing slot has its longitude and latitude displayed in degrees, minutes and seconds.

I am a publisher, I reminded myself as I got into a taxi and headed for Chester’s Bogcafe on Strandgade in the Christianhavn section of the city. More specifically I was the publisher of another Kennedy, Thomas E. Kennedy, and at that time was in Copenhagen to launch the second of his planned quartet of novels set against and upon the backdrop of life in that city. Recently I was delighted to hear that Bloomsbury are to re-publish the Quartet over the next four years, simultaneously in the States and the UK. This will deservedly bring Tom’s fantastic writing to a far greater audience than our small company would ever have been able to achieve.

It was Culture Night in the city, an annual fest of artistic endeavour, an urban pallet upon which all that is possible in Art – and some that is not – is available for the citizens to dip into. The streets were alive with adults and children testing their senses and no more so than in Chester’s. Tom’s reading time overlapped slightly with an earlier launch of the Danish version of the latest Harry Potter, a strange serendipity now that Potter’s publishers Bloomsbury are about to publish Tom. Late arriving children were filing by to pluck their books from the grasp of a witch, and wondering for just a moment whether Tom, was meant to be one of the characters. This played quiddich with his concentration, yet he gave a brilliant reading and soon the bookshop’s supply of Bluett – and the extra copies I had brought – were soon sold out. Suffused by this success – and liberal amounts of wine – Tom, his then partner Alice, and I decided to hop in a taxi and make for Femmeren, a cosy pub at No 5 Classensgade close to both where Tom and Alice lived and where I was staying. It is 11.30 p.m. by the time we get there.

For the uninitiated the first of Tom’s quartet of novels was Kerrigan’s Copenhagen – A Love Story. And it is a love story, in and for a city, of an ex-patriot writer battered by the vicissitudes of life who begins an odyssey of renewal – revitalization – along a pavement mosaic of Copenhagen’s poetry, jazz, architecture and pride. It is an evocation of 49 of the countless watering holes and eateries of Copenhagen, that Kerrigan visits in pursuit of salvation, beer, vodka and food; a spiritual pub-crawl as it were, and Femmeren (the fiver) is featured in Chapter 25. It is a small bar with old wood shadows; a single right angled counter; a tab system established on entry, kept for the capacity of your stay, and settled on extraction. There was jazz playing in the crevices, cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke mingling their scents and dancing tangos in the air and an old piano waiting in the corner for a player’s hands, patiently.

Before going in, hunger struck and I thought pizza, but Domino’s across the road was already closed, so I settled for triangle slices of Toblerone chocolate bought in the late-nite shop next door. Entering I sat at the angle of Femmeren’s counter, munching, and Tom stood about three feet away. We ordered: vodka for Tom and Alice, Tuborg beer for me. Another couple from the reading were already there and Alice joined them. The ambience was warm, and liquid and warm, wrapping a welcome around us like you never wanted to leave.

Suddenly into this warmth a blond haired, fine featured, square-jawed, very tired looking woman entered the bar and proceeded to occupy the space between Tom and I. He soon appeared puzzled, looked at me and indicated with his eyes. The woman was apparently rubbing his leg, and very shortly afterwards Alice, up the wrong way. He extracted himself, and sat down with Alice. The blond then turned her attention to me, teaching me to play dice in cups – for slices of Toblerone – and into her’s followed double-shot after double-shot of Fisherman’s Friend, a liquor of vodka and aniseed. I kept pace with the drinking, just, with single Fishermen and Tuborg and fooling myself into thinking that I was enjoying the intellectual confrontation. However it soon dawned that she is a Valkyrie – from the Norse valkyrja, ‘she who chooses warriors destined to die in battle’ – a weapon of mass destruction and at that moment I was a likely martyr.

I excused myself to head for the toilet and returned to find that the Valkyrie had thankfully switched the main focus of her attention to two younger men at the far end of the bar. They invited me to join them. Copenhageners are incredibly polite and because I spoke no Danish, they switched effortlessly to English even amongst themselves. One of the younger men had the Homeric looks of a battle-scarred Greek helot; his black curls falling over a face set off centre by an assaulted nose. I asked where was he from, thinking Mediterranean.
‘I am of Danish-Jewish extraction,’ he explained, ‘nothing further south than that.’ Reading my mind.
‘I am half-Jewish myself,’ the Valkyrie then declared, downing yet another double shot, as if stomping on trolls.
The helot bristled. ‘You are either Jewish or not, no half measures,’ he said, moving to a table away from her.
I was watching this exchange when my line of vision blurred.
‘Copenhagen is a city of exiles,’ a woman with glasses said, moving in between the Valkyrie and me, engaging me with her smile. ‘I am Finnish,’ she said taking the last piece of Toblerone and rubbing up against my leg. Leg rubbing appeared to be standard practice in the Femmeren. Taking the chocolate was a bad move. The Finn had not played dice, but now diced with a social death for it. The Valkyrie had a new target, and moving around to my right quickly established, that based on the age of their respective children Ms Finland was way older than she herself was. All this in English and in accentless stiletto politeness! Ms Finland, shrugged and moved back into the shadows behind me.

This was Femmeren, this was Copenhagen, I reminded myself, and I am a doughnut.

Tom and Alice took their leave, it is 2.30 a.m. and where I was staying was only two streets away. I fully intended to walk there once I’d finished one last Tuborg, I told them. They had just left when a friend of the Valkyrie comes through the door. He is with another man, a journalist and we got talking. Three beers later he suggested yet another bar in town, and all four of us headed there. It was a hang-out for young architects and engineers and as a building had obviously never used the services of either. More beers later, and in the crush I am standing close to a couple with Asian features. Of Korean extraction it transpired, he in publishing, she a lawyer.
The Valkyrie went for it again, lighting a fuse! ‘I like your smile,’ she said to the man in English. ‘It is always there.’
‘I do not care for comments about our smile. Westerners have changed it from a thing of beauty, into one of grotesque disfigurement, of mocking stereotype and ridicule,’ he replied in perfect English – to a fellow, albeit destructive Dane – and moved away.
‘My glass is half-empty. Time for a refill,’ the Valkyrie said to me, suddenly grabbing at my left nipple through my thin damp shirt. I can still feel the pain of this.

Half Jewish, half-Korean, half-cut, half-rubbed, I am a doughnut, I thought and made for the toilet and exit. It is 4.30 a.m.

It was blowing a gale up Nyhavn and as I opened the door of a taxi it blew from my hand to crash against a dustbin. I apologized and sat in, gave him an address. The driver smiled and shrugged. The taxi took off. I ask him his name. He is Hasan, a middle-aged professorial looking Iraqi and he says, ‘Bad wind.’
al-rûh,’ I replied, dredging up the Arabic and Persian word for wind.
He slowed the car. ‘Man’s spirit,’ he said, waiting.
I had used the article and al-rûh in early Arabic poetry and on six or seven occasions in the Qur’an refers to the breath, or spirit that suffuses man – nafs is the soul or receptacle of that spirit. My own spirits are sky high and we debate, in English, the duty of mankind to God and God’s duty to mankind, and how in Iraq this seems incompatible. Too soon the journey ended.
‘You are here,’ Hasan announced.
I did not at that moment feel I was anywhere but stepped out and paid him anyway. ‘Thank you,’ I said and watched as he drove off. But I was there and as I stood at the door of the apartment block where I was staying I grumbled. I was shipwrecked and not a Fisherman’s Friend in sight. Ahead of me were twelve flights of stairs, and as I laboured upwards, I counted the steps and the number of drinks I thought I’d had. The steps crashed over me like South Atlantic waves. I battled through to my room, sat on the bed, and the spirit-level finally cracked. The room began to spin round and round me, faster and faster. I was looking into the eye of a doughnut, with nausea for a compass.

I too am a doughnut, I thought and the lights went out in Copenhagen, where exile is everyone’s existence.