Grand Vizier of the Sublime Porte Ivazzade al-Halid Pasha was not an attractive man. Even his few friends were inclined to describe him as “rodent-like”; his many enemies used rather harsher adjectives. His pointed nose, absent chin, and shifty eyes, combined with a rather unfortunate walrus mustache was the source of the comparison, but it was the stress of managing a decrepit empire, with great and lethal competition (the Ottoman civil service tended to run by competitive examination; unless one competitively examined ones shoes before one put them on, one was likely to find something alive, small, and lethal in there) that caused his various twitches, unhappy habit of spitting while he spoke, and the squint.
Being stressed and almost trotting toward the audience chamber of Selim the Supine certainly did not improve matters.
After a cursory examination, the guard Janissaries admitted him to the presence of the sultan. The examination was cursory only because nothing smaller than a blunderbuss or full size whaling harpoon was going to allow a man of the stature of the Grand Vizier to harm the Sultan before help arrived.
And there was the Sultan himself, lying like a glacial moraine across his specially reinforced divan. He was, of course, eating. One could tell that from the noises; actually seeing the upper end of the sultan was impossible from the doorway due to his intervening stomach.
The kethüdâ slammed his rod on the floor and announced the Vizier; a fluttering of hands from the sultan brought four strong servants to raise him upright (or at least as upright as was possible) while something that looked to the vizier like a pit-prop was shoved in behind the sultans massive shoulders in an attempt to keep him that way.
“That’s new” thought al-Halid “maybe they will get around to the water powered winch that the engineer was talking about, and we can get rid of the high protein diet and weight room for the servants”.
Shaking himself back to the moment, he rushed to make use of the time before the sultan would become distracted from the affairs of state by something really important like a mote of dust in a sunbeam. At least he no longer had to put up with addressing his sovereign hidden behind a grating; Selim had abandoned their use when he could no longer fit behind them.
“Majesty, I bring grievous tidings: we have been invited to a diplomatic congress” said the vizier, bowing.
“Whass ‘ring wiv dat?” sputtered his ruler, spraying the acre of watered silk covering his abdomen with a delicate mixture of chicken in wine sauce, “Jus’ send ol’ whassisname…. Rumelia.” the Sultan swallowed, much improving his diction. “And tell him to bring back some decent local delicacies, this time. That German pickled cabbage and sausage thing was not bad, but it gave me terrible gas.”
The sultan waved his hand in dismissal, and reached out toward a spoon.
“A minor problem with that, majesty. Firstly the Congress is in Stockholm; I understand that their idea of a delicacy is pickled herring in cream cheese. Also, we are invited to the congress by the Russians, along with a bunch of tiny European states.”
This litany actually stopped the spoon on the way to the imperial mouth. Selim had many defects, but he was not utterly stupid, and had a well developed sense of self preservation (at least where caloric intake and trans-fatty acids were not concerned).
“That sounds revolting,” ruminated the sultan, “tell him to return with some schnitzel instead. And the only reason the Russians would want to talk with us is to go to war or demand a province. We probably need to avoid that. Instruct the Emir to have some no account Emirate or even better, a Sanjak, to stand in for the Empire if things get ugly.”
“Of course, Majesty”
The vizier withdrew from the room as Mehmet resumed his one man attempt to cause famine in Asia Minor.
It never failed to astound al-Halid that, despite all appearance, here was a functioning brain in all that blubber. As he scurried down the corridor to prepare instructions for the Emir of Rumelia (who certainly was going to be well pleased by this little lot) he thanked Allah that the empire was saved, if only for another little while.
And he made a mental note to send a messenger 1,000 kurus to Jimmy the Armenian for Russia to place in the impending bru-ha-ha….