Mehmed-beg Ahmed Pasha, Sanjak of Avlona, relaxed on his balcony in the morning sun, rather to his surprise, enjoying the sunlit vista before him. Despite his best judgement offering misgivings, he could not control a feeling of well-being. He would certainly not admit it publicly (people might think he was losing his grip), but he had been wrong after Grocka.
There had not been a stream of impeccably dressed and drilled European armies streaming south to crush his ill assorted band of scruffy bandits. Indeed, all the fighting seemed to be taking place well to the north. Even more remarkably, Istanbul had been supplying sufficient food, supplies and money to actually keep the “army” (he supposed he could use the term, though Baker Pasha, his military commander, still tended to twitch when he heard it) together, fed, and clothed, even with a degree of “inventive accounting” taking place. Mehmed-beg looked indulgently at some workers putting in a new grove of imported fig trees as he thought this, and made a note to send some of the first crop to someone military, somewhere. The first crop were always a bit bitter, anyway, so no real loss.
Added to this, the Aga of the Janissaries had returned to Istanbul by easy stages, relieved of a good portion of his body weight, and a number of members of his entourage whose digestive systems had not proved equal to some rather dodgy seafood. So much body weight that he had heard his domestic staff had received a nice honorarium from the local tailoring guild, as all the Aga’s clothes had to be remade, and the man did seem to dress rather well. Or at least copiously. The tailors did not seem to be in any doubt as to where their good luck stemmed from.
In any case, the departure of the enfeebled Aga was another load off his mind (he did not wish the man to shuffle off his mortal coil in the Sanjakate; much better, if it were to happen, to be in a mountain pass somewhere, and for the ensuing investigating, and possibly vengeance, to fall on some more deserving party). On top of these matters, his intelligence network was finally getting re-aligned, and starting to produce useful information about the opposition in this ridiculous “Pork War”. What these Europeans thought of the sudden influx of Balkan and Turkish cobblers, merchants, grooms, horse copers, bookies, three-card-monte merchants and out and out confidence tricksters he had no idea, but there did not seem to be any hostile reaction as of yet.
Looking at the sun, he realised that he had idled a good portion of the morning away, and that Faisel should be coming with the intelligence report.. even as he thought this, Faisel appeared with a bundle of papers, an amiable expression, and a servant bearing coffee. No tension there. Excellent.
Indeed, the report was unremarkable. Herzog Mark had taken to calling himself “Light of Europe” (apparently Europe was a fairly dim place) and was marching toward Russia…. The Cardinal-Elector of Trèves-sur-Rhin (there was a bloke to avoid in a dark alley, or a card game, by all accounts) was marching toward Erge…..Erzbirgs….Ezgebir…. oh some dammed Saxon place…… and the Kietlen Pusztaság lot, still smarting from their defeat at Grocka, had beaten up some west german bunch somewhere, redeeming, no doubt, their honor from whatever pawnbroker Crveni Lopov, the commander of Avlonya’s foot levies, had sold it too after the battle. That brought them to Groß-Holsten. Apparently, their forces were marching south, and had even negotiated passage through Switzerland. Why….? Some sort of critical coo coo clock or chocolate shortage? There was more, as Mehmed-beg started to frown (he hated not knowing things. Not understanding things was even worse, and the domestic staff had learned to keep a respectful distance when he was puzzled). Apparently, Gaspard de Gitaine, the frenchman they had just hired to command their forces, had some sort of falling out with the plan, and while retaining his post, had claimed to be too ill to accompany the army. But the next letter had de Gitaine attending the horse races with his newly arrived family, in rude health (and, as the bookie/spy ruefully reported, apparently with an excellent eye for horseflesh which his young children had inherited. Must send that chap some extra dinars, he sounds badly out of pocket).
Papers in hand, Mehmed-beg looked unseeingly at his new fig trees, while Faisel waited.
“I do not understand these last reports, Fiasel. I do not see a pattern here. Switzerland? and south of there… Italy? If they are coming here, they are taking the very long way around.” ruminated Mehmed-beg.
Faisel shrugged. Not saying anything when he had nothing to say, along with a remarkable selection of sharp objects secreted around his person were just two of his secretary’s sterling attributes, Mehmed-beg thought.
“Let us have Baker Pasha’s opinion on these”
Faisel’s eyebrow rose. He quite like Baker Pasha, by all appearances, but had a rather low opinion of the Englishman’s insight.
Mehmed-beg answered the unasked question “Yes, Faisel, I know, he appears to be as thick as two short planks. But he is remarkably informed about this warmaking business, and it would be remiss to underestimate him. Especially as it is not a subject we are well informed on.”
Nodding, Faisel asked a servant to have Baker Pasha join them, and shared the Sanjak’s quiet contemplation of the plant life while they waited.
The wait was not long; Baker Pasha bounded onto the balcony, clearly full of good cheer and a thoroughly annoying exuberance. The was cheerfully eating baklava while the activities of Groß-Holsten were revealed to him.
Licking his fingers, Baker asked “Where are they going?”
Casting is eyes upward, Faisel answered “Switzerland, apparently.” Clearly his opinion of Baker’s wits was being confirmed.
“No, No. Genoa or Venice, probably. Leghorn maybe. They have hired ships and are sailing somewhere.” Baker countered, stickily.
Mehmed-Beg tensed. “Here? Avlonya?”
Baker looked amiably at the steep limestone cliffs, the rocky foreshore, and the walls of the town. “Don’t think so, old bean. This place would be terrible, and the landing opposed. And, from what i have heard, de Gitaine would have come, it it was here. I’ll wager he is avoiding a long sea trip to somewhere tropical, he has always hated sand. Who is in charge of the army?”
Concealing his alarm at being called an aged vegetable, Faisel answered “Kurfurst Braun, Excellency”.
“Never heard of him” answered Baker. “No clue there where they are off to.”
Mehmed-beg ground out “We need to acquire a clue, I suspect. Faisel, contact our men in Venice, and Genoa. Get one of the traders in Rome to find out about Leghorn. Immediately”
Faisel rose, bowed to both men (deeper to Baker than Mehmed-beg had seen previously) and left the balcony at such a fast walk as to be almost a trot. He and the Sanjak at least understood the urgency. And getting rapidly out of the Sanjak’s presence when his lips had turned so white, and his eyes closed to such narrow slits seemed very advisable.
Completely oblivious, of course, Baker picked up another pastry, and observed that the new trees were coming on nicely, what?
Untold amounts of horse sweat was shed on the basis that “The Sanjak really REALLY wants this information soon”; his representatives had a very clear idea honed (appropriate word, that) by much past history of what the result of perceived dilatoriness would be. So the news returned to Avlonya quickly.
Venice was a blank. Leghorn also. But Genoa…..
Baker, Faisel, and Mehmed-beg Ahmed Pasha sat quietly over the remains of a simple lunch, and considered the tidings.
“So, to summarise,” Mehmed-beg concluded “The genoese have been hired to transport Kurfurst Braun to Egypt.”
“Yes, Excellency” answered Faisel.
Mehmed-beg looked down and swore, not quite under his breath.
Baker Pasha, clearly lost, asked “Excellency, I do not see the problem. Surely the Khedive of Egypt has sufficient forces to deal with such an expedition? It’s a terrible idea on the part of Groß-Holsten.”
Mehmed-beg looked at Baker and twitched. Faisel flinched, almost invisibly.
Gathering himself, Mehmed-beg answered the question “It does not matter if the Egyptians win or not. The very fact they have to repel an invasion that is part of my war will be enough to bring about huge discredit, notice from the highest in the Empire, and probably some large thugs with bowstrings to apologise to the Khedive for his ‘inconvenience’. The Sultan is very protective of the Egyptian tax revenue. We need to make it not happen. Where are they going to land, Faisel, and who is in charge of the fleet?”
Faisel answered without hesitation “Alexandria, Excellency, and Luigi de Calzone”.
Mehmed-beg actually relaxed slightly from his quivering tension.
“Luigi de Calzone? Luigi de Calzone fo the terribly illegal and hugely profitable hashish trading enterprise? That Luigi de Calzone?”
Faisel grinned “Yes, Excellency”
“Look at a map, Baker Pasha, and find a place that is very far from anything of interest in Egypt. Tell Faisel when you have found one. Faisel, my respects to Signor de Calzone, and he needs to land Kurfurst Braun whereever we specify. I am sure the Germans are expecting three mud huts, some camels, and a palm tree; we will provide them that. Indicate to the gentle signor that a failure to oblige us will result in his regrettable trading activities being first shut down, and second better known in Italy than the name of the Pope’s latest mistress. Then we need to assemble the local shipping to get our blokes there before their blokes. So Luigi will need to take the long way around, alright?”
“Baker Pasha” Mehmed-beg said as Faisel left “I hope you like sea voyages”
Mersa Matruh was a terrible place, even by the standards of Egypt, Mehmed-beg though. The sea was pretty, but the town itself full of camels, cesspools, and the attendant flies for both. So bad the conditions, that they had actually moved out into the desert while waiting for Kurfurst Braun’s forces to arrive, as it would be more comfortable.
Mehmed-beg swore. The desert, more comfortable. He had spent a lifetime in Ottoman service avoiding the desert, and here he was. The sooner these germans showed up the better. Four days and he was already sick of it.
No sooner had he thought that, then shouts from the camp indicated that the genoese had been sighted. It would be over fast enough anyway.
Baker Pasha, as always, had a plan.
“We won’t fight ’em on the beach, we’ll wait for them to get off, and hit them in the town, such as it is. We’ll push the cavalry and levies forward, and shoot the guns at them. That should sort them out, as seasick and all as they will be.”
Indeed, as the battle started, Baker Pasha’s prediction seemed to be correct. the Avlonyan levies and cavalry moved forward to pin the Groß-Holsten force, and the
artillery opened fire on the mass of cavalry facing it. Remarkably swiftly, surprising even the gunners (and really, really surprising the Sanjak) one unit of cavalry had dispersed, and the most of the others taken cover behind the mass of infantry.
Baker Pasha rode to the top of a small rise and spoke conversationally to Mehmed-beg Ahmed.
“Now”, he said, “The trick is to find a place we can hit them were they cannot hit back. Those lads on our right” he gestured to the levies facing a Groß-Holsten grenadier battalion, among other enemies “are not going to last all that long. We need to make an advantage elsewhere. Like there.”
A messenger scurried off to one of the Deli units, and shortly, in response, the cavalry shot out of the woods into some unsuspecting
Groß-Holsten gunners patiently waiting for a target. The gunners fled, the guns hauled away to the cheers of the Avlonyan artillery, who were clearly hoping for the replacement of some of their more antique equipment.
Still, the issue appeared unresolved, and Mehmed-beg assured himself, via Faisel, that a discreet, yet swift, method of retreat was available.
Baker Pasha and Kurfurst Braun fenced still. Avlonyan units would move to an unprotected area, Groß-Holsten ones would counter. the Avlonyan units on the right, outmatched by their elite opposition, had started to stream back to the camp in the desert. Mehmed-beg was concerned, even though Baker Pasha did not seem worried.
Then things changed.
A gap was opened in the Avlonyan lines, by moving some deli to the far left to threaten the remaining Groß-Holsten cavalry. Through this gap could shoot the ottoman guns, and advance one sole unit of levies on the left. While the Deli found themselves countered, the steady fire of the guns and the flanking fire of the levies broke unit after unit of Groß-Holsten foot, all of them streaming back into the port where confused Genoese stevedores were still unloading cargo.
As the sky purpled toward evening, the remaining Groß-Holsten units formed up and fell back into town, joining their comrades on the ships. Baker Pasha sighed, and drew his troops back into the desert, not wishing to risk night fighting in the close environs of the town. A Genoese seaman in any case slid up to Mehmed-beg and reported that the order had been given to evacuate, so pursuit was unnecessary.
As dusk fell, Mehmed-beg Ahmed Pasha and Faisel looked at each other in resignation behind Baker’s Pasha’s back. As soon as he gave the last order concerning the army, the man collapsed from competence into some strange form of upper-class-twitdom which was completely outside their experience. However, as the Sanjak quietly said to Faisel, the man was becoming a huge asset (besides being decent company). It would seem appropriate to assign a few of their best men as guards for Baker Pasha, because he had saved their “Pork” a couple of times now…..