The morning spring sun glittered on the water of Avlonya harbor. One again, Mehmed-beg Ali Pasha sat on his balcony, looking out over his gardens, and the groves beyond them. But he stirred restlessly, unable to find much in the way of comfort in the view.
Mehmed-beg (as is probably clear by now) was a man who could consistently find the one rotten olive in a whole bushel; and, he felt, that his current bushel was rather over-provided with bad fruit.
Yes, the ridiculous pork war was over, and even won by his side. Though the memory of the last battle in the campaign made him shiver once more……
He cast his mind back to the previous autumn. Simon, Landgrave of Erzgebrigskreis had moved his army south, into Ottoman territory. The Sanjak’s forces, led by the (much to Mehmed-beg’s surprise) redoubtable Baker Pasha had spent endless days slogging through the growing mud and penetrating rain of a balkan autumn, performing (as far as Mehmed-beg could see) some sort of endless dance with the enemy. They had been joined by a new gentleman, an italian of Mehmed-beg’s acquaintance, named Giovanni di Tripodi. He claimed he had joined the Sanjak’s army in search of military fame and glory, the Sanjak privately felt he had joined because he fancied a quiet retirement somewhere warm by the sea. Which he certainly was not getting now.
Mehmed-beg rather enjoyed having him with them, though, because he was a ferocious backgammon player, and did do his best to explain what the purpose of this bizarre Kaşık Oyunları dance was. His efforts were pretty much futile, because the Sanjak was too cold and wet and uncomfortable to care, but at least he tried.
Finally, in the hills above Stari Grad (yet another collection of festering mud huts that passed for a town in these parts) one side had been brought to bay. Mehmed-beg was not entirely sure which side, but certainly one of them was.
The battle began with the Erzgebirgskreisers slogging forward through the endless mud,
confronted by the cavalry and Crveni Lopov’s irregulars, who fell back steadily through the same mud. Baker Pasha had the Janissaries and guns formed at the rear, and seemed unconcerned at the enemy’s advance. Desultory fire ran up and down the lines of troops.
Baker Pasha remained sanguine, despite a raised eyebrow from the Sanjak as some irregulars and even a battalion of janissaries streamed to the rear, declaring in various terms that “They had had enough of this”. Baker did point out amiably to the Sanjak
that a couple of the Erzgebirgskreis units had fled too, one having been subjected to a hail of artillery fire, and there was nothing to be concerned about.
Just at this moment, when Mehmed-beg was about to remonstrate with his commanders, feeling more and more nervous about the approaching troops (they were once white coated but everyone now was covered with a gluey patina of mud) he was distracted by one of his sedan chair bearers falling hip deep into a seemingly bottomless puddle, decanting him very damply onto the ground. As he called for Faisal to bring him a horse (feeling a passing pleasure at the expression of horrified terror on his litter bearers faces; at least he had not completely lost his ability to impress) the grey clouds above finally burst. Weapons were useless, no-one could see anything. With (most likely) a sigh of relief from the troops involved, the armies withdrew to their starting positions.
And that was it; the last engagement in the “Pork war”. As futile and meaningless as the war itself, mused Mehmed-beg. Though he had received some very nice letters from the other powers involved, some of which he could even read. He had trusted di Tripodi and Faisal to answer them appropriately.
So here he sat once more, on his warm balcony. All was not well, however. One matter that worried him was that the Emperor had not withdrawn the Janissaries to Istanbul for the winter. Indeed, sitting on his balcony, he could hear them being drilled in the courtyard by Baker Pasha (nothing like drilling via an interpreter to add a certain element of surprise to the whole process, thought the Sanjak). Also, though the Delis had been withdrawn to return to their homes, they had begun returning to Avlonya with the coming of spring, showing orders that they were to assemble there. Finally, he had received word that the Emir of Rumelia (a distant relative, and possibly the instigator of all his troubles) was on his way to visit from Istanbul, and this could only be bad news. Mehmed-beg grinned as he thought at least it was not the Aga of the Janissaries this time, though his sources in the metropolis said the was still suffering from some form of undiagnosed gastric problems. So sad.
All he could do now is wait for the bad news. At least the Emir was a gentleman of the old school; and it would be a pleasure to drink a coffee with an old enemy.
It was even worse than Mehmed-beg supposed. Instead of being merely a proxy for the Sublime Porte, the Emperor, Selim the Supine (not to his face) the Emir of Rumelia had come bearing a sword. He was to be the general of the empire’s forces, a circumstance caused by his recent successes, he felt (he also felt that he was going to have to have a word with Baker Pasha about the advisability of not doing so well; the fall from a high place is so much more damaging than one from a low). At least the Emir had the grace to look rueful about it; as soon as they observed all the proprieties of being selected the Sword of the Empire, and had cleared the flunkies away, they sat down on the Sanjak’s balcony for a coffee and a discussion.
“I am sorry about this, Mehmed” the Emir said quietly. “We have messed each other around enough in the past, but this is more than I would have had done to you.”
Mehmed-beg nodded his appreciation, and asked quietly what had happened.
“Two things, I think.” ruminated the Emir. “Firstly, you did much too well. Istanbul is fairly unused to getting news of military success, and it appears to have gone to their collective heads. Of course, if has not made the Aga terribly happy (about which I would not normally complain) and this may be his way of getting revenge.”
“Not just that, surely?” asked Mehmed-beg.
The Emir answered “No, not just that. There has been a massive glut of pork products coming down the Danube…”
“Indeed, that is why we fought the stupid war, I thought” interrupted Mehmed-beg.
“Yes; unfortunately….. look, a huge majority of the pork is marked as coming from the Cardinal-electorate of Trèves-sur-Rhin. And some of the local Mullahs have added two and two and come up with twenty-two, deciding that the Cardinal is attempting, by application of delectable foodstuffs, to suborn our good Mohammedans into Christianity, or some other infidel religion. There has been more rioting in Istanbul then usual. Selim is concerned.” The Emir’s face clouded with sympathy.
“Your are instructed to take the forces under your authority, therefore, and march to Trèves-sur-Rhin and there lay waste the pork.. fields… and bottling plants….. or whatever they are.” concluded the Emir.
“Sties, I think, and pickling plants. Would it not serve if they just all mysteriously burnt down? That, I think I could arrange.” sighed the despondent Sanjak.
“I fear not” concluded the Emir “that would be much more efficient, but, apparently, we need to be seen to act..”
Oh well, thought Mehmed-beg, as he bid the emir a good evening, and summoned his growing military staff (now there was a disgusting though). Maybe we could get thoroughly hammered by this lot, and it would be over with. Making sure it was not “over with” on a permanent basis would be the trick……