Mehmed-beg Ahmed Pasha, Sanjak of Avlonya, winced as the stomp of marching feet echoed from the courtyard to his comfortable seat on his balcony, accompanied by all the yelling, screaming and cursing that seemed to be obligatory to any sort of military operation. He was beginning to believe Faisel’s claim that they made all that noise so that the opposition would hear them coming, and get away, thus avoiding a fight.
He should be used to the noise by now; Baker Pasha had drilled the regular troops endlessly since their return from the west. He would have drilled the irregular ones just as thoroughly, but they had disappeared back to their doubtless unlawful occasions as soon as the army had straggled back to Avlonya as quickly and tracelessly as quality food passing through the army commissary.
Probably just as well, thought Mehmed; while the Janissaries might grumble about the drills, drilling the irregulars would probably result in a knife on a dark night or a heaping helping of ipecacuanha in Baker’s evening meal.
Baker had taken the defeat by Trève very hard; he was displeased by his performance in a manner that was completely opaque to Mehmed. The Sanjak supposed that being part of the Ottoman army in his formative years, rather than the English one, he had become accustomed to defeat as a natural state of affairs. The current “Sword of the Sultan” still had to overcome a feeling that military victory was somehow suspicious and had to be regarded with the same caution as one of those sleeping Nile crocodiles he had seen in his youth, or an unsolicited box of turkish delight, gifted to him by a rival.
Besides, the thought to himself happily, any residual unhappiness he might have experienced from the defeat was completely assuaged by the profit he had made by the purchase and resale of pork processing facilities in Trève he had engineered before the battle.
And things were, even he could admit, looking up. He had agents positioned now, so that he could get good warning of any force approaching Avlonya (hopefully in sufficient time to clear out and get safely away if anyone ill intentioned was coming). He was not sure that all the effort was necessary; most of his enemies (and allies too, unfortunately) seemed to be suffering from financial exhaustion, and the campaigning season had been quiet so far.
The network was even widespread enough that he knew in the next hour or so the weekly courier from Istanbul would arrive with dispatches; his progress had been tracked through the mountains and passes and some ill intentioned locals dissuaded from acting in a hostile manner. He could trust Faisel to deal with the letters, there was almost certainly nothing of interest there.
Mehmed-beg was almost right. When Faisel appeared, he dismissed most of the correspondence with a wave. The secretary did have one concern, though. At the bottom of one report, buried in the gossip passed on by merchants and traders, was a indication that a Venetian trading house was setting aside funds to reestablish their house in Candia.
“Candia?” the Sanjak said “They lost Crete to us a hundred years ago, or more. Do they think we are going to let them move back in?” Mehmed and Faisel exchanged a concerned look.
“It may be nothing, Excellency, or not our problem” murmured Faisal, dubiously.
“Maybe so” answered Mehmed, “but get on to our people in the lagoon, and see what is going on there. If my memory does not fail me completely, the Sultan’s favoured wife’s family has large interests in Candia.” Fiasel’s eyebrows rose in a manner that betokened great concern; he was usually completely impassive. “It might be best to get a good head start on any action that needs to be taken”.
“Yes, Excellency.” the Secretary rose, bowed and left, making a note as he did to make sure shipping was available, and supplies for an expedition.
Caution might not be a good guide, but it was an excellent prop. News percolated back from Venice; Serious enough that what Mehmed-beg (rather disgustedly) referred to as a council of war was assembled in the dining room about a week later. The sanjak and his secretary were present, as were Baker Pasha, and Di Tripodi, the chief of staff.
Mehmed-beg addressed the small group.
“Gentlemen, news has returned from Venice, and they are not glad tidings. Truly, we should of know about this before now, and to start I am going to ask Faisel to deal severely with this… lapse.” The secretary nodded, and Baker saw him do something that looked like the scoring out of a name on a list.
“That being dealt with, this appears to be the situation;’ continued the sanjak “It appears that the Serene Republic and the Landgraviate des Erzgebirgskreishave come to an agreement in order to invade Crete. Vencie will supply transportation, and the Landgraviate the troops. The are clearly both trying to betray the other by grabbing the territory when the island is captured, but that does not concern us here. And besides, I cannot think of a way to sow any real dissent between them, because reports are that nether side trusts the other further than they could throw a fully laden war galley.”
“So” continued the Sanjak “due to political and harem complications, we need to stop the landgrave’s army on the island itself, as the Venetian fleet commander is much too well off for me to usefully bribe. Another sea trip appears to be in the offing, Gentlemen. I trust you can organise the transport?”
“Of course, Excellency” said Di Tripodi.
Baker Pasha was shifting his feet nervously, and looking at them.
“Something the matter, Baker Pasha?” enquired Mehmed-beg.
Baker hemmed and hawed for a moment, and then spoke.
“I was wondering, Excellency, would it please you to propose another commander for the force, as I did so poorly in Trève? I would of course, understand.”
Mehmed-beg and Faisel looked at the man in horror, as Di Tripodi looked to hide a grin behind a coffee demitasse that was much too small for the task.
“Replace you? Why on earth would I do that? You expect me to find someone who can best your record? You have won battles with an Ottoman army; unless my memory fails me that makes you a minority of one in the Ottoman officer corps. No, I will not replace you.”
Mehmed-beg spared a glare for Fiasel at his sotto voce comment “Officer corpse, surely, Excellency” while simultaneously trying to be gracious to Baker’s stammered thanks. The glare was adequate, but it seemed that his “gracious acceptance” muscles seemed to have atrophied from lack of use. He decided to practice the expression in his quarters on the voyage; one never knew when one might need it again.