Warning: Mature Adults only
PART II: ACRE
Harper would desert.
His mind was made up; there was no way that he could stay in the service of the country that had murdered his father and brother. The scarlet uniform that he had taken such pride in, he now regarded with secret loathing. Outwardly, he did his duties as a proper marine. But inwardly, he was cold and dead towards the service.
The French, he had heard, had an Irish Legion, he was sure they would be happy to get another recruit. He would have to wait for his opportunity to cross the line and go over to them. Perhaps they could even find him a uniform that fit. He risked a firing squad if he were caught in the attempt, so he'd ask no man to come with him, not even Finnigan. And if the opportunity to desert to the French did not present itself, then perhaps the Turkish army would take him. Anything but the English.
He was still numb from his loss. He remembered his father and Shamus so well, the lilt of their voices, the sound of their laughs, the firm touch of their hands. To never see them again . . . He forced that thought deep down where it didn't hurt so much. He had duties to attend to, and he performed them with a passion to drive the pain away. For a while, at least. He feared being off duty, where he had time to think.
They were now cruising up the coast of Syria, towards the port of Acre. As the day dawned, distant, shadowy hills became visible to the east, beyond the sandy beaches. They passed El Arish, Gaza, and Jaffa, an occasional column of smoke the only evidence of French depredations. Ahead was the great bluff of Mount Carmel, rising two thousand feet above the sea.
Harper looked out at it, and the bleak countryside was not as desolate as his heart.
Captain Jean Calvet was disillusioned. This was not what he had signed up for.
The campaign to crush Djezzar Pasha had begun promisingly enough. The 18th had moved off under General Damas' division, part of Kleber's corps, on 12th February. Their first destination was the coastal town of El Arish, which the Turks had garrisoned. The plan was to seize it quickly, eliminate its garrison, take its supplies, and move on. Bonaparte was operating on a tight schedule, and it was essential to get into Palestine before Djezzar Pasha could prepare Acre for defense.
The march through the desert had been tough under the hot sun of day, camp by night had been chilly, and the soldiers grumbled. But soldiers always grumble. They grumbled at the civilian quartermasters who got to ride horses, at the officers who brought their wives and servants riding on camels. Engineers preceded the columns, looking for possible water holes and to clear away any obstacles from the sandy, stony ground. The field artillery had been disassembled, the pieces carried on camels' backs. The heavy siege guns were being transported by sea on nine small ships.
They arrived at El Arish after two days' march. It was noon. General Reynier's division had preceded them, and was occupying the village, having killed the inhabitants. It was clear that things were not going as planned. There was no food in the village, the Turkish fort was surprisingly strong, and had repulsed his first attacks. And reinforcements of some two thousand Mamaluk horsemen and Turkish provincial infantry had taken up a position east of a large wadi outside the village, where they could fall on his flank if he attacked the fortress again. Kleber and Reynier had met, and decided on a night attack to take out this new force. Reynier had already scouted the approaches. Damas' brigade would join with Reynier in this assault, making a diversionary attack from the west, while he hit the camp from the southeast. It was the month of Ramadan, and the Turks would not fight after sundown, they would probably take no precautions. Meanwhile, Kleber would assail the fort with the rest of his men.
They had assembled a little short of midnight for the attack. There was no artillery bombardment; this was to be a surprise. Each French soldier wore a strip of white cloth around his sleeve to identify him in the darkness. In deep silence, they had marched, entered the Turkish camp unnoticed, and began to bayonet the sleeping men in their tents. Damas' force arrived late, stumbling over the unfamiliar ground in the dark. Calvet had led the way, squinting in the darkness to see any possible enemy. Then, before them, they could see a mass of men moving. Several of his grenadiers in the front rank opened fire, and their fire was returned. A chorus of curses in French warned them that they were firing on their own countrymen, and they ceased. By a miracle, no one was hit on either side.
Then Damn! A dog began to bark furiously! Reynier's men stormed in to attack. The Turks had no time to mount a defense, they only wanted to get away, and many were shot down as they ran. In less than an hour, it was over. Someone shot the dog, whose warning had prevented them from totally annihilating the enemy.
They had killed some two hundred Turks, and taken around five hundred prisoner. The rest had escaped. Their own losses were some fifty men. They seized the camp's animals, tents and supplies.
The thick-walled fortress continued to hold out, and was still doing so when Bonaparte arrived three days later. He was annoyed, and now encircling the fortress at about three hundred yards, commenced a bombardment. It lasted the entire day with no let-up. Many of the French cannon balls missed the fort, and continuing to the other side, fell among the French there, killing and wounding several. Bonaparte concentrated fire on one of its four towers, which collapsed after two days. Bonaparte offered the garrison terms; they would be allowed to withdraw to Baghdad. They refused, partially repaired the tower, and their defense continued, heedless of the bombardment. The next day, the French opened a breach in the walls and prepared for an assault, when the fort surrendered. The garrison, one hundred fifty men, marched out and laid down their arms. French losses were about four hundred.
Bonaparte forgot his offered terms, and forced the garrison to join the French army. Most of them deserted as soon as possible. The French replenished their stores with the fort's ample supplies. Their wounded were treated, and the army marched on. But they had lost twelve precious days. There was now no hope of taking Djezzar Pasha by surprise. And they had also found, among the fort's garrison, a roomful of victims dying of the plague.
Reynier's division had stayed behind at El Arish for a day to rest. They would leave a garrison in the fort. Kleber's division had pushed on along the coast, with Lanne's on their right flank and Murat's cavalry forming a screen ahead. Bonaparte rode with Lannes. Kleber lost his way and had to counter-march back for eighteen hours. Calvet and his men were exhausted, and Lannes had taken over the duties of advance guard the next day. They heard that Bonaparte had advanced too fast and almost been captured, coming on an advance Turkish guard of six hundred men, while he only had his personal bodyguard of fifty. But he bluffed them by deploying his men in a firing line, as if they were only the front of a much larger force, and the Turks had withdrawn.
The countryside was changing now, and for the better. Shepherds grazed their flocks on the hills, and there were olive groves and orchards of oranges, lemons, limes, almonds, pomegranates, peaches and figs. Fresh water was now abundant. But they were astonished at how cold it was at night. Their thin cotton uniforms, made for the hot sun of Egypt, were quite useless. A thunderstorm came up, lightning flashed, and rain poured down. At first the French welcomed it, after the arid desert. But by dawn they were cursing it as they crouched in their sodden cloaks.
The next day, 24th February, they approached the town of Gaza, and found there a Turkish force awaiting them, perhaps five hundred infantry and eight hundred cavalry, with two cannon. Kleber pressed straight on for Gaza, while Lannes and Murat moved to the attack. The Mamaluk horsemen made a spirited charge, were repulsed by a French volley, and then the enemy forces drew off. One of Calvet's men voiced his contempt.
"These Turks are nothing! How did they manage to conquer so much of the world with men like these?"
The whole army camped in front of Gaza that night, a miserable collection of flat-roofed, mud hovels, broken only by the domes and minarets of mosques. The town and its citadel surrendered the next morning. They rested at Gaza for four days, and Reynier's division caught up with them. After systematically stripping the town of food and military supplies, like a plague of devouring locusts, the French moved on up the coast.
The next target would be tougher. Jaffa was defended by some six thousand Turkish and provincial soldiers, mostly Moroccans, with some Albanians, Anatolians, Syrians, and even some Sudanese. Their commander, the Agah Abdalla, had learned the futility of trying to meet the French in the open field with his poorly disciplined troops. Now, he took cover behind the powerful, turreted walls of the city. Lining those walls were some thirty cannons, serviced by twelve hundred French-trained artillerymen. Jaffa was built into a hillside, with the buildings terraced into its face like an amphitheatre. Their flat roofs provided good firing positions for an additional forty cannon. All in all, thought Calvet, a formidable-looking position.
Bonaparte worked out his plans on the night of his arrival, the 3rd March. To General Lannes fell the main attack, which he would make from the south. He had most of the expedition's artillery to open a breach in the walls. The other generals would hold defensive lines around the city to ward off any possible reinforcements, Kleber to the north, with General Bon in reserve, and Reynier to the southeast.
Calvet and his men spent a pleasant night in an orchard, eating well both from the supplies taken at Gaza, and from the fruit trees that surrounded them. But the garrison was not about to sit passively and wait for the attack. The following day, at noon, they sallied out from one of the city gates and attacked Reynier's gun positions. Calvet kicked his men to their feet and they ran towards the sound of the shooting. By the time they got there, it was all over. Reynier's men had counterattacked, and driven the defender back inside their walls. But the Turks had managed to spike three guns, and perhaps twenty Frenchmen had been killed. One of Calvet's men toed the body of a Turk curiously, looking at his red uniform and its gold braid.
"Well, at least they dress pretty."
With all his guns in place, Bonaparte sent an officer and his aide to the Agah to propose a surrender. Within an hour, a Turkish soldier stood at the ramparts, displaying both men's heads to their comrades below. It was to prove a costly insult.
The bombardment began an hour later, with the greatest weight of shot falling on the southeast wall. After that, it became a matter of simply waiting for the breach.
It came at two in the afternoon of the next day. Lannes immediately moved in to attack. First, a force of assault engineers and two companies of grenadiers forced their way into the breach, forcing back the defenders at bayonet point, holding it for the larger forces to come.
As he watched, General Bonaparte turned to speak to a tall colonel standing behind him. Just then, a musket ball knocked off his hat and, going on through, killed the colonel. Not for the first time, Bonaparte had been saved by his shortness.
Now, the full mass of Lannes' division surged forward, with General Ramboud in the lead. They brushed aside the weak resistance and forced their way into the first large building they found, just to the right of the breach. It was heavily defended, and the French began a room-to-room fight to capture it. For the moment, Ramboud was contained; he could not widen his foothold. Lannes brought up a three-pounder to support him and began to fire down the streets, but still, the building held out. And now Lannes men came under fire from an even larger building to the left of the breach, where they Turks seemed to have concentrated their resistance. When the French forced their way in, they found the ladders had been removed; there was no access to the upper levels. More soldiers were pouring into the city now, taking casualties as they went, forcing their way up the narrow alleyways against frenzied resistance. They found access to the Turkish strongpoint building from adjoining structures, and annihilated the defenders there.
All this time, Kleber's men, including Calvet's company, had been holding themselves in readiness to the north, waiting for the signal to advance. But General Bon, supposedly in reserve, had sent some men down to reconnoiter and found an old breach in the wall down by the seashore. It was guarded, and most of the French were killed. The survivors hurried back to Bon to report what they had found. He seized the opportunity and ordered a full-out assault on the breach. Resistance was weak; by this time most of the defenders were fighting Lannes on the other side of the city. Bon's men gained a foothold in the northern quarter and began to fan out southward.
Hearing this news, Lannes' forces redoubled their efforts. Attacked from both sides, the Turks defense soon collapsed, and the fighting stopped.
But the killing did not. Enraged by the deaths of their comrades, the French began to pillage. They soon went berserk. Bonaparte did nothing to stop them; they needed the release after their weeks of toil and danger. Besides, it would be a useful lesson to Acre of what awaited them if they did not surrender.
Before he knew it, Calvet's company had melted away around him, as they joined the rest of Kleber's corps in rushing into the city to get their share of the loot. Cursing, he ran after them. Even if the rest of the army turned into a horde of mindless savages, his company would keep good order. Even while they looted.
The sack was in full swing by the time he got to the center of town. All around was screaming and cursing, pleas for mercy, broken doors and smashed houses. Dead and dying civilians were everywhere, mothers bending over the corpses of their children, wailing children crying over their dead parents, smashed furniture and torn cloth all around. He saw a soldier wearing a harem dress over his tunic, laughing and performing his version of a belly-dance for his comrades. He saw two grenadiers in a furious tug-of-war over a richly worked saddle, though neither of them had a horse. Fires were burning all over, and the smoke choked the streets. Calvet heard the scream of a young girl coming from an open door. Rushing in, he saw one of his own company's privates leaning over her, ripping at her clothes. She couldn't have been more than fourteen. Calvet tore him off and threw him against the wall. The man snarled and lunged for him, and then stopped up short as he saw whom he was attacking. No one, drunk or sober, was ever fool enough to take on Calvet. He snarled at the man.
"We're soldiers, not animals!"
"Everyone else is doing it!"
"The 18th de Ligne is not 'everyone else.' Come on, help me find the others."
Together, they ran through the streets. Calvet ignored the other companies; they were the responsibility of their own officers. He saw one of his sergeants standing above an old man, cowering in the street. The sergeant, whose name was D'Arnot, had his short infantry sword above his head, and was about to bring it down with deadly force. Calvet gripped his arm. The man spun in a rage that cooled swiftly when he saw his captain's grim face.
"No killing civilians."
"It's happening all around us. What does it matter if you save a few?"
"It matters to them."
Three now, they made their way through the carnage, their boots sticky with the blood underneath, past countless scenes of rape or murder, happening or already happened. Every time Calvet saw one of his own men raping or killing, he put a stop to it, though he allowed them to loot.
He was able to save a few civilians. But only a few. The sack went on through the night until the following morning. By then, Doctor Larrey had set up a field hospital in one of the city's mosques, and was treating both soldiers and citizens.
French losses were surprisingly light; only thirty killed and two hundred wounded. Two thousand Turkish soldiers had died, and God alone knew how many of the common people of Jaffa. Some two thousand four hundred Turkish and provincial soldiers had taken refuge in the city's largest mosque, which they barricaded. It was a strong position, and storming it would be costly. A Turkish officer shouted from a window and attracted the attention of Bonaparte's son-in-law, General Beauharnais. The officer said they would be willing to surrender if they had his promise that they would be treated like the rest of the people of Jaffa. Beauharnais guaranteed their lives if they would surrender and lay down their arms. He promised an escort to take them on the way to Damascus.
Most of the survivors had fled; Jaffa was now a ghost town. The booty was sizable, fifty cannon, thirty with field carriages, fifteen boats, and vast amounts of biscuits, rice, barley, vinegar, olive oil, soap, and even tobacco.
The next day, the massacres began. Calvet was sitting under an almond tree when Lieutenant Terrage came running up to him.
"The Turkish prisoners are to be executed."
Calvet had been relaxed, now he sat bolt upright. He was sure he hadn't heard the Lieutenant correctly.
"The prisoners are to be executed. It's happening right now, down by the seashore."
Calvet got to his feet and ran down to the shore before the city walls. Some eight hundred Moroccan soldiers were inside of a three-sided square formed by the soldiers of Bon's division. The fourth side was open on the lapping sea. It was plain what was about to happen.
Not too far away, he saw General Kleber, sitting on his horse, watching silently, a grim expression on his face. He turned as Calvet ran up to him.
"General Kleber, can't you stop this? We don't kill prisoners!"
Kleber shook his head.
"General Bonaparte's orders, Captain. He said we can't spare the guards to guard them or the food to feed them. And he wants this to be a warning to Djezzar Pasha."
The far-off but clear pleading, in French, of a young Moroccan, interrupted his words,
"Of what am I guilty? What wrong have I done?"
It was to their credit that his comrades faced death stoically, without complaint. The command rang out.
Calvet heard the clatter of hundred of muskets being raised.
The crackle of the firing almost drowned out the screams. But not quite. Calvet walked back to his billet, he could take no more. Behind him, a second volley rang out, with more cries following.
He hadn't signed on for this. What had happened to the fine ideals of the Revolution?
It went on for two more days. On 9th March, the remaining six hundred provincial soldiers died. And the day after that, the one thousand Turkish prisoners.
Calvet didn't have to watch, nor did any of his company. Later that afternoon, they marched away with the rest of General Damas' division, marched eastward to the Kalkila region, to secure the French right flank and take control of Samaria. All except four.
The remaining inhabitants of Jaffa were pressed into work collecting the bodies rotting in the streets, burying them outside, and repairing the walls. They were to tend the sick and wounded French soldiers left behind, along with a garrison of one hundred and fifty. The wounded were housed in the Greek Orthodox monastery next to the harbor. The sick, some two hundred men, were placed in the nearby Armenian monastery.
Some of them were showing signs of the plague, buboes under the arms and in the groin, high fever, headaches and delirium. Bonaparte visited the monastery on the 11th, to show his soldiers that there was no need to be afraid. He could not afford a panic. He helped to carry one of the cadavers from the plague ward. He was lucky. And here were Calvet's four men, Milliere, Canacourx, Drouete, and Villar, who were among those showing the dreaded symptoms. Calvet had swallowed his sense of dread and visited each of them in the plague ward as the army marched by it. He forced himself to take each man by the hand.
"You'll be fine. You're Frenchmen, and too tough to die."
He hoped he hadn't lied to them.
A week later, Calvet was trudging up a narrow mountain pass with General Damas.
"Once we control these heights, I want a line of supply from the interior to our forces around Acre - Ah, Merde!"
Even as Calvet heard the crack of the musket, Damas gave back, clutching his arm. The ball had shattered it. Calvet turned, shouting to his men.
They deployed as quickly as they could on the narrow pass, but only seven or eight of them could fire straight ahead. Calvet could see that the heights to their front and left flank were dotted with puffs of smoke from muskets. A troop of Moroccans, excellent mountaineers who they had forcibly recruited at El Arish, began to mount the heights, returning fire as they climbed.
Within five minutes, twenty of his men were down. As far as he could see, the tribesmen, firing from cover, had taken no losses. It was hopeless. They were too exposed on this high pass. Calvet waved his hand for a withdrawal, and the Moroccans formed the rearguard. Slowly, they made their way back down to level ground. That evening, they rejoined Kleber's main corps, and arrangements were made to evacuate Damas back to Egypt. Kleber was advancing northwards through the forests of Maski. Over the next three days, he sent out further reconnaissance forces. One was attacked by upwards of a hundred Bedouins near the village of Kallansawa, and forced to retreat. And a dragoon patrol was wiped out to the last man. From what news he had been able to gather, Kleber determined that Djezzar Pasha had been handsomely paying the local mountain tribes to fight against him.
On 14th March, the main army under Bonaparte joined him. The going was easier here than along the coast, so they continued northward. The next day, they found arrayed against them the full strength of the mountain tribes, four thousand warriors, augmented by two thousand Mamaluk cavalry from Acre. They did not block their path, but rather lay along its right flank, thus giving themselves a clear line of retreat into the mountains. The French echeloned to the right, with Lannes forming the right flank, Kleber the left, and Murat's cavalry the center.
The Mamalukes opened the dance by charging Kleber, and as usual, they were mowed down by grape shot and musketry. Calvet felt a savage pleasure as he ordered a killing volley; it was good to fight on his own terms again, after those damned mountain passes. The Mamalukes withdrew, and Kleber followed in squares, in case they reversed and made a sudden charge.
Meanwhile, to the south, Lannes was advancing against the mountain tribes, who did not do so well against a fully deployed French division in the plain below them. They withdrew into the passes, and when Lannes followed them, they counterattacked. Again, the French were at a disadvantage in the passes, and Lannes soon withdrew back to the plain, with a loss of about sixty men. The enemy had lost some four hundred. But it was plain that the French would have no easy time in Samaria.
After scouting the best route to the coast, the French resumed their march on the 17th, northwards at first, and then northeast, through the easy passes of Mount Carmel. Below them, was a panorama of coast, bay, and the city of Acre.
To everyone's surprise, there were three British warships at anchor in the harbor.
Harper was not impressed with his first sight of Acre, and indeed, it had declined sadly since the Crusaders had been forced out some five centuries earlier. It was built on a tongue of land that jutted out from Mount Carmel into the Mediterranean. Two of its sides faced the sea; its further sides formed an angle pointing into the plain. It was a little more than a mile around, and looked to contain perhaps fifteen thousand people. Its fortifications had not changed appreciably since the Crusades, a single wall with battlements. At first glance, he noticed the wall was crumbling, at second, he saw how thick it was. It was flanked by round and square towers, and surrounded on the landward side by a dry moat. The tallest building in the city was (naturally) Djezzar Pasha's palace, with occupied the center of the landward wall. A breakwater curved out from the seaward side to form a harbor, and there was a lighthouse at the end. In the harbor was another British ship of the line. Harper recognized her from Nelson's fleet, the Theseus.
They sailed into the harbor and dropped anchor. A boat put out from Theseus to meet them. In its prow was a diminutive but muscular man in a blue uniform coat. He waved his hat in greeting, and called out in French-accented English:
Never one to stand on ceremony, Sir Sidney ran to the rail and called down.
"My dear Edmond! What news do you have?"
"Well, we've started work on the defenses, and God knows, they need it. The old man's not convinced yet, and he's still ready to take his harem and make a run for it."
"Then we'll need to convince him. Come with me, you can brief me on what you've done."
He turned to Lieutenant Bromley, who was standing nearby.
"Get together an honor guard, and yourself too. We're going to pay our respects to the Pasha."
And so, half an hour later, Harper, Finnigan, and four other marines were accompanying Lieutenant Bromley, Sir Sidney, and the tiny Colonel Phelipeaux in a small boat bound for the harbor's quay. Harper could see that the quay was crowded with people, men women and children, all waving frantically. Bromley looked at Sir Sidney questioningly.
"They're terrified. News has come that the French sacked Jaffa with terrible loss of life, and they're afraid that the same thing will happen here. It appears that all boats have left the harbor, and I imagine they want to book passage on ours."
A squad of red-uniformed Turkish soldiers pushed their way through to the quay's edge, apparently an honor-guard for Sir Sidney's party. Harper gulped at the sight of the massive man leading them. He was as tall as Harper, but must have been a hundred pounds heavier, most of it muscle. He wore billowing red pantaloons and a gold-embroidered vest over his naked chest, a cloth-of-gold sash about his waist, and red leather slippers. His head was shaven except for a scalp lock, and a turban cloth was wound around his forehead. He had a long, drooping mustache, a cruel mouth, and piercing black eyes. And strapped across his back in its scabbard was the largest scimitar Harper had ever seen, over four feet long, with a thick, curving blade that must have weighed ten pounds at least, obviously designed for two hands. Phelipeaux pointed him out to Sir Sidney.
"Ardath Bey, the Pasha's executioner. A bad man to be on the wrong side of."
"I assume, dear Edward, that you're still on his right side?"
"So far. But he doesn't frighten me! Everyone knows, it's the small men who have great souls!"
Although he himself was large, Harper found himself liking the little Frenchman.
They pulled up to the quay, the honor guard deployed to keep the crowd back and give them space to disembark. The boat pulled away back to the Tigre, they would signal it later when they wished to return. With the guards flanking them and Ardath Bey in the lead, they made their path away from the waterfront and through the narrow, winding streets towards the Pasha's palace.
It reminded Harper of Cairo, though on a smaller scale. The same piles of rubbish in the streets, the same snarling dogs, the same booths with people hawking food and gold jewelry, leather goods and silks, pottery and swords. The same beggars with outstretched bowls. But the difference here was the fear. It was on every face as they crowded their route, until shoved roughly aside by Ardath Bey. They reached out on both sides to Sir Sidney and his party as if he alone could perform the miracle that would save them from the French devils. Then a little girl, perhaps five years old, approached their party with a bouquet of flowers. Ardath Bey's attention was distracted shoving aside some townspeople, and he didn't see her until he nearly tripped over her, sending her sprawling. He stumbled, regained his balance, and then with a snarled curse, swept his great scimitar off of his back and raised it over his head.
Harper acted without thinking. Dropping his musket, he hurled himself forward at Ardath Bey, just as the sword began to descend, his shoulder striking him in the small of the back and sending him sprawling. He fell into a vegetable stall, scattering eggplant and lentils everywhere. Then, his face splattered with pulp, he scrambled to his feet, a look of pure rage upon his face. Harper crouched over the sobbing little girl, holding her against his breast, helpless to defend himself. Ardath Bey swung his huge blade up - And suddenly, Finnigan was there, his musket leveled at the Turkish giant's heaving chest.
"You want a piece of him, boyo? Then you go through me first."
Behind him, the other marines likewise aimed their muskets. Ardath Bey's men aimed theirs at the marines. For a moment, everything was still. Then a shrill voice split the air.
A birqua-clad woman, obviously the girl's mother, rushed through the aimed muskets and swept her into her arms. Then, with a quick nod of thanks to Harper, she disappeared into the crowd. The tension broke. Ardath Bey lowered his scimitar, and motioned for his guard to do the same with their muskets. After a moment, the marines followed suit. The big executioner looked at Harper for a moment, laughed, and re-sheathed his scimitar. It was noticeable, however, that his laugh did not show in his eyes. Finnigan helped Harper to his feet, and they resumed their positions. Finnigan looked at his big friend out of the corner of his eye.
"I think you just got on his wrong side."
They proceeded through the rest of the city without incident. As they neared the Pasha's palace, Harper noticed a low wall, and on it, a number of rotting heads, some little more than skulls, jutting up out of it.
"Who were they?" he whispered to Phelipeaux.
"Men who displeased Djezzar Pasha. He had them walled up with just their heads sticking out and left them to die of thirst and hunger."
They entered the Pasha's palace through a low, enameled door flanked by marble columns. It was in much finer repair than the rest of the city. They walked through chambers of polished mosaic stone with glass-paned windows (the only ones Harper had seen in this part of the world), floored with elaborate woven Persian carpets, decorated with intricate wooden latticework on the walls, but furnished with nothing beyond divans with silken cushions and coverings. They passed stairways of alabaster, marble, and polished granite from Aswan. These were interspersed with fragrant gardens of sycamore, jasmine, and oranges, and with tinkling fountains, the pools lined with black and white marble. They passed numerous slaves seeing to it that the interior of the palace was spotless, or else hurrying along on some other mission.
Finally, they came to the Pasha's receiving hall. He was seated on a raised divan, but on piled cushions rather than a throne.
Djezzar Pasha appeared to be between sixty and seventy years old. He was white haired, with a long, white beard down to the middle of his chest. His skin was fair; an indication of his Bosnian birth, and his eyes a light brown. He was clad in a white tunic over which was a rich blue robe edged in gold, around which he wore a sky blue sash into which was stuck a qama, the long double edged-knife favored by the people of the steppes to the north. On his head was a red tarboush surrounded by a white turban. His expression was hard; this was obviously a man who did not allow others to cross him.
He had left Bosnia while still a youth because of a murder, and enlisted in the Turkish navy. That was not to his liking, so he left the navy, and starving, sold himself to a slave trader in the bazaars of Constantinople. He was taken to Cairo and sold to a Mamaluk named Ali Bey, who trained him as a Mamaluk. Ali was on his way up the ladder of power, and Djezzar served him by eliminating his rivals. Then, quarreling with Ali, he left his employment, went to Syria, came under the protection of Yusef, the Pasha of Damascus, quarreled with Yusef, and after various murderous and treacherous maneuvers, got himself appointed Pasha of Acre. That had been twenty-four years ago, and he had held on by sheer ruthlessness ever since.
Surrounding him were various court officials, bureaucrats and generals, judging by the rich clothes they wore. Harper felt that there was something strange about them, but he couldn't quite figure what. Then it hit them. Many of them were missing parts from their faces. Some had no noses, others only one eye, others were missing an ear or some fingers. A few had a combination of parts gone, and Harper guessed that some were missing other vital bodily parts not so readily visible. For Djezzar Pasha usually indicated his displeasure by having Ardath Bey cut something off of who ever had displeased him at that moment. Harper surreptiously touched his own nose and shuddered again. Perhaps he wouldn't desert to the Turkish army after all.
Sir Sidney held a long conversation with the Pasha in Turkish. Later, he explained to them what had been said.
"Hail Djezzar Pasha, beloved of Allah, ruler of Acre and Syria, unbeaten in battle and wise in council."
"Well, Sir Sidney, the French will be here in four days. Do we leave or fight?"
"O Lion of the Prophet, we fight! The French are but men, they die as easily as other men. You know how, this past year, our ships smashed theirs to the seventh circle of hell. Acre shall be another defeat for them. It shall be the graveyard of the myth of French invincibility."
"With what shall we oppose them?"
Sir Sidney counted off his points on his fingers.
"First, O Blessed of Allah, your men are far above the soldiers of the Sublime Porte. You have taught them to fear you, and thus they have no fear left for The French."
"Second, I and my friend Colonel Phelipeaux shall organize the defenses of the city. We have brought thirteen hundred shells, four thousand cannon balls, and much good gunpowder. I have no less than eight hundred marines such as these (he gestured behind him to Harper) who will work your guns."
"Thirdly, I have brought three ships which will shell the French from the sea, and keep you well supplied." "Lastly, Colonel Phelipeaux has been working these past four days to strengthen your walls, building earth ramparts to support them, and deepening the dry moat."
"And how will the French react to all this?"
"There numbers are too few, Sublime One. They number but thirteen thousand, twice our number, it is true, but from them, they must keep a supply line to Jaffa open, campaign in Galilee and Samaria, and fight off any relieving force from Damascus. They lack heavy siege guns, and have only field pieces. And most of all, General Bonaparte lacks time. He must capture Acre before the Turkish army now at Rhodes descends upon Egypt. An enemy in a hurry makes mistakes, and we will capitalize on those mistakes."
Djezzar Pasha considered for a moment, and then nodded.
"Very well, Sir Sidney. Fight it is. Continue your preparations, and report to me daily on your progress."
"Blessing upon blessings on your head, O wisest of Pashas."
Sir Sidney bowed low, and then turned and exited with his party. So it was settled then. Harper would fight in the defense of Acre; a city he had not known existed a month ago.
As Harper left, Ardath Bey's eyes bored into his back.
The big infidel had humiliated him, in front of the common people. Such loss of face could not be tolerated. But he would not strike yet. Let the fool think Ardath Bey had forgotten and forgiven, that all was at peace. Then, when he expected it least, he would strike.
Ardath Bey had heard somewhere, that revenge was a dish best served cold. If it were not a Turkish saying, it should have been.
His revenge would be as cold as the snow on the Circassian Mountains.