Thursday, 15 August 2019

Short Story 2019 Longlist, Ananth Adhyam

If Only

He lay in the tent, shivering ever so slightly, as his hakims pottered around while his guards stood around his bed, their backs to him. Only a few hours ago, he had felt years younger than he had felt lately. But now he felt like he never had before- like he would not rise from his bed again. Outside, the steady patter of rain continued, drowned only occasionally by the distant shouts of his Janissaries as they took up their positions outside the fortress of Szigetvar. Ah the rain! Always the rain!

Every time, the weather had been against him. Only the iron discipline Ibrahim had drilled into his Janissaries had kept them marching. Even so, the weather had gotten the better of them, so many years ago in Vienna. Had it not been for the weather, that puny Spanish prince would have ceased to trouble him long before he went to his grave. But the latest defeat? Was it possible that his Sublime State would become just another state, another nation like the accursed Spanish? Was it not its destiny to rule the world? Was that not why he was here?

He could not think anymore. He sorely wanted to talk to Ibrahim. His head hurt and sleep washed over him. If only he could speak to Ibrahim, if only……

He woke to find himself alone, or so he thought at first. He felt a hand touch his and squeeze it with warmth and reverence. He turned hid head to find Ibrahim sitting by his side. At last! He had so much to say to him! If only he could remember what weighed on his heart like a thousand cannon balls! Ibrahim spoke first- Had they not achieved this much together? Had he forgotten all the dreaming? All the planning, the marches and the victories?

Yes! He remembered them all. All the suspicions, all the doubts, the gossip, the treachery, jealousy even. The bowstring had done its job for the Empire. Or was it for the Emperor? Oh Ibrahim! If only……..

He opened his eyes and the tent was a blur. Only the handsome face of Mustafa could be made out. Mustafa! The ablest of his sons! He could be difficult sometimes, yes. But there was no doubt he was the right man for the throne. There was no one else more deserving of Osman’s golden sword, if only he could find it. But why the silence? Why does he say nothing? How long will he sit listening to the rain and thunder? Or was it the cannons? And why did he wear such an accusing look? If only he knew the grief and pain that had haunted him day and night for so many years! If only……….

He awoke suddenly- it must have been a cannon. He tried to rise but felt a hand gently push him back. Without turning, he knew who it was, and his heart ached. When he had taken that hand for the first time, he had believed he could win the world. And now? Now his world lay shattered in the mud and rain. Roxelana, the low born he had broken with tradition to marry! The one true comfort he had! The cause of so much of his grief! Was it her though? Was it not he who did those things for the Empire? If only it were so simple! If only……….

He woke up again. The candles threw flickering shadows over the red and gold tent walls- night had fallen. A figure stood before him- so very familiar, and yet, always unfamiliar. Dressed in strange robes and wearing that strange crown, how often in recent years had he strode alongside him on the banks of the Golden Horn? They were both remarkably similar- both had believed they could rule an empire that stretched as far as the eye could see. Both had fought and won glorious victories for their empires. Both had married for love, both had been Law-Givers to their people. Both had built temples to exalt their God and themselves- did not his own Suleymaniye Mosque equal the Aya Sofia? Hadn’t he surpassed Solomon too, when he had rebuilt the Haram Al Sharif? Hadn’t he ruled from the same great city straddling two continents?

But what had come of his empire? Did not the heirs of Osman now reign supreme upon the once proud land of the Romans? His own great grandfather had taken Constantinople from the Romans. Was that what his own empire would come to? Would one day some other people rule the lands of the Osmanlis? What then, will be said of him? Alas! He had equaled the Roman, but had given in to destiny. Vanity, it had only been vanity. And now, the time had come to hear God’s judgement. History’s judgement would come later, much later.


Mehmed Sokollu watched the funeral procession wind its way down the streets of Istanbul to the Suleymaniye Mosque. He had done well. For three weeks, everything had been a secret. Orders were given out as usual, rewards distributed and the Sultan’s embalmed body brought back to Istanbul without raising doubt. Only when the new Sultan, Selim II, had been safely placed on the throne was the news made public. And now, Al Kanuni was dead- his heart buried where he had died, with only an inscription: “The princely heart and inside parts of His Majesty, Sultan Suleyman Khan Ghazi, who moved to Eternal Heavens during the siege of Szigetvar, are burred here….. The mercy of God shall be with Him”. He shook his head. He would leave it to History to judge, but if only! If only…

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