Don't Put The Fashion Industry to the Sword
The Vizier's Tent 16 July 1683
9 minutes read
“Would you look at that?” he said to the mirror. “Would you just look at that.”
Once again Mustafa was naked, standing proud, shoulders back, chest out, hips slightly forward, and yes, completely naked.
“Look at what, effendi?” asked Melih, thankful that the late afternoon barrage had stopped and that his master obviously wasn’t thinking of war.
“Look at this body, this specimen … this handiwork of Heaven brought to Earth and to the Porte.”
“I mean, effendi, okay, I will look at God’s handiwork as displayed in your penis.”
“No, no, no! Not just the penis – although it is, of course, gorgeous like everything else you see before you, but everything … my hair, sumptuous and fiery all the way to my feet, which are supple and strong. Melih, you need to look at everything in your grand vizier. You may start at my feet.”
Melih was a messenger in service to the high command of the Grand Ottoman Army and served as such by mainly bringing messages and other things back and forth from the Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, to court and the army bureaucrats – these guys were constantly writing things. Melih himself could not read, which he considered a blessing, lest he lose his head for mistakenly reading things. He had been chosen for the role for being illiterate but well spoken, and being a considered and delicate groveller.
He had been working for the grand vizier for about a year now and was used to this sort of thing: it was probably the fourth or fifth time he’d seen the vizier completely naked and been ordered to admire him. It went with the job he supposed, even though supposing, he knew, often led to bad things happening.
The vizier was still in the front of the mirror naked and was now wearing a wig. It was grey and abounded in curls that sprang out at the sides in all directions, his own black curls struggling and swirling their way out from beneath it. On the back of the wig was a large, crimson and crusty blotch.
“Um, effendi, there’s a bit of blood on there.”
“Oh, I know, I know. They just can’t get it out, no matter what they try.”
“Where did you get it?”
“Don’t know’ – the vizier gave an airy wave with one languid hand – ‘some hamlet or town or whatever. Not sure. Not sure who he was. Rich, I suppose, otherwise he wouldn’t have had the wig. You should have seen the silk he was wearing! Some sort of merchant man, I imagine. I wonder what his trade was in … hmm.”
“I don’t know, effendi.”
“No, no, you don’t—?”
“Have we been a bit harsh?”
“What do you mean, sir?”
“What do you mean?”
“Effendi, I was being presumptuous. I’m not to ask questions of your eminence.” Melih, indeed, tried to ask as few questions as possible when around the naked vizier.
“Oh, right. Yes, yes, no questions, you answer.” In the mirror, the vizier squared his shoulders at himself. “Tell me, have we been barbaric?”
“To whom, effendi?”
“You asked a question.”
“Oh. Um. Uh …” Melih’s eyes flitted about the inside of the massive tent searching for a word, a phrase – something, anything, that would fit the situation. He searched the stuffy tent for something to grab and hold on to long enough to get him back safely into the open air. He could feel a light breeze. Breezes also had the effect of arousing the vizier. “Assuming that effendi is speaking of our enemies, we have done what God wills, and what is within our means to accomplish His will.”
“Well put. Write that down in my next report to the Sultan.”
“I can neither read nor write, effendi. That is for a scribe.”
“Okay, then remember it for when you go to the scribes. Excellent answer, though. Just like this.” Mustafa gestured down his body slowly, his muscled and defined olive arm curved like the moon over the top of his tent.
“Yes, sir,” Melih agreed, glad for the chance to look down whilst feigning modesty.
“Look at this! Raise your eyes, messenger!” Kara Mustafa demanded, adjusting his pose before the mirror to three-quarters, pushing his left shoulder to the fore and jutting out his chin.
“Yes, apologies, effendi.” Melih raised his eyes, quickly and surreptitiously itching his forehead, then pushing his white and slightly stained turban back on his head a little. He realised that he’d been looking at his boss naked for what seemed like an hour, and their meeting didn’t seem to be ending any time soon.
He was in one of his chatty, philosophical moods, it seemed.
“Have you seen how the Austrians dress?” Mustafa asked the messenger, walking away from him, towards an ornate table. It looked to be of Western make, nothing seen ordinarily in the Porte – leaves burst from the joins, angelic heads sprouted from every corner.
Melih noted that his boss was animated now – but thankfully not talking about troop movements and artillery, and therefore flaccid.
“Of course you haven’t. You’ve seen maybe slaves we’ve taken or bodies we’ve used to prop up bridges.” Mustafa paused for a second. “Oh yes, that was barbaric, wasn’t it? Well, there wasn’t any suitable wood. They just keep on burning everything as they run, don’t they? And if it isn’t them, it’s these bloody Tatars burning everything in sight, like naughty children. You would imagine letting them take all the slaves they could manage would satiate them … but, there they go …’ He sighed, deeply. ‘Anyhow, real Austrians – not these peasants.”
“No. No, I haven’t, effendi.”
“Hmmm, you must. You really must. They have such finery, such amazing things – fashions, instruments, chocolate … chocolate absolutely to die for. Well, in fact, they will die for it, but that’s another story. But we will get inside this Christian blonde whore of a city, and spread it open … oh, wait, that was another good one – Melih, remember that one too! We must use it in the future for something.”
“Yes, of course, sir – as you wish. My memory is here to serve yours.”
“Yes, it is.” He sighed again. “My mind is so tired, Melih.”
“I understand, effendi. Your eminence carries the weight of God’s will and the worries of the Porte on his strong yet warm and supple shoulders.”
“No, you don’t understand – well, at any rate, I have much on my mind. This siege isn’t going as planned, the Sultan cares more for his flowers rather than showing support, one of my wives are nagging me constantly about when I’m going to take little Ahmed to Vienna and show him around. Too much, tsk, tsk. Too much. It really is.” He inhaled deliberately, and exhaled quickly aloud. “The Viennese are the proper Austrians. They are actually quite refined. I’ve looked through their books, talked to their learned citizens, their officials.”
“That was a question, messenger … but as I’m feeling generous tonight, and warm and supple in my body, I will allow it.” The vizier now held a silver cup and took a sip of juice – a dribble of crimson liquid fell from his lips and started to wend its way down his slim torso, unheeded.
“Yes, thank you. You are appearing” – Melih cleared his throat, waiting for his life to be over about then – “quite lithe tonight, effendi. Perhaps, ah, perhaps it is the oil from Selcuk?”
“Yes, likely.” Kara Mustafa sighed a regal and pompous sigh, one that carried with the inhale privilege, and carried out to the world tiredness of position and brilliance. “But the Viennese, like I said – the proper Austrians … the garments they have! Inshallah if I were to have their tailor! Silks, God knows where they get all that silk – I thought we were in charge of silk?”
“They may get silk from the French, effendi.”
“Ah, of course, our wigged friends.” Mustafa thought for a second, scratching ruminatively at his own head piece. “Impossible!” he declared. “The French are our allies and enemies of the Hapsburgs. Or something.”
“Then perhaps from somewhere else. My geography skills are that of a cow’s, effendi.” Melih coughed. Then sniffed.
“Yes, likely. Well, they have a wonderful dress there. The bosoms of the women jumping out at you, and such wide, overflowing, magnificent dresses and hair! Oh, the hair! Curl upon curl upon curl hair piled high. Are they whores? Who knows, but the dresses, Melih, the dresses! Sometimes you can’t tell the men from the women! This extravagance I could get used to.”
He now was staring through Melih’s head and squinting at some misplaced thought back there. ‘I want orders now to spare any tailor, dressmaker, shoemaker, cobbler or anyone having anything to do with fashion once we get in. Tell the Janissary Corps commander tomorrow, first thing. You never know – they may just blow that damn bastion tomorrow finally. Remember, Melih, it’s vital the Viennese fashion workers aren’t put to the sword. I have plans for them.’
“I will, effendi. First thing. Before breakfast.”
“You fool, after breakfast! You know what the Janissaries are like when they haven’t eaten! The whole lot are obsessed with food. ‘Soup master’ – this is what they call their captains! This is the pride of the Porte, the Soldiers of the Divine Light – a bunch of wannabe cooks.”
Melih was trying to erase the image of the grand vizier’s breeze-erected nipples from his mind, and wondering why he had to have a boss that liked to get naked in front of subordinates he could have had killed. He hope and prayed that his master would not start thinking of war. Not then. He began to try and think as hard as he could of seasides and dogs jumping about.
“Big plans!” Mustafa shouted, bringing Melih back to the tent – and the nakedness. “I don’t know what they’re so worried about. Yes, we will bring Islam, but this is our chance to create Kara Mustafa Islam, which is obviously way more interesting – one of fashion, fine furniture, coffee shops, delicate but full moustaches, delight and whimsy. This we will create in the Golden Apple. This is what I, we, the Sultan, whoever, deserve.”