The Vizier's Tent 20 July 1683
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“Tell me of this unicorn,” Kara Mustafa said, stroking his beard.
“It’s a horse with a horn, effendi. Thus, uni-corn.” Melih exhaled.
“Hmm. Continue.” Kara Mustafa squinted at the sinewy little messenger, nodding to himself as he dug deep for this … something that resembled hope, and which could dig him out of the shit of a siege he was in.
“Well, effendi, I don’t know what else to tell you. The horn comes out of its head. It’s supposed to have powers.”
“The horse or the horn?”
“Good question. Both? I imagine both. Perhaps, though, the horn has all the power and then retains the power when there is no longer a live horse.” Melih drew himself up taller to deliver his dénouement: “I was told to inform you that they have one.”
“The Austrians, effendi. You know, the ones we have been besieging for months. You see that walled city currently wreathed in smoke? The people in there.” Melih was showing an uncharacteristic amount of impatience.
“Right. Now tell me, which powers?”
“Healing, poisoning something or other … stopping canons, I’ve heard.”
‘How could it stop cannons?”
“Your Eminence, I only relay the message. My mind is merely a vessel for words to bring to you.”
“So does it stop the cannon balls or the actual cannons? We must know.”
Melih exhaled aloud, realised that he was doing so, stopped and then realised he was beyond caring and continued exhaling longer than was ordinarily possible.
“Can it fly?”
“No, it’s a unicorn.” Melih stared at his feet, trying to blink, wondering if it were possible to volunteer for the front. “It just has the magical horn. It has no wings.”
“Why not? You tell me it has magic. Why can’t it fly?”
“It. Doesn’t. Have. Wings. Effendi.”
The vizier struck a ruminative pose. As ever, he was before his full-length mirror, admiring a new robe. “Surely it doesn’t need actual wings. It could just use its magic and gallop across the sky, I imagine. It, in fact, does not need wings, Murad.”
“Right.” Mustafa waved an uncaring hand. ‘Your feeble mind is concerned with pleasing me and the Sultan, and you aren’t capable of such abstract modes of thought where you would realise that with this magic, the horse need not have wings, as the magic can make it fly.”
“As you say, effendi.”
“You look troubled, Mehmet.”
“You said it was Melih.”
“Yes, Melih.” Melih sighed. He was tired, too tired to know his own name and wanted to die just then. At least the batteries had stopped for the afternoon – the gunpowder-tainted smoke had wafted away and been replaced by wafts of the camp stink of disease, grilling and tea.
“Tell me your troubles,” Kara Mustafa said. He looked at the messenger for a long moment, blinking slowly and nodding ever so slightly. His servant seemed like a son to him at this point, albeit a stupid, and now potentially insolent son, but a son nonetheless.
“How does it fly without wings?” Melih knew he shouldn’t question the vizier, but in his present mood he didn’t care. “What, does it just run through the air? How would this look? Ridiculous. It would need wings. It can’t just run through the air!” He stopped – his voice had risen to an indignant squeak. “The Prophet had a winged horse.” Melih continued, more calmly. He couldn’t remember where that detail came from – perhaps from childhood, from his village by the sea, from his father who would relay to him the only four stories he knew as the sun dropped over the hills on the horizon. From somewhere anyway. It was floating around somewhere.
“You’re absolutely right, but we don’t know about this particular horse. Did the Prophet’s horse have a horn?”
“There is no mention of it.”
“Could it be that this unicorn can create or otherwise sprout wings as it pleases?” The vizier looked pleased with his idea, sending a triumphant glance over to his messenger.
“Yes, I suppose, if it had magic, then it could possibly.”
“So there, settled.” Kara Mustafa exhaled loudly, smiling, quite proud of himself. He wasn’t sure how it was settled, but it was and that was that.