Topkapi Palace, Istanbul 1617, reign of Sultan Mustafa I

An arrow shot up. Its tip split the air quickly before it finally hit the target board. Extraneous to another arrow that had been shot and hit the bulls eyes, this last arrow ended at the outermost part.

The archer was silent. Not because he was insulted but because he waited.

One… Two… Three… he counted inside.

What he was waiting for, happened too. The rhythmic laughter of a group of men was heard then. Breaking the tension due to invisible competition that took place on the training ground at dusk that day.

”As always, Salim is never failed to amuse us as the closing for our day, ” the voice of one of the men with a green caftan heard. The sentence of compliment that the man had just uttered was a scornful statement at the same time.

The same man then turned to look at the other men. He said, ” We should thank him for this. ”

Their laughter raised.

A young man named Salim — who was the same archer who shot the last arrow — threw a smile. And their laughter was very deafening to him, though.

Aren they too noisy?, his inner voice said grumpily.

As always, this scene was never missed. They would laugh at Salim as if it was an unwritten custom in every activity or meeting they did together. They would make fun of him for his failures and his foolishness. It seemed like those people couldn find anything else as entertainment besides him inside the palace. What a pity, eh?

In the modern world this is called bullying, Salim was so concerned.

Still, with a lingering smile on his face, Salim looked at the man who had just spoken. His green eyes then moved to take a note of all the other men there; noticing the expressions that showed up on each of their faces.

Those men were nobles. Some of them were princes of the Ottoman Empire, including the man in the green caftan. His name was Prince Feridüddin. He wasn from the first line of the heir to the throne but his position was the highest among those who were there. Prince Feridüddin was a cousin of the current reigning sultan.

Being able to make them laugh with silly stuff he did, for sure, made Salim happy. It meant that everything went as he wished. He wasn that silly, tho.

”What am I compared to the Great Princes of our Sultanate as well as our Pasha (2) who are faithfully served themselves to our Empire, ” Salim said modestly.

His words made the nobles even more proud of themselves. The laughter that had stopped now raised again. But Salim also felt benefited by this condition where they kept making fun of him.

Salim then glanced at Behram. That old man stood behind them along with the other aghas who were serving the princes.

Behram returned Salims gaze. A bent face with a flat expression never changed from him and became his hallmark. He, a man who was aged about 60 years.

Seeing Behram made Salim smirk a little. Salim then refocused himself on the nobles in front of him.

”Because Salim had shown us a good show, it is only appropriate that we close todays archery activities with joy, ” said Feridüddin again.

That was how they left the training ground. This meant that one by one the activities that Salim had to join on this day began to end. At least he could relax a little before having to come back again the next day with different schedules.

The nobles walked through the corridors of the palace according to the order of their respective ranks. A little further back, both the amount ghas and the servants who followed them were also bound by the rule — they walked according to the rank of their masters.

”Salim, you are 25 years old. I don know what kind of martial art training model is suitable for you after this age. But keep practicing, ” Feridüddin gave his advice in his baritone voice. He made fun of Salim again after previously chatting with other nobles.

Again, Salim put a smile as his classic reaction. It wasn his signature style but a kind of unwritten protocol within the palace for those of lower status. But his brain recorded all the information about the mimics, gestures, and even intonation used by Feridüddin when he was talking to him.

As soon as his logic started to work, little Salim should already be able to distinguish people based on their intentions toward him. Not always easy. It was even very difficult when everyone involved in political pawns was trained to hide their emotions as well as their true goals. It seemed impossible to establish a relationship like a normal human being in that place. Especially in a political situation during this time.

”No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to surpass you, My Lord, ” Salim said as soon as he got all the information he needed about Feridüddins intention. For sure, Feridüddin didn say his advice because he cared about Salim. Quite the contrary.

”I didn say it so that you can surpass me, by the way, ” Feridüddin retorted followed by his typical aristocratic laugh. Then he leaned toward Salim. In a whisper said, ”This Old Man is just give you his 2 cents so that you can survive in this place. ”

Salim smiled faintly. He nodded his head as a sign that he had received Feridüddins message well. ”I will remember it well, My Lord, ” he said.

Feridüddin laughed again. This time, he patted Salims shoulder. ”See you tomorrow, Prince Salim. ”

Salim lowered his head. He raised his right hand and then bought it to his left chest as a salute to Feridüddin. His smile was still on his lips.

From under his eyelashes, Salim followed the group who were moving away from him. Then he raised his face again. Without saying anything he turned his body and continued his steps back to his room.

Behram followed behind him. Upon arrival at Salims room, he ensured the conditions outside before closing the door tightly.

Salim still didn say anything. He moved to his couch and sat there without taking off the kavuk (3) from his head.

Behram was just waiting for his prince to say something about todays events. Bowing his head he stood and waiting not too far from his master. His hands were tied together as he was in service.

”I know whats on your mind, Behram, ” Salim suddenly said. He looked at Behram and laughed a little.

In his place, Behram moved slightly. His gesture said that the old man was ready to listen to whatever his master would say.

”Im still not sure. I don think he is the one who did it. But there is no harm in being cautious, ” Salim continued, answering a voiceless question from Behram.

”Weren you just threatened by him, My Lord? ” Behram asked. He was not satisfied with the answer that Salim gave.

”Thats why I don suspect him too much. ”

”Then who is the culprit by your opinion, My Lord? ”

”It could be anyone. Did you forget? This is palace, ” Salim replied. His voice was so calm. He didn sound worried at all about his current situation. On the other hand, his face looked amused.

After that, Behram didn ask any more questions. He had already served Salim for many years. That was enough time for him to understand that Salim didn want to continue their conversation.

Salim looked at Behram briefly. Then he stood up from his seat. His feet stepped across his room and stopped in front of his desk.

”But I still have to send a letter to Yıldıray, ” he said, grabbing his peacock quill. Salim began to write. While finishing his writing, Salim gave Behram an order. ”Get ready, Behram. I want to look as modern as possible. And for sure, gorgeous too. ”

Behram nodded his head once as a sign that he understood his masters command. Then he moved to the other side of the room, reaching for something hidden, and started to prepare all Salims needs.

They would travel the longest journey ever made by humankind, 402 years of journey.

(1) Military or civilian officials.

(2) A title conferred on a person with a senior position within the Ottoman Empire.

(3) Ottoman-style headgear used by nobles.

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