“That would be—most rewarding.”
The young man looked at him. “You’ve probably heard of another famous countryman of yours, still living, I believe. Leonardo da Vinci?”
“The name stirs some memories.”
“Less than a decade ago, Sayin da Vinci bey was asked by our sultan to build a bridge across the Horn.”
Ezio smiled, remembering that Leonardo had once mentioned it to him in passing. He could imagine his friend’s enthusiasm for such a project. “What became of it?” he asked. “I see no bridge here now.”
The young man spread his hands. “I’m told the design was beautiful, but, unfortunately, the plan never came to pass. Too ambitious, the sultan felt, at last.”
“Non mi sorprende,” Ezio said, half to himself. Then he pointed to another tower. “Is that a lighthouse?”
The young man followed his gaze toward a small islet aft of them. “Yes. A very old one. Eleven centuries or more. It’s called the Kiz Kulesi—how’s your Turkish?”
“Then I’ll translate. You’d call it the Maiden Tower. We called it after the daughter of a sultan who died there of a snakebite.”
“Why was she living in a lighthouse?”
The young man smiled. “The plan was, to avoid snakes,” he said. “Look, now you can see the Aqueduct of Valens. See that double row of arches? Those Romans certainly could build. I used to love climbing it, as a child.”
“Quite a climb.”
“You almost look as if you’d like to try it!”
Ezio smiled. “You never know,” he said.
The young man opened his mouth to say something but changed his mind and shut it again. His expression as he looked at Ezio was not unkind. And Ezio knew exactly what he was thinking: an old man trying to escape the years.
“Where have you come from?” asked Ezio.
The young man looked dismissive. “Oh—the Holy Land,” he said. “That is, our Holy Land. Mecca and Medina. Every good Muslim’s supposed to make the trip once in his lifetime.”
“You’ve got it over with early.”
“You could say that.”
They watched the city pass by in silence as they rode up the Horn to their anchorage. “There isn’t a city in Europe with a skyline like this,” Ezio said.
“Ah, but this side is in Europe,” replied the young man. “Over there”—he gestured east across the Bosphorus—“that side’s Asia.”
“There are some borders even the Ottomans cannot move,” Ezio observed.
“Very few,” the young man replied quickly, and Ezio thought he sounded defensive. Then he changed the subject. “You say you’re an Italian—from Florence,” he went on. “But your clothes belie that. And—forgive me—you look as if you’ve been in them rather a long time. Have you been traveling long?”
“Sì, da molto tempo. I left Roma twelve months ago, looking for . . . inspiration. And that search has brought me here.”
The young man glanced at the book in Ezio’s hand but said nothing. Ezio himself didn’t want to reveal more of his purpose. He leaned on the rail and looked at the city walls, and the other ships, from all the countries in the world, crowded at moorings, as their baghlah slowly passed them.
“When I was a child, my father told me stories of the fall of Constantinople,” Ezio said at last. “It happened six years before I was born.”
The young man carefully packed his astrolabe into a leather box slung from a belt round his shoulder. “We call the city Kostantiniyye.”
“Doesn’t it amount to the same thing?”
“We run it now. But you’re right. Kostantiniyye, Byzantium, Nea Roma, the Red Apple—what real difference does it make? They say Mehmed wanted to rechristen it Islam-bul—Where Islam Flourishes—but that derivation’s just another legend. Still, people are even using that name. Though of course, the educated among us know that it should be Istan-bol—To the City.” The young man paused. “What stories did your father tell? Brave Christians being beaten down by wicked Turks?”
“No. Not at all.”
The young man sighed. “I suppose the moral of any story matches the temper of the man who tells it.”
Ezio pulled himself erect. Most of his muscles had recovered during the long voyage, but there was still an ache in his side. “That we can agree on,” he said.
The young man smiled, warmly and genuinely. “Güzel! I am glad! Kostantiniyye is a city for all kinds and all creeds. Even the Byzantines who remain. And students like me, or . . . travelers like you.”
Their conversation was interrupted by a young Seljuk married couple, who were walking along the deck past them. Ezio and the young man paused to eavesdrop on their conversation—Ezio, because any information he could glean about the city would be of interest to him.
“My father cannot cope with all this crime,” the husband was saying. “He’ll have to shut up shop if it gets any worse.”
“It will pass,” his wife replied. “Maybe when the sultan returns.”
“Hah!” rejoined the man sarcastically. “Bayezid is weak. He turns a blind eye to the Byzantine upstarts, and look what the result is—kargasa!”
His wife shushed him. “You should not say such things!”
“Why not? I tell only the truth. My father is an honest man, and thieves are robbing him blind.”
Ezio interrupted them. “Excuse me—I couldn’t help overhearing—”
The man’s wife shot her husband a look: You see?
But the man turned to Ezio and addressed him. “Affedersiniz, efendim. I can see you are a traveler. If you are staying in the city, please visit my father’s shop. His carpets are the best in all the empire, and he will give you a good price.” He paused. “My father is a good man, but thieves have all but destroyed his business.”
The husband would have said more, but his wife hastily dragged him away.
Ezio exchanged a look with his companion, who had just accepted a glass of sharbat brought to him by what looked like a valet. He raised his glass. “Would you care for one? It’s very refreshing, and it will be a while yet before we dock.”
“That would be excellent.”
The young man nodded at his servant, who withdrew. In the meantime, a group of Ottoman soldiers passed by, on their way home from a tour of duty in the Dodecanese, and talking of the city they were returning to.