The postern gate of the Janissary Garrison stood open, though flanked by a double guard. But they came to attention as Ezio arrived, and he realized that he had had the luck to waylay a senior NCO or junior officer—for the dress he wore clearly commanded respect, though to an uninitiated eye, the Janissaries’ uniforms looked virtually indistinguishable between officers and men.
He entered the compound without difficulty, but no sooner had he done so than he began to pick up snippets of conversation regarding the killing.
“Kardeslerim, one of our own was found murdered and stripped of his garments not an hour ago, and his body, they say, was dumped on a dunghill like so much rubbish,” one said to a couple of his brother soldiers, who murmured angrily at the news. “Keep a close watch on these streets as you move through them,” the first to speak continued. “Someone is planning to strike, using our uniform as cover. We must be constantly on our guard until the culprit is caught.”
“And disemboweled,” added another.
Ezio decided to be as cautious as possible for as long as he was in the compound. Keeping his head down, he moved around the barracks, familiarizing himself with them, and, as he did so, eavesdropping on various conversations. What he heard was most revealing and of great value.
“Selim understands our plight. The Byzantines, the Mamluks, the Safavid—only he has the courage to face the threats those peoples represent for us,” said one soldier.
“You speak the truth. Selim is a warrior. Like Osman and Mehmed before him,” another replied.
“So—why has our sultan Bayezid chosen a pussycat over a lion?”
“Prince Ahmet shares the sultan’s calm temperament. That’s why. They are too much alike, I fear.”
A third soldier joined the conversation. “Sultan Bayezid is a good man, and a kind ruler . . . But he has lost the fire that made him great.”
“I disagree,” said a fourth. “He is still a fighter. Look at the army he has raised against Selim.”
“That’s just further evidence of his decline! To take up arms against his own son? It’s shameful.”
“Do not bend the truth to match the contours of your passion, efendim,” the fourth man rebuked him. “It was Selim, after all, who attacked our sultan first.”
“Evet, evet. But Selim did so for the glory of the empire, not for himself.”
“Speaking of the war, is there any news from the north?” a fifth soldier chimed in.
“I hear that Selim’s forces have fallen back to Varna,” said a sixth. “Heavy losses, I am told.”
“Incredible, isn’t it? I pray for a swift conclusion.”
“Yes, but in which direction?”
“I cannot say. My heart sides with our sultan, but my head hopes for Selim.”
“And what of Selim’s young son, Prince Suleiman?” a seventh Janissary put in. “Have you met him?”
“Not personally,” an eighth replied; “But I have seen him. I know he is a remarkable boy.”
“Hardly a boy—a capable young man. With a magnificent mind.”
“Does he take after his father?”
The seventh Janissary shrugged. “Perhaps. Though I suspect he is another sort of man altogether.”
Two more Janissaries came up and joined the conversation as Ezio lingered at its edge. One of them was clearly a bit of a joker. “Why does Prince Ahmet linger in this city?” he asked wryly. “He knows he is not wanted.”
“He’s like a moth hovering around an open flame. Waiting for his father to perish, so that he may take the throne.”
“Did you hear,” said the joker, “that he offered Tarik a bribe in return for our loyalty?”
“God damn him for that. What did Tarik do?”
The other guard laughed. “He spent half the money on horse feed and sent the rest to Selim!”
Several ornate tents were pitched within the broad compound, protected by the high walls that surrounded it. Leaving the Janissary soldiers, Ezio moved on among them, getting ever closer to the center, where he guessed Tarik’s quarters would be found. Sure enough, as he approached, he heard the familiar tones of Tarik’s voice as he spoke to a courier who had just come up, joining Tarik, who was in the company of a third Janissary, evidently an adjutant.
“Tarik bey,” said the courier. “A letter for you.”
Tarik took the letter without comment, broke the seal, and read it. He was laughing in a satisfied manner even before he had reached the end. “Perfect,” he said, folding the paper and putting it in his tunic. “The rifles have arrived in Cappadocia, at the garrison of Manuel Palaiologos’s army.”
“And our men, are they still with him?” asked the adjutant.
“Evet. They will contact us when the Byzantines break camp. Then we will meet them when they reach Bursa.”
The adjutant smiled. “Then everything is falling into place, efendim.”
“Yes, Chagatai,” Tarik replied. “For once.”
He waved the men away and started to walk away, among the tents. Keeping at a safe distance, Ezio shadowed him. But he could not remain completely unnoticed and was glad of the little Turkish he had already picked up since his arrival in Constantinople, as guards either came to attention or soldiers of similar rank to his own greeted him. But it was not all plain sailing. Once or twice he lost his trail and noticed suspicious looks directed at him before he picked it up again; and once he faced a direct challenge. Two guards blocked his way:
“What regiment are you from, efendim?” the first asked him, politely enough, though with just enough edge to his voice to make Ezio wary.
Before Ezio could reply, the second cut in: “I do not believe I know you. I do not see your imperial insignia. Are you cavalry?”
“When did you get in?” asked the first, his voice openly unfriendly now.
“Where is your captain?”
Ezio’s Turkish wasn’t up to this. And he saw that, in any case, their suspicions were more than aroused. Swiftly, he unleashed his hookblade and tripped one up with it, sending him crashing into the other. Then he ran, darting between tents, jumping guy ropes and still keeping one eye on the now-distant Tarik.
There was shouting behind him:
“Deceiver! You will die!”
“It’s the outlaw who killed Nazar! Grab him!”