Ibrahim hastened to the Sultan to press him to embark as soon as possible in the ship that was waiting ready to convey him and the White Prince to Scutari; but at the foot of the staircase, in the outer court of the Seraglio where stood the Sultan’s chargers which were to take him through the garden kiosk to the sea-shore, the way was barred by the Kizlar-Aga, who flung himself to the ground before the Sultan, and grasping his horse’s bridle began to cry with all his might:
“Trample me, oh, my master, beneath the hoofs of thy horses, yet listen to my words! The noontide hour has passed, and the hours of the afternoon are unlucky hours for any undertaking. The true Mussulman puts his hand to nothing on which the blessing of Allah can rest when noon has gone. Trample on my dead body if thou wilt, but say not that there was nobody who would have withheld thee from the path of peril!”
The soul of Achmed III. was full of all manner of fantastic sentiments. Faith, hope, and love, which make others strong, had in him degenerated into superstition, frivolity, and voluptuousness—already he was but half a man.
At the words of the Kizlar-Aga he removed his foot from the stirrup in which he had dreamily placed it with the help of the kneeling Rikiabdar, and said in the tone of a man who has at last made up his mind:
“We will go to-morrow.”
Ibrahim was in despair at this fresh delay. He whispered a few words in the ear of Izmail Aga, whereupon the latter scarce waiting till the Sultan had remounted the steps, flung himself on his horse and galloped as fast as he could tear towards Scutari.
Meanwhile the Grand Vizier and the Chief Mufti continued to detain the Sultan in the Divan, or council-chamber.
Three-quarters of an hour later Izmail Aga returned and presented himself before the Sultan all covered with dust and sweat.
“Most glorious Padishah!” he cried, “I have just come from the host. Since dawn they have all been on their feet awaiting thy arrival. If by evening thou dost not show thyself in the camp, then so sure as God is one, the host will not remain in Scutari but will come to Stambul.”
The host is coming to Stambul!—that was a word of terror.
And Achmed III. well understood what it meant. Well did he remember the message which, three-and-twenty years before, the host had sent to his predecessor, Sultan Mustafa, who would not quit his harem at Adrianople to come to Stambul: “Even if thou wert dead thou couldst come here in a couple of days!” And he also remembered what had followed. The Sultan had been made to abdicate the throne and he (Achmed) had taken his place. And now just the same sort of tempest which had overthrown his predecessor was shaking the seat of the mighty rock beneath his own feet.
“Mashallah! the will of God be done!” exclaimed Achmed, kissing the sword of Muhammad, and a quarter of an hour later he went on board the ship destined for him with the banner of the Prophet borne before him.