“What with Egypt and the sultan their hands are too full for them to act as the police of the sea, and the consequence is that from every port, bay, and inlet, pirate craft set out — some mere rowboats, some, like those under the command of Hassan Ali, veritable fleets. Thus the humblest coasters and the largest merchant craft go alike in fear of them, and I would that the sultan and Egypt and your Order would for two or three years put aside their differences, and confine their efforts to sweeping the seas of these pests, to storming their strongholds, and to inflicting such punishment upon them as that, for a very long time to come, peaceful merchants might carry on their trade without fear.
“I heard you tell the captain that he was to steer straight for Acre, and I think you are right in avoiding the coast, where the most harmless looking fishing boat may carry a crowd of pirates hidden in her hold. At the same time, if you will take my advice you will head much more to the south, so as to be out of the regular track of ships making from Constantinople or the islands to Acre. You may meet pirates anywhere, but they are assuredly thicker along the more frequented routes. The safest plan of all would probably be to bear south, and strike the Egyptian coast well to the east of the mouth of the Nile. Thence, till you get to Palestine, the country is utterly barren and uninhabited, while, running up the coast to Palestine, there are, save at Jaffa, no ports to speak of until you arrive at Acre; and besides, the inhabitants there, even if pirates, would not venture to disregard the pasha’s safe conduct. I do not by any means say that such a course would be absolutely safe. You may meet with vessels on your way south, and doubtless some of them cruise off the barren coast I speak of, to intercept traders to and from Egypt and Acre, and other Syrian ports; for the trade carried on is considerable, and, although of the same religion, the Turks are disposed to view the Egyptians as enemies rather than as friends, and would have even less hesitation in plundering them than in robbing their own countrymen.”
“I think that your suggestion is a good one, and will follow it, at any rate. The course is a good deal longer, but that is comparatively of little moment. The great thing is to carry you safely to Acre.”
“And to get back with equal safety,” Suleiman said, with a smile.
“That is quite as important in my eyes; in fact, of the two, I would far rather that we were captured on our voyage thither, for in that case I might be able to arrange for the ransom of both of us.”