The Shadow Without a Name
6th September 1362
John rose early to keep his appointment with Alexan.
It was a splendid morning and he decided to relax in the pool.
Alexan came earlier than expected and John gestured that he should join him.
As Alexan disrobed John noted the fine definition of his muscles. This man was an athlete. Facially he had a very strong jaw line, high cheek bones over slightly indented cheeks and a thin nose. His eyes were interesting. They were large but narrowed at extremities. It was if he was focussing carefully. At that point in time he was gazing at John’s face. His unusual eyes gave him a look of complete sincerity.
As he stooped to enter the bath John noticed scars across one shoulder and the opposite arm.
“So Prince Nadir we are to go on an adventure”
John jumped. No one had informed him of his alias. ‘Yes we will go to Sevilla in Al- Andaluz. There we will escort a Castilian army into Grenada where we will help to reinstate the rightful ruler Muhammad VI.’
‘And our objectives will be’
John glanced at Alexan with respect. It was exactly the correct question.
‘It is possible that there will be a period of great turmoil, we will protect the Emir’s trade.’
‘And the risks?’
Once again exactly the right question.
‘Our objectives are slightly different than the Castilians. We might want to go to different places and then become isolated, potentially surrounded’
‘And our strategy?’ John decided he really liked this young man and his no nonsense approach.
‘I believe you are now using long bows.’
‘Yes but we do need instruction, it is not an easy weapon to use’
‘We have a sea journey lasting over two weeks with several stops in various ports. We will start the training on board ship and then continue in Sevilla’
They chatted for another half hour exchanging stories about battles and weapons and parted in good company.
As they travelled down the Canalasso, just before noon, the waterway was busy, as the Venetians came in boats of many varieties to claim the prime positions to watch the regatta.
The Emir’s barge was impressive. In keeping with the festival atmosphere it was lined with silver fabric , which extended over the handrails and was draped along the sides. What really made the barge impressive however was the contrast between the black uniform of the boatmen and the pale blue uniforms of the Emir’s guards.
The guards uniforms were not obviously eastern. They wore european style steel helmets with visors. There were glimpses of chain mail underneath their doublets below which they wore hose and boots. A voluminous blue cloak hanging from a substantial chain completed the uniform. They wore swords at their waist and carried long, very long, throwing spears each tipped with a blade of the same shape and material as Ximene’s sword which she had used to extinguish the candles two nights ago.
The guards lined the sides of the barge and their spears were held to be perfectly vertical and in alignment, glittered in the sun. The barge attracted much attention from other boats in the narrow waterway
John gazed in delight, reflecting how much he would enjoy seeing others perform whilst he became, for once, a bystander.
Whilst they were in public he was very circumspect with regard to anything he said to Ximene but he could feel that Ximene was also relaxed and enjoying the experience.He positioned himself close to the Emir who was waving to the passing craft.
‘Have you actually decided to work with Aquila rather than the Venetians?’
The Emir smiled, but replied without looking at John. ‘In the longer term, yes. As I told you Ximene has offered me a share of the final sale price for the products she takes to Europe. It will make Karaman a wealthy state, well able to afford the improvements in our armed forces which you, Sir John, will help bring about.
In the short term however I will continue to supply the Venetians. Aquila has plans to have her goods available in Sevilla, in Portugal and in Bordeaux at 20 or 30 per cent less than half of what the Venetians charge. My share of the final profit in London or Paris will be very substantial.
If she can achieve that then it is only a question of her building enough ships for me to be able to transfer the whole of my trade. This which is why the visit to the Arsenale is important. We may learn something to our advantage. If I have a worry it is the funding of her building programme. She assures me that it is not a problem, and I can see that she has all the trappings of wealth but I have tried to do my own checking in England. It has been a surprise.No one seems to have heard of Ximene Trencavel.’
He now did turn to look John in the eye.’I had more luck in France however. She is quite famous there. Heiress, heretic, enemy of the state.’
John groaned under his breath. ‘Why had Ximene allowed the Emir to know her real name? Did the French know who was asking about Ximene? Would they have realised the reason for his queries? Could they track him down?
John tried to hide his dismay by leaning over the rail of the boat. The Emir leaned across and squeezed his hand.‘Is your arrangement with Ximene similar to mine? will you also obtain a share of the final profit?
John pursed his lips. “No I have a totally different arrangement”‘Which is?’
‘Between myself and Ximene’
‘Of course’ the Emir hesitated hesitated. ‘I would have preferred to know how you will be rewarded, I like to know what it is which motivates people but,’ another hesitation, ‘of course.’
When they arrived at the Riva Ca’ di doro. it was as if royalty was making a visit, Which John supposed was true. The Emir was royalty.
The guards disembarked first, forming a guard of honour on the Quay. A squad of Venetian guards then marched across the bridge from the road leading to the Arsenale. The Venetian guard split into two ranks and with a series of manoeuvres positioned themselves between the Karaman Guards. The bright red and red and white slashed sleeves of the venetian guards made it easy to distinguish between the two sets of guards.
The Karaman guards then retreated, on step at a time, for four paces and then one guard at a time turned away so that they were looking outward along the landing stage.
John had done enough drill work to know that the whole procedure must have been carefully rehearsed. A small crowd had gathered to watch the little ceremony. Then and only then did The Emir, Ximene and John disembark from the Barge.
When John, Ximene and the Earl started to walk along the dock the Karaman guards stayed to attention but the Venetian guards marched with them to the gates of the Arsenale and stayed with them for the whole visit.
As they passed through the gates the Emir shrugged his shoulders. ‘They will not let my guards in here. There must be something that they do not want military personal to see.’
He glanced sideways at John. ‘Keep your eyes open Sir John, perhaps you will be able to discover their secret.’
For John the visit to the Arsenale was eye opening. The Emir was right, in that on this day there was a carnival atmosphere, but even today there was still work being carried out. Four galleys were close to completion. They were lined up along the quay with a dry dock at the far end. It was obvious that they were moved forward as each stage of construction was completed . The ships came to where the materials were stored for each stage rather than the materials being taken to the ship.
Three of the galleys had numbers on them had numbers on them 1360-230, 1360-231,1360-232.
The remain galley which was furthest from completion had no number assigned but John assumed it would be 1360 -233.
‘Two hundred and thirty -three ships this year ships so far this year?’
‘I told you! The total number of ships in use at anyone time is close to three hundred. They sail in convoys to all parts of the mediterranean in numbers large enough to be able to ward off attacks by isolated pirates. It would need a fleet of armed warships to defeat them. Nevertheless losses from naval conflict, storms and deterioration demand this production rate to cover replacements and some expansion. The building programme is so successful that captains now often sink their ships when they need to be re-caulked or de-barnacled. It is cheaper to buy new.’
John’s eye’s widened, he had never considered the maintenance required to keep ships afloat. What they were viewing was a functioning naval machine.
They wandered along the dock, closely attended by the guards, taking note of the reception, storage and handling equipment at each stage. All stages were different; all specifically tailored to the materials being handled.
After less than an hour in the Arsenale, they embarked on their barge and merged with hundreds of other boats heading towards the Canalasso. In the relative privacy of the rear of the boat John nudged Ximene.
She made no attempt to turn to him but the stiffening of her shoulders told John she was attentive.
‘You aren’t hoping to compete with this naval machine are you.’
‘Well yes I am. I am not intended to fight battles with them, just take away some of their trade. They won’t be able to stop us, they won’t be able to chase us, we will be far to fast for them.’
‘But- Oh! never mind I will talk to you later for now let’s just enjoy the day.’
Their transport delivered them to restaurant on the west sjde of the Canalasso almost underneath the Ponte Della Moneta.
Again, disembarking became a display. The guards lined up along the landing stage and they remained there until the Emir was seated.
Most of the guards then retired to the restaurant behind them. The barge which had delivered them to the restaurant then departed with agreements that it would return for the end of the regatta.
Alexan and another guard positioned themselves behind the table against the wall of the restaurant
Suddenly John excused himself as if the go to the toilet but in fact to check on the deployment of the guards. The guards had positioned themselves in the kitchens, on the stairs and along the tiny street behind the restaurant.
An extensive menu was put in front of the Emir, who paid no attention to it whatsoever. ‘I want roast chicken, from a rotisserie, which has been marinaded in brandy and pepper -lots of pepper’
‘But this is not on our menu.’ the waiter protested, It will take a long time to prepare’.
‘We are in no hurry and there is lots to entertain us, bring us some wine’
The waiter looked askance and the Emir answered somewhat sharply “A bottle each of your best Aspirino and Greco Negro.
As the wine was served boats came into view and made a rapid progress up the river. John was delighted to discover that now their barge had moved they had a totally unrestricted view.
‘We did not have to wait long here comes the procession’
The waiter who had been hovering in attendance could not rest an interjection.’No that is not the procession, eminente, it is simply the bissone clearing the way for the procession. As crossing of the course is forbidden during the races one of the bissone is positioned at the mouth of every side canal. Look! One is taking up its position at the mouth of the Rio San Salvador immediately opposite us. You will see that the masters of the Bissone carry cross bows. if anyone ignores their orders they will not hesitate to use them.’
John watched as the fleet of bissones moved on. ‘It is like a military operation, why is there a need for such security.’
‘There has always great competition’, The waiter shook his head. ’Some would say conflict, between the various communes in Venice. The boat races are intended to provide a peaceful outlet for the competition but it does not always work out that way. Arguments and violence are not uncommon. The captains of the Bisonnes try to prevent this.
A short time later the true procession approached. In the leading boat was the Dodge of Venice himself, Giovanni Dolfin followed by many of the leading citizens of Venice and their wives and children . The boats passed under the Ponte Della Moneta.
The leading boats were passing out of sight when suddenly there was a burst of flame from the Rio San Salvador, immediately opposite to where Ximene, John and the Emir were sitting. There were other bursts of flame came from the side canals upstream and downstream. The bursts of fire were synchronised, appeared to be co-ordinated. John initially thought that it was part of a fireworks display such as that which had terminated the tournament but instantly realised this was something very different.
Ximene screamed ‘ People are on fire, the flames are sticking to them.’
Occupants of the boats threw themselves into the water to avoid the flames but they could not escape. The liquid fire which spewed out across the Canalasso covered the water and continued to burn. People who rose into this inferno were again coated with the inflammable material . Their shrieks of terror and pain resonated through the narrow chasm of the Canalasso.
It was difficult to see anything clearly, but one of the streams of fire seemed to be coming from the Bisonne which had been positioned at the mouth of the Rio San Salvador. The projected fire now edged forward, closer and closer to where they were sitting. Then just for a fleeting moment John saw him; on the far bank of the Canalesso, the short fat man with the extremely long arms and the shock of red hair.
John grabbed Ximene by the arm, at the same time pointing at the far bank.
‘There, it is Du Guesclin.’ he pulled her into the inner restaurant. He returned to pull the Emir, who seemed mesmerised by the sight, from his chair. There were people in the water not yet engulfed by the fire and the Emir’s guards were distracted trying to pull people from the water. John himself helped two men, two women and a child out of the water and onto the parapet.
John pushed the Emir into the hands of his guards inside the restaurant and dashed back to the waterfront.The wooden bridge across the Canalasso now burned vigorously. Clearly there were people trapped on the bridge. There was a balcony at the mid point, now crammed with people. No one wanted to jump into the inferno below but the pressure from behind was too great. The balustrade failed and agonisingly slowly one person after another dropped into the blazing water.
The fire edged still closer. John pulled at Alexan’s cloak of the remaining guards.’Come on you have done all you can.’
Alexan struggled to free himself but then allowed himself to be dragged back. For the other guard it was too late; a stream of fire hit the front of the restaurant and splashed back onto the guard’s cloak.
Instantly he was engulfed, whirling round in a frantic attempt to remove his cloak, before falling backwards into the Canalasso to be consumed by the flames.
Alexan tried to go to his aid but John blocked his path and then pushed him into the inner restaurant. He shut the door behind him, only just in time as the fire now covered the whole of the front of the building. He pushed those who had been saved from the water through the restaurant, through the kitchens and out through the rear entrance. Movement was difficult as everyone from the waterside was trying to escape. Amazingly, there were people moving against the flow, some who were looking for loved ones or others simply wanting to see what was happening.
He found Ximene and the Emir waiting for him. He grabbed Ximene’s hand and gestured to the Emir to follow him.
Ximene pulled against John ‘No, no, we must go back and help.’
‘Ximene there is nothing we can do, we would not last a minute out there’
Working instinctively John guided them through the maze of walkways and bridges which lead back towards the Emirs residence.
They arrived breathless and shaking, causing a stir amongst the crew of the barge and the emir’s servants. From the upper windows many of them had been watching the parade, and now voiced their concerns and questions.
John ran to the the cloister outside his room. The Canalasso was chaotic. Boats were moving back towards St Marks and the Arsenale. It was no longer an orderly procession. Boats of many different types mingled together in a mad scramble to leave the narrow confines of the Canalasso, and reach the wide open spaces of the Lagoon. Some of them were on fire. Almost underneath the window there was a log jam as those at the end of the procession did not understand what was happening and were slow to turn around. When they returned to the courtyard the Emir was sitting on the couches beside the pool. He gestured for them to join him.
They all looked at each other breathing heavily, without speaking. John spoke first.‘I have never seen anything like it. It was fire, but dense fire. It stuck to anything it hit coating everything with fire. Even when it fell into the water it floated and continued to burn. It came from the bisonne at the mouth of the canal opposite us.’
Ximene hesitated but then words tumbled from her mouth. ‘I know exactly what it was, Greek Fire, the supposedly secret weapon of the emperors of Constantinople. Obviously it is not a very great secret any more. I know about it because Don Fernandino is doing experiments in the hope of installing it on our fleet. Having seen what it can do I am not sure I will allow him to do that.’
She turned to John ‘Your eyes deceived you, it did not come from the bisonne but from a smaller boat which tried to push past the bisonne. The captain of the bisonne may well have saved our lives and possible gave his own life to do so. His action stopped the second boat from breaking into the Canalasso immediately, the result being that the very first projection of fire covered the captain of the bison and his boat. It was that action which gave us the vital seconds to escape’
The Emir leaned forward ‘ Thank you Ximene. I also saw the bisonne block the other boat. I think I saw something else, that despite the chaos the fire came closer and closer to us. to where we were sitting. We were not exactly opposite the Rio San Salvador, so why did that happen? The boat projecting the fire was heading in our direction.
He paused and turned to address John directly.‘John, you saved my life. Even in those dire circumstances you were able to move whereas I found myself rooted to the spot. However I got the distinct feeling we were being targeted. Perhaps I was the target, perhaps Ximene, perhaps all of us. This now gives rise to a series of questions.
‘Who would have known who we were?’
‘Who would have known where we were sitting?’
‘Who may have access to the secret of Greek fire?’
John blinked, to him some answers were obvious. ‘ It won’t mean anything to you but Du Guesclin was involved. I saw him. He is our deadly enemy. I would guess that whoever made your enquiries about Ximene in France is dead and before he died he was tortured to reveal who had sent him on his mission.’
Ximene blinked ‘Queries, what queries?’
‘The Emir tried to check your credentials against your real name.’
Ximene turned to the Emir. ‘You really should not have done that’
John shook his head. ’Never mind Ximene, what is done is done and cannot be undone. Du Guesclin is nothing, if not persistent. He found us in Venice from that narrow lead. Once here however we were easy to find. We were all dressed in eastern clothes. We must have been relatively easy to separate from the crowd. On the first day of the tournament I found you without much difficulty, remember. The captain of the boat who took us to the Arsenale and then brought us back to our seats knew who we were and where we were seated. In any case we were not exactly inconspicuous. Our barge was draped in fine cloth and lined on either side by guards whose spear blades glittered in the sun’‘But how would du Guesclin have got access to Greek fire’
The Emir grimaced ‘I think it is most likely to be the Genoese. Although currently no war has been declared there is continuing conflict. The last war between the two resulted in the Genoese gaining virtual control of the Byzantine waters and expanding its colony at Galata to be nearly as big as Constantinople itself. Galata is only across the harbour from Constantinople, If anyone could obtain the secret of greek fire, they could. They would not mind someone creating chaos in the centre of Venice’
John stroked his cheek. ‘We don’t know, it does not matter, what does matter is what must we do now?, If we were targetted, and I think we were it may not yet be over. They probably know where we are another attack is not impossible.
The Emir rose to his feet,
‘If indeed this was an attempt on our lives, we must leave immediately. Is your ship available Ximene?’
‘Yes, John and I checked it for readiness yesterday afternoon but it will be days before the ship we have booked for the guards is available.’
‘ We Will all have to leave on the same ship. When can we leave.’
‘You realise it will be incredibly cramped.’
“Yes, yes, but when can we leave?’
‘Immediately, but it will take time to mobilise everyone, and I don’t want to use the barge which we used this morning.’ The captain of that barge could have given away our position, he was one of a very small number of people who knew exactly where we were sitting! He is now waiting downstairs, capable of tracking our every move.’
The Emir nodded agreement ‘We must divert his attention. John you are far more agile than me. This is what you must do. ‘Less than half an hour later, John had changed into his western clothes, and accompanied by the Emir and Alexan, he descended the stairs to the entrance. John and Alexan boarded the boat and made sure that the boatman knew he intended to return
“We will be back before eight’ Alexan announced in the local language.
The Emir nodded and turned to remount the steps.
‘Palazzo Ducale.’ Alexan instructed the boatman. John wondered if it was only in his imagination that the boatman was surprised to see him. The barge threaded it’s way though a chaotic waterway. Boats travelling in all directions. Columns of smoke rose from burned out shells drifting with the outgoing tide. Much more smoke drifted higher in the air occasionally obscuring the views of St Marks Campanile the domes of St Mark’s Basilica.
John And Alexan jumped from the barge onto the Riva Delgi Schiavoni, right outside the Doges palace. Alexan instructed the boatman ‘We should be less than an hour,’he shouted, ‘but in any case wait for us.’ They ran into walkway at the base of the Doge’s palace and half way along ducked behind one of the arches.
As they waited John looked at Alexan curiously. ‘How many languages do you speak?’ Alexan chuckled. ‘Oh, three or four. Cicilia is at the crossroads of the world’
John then cautiously peeped around the pillar until he could see the barge. To his delight there was no indication that anyone was watching them. Skipping from one pillar to the next and checking several times to ensure they were not being watched, they then waited until a group of people moved to cross the open space which led to the Piazza San Marco. They merged with the group until they were half way across the Piazza and then ran to the far corner where the Bacini Orseolo was situated.
There was a choice of Gondola’s and barges waiting for hire. John chose the largest barge available. However having made his choice it was difficult to attract the Crew’s attention.
They were certainly distracted. They were not talking to each other but shouting at each other. Alexan translated for John.‘There are abandoned boats everywhere, Some of the canals are blocked’
‘Nobody has any idea who might have done it’
‘Well I know, it was the Genoese.’
The last speaker suddenly noticed the pair ‘Oh hello ,what do you want?’
John had become so interested in the conversation and so dependant on the translation, that he was surprised by the question spoken in a language he could understand.‘Can you take us to the Palazzo Dandolo?
‘Yes I can take there, but I won’t go any further up the Canalasso. There has been some sort of an Incident, perhaps an explosion, anyway there are fires everywhere.’‘We will pick up about twenty five people from the Palazza Dandalo and a fair amount of luggage. we then want to go to the harbour at Marghera.’
‘The only way I can do that today is by threading our way through some of the smaller canals. It will not be a fast journey.‘Do the best you can.’
The barge wended it’s way through a maze of dark waterways, many of them almost filled with smoke. The smell of smoke was unpleasant, acrid. suddenly the church bells stated to peal, each peal repeated in a succession of echoes. John glanced around anxiously as the route took them under a succession of small bridges.. He discussed his fears with Alexan and they both moved to the bow of the barge, where they would get the earliest warning of any attack.
Eventually they emerged into the Canalasso. They stopped whilst the captain summoned another barge explaining that a second barge was necessary to carry the total complement of people. John could hardly contain his impatience as the Captain of the second barge seemed to take longer than necessary to mobilise his crew.
The Canalasso still looked surreal. A boat drifted past which was no more than a shell and yet it was still afloat. John paced up and down, imagining that the boats breathing Greek fire would reappear. He clapped his hands in delight when the two barges finally moved off. Minutes later they arrived at the emir’s palazzo to find the landing stage heavily guarded and piled with luggage. John ran up the stairs to find that the whole household was ready to move.
By the time he had retraced his path down the steps and on to the landing stage the luggage had been lifted onto the barges. The guards were split into two equal groups and half of them embarked onto each barge.
The Emir walked up and down the landing stage showing no intention of boarding the barge.’ John approached him ‘Are you ready to go?’
The Emir grimaced ‘ Yes, but I am having second thoughts. Would we be better waiting here until everything is once again in order? Well if we really were the subject of an attack, you could shelter within the Palazzo but you might be surrounded”
‘You are going now regardless?’
‘Oh yes, whatever you decide to do, Ximene and I are leaving now, du Guesclin is despicable but he is determined and vicious. I would never want to fight him on his terms’
The Emir glanced around and John followed his eyes. The Canalasso was still chaotic, burning wrecks still floated past.‘Yes, I agree we must all go.”
The barges took the safe route, out into the lagoon and then back up the main shipping lane to Marghera. Three hours later they slipped out of the lagoon. As they struck out into the Adriatic sea the city behind them seemed to be totally engulfed in smoke.