Mahmoud al-Muriq, Khalifa of the Mooerish Dominions, re-read the astonishing parchment, delivered by courier earlier in the day.
"Truly, ibn Fuad, it is a wonder this letter did not simply burst into flames when the noble Emir finished composing it," he said, not entirely sure whether to be dismayed or amused. In fact, he was holding the parchment by the merest corner, with the tip of his right thumb and forefinger, as though it might yet burst into flames.
"His Magnificence," replied his vizier, Ali ibn Fuad, "was ever passionate and impetuous, as befits a true mujahid of the Almighty." Neither his face nor his voice bore any trace of irony, the Khalifa observed. An excellent performance -- if I could afford to give him a raise, I would, he thought. Surely he has earned it, time and again.
al-Muriq smiled at his vizier with something of genuine affection in it, as much as a man in his position -- and who knew all too well the position he was in -- could afford. "Truly that is so, ibn Fuad, but accurate as it is that does not answer the immediate question. The arm of the Emir is not infinite, but it is long. If the contents of this communication become widely known, there could be trouble for us among the firebrands of the streets.
"I too wish to throw off the yoke of those infidel Yayubetja bumpkins, but not to merely bring down the accursed Gallians upon all our heads. Help me see the road, ibn Fuad, my trusted old comrade. We must once again steer between the Scylla of the Driss Dey and the Charybdis of the Mooerish street, until our strength is restored by the will of the Almighty."
The vizier nodded. "My Khalifa, perhaps it will not be as difficult as you apprehend. You are, of course, informed that a squadron of ships from the House of Austria -- may the Almighty send them scorpions -- has slipped past the Britannian blockade and made its way into the Middle Sea. One hears that the squadron seeks to rid the local seas of...pirates."
The Khalifa took his point at once. "You think the noble Emir might be occupied looking to his navy and coastlands, eh, ibn Fuad?" The vizier nodded.
"As for the latter, the Crown Prince" (here ibn Fuad allowed himself an ironic little smile) "has again requested that two regiments of Arnaut light infantry accompany the Corps of Observation in the next fall maneuvers."
"The Crown Prince? That maniac, again? I tell you, ibn Fuad, the thought of that scourge on the throne of the infidels has cost me more than one night's sleep. May the Almighty uphold Joern Carlos, infidel though he is, and keep that lunatic son of his at bay until he finally finds a way to get himself sent to perdition!"
The Khalifa paused, and a crafty smile spread over his face. "You know, ibn Fuad, there may be an opportunity here after all. Perhaps I will give the Crown Prince what he wants. I can have it spread through the street that the Arnauts go forth to cow the kufr with their martial prowess, to learn the infidel way of war, and to hone their skills against the day when the Almighty shall humble the Yayubetja and their hangers-on, and place their necks beneath our shoes."
The Khalifa smiled and summoned a servant to bring tea. "Thank you, ibn Fuad. Please make the necessary arrangements with the army, and then send for my secretary. I shall begin drafting a letter to the Crown Prince at once."
1 month ago