Now I Rise Page 11

“What about the navy? How is that progressing?”

“As well as can be hoped. Most of the galleys are built and Suleiman has found sailors to hire. I thought it would be difficult, but the men flocked to him. They foam at the mouth for the riches of Constantinople.” Radu sighed. “I hear it among all the soldiers when Constantinople comes up. The golden apple at the center of the city, held by the statue of Justinian. The churches bricked in gold and decorated with jewels. They care nothing for our destiny to have the city, as declared by the Prophet, peace be upon him.” Radu frowned. He also heard much darker talk that focused on the wealth and spoils to be found among citizens of the city. Right now it was spoken half in jest, as no one knew Mehmed meant to go for the city immediately. But it left a bad taste in Radu’s mouth.

“But that is not why we have to take the city.”

Radu had not really spoken with Nazira about Constantinople before. He was surprised that she had an opinion. “What do you mean?”

“People think it is prophesied because it will bring us wealth and fortune. But why would God care about that? I think the city will be ours because we need it to be. As long as Constantinople exists, it will draw crusades. More people who come into our land and kill us simply for being Muslim. I think Constantinople’s fall will bring safety and protection. God will give us the city so we can worship in peace.”

Radu closed his eyes, lifting his face to the sun. He had been so focused on how to help Mehmed take the city, he had stopped thinking about why. Nazira was right. This was not just for Mehmed; this was holy work. He would do it to help protect the faith that had given him so much.

“What is the timeline?” Nazira asked, pulling him back to the present.

“We are getting close. Everything is nearly in order. But Mehmed will not move until he is certain of all his borders. Hungary still troubles him. Hunyadi is a threat.”

“And the Italians?”

Radu was glad he had opened up to Nazira. It was such a relief to discuss this openly with someone who understood all the pieces in play and who reminded him of what the actual purpose was. “They are too busy quarreling with each other to defend a city with as much history of animosity as Constantinople. Once we secure the waterways, they cannot send aid even if they decide to.”

Nazira sighed. “I know it must be done, but I do not look forward to the day that will claim both my brother and my husband for their destinies at the walls of Constantinople. I fear the outcome.”

Radu drew her close. “You know I will make certain you are taken care of. No matter what.”

Nazira laughed sadly against his chest. “There you go again, assuming I am worried for myself. You never account for others loving you for you, Radu, rather than what you can do for them. It is my greatest prayer that someday you will know enough of love to recognize when it is freely given.”

Radu had no answer. Sometimes Nazira offered too much insight. “I am going to speak with Urbana, then. Thank you.” He kissed Nazira’s hand.

As he walked inside, he passed Fatima. “Thank you for enduring this,” he whispered. “Nazira is in the garden, and I will be occupying Urbana for the next few hours. Go spend some time with your wife.”

She briefly met his gaze, a grateful smile shaping her kind face. “Good luck,” she said.

 

“Your wife may be infertile,” Urbana said as she and Radu sat down for a midafternoon meal.

Radu choked in surprise. “What?”

“You have been married more than a year. How often do you copulate?”

Radu raised his eyes to the ceiling, searching for answers there as he felt his cheeks burning hotter than the furnaces of the foundry. “Are you also an expert in these matters?” he asked, trying for a teasing tone.

Urbana frowned. “No. But I wonder about the practicality of continuing on a course that is yielding no results. What about the maid?”

Radu panicked. Apparently they had underestimated Urbana’s perceptiveness. “Fatima?” he asked, stalling. How would he explain this? What if she told someone?

“She is your servant. I am not unaware of customs here. If she bore you a son, he would be an acceptable heir. And it would be a nice thing for her, too. She would have legal status and you would not be able to sell her to someone else. I like Fatima. You should consider it.”

Radu’s voice came out strained, both with relief that Urbana did not realize the truth of his marriage and embarrassment that this was a conversation she thought appropriate. “I prefer to remain faithful to my wife.”

“Is that why you have not tried to join my bed? I would have rebuffed you, violently if necessary, but it has puzzled me.”

“I want to talk about your cannons!” Radu said, desperate to wrestle the topic away from babies and beds.

Urbana’s face fell; then she brought her thick eyebrows together as though bracing for pain. “If you would just let me talk to your sultan, I can—”

“I want you to make them.”

Her eyebrows lifted in surprise. “What?”

“I want you to make them. All of them. Your Babylon crusher, yes, but also every cannon you have time and dreams for. I want you to create the greatest artillery the world has ever seen.”

Urbana’s delight quickly shifted to tired disappointment. “I want that, too, but neither of us has a foundry or materials or the money to acquire them.”

“Can you keep a secret?”

She licked her lips, pulling them thoughtfully between her teeth. “No, not really.”

Radu laughed drily. Urbana might become invaluable, but not if he was unable to keep her hidden from Halil Vizier. Nothing could be easy in his life, apparently. He rubbed his forehead beneath his turban. “Well, that is a problem, then. Tell me, would it be possible to create these cannons without drawing a lot of attention?”

“Not with the amount of ore we will need. And we will need men—lots of men. I cannot do it alone. And I cannot do it just anywhere. That is why I came here—Edirne and Constantinople have the only foundries big enough for me to make my cannons in.”

Radu had too many secrets. They were overflowing. And he did not know how he could build an artillery without being noticed. Besides which, the weight of secrets was wearing on him. He doubted everything now. Even Mehmed, which hurt. If Mehmed hid his dealings with the Wallachian prince, hid Lada’s plight, what else might he be keeping from Radu?

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