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Authors: Abdulaziz Al-Mahmoud

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BOOK: The Holy Sail
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The kingdom never expected to be invaded and bombarded with cannonballs, and many felt trapped in a terrible nightmare. The flying death shooting out of the caravels blockading the entrance of their city had them wrapped in its wings now.

It was deadly mayhem. People scrambled through the city's alleyways and streets, not knowing where to go and where to take shelter from the shells, as women
wailed and children screeched. Not far away, the king's palace came under a heavy barrage of cannonballs, turning many parts of it into rubble.

The Hormuzi dhows and galleys started leaving the harbour to attack the Portuguese ships. But the caravels gave them no chance and destroyed them, ship by ship, as soon as they retracted their anchors. The Portuguese dropped their landing boats carrying soldiers, who proceeded to finish off the wounded and drowning Hormuzi sailors, stabbing them with short spears or swords. Afterwards, they used grappling hooks to pull the dead bodies close and loot their armour, weapons and valuables. The port's entrance was flooded with floating corpses and limbs and many of the ships anchored there had caught fire.

The Hormuzi army was scattered. Its casualties were too many to cope with, and neither horsemen nor camel-mounted knights were able to repel the seaborne death. In a matter of seconds, the army was in disarray. There were no leaders, formations or orders left.

In the distance, white flags were slowly hoisted above the king's palace. Others followed suit and raised the banners of surrender, in the hope the Portuguese would see them and cease their bombardment.

Albuquerque's reptilian eyes watched this unfold from the deck of his ship. Miguel was behind him, clutching Covilhã's precious report; he needed to open the file from time to time to respond to Albuquerque's incessant queries about the island, its fortunes, and its strengths and weaknesses. Miguel kissed the manuscript as if it were his lover.

At sundown, Albuquerque ordered his ships to cease fire. The once-beautiful kingdom of Hormuz was now in ruins.

After the last cannonball shot by the invaders, people needed a few minutes to ensure the white flags had worked. The noises of war gave way to screaming from under the rubble and the survivors on the roads, some of whom were burned or dismembered. Corpses began to wash up on the shore joining ghastly-looking piles, as some bodies were animated by the waves in a sickening sight. Attar felt that Judgement Day had come, and that Hormuz would never be the same.

Albuquerque smiled contentedly at the sight of the white banners fluttering over the city's skyline. Addressing his officers, he said, ‘Now we can negotiate with the defeated.'

The people of Hormuz did not know what they should mourn most: their devastated city, the souls that had been stolen by the Portuguese cannons, or the ill fortune that brought these ships to their shores. The kingdom of Hormuz was burning, homes were levelled and roads turned inside out; dead bodies filled up alleys and passageways and soldiers' corpses were cast back to shore by the waves. Everything that had taken them and their ancestors centuries to build had been obliterated by Albuquerque in a matter of hours.

The call to prayer came from the minaret of the grand mosque. The muezzin sang with a sobbing voice, and could not continue the
. Some people tried to finish
the call to prayer on his behalf, also while sobbing, but Albuquerque ordered one of his officers to fire at the minaret and silence it once and for all. The shell did not hit the tower directly, but exploded nearby, causing a strong aftershock that destroyed part of the minaret's foundation. It leaned slightly to one side, prompting the muezzin to flee quickly. The minaret fell silent, and the
would never be heard again from this mosque.

The kingdom of Hormuz slept that night to the cries of the wounded and the bereaved. The screams came from every neighbourhood, alleyway and district of the city. The wounded were gathered at specific points on the roads while people rushed to find someone to treat them and care for them.

Cries of horror and grief echoed whenever a soul departed its body. Gravediggers worked non-stop to cope with the number of corpses, until they tired and started throwing the dead into shallow pits, covering them with a thin layer of dirt. With food for both humans and animals now in short supply, starving dogs came later at night and dug some of the bodies out.

The next morning, the Hormuzis watched nervously the floating fortresses besieging their shore, afraid that the ships would decide to fire again and snuff out whatever life was left in their kingdom. Then they saw a boat dropping from one of the vessels, making its way to the harbour; they knew that Albuquerque's messenger had returned.

Those who had some strength left in them gathered around the king's palace, waiting to see the outcome of the
messenger's visit. They were afraid to meet the same fate as the people of the Omani coast.

Inside the palace, King Salghur was stricken by panic and grief, and was not in a state that allowed him to meet the messenger. Attar came instead.

As usual with Albuquerque's messengers, Miguel did not come to discuss terms but to dictate them. Miguel was armed and armoured to the teeth. Standing impertinently in front of Attar, he unrolled a scroll and began to read it:

I, on behalf of Governor and Captain-General Afonso de Albuquerque, order you to surrender and accept the following terms:

Hormuz shall pay an annual tribute to the king of Portugal to be determined by Governor and Captain-General Albuquerque.

Hormuz shall open its port to Portuguese trade.

All tax revenues shall be paid to the king of Portugal.

The Portuguese flag shall fly over the royal palace.

All Hormuz's possessions and settlements shall become the possessions of the king of Portugal.

A Portuguese adviser shall be appointed to rule the island on behalf of Governor and Captain-General Albuquerque.

When Albuquerque's messenger emerged from the palace, people were still unsure of the outcome. Miguel boarded the boat and left. Attar then came out, walking with heavy steps and looking down. He addressed the small crowd. ‘The kingdom of Hormuz has surrendered to Portugal!'

The people's reaction was a combination of relief and sadness. Relief because they felt that the immediate ordeal of war and death had lifted, and sadness because they knew they had lost their king, their kingdom and their centuries-old way of life forever, their future now in the hands of a merciless invader. Many of them broke into tears, as the shocking realisation hit them.

In the afternoon that day, the Portuguese paraded their forces on the main road outside the port, carrying a cross in brazen provocation. Hormuzis spotted another flag bearing the cross fluttering over the king's palace, and knew that the worst was yet to come.




News of the Mamluk victory spread across the western coast of India. Fact mixed with legend as was usual for the tales told by sailors in their gatherings. Amir Hussein who came from Egypt became a symbol of resistance. Many who did not have the chance to see him tried to imagine what he looked like. Some were fanciful and concocted different images for him in their heads. There were stories that he rode on a magic carpet above the water, and that he fought with two swords, one made from fire and one from lightning. Mothers told their children stories about Hussein to comfort them and alleviate the terror they felt at the accounts they heard about the Portuguese. Hussein became the hope of the terrorised people of the coast, and a legend for young people inspired by his resistance.

Apart from the many myths woven around him across the regions of western India, Hussein's victory drew different reactions. In devastated Hormuz, the news of the Mamluk fleet's victory over the Portuguese was a glimmer of light dispelling some of the darkness of their own defeat. Hope started to replace despair, and bands of partisans began to operate, hunting down drunken Portuguese sailors, burning their food stores and looting Portuguese tax collection offices at the port.

Albuquerque was particularly incensed over the Mamluk victory. The Portuguese conquistador ordered Miguel to
find the best spot on the island to build a fort to protect the Portuguese from partisan attacks, and from which he could rule and keep all his treasures in safety.

Miguel's search did not take long. The sound of the call to prayer had alerted him to the grand mosque in the city centre. Enormous and easily modifiable, it was perfect, and it would not take too much time to get ready.

Attar learned of Albuquerque's intentions. He called on him at his residence, pleading with him to change his mind. A decision like this would enrage the populace, the Hormuzi vizier argued, and would kindle a spirit of resistance on the island. The vizier told Albuquerque the Safavids could use this as a pretext to intervene as well.

After a few meetings between the Portuguese conquistador and King Salghur and Attar, it was agreed to build a fort on the cape north of the island, not far from the Persian mainland, to protect Hormuz against any possible Safavid assault. Though the tax collection office was in the port, the two sides agreed the money would be moved every day to the fort guarded by Hormuzi and Portuguese soldiers. Until the fort was completed, however, the Portuguese would use the grand mosque in the city as their garrison and treasury.

Albuquerque stood after the meeting without looking at the king or Attar. He pointed at the promontory at the far north of the island and said, ‘We shall build a large fort there, and call it the Fort of Our Lady of Victory.'

Attar glanced at King Salghur, who was now only interested in surviving on the throne, having forfeited everything else. The Hormuzi vizier knew the poor king had lost
his sense of place and time, and had thus become a burden on the island and the throne.

Miguel replied in a spiteful tone, ‘It's a beautiful name, my lord. Our Lady of Victory.'

Attar clenched his fists, trying to suppress his outrage. He turned to Miguel, who was sitting next to Albuquerque. Their eyes met and Miguel stared back in defiance as he said, ‘Yes, my lord, a very nice name indeed, Our Lady of Victory. The whole world will remember this name for centuries to come. Victory over these heretics is the work of Our Blessed Lady.'

Miguel gave Attar a wicked smile, as his words cut into him like a razor-sharp blade.

In Diu, celebrations continued for several days until news of Albuquerque's victory in Hormuz finally came. The dispatches said the Portuguese commander was building a mighty fort that would become his base to launch attacks and conquer the rest of the ports in western India.

Bin Rahhal reached Diu in this climate. His arrival was a huge event; people felt that Muslim forces had started mobilising in earnest to defeat the Portuguese, and a spirit of
and resistance spread among the populace like wildfire.

In the royal court, Malik Ayaz seemed at the peak of his activity, vitality and euphoria. He had triumphed over the Portuguese, becoming a name to be reckoned with. The victory reinforced his legitimacy, and this former Russian slave was now a master to be obeyed and a holy warrior.

Ayaz sat himself in the manner of Indian rajas, lying on a gilded divan padded with silk and chewing betel leaves. A
visibly cheerful Hussein sat beside him, trying to chew the leaves Ayaz offered him. It was not as easy as it had seemed to him initially; chewing something and trying not to swallow the resulting paste was difficult and required practice.

Ayaz spat in a gilded bowl on a table nearby, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. ‘A dear guest has arrived from Arabia, Hussein Pasha. We are very pleased to have him with us. He brought with him many ships and seasoned warriors that we desperately need. I have ordered my people to make sure he is received well, but I also want you to meet him.'

Hussein replied, trying to speak clearly in spite of the betel leaves in his mouth, ‘This is good news, indeed, Your Grace. We don't know how strong Albuquerque's armada in Hormuz is. It might be more formidable than the fleet we defeated. We must be prepared for Albuquerque too. The Portuguese cannons have proven effective in battle as you know.'

Bin Rahhal was dressed in his best robes and wore kohl and perfume. He wore on his shoulder a cloak with gilded embroidery, and selected his best turban to wear on his head. He wore a gilded dagger in a cummerbund around his waist. And yet his attire, like that of all Arabs, was not flamboyant, but rather simple and modest when compared to the attire of the Indian nobility.

The Arabian vizier entered the royal hall where Ayaz and Hussein were sitting. He was awestruck by its grandeur, craftsmanship and the affluence of its master. Malik Ayaz received him in exaggerated cordiality, embracing him tightly. He invited him to sit near Hussein.

Bin Rahhal felt relieved when he heard Hussein address him in Arabic. ‘So you are the infamous Hussein! Your reputation has travelled across the sea. Sailors sing your praises, and have described you as a superhuman.'

Hussein guffawed. ‘I'm afraid I'm too human, and most certainly do not wield lightning and thunder.' Hussein's tone then changed. ‘What news do you have?'

Bin Rahhal tried to banish the phantom of Halima forming in front of him. He said, ‘As we approached Debal, we heard that a Portuguese conquistador called Albuquerque had raided and destroyed several ports along the Omani coast. This Albuquerque attacked and ransacked the kingdom of Hormuz as well. It's my belief that he's en route to India, intending to seize the routes used in the spice trade between India and Arab lands. His homeland is in dire need of controlling this lucrative trade.'

BOOK: The Holy Sail
6.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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