Fakhreddine II’s fortresses,which dotted the route from Antioch to Sinai, had fallen one by one.
All except Tyron.
Fakhreddine himself was defending the lofty citadel. Suddenly, commander Semaan was admitted to his presence. “We are out of ammunition.”
“In the seventh storehouse there is a rock engraved with two parallel lines. Move it. Behind it is a secret store of weapons.”
The commander went away, and Fakhreddine carried on the conversation as though talking to himself:
“Eight other places like that are found in the citadel.
“I could protect Tyron for months to come, my dearest fortress, my citadel. I built it calculating all risks.”
While an exchange of gunfire was being heard, an explosion rocked Fakhreddine’s chambers, so he thundered:
“It is from the ammunition magazine!”
The sound of gunfire let up.
‘The explosion must have accomplished its purpose. A landslide has finished off the Ottomans.”
But Fakhreddine knew this was nothing but a truth, and the
ottomans would not give up. They would counterattack with stronger and more determined forces. The prince reminisced about past incidents:
As a child, living in Kisirwan with the Khazen clan, he grew up being told that the Ottomans slaughtered his grandfather, and his father died of grief Tales of the Ottomans massacring Druzes in Ain Sofar were also recounted to him. Despite that, he was able to appropriate a small princedom in the Shouf; and he ventured to expand it, but before the right time. His expansion stirred the anxiety of Istanbul,
even though he was not yet fully fledged. Therefore, the Istanbul
threatened him, so he had to take to the sea in retreat.
There he was in Florence, the capital of the world, living with his
friend the Grand Duke of Tuscany in his beautiful palace.
He never forgot a certain visit that his friend made, particularly a
certain conversation that took place between them in the palace,
which the Grand Duke concluded by saying:
“You belong to a class of high royalty, Fakhreddine II.”
The Lebanese prince surprised his guest by saying:
“This time, I have completed my plans: I shall return to Lebanon and reclaim my princedom. ”
“No buts, my dear Grand Duke. All I’m asking for is a ship to take me to my homeland’s shores. The Mountain (Mount Lebanon) is on fire.
“I will no sooner set foot on the land of Lebanon than a shudder will grip it from its peak to its depths. I shall have thousands of cavalry men under my command.”
‘And what about the Sultan in Istanbul; do you think he’ll look the other way?”
“Murad the Fourth will be too weak to declare open hostility. He will maneuver. And he will bestow on me titles. He may grant me a sultanate that includes Cicilia and Egypt, in return for staying out of his way. But he will secretly plot my assassination. Ultimately, his people will force him to fight me.”
“Your departure is a risk, Fakhreddine, if you can’t guarantee the support of the Turks, your hopes will be to no avail.”
“Turkey is not so naive as to allow me to gather strength. But in any case I have to take the risk. I may defeat Istanbul. I may occupy it. All this depends on the retinue of Murad IV”
“If those turn out to be hardy and ambitious and if they dispatch a number of…”
“I took that precaution too. The most the Ottomans can do is to kill me. But I will have done for Lebanon two things that will remain, and keep Lebanon forever. I will have caused this mountain to stir heroically. For years, this mountain has kept the same borders. I shall set its boundaries free. I shall cause fire to course in the veins of its youth. And until I am defeated and after the Ottomans awaken from their shock, I will have made contemporary Lebanon a record of valor. Dignity alone is the source of life!”
“And the other thing you have underway, my dear Prince?”
“I learned the other thing from Tuscany. The example of Florence, the great Florence, will always remain in my mind; Florence does not die. And Europe may not perish because it brought forth cities similar to Florence. My capital, Beirut, my beautiful capital, will become more enchanting than Florence. Pardon me, my dear Grand Duke, but I will make people say, ‘In the world there are three cities: Athens, Florence and Beirut.’ I will not spare you any architect, or painter, nor will I spare you a marble slab in the quarries of Carera. I will attract all these assets to Lebanon. While I keep the Ottomans busy at war, the most extraordinary people of the world will be planning with the Lebanese, building, painting, and engraving on stone as Beirut rises to become the epitome of construction and art.”
“Ah, my dear Grand Duke, if only you knew Beirut. It has the most beautiful location on the Mediterranean; guarded by a mountain perpetually crowned with snow: The sea extends over its sides in Jounieh and Sidon in the most magnificent stretch that ever shimmered on a coast.
“If I were to construct palaces, stadiums and academic and dramatic halls in Beirut, and to give its people the incentive to build marble temples, would Lebanon not become the conscience of the world? And if I were to transport to Beirut gardens and pinewoods from the mountains, and make it the primary city in the world, where the sounds of mason’s hammers are heard in the far ends of the earth, would Lebanon not become the conscience of the world? And if the elite were to flock to it to enjoy poetry and things of beauty and the sculpted marble edifices, then tell me will Lebanon not become the conscience of the world? And will the conscience of the world allow itself to be contaminated with Ottoman artillery? You yourself, my dear Grand Duke, will gather armies if danger becomes imminent and rush to protect the city which competes with Florence.”
The Grand Duke then said in jest:
“Are you sure, Fakhreddine, that deep down I will not be jealous and welcome destruction that will wipe out a city that is a contender with Florence?”
“No,” answered Fakhreddine, “pettiness will not cross the mind of the grandson of the Medicis. You and your father worked for beauty’s sake more than Athens did. It is unthinkable for a Medici to betray beauty.”
The Grand Duke frowned at this response and stifled a smile of admiration for the Lebanese prince as a sweet tear escaped his eye.
Then he asked his friend:
“But will it be in your capacity to lead this renaissance in construction, sculpture, and literature? These ambitions require more than just importations. Is your country worthy of implanting in its earth this fragile shoot?”
“My country brought to the world Sidon, Baalbeck, and Beirut. The whole world flocked to Beirut to gain education back when our city was the uncontested most cultured capital of the Roman Empire. Today, Baalbeck not only boasts the tallest pillars in the world but the most beautiful too. I don’t think a nation can aspire to compete with Baalbeck. And you can only appreciate the value of Sidon if you think of Athens, Florence, and Paris combined. Sidon conquered the world with civilization, not with the sword. It was visited both by beauties who shopped for clothes and jewelry, and by seekers of entertainment and knowledge who would have fun and enjoy its culture in its early days. It is said that the Greek Father of Reason was a Sidonian. A rumor? But it suffices. And Homer, in any case, never discussed any peoples as he discussed us. He said we were “people of the gods” and “carriers of the language of the gods”; two titles that one only uses to describe his own countrymen.”
Fakhreddine had reached this far in the thread of his memory when he heard commotion in the fortress.
And in came Commander Semaan.
“What! Did you spot with your two eyes the return of the Ottomans?”
“More horrible, Your Highness: they found their way to the spring which provides water to the fortress, and poisoned its water.”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry,” moaned Fakhreddine. “Order the soldiers to get out of the citadel. We shall fight in the open. And we shall drink from the crystal-clear springs of Lebanon.”
While they were so engaged, a messenger arrived from Beirut. He was immediately admitted to meet the prince. He conveyed a secret leaflet which the Ottoman supreme commanders were distributing to their soldiers.
Fakhreddine took the pamphlet and started reading it. When he came to a certain line, his beard started shaking: “Don’t you dare leave any standing edifice in the city. Beirut shall not be more glorious than Istanbul.”
The Prince anxiously queried:
“Have they started the destruction?”
The messenger said:
“They haven’t left a pillar or a slab of marble.”
At that moment Fakhreddine’s eyes hardened. Commander Semaan stared at them curiously, only to discern the Bosporus receiving a lifeless body and a severed head.