A twinkle of hope lit up the eyes of the Prince of Suwat. For a moment he relaxed his inimical posture. "So Mr. Holmes you have already solved the riddle?" he asked eagerly.
"No, you will do it for me. And if not for me, then for yourself."
Immediately his face darkened again. "This makes no sense. Puzzles and chattering are for the weak and old. I have no head for this."
"Yet you would be surprised how much you are capable of if you applied yourself. You know much more than we do about this affair. Please read the poem attentively."
Grudgingly the Prince picked up the paper and started to read.
"Well?" I asked him when he finished.
The Prince stroke his small moustache with the tip of his index finger. "No, nothing," he said at last. "It's a mystery from the first to the last. You explain it to me."
"What about the Host mentioned in the second line?" I volunteered. "We know that the Sultan was sojourning in Venice. The Host must thus be either the Duke of Venice or the King of Italy."
"Simply brilliant, Watson," said Holmes. "Dying on a faraway coast could mean that a unit has landed in Italy from the sea before being destroyed. One of the Turkish armies, perhaps?"
The Prince shook his head contemptuously. "You don't know my father or the Grand Vizier, his closest friend and advisor. The Grand Vizier had the task of writing my father's official correspondence, so when he uses "our" he means the Sultan. To my father the Doge or even the King of Italy were his peers and he would never use a capital letter when addressing them. This he would reserve only for Allah and the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, our overlord."
"I stand corrected," Holmes said without reserve. "The action goes the opposite way. The faraway coast is not outside of, but in Turkey. On that note, would you agree that the Russian Black Sea coast is too close to be called faraway?"
"Considering that a sizeable part of our brothers still consider the Crimea part of the Empire and the Black Sea an inner lake, I must agree."
"Then Russia can be excluded. Likewise Austria could have its Budapest army convoyed from Rumania to reach Turkey and get dislodged there. But again this is a relatively short "lake" trip. And for the Austrian fleet to reach Constantinople or Smyrna four moves are required, leaving no time for dislodgement. This then only leaves Italy. But not through convoy."
I frowned deeply before remarking: "You mean that Venice took the land route to Constantinople? That's four moves as well. While a convoy through Ionian and Aegean can be accomplished in the Fall, no, Spring of 1902." I corrected myself quickly, realizing that no fleet could be in the Aegean Sea at the start of Fall 1901, and so no convoy could happen yet other than to Greece.
"Correct," Holmes agreed. "But if the convoy is in Spring 1902, how will you get rid of not just the Italian army, but also two fleets of different nationality? You can't. Which leads us to the logical conclusion that it's the Italian fleet itself that is moving to Turkey and getting dislodged from one of the Turkish home centers in the Fall of 1902."
The Prince looked at us as if we came from another planet. "I won't pretend understanding any of this, so if you could restrict yourself to your conclusions and minimize the banter…"
I almost exploded: "The banter, Sir, is an integral part of the solution!"
But Holmes was less concerned. "We can limit the details, Your Highness. Watson, you had already observed that the Vizier started in Venice. Assuming that this is the "I" in the poem, we know that this unit is on the run, and thus moving to different locations on every turn. In the later turns this can be through retreat, but in the first turn this is not possible, and so it must move itself. Where would it move?"
I considered this for a moment. "In order to dislodge on the next turn the Venetian army must be surrounded by two enemy units. That limits us to … Piedmont, Tyrolia and Trieste."
The Prince gave a sudden start. "Did you say Trieste? That's the city where my mother was born. It's like my second home. I spent many a holiday at my grandparents' estate in the company of my mother and occasionally the Vizier, when matters of State were less pressing."
"'The Strand on Sunday' insinuated that the Vizier even had a fling with your mother's older sister," I said, citing my wife's favorite magazine.
The Prince shrugged. "They were pretty close. But my aunt is a staunch Catholic, who would never consider converting to the Muslim faith."
"Is your mother or her sister in Trieste now?" Holmes enquired.
"As a matter of fact, they both are. My father had many wives, so it's not uncommon for them to live with their parents for some time when the stresses of court life become too much."
"Trieste is only 70 miles from Venice along the Adriatic coast. The Vizier could easily get there by boat or by train or carriage. The terrain is familiar to him, so he could sneak by without getting noticed. Did you hear from your mother if she had met him?"
"I received a letter from her the other day, mostly concerned with the clothes I would wear on coronation day. She did express concern about the welfare of the Vizier, and that she had a visit from the international police. But she told them as she told me that she knows nothing about his whereabouts. She led them around the house until they were convinced that he was not hiding there."
"I imagine they are still keeping an eye on the house. And what about her sister?"
"She was distraught at first, but she recovered quickly. The next day she was already busying herself around the house, even cooking a meal, something she hardly ever does. But that period has passed, and she has gone back to her usual routine of praying and fasting, albeit with more vigor now."
"A remarkable lady," said Holmes. "Let us put forward as a hypothesis that after his disappearance the Vizier went to Trieste first, met the sister, made her hide him from sight for a few days until he was able to arrange his next hide-out. He then moved on, and she turned to praying for his safe return."
"That's why she was in the kitchen. She was cooking his meals. We're hot on his trail, Holmes!" I exclaimed. "And this board will tell us his next stop."
"How ridiculous," protested the Prince. "Why would he limit himself to a few spots on a gameboard, when he has the police of several nations searching for him? He would do better hiding in some little village deep in the countryside."
"Country people can be very suspicious of strangers. There's no better place than the big city to stay incognito. But let us not question his motives too deeply. Is the Vizier fond of the Opera?"
"Absolutely, he loves it. He would organize a visit to the Opera or the Concert Hall wherever my father travelled, and occasionally sang complete arias when he thought himself to be alone. He has a delicately pitched voice. But why do you ask?"
"Elementary. Notice the dramatic structure of the poem; the tragic opening, the hero's flight, the climactic fight, and the ultimate redemption. It's not unlike a piece of Mozart or Haydn."
"The City of Music, Vienna!" I said excitedly. "But how do we know he went there in Fall?"
"Because for the last battle he came down… Down from the mountains, that is. To be precise, the Tyrolian Alps. He therefore went to Tyrolia in the Spring of 1902, and thus moved either to Venice or Vienna in the Fall of 1901. For the real Vizier to go back to Venice constitutes a considerable risk, as the police is guarding every entrance to the city. Vienna therefore is the more likely destination."
"But which city did he finally go to? And is he in any mortal danger, as the poem suggests?" asked the Prince with a hint of anxiety in his voice. "When I look at the board, I can see four cities bordering Tyrolia: Venice, Trieste, Vienna and Munich."
"Tyrolia has indeed the distinguishing feature of bordering the single most number of home centers of any space on the board. Where he went or how he fares, I cannot tell yet," said my friend. "But let us put our theories to the test and see how far we get. Just the other day Dr. Watson here has impressed me with his skills in solving the Portage Convoy riddle. I pray him to give us another demonstration."
"If you think I can be of service," I murmured, barely able to hide my pride at hearing such praise from the Master himself.
"Portage Convoy?" asked the Prince in wonder. "The words sound familiar, but I cannot place them."
"Of course you do," I told him. "Portage Convoy is a variation coined and popularized by the people of the Port of Suwat, allowing the convoy of fleets by armies."
"Is Diplomacy that popular then?" he said shocked, as if he suddenly came to realize how much he still had to learn about what lived among his people.
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