The first six chapters of “The Traitor” are available to read on-line. Copies of the book can be purchased from : ISBN  978 1 4092 9076 6 Based on “Superior Force” the acclaimed study of the escape of Goeben and Breslau
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"The terrible ‘ifs’ accumulate" The Traitor A novel by Geoffrey Miller The Balkans, 1914 Home Synopsis Balkans My Books Contact Order
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Chapter 6 Avret Hissar
When the new instructions from the Foreign Office reached him, Major Lionel Samson was witnessing the final days of the siege of Adrianople.* The Turkish city had withstood the Bulgarian onslaught for longer than most neutral observers had thought possible but, by the end of March, the outcome was judged inevitable. The last horse and the last dog had been slaughtered for what flesh could be carved from their wretched bodies; dysentery was rife; ammunition almost exhausted. Not even the news of the recent coup in Constantinople, triggered by the probable fall of the city, and which had brought Enver Pasha to power — real power as opposed to the illusory kind exercised by the figurehead Grand Vizier — was enough to lift the spirits of the ragged troops. Their faces no longer bore any trace of emotion; just the blank stare of resignation, coupled with the universal entreaty: why has my life been sacrificed thus? Was I born for this and no more? Death held no further terror for this drained mass of humanity; or so Major Samson thought. He had been inspecting the northern sector of the defences when he first heard the sound. It meant nothing to him initially: a monotonous, low-pitched whine which he could not place, but which seemed to be approaching from behind the Bulgarian lines. The Turkish soldiers around him listened intently and, as they did, fear at last descended upon them. Death by shell fire, bullet or bayonet was one thing; death by some new, unforeseen, sinister machine quite another. The sound worked upon their remaining imagination and they experienced the full horror of the unknown. Samson, whose experience of life was somewhat wider, remained fascinated rather than concerned. He continued to scan the opposing lines until he caught sight of an irregular shape which appeared, for an instant, to be hovering above the Bulgarian trenches. Despite peering hard through his thick glasses, he could not, as yet, identify the strange object. The harsh whirring noise it emitted increased in intensity as the blurred outlines finally began to sharpen, to reveal a giant, mechanical dragonfly with two blazing eyes. Samson removed his glasses, cleaned them with a greasy handkerchief, wiped his eyes, which had begun to water in the cold wind, and looked again. The cylinders on either side of the engine spouted flame once more. The last time Major Samson had seen an aeroplane had been at the Army Testing ground in 1910, and that had been no more than a powered kite, a flimsy construction of wood and canvas, with no possible military future. The craft which was now rapidly approaching was sleeker, more functional, more terrible. As it approached the Turkish line of defence, the Bulgarian aeroplane struggled to gain some height, presumably, Samson imagined, to climb out of the range of rifle fire. The Major knew, for it was clearly printed in his copy of Field Service Regulations (Operations) that rifle fire was effective up to four thousand feet, so long as the troops were instructed to aim six times the length of the machine in front. But there was no chance that the Turkish troops around him, mesmerized by the approaching apparition, would open fire. They gaped, open mouthed, as the airman, now quite visible, could be seen reaching inside his cockpit. As he did so the engine spluttered and the aeroplane dived momentarily towards the ground, while the pilot hurriedly adjusted the trim. Surely, thought Samson, we are not about to be bombed from the air? For some reason there was something altogether more terrible about the prospect of someone overhead, who could see his intended victims, and knew that they had nowhere to hide. Samson realized that such a thought was irrational: they could not, after all, actually see the Bulgarian artillery. There only warning of when a shell might land was the final whistle it made just before plunging to earth. It was said that, if you could not hear this, the shell was heading directly for you; what could be more terrible than that? Besides, Samson knew that the heaviest bomb which could be carried aloft weighed only one hundred and twelve pounds and was capable of inflicting only minor damage. Even so, he forlornly recalled another injunction from Field Service Regulations: “By far the most effective method of dealing with hostile aircraft is to attack them with armed aeroplanes.” The writer of that, in his cosy office in the War Office, had clearly not envisaged such a situation as now faced the Major. Samson experienced a momentary sensation of disgust at such a barbarous advance in tactics but still found himself unable to take cover, nor to take his eyes off the machine. Having tentatively regained full control, the pilot again reached into the cockpit and ejected the contents of a leather bag. The Major reacted instantaneously, putting his hand up to cover his face as if this might afford some protection against the exploding metal. When nothing happened he looked again: thousands of leaflets fluttered to earth, eagerly sought by the troops around him who, when they had each gathered one, stared in incomprehension as the weary, elegiac throb of the under-powered engine faded away. The printed message was in French. Some, recognizing the English consul, beseeched him to explain the meaning of the leaflet. Samson first read it through carefully to himself: Constantinople, it declared, was about to fall; Enver Pasha, it proclaimed, was seeking a negotiated peace which would leave Bulgaria in control of the European shore of the capital; Shukri Pasha, it asserted, was about to conclude a similar deal in Adrianople; the Bulgarian Army, it maintained, was still strong and in good spirits. Every chance had been offered to the Turks and if they refused to accept, and the fighting continued, no mercy would be shown; all the Turks remaining in Adrianople would be slaughtered unless they surrendered immediately. What did the message mean? the Turkish troops inquired politely. ‘It says,’ Major Samson replied, ‘that if you surrender you will be well treated.’ ‘Ha!’ they snorted in unison. ‘Bulgarians treating Turkish prisoners well — what do they take us for!’ Once Samson had provided a similarly edited version of the remaining contents of the leaflet the soldiers nodded knowingly as they looked again at the foreign message. Each one carefully folded a leaflet to take home with him when the siege was over and show to his family. They, too, would appreciate the bizarre notion of the humane Bulgarian. It did not occur to them that their fate, instead, might be a prison camp; once the siege was ended, they believed, what possible cause would be served by their continuing detention? The Bulgarians who, despite their boasts, were also partners in the suffering, made their preparations for the final assault in the early hours of 25 March, concentrating on the weak northern and eastern sectors of the city, where the protection for the besieged troops amounted to no more than rough earthworks, recently inspected by Samson, who was convinced they could not withstand modern artillery. So certain was Samson that the attack would proceed from this quarter that he had approached the Turkish Commander, Shukri Pasha, to warn him of the impending danger. Yet Shukri, while appreciating the gesture, could do no more than shrug and point to the fact that his troops were now insufficient to man every point at which an attack might be made. His reserve of troops was now gone, succumbed to the sickness sweeping the city rather than the desultory bombardment which had been a feature of the past fortnight as the Bulgarians massed the bulk of their artillery for the final assault. A diversionary attack on the southern front, again foreseen by Samson, caused Shukri, who had no choice, to commit his last available troops to this sector, denuding other sectors in the process. As soon as he was sure that the diversion had worked, the Bulgarian commander gave the order and the massed rank of cannon opened fire. Within hours a breach had been made in the north-eastern sector through which enemy troops poured; within a day the city was in the hands of the Bulgarians and Shukri Pasha had surrendered unconditionally. As the rampaging Bulgarian troops looted the city, Major Samson, who, against his better judgment and years of experience, had become involved personally in the siege, trudged dejectedly back to his billet to write up his report to Grey. But the words would only come slowly; they had to be forced on to the paper. After completing the first page, he put his pen down and picked up the dispatch from Crowe: “Following discussions with the War Office, you are to proceed on secondment to Athens. There, in the strictest confidence, you are to initiate inquiries to determine and report upon the present political situation. In particular, following the elevation of Crown Prince Constantine to the throne, we desire to know the extent of his German affiliations and whether these will conflict with the alleged Anglophile proclivities of the Prime Minister. Can we put our faith in Monsieur Venizelos? Will he carry the country with him? There is a rumour current here that a dossier was sent to Athens forewarning of the assassination — is there any credence in this? Report fully. The general tenor of your mission, but not its specific nature, is known only to the Minister, Sir Francis Elliot, and it would be advisable for the present to refrain from admitting any other members of the Legation staff, or the British Naval Mission, into your confidence. For the immediate future you will come under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Office, upon whom you will draw an allowance. Strictly private. My dear Samson, Enclosed is a copy of a private letter from your friend Fitzmaurice. Once you have read the contents, please burn.” Coming at any other time, the re-assignment would have been viewed with some annoyance by Samson; now, however, he felt nothing but relief. He recognized that this was the result of becoming too involved in the fate of the Turkish defenders of Adrianople. He had himself, after all, been besieged along with them. The compact, balding figure of the British consul, with his thick glasses and neat military moustache had become a familiar figure throughout Adrianople. Now that the victorious troops were raging through the streets Samson was glad that the opportunity had presented itself for him to escape. The fact that this opportunity would not be available to the mass of Turkish soldiery, who would now endure captivity and the tender mercies of the Bulgarians, did not immediately occur to him. It was late now, and he was tired. Outside, desultory rifle shots snapped through the air; the screaming had all but died down. Samson looked again at what he had just written and started a new paragraph of ‘Concluding Remarks’: “It needs but a cursory inspection of the Turkish defences to show that the fall of the town, whilst doubtless due in part to the fact that the trenches were manned by ill-trained troops demoralized by a five month siege, is in the main to be attributed to the badly constructed works which defended it. Although some of the batteries on the south and west faces had been concreted, those at the north-east angle, where the Bulgarian artillery fire was concentrated, were mere earthworks, not capable of withstanding the fire poured into them. Both batteries and trenches were devoid of headcover of any kind, whilst communicating trenches and similar devices were but rarely constructed.” Why, thought Samson, had not Shukri employed his inactive troops in building up the defences? It may have helped morale. Then he recalled the faces of the young troops who, only two days previously, had been nervously awaiting the next onslaught and he realized why. Upon finishing his last report from Adrianople, he closed the lid on his ink bottle, placed his pen carefully on its stand, rolled up the map of the city he had used for reference, and slumped, fully clothed on his bed. The new day brought with it new problems, the first of which was transport. Having received his instructions from Crowe, Samson was anxious to set off. To acquire a horse, however, he had to make himself known to the occupying authorities. The Bulgarian captain he eventually found was only too keen to provide the English consul with a charge; the fewer neutral observers in the city now, the better. For his part, Samson, discerning the reasoning behind the relative ease with which he was provisioned, was finally consumed by the guilt he had ignored, or had suppressed, the previous night. He set off that afternoon sad at heart, abandoning the Turks to their fate. His route would take him overland to Salonica where he hoped to be able to travel by steamer to Athens. The Thracian countryside through which he now passed showed little outward signs of war and the journey was, if anything, easier than he had anticipated. Neither did he experience any of the fear of the lone traveller in an unfamiliar territory. His principal enemy was time itself. Since the shock of the previous October, the Major had sought solace in his work. At night, thoughts of Edith would return, to be banished the following day as he busied himself in Adrianople. Now, with nothing other to occupy his mind, he could not escape her hold over him. If he could complete his mission in Athens expeditiously, there might be time to travel Carchemish … Then, he would reproach himself. It was foolish to try physically to recapture the past; it could only live on in his memory. But that was his dilemma: after having once occurred, he was forever to be a prisoner of his memory. There would be no remission; release would only come with his death. By the fourth day he had covered over one hundred miles, finding ready accommodation with farmers and peasants along the way. The bitter cold of February had given way to early signs of Spring and, once the sun had risen high enough, it was comfortably warm. So much so that Samson regretted having left his portable india- rubber bath in Adrianople. By late on the fourth night he had reached Drama. From here he could have turned south, to Kavalla, in the hope of finding a sea passage there; though, from what he was able to ascertain in Drama, he stood a better chance of completing his journey quickly by adhering to his original plan and continuing on to Salonica. Setting out once more the following morning, the countryside opened up into grassy plains, strangely quiet. The fighting was now all but over except for isolated pockets but normal life had yet to return. People went about their business unobtrusively, wary with strangers until certain of their intentions. Time slowed further in this monotonous land as Samson kept up a steady pace. By nightfall, after a long march, he had reached Serres. That day’s tedious journey had left him tired and drawn and he determined to rest the following day in Serres. However “rest” to Major Samson did not signify lack of activity and he spent the day gathering information on the confused nature of the fighting still in progress, as well as some gossip about political events in Athens. The Balkan allies — Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, Montenegro — appeared to be on the verge on expelling the Turks from Europe altogether, apart from their toehold on the shores of the Bosphorus. The ancient walls of Constantinople would not withstand a modern siege; everything now depended on two things. First, the will of the Bulgarian Army to continue the fight, and, second, the strength of the new fortifications built to protect the city, the Tchatalja Lines, which swept in an arc, forty miles west of Constantinople, from Biyuk Chekmeje on the Sea of Marmora, through Tchatalja itself, and on towards Derkos and the shore of the Black Sea. Samson himself had inspected the Tchatalja Lines six months previously in the company of General Shevket Pasha and remained convinced that, despite the Bulgarian braggadocio, they would not easily be breached. Now that Adrianople had fallen, only Scutari in Albania held out as a Turkish enclave in Europe in addition to Constantinople itself. The image of the defenders of Scutari undergoing the same privations, and experiencing the same fears, as those of Adrianople would not leave Samson until, reasoning that little was likely to happen in Athens in the immediate future, he decided impulsively to proceed to Scutari to witness the inevitable outcome. Having been present at the fall of Adrianople Samson felt, by a piece of inverse reasoning, that he owed the Turks this much, to witness the fall of their last bastion. Then, if Constantinople itself were similarly to be threatened should the Tchatalja Lines be breached … However that, he assured himself, was a remote possibility and, in the meantime, it would be at least a ten day trek to Scutari, much of it over rougher country than he had been used to. Ironically, the very thought of this after his “rest” in Serres invigorated him. And so it was that, freshly provisioned, Major Samson set out on April Fool’s Day, 1913; at first, as expected, the going was relatively easy so that, by noon on the second day, he had reached Kilkis. As always, the tavern he stopped at was also the centre for local information and gossip and here, during lunch, he learned of a foreign archaeological dig at nearby Avret Hissar. As it was a hot afternoon, and he had eaten too well, and he was already ahead of schedule, Major Samson decided to visit the site. The modern town itself was unprepossessing, with a low, flat skyline punctuated by minarets, and strangely deserted. Casting its shadow over the town from its prominent position atop a bluff where the main street ended abruptly was the fortress of Avret Hissar, the ‘Woman Castle’; instinctively, Samson made for this vantage point. Once his horse was tethered in the anaemic shade of a scraggy plane tree, Samson found the climb up the steep sides of the bluff enervating. The dry ground constantly threatened to give way under foot and send him tumbling down one of the succession of deep ravines. But once at the summit he could readily see that this was an ideal site for such a fortress, as it commanded the surrounding country on all sides. As he paused to regain his breath and drink some water Samson thought he could hear snatches of a foreign tongue. As he listened, now intent, it was clearly German. The voices were emanating from behind the enormous wall on the eastern side of the castle. Although Samson’s mastery of the language had been only adequate at best and had become dimmed through his prolonged absence from Constantinople, where it was the second language of all the military leaders of the Young Turks (unlike the urbane Shukri Pasha in Adrianople, who was content to converse in French), the gist of the conversation was apparent enough. Whoever it was, the discussion concerned the suitability of the territory below for fighting a pitched battle. Areas of natural protection were being pointed out in addition to the best places to site artillery. There was one other thing he heard: one of the voices inquiring, ‘Are we going to leave him buried there?’ To which the other replied, ‘We have no choice; there can be no investigation. Pay the workers extra to keep their mouths shut.’ Having heard enough, Samson decided that a bold approach would be a better option than being detected while attempting to beat a diplomatic retreat back down the slope. The conversation he had just overhead might, after all, have a perfectly innocent explanation. The Major therefore scurried silently back about fifty yards from the source of the voices and deliberately dropped his tin flask on the stone floor. Almost instantly an officer appeared from beyond the far wall. He was dressed in a linen suit and Panama hat but these could not disguise a soldier’s bearing from Samson. As the man approached, Samson feigned surprise and did his best to act the English tourist. ‘Good afternoon, I thought I had the castle to myself.’ The officer relaxed visibly, smiled, and ventured the obvious: ‘Ah, English. Yes, it is an isolated spot though interesting archaeologically. Is that, may I inquire, what has brought you to Avret Hissar?’ His English was faultless and without a trace of accent. ‘Yes, purely a personal interest you understand. I learned of some excavations being undertaken here while staying in Kilkis and thought I would investigate, though, of course, I’m no Schliemann.’ As soon as he had mentioned the famed German archaeologist Samson regretted it; however one could not wander in these parts without constant mention, even now, of the name and the officer apparently thought nothing untoward. ‘In that case, I would be delighted to conduct you on a short tour in the time left to us before sunset. My colleagues are just over here. Would you care to follow me, Mr … ?’ Samson had thought of giving a false name then decided against this precaution. Having spent the better part of the past five months marooned in Adrianople he reasoned that there was little likelihood of his name being known and, unlike his inquisitor, no one would have guessed from a casual inspection that the Major had spent twenty-seven years in the Army. He extended his hand: ‘Samson, Lionel Samson.’ ‘A pleasure to meet you Mr Samson. My name is Humann, Hans Humann.’ The German was in his late thirties, of slim build and not as tall as he had at first seemed. His features possessed none of the harshness which can be characteristic of the Germanic race: it was a pleasant, unremarkable face, not exactly handsome, but strong, and showing signs already of the years of exposure to harsh climes. Samson followed Humann past the high tower which occupied the centre of the fortress; as he did so a glint from a metallic object reflecting the low sun caused him to look up. For an instant he thought he caught sight of — could it have been a rifle barrel being withdrawn? Humann coughed when he realized Samson was scanning the Tower and motioned for the visitor to accompany him. Partly hidden by the large east wall was a sheltered courtyard where there were clear signs of recent excavation, and it was here that the small group was congregated. Once more Samson instinctively recognized most of them as military men in mufti, grouped around who he assumed was the leader of the expedition. This man, however, did not have a military bearing. He stood almost a foot taller than Samson and, like the Major, was nearer fifty than forty. His black hair was turning grey at the temples with the air of authority accentuated by heavy jowls appearing to hang directly from a prominent nose. The effect was completed by expressive yet stern dark eyes, peering through tightly fitting pince nez. Humann marched smartly up to the leader: ‘May I introduce you, Mr Samson, to Professor Georg Karo, head of the German Archaeological Institute in Athens. Mr Samson,’ Humann continued after they had shaken hands, ‘possesses an amateur interest in our diggings.’ Professor Karo’s English was adequate but heavily accented, and he began by unknowingly contradicting Humann. ‘Avret Hissar is, unfortunately, of limited attraction Mr Samson. It has been plundered over the centuries so that now the name itself is possibly the most curious feature. If you are not aware, it means “Woman Castle”.’ The Professor was suddenly back in the lecture hall. ‘Though, naturally of course, “Avret Hissar” is no more than a Turkish translation of the better known Greek name, Gynaikókastro, for it is this name by which it is referred to in the possibly suspect memoirs of John Cantacuzenus. The explanation for this curious nomenclature, if you accept it of course, is provided by Cantacuzenus, who declared himself Byzantine Emperor after the death of Andronicus III in 1341. I admit that, at the time, he was Emperor in all but name, but nevertheless there was a rightful heir, John Palaeologus, even if only a mere nine years of age. The Dowager Empress, in his name, was able to raise a force to challenge Cantacuzenus who promptly fled Salonica, where he happened to be, with as many of his followers as he could muster, and took refuge in this castle, which was already ancient. Cantacuzenus thereupon declared that his followers would be safe as the castle was so strong that it could be held against an army by a garrison of women.’ Samson found Karo’s practised monologue had a strangely soporific, almost hypnotic, effect upon him and he found Karo’s somewhat sinister features beginning to soften. ‘And were they able to hold out?’ the Major inquired almost as an afterthought. ‘No; there is no further romance in the story. Upon hearing that the imperial troops were approaching, Cantacuzenus was betrayed by one of his entourage and thereupon fled further north, to Skoplje, there to form an uneasy alliance with the Serbian Tsar, Stephen Dushan. There was to be no heroic defence at Avret Hissar. Perhaps in some future war the fortress might play some part though, for the moment, with the Turks defeated and the Greeks, Serbs and Bulgarians in alliance, that seems unlikely, does it not?’ Samson hesitated; he was not about to be lead into a trap: ‘I am afraid I am not a student of modern diplomacy, Professor, but of ancient history. Although, I grant you, it is the sad fate of this region to be fought over continually.’ ‘Any fighting now, Mr Samson, would involve modern howitzers and field guns; a fortress such as this could withstand a siege six-hundred years ago. But whatever archaeological interest remains now would be destroyed by the products of Krupps and Schneider. Look at what is currently happening in Adrianople and Scutari — the treasures of the ages destroyed wholesale.’ Samson almost betrayed himself by mentioning that the former siege was ended, but checked himself in time and, instead, saw a chance to turn the conversation away from this probing of his knowledge of military matters. ‘Despite the plunder, have you located any artefacts of note?’ he inquired casually. ‘No, even digging down some distance, the site is surprisingly poor. We were in fact just on the point of abandoning our diggings and returning to Athens. It is not, I would have thought, safe to be travelling alone: are you headed in that direction? If so, you may care to accompany us?’ The Professor’s interrogation had been subtle and polite but it was no less an interrogation for that and Samson was glad that he could answer truthfully. ‘Thank you for your offer, but I intend to head north from here.’ He knew, however, that by the time he eventually reached Athens, where he was sure to see Karo again, he would need a plausible excuse to explain his apparent change of plans. ‘In that case may I issue you with a warning? The country is dangerous in that direction, my friend. If you are travelling alone I urge you to be on your guard.’ Karo’s warning sounded friendly enough yet Samson, as he carefully retraced his steps back down the bluff, thought he detected a hint of menace. Humann however had been affable throughout; from the rest of the party there had been silence which Samson attributed to their inability to speak English. As soon as Samson was out of earshot, Karo turned to Humann: ‘Well?’ he asked. Humann was always prepared to see the best in people. ‘He may be no more than the amateur archaeologist he claims to be. He hardly matches the description of the typical English officer. What other purpose could he have in this region?’ ‘You are too trusting, Humann. We had better make inquiries about this Mr Samson, if that is his name. I know the English reputation for eccentricity, but to wander alone in an area such as this? Either our friend has no regard for his own safety or … ’ Karo was lost momentarily in his thoughts, allowing Humann to add: ‘I have to be back in Sofia by the fifteenth, but my posting to Constantinople takes effect from next month. Shall I ascertain if Samson is known there?’ The Professor, who had been idly prodding the ground with a silver-handled walking stick, looked up: ‘Yes — Athens and Constantinople. Someone must know our solitary archaeologist.’ By the time he reached his horse, the sun was beginning to set. Consulting his map in the light remaining, Samson quickly realized that, as he would soon be entering mountainous terrain, his progress would be that much slower. It would be a waste of such effort to arrive at Scutari and find that the siege was over and, though he was as yet uncertain what to make of Professor Karo and his military entourage, this was clearly a lead worth following in Athens. Nevertheless, the determination to reach Scutari had not left him and he decided therefore that there was nothing for it but to increase the tempo of his forced daily marches. There was always the option of using the Salonica to Monastir Railway to shorten the journey but Samson had the feeling that if he once went to Salonica, and thereupon saw an Athens-bound steamer in the harbour, it would cause him to abandon his pilgrimage. The route he now intended to take, joining the Salonica-Scutari road at Jannitza, was an ancient menzil road, which meant that there would be no difficulty in procuring fresh horses. By this method he might hope to cover the distance in eight days of hard riding. The Major found lodging that night in the town at the base of the castle and remained inside, not wanting to meet Karo and his entourage again should they decide also to spend the night there. He left the following morning at first light, heading south-west; after a few miles he came to the main Salonica-Belgrade railway line. The thought occurred to him that he could have travelled north on the train, to Skoplje, and overland from there, but just at the moment he preferred his own company. Only the day before he would have been surprised at this notion; the chance encounter at the castle had changed all that. The solitude which had been such a heavy burden now gave him plenty of time to think: to think, in particular, of Professor Karo. Samson was more interested in archaeology than he let on, having read innumerable books on the subject since first becoming aware of Schliemann’s well publicized finds. And his reading had convinced him that there was something not quite right about Schliemann’s work; something that bothered him; a feeling that some of the discoveries were too good to be true. But of the stature of that other great German archaeologist Carl Humann he had no doubt. And here was another Humann who, though certainly an officer, was just about the right age to be the son of Carl Humann and who bore more than a superficial resemblance to the photograph on the frontispiece of Carl Humann’s latest book. Samson knew from his reading that Avret Hissar was a site of little note, certainly unworthy of the head of the German Archaeological Institute. The diggings were a cover, of that he was convinced, but for what? Karo was based in Athens, yet the Greek Army was being aided at the time by a French Military Mission under the redoubtable General Eydoux. It was instead the Turks who employed German instructors. However no German soldiers were involved in the current fighting and there were no Turkish troops within a hundred miles of Avret Hissar. It seemed impossible therefore that Karo was surveying the ground on behalf of the Turks; yet, if he were in some way in the pay of the Greeks, who was the enemy? Samson knew that the Balkan League was an alliance of convenience and that there was bound to be squabbling over the spoils of war but surely the Greeks were not planning to stab their erstwhile partners in the back so soon? Pasic, the Serbian Prime Minister, could always be counted on to have some trick up his sleeve. Or did the Greeks suspect the Bulgarians, who had not profited from the war as much as they had hoped? So much suffering, thought Samson, to satiate the ambition of small states. At first the journey was easy, over level country. A cool wind had blown up during the night and impatient clouds, borne from the north-east, threatened rain which never eventuated. After a few hours on the featureless plain, the Major saw a number of glistening white minarets protruding from a grove of dark cypresses; this was Jannitza, where he was able to pick up the menzil road. Still heavily provisioned, there was no need to stop and so, leaving the small town behind, he continued on, over the central plain of Macedonia, until, when he chanced a glimpse behind him (for he never liked to look back) the minarets had disappeared from view. He recalled the submarine he had seen demonstrated in the Golden Horn, before an admiring Turkish Minister of Marine, who saw the answer to his prayer — how to achieve naval mastery without recourse to the onerous expense of battleships — and Samson wondered idly if the periscope mechanism might not be adapted for minarets. The plain, backed by the severe mountains beyond, seemed almost never-ending. At first, the change in the landscape was barely noticeable, then, as he approached the Mavronero Valley, the earth showed unmistakable signs of cultivation; the flat monotony replaced by fields and thickets. These in turn gave way to barrenness once more as he began to climb the mountain pass to Ostrovo, a small village by the side of a lake. He had not finished with the climb yet, as, proceeding by the head of the lake, the road zig-zagged upwards past brushwood-covered hills to bleak, desolate, stony uplands. It was here that the futility of what he was doing weighed most heavily on the Major; it was here that he came closest to abandoning his pilgrimage. That he did not was the result of his first sight of Monastir, nestling at the western edge of a further plain which now spread out below him. Here, suddenly, after his time in the wilderness, were all the so-called trappings of civilization: market places and bands, palaces and pashas. At first it was slightly bewildering; however Samson’s early doubts were overcome by the friendliness of the welcome and the lack of squalor which usually hid just beneath the surface of so many of these towns. He soon found a comfortable khan and spent an agreeable night, under shelter and with human companionship. No other town on his journey was as delightful. It was with genuine regret that he departed the following morning, having stocked up with provisions in the bazaar. The next few days passed in dimly remembered routine. From Resna, a few hours ride from Monastir, he climbed once more out of the plain, by a constantly winding route to the summit, whereupon the landscape changed once more. The weather also now was as severe as the countryside. Past a succession of silver-trunked beeches lining the route he finally beheld Ochrida, at the head of a large lake, and decided to spend the following night there. This time his khan was wretched. The cold was intense and, despite the exhausting ride, he had great trouble in sleeping. The next morning his attempt to purchase further provisions was hindered by the disreputable appearance of the food on offer. Abandoning all but the purchase of some eggs, he was disconcerted to discover that the comforting labels he had become accustomed to — “eggs new laid”, “eggs equal to new laid” and “eggs” — were missing. Samson purchased half a dozen from the evil looking vendor and discarded them once outside the town. The road continued east to Elbassan before finally changing direction and heading north, towards his destination. He was firmly in Albanian territory now and decided to avoid the towns, preferring to spend the nights in secluded spots until at last, on 10 April, he was within a day’s ride of Scutari. Approaching the town late that evening, Samson decided that, to ride into the midst of an investing army at night would be unwise. Although he could see the camp fires in the distance, there was nothing for it but to wait till morning.
Chapter 6