1574 c/o Matt Munday

What Machiavelli Talks About When
He Talks About Strangling People

Sultan Mehmed III, son of Murad III, grandson of Selim II, sits wearily on a piece of furniture.1 He flaps absently at a mosquito, holds his fat head in his fat hands and sighs. It feels like he has been waiting for hours.

The box beneath him is draped in one of his fine kaftans been left out to dry. Mehmed doesn’t know what’s in the box – maybe bed linen? Why is he even thinking about it? And where in Osman’s name have his deaf mutes got to?2

Mehmed raises his head as a man in light fabric house-slippers comes walking briskly down the corridor towards him. It is one of his brothers, Martin, and he keeps glancing nervously behind him. Martin’s footwear makes his steps silent against the palace’s marble floors, so that his approach through the murky light of the wall-mounted candles is somewhat ghostly. Save for the slippers, Martin is nude.

“Ah, brother,” he begins, wringing his hands. “I’m glad I’ve found you,” but he pauses at the approach up ahead of one of Mehmed’s deaf mutes. Mehmed takes this opportunity to let his dark brown eyes roll slowly down to consider the cumbersome junk hanging between Martin’s legs. He sighs again.

The deaf mute stops within a few paces of the two royal brothers and gives a bow.

There’s a pause.

“Now, brother,” Martin begins again, clearly agitated. “I – I wanted to.” He glances at the deaf mute. “Look, could we step into a chamber or something?”

“It's ok, Gary can’t hear you.”

Martin flaps at the deaf mute. “Shoo – go on. We’re talking.”

“He can’t hear you.”

Martin starts to well up. “Look, I’ve just been to Kevin’s room­, and he was all-” Mehmed raises a finger to his lips. “You’ll wake one of my wives.”

“Sorry.” Martin whispers. “Look, I went to Kevin’s room.” Here again he stops as a second and third deaf mute come walking down the corridor towards them. “Oh for crying out loud.”

The mutes bow.

“Carry on.”

“Well, he was all twisted and sort of, not-very-well looking.” Martin steps towards Mehmed and lets his horrified eyes wander across the sultan’s bearded face. “And one of them,” he points at the mutes, “was in there with him. Just standing there looking at him, totally expressionless.”

“What happened then?”

“I went to Rob and Brian’s rooms, and there they were too. Sort of mangled. And I thought – this is the bit that got me – remember how dad used to tell us he’d throttled his brothers in order to have all the power for himself?3 And that by the end they were all kind of asleep-looking, but sitting propped up against the wall with purple necks?”


“Well it reminded me of that. Of that image.”

Three more deaf mutes come wandering down the corridor, hands behind their backs. They bow in unison.

“Yes, I can see that it might.”

“So then I went back to my room,” Martin points at the mutes again and his whisper becomes slightly hysterical “and one of them was in there – in my room.”

“Hmm.” Mehmed scratches his moustache. “So you ran?”


“Which one?”

“Which one what?”

“Was in your room?”

Martin cranes his neck and studies their faces. “That one there, at the back.” He points, and looks at Mehmed. A thin and pallid deaf mute comes shuffling through the pack and stands out in front. He stares unblinkingly ahead.

Mehmed sighs and gestures towards the mute with his hand. Immediately, Gary the deaf mute steps forward and places his hands on the thin one’s shoulders, turning him around. After looking his deaf colleague in the eye for a second, Gary gestures to the ground and the mute falls limply to his knees, whereupon Gary wraps his large hands around his throat.

“Oh God,” Martin says, looking at Mehmed. “He’s not serious, is he?”

They both watch as Gary’s grip tightens and the kneeling mute begins to gurgle.

Gary’s arms tense, squeezing the mute’s neck until his eyes bulge and the veins stand out on his forehead. His limbs flail slightly and he shudders. Gary squeezes a couple more times and moves his hands in concentric circles, wringing the neck for good luck. Carefully, he lets the dead mute flop to the ground and then lets go, stepping back into the group.

Martin pukes.

“Oh come on,” Mehmed says, “there are worse ways to go.”4

“You’re all mad,” Martin coughs, wiping his sicky mouth with his hand, and he turns and runs off down the corridor.

The deaf mutes turn to Mehmed. There is an embarrassed pause. “Well go on then,” Mehmed says. Nobody moves. “Oh for fuck’s-” Mehmed makes a ring of his hands and tightens the thumbs and forefingers, squeezing thin air. He nods very slowly.

One by one, the deaf mutes file off down the corridor, stepping lightly over the pukey crumpled mute corpse in their way.

  1. Even had Mehmed somehow developed the space-time loophole or interest in d├ęcor necessary to discover that the florid box-on-legs under his pudgy, hirsute backside would later be known as an ‘Ottoman’, it would not have struck him as very interesting: he was generally an incurious and beady-eyed sort of guy.
  2. Mehmed had a small domestic army of deaf mutes – an extravagance made impossible for later sultans by the introduction of compulsory employer liability insurance and (equally non-negotiable) disabled-access schemes, the vagaries of which even modern-day recruitment personnel find innavigable, let alone poor old sub-normal 16th century Mehmed-types, whose IQ even on a good high-fibre morning hovered somewhere in the mid to low 70s.
  3. Like most dads, Mehmed and Martin’s was pleased by the transition of his children from puking, jabber-faced babies to completely undiscerning private bedtime audience: his stories soon converged into pretty transparent accounts of the fratricidal prowess of a handsome Caliph (or some such), and eventually he even gave up ascribing the anti-hero of his (somewhat linear and uni-themed) narratives a fake name altogether, and just told them outright what he himself had done to their uncles and why.
  4. Mehmed is right. It has already been mentioned that he was quite an incurious guy, and so wouldn’t have been hugely au fait with the comings and goings of theo-political developments on the Continent – but had Mehmed taken the time to read up on the newest fad of those lily-faced heathens west of Constantinople (a fad they were calling Protestantism), he might have discovered that William Tyndale, only fortyish years earlier, had received the ultimate royal indulgence of being strangled before he was burnt at the stake: sometimes it’s only through book-learning that you learn how right you can be.