The Let's Play Archive

Al Andalus Paradox Mega-LP

by Hashim

Part 1: The Short and Bitter Reign of Muhammad Jizrunid – 1066

A rather short first chapter, mostly because I'm still familiarising myself with this writing thing, but also because I started with an old ruler.

Chapter 1 - The Short and Bitter Reign of Muhammad Jizrunid - 1066 to 1072

Our story begins in one of the far-flung corners of the world, in a small stretch of land bereft of riches or prestige, in the smoldering ruins of a once-great empire.

The Taifa of Qadis, but one of twelve different emirates and sheikhdoms to emerge from the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba, and perhaps the weakest of them. The small taifa was recently rocked when it’s old and venerable Sheikh passed away in his sleep, thrusting the future of his domain into doubt.

Before getting drawn into the internal politics of Cádiz too much, however, it would be wise to take a step back and consider the Sheikhdom’s many neighbours.

Firstly, Europe itself is dominated by the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of France, both of whom are in a state of uncertainty as mere teenagers ascend to the thrones. The yet-to-be crowned Heinrich IV has the potential to be a very capable monarch, easily settling into his roles and duties as Emperor. Philip, meanwhile, is still considered by many to be a child, and hasn’t been given any opportunity to prove himself just yet.

That said, conflict between the Empire and France is inevitable, and it seems as though it will be these two youths who are to determine the future of Europe, at least for the next few decades.

Further north, on the other hand, carnage has already manifested itself as battles rage up and down England. The aged King Harald II has been forced into two separate wars as he battles Duke William the Bastard and King Harald of Norway, both of whom lay claim to the shores and forests of England.

In the east, meanwhile, tension and hatred is simmering between three powerful rivals: the ancient and stuttering Byzantine Empire, the tolerant and determined Fatimid Caliphate, and the nascent but ambitious Seljuk Empire.

Two of these empires are already embroiled in war, with the vibrant and physically powerful Sultan Alp Arslan declaring war on the comparatively feeble Basileus Konstantinos X. The Shia Caliph al-Muntasir, on the other hand, is content to sit back and observe the struggle playing out just beyond his borders.

Next, posing the greatest danger to the Sheikhdom of Cádiz, we come to the North African powers. A wide array of emirs and sultans currently fight one another for dominance of the sands, but the most powerful of these contenders is obvious, with the Almoravid fanatics seizing power and quickly expanding in Morocco.

The ruling Sultan of the Almoravids, Abu Bakr, has vowed to spread their reborn faith and subjugate the squabbling emirs of Algeria under his rule. Spectators further north, however, worry that the Almoravids are aiming to cast their nets even further afield, with their eyes set on the rich Muslim cities dotting the Iberian coasts.

Finally, we come full circle and return to the Taifa of Qadis. Early in the year 1066, the elderly and widely-respected Sheikh Ahmed died, after a reign spanning almost two decades. Having come to his inheritance already an old man, however, Ahmed had been unable to produce any children at all, meaning the sheikhdom would then pass to his brother.

And thus a new era in the Iberian peninsula has come to pass, though at the time, no one would’ve even blinked at the news that some isolated sheikh had died.

Muhammad, however, had lived his life assuming he wouldn’t be succeeding the sheikhdom his father had conquered. So he closeted himself away from the public and instead devoted his life to his religion, reading and reciting the Quran, attempting to perfect his prayer, and writing extensively on the Hadiths of the Prophet’s Companions. In a testament to his faith, Muhammad had gone so far as to memorise every verse of the Quran, elevating him in the eyes of his equals and peers alike.

He had even refused to marry, believing that the charms of women would only distract him from his true calling. Thus, when the viziers and councilors who’d served his brother called on him at his mosque to inform him of the news, Muhammad was so shocked that he almost collapsed right there.

His new advisors managed to keep him steady, however, and escorted him to his new quarters at the Sheikh’s Palace - a small, poorly-furnished collection of stone towers dotting the bay. After making their introductions and assuring their new liege of their loyalties, the councillors retreated to give Muhammad some time to collect his wits.

After spending a few days getting his affairs in order, and contemplating the sudden turn of events, Muhammad came to the realisation that his life was about to change. Completely, irrevocably, and perhaps not for the better.

There was nothing that could be done about it, however. There was quite literally no one left of his father’s family to inherit Cádiz, and Allah would surely not smile on him if Muhammad were to shirk his responsibilities, and squander his father’s hard-earned conquest.

And indeed, Muhammad’s life quickly began to change once he officially accepted the Sheikhdom, as his Council wasted no time in informing him of the need to marry. The dynasty had to be secured, after all, and the only way to ensure a smooth succession was to have a son. So the new Sheikh took two courtiers as wives, in addition to the daughter of one of his vassals, to both produce an heir and tide over a particularly-unruly Wali.

Unfortunately for him, Muhammad had spent his entire life without the touch of a woman, so the less that is said of his wedding nights, the better.

The important thing, as Sheikh Muhammad would no doubt insist, is that he got the job done. Less than a year after his marriage ceremony, Muhammad had two babes scrambling about his floors, a boy and a girl.

Whilst Muhammad is busy impregnating his wives and getting to grips with what being a Sheikh entails, however, there were significant developments in the ongoing Muslim-Catholic conflict dominating much of Iberia.

Firstly, after failing to quell the initial uprising, the Dhunnunid Emirate collapsed to Catholic rebels and lost much of its northern holdings, creating the newfound Duchy of Toledo. A blow to Muslims throughout the peninsula, no doubt, but the loss was quickly tided over by the success in the West.

Abu Bakr, Emir of the Aftasid Taifa, had been waging war on the Kingdom of Leon for the past two years. The sickening torture he had inflicted on his Christian prisoners made him notoriously unpopular amongst the infidel, but he also proved himself a genius on the battlefield, routing several Crusader armies and seizing large tracts of land from them.

Sheikh Muhammad, unlike many of his neighbours, actually approved of Abu Bakr’s ‘firm methods’, believing them to be the only way to end the recent uptick in Christian victories.

To that end, and at the encouragement of his viziers, Muhammad sent the Emir an offer of alliance. Though Abu Bakr was interested, he would never have the chance to reply, with a Christian fanatic assassinating him before the terms of alliance could be agreed upon.

Abu Bakr’s son, luckily, was just as eager for friends as his father had been. He agreed to forge an alliance with Sheikh Muhammad, and the two rulers solidified their newfound bonds with a marriage contract between their children.

Further north, meanwhile, the crisis in England climaxed when King Harold was cut down by the Norwegian King in the Battle of Stamford Bridge. His army was quickly decimated upon the death of their king and commander, leaving the path to London wide open for King Harald.

Whilst the Anglo-Saxons were busy battling against the Norwegians, however, William the Bastard was able to defeat a small diversionary force, before leading his army into Westminster Abbey and crowning himself King of England.

Harald, understandably, was having none of it, especially since it had been him who had defeated the Anglo-Saxons. He pushed south on a forced march and decisively defeated the Bastard King's army in another decisive battle, before going on to burn and sack London itself.

And with that, after almost two years of bloody war, Harald Hardrada emerged from the three-way conflict for England as the sole victor.

Back in Cádiz, Muhammad began experiencing the difficulties that came with age. Namely constant headaches, aching bones, and demon children.

The birth of Muhammad’s firstborn son, Az’ar, had initially been celebrated throughout the sheikhdom. It had been a reason for festivity, an excuse to drink and eat, a rare opportunity to cheer and laugh.

But, as the infant gradually grew into a young boy, he began showing… odd tendencies, to say the least. For example, succession of his wet nurses had all died, apparently due to ‘heart attacks’, though many of them had been young. He also scared the other children, especially after one of the boys he'd gotten into a scuffle with was left crippled and blinded, though no one knew for sure that Az'ar had been behind it.

Nonetheless, Muhammad was becoming increasingly worried, and eventually decided to take the problem to his old friend and confidant, at the mosque where he’d once lived and worked. All he needed was assurance.

And that he did not get.

His lifelong friend and now-Imam Sifal, after a lengthy period of prayer, informed the Sheikh that his son was marked by the Devil, as sure as the rising of the sun. Muhammad, who was practically at a loss for words, asked his friend to keep the matter quiet for a short while, so he could get his bearings straight, perhaps pray for guidance.

Imam Sifal, however, told his Sheikh that it was his duty to Allah to begin a formal investigation into his son’s mental state. Muhammad, once again at a loss, was unable to think or speak for the space of a heartbeat, and reacted by instinct rather than reason.

Before he knew what was happening, Sheikh Muhammad’s guardsmen were pulling him off Sifal’s limp body, his hands aching as blood dripped onto the marble floors of the mosque.

Understandably, after discovering that he had murdered one of his oldest friends in the heat of the moment, Muhammad was distraught and shocked. He retreated from public view and locked himself up in his palace, refusing to see either his viziers or his family.

Close associates of the Sheikh reported that, with the weeks of solitude quickly stretching into months, Muhammad’s health steadily declined as he refused to leave his quarters. His mood also darkened significantly, and scandals only became more and more common as rumours spread throughout the court that the Sheikh had screamed at his children, or beat his wife, or murdered one of his viziers…

In fact, after killing the Imam, Sheikh Muhammad seems to have discarded any decency or morality he had previously prized. It was as though the floodgates had been thrown opened, and the scandals that quickly wormed into every house and mosque in Cádiz not only involved violence and murder, but they even whispered of long nights with strange women, as Muhammad indulged in all the carnal sins he’d previously abhorred.

This period of depravity and tyranny lasted for another two years, with the Sheikh quickly abandoning any self-control he once had and engaging in every sin under the sun, from drinking to whoring to murdering. Muhammad refused to involve himself in either family life or his political duties, so the day-to-day running of the Sheikhdom passed to the Old Shura, with the viziers visibly struggling under the workload.

The one good thing that came out of this was, what with all the time he spent with his harem, Muhammad was able to produce another son. He was thrust to wet nurses as soon as he was born, of course, Muhammad was no longer interested in raising his children or visiting his wives.

Needless to say, all the drinking and over-eating was not good for the health of an old man. In fact, it was remarkable that Muhammad lived for as long as he did, only dying at the ripe old age of 70. The court physician had proclaimed that the death had been a natural one, but he had worries, especially seeing as the 'demon child' had been sitting in the corner of his father's room when the Sheikh was first discovered to be dead.

Anyhow, it would be foolish to deny that many in the Sheikhdom of Cádiz breathed a sigh of relief with the news. The broken Sheikh Muhammad, however, would become little more than a footnote in the long and glittering history of Al Andalus, with his only true achievement being the siring of his firstborn son and heir.

Sheikh Az’ar.