The Let's Play Archive

Al Andalus Paradox Mega-LP

by Hashim

Part 4: Descent into Madness

Chapter 4 – Descent into Madness – 1106 to 1123

The opening decade of the twelfth century brought dramatic changes to the political landscape of the Iberian peninsula. In the West, the Aftasid Sultanate began suffering from the constant wars and overextension, with a few emirs going so far as to declare independence. In the East, meanwhile, a Christian challenger to Aftasid dominance emerged in the form of the King Tello of Aragon, fresh from his conquest of the Duchy of Barcelona. King Tello then went on to declare his intention to reconquer the lost Christian principalities of Léon and Galicia.

Sultan Yahya responded to this by immediately offering alliances to the other Muslim taifas, pulling them into his sphere of influence under the guise of protection. When the same offer was extended to Cádiz, however, Sheikh Az’ar simply scoffed, he was as determined as ever to carve out his own little piece of Iberia.

Az’ar was no fool, however, and he knew that being surrounded by three hostile powers put him in a very dangerous position. So he eventually dispatched a small party of diplomats to the Almoravid capital of Marrakesh, where they negotiated a non-aggression pact between Cádiz and Morocco, bolstered with an arranged marriage between Sultan Umar and Wahida, Azar's half-sister.

Once his southern flank was secure, the Sheikh turned to inward development. First, determined to transform Cádiz into a distinct cultural hub, the Sheikh formally adopted a golden field as the colours of his dynasty, raising a shimmering golden banner above the parapets and minarets of Cádiz.

Next, eager to expand his army in preparation for war. When he proposed drafting laws to increase manpower to his Council, however, Az’ar found the clergy blocking him once again. The court imam refused to ratify any laws put forward by the Sheikh, and Az’ar could not act against the ulema without turning the entire sheikhdom against him.

So, rather than fight a battle he could not win, Az’ar decided on a different strategy. He used the riches he’d accumulated in his wars to construct training grounds, where he hoped to build a disciplined, organised force capable of defeating much larger armies.

Az’ar planned to incite another border conflict between himself and the Abbadid Emirate, which he would use as an excuse to seize a few castles and cities, so he began organising raids into neighbouring enemy country. Az’ar himself led many of the raids, plundering and burning towns deep in Abbadid territory, attacking under his golden banners so that the Emir knew who they were.

Before the raids could escalate into full-on invasions, however, disaster struck Cádiz.

Circe, the last of the three witches who Az'ar had become so attached to, was found dead not long after the Sheikh had left the capital. Her maids discovered her in her baths, with the water stained red, her throat slit.

Az’ar, upon receiving the news, immediately called off the raids and rushed back to Cádiz. After seeing Circe’s dead body for himself, he descended into a mad craze, distraught with grief. It was in the midst of this craze that he commanded his guards to arrest two of his other wives, along with all their maids and attendants and retainers.

Once his wives were brought to him in chains, Sheikh Az’ar began questioning them ruthlessly, reducing them to tears within minutes. Az’ar had no pity for them, he was convinced that their jealousy of Circe had led to her death, and he was determined to find the assassin.

So they were tortured, mercilessly tormented in ways a human mind could never conjure, abused and harassed for hours without end. After just three days, the two women were nigh unrecognisable, little more than husks of their former selves.

Eventually, after weeks of torture and with nothing to show for it, a furious Az’ar had them executed. They may have had nothing to do with Circe’s assassination, but Az’ar didn’t much care at that point, he was set on the course of destruction.

This episode of madness was not contained within Cádiz, however, and word of Azar’s cruelty quickly spread to the surrounding provinces and cities. Many of his own vassals publicly denounced their Sheikh, with the clergy and Court Imam condeming the ‘Son of Iblis’, no doubt please by this turn of events.

Even Azar’s own viziers, who were supposed to be his allies through thick and thin, were mortified at the Sheikh’s reaction to Circe’s death. Many broke off their ties with him, and some took a more opposed stance, even resigning from the council.

Thus, suddenly faced with enemies and assassins in every corner and behind every curtain, it isn’t surprising that Sheikh Az’ar began to become more paranoid.

He eventually decided to launch a preemptive strike, hoping to ward of any assassins or rebellions by kidnapping his most powerful vassal: Wali Abbas. After imprisoning the governor, Az’ar had him dragged through the streets of Cádiz, before blinding him in full view of his own populace.

To those within the Sheikhdom of Cádiz, it must have seemed as though Az’ar had lost his mind.

Contrary to his hopes, however, attempts on the Sheikh’s life began to increase, though Az’ar was able to escape from many of them without so much as a scratch, using his wide spy network to discover the plots before they were set in motion.

Despite this, Az’ar continued abducting and torturing his political enemies, forcing his more passive vassals into line through fear alone. He even began designing sick torture devices, the most prominent of which was the brazen bull, which he used to execute countless wazirs and walis.

The only ally that Az’ar had in this storm was, unusually, his Court Physician: Abdul-Razzaq. The physician used the victims of Azar’s gruesome poisons to advance his own knowledge on human anatomy, and he would go on to publish a book that would quickly become the groundwork of medical practice throughout Europe and the Middle East.

As the weeks stretched into months, and the months into years, Azar’s mental health steadily declined. Eerily reminiscent to his father, Sheikh Az’ar turned to drink to numb his pain, and quickly grew dependent on the bottle.

Madness and alcohol do not go well together, however, and this resulted in several… embarrassing events, to say the least. The Sheikh began to think of himself as a wolf-monster, and he would spend hours howling at the moon or bounding through the rain on all fours.

In more extreme cases, however, Azar’s maidservants would find him sticky with blood, not far from a lifeless body or two.

By 1123, the situation in Cádiz had become untenable. Sheikh Azar’s vassals were continuously plotting his murder, his wives feared for their lives, and his servants and slaves had become objects of his torture.

In the middle of Ramadan, Azar’s death finally arrived, a blessing to many in Cádiz. The official reason for his demise was that his heart gave out, and that isn’t far from the truth, with one of his harem-women claiming that he collapsed on her mid-deed. It is far more likely that she was bribed to slip Sheikh Az’ar one of his poisons, however, and nobody could fault her for it.

Even before the news had escaped the palace, the viziers of the Council quickly swept into power. With no children to survive him, Azar’s nephew was installed as his successor, with the viziers hoping that a familiar figure would maintain order and prevent the secession of border provinces.

Masud, however, is just five years of age. This means that Cádiz will be without a Sheikh, figurehead or otherwise, for at least another decade. And as the Aftasid Sultanate expands in the West and the Kingdom of Aragon grows in the East, it isn’t difficult to realise that unless a strong Sheikh comes to power soon, there is a real risk of Cádiz being torn between the two great powers.