The Let's Play Archive

Al Andalus Paradox Mega-LP

by Hashim

Part 23: The Mad Sultan

Chapter 22 – The Mad Sultan – 1333 to 1348

With the death of Sultan Ayyub, two rivals for the throne came to light. First was the eldest son Ali, a softspoken intellectual, and second was the zealous commander, Raf. Raf was a man forged in the same vein as his father, but after decades of war under Ayyub, the estate-holders of Al Andalus were more anxious for some peace.

So before the news of Ayyub's death was announced, the viziers present in Qadis quietly dispatched messengers to Ali, encouraging him to rush to the capital and take his father's crown.

And with the throne being offered to him, Ali wasted no time in grasping at it with both hands, crowned the eighth Sultan of Al Andalus in a short but elaborate ceremony.

As a young man, Ali had been known as a great supporter of the arts and knowledge. Immediately upon becoming sultan, he began inviting all manner of historians, philosophers, physicians, scholars, writers, poets and musicians to his court, eager to whet his intellectual appetite.

Ali also focused on his duties as Sultan, however, and there was still a war on. After his father had abandoned his Italian campaign, the Greeks had managed to annihilate the 60,000-strong Andalusi force wintering there, forcing the remnants to retreat to the fortified city of Napoli, under the command of Raf. The 10,000-odd survivors have been struggling to survive since then, so Ali put together a large force and sent them to reinforce his brother.

Upon landing at Italy, Raf consolidated his forces and pushed eastward on a surprising offensive, taking a larger Greek army unawares. This element of surprise propelled the Andalusi to their first victory in almost two years, surrounding large parts of the enemy army and utterly crushing them.

The Second Andalusi-Roman war had stretched on for almost four years at this point, and both sides were tired and bloodied. Basileus Andreas was also facing a Muslim invasion from the east, so after a half-hearted counter-attack went nowhere, he agreed to meet with Andalusi diplomats to begin negotiations for peace.

The talks were long and terse, but eventually the Romans agreed to cede a large stretch of mountainous hinterland in southern Italy to Al Andalus, and for his efforts during the war, Sultan Ali decided to award these territories to his brother.

Whilst the Sultanate of Al Andalus and the Eastern Roman Empire clashed over dominance of the Mediterranean, however, the balance of power was being challenged all across the world. In the Middle East, after enjoying a period of resurgence, the Fatimid Caliphate was once again the target of a large-scale crusade.

Pope Clemens hoped the Holy Roman Emperor would back the holy war, but the Empire was facing troubles of its own. The Emperor’s authority was being challenged time and time again, and he had proven himself utterly unable to stem the rise of internal autonomy, with the powerful Kingdom of Franconia completely seceding from the empire.

Meanwhile, further west, a massive rebellion managed to overthrow the Occitan Empire and restore the Kingdom of France.

Bereft of any support, the Occitan Emperor was forced to flee to the Crusader Kingdom of Egypt, where the defeated loyalists had massed. Angry, the Occitans quickly displaced Egyptians as the ruling class, and began plotting their grand reconquest of France.

And finally, back on the Iberian peninsula, the Muslim-Christian rivalry was still going strong. Raids and border skirmishes were a common occurrence, but at the request of the Majlis, Sultan Ali did not escalate these into outright war.

Thus, the first few years of Ali’s reign passed in peace. The sultan busied himself with re-building diplomatic relations with Morocco, exerting Andalusi influence in Tunis, and fortifying his Italian possessions against any potential Christian aggression. On the home front, Ali invested sizeable funds into developing his demesne, expanding markets and towns throughout Ishbiliya, Qadis and Algeziras.

He even built upon the foundations set by his father, financing the construction of merchant ports in an attempt to turn Qadis into the economic capital of Iberia, attracting traders and merchants and moneylenders from all across the Mediterranean.

Ali’s passion and love, however, was still in dusty tomes and ancient scrolls.

The Sultan spent more and more time in his observatories and libraries, surrounded by aged scholars and academics, digging up historic parchments and debating long-lost mysteries. The traditionalist clergy gradually grew worried as Ali began neglecting his duties, such as leading the Friday prayer, in favour of these ungodly pursuits.

Still, they didn’t do anything about it, and there was a reason for that. Ali was notoriously… unstable, to put it mildly. He had suffered through a difficult childhood, constantly berated and chastised by his father for his love of books, always playing second-fiddle to his younger brother Raf. This, along with the pressure and stress of actually ruling a kingdom, did not exactly help Ali’s condition. Soon, rumours began to spread that the Sultan was whispering and muttering to himself, worrying both his retainers and courtiers.

Then, about five years after being crowned sultan, Ali announced that he would be travelling to Arabia. This stunned many of his courtiers, simply because no Jizrunid had performed the hajj since Emir Masud, over 200 years ago. Nonetheless, it certainly pleased the imams and ulema of Qadis, and they immediately declared their support for his decision.

Unbeknownst to them, however, Ali wasn’t going to do the traditional hajj. No, he was going to Arabia for a different reason altogether.

The details of Sultan Ali’s journey are very murky, because he travelled with a very small, close-knit group of friends, allies and guardsmen (recruited from the Mubazirun, the royal retinue founded by his father). According to stories and legends that would sprout over the following years, however, we can gather that the Sultan travelled to the middle of the Arabian Desert to meet someone, some old and infamous scholar.

We know this because Ali returned from his journey with someone whom he had never left with, some stranger who had scandalous beliefs, a man who went by the name of Lubb. Needless to say, this Lubb wouldn't be very popular in Qadis.

Whilst on the route back to Qadis from Arabia, Sultan Ali is reported to have spent long hours with Lubb, sealed off in his tent or cabin and isolated from everyone else. Nobody, not even Ali’s childhood friends, knew what the two men talked about in the privacy of the royal tent.

Whilst Ali was busy chasing legends, his vassals were still dealing with the constant Christians raids, and were growing increasingly angry that their sultan had abandoned them to go on some journey. Eventually, one of the Emirs decided to strike back without Ali’s permission, and conquered a chunk of Aragon after a short and decisive war.

This act was undoubtedly an overreach, and an illegal overreach at that, since the independent Taifas had long been abolished and the Sultan’s authority stood paramount. Ali wouldn’t have much time to deal with this act of treason, however, because he was facing a crisis of his own.

He and his party were travelling through the sweltering desert sun of Algiers when tragedy struck in the form of a crippling disease, resigning the Sultan to his pillows and bringing the journey to a screeching halt.

His physicians attempted to cure whatever disease it was that afflicted the Sultan, but as the days turned into weeks and the situation grew increasingly grim, they began to lose hope.

That was when they turned to Lubb, the mystic they'd met only a few weeks prior, in the middle of a desert. Lubb agreed to use his 'powers' to cure the Sultan, but he admitted that there were dangers, and that the powers of the old gods were not to be trifled with.

Ali agreed to it anyways.

This is what broke Sultan Ali. He had always been a bit unstable, but to be deprived of his manhood - this quickly thrust him over the edge, drove him beyond his limits, shattered whatever it was that held his already-fragile mind together.

Ali and Lubb finally made it back to Qadis a couple weeks later, but curiously, the rest of their party seem to have disappeared off the face of the earth. Nobody even had the time to question this, however, because Sultan Ali immediately summoned his court to make a momentous announcement.

He abandoned the faith of his forebears, and embraced the gods of old, the gods of sand and sky, the gods of pagans.

Tamazight, his particular breed of paganism was called. The ancient Berber beliefs were outlawed in Al Andalus, of course, and suppressed through brute force. This was when everyone realised why the Sultan was so interested in ancient scrolls and why he'd travelled to distant, foreign lands. To seek answers.

And the reaction was immediate.

Such an act was unprecedented. No prominent Muslim ruler had ever converted to paganism, and the fact that Ali did it not only angered his vassals, but it banded almost the entirety of Al Andalus against him.

Led by Tifilwit Abbadid, Emir of Lishbuna (Algarve and Lisboa), the sheikhs and emirs all contributed to the assembling of a huge army, and began the march to Qadis. Vowing to overthrow the pagan king and install his brother as Sultan, the rebel army engaged Ali’s just outside the walls of the capital.

The rebels had obviously not expected to be facing an equally-large army, however. Sultan Ali himself only just managed to scrounge them together, emptying his entire treasury to raise mercenaries in north Africa, who were led by the very confused Mubazirun retinue.

Lubb, who was undoubtedly responsible for this whole rebellion, led the army as Ali’s second-in-command. He proved himself an able tactician, and along with superior numbers, the mercenaries were able to overwhelm the rebels and throw them back.

This victory was quickly capitalised upon, and the loyalist army chased the shattered rebels all the way to Qalatrava, where another large army was waiting. With their morale quickly being sapped, the rebels were once again overrun by the Sultan’s forces, who scored another impressive victory.

Even better, once the battle was done and won, Emir Tifilwit himself was captured in ensuing chaos. With their leader in chains and their army utterly crushed, the rebels were forced to put down their arms and surrender to Sultan Ali.

The rebel leaders were not treated with mercy. After stripping them of their titles and honour, executing them in gruesome displays to the general public, and formally exiling their sons and daughters from Al Andalus, Sultan Ali returned to Qadis.

revoking their titles and executing them, alienating most of the Majlis as he did so, Sultan Ali returned to Cádiz.

The harsh treatment of the rebels had not won Ali any new friends, however, and the nobility would not abandon their roots so easily. Just weeks after the first Andalusi Uprising ended, another set of emirs banded into a second league, and declared war on Sultan Ali.

Without much support and detested by most of his vassals, Ali was forced to take out large loans to pay for another mercenary army, this one amounting to 8000 troops. Lubb again led the loyalist forces, engaging a small, 3000-strong rebel force near Ishbiliya. Before he was able to rout them, however, a second rebel army reinforced the battle.

Two hours of bloody fighting followed, but the loyalists once again managed to gain the edge and overwhelm their foes, dismantling their flanks and breaking through their centre.

Lubb led the mercenary army as it chased down the fleeing rebels, pinning them down at Mértola, where they were utterly crushed.

This was followed up with the capture and sack of Shlib, the rebel capital and base of operations. Desperate and fearing another set of mass executions, the rebels threw the rest of their forces at the loyalist army, which cut through it in a decisive battle and captured dozens of rebel leaders in the aftermath.

Even this wasn’t enough to dissuade any further uprisings, however. The zealot peasantry of Shlib decided that they could do what the powerful nobility could not, and rose up in a massive revolt numbering more than 10,000 peasants, farmers, labourers and boys.

Despite growing worryingly short of funds, Sultan Ali kept the mercenary army raised, sending it to crush the peasant revolt.

There is no rest for the wicked, however, and a Third Andalusi Uprising broke out even before the peasants were engaged.

The rebels managed to consolidate their forces into a single army much quicker this time, having learned from their mistakes. Sultan Ali was furious at the constant revolts, and took overall command of the army, leading it to engage the rebels sieging down Évora.

Thanks to superior numbers, the rebels initially had the upper hand, but through a series of well-timed retreats, Sultan Ali was able to bleed the rebels’ dry before launching a blistering counter-attack with everything he could muster. The loyalists took their own fair share of losses, but after pushing the rebels back into their territory, they finally broke and fell back in disarray.

Sultan Ali followed this up with two more battles, and with the rebels’ morale utterly shattered, they both ended in decisive victories. After capturing and sacking Batalyaws, the rebel leaders were forced to submit, and were executed for their transgressions.

Ali then gave command of the mercenary army back to Lubb, who led it on a short offensive in which the chaotic peasant army was crushed, with thousands slaughtered in the streets of Shlib.

For what felt like the hundredth time, Sultan Ali returned to Qadis, this time hoping it would be for good. He had grand plans, and with Lubb by his side, he was eager to see them through.

Unfortunately for him, however, Ali had no such luck. Half the nobility of Al Andalus had been imprisoned or executed, so they weren’t able to revolt again, but that didn’t mean the northern Christian kings couldn’t benefit from Andalusi disunity.

Funded by the kings of León and Aragon, a man named Cyneric had managed to raise a substantial army, which he marched into Al Andalus to "press his claims". Apparently, Cyneric claimed to be the bastard son of Sultan Ayyub, fathered by the conqueror on some doting princess - but Cyneric had been raised in the consecrated halls of Christendom, and was now determined to crush this pagan king and seize his rightful inheritance.

Just days later, more bad news arrived at Qadis as another large peasant revolt broke out, this time in Italy.

It was looking as though the rest of Ali’s reign would consist of rebellions and revolts. There wasn’t anything that could be done about it, however, but to crush them. So Ali raised another mercenary army, and with his budget now running red, he led it to engage the invading Christian army led by his bastard half-brother.

The battle was firmly in Sultan Ali’s favour from the very beginning, with Cyneric's forces proving to be little more than undisciplined masses. Cyneric himself was an able warrior, but he was also a shrewd man, and he understood one thing that no other rebel leader seems to have grasped: that it was Ali, and Ali alone, that kept this entire farce from collapsing.

And he was determined to see it destroyed.

Surrounded by a small core of trained professionals, Cyneric ignored the battle entirely and drove straight for Sultan Ali's retinue. As the Mubazirun were overrun, Cyneric himself caught sight of Ali on horseback, and thundered towards the Pagan Sultan.

Blades flashed in the sunlight, horses reared in anger, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Cyneric showed no mercy to Sultan Ali, with the Bastard cutting down the Pagan Sultan and immediately turning the battle in his favour. The fighting would rage for another half-day, but it wouldn't be very pretty, with the mercenaries massacred and mutilated and desecrated. Sultan Ali's body was never found, and to this very day, he remains amongst the only Andalusi sultan who doesn't rest in the Jizrunid Mausoleum, alongside his ancestors and descendants.

As news of the Mad King's death spreads, order is collapsing into chaos and revolts are beginning to break out, and the ever-opportunistic Christian principalities are ready to pounce. Already, mere arguments are escalating into conflict and, without the central authority of the Sultan, it's looking like the days of a united al-Andalus are numbered.