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Al Andalus Paradox Mega-LP

by Hashim

Part 25: The Martyr of Rome

Chapter 25 – The Martyr of Rome – 1375 to 1385

The fourteenth century had not been kind to the Sultanate of Al Andalus. The glorious early years had quickly given way to decades of unchecked tyranny, with constant revolts and rebellions breaking out all across Iberia, first to overthrow the Mad Sultan then to succeed him. The northern Christian principalities had seized the opportunity to expand, but they didn't dare move directly against Al Andalus.

That is, until now.

The First Crusade for Al Andalus (and second Iberian crusade) had ended in abject failure, a failure that spread shockwaves throughout Europe, a failure that helped fuel the first wave of Andalusi expansion. Since then, the Muslim kingdom had since been left in relative peace by most of Christendom, but as the fourteenth century began to draw to a close, Pope Ioannes decided to launch one final attempt to retake Iberia.

Through years of careful diplomacy, Pope Ioannes managed to stitch together a confederation of Christian princes to pledge money and troops to the Crusade, with the alliance stretching from the proud counts of Ireland to the powerful German electors. By far the greatest contributors to the crusade, however, were the Kingdoms of Castille and Aragon, who stood to both gain and lost the most.

Fortunately for Sultan Ayyub, his vassals managed to put aside their differences and band together, they all understood what was at stake.

By the end of 1378, Sultan Ayyub had raised a large army near Ishbiliya, numbering almost 45,000 conscripted levies and 10,000 well-drilled, disciplined Mubazirun soldiers. The sultan placed the entirety of Andalusi forces under the supreme command of his son, Ma’n, who had returned to Iberia upon hearing of the crusade. Having spent the past few decades waging holy war across the Levant and Persia, Ma'n was undoubtedly the most capable commander Ayyub had in his arsenal.

Ma’n wasted no time in taking the fight to the enemy, leading the Andalusi into the first battle of the Crusade and engaging a 10,000-strong Castilian force below the walls of Niebla, which they were attempting to capture.

Utterly outnumbered, the Castilians stood no chance of winning the battle. Ma'n had the entire army encircled within hours, flanked and barraged by his retinue units, and collapsing into disarray by day's end. The battlefield was littered with dead and wounded Christians, but Ma'n didn't celebrate - this was simply the first of what promised to be a long and gruelling war.

The young commander then wheeled his army into the opposite direction, striking a march eastwards. A German army had successfully landed near Algeziras, but the fortress itself managed to repel their first attack, allowing Ma’n to rush to its relief.

Again, the odds weighed heavily against the Christians. Ma’n managed to pin them down along the beaches of Jabal Tariq, and after a short but bloody battle, utterly demolished the German force.

Although they invigorated the Andalusi defenders, these early battles were small and inconsequential in the long term. Even as the Muslims were celebrating their victory over the Germans, bad news made its way down from the north and arrived at the gates of Cádiz. Apparently, King Bérard of Castille had died in a tragic accident, and without any sons to succeed him, the lords of Portugal, Castile and León had decided to offer the throne to his brother-in-law, Cyneric - King of Aragon, a proven battle commander, and uncle to Sultan Ayyub... with that inheritance, all of Christian Iberia was united under single crown, a crown that was vehemently opposed to Al Andalus.

With another enemy dragged into the Crusade, Sultan Ayyub turned to the Berber kingdoms of north Africa for aid, offering money in return for men. The Almoravid Sultanate agreed to supply a few thousand troops, but the powerful Izri sultanate refused to budge, keen to see the proud Andalusi humbled.

More bad news trickled its way towards Qadis over the next few months, as the enlarged Castilian armies lay siege to the rich cities of Tulaytullah and Majrit. Despite their strong fortifications, the fortresses were quick to capitulate once their walls were scaled, dealing the Muslims a stinging blow.

Sultan Ayyub sent Ma’n north with the Andalusi levies, commanding him to repel the Christians and retake Tulaytullah. The Crusaders were waiting for him to do just that, however, because another army landed off the coast of Qadis just days later.

With Qadis under siege, the very epicenter of Jizrunid power and authority came under threat, and the relief forces were weeks away. Even worse, Ayyub was an old man by now, his body weak and mind slow. When the news was delivered to him, the old sultan's heart suddenly stopped beating, and his physicians failed to revive it.

Sultan Ayyub's death was a tragedy, but the kingdom was still at war, so the Majlis met to decide on his succession. Ayyub had handpicked his firstborn son as his heir, and Umar was an able administrator and diplomat, but Al Andalus did not need an administrator whilst it was embroiled in crisis. No, the Sultan would have to be a warrior.

So they offered the throne to Ma'n instead, the fourthborn son of Sultan Ayyub didn't have the strongest claim, but he was already famous for his victories against the crusaders in the Egypt and the Holy Land, so the viziers of the Majlis were certain he would claw a way out of this mess. Ayyub's others sons were bribed with vast estates and immense riches, so by the end of the month, they were all coerced into accepting Ma'n as their liegelord and Sultan.

Ma’n is one of the more interesting kings to rule Al Andalus. Even before being crowned, he had spent the vast majority of his adult life in the Holy Land, defending Jerusalem against the Egyptian Crusaders. His exploits had earned him lasting fame across the entire Muslim world, and because he also had control of the Andalusi army at the time of Ayyub's death, his succession to the sultanate was smoother than usual.

And indeed, Ma’n was the perfect match. His campaigns in the east had hardened his resolve, it helped him develop a mind for tactics and strategy, turning him into a warrior-king.

After a rushed coronation at Qurtubah, Ma’n took command of the Andalusi army once more, and led his reinvigorated men towards Tulaytullah.

Christians were swarming across the north, but Ma’n had his eye set on the Papal army, and rushed to engage it at Qalatrava. Enemy reinforcements began piling towards the city from all directions, but after executing a series of devastating maneuvers, Ma’n annihilated the Papal forces long before they arrived.

The Muslims didn’t stop there, however. Ma’n launched another offensive northwards mere days later, engaging a large Castilian army beneath the reinforced walls Tulaytullah, which they controlled.

Once more, crusaders began piling onto the battlefield from all directions, reinforcing the fight. The Christians put up stiff resistance, but with better tactics and expert knowledge of local terrain, Ma’n managed to rout the enemy forces and send them fleeing across the border.

With the Christians retreating in confusion and disarray, the Andalusi finally moved against Tulaytullah, recapturing the strategic city after a short siege.

Once Tulaytullah was under his firm control, Ma’n led the Andalusi army on another march northward, engaging a large Christian army near the border-fort of Siguenza.

The Castilians were still struggling to merge their shattered forces, so Ma’n was able to wear down the crusaders in a long, drawn-out battle. With numbers on his side, he eventually bled the enemy dry, forcing them to retreat into Castilian territory.

Not long after the battle, scouts reported that another Christian army had entered Al Andalus, this time from the west. Sultan Ma’n struck a forced march towards them, engaging the 20,000-strong army at Alqantara, where they were decisively beaten.

With that, Ma’n had managed to retake most of Al Andalus, so he shifted towards a more defensive strategy. Over the next few months, the Andalusi engaged repelled several large invasions, decisively defeated dozens of armies, and annihilated countless foraging parties and scouting forces.

By 1384, it became obvious that the Crusaders were a spent force, and that the Crusade itself was a lost cause. Sultan Ma’n sent envoys to Rome, demanding an end to the invasions and raids, but Pope Ioannes refused to surrender. The Pope hoped that the French King and Holy Roman Emperor would put their differences aside and intervene in the Crusade, but war was brewing once again in the Low Countries, so that wasn't looking too likely.

Sultan Ma’n was desperate to see the end of the crusade, so he fell back to Qurtubah, where he began formulating an ambitious, aggressive strategy. The Pope was a proud, rash fool, and he would suffer for it.

Dividing his forces in two, Ma’n left about 17,000 seasoned levies in Iberia to repel any further invasions, whilst he took personal command of the rest and led them into the Mediterranean. The Andalusi force docked at Napoli about a year later, from where they struck northwards, towards Rome.

The Papal States were largely undefended, save for a small token force, which Ma’n quickly destroyed. As the Andalusi began spreading out, assaulting fortresses and capturing vast stretches of land, the news spread like wildfire across Europe.

Not only had the Crusade completely failed, but all of the sudden, the Kingdom of God itself was under siege. First fell Rome, then St. Peter’s Basilica, and finally the Apostolic Palace.

And within the Papal Palace, begging for mercy, was Pope Ioannes. The Bishop of Rome was carted to Sultan Ma’n, who was leading the sack of the city, in chains.

Ordinarily, a man with the power and prestige of Pope Ioannes would have been ransomed off, he would undoubtedly fetch a small fortune. Sultan Ma’n wasn’t that sort of man, however, he wasn’t interested in money or fame, he didn’t care for treasures or stature, his only love was the sword...

And so he thrust his sword into Pope Ioannes.

Pope Ionnes was executed in a gruesome public ceremony in the streets of Rome, and as word of the Martyred Pope spread across Europe, the Second Crusade for Al Andalus finally came to an end. Ionnes’ successor was quick to negotiate a complete surrender, and as carts of tribute begin their journey towards Qadis, Sultan Ma’n returns to Al Andalus by sea.

This would be the last officially-sanctioned Crusade for Al Andalus, never again would any Pope dare challenge the might of Cádiz. Whilst Christendom has undoubtedly suffered a blow in Iberia, however, it has prospered in other parts of the world.

After decades of lost wars, bloody infighting and civil war, the Eastern Roman Empire has finally collapsed, with Constantinople conquered by a Catholic lord. Laurentios declares himself to be the Basileus of the Latin Empire, but with an unruly Orthodox majority already causing trouble, his position is as unstable and untenable as that of his predecessor.

Further south, meanwhile, Islam is on the retreat. The Egyptian Crusaders stormed across the Holy Land over the past few years, crushing the Shia Fatimids and Sunni Otaybahids in countless battles before finally attaining their goal of conquering Jerusalem.

The news takes a long time to travel across the Mediterranean, but when it does, Sultan Ma’n descends into an unspeakable fury. Having spent most of his life defending Jerusalem as the commander of Al Ansar, the loss of the Holy City cuts him especially deep, and he retreats to his marble palaces to temper his rage.

He doesn’t stay that way for long, however. Just hours later, the Sultan delivers a fiery sermon to his vassals and courtiers, in which he vows to see Jerusalem freed from the Crusaders, to drive the Christians before him in their thousands, to restore the light of Islam to its rightful place at the pinnacle of the world.