Of storytellers and their audience

Dear Visitor,

At the outset, thank you for being here. As to how you got here, we’re as stumped as you are ! But before you leave, give us a second’s pause – maybe you meant to navigate here after all ?

As our header suggests, we’re attempting to tell stories – and not just any stories, our interests lie in the realm of  historical fantasy.

IMPORTANT – Now, to the important bit – Please comment on our posts ! ANY form of criticism is welcome. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this blog.

The stories are as follows –

Episode 1 (complete !) – The Siege of Constantinople, which consists of 4 posts, in this order –

1.  A Merchant of Venice

2. The Tower of Galata

3. To the Goldern Horn

4. The Fall of Constantinople

Episode 2 (complete!) – Mahmud of Ghazni

1. Prologue : The kindling of a fire

2. Overcoming the Alliance

3. The coming of the rains

4. The breaking of an idol

5. Epilogue : The makings of a future

Episode 3And never the twain shall meet (coming soon)

Thank you for your time and support.

Cheers !

The Rape of Persepolis

The work that follows is a fictitious first person account of events that transpired on the night of Alexander’s conquest of the Persians – however, the events themselves aren’t fictitious . Apologies for desperate rhyming – there is such a thing as revoking a poetic license 😛
 
The metric scheme is 4-3-4-3-4-3-3 (3 verses of 4 lines each, and 4 verses of 3 lines each – to give a symmetric 12-12 form).  There is a paragraph of prose, that separates set 1 from set 2. The rhyming scheme is A-B-B-A for the 4 line verses, and A-A-A for the 3 line verses.

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Excerpt from the work of Nasra Farian, the consort of Darius III of Persia – 
 
Never was there a tale of such woe
As that befell the greatest city of yore
Persepolis, a burden deep foundations bore
‘Til seeds of misery the Greeks did sow.

The basalt-white columns stood proud, upright
Palace upon palace, a visitor’s delight
Until that fateful, ephemeral night.

Staircases of stone, warriors bear tribute
Assyrian colossi, Egyptians and Greeks
Man-headed bulls and lions guarded the streets
The city of beauty garnered much repute.

With a thrill of precision that years had drilled
The boy-general’s men marched in for the kill
They took what’s ours, and more still.

Take nothing that’s not yours, their General bade
For Alexander was a great lover of beauty
Of order, of peace, of justice – man’s duty
That very day, Alexandria’s foundation was laid.

But his advice ignored, to such depths they’d sunk
Desire is the fount whence human sin hath sprung
And from its mouth, deep had they drunk.

For when a match is lit, to blades of dry grass
They crash and burn, in every crevasse
So beloved Persepolis, did come to pass.

.

All evening long he pursued her. Hair silken long and ashen black, she twisted and turned when he first made his advances and he’d given up on her. But now, after a night of feasting and drinking with his brothers, he was reminded of the hardships they’d faced. Life was fleeting, and today had to be enjoyed, for who knew what the dawn would bring ! Grief filled his heart as he buried his friend. The Persians had proved a costly foe.

Tonight, he would seek retribution. Tonight, he would seek comfort in the arms of that woman. Slowly, he made his way after her. She made as if to run, and he caught hold of her. Dragging her by the hair, he took her to the tent. He threw her inside, and fastened shut the tent-flap. No, there would be no regrets tonight. He would take what was his. He prised her arms free, and took her.

 

She struggled and twisted in his iron grip,
With a final shudder, her legs did tip
A lamp over, and the embers that fell, unburnt
Set off a fire on its nightly hunt.

Where there is prey, predator hath
Been fuelled by desire, hissing with wrath
The fire consumed all in its path.

Ha ! They laughed ! Look who’s come
To feast with us, in Persia tonight
Welcome Fire, ’twas all alight
Danced away – slender and lissome.

Their backs were turned, their will forfeit
The scent in the air was of deceit
Fire crept along, its mission complete.

So it came to pass, when least expected,
The Greeks they set ablaze their own creation.
Dry was the night, it slow’d realization,
And to ruin they’d condemned, they’d executed .

The sun, he hid his face in trepidation,
A scarred beast, that ghastly vision
A tribute to mankind’s reckless ambition.

For never again would the palaces kiss,
Azure skies through hazy rising mists
They’d burnt to the ground fair Persepolis.

Hell hath no fury …

Who were the first of the Moslems to besiege our lands ? Was it the bloodthirsty Ghaznavid, Mahmud the Turk ? Surprisingly, the answer is no. To find the answer to our question, we must turn back the pages to 300 years before Mahmud, to the time of the Ummayad Caliphate, so that we may hear the story of the brave young Muhammad-bin-Qasim…

Excerpt from the diary of Suban Al-Abbas, record-keeper of the Caliph of Damascus :

‘It is 710 A.D, and the world is caught in the storm of Islam. Nearly a hundred years ago, the Prophet laid the foundation of a religion that today spurs on the mighty to lay waste to many great kingdoms of old. We receive tribute from far and wide, our empire stretches beyond the wildest dreams of our grandfathers, when they were just harmless nomads.’

‘But the Caliph is furious. 6 full-moons ago, the pirates of Karachi plundered the ships that bore the tribute sent by the Raja of Ceylon. Dabir, the ruler of Sindh, whose responsibility it is to keep these pirates at bay tried to wash his hands off the matter. And when we attacked him, to make him see sense, we were thoroughly routed and our ablest general lies dead. Now is the time to take our gamble – the king has sent his young nephew, Muhammad bin Qasim to attempt the impossible.’

Qasim invaded India in 712 A.D. He crushed the defenders of Karachi, and moved on to face Dahir at his capital Rawar.

The sun was setting on a bloody day in the field. And yet they fought on tirelessly, giving no quarter. Qasim was weary, he ached to the bones, for he had not rested a day since the battle at Karachi. And now King Dahir himself had entered the fray, causing pandemonium with his trampling elephant.

But Allah have mercy ! Suddenly the elephant swayed from side to side, and with a mighty heave, collapsed to the ground, having been struck in the eye by a well-aimed arrow. The king was unseated, and was swallowed up in the melee. The chaos that ensued, with the troops of Sindh scattering in all directions were enough to give Qasim the opening he needed.

The defenders fell back to the fort, where led by Rani Panibhai, they resisted for many days. At last, when all hope was lost, the Rani and the other women-folk in the fort performed Jauhar, choosing to die with honor, rather than live in ignominy. Qasim entered the fort triumphant, and within a short period conquered the other cities of Sindh – Alor and Multan.

It was then that he made a fatal mistake – Qasim sent the two daughters of Dahir, Parimal Devi and Suraj Devi as gifts to the Caliph’s harem.

 

Damascus – The courtyard entrance to the harem of the Caliph :

The young princess refused to look at him, choosing to keep her eyes downcast. He soothed her and held her up to him, gently assuring her that she would get the best of care. All of a sudden, she broke into heavy sobs. Chest heaving, she beseeched the Caliph “Another empty promise ? You Arabs are full of words, but none compares to the nobility of my father, Dahir of Sindh!”.

 “Another empty promise ? Pray tell me what troubles you now, dear girl. I offer you all the pleasures of my harem, you could hardly ask for better . But first tell me, who broke their oath to you?”. Collapsing on the ground, she whispered “Your nephew and son-in-law, the vile Qasim was the one who broke his oath. He has defiled us, and now we have lost our honor to a mere soldier, one without rank or title, the very beast who killed our father !”

The Caliph was distraught, his face contorted with fury he bade “Bring the traitor to me ! The oath breaker must face his punishment for dishonoring this woman ! Sew him in ox-hide, and bring him before me !”. Lifting the princess who lay motionless on the floor, he walked into his harem… 

Three days later, the buzzing of flies over an ox-hide in the middle of the city was all that was left of Muhammad-bin-Qasim, the brave young prince who performed a feat not repeated for the next three centuries. Thus ended the first Islamic foray into India, in failure, foiled by the guile of a princess with a thirst for vengeance.

Epilogue : The makings of a future

The land would never be the same again. The subjugation of the Punjab was to provide easy inroads to India for any Muslim ruler henceforth. The brave warriors who blocked the entrance to the fertile heartlands of the subcontinent were decimated. Many years later, a young Afghan named  Babar would just as easily stroll into the Gangetic plain, as if it were another of his gardens, for there no longer existed any buffer between India and the outlying areas of Central Asia. He was to be the founder of a great line of Emperors, a dynasty that would shape the outlook of a country for centuries to come.

The breaking of an idol

He was an old man now. The youthful vigour that had directed his earlier expeditions had faded, but behind that weather-worn exterior were those very same eyes – gleaming like a hawk that spots a well-fattened rabbit. There remained a lust for treasures to add to his already over-flowing coffers.

How long had it taken for the Hindus to accumulate those treasures ? Countless years, no doubt. The jewels that lay hidden away in the store-rooms of those temples made him furious, and doubly determined. He would burn and plunder. He would raze cities to the ground, and reduce the temples to ruins. People would quake to hear his name – he would be called Idol-breaker.

The story of the Somnath temple of Kathiawar had fascinated him. Every day, a hundred thousand pious pilgrims would assemble on the temple’s premises, and offer their homage to the deity. They would then be entertained by hundreds of singers and dancers, who would faithfully render scenes from ancient religious texts. The day would close with the ringing of the two massive temple bells, whose chains weighed over 200 golden mounds.

It was a fruit, ripe for plucking.

The 80,000 soldiers he commanded had been beaten back three times already. But the courage of the defenders of the temples was breaking. After all, their fathers had been defeated by this very same madman. The Rajput princes had grown up hearing stories of his greed, his unquenchable thirst for treasures. And today they were facing the very same legend, who had remained undefeated – indomitable despite their best efforts.

With the Emperor’s signal, the plunderers poured into the outer courtyard, where the Hindus were makind their final stand. Defender after defender was put to the sword ; the chivalrous Rajputs were worthy enemies who fought to the last man. At last the temple complex was breached. The priests were sacrificed, and the walls of the temples, previously vermilion-red with the offerings of devotees now stood bathed in crimson.

The Emperor stepped into the sanctum sanctorum. In front of him was the beautiful idol of Somnath, seemingly hanging in mid air, with no support or suspension. With one fell stroke of his bloody sword, the once beautiful idol lay decapitated on the floor.

He gave the gesture, and the door to the store room was thrown open. Sunlight flooded the room. Endless heaps of diamonds, rubies and pearls glittered in the sunlight, shimmering and surreal in their beauty. He was home.

The coming of the rains

A year had passed since the great battle at Peshawar.

The beautiful temples of the Kangra at Nagarkot had been surrounded by Muslim forces. The temple priests had performed the Great Sacrifice – they had prayed that they would be spared, and others would be taken instead. With the first signs of the storm, the citizens had begun to celebrate – the weather was harsh, the rains here could continue for days unabated, and the Muslims would be caught off-guard. No, not even they would attempt something so fraught with jeopardy. Scaling the walls of the fortress in this madness would take more than a few zealots driven by their Prophet’s message.

Gold. Many hundred mounds of it, enough to fill rooms and rooms in his palace, many times over. Jewels, stacked one on top of the other could build a mountain to envy those that loomed large over his capital. People would come from far and wide to marvel at that wondrous sight. The Caliph would surely make the journey from Baghdad . He chuckled softly to himself.

His men were hiding themselves within sight of the city, huddled together, torches extinguished. They had gone for two days now without a meal, and the weak had fallen, uncared for. There were other men to take up the task when they failed. So they waited patiently, drenched to the bone – long enough to give the faint hearted Hindus the belief that they had retreated. Today, his spies had informed him, the gates would be opened at both entrances to the fort. Two days of continuous downpour had left the streets of Nagarkot clogged with water, and the city had to be purged. Oh how they would be purged!

The sound of creaking iron announced the opening of the Western Gate. Slowly, using the rain for cover, the Muslim army crept up to the gate unnoticed and slew the unsuspecting watch-guards. As easily as that, the great fort of Nagarkot had been breached.

They fell upon the Hindus like a swarm of locusts, ruthless and unrelenting in their pursuit of booty. Their eyes were filled with a mad hunger, and they manically slaughtered their way through the thoroughly underprepared citizenry. When the day was over, the streams that ran from the open gates were red from the blood of an entire city.

Overcoming the Alliance

The Punjab had always weighed on his mind. A fertile country, the land of five rivers stood as a buffer between him and the vast treasures in the fecund gangetic plain, the population of which had never faced a real invasion. Many years ago, he had heard, the Greek king Alexander had come all the way to its border, before his mutinous soldiers had forced him to turn around. The men of the Ganges had been spared once. There was to be no second chance – they would never see this coming.

The two armies had lined up on the fields of Peshawar.

The Rajputs were seated on their steeds, proud and stiff as always. He hoped to break their backs for good today. For once, his enemies had come together, it was a wonder how Jayapala had managed that. They had come from afar, Rajas from Kanauj, Gwalior and Delhi rode with their sworn enemies from Ujjain, Ajmer and Kalinjar, all united against the common threat. His threat. All the better to get it over with.

Within moments, his men were falling by the hundreds. United, the Hindu kings were a ruthless front, swooping down on his men like a falcon on its prey. With trained precision, their cavalry skilfully scythed its way through his advance guard. Scarcely an hour was past and he had surely lost a thousand and four-score of his troops. Morale was sagging, and the time had come to make the decision if the treasures on the other side of battle were actually worth the fighting. Suing for peace was always an option.

But then came the moment, when it all changed.

Anandapala, the old king had advanced onto the field leading a contingent of the emperor’s men. But suddenly, the elephant that bore him went berserk. The loyal soldiers were caught in its frenzy – head down, the beast charged at its own men, driven mad by the fighting and chaos that surrounded it. Men were trampled, horses reared and could not be calmed, and all about the old king, men perished in the thousands. This was it. With a great cry, the Muslims rushed forward into the heart of the Hindu army that was thrown into mayhem.

It was a slaughterhouse. The princes’ armies were utterly disbanded and they retreated, breaking their lines, and losing their advantage. For two days and nights, they were pursued, and broken down in their little pockets. The rout was complete. He was the master of Punjab, and the gates to the greatest treasure house in the world had been unlocked.

Prologue : The kindling of a fire

A story inspired by a conversation with the knowledgeable Maitrey Deshpande. Many thanks, kind sir.

Greed.

A fundamental human emotion. And for some, a driving force, a desire to quench a never ending thirst.

Many believed he would spread the word of the Prophet. He couldn’t care less. The very thought of untold treasures in the temples brought a gleam in his eyes, a spring in his step. But propaganda would help, definitely. Why must he stand in the way of the fanatics, while they were singing his praises in the same breath as that of Allah ? There would be no objection on the part of the Caliph, and not so much as a whimper from the priests. They would throw all their weight behind him, if only he could carry out the missionary work they desired. Maybe they would mistake that gold-lust in his eyes for religious fanaticism. Maybe. He could only hope. Never pray. Just hope, and plan. Plan for the worst.

Basilica cannon

The cold dusty streets of Constantinople , seemed to grow more hallowed each second. Orban was on his favorite steed and heading towards his quarters after a heated argument with the none other than the King himself. He thought to himself, as he sighted the great walls of Constantinople, “When the day of reckoning will arrive,  my cannons will line up against these walls,” he took a deep breath, “On which side, has now been decided.”.

Orban,  one of the greatest  Hungarian cannon founders , had arrived at the imperial court seeking his fortunes almost a year ago. He had one of the most prized talents in warfare, the ability to cast bronze cannons of unimaginable power. .When he arrived, King Constantine showed great interest in him and made him stay in the capital. But now after an year  his talent’s were wasted and he had become a destitute.

The next morning Orban slipped out of the great city unknown to the King. He traveled to Sultan Mehmed’s capital, Edirne,  where again he was received with great interest where  Sultan Mehmed himself keenly questioned him…

“I am glad that the winds of destiny has brought you here, Orban!”, the Sultan spoke in Greek. Orban, both  taken back and impressed by the Sultan’s fluency at his language replied , ” It is a pleasure indeed, my Lord”.

“I was made the ruler when I was just a 12 year old boy, but later had my father reclaim the throne.” , so saying the Sultan rose and along with him all the ministers. Orban too followed suit. “The Sultan continued ” When I was giving up my throne , I had made a promise to my teacher that when I return, I shall conquer Constantinople.. For years now I have dedicated all my energies and resources for building my navy. Now I feel it is time to take care of the great wall. Tell me Orban , I shall give you all that you need … Can you build me a weapon that can demolish those walls ? Are your cannons capable of that?” . Orban knew that his answer had to be such that it would make even the Sultan’s interest peak . He bowed and spoke in a low tone , again in Greek ” όπλο μου μπορεί να ωστικό κύμα από τα τείχη της Βαβυλώνας ίδια ( My weapon can break the walls of Babylon itself) ” .

In the next 3 months Orban kept his word . He build a super gun, a cannon which could hurl a half-ton stone over a mile with devastating force.

The entourage was more than a mile long. The Sultan’s men were exhausted, they had been on the road for 42 days and travelled 120 miles. But they had a mission and an important delivery for the battlefield of Constantinople. Their package was a 19 ton behemoth , which inspired awe and fear , hope and despair for all those who saw it. It went by many names, some called it Basilica cannon, others simply as the super cannon.Over 60 oxen toiled their way to Constantinople with this massive cannon.

The arrival of the cannons was witnessed by both the warring parties. While it raised the spirits of the Turks, it was unavoidable doom for those inside the walls of Constantinople. The Sultan positioned the cannon right outside his tent so that he could view it in all its glory.

3 nights later , it was show time.

The defenders had huddled in their posts waiting for any sign of the enemy. The Turks had made a habit of launching attacks late in the night. Suddenly , the ground shook violently and accompanying it was a terrible thunderous sound. Something was nearing them, something huge…

The walls of Constantinople had withstood 3 centuries of sieges.It had constantly evolved, to remain impregnable. The first shot from the Basilica cannon, changed all that.

The first stone hurled smashed against the wall with a massive force. It separated into innumerable pieces and rained splinters on everyone around. But that wasn’t important… When the dust cleared there lay among the rubble , the great wall of Constantinople.

Over the next few days , the bombardment continued. Those inside the walls were in a living hell. The stones from the Basilica cannon were few and far , for it took hours to reload. But when they arrived, it took down everything in its path. Everything.



The Fall of Constantinople

His spirit battered, Constantine XI did not feel like the Emperor of the greatest city known to man. The line that had begun with his namesake, was thrashing in its death throes today. What would that great man say if he could see him? He felt the steely gaze, that burden on his shoulder he’d like nothing more than to shake off. On the wall of the sanctum of the Hagia Sophia, was the beautiful mosaic of the founder of the empire – canonised as St.Constantine by the High Church, but remembered forever as Constantine “the Great” by the adoring masses.

He had no hopes of filling those great shoes, all he ever wanted was to rule in peace, and bring prosperity and calm winds to the shores of Byzantium. The Church where his ministers knelt with him today in silent prayer, had stood for a millenium. Even as a child, the Hagia Sophia was young Constantine’s favourite place in the city, providing alcoves to hide when he was hounded by his instructor, and a site of solace when he was set upon by his father in one of his tyrannical moods.

But today would bring no solace with it. Not only was he was outnumbered on land, with just one man to battle 25 Turks, Sultan Mehmet had him outmanouevered with his shrewd naval assault from within the harbor. And in the last hour, the Inner Gate had been breached, and his enemies were pouring in, falling over themselves in their eagerness to loot the City.

Constantine had rejected the truce offered to him, for he knew that throwing open the gates to the Turks and abdication on his part would only mean that he’d be exiled to some remote corner of Anatolia, and murdered. Unknown to the public, this subterfuge would be veiled as suicide, and the Ottomans would set off on a campaign to tarnish his image, and that of the Byzantine heritage for eternity. No, he would not let that happen.

The Imperial Court rose as one from prayer, the iron will of determination set deep in their eyes. With a look at his ministers, as if to confirm their condemnation, Constantine slowly walked up the marble dais to his throne. Gently, the crown was placed on his head, and he was anointed by the Holy See. With a signal from his servant, the armourers came to him, slowly outfitting his person with gauntlets and hauberk, wrapping his torso in fine mail.

Making his way out to the courtyard, he could see fires burning in the distance, he could hear the screams of his terrified citizens.  Mounting his fiery steed, he took a look around, and observed his knights sitting stone still on their animals, waiting for his signal. With a wave of his hand the trumpeter raised the Cry, all around him the knights clashed steel swords to shield, making a terrible clamor. The noise rose to a crescendo, and Constantine let his arm fall.

With a practice that comes with hours of training, the riders fell into formation, lining up behind the Emperor. Onward through the streets they rode, liberating the citizens, urging their people into retreat. Constantine could see the accusation in their eyes mixing with the grief, and though knew he had done all he could, he shielded himself from their gaze. Finally, the Emperor’s knights reached the advance guard of the Turkish infantry. Their momentum scattered the Ottomans, and before they could re-group, the Imperial Guard had destroyed the meagre challenge. They rode through the Inner Gate, now reclaimed, into the open courtyards, and halted in horror.

For all the distance the eye could see, stretched the Ottoman army. Wave after wave of Anatolian cavalry were supported by infantry from far-eastern lands. At the head of the army were the Janissaries, the Turkish elite units that were deadly at their worst.

It was this ocean that the Emperor rode into, his face calm with a knowledge of the inevitable, and mail turning crimson – he took a hit that unseated him, jumping into the melee, he drew his sword and decapitated a halberdier and parried off another, before a hail of gunpowder slugs hit him from the Janissaries. Clutching the cross around his neck, the Emperor Constantine XI fell to the ground of his beloved city.

The world turned white, and it was finally over.

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