Part II: Thrones, Chapter I
If there was a smell of desperation around the rebellion against Fruela of Asturias, the man chosen to lead the rebels didn’t acknowledge. While the Basques and Vasconian locals were behind him his army would take time to grow stronger, time enough for Fruela to finish his purge and turn on them. However, moving west through heavily Basque county they were able to gain some support. In his short rein Fruela had caused them even more resentment than most of his nobles and it was likely that ar-Rahman’s personal diplomacy in the area was all that had prevented a revolt from occurring after Fruela took the throne.
Camping in the ruins of Miranda en Ebro, ar-Rahman made a decision to send some of the more trustworthy agents south into the Rioja. While currently it was under the nominal control of Asturias, the area was very much on the border and King Alfonso had managed to assert his power there only on occasion. At other times Al-Andalus had managed to hold the area, now ar-Rahman’s agents were sent to gain their support while his main effort would be directed at Santander, the largest of the cities in this part of the kingdom, and a port. With Asturias having no true navy to speak of, ar-Rahman could at least be assured of gaining some supplies from his allies farther west by water and in the trade that came to the city, the reason for its existence.
Marching as quickly as he could he managed to arrive at Santander on June 25 in the evening. He’d marched slowly towards it while keeping an eye out as best he could for any force Fruela would send against him, but his primary objective was to gather more men from the regions to the east that were in his camp.While the city at first resisted, shortly there after efforts to the south paid off and he was joined by more men from Rioja bringing his rebellious army to nearly 1200 men. Faced with an increasing army and a tense situation Santander managed to surrender without a fight and on July 6, Abd ar-Rahman entered the city. In fact he entered on foot to show that he would not act as an arrogant monarch and left most of the military forces outside the city though smaller groups were allowed to enter for a day at a time.
Before ar-Rahman had reached Santander, Fruela had become fully aware of his efforts and a force loyal to him had been assembled. Though he was not popular at this time ar-Rahman’s conversion was not widely known and Fruela wasted little time in claiming that ar-Rahman had been revealed as an agent of Al-Andalus at long last--as he’d always suspected. But he had been delayed by a matter he felt more pressing. While the propaganda about ar-Rahman was spreading he sent some of his most trusted men under a nobleman named Elipando of Pravia, to the southwest to make sure the man who was the real threat to his throne was subdued, his cousin Aurelius. It was only after he’d readied that expedition that he set out for the east to destroy ar-Rahman his hated rival personally.
Gathering more men on the way as he marched from his capital at Canagas de Onis, Fruela put a few of the villages he passed through to the sword to make sure the rest remembered who their king was. Soon he got word that ar-Rahman was heading for Santander and directed his own men towards it. When ar-Rahman got word of the situation and against the advice of nobles he elected to remain in Santander and stand siege. In a protracted war, he knew he would lose, and even if he didn’t the arable land in the kingdom would largely have been decimated by marching armies and he did not intend to inherit a ruin.
The nobles however, largely decamped, giving up on him and fleeing and leaving him with about 900 men (the Basque fighters). When Fruela finally arrived a few days later on July 21 the Siege of Santander began. Fruela had no intention of storming the place and instead concentrated on strengthening his position around the city. His only worry was the port itself, he didn’t have the ships to block it and he was worried ar-Rahman would escape him.
While ships did enter the port ar-Rahman quickly began to run out of anyone who would give him food and his money was no where near sufficient to buy it. Even has Basque allies were wavering and he over heard some talk of handing him over to Fruela for leniency. With the situation deteriorating so rapidly Abd ar-Rahman gathered the remains of his army and spoke with them. He praised their courage and loyalty and told them he was going to make a sally and if this failed he would release them all from any pledges he’d made. That night he led 300 of his men (almost all ones who followed the family of the audacious Basque lady, Munia) to the main gates of the city and in a moment of inspiration drew his sword and threw his scabbard into the fire pledging to conquer or die. Moved by his example his men did the same.
That night well before dawn, they emerged from the gate swept away the sentries and fell on the fatally inattentive men that Fruela had with him slaughtering hundred of them and setting fire to many of the army’s tents and baggage. By the time dawn had come, the battle of Santander was over and almost two thousand men lay dead on the field with more fleeing. Fruela himself escaped the carnage and fled back towards Canagas de Onis.
After looting what remained of the camp, ar-Rahman gathered all the soldiers he had left and set off in pursuit, now mounted on Fruela’s horses.
As ar-Rahman pursued the fleeing king he encountered another force of men, some 800 strong. Among them were the nobles who had fled, most with military contingents stronger than before but leading them was another man he recognized, Fruela’s cousin Aurelius.
Aurelius dismounted and bowed before ar-Rahman hailing him as king. When Elipando had moved to besiege he had taken as many men as he could, instructed his steward to stall Elipando but hand over the lands if needed and set out for the east and ar-Rahman. A quiet man by nature he was enraged by Fruela’s conduct toward him but the years ar-Rahman had spend in Asturias had convinced him that ar-Rahman would make a better king than he would. Thus proclaiming ar-Rahman as the rightful King, they reached the capital of Asturias in a place very near Covadonga. There ar-Rahman and his men surrounded the citadel where Fruela had retreated to. Inside it were a few men, mostly from Elipando’s force. Most of the king’s army was either dead or had scattered and not yet reformed. While the siege went on ar-Rahman took the opportunity to begin establishing his authority.
Finally, Elipando and Fruela emerged and demanded to speak to ar-Rahman. Wary of archers ar-Rahman, Aurelius and Julen the leader of the Basque contingent, rode up to the gates. Fruela insulted ar-Rahman again, and once again proclaimed him a false Christian with intentions only to hand over Asturias to Al-Andalus. Hearing it shouted again over the town sounded ridiculous and even the people who had begun to gather at a distance from the force surrounding the citadel could be heard to think so, doubly so when Aurelius rode forth, and fully threw his support behind ar-Rahman.
It was then that ar-Rahman weary of the fight and hoping to break the deadlock offered Fruela a chance at single combat to decide his fate. If Fruela won, he would be allowed to go free and Aurelius would be made king. As Alfonso had given ar-Rahman no choice, so he gave Fruela no choice--and Fruela knew it, his cause was lost. But if he knew it, so did his men and in that moment Elipando seized his king, flung him from the walls and sued for mercy as he ordered the gates opened.
In the ceremony that named him King in the capital, Aurelius disclaimed any claims he would have to the throne in favor of ar-Rahman and the nobility swore to him as King. In public then, he took part in the Eucharist with the nobility and for a wonder he did not feel shame.
After words after following the customs of Asturias, on September 14, AD 758. the man known as Abd ar-Rahman was proclaimed King Avidus I of Asturias.