East-1643 & 1644: You Never Hurt Me
East-1643 & 1644: You Never Hurt Me:
Ibrahim and the few retainers, along with his family, that are still with him have been given sanctuary by Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, who is amused by the prospect of having his former suzerain as a supplicant and sees Ibrahim as a useful tool. Given how closely watched they are, Ibrahim and his followers seem more like prisoners, albeit well treated one, than guests. For a while, Ibrahim is concerned that Mustafa Pasha will try and turn him over to Iskandar, but Mustafa Pasha’s informants make it clear that Iskandar doesn’t trust the Pasha and wants him removed, whether or not he hands over Ibrahim. He’s too slippery and untrustworthy to keep around in Iskandar’s opinion. In that case, Mustafa Pasha sees no reason to hand over Ibrahim when he might still prove useful, yet he still keeps a close watch on him.
After debouching from the Khyber, the Romano-Persian march slackens. Supply-wise, the army needs to forage since provisions aren’t being delivered by Persians eager to curry favor with their new Shah, and after the exertions, the soldiers really do need rest. So while the Romano-Persians move forward, it is at a much slower pace than before. Ibrahim, after his experience in battle, recommends a scorched-earth policy. Let lack of supplies and siege warfare whittle down the enemy while they hopefully can bolster their strength with reinforcements to the east. Awadh expanded to its current immense might in the power vacuum left by Iskandar the Great in northern India and Chandragupta is not at all happy to see a new Persian invasion of the lands to his west.
Alemdar Mustafa Pasha strongly disagrees for several reasons. Firstly, he is very suspicious of Chandragupta’s ambitions; he knows what that name references and he wants no part of it. It is of no benefit to drive out an eagle by inviting a tiger into one’s living room. Secondly, he is wary of Ibrahim’s advice, suspecting that he is trying to arrange for Mustafa Pasha and Iskandar to destroy each other, hence why he is suggesting Mustafa Pasha lay waste his own lands. Finally, his battlefield record is of a string of defeats against these opponents and he suspects Ibrahim is battle-shy, or perhaps an outright coward; he dismisses the stories of Ibrahim’s battlefield valor as propaganda trying to cover up for his failures in generalship.
Alemdar Mustafa Pasha marches out of his capital Lahore with the full flower of his army to confront the invaders, with Ibrahim and his family accompanying him so that Mustafa Pasha can keep an eye on him. Exactly how many soldiers he has with him has been hotly debated. While most scholars agree that the Romano-Persians have 50,000 men or so, Mustafa Pasha’s estimate varies from 30,000 to 200,000. The larger figures are viewed as Romano-Persian propaganda as it is extremely doubtful Punjab could field that many soldiers, but there is no strong evidence supporting any one of the various smaller figures against each other.
On Christmas Day, the two armies hove into sight of each other somewhere along the banks of the Jhelum River. The Romano-Persian sources claim it is at the same area where Alexandros Megas confronted Porus, although modern scholars are justifiably skeptical of the accuracy of such a claim, although the Romano-Persians may have honestly believed this.
At this point Alemdar Mustafa Pasha grows more cautious. The Romano-Persian army is in finer spirits and conditions than he expected after a long march through Persia and so he acts defensively, remaining on his side of the river. This is one of the arguments used by those scholars who support the lower-level army figures, that Mustafa Pasha had been gambling on exhaustion to make up for a lack of numerical advantage or even a disadvantage and so turned defensive when he saw the true condition of the Romano-Persian army. He doesn’t retreat though, choosing to guard the river line.
Trying to ford the Jhelum in the teeth of Mustafa Pasha’s army is clearly suicide so Iskandar and Odysseus promptly start seeking other crossing points, throwing out feints everywhere to try and distract Mustafa Pasha. To add further confusion, Odysseus and Iskandar, who with their equally sun-darkened and wind-swept facial features and matching facial hair are looking increasingly like actual blood brothers, dress up in identical clothing with mixed Romano-Persian retinues. They then split up and make sure they are spotted by Mustafa Pasha’s scouts at many different locations, all to mislead their commander as to where Odysseus’s and Iskandar’s attention is concentrating.
They settle on a ford fifteen kilometers upstream from the encampment and plan on a night crossing between January 1 and 2. By this point there have been many false alarms in Mustafa Pasha’s camp so their guard is dropping despite Ibrahim’s warnings, to which he mainly gets abuse from the Pasha’s officers. During the night fourteen thousand of the best troops in the Romano-Persian army under the command of Odysseus cross the Jhelum.
They are promptly discovered in the morning and Mustafa Pasha marches out to attack them. Leaving a small force to guard the original crossing against the main Romano-Persian army, he spies an opportunity to crush an enemy detachment that he outnumbers two to one. Mustafa Pasha believes the original plan was for the first force to surprise him in flank as the main body crossed but his scouts foiled the plan and now the Romano-Persians are strung out. Ibrahim is skeptical and just coldly remarks that he should’ve left more men to guard the original crossing.
The Romano-Persians are not dismayed by the Punjabi army that comes up against them. Yes, they are outnumbered and about to be attacked, but they’ve been here before. The details may vary somewhat, but the principle is not new, and they are absolutely confident that their comrades in arms will come to their aid and they will win the day. That is what they have always done since they have been together and they will not stop now.
With skilled gunnery and excellent quickly-built field fortifications, Odysseus and his men hold off repeated Punjabi attacks, the noise of the battlefield drowning out the distant rumbling as Iskandar storms across the Jhelum. Although the lead units take heavy casualties, Iskandar routs the river guard, pours over with the main army, and hot-marches to the sound of the guns.
Part of the Romano-Persian army though is diverted to the main Punjabi camp. There is no looting; that will wait until after the battle. This is an assassination squad to kill Ibrahim and his family and they murder all those they can find in the camp in that category, down to Ibrahim’s youngest child, a two-year-old daughter. There are only three that they don’t get, because they’re not in the camp but with the main Punjabi army.
Those are Ibrahim himself and his first two wives, Leila and Tara. Ibrahim was to be kept near Mustafa Pasha and not left at the camp, but the former Shah had expressed concerns about his family’s security. The annoyed Mustafa Pasha curtly ordered the two women to be taken out to accompany Ibrahim but the rest of his family would remain where Mustafa Pasha had placed them. The choice of the two women is clearly meant as an insult to Ibrahim for his ‘womanly’ worry and fear.
The guard force scatters after being routed and thus the main Punjabi army gets very little warning before Iskandar attacks them from behind. Sandwiched between two enemy forces, the Punjabi army is quickly overrun and cut to pieces; it is more massacre than battle at the end. The massacre is of short duration as Iskandar’s attack was late in the afternoon, but one of the slain is Alemdar Mustafa Pasha. According to some accounts he is killed in the fighting; in others he is captured by Roman soldiers and presented to Iskandar who immediately executes him.
Three individuals not slain in the battle are Ibrahim, Leila, and Tara, who escape in the confusion. Romano-Persian forces pursue them, but there are also many other remnants of the Punjabi army who are a more immediate military threat. The pursuit is also less vigorous than it might have been as the Romano-Persian forces are clearly suffering from exhaustion. It has been a glorious and dramatic year, but also a very long and tiring one.
* * *
A Place Known Only to God, January 6, 1644:
There didn’t seem to be anyone around, as far as Ibrahim could tell, which was good. They were up on a small hill that overlooked a deserted countryside. Angry and dispirited soldiers from Mustafa Pasha’s army, who had no connection to the local peasantry, had turned their wrath and frustration and hunger on said local peasantry. Those who had not been killed by or fled from those had been killed by or fled from pursuing and foraging Roman troops. The survivors would trickle back from their hideouts, but for now the land was empty.
Leila and Tara were starting to cook the evening meal over the fire and Ibrahim smiled a bit as Leila fussed over the contents. Leila was fair-skinned and green-eyed, from her Circassian ancestry, while Tara was dusky and dark-haired like Ibrahim. Both were starting to get wrinkles but that had not bothered him even back when he was in a position to be bothered by such things. They had been together since he was a boy and they were girls, in what seemed like more than a lifetime ago.
Leila adjusted the pan as Tara added some brush to the fire. Ibrahim had grabbed some packs of supplies before they’d fled, so they had flour with salt and oil and some herbs, filling but hardly the type of food to grace the table of monarchs. Hunger would not be a problem for them anytime soon.
There were enough problems already. Ibrahim had failed, that much was obvious. Allah, in his merciful wisdom, had raised him up and then brought him down. He did not know why, but that is what had happened. His last slender hope was Chandragupta, but that was certainly a frail reed that would break if Ibrahim leaned on it. Chandragupta was mighty but he was far from Persia, and there was no guarantee he would receive any better treatment at Lucknow than at Lahore. And that was assuming they could even get there. Their horses had held up so far, but a long race would certainly break them, and aside from the Romans there were also the Sikhs between them and Chandragupta, and the Sikhs were probably already sending offers of alliance to Odysseus and his murderous little brother.
He knew what they’d done to the rest of his family, although he had suspected it ever since Iskandar came from the ford with his army. They’d encountered a lone Roman soldier yesterday, who’d apparently separated to go foraging on his own account. Ibrahim had jumped him, subdued him, and gotten what information he could out of him before decapitating him.
Killing the Roman had felt good. The Roman had found an unlucky local family and murdered them, apparently in an effort to get them to turn over hidden valuables. And he’d certainly raped the women before he killed them, including a girl that Ibrahim guessed was ten or eleven. Killing him hadn’t been murder, or even war; it had been justice. And the provision of justice was the first duty of any sovereign, and so for that moment he had been a Shahanshah again, not a fugitive.
But it had just been for a moment. He was a fugitive, a failure, and if he tried to go on he was certainly just going to get Leila and Tara killed. He could think of only one course of action that had a reasonable chance of averting that. Put that way, it was not a hard decision; it was barely a decision at all. Ibrahim picked up a spade. “I’ll be back in a bit,” he said, walking behind an outcrop of rock that blocked their view of him.
A short while later he called out for the two women to come to him. They came, Leila holding the tray with the meal on it. “Food’s ready,” she said. “You’re taking a long…” Her voice trailed off as she saw what he had done. The depression was a bit shallow, but its function was obvious; it was a grave.
“I won’t be able to fill it up for you,” Ibrahim said. “Sorry about that. But I thought I should at least dig it and save you the effort.”
“Just what are you saying, my hummingbird?” Tara asked.
“It’s simple. You two have to kill me; it’s the only way to save your lives.”
“What? You can’t be serious.”
“I am. When they catch us, they’re going to kill all of us. My fate is sealed, but you may be spared, but you have to give Iskandar a reason.”
“He…he wouldn’t…” Leila protested.
Ibrahim looked at her sadly. “They killed our little frog, my dove. She was two, and they butchered her like a goat. He would.”
“But, but, how will killing you spare us?” Tara asked.
“You will have done him a great service. It will look badly for him if he kills you after that; it would discourage others from doing him great services in the future.”
“But would they believe us?”
“I don’t know. But the words of the sorcerer Demetrios about my death are clear. Odysseus at least will want to believe you.” Their twisted faces showed that they didn’t like his argument, but their silence showed they didn’t have a counter-argument.
Ibrahim started unwinding his turban and setting aside some personal effects, rings, a medallion, a dagger, and a sword that his father had worn at Samarkand. “I don’t want my body to be found so that it can be dishonored. But presenting these will prove that I am no more.” They nodded.
Ibrahim picked up the dagger. This was the part he hated the most. The Romans would want to believe them, but while he loved them, he knew Leila and Tara were bad at lying. It wasn’t enough for him to kill himself and the two to take responsibility; they wouldn’t be able to sell that. To be blunt, to convince Iskandar and Odysseus, Leila and Tara needed to be more traumatized. And while it needed to be done, Ibrahim knew that for this, if nothing else, he deserved to die like this.
Standing in front of her, he handed Tara the dagger, after first cutting a hole in his shirt around his heart to indicate where she should strike. She clutched it, her arms trembling, her face twisted, her and Leila’s eyes filling up with tears. Seconds, or eternities, passed. “I…I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I can’t do it.”
Ibrahim cupped his right hand around hers, the one that was holding the dagger. “Don’t be sorry. I’m the one that is sorry.”
With his left hand, he stroked her hair, straightening some of the strands. He kissed her on the forehead, his own eyes filling with tears. “Tell the world that you killed me, but know in your hearts that you never hurt me.”
Though her hand was the only one actually touching the dagger, it was all his strength that drove the steel into his heart.
* * *
1644 continued: On January 9, Leila and Tara surrender to a Roman patrol and are soon presented to Iskandar and Odysseus, where they claim to have killed their husband and buried him, producing several personal effects as evidence. When questioned, they are defiant, saying that they slew Ibrahim because it was better that way, where he die at the hands of those who loved him, then to perish in the clutches of his child-murdering brother. ‘Alexandros Megas treated the family of Darius III far better’, Leila reproves Iskandar.
Iskandar ends up giving the two women a castle and large stipends to support them. He can hardly do otherwise considering that they have, for whatever reason, removed the main threat to his legitimacy. Furthermore the murder of Ibrahim’s children, including the girls, does not sit well with some of his Persian followers, so he needs to mollify them. The castle is a cage, but it is a gilded one. Neither remarry, but both seem to have lived for decades afterward and died of natural causes.
Ibrahim’s grave has never been discovered. That air of mystery has attracted many Persian poets to his story, who sing of fortune’s wheel. They have him quoting the last words of Yazdegerd III, the final Shah of the Sassanids, from the Persian epic the Shahnameh:
“A man who understands the world soon says
There is no sense or wisdom in its ways…
The heavens mingle their malevolence
With kindness in ways which make no sense,
And it is best if you can watch them move,
Untouched by indignation and by love.”
The poets sing of the firstborn son of Iskandar the Great, who began his reign in the land of India and returned there at its end, and who, like his father, breathed his last somewhere in the east.