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After hours of meditation and countless thoughts on the terrible future which must lay in store for him, David realized that like everything else there was only one way to escape the fires of hell. He would trust in God and the plan which He had made for him and fulfill his predestined role, the one that would earn him an eternity in the Lake of Fire through no fault of his own, and he would pray that Christ had seen he had done this because it was his duty to Him and all the Christians and the souls of the world, and knowing this he would be restored to the New Jerusalem. Or not. After all, God had said that it would be bad for the pregnant women and those with children, and many of the philosophy and priests believed that a ruler ought to act as if his subjects were his children. He ought not to doubt God, of course, or test him or tempt the Enemy, but it was the only way. It would be a sacrifice, as close as that to His which any mere mortal could make, and he would do it for the sake of all the world and hope against hope that he was right to trust God in such a way and escape Gehenna.
 

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Here I was hoping that the mad king might be able to eke out a happy, or at least fortunate, ending place for himself and his realm. I guess it remains to be seen whether David keeps a positive reputation in the eyes of Roman history, but I don't see his new mental dynamics improving anytime soon. One wonders whether he will find any catharsis, or a snap to reality, in the end.

The hints about multiple sets of wars, and surprising early successes by the Trapezuntines/Romans, intrigue me quite a bit - is it too far out of the realm of reason to suggest that, if only for a brief time, David might actually manage to secure the Levant?
 
Part LXXV: The White Horse (1551-1553)

Eparkhos

Banned
Part LXXV: The White Horse (1551-1553)

The Romans had been exiled from Syria hundreds of years before David’s time, and as an army of Armenians and Romans crossed the eastern edge of the Taurus Mountains into the lands the Arabs called Jazira they almost certainly believed that the time had come for them to return, that they were bound to restore the lost territories to the empire. Their general, however, held no such delusions as to the bounds of Roman power: there was no way Trapezous could hope to govern territories this far to the south. Instead, he bore another delusion, that the coming End of Days dictated that the Romans once again march to Jerusalem at the heed of a divine mandate. And nothing, David was sure, could stand in their way….

David pitched his invasion of Syria to Kardashian and both of their soldiers as being a natural follow-up to the hard-fought War of Liberation. After all, the Kurds had not been completely defeated but merely forced into exile across the mountains, and as long as there were Kurdish states extant on the Armenian border there was a legitimate threat to the Armenian’s lives and freedom. For crying out loud, Khalil Ayyub still ruled in Hisn Kayfa, less than a month from the closest passes; how could this thrice-damned blaggard be allowed to maintain his power and status after all he had inflicted upon the righteous peoples? It would be simple: They would cross the mountains, crush the Kurds of Jazira--more specifically, Hisn Kayfa and Diyarbakir--in a campaign season or two to cement their victory, then pull back to the mountains (or so he claimed). With practically every man under arms having either lost a relative or having known someone to the bloody raids, the prospect of revenge against their ancestral enemy was a tempting one, and after a few weeks Kardashian and his subcommanders were on board.

The force that crossed the Taurus Mountains in the spring of 1552 numbered around 35,000, 10,000 of them horsemen and 25,000 footmen, the latter being both Roman and Armenian. All were veterans of previous wars in Armenia, Kartvelia and Khaldea, and bore a near fanatical hatred for the enemy born of years of constant marching and fighting. Also accompanying the force were several dozen cannons, most of them lightly-cast guns on trevases but with some heavier siege cannons as well. Because of the long and narrow nature of the passes over the frontier, the logistics of the invasion force were limited, but after a great deal of debate David, Kardashian and Sheikh Mirza--one of Esmail’s sons, and the commander of the qizilbash units that accompanied the Romano-Armenians--decided against splitting their forces to move through the Birkleyn and Bitlis passess simultaneously, fearing that doing so would leave them open to defeat in detail. Instead, the larger Birkleyn Pass would be the main invasion route. The supply plan, in rough terms, was to supply themselves in part by caravans coming over the mountains, but mostly they would rely upon pillage from the plains of Jazira: A humane invasion this would not be. After several weeks of preparations, the army left Chapaghjur, their staging point, in late March 1552, just as the passes were thawing and before the oppressive heat of the Syrian summer began to settle over the region.

After his humiliating defeat by inaction, Khalil Ayyub had retreated back to Hisn Kayfa with his tail between his legs, facing the daunting prospect of holding his state together in the face of his severe loss of prestige. Without a complex system of legitimacy and governance, the only thing holding the Ayyubid rump state together was a fragile system of loyalties, and after his failure to defeat the Armenians this patchwork could easily come apart beneath his feet. From 1548 to 1550, he fought a brief but bloody civil war with his brother, Nasir, who was based out of the second city of the satrapy, Mardin, that resulted in a hard-fought victory for Khalil, albeit one that allowed Nasir to flee into exile in Baghdad. As such, his martial forces were even weaker than they had been in previous years. Taking advantage of this, the nearby Satrap of Diyarbakir, Ahmed Ustajlu, invaded Ayyubid territory in 1551, forcing Khalil to submit and pay tribute to Diyarbakir. This was all a part of Ustajlu’s long-term ambitions to carve out an independent state between the Khandarhids and the Qutlughids in Upper Syria, and even as the Romano-Armenians massed on the southern edge of the Armenian highlands he was preparing to move against the smaller Satrapy of Arslanabad-on-the-Khabur (Hasakah), hoping to consolidate his hold Jazira by the spring of 1553. Unfortunately for him, there would be no such opportunity.

The Romans blew out of the passes and into Jazira in the early days of April, pounding the handful of decrepit fortresses along the passes into charred rubble in a series of bombardments that lasted mere hours. By 3 April they were at Kheder, and three days later they had reached the flatlands of Jazira proper, meeting next to no organized resistance. Finding themselves in a barely-defended countryside populated predominantly by the Kurds, many wished to turn their attention on the lands surrounding the byway and get to the usual bouts of looting, raping and pillaging, but David and Kardashian united to oppose this. Their eyes were on the real prize of the campaign: Diyarbakir. The city was a fairly major regional center, well-fortified and a natural crossroads of Jazira, but with a sufficiently large Armenian and Syriac population to make a capture by deception reasonably possible. Moreover, it was the beating heart of all of northern Syria: If they could take it easily, then the entire region (or at least the important part) would fold and be pacified enough for the Romano-Armenians to hold it for the short-term future. Everything else, even Hisn Kayfa and Ayyub himself, would come after the enemy capital was taken. Qizilbash outriders fanned outward in all directions across the plains, sweeping for enemy forces and taking many outlying defense positions and minor garrisons by surprise, effectively crippling Ustajlu’s ability to retaliate on a comparable scale as the main force plowed onward.

The satrap first received news of the Romans’ arrival on 13 April, less than a day before the advance elements of the invasion force reached his capital. Suddenly thrust from the heights of expectant victory and unification down to the depths of fighting for the survival of his realm, the satrap was left with only the 2,000 horsemen and 6,000 men from his own domains and the 3,000 Kayfans that accompanied him as he marched down the Khabur. The march was halted immediately, but the exaggerated reports coming from the north told of a force far too large for him to march, and for a few crucial days he vacillated as to what he should do. By itself, this might have been a fatal mistake--the only thing keeping Ayyub from cutting and running was the knowledge that David and Kardashian would come after him next--but with the momentum the Romans held, there was no time to delay. Finally, on 20 April, he decided to march northward to either reinforce the defenses of the town or try and wear down the siege camps of the defenders outside. He would do neither.

By the time Ustajlu’s army reached Diyarbakir on 8 May, the city had been held by the Romans for the better part of two weeks. With about half of the total population within the walls being Armenian or Syriac, it had taken exactly two days for one of the lich gates to be thrown open and hundreds of skirmishers to flood into the city. After a half-battle, half-riot that lasted for the better part of two more days, the city had been secured. David went to work at once, expelling the most militant Muslims from the city, refortifying the walls (many of which had barely been maintained and dated from the time of Uzun Hasan) and giving the Christian residents of the city a crash-course in warfare. Diyarbakir was important, but he didn’t want to leave behind too large a garrison--or rather, didn’t want to split the force for a garrison army off of his main force--with the fate of all of Christendom riding on the line. In the meantime, he ordered the qizilbash to keep an eye out for any forces approaching from the edges of the satrapy: It wouldn’t take long for Ustajlu’s army to be spotted on 6 May, approaching Diyarbakir from the flatlands to its south.

The satrap was a fairly experienced general, but panic and fear had overridden much of his good sense as he raced northwards to try and relieve his capital, allowing his army to string itself out along the road, with the cavalry in the distant front, the main force drawn out in its battalions and the Kayfans in the very rear. Mirza struck shortly after dawn on 7 May, outside the small town of Tell Qadim (Tevsantepe), slamming into the left side of the exposed army with 5,000 men before turning and wheeling away, vanishing back into the fields as quickly as he had come. The cavalry gave chase, not realizing how badly outnumbered they were, and the qizilbash fell back even further, luring them in before turning upon them, surrounding them and slaughtering them to a man within sight of the rest of the formation. By the time rumors reached the Kayfans this was reported as half the army being killed, and they broke and fled only to be run down like dogs in the nearly perfectly flat fields. The Diyarbakirites hastily drew up a square and dug out a series of makeshift earthworks, managing to hold off the qizilbash until nightfall in a series of hit-and-run attacks. With morale in tatters, Ustajlu made camp inside the defenses. At about midnight, the qizilbash returned with flaming arrows, setting the camp alight and scattering the defenders. Many escaped into the darkness, but most did not. Tell Qadim was an utterly brutal but equally decisive Roman victory, and the first of many in Mirza’s long career; for the death or desertion of the entire force of 9,000, the qizilbash took less than a thousand dead or severely wounded.

With the secondary force of 10,000 men which had been mustered to crush Ustajlu no longer needed, David dispatched it and 3,000 qizilbash under Kardashian to lay siege to and hopefully destroy Hisn Kayfa; of course, all of the infantry involved were Armenian, their obvious grievances hopefully precluding any desertions or failed sieges. However, he was not content to rest on his laurels, and after three months of drilling and fortification, as well as the securing of many minor fortresses in the area around Diyarbakir, David was ready to move onward. There was also a number of supply issues which prevented the Romans from loitering in the area around the city, and so he left only 4,000 Armenian militiamen and a few dozen gunners behind to defend it. The rest, a force of some 27,000--8,000 qizilbash, 3,000 Syriacs and 16,000 Roman and Armenian infantry--went westwards.

Diyarbakir was without a doubt the capital and chief city of the satrapy, but it was not the only major settlement. A little over a hundred and eighty kilometers to the southwest was Edessa, a large fortress city that straddled the border between Jazira and Syria proper. It was of great importance both as the next step on the road to Jerusalem and because it offered a potential power base for another Muslim warlord to try and oppose David if given enough time, something which he had no intention of allowing. After departing Diyarbakir on 2 August, the Romans made good time towards the south-west, albeit slowed due to additional need for water beneath the harsh Arab sun, and arrived outside the town on the 27th. Like the previous city, Edessa sported a large Syriac population, but upon their arrival the Romans found said Syriacs huddled in camps on the plains outside the city. The governor and de facto ruler of the city after Ustajlu’s disappearance months before was al-Adil, who fancied himself the next caliph like so many others, and who considered himself merciful for allowing the Syriacs to escape with their lives. The initial Roman attempts to parlay were driven away by (inaccurate) cannonfire, and it soon became clear that there was no way the city would surrender. With little time to waste, David refused to wait for the defenders to starve.

The expelled Syriacs bore two crucial things: a knowledge of the city and a burning desire for revenge. It was soon revealed that there was a limited number of wells inside the city, and that the citadel was both antiquated, having been built in the 12th century, and accessible from outside the lower town. A plan was quickly drafted. On the night of 4 September, cartloads of firebrands were hurled over the wall of the lower city, spreading fire and chaos as cannons roared to life opposite the citadel and infantry advanced under cover fire towards its walls. Within an hour a breach had opened in the citadel and Romans had swarmed inside, capturing it easily as the defenders were torn between the assault, fires and phantom attacks across the walls of the lower city. With the citadel captured, nearby gates soon fell as well and waves of angry attackers burst into the city. Edessa was subject to a brutal three days of sacking as the Syriacs avenged themselves upon their persecutors and the Romans looted anything (and anyone) who wasn’t nailed down. Most of the city’s male population was dead by the end of it, and many of the survivors were sold into slavery.

With the second city of the satrapy captured, the Satrapy of Diyarbakir effectively extinguished and the Ayyubid strongholds under siege in the east, the nominal cause for the Roman invasion of Jazira had been satisfied. To the east, across the span of the Euphrates, lay the swarm of vassal emirates which the Khandarhids used to control Syria, which on their own might have been manageable but which were insurmountable together. David wouldn’t, no, couldn’t let this stop him though, and spent the autumn and winter of 1552 camped on the plains west of Edessa, planning his move the coming spring. The Roman force, dwindled to 22,000 by casualties and garrison forces in September, swelled to nearly 30,000 by the coming of spring in 1553, bolstered by Syriac and Melkite militias, Latin and Assyrian mercenaries and volunteers, a limited number of Arab mercenaries and reinforcements from Armenia and Pontos. In November, the Romans advanced to Bile on the eastern bank of the Euphrates. David’s plan was to try and provoke an attack by the Emirate of Aleppo as an excuse to invade, threaten Aleppo and draw Khandarhid forces there before moving south into the Holy Land, relying upon the hastily expanded and reinforced (though still quite formidable) defenses of the eastern bank and the Rumites[1] to keep the Egyptians distracted long enough for him to reach Jerusalem.

But like all plans, his would not survive contact with the enemy. Sure enough, one of the sub-emirati governors, the sheikh of Nizip, would grow uneasy at the continued presence of the Romans on the far shore of the river and send a reconnaissance detachment across it, which David would construe as being a probing force sent to test their readiness. The Romans would cross the Euphrates on the pontoon bridge they’d been quietly building for weeks on 28 February 1553, scout cavalry fanning out across the countryside to identify enemy strongholds. The sheikh of Antep gathered the other sheikhs of the region, again without waiting for the emir’s permission to do so, and marched against the Romans with a whopping 6,000 men of various quality. This army was surrounded and crushed on 6 March, with the Romans losing less than 3,000 dead or wounded in a very one-sided battle. Afterwards, Anteb and Rumekale were both occupied by minor forces, the former having recently suffered a number of tax revolts that alienated most of the locals.

However, after this quick victory, the Emir, Harun al-Khandarhi, refused to offer battle, gathering his own forces and calling in reinforcements from his colleagues and superiors as he withdrew further into his own territory, hoping to draw the Romans off their supply lines so they could be decisively defeated once he had enough support to do so. As reinforcing armies arrived from Homs and al-Haffah, a fleet put out from Alexandria and the Romans drew ever closer to Aleppo, the fate of Syria and Rome hung in the balance….

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[1] The Rumites weren’t in a position to take part in the invasion, but David hoped their status as a Roman vassal would provoke the Khandarhids into attacking them, distracting them from the real target, i.e. him.
 
He's playing this like an EU4 minmaxer gambling he can siege his enemy down to secure a peace before they siege him
 
Part LXXVI: The Invasion of Syria (1553-1554)

Eparkhos

Banned
Part LXXVI: The Invasion of Syria (1553-1554)

As the Romans advanced further and further into Syria, marching through lands that had not seen their rule in centuries, they met strangely little resistance. David first took this as a sign of God’s providence, but he and his generals soon began to realize that this was not the groundwork for a divinely-inspired victory. The Syrian emirates, rather than rushing into battle and being slaughtered one by one, drew together and waited for their enemy to come to them. As reinforcements came from north and south, roaring maelstrom of war was beginning to form, one that would decide the fate of the Middle East in the decades to come, and moreso the fate of Rome herself….

The Khandarhid Caliphate had existed as a functional state for a scant few years by the time of David’s invasion, and its limited bureaucracy--much of it inherited from the old Mamluk Sultanate--limited its direct control to Egypt and the southern Levant proper. Much of its fringe was controlled by effectively autonomous vassal lords, especially in Anatolia, the Hejaz and Syria. The largest cluster of these vassal states was in Northern Syria, where they formed a bulwark and a buffer against the Qutlughids and the Rumites, shielding the more valuable territory in the caliphal heartland from raid and invasion. There were four such states; the Alawite Emirate of Haffah along the Syrian cost, the Emirate of Homs in west-central Syria, the Emirate of Aleppo in the far north and the Emirate of Damascus in the south, albeit stretching across the desert to the western edge of Iraq. al-Hakim played these states off each other, content in the knowledge that a major revolt was unlikely since the neighbors of whichever state tried to revolt would invade and crush it before it could spiral out into something major. As such, he felt confident enough to appoint one of his cousins, Harun al-Khandarhi, as Emir of Aleppo, despite the risks of an usurpation that giving a relative power in a frontier zone posed. This would be both a blessing and a curse.

Firstly, Harun was a capable commander and administrator, and when the Romans crossed the Euphrates in the spring of 1553 he was smart enough to realize that rushing in to attack them immediately would be suicide. Instead, he gathered as many of his men as he could, sent demands for aid to Homs and al-Haffah, and word of the invasion to Cairo via sea, then pulled back towards his capital at Aleppo, hoping to lure the Romans away from their supply lines so they could be enveloped, or better yet destroyed piecemeal. With forces totaling only 22,000--12,000 Aleppans, 4,000 Homsites and 6,000 Haffans--this was the best strategy he could’ve chosen, and it briefly seemed to be on the verge of success, as April came and the Romans had neither forced a battle nor laid siege to anything that could not be recovered.

However, it was also a curse, as in appointing his cousin as emir of Aleppo, al-Hakim had neglected to install him in Damascus. Damascus, and much of southern Syria, was ruled by Ashraf al-Ghazali, the grandson of the region’s last mamluk governor and the self-proclaimed Sultanate of Syria. While the Ghazalis had been cowed by the overwhelming force of Egypt, Ashraf still dreamed of the glory and power which his dynasty had once held, and had every intention of reclaiming said prestige while killing every Egyptian possible in the process. al-Hakim had inflicted the sort of moderate wound which hardens a man’s heart, but had failed to deliver the mortal blow which would prevent him from acting upon it. As David’s army crossed the frontier and as forces began to be shuffled around to meet the invasion, Ashraf smelled blood and began quietly mustering out his own armies and hiring the services of the desert tribesmen….

David, like all Romans, was ignorant of this. By April, his men had advanced to Kiliza (Kilis), a small fortress town that lay less than seventy kilometers from Antioch, but in doing so had taken several weeks longer than anyone had expected. The Aleppans had carted all grain and pretty much everything edible behind city walls or burned it outright, leaving the army in a poor logistical position. Several cities and fortress of note had been taken--Nizip, Antep, Rumikale, and even Manbij, which had been found abandoned by a qizilbash force and subsequently garrisoned--but the Romans had yet to see hide or tail of any army sent out to meet them. With no immediate victory to be had, David could almost feel the morale of his men slipping as he and they both began to fear they were walking into a trap. After a council of war in Kiliza, the Romans decided that the original plan, to attack Antioch and Aleppo at roughly the same time, wasn’t feasible, not that anyone had really been that attached to it anyway. They would march directly on Aleppo, either take the city or force battle, and open the road into the heart of the Levant.

On 6 April, the Romans reached Azaz, a relatively small but well-fortified town defended by fanatically loyal Turkmen. After a cursory bombardment, David realized that he wouldn’t get anywhere and prepared to move on: however, an artilleryman named Iasonidis observed that it had been a dry winter, that Azaz would be of little use to them anyways but could pose a serious danger if left intact, and within a day the large grain stores behind the walls had turned the town into an inferno. The Romans pressed onward towards Aleppo, and Harun was supposedly woken in the middle of the night on the 7th with word that Azaz had been destroyed. He had been relying upon Azaz and the nearby fortress-town of Afrin to stall the Romans until reinforcements arrived from Cairo and Damascus, but evidently he would have no such luck. The force he had assembled was too large to withdraw within the city entirely, as it was already choked with refugees, the support fleet couldn’t possibly arrive in time, and Ashraf was being infuriatingly cagey with his plans. He had to either offer battle at Aleppo despite bad odds or retreat to Sarmada and pray his capital could hold out. Reluctantly, he chose the former.

On 12 April, Roman scouts returned to camp telling of an army camped out on the plains to their south-east, a bit to the north of Aleppo proper. Further investigation revealed an estimated 20,000 Khandarhi soldiers spread along the east bank of Queiq River, which had dwindled to a glorified stream after two years of poor weather, arranged behind a rather impressive series of earthworks. With the land around his city not exactly full of force multipliers, Harun had drafted the people of the city into digging out a series of trenches, palisades and other earthworks, helping alleviate his numerical defects, to some extent. He also possessed superiority in cannonade, albeit by a slim margin. The Syrians were arranged with the Alwaites as their own formation on the right/northern edge, the Halabis in the center and left/south, and the Homsites as a reserve and blocking force behind them, with what little Bedouin and Mamluk cavalry that had been scrounged up across the earthworks as a screening force. David sent feelers across the lines to the enemy commanders, then arranged his forces to give battle, overloading his left/northern flank with light horse and infantry while leaving most of his heavier infantry on his center and right. Battle was joined the next day, 13 April.

With no artillery preamble such as usually preceded a battle, the Romans advanced in the early morning twilight, armor hastily muffled and relying upon drill and whispered commands rather than the usual shouts and trumpets. Several bandons became disoriented and fell out of formation, but the lion’s share of the force was in position when the silent dawn was shattered with clarion calls, surging forward and charging the earthworks as the Syrians scrambled to man them. Fierce fighting ensued, in some places breaking down into dozens of individual duels as orders and formations were lost in the chaos and screams in Greek and Arabic, but for once the weight of numbers was on the Romans’ side where it counted and after a few bloody minutes they broke through in the south, capturing the earthen ramparts and hastily wheeling the cannons there around to fire down into the Syrian reinforcements swarming up to hold the line. Meanwhile, now that there was enough light to properly move, the traitorous Alawite commander, Husayn al Shughuri, sounded the order to retreat[1], allowing the horsemen and the skirmishers on his Roman opposite to flood in through the gap he left and pin down the edge of the Aleppan right flank, threatening to roll up the entire Syrian line just as Harun was struggling to hold the left. Orders flew up and down the line as forces rushed to take up positions, and a fatal mistake was made by the Homsite commander, Iskandari, who was caught trying to reinforce three segments of the line at once. He ordered his men to pull back to try and reposition themselves, but all the men in front of them saw was the ranks behind them suddenly scampering backwards. Morale collapsed, and within minutes the Syrian center was streaming southward, towards Aleppo and coincidentally towards the captured battery. An absolute slaughter followed as men trampled each other trying to escape, only to emerge directly in front of the enemy cannons, and several hundred were killed before the Romans were finally driven back. The survivors fled into Aleppo or the wilds to the east. About 8,000 Syrians and 3,000 Romans were killed, while thousands more of the former disappeared into the desert.

The Battle of the Queiq was a clear-cut Roman victory, but a very hard fought-one as well. David’s men were in no shape to move on on the 13th despite having routed the enemy before noon, and it took until the 14th for them to move the few scant kilometers south to Aleppo. They need not have worried, though, as with Haroun missing and presumed dead his secretary took command, offering the Romans tribute in exchange for not sacking the city, completely unaware that the Aleppans outnumbered the Romans two-to-one and the latter were in no state for a siege. Quickly thinking it over, David demanded tribute in the form of grain, coin and valuables to feed and pay his men, as well as the installation of a token force of 800 men (most already on punishment duty) in the citadel. The latter held little value--after all, there were some 75,000 people within the city walls at any given time, not to mention the war refugees and the remnants of Haroun’s army--other than focusing any Aleppan resistance inward, rather than allowing them to pose a threat to the Roman rear.

With Haroun missing and the Aleppans rudderless, the Homsites a spent force and the Alawites currently making their way back over the mountains, the road southward was effectively clear. There was still the possibility of Khandarhi forces being sealifted into the Roman rear, but David was sure that God would not let such a thing foul his advance now. The Romans, now numbering a little under 25,000 marched further into Syria, making better time now that they could support themselves off the countryside. The small groups of militiamen that organized as they approached either withdrew in the face of overwhelming odds or were batted aside with ease, while most of the fortresses en route either hunkered down and tried not to get involved or were, again, battered aside with ease. They reached Hama on 8 May, then Homs five days later, where David made contact with Ashraf, who had seized the town only a few days before under the guise of protecting it from the Romans. The two men quickly calculated that they would be better off letting their enemies bleed each other and warily continued on their way, David to the Khabir Valley and Ashraf to Masyaf.

The seaborne invasion force which had been sent to repel David had in fact landed in early May. However, because of a miscommunication about the Romans’ location, its admiral, Tariq ibn Nashid had chosen to bypass Latakia and instead sail for Iskandarun, the seaport of Antioch--and a Rumite city. The Khandarhis landed 10,000 men in a city that had been seized by the Savonese after a local dispute, seized it in turn and installed a garrison in preparation for marching over the mountains to Antioch and then onwards to interdict the Romans. However, the next day a Venetian fleet arrived in the harbor, having been dispatched to seize the city themselves, and a battle ensued that saw most of the Khandarhi fleet burned at anchor. Three days later, 15,000 Rumites arrived from Adana under Kadir himself. The resulting battle saw the Khandarhids chased into the sea, their surviving ships and guns seized and all prisoners slaughtered; supposedly, fishermen would find rings of mail in their catch’s stomachs for years to come. Thus ended the primary Rumite contribution to the war, at least on the Syrian front.

Meanwhile, as June began, the Romans advanced along the Lebanese coast. David had hoped that doing so would rally the region’s significant Christian population to his cause, but the Maronites were slow in taking up arms, fearing that David’s success so far had been a mere fluke, and that like those who had supported the Crusaders before they would eventually be rounded upon and abandoned to persecution as soon as the region was retaken. Nonetheless, the string of victories gave enough hope for some to take up arms and join him, and cowed several of the coastal cities into surrendering without a fight. Rather than spreading himself thin, he extracted light tribute from most of these cities, concentrating his resources on the Mina of Tarabulus as a supply port and garrisoning it with three bandons. The local Venetian merchants were more than happy to bring in food at severe markups, something which David could afford to do in the short term because of his loot and pillaged goods from Syria. In doing so, he helped reduce the burden upon the locals, which he hoped would entreat more of them to join his cause. It worked, and things were going quite well as he swept down the difficult terrain of the coast in June and July.

Then he reached Beirut.

Ever since the decline of the Mamluks, Beirut had been held by the Ma’anids, a local dynasty of Druze mystics who were high on the hit list of pretty much everyone in the region. During their years of governance, they had turned Beirut into a true fortress city, with a series of overlapping land and seawalls defended by fanatical tribesmen who saw weapon training as a religious duty. Already on thin ice with Cairo and suspecting that David’s string of miracle victories was just that, the sitting emir, Yunis, refused to submit to the Romans. Beirut was too large to be left in the rear, as it could allow thousands of Khandarhi soldiers to land in their rear and attack, and so David refused to advance. He ordered a round-the-clock bombardment of the walls, and when that failed to make headway, sat down for a siege while he tried to find a way to take or disable it. He would spend the next eight months banging his head against the walls, and even as outriders captured Sidon and Tyre, Beirut remained too strategic to leave in the rear.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, a crisis of confidence was at hand. The Khandarhid Caliphate was already beset with problems on all sides--rebellions in the Hejaz, a brutal war against the Nubians arising from an attempt to force them to convert, and a war with the Venetians--and this string of humiliating defeats to the Romans and even worse, the Rumites, was inauspicious at best. Even worse, the already senile caliph al-Hakim was found dead in his bath in November 1553, which plunged the realm into a succession crisis lasting the better part of the next three months as his sons struggled for control, during which Ashraf would finally declare his independence. Finally, in February 1554, Ibrahim ahl Suleyman returned from Anatolia with much of the region’s 15,000 garrison troops, joined shortly by the Cairo garrison. He unceremoniously executed his nephews and installed himself as regent for his own son, Khalid[2], then sued for peace with the Nubians on the ground of restoring the ancient Baqt Treaty, freeing up tens of thousands of men, and turned his gaze northward. There would be no more half-assed attempts to stop the Romans, and there would be no more half-assed governance by vassal emirs. He held every card, and it was about time he played them….

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[1] al-Shughuri was one of the few survivors of the alt-Telal Massacre, in which the Aleppans massacred tens of thousands of Alawites in 1523. Neither he nor his emir had any intention of actually helping Haroun, and were instead waiting for their sudden betrayal to have the most impact.
[2] Islamic jurisprudence rather strictly forbid an uncle from usurping his nephews, and no matter how Ibrahim really felt about this he was trying to run a Caliphate and couldn’t just flaunt the law
 
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So David has gone further south than any Roman Emperor since John Tzimiskes? An amazing achievement but he surely is at his limit. Win or lose this coming battle hell have nothing more in the tank.
 
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