Canim al her ne ise meram
reh-numadir neylesin
Canimasin sana ne demeli
Sana ne demeli

Take my soul and do as you will
It shall be your guide
You are my soul—what more can I say
What more can I say?

Part One : De Profundis

THERE

Year 1411 of the Islamic Calendar,
4th Muharram or
7 messidor CXCVIII
09.88 RM (23:45 GMT)

The Tamil—his knees tucked up, his back flat against the crumbling brick wall—crouched in the shadows and eyed the corpse with a peculiar little smile.

“Here I am, Mahdi,” he whispered. “Here I am at last.”

The Mahdi of the chronicles was lean, upright and charismatic. A leader of men. Folk tales were all about his scorching gaze, powerful arms and relentless adz-dzakar—all taken from the corpse by the passing of centuries. His kaftan was covered with the soft green fur of mold. The hands clasped over the infamous member were frail, the fingernails broken. The slate gray face was a mask of agony and disbelief.

Poison, the Tamil thought. One of the recipes long forgotten; the Arsenic and Curare of our glorious ancestors. The Kiss of the Houri? The Aqua Tofana? The poor devil was probably dead before he could tell them apart. A welcome drink mixed by the Greek Harlot herself. She handed it over and watched the Mahdi suffer unspeakably. Regarded him with jewel eyes given by Allah to please—deceit, woman is thy name.

“You screwed up, Mahdi,” the Tamil said softly. “You should have known better not to trust anyone. In your position…”

The Mahdi fought his way to History in the tender age of sixteen. Leading a tribal army recruited in Asia Minor, he wrought havoc on 17th Century Moldavia and Transylvania, had the traitorous voivod of Walachia impaled, routed the 20,000 strong host of Maximilian, Elector of Bavaria, and razed over a dozen Hungarian cavalry camps along the Drava River before returning to Ragusa, the traditional winter quarters of the Ottoman armies.

There he revealed himself to the imams, the Beylerbey of Rumelia and the ancient Şeyhülislam, the senior religious scholar of the Empire. It was the latter who, on the 10th of Safar, recognized him as Mahdi in the local mosque and assigned a thousand spahis to escort him to Baezid III in Constantinople before the onset of frost.

Observers of his march of triumph were positive there was more to come. They were right. The following spring saw the Mahdi set sails and annihilate the fleet of the Holy League off the coast of Cyprus. A year later, having suppressed the Persian mutiny and made a pyramid of heads at the walls of Tabriz, none dared to doubt his mission anymore. Rumor had him planning to strike at the Golden Horde next—the Spring of 1646 found him on the Northern borders instead. Having terminated the command of the Buda-struck vizier Mustapha Köprülü, he led his army—now 200,000 strong—across the Danube River and on to Pressburg.

The last summer of Hungary was short and cold, the attack of the Mahdi extremely successful. The Upland cities surrendered, the mercenaries of the Holy League scattered without a fight. The fall of Pressburg had made alarm bells ring all across Europe. Royal courts buzzed with talk of disaster. Rome cried Armageddon, her priestdom praying for the mercy of their crucified idol to no avail. The Age of Christ has come to an end. The tide of Islam was rising and Creation itself seemed powerless to contain it.

Mahdi! From the Rock of Tarik to the banks of the great Orontes River, thousands upon thousands of true believers echoed the name. They did not know his origins, nor did they care about his secrets. They regarded him the Savior foretold by the Prophet Muhammad himself. The Champion for whom, since time immemorial, a fully harnessed black stallion was kept outside the Cave Abodes of Palmyra. The leader destinied to gather the warriors of Asia Minor, North Africa and Arabia under his green banners and lead them to holy war against the infidel kingdoms of the West.

Mahdi! Steel, fire and blood! At the age of twenty-four he took Vienna, forcing Leopold the Gnome—dressed like the pauper he was—to abandon his court and make a run for that of his Spanish cousin. The Champion of Islam did not bother to give pursuit. His goal was already achieved. The gateway of the West stood wide open—all he had to do was to step over the treshold and claim the spoils.

Which he never did.

Biographers explained his hesitation with hushed-up wounds, whereas military historians contributed it to difficulties of logistics. Neither of them had it right. The Mahdi was discouraged by a breeze—the wind of change stirred by Charles I of England, facing the army of his own Parliament in the pivotal Battle of Donnington.
Having survived the penultimate cavarly charge of the Middle Ages, the first chavalier of Albion found himself alone and unmounted. Wielding a cane instead of his sword, he took off on foot, avoided the last medieval lance thrusts at the extreme left of the Parliamentary line, sought refuge in the swirls of raw powder smoke—only to be felled by the very last medieval musket shot.

The report was muffled, its echoes died down quickly among the hills—it was the stunned silence that leapt over 2,000 kilometres, touched the Mahdi and denied him the joy of watching Vienna burn.

His cartographer—a French spy named Le Tellier—later speculated it was the sound of church bells that made him cringe. In truth, the Mahdi heard little of it over the cosmic crescendo heralding the dawn of a new age. The invisible meridian of change swept over the Strait of Dover, the Frisian Islands, the Vosges, the Black Forest and the Kahlenberg Heights with the speed of thought… and left the Champion of Islam feeling both frail and strangely outdated.

Strong in his faith and infamously measured in celebration during his campaigns, the Mahdi really let it go that night. With his soldiers turned to Mecca and praising Allah in the ruddy glare of burning books and paintings, he kept to his tent and celebrated with his lover—young Prince Rashid, heir apparent to Baezid III. He quoted to him from the recently finished Ar-raud, kissed him farewell, and watched him strangled by the the fiercest predator of the day—Sultana Zoe, the witch-child who, armed with the ruthless cunning of her Byzantine ancestors, ruled supreme over the Harem. The Greek Harlot who, in a period of three years, did away with two empress-mothers, used the members of the Divan as her pawns and joined the Vienna campaign with the obvious intention of making the Mahdi the forefather of an enchanted dinasty of her own.

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