As the fountains in the Seraglio whispered, he thought of those days right after his first sweeping conquests. It was a time of victories and tragedies. But he remembered as a young man thinking that he had done so much right in those days. He’d had a sense of confidence and purpose in each great, romantic, momentous decision. And yet now, as an old man, so many of those decisions tasted of ash.
He remembered returning home from his campaign in Belgrade to the bitter news that two of his sons had died. His infant and his eldest. He was left with only Mustafa. He wept, He raged. And then in that very same year, his favorite concubine bore him a new son. He had fallen in love with her, that fire-haired concubine. Her name was Roxelana, and he loved her in a way that he’d never loved his wife. He remembered how passionately he felt. How passionately he still felt for that Polish slave that he would one day and make his queen. His joy was complete. His rule was one of unprecedented success, and he shared it with his dearest friend, the trusted confidant of his youth. And his love, the love of his life who he never would have met if he were not Sultan.
His friend, Ibrahim, continued to promote up the ranks until after the fall of Rhodes, Suleiman asked him to serve as Grand Vizier. Ibrahim protested and begged to not be promoted anymore lest his life is in peril. But he had just laughed and assured his friend that no one would put him to death so long as he, Suleiman reigned.
How could decisions made out of such love be wrong? And so there he was the mightiest monarch of the mightiest empire of the modern world, ready to conquer life with his true love and his one true friend, faithfully by his side.
His own sister married Ibrahim, and it was a night of splendor like the empire hadn’t seen since the greatest monarchs of Rome. In his youth, he’d never known family. But he knew one now. But trouble began to show for Ahmed Pasha, Second Vizier, who had thought that he was going to be promoted to the post of Grand Vizier. He had worked and toiled and intrigued to see that the former Grand Vizier had been dismissed after Rhodes. But now seeing that Ibrahim had been appointed to the post, he knew he would never attain the position. So instead he asked for and was granted the governorship of Egypt.
As Egypt had only entered the empire a generation before by conquest and was far from Istanbul, he knew it would be easy to rebel there. He quietly sent word to all quarters, even to the Christians asking for allies. Then one night, he had all the local janissaries massacred and declared himself Sultan of Egypt.
The rebellion was put down, but after that, rebellion after rebellion cropped up, so Suleiman sent the only man he could trust to try and bring the situation to heel, and Ibrahim succeeded. He crushed the remaining embers of rebellion in Egypt and in Syria.. But he did more than that for his genius was not just military. He reorganized the provinces, putting in a system of checks and balances to make sure that no one group could become powerful enough to challenge the Sultan. And those provinces had never rebelled again.
After this, Suleiman began to rely on his friend more and more for the daily administration of the empire. Ibrahim was capable, shrewd and most of all loyal, and even he the great Sultan could not by himself manage an empire so large. And so they planned and they plotted for the next stage of his campaign. He would cow the Persians with words and make the world think that he was going to go after his Shia arrivals to the south, but in truth, He planned to once again invade Hungary, and finish what he’d started.
Meanwhile, he also worked with Ibrahim on his other great project, the Kanun-I or laws. He had long since realized that there were things that Sharia simply did not cover, things that were vital to a modern evolving empire. Things like taxation and certain aspect of administration. His ancestors too had realized this to some degree, but he wanted to take it further. To really rationalize the hodgepodge of laws made by those before him. But even as his legal scholars began to put together the laws, the preparations for his Hungarian war were completed. It was time to campaign again.
Europe was more divided than ever, with a league of almost every Christian nation formed to fight against Charles the fifth and the Hapsburgs. Hungry would once again be alone. With a hundred thousand men, with his Vizier and friend Ibrahim as their principal commander, Suleiman marched North for Buda. Then the rains began. Torrents, sheets of rain, rivers overflowed their banks. Roads were turned into marshes, but the iron discipline of the army held. Some of the larger cannons were lost or delayed but it was of little consequence. His great army marched north.
As they reached Sofia, Ibrahim broke off a small contingent to capture the fortress of Petrovaradin, while he the Sultan continued the march north with the main force. Mere days later, his favorite road back to him with spoils and the heads of 500 of the castle’s defenders in tow. He had lost only 25 men. The Sultan embraced his favorite, and there was rejoicing in the camp.
At last, they crossed the Danube. Burning their bridges along the way so no man would think to retreat. After that came the peat bogs and the marshes that surrounded the river. They trudged through equipment, and horses having to be dragged out of the mire. Or abandoned along the way But finally, they emerged onto the shining Mohacs Plain. There before him were arrayed the Knights of Lewis, the child king of Hungary.
How small they looked, how pitiful in number? His great hosts would wash around them like a tide dragging a man out to sea. Ibrahim stood with him looking out over the field. He was relaying intelligence recently gathered. There were only 25 or 30,000 men facing his hundred thousand. The impetuous nobles of Hungary had not even waited for the reinforcements coming to them. They had forced their king onto the field.
And there they stood in all their gleaming armor. Armor which would only slow them down. They had not even set up defensive works. They clearly planned to take the offensive, using the shock of armored Knights against the fire of his janissaries and his great guns.
As his men drew up their lines, Ibrahim embraced him and rode off to take his place. As Ibrahim rode, he spoke to the men promising them great wealth, glory, and the everlasting honor of adding new lands to the empire. Then he took his position at the front. The undisciplined Hungarians began their charge moving not as one solid block, but has a thousand groups of men each eager to crush a foe that they thought inferior. Horses and men, iron and steel, a hundred stone in weight thundered down the plain, hooves tearing the sodden ground. Riders shouting Battle cries in a language Suleiman didn’t understand.
Volley after volley rolled out from his janissaries muskets. Men in steel and plate fell and yet they charged on. The flag of Ibrahim was everywhere on his side of the field, holding rallying attacking like a hawk. But on the other side, the desperate charge of desperate men pushed into the line, hacking and slashing their way forward. And then they were upon him. Suleiman’s steed reared, his saber flashed. Something hit his breastplate. His guard was all around him fighting, a frenzied melee with some handful of knights that in their furor had somehow made it close to his person. And then it was over Somewhere in there the momentum had stopped.
The suicidal bravery of those foolish and undisciplined knights had been met with sterner bravery of the Sultan’s troops and raw numbers had won out. The Ottoman army slowly enclosed the Hungarians and wiped them out. Only a handful managed to escape. Ibrahim rode up to him still covered in the blood and dust of the battle. The historians would write of him that his lance was like the beak of the falcon of vigor and his sword like the claws of the lion of bravery.
They embraced again. They would celebrate this victory for many nights. But then a rider came up to him to report that the body of the Hungarian King had been found. They rode out to see it. Looking over this young corpse, he felt immense sorrow Suleiman wanted this boy’s kingdom, he’d needed his land. But he’d not wanted this. But they had won a great victory for Islam, and Abraham had proven himself the man that Suleiman knew him to be. This promised only greater days ahead for them, When they returned to the capital of the world, Istanbul