The Assassins of Mount Ararat
In the time of Sultan Malik Shah I, a religious order known as the Assassins, rose to power in the Seljuk empire. They blamed not the Christians, but the corrupt government of the Seljuk empire for the ills of the world, believing that the infidels were but Allah’s punishment to mankind for lack of devotion, especially of the rulers. Many Seljuk leaders and a few Christians were murdered by the Assassins. They did not engage in direct warfare but often attacked their victims when least expected, and they disappeared before anyone could find out. Some were disguised as servants or slaves, and even close associates became suspect. It was said that many of the Assassins took a drug known as hashish, and hence knew no fear. Like the wind, it was said.
Sultan Malik Shah initially ordered his generals to destroy the Assassins, and attacks began against the great fortress of Mt Ararat, but to no avail. One day, as the Sultan woke up, he found a knife planted next to his pillow with a note from the Assassins.
“Hail Sultan Malik Shah, the chosen one of His Almighty. Last night, I had the chance to send you back to Heaven, but my loyalty as thy subject prevented me from doing so. Please refrain from attacking Mount Ararat in the future, or we will not be so gracious in our next encounter.”
Though Malik Shah was a brave man who never ran from the battles, the thought of being attacked without knowing in his sleep was tormenting him, so he announced a truce against Mount Ararat and ordered his heir to swear to do the same in his time to come. So for half a century, there was peace between the Seljuks and the Assassins. If a noble was occasionally murdered, the sultan accepted him as corrupt and unrighteous and moved on, not wishing to provoke the fearful Assassins.
At the time of the First Crusade, however, the Assassins began to spread vicious rumors about Prince Nizam. They blamed him for all the evils, criticizing him for the defeat at Nicaea and the loss of Jerusalem. One night, Prince Nizam was inspecting the soldiers in the Edessa fortress when he came across one strange-looking soldier who seemed addled.
Nizam: “Soldier, have you been drinking on duty?!” His tone was angry and stern.
Soldier: “Just as you are drunk with power, my Lord. How many wars have you lost to the Christians? How many men have lost their lives to your utter incompetence.”
Nizam was shocked by the man’s insubordinate tone. “How dare you insult me thus? I am Commander of all Seljuk forces. I shall have you whipped for this.”
Two other soldiers moved up to seize the disobedient soldier, but before they could move, the Assassin cut them down in a full circle. Before Nizam could draw his sword to defend himself, the Assassin plunged a curved sword into his breast. Vomitting blood, he used sheer will power to draw his sword and kill the Assassin, but it was too late! The assassin’s weapon was poisoned. Less than an hour after the incident, Prince Nizam al-Mulk died.
Without Nizam’s leadership, Edessa became even weaker, and in this havoc, the Crusaders led by Geoffrey marched in with ease. Only, Tripoli defended by myself stood in their way of complete domination of the Holy Land.
The death of Tripoli touched Nassur deeply, and he requested his cousin Sultan Ahmed Shah rescind the order given by their ancestors and attack the fortress on Mount Ararat, but the Sultan refused to do so. “Who am I to countermand the words of the illustrious Malik Shah?” he said, as he leisurely peeled a grape.
Nassur: “You are Sultan, Cousin, and your word is the law! Now is the time to make your own legacy. Destroy the assassins and avenge the death of Nizam.”
But the Sultan was not really listening. “Who will stop them, Nassur? You or Saladin, who even as we speak is trapped in Tripoli. I order you to go at once to Tripoli and assume command of the troops. And if my word is the law, thou wilt obey.”
Nassur was speechless. Ahmed was the Sultan, and he would obey. He had to obey, so he marched to Tripoli to assume command of the remaining Seljuk forces. Upon entry, however, he realised that the soldiers were already proclaiming me as their new general. Even though Nassur showed his royal seal from the Sultan, the soldiers would not listen. “Where were you when Antioch fall, Prince Nassur?” So Nassur decided to accept his fate and bowed down to me as his superior.
But not all the soldiers supported me. One of them raised the question, “What qualifications do you have to lead us, Sala-hu-din? Did you not lose at Nicaea and again at Antioch?”
Saladin: “It is true that the Crusaders bested me in both battles, but from these lessons, I have learned. The man who commits no error is the man who has done nothing.”
And so, there was silence, and from that day, I was made General of all the Seljuk forces.
That night, I was attacked at my bed chamber by an Assassin. From his voice, I recognized that he was the soldier who questioned me earlier. Though he was quick, he was no match for me. I was still young and would not die easily like Nizam. Finally, I bested him, but decided to spare his life and make my truce with the Assassins.
With my blade at his neck and himself now disarmed, I asked the assassin: “What good was it for you to kill Nizam or myself? You only made Edessa fall more easily to the Crusaders, and you will make the same mistake again at Tripoli today if I die. Is it so important to find the culprit of every defeat and punish them? How will a new general learn to fight if he does not know the meaning of defeat?”
Assassin: “Then, swear unto me that you will reconquer the Holy Land for us, Sala-hu-din.”
So I did, and he was appeased. There would be no more assassins forthcoming, but before he left he said, “You asked me what benefit it was to kill Nizam, yes?”
Saladin: “Yes, I did.”
Assassin: “We got a better general in his place.” He winked and left, and in my hearts of hearts, I told myself I would not disappoint the men of Mount Ararat who put their fate in the new General of the Seljuks.
Without enough reinforcements, I was finally forced to retreat from Tripoli. The Crusaders were now in full control of the Holy Land, and yet, I would not forget the promise I made to the Assassin. Though I did not approve of their methods, I knew they were patriots like myself, misguided though they may be. Nassur looked at me in understanding. There was nothing to do, but come back with a new army and avenge the shames that the Crusaders had done upon us at some later date.