The story of Selims short life had been written in blood. It was the blood of his times and the blood of his people. It was written, too, in the blood of his father and the strangled breath of his brothers. These deaths were the result of the law of Selims grandfather, Mehmet, Fatih; Mehmet, the Conqueror.
An early unwritten Ottoman law had directed the newly crowned emperor to slay all his siblings, their children, and all but his own ablest son. The eldest did not necessarily succeed to the throne. It was hoped that in this way the new Sultan, by leaving only one heir alive, could prevent wars of succession that might endanger the Empire. Selims grandfather, Mehmet, had codified this tradition in the Law of Fratricide. Under the Law of Fratricide, all the possible heirs to the throne must be strangled with the silken cord from an archers bow. A knife or sword could not be used, for it was a sacrilege to shed royal blood. Mehmet, himself, had strangled his infant brother to death upon his own succession to the throne.
When Selims father, Bayazid II, ascended to the throne, he, too, fell under this law of the Ottomans; but not as he had expected.
Bayazid was a more reticent and gentle man than his father, Mehmet. He was loath to carry on, as his father had, the continuous wars to expand the Empire. Mehmet had challenged the great powers of the Shiite Muslims of Persia, going to war with Shah Ismail, their ruler. The Shiite religious doctrines seemed to Mehmet a dagger at the backs of the orthodox Sunni Muslims of Turkey.
But, Bayazid had no taste for war. When he succeeded Mehmet as Sultan, he retired to the safety of Istanbul, and the Palace.
Selim was the youngest of Bayazids five sons, and his favorite. Two of his other sons had died in childhood, and only Selim seemed suited for the succession to Sultan. But, Selim was impatient with his father, and longed to resume the wars his grandfather had started. So, at age forty, after a failed rebellion against Bayazid, Selim and his family went into self-imposed exile in the Crimea, north of the Black Sea. His wife, Hafiza, was the daughter of a Tartar Khan. After some time, Selim was able, with the help of his father-in-law, to raise a substantial army.
Bayazid and Selim, father and son, fought each other for the throne in a great battle at Edirne, in northern Turkey near the Greek border. Only the speed of Selims legendary stallion, Black Cloud, had allowed his escape from his fathers sword. Though he lost the battle, his heroism had impressed his fathers army of Janissaries. A legend began to grow around Selims name.
As Bayazid aged, pressure began to build from the nobles of the court to send for Selim, so that Selims succession could be assured. The Janissaries wanted nothing of the two eldest sons, whom they knew to be as gentle and peace-loving as their father. They wanted Selim. Selim Yavuz. They, too, longed for the return to war; to ride once more against the Infidel and drink in the heady scent of blood and smoke.
Bayazid wanted peace within his empire at any cost. So, a few months after Selims defeat and escape, Bayazid sent for his son, asking that he return to his home in Istanbul. Selim received the letter in the depths of a terrible winter. Still, with the help of his father-in-law, he amassed an army of three thousand horsemen, and left immediately for the capital. He drove his men eighteen hours a day, in blinding blizzards and killing cold. Hundreds of men and horses died along the way, left unburied at the side of the frozen road. To save time, Selim avoided the longer detour to the bridge over the wide Dniester River. Instead, he forced his army to ford the icy waters. There, too, many frozen bodies floated away in the black current. Finally, with his army in tatters, he reached Istanbul in early April.
Copyright 2002 by Anthony A Goodman. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form - except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews - without written permission in writing from its publisher, Source Books, Inc. www.sourcebooks.com.
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