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The Sultan and the Khan – A Progress Report July 19, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Uncategorized.
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The Sultan and the Khan is the follow-up novel to my award-winning novel, The Swords of Faith. The Sultan and the Khan takes place about seventy years after what history now calls the “Third Crusade” (the setting of The Swords of Faith). It is another novel about a confrontation. In The Swords of Faith, we had Richard the Lionheart against Saladin, two highly celebrated figures of their times. In The Sultan and the Khan, it is the Mongols against the Mamluks. The sultan of the title is the future Sultan Baybars. The khan of the title is Il-Khan Hulegu, grandson of Genghis Khan.

These may be lesser-known men, but the confrontation between their forces was a more pivotal event for the history of eastern Mediterranean—and the world—than the “Third Crusade,” which ended with a stalemate. (See my blog post about the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Ayn Jalut.) The events of The Sultan and the Khan take place between 1258, starting with the Mongol destruction of Baghdad, and 1260, the decisive battle between Mongols and Mamluks at Ayn Jalut. Crusaders figure in the confrontation. They are a fading presence, factionalized, indecisive—but positioned where their actions have importance to the confrontation.

Christianity inserts itself in strange ways. The wife of Hulegu (and many high-ranking Mongol leaders’ wives) called herself a Christian. We have Nestorian Christians in the region, branded as heretics by the western Christian Catholic Church. All of this mixes together to supply material for a rich story.

So where does The Sultan and the Khan stand now?

I have completed the first draft. The Baybars story-line seems separate from the Hulegu story-line, but they also seemed destined to intertwine. A thin character thread connects The Swords of Faith and The Sultan and the Khan with fictional Dawud, son of Pierre and Atiya from The Swords of Faith. Dawud is now a seventy-year-old Muslim scholar in Baghdad as the Mongols arrive. I mix in a fictional Nestorian Christian adventurer, caught up with a pretty novice in Acre, and tangled with western Christian concerns as the Mongols approach.

The story is basically set. But the next draft will be a sharpening process. The complexity of the period brings complexity to the story—fun complexity, complexity that keeps characters and readers jumping. But with a story like this, I need to make sure it all ties together from beginning to end.

Also, though the basic Baybars story is in place, I need to enrich his story with more about those around him. I bought a book about Qalawun, future Mamluk sultan and undoubtedly with Baybars throughout this period. I will flesh him out and insert him into the Baybars story.

For The Swords of Faith, there was a huge amount of material to draw from. I’ll admit, though I went through a lot of material about the period (over ten books about the Crusades, two biographies of Richard the Lionheart, three biographies of Saladin), I did not go through everything available. For The Sultan and the Khan, there is much less material. If Richard the Lionheart and Saladin were “A-list” historical figures, then Baybars and Hulegu are “C-list,” maybe even “D-list.” (Baybars in particular should rank higher for his impact on history, and I suspect he does in other traditions and cultures.) Because there is less available to draw on, there is more room for creativity for a novelist. But I want to make sure that what I do invent is plausible. And as in The Swords of Faith, I do not alter major events, or the chronology of events.

I have finished reading the Qalawun book. I will review my sources and my notes to get the basics fresh in my mind again. Then, I will review and revise this first draft. I hope to have a polished manuscript ready by late this year.

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