|Mausoleum of Shajar al'Dur|
So what are the fictional parts, and which ones are actually true?
Let's start with the medieval period. The main characters, Shajar al'Durr, Sultan Aybak, and Baibars were, of course, real people. Shajar's story is mostly accurate, as regards becoming the first Sultana of Egypt, struggling to retain power after being forced to take Aybak as her consort, having him killed when her authority was challenged, and her death at the hands of bondmaids on behalf of the murdered sultan's son (from another wife). Her love story with Baibars, on the other hand, is a colorful fabrication. She did indeed have her tomb built on what is known today as Shari'a al-Khalifa (Queen Street) which, I hope, we managed to describe correctly. We found no pictures of the chamber inside, so we had to rely on textual material available online.
|Baibars and his court|
Qutuz was indeed Aybak's second-in-command, and suspected of having a hand in assassinating the leader of the Bahri Mameluke faction at the behest of his liege. After seizing power at the expense of Aybak's son, Qutuz defeated the Mongols and, when he broke a promise he'd made to Baibars before the battle, the latter killed him. Baibars had been a supporter of Shajar's first husband, the Sultan as'Salih Ayyub, and at the latter's death after Saint Louis's arrival in Damietta, of Shajar. Linking all this together led us to pick the two as the star-crossed lovers, which amplified motivations for their actions.
|Heraklion, Crete, faces northward.|
|District of Cairo. The Saladin Citadel and al'Qarafa lie less than a mile eastward.|
The part about the scepter of Saint Louis is, of course, entirely fictitious. Whether the Mamelukes took it from Saint Louis after his disastrous crusade into Egypt is anyone's guess. It is however a neat plot element further tying Baibars, Shajar al'Durr, her ghost, Aybak's descendant, and Percival St. Croix to the whole political cosmos of 1915 Egypt and WW1.
Before writing the story, while piecing the original outline together, we went in search of places in Cairo (alas, solely via published sources or the internet), where the various scenes could take place. The big problem was that either the ideal settings no longer exist, or they have been altered so much during passing centuries to be nearly irrelevant. One example of this is the old Saladin Citadel that dominates Cairo's east side. What everybody sees today are views of the citadel's great mosque and later fortifications, which date back only to the last few centuries.
|The newer side of the Saladin Citadel|
|Inside the Nilometer|
|Example of Mihrab|
The city cemetery, al'Qarafa, is another fascinating area of Cairo. It is immense and actually provides residences to many people, especially after an earthquake hit Cairo in 1992. The description of “Eagle-Face's” mausoleum is inspired from a tomb belonging to another sultan. Most of these old tombs have the same layout: square, three doors, and a mihrab on the end facing Mecca (a prayer alcove). Shajar's tomb looks like that as well.
In researching MP headquarters (and the history of British military police in general) a story about 1915 riots in Cairo's red light district came up, which happened to be in the vicinity of the Shepheard's Hotel. The fight involved local residents and ANZAC troops disgruntled about price gouging, unhealthy prostitutes, and diluted booze. Headquarters for New Zealand's troops were in fact located at the Shepheard. Military police had a lot of trouble imposing order.
The question came up as to where the last encounter was going to take place. Eventually, we settled for the British Embassy, known as Kasr al'Lourd by the locals (Castle of the Lord). It's still in use today, except it includes additional buildings to the south, but it lost its direct access to the banks of Nile in the 1950's, which are now used for the Cairo Corniche, an avenue facilitating car traffic along the river.
|Sir Arthur Henry McMahon|
Janet and I hope that you enjoyed the ride. These short stories are meant as prequels to the full size novels. With your support, they may one day see print. If you're interested, forward the blog's link to others you think will enjoy these stories. With time, we'll be able to attract the attention of a publisher or an agent. Failing that, we may instead self-publish electronically. The options are open. But one thing remains certain, nothing will happen unless you show your interest in Percival St. Croix. Part of this story therefore lies in your hands.