The beginning paragraphs of a historical novel I’m doing rewrites on:
“When I lead my army against Baghdad in anger, whether you hide in heaven or in earth I will bring you down from the spinning spheres; I will toss you in the air like a lion. I will leave no one alive in your realm; I will burn your city, your land, your self. If you wish to spare yourself and your venerable family, give heed to my advice with the ear of intelligence. If you do not, you will see what God has willed.” –Heluga Khan to the Caliph of Baghdad
January 1258, Baghdad
Like a comet against the sky, the flaming ball of naptha flashed overhead, embers sparking, falling like burning hail and trailing black smoke. The shout of men loading the trebuchets, the pop-splat as the naptha took flame, followed by the crack and thump of another release, mixed with the clang of sword and distant screams. Smoke and vomit, the sweat of horse and rider, urin and dung, all abused the air.
Kitbaku let his eyes follow the latest volley. He coughed and wiped his face with his soot-blackened hands. Dozens of fire-balls were crashing upon the city of Bagdad. They disappeared behind the walls of the city, swallowed by the engulfing orange glow of a city burning and dying. It was nearly noon, but the sun glowed weakly through the obscuring smoke like a bloodshot eye peering from beneath a blanket too early in the morning. Soot drizzled from the sky; gray flakes dusted the sleeves of Kitbaku’s coat.
What had the priest said? “The moon will be turned to sackcloth and the sun to blood on the great day of the Lord.” Isaiah had been describing the end of the world. Kitbaku grinned. Indeed, the world of the Caliph in Bagdad was ending this day, and Kitbaku’s lord Heluga Khan was making it happen. Obviously the prophet Isaiah had seen a city or two burned: “Darkness at mid-day,” he muttered. Another phrase from that ancient Jew.
Kitbaku crossed himself, then glanced again at the bloody sun. The Apocalypse was turning out better than he had hoped.