The first few months of the Persian War of Independence were uneventful. Khosrow realized that his force, consisting of 2,000 mixed cavalry and 5,000 Bashi-Bazouk warriors, was far too small to go on any offensive against the mighty Timurid Empire. Timur was known as the greatest general of his time, and the vast resources of the empire could easily overwhelm Khosrow's forces.
However, Timur was aging, and his heir was not as capable a leader. Khosrow knew that time was on his side, and did not venture out of Tabaristan, or Mazandaran, as it was now becoming known.
Meanwhile, Khosrow's bloodline was assured, as his wife, Tahmina, bore him a child almost nine months to the day after Khosrow was declared Shah. The child was named Khosrow, after his father.
Timur was preoccupied with his campaign against the Turks, and dismissed the Persian rebellion at first, thinking that a Zoroastrian leader would have little support among the mostly Muslim population of Persia. Due to his focus on the western front, he delayed in dealing with the Persians. However, he could not keep ignoring this affront to his rule, so he eventually sent a force of 12,000 men under the command of Ulugh Jalāl and Hussain Khalil to crush the rebellion.
The army reached the Alborz mountain range in the winter of 1401, before Nowruz. Reports reached Khosrow of the incoming Timurid forces, and so he readied his army. He moved to intercept Jalal and Khalil, hoping to take advantage of the mountainous terrain which was familiar to many of his scouts.
The campaign against the Timurid army was successful in slowing down its advance, and Khosrow inflicted a major defeat on Jalal's contingent, forcing him to retreat. Nevertheless, Khalil's troops managed to break through and threatened the Mazandaran countryside, at the cost of 4,300 of Jalal's and his own men. Having lost his positioning advantage, Khosrow was forced to retreat.
My heart grieves for my country and my companions. Many worthy warriors now lie dead, their blood spilled in defense of the country, and their souls gone to Ahura Mazda. We have slain many of the enemy's number, and delayed their entry into the northern plains for many weeks, but what does it matter now? We are driven off from our only place of refuge, Mazandaran, and Timur has many more hordes of men at his disposal. We must now retreat to the region of Gilan in order to regroup. My beloved, you must see to the defenses of our remaining strongholds in Mazandaran. Take courage, for you have a true Aryan woman's spirit, and you are an heiress of Gordafarid, Pantea, and Apranik. May we both receive strength to fight against this demon, Timur, and his lapdog, Hussain Khalil!
-Khosrow I, in a letter to his wife, Tahmina the Fair
Hussain Khalil drove off Khosrow and occupied Mazandaran, thinking himself to be the victor in this struggle. For the time being, he was. However, Khosrow kept his army intact, and Khalil, instead of pressing his advantage and pursuing Khosrow's forces, instead lay siege to Sari, the chief fortified city in the region, where Tahmina was directing the defenses of the province.
Tahmina directed bands of warriors to harass Khalil during his march to Sari. Before he began the siege, and cut off Tahmina's communication with the rest of the province, Tahmina sent out some final orders to the warriors outside, commanding them to attack Khalil's supplies, and to bring word to Khosrow about her situation.
Khosrow now found himself in the vicinity of Rasht, in Gilan. His scouts reporting that the city was defended by a garrison of 1,000 Turkomen and Mongols, he surrounded the city and lay siege to it. Hoping to capture the city before the end of the year, he received two messages, one from Tahmina, and another from Khalil.
My dear husband, we are fighting and holding back the enemy, and the heavens have granted us victory thus far, but we only have a thousand brave men and women defending the walls of the stronghold of Sari, and Khalil has close to 5,000 men, though I am confident that our warriors outside the walls are reducing that number as we speak. I can hold this city for months, perhaps years, but I implore you to return and crush these barbarians.
Our son grows stronger every day. He already says “Maman”, and though he has hair like mine, as golden as a field of wheat, he has your face, especially your piercing dark eyes. Though an infant, he is as majestic as any prince of Persia ever was. Come back soon, my king.
-Tahmina the Fair in a letter to Khosrow I
You accursed rebel! You are a dog and a son of a dog, and I shall enjoy ravaging your whore of a wife when I sack your sorry excuse for a capital. She disgracefully shows herself on the battlements, and even fires the bow and draws the sword among your soldiers. How many of them has she bedded? Has she no modesty? I still have not decided whether to make her my slave or pull her apart by tying her to horses. What I am certain of is that I shall march against you and crush your pitiful army and I will exterminate all you Mazdean infidels from the face of the earth. All of Persia shall bow to Allah, or be destroyed! Praise be to the one true God!
-Hussain Khalil's message to Khosrow I
Khosrow was moved upon hearing from his wife, and was understandably outraged at Khalil's insults, but he retained his composure, and conferred with his lieutenant, Daryush.
Daryush told the king, “My Shah, Khalil wants us to march into Mazandaran. He knows how you and the Queen long for each other, and how critical Sari is to our rebellion. However, we must stay here. Rasht's garrison weakens every day, while we grow stronger. In a few months, we may be able to storm Rasht, and secure a truce with Khalil and Timur.”
Khosrow responded, ”We may be able to secure peace for now, but what happens five years from now, or in ten years, or twenty? These barbarians, though crude, are not idiots. They will regroup. They will march again on our lands. We cannot afford to be weak. The shores of the Caspian are not enough. We must be strong for the next war. We cannot pass this opportunity. We shall march to Mazandaran and defeat Khalil once and for all. We shall crush his army and pursue him throughout all of Persia, and we will retake all the fortresses throughout the land."
-From “Chronicles of the Kings of Kings” by Farrokh Soltani
Khosrow left a small force to continue the siege of Rasht, and set forth for Mazandaran. Khalil was expecting him, and moved the bulk of his forces west. After weeks of skirmishes and maneuvers, the two armies clashed near Ramsar on June 30, 1401. In the bloody battle that followed Khosrow struck Khalil's lines hard with his cavalry, and the infantry followed the cavalry into the savage fray. Though nearly breaking through on several occasions, Khalil barely managed to hold his lines together. At the end of the day, Khalil was victorious, though he lost more than half his troops. Khosrow also lost 40% of his forces either in the battle, or on the march back to Gilan, but his cavalry remained intact.
Though most armies would have disintegrated by such a defeat, Khosrow rallied his forces.
Aryans! Heirs of the Medes, Achaemenids, Ashkanians, and Sassanians! We are not defeated! We still live! We still fight! As long as we remain standing, we will not rest until our land is free. We will fight a thousand battles if we have to, but Iran will not die as long as Persians remain on the Earth!
However, it did take some months for Khosrow's army to recuperate its strength, if not its numbers.
In the fall of that year, Khosrow led his forces into Mazandaran, towards the besieged city of Sari.
Khalil was not expecting Khosrow's attack. He had thought that the defeat at Ramsar would have destroyed Khosrow's army as an effective fighting force. In any case, he had operated more defensively for the past few months, after his own steep casualties at Ramsar.
On Novemeber 27, 1401, heavy storm clouds fell upon Sari. Flashes of lightning came from the clouds and lit up the skies, but no rain fell. Khalil's men saw this as an inauspicious sign, but Khalil rounded up his men and deployed them in a line around the western wall, preparing for another assault. The skies fell silent for a quarter of an hour, and the besiegers and defenders both were as quiet as the skies. Then, a lightning bolt struck Khalil's camp, and more bolts struck close by. The thunder was deafening, and it seemed to roll in one continuous wave. The thunder grew louder and louder, and one of the defenders on the tower spotted the source of the thunder.
Khosrow had come, and all the Persians in Sari let out a deafening cry.
Leading his cavalry, and followed by his elite Savaran, Khosrow struck. The Timurid lines nearly disintegrated. Khalil ran into the fray, returning some semblance of order to his troops. The resulting fight was very bloody, but the day was carried by the Persians, who stood victorious at the walls of Sari. The defenders welcomed the Persians inside, and they celebrated throughout the night. Khosrow saw Tahmina and the young prince once more, and Persia's independence was secure.
It's not over yet. The war has just begun.
Khosrow leading his army in the Battle of Sari