Deep in a remote corner of the vast and sprawling Ottoman Empire, rebellion has broken out. Ali Tepelena, eighty-year-old vizier of much of Albania and known to his masters as ‘Black Ali’, has risen against the sultan. Unfortunately, the sultan’s reputation as a cruel despot deters the local population from rallying to Black Ali’s side. They know from legend and experience that the vengeance of the sultan is extreme.
Trapped in his remote Albanian citadel by the sultan’s army, under the command of a young and ambitious general recently sent from Istanbul to replace his ageing predecessor, Ali roams the grim corridors and dungeons of his fortress, his young wife in tow, fantasising about the ‘free nation’ he will create. But his fate is sealed; unlike his predecessor, Albanian national hero Scanderbeg, whom he seeks to emulate, if not outshine, he will not succeed in defeating the sultan.
Meanwhile, back in the heart of the empire’s capital, crowds are gathering in the central square, waiting for the latest offering to be placed in the carved stone niche at the main entrance to the square. This is where the severed heads of traitors, renegades, failed generals and incompetent bureaucrats are displayed, mounted in