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Trying to Move Into Late Game (i.e. Start Kingdom) and Need Help

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Phantom Lamb

Ok so revisiting this and could use some more help please! I really want to avoid what happened here but it seems that it may be inevitable at this point?

Here's my situation:
1. Currently a vassal of the Aserai, holding 2 cities + 4 castles (all garrisoned to the max), pretty much infinite money, 100 relation with Sultan and around 50 with all the other nobles, and all companions/workshops/caravans occupied. We were tearing into Vlandia but then got attacked by Western Empire. Map has pretty much stayed the same except we stole some cities on the bottom left coast of the map.
(My initial thought was to ride it out with Aserai, wait until Sultan died, and use that as my vehicle for conquest but not sure if that is reasonable or not?)
2. I'm getting really sick of Istiana's Plan and am around 1700/2000. What happens when this hits 2000? It's not ideal at all being at war on one side of the map and running to the other for a one-off quest.
3. Originally I was thinking of getting 4 cities and another handful of castles before rebelling. However, after reading some posts about Istiana's Conspiracy quests, all of the Empire ganging up on you, and constant wars, I am unsure what to do? I know a lot has to do with recruiting nobles and mercenaries ASAP, which is why I've been trying to keep my relations up with all other nations (i.e. releasing after a battle, helping in random acts, or gifting to them).

Long story short, I'm on year 4 now, have a son, 2 cities, 4 castles, and 1700/2000 conspiracy. What should my next steps be?

Appreciate the help.

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