Chapter 15: Downtime
"How can you disbelieve in Allah (God) when you were lifeless and He brought you to life; then He will cause you to die, then He will bring you [back] to life, and then to Him you will be returned." (2:38)
26 Rajab, 1663
"Where are they?" Uthman ibn Sulayman demanded, shaking the man by his shirt. There was no answer. Uthman pummeled the man with a few hard fists to the face. "Answer me!" Still, no reply came.
This had been going on for days, with hardly any results. Uthman was put in charge of the interrogation of the captives from the enemy army. Though the others spoke what they knew, this man in particular remained silent, and for a good reason. The other captives had little information, if any, to share in the first place. This man, however, was one of the high ranking officers; he had many secrets to hide.
He had been captured after the most recent skirmish between the Muslims and the Kwaadi armies in the Eastern Mountains. General Isa's plan had been an overwhelming success, with the Kwaadi largely unprepared and easily defeated. The battle lasted no more than a matter of moments. The Muslims were victorious, and many of the Kwaadi men were taken captive.
Hoping to ransom them for a good price, perhaps to earn some supplies for their army, the Muslims kept the captives alive and were heading towards the nearest inhabited land, where the Kwaadi folk would pay to free their peoples.
The plan would easily have been a complete success, were it not for the folly of one man. Shah bin Azad had been tasked with keeping watch over the chained captives for a short time while the others made ready to pray on one particular night. However, due to his irresponsibility and negligence, the Kwaadi captives were able to orchestrate a quick escape, freeing most of their comrades and hiding away in the mountains. Only a few of them were recaptured. Commander Puedam Eman was one those recaptured.
Now he was being questioned after several weeks' stay with the Muslims. Uthman had been interrogating him for hours a day for the past week, and he'd barely managed to get any information out of him. He was growing impatient. "Tell me where you sent them to!" He threw the man across the floor. Breathing heavily, he walked over and grabbed the man by the short hair on his head. "Now!"
"That's quite enough," a voice spoke up as a light shined through the dark tent.
"Commander," Uthman said, respectfully turning to face Abdur-Rahman and shake his hand. "I've yet to break him; I think we should continue."
"You'll never get what you want," the man said in a weak voice. "Neither you, nor your God will make me speak!" Uthman turned around furiously and backhanded him onto the ground again.
"I said that's enough," Abdur-Rahman said, catching hold of Uthman's arm. "You know better than this. This isn't how the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) ordered for the captives to be treated. We are resting for this day; you should go and calm yourself."
"Go. Have some food, pray, or relax with our comrades. We are sending messages back to our homes later this evening; perhaps you might consider drafting a letter for your family? Whatever you do though, I want you to leave from here; you are through with your interrogation."
"But I-" Uthman sighed before reluctantly accepting the orders. Eyebrows heavy and teeth gritting angrily, Uthman pushed through the tent's opening and marched away. Abdur-Rahman now turned his attention to the bleeding man on the floor.
Taking a piece of cloth, he wiped away some of the blood from the man's eye. "Don't think that by coming in here and pretending to be nice you will earn my trust," the man defiantly spoke. "I will tell you nothing."
Abdur-Rahman dropped the cloth and stood in his place. "I have not come to further interrogate you," he spoke calmly. "Nor have I come to abuse or torture you. These are things which we have been forbidden from doing. Instead, we have been treating you kindly, and taking care of you along with ourselves. Our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) told us to treat the prisoners of war kindly, and indeed in the past such were given the same benefits as those who had captured them. And so similarly, we have fed you from what we feed ourselves, sheltered you in our shelters, and protected you from the wild beasts as we protect our own. Now, however, we are through with that. You are of no benefit to us and only take up what was intended for the soldiers, causing us a loss beyond your value. We need you no more."
Abdur-Rahman unsheathed the gleaming sword at his side. The man flinched, holding his eyes shut tightly. The sword was raised up into the air and Abdur-Rahman looked down on the man once more. The sword was brought down swiftly, and on the ground fell knotted chains.
Abdur-Rahman cut away the bonds that held the man and he looked down at him with distaste. "You are no longer my responsibility; so go away from me and do not return. I do not wish to see your ugly face again."
The man stared at him, bewilderment evident in his eyes. "Y-you're setting me free?"
"No, rather I have set myself free from responsibility. Your life and your death are upon you."
The man looked at him with his eyebrow arched; slowly he got to his feet. "Is-is this some sort of scare tactic? You want me to beg to stay amongst you and offer up what information you seek? It's not going to work. I'm not afraid to die."
Abdur-Rahman opened the loose flaps of the tent and held them for the man to exit. "I am not acting upon any secret schemes; you are free to go with no hold. And as for your statement, it is not death that you should fear, rather fear the One who will cause your death and then bring you back to life for your Reckoning."
The man was speechless. He had no reply. Was it really that easy? He was being released, with his only threat being a Lord he didn't even believe in. As he began to slowly walk away from the tent, the man's thoughts became scrambled. There had to be something more. This couldn't be it. How could he be punished by that which he didn't even believe in? No, this was just another plot. A psychological attack to wear him down, just as he'd said before.
I won't fall for it, he thought to himself. They will let me believe I'm free and then shoot me in the back when I think I'm a safe distance away. No, I won't have it. I know exactly what I'll do. If I take their commander hostage, they have to let me go. It's brilliant indeed.
A wry smile crept across his face as he slowed to a stop. The nearby men of the army watched him suspiciously. Abdur-Rahman furled his brow in confusion. "Is there something wrong?" he questioned the man.
"Yes," the man replied in a low tone. "I've left you still breathing!" The man lunged at Abdur-Rahman, arms out and ready to tackle him down. Instead, he was smacked aside by the back of Abdur-Rahman's arm.
"Fool!" Abdur-Rahman yelled at him, knocking him into the thick, white snow. "Do you wish to make me shed blood that I have promised to spare?! Leave from here at once; I will not repeat myself!"
The man couldn't believe it. Rather than attack him with his sword or order him dead, Abdur-Rahman was still giving him a chance to flee, a chance to live. He truly believed the threat of a Resurrection and Accountability would be a fitting punishment. There would be no consequences from the Muslims. He was free to go, no worries at all.
Immediately the man got up, wiping blood from his mouth. His eyes met the angry stare of Abdur-Rahman momentarily before he took off running into the snow, eventually disappearing in the distance. Abdur-Rahman sighed and closed his eyes, whispering something beneath his breath. "O Allah, guide those who seek guidance, make our actions righteous and of those deeds which are pleasing to You."
The dancing flames of the burning oil lamps illuminated the otherwise dark, open tent in the center of the camp. Standing in the large open tent, Saabr rolled up a tiny scroll, tying a small piece of cloth around it and twittling it between his fingers. "Who'd you write to?" Shah nosily asked him.
"My mother and my younger brothers," Saabr casually replied.
"What'd you say?"
"Nothing much. I just let them know I'm still alive, we're making progress in the fighting, and In Shaa Allah soon we'll be arriving in a new town. I didn't have much to say, we do have to keep our messages small, remember? There is only so much space for everyone's messages."
"That's true. I didn't send my family anything."
"What? That's not good man, at least let them know you're alive still."
"Are you kidding," Shah began with a slight laugh. "My father would send me back a message saying I better not write back until I'm a martyr."
Saabr chuckled at the reply. "Really?"
"Yeah man. My father was very clear about what he wanted. Because he himself ended up temporarily disabled, he wanted someone from our family out in the battles fighting and striving for martyrdom. My brother was far too young to send out and I wasn't really prepared either. But I know the great reward for those who die fighting for the sake of Allah, so I volunteered anyways. Before I left my father was boasting to his friends as if I was already martyred."
"Wow, that's insane."
"Nah. He wasn't meaning it like if he wanted me dead or anything, hahaha. No, he wasn't really boasting about it either I guess. I suppose he was just a little proud and just making hopeful du’ah that I would become a martyr."
"Oh. I still think you should write a small letter, even if just to send salaams and see how your family is doing."
"Too late for that," a third man said, walking into the large gathering tent. "The messengers are about to be sent off. I'm coming now to collect any remaining messages." Saabr looked to Shah and shrugged. He handed the man his letter and followed him out of the tent. They walked until they reached a group of men standing near a large rock, with two of them holding torches for lighting.
Within the circle, Saabr noticed some of the men wore thick gloves on one of their arms. They had just sent off a few messenger hawks to go to posts within the cities way back home. There remained only one bird, perched on the forearm of one of the men. A reddish brown feathered bird, with a sharp black beak and narrow eyes rested on the squared forearm of the man awaiting its final message before it departed. There was a tiny sack containing a few scrolls tied over its back, giving it room to flap its wings. Attached to one of its legs was a single message. After receiving Saabr's message, the man tied it around the other leg of the bird and secured it tightly. He gave the bird a small piece of meat and petted its head before lifting it into air and sending it off. Expanding its 4ft wingspan, the bird took off into the air with slow, deliberate flapping.
After watching the bird fly off, Saabr turned to Shah and suggested they go for a walk around the camp. The two departed from the group for a casual stroll through the camp. There were plenty of lights out this night, with many of the tents having groups of men standing outside near campfires and torches. The day had been one of ease and relaxation, it was after all a break for them all. The men outside were still gathered around, talking about many trivial topics and sharing laughs and tales of old adventures or stories from back home. Some were enjoying the treats one of them made on an improvised oven. Simple bread based treats, with a sugary icing glazed over them. Some men sat around drinking hot tea to keep themselves warm; the weather had been especially cold this night, even with most of the men dressed in wool clothing beneath their armor.
Saabr and Shah passed by several tents and spoke with several men, giving salaams and walking on. There was a pleasant air about the camp this night, everyone seemed cheerful and relaxed. The recent successes were keeping them hopeful, and the chance to send messages back to their families kept them pleased. It was a joyous day for them indeed.
Soon enough, the two friends came across the General's quarters. The large green tent was largely unused since General Isa's death, with Abdur-Rahman preferring to remain in his own tent even after assuming leadership of the army. This night, however, the tent was not vacant as it had been before. Saabr and Shah approached it casually, thinking they would have a look around when they reached it. Instead, they heard chatter from a group of men, before the flaps were thrown open and a group of four or five old men abruptly exited it. The lead man, a rather portly man with a long gray beard and a white turban wrapped on his head, emerged with an exasperated look on his wrinkled face. The other followed him, similarly displeased.
As the old men dispersed, Saabr and Shah wandered a little closer to the tent. Peering inside, they saw Abdur-Rahman sitting alone on a mat. He sat with his legs folded and a small glass of tea resting in his two hands, his eyes were closed as he submersed himself in his thoughts. He had just closed another unpleasant meeting with the general's advisors, most of whom felt he was unfit for the role of commander. He sighed, thinking back to when Isa was in command and things were easier. His mind soon drifted to the memories of Isa's final battles and the events leading to their current situation.
It was a cold and bright morning. General Isa had been lazily sleeping away, until he was awakened by the warning call of his soldiers. They were under attack. He grabbed his sword and ran straight from his tent, wearing only the light clothing he tended to sleep in. Running barefoot in the snow, he rushed onto the battle scene and immediately began to swing at all of the enemy soldiers. He cut down one man's midsection before turning to stab through the stomach of another.
"Isa," Abdur-Rahman had called to him as he too joined the fight. "You crazy fool, where is your armor? Where are your clothes and boots? You're going to freeze to death!"
"And these swine will burn in Hell," he replied in a raspy voice. "So what's it matter?" Abdur-Rahman shook his head and kept on fighting. They were joined by the other half of their army and they kept on fighting to fend off the Kwaadi invaders. General Isa sustained quite a few injuries that day. He had been stabbed in the shoulder, cut down his back, and even beaten over the head with the heavy shield of one of the Kwaadi men. Still, he kept on fighting.
With blood dripping from above his eye, Isa smiled a victorious smile as he cut down another Kwaadi man. His long, curly locks of gray and white hair shook all around as he moved swiftly on the battlefield. Abdur-Rahman couldn't help but admire his courage, but also watch him disapprovingly as he carelessly put himself and the leadership of the army in needless danger. If he were slain with having guarded himself properly, then no one could speak a word but to say that it was the Will of God. However, because he intentionally fought with no protection, even against the cold weather, only his blind foolishness could be blamed were he to be defeated.
Nonetheless, the general survived the battle. He lived on and led his army to another campsite to hide away for the time being. It was there that he was attacked by one of the wolf-dogs of the mountain, and critically injured. Eventually, he succumbed to his wounds and died, leaving Abdur-Rahman in command, much to the dismay of the advisors.
Following a seemingly insane plan General Isa that had come up with before he died, Abdur-Rahman led a successful sneak attack on the enemy forces three days after he had assumed leadership of the army. It was early in the morning, just before the sunrise. Abdur-Rahman finished the prayer and led the third of three split flanks into a drive forward straight into the army camp. They came upon them like the blizzard winds, striking them from every direction. The enemy was overwhelmed in just a short while and was forced into surrender.
Abdur-Raman and his troops bound the enemies in chains and yolks, keeping them alive as captives. They were all placed in the central meeting tent, given woolen blankets to cover themselves with and food to eat throughout the day. Some of the prisoners were intended to be sold off to their villages for a hefty sum. Some were intended to be kept for questioning about Kwaadi goals in the land. None were meant to go freely.
That, however, is exactly what had happened. One of the nights while most of the other men were preparing themselves for the Maghrib prayer, Shah bin Azad was put in charge of watching over the prisoners. However, he was distracted by the call of nature and left his post, rushing to relive himself. In his unintended negligence, he left his sword in the tent area and one of the prisoners was able to obtain it, cutting away at the chains of his companions and eventually freeing them all from their prison.
When Shah returned to the tent, he was surprised to see no one left inside. Immediately he ran outside, calling to his comrades that their prisoners had escaped. Abdur-Rahman assembled a small troop to search for and recapture them. He, Saabr, Shah, and ten other men all went out with their weapons and a few torches, searching the immediate area. When Shah spotted the silhouette of one of the prisoners atop a rocky area in the distance, he knew he'd found them. He called out to them to return immediately, foolishly alerting them that they'd been found but from a far distance. The figures all began to move hastily, climbing further into the mountain and scurrying to hide away.
"You idiot," Abdur-Rahman chided Shah, slapping him upside the head. "Now they're going to escape!"
"I'll shoot at them," Shah offered, pulling out an arrow and loading it onto a small wooden bow he'd had. "If I can get a nonlethal shot it'll slow them down and we can capture them or at least follow the trail of blood." Abdur-Rahman nodded in approval and Shah took his aim. He closed his right eye and pulled back the drawstring. As he watched the men move, he shook hesitantly, his aim faltering.
"Give me that, you fool," Abdur-Rahman said, snatching the bow from Shah. He quickly swung the arrow onto the drawstring and pulled it back. Taking a quick aim, he released it and the arrow soared straight across the way, stabbing right through the back of one man's hand. "Go after them, now!" The other men all charged towards the escaping prisoners. Meanwhile, Abdur-Rahman had taken the rest of Shah's arrows and continued firing away at the prisoners, wounding several of them to stop them from getting away.
A good number of the prisoners were recaptured and were now held to be questioned about where the others had gone, along with the original query about Kwaade's intentions. While a few had cooperated, some, like Puedam were stubborn to say the least. Right from the get go he swore he would never spill a word. He told them if they wanted the information then perhaps they should have God force him to. With every opportunity he got, he made a mockery of their belief in God, calling them blind and ignorant, uneducated and sheep-minded. He told them that he would sooner worship Kwaade than worship the god they were so intent on fighting for.
"Astaghfirallah," Abdur-Rahman said to himself when that memory came to his mind. "That foolish man. All of them, fools. They so readily dismiss all belief in Allah because of the words of one man. Kwaade tells them there's no creator and they accept that. He tells them religion is ignorance and blind following, and they accept that. In their efforts to proclaim independence and fight against submission to God, they've blindly submitted to Kwaade's own schemes. He keeps them happy giving them trivial things in this world, letting them think they're free when in reality they've never been more restrained. All of them, the same thoughts, the same livelihood, the same lives. Their system is a sham, a deceit. They belie Allah's fairness and justice, while ignorantly supporting this false equality that Kwaade grants them. How can they deny the One Who created them and be so blind? Pure ignorance."
He sighed, taking a sip of his steaming tea. "May Allah guide them or crush them. After this is over, I never wish to deal with any of them again…"