Chapter 27: Unfrozen Hearts
26 Sha’baan, 1663
The mountain winds blew in a furious rage. In the sea of white, the sky blended with the earth; up was down and left was right. Every which way there was nothing but white. The deathly cold had driven all living creatures into hiding, or buried them in the snow. In a stony cave in the side of the mountain, there rested one such creature. With a heart as frozen and sealed as the cave itself, the man sat, patience being his only option in this time.
There was a small fire burning, which threatened to flicker out at every forceful blow from the blizzard which sent wind bursting through the narrow entrance. The man desperately tried keeping the fire alive; it was his only hope for survival. The crackling flame set his mind at ease, with the dancing light mesmerizing him and bringing memories of home.
Brought up in the northern tribes of the Kwaadi nation, he was of the favored bloodlines. His family was close to the supreme leader and thusly lived in luxury. From a young age he was taught the supremacy of the Kwaadi; their intelligence, their dominance over the lowly folks deluded by religion, their position as the utmost greatest in the world. He and all others like him were taught to believe that theirs was the superior way and that all others were deluded, evil creatures following myths and foolishness that would ultimately be their undoing.
The religious beliefs of the nations were a plague to a peaceful world, he’d been told, and so to liberate them of these beliefs was the ultimate good and best service to the world. The world had been filled with bloodshed and chaos for centuries and centuries before; it needed to be burned and began anew, free of the religions and beliefs that caused divisions and led to war after war. “That’s why our flag is a fiery phoenix,” his mother had explained to him. “To burn the world and let a peaceful new life be born of its ashes.”
Kwaade promised peace after the wars. Unity after the divisions. Survival after the disasters. He was charming and fair to his followers; his logic and reasoning always sat well within their hearts. It was for this reason that the followers so fervently obeyed him, fighting in various battles, and carrying out his every whim. It was for this reason that one follower now found himself trapped within a cave, awaiting an icy death.
But then, what was the reason for his companion, unconscious and barely breathing, leaning against the cave’s icy walls? A young man of an enemy nation whose name he hardly knew. He turned and looked to the comatose youth. The color had drained from his face, leaving him pale and lifeless. It was a miracle that he’d survived being buried in the snow for weeks. His vitals were low, but somehow he was surviving.
It had been only a few days since the body was retrieved. Before that, he was a victim of the avalanche plot of his enemies. It was only by chance that out on a hunt for food and a way back, that the man discovered him and brought him to the cave. One day later and the brutal blizzard that blew in would have ensured his burial in the snow would have been his grave.
With the warmth of the fire withering away in the freezing winds, the man began to curse beneath his breath. He was shivering as it were; if his fire blew out he’d have surely been in deep trouble. “Be strong burning flame,” he begged of the fire. “Be strong like the proud Kwaadi Empire; nothing can extinguish our flame.” As if inspired by the man’s encouragement, the flame grew strong and fierce, battling against the whistling winds that blew into the cave. The man snorted with pride and stretched his hands out to the yellow flames. And then, just as it had grown in a sudden burst, the flame was suddenly dispelled. The wind had overtaken it and left the man to a cold and dark defeat. “Curses!” he shouted in frustration, pounding the ashes and burnt wood that remained.
He huffed and puffed angrily, ready to cry out at the extinguished fire for its defiance when suddenly he heard his companion stirring from his slumber. He looked on in slight disbelief, having been all but certain that the young man wouldn’t actually survive. However, sure enough, he’d just been awakened and he sat up in confusion and bewilderment.
“So that wakes you up?” the man asked with a snarky tone. “Shame, it would have been better had you passed in your sleep than to witness your demise again.”
“Where am I?” the young man asked, still taking in his surroundings as his groggy mind tried to piece everything together.
“Alive,” came the hostile reply. The man was still frustrated about his fire and even that aside, the youth was still technically an enemy to him, if he only knew. When the young man turned and looked towards him he nearly jumped from the shock. The man was at least a decade or so older than him, with a mean glare that made him seem even more aged. With a shaved head, covered in scars and, and dark, beady eyes deep in their sockets, he stared him down with the utmost hatred. He scratched at his dirty-blonde mustache, the only facial hair he had, and snorted.
“How did I get here? I remember the snow, the…the boulders…the avalanche!”
“Ah, so you remember that? Then you know you ought to be dead!”
“I… Alhamdulillah I’m not, by the Will of Allah… but how?”
“Unbelievable. You may have been unconscious but I was there and I certainly did not see your God reach down and pull you from the snow! I found you buried in the snow and dug you free before you froze over or the animals took their fill of you. I saved your life, and yet you thank your God and not me?! Do you not see what is wrong with this?”
“You’re right,” the young man sighed. “Whoever does not thank the people for their favors, has not thanked Allah properly. You have my deepest gratitude and my sincerest apologies for any offense.”
“Hmph,” the man snorted. “Yeah, okay.”
“Who are you anyhow?”
“You don’t remember me? I tried to kill you. Three times I believe.”
“Are you an enemy from the Kwaadi?”
“Excellent observation,” the older man sarcastically applauded him. “How on earth are you a commander over anyone?”
“I’m a commander?! Who am I?!”
“Are you- are you serious? You remember the avalanche, you remember your God, but you don’t even remember who you are?”
“Well, knowing Allah is part of who I am, but I don’t know the rest. What do you know of me?”
“Nothing that I care to know; you’re an enemy.”
“Why did you save me then?”
“That, that’s something I don’t quite know myself. I could have left you to die. I should have left you to die, as you did to me.”
“What? Do I know you?”
“Not personally. No, we are enemies. Several weeks ago our armies clashed out there in the mountains.”
“What does it matter? Neither of us has won anything now. I’m fairly certain both armies were probably buried in the avalanche.”
“What do you know of my army? Perhaps that will remind me of who I am.”
“I don’t know; we fought you, that’s all that mattered. You were led by some crazy old man until we ended him.”
At that statement the younger man felt a pang in his chest. He couldn’t quite figure why, but he was sure it had something to do with the old man mentioned. “Who was that old man?” he asked.
“My tactic is take no names, take no prisoners; I only fought to kill you all. I didn’t care for his name or yours. I just know that he must’ve passed away and you came to be the leader.”
“Oh. And then what came of us? How did we end up here? I know I was buried in the avalanche and brought here by you, but how did you get here in the first place?”
“It’s because of you.”
“Yes. During one of our battles your army got the upper hand by chance and took a large number of us as captives. Your soldiers tried to interrogate me for information on a few escaped men and I would not speak. After such a while of my resistance, you decided to rid yourself of me. You threw me out into the snow, with no guidance, no shelter, no companions, no protection at all. I wandered about the mountains aimlessly searching for some way to civilization, but in these accursed blizzards I continuously lost my way. I sought shelter wherever I could; under boulders, in a self-made snow hut, and finally in this cave. I survived by scavenging on the frozen carcasses of whatever beasts I could find out there. That’s how I found you.”
“You thought I was meat?!”
“No, but I found your body when I was digging through the snow after finding blood in the snow. Over time I suppose the snow had moved further down the mountain and uncovered you. When I pulled your body free of the snow I was astonished to find that you were still alive. I dragged you back to the cave where I’d been kindling a fire on and off until yet another cursed blizzard blew in.”
“Oh. Wait, we were enemies, correct? Why did you bring me here? Why not finish me off or at least leave me to die where I was?”
“As I stated previously, I don’t know what prompted me to spare you. I just did.”
“Hm. All from one mercy.”
“There is a hadith, er, saying of our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in which he relates that God divided His Mercy into one hundred parts, of which He sent one down between all of the creatures of the world whereby they are compassionate and merciful to one another, and even the wild animals are kind to their offspring. Despite our apparent conflict, that one part of mercy inspired you, without you even knowing it, and because of that you saved me. This is what I believe.”
“Hmph,” the man snorted. “That sounds rather absurd to me. Nonetheless, I am still in doubt if any of this is even real or perhaps I am hallucinating after all this time. Perhaps I’ve gone insane in the maddening white snow, which explains your inconceivable survival.”
“If you choose to believe that, go ahead. I still think it was the Mercy. I would never doubt God’s Mercy for He is- WAIT A SECOND! I think I remember my name now! I told you through knowing God I would come to know myself! My name is Abdur-Rahim… No, Abdur-Rahman! Slave of the Most Merciful!”
“Ha,” the older man scoffed. “If He’s so Merciful, let’s see Him free us from this disaster! It’s been three days that we’ve been snowed in. We’re going to die in here. Where’s the Mercy in that?”
“Perhaps nothing. I do not believe, nor will I believe in any Merciful Deity until I see some sign showing me He exists and is so Merciful.” No sooner had the bold statement come from his mouth than did the man find himself silenced by the whispers of the wind. The storm was dying down slowly and the snowing came to a stop. Shuffling in his spot, the man got to his feet and peered out of the cave, digging through the thick snow that blocked the way. When he saw outside he realized that the blizzard had ended. He was speechless.
“What happened?” Abdur-Rahman asked him.
“I- I don’t believe it. No, this, this is impossible.”
“Well, you asked for a si-”
“No! This is a natural occurrence and the storm will pick back up in a matter of hours just as before. This must all be a trick of my mind, yet again. Perhaps I really am hallucinating.”
“Right. I suppose I’m hallucinating too then?”
“Mock as you like, I refuse to believe as you believe. Besides, had this truly been a ‘sign’ as you allege, why are we still lost and trapped? Even without the snowstorm we are still but two men lost in the mountains, far from civilization. If we don’t freeze to death we’ll surely die of hunger soon. Why has not the snow been melted and a path made clear for us? If your God did that, surely I would have believed.”
“If everything were so clear, what would be the purpose of the test? It doesn’t take faith to believe in what you see clear before you. And if the solutions were always put before you, what purpose would that fulfill? No, rather God has given signs and we are to believe in them with faith and we are to strive in doing our part. You wanted to get out of here? Then let’s do so. We’ll find our way and do our part, the rest, we leave up to God.”
The man snorted, having no further response. He could already tell his patience would be tested with this preachy youth at his side. Still, there was a reason he’d saved him and there was some benefit to having another human about. He would endure all of the preaching he was certain to receive if it meant he could be freed of the miserable situation at hand. Thus, he agreed to go and journey out into the mountain once more, searching for a way out.
Abdur-Rahman got to his feet before falling on his backside in an awkward slip up. Having been unconscious and off his feet for several weeks, he was a bit off balance still. Reluctantly, the older man helped him to his feet and the two dug through the snow that blocked their way. When finally outside the cave, the two could see the faint glow of the sun behind all of the clouds and mountains. From the colors behind the white, it was clear that the sun had either just began to rise or was near the end of setting. Abdur-Rahman was reminded of his prayers and much to the older man’s annoyance decided that the journey would wait until after he’d prayed.
With no direction and no system of guidance, the two made their way through the thick snow of the mountain. It was a journey on faith, though the older man would deny having any whatsoever. Abdur-Rahman believed, and he had faith that the older man would come to believe as well. He couldn’t remember much of the past, so he wasn’t sure to what extent their enmity really went, but he had faith that if the man could put that hatred aside and save him then his heart could also be opened up to guidance. There was a long journey ahead for the two, physical and spiritual. Undoubtedly they would face both with unfrozen hearts…