Chapter 32: Ardono Bay
7 Ramadan, 1663
The spacious brown ship drifted along the sea like the large white clouds floating in the sky above. It was high noon and the sun was as radiant as ever, shining bright like a lamp. It was a lazy day for Ali and the crew; as if there had ever been much for them to do anyhow. They'd lost their original ship in a second storm and had only retained the second ship which they’d taken from the bandits. Adam had just completed a daily supply check and was reporting the stock to Ali. Meanwhile, Rayhaan was out in the port, managing the controls.
"We have enough food to last us just about another three days," Adam informed Ali. "Assuming nothing gets moldy or spoils."
"Hm," Ali pondered aloud as he rubbed his chin. "How far are we from our destination?"
"Let me check." Adam turned to the large map that was hanging in the captain's quarters. He unpinned it and placed it flat on the table, his eyes scanning it carefully. When he found their previously marked location, he estimated the distance they'd travelled since then, and calculated their new location. From that, he was able to estimate the time and distance it would take to reach their destination. 'We've several weeks to go still."
"Are there any landmarks and inhabited locations we can detour to and restock?"
"I'll check what the map says." He eyed the old paper scrutinizingly. The land areas were all key coded with colors. Red signified lands under Kwaadi control; Green was for the Muslims; Yellow meant Christian lands; White was neutral; Black meant uninhabited and/or dangerous by way of nature; and gray meant unknown or unspecified. There didn't seem to be any large land locations nearby but there were a few islands.
"Do you see any Muslim locations to dock at and restock on supplies possibly?"
"The nearest Muslim lands are approximately six weeks north of here."
"That's nearly the length of our journey home; skip it. Are there are perhaps any white locations?"
"No. We’ve already passed any such regions as those."
"Hmm. Are there any yellow lands?"
"Christians? There's one about ten days from here."
"Hm. What's it look like?"
"Well they're actually a small chain of islands. Deep yellow though."
"No, we mustn't go there then. Deep yellow means they are certain to be hostile enemies."
"Oh wait, how could I have not noticed this? There is a gray, mountainous island about five days from here."
"Five days? Hm. We can survive that; we'll ration our food supplies a little more carefully to be safe. In Shaa Allah we'll find food and rest in these lands. Take and show this to Rayhaan, have him set course for these lands at once."
"Right." Adam rolled the map up at once and marched above the deck to relay the orders to Rayhaan. Meanwhile, Ali turned and stood from his seat. He walked over towards a shelf on which the prized objective rested. The delicate cactus roses meant to heal the ailing Amir back home. The sole purpose of their entire journey.
Due to their adaptive nature after the changes, the plants required very little water and easily adjusted to having no sunlight for weeks. The one thing they did need, however, was warm weather and low oxygen; requirements the environment of a ship at sea couldn't meet. Ali looked at the plants worriedly. On one of the roses, two petals were already withering away. There would only be three other plants left remaining, and if they too died the entire mission would fail. The roses needed the detour even more than the men. Ali could only hope that they would reach the land, and eventually their destination, in time...
8 Ramadan, 1663
Night had come and a new day had begun. In the dark holding quarters of the ship, Rayhaan ibn Khamisi entered the room with a single wooden plate of dried bread and a handful of dates. "Wake up you lousy rats," he barked at the men inside. In the shadows, a man whose long, disheveled hair masked his face, sat up with a grin. "It's time for you scum to have your meal."
"Ah, food at last," the captive captain muttered.
"Don't get too excited; you won't be having your fill this time!"
"Oh? And why's that?" The captain leaned against a wall of the ship, one knee raised with his arm resting on it and one leg stretched out. His eyes flickered in the passing light from outside the door, just barely enough for a glint of mischief to be seen in them. Rayhaan narrowed his eyes at him and tossed the plate to the ground before crossing his arms. The other captives scrambled to the floor to pick up whatever bread and dates they could see.
"You won't be having your fill because our food supply has run short now, thanks to having to waste it on feeding you lot."
"Hm, is that so?"
"Of course it is, you ungrateful scum. Our captain’s been seeing to it that we feed you as we feed ourselves, and because of that we've run low on supplies much earlier than anticipated. Hmph. Were it up to me, you would not be fed in equal, nor would you be fed as often. Let you not forget, you men attacked us and were taken captive as consequence. By way of that, you criminals are like prisoners of war. You shouldn't be bunked up securely and given food and stay without anything being demanded or taken from you but your freedom. You ought to be made to serve us and work for your food; not the other way around."
"Slaves," the captain said with a smirk.
"Slaves. You would rather we be as slaves."
"Then why haven't you made us so?"
"You know exactly why so! Ali refuses to, on the grounds that in Islam everyone is to be treated with some degree of dignity and such, even a lowly captive and prisoner of war."
"Still, if it were it up to me I would see you lot disgraced and treated the way you truly deserve; not gorging yourselves on OUR food and relaxing all day down in the shady rooms while we work away above deck."
"Then sell us, why don't you?"
"Hmph, as if. How would we even do so?"
"There is an island run by a tribal chief nearby here. In fact, its distance is four days shorter than your current destination. They are a trading port for some people and their main import is slaves, their export being the rare tropical fruits which grow there."
"How would you know this and more importantly why would you tell me?"
"Hmph. As an ex-Muslim I would much rather endure the suffering of a slave to some tribal chiefs than live in humiliation and disgrace under my Muslim captors."
"That's foolish, but I'll accept that. So tell me, just how does one even get to this trading island?"
"Hm, bring me your map and I will show the location. You have acted as a navigator under your captain’s guidance, no? You should know how to change the course later in the night while the captain is asleep and he will be none the wiser."
"How do I know I can trust you?"
"Ah, you don't. But would you rather run the risk of your food running out from having to continue feeding us, or would you rather get rid of us? Whether you trust me or not, at any point once we reach land you could dispose of us and continue your journey, rationing your remaining food among yourselves until you reach your destination. So what have you to lose?"
"Fair enough. But be warned, bandit, should anything go awry, if I get even the tiniest reason to suspect you, I will not hesitate to end you; with or without Ali's command." The captive captain gave a nod of understanding but under his thick, black mustache his lips twisted into a wry smirk. Rayhaan left the room and returned shortly with the map from the Captain's lounge. After being directed towards a tiny pink island, Rayhaan rolled the scroll up and stowed it away. Later that night he would set his plan into action and change the course of the ship towards an unknown land...
As day had become night, night soon became day and the Muslim sailors rose up to eat suhur and pray. Ali led the men in Fajr prayer before dismissing them to their daily tasks. As for himself, he would finish up doing some dhikr of Allah and then read some Quran by himself. When he finished that, Ali went to the plants stored in his quarters.
The withering petals had fallen off, leaving the rose with only two more remaining. He sighed. They were running out of time. Those cacti needed to be in high altitudes soon or they would be expiring before the end of their journey. He hoped that they could survive the short journey to the mountainous island, but only time would tell.
Time. Time was something they didn't have much of. Ali's thoughts went to the ailing Amir back home in Madinah. He didn't know much about the old man, even though he'd been born early under his rule. Amir Muhammad ibn Abdul-Muhaymin was the first leader of a united Muslim empire for centuries. Under extreme circumstances, he had united the fallen Muslim nations and managed to build a united force to repel what would have been a fatal blow to the religion's adherents. After that incident, the Muslims from all over gave their support to his leadership and thus the Muslim empire was united and the inner conflicts ended.
Now, with him sick and potentially dying, tensions were already rising. Across the Muslim world there debates on what should happen after his passing. There were some who thought that after him there should no longer be one ruler over the people. There were some who felt that returning to the age of sects and differing groups was preferable than all submitting to one way because of the disagreements some sects would have to the leader in charge. And, always the inevitable occurrence, there were some who lusted after wealth, power, and control for themselves.
The only way to stave off conflict and keep the Ummah united was by saving the Amir. The only way to save the Amir was by bringing back the rose petals from those special cactus roses so that a medicinal tea could be brewed for him. The petals were dying off slowly and surely. Everything depended on the next few days; the journey of theirs to resupply, save the plants, and move on, had to work out perfectly. It all needed to pass without a single issue.
And that's why it was a surprise when the very next morning Ali heard Adam's cries of seeing land in the horizon. "Are you sure it's not a mirage?" he asked.
"Certain," Adam replied at once. "Even Rayhaan confirmed it."
"How is this possible?"
"Perhaps I overestimated the journey? Plus, I did not account for the strong winds of the previous night. Perhaps they greatly increased our speed without us noticing?"
"What are your orders?"
"Oh, right. You and your brother need to go and prepare the captives. We can't leave them aboard the ship unguarded so we'll be taking them off, in chains, to the land with us. I will go and take control of the wheel. We shall dock on the bay where we can make a hasty retreat if necessary."
"Right." With that, Adam left the room and Ali took a glance at the plants. Three leaves remained. He hoped and prayed this went well. He moved the plant to a lower location, just for safety. After that, he left the room and went above deck.
When Ali reached the deck levels, he headed towards the wheel while peering off into the distance. They were approaching the islands in a speedy timing. The waves were pulling them fast. He took in the surroundings skeptically, analyzing every detail from the tall palm trees and thick vegetation, to the golden sand bordering the water. There were rocky mountains standing tall and proud above all of the forestry. He wondered if the flower could survive up there.
"Hey, there's people," Adam said, coming above deck from chaining the prisoners.
"What?" Ali asked as he grabbed the wheel. "Where?"
"Look, over there!" Adam pointed off towards a small group of men dressed in grass clothing gathering along the shore. They were shouting some strange noises and making incomprehensible hand signs. As Ali and Adam squinted their eyes at them to look closer, a large wooden mechanism peaked from the shrubs and darkness. Eight men dragged out four wooden pillars that seemed to have a lever, a spearhead, and a lengthy rope attached to each one. Behind those men marched a group of four men, each carrying more rope and more long spears.
Ali immediately felt uneasy. He gripped the wheel tightly as he considered turning back. Rayhaan emerged from below the deck and noticed his captain’s uncertainty. Feeling that his plan to get rid of the bandits would be ruined, he decided to act.
“Ali what are you doing, man?” he questioned rather lackadaisically. “You’re going to miss the Island if you turn too much.”
“That’s the idea,” Ali replied, slowly beginning to turn the wheel. “Those people look like hostiles; we’re turning back.”
Rayhaan was slow to react, assuming that his captain was overreacting and exaggerating their appearance. "They're just taking safety measures," he reasoned. "If we go in with ease and showing no hostility, they will realize that we are merely here for trade and deal peacefully with us."
Thus did Rayhaan fool himself. And it was because of that foolishness that he was surprised when one after another, the men began launching harpoons straight for their ship. The first spear flew right past his face and he barely dodged out of the way before it was yanked backwards, its hooked ending stabbing into the wall of the ship.
"Just safety measures, huh?!” Ali retorted as he began spinning the wheel furiously. “We have to get out of here! Someone get that harpoon off of our deck!”
"Alright, alright,” Rayhaan griped. He muttered a few words of shock and complaint to himself but nonetheless he complied with the orders. That is, until he suddenly heard a muffled shout coming from behind him. He spun around to see one of the prisoners holding his chained hands over Adam's mouth.
"What's this?!" Ali asked in surprise. He quickly took up arms, unsheathing his curved blade as he stood beside the wheel. "Release him or I will dump your bloody body into the seas as food for the sharks!"
"Unlikely," came a raspy voice with an unmistakable chuckle. Ali looked towards the bandit leader, chained in shackles but smiling nonetheless. He walked over to Adam and pulled out one of the knives at his side, then smirked at Ali. "You haven't the time to worry about us; your ship is under attack."
True enough, the ship was under attack. Even as they spoke, more harpoons had been launched into the ship, with some missing and some landing spot on. Those that penetrated the wooden walls and hooked in deeply were then pulled by a team of men on the island. The ship rocked from the jarring forces of the men tugging away and the waves that pushed the ship. After nearly losing his footing, Ali grudgingly turned to grab the wheel and try to keep control of his ship.
He struggled to keep the ship steady and even more so he worried about one of his men being held hostage by the dreadful bandit captain. As Ali pondered his desperate situation, suddenly one of the bandits let out a pained yelp. "Cut the ropes," Adam yelled, having bit the captive to free himself momentarily. He was quickly pummeled with punches and his mouth was covered again but Ali had already heard his suggestion.
After calling on Rayhaan to take the wheel, Ali held the sword in his hand tightly and dashed forward to slice down on the harpoons' ropes. Before he could bring the sword down, however, Ali was knocked aside by the shoulder of the bandit captain throwing himself into him. The two fell to the ground and they both dropped their weapons. Ali immediately moved to kick the bandit in the face before reaching for his blade once more but the ship caught a wave and rocked over forcefully, sliding the blade far out of reach.
Ali got to his knees, barely able to rise up with the swaying of the ship. Aside from the two bandits who were restraining Adam, the others all jumped to take down Ali. He managed to hold the upper-hand, considering their arms and legs were still in chains, but even so they were overwhelming him without a weapon to fend them off. He drop-kicked one in the stomach before rolling over and jumping to punch another one in the face. Just as he was about to slam his elbow into another bandit, the ship rocked violently and both men fell to their sides.
Ali caught onto the ship's edge and began pulling himself up before another harpoon spear flew past him. The hook jammed into the planks of the deck and the rope straightened. Ali jumped at the spear and grabbed the stony head. He pulled with all his might to push it forward and unhook it. When he managed that, he quickly released it and the spear was yanked far back across the waters.
Unfortunately, that was not the end of it all. The force of the current was too much for Rayhaan to fight against; the helm was turning back against him and it nearly threw him off the moment he’d taken hold of it. As Rayhaan stood by, helplessly watching the rudder spin wildly out of control, Ali was busied with fighting the chained up bandits. When one bandit was thrown across the ship by another violent rocking, Rayhaan suddenly took in all that was going on.
He clenched his fists as he looked around, seeing his captain being overtaken and his brother held captive. Knowing he could do no more to save the ship, he decided to turn his efforts elsewhere. Among the bandits he spotted the leader, his black eyes holding a wily glare and his lips twisted in a wry smile.
"You!" Rayhaan shouted, pointing at the man. He reached down for Ali’s blade and began charging towards the man. Another harpoon flew into the ship and attached firmly into the deck. Rayhaan ran past and swiped at the rope, cutting straight through it, only for another harpoon to fly behind that one and hook on. Rayhaan raised his blade to cut again but he too was attacked by the bandits.
Caught off guard, Rayhaan was unable to defend against the attack soon enough and his blade wielding arm was grasped mid swing. He kicked the bandit in the ribs and moved to slice the rope but was tackled from the side by another. "Let go of me, you filthy rat," he shouted, pounding his elbow into the man's head. Another harpoon flew right over them and jammed into the ship. Before he could even react, the ship rocked violent, nearly tipping over as it came onto the shore.
There was only a second of silence before an ear piercing shriek echoed from down below. Moments later, the entire ship was swarmed by innumerable men in grass clothing and body paint. They easily overwhelmed the ship's passengers and within minutes had them all tied up and captured.
One by one, the men -sailors and bandits alike- were thrown onto the sandy island shore in bundled ropes. They all lay flat on their stomachs, their faces in the dirt. They looked up to see a large group of the strange men surrounding them. Rayhaan, Adam, and a few of the bandits moved about, struggling to free themselves in vain while shouting obscenities and threats.
Ali looked around, assessing the situation, spotting an opening amongst the ranks of men. Down the parted center, a tall man, dressed in stitched cloth of animal furs and grass leaves, emerged. His jet black hair was slick and gleaming in the light. His painted markings were darker, bolder, and more decorated on his arms and face than the others. His face was stern and unpleasant, as if it was his greatest displeasure to see another human being. With every step he took, one could feel a heavy thump, even on the soft beach sand.
He stood before the captives, sailors and bandits, and folded his arms across his broad chest. He looked down on them in contempt. Speaking a strange dialect, he ordered his men something and a small party of them dispersed back onto the ship. Ali gritted his teeth and the moment he turned his head back to look at them a firm palm slapped down on his head and turned his face back towards the apparent leader of the islanders.
He winced in pain for a second before focusing his attention on the man kneeling before him. "Don't worry about what they're doing," the man spoke to him clearly.
Ignoring the initial shock of the man speaking in a language that he understood, Ali immediately sought answers from him. "Who are you people?" he spat at once. "What do you want from us?" Immediately a fist came thrashing into his face, splitting his lip and drawing blood. Ali turned his head and spat up before turning back with anger.
"Do not speak to me until given leave. You will get your answers soon enough." With that, the man stood and gave a few more orders to his men in their strange language. He then turned on his heels and marched off, with the men parting to clear space for him. When the leader had passed through, the men took up the captives and began dragging them after him. Ali was dragged on his knees beside the bandit leader who looked to him with a smirk.
"How's it feel to be a captive captain yourself," he whispered with a wicked voice. He chuckled evilly to himself as Ali gritted his teeth in anger. "Welcome to Ardono Bay, Captain."