Chapter 36: The Chief's Challenge
11 Ramadan, 1663
Rayhaan sat in his cell, a cage built from the branches of palm trees. All of the captives had been imprisoned and isolated for days on the chief's orders. None knew the fate of the others, nor what destiny awaited themselves. Unfamiliar with the culture and ways of these island peoples, Rayhaan had no inkling of what to even consider expecting. He did, however, know that he had himself to blame.
Remorseful despair was his only emotion, eating away at him mentally. He considered how different things would have been had he only been patient in his previous situation. Had he resisted temptation and not allowed the bandit captain to deceive him, he and the others would have still been safely at sea, sailing back home. Instead, his poor decision led to the capture of his team and likely a disgraceful ending for himself.
He sighed, knowing that no amount of regret or self-pity could save him from whatever punishment was meant for him. And worse than any torture that the islanders could inflict, he realized that his actions may have been considered blameworthy in the sight of his Lord and earned him a bad standing before Him. He began to worry about what consequences would befall him in the Hereafter, unless he received Mercy from his Lord. But then, to his discredit, his faith wasn't always high enough to combat the devils whispers which kept him in despair about the Mercy and Forgiveness of Allah. Instead of begging for Forgiveness, Rayhaan spent his last moments within the cage praying for yet another chance to redeem himself and give his team a chance to complete their mission.
To his surprise, that chance had been granted. While in the middle of his prayers, the chief's men came in to drag him out. He put up a fight, but after days without food, fatigue and exhaustion left him with little to no strength to fend them off or make an escape. He was taken to an unknown location and thrown into a ring before the chief. Then, another pleasant surprise came as he was reunited with the other crew members.
They had no time for speaking or plotting, as the bandit crew was also brought forth and thrown into the ring. Ali and his companions looked in surprise as the bandit captain and four of his men rolled through the dust. The chief himself then came before all of the captives and to their astonishment, he addressed them outside of his native tongue. They understood him clearly as he informed them of his exact intentions with them.
Island customs, he explained to them, dictated that they be caged and starved for a few days to test their endurance and survival. Any captives who lived through that, would then be put through a series of trials known as the Chief's Challenge. Because these captives had arrived as two warring groups, they would be further tested as they would also be made to compete against one another. To ensure that a bloody sacrifice be made for the islander's savage pleasure, any survivors of the challenges would be made to duel to the death in a final bout. Whoever managed to defeat all of the others would then either be set free or be given a chance to battle the chief for the rule of the island.
The competitors were to be given one final meal before the challenge began. Under the eyes of the chief's men where they were forbidden from speaking. Given just ten minutes to eat, the captives were served a dish of traditional islander food. Though most of it was tropical fruits and vegetation, there was a small serving of some grilled meat on side.
Though it was day time and the three were meant to be fasting, the three Muslims knew that in cases of traveling, they were excused from fasting. Taking advantage of that exemption, they decided to eat and gain as much energy as they could. After receiving his plate, Ali immediately pushed the meat aside, even scraping away some of the fruits which had been in contact with it. Adam followed in his example, eating only from the fruits and vegetables. Without much thought, Rayhaan scarfed down a piece of the meat before noticing what the others had done. Only then did it occur to him that the meat wasn't halal, and he slowly spat it out after a glare from his younger brother.
The bandit captain grinned slyly as he bit into his piece of meat. He and his men tore into the meat hungrily, devouring everything on their plates to nourish their bodies efficiently before the competition. They silently mocked at the three Muslim men who refused to eat from all of their servings. The islanders observed with confusion, as no captives before refused any bit of food, no matter how displeasing or unfamiliar it seemed to them. Still, knowing that they could not expect the Help of their Lord after engaging in disobedience to Him, the three Muslims held to their stances.
After the mealtime ended, the captives were ushered out and informed of their first challenge. Standing on a hill full of trees and greenery, they were told that they would be running something of a relay race. There were four parts that they would have to complete, with the first being a foot race through the jungle areas and up to a lone standing butte. From there, the first runner would hand off an item to the second runner, who would then climb the butte to retrieve one of the rare fruits that grew atop it. From there, the runner would descend the butte and make his way to the edge of a murky oasis that was just below it. The third member would then swim to the bottom of the oasis to retrieve the final item, and at the end of the opposite side there would be a sack for all three items. He would then make his way towards the Black Pit. With the sack on his back, the fourth member would then cross a thin bridge -made only of knotted vines- over the Black Pit, a deep crevice from which no light nor bottom could be seen. After crossing the Black Pit, the final man would return to original starting point and the first to arrive would have his team declared the winner. The losing team would then lose a member to a bloody sacrifice.
"But wait," Ali spoke up after hearing the rules of the challenge. "We only have three men on our team whilst they are a team of five! How can we complete in this four part challenge?"
"This is your own misfortune," the chief replied. "Deal with it yourself; I shall not make any handicaps for you. You will have two minutes to figure something out and select which man will complete which parts. When your time is up, my men will lead all other team members to the designated locations to await the start of the race and the arrival of their teammates."
Without a second to spare, Ali turned to his teammates to make a quick decision, as did the bandit captain with his crew. "What will we do?" Adam asked in worry.
"We should first decide who is most fit to handle each challenge," Ali suggested.
"I think I would be best to handle the first part," Rayhaan proclaimed. "I'm the fastest in the village back home and likely here as well."
"I'm a decent swimmer," Ali stated.
"Hey, whoa wait," Adam cut in. "That leaves me with either climbing the butte or crossing the narrow bridge? I can climb but not in a race, and-"
"You're extremely uncoordinated," Rayhaan cut in. "Leaving you to cross the bridge would be a disaster." Adam glared at his brother but gave no argument; he was crude but truthful. Adam's skills on his feet weren't anything worth boasting about.
"Fine," Ali said with a sigh. "Then I will do the climbing and Adam you will handle the oasis."
"That still leaves the bridge," Adam replied. "What'll we do about that?"
"Someone's going to have to handle two parts." There was a brief moment of silence until Rayhaan spoke up.
"I volunteer," he said. "I'll handle the bridge."
"How can you manage the running and the bridge when they are so far apart?" Ali questioned.
"We'll trade positions. Adam, you run the race, Ali can climb the butte, and I'll handle the swimming and the bridge."
"What?" Adam asked. "You know well enough I am no speedster; do you want to lose this from the beginning?"
"Look, I will run the first part and the butte, then Adam can do the swimming, and Rayhaan, you can do the bridge," Ali volunteered.
"You shall do no such thing," the chief cut in. "It is forbidden for any member to run multiple segments in this race. You shall each only run one part of the race, end of."
"What?!" all three of the Muslim team members asked at once.
"This is madness," Rayhaan shouted. "So are we then to leave off one of the items?!"
"This is also not allowed," the chief replied calmly.
"Then how are we meant to retrieve all of the items?" Ali queried.
"Figure it out," the chief stated before informing them that the time for deliberation was over. They were divided, with the chief's men taking the others to the designated hand-off locations. In a moment of confusion in the last second, Ali was chosen for the initial foot race, Adam was chosen for the butte climb, and Rayhaan was chosen for the oasis dive. The bandit captain and his men were easily distributed to their locations in what seemed to be a victory by default.
After the passing of thirty minutes, when every man was in the proper location and the chief’s men returned to the starting line, the race began. Ali and his competitor bolted from the start line, heading into the thick forestry of the island jungle. They were neck-and-neck, side by side as they darted through the path full of greenery. The hills were uneven, lined with trees and boulders, dirt and even a few animal carcasses.
The winds roared in their ears as their legs ripped through the runway. The blood was coursing through their veins; their every thought was on getting to the butte first and handing off their item, a short spearhead, to their teammate before the other. Keeping his legs running and his arms swinging, Ali took a quick glance at his competitor. While Ali was tall with a little extra weight on him, the bandit was short and scrawny. To Ali's advantage though, the bandit was also more than a few years older than him, and his age was evidently slowing him down.
The foot race wasn't too long, and Ali could see the butte coming in closer and closer. He looked to his competitor once more and saw the man leaning forward, putting his all into gaining the lead. Ducking under a few stray branches and leaping over some large roots and boulders, Ali exerted all of his energy to keep even with the man. He could see Adam and another of the bandits waiting at the bottom of the butte in the distance.
The distance proved to be longer than he had thought, and his eyes had played a trick on him. Exhaustion began to set in as he continued running through, falling behind his competitor on the left. That was when Adam began to yell and shout to him, urging him to keep going. He knew the others were depending on him, and that they needed to win all of the challenges to survive. The chief had a plan to have them all killed in the end, but Ali had a plan of his own regarding that. All of that would be pointless, however, if he failed to win the race and complete the challenges.
Mustering up every ounce of strength, every bit of energy within his body, Ali gave everything he had into making his legs carry him through. Breathing hard and heavy, he paced himself with determination until he surpassed the speeding bandit and made his way through the jungle path straight up to Adam who was waiting at the butte. He slapped the spearhead into Adam's hand and Adam immediately turned to start climbing the butte.
He'd barely figured to put the spearhead between his teeth before the bandit came zipping past. The man was climbing like a pro, whereas Adam was struggling to find a footing. Also, to his disadvantage, Adam wasn't the strongest member on his team but he was the heaviest. The bandit had already gotten twice the distance that Adam had and there was still so much more to go.
Finally reaching the halfway point, Adam began to feel a burning in his biceps. He wasn't moving at a fast enough pace to distract himself from the aching and burning. With his arms reaching up and his legs stretched across two stones, Adam took a gaze upward at his competitor and a gaze down below. It was a long away down to the hill at the bottom, and even the trees of the jungle seemed short in comparison to the heights he had reached. Still, there was more climbing to go, so much more climbing.
Though his strength was sapped and his body taxed, Adam was determined to keep going. He kept himself strong with the remembrance of Allah, knowing that in His Hand was the fate of all that existed. He knew that relying upon Allah would give him strength to do things he never could have imagined. Taking a lesson from the Sunnah, he decided upon reciting takbir (Allahu Akbar) during his ascension, and tasbeeh (Subhaan Allah) when descending.
With his mind focused elsewhere, the climbing became easier. He wasn't able to surpass his opponent, but what was once a huge gap between them became shortened. Catching notice of this, the bandit resorted to dishonorable tactics. Looking down at Adam, he intentionally swept out a few loose stones and pebbles to make them drop down on the Muslim below.
Fortunately, the rocks were nowhere near large enough to cause significant injury or damage, but they were an issue nonetheless. The dust swept up was caught in Adam's eyes, and some of the stones bounced off his head and hands. He held on tightly to the butte, pressing his body against the wall and making sure that his feet were firmly planted in place.
Holding on with his left arm, Adam used his right hand to rub the dust from his eyes. His eyes burned and he could barely see at first, but when his vision had cleared, he looked up to see the grinning bandit racing up near the top. The man turned and laughed, then reached for a small shrub that was growing on the cliff-side. He carefully plucked a few branches and leaves from it and threw them down below him. Adam closed his eyes and turned away as the branches and a few clumps of dirt held in the roots struck his face.
"HEY," he shouted up, holding the spearhead in his hand. "HAVE SOME DIGNITY AND COMPETE FAIRLY!" There was no reply, other than more dust and stones being swept out. When the rubble stopped falling, Adam opened his eyes to the view down below. His heart skipped a beat and he had a lump in his throat that almost made him fear going up any further. Then he realized that not only was his life on the line, but that his brother and captain were depending on him as well.
With renewed determination, he continued his athkaar and pulled himself up one of the ledges. He struggled, but in the end, he managed to make it up the cliff-side. Standing atop the flat surface, he looked around. Despite the tall and steep sides, the top of the butte was round and flat, with a few shrubs and grass-like plants growing. There was a single tree standing in the center, though it was young and immature. The chief had informed them that there would likely be less than five fruits growing at the time, but Adam could see none.
The bandit was already descending the other side of the butte whereas Adam still had to retrieve a fruit. He had no clue what the fruit was even supposed to look like, but he checked the tree repeatedly for anything besides the small, oddly shaped leaves that were sparsely hanging from the few branches.
The thought occurred to him that the tricky bandit might have tossed the other fruits to the ground below in another underhanded attempt at slowing him down. He didn’t have much time to consider if it was true or not as he walked over to the edge and noticed the bandit was a nearly a quarter of the way down. Tucking the spearhead securely into his boot, Adam drew a deep breath and turned to descend the rocky cliff.
He pressed his body against the surface and reached his leg down for the next platform to move down. He didn't have time to let his fears get the better of him; he needed to get past the bandit so that he would have time to search the ground below for any discarded fruits. Fortunately for him, the bandit was having a hard time carrying the fruit and the spearhead while descending the steep butte.
Though he nearly slipped numerous times, Adam managed to surpass the bandit and gain the lead. Looking down to check his distance, he realized that he still had quite a bit to go. He knew he had to pace himself; he needed to keep moving fast enough to widen the gap between himself and the bandit, whilst still maintaining a cautious approach.
With every passing second the tension grew. The bandit had managed to navigate a more supportive path down the pillar and was descending faster than before. Remembering his method of distraction by way of athkaar, Adam paced his actions to his words, working in a steady rhythm as he dropped down from one jutting rock to another. Soon enough, he could hear Rayhaan shouting out to him to watch his step and move faster.
He glanced down below and saw the distance was nearly equal to one of the tall trees nearby. Were he certain of the landing, he could have dropped down and rolled safely over to skip out on another minute or two of climbing. That would certainly have given him more time to search for a fruit to collect. Still, he wasn't quite sure about the landing below and didn't want to risk taking an injury that might have become a hindrance in later challenges.
He took a look up to his opponent and saw how much closer he'd gotten. The bandit also took notice of what little distance remained between them, and once again he set out to sabotage Adam. Dropping down stones and pebbles and dust, the bandit moved to blind and distract Adam while he quickly snuck past.
Fearing a slip up, Adam decided that he would rather control his own fall than have an accidental one. He took a deep breath, said Bismillah, and looked out below. He then kicked off of the wall, turning away from it and aiming for what he hoped was soft sand below. Landing on the ground, he felt a sharp pain shooting up his ankles and the bottom of his feet even as he tried to roll over to avoid that.
Rayhaan immediately rushed over to his brother to check on him. "Are you alright?!" he asked, sitting Adam up. Adam grunted in pain but gave a reassuring nod of his head. Rayhaan sighed in relief. "Good. Where’s the item and the fruit?"
"I only have one," Adam replied hesitantly.
"What?! What do you mean you only have one?! Did you drop the item or something?"
"No the- the bandit! The sneaky cheat! He stole the other fruits and threw them down to ensure that I would not be able to retrieve one. We need to search the area for them, NOW!"
"What? We haven't got time for that!" Rayhaan looked up to see the bandit who had raced Adam making his way to the bottom. Dropping down below, the man rushed over to his teammate to hand off the fruit and his spearhead. He grinned as Adam glared over at him from the ground. The items were passed along and the third member of the bandit team made way for the oasis.
"What are we going to do?" Adam asked, turning back to his brother. "They are further ahead AND have more items than us! We'll never be able to catch up to them!"
"NO! We're not beaten yet!"
"What can we do, Rayhaan? You said it yourself, we haven't got time to search for the fruits, and as the chief said, we can't return without them."
"Maybe we don't have to."
"If those snakes are free to cheat, then so are we, no?"
"Give me the item so I can go. Hurry, I need to catch him before he finds the next item and crosses the oasis." Though unsure of Rayhaan's plot, Adam did as told and handed over the spearhead. Rayhaan looked at it with a wily smirk and clutched it in his right hand. "Stay here; I've got a race to win."
Rayhaan took off, running towards the oasis and skipping over finding any fruit. In fact, he skipped over swimming through the oasis as well. In a move that surprised everyone around him, Rayhaan ran along the edge of the oasis and raced to the end. He arrived just in time, as the third bandit was just emerging from the shallow pool and bringing the third item, a leafy vine from the bottom, with him.
Gripping the spearhead in his right hand, Rayhaan leapt up and kicked the fourth member of the bandit team aside. Landing in his place, he turned around and slashed the face of the third member with the spearhead. Immediately, the man dropped all of the items and reached for his face. Rayhaan kicked him straight back into the water and scooped up the vine, the little red fruit, and the second spearhead.
"Hmph," he said to himself, looking back across the oasis at Adam and the surprised bandit. "If they play dirty, so will I." He held no remorse about slashing the man's face or kicking him into the water, as he'd seen the other man attempt to make Adam fall before. He considered the two even for that.
Before the fourth man could regain his composure or make a move for him, Rayhaan ran towards the Black Pit. It was at the cliff's end and as the name suggested, it was a deep pit devoid of light. The island was large in size, with many features unnoticeable from a distance. One such feature was the immensely deep and terrifying crevice between two cliffs on the island. Strung across the cliffs was a bridge built of mere vines intertwined and pinned down in the way of a tightrope.
"Now I know why this is a 'challenge,'" Rayhaan said to himself, looking over the edge. "I thought it would be an actual bridge, not a measly vine!"
After securing the items in one of the sacks provided and placing the sling over his shoulder, Rayhaan cautiously approached the vine. He knew better than to rush this part of the challenge, as there was no recovering from a fall at that point. It would take caution, patience, balance, and most of all focus to get across. That, however, was under threat as the bandit he was to be competing against came rushing after him.
"You've stolen our items," the man shouted at him. "If any of us are to die, so too are you!" He charged for Rayhaan, ready to attack him and send him to his death. Rayhaan, however, was determined not to lose his life or let his team down. When the man lunged for him, Rayhaan sidestepped his attack and took hold of his clothing. He spun the man around and swung him to the ground before pouncing on him to pummel his face repeatedly.
After more than a few punches to the eyes and jaw, the bandit managed to gain some control and turn things around. He knocked Rayhaan off of himself and kicked him in the face. With Rayhaan lying on his side, the bandit moved to snatch the sack from him. The moment he laid hands on it though, he was quickly winded by a boot in the stomach. The sack was torn by the force of the man pulling back as he nearly fell over. Ignoring the sack which fell from his body, Rayhaan rolled back onto his hands and kicked his body upwards. The moment he was back on his feet, he leapt forward and swung a punch straight for the bandit's face.
Stumbling backwards after a blinding jab under the eye, the bandit grunted in pain before turning back to swing a fist of his own. Rayhaan took the punch head on, but managed to deal a blow to the bandit far worse thereafter. He'd noticed that the other bandit was making his way over, with Adam trailing behind. He knew that he needed to end the fight quickly to get on ahead before things got out of hand, so after a pulverizing uppercut to the stomach, he slammed his knee into the man's groin and took hold of his shirt.
With almost no resistance, Rayhaan swung the man around and threw him towards the edge of the cliff. The bandit barely managed to stop himself from falling to his doom as he rolled onto his side. Rayhaan walked over calmly to pick up the sack and re-tie it around his body. Then, he looked behind him where Adam and the other bandit were racing towards him. Before he could turn to go across the vine, the bandit caught hold of his left leg.
"You can either let me go, or I can kick your teeth down your throat," Rayhaan threatened the man.
"Do what you will, you're not leaving this alive," the man taunted back. "I'm not letting go until my crewmate arrives to finish you off. And if you kick me down, I'll only pull you with me. There's no escaping for you."
Rayhaan glared down at the bandit before glancing back at the two approaching men. He didn't want to risk any mishaps in his plans, so he had to hurry and get across before anything else went wrong. Thinking quickly, he pulled out one of the two spearheads and gripped it tightly. The bandit looked at him in disbelief, certain that he wouldn't do anything with it.
Rayhaan, however, was in no mood to be challenged or tested. He struck down with all his force, stabbing the stone carved spearhead straight into the man's shoulder. The bandit cried out in agony as he struggled to hold onto Rayhaan's foot, but his mouth was quickly stuffed with the front end of Rayhaan's boot as he swung his right leg straight into his face, taking out a few teeth as promised.
Pulling his leg back, Rayhaan swung a second time and kicked right between the man's eyes. Dizzy, and suffering all sorts of pains, the man released Rayhaan and curled up his body before Rayhaan's leg came swinging forth a third time. Caught by surprise, the bandit was struck again and had no leverage to save himself. He slid backwards and right over the edge of the cliff.
Holding on by mere fingers, the man pleaded with Rayhaan to save him. He swore on his life and everything that he could think of with promises to serve Rayhaan as a slave if he saved him, or to join their crew and become Muslim, or pay him an immense wealth if only he spared him. Rayhaan spat in disgust at the pitiful man before him. As he pulled his leg back for a fourth and final kick, he suddenly heard his brother calling out to him.
He turned around just in time to see the other bandit charging straight for him. In a split second, he turned on his heels, narrowly avoiding the bandit's grasp. The sack, however, was momentarily grasped before it tore again and fell at the edge. Adam rushed forward, crashing straight into the bandit to knock him away from Rayhaan. With no footing to stop himself, the man flew out into the Black Pit, his cry being all that could be detected of him as he fell deep down below.
Adam himself fell down to his knees just at the edge. His heart was racing as he looked over the edge at what was almost his fate as well. He scooted back immediately before sighing in relief and muttering words of praise and thanks to Allah. He looked over and saw an astonished look on the face of his brother who was crouching nearby.
As Rayhaan got to his feet, he noticed the remaining bandit was reaching for the sack to throw it over the edge. He dove out for it, taking hold of it before the man could pull it over. Unfortunately, he had exerted too much momentum and was unable to stop himself from rolling to the edge. He held desperately to the cliff's edge, struggling to pull himself up.
Worse still, the bandit managed to pull himself back over the ledge and he began crawling over to return the favor of knocking Rayhaan over the edge. Adam moved quickly to save his brother, but not faster than Rayhaan himself, who shocked even himself by following through with a reckless plan. He pulled out one of the spear heads and caught hold of the vine. Then, with all of his force, he swung down and swiped straight through the tight vine, cutting the ending and sending himself flying into the dark abyss.
Adam screamed in horror as he watched his brother disappear down the pit. Even the bandit watched in surprise as he clung to the cliff, looking at the shadow that enveloped his enemy. But Rayhaan had not merely fallen straight down. Instead, with both hands holding onto the rope, he swung out into the pit. Relying on the hopeful odds that the Black Pit was deeper than it was wide, he had intentionally cut the rope to escape the bandit's attack and complete the challenge to cross the Pit.
In the dark pit below, Rayhaan felt a strange warmth radiating from the bottom. The lack of light prevented him from seeing anything, even the vine to which he clung. He could only feel himself moving rapidly through the dark, hoping not to collide with anything midway.
No sooner had the thought occurred to him than did Rayhaan crash right into the broad cliff on the other side. His right shoulder slammed into the wall and he could almost hear his bones crunching on impact, but the sound was covered by his own agonized yelp. He nearly lost his grip on the vine, but managed to keep his hold.
Gritting his teeth, he peered upward towards the distant light. He didn't know how far down he'd gotten, but he knew that he needed to climb back up before his injuries got the better of him. Crossing his legs around the vine, he began his arduous ascension. Hand over hand, he climbed the rope, ignoring the excruciating pain he felt from his shoulder down to his waist.
It was a slow and torturous climb, with his arms feeling heavily taxed by the time he neared the light. Numerous times had he felt it all too much, and his mind briefly contemplated letting go. Faith and determination kept him going strong and helped pull him through until at last he had reached the top.
He slapped his arm over the edge, getting his elbow flat over it, and began struggling to use his legs to push himself up. He didn't have the strength to pull a leg up over the wall, and didn't want to risk falling down if he lost his balance. Instead, he desperately clung to the wall and began crawling, dragging his body up the wall inch by inch.
At last, he had made it, after what felt like hours of struggling. He collapsed on the ground, short of breath and in pain. Only after a moment's passing, lying in the dirt, did he remember his purpose and force himself up. Clutching the sack, he got to his knees and looked around. Behind him was the Black Pit which he'd miraculously survived crossing; beyond that was the other side, where he could no longer see his brother or the other bandit.
With no time to waste, he got to his feet and began limping his way back towards to original gathering. He had to return with all of the items for his team to be declared victorious. With any luck, he hoped to himself, there would be no further challenges awaiting him and they would be free to go. Unfortunately, things had only begun.
When Rayhaan returned, he was pleased to see that Adam had made it back to the gathering as well. The Chief was just in the middle of judging between the two teams to decide which should be declared the loser for that round. When Rayhaan arrived, throwing the sack at the chief's feet, his team was immediately declared victorious. Adam and Ali rushed to the side of their injured companion, expressing both happiness that he'd won and astonishment that he had survived.
There was no time for celebrations, however, as the Chief began announcing the next challenge even whilst his men dragged one of the bandits away at random to be slaughtered like an animal. Without even a moment's rest, the two teams and their remaining members were led to another site for the next challenge; fire crossing. They were brought near the shore were the waves crashed into the soft sands before retreating back into the ocean. A small pit was dug from the nearest tree up to the ocean. The chief ordered some of his men to bring forth a pot of coals that had been burning since the day all of the captives had arrived on the island.
The coals were placed into the pit, filling it entirely while a fire still burned around them. The captives were then made to remove any footwear in preparation for the challenge. For this round, the chief explained to them, only one man from each team would be required to compete. The two competitors would then walk across the coals from the trees into the ocean. Because of the cruel nature of the islanders, the challenge was to remain on the coals as long as possible, NOT to pass quickly.
Having gotten the most time for rest, Ali volunteered himself to compete. Not wishing to be outdone by the enemy leader, the bandit captain also volunteered himself. The chief allowed Ali to choose who would go first, as his team had won the previous round. Without a second thought Ali chose for the bandit captain to go first. That would save him the trouble of overdoing it or taking on too much injury, as all he had to do was outlast the bandit instead of having to set the bar himself.
While Ali and his opponent began that challenge, the chief left two of his men to oversee them and declare a winner. Meanwhile, he led Adam, Rayhaan, and the other two bandits away for the third part of the Chief's Challenge. Their challenge was to face off against two beasts from amongst the most savage of animals on the island.
The Muslim team, who had collected all of the items in the first challenge, was given permission to use weapons. The spearheads and vine that they'd collected were used in assembling primitive spears with which to fight. The fruit was used in a mix with other plants from the island to create a potent poison to coat their weapons in, which would aid them in their fight. The bandits were given only a handful of stones to use.
All four of the men were caged inside a large platform in which two wild beasts were released. Staring the men down with a deadly ferocity, two large, ravenous wild boars entered the cage slowly. Their size alone was intimidating, as they stood nearly as tall as a full grown man and had tusks as long as daggers. Their fat, fur covered bodies were bulky and massive, causing the ground beneath them to shake with every forceful stomp of the beasts. Their eyes were red as they snorted furiously, their hot breath almost visibly exiting their nostrils.
As the brutish boars stood at the entrance, all of the men were pressed up against the opposite wall, silently watching with their hearts in their throats. Then, a single stone flew across the cage and struck the larger of the boars. He exploded in anger, digging his hooves into the ground and preparing to charge.
The bandit guilty of throwing the first stone foolishly repeated the action by throwing another. He barely had time to reach for a third before Adam smacked him upside the head with the blunt end of his spear. Both of the boars charged at the groups together, ready to trample them to a bloody mess. All that could be heard was a collective scream; all that could be seen was four men running around a large pin being chased by massive boars.
Back at the shore, the bandit captain took his last step into the cool ocean water. His feet were throbbing in pain, having been on the coals for nearly two full minutes. The stench of his burning flesh was fresh in the air, and even he felt sickened by it. The islanders, however, seemed pleased and strangely excited by the odor.
Disgusted, Ali had to struggle not to hurl up his meal from earlier. Then, he was brought to the start and told to cross the pit. He sighed, taking a deep breath and whispering a du’ah under his breath. He prayed to Allah to make it easy for him and to give him success. He recalled the well-known incident in the life of Prophet Ibrahim (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in which he was thrown into a large fire but Allah commanded the fire to be cool and safe for him. "Hasbi Allah wa ni’am al-wakeel (Allah is sufficient for me and He is the best Disposer of affairs)," he quoted to himself mentally.
Stepping onto the smoldering stones, he felt the scorching sensation immediately, causing him to flinch a little. He knew that it wouldn't be easy, and he wasn't expecting it to be; but through prayer and remembrance of Allah, he focused his attention elsewhere to make himself strong enough to bear it. With both feet in the searing pit, he remained firm as the smoke raised up around him and the chief's men watched on. Ali maintained a steady pace as he crossed the fiery line; breathing slowly, focusing on his athkaar, and keeping his body tense and strong against the stinging pain he was enduring. The sacrifices made would be worth it in the end for the Muslim Ummah and he knew that ultimately he could expect the greatest reward from his Lord.
Meanwhile, Adam and Rayhaan were still trapped in the cage with the monstrous beasts and the bandits. All of the men had climbed the walls of the cage to escape, and the beasts were down below, pacing in circles before ramming into the walls furiously. The chief watched on with laughter at every bashing blow, knowing that it was only a matter of time before at least one of the men fell down to his slow, grueling doom.
It seemed likely that the first of men to fall would be Rayhaan. Even though Adam and one of the bandits had spent a great deal of energy climbing the butte previously and were certainly taxed in regards to upper-body strength, Rayhaan had spent quite a while climbing up the vine rope out of the Black Pit, in which he'd also injured his right shoulder. His grip was slipping as he tried desperately to hang onto the tree branch cage and evade the beasts below.
As he watched his brother slide lower and lower towards his end, Adam could only pray for a way out. He knew that there had to have been some way to beat the beasts and save the life of his brother and that of his own self. No one could possibly be brave enough to face the beasts head on, he thought to himself. But it would be impossible to outrun those behemoths, and we would certainly tire out before they would. How then are we even meant to beat them?!
Rayhaan's hands were losing grip as his palms became numb with pain and wet from sweat. His arms ached from every second of holding out, and he felt himself ready to let go. He scrunched his face, tensing his entire body and trying his utmost best to hang on for dear life. Equally frustrated with a lack of success, one of the beasts stomped his way to the back of the cage to ram the wall at full force.
Everyone prepared for the end. Adam closed his eyes, unable to watch. Rayhaan just knew that he was about to fall down below to his death. Even the chief stood on edge as he watched in eager anticipation. The boar dug its hoof down into the ground, snorting and grunting wildly. Then, with a forceful stomp, he kicked off and charged straight for the wall. Rayhaan tensed up, saying the shahadah as his final words, knowing this would be his end.
Then, to everyone's sudden surprise, one of the bandits collapsed to the ground before the beast even hit the wall. He was out cold; and no one even knew if his soul had remained in him before the two boars jumped him, devastating his limp body with bone crushing stomps and slamming him against the walls with their tusks. It was a bloody mess as the beasts clashed with each other, tearing the man apart and feasting on his flesh and organs before everyone's eyes.
The chief and his men cheered and chanted excitedly in their language, meanwhile the prisoners all turned away in disgusts and pity. Rayhaan was still slipping from the branches, but with the boars distracted it wasn't as urgent as before. Instead, he mentally went over various strategies to free himself from the dilemma he was in. With the animals distracted only momentarily, he would have to come up with a plan quickly. Time was very limited, and there was no guarantee of a second opportunity at finally tackling the matter.
And just like that, he had had a plan. He looked around for where he'd dropped his spear before he climbed the cage. Unfortunately, he remembered, he had dropped it way on the opposite end when he'd first tried climbing that wall before one of the boars nearly caught him. Adam, however, had dropped his directly below the very wall which they clung to. Noting this, Rayhaan reworked his plan and called out to Adam.
"Let go of the wall," he shouted to his brother.
"Are you out of your mind?!" Adam replied after one glance down below where the beasts were still at work, devouring the fallen bandit.
"Trust me, just do it!"
"Again I ask, ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!"
"Listen to me, I have a plan. Drop down and grab your spear! The pigs are distracted; now's the best time for an attack!"
"Even if I agree with that plan, why can't you do it instead? You're lower than I am!"
"But you're closer to the spear and the pigs. All you have to do is let go then grab your spear and stab them. As potent as that poison is, it shouldn't take long for them to die and you can climb back onto the cage after you've made your attack."
"And what if I-"
"Just say Bismillah and do it! We haven't got much time!"
After noticing the quick work the boars were making of the dead bandit, Adam reluctantly agreed to Rayhaan's plan. Though he hesitated in doing so, eventually he just said Bismillah and released his grip, dropping down from his place. Unfortunately, his hesitance, coupled with his lack of coordination, led him to an improper landing which caused yet another injury to his ankle. On the ground below, Adam immediately fell to his knees, rolling over in pain as he cried out.
The largest of the boars immediately took notice of this, turning his head in query. Upon seeing another easy target, the boar quickly turned to charge Adam and do him in. Adam spent what almost became his final moments screaming in horror and crawling against the wall before Rayhaan shouted to him about the spear. Time itself seemed to slow down in that moment, a moment which Adam would be eternally grateful to his Lord for as he suddenly regained his senses and performed the quickest actions of his life. By the slimmest moment of time, he saved himself by rolling over and grabbing the spear, gripping it tightly and jamming it upward.
The boar's shrill squeal could be heard echoing through the jungle as the poison-drenched spear grazed over his snout and was driven through his right eye and out of the side of his head. Adam lost his grip on the spear as the beast at once began violently jerking about in a rabid rampage. The spear flew from his face as he shook his head wildly and stomped about with pained squeals and snorting.
This caught the attention of the other boar who began storming over, only to be struck by the half-blinded beast. Scratched and bloodied by the sharp tusk of his fellow boar, the other beast stood back, angrily snorting but doing nothing more. The more severely injured boar was absolutely berserk, stomping and snorting and making shrill cries; running wildly and attacking everything nearby.
Adam quickly made his way back up the wall before he could be struck by the frantic beast. He looked at the boar in shock, horror, and a small hint of guilt and pity. It was after all a mere animal; despite its frightening nature, it was only a creation of Allah and its actions were beyond its control. Still, because of his circumstances, Adam did what he had to do. He could only pray that his Lord would forgive him for his mistake in only causing suffering as opposed to a speedy death.
Meanwhile, Rayhaan lamented Adam's failure as a waste of an opportunity. He knew that even with the aid of the poison, the wound inflicted wouldn't be enough to kill the boar; at least not soon enough to save their lives. With that in mind, he decided to step in and finish the boar himself, risking his own life to end things.
Rayhaan dropped down from his position on the cage, shaking his stiffened hands from their numbness, and took off running to grab his own spear. If he could manage a clear strike near a vital organ or penetrate deep enough into the animal's bloodstream, that would end its life much sooner than the loss of an eye. He had been counting on neither of the boars paying attention to him. Unfortunately, the smaller boar still managed to notice him as he scampered across the cage.
The boar turned towards Rayhaan, ready to give chase until, in a move that shocked all present, the remaining bandit dropped down and picked up a few stones, launching them for the head of the beast. The angry animal was distracted after being pelted with the pebbles, and while he turned to give chase to the bandit, Rayhaan was able to reach for his spear. He rushed for the raging boar and leapt straight onto his back, knowing that he had to make a clean kill or else it would all have been a waste.
He landed face first onto the furry back of the beast, reaching with his left to find some part of him to hold on to. With his left hand gripping the dirty fur and fat of the wild beast, Rayhaan held the spear tightly before leaning over, careful not to be bucked off or struck by one of the tusks of the boar as it threw its head about wildly. When his target was clear, he pulled the spear back, ready to make an attack. The rowdy bucking of the beast caused his arm to jerk, and in that moment all of the pain his shoulder resurfaced. He bit down hard on his lip, hissing in agony as he nearly dropped the spear and lost his grip on the beast. Still, fighting off the pain with determination, he switched his hands and raised the spear up once again. The moment he was certain of his aim, he jammed it straight into the beast's throat, lodging it deeply until the boar's squeals became wheezing gasps with blood spurting out.
Finally having dealt the deathblow, Rayhaan was thrown off the boar's back as it kicked about even more violently and with more desperation than before. Rayhaan flew through the air, landing on the ground a few meters away before the boar stood on its stiff hind legs, waddling a few paces before falling over. Rayhaan quickly rolled over twice to escape a crushing death under the humongous beast and hopped to his feet to avoid being stricken by one of its kicking legs.
With one boar down, the challenge was meant to be over. The islanders, however, stood idly by, watching as Rayhaan panted in exhaustion, Adam leaned against the cage, and the bandit ran wildly to escape the remaining boar. "Throw me the spear," he shouted as he ran past Rayhaan and then Adam. "Throw me the spear! I saved you; DON'T BE DISHONORABLE!"
The man had spoken truly. Had he not distracted the very boar that chased after him, it would have gone after Rayhaan and the other boar would have found his way to Adam. Their success in bringing down their kill was owed largely to him, and so to repay that favor they had to find some way to help him. Fortunately, Adam's spear was not lodged into the beast nor somewhere else out of reach. He crawled over towards the spear, careful not to draw the boar's attention when the bandit ran by once again.
When the coast was clear, Adam took his spear in hand and used it as a support to get to his feet. He eyed the bandit and the boar carefully before leaning to his uninjured leg and launching the spear forward. He missed the boar but the spear landed perfectly in reach for the bandit to double back and grab it for an attack. It was a perfectly executed, narrow save as the bandit leapt to the side, grabbing the spear from the ground and turned over just in time to stab the spear up as the beast came charging after him. With all of its momentum and force, the boar rammed straight into the weapon, with the spear easily flying through his snout and up through his skull, killing him instantly.
The lifeless body of the boar fell over on its side and the man dropped to his knees in exhaustion. Thankful to have survived the terrifying ordeal, all three of the men in the cage had smiles on their faces. As the islanders came to open up the gate and escort the men from the cage, Rayhaan helped Adam make his way towards the exit. Two of the chief's men approached the bandit before extending their arms towards him. He reached up to accept the offer of help, only to be swooped up from under his arms and dragged towards the chief.
"I congratulate you all on vanquishing your primary foes," the chief proclaimed. "And as for you who failed to defeat his secondary foes, I sentence you to death."
There was silence. The bandit was so taken aback his heart nearly stopped. Even Adam and Rayhaan were surprised to hear such a ruling. The islanders began to drag the man away before Adam spoke up in protest.
"What are you doing?" he questioned them. "He killed his stupid pig; we all did. Why are you taking him away?!"
"He may have killed one of the boars, and indeed it was a valiant effort in doing so, but nonetheless, he failed to do so before either of you killed the other beast. Thusly, his victory cannot be counted as such, because he still lost the contest to you. The rules state that the losing team of any contest must have one member killed as punishment."
"His teammate already died!" Rayhaan butted in. "Or did you not see the man torn limb from limb by your filthy beasts?!"
"That casualty was of his own consequence; it had no relevance to the contest. Even if both men had been eaten by the boars, you two would still have had no choice but to continue in the contest, or be put to death. In any case, you should not concern yourselves in these affairs, lest you be charged with impeding the Chief's Challenge and be put to death similarly."
At that, Adam and Rayhaan both fell silent. As unjust as it all was, and as much as it angered them, they had no choice but to remain silent as the chief's men dragged the man away. He was taken to a temple that had been appointed specifically for the sacrifice of losing team members, then beheaded on the spot. Only the chief and his men went to observe, and they returned with delighted smiles on their faces.
Back at the shore, Ali had made his way into the ocean where his burned flesh was rested in the soothing waters. He and the bandit captain both stood in the water as the chief's men stood by, deliberating the contest winner. It was announced that they had both remained on the coals for an equal amount of time, and so because of this there needed to be a tie breaker. When the chief and the others all returned, he was informed of the results and took only a moment to announce a solution.
For the fourth and final contest between the two teams, Ali and the bandit captain would have a one-on-one duel to the death. Despite everything they had been through over the hours, the men were given no time to rest or regain their strength. Instead, they were immediately ushered into the site of their final challenge; the Arena of Death.
The Arena of Death was a simple platform of stone and dirt that had been built atop one of the hills in the middle of the island's jungle. Stone statues and stairways surrounded a flat, rectangular fighting ground in which contestants would battle until there remained only one man standing. The rules were made clear, and anyone who went against them would face death after being hunted down by the islanders who stood guard nearby. There was no escape; no matter how many men entered the ring, only one would leave alive.
Ali and bandit captain ascended the stone stairway into the arena from opposite paths. Fatigue and exhaustion were clear on Ali's face as he reached the top. From the foot-race to the burning coals challenge, his feet were in an excruciating amount of pain. The bandit captain, however, had only participated in one challenge and even so he had gotten a longer period of rest thereafter. Aside from a lingering pain from the burnt flesh on his feet, he had no handicap troubling him whatsoever.
Both men were presented with the swords that they had had aboard the ship on which they arrived. Adam, Rayhaan, and all of the islanders came to watch the battle. For a moment, Adam and Rayhaan, along with the two combatants, all looked into crowds of surrounding people in astonishment. It was the first time that any of the captives had seen even a single woman or child on the island. Nonetheless, it was neither a pleasant sight nor a relieving one, as the women and children were just as savage-looking and bloodthirsty as the brutal men. They had come to see a bloodbath and so they would receive.
Ali and the bandit captain faced one another, carefully eying each other as they contemplated their attack strategies. Ali knew that his opponent was sneaky and would likely employ underhanded, cowardly techniques if given the opportunity. He had to avoid letting his guard down even for a second, lest he fall victim to some sly trick.
Swords raised, the two men carefully circled the arena. Every step taken sent a shooting pain through their feet, but they ignored that in place of the more pressing task at hand. Gripping their swords tightly, the two men leapt at one another. Their swords clashed up high and down below as they moved about the arena, swinging swiftly to attack and deflect. As skilled fighters, both men knew better than to watch the blades that danced about but rather they kept their eyes on the wielder, carefully observing every movement that would betray the next thought, the next plan.
Though the arena was smooth and flat, there remained a few small stones and pebbles, one of which Ali nearly slipped over. In that moment, the bandit captain had gained an opening. In the split second that it took Ali to correct his footing, the bandit switched up his pace and withdrew his blade from the slice and slash routine the two had been repeating and instead struck out in a quick stab. Ali narrowly evaded the sharp sword with a side-step and quick turning of his own blade.
After knocking his opponent's blade aside, thereby throwing him off balance, Ali quickly slid forward and delivered a quick jab to the man's face. The bandit captain reeled back in anger, flaring his nostrils as he recovered from the attack. Not wanting to let up on him, Ali rushed back in, swinging his blade over before the bandit brought his sword up to block the attack.
Their swords clashed and clanked over and over again as they battled fiercely for control. Before long, they found themselves in a deadlock, with both gripping their swords in two hands and pushing against the other with as much force as they could. When they slid down to lowest points and their eyes met short distance away, the two glared furiously at one another. Neither was given an edge, with both of them digging their feet into the ground and refusing to back down even an inch.
It was in that moment that the bandit captain made his first cowardly move. As Ali glared at him with gritted teeth and an unrelenting gaze, the bandit smirked. His smirk turned to a grin before he quickly opened his mouth and spat right into Ali's face. Before Ali could fully think his reaction through, the man withdrew his blade and stepped aside. With his reflexes urging him to wipe his eyes while at the same time catching himself from falling, Ali was tripped up when his opponent moved aside and he went stumbling forward.
A swift blade promptly followed behind him, slicing his back before he fell to his knees. With one hand on the ground holding himself up, Ali quickly brought his other arm to wipe his eyes. Upon seeing the moving shadow of the bandit behind him, Ali leapt to his feet, nearly throwing himself onto the edge of the arena before turning to face his opponent. He balanced himself along the stone ledge of the arena, holding an unsteady footing as he fought on with the bandit.
When the bandit made a simple mistake of overexerting himself in a downward swing, Ali managed to gain the edge by deflecting the attack and throwing him backwards into the ring. Before the bandit captain could gather himself, Ali came forward with a powerful punch, connecting his fist with the man's jaw and sending him tumbling over backwards, spitting blood from his mouth.
As the bandit captain struggled to pick himself up from the dirt and dust, Ali casually walked over, his breathing just as heavy and unsteady as his opponent's. The bandit captain stood up off the ground; his legs were shaking, his eyes were squinted, and he gritted his teeth in anger. He had felt certain from the start that he could beat Ali, given the circumstances, however, it seemed that he had been sorely mistaken.
As Ali came nearer, the bandit captain dug his feet into the ground, taking his stance and raising his sword to defend himself. Ali took two heavy steps before he charged forward, swinging out his sword from the right. The bandit captain parried to the left, then grabbed onto Ali with his free hand before pulling him in and bashing him in the face with a head-butt. Ali stumbled backwards with his nose dripping blood. He twitched his nose and blinked away the spots in his vision before he refocused his attention and put up his guard again.
The bandit captain gave a smirk, wiping the sweat on his brow and taking a stance of his own, having gained a second wind. The two lunged at each other, slicing and slashing in a wild flurry of steely blades. The bandit captain surprisingly held the upper-hand in their nearly even fight, until one mistake was made. When Ali over swung on one attack, the man got overly confident and moved for an exaggerated attack to finish him off. That gave Ali enough time to correct himself and impede the incoming attack.
After deflecting the nearly fatal blow, Ali grabbed onto the man and pulled him forward before jamming the heavy hilt of his sword into his face. Not letting up for even a second, Ali continued to bash the man's face with the blunt sword handle a few more times until the man dropped his sword and he let him fall over. Finally, he raised his sword up high and proclaimed loud and clear, "Bismillah, wa Allahu Akbar!" The bandit captain raised his hands to try saving his neck but Ali brought the sword down in a stab straight through his abdomen instead.
Breathing heavily, he leaned on the sword to push it as deep as he could and gave it an agonizing twist before letting up. As the man drew his final breath, Ali sighed in utter exhaustion. He could barely stand, let alone cheer when the chief declared him the winner. Two men entered the arena on the chief's orders to drag away the dead body. They seemed strangely eager and excited at the sight of the dead man, but Ali paid them no mind as he was nearly about to pass out from fatigue.
Adam and Rayhaan rushed up into the ring to assist their tired captain descend the stairs. They were stopped halfway by the chief himself. He greeted them with a stern look on his face before congratulating Ali for his surprise victory. "You fought bravely," he praised him. "And when your opponent became arrogant and sure of himself, you struck away and ended his pride and his life. I am indeed pleased with your performance, and I do hope you are able to duplicate or improve on it before your next match."
"Next match?" Adam asked in horror.
"Have you forgotten? Your day is not done. There remains still one final event in the Chief's Challenge. Tomorrow at dawn, you three survivors will enter this arena once more for one final battle against each other. Because of your overwhelming success in today's challenge, I have chosen to allow you all one final night alive, though custom mandates that every event of the Chief's Challenge take place within the same day. Just as well, as a further kindness, I inform you that it is our custom to offer one final wish to the remaining survivors before the death match. You may make one final request to me and I will grant you what you wish of our food, our women, or anything else you may desire during your final hours, save for the sparing of your lives. You have until sunrise to speak your final wishes; thereafter you will only be directed towards the arena for your final challenge."
There was silence. The three men were in total disbelief, even as the chief's men escorted them away to their individual cages. They had arrived as a team, but in less than a day they would have to face off as enemies.
Adam spent his remaining time making du’ah, fearing for his life and that of his companions. He was the least skilled in combat amongst the three, so even if he could bring himself to fight either of his companions he would likely be slain. He knew that there was no way that he could or would raise his sword to end the life of his brother whom he was raised up with, or that of his captain whom he'd sailed with. All that he could think to do was pray to Allah to save him and save the others. He didn't know how that would happen, but with every ounce of faith that he had, he believed that Allah would provide a miracle of some sort to save them. His day was spent in du’ah, completely ignoring the chief's men whenever they came to check if he was ready to make his final request.
Ali similarly spent his remaining time in worship. His final request had been to be given water to purify himself properly for prayer. The men brought to him a large jug of fresh water with which he performed wudhu and quenched his thirst. He then turned in the corner of his cage and began praying. His focus and concentration were elevated to a level like never before, and he was completely immersed in his prayer. The few men who'd been tasked with keeping guard over him watched in confusion as he stood and recited in a pleasant rhythm, bowing and prostrating himself to someone Who couldn't be seen.
His mind, however, gave no notice to the interested onlookers. He was focused only on the words that he spoke and the movements that he made. When he made du’ah, he silently begged of his Lord to save he and his companions from any disaster. He could not doom himself in the next life by ending the current life of his fellow Muslims, nor could he hope that either of the others would do the same. Still, he knew that refusal to fight would ultimately result in all three of the men being put to death and their mission would thusly be a failure. With everything he had, he prayed and held on to the hope that Allah would save them somehow.
Not all of the men were hopeful, however. Despondent and depressed, Rayhaan had become low on faith and hope. The most he could muster of either was a small hope that Allah would forgive him for the mistakes he had made which originally led to the dreadful situation he 'd currently found himself in. He repented for his previous misdeeds and decided that he would rather not fight against the others, letting himself be killed first so that whoever of the others would survive could go on to complete the mission, free of any further issues he may have caused. He briefly considered taking his own life to save them the trouble, but he knew the consequences of suicide in the Hereafter, and decided against it.
Still, he wished that there were some way he could do something to spare the others any further consequences and inconveniences of his own foolishness. As the day passed, his mind was busied in plotting and planning, hypothesizing the possible outcomes of various escape plans. Each one ended in the death of not only himself but his crew mates as well, and the failure of their mission by default. Nonetheless, he became determined to find a way to resolve the dilemma and save their lives.
Having given up on giving up, Rayhaan realized that the first step in finding a solution was turning to his Lord. The sun had set and he was left sitting in his cage, alone in the darkness. The chief's men had gone away to partake in a celebratory meal with their people. It was in this time that Rayhaan had decided to request water to make wudhu. He knew that could have made tayammum but he preferred that he would make wudhu before standing in what would be his most sincere prayer in his entire life.
Unfortunately, or rather what would later prove to be of good fortune, the men did not return in sufficient time and Rayhaan went ahead to pray without making the request. With the dire circumstances on his mind, he called out to Allah in desperation. He confessed once more all of his sins and daft decisions, repenting sincerely for all that he had done. He begged for guidance and for an opportunity to atone for his mistakes, for some way free himself and the others and escape the chief's cruel tyranny.
The night passed as so, and he and the others slept at the times that their Lord willed for them to. In an uncanny occurrence, the night passed on the island in a calm, peaceful manner, despite the islanders intended celebration of bloody sacrifices. The hours passed slowly, giving sufficient rest to Ali and his company before the dawn broke and their day began.
When the time for Fajr arrived, Rayhaan awakened surprisingly easily. He found himself up and ready to resume praying with a rather eager optimism. Noting that he was awake, the chief's men approached him once he'd finished praying. With less than an hour left before the death match, they gave him one final chance to make a last wish.
At first, he thought to ignore them. He had it in mind to tell them that his final wish had been asked of his Lord, and he needed nothing from them. Then a new thought occurred to him. The opportunity he had prayed for could be answered through the chief's given wish. Before he could even play out the hypothetical consequences in his mind, Rayhaan spoke up his final wish.
"I want to challenge your chief," he proclaimed with confidence. The men were confused, but nonetheless they brought the chief to hear Rayhaan's wish. When the chief arrived, Rayhaan reiterated his request and was met with a perplexed laughter.
"What do you mean challenge me?" the chief asked.
"I challenge you to a fight in your arena. I know I am not allowed to wish for my life to be spared so you may do with me as you wish regardless of whether I win or not. However, if I win, you must agree to let my brother and my captain go free to complete their journey."
"Hmm." The chief pondered over what he'd just heard as he men stood by debating whether or not such a challenge was permissible. Some of the senior members argued that it was clearly forbidden because wishing for the lives of one's companions to be spared was similar to wishing for one's own life being spared; otherwise individuals would simply wish each other spared and thusly spare themselves altogether. Some, however, argued that it was a conditioned challenge and not a direct wish, thus it was subject to different rulings. Ultimately, the decision rested with the chief.
"Well?" Rayhaan impatiently snapped at the silent chief.
"Those of my men who say such a request is invalid are correct," the chief spoke sternly. "However, I will allow it. Or rather, I urge you to rephrase your challenge. The only valid way for you to seek what you are asking for is for you to be the chief yourself. But, I warn you, if you challenge me for the position of chief, I will show no mercy to you, and I will ensure that you receive a slow and painful end. Your companions will then be kept as slaves to serve me as I see fit and when I tire of them, I will give them slow and torturous deaths so that they curse your name before they die."
"Fine, and if I become chief then we are all going free!"
"As you wish. Declare your challenge."
"Our customs mandate that before we begin or make preparations, you must formally declare your challenge, and then we shall make ready at once."
"Fine. I, Rayhaan ibn Khamisi challenge you, um...the chief, for the title of...um... the chief!"
"I accept this challenge. Prepare the arena, sharpen the weapons, and gather the people; the end of the Chief's Challenge has come. Let there be blood."
Just as ordered, the arena was prepared and the people were summoned. Even Adam and Ali were brought forth to witness the match. Though they protested at first, arguing that their fight wasn't meant to take place until the sun had risen, they soon realized that they were brought forth for an entirely different purpose. They were there as mere spectators, their own fight having been canceled in place of a great challenge.
Before the fight began, the chief addressed the audience to inform them of the challenge that had been issued and the terms thereof. As the crowd listened, Rayhaan spotted his two companions. He could tell that they were confused, concerned, and wanted to chide him for making a hasty decision as such. He hoped that they would forgive him and understand that he was making amends and taking responsibility for getting them into the mess.
As the chief concluded his address, he turned to face Rayhaan. "Are you clear on the rules?" he questioned.
"What rules?" Rayhaan queried, certain that he hadn't heard of any rules before.
"Precisely. There are no rules for this match. All is permitted and nothing is forbidden. You may do whatever you like to try and bring me down, though I assure you, it will be no easy task. You'll find that I am unlike any opponent you've faced before."
"Are you certain of that?" Rayhaan challenged.
"Enough talk; let the match begin!"
The crowd was silenced. All eyes were on Rayhaan and the chief as they stood, facing each other in the arena which had hosted many bloody battles before. As always, multiple challengers entered but only one would exit alive. For the sake of his companions and his mission, Rayhaan was determined to be that one.
He held on to his sword loosely, in a rather arrogant and overly confident manner. Inside, he wasn't feeling so bold, but he needed to keep up the illusion. Keeping his opponent wary through bluffing and self-assured confidence in victory was a tactic he had adopted since childhood.
It didn't seem to be working on the chief, however, as the man eyed him back with every bit of confidence and more. And he had every reason to. Unlike Rayhaan, who had spent the previous day competing in grueling challenges and taking on several injuries which hadn't even begun to heal properly, he was in perfect condition for a fight. Just as well, the chief was no weakling anyhow.
Staring down at Rayhaan was a man of enormous height, whose massive limbs seemed capable of crushing small boulders with ease. Stocky in stature, savage in nature, the man seemed to truly be a formidable foe. He wore traditional island clothes of leaves and grass sewn together to cover himself, and what skin was left exposed from that had been covered over in scars and mud or tribal tattoos and paint. His face held an ugly grimace and when he exhaled, Rayhaan could feel the heat of an inferno blazing on his face from across the ring.
Rayhaan wrapped his fingers more firmly around his sword handle as he eyed the spiked club in his opponent's hand. From the size of the club and the hand that wielded it, he knew that one good hit could end his life in a matter of moments. He would have to be alert and on guard for every second of the fight, putting every ounce of fighting spirit into his entire performance.
"Are you going to attack me or has all of your courage been exhausted as well?" the chief taunted Rayhaan. He raised his club up over his shoulder, standing with an arrogant and unguarded posture. Rayhaan decided to make his move. He charged in, holding his sword behind him and his right hand as a guard in front of him.
Before he could even bring his sword around in a strike, Rayhaan was forced to duck under the heavy swing of the chief's club. He narrowly evaded the spiked wood and slid right past the chief, nearly falling over the edge of the arena beside one of the statues. As he flailed his arms to keep his balance, Rayhaan was snatched up by the shirt from behind and thrown back into the arena.
He tumbled over once before turning over into a kneeling position as he faced the chief again. He had no time for thoughts as the moment he made eye contact he noticed the chief was leaping straight at him and swinging his massive club down. Rayhaan dived to the side, rolling over towards another end of the arena. He stood and leapt onto the ledge of a higher set of stairs before jumping off with his sword raised up in both hands.
The chief blocked the attack with ease, raising his forearm up to deflect the sword handle and throw off the attack. Because of his injury the day before, the sudden jerking sent a shooting pain up Rayhaan's right arm and he fell to his knees on the ground, holding his shoulder in agony. The chief looked down at him with stern disappointment, then turned slowly to face him completely.
He didn't even bother to raise his club again, having chosen to humiliate Rayhaan instead. He kicked him with his barefoot and Rayhaan dropped his weapon as he rolled over onto his back. The chief walked over slowly, with the crowd cheering him on. He picked Rayhaan up by the shirt and looked at his face before swinging him back and throwing him across the arena.
Adam and Ali watched in horror as Rayhaan crashed onto the ground, rolling over multiple times before stopping himself. He struggled against his own weight and the pain in the right side of his body, but nonetheless he managed to stand. Just as he got on his feet, however, he was swiftly knocked off of them by a fist nearly as large as his entire face. His back slammed against the short brick wall which lined the outer ring of the arena. With the corner jamming into his spine, he cried out in anguish before a foot came crashing into his stomach and knocked the wind out of him.
Rayhaan fell over forward, his face hitting the ground as he gasped for air. The chief kicked him in the side and he rolled onto his back. "I thought this was meant to be a challenge," the chief taunted him as he stepped forward, raising his foot over him. "You have failed to please my people with an entertaining fight, and you have managed only to bore me and waste my time. You and your companions shall suffer greatly for that."
The chief placed one of his enormous feet atop Rayhaan's chest and began to press down. Rayhaan's screams echoed through the jungle as he was crushed beneath the heavy weight of half the chief's body. He could almost feel his bones cracking under the pressure as his lungs struggled to take in air. Just when he thought that he couldn't take anymore, the chief lifted his leg and for a moment he had temporary relief as he hastily drew in a breath of air. That, however, was immediately stomped out of him by the tremendous force of the chief's foot.
Watching his brother be mercilessly beaten was overwhelming for Adam as he stood beside Ali. With tears in his eyes and his blood boiling in his veins, Adam was nearly shaking in anger and worry. Ali stood by with his fist clenched tightly, gritting his teeth and praying in his mind that Rayhaan would somehow emerge victorious or that they would at least be forgiven for failing their mission if he did not.
Rayhaan was spitting up blood after receiving several more forceful stomps from the sadistic chief. After lifting his leg and holding it dramatically in the air, the chief awaited the cheering of the crowd as they demanded more blood. Another stomp gave them a little taste of what they wanted, and then he raised his foot above Rayhaan's head.
The crowd roared in excitement, ready to see if the chief's impressive strength could crush through Rayhaan's head in a single stomp. Adam and Ali were praying for a miracle, hoping that in some way their companion would be saved. Both of them shouted as loud as they could to Rayhaan, urging him to move or get up.
Despite their close range, their calls could only faintly be heard over the thunderous cheering of the crowd and their praising of their chief in their native tongue. Rayhaan was on the verge of losing consciousness. His eyes were shut tight and his mouth was open wide, desperately gasping for air. His mind was screaming with various commands and thoughts; telling him to fend off the attack and save himself. Telling him of all the pain his body was in; telling him to say the shahadah. Telling him to listen to what his companions were saying, telling him to accept his fate, lie down and die. Telling him not to move a muscle, telling him not to exhaust himself with even one more thought.
Still, there was something in him telling him that he wasn't done. Something told him to stand up and fight. That his brother and his captain, and the men back in the other jungle, and the Amir of the Muslim Empire, and the entire Muslim Ummah were all depending on him. And so, when the chief's foot came crushing down, something told him to roll over and dodge; and he obeyed.
Ignoring all of the pain in his chest, ribs, and entire right half of his body, Rayhaan rolled over to the left, once, twice, and three times away from the chief. The crowd was in shock but cheered nonetheless. Their thirst for blood could further be pleased with a more drawn out fight. Adam and Ali, however, were just relieved to see that Rayhaan was still alive.
The chief gave a smirk as he watched Rayhaan exert every ounce of strength in his body just to stand up. He applauded Rayhaan's determination and will power, but insisted that he should have stayed down to meet a quicker end than what was about to come to him. Gripping the club in his right hand, the chief charged for Rayhaan and brought a whirlwind of energy with a wide swing straight for his head.
With adrenaline overcoming all of the aching, Rayhaan forced himself to duck under the attack and he felt the gust of wind pass over his head a fraction of a second afterwards. The chief had put so much force into his swing that even he could not stop himself from turning past Rayhaan. But, a few seconds later, before Rayhaan had even straightened himself out, the chief had turned back around and slammed his elbow down on Rayhaan's back.
Rayhaan crumbled to the ground, nearly bouncing off his face in the dust. The chief had a smug grin as he turned around slowly. "This time," he said, taking every step casually. "You should stay dow-"
Before he could finish his words, Rayhaan had gotten to his hands and knees and began forcing himself to stand up. He'd long since given up on listening to anything the chief had to say and even the negative thoughts within his own mind. He replaced his every thought with only two things: battle tactics, and athkaar to remind himself that Allah was watching over him.
When the chief came forward to attack again, Rayhaan dodged under his attack and made a run for the sword he'd dropped earlier on. The chief was hot on his trail and he raised his club up to swing out again, but Rayhaan dropped to the ground, sliding to pick up his sword and evade the attack all at once.
With his sword in hand, Rayhaan slid to the edge of the arena and got to his feet. He stepped onto the stone bricks then kicked off of the idol that rested there, propelling himself forward with his sword in both hands for a forceful attack. The chief moved to dodge but with his large mass he was unable to completely evade the attack.
Though it was not a fatal blow by any means, Rayhaan had finally managed to land an attack on the chief and draw a bit of blood. With a shallow cut across his exposed abdomen, the chief had finally taken on one injury. He wiped his hand over the blood then smeared it over his face, licking his hand thereafter.
Rayhaan had no time to question the bizarre antics of the savage chief, as he was immediately put on guard again when his opponent rushed after him. Holding the sword with both of his hands, Rayhaan stepped forward to meet his foe, slashing upwards only for his sword to be deflect by a swing of the spiked end of the club. He brought his sword back across in a swing for the chief's midsection but that too was blocked and avoided.
On his third swing of the blade, Rayhaan brought it down from over his head, and though the attack was again blocked, he managed to gain some ground on his opponent. The chief took a few steps back as he went on the defensive, dodging and carefully blocking the fast paced slashing Rayhaan attacked him with. When Rayhaan had built up a pattern, he switched up his style to throw the chief off. After a diagonal slice down to the right side, Rayhaan drew his blade back and with one forceful stomp, he struck it forward, aiming straight for the chief's heart.
His sword was met with the heavy hand of the chief, desperate to save himself. The sword easily stabbed through the thick flesh and even the bones, but it was because of this that the chief was afforded a narrow save. Even as the blade was penetrating his palm, the chief was careful to redirect the momentum of the blade, turning it away from his body and towards the open air.
Unfortunately for Rayhaan, this shocking move was enough of a distraction and surprise for the chief to turn the tables. Rayhaan lost control of the blade as the chief slid his bloody hand down the length of it before grabbing onto it and snatching it away. Weaponless and completely in awe, Rayhaan was defenseless against the club wielding fist that slammed right into his jaw.
As Rayhaan stumbled backwards, even falling over on his backside, the chief took out the sword from his hand. After wiping some of the blood on his face and licking it afterwards, the chief held onto both the sword and his club. Rayhaan was sprawled out on the arena ground as the chief approached him with a menacing glare. Though he and his ilk were a people who loved blood, he was displeased to have a good amount of his own blood shed.
From the chief's approach alone the audience knew exactly what was coming next. Rayhaan hadn't even begun to pick himself up, which made it all too obvious that his second wind had blown away. The ground shook with every step the chief took, and Rayhaan couldn't help but recall facing the boars the previous day. As the small distance between he and the chief closed, he could only wish that he had been fighting with a poisoned spear or had help from the others to distract the chief.
And then the idea occurred to him. Barely able to move, he turned his head towards the crowds in search of his brother. When he caught sight of him he began to shout to him. "Adam," he called. "The boars! The boars!"
Even though he had managed to hear Rayhaan's words over the loud noises of the crowd, Adam had no understanding of what he’d meant. Rayhaan lifted his arm, with his fist balled, and motioned as if he were throwing something as he continued shouting the same word. For a moment Adam thought he was warning them of incoming boars, so he quickly looked around in panic. But all he saw was a crowd full of the islanders and down below the stairs there were a few of the chief's men standing guard, watching everything with their spears in hand.
That was when Adam finally deciphered the message. Leaving Ali behind in confusion, Adam charged down the stairs and straight for one of the guards. Two of them struck out their spears to block his path but that was exactly what he had been counting on. He quickly grabbed hold of one of the spears and swung the wielder into his companion before snatching the spear away. Then, as fast as he could, he raced back to the stairs and launched the spear into the arena.
With the force that he'd thrown it, the spear did not land beside Rayhaan to arm him against his opponent. Instead, the spear flew out like an arrow, flying straight for the chief himself. The chief barely looked up in time to see the long wooden spear headed straight for him. Despite his quickest movements, the chief was unable to avoid being hit, and spear flew right across the side of his face, taking out his right eyes and leaving a large gash in the side of his head.
The sword and the club dropped to the ground as the chief immediately reached for his bloodied eye. "What is the meaning of this?!" he shouted in anger. Rayhaan looked at him with a smirk, seeing him finally taking on a serious injury.
"No rules, remember?" he answered back with a jeer. "I can do anything I like to bring you down. And you will fall!"
"I did not expect that you would be so crafty, I commend you for that. However, you have only managed to anger me and seal your fate!"
"Well let's see about that!" Removing both hands from his injured eye, the chief looked about for his weapons. As he bent down to pick up the club, Rayhaan forced himself up and made a run for the spear which had landed behind the chief in the corner of the arena. The chief swung his club but Rayhaan ducked beneath it, though his momentum forced him to tumble over forward as he reached for the spear.
He grabbed the spear and rolled over once, coming up in a kneeling position as he turned himself around. Before he could fully face his opponent, however, Rayhaan was bashed in the face by the large knee of the chief. He flew into the corner, smacking his back against the idol that rested there and knocking it over the edge. The chief was taking no chances with a slow approach; he stormed in ready to finish the job.
With both hands on the club, the chief swung down as hard as he could, and Rayhaan just barely managed to lean out of the way. The club crushed through one layer of bricks and cracked the one beneath it. As the chief reeled back his weapon for a second attack, Rayhaan kicked him, first in the shin and then in the gut.
Though the chief was hardly injured by either attack, it afforded Rayhaan enough time to move completely out of the corner and get to his feet. When he stood and got a good hold of the spear in his hands. Rayhaan lunged at the chief and with all of the strength he could muster he swung straight for the chief's head.
The sound of the wooden spear swooshing through the air was immediately followed by an echoing smack as it struck the right side of the chief's fat head and he roared in pain. He reached for the stinging wound on his face in an instant and in that moment he had let his guard down just enough for Rayhaan to deliver the final blow.
Pulling back the spear and channeling all of his energy for the second time, Rayhaan struck out with a heavy force, shoving the spear straight through the chief's chest and piercing out the back of his neck. The crowd fell silent in shock and amazement as the chief became limp with the wooden instrument jutting from his body.
For a few moments more, Rayhaan held onto the spear, even as the chief's warm blood sprayed out and ran down its length. Breathing heavily, he finally released the spear and took a few steps back before collapsing to the ground. The chief's massive body fell to his knees first, with the spear on the ground, then slowly he fell forward and the spear's entire length was driven through him.
With the chief dead, Rayhaan had won the match. He had challenged the chief and been declared the winner. Everyone was in complete awe, and even Rayhaan seemed surprised at what he'd done. Nonetheless, Adam and Ali stormed the arena, rushing to his side to congratulate him and thank him and to help him up.
Adam sat Rayhaan up and hugged him in excitement, until Rayhaan hissed in pain about his injuries. Still, under the newly risen sun, his teammates couldn't help but grin and laugh with the utmost excitement and joy at his victory and the sparing of their lives. "Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah," Ali repeated. "Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah!"
In the passing time, having earned the title of chieftain, Rayhaan first ordered that he and his teammates be treated for their wounds. Along with medical attention, they were provided with food and drinks and shelter altogether under one hut. With a suggestion from Ali, Rayhaan ordered that the chief's men repair the damages to their ship so that when they had recovered decently enough, they could resume their journey home. Their cactus roses, which had all but withered away, were taken to the highest point on the island and nurtured back to good health.
The men rested in comfort and ease, with Rayhaan taking high advantage of his newly earned authority on the island. Then, when the day arrived in which they feared they no longer had any justifiable excuse to remain on the island living in leisure, Rayhaan requested a large amount of food and supplies for their journey before they set off again. Despite still having numerous injuries and slight handicaps therefrom, the trio had an important matter to tend to, and they could only hope that they would make it in time.
As they sailed the sea once more, with Ali resuming command, all three of the men reflected on their time on the island. What had originally seemed to be a disaster in their eyes turned out to be a blessing in disguise. "But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you,’" Ali quoted from the Quran. "And perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.’" (2:216)
While Rayhaan rested in bed, still lazing about due to his injuries, Adam walked over and stood beside Ali as he steered the vessel. "Make note of this location," Ali ordered him. "I think we should report this to the Amir when we return. With your brother having been declared the chief, I think there is great potential for us there."
Adam nodded in acceptance and went at once to mark the island's location on the map down below the deck. Ali sighed in contentment, whispering a few words of gratitude to Allah under his breath. Rayhaan rested on his bed, careful not to move considering the substantial injuries he'd taken on his right side. With his eyes closed, he too muttered a few words of praise and glorification of Allah. He was grateful to have been spared and felt as though his repentance had been accepted. Having been saved and honored, he had everything to be grateful for. It was only by the mercy of Allah that he, and his companions altogether, survived and completed the Chief's Challenge...