Empires Of Faith

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Chapter 39: Rebel Spirits

10 Ramadan, 1663

Four days had gone by since Abdur-Rahman's declaration that he intended to free the people of Eoltafev. As of yet, he had not enacted any plans or made any attempts on combating the Kwaadi rulers. He had not yet mentioned any strategies nor sought counsel with anyone regarding the matter. Instead, he’d spent the days as if he were at home.

Residing as a guest in the home of Aleksandre Gelashvili, Abdur-Rahman spent his time assisting in whatever menial tasks and work he could do to repay his hosts. When he was free, he busied himself in prayer and relaxation. He would spend hours sitting in place, thinking and plotting but only in his mind. No one knew of his plans or when, if ever, he would make any moves.

Puedam, however, was not as at home nor was he at peace. None of the villagers had given him stay in their homes, and he was unable to find any real shelter except for hiding in the pins of some animals and using their furs for warmth. His patience was wearing thin, and as he struggled to fight off any illnesses, he had it in mind to return to his people and beg them for acceptance. It was either that, or put faith in Abdur-Rahman's promise to bring justice to the land.

It would not be the first time that someone had planned to revolt against the Kwaadi rulers. Some time ago, a young man who'd rediscovered faith in the mountains soon found himself unable to withstand the oppression any longer. His heart would not rest until he stood in prayer one night, seeking guidance, freedom, and a good end. From that point on, it was as if he knew beyond a doubt that someday, he would have all three.

However, not all could believe in his dream, nor hold such firm faith. Indeed, while the young man, having been given the name Ishmael, had inspired the hearts of many, he had also earned resentment from some miserable and cowardly folks. One miserable cretin had even gone the lengths to completely betray him.

It all began years before, in a village quite far away. Ishmael was the oldest son of a Christian man named Richard. In those times, the village was surrounded by their enemies, namely the Kwaadi to the West and North and the Muslims in the South. When the Kwaadi clansmen became aggressive and attacked the Christian village, Richard and his family became their captives.

As it was, the ruler of those folks, Kwaade himself, had authorized the attack in order to capture more slave-workers to be sent to a land up North for his people there. Fearing for her life, Richard's wife gave herself up to one of Kwaade's generals, turning her back on her family and religion. Meanwhile, Richard and his four sons were taken and tortured for their resistance to become slaves.

Richard was eventually able to break free, fleeing the town into one of the nearby Muslim villages. He was found and taken in by family of Muslims. Indeed, even Ishmael's youngest brother eventually found his way out of the prison and into the lands of the Muslims where he embraced their religion and lived amongst them. It came to be known that he was killed after trying to rally some of his newfound brethren to face the Kwaadi oppressors in his Christian homeland.

As for Ishmael and the remaining brothers, they remained in the prisons for years. They neither found means to escape nor were they freed. Instead, they were shipped across the seas and into separate nations to be slaves as was originally intended. Ishmael's faith and any hopes of freedom were beaten out of him. Even when he was left alone, he had no care to run away or escape. At such a young and tender age he had been drowned in depression and misery.

Ishmael was eventually sold to another owner, who in turn, sold him to pay off a debt that he couldn't afford. When his fourth and final owner could no longer afford to keep him due to a great famine in the land, he abandoned him. Ishmael traveled the lands as a free man once again, but still, he had no hope, no joy, and no happiness.

In time, Ishmael soon found himself amongst a village of Christians once again. Things were different than where he had grown up in his childhood, but after the years of misery, he never expected for there to be a second light in his life. The villagers took him in, and eventually, they married him to one of their women. His life had finally changed for the better, but still he had no hope and no faith.

That is, until his first brush with death. At the young age of twenty-one, Ishmael nearly lost his life while out on a hunt for food. As was the law of the land, the Christian folk of Eoltafev were not permitted outside of their village except under orders from the Kwaadi rulers or within ten kilometers of the northern side behind their lands. The trouble was, there was no wildlife in those areas, nor did any consumable plants grow therein.

With his family and folk enduring a famine and under the threat of starvation, Ishmael dared to venture beyond the established boundaries further out into the mountains. Days passed before his return, and when he was found, pale and limping just on the outskirts of his village, he was a changed man. He narrated to his family a series of miracles that even he had had difficulty believing.

On his journey, a strong wind caused him to fall from down a slippery slope and into a pit of stones and snow. Though he'd survived the fall, his leg had been severely injured, and he had found himself unable to climb out from the lowly crevice. In desperation, he called out to his Lord, "Dear God, I have come out only for the purpose of finding food for my people, if you consider this as a good cause then spare my life and allow me to return to them. Do not let me die here in this dreadful pit."

Though he doubted momentarily, his prayer was soon answered when a forceful blizzard blew the decrepit trunk of an old tree down into the pit. Despite the immense pain in his leg, Ishmael was able to climb up the fallen trunk and escape from the trench. Thereafter, as he began limping his way through the heavy snow, he found himself looking upon the distant figures of a small troop of Kwaadi men. He knew that if they captured him out in the restricted areas, he would have been tortured and eventually killed.

Once again he called out to his Lord up High, "I am injured and have no means of escape except through you. If you have spared my life before for a greater purpose, then I ask that you save me now by your Mercy and Protection. Save me from my enemies and do not let me perish before I have returned to my family."

This time, as if in immediate response to his prayers, a gust of wind blew through the mountainside, and there trailed behind it a row of clouds, sailing through the sky. Ishmael dropped to his knees, with the bitter taste of despair sapping all of his strength. He was certain that he would meet his end, however, what he failed to see was that the clouds above brought with them an immense load of snow and when they released their burden, the strong winds carried the icy drops until they were piling on layers upon layers of snow on the land and on trees in the distance. As the blizzard blew through, the men from the Kwaadi village turned back at once, without a second glance in any other direction.

Ishmael had been saved yet again, and, despite an inner whisper of doubts, he felt a small sense of hope growing within his heart. He dared not question if it were faith returning to him, lest he find disappointment yet again. Nonetheless, with what little optimism he now had, Ishmael decided to return to his village. Though he had not found any source of food, he was grateful to at least return with his life.

However, yet again things took an unfortunate turn, as Ishmael soon found himself unable to go on. When he had initially begun his descent down the mountain, the thought of climbing back up had not occurred to him. Worse still, his injured leg made even walking a difficulty, let alone climbing up a snow-covered mountainside. He could see no other means of entry to his village than to take a day's journey around the mountainside and enter through the Kwaadi town. That, however, was no better than throwing himself off of the side of the mountain, and so he refused to even consider it.

This time, even with prayer, Ishmael could see no way out from his awful situation. Even if he had still clung to faith, he could not have brought himself to believe that God would send some miraculous ladder from Heaven to help him up the mountainside. No, rather, he would either have to wait and hope that some of the villagers would venture out to rescue him, or die alone by the mountainside with all of his inner doubts of faith proven true.

The minutes passed by like hours, and the hours were as days. The bone-chilling mountain winds were like a razor cutting away at his veins, freezing his blood from the inside and bringing him a slow, painful death. He could only pray and wait for the suffering to end. And end it did, or so he had thought.

By nightfall, Ishmael had passed out completely. He neither dreamed nor did he gain rest; his body merely shut down. Shivering and huddled up to himself as he lay in the snow, Ishmael was all but dead on that cold winter night.

Even the villagers back in their homes faced the threat of freezing to death. The winds howled into the night, the radiant moon was a blue pearl against the black sky. Fires burned dimly near the homes of the villagers as the people desperately tried to keep warm together. Only, for one household, there was a missing member, and those who remained behind were in constant prayer for his sake. Only when two-thirds of the night had passed did they all fall asleep, all, save for one lonely young woman by the name of Nino. She only prayed, and prayed, and prayed, begging for the safe return of her beloved husband Ishmael.

The night came to pass and the dawn broke peacefully. In fact two nights passed successively. As another day came to start, the souls of Eoltafev’s residents had not yet returned to their bodies, apart from one man. Despite every clear reason for him to have died in those two nights, Ishmael had survived. Better still, the pain from his leg injury had dulled over time, and though he still felt fatigued, he found himself more capable of ascending the mountain.

It all felt like a dream or a hallucination of some sort. The ease with which he climbed, the lightness of his body, the peaceful state of his surroundings; none of it seemed real. He certainly met with a few difficulties on the way to the top, but given the reality of what he'd endured, he almost felt it miraculous that he was even alive, let alone marching and climbing up the steep mountainside.

When he returned to his village at last, Ishmael nearly collapsed at the entrance. The exhaustion had taken its toll, and he could hardly go on alone. Fortunately, he did not have to, for one of the men from the village soon discovered the limping man while out to collect firewood. Ishmael was assisted back into the village and soon reunited with his wife and family, grateful and rejoicing.

After relating his tale to his family, Ishmael was told by the believing men amongst the villagers that it was God Who’d saved him. He had already expected such a response from the people, and he briefly shrugged it off as foolishness; but in his innermost thoughts, he could not deny the inkling of faith that had settled into his heart after everything that had happened. He still had doubts, but at the very least, he knew that what had occurred had not been something ordinary, and he recalled both times that he desperately called out to God to save him. Both times, an immediate answer had come to him, and he survived. Even when he hadn't prayed, his life was still spared and he was returned to his people.

If it was all truly God's doing, Ishmael knew that it would've been wrong to reject faith and turn away in denial. Still, he could not remove his doubts, and he looked upon the alleged signs as mere coincidences. That night, it wasn't the hunger that he felt, nor the bitter cold that kept him awake, rather the inner conflict between his doubtful mind and hopeful heart had left him restless all night long. Before the break of dawn, he forced himself from his bed, unable to settle himself; and despite his wife's call for him to return to bed, he left outside into the night.

He looked out over the mountainside, feeling that he should by all means be buried under the snow somewhere down below. At least, that's what his mind had told him. His heart, however, was in disagreement. Rather than considering what should or might have happened, his faith was telling him to be grateful for what had actually happened. And, perhaps, that he should accept the signs and return to God.

The overwhelming struggle in his mind drove him to his knees, and with a reluctant sigh, he whispered under his breath, "I-I believe." As quiet as they were, the words echoed in his heart, and he felt a strange sensation overtake him, like an epiphany suddenly coming upon him to open his eyes to the truth of it all. His survival had certainly not been a mere coincidence, nor was it only by chance that the miracles occurred after his prayers and the delay came when he refused to pray. It was all a sign for him to turn back to God, to pray to Him, to believe in Him and rely upon Him. It was all so clear to him; if he turned to God, with true sincerity and reliance like in his moments of desperation before, He would provide for Him and give him a way out from every situation.

In that moment, Ishmael prayed like he had never prayed before. He was subconsciously brought to a state of prostration, bowing down in the snow and submitting at last to his Lord High Above. He prayed to be guided, to be saved from the disaster of losing faith, and for the survival of his people. He made an oath that so long as he lived, he would dedicate himself towards God, and he hoped that by doing so, God would shower His blessings upon he and his family, protecting them from their enemies.

That night was Ishmael's last night of doubts. When sleep overtook him, he felt at peace and saw on that night a powerful dream like he'd never seen before. Thereafter, he became deeply devoted to his beliefs. He no longer viewed the world through a lens of dread and misery, rather he had faith and trust in God. Whatever the people suffered, he knew that it would one day come to end. He busied himself in learning more and sitting with the practicing folk among his village. In the nights he would seclude himself to pray to God, and in the days he would call upon the people, encouraging them towards optimism and faith.

Unfortunately, even amongst a believing people, his call was not well received. Suspicions soon fell upon him, and he was too trusting and kind to give notice to any of the ill-willed people around himself. Instead, he continued calling to the people, speaking to them of freedom and faith, reminding them that God would not forsake a people who worshipped Him wholeheartedly. "Tyrants and oppressors will all face their end one day," he'd said. "And justice will be dealt to the believers; Jesus will return and the meek shall inherit the earth."

As time went by, Ishmael was warned against making such bold statements. He was told to keep quiet, or speak less harshly, for there were some amongst the people who considered his views to be dangerous and extreme. This, however, made him more determined to preach to his people. He could not accept the fact that the people had been so oppressed that their inner faith was suppressed to the extent that any true element of it that was unfavorable to wrongdoers was considered extreme or dangerous. The firm grip that the Kwaadi had on the hearts of even the believing people was appalling, and it had to be removed, lest they lose their faith altogether.

In time, as Ishmael's preaching continued, he became quite well-known within the village. He had gained a small band of devoted followers, and they preached to their families of the ideals had Ishmael taught to them. He was like a natural born leader, and he instilled in his followers a sense of hope and urgency to do what was right. Even those who were not followers of his could not deny the influence he had over them, encouraging them towards upholding greater morals in their religion and strengthening their relationship with their Creator.

Unfortunately, he also became a somewhat of a controversial figure amongst some. There were those who followed him eagerly, those who accepted his calls to remember God but did not follow anything else he preached, and there were those who felt that he was going to be their ruination. The Kwaadi could not be opposed, they felt, and speaking things that could be interpreted as a threat to their rule was asking for a disaster.

Their fears only worsened when Ishmael expressed his wish to someday overthrow the oppressive Kwaadi neighbors. Before, when he spoke of God destroying the tyrants and saving those who believed in Him, the cowards among men were fearful but they ignored it. They hardly believed anyhow, so they felt that there was no threat of any actual change taking place that might result in harm to the village. However, when Ishmael claimed that God's help would not simply be a miraculous sweeping from the Heavens and that the believers would have to earn their freedom through their own works and prayers, the hypocrites were on edge.

That is, until their betrayal. Amongst Ishmael's band of men there was one whose loyalty and belief were only a deceitful means of gathering information against him. He was a voluntary spy for the Kwaadi, and when he felt that he'd had enough evidence against Ishmael, he reported it all to the enemy in return for a small reward. Within hours, the Kwaadi stormed the village, attacking men left and right, even throwing one woman against a wall when she dared to question their sudden aggression.

The Kwaadi demanded to know which of the men was Ishmael and who were his followers. Not a soul professed to following him, in fact, many feigned ignorance of his existence altogether. However, Ishmael himself was not so afraid of his enemies, and he boldly faced them down. He declared himself free of their oppression by the will of God, and told them that his people would someday see that the tyrants be overturned. Out in the open space of the village, Ishmael gave one final speech for his people, hoping that they would hear him out and be inspired. He hoped that they would be encouraged to put their trust in God as he had done, and rely upon Him with certainty of faith so that they could overcome their enemies.

That was his wish, but it was certainly not the reality. His final call to the people failed as the Kwaadi soon seized him and his followers were powerless to stop them. No one contested the unfair detainment and no one dared continue on in Ishmael's way. When he was taken from the village, the spirit of his preaching died down and the people returned to their submission.

However, as a group of Kwaadi guards marched through the dimly lit prisons, taunting and sneering at their captives, they were unaware that their eagerness towards oppression was to be their undoing. They were proud of their work, specifically their latest accomplishment. They had raided the nearest village of Christians once again and taken more captives to work as slaves within their village. Leading the last of the prisoners through the halls in chains, they stopped in front of one solid metal door.

A guard stepped forth, carrying a torch and an iron key for the hanging lock. The little fire danced in his hand as he approached the steel door, peering inside through a small chamber near the top. He smirked as his eyes landed on the lowly captive inside, a frail and ragged man sitting on the cold, stony ground as the shadows covered him up. When the door was opened and the flames illuminated the room, the guards took another look at one of their most despised prisoners. His lanky form was unmoving; his disheveled hair hung down over his face with his scraggly beard covered in dust.

"After all these years, we've finally found the perfect guests for you," one of the guards taunted him before two more men were thrown into the cramped cell. "A filthy Muslim, and a treacherous ex-Kwaadi! Let's see you three enjoy debating over your God, his God, or no God." The guards all snorted in laughter as they slammed the door shut, letting the darkness consume the men once again before leading their other captives away to other cells.

Abdur-Rahman pushed himself up from the cold and stony ground, dusting his face off as he sat up. Beside him, another man shuffled in his spot, grunting and griping about the dishonorable treatment he was receiving despite his lineage. "And to think," he continued more loudly. "This is all because of you and your ridiculous planning. I didn't even have any part in all of this, yet they associate me with you once again and imprison me with you, once again. If there is a God, he must clearly hate me... and you."

"If that is what you understand of God," a rather stern voice spoke up. "Then it is clear to me why one such as yourself is unable to believe in His existence. As for my own self, I believe that God is more so about Love and Mercy than hatred and punishment. Whatever situation you two have found yourselves in, it does not mean that you must be without God's love."

"How joyous," Puedam retorted. "As if one deluded fool wasn't enough, I have been imprisoned for the rest of my life with another religious fool."

"Calm yourself, man," Abdur-Rahman spoke. "I have no intentions upon remaining in this cell. This is all a part of my-"

"Ridiculous plan, yes I am aware of that. And so far, being with you, I have gone hungry, nearly frozen to death, been captured and thrown into a pathetic Christian village, and now worst of all, I have been imprisoned in a lowly cell. Either we will die in here or I will be further degraded as a slave in the village of people beneath my status. This is all because of your doings, your planning, and your delusional belief that some Divine Deity will protect and save you miraculously."

"It won't be by a simple miracle," Abdur-Rahman and the other man spoke in unison before both paused in the darkness. Puedam sighed and rolled his eyes at their predictability.

"And what other way do either of you expect to be freed from here? Have you not been held in here for years as they say?"

"Yes I-" the man began before Puedam cut him off again.

"And you, you continuously make plans and swear that your God will help you; that He will not abandon you, and yet your situation continues to get worse and worse. He has forsaken you, give up and accept your fate. God is not going to save you, nor will you save that miserable village."

"Village? Is it Eoltafev which you speak of?"

"Yes, indeed," Abdur-Rahman answered. "Is that not the only village around? Outside of the Kwaadi towns of course."

"Yes but... Are you not a Muslim and an Atheist Kwaadi?"

"Unfortunately so," Puedam muttered.

"Wha- what do you know of Eoltafev? And of what concern is it to you?"

"We were temporarily imprisoned there," Abdur-Rahman answered.

"That is, until this imbecilic fool ignored the warnings of the people there and got us both caged up here instead," Puedam spat. "How can one claim to wish for freedom and yet foolishly do everything to get himself locked in an even smaller prison?!"

"I've told you before, my plan is incomplete. When it all falls through, you will see my strategy."

"You plan to free my people?" the man asked, with a noticeable shift in tone as he turned in the darkness towards his two companions.

"Indeed. You may be Christians, but Islam teaches us to fight against all forms of oppression, and what greater oppressors are there in this time than the Kwaadis themselves?"

"Ah, this I agree with. But how is it that you came to be imprisoned within Eoltafev? How long were you among my people and in what state did you leave them?"

"I will not lie to you; your people are suffering greatly under the Kwaadi oppression. There was a family with whom I stayed, and though they desperately clung to faith as best as they could, it was clear to me that it was all taking its toll upon their souls. One woman from among them spoke harshly to me for merely suggesting that the people seek aid from another village. The Kwaadi have gripped their hearts and controlled them with fear; there is none among them who isn't afraid that they will be taken from their families and imprisoned here or forced into slavery."

"Yes, that is, unfortunately, the same state in which I left them. However, I do believe that they can be saved from it. Though I am not originally from amongst them, I lived in that village for years before I was taken away. I was once even more hopeless than most of them are; I had no faith and no belief."

"Then why were you taken?"

"Because I found God," the man insisted a little more boldly, earning a sneer from Puedam across the room. "While I was among them, I experienced a miracle from God, and He saved me and guided me back to His way. When I prayed to Him for guidance, I saw in a dream something which made clear to me what I had to do. I saw myself beaten and abused until I turned away and fell down prostrating on the ground, but not to Kwaade or any man, rather it was as if I was in prayer. I was alone, and I wanted to stand and walk away, but I was unable to. Then, one by one, faceless bodies joined me, some crawling on their hands and knees, some looking up towards the Heavens, some being dragged by chains until they were all beside me, and they all prostrated the same way that I had done. When we were united in that prayer, we stood up together, with me in the lead, and we began marching towards the throne of a shadowy figure. As we marched, the ground shook beneath us, until that man and his throne were overturned and he was crushed beneath it, then our cheers of freedom rang out and we praised God in our highest voices."

"Subhaan Allah," Abdur-Rahman exclaimed. Puedam only huffed to express his denial as he knew exactly what interpretation the man would have for his dream.

"I believe that this dream was a sign from God. For many years in my life I have been a slave and a prisoner, and I have had my faith beaten out of me. When I allowed my faith to go, the Kwaadi truly did have their grip on me, and I was their slave in body and mind. However, by turning back to God and making myself a servant to Him alone, it was clear that the people would have to follow suit and as a united force we would overthrow the oppressors. With this realization, I began devoting myself towards greater practice of my beliefs and preaching, calling the people towards belief and hope in God. Had they united with me and submitted themselves to God rather than the fear of the Kwaadi, we would all be free. But, alas, it-"

"It's not what happened," Puedam grumbled. "It was all a dream, conjured up by your own beliefs and delusions to cope with your miserable circumstances. None of it is real and there are no signs, no visions, and no miracles. Your people did not join you, nor will they ever unite to free you, nor will your God save you!"

"You're wrong."

"No, I'm sane."

"I agree with my companion," Abdur-Rahman spoke.

"You see, even this imbec-"

"At least, on one part of what he said. Your people did not join you, and it is very unlikely that they will make any attempts to free you. I think I know who you are, and I've met with your family. Suffering for years under Kwaadi oppression has left them and all of your people greatly disheartened and they do not even like to think of any conflict, real or imaginary. However, this does not mean that there is no merit in what you dreamed of. You mentioned that your followers, the people who joined you in prayer and marching, they were faceless, no?"

"Yes," the man answered, almost questioningly.

"I think...perhaps maybe that's because they are faceless to you in real life as well. Tell me, when you called out to your people, did any of them respond to you?"

"Yes, I had a few of the young men and older men who would listen to me preach. And some of them took an oath with me to devote themselves in God's cause; but they abandoned me when the Kwaadi came."

"Exactly, so then the dream could not have meant the people whom you already knew. I think, and Allah knows best, that perhaps the faceless people are ones you have not yet met. The people of this prison and the servants in the village here, not the freemen of Eoltafev."

"What? But how can that be?"

"Yes," Puedam joined in. "Now you are sounding even more insane than he was. How can he have followers who will overthrow my pe- these Kwaadi people from within a prison and enslavement?"

"Think about it. The reason the people outside abandoned you and turned away even though their hearts were certainly with you is because they still have their homes, their families and their livelihoods to lose, regardless of how miserable those may be. We, however, are already imprisoned, so what have we to fear, doubled imprisonment? Further enslavement? How much further can the Kwaadi go beyond torture and abuse? There is nothing left to lose, but so much to gain. And you, my friend, there must be some reason why they have kept you isolated and alone for all this time, no? It's because they saw your potential, they saw what you could muster up in the people and they feared that. They cannot break your faith and so they do not want you to share that with others. They do not want you to lead, to build a force to rival their own because as you said, if the people believed and united in submission to God alone, they would certainly triumph over these oppressive disbelievers."

"True enough," the man accepted. "I pray every day for God to free me and my people; however, in all honesty I have not considered the men and women who'd already been living in these prisons or in the village as slaves. How could I? I am separate from them as you have mentioned, so there is no way that I could know them or lead them."

"That, you can leave to me. Our meeting was unforeseen, however, now that I have come to know you, I can only praise God for His wisdom and superior planning. With this, my plan has been made simpler, and will be a much easier task than before. We come from different backgrounds and hold different beliefs, but there is one thing in you that will certainly benefit us both and help in freeing all of the captives."

"And what is that?"

"Half of the key to our freedom is faith; deep, unwavering faith. And the other half is a rebellious spirit. The determination to fight with faith and with your body to overcome any obstacle in life. You don't fear the Kwaadi and that alone is a step towards victory. Those men, they made a mistake in pairing us in here with you. They assumed that we would merely argue over faith and beliefs, and indeed a time may come in which we speak about them, but that is not our first priority. Rather, we will use our commonalities as a bond to work towards mutual benefit. It matters not how long this may take, nor how much suffering we must endure, we will not let go of faith and we will fight to the very end. God-Willing, we will free these people and all those suffering under the Kwaadi oppression. They can chain our bodies and lock us up, but they cannot chain our rebel spirits..."

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