Empires Of Faith

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Chapter 6: Origins and Alliances

23 Sha'baan, 1663

Three days had passed in full since the most recent council meeting. Juan Gutierrez had summoned the other council members and his associates for an impromptu battle planning. Without the arrival of any Cross delegates, Juan was afforded all of the freedom that he needed to plan and carry out his revenge crusade in the nearby lands. And plan he did.

It was just before the setting of the sun, and Juan was busy in plotting along with a small band of his closest trustees. Holding the highest rank among the city officials, Juan faced no opposition in his planning. He and his men were gathered around a large table with an enormous map of the nearest nations spread out for strategizing.

The man seemed to have an insatiable thirst for blood, something which worried even his comrades at times. He proposed numerous attacks, and among them was one in which there seemed to be no purpose other than bloody slaughter. Neither vengeance nor tactical grounds would be gained by the attack, but nonetheless he had the people convinced that it was necessary. It was his crusade, and everyone else looked only to follow in his lead.

As the arid winds outside whirred on hauntingly, there came a knock upon the door. Juan snapped up from his table, ordering one of his servant men to tend to the door. The man obediently marched over towards the door, reaching out to slide open a metal lock. Checking through the opened crack in the door, his eyes were immediately drawn to the familiar golden insignia on one man’s armor which could be recognized all throughout the lands.

Without question, he unhinged the lock and opened the door. There stood before him three men, all dressed in white with silver armor covering their shins, chests, and forearms. Their red capes and armor were adorned with golden crosses, varying in size and design according to the ranks of their wearers.

Without so much as a word, the men breezed right past him with stern looks upon their faces. They immediately approached Juan and the other men, introducing themselves before getting straight to business in discussing their mission. It seemed that they had been sent with new orders from the leader of The Cross about the governance in the land and the separate city-states. Just as they had interrupted Juan’s discussion, however, their discussion was similarly interrupted.

“E-excuse me sirs,” a voice from across the room called. Juan and the lead man from amongst the delegates turned to face him as he stood, holding the door slightly ajar. In the distance behind the open door there approached to figures, their faces hidden by the glare of the red sun. “Are these two men accompanying you?”

"We know of no one else joining our party," one of the men quickly offered before turning back to his discussion with Juan.

The servant shrugged and turned to shut the door before suddenly he came to recognize one of the figures. Beside a shorter, lanky companion there marched a tall, bearded man of olive complexion and burly stature. From his broad shoulders down, he was dressed in a tattered, chestnut colored shirt which hung over light-brown pants; the humble appearance of a mere peasant. His long black hair, reaching to his shoulders, coupled with his thick brown beard was like a majestic mane. And the deadly ax hung in a sling from a belt around his waist made it perfectly clear who he was.

“El Leon de España,” the man whispered to himself in awe. He'd heard legends of El Leon; indeed, he knew all about him. Nonetheless, this was the first time he had ever seen him in person. At least, the first time since he had become Spain's guardian Lion.

Before becoming the fierce warrior who was respected throughout the lands, Gabriel Guerrero was a simple slave to the tyrannical governor of a town neighboring his own. The man had taken Gabriel as a slave years ago after slaying his mother and father in a tribal war. Gabriel grew up knowing only slavery and servitude, never seeking honor or glory, or any goal for that matter. Gabriel was as hopeless and destitute as any man could be.

That is, until one night he came to learn that his master intended to surrender the entire town to invading Kwaadi forces for a small price. As a young man, Gabriel was able to see his cowardly slave-master for the wicked snake that he was. Knowing that all signs of religion would be wiped out under Kwaadi rule, Gabriel confronted his master, demanding that he stand up to the Kwaadi. A fight ensued and Gabriel gained the upper hand, eventually slaying his master and avenging his parents in the process.

When the authorities came after him, Gabriel hid out in a nearby church. Even though he hadn't been a religious man before, Gabriel called out to God to save and protect him, promising that he would then devote himself to the worship of God alone and to live a life of righteousness. He swore to dedicate his life to protecting the weak and the oppressed, to fighting injustice and spreading the Word of God.

As it was, Gabriel managed to find a discarded ax within the tiny cellar of the Church. He believed the ax to be a sign from God, a sign that his destiny was to fight, to be a defender of the weak and thus earn God's Grace. He accepted this and took hold of the ax, going headlong into a battle with the city guards. Despite being heavily outnumbered and lacking in experience, Gabriel managed to emerge victorious over his enemies. The blood spilled was minimal, as many of the men easily surrendered to the fierce warrior who’d slayed their cruel governor and saved their city from being sold to the Kwaadi.

This greatly increased Gabriel in faith; strengthening his belief in God and his own resolve to be God’s servant in the lands. Feeling that his purpose had not yet been fulfilled, Gabriel sought to gather up a small army to face the oncoming Kwaadi force, but tribal disputes left him unassisted in his mission. Still, he was determined to honor his promise to God, even if it meant marching to his death.

And so, armed with only an ax and his own strong will, Gabriel set out to meet the approaching army. Though he suffered major injuries, Gabriel indeed managed to fight off at least one small force single-handedly. This, fortunately, caught the attention of a few nearby towns who’d already been taken under Kwaadi control. The citizens rallied behind the brave hero who combatted their oppressors, giving both moral and armed support to his cause of saving his town.

Now with a ragtag band of villagers and a few armed guards from other villages, Gabriel met with the Kwaadi army again and pushed them further back into the lands. Growing braver, he led assaults on several Kwaadi army camps throughout the land of Spain. Instead of fighting for his own village as was the norm in the land, Gabriel fought to defend the entire nation from the evils of Kwaade. His morals would not allow him to leave the Christian lands to the godless laws of Kwaade.

The absolute courage he exhibited, along with his strong sense of morality, made Gabriel a hero to all of Spain. He was a valiant guardian to its people, someone whom many believed to be sent by God Himself to defend the largest remaining Christian territory on Earth. Many of the Christian leaders had been passive before, but Gabriel was a fierce and mighty lion, thus earning his title El Leon de Espana.

With a smile of admiration, the servant man stood by the door, awaiting Gabriel’s approach. It was only a matter of moments before both figures stood before him, and he stepped outside to allow them to pass. Gabriel stepped in first, and when his companion followed right after, the servant man was in disbelief. He could not believe that right before him stood a Muslim!

The room immediately fell silent, with a heavy tension settling over at once. Weapons were raised and all eyes fell on Gabriel and his companion. The turban wearing young man easily stood out, dressed in clothing quite uncommon to the area. Half of his face was covered by the brown cloth of his turban, the tail of which was draped over his shoulders and down his back. He wore a long brown thobe with slits on the side and black pants underneath; and around his waist there was a dark brown sash, knotted at his right side with the two ends hanging down. His stance was neither challenging, nor defensive, though he wielded in his right hand a tall-standing bo-staff, perfect for fighting. Juan clenched his fist as he looked towards Gabriel disapprovingly. “What is the meaning of this?!” he questioned. “¡¿Estas loco?!* How dare you bring a filthy Muslim into here? We are at war with these unholy heathens and barge in with one by your side, still armed?! Explain yourself, ¡ahora!*”

"Calmate hombre*, he is not an enemy,” Gabriel assured him in a stern voice. “And all of you, bajen sus armas*; you will not harm a peacemaker." The men moved uncertainly, looking to Juan for his approval. He gritted his teeth indecisively, and Gabriel spoke up again in warning. "Should anyone move to harm this man, I will personally see to it they are never able to move again."

That threat was enough to make Juan’s blood boil. He had already been upset with Gabriel for what he felt was an audacious front on his authority at the previous meeting; now he was infuriated at Gabriel’s interruption of his current meeting. Bringing in a Muslim and daring to defend him over his own people set Juan off. All respect for Gabriel was gone, and he simply demanded answers in hopes to expose Gabriel as a traitor. “"Leon o no Leon, you had better have an explanation for this treachery, or I will see you hanged beside this scum.”

"As I said, this man is not an enemy to you and I. He is a man with similar goals as myself; wishing only to see that good be done in the lands. This is Ishaq-"

"The Wandering Fox," one of the Cross delegates cut in. The entire room gasped in astonishment. Juan's eyes widened in shock, and for a moment, there was a flicker of fear in his eyes.

There was, of course, good reason for him to be fearful. The legends of the Wandering Fox had spread wide, reaching many lands. Many had believed him to be nothing but a myth created by the Muslims or an exaggerated rumor, but the respect with which a high ranking Cross official mentioned him showed otherwise.

Very few knew of his actual origin, though the consensus was that he had appeared in the Western Continent within the last two decades as a small child. His tribe was unknown, if he even had any, and his lineage was a mystery. There reports that his mother passed away in labor and his family were slain in war, leaving him an orphan all alone.

No one knew how he’d survived, how he was raised and grew up, and indeed, much of his life was shrouded in mystery. It was known that he was a lonesome traveler, journeying by himself through many lands and many nations without end. He’d been hunted before, as he wandered into Kwaadi territories, but was an elusive target, and he always managed to escape. Even as a young boy, his clever mind and sneaky ways were great assets to his survival, earning him the despised nickname of the little fox.

As he grew older, he became more apt to defend himself against enemies, rather than merely escaping them. Armed with a wooden staff, wrapped in bandages, he skillfully took on gangs of criminals and bounty-hunters alike. It was often said that his skills and wit in combat were on par with some of the great warriors and generals of the past, and his record seemed not to disprove that. No one knew for what purpose he traveled the lands; but those who knew of him knew that the Wandering Fox was not someone to take lightly.

"I've heard about you," the man from the Cross continued. "Tell me, what are you doing here?"

"He's here to spy for his people," Juan spoke, still seeking to antagonize Ishaq.

"Don't be a fool," the man reprimanded Juan. "He doesn't belong to any one people. He's called the Wandering Fox for a reason."

Juan gave no reply.

"I am here because I see the godless Kwaadi people prevailing against the believers of God," Ishaq finally spoke. "And now it appears as though the only remaining believers in God are going to fight each other instead of fighting their greater enemy, Kwaade."

"So I've heard," the man replied. "And yet I see the Wandering Fox and the Lion of Spain associating with one another, so all cannot be as it seems."

"No senor it is not," Gabriel humbly spoke. "As you know, I would lay my life down for The Cross and my fellow believers. I would not take an action unless I thought it to be beneficial to our people. If you wonder about my association with this man after some recent attacks upon our people, it is because I have come to know that the attack was nothing but deceit. It was a devious ploy by the Ikeqi peoples who have now allied themselves with the Kwaadi."

“The Ikeqi?” The man stroked his curly blond mustache as he pondered over Gabriel’s revelation. He certainly knew of the Ikeqi people. They were a nation with residing primarily in the Western Continent, near the Muslims and the Kwaadi. The majority faction was located somewhere near the Nile river, and were of two classes. The higher class were of a fairer skin shade, having come from the north. They lived in lofty castles surrounded by fertile gardens nearest to the river. The lower class were more similar to their Muslim neighbors in that they lived in small villages and spent their days working beneath the hot desert sun.

The lower class Ikeqis were once their own separate tribe, called the Nefarians. They had been Kwaade-loyalists, even though they appeared more similar in clothing and culture to the Muslims. Still, in beliefs and governance they sided with the Kwaadi, until the true Ikeqis from the North conquered and subdued them in order to take advantage of one of the resources found in their lands. The Nefarians were assimilated into the small Ikeqi nation, with the hopes of establishing a force great enough to compete with the Muslims, Christians, and Kwaadi peoples.

A peace pact was brokered with the local Muslim villages to ensure their safety and development, and an agreement was made to combat any Kwaadi aggression to either party in a joint effort. The relation between the Ikeqi and the Muslims was fairly well for the time that it lasted, but alas, they Ikeqis proved treacherous and fighting between the two resumed. Still, to a man from the Cross, it made no sense for the Ikeqi to travel north to attack the Christians on another continent. He couldn’t make sense of it, and so Gabriel was forced to explain to him what he’d been told by Ishaq.

"Indeed, the attackers were certainly Ikeqi men." Gabriel continued. "It struck me as odd as well, but a closer examination of the men we captured proved it; the atrocities of the night raid were purported by the Ikeqi. We have concluded that it was but a simple tactic of divide and conquer. If the Christians and Muslims were to return to fighting one another like the wars of the past, we would most certainly be easier targets for Kwaade and his men."

"It would certainly seem so. And if this is the case, then it is only a matter of time before Kwaade makes another attack on our people.”

"Yes, we have considered that as well.”

"And what do you suggest we do about this matter then?"

"You are a senior official and you ask me of my opinion in the matter?"

"Yes; the great Lion of Spain deserves to be heard and honored by the Cross and the people he fights so hard to defend. So tell me Senor Guerrero, what is your proposal here?"

"If at all possible, I think I would suggest a temporary peace pact between our Christian Spain and the nearest Muslim lands. Were we to form an alliance between the people to combat Kwaade, it would be of mutual benefit. Indeed, there are already Muslims residing in this land, and we have Christians in their lands as a minority. A peace pact would ensure the safety of those peoples and allow for open trading between the two. Just as well, with the region free of Kwaade influence, perhaps faith would be more central to relations between us in a positive manner rather than combative. "

"Indeed."

"And what say you of this matter, O Wandering Fox?"

Ishaq turned towards the Cross delegate, and the look in his eyes made his thoughts a mystery. His eyes then shifted to Juan. "So long as the hateful hearts of men like this are kept in charge, there will be bloodshed between the two,” he declared bluntly. “However, if honor and leadership are given to those deserving of it, there most certainly is a chance for peace and unity. If we are able to remove Kwaade through a combined effort, then I would be the first to raise arms. You have my support."

"Excellent. And what of you Captain Croiser?" The man spoke to one of his companions. "And you Captain Ylittää?"

"In the past the people of my land lived side by side with the Muslims," Captain Croiser, a thin, pale man spoke in a French accent. "I see no harm in allying ourselves with them now for the sake of victory over Kwaade."

"I agree," Captain Ylittaa spoke in a nasally tone.

"There we have it then, God Wills it," the first man spoke.

"What of my say," Juan spoke, clearly irritated at the blatant lack of respect for his opinion. "I am Juan Gutiérrez, head of the Madrid city council. We are the foremost of the cities in Spain, and the largest Christian territory. If we agree to a thing, the others will eventually follow suit. Likewise if we reject a thing, so too will they. You would be wise to hear my voice."

"We know who you are," the man replied. "And we know what you do."

"Then why have you given precedence to this desert dweller above me? Am I not your Christian brother?"

"Yes, you share the same faith as us, but this man shares the same morals and that is something you have been known to be lacking in."

"How dare yo-"

"Let me ask you," the man said, cutting Juan off. "Do you know who I am?"

"N-no," Juan said, shamefully lowering his head.

"What a pathetic city head you are then. I am General John White III of the Cross Defense Force. I am infinitely your superior in rank, and by my judgment all of the other men of this room are as well. I know of your extreme bloodlust and greed. Were it not that it would cause dissent among our Christian brethren, I would have you put out from power altogether. You speak highly of yourself and this city as if all others are beneath you and follow in your lead. You show no humility and are undeserving of leadership. You are a cruel bully among the people and behave very unChrist-like. In fact, it is for that reason that I am assigning you the task of rebuilding the alliance with the nearest cities. You will go to them and submit yourself to whatever request they make, in order that they might align themselves with the people of Madrid. With a complete unified Christian force from Spain and the aide of the Muslim nations east and south, we might finally be able to expel Kwaade from the lands for good."

"And just what guarantees the help of the Muslims?" one of the other council members asked challengingly. He felt bold and proud of himself, with Juan clearly taking his side and expressing the same interest. That is, until Gabriel and one of the Cross captains turned towards him with deathly glares. "M-My apologies sir, I spoke out of term, please forgive me."

"Nonsense," General White replied. "That is an excellent question. The Cross is willing to fight alongside the Muslims, but are they willing to unite with us for this? We must send envoys to the nearest lands and seek their support. I would send my two captains, but I have brought them here to assist in the governance here and they are still needed for that. Furthermore, now that we are to plan a full-scale war with the neighboring Kwaadi, we will need strategists and leaders. The recruits from all of your towns will need training and preparation, so I cannot send either of my captains, nor can I go myself."

"Then send me," Gabriel suggested. "Allow me to go and meet with them. You said that it would be the will of God for us to unite with them. It is my earnest desire to please God, and so if I can strike an agreement between us and them, it will be an honor."

"This is not the task for one man, it would take too much time go to the east and to the south. You would travel by land and by sea, to do both for both places will take nearly 3 months."

"I will go," Ishaq volunteered. "I will travel to the eastern islands. I have already travelled from one of them in recent times; returning to and from there would be of little difficulty for me.”

"I can't send you alon-" the General began.

"I'm not asking you to send me. I am going." Ishaq's eyes held a sharp stare in them as he eyed the General down.

"Very well then," the General sighed. "You are not under my command anyways. If you are travelling east, your journey will take just under a month to arrive."

"I can make it there in under three weeks."

"Ok, I will not question you on that, but we need to make an estimate of the time in which both journeys can be completed. I assume your journey will also be a matter of weeks," General White said to Gabriel. Gabriel nodded in agreement. "Very well then, if you are both successful in your meetings, and Juan also gains the support of the neighbors, we should have things set within one month. Two months should be your return and by the half of that we should be on course for war. I am going to pen a letter for the leaders you are each going to. Deliver them to the rulers with the utmost respect and express to them the urgency of the situation. I pray that we are able to win them all over and have a plan soon as well. You should set out in the morning, once you’ve had your rest for the evening. For now, you should go and ready yourselves for departure.”

"I will depart within an hour," Ishaq spoke determinedly. "I have no preparations to make, I merely need to perform my prayers and set out."

"Why so hasty?" General White asked. "I've yet to even write the letters you need to deliver."

"Mankind is in Loss, and we do not dictate time rather time dictates our lives. We must make haste to do good while we are still able to, lest we be of the Losers before God."

"Very well then, I agree. Are you in agreement Gabriel?"

"I certainly see the value of time and the wisdom with which you speak. I however have a family whom I must prepare for my absence. If it is alright with you General White, I will leave mañana,* at sunrise."

"I am pleased with the decision of you both. I will get to work on the letters immediately and you are free to depart as you wish. Return here to pick up the letters shortly. For now, you are dismissed."

"Yes," Juan said pointing to the exit. "Get out of my presence and take the desert dweller with you,"

Paying no mind to Juan, Gabriel thanked General White for agreeing to his suggestion and humbly departed. Ishaq cast one careful glance towards Juan before making his exit as well. His own words rang in his mind, knowing that Juan’s heart was one of hatred and foolishness. He could only hope to see him done away with and replaced with a man more fit to lead. Only then would peace stand a chance. Until then, he was set on achieving a different goal, and so began another journey for Ishaq Al-Ghareeb, the Wandering Fox, and Gabriel Guerrero, El Leon de Espana...


TRANSLATIONS

Estas loco: Are you crazy/insane?

Ahora: Now, at once, right now.

Calmate hombre: Calm down, man.

Bajen sus armas: Lower your weapons

Mañana: Tomorrow


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