Empires Of Faith

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Chapter 8: Medical Mission

7 Rajab, 1663

"How much longer until we get there?" Rayhaan Ibn Khamisi complained. "This humid jungle air is making me itchy."

Following under the naval Captain Dhul-Kifl ibn Hisham, Rayhaan, along with Adam ibn Al-Sharif, -his milk-brother- Tariq Ibn Sulayman, -their cousin- and Ali ibn Nadeem -Dhul-Kifl's apprentice- had been sent out to the southeastern jungle regions of the Southern Continent. After a long journey at sea and a day of marching, Rayhaan had begun to grow impatient. The thick, humid air was difficult to breathe and the combined heat was an additional source of irritation. Insects buzzed about in the men's faces and the chirps of various birds echoed around the green jungle scene. Carrying bags of supplies and swords at their sides, the men marched on through for their mission.

"Shall we take another break?" Captain Dhul-Kifl offered in a soft voice. "If you are fatigued, then I see no reason we cannot rest."

"We're fine," Tariq interjected. "Rayhaan is just complaining without reason. If we do not keep going, it will be dark before we reach our destination."

"Of course," Dhul-Kifl smiled. "Let us continue marching." Slashing away at the large protruding leaves that blocked the path with his sword, Dhul-Kifl led the way through the jungle.

"I never imagined that a place like this could exist," Adam spoke, marveling at the various plants and animals. "So much life, so green, so amazing."

"Yes," Tariq replied. As a highly qualified botanist on his island home, Tariq had acquired a vast amount of knowledge on various types of plant life and habitats. In fact, it was that very knowledge which had gotten him assigned to his current mission under Dhul-Kifl. "These types of lands are far and few, but I've read that in the past there were many of these jungles and rainforests all throughout various parts of the world.”

“Really?" Adam asked, unaware. He and his brother had grown up far away in another land working as simple sheep-farm guards. They had only joined the mission because of their cousin's assignment to the task. Adam sought to explore new lands and Rayhaan was lured by the promise of adventure and a hope of attaining some sort of personal glory. As of yet, however, they were only to get an educated about some basic information from their older cousin Tariq.

“Yes. Unfortunately, everything was changed when the Great Wars took place. Human life was not the only casualty, rather many plants and animals were killed either directly or through extreme environmental changes. Dangerous chemicals polluted many of the lands, leaving behind the deadly wastelands that we all know today. Certain species of plants, however, were able to adapt and their very nature was altered in some ways. Take for example, Pereskia Grandifolia, the very rose cactus we are here to obtain."

"Why is this plant so important again?" Ali queried.

"It is important because its thorns and rose petals can be used with a few other ingredients to brew a unique blend tea with highly effective healing properties. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was reported to have said that Allah (God) has placed on earth a cure for every disease and illness, except death. And the Amir, whom I remind you is terribly ill, needs this cure for his sickness."

"Ah yes," Ali remembered. "I suppose we cannot have our only leader getting sick and dying on us."

"No, we certainly cannot. In these times of war and increasing struggle, the Muslims need a leader to guide them and take care of them. There are already small disputes here and there about our Amir, as you know. Unfortunately, the sectarianism of the past has not yet left our Ummah; and so there are some people who still argue against the Amir’s legitimacy as our leader. Alhamdulillah, they have not completely abandoned the Muslim unity, but if the Amir passes it may not be so easy to find a replacement whom all of the people will agree to follow."

"Yes, yes, we get it," Rayhaan impatiently cut in. "Politics, right? Well, we will never complete this mission if we don’t at least hurry up and get to this flower.”

“Cactus rose,” Tariq corrected him. “And we will get to it when Allah wills. If you knew anything about the plant-life of this land, you would know that plants like the rose cactus grow near and atop the mountain areas. So quiet your complaints and we will reach it when it is time.”

With that, the conversation ended and the men marched on in silence. Trekking through the dense jungle, they soon came to a muddy path which slowed their progress. Stepping on through, they soon discovered that the path was riddled with deep puddles of mud that had only appeared shallow at first glance. After Adam got himself stuck in one of the mud traps, Dhul-Kifl reluctantly decided upon finding another way around.

Tariq and Ali had just managed to pull Adam free from the mud pool when suddenly they heard a strange howl echoing from the trees. "That's no animal I know of," Ali said gripping his sword. A wooden arrow darted right over his arm as he jumped to the ground. "It seems like we've got company!" he shouted warning the others. Tariq lifted Adam to his feet and then reached for his sword.

A volley of arrows came piercing through the thick forestry. "This is bad," Adam shouted, taking cover behind a tree. "Where are these guys even shooting from?"

"Show yourselves you cowards," Rayhaan shouted, looking around for the enemy that had attacked. He, Tariq, and Ali backed into a circle with their swords drawn, facing all sides to defend themselves. They listened to the rustling of the leaves just before another set of arrows came speeding through. One of the arrows zipped past Rayhaan's shoulder and startled him. "That's it!" He charged off into the brush and pounced behind where he perceived the attack to have come from.

Finding no one there, Rayhaan stood in anger. Adam, still hiding behind the tree thought up the idea to climb the tree and survey the area for the enemy. Wiping his hands and boots clean of the mud that he'd been covered in, he wrapped his arms around the mossy trunk of the tree and began carefully ascending to the top. Before long, he had gotten his way up several branches and was able to make out a few shadowy figures hidden in the brush.

"Captain Dhul-Kifl!" Adam called out to his comrade. "I have a visual of the enemy; about 20 paces to your right there is one preparing his bow!"

Dhul-Kifl heeded Adam's warning and drew his sword before rushing to the location of the enemy. When he reached the supposed location, there was no one there. He found only a crushed leaf and reddish liquid atop a small stone. "Where has he headed?" Dhul-Kifl called to Adam.

Adam climbed up higher in the tree and peered out over the distance to spot another enemy. This time he noticed one with his bow aimed at Rayhaan. Adam immediately pulled his knife from its scabbard and threw it at the man. The knife was deflected by another man standing guard with a shield. "Rayhaan look out!" Adam shouted.

Rayhaan turned his back and saw the arrow speeding his way. He ducked to the ground and the arrow skimmed over his back, leaving a light flesh wound. Tariq charged to Rayhaan's defense while Ali joined Dhul-Kifl. Adam pulled another knife out and began descending the tree in a hurry. When he reached the lowest branch, he dropped to the ground and rolled over before running to join his brother and cousin. Ducking and hopping, Adam dodged the arrows and made his way to his brother. "Are you alright?" Adam asked as he and Tariq stood over him, facing the enemy.

Rayhaan got back to his feet and placed a hand on Adam's shoulder. "I will be once I've skinned every single one of these cowards!"

"There's no way we can take them all; I spotted at least ten of them and we are only five."

"That just means we'll all take on two each," Rayhaan said gripping his sword. "Cover me; I'll chop down every tree these spineless archers are hiding behind! They can't hide from me!" Without another word, he charged forward, swinging his blade wildly at all of the thick vegetation as he headed towards his attackers. Tariq and Adam followed after him, stopping only when another wave of arrows came flying their way.

Just in a nick of time, Tariq shoved Adam to the ground and dove into a nearby bush himself. Rayhaan looked back for a split second before continuing on ahead, leaping up with his sword at the ready. When he landed behind another shrub, he found no one in that place and was instead fired on from another location. and the three made their way to the men's location. The arrow skimmed his cheek and left an open gash which he quickly slapped his left hand to cover.

"Argh, I am getting sick of these cowards," Rayhaan growled in pain. "When I get my hands on them I'm going to-"

"Shhh," Dhul-Kifl hushed. He steadied his breathing as he quietly surveyed their surroundings. All of the men were near to one another, almost in a circle with no signs of the assailants. His beady eyes scanned the area carefully; his ears listened intently. In the distance, the chirping sounds of various birds and insects echoed through the forest. The hot and heavy air carried no winds, and the rustling sounds of leaves and bushes could faintly be heard growing weaker and weaker.

Tariq gripped his sword as he and the other men all looked about expectantly. Rayhaan and Ali stood on guard, ready to dodge or deflect any further attacks. Tariq and Adam remained seated, making no sounds at all as their Captain continued to listen in for the enemies. The sounds of rustling leaves grew weaker and weaker until there was almost complete silence.

"They are gone," Dhul-Kifl said, exhaling softly as he put away his sword.

"Oh Alhamdulillah," Adam sighed as he wiped his brow.

"Well that's a disappointment," Rayhaan grumbled, putting away his sword rather reluctantly. "They couldn't even show their faces or fight us up close and yet they've fled from us already? How pathetic."

"Would you have preferred that they stayed and continued trying to kill us?!"

"I'm not so sure they were trying to kill us," Tariq spoke up. "I could be wrong, but those may have been warning shots."

"Warning shots?" Ali asked. "With deadly arrows?"

"Has anyone been shot or killed? The most damage that was done was a scrape here and there on Rayhaan, and that's because he was moving about and charging after them. And look now, have they not left us? If they wanted us dead, wouldn't they have stayed to finish the job?"

"Perhaps, but I still don't understand about the warning shots. What are they warning us of? Venomous snakes? Poisonous plants?"

"No, it would obviously be something about their territory."

"But these lands are unclaimed; we have every right to be here."

"They may be unclaimed by any of the known empires, but that doesn't mean someone else isn't inhabiting them. From this point on we should proceed with extreme caution. Be on your guard, but let's not make a threat of ourselves. We're here on a peaceful mission; but perhaps to native inhabitants it may appear that we are invading their lands. "

"I'm going to do more than invade their lands if I find one of them again," Rayhaan spat. "I've been itching for a fight this entire journey; if those spineless natives dare show up again I'll show them what a threat I can be."

"Why are you so fixated on fighting?" Adam questioned his brother. "That's not even what we're here for."

"No, but just hunting for flowers in the forest isn't going to bring us any honor and respect. We need to fight and gain some recognition for ourselves back home."

"Adam is right," Dhul-Kifl declared. "We are here to obtain the cactus rose for the Amir and return home. These people here are not our enemies; we must be careful and remain peaceful when intruding in these places. Do you understand?”

"Yes, sir," Rayhaan muttered under his breath.

"Good. Also, I think that we should take a break and pray now. We will combine Zhuhr* and Asr* since we are travelling and thus we'll save time and have the worry free from our minds in case something else should happen."

"I agree," Tariq said, looking on ahead. "We have at least another hour or so before we even reach the mountain where the rose cactus grows; and from there we'll only have a few hours to search for a good enough sample before sunset. We should definitely pray here and get a move on."

"Certainly. Ali, call the athan whilst we prepare everything for prayer." Ali nodded and stood forward to call the athan. Tariq and Dhul-Kifl worked to get out their prayer mats and clear a space to pray while Adam and Rayhaan made wudhu with some of the water they'd brought along.

The athan and iqama were called and the salah was prayed. After two rakats for Zhuhr, the iqama was called again and the men all prayed Asr. After prayer, they all sat in their prayer places quietly. The silence was broken by the scurrying of a tiny, spotted lizard across the prayer mat of Rayhaan, who quickly jumped up, unsheathing his sword.

"Sheesh man," Ali laughed. "It's just a lizard; put the sword away and sit down."

"Sword yes, sit no," Tariq said leaning on his hands to stand up. "We need to get back to walking."

"Yes," Dhul-Kifl spoke to the others. "Back to marching men. No more breaks from here on out, In Shaa Allah." The group cleared up their belongings and got back to walking with Dhul-Kifl taking the lead. The winding paths of the marshy forest were endless, with the humid air and beaming sun overhead. Still, the men pressed on, hoping to reach their goal soon enough.



An hour later the group was ascending the vertical heights of one of several mountains. The hills grew steeper and steeper, leaving the men to climb and crawl upwards using their hands as well. The dense forestry provided shade from the sweltering sun above, but the moist air and slippery terrain made climbing more of a difficulty than without the trees. Bird and insects zipped about the air, with flies continuing to buzz in the men’s ears and faces.

Reaching for the vine of a mossy tree, Adam struggled to pull himself up a particularly steep slope. As he gripped the velvety vine, Adam gave a tug and tried to jump his way up. The vine nearly snapped, and Adam slipped backwards at once. He tripped over the trunk of a fallen tree and nearly began tumbling down the mountain side before his cousin Tariq had caught hold of him by his shirt.

"You really need to be more careful,” he warned him. “This is the third time I’ve had to save you in as many hours. Had I known that you would have to be saved so much I would have object to your coming in the first place.”

"I didn't need your saving," Adam said, brushing dirt off of himself. "I was about to stop myself on that tree down there.”

“Just keep climbing,” Tariq sighed, shaking his head.

It wasn't long before the men had gotten past the vertical heights of the mountain and had made it to walkable terrain. The tall trees and bushes on the hills were giving way to small patches of grass and other such short growing greenery. Tariq bent down to analyze one of the plants close up. "Interesting," he said as he carefully looked over the flowery species. There was a bundle of purplish flowers having deep-yellow centers and bearing dark green fruits. "Solanum carolinense, growing way out here? Imagine that."

"What’s so significant about that?” Ali asked. “What are solarnum- er, whatever it was you said? Are they important?”

“Solanum carolinense, or horse nettles, are an herbaceous plant that was once native to the land above this continent. Though many types were found in the Eastern and Northern continent, they weren’t really common in this land.”

“Is that all?”

“Well, we should also avoid touching or consuming any part of them,” Tariq said matter-of-factly. As it was, Rayhaan had just taken up a few of the small fruits and was about to devour them before hearing Tariq’s statement. He tossed them aside, making Adam jump out of the way in a dramatic fashion to avoid touching them.

“What would happen if someone were to eat just the fruits from them?”

“Well, every part of the plant is poisonous, albeit in varying degrees, due to the presence of solanine.”

“You’re going to make me ask, aren’t you?”

“Ask what?”

“What is solanine?”

“Solanine is a glycol-alkaloid poison found in species of the nightshade family, which includes some tomatoes and similar fruits, like these. It’s the plant’s natural line of defense. While consuming any part of the plant can typically cause minor issues like a fever, a headache, itchy throat, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, ingesting the fruit is much worse. Eating the fruit can cause abdominal pain, circulatory and respiratory depression, or even in some cases death. So as I said, it would be best if no one decided to eat any of these.”

“Understood.”

"Hmm. These might come in handy. I think I shall collect a sample of these for further analysis. This is a rare finding." Tariq pulled out a small sack from a belt around his waist and used it to grab some of the flowers before tightly sealing it.

"Uh guys," Adam called out from one of the higher points of the mountains. "I think you should take a look at this." Tariq stood up from squatting and looked towards his cousin. Ali and the others all headed up towards him, and Tariq joined them at once. As they stood atop the slanted boulder, Adam pointed them all in the direction of his discovery. Their eyes widened as small gasps escaped their mouths.

"This is unbelievable," Tariq proclaimed.

"You think maybe this is why those men attacked us earlier?" Ali asked. "Were they trying to keep us away from here?"

"We must send word to the Amir," Dhul-Kifl declared in astonishment. Tariq and the others all nodded in agreement. They could barely blink as they looked on in wonder. "This could bring a big change to the war with Kwaade."

"No doubt about it," Tariq spoke. "This will certainly be a game changer."


GLOSARY/TRANSLATIONS

Zhuhr: the 2nd of the five obligatory daily prayers for Muslims. The timing for this is around noon.

Asr: the 3rd of the five obligatory daily prayers for Muslims. The timing for this is in the latter half of the afternoon. According to authentic ahadith (recordings of the Prophet's sayings, actions, approvals, etc), it is permissible for a traveler to combine the timing for Zhuhr and Asr during their journey. This combining of prayers isn't done as one single prayer but rather is just allows for either prayer to be prayed at the time of the other along with it.


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