Randy Ford Author- EL CONQUISTADOR Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-four

Now there came a point when Omar began asking his friend about Christianity. He wanted to know about Christianity. And he insisted on straightforward answers. He sought answers though his own religion provided them. Then he asked himself which was the true religion. Omar always suspected that his brothers were railroaded into accepting Spain’s religion, so he wanted to know for himself what was so attractive. He wanted to know for himself, and it was why he had Carlos explain Christian doctrine as it was commonly but often erroneously taught. After Sonja came into his life, Carlos began practicing catechism, as it was practiced around the world. After he met Father Bartholome he began practicing catechism. And with the loss of Landing and Raise (his love for them never died), Omar was thrown off balance and began looking for something to console him.

A very obscure path to Christianity’s door, but once opened there was a straight path through a trackless forest. The religion also promised a refuge. And because of his status, Omar had more freedom than most Moros. Yet listening to Carlos ultimately placed him in great peril.

There were aspects of Christianity Carlos knew nothing about. So he couldn’t answer all of his friend’s questions: such as why repentance and participating in the Eucharist required a priest. Omar looked for answers that only could be found in seminaries of Manila.

But don’t think Carlos was overjoyed about his close friend going to Manila. He knew there would be dangers involved and cautioned his friend. Imagine his agitation, his worry and his torment. Imagine what it felt like … what it felt like if something were to happen to Omar in Manila. What it felt like as a trap was set. Imagine guilt. Imagine what it felt like. In this case, it hurt more because it involved a close friend.

Meanwhile, Omar after a long delay was finally temporarily installed in a house in Intramuros. Except for Carlos’ oldest son and a few bodyguards, Omar foolishly left behind his retinue. He believed in Carlos, and when Carlos sent his oldest son to be with him in Manila, it reinforced his trust. His faith in his friend was then complete. He was taught that there was nothing worse than betrayal and this explained Omar’s naivete. It seemed to him crucial to see what was behind Christianity and if he could find from the church what he was looking for.

Omar kept his motives to himself. Wholeheartedly and with pomp and honor due a prince, he was publicly received in the hall of the Audiencia. Wholeheartedly, after showered with presents, which included chains of gold, fine garments, precious gems, and gold canes, steps were taken for his public conversion. Nevertheless, the governor general seemed very anxious. He seemed anxious for Omar’s conversion while entertained doubts about Omar’s sincerity. He fretted and debated with himself over this and finally decided that Omar was worth more in prison than running around free. Omar was a prize catch, a prize catch he hadn’t expected and realized that he was worth more in prison than running around free. He thought that he could probably exchange Omar for at least five hundred Christian slaves.

The charges were simply absurd but were accepted as fact by the Archbishop. Incarcerated in Fort Santiago, Omar expected no clemency. He realized he made a mistake and expected no clemency. He realized he made a mistake when he found himself incarcerated in Fort Santiago. The charges were absurd. They were trumped up, but he couldn’t refute them. Circumstantial, they said he refused to pray in a Christian form and only twice attended Mass. Then no one was surprised that he still prayed three times a day to Allah. How could he be a Christian and pray to Allah? Less circumstantial, but no less damning, they found in his home more Muslim books than Christian ones. Yet he read Pope Paul III’s Bull, altitudo divini consilii (1537), that declared that a man’s legitimate wife was his first one, which probably confused and saddened him. Whether or not he accepted a literal interpretation of the Holy See’s dictum that “the right of choice only applied when some one’s first wife disappeared or refused baptism” was never known.

Omar’s imprisonment was humiliating. It was, therefore, not surprising that during this period the Sulus saw a great increase in revengeful behavior.

Hearing “Los Juramentados!” naturally brought fear and thoughts of death. Shouting in Arabic, “La ilaha il-la’ l-lahu!” each juramentado hoped to kill at least one Christian before he found a martyr’s death.

The nation Sooloo, home of the makdumin (makdum Arabic singular for Muslim traders) before the age of pirates, even before the Islamic era, began in earnest some six centuries ago. More than three hundred years before Magellan, songs and poetry… epics of Sooloo…told of greatness. This was before the Spanish came and before Sufi wanderers! Were the first seeds sown in the deserts of Arabia and carried eastward by winds? What did the Moros hear? What did the Spaniards want? And, through centuries, who kept score? We know what each side said. We know that each side said the other side was evil and false. To a fault, they were equally right and wrong. It was a classic example of intolerance. That you should burn and destroy Christian homes was ironically similar to a doctrine that said Christians alone were good.

From both places Sonja shared faults of both Christians and Muslims. This she never openly acknowledged, but while living in Jolo, she gave herself over to the Moro cause. She actually reached the conclusion that Jesus Christ called by Moros Isa was not the Son of God, but none the less was great and good. She changed by the time she reached Jolo. By the time she landed in Jolo, she was exhausted by losses and entered exile chained to circumstances. Without her new family and a connection with the Sulu Sultanate, she would’ve been totally lost.

When the island slept, sounds carried great distances. They carried a great distance, so they had to be muffled by stealth. At that hour, Carlos often tried to sneak out of bed; but his movements almost always woke the woman next to him.

As a rule, he waited until he thought Sonja was asleep. He knew imprudence could ruin them. As a precaution, he always used sympathetic inks and paper, which over time didn’t leave legible traces. He always used sympathetic inks and paper when he communicated with Father Bartholome. Over time he and the priest established a protocol for critical information, a protocol along with their cryptography of flowers and plants.

Father Bartholome persuaded him to risk everything. Devoted to his family, adopted by Omar, for him to compromise may have seemed stupid. But as a royalist at heart, he felt he owed it to his king. In darkness, he emerged no better than an insignificant rake. Corrupted, he never suspected that his own wife represented a major risk. Having said this, his spying amounted to no more than one turn of a pitchfork in an anthill. Did he then, as his sons argued, simply lose his bearings? Was he innocent of out right treason and made up most information he sent to Manila?

From bed Sonja watched her husband pace. Her suspicions were confirmed when she learned that her husband somehow persuaded Omar to go to Manila. She thought Omar faced certain death in Manila and knew what she had to do. Still she sobbed and said half to herself and half to him, “Tell me it’s not true.”

With almost a whisper and trembling, she asked, “Carlos, what are we going to do?”

Carlos didn’t hear her or ignored her. He said to himself, “Whether she knows or finds out later, it doesn’t matter.” It didn’t matter. He knew he was on an impossible road.

He thought a great deal about death and made it clear what he wanted written on his tombstone: “Aqui se acaba el gozo de los injustos (here ends pleasure of the unjust).” In the end, he believed that he would survive and that purgatory for him would be short. Glad was he to hear his wife ask mercy for him. She asked him for mercy, demonstrating her love by asking it. She demonstrated her love in many ways.

Turning to her, he said, “You don’t really know me. You can’t know me, really know me. I’m from Castile, a hilly country with inclement weather and harsh terrain. It is a hilly country and a land of sheep. It’s a place that someone from the tropics might mistake for a desert. A shepherd I am, and from pirate stock too, good stock, a warrior, and a herdsman, who will guard his territory and fight his neighbors over sheep and goats. Ask, therefore, who I am and learn about evil’s eye, story of Cain and Able, and discover why I’m a conquistador. I am a conquistador ”

“But Sonja don’t be fooled. You could easily be fooled but don’t be. Omar and I are the same. We are the same, driven by the same forces. We’re both creatures of passion and action. We’re driven by the same passions. He knows risks. We’ve faced risks. We’ve faced risks together and (trust me) regardless what happens we know we’re headed to a far happier place. Now, my dear, find your own way and, in spite of not having testicles, cultivate courage and the strength to carry on.”

But Sonja needed no urging. By then she had recovered from the shock of finding herself married to a traitor. Standing next to him, she felt like stabbing him. She felt like stabbing him and answered him by saying, “Excuse me.” And Carlos, as he kissed her forehead, said, “Sonja, when I’m gone watch over our sons, and cry not for me, cry not for I’m not looking forward to heaven.”

Sonja’s act of defiance gave her the same authority her husband had before his disgrace and provided her the sultan’s protection. The sultan protected her in spite of her husband’s betrayal. A proud and respected convert, she remained a Moslem crusader. She remained a Moslem crusader long after her husband’s death. From the verandah of her hilltop home to her dealings in town, she displayed a sense of urgency. She felt urgency, though she suffered greatly.

Into the harbor sailed a schooner carrying an anxious son. Not until he saw his father and delivered the news could he relax and sleep again. This marked the end of an extremely long journey for him.

During what should’ve been a happy reunion, in the safety of the big house, Carlos’ namesake spoke of Omar’s fate. Looking out from a huge hacienda, with a spectacular view of the tiny white beach reflecting harsh sunlight, he saw how his news upset everyone. His story included his trying to break into Fort Santiago, by saying that he was one of Omar’s sons.

Sonja sat through her stepson’s story, and woe, then rose and said, “Excuse me, I have a headache.” The day she feared came. The day she most feared came. The hour she knew would come arrived. It arrived, and destiny left nothing to chance.

It was not so much her husband’s betrayal as a accumulation of anger that drove her. To clarify her feelings even more, by then, surreptitiously she embraced jihad. But Sonja also felt great sorrow. From her days in Manila, she knew Fort Santiago and a killing field known as the Luneta.

Then without undue haste, she excused herself. She excused her and announced that she was going to town to comfort women related to Omar. She knew all the women related to Omar. But straight to a mosque she ran, while passing on the word about Omar and pleading for calm. She feared the worse. She feared the worse and knew what would follow. She tried to stop the momentum. Once she set it motion, she tried to stop it.

But a pandita got in her way. He got in her way, and to her surprise accused her husband. He was right to accuse him but wasn’t certain. He wasn’t certain but had to accuse someone. He pointed a finger at Sonja, and her defense of Carlos simply was weak. Before she said anything, she saw her stepson Jaime standing near the rear of the room. A lack of an expression on the young man’s face said that he disapproved. He disapproved of her, which was evident.

In vain, Sonja looked for sympathy. Horrified, Jaime turned and ran from the mosque. In vain, he searched for an explanation that was not there.

Then the Imam asked Sonja directly, “O daughter, why are you here?” Rebuked, she then left. Rebuked, she didn’t know what direction to take.

Almost immediately, permission was granted for a youth to become a juramentado. Banded together for Holy war, candidates were given instructions and organized by the Imam. Immediately, prayers were offered. Everyone prayed. Each candidate placed his hand on the Koran and repeated: “Jumanji kami hatunam ing karmi ini magsabil karna sing tuhan.” (“We covenant with God that we will wage this holy war, for it is of God.)

The chosen one’s body was carefully washed; his teeth were cleaned and nails were trimmed. He listened while the Imam preached, “This is a warrior of Allah, and he must now muster valor and devotion and take an oath in preparation for the road to Paradise.” The juramentado responded to the Imam and frenzied religious excitement and gripped his polished weapon, as if he might turn it on himself, the only alternative left to him for failure. His family watched and rejoiced in sadness. They rejoiced in sadness, knowing that he’d soon be waiting for them in Paradise.

 With his genitals bound tightly with cords, the juramentado crept into an unfamiliar house. With his kris unsheathe, he ran from room to room, shouting, “La ilahi il-la’l-lahu.” “There is no God but Allah.”

“Oh yes, yes, yes, come on bastard.” was a challenge from Carlos.

Immediately, within easy reach, the juramentado charged the Castilian. Then within seconds after hearing yelling, Sonja came out of darkness and fired point blank and the mortified rendered thanks to God that the ball and wadding went through the young man’s heart. That day a jaramentado ascended into paradise alone. Thanks then to Sonja the family was able to escape to a schooner, bound for safety.

Randy Ford

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Filed under El Conquistador, Randy’s 2nd Novel

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