Prologue

The provinces of Gallantria and Tentri lived in peace with each other for many years, but the time soon came when the king of Tentri died, and his corrupt son, Ahmadi, took the throne.  Above all else, Ahmadi desired to rid the world of the believers of the One True God.  With the support of his priests, Ahmadi started to plan his war against their neighboring province, Gallantria.

“You must do this, Ahmadi.  It is the only way that your power will be complete,” the head priest said in one of the first sessions of the war council.

“Yes, my king,” intoned another priest, “all of the literature says that those who believe in the so-called One True God are heathens and corrupt.  You would be doing the world a justice in disposing of these heathens.”

Ahmadi was silent as he listened to his priests try to convince him to continue with the war.  It was true that he desired power, but he had seen the power of the believers and knew that it would be a difficult task to accomplish.  Interrupting one of the priests, Ahmadi said, “I have seen the power of these believers, and they will not be easy to conquer.  What say you in this matter?”

The head priest stood up straight and looked Ahmadi in the eye and stated, “Their power is nothing, my lord.  We are stronger than they are, and we have nothing to fear from them.  Our victory will be complete, and there is nothing that they can do.”

Ahmadi was silent for awhile as he thought about what the priest had said.  Finally, he nodded and came to a decision before calling for a page.  “Bring me my generals.  I have need of their services.”  The page nodded, bowed, and then scurried from the room in his search for the top generals.  Ignoring the priests in the room, Ahmadi paced, tapping his chin thoughtfully.  Not daring to interrupt the king’s thoughts, the priests huddled in a corner and discussed among themselves the possibilities of war.  When several minutes had passed and the generals still had not arrived, Ahmadi began to enter a fit of rage that he was famous throughout the realm for, and it only worsened as the page returned alone.

“Where are my generals?!” he yelled at the page, who immediately started to cower in fear.

“I…I don’t know, m’lord,” the young boy stammered.  “I looked for them but couldn’t find them.”

Ahmadi growled and then started to pace again.  After a few moments, he turned back to the page and growled out, “You will continue to look for them.  When you find them…” the boy opened his mouth to speak, but Ahmadi cut him off, “…and you WILL find them, tell them that they are to report to me IMMEDIATELY.  If they do not, then it will be their families that suffer the consequences while they watch.  Be sure to tell them that as well.  Understand?”  The boy nodded and then nearly ran out of the room, not wanting to be the next one to suffer under the king’s wrath.

It took several minutes, but one by one the three generals trickled into the room and stood in front of their king.  Ahmadi glared at them and watched in glee as each general tried to not show his dismay under the king’s wrathful glare.  “I want each of you to send one of your trusted soldiers into Gallantria and spy on them.  I want reports on everything that they are doing…especially what their practices are concerning their beliefs.  I am thinking about extending my kingdom, and I want to know what the best course of action will be against those heathens.”

Each of the generals nodded in agreement and then waited for the king’s dismissal.  When it was given, they walked from the war room and searched out their best and most trusted soldier and told them their mission.  “Just reconnaissance, sir?” one soldier asked, hoping for something more.

“Yes,” the general replied.  “King Ahmadi has need to know what those Gallantrians are up to.  It will be vital information that you and your comrades will return with.”  The soldier nodded, his demeanor showing that he now took pride in the mission.  They left early the next morning, disguised as Gallantrians.

Several weeks passed and Ahmadi continued with his war councils as his agitation increased.  “I want that information NOW!” he yelled at the priests during one war council.  “Things need to progress NOW, and I am being forced to wait for those blasted reports!”

Reiglin, the head priest, only looked at Ahmadi with a raised eyebrow, nonplussed at the king’s outburst.  “It is an exercise of patience, my lord.  Good things will come to those who wait patiently.  It took your father several years before he attained his goal of peace.  He always said that you were impatient…perhaps you would like to prove him correct?”

At that question, Ahmadi roared in outrage and was mere seconds away from throttling the priest.  “How DARE you speak of my father!  His idea of peace was allowing freedom of religion.”  He laughed mirthlessly and said, “He said that I was the impatient one.  My entire life was a practice of patience!”  During this diatribe, Ahmadi’s eyes had hardened, and his expression was one between glee and hatred.  “It wasn’t luck that got me to where I am today, nor was it patience.  I took matters into my own hands since no one cared about my desire to be king.  Third-born son in a family of peace lovers.  Ha!  Their idea of peace was foolishness.”  Ahmadi cut off his rant, and slipped into incoherent muttering as Reiglin smiled to himself.  Ahmadi’s response to his question was exactly what he had been hoping for.  There is yet hope for this land… he thought as he just watched Ahmadi silently, knowing full well what the king had meant.

It was several more weeks before the spies returned to Tentri.  Going straight to the palace, they waited to have an audience with the king.  When they were finally allowed in, Ahmadi was drumming his fingers on the table impatiently and looked at those who had just entered.  “Well?” he asked impatiently.

“There are several things that might prove useful, m’lord,” one of the soldiers said.  “First, is that they indoctrinate their children at a young age, both at home and in meetings.  It would seem that those poor children have no choice in what they believe in.  Second, they have weakened patrols on their northern border near the mountains.  That would be a good point to enter the province unnoticed.  Third, they take one day a week off to spend worshipping their god.  That might also be a good time to move forward.”

Ahmadi grinned maliciously at that news, a plan already starting to form.  “You have done your country a great service,” he told the soldiers.  “Go to the nearby schools and tell them to prepare for some new students.  Those Gallantrians won’t know what hit them.”  The soldiers nodded and then left to do the king’s bidding.  Once the soldiers were gone, he turned to Reiglin and said, “We will start with the children.  Capture a few of them and indoctrinate them in OUR ways before sending them home.  We will plant the seeds of doubt and hopefully turn the Gallantrians quite easily.  If that proves to unfruitful…then things will move forward.”

Reiglin nodded and said, “An excellent plan, Highness.  I see things coming to fruition quite soon…”

Ahmadi had a slightly troubled look as he said, “I hope you are right, Master Reiglin.  Tomorrow I will make an announcement to the people, outlining my plan.  I have great faith that they will side with me.”  Reiglin only nodded, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

The next morning dawned crisp and clear.  Ahmadi was up with the sun and he paced around his chambers, thinking about the best way to approach the people with his plan.  Finally coming to the conclusion that he’d just have to get it over with, he sent out criers with the general announcement to meet in the town square.  As the townspeople trickled into the square, Ahmadi swirled his dark cloak around himself and strode from the room.  Meeting the priests at the door, together they walked the short distance to the square.

Once there, Ahmadi climbed up onto the platform that was built there as the priests surrounded it, seemingly in order to protect the king from the people.  Ahmadi just looked down at the people gathered, and one by one, they started to fidget when his cold glare met their eyes.  Smiling to himself, Ahmadi cleared his throat and said, “My people.  I come to you today with an urgent plea.”  An urgent plea.  What was I thinking starting this speech like that? Clearing his mind of thoughts, he continued on.  “It has come to my attention that the heathen Gallantrians have been dabbling in things they should not have dabbled in.”  At that statement, the people started to murmur among themselves and Ahmadi had to raise his voice so that he could be heard.  “They are even going as far as indoctrinating their children at an age when they do not know better.  Those heathens must be stopped!”  A cheer rose from the crowd as several of the mothers pulled their children close and were grateful that they didn’t live in Gallantria.  Pausing for a moment so that the crowd could calm down, Ahmadi just looked at his subjects.  He finally said in a convicting voice, “So what are we to do about this?”

“Kill them all!” shouted a man in the back of the crowd.

“Take the children and teach them the RIGHT things!” shouted another.

“You can’t do that!” someone shouted from the middle of the crowd.  At that proclamation, the crowd immediately silenced and Ahmadi looked for the voice of dissension.  His glare hardened when he saw the Gallantrian standing in the midst.

“Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?  You are just a heathen Gallantrian who has no right to even BE in this town meeting!  Why shouldn’t I kill you now?” Ahmadi growled, as the Tentrians around the man cleared a wide space around him.

The Gallantrian stood up tall and said, “I am a servant of the One True God.  Nothing you do can ultimately hurt me.”  Ahmadi yelled in rage and the priests surged forward to grasp at the man.

“Take him to the dungeons!” Reiglin commanded.  “He will never again see the light of day!”  The priests then proceeded to drag the man away.

Ahmadi looked around at the gathered people again and took full advantage of the situation.  “You see what the problem is now?  That Gallantrian thought that he could command ME on what to do!  Those heathens think that they can go around commanding people to do whatever they please.  Well, I think it’s time that we put those heathens in their place!  Their so-called ‘One True God’ is nothing but a hoax to SCARE the people into submission!  What say you good people of Tentri.  Shall we right the wrongs that the heathens have done?”

The people in the crowd erupted into cheers, and it took several minutes for them to calm down again.  When Ahmadi had control once again, he said, “We will start small.  Take their children and educate them in our ways before returning them to Gallantria.  It will be those seeds of doubt that will destroy their beliefs.  If that doesn’t work…then we will conquer them and expand our kingdom and in the process crush down any of their rebellion!”  The people erupted in cheers again and Ahmadi smiled.  “First off, we will need hosts for our special guests who will be arriving shortly…”

Several of the women in the crowd stepped forward, volunteering their homes to be homes for the children that would soon be coming to Tentri.  After another few minutes, the meeting was over and the people went back to what they were doing, still highstrung from the meeting.  Ahmadi walked back to the palace with the priests near him, only Master Reiglin standing at his side.  “Well done, my king.  The people accepted it with glee.  Soon everything we have sought will come to pass.”

“Yes, Master Reiglin.  Everything WILL come to pass.  My father and brothers were weaklings.  They could never have brought about the changes I am bringing about now,” Ahmadi said with a slight smile.  Once they entered the palace, Ahmadi went straight to his chambers and refused everyone who wished to see him.  “It’s only a matter of time now,” Ahmadi whispered to himself as he went out onto the balcony.  “My father and brothers never took me seriously.  Too bad they are no longer alive to see what I have accomplished.”

Cackling softly to himself, he remembered years past when his brothers had laughed at his desire to be king.  “You can never be king, little brother,” they had said.  “We are older and will have sons that will push you even farther from the throne.”  Just the thought of their words caused Ahmadi to bristle and he couldn’t wait to destroy the “peace” that his father and brothers had worked so hard for.  Tomorrow is the day.  Tomorrow we will take the children and teach them our ways.  They will deny the ‘One True God’ and embrace our ideology! Cackling to himself, he re-entered the chamber and went into the adjoining office to write his decree.

The decree went out to all parts of the province early the next morning.  It outlined the general plan and everyone started to prepare.  During the night, several guards on the border slipped into Gallantria and walked down the darkened roads, searching for homes that would have young children.  When they found those homes, they entered and kidnapped the children to take back to Tentri.  With their young charge in tow, they returned to Tentri and handed the child to another guard before going back into Gallantria.  By morning, over one hundred children had been taken to various cities within the province of Tentri to be educated.

Upon finding out about the kidnapping of their children, the Gallantrian citizens were outraged and went to King Jaheth with their anger.  “My child was taken during the night!” one distraught mother cried out at a meeting.  “She is but three years of age.”  The king raised a hand for silence and the crowd slowly quieted down.

“We will find and rescue the children, as well as punish those responsible for taking them in the first place.  I promise you that your children will be returned as quickly as possible,” Jaheth said vehemently.  He immediately sent out search teams to search for the missing children, but they always came back empty handed, and with no news.  The children returned to their homes in the dead of night after several months of worry.  No matter how much questioning, most of the children couldn’t answer where they had been taken, only that they had been safe and taken care of while they were gone.  Seeing that their children were alright, the parents accepted that and went on with their lives.  The trouble came when they started to teach the children about the One True God.

“No!” one child cried out during the weekly meeting.  “That’s not true!  There is no god!”  The child’s parents looked down at him in shock.  After the meeting, the leader knelt in front of the child and started to patiently teach him about One True God again, but the child refused to listen.  “There IS no god!  It’s the truth!”

“Who told you that?” the leader asked gently, an idea of who already forming in his mind.

“The nice people who took care of me and the others,” the child answered with a smile.

“Did they tell you that the One True God didn’t exist?” asked the leader.

At that question, the child balled up his fists and yelled at the top of his lungs, “THERE IS NO GOD!”  Completely shocked, the leader allowed the parents to take the child home and he went to King Jaheth with the news.

“It was the Tentrians, m’lord.  They were the ones who kidnapped our children,” the leader said softly.

“Are you certain?” Jaheth asked thoughtfully.

The leader nodded and said, “Yes, m’lord.  Only the Tentrians believe that the One True God doesn’t exist.  They would be the ones who would teach that vile heresy to our children.”

Jaheth nodded and the leader left the king’s presence.  I must do something about this…  The Tentrians must not be allowed to get away with kidnapping. Jaheth thought as he paced around his office.  “A messenger.  I will send a messenger to their king with the terms of our peace.”  Sitting down at his desk, he quickly wrote out a message and then gave it to a messenger who immediately left for Tentri.

The messenger arrived at the palace in Tentri a couple of weeks later and delivered the message.  Ahmadi read the message and then crumpled it furiously.  “So…  King Jaheth didn’t appreciate our little gesture and insisted and writing out the ‘terms’ of the peace.  Well…the peace is over.  Jaheth, prepare for war.  Your religion and country will be crushed under my boot, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.”  Dismissing the messenger without any response, Ahmadi went to his generals and told them to start preparing the soldiers.  By midsummer, the soldiers were ready and they marched out toward Gallantria.  The war had started.

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