Chapter 3:

The Rescue

Elyon - Gods among us

After finishing his meal and feeling restored, Rodrigo, after expressing his gratitude for the food, looked at Tania and asked about their current location.

—It's a small village called Penacova. Many survivors have come here seeking refuge, although others have fled, fearing that the Muslims might also invade these surroundings— Tania replied.

—Alright, and umm, how long was I asleep?— Rodrigo inquired as he picked up his clothes since he was only wearing his pants as underwear.

—Just three hours. Don't worry, we can make it in time for you to save the slaves, but remember, that's all what you can do— Tania answered.

—Yes, and also to bury the bodies of my mother and friends. Their souls won't be able to go to heaven, nor will their bodies resurrect in the Final Judgment if I don't give them a proper burial— Rodrigo mentioned.

Tania nodded.

Rodrigo and Tania walked towards the door of the inn while they heard the innkeeper pleading with them not to leave the village.

—Don't worry— Tania replied, forcing a smile. —We'll be fine—

Rodrigo understood that Tania wasn't accustomed to smiling much at strangers.

Next to the inn, which was quite large, there was a spacious stable with several tied horses. Just outside, there were two horses, one black and the second chestnut. Tania indicated to Rodrigo to mount the chestnut horse, and they both quickly set off towards the devastated city of Coimbra.

It was late afternoon, and the beautiful green mountains of the central region of the Kingdom of León could be seen amidst vast grasslands.

In front of the village, there was a river with calm and crystal-clear waters named Mondego, which Tania and Rodrigo crossed to head west. There were still many people on the outskirts of Penacova, arriving on horses or walking.

It was quite devastating to observe the terror in their eyes. Nonetheless, the air was relatively fresh, far from the attack on Coimbra.

The journey lasted almost two hours, galloping at full speed. Tania was very silent and didn't say anything throughout the trip, making Rodrigo realize that she was quite asocial. Still, he couldn't help but think that if he had run, he would have arrived in less than an hour. However, he couldn't oppose the will of his new companion.

—You don't talk much, do you?— Rodrigo asked his red-haired companion.

—No, I'm sorry. I don't have much to share— Tania replied indifferently.

—But if you really are a goddess like Ana mentioned, you must have had many adventures, experiences, and all that— Rodrigo commented, surprised.

—Tell me, if it's not too personal, may I know how old are you?—

—I'm sorry, all that is confidential. If we manage to build more trust, maybe I'll tell you about it— the Berber goddess responded impassively.

—I see. And tell me... Are you a Christian? Do you know Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Mother Mary? Have you been to heaven?— Rodrigo insisted, still partially unsettled by the previous story about gods that might seem pagan.

A faint smile appeared on Tania's lips.

—I think you'll end up hating me even more if I tell you— she replied.

—I'll have to explain you everything, Rodrigo, but later. I think Ana can explain it better than me; I'm quite rough around the edges— she added.

The sky was darkening, taking on a somber purple hue. The night was falling rapidly, but the heat persisted. It was one of those dry days on the Iberian Peninsula. For some reason, Rodrigo felt like Tania's eyes were sparkling in the light of the waning moon that illuminated the meadow.

—We're very close to Coimbra— Rodrigo said as he stopped the horse. —We'll have to find out where they're keeping the slaves to free them—

They glimpsed in the distance and saw a caravan of soldiers who, from afar, could be heard celebrating.

—Leave this to me— Tania said as she dismounted her horse.

—But I thought you couldn't intervene— Rodrigo looked at her in surprise, still on his chestnut horse.

—I can intervene as a human, just like you would— Tania replied, feigning a smile.

—It's noticeable that she doesn't like to smile— Rodrigo thought.

Tania covered her face with her veil and approached a group of soldiers who were on guard duty at that moment.

—Good evening, may Allah be with you— Tania said in Arabic to the soldiers, who looked at her with bewilderment. —I heard that you have an excellent bounty of slaves and I would like to buy some—

—Slaves? Yes, we have several here, but I doubt we would want to sell them to a filthy Berber like you— a soldier replied mockingly.

Then, that guard put his hand on the goddess's face and started caressing it, while she frowned.

—Although, of course— the guard said, —I would love to make you my wife, even if you're a dirty Berber. You have beautiful eyes—

Tania moved her face away from the guard's lascivious hand.

—I have money to buy several slaves. If you can tell me where they are, we can do business— she said, while taking out several medium-sized leather bags that appeared to contain gold coins.

The guards started to approach Tania.

—Look, this beauty has money— one of them said.

—Yes, she probably stole it from someone. Those Berbers are all thieves— another guard remarked.

Tania stood there, unmoving and unfazed, as she watched them.

At that moment, Rodrigo, who had been on his horse, quickly dismounted and cut the hand of one of the guards who was attempting to touch Tania.

The soldiers immediately shouted, —He has a weapon!— But Rodrigo, trying to restrain himself as best he could, wounded another soldier with his still-crimson sword.

But the warning had already been given, and Tania quickly turned to look at him, annoyed, and said, —Let's get out of here!—

Both of them mounted their horses and fled, while the guards began searching the area for them.

—You're a fool!— the goddess replied while they were hiding behind a hill.

—There was no way those men were going to harm me, and now you've only stirred up the camp— Tania continued, annoyed.

—I'm sorry, it was a reflex. Whether you're an angel or a human, I can't allow those degenerates to touch you— Rodrigo replied, looking deeply into her eyes.

—I always wanted to be a knight, and protecting ladies is a noble duty, even if it costs us our lives—

—Human customs are so strange— Tania replied, with a questioning gesture.

—Well, it's a fact that we won't be able to approach the camp anymore, so we'll have to fight, whether we like it or not— Rodrigo said, glancing at the guards who were searching for them on their horses.

—Wait, you can't— Tania responded. —Killing humans is forbidden among us. I give you permission to fight and defend yourself, but not to kill anyone—

—No one will die this time; I swear— Rodrigo replied.

—With your human powers? It's impossible— the goddess replied, looking at him disdainfully.

—Just that is enough for me. Watch and learn— the boy said, winking at her.

Rodrigo, taking advantage of the cover of night, swiftly approached a mounted guard and knocked him off his horse, covering his mouth to prevent him from making noise. He then struck him on the back of the neck, rendering him unconscious. The guards, who were using campfires for illumination, noticed that one of their companions was missing, but Rodrigo continued his actions, repeating the process with each of them.

Five men in total lay unconscious in the darkness.

Tania emerged from her hiding place, observing Rodrigo's actions.

—Impressive, and you didn't use a single drop of your divine power— she said, astonished.

—I trained very hard to hide it. That's what my mother wanted, and I trained and trained to be the best without relying on my powers— Rodrigo commented.

—That's why I could never sense her presence until today— the red-haired goddess thought to herself as she watched him with surprise.

—Alright, now I'm going to go in and release the slaves, alright?— Rodrigo said, looking towards the camp.

—Agreed, be careful— Tania responded.

Using stealth tactics, Rodrigo gradually infiltrated the camp. Like a silent serpent, he took advantage of the night and the soldiers' intoxication to disable them one by one without killing them.

However, in the center of the camp, he noticed that there were some who hadn't touched a drop of alcohol because they were devout Muslims. Furthermore, there was a lot of light from several campfires, so he would have to fight his way through.

—Is it just me, or do I hear less noise in the camp?— one of the soldiers, easily measuring six feet tall, with a thick beard, remarked.

—Yes, this is suspicious— responded another guard, smaller in stature but missing an eye. —I think we're being attacked in the night—

The guards, a total of eight, grabbed their spears and became alert while Rodrigo watched them from behind a tent. He also caught sight of a cave in the distance, from which he could hear deep cries.

—The townspeople are in there!— Rodrigo quickly realized.

But it didn't take long for a spear to pierce the tent, narrowly evaded by Rodrigo.

—Ah, I've found a rat— said the six-foot-tall soldier, wielding his spear on the other side of the tent.

—Damn, I'll have to fight— Rodrigo thought. But at that moment, four soldiers appeared behind the giant.

—I'll have to demonstrate all of my skills— the young warrior continued to think as he prepared to fight.

—Sir— one of the subordinates said, —this boy's face matches the face of the djinn who attacked the castle earlier today!—

—Then surely the Sultan will reward me with gold and slaves if I bring him the head of this filthy demon— the confident six-foot-tall man replied, retracting his spear to engage in combat with Rodrigo.

—Come here, boy! Show me your demonic powers!— the imposing guard shouted forcefully.

Rodrigo, then, launched himself at the giant soldier, but he was struck by his left arm. Rodrigo fell to the ground, and the guard attempted to impale him with his spear, but the young warrior was able to dodge the attacks as he rolled on the ground. Quickly, he got back up while maintaining his attacking stance.

—Is this the power of a djinn? Don't make me laugh— mumbled the giant, while Rodrigo started to grow impatient.

The guard then lunged at the boy, and he saw an opening. Swiftly, he evaded the spear, grabbed the giant's arm, and using his own weight, took hold of it and threw him to the ground. Rodrigo quickly impaled his fist with which he held the spear, but he realized that the other soldiers were preparing to attack, so he lifted him up and took him hostage.

—I came for the slaves; I don't want any more trouble— shouted Rodrigo, but the giant was not defeated yet and threw Rodrigo several meters away with a strong swing of his arm.

—Damn brat— muttered the giant and tried to grab his spear with his injured hand, but Rodrigo quickly sliced his back with his sword.

The soldiers lunged at the young warrior, but he evaded their attacks and incapacitated them by cutting their tendons and arms. The giant was still not defeated and tried to crush Rodrigo with his enormous body, but he narrowly avoided it and, taking advantage of being on the ground, managed to knock him out by striking him on the nape of his neck with the hilt of his sword.

But the victory didn't last long. When Rodrigo looked up, he saw the other one-eyed soldier standing in front of him with a group of archers aiming at him.

—Surrender now, boy, you're cornered,— he said.

The archers were preparing to shoot when the moon shone with an intensity never seen before, causing the archers to miss their shot at that moment. Taking advantage of the confusion, Rodrigo ran towards the one-eyed guard and knocked him down with a knee strike, and quickly entered the cave.

When everyone regained their sight, they realized that the boy had escaped.

—Surround the cave, his target is the slaves— shouted the one-eyed guard as he got up, spitting blood from the attack by Rodrigo.

The guards positioned themselves in front of the cave, aiming their arrows at the entrance. Rodrigo was trapped.

The citizens and children were inside a group of cages, and when they saw Rodrigo, they cried and shouted for him to help them. Rodrigo tried to calm them down and told them that everything would be fine, but deep down, he knew that he couldn't escape from there without his divine powers. But if he used them, Tania would surely punish him, and these slaves would not be able to be saved. He didn't know what to do.

At that moment, Tania appeared behind the guards with her hands raised.

—People, please— she said in Arabic. —I was only interested in your slaves; I heard they are of very good quality. I tried to buy them, but your guards at the entrance prevented me from reaching here—

—Who is this Berber? What is she doing here?— the guards began to murmur.

The one-eyed man looked at her and approached her.

—What do you want?— he asked.

—The slaves, I want to buy them all— said Tania.

All the men started laughing.

—There must be about fifty people in there in the caves. Only Al-Mansur or the sultan could buy such an exaggerated number of people— one of them said.

Tania once again took out her leather bags from her clothes and threw their contents on the ground; they were hundreds of gold coins, diamonds, gemstones, and jewels. The men had never seen so much money together.

—I told you, with this, I'm sure it will be enough, and you can buy properties and lands that must be more valuable than the men inside— Tania replied.

—Why do you want the slaves? Tell me— the one-eyed soldier asked.

—The Holy Prophet ordered us to perform acts of charity. Is that a sin?— the goddess replied, looking at the soldier challengingly.

—But sir— a soldier said, —that boy over there looks like the person who attacked us this morning in Coimbra. The drawn portrait resembles him a lot—

—Is that true? Are you the person controlling that djinn?— the one-eyed soldier asked Tania defiantly as he put his hand on the hilt of his scimitar.

—I don't know what you're talking about. Why would my bodyguard be a djinn? He's a devoted eunuch who follows the teachings of Muhammad— the red-haired goddess tried to convince the soldier, but he still looked uncertain.

Tania then took off her gold and gemstone necklace from around her neck and threw it onto the mound of money.

—And I'm adding this for the damages caused by my bodyguard to your men. Apologize for him; sometimes, he's a bit rough, but he's not a djinn, I can assure you— the girl said.

The guard released the hilt of his scimitar and nodded, ordering his men to disperse. Meanwhile, Rodrigo emerged from the cave together with the citizens of Coimbra. The guards made no attempt to stop them, and Rodrigo walked alongside the former prisoners.

—Alright— the one-eyed guard said, —but never set foot in this region again, or you'll pay a heavy price—

Tania, trying to force a smile as much as she could, responded, —Of course, of course, don't worry about any trouble. May Allah grant you a long and prosperous life, all of you—

Rodrigo, Tania, and the rest of the people finally left the camp, with tears and shouts of joy, thanking their saviors.

—Don't worry, it was the least I could do for all of you— Tania replied.

—It will be a long journey to Penacova, and we only have two horses— Tania said, smiling.

—Will you be able to endure the walk? It will take about five hours— Rodrigo asked.

Rodrigo noticed that, for the first time, Tania's smile was genuine and not feigned. She truly seemed to enjoy helping others, the young warrior thought.

—Yes, we'll carry the children as much as we can— the group leader said.

—If you want, take turns riding the horses with those who can't walk much— Rodrigo suggested. —The woman and I will walk—

It was a long road to Penacova, nearly six hours, but the people were filled with joy for being rescued and managed to endure the journey through the night.

—Hey, thanks for saving me— Rodrigo said to Tania as they walked in front of the caravan.

—No problem, there are always ways to solve things in the human world— she replied.

—What about the moon's glow, was that you too?— Rodrigo asked again.

Tania smiled but remained silent.

—And that money, where did it come from?— Rodrigo asked, but the goddess abruptly interrupted him.

—It was part of my savings, alright?— Tania said excitedly.

And she continued, —We don't have permission to create gold or money either because it disrupts the human economy, so I have been saving that money for years. Don't worry, nothing's wrong— Tania said.

Rodrigo smiled. He believed that Tania was a heartless person without attachments to humanity, but it seemed that he had judged her wrongly.

Upon arriving in Penacova, Tania visited all the inns and private houses, paying money so that they could accommodate the people. Some of them, out of the kindness of their hearts, decided to provide free lodging to the survivors of the massacre in Coimbra. Tania smiled like Rodrigo had never seen before.

—Wow, you made that ice queen smile— Rodrigo heard Ana say behind him, and when he turned around, he realized it was Ana.

—You know, it's been a while since I've seen her smile like that— she said.

The next morning, Tania and Rodrigo decided to leave the village, but not before saying goodbye to everyone, thanking them, and receiving hugs and gifts from the grateful survivors. Rodrigo felt someone tugging at his cloak and realized it was the girl he had rescued when he attacked the soldiers outside Coimbra.

—Thank you, sir. I know you are angels sent by God to help us. Thank you, thank you— the girl said to Rodrigo with tears in her eyes.

Rodrigo caressed the girl's head and urged her to be strong.

The girl nodded.

—Don't worry about your deceased loved ones. We will go to Coimbra and give them a proper burial so they can be with Jesus Christ after the End of Times— Rodrigo told the people as they cried and nodded.

Ana approached Rodrigo and Tania, leading a third horse that she had just bought. It was a brown horse with spots.

—Are you ready to depart?— Ana asked. Rodrigo and Tania nodded.

They mounted their horses and rode towards the exit of the village amidst the cries of joy and sorrow from the people.

Upon leaving Penacova, they headed west again and reached the ruins of Coimbra, where Rodrigo buried the people and erected several crosses in honor of the fallen. Tania and Ana helped him.

Fortunately, the Muslims had abandoned the city, believing it to be haunted. Almanzor had retreated the day before, fleeing in terror.

—I haven't seen you smile genuinely in a long time, Tania— Ana said to the flame-haired goddess as they helped Rodrigo erect the tombstones. Tania blushed.

—It's been a while since I felt this warmth. I suppose I must have feelings after all— Tania replied.

After Rodrigo prayed and bid a final farewell to his mother's body, they set off towards the east. 

Syed Al Wasee