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Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Secret of Heaven...section 5...

When Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca had met Sariel in a dream, the first light of dawn peered through the window.
“Lucifer walks among you.” The angel had warned.
The bishop’s gaze fell on the shores of a strange land. A sea of corpses lay scattered about, and the ocean’s swirling waters ran red with blood. The stench of death rose with the tropical heat, and a mysterious figure lingered among the dead.
“He gathers their souls.” Sariel whispered.
“What would you have me do?” The bishop asked, but he could not hear the sound of his own voice.
“God’s will.” Said the angel.
“What is the will of the Lord?” The bishop watched as the Seducer of Souls hovered from one corpse to the next.
“Send warriors in the service of the Lord, armed with sword and scripture, to eradicate the evil in the hearts of savages. It is the only way to save them from eternal damnation, and to locate the secret of Heaven.”
When the bishop woke, he walked over to the window of his bedchamber and gazed at the sky. Though he had organized a series of voyages to the New World, none had procured the location of the Chamber of Spirits.
With Cristoforo Colombo no longer opposing his efforts, however the bishop felt certain that their fortunes would change. After his meal, the palace sentries found him in the cathedral. They escorted a messenger to where the bishop knelt beneath a statue of the Christ above the altar.
After he concluded his prayer, he turned to the messenger and took hold of the scroll he had been sent to deliver. Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca dismissed him with a wave of his hand and read the missive with great interest. His voyagers had not managed to find the Chamber of Spirits, nor had they been able to secure the assistance of the natives to journey through the jungles.
Furthermore, they had confirmed the rumors that Cristoforo Colombo had returned to the New World in search of hidden treasure, and had befriended los Indios he had known from his previous expeditions. Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca’s eyes swirled with the poison of rage, and he stormed out of the cathedral with the fires of Hell ignited in his heart.
He needed unequivocal access to the land across the sea. It was the only way to prevent Lucifer from winning his war against God. The savages needed to be eliminated, and their evil religions needed to be eradicated from the histories of the world. Only one man possessed the fortitude to accomplish this mission.
The bishop summoned him to the palace to appear before Queen Isabella de Castile. They would promise the young man favor in the eyes of God, and an illustrious career in the service of the Crown.
“Send him in.” The queen commanded.
He entered the Golden Hall of the Catholic Monarchs. Despite being born to a family of lesser nobility, he carried himself with dignity. When he knelt before the queen, he confidently introduced himself in a loud and clear voice.
“Are you prepared to do God’s work in the service of the Crown?” Queen Isabella de Castile asked.
“Anything for the glory of the Lord.” The young man said.
After the queen dismissed him, the bishop begged the queen’s leave to speak with him in private. Isabella nodded. Her trust in Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca had been absolute.
Juan Rodriguez approached the young man and invited him to the Bishop’s Palace to discuss his mission in greater detail. The bishop warned him of the challenges he might face, including the presence of Cristoforo Colombo and his alliance with the savages.
The young man vowed to let nothing prevent him from accomplishing his mission. The bishop reminded him that there was more at stake than gold and personal ambitions.
“Indeed there is, but how likely is any man to succeed without some measure of personal incentive.”
“Fair enough.” Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca said. “Would you care to share your personal incentive?”
The young man turned to the bishop with a wicked a smile and said, “When history remembers my deeds, it will be because my name will echo through the ages.”
 Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca studied him momentarily. Though he detested vanity and pride, he felt certain that he had selected the right man to find the secret of Heaven.
He offered a silent prayer, May God have mercy on your soul, Hernán Cortés.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Secret of Heaven...section 4...

For months they journeyed across the great sea. Planning and re-planning their route, never satisfied with the direction they took.
They followed the sun and charted the stars. The ebb and flow of the ocean enchanted them by day. The black, liquid mirror haunted them at night. Soon they no longer cared about the bishop and his intrigues, for they knew that eventually those worthy of His grace would complete God’s work.
As for their immortality, they felt it would only be secured by more prodigious feats than they were prepared to accomplish, and not from a fountain that spewed some magical elixir.
None had been more certain of this than Asif al-Khidr. He studied the night sky with great interest during their voyage. As the different phases of the moon had passed, he took notes and made precise calculations of the lunar cycle. Immersing himself in his books had been the only way that Asif could distract himself from his pensiveness.
The bishop, patient and secure in Spain, had rid himself of them without much effort, and the reminder of that jarred them from their hopelessness. When, at long last, the three of them solved the conundrum of their endless travels, it was too late for they had been caught in a storm. Though they survived, much of the crew was lost and their ship sustained extensive damage. Colombo soon realized that they were stranded on an island he had visited before.
Assisted by a Spaniard and some natives, the three men found shelter before the Spaniard and the natives paddled a canoe to Hispaniola for assistance. When the governor, Nicolás de Ovando, learned of Colombo’s presence on the neighboring island, he obstructed every effort to rescue him, because he detested Cristoforo, and knew of his fall from grace in Spain.
With their financial resources exhausted, Cristoforo Colombo turned to Asif al-Khidr for assistance. “We need to convince them to provide us with provisions or we will die of thirst or starvation!”
When Asif asked how he could be of service, Amerigo suggested that the young Muslim draw upon his extensive knowledge of the sciences to impress the natives. At first, he could think of nothing, but then he remembered the moon and the stars and the secrets of Heaven.
After he explained to Cristoforo Colombo the phases of the moon, the explorer met with the leader of the tribe. Cristoforo told the Cacique that his God was not pleased with the natives for withholding food and water from Colombo and his friends. He warned the Cacique that the Christian God would cover the moon in blood as a sign of His wrath if they did not continue to provide them with food and water.
When the lunar eclipse appeared as foretold, the natives begged their forgiveness, and provided them with provisions until their departure from the island a few months later.
They continued their journey to the New World, in search of the mainland where the secret of Heaven remained hidden. With no more gold, and only enough food and water to reach the shore, the three men pursued destiny. They were followed by the shadow that had once stalked the Seducer of Souls.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Secret of Heaven...section 3...

Decades before Cristoforo Colombo had set sail from Spain, bound for the East, by sailing west, Asif al-Khidr had known of the adventures and voyages of heroes in ancient times. From the exploits of Odysseus to the Alexander Romance, tales of forbidden lands and mythical creatures had captured his imagination. As the son of an alchemist, the prospect of journeying in search of wonders had merely been a fantasy.
Then fate intervened.
When the Crown of Castile ordered Muslims in Spain to convert to Catholicism, many had sought passage out of the Iberian Peninsula. Those who could not secure safe passage, due to health or lack of financial resources were forcibly converted, and came to be known as the Moriscos. Among them was Asif’s father, Tariq al-Khidr.
In the twilight of his life, Tariq al-Khidr knew that his failing health prevented him from surviving any voyage. He preferred to die a Muslim on the land where he had been born, rather than to suffer the fate of the sea.
For his son, however he wanted a greater destiny. The chance to see this come to fruition presented itself when the Seducer of Souls came to him in a dream. He promised Tariq that Asif’s journey would be in the service of God.
“You lie!” Tariq said. He recognized the Seducer of Souls as Ilblis.
“I cannot lie.” Ilblis replied. “I am an angel. I am His servant. And everything I do is for the kingdom of Heaven, and the glory of God.”
Tariq refused to believe him until he asked why the Seducer of Souls wanted his son. It was then that Ilblis first spoke of Cristoforo Colombo and Amerigo Vespucci, and their clandestine journey to the New World. He revealed their plan to thwart the Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca, who had convinced Queen Isabella de Castile to persecute the Believers.
“What role will Asif play in this endeavor?”
“Everything he has learned in your home about faith and alchemy and legend will serve to aide the explorers.”
“To what end?” Tariq al-Khidr asked.
“To protect the secret of Heaven.”
Tariq al-Khidr woke with a start at dawn. He roused Asif, and together they sought the Italians that Ilblis had mentioned in his dream. They found them at the port as they loaded their ships. Tariq offered them all the gold he possessed to secure his son’s passage.
But gold they did not need, for Amerigo Vespucci had wealth as the head of the most powerful bank in Europe. Tariq asked them to employ Asif so that he may earn his passage, as he was well versed in cartography and navigation and knew the workings of a ship. They had no use for Asif in that regard either, since they were experts in those fields as well.
Dejected, Tariq al-Khidr turned to his son and lowered his eyes. “Come, let us see what fate awaits us at the edge of a sword.”
“Wait.” Cristoforo Colombo stepped off the ship. “What is your trade?”
“Alchemy.” Asif al-Khidr replied.
Cristoforo Colombo smiled. “What do you know of the Philosopher’s Stone?”
“It is an allegory that represents the purification of the human body and soul.” Asif al-Khidr said.
“Then it does not exist?” Cristoforo asked.
“Not in the form that you think.” Asif stepped forward.
“Enlighten us.” Amerigo interjected.
“The stone itself represents the human body. The philosopher represents the soul. Immortality is achieved when a man bathes in and consumes the elixir of life.”
“And where does one find the elixir of life?” Cristoforo Colombo asked.
“It is the water that flows from the river of the underworld and sprouts from a spring in the undiscovered country.” Asif al-Khidr said.
“Do you know where that is?” Amerigo Vespucci could not resist asking.
“Aye,” Asif nodded.
Satisfied with his reply, Amerigo Vespucci and Cristoforo Colombo invited Asif al-Khidr to join them on their journey to the New World. Whereas greed and ambition had fueled the hearts of other men, dreams of immortality and adventure propelled these three on a mission from God.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Secret of Heaven...section 2...

The port was sighted at dawn. Some crewmen had emerged from the bowels of the ship and saw it materialize out of the mist. When the ship docked, the mariners clambered to perform their duties as they fought against the grogginess of sleep.
A group of soldiers climbed aboard and immediately took hold of the prisoner. Weary from the journey, his wrists and ankles bled from the shackles, but Cristoforo Colombo made every effort to remain upright. They escorted him to the Bishop’s Palace where Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca waited to interrogate him.
Before turning him over to the queen, Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca questioned Cristoforo Colombo about interfering with God’s work. When the bishop had learned from the Children of Heaven that they could not locate the Chamber of Spirits, he had enlisted good Christians to assist in their endeavor. After Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca had convinced the queen to break her agreement with Cristoforo Colombo, the subsequent voyages of other captains had sailed under his orders.
But when they arrived in the New World, their actions were met with opposition. During the inquisition, Cristoforo Colombo contended that voyages to distant lands were to spread the word of God, not to kill in His name. The enraged bishop used his influence over the Spanish crown to strip Cristoforo, and his heirs, of the titles and claims they were due.
After initial victories in litigation, Cristoforo Colombo had fallen from grace. Queen Isabella had ordered that no Spanish gold be utilized to fund his expeditions, and by order of the Holy Office, he be labeled an enemy of the Church.
And so it came to pass that when Cristoforo Colombo’s legacy lingered on the edge of oblivion, an unlikely ally found him hiding in the shadows of society. He haled from the land of Colombo’s father.  He introduced himself as Amerigo, the third son of Anastasio Vespucci.
Amerigo, in the employ of the House of Medici of Florence, arrived in Spain with Donato Niccolini to investigate the suspicious dealings of the Medici Branch in the port city of Cadiz, Spain. They had discovered that the intrigues of Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca threatened to bury the secret of Heaven.
“Accompany me on an expedition to the New World, and let us reveal the bishop’s true motives.” Amerigo Vespucci whispered.
“In case you haven’t noticed, voyages cost money and require a ship. Of which I have neither.” Cristoforo Colombo replied.
Amerigo Vespucci dismissed Colombo’s concern, since the Florentine was more than a merchant and an explorer, but had also been a financier. And so it was that the two explorers prepared to embark on a journey across the ocean to a land that harbored the secret of Heaven, and where destiny waited to forge their legacies.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Secret of Heaven...intro...

Legend holds that when the Seducer of Souls arrived on the shores of the New World, he had been followed by a shadow that cursed the gods, and stained the souls of men.
In the Age of Discovery, explorers sought wealth and power for their kings. They had brought with them their languages, their customs, their diseases, and their faith. A plague that later decimated the natives In Nomine Dei, and cast a shroud of secrets and corruption over the world of men.
They could be seen from the beaches when their vessels appeared on the horizon. The shadow of a storm that crept across the ocean like an omen of death, for the natives did not understand what was coming and what lay hidden in the land of their ancestors.
The ambitious Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca had convinced the Crown of Castile to commission voyages into the New World in search of gold. But what he sought proved far more valuable to the Holy Office than the greed of men. After years of expedition it had been established that the rumors of the Treasure of Heaven were true, and the labyrinth known as The Chamber of Spirits lied waiting to be discovered.
The shadow that pursued the Seducer of Souls had assured the bishop that he was doing God’s work. He was the angel Sariel, and charged with saving the souls of the dead from the Adversary of Heaven. Now, as the slain fell to the explorers, their bodies cast into pits of fire, the Seducer gathered the souls of those who had not been deceived by the agents of the Cross.
Every day fewer souls remained and more had been convinced to accept a prophet as a god. However, as it had been previously agreed, the former turned out to be the worthy ones and the latter would envy them for eternity.
When the Seducer of Souls arrived in the New World, he found a child—too young to tell his tale—had been left as the last of his tribe. The Fallen Angel cared for him, and reared him in secret, and when he came of age he appointed him as gatekeeper of the Chamber of Spirits.
Over the years they called to him, the Children of Heaven. First Sariel, the shadow that followed the Seducer of Souls; their voices echoed in his dreams. “For God and Heaven, tell us where it is!”
The boy divulged nothing. For he understood that evil had crept into Heaven, and the Message of God had been lost again.