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The Sword

Chapter 2 - Zaina Stumbles Upon a Grand Treasure

It was the sound of Zaina’s voice, brightly singing an old Andalusian song, that helped her father Farraj locate the young lady down by the stream that bordered their modest farm. He paused as she came in to view, a bucket of water in each hand, making her way back up the gentle slope toward him. He started to call out to her but checked himself, not wanting to interrupt her song.

Zaina was special. From the time she was born, Farraj somehow knew she would be. Tradition said that he should prefer his children to be boys. But in his heart he knew that he would not trade Zaina for a dozen sons.

Her great talent and joy was music. She could play several instruments and her beautiful voice was astonishingly strong and clear. But beyond her musical gifts, she was simply a wonderful young lady with a generous spirit who enjoyed nothing more than bringing happiness to others. Everyone loved her.

And yet soon, he reflected sadly, he would have to give her up. She had just turned sixteen. Other girls her age were already married. The family he had made arrangements with years before was becoming impatient. Soon the sound of her voice would leave his house and he could hardly bear the thought.

“Wonderful morning, isn’t it father?” she called when she spotted him. He didn’t reply for a moment, having forgotten why he had been looking for her. Then it came to him.

“Yes, my songbird, much cooler after last night’s rain. There will be new grass in the hills. I want you to take our sheep up there for the afternoon.”

Zaina beamed her father one of her characteristic broad smiles in reply as she set down the buckets and trotted over to him. Farraj knew that caring for the sheep was one of Zaina’s favorite chores. Their small flock had been her “audience” since she was six.

“I’ll be back in time to help with the evening meal,” she said adjusting the ribbons of her headband. “Tell mother not to do too much before I get there.”

Farraj frowned. “There are other children, Zaina. Let them learn to help your mother.” Then he smiled and brushed an errant strand of her mane of dark, wavy hair out of her eyes. “You go sing to the sheep.”

Zaina nodded. She understood her father’s meaning. Before tears could have a chance to appear, she quickly turned away and hurriedly retrieved her buckets. Soon Zaina and the flock were on their way into the rugged hills in search of a rich meadow.

It was still early afternoon when she and her parade of sheep reached the small bowl-shaped valley. Zaina had correctly guessed that this low spot in the hills would collect enough water to turn green after the rains. The sheep immediately spread out over the meadow and began contentedly munching the rich grass.

Zaina headed for a large rock near the center of the field where she could sit and watch over the flock. She had only gone a few yards when she came upon a path where the grass had been trodden down by a number of horses. Curious, she followed the path for a little ways. In many places the hoof-prints were very clear in the still-damp ground. Some of the prints were deep – the unmistakable mark of heavy warhorses.

Silently, she said a prayer to Allah that the wars that constantly plagued much of Spain would not come to her home and family. As she finished the prayer, her eye caught a glint of something shiny from within a stand of wildflowers not far from the path. Nervously, she looked all around and listened. The whispering of the breeze and the occasional call of a sheep were the only sounds. As far as she could see, she was alone.

Zaina cautiously made her way over to the mysterious object that so brightly reflected the sun. Gently pushing aside the taller plants, she caught her breath as she suddenly realized what it was. Half out of its ornate leather sheath, the bright steel and decorated hilt of a sword lay seemingly discarded among the flowers.

In disbelief, she again scanned the hills all around. Why would someone so carelessly abandon such a valuable possession? Satisfied that she was indeed alone, Zaina lowered herself to her knees. Grasping the hilt, she slid the sword back into its sheath and then lifted the weapon out of its grassy bed. Standing up, she inspected the hilt more closely.

The workmanship and decoration were finer than anything she had ever seen. It was like the work of a skilled jeweler or goldsmith. She drew the sword from its sheath. It was heavy, but it felt well balanced in her hand. Dropping the sheath to the ground, she took the hilt in both hands and swung it across the stand of wildflowers like a scythe.

The result both amazed and terrified her. In a great arc, the decapitated heads of flowers lay strewn across the field. She had not even felt resistance. It was like slicing through air.

A shiver ran down Zaina’s spine as she surveyed the damage she had done to the lovely flowers. This thing she had discovered was at once beautiful and terrible. She quickly returned the sword to its sheath. What should she do with it now, she wondered. For a moment she considered returning it to where she had found it. But finally she concluded that her father should be the one to decide what to do. He was the wisest man she knew.

Removing her waistcoat, she wrapped the weapon as best she could to disguise it in case she should encounter someone on the way home. She gave the sheep a little while longer to graze and then led them out of the meadow back the way they had come. Along the way, Zaina sang to them a song from long ago -- from the time of the Caliphs of Córdoba when Al-Andalus was united and there was peace. The song was about gardens -- and beautiful flowers.

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