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The Sword

Chapter 6 - Diego and Martin Meet Zaina at the Marketplace

It was mid-morning when Farajj and Zaina finally climbed the steep road that led to Cuenca’s main gate. Over her shoulder, Zaina carried the bundle of fleece that served to hide the sword from curious eyes.

Once through the gate, they continued their up-hill climb through the narrow, shaded streets toward the open plaza located at the center of town. Farajj was in desperate need of a rest by the time they reached the plaza’s fountain.

“I used to walk up that hill without a second thought,” he gasped between breaths. “I even remember running it.” He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his handkerchief. “But that was a very long time ago.”

“Well, this is certainly a good place to rest, Father. Sit on the fountain’s ledge, while I get us some water.”

They were still resting by the fountain when the familiar voice of Ibrahim, an old friend of the family, called to Farajj from across the plaza. “Farajj! What a surprise to see you here this morning!”

Farajj and Zaina stood as Ibrahim and his nineteen-year-old son, Malik, crossed the plaza to greet them. Malik, tall with raven hair and muscular, square cut features, stood in stark contrast to his rather thin, graying father.

“I’ve just come to sell a little wool to Samuel,” Farajj said as the two old friends embraced. Zaina shyly looked at her feet, not wanting to meet Malik’s eyes, which she knew would be fixed on her.

Ibrahim looked surprised. “Only one small bundle? Surely that is not worth the trip.”

Farajj lowered his voice. “Actually, I have something more than wool today -- something far more valuable and perhaps dangerous.”

Ibrahim canted his head to one side and raised a brow. In answer to his questioning look, Farajj continued, “Zaina found a weapon yesterday while grazing the sheep. I’m taking it to Samuel in the hope that he or his wife will know how we can properly deal with it.”

“And this weapon is hidden in the bundle?”

“Yes. And to my eyes it appears to be no ordinary weapon. I suspect it is of great value.”

“Then you were wise to be cautious. Such a thing could bring great trouble. May Allah guide you in your efforts to safely dispose of it.”

Ibrahim led Farajj a little distance away from their children and then gestured toward Malik, who had been listening intently even though his attention appeared to be focused solely on Zaina. “Your daughter grows more lovely each time I see her,” he said. “Malik asks of her often.”

“I’m sure he does, and with good reason,” Farajj replied, a hint of sadness in his voice. “Your son is a fine young man.” Pausing he looked over at Zaina, who was still nervously engaged in looking anywhere but at Malik as they talked. “She just needs a little more time. She is … well … not sure of her heart. We must not force them, you know.”

Ibrahim smiled at his friend and laid a hand on his shoulder. “I know. But you must let her go someday, my friend. She should not go unmarried much longer.” Farajj just nodded.

“Come, Zaina,” he said. “I’ve rested long enough. We must go see Samuel.” With that they took leave of Ibrahim and Malik and headed out of the plaza up yet another steep narrow street toward the home of Samuel the cloth merchant. Unknown to them, Malik also made his way into the Jewish part of town by another route.

Farajj was a little winded once again by the time they reached Samuel’s door. The familiar smells of wool, linen, and dyes greeted them as father and daughter entered the shop and home of the Jewish merchant.

Joseph, Samuel’s fourteen-year-old son was the first to greet them. “Zaina!” he exclaimed, a bright smile lighting up his face. “What a wonderful surprise!” Catching himself, he added with a slight bow to Farajj, “Good morning, sir.”

Farajj could not help but smile at the boy who was now enveloped in a small cloud of lint and bits of wool as he brushed at his hair and tunic in an attempt to neaten his appearance.

“Joseph, I need to speak with your father. Is he here?” Joseph opened his mouth to reply, but Samuel’s booming voice answered the question for him. Emerging from a back room, he greeted, “Farajj! What brings you here today? I wasn’t expecting to see you again for several weeks.” In contrast to his lanky son, Samuel was a great bull of a man with round features and a voice that knew no volume other than loud.

Farajj frowned. “I need your advice about something. Is your wife here? She might also be able to help.”

“Sarah has gone to market, but she should be back before too long. I’m surprised you didn’t pass her on the way up here.” Noticing his friend’s serious expression, he added, “Let’s go in the back where we won’t be interrupted.”

Samuel led them into a large room lined floor to ceiling with shelves of fabric of every color and description. Zaina thought it was like stepping into a rainbow. She had happy memories of playing in this room with Joseph when they were little.

A large table with various cutting and measuring tools dominated the center. Zaina laid the bundle of fleece on the table and untied the cords that held it together. Samuel and his son both let out a gasp as the bundle came undone and the sword lay revealed in a bed of fleece.

In response to their stunned expressions, Farajj explained, “Zaina found it in a field. And now we’re not sure what to do with it. Have you ever seen anything like this?”

The merchant did not immediately reply. Instead, he began examining the sword closely, starting with the beautifully decorated hilt. He then pulled the sword from its sheath and carefully studied the blade, tapping it several times with a wooden dowel.

“The blade is old,” he said at last. “And very well made. Definitely Muslim craftsmanship -- maybe even Toledo steel. I would guess it was probably made in Córdoba during the days of the Caliphs.” He gingerly slid the blade back into its sheath.

“Then the sword belongs to a Muslim warrior?” Zaina asked hopefully.

“Not necessarily, I’m afraid. This weapon has been around long enough to have changed hands many times, as a prize of battle or as ransom for its owner.”

He paused and looked first at Zaina and then her father, with an uncharacteristically serious expression. “I’m no expert on such things, but I know enough to tell you that this must be the possession of a great lord of some kind. It is worth a fortune.” Samuel turned his attention back to the sword and added grimly, “And he will want it back.”

As they stood, each of them silently considering the merchant’s assessment of the situation, their thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the sound of someone entering the shop.

A woman’s voice called out, “Samuel! Joseph! Where are you?” Everyone immediately recognized Sarah’s voice, which possibly through long years of living with her husband, was nearly as loud as his.

“In here,” Samuel shouted, making Zaina wince.

“Samuel!” She called as she made her way through the shop toward the back room. “We must go find Farajj and his daughter. Something terrible is …” Her voice trailed off as she rushed into the room and beheld the four of them. Stunned, she stood gaping for a moment.

“What are you babbling about, woman?” Samuel said at last. Sarah, a petite woman with graying hair, quickly recovered her wits. “I’ve just come from the plaza. There are two Christians there who claim that they are in the service of El Cid!” She then looked directly at Zaina, a genuinely frightened look in her eyes. “And they are asking about Zaina!”

Zaina’s eyes went wide. Farajj’s muscles tensed. Samuel’s voice went up an octave. “Oh, my God! This must be the sword of El Cid!” he cried. “This is not good. In fact, it is very, very bad. El Cid is not a man to be trifled with. If the stories about him are even half true, men have died at his hands for lesser offenses than the taking of his prized sword.”

Farajj grabbed his friend’s arm. “And how do they know Zaina’s name? How do they know she has the sword?” Thoughts of his family raced through his mind.

Of them all, Zaina’s was the calmest voice. “You say that these Christians are in the service of El Cid?”

Sarah nodded. “They are young men, both Castilians. The older of them is big, loud, and demanding. The younger is quieter, and not unlike Joseph.”

“But El Cid himself is not with them?”

“No. At least I saw no sign of him.”

“Then what do we have to fear? Can we not simply surrender the sword to these boys and be done with it?”

“She’s right,” said Samuel. “But we must be careful how we do it. El Cid is a powerful man. His reach is long, even if he is not here personally.” Looking directly at Zaina he added, “And somehow those young men already know the name of at least one person they can blame if they want to.”

For a long moment, Zaina thought about what Samuel had said. Then making up her mind, she announced, “Then I must be the one to explain to them what happened. And I must do it without the sword.”

Farajj looked startled at first and shook his head, but then the logic of Zaina’s statement sunk in. “Yes,” he said to everyone’s surprise. “It should be Zaina who talks with them. And she must be without the sword. If they see the sword, they could rush to judgment. They would have no reason to listen.”

“And besides,” added Joseph, “Who here would be better to talk to two young men?” He gestured toward Zaina. “I mean, after all, who wouldn’t listen to her?”

Samuel glared for a moment at his son, but could not sustain the reproach. Breaking into a laugh, he playfully batted at Joseph’s head with the dowel.

“But she cannot go alone,” Farajj stated flatly. “I must go with her. I will let her do the talking, but the Christians must see that she is not alone.”

Samuel glanced briefly at his wife to be sure of her approval. Seeing it in her eyes, he said, “We will go as well. The less alone she is, the better.”

Sarah pointed at the gleaming sword. “Someone will have to stay with that and keep it safe until we get back.” Turning to Joseph, she said, “Cover it back up with the fleece and then mind the shop as usual.”

Samuel nodded his agreement. “We should not be gone too long. Once the Christians have promised to lay no blame on any of us, we will bring them back here and give them the sword. That will be the end of it.” Wanting to go with them, Joseph started to object. But a quick look from both of his parents silenced him.

Moved by a sense of urgency, it did not take the group long to reach the plaza. Farajj was especially thankful the trip had been downhill.

As they emerged from the narrow street into the plaza, they immediately spotted the two young men who were standing by the fountain separately speaking with small groups of townspeople.

Farajj smiled to himself. Those poor boys have probably been told a hundred times by now that no one here has ever heard of anyone named Zaina, he thought. These people were his neighbors and friends. They would never tell anything to strangers that might bring harm to a member of their community.

With a determined stride, Zaina bravely led the four of them straight up to the older of the two young men. “I am Zaina,” she announced without hesitation. “I hear you wish to speak with me.”

Diego was stunned. For a long moment he forgot himself and grinned at the pretty apparition before him. Recovering his stern expression he said, “Actually, it is your father I must speak with. He has taken something that does not belong to him. This is a serious…”

“No, actually,” Zaina interrupted. “I am the one who found your sword. And I will return it to you if you will listen to what I have to say.”

Hearing this, Martin came to stand beside Diego. He could not help but smile at the young lady who was obviously not intimidated by Diego’s bluster. “See, it is like I told you,” he said. “She found the sword.”

“Yes,” Zaina continued. “I found the sword laying in a stand of tall wildflowers in a field where I was grazing our sheep.”

Martin nodded. “And you used the sword to mow down half of those flowers.”

Zaina smiled, a little embarrassed. “Yes.”

Diego was not satisfied. “Then why did you bring the sword here? Did you not intend to try and sell it? Why else would you bring it to the markets of Cuenca?”

“We brought it to Cuenca to seek the advice of friends,” she replied gesturing to the trio standing behind her. “And in hopes of finding its owner.”

Martin slapped Diego on the back. “Which she did, Diego. Here we are! Was it not logical of her to assume that someone who lost such a prize might come to Cuenca in search of it?”

Diego gave up. “Very well,” he said softening his tone. “If you will just return the sword to us, we will be on our way.”

But Zaina was not finished. “And we have your word that there will be no blame assigned for the sword’s loss, nor any action taken against me, my family or our friends,” she said firmly.

Defeated, Diego threw up his hands and laughed. “Yes, yes! I give you my word! Just give us the sword.”

Satisfied, Zaina flashed the boys a bright smile, turned on her heel and said over her shoulder, “Then come with us!” With that she marched back across the plaza leading her father and his friends toward Samuel’s shop. Diego and Martin hurried to follow.

A short time later, they entered the shop to find Joseph still glumly manning the shop as ordered. “We’ve had only one customer,” he reported sullenly. “I sold a bolt of linen to the tailor’s wife. She was most disappointed that mother was not here.”

“So where is the sword?” Diego asked eagerly.

Samuel led them all into the back room. Moving to the table, he threw back the fleece with a flourish. There was a collective gasp followed by stunned silence. The sword was gone.

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