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The Sword

Chapter 7 - Tizona Disappears Once Again!

Everyone looked at Joseph who was still staring at the table in disbelief. Suddenly aware that all eyes were on him, he stammered, “I don’t know! No one came back here. Honest. I didn’t touch it. I didn’t tell anyone or show it to anyone! The only person I saw the whole time you were gone was the tailor’s wife.”

The room erupted in expressions of dismay and confusion, everyone talking at once. Diego’s anger was directed at Zaina.

“You promised the sword! I hold you responsible. If you know something about this …” He stepped toward Zaina and looked so threatening that everyone else in the room moved to block his path.

“Stop! Calm yourselves!” Samuel’s booming voice commanded, bringing an abrupt end to the uproar. “We’re not going to solve this with yelling and accusations. We have to think. How could this have happened?”

Silence followed for several long minutes. Martin pointed at the single high window above a set of shelves at the back of the room. “What’s out there?” he asked.

“The courtyard,” answered Joseph. “But someone would have to be pretty tall to climb through there.”

Martin crossed to the window and examined the shelves below. Some dirt on the linen and a partial footprint on a shelf told the story. “Whoever it was, this is how he got in,” he said shaking his head.

“But who would know?” wondered Samuel aloud.

“Malik,” whispered Zaina.

Farajj looked like someone had struck him. “What are you saying, girl?”

“You told Ibrahim about the sword. And I know Malik was listening. He was teasing me about causing trouble.”

“But why would he…”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense. But who else could have known?”

“And he probably knows everything,” Joseph added shaking his head. “If he was standing out in the courtyard while we were discussing the sword, he would certainly have had no trouble hearing father.”

Samuel winced and then glanced at his son with a look of disapproval. “My son, in spite of showing no respect for his father, is nonetheless right. Which means we have no time to lose. We must find Malik … and soon.”

Farajj, still visibly shaken, agreed. “Then we must go to Ibrahim’s home right away,” he said sadly. “His son may be there. If not, Ibrahim may be able to tell us where to find him. In either case Ibrahim must be told …”

“That his son is a thief!” Diego finished angrily.

At that, Zaina burst into tears. As her father tried to console her, the others, including Martin, glared at Diego with disdain.

“Let’s go,” ordered Samuel. “Joseph, you stay here and …”

“Father, no!” Joseph blurted. “Please!”

Samuel relented. “Alright then, we’ll close the shop. Now let’s get to Ibrahim’s.”

In spite of their haste, it took a little while for the seven of them to reach the home of Ibrahim and his family, which stood adjacent to the stables near the edge of town. Along the way, the group passed many curious faces and more than a few shouted questions, all of which they ignored.

“Ibrahim’s family are livestock traders,” Samuel explained to Martin as they hurried down a narrow lane. “Horses, mainly. I can assure you, it is an honest, honorable family. I can’t imagine why Malik would do such a thing. His family is among the town’s richest. They are in no need of money.”

“There is more to this, isn’t there -- for Zaina and her father?” Martin inquired.

“Yes. Malik is the man Zaina is expected to marry. We’ve been anticipating that marriage for several years. Farajj and Ibrahim were friends long before Malik or Zaina were born.”

Finally the stables came into view. Just beyond sat a large stone house. Farajj and Zaina led the way. “Ibrahim!” Farajj shouted as he banged on the door. “Ibrahim, we need to speak with you!”

“Over here!” came the answer from the direction of the stables. They turned to see the wiry, graying horse trader emerge from the stable entrance, a pitchfork in his hand. “What is it, Farajj?” he called. “What’s the matter?”

Before Farajj could answer, Diego demanded, “Where is your son? He has taken …”

A swift strike from the back of Samuel’s hand cut Diego off. To Martin, Samuel growled, “Can you please get him to mind his mouth?”

Martin pulled the stunned Diego aside. “I have no doubt that someday you will make a great knight. But your diplomatic skills leave much to be desired. Please let these good people handle this!” Diego, sullenly nursing a split lip, nodded.

“We should go inside,” said Farajj to his old friend.

With formal grace, Ibrahim offered the hospitality of his house to the small crowd of unexpected visitors. His flustered wife hurried off to get some fruit while they arranged themselves, finding seats or standing in the large, richly decorated front room.

Martin marveled at the colorful patterned tapestries that covered the walls and the glass vases that graced the mantle of the room’s immense fireplace. Malik certainly didn’t steal the sword for profit, he concluded.

With a halting voice, Farajj explained to Ibrahim what they believed had happened. Stunned and bewildered by what he heard, Ibrahim struggled to tell them what he knew.

“Malik came home all in a rush earlier today. He took his horse from the stable. When I asked him where he was going, he just said that he was going for a ride. I didn’t see a sword.”

Ibrahim held his head in his hands. “Are you sure it was Malik?” he asked. “Why would he take a sword belonging to El Cid? It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Think, my old friend,” urged Farajj. “Has there been anything different about Malik recently? Has he said anything or done anything that might give us a clue as to where he’s gone?”

Ibrahim rubbed his forehead as he considered the question. “He has lately taken an interest in the al-Murabitun -- the Almoravids,” he said at last. “As you know, several of their people have spoken at the mosque. Malik seems persuaded by their arguments. He’s referred to them as the saviors of Al-Andalus.”

“Saviors?” said Farajj incredulously. “The Almoravids are Amazighs (Berbers) -- barbarians from Africa.”

“Good soldiers, though. According to Malik they’ve come to defend the Muslim kingdoms from worse barbarians -- King Alfonso and his Christian knights. Ever since Alfonso took Toledo, the other kingdoms have lived in fear of his ambitions.”

Martin could see that Diego was about to say something, probably regarding being called a barbarian. A quick elbow to the ribs reminded Diego of his agreement to stay out of the discussion, but it also earned Martin a menacing glare.

Ibrahim continued, “Malik agrees with the Almoravids when they say that many of the Muslim kingdoms of Spain have corrupt leaders.”

“None of us can argue with that,” observed Samuel. “Just look at what happened in Toledo. The people hated al-Qadir even more than they feared Alfonso.”

“Unjust taxes can have that effect,” Farajj wryly added.

Ibrahim nodded agreement. “But Malik believes that because of this, the Almoravids will overthrow all of the corrupt kings and unite Al-Andalus under a single rule once more.

Farajj shrugged. “He may be right. The ruler of Granada has already been deposed and sent into exile in Africa.” He paused and rubbed the stubble on his chin. “But what could any of this have to do with Malik and the sword?”

It was Zaina’s quiet voice that broke the awkward silence that followed. “Malik has gone to earn favor for his family with the Almoravids,” she stated flatly. Immediately, Zaina had everyone’s attention. But as she looked at their faces, she could see that they were expecting more of an explanation.

Rising from her seat by the fireplace, she began to pace as she continued, “If I understand them correctly, the Almoravids believe in a more strict observance of Islam. They do not approve of some of our Andalusian traditions. In fact, there are quite a number of things about Al-Andalus they see as immoral. Malik believes the Almoravids will win control of Spain, and he wants to ensure that Almoravid leaders see this family and this town in a favorable light. He thinks he’s doing it for us.”

“Doing what?” asked Joseph, still uncomprehending.

“He’s gone to present the Almoravid king with the prized possession of his most famous and deadly enemy -- the sword of El Cid.”

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