Chapter 8 - The Four Youths Unite to Regain Tizona
Everyone scrambled after Diego and
Martin, as they bolted from the house and headed for the
stables. Soon the huge barn was the scene of frantic
activity. Diego and Martin were hurriedly retrieving and
saddling their horses.
Zaina had Ibrahim by the sleeve. Scanning the stalls, she
pointed to a tall gray horse with a long, flowing mane. “May
I take her?” she asked breathlessly.
Farajj was only a few steps behind. “Zaina!” he pleaded.
“Surely you don’t mean to go with them!” Zaina whirled
around to face him. “If I don’t go with them, they will
“You think Malik will listen to them?” she cried, pointing
to the boys. Farajj had no answer to that, but the stricken
look on his face brought tears to Zaina’s eyes. “I will be
careful, father,” she reassured him.
Joseph touched Farajj’s arm. “Don’t worry. I will see that
no harm comes to her.” Samuel’s booming voice immediately
replied to his son’s words. “Oh, no! No, no, no! I forbid
“You don’t even know how to ride,” added Sarah practically.
Joseph turned to his father, a look of determination in his
eyes -- a look his father had never seen before. “Father,
listen! Zaina is going. Would you have her go alone with
those boys? They’re Castilians! We hardly know them!”
“I have a good horse for him, Samuel,” Ibrahim offered.
“She’s as docile as they come. Children who know next to
nothing ride her all the time.”
Samuel turned to Ibrahim. “But that’s not the point. He’s …”
“Your son?” Ibrahim finished. “Malik is my son. He must be
saved from his foolishness.”
“We’re all going to have to trust our children,” said Farajj
with a sigh. “May Allah watch over them all.”
Zaina, with the help of one of the stable boys, was already
saddling the stately mare. “Your daughter, Farajj, is a good
judge of horses,” said Ibrahim. “She is the finest I own.
She’ll bring your girl home.”
Meanwhile, at the other end of the stables, Diego and Martin
were nearly ready to leave. Diego unfastened his sword from
his saddle and fastened it around his waist.
Martin took notice. “You aren’t thinking of going up against
Malik, are you? Don’t forget, he has Tizona. Besides, we
certainly don’t want to kill this fellow. Zaina’s supposed
to marry him.”
“I’m trained to fight. He’s not. And if I have to kill him
to get the sword back, I will.” He turned and put his face
close to Martin’s. “And don’t you even think about getting
in my way!” he growled.
Once mounted, the four assembled along with their parents
and Ibrahim just outside the stables. Ibrahim’s wife hastily
handed out skins of water and bags of fruit.
Samuel shaded his eyes from the sun as he looked up at
Diego. “How do you know where to look? Where will you go?”
“South,” Diego replied confidently. “The Almoravids are
south. With any luck, we’ll pick up his trail. He doesn’t
have all that long a lead on us. We’ll catch him.”
With that, he gave a sharp command to his horse and was off
at a gallop. The other horses followed close behind. Joseph
nearly fell off when his mount first broke into a gallop,
but he hung on and even managed to wave goodbye before he
disappeared down the steep road that led to the town’s main
The four stopped briefly at the crossroads just outside of
town. Zaina pointed to the road leading away to their left.
“There is only one good road that leads south. It would be
the fastest way.” Diego didn’t reply. He wheeled his horse
and charged off down the dusty road. The others did their
best to follow.
The afternoon sun was unmercifully hot, and it soon proved
impossible to keep up the pace Diego had first set. Still,
they did not stop until the sun had slipped below the
horizon and darkness was closing in.
The people of a small village were gracious enough to offer
the strange company of young people hospitality for the
night. Zaina was given a bed in the home of a miller and his
wife. The boys slept in a farmer’s barn with the horses.
At first light they were off again. With the horses rested,
Diego once again set a fast pace.
It was late morning when they first glimpsed their quarry.
As they crested a hill, they could easily see a tell-tail
plume of dust raised by a single rider in the plain below.
Diego signaled a halt and watched the distant figure for a
moment. Turning to Zaina, he asked, “You think it’s him?”
“Could be. Too far to tell for sure. He doesn’t seem to be
in any great hurry, though.”
“His horse has been ridden hard. Otherwise we would have
caught him yesterday. And he doesn’t know we’re pursuing
Without further comment, Diego prodded his horse into a
gallop and, followed by the others, raced down the hill.
Malik, meanwhile, continued at an easy pace, seemingly
unaware of his pursuers and so in less than an hour they had
closed the distance considerably.
As they crossed every rise, Zaina could now clearly make out
that it was indeed Malik and his big bay horse up ahead. She
began to worry about what exactly would happen when they
caught up to him -- something she had not stopped to
consider until then.
She looked over at Diego. He still had the same look of
single-minded determination he showed when they started.
This did nothing to ease her mind.
Soon the road curved east, and Malik left the road to
continue his journey south. The open, nearly treeless hills
and valleys offered few obstacles to slow them down. The
horses seemed to sense a chase, giving them a second wind as
the distance rapidly closed. Diego, driving his horse hard,
pulled ahead of the group.
Finally, as they entered a broad, grassy meadow, Malik
spotted his pursuers. But it was too late. Malik had no
sooner prodded his horse into a full gallop than Diego was
on him. Drawing up close beside his prey, Diego launched
himself at Malik, the impact sending the both of them
crashing hard into the meadow.
Rolling apart and scrambling to their feet, they stood
facing each other separated by only a few yards. Quickly
sizing up his opponent, Diego realized that Malik was taller
and more powerfully built. But he looked scared and
confused. Drawing his sword, Diego commanded, “Yield!” But
Malik didn’t answer.
Instead, he drew Tizona from its sheath. Undaunted, Diego
prepared to do battle. As he expected, Malik was the first
to make a move -- a wild swing that Diego easily dodged.
This is going to be too easy, he thought. He waited for
Malik to try again. When he did, Diego, in a practiced
maneuver, blocked the swing with his sword. There was a loud
crash of metal against metal. Turning, Diego then thrust
toward his opponent’s chest. Only nothing happened.
It took Diego a moment to realize with horror that he was
holding nothing but the handle of his sword. The blade had
broken off cleanly at the hilt! Stunned by the impact, Malik
had backed off a few feet, but he quickly recovered and now
leveled the famous weapon at Diego.
“No, Malik! No!” It was Zaina’s unmistakable voice that
caused both adversaries to pause and look. With the skirts
of her long tunic gathered up to her knees in both hands,
she was running headlong across the meadow toward them,
followed closely by two boys.
“Zaina?” called Malik. “What are you doing here?”
Zaina put herself between Malik and Diego. Facing Malik, she
pleaded, “Please, Malik, you cannot do this.” Realizing with
a start that the sword was now pointed at Zaina, Malik
lowered the weapon.
“What are you doing here?” he repeated. “And who is
“We’ve come to stop you from making a horrible mistake.”
Malik just looked at her, his mouth open in an expression of
bewilderment. Zaina turned and took Diego and Martin each by
the arm to stand on either side of her.
“They work for El Cid, Malik. They know that you are the one
who took the sword. They know your family. They know your
town. What do you think is going to happen when El Cid
learns from them that you’ve stolen his prized sword and
given it to his enemy?”
She paused to let her words sink in. Malik still looked
confused and uncertain. Zaina continued, “And they aren’t
the only ones who know what you’ve done. My family, your
family, and Joseph’s family -- they all know that you’ve
taken something that is not rightly yours.”
“And knowing my mother,” Joseph added, “The rest of Cuenca
probably knows by now as well.”
Her voice quavering with emotion, Zaina continued, “If you
do not return the sword now, Malik, you will be considered a
thief. And if that is so, I will not have you, Malik. I will
not marry a thief!”
Malik dropped the sword and put his hands to his head. “Oh,
what have I done?” he moaned sinking to his knees. “What
have I done?”
Zaina went over and knelt in the grass next to him. Diego
retrieved the sword. Martin and Joseph went off to get the
It was soon decided that the horses had been spent on the
chase and that the fertile meadow was the best place to let
them rest and graze. Martin and Joseph gathered enough wood
for a small fire and they prepared to camp for the night.
Later, as the sun began to set, Malik and Zaina said prayers
together. Then, the five of them gathered around the fire
and shared the fruit that Malik’s mother had given them.
Malik was still in a pitiful state of remorse. “Who’s to say
El Cid won’t still take revenge on me and my family for what
I’ve done?” he groaned.
Martin patted him on the shoulder. “All he needs to know,
and all he really cares about, is that we found the sword
and he has it back. We won’t need to bother him with the
Diego’s brows went up. “Well, I don’t know about that …” he
Martin interrupted. “Diego, if you feel that Lord Rodrigo
must know everything, then I will have to tell him the story
of how you were defeated in battle by a man with no training
and had to be rescued by a girl!”
“Are you going to hold this over me every time you want your
“No. I promise -- only this once -- provided you agree to
keep your mouth shut about all these people unless it’s to
say something nice.”
Diego reluctantly agreed, much to Malik’s obvious relief. “I
really believed that the sword might bring security to my
family,” he began. “Instead it almost brought ruin.”
“Well, now you have nothing to fear,” said Martin. Looking
at Zaina sitting next to him, he added, “In fact, I’d say
you were a pretty lucky man.” Malik, for the first time
since they had met him, grinned.
Diego poked a stick at the fire. “What made you think you
needed to win the favor of the Almoravids? They’re Muslims,
just like you.”
“That’s just it,” replied Malik. “They’re not just like us.”
He paused, thinking of how to explain the complex situation.
“The Almoravids are Amazighs (Berbers) from Africa. They’ve come to
save Al-Andalus from the aggression of your king, Alfonso.
But they’ve also come to correct what they see are the
reasons Al-Andalus is weak and unable to defend itself
against the Christian kings.”
“Like corrupt leaders, right?” offered Joseph.
“Yes. But there is more.” Malik again paused, searching for
the right words. “There is much about Andalusian society of
which they do not approve -- like the wealth my family has
accumulated over generations, and the fine things we own.
They have been very critical of our leaders and officials on
this very point.”
Joseph persisted warily, “You said the Almoravids did not
approve of Andalusian society. The people of Al-Andalus are
not just Muslims. What else exactly do they not approve of?”
Malik looked at each of the faces around the fire. “This,”
he said simply. “This is what they believe has made the
Muslim kingdoms of Spain weak.”
In answer to their blank looks, he explained, “Look at us
here around this fire. We have two Muslims, two Christians,
and a Jew. And in Al-Andalus that is the way it has been for
centuries. True, we live in different parts of town, and we
pray in different houses of worship. But for the most part
we’ve lived side by side, cooperated, and learned from each
other for generations. Our shared way of life is rooted in
Spain. It is Andalusian -- not just Muslim, Christian, or
“What’s wrong with that?” Zaina asked.
“According to the Almoravids, the weakness of Al-Andalus and
its leaders is the corruption of Islam and its laws
resulting from our close relationships with Christians and
Jews. They say we’ve let them contaminate our faith and
corrupt our thinking.”
Pausing, he looked again at each of their faces in the
firelight. “They want to reform Spain and to someday make it
into a purely Muslim country.”
“Then what’s to become of the rest of us?” Joseph asked. An
awkward silence followed. No one could offer an answer.
Martin finally said, “What you say Malik, has a familiar
ring. I’ve heard the same sermon.”
“The head of the Church in Toledo, and indeed of all
Christian Spain, is a Frenchman named Bernard. He’s the one
who turned the city’s mosque into a cathedral.”
“Not Alfonso?” asked Malik.
“No. As I understand it, when the king took Toledo, he
promised the Muslims of the city that they could continue to
use the Mosque. But Bernard, when he arrived, did not
approve. You see, he believes that the Holy Christian Church
of Spain has been corrupted by our often-friendly dealings
with Muslims and Jews. He and his fellow French clergy, with
the support of the Pope himself, want to reform Spain with
an eye toward one day making it a purely Christian land.”
“Then what is to become of the rest of us?” Joseph asked
again, this time not expecting an answer.
Zaina reached over and laid her hand on his arm. “Great
lords, Christian and Muslim, have fought one another over
land and honor for centuries. Now it seems they will fight
one another over religion. But the simple people of
Al-Andalus, like us, have always found a way to survive. We
will still be Andalusians, even if the kings have forgotten
what that means.”
“Sing, Zaina,” said Joseph. “Please.”
So Zaina sang. Her song was of Al-Andalus long ago,
beautiful palaces, splendid gardens, sparkling fountains,
and a people united, living in harmony. Astonished by her
voice, Diego and Martin looked at one another in disbelief.
The end of her song brought an immediate request for more
from both of them.
“Too bad she doesn’t have her oud,” said Joseph. “She plays
it almost as well as she sings.”
Zaina granted the boys an encore, and then, exhausted, they
arranged saddles and blankets near the fire and went to
It was still at least an hour before dawn when they were all
suddenly awoken by the sound of horses, followed by a
shouted command. “Get up!” ordered the unfamiliar voice.
The five immediately scrambled to their feet as at least
twenty armed men on horseback surrounded their camp. Diego
reached for Tizona, which lay sheathed on the ground at his
feet, but Martin stopped him. “Better to not draw attention
to it,” he hissed.
The leader of the group dismounted and approached the young
people, who now stood huddled together beside the remains of
their campfire. Even in the dim pre-dawn light, Martin could
make out that the leader was a tall man with a trim beard,
weathered features, and an elaborate headdress.
“Who are you?” Diego demanded with as much authority as he
could muster. From behind him, it was Malik who answered.
“They’re Almoravids, Diego.”
“He is correct. We are al-Murabitun,” the leader announced.
“I am Ahmad ibn Darras, commander of these men.” He looked
Diego up and down. “You are a Castilian.”
“Yes,” replied Diego defiantly.
The Almoravid commander reached down and picked up Tizona.
He held it up to the growing light and drew it from its
sheath. “Beautiful!” he breathed. “A weapon of kings!”
To his soldiers, he said loudly, “There must be an
interesting story here. How did children come to possess
such a treasure?” Turning to the mounted soldier directly
behind him, he ordered, “Bring them. Surely Prince Ali will
want to hear that story.”