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The Sword

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 fail.”

“But Zaina…”

“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 it!”

“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?” he asked.

“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 gate.

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 him.”

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 this…this ruffian?”

“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 horses.

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 details.”

Diego’s brows went up. “Well, I don’t know about that …” he began.

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!”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Try me.”

“Are you going to hold this over me every time you want your own way?”

“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 Jewish.”

“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.”

“How so?”

“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 sleep.

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.”

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