The slave of the al hamr.., p.1
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       The Slave of the Al-Hamra, p.1
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The Slave of the Al-Hamra




  Copyright 2012 Blas Malo

  To Blanca,

  For her, to her,



  The destiny of the Muslim empire in the West lies in the hands of one man: Ibn Zamrak, vizier to Muhammad V, fights day and night to maintain the balance in the fragile alliances between his Nasrid reign and the Christian kingdoms in the north and the Marinid dynasty in Africa. During long nights of vigil he writes the verses which will beautify the walls of the new palace of the Alhambra.

  But the shadows of the past are long and the enemies numerous. The vizier’s hands and soul are blood-stained and in the desert sand at the other side of the Mediterranean Sea lies buried a secret which can destroy him.

  Many miles from Granada, in the quarries of the Arabic Al-Mariyyat, in the cold dungeons of Qalat Yasub and in the harem of the Marinid gentlemen of Fez, Ahmed, Abdel and Aixa, victims of the vizier’s pursuit of power, investigate this secret, in which a family was involved a long time ago. They're out for revenge against Ibn Zamrak, vizier, poet and conspirator whose poetry and ambition know no limits.

  * * *

  Dear e-reader:

  In the next pages you will find three free samples from my novel “The Slave of the Al-Hamrá”, a thrilling story in the muslim Granada in Spain in the 14th century. Read it and discover an amazing culture in the shadows of the Alhambra, the marvellous palace of the nasrite sultans. You can find more info about the novel at the end of this e-document.

  Enjoy it

  Blas Malo

  Granada, 2012



  (Free sample)

  (From previous pages:

  PART ONE: 1339-1359

  The year is 1340. In the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula the Nasrid kingdom of Granada has been defeated by a coalition of Christian kingdoms, forcing the sultan Yusuf I to yield as vassal to the Crown of Castile, with the opposition of the Merinid rulers in Fez, North Africa, who wish to continue with the war. The assassination of Yusuf I at the hands of a fanatic causes his son Muhammed V to succeed to the throne.

  In Granada, in the midst of these turbulent times, the lives of two young friends —Abdel Ibn Shalam and Abu Ibn Zamrak— are bound for different destinies.)

  —Damn them. Damn them all to hell! —cried the blacksmith, helpless.

  Hearing his groans, Abu's mother ran into the smithy from the house, stifling a cry when she found him lying on the floor with blood on his apron.

  —I'm all right, I'm all right! Just give me some water, to refresh me. —He raised his hand to his head and painfully felt the site of the blow.

  At that moment Abdel came in from the street, smiling, but he turned pale when he saw the blood and the blacksmith's face. Abu was trembling.

  —My head. I'm all right, woman! Let go of me! I'll soon be over it. The blade! I must get it out of the forge or it'll be ruined!

  He grabbed the tongs and took three unsteady steps before collapsing on the floor behind the anvil. His wife knelt down fearfully beside him. His breathing was very weak and there was blood down the back of his neck.

  —Abu! Abdel, hurry, go and get your father! —sobbed Abu's mother dismally. The two boys ran out in search of Abdala.

  Night had fallen by the time the muleteer arrived. The blacksmith was lying unconscious on the bed, his breathing shallow and difficult. As soon as Abdala saw the ashen face he knew there was nothing to be done. He lifted the man's wrist and checked his pulse. He felt his head carefully, unwinding the bandage that the woman had applied.

  —I washed off the blood —sobbed the woman, stroking her husband's forehead— and I used cold water compresses to calm the heat of his skin. It is as if he had a fever, as if he were asleep.

  Abu went over to his father and took hold of his arm. In desperation, he pinched it to see if he would react. Yusuf remained still.

  —Then I asked the neighbours if they knew of a doctor —the woman went on, holding back her tears—, and one of them said he knew a Jewish doctor who would come at once but that I would have to pay him four silver dirhams in advance. I gave them to him at noon but have heard nothing from him yet. I think ... the doctor will not be coming.

  She hid her face, ashamed at having been so shabbily deceived, and embraced her son.

  —Can anything be done, father? —asked Abdel, feeling useless and desperately ignorant.

  Abdala shook his head. The bloody wound showed a swelling caused by the blow. The bone of the skull was broken. The man was mortally wounded. Yusuf's breathing stopped. Abdala picked up a knife.

  —I am going to open his head. The bone is pressing on the brain. Perhaps if I can put it back in place your father will wake up, Abu. Keep a firm hold on him.

  —Have you ever done this before?

  —Never —confessed the muleteer—, but it is this or nothing at all.

  He cut into the man's scalp and parted the skin. The bone was incrusted in the brain. With great care he separated the two pieces that were pressing on the grey matter and then sewed the skin back in place with a needle and thread. The wound had stopped bleeding. He then applied a new, clean bandage.

  —What now? —asked Abu.

  —Now we pray to Allah, my boy.

  This last desperate attempt was of no use. Yusuf did not breathe again. His wife threw herself on his lifeless chest, grief-stricken.

  Abu could not believe it. His father was dead.

  Abdala picked up his bag of small instruments as Abdel wept for Abu, and Abu and his mother wept for the blacksmith. He cleared his conscience by taking refuge in his limited knowledge of medicine.

  —Maybe a doctor could have done more for him. I'm sorry. I am very sorry.

  —I'm sorry, Abu —Abdel began, but was taken aback when he saw the resentment in the eyes of the blacksmith's son. Abu looked at the muleteer and his son in their clean, simple clothes, which he compared with his own that had been patched over and over again. His look was strange and aggressive. Confused, Abdel left with his father, in silence. From that moment on, the two boys grew apart.

  Abu swore he would not live or die like his father. He clenched his hands on the sheet with which Abdala had covered the blacksmith's body. In his mother's embrace, tears rolled down his face and he was overcome with indignation, the unjustness of it all, and hate. Was this Allah's way of testing them? Why was it always the poor and humble who had to have their patience tried? Did things always have to be this way? Abu was certain of one thing. His father had been killed by that arrogant, overbearing noble, but poverty too was just as much to blame.

  The days went by, the funeral was held, spring came to an end and Abu had to help his mother sell off his father's tools one by one in order to survive. He had a great-uncle somewhere in Basta but although they wrote to him they heard nothing back. They managed to survive on the charity of their neighbours, and if they were poor before, Abu now came to know the meaning of real need. He stopped going to school so that he could help in the fields, but he would get tired and be unable to keep up the pace imposed by the overseers. He tried to work as apprentice to the shoemaker, the potter, the ropemaker, but they all wanted apprentices who were more obedient and submissive, and less proud. A servant! He was not going to follow his father's path of poverty! Nobody was going to make him a slave or take him into servitude! The image of the soldiers at Qadima fortress came to mind. They were impressive, yes, but for all their power they were still under the command of their superiors. An army career could lead to influence and power, b
ut how could he be a soldier if running made him breathless? There had to be another way. He thought of his father's murderer. Even captains owed obedience to nobles and politicians. If he wanted to become wealthy, if he wanted to be somebody, he had to get into the court. He had to get close to the sultan.

  One day he went back to school. He was sick of the pitiful stares, of living on other people's charity that he could not repay. He sat down and concentrated on the Koran, picking up where he had left off in his learning of the Prophet's hadiths, and he wasted no time. He caught the teacher's attention. He did not take his eyes off the book. He recited the suras in a firm, confident voice, and in his gaze there shone an intentness.

  —And what do you want to be when you grow up? —the teacher asked each of the pupils one day.

  —I'd like to help people. I want to be a doctor, or a pharmacist —replied Abdel Ibn Shalam. He looked at his friend.

  —And what about you, my little Abu?

  —I want to live in the palace. I want to serve Islam. I want to be vizier —he replied without hesitation.

  —You are blinded by pride. Allah says that man must be humble.

  —The sultan needs people who are bold! You can keep your humility and poverty! —At once, all the other pupils fell silent and the room in the mosque went quiet. With the back of his hand the teacher struck the boy across the face for his impertinence. Abu took the blow without a word and stared back resentfully at the teacher; his lip was split, but he didn't shed a tear.

  —You've no right to be scornful of us just because your father has died. Think about what you said!

  From the eastern frontiers came news that the war was escalating. The Castilians and Aragonese were fighting to the death to win back Algeciras and Gibraltar from Islamic hands. Only Tarifa, still in Christian hands, was desperately holding off the Muslim avalanche. But it was in the sea that everything would be decided. With the Aragonese fleet sunk, Alfonso XI of Castile resolved in despair to play his last card, and his plea did not go unheard. Alfonso IV of Portugal agreed to send a fleet against the infidels and thus, at the last moment, all the Christian kingdoms of the Peninsula joined forces against the threat from the sons of the desert, who were making no pretence of their intention to cross the Strait, restore the splendour of Al-Andalus and forge their way ahead, beyond the Pyrenees.

  Tarifa was besieged by the troops of the Merinid sultan Abu al-Hasan, and was surrounded by siege devices. When the Christian spies informed that there would be no move to take Seville, Alfonso XI of Castile decided to do battle, breaking the siege of the coastal town just when the arrival of the Portuguese navy had discouraged the Merinids, filling them with foreboding. And the impetus of the desert warriors was outrivalled by the ambition of the Christian soldiers, their eyes set on the spoils to be had in the Merinid sultan's vast encampment, by the Christian heavy cavalry, which crushed the Berber light infantry, and by the unexpected counter-attack from the rear by the besieged troops in Tarifa, who took no prisoners.

  Seeing that all was lost and that Allah was punishing him for his pride, Yusuf I fled. While trumpet fanfares sounded in the Christian cities of Pamplona, Barcelona, Burgos and Lisbon to celebrate the battle of the river Salado (salty), so called because of the blood that poisoned its waters, Yusuf I, wounded in body and soul, rushed to seek refuge in Madinat Garnata and to despatch his ambassadors to buy peace, at any price, before the victors decided to make their way eastward to the Alhambra. It was the end of the Hijri year 718 (1340).

  The Nasrite gold dinars served to pacify Castile's demands, emptying the coffers of the Islamic state. The vanquished submitted to allegiance, in exchange for which they conserved their independence. Yusuf I pondered on the motto of his dynasty: "Only Allah is victorious", and realised at heart that the last opportunity for Al-Andalus had been lost forever.

  The paid-for peace had given hope back to the Nasrite capital. Abu grew up, stimulated by his own desires and his ambition. He did not mind being alone. Abdel had left his side, and the blacksmith's son avoided Abdala the muleteer because he wanted no pity from anyone, even though he might be suffocating from his ailment. Then one day in the Hijri year 719 (1341) a surprising thing happened. Ibn-al-Jatib, the katib, the Chancery secretary, came to visit the school. He was wearing robes of green silk embroidered with silver thread, and was accompanied by a number of bodyguards for protection. What most impressed young Abu was that he was surprisingly young yet had risen to a position almost on a par with that of the sultan.

  —Make way, make way! —ordered the soldiers, pushing aside the onlookers in the street. The teacher, Rashid, welcomed the katib meekly, proud to receive such a visitor. The katib was renowned throughout the kingdom for his prose and poetry, and when he started talking, Abu, even though he didn't know him, knew why he wanted to be like him.

  The pupils stood up.

  —Good day to you, sons of hope, in the name of Allah. Be seated. —The boys sat down, listening to him in silence—. Yes, of hope, for a better future. You are the blood of this land. And the city needs you. Peace now fills our streets, every square, and whether it is kept or lost will be up to you. Learn. Grow strong. Allah will call upon all of you when the time comes. Allah has a destiny for every one of you. What is your name, my son?

  —Ali, sire.

  —And yours? —he asked, pointing to another boy.

  —Said, sire.

  —Would you see the Christian ensign of Castile flying over the Alhambra, or would you spill your blood in the Valley to defend this land? Will you hesitate when the time comes?

  —No, sire! —they all replied in unison.

  —Good, good. —The katib walked about among the seated pupils—. But take heed! Awaken your soul! War is not waged with swords alone. Words, too, serve to do battle. Anyone can learn to brandish a sword; but to wield words like daggers to stab and mortally wound one's enemy, while regaling him with a smile... that requires uncommon skill. It takes this —he touched his heart—, but even more so... this —and he touched his forehead. The teacher offered him a chair in front of the children, who were listening to him spellbound. He sat down, made himself comfortable and smiled slightly—. Show me what you have learned here.

  Abu was watching the katib intently. He was young, intelligent and powerful, close to the sultan, and he had a way with words. Abu was yearning to join in too, to talk to him. But the teacher had put him at the back of the classroom, as punishment for his proud tone whenever he answered the teacher's questions. The boys answered everything the secretary asked them, eagerly and politely, and he showed an interest in their calligraphy, arithmetic and knowledge about the life of the Prophet and about the sunnah, Islamic law. They all did their best to reflect favourably on their teacher, who received the katib's praise and congratulations. They were all asked questions, all except Abu. Ibn al-Jatib pointed at him but the schoolmaster, Rashid, made him pick out somebody else.

  —No, katib, Abu Ibn Zamrak is being punished. He must learn moderation and discipline. He hasn't earned the honour of talking to you.

  Abu could not put up with it any longer, and when Ibn al-Jatib was getting ready to leave, surrounded by all the classmates, he pushed his way through almost by force, calling his name, until he reached him. He grasped the green robe. The teacher went red with indignation, but Ibn al-Jatib wanted to hear what the boy had to say.

  —Oh, katib, take me with you! If you do not, I shall wait on your doorstep day and night until you hear my pleas and are persuaded to give me a chance!

  —Why should I? —asked the katib, smiling at the boy's audacity and his bright, intelligent eyes.

  —Because I shall soon know the Koran and will be able to study the interpretation of the hadiths. Because, if what people say is true, you can tell a man's worth. Because I want to have, as you do, the magic of words, that gift for persuading men and guiding them for the glory of Allah. Because here you will find nothing but meek sheep, whereas I yearn
to be a wolf, astute and quick, intelligent and invincible. Like yourself, oh katib.

  The teacher could tolerate no more and, overcome by embarrassment, raised his stick ready to beat him, but the katib signalled him to stop. And to Abu's surprise he was still smiling.



  (Free sample)

  (From previous pages:

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