Fathers and Sons
Tarif, al-Andalus: Dhu al-Qa`da 693 AH (Tarifa, Andalusia: October AD 1294)
Faraj stood again with Muhammad and Khalid at either side of him. The sun blazed across the sky, beating down upon their heads mercilessly. He longed for the evening, when the sky in its myriad colors ranged above. However, today he felt hollow and suspected the view would not provide the same enjoyment as it had in the past.
An abrupt silence descended. Even the winds had calmed, leaving the air brittle and heavy. Doñ Alonso returned to the battlements. He strode toward the wall, with his men at-arms following him. Faraj’s gaze swayed to the tower window to the right where his woman stood. Her sharp nails gripped the ledge. She stared down at the child and waited to hear the fate of her eldest son, along with everyone else.
Suddenly, a fierce coastal breeze reared up again, whipping about Doñ Alonso’s short, red cloak. His gaze resolute on the boy below him, he withdrew a dagger from his belt, its handle covered with spinel and bloodstone. Faraj knew Christians believed gemstones carried certain properties offering aid to the bearer. Spinel was for improving character and, bloodstone, a form of jasper, for strengthening the will. The edge of the dagger caught the glow of the setting sun. Prisms of light danced across the blade.
Doñ Alonso began, “Fernan Alonso de Guzman y Coronel is my firstborn son. No father ever felt so much pride in his offspring as I did, when first I beheld him on the day of his birth. No father has ever felt the satisfaction in a son as I feel today. Now, Prince Juan would have me choose between the pride of my heart and the honor of my family. I did not father a son to be a pawn against the country I love and the land I call my own. I fathered a son who, in my stead, might have one day fought against the enemies of Castilla-Leon, be they Moorish or Christian.
“Prince Juan has by his actions, by his treason, made himself an enemy of Castilla-Leon. I shall never yield Tarif or betray the mantle of trust that King Sancho has placed upon me, not even to save my own son. If this rebel prince, who is little more than a dog, should put my son to death, he shall affirm my honor as the loyal defender of his sovereign lord, King Sancho. He shall ensure my son’s place in heaven as a martyr of the Christian faith, who died doing his duty before a faithless lord. He calls down eternal shame on himself in this world and the everlasting wrath of Christ Jesus after death. If Prince Juan wants to test my resolve, if he needs a weapon with which to murder my son, he may have my blade for his cruel purpose!”
Doñ Alonso flung his dagger down over the wall. The weapon spiraled before it landed with a heavy thud, a short distance from where the Prince sat mounted. Doñ Alonso nodded to his weeping son, bowed his head and turned away.
His shoulders were stiff, as he strode across the battlements. His steps never faltered. As one, those who ringed the ramparts bowed their heads as he passed them.
Faraj did the same to honor the noble but tragic sacrifice their adversary had chosen. His heart tore inside his breast for his enemy’s sake.
Prince Juan leapt down from his horse and now brandished Doñ Alonso’s dagger. He dragged the kicking and squealing child against him and forced his head back, exposing his tender neck. With a snarl directed toward the battlements, he pressed the glittering blade against the pale flesh. Tears flooded the boy’s face. In a swift motion, Prince Juan sliced a deep cut from ear to ear. Blood sprayed in a ruby-red arc out across the glittering sand. Shouts of dismay and horror flowed from those assembled on the citadel walls.
As the viscous redness gurgled and spilled down the dying child’s throat, he sagged against his captor. Prince Juan pushed him forward into the sand. The mutilated child fell at the feet of the horse. The stallion nickered and sidestepped the body. A viscid line of red ran from the dead boy’s throat and pooled on the sand beneath his nearly severed neck. The Castillan Prince tucked the Doñ Alonso’s dagger in his belt, still stained with blood and wheeled his horse around, dragging the lifeless body behind him.
No one within the Marinid encampment spoke. Some turned their faces away from Prince Juan, who stared straight ahead. Even the wind stilled completely.
Faraj sought out Doñ Alonso again. He had halted at a doorway though he did not turn around. Someone gripped his arm and spoke with him. Doñ Alonso’s shoulders slumped for a moment and he bowed his head. Then he nodded and re-entered the citadel. He never looked upon the grisly trail leading across the white sand.
Faraj whispered, “As a father of two sons whom I love dearly, I shall honor this sacrifice. I cannot taint this battlefield with the blood of our enemy now that his child’s life has been stolen in such a way.”
(Malaka, al-Andalus: Rajab 701 AH (Malaga, Andalusia: March 1302 CE)
Her father’s voice beckoned and she stepped into the light. “I did not mean to intrude upon you and my husband.”
“You could never be an intrusion,” he said, holding out his hand. She rushed to his side and laced her fingers with his. His hand shook in her hold.
“Are you well, Father?” She studied the fine lines etched in his forehead.
He nodded. “I am overcome by the joy of this occasion. If you have a moment before you return to the wedding guests, may we speak in private?”
“As you command, Father.” She glanced at Faraj.
He bowed at the waist and then grinned at the Sultan. “I pray you may come to us again in the spring, when the Wadi al-Madina shall flow. The hunting shall be good at that time of year.”
Father said, “I look forward to it. Tell my grandsons I shall see them in the spring.”
Faraj nodded and pressed a hand to Fatima’s shoulder. She squeezed it and smiled at him, before he left them.
She slid her arms around her father’s waist and pressed her cheek against his barrel chest. “It’s so good to have you here, for Leila’s sake. You have honored our daughter on her wedding day, with your gifts and your blessing.”
“If only I might have done more, when she was a child. Now she is a woman and one day, she shall have children of her own. I have not spent enough time with my grandchildren. I should have known her, them, much better than I do.”
“It is the burden of your power. You shall always be my father and the grandfather of my children. But foremost, you are Sultan of Gharnatah. You belong to your people, not to us. It has always been so. I knew how it would be from the moment you ascended the throne. It has never diminished the love in my heart, the honor with which I revere you, as my father and lord of my life.”
He sighed. “I have not always deserved your love and respect. I feared I might not be welcome here today, after all the things I have said and done to your husband. To you.”
“Father, that is all in the past. You and Faraj have forgiven each other. My heart is whole again, not torn between the love that I would bear a father and a husband, once at war with each other.”
“I have made many mistakes in these long years. Things I must undo. It is part of why I came to you and Faraj, to seek your forgiveness.”
“You have it, oh, Father, you shall always have it!”
She hugged him again. His frailty shocked her, bones and sinew knitted together in a wiry frame that was half his normal size. How did he possess the strength to stand?
She drew back and searched his gaze. “Something more than the troubles between you and my husband, more than Leila’s union has drawn you to Malaka. Father, what is the matter?”
His long sigh confirmed the suspicions that had dogged her since his unexpected arrival at the wedding.
She maneuvered him to the carved stone bench on the belvedere. When he settled on the seat with a groan, she sat and took his hand. He held her fingers in a shaky grasp and looked out on the water. Sunlight shimmered in the depths of the White Sea. Birds whirled and circled against the blue backdrop and wisps of clouds.
“Fatima, have you ever slept for so long that when you awoke, it seemed you had been slumbering for years?”
When she shook her head, her father continued. “I have lingered in a haze of dreaming. I am awake now. My eyes are open. I see the world as it truly is. I see my son Muhammad for what he truly is.”
Her heart pitched with fear for what her brother might have done and in heartbreak, for whatever painful discovery her father might have made about Muhammad.
He squeezed her fingers, with some effort and cupped her chin with his free hand. “I want you to know, you were right to caution me in the past about your brother. I indulged him too much. If he is deceitful, it is because I have failed him as a father, as I failed you.”
“No, no, you have never failed me!”
“Fatima, hear me in this. I should have trusted in you and your instincts about your brother. You have never led me astray before. But I needed you to know that you were right. Now, I pray Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, may continue to bless you with the knowledge I did not possess. Be strong, my daughter, in the days of trial to come. Have the courage to see your loved ones as they are, not as you would wish them to be. Wisdom and strength are all I possess at the end of my days.”
“Father, what are you saying? You’re not dying, you can’t die now, not when we….”
“Hush, child and listen well. This is my last and best legacy, which I bequeath to you. Promise me, you shall hold fast to it, no matter what may come.”
She blinked hard against her tears and embraced him once more. She buried her tears in his familiar comfort.
“To the end and with my last breath, I shall honor you always, Father.”