Preface: “Ayn al-Dam”

[From Ainadamar: First Flight of the Madrugada]

Pablo de las Casas kneeled on the damp ground. He reached out and touched it with an open palm, then looked up to the Ayn al-Dam, the “fountain of tears.” The invaders had coarsened its name, like they had coarsened so many things, mispronouncing it Ainadamar. Its glassy music rang faintly in the near darkness. It too shall fail, he thought.

He paused, cocking his head and straining to hear. But the horse and rider jingling in the distance turned off the path below him, probably to a farm house stolen from its original owners.

We turned this land into a paradise, thought de las Casas. Already they were turning it back to desert.

Unpacking an iron shovel from a pannier next to him, he started to dig. He dug for an hour, sweating in the cool night air. When he finished there was a hole roughly three feet square and three deep. He laid into it a shallow wooden chest with an iron lock. Its leather straps he had tooled himself, long before, in anticipation of this night, in his workshop. He corrected himself. In the workshop he used to own. He had engraved the leather with verses from the Koran and with symbols much older than that.

On top of the chests he laid two marble slabs he had prised up from the floor of his one time bath house, later disguised as a kitchen. He pushed in the dirt that he’d heaped by the hole, then scattered pebbles and pine needles across the top.

He drew a dagger from his pack, the one he had saved from the authorities, of Toledo steel, when that meant something, its blade chased with the same combination of Arabic and preternatural symbol as those binding the trunks. He muttered over the blade, praying, chanting. It was none of the languages once current in that land—Arabic, Hebrew, Romance, Latin—nor even the older ones—Visigothic, Ibero-Celtic, Greek, Phoenician. Yet it partook of them. They all remembered themselves in it, or were predicted by it.

He thrust the dagger into the ground and stood, making a cross of his arms. He brought them together with as much force as his 73-year-old body allowed, striking above the dagger with the force of a thunderclap, a splash of blue light flashing out between them and into the dagger. The dagger propelled downward into the earth, scattering a piece of the twilight sky across this grave like the twitching of a shroud cloth, which then sparkled and winkled into darkness.

He fell to his knees, trying to catch his breath. The breeze of the night felt cold across the sweat on his brow and neck.

As the light dimmed and disappeared and the stars began to shine overhead again, he rose unsteadily to his feet. He brushed off his hands and knees and walked to a nearby stand of pines. He stripped the tack off the donkey that was standing there and threw it, along with the shovel and bags, down into a gully. He embraced the creature, whispered in its ear, then slapped it on the flank. It trotted off, up the path that led to the high pastures.

De las Casas walked up the narrow path before him and over a slight rise. Below him in a slight depression lay the ruins of a house. Foundation stones with grass grown up between them. He walked down to them, pausing briefly at what once was the door to the hall. He walked in, seeing what no longer was in the blue shadows of moonlight and wreckage. He lowered his old body to the soft grass that grew where cushions and diwans once ranged, and sighed.

And there, in anno Domini 1697, anno Hegirae 1118, in the 38th year of the 47th and final Partial Fixing, in what remained of the once-great kingdom of Granada, in the land they called Al-Andalus, almost a century after his people were ejected for the last time from the land they had civilized, Pablo de las Casas, whose secret and true name was Abdullah Al-Qassim, the last hidden follower of the Prophet to be born on the soil of Spain and the last cleric to bear any knowledge of the Fixing of Creation, died.

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  1. Ian Beardsley says:

    Very Nice, Curt. Your understanding of Spanish history runs deep, and intricate. The images stir mystery in the soul. I take the carrier burried his knowledge of “Fixed Creation” in that chest just before he died. I am ready for the next chapter to see what that secret knowledge is, maybe it will come at the end of the book. I sure hope you publish this, would love to have a copy bound.

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