This is the preface to my novel, “Ainadamar, or The Fountain of Tears: The First Flight of the Madrugada.” It details the adventures of a spaceship called the Madrugada, crewed by a Bulgarian space vampire, a lady barbarian, a 17th century French mountebank, a shape-shifting chef, a giant kitty, an empath, Morgan La Fey, an octopus surgeon, a cowboy, and the early 20th century Spanish Republican poet and martyr, Federico Garcia Lorca. I’ll publish a new chapter each week. To read them, click on the category Ainadamar.
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 eventually, 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 in the hard ground. 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 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 boxes. 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 above the dagger with as much force as he could muster. His hands struck with the force of a thunderclap. A splash of blue light flashed out between them and leapt into the dagger. The dagger shot downward, deep 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. There was no trace of the box or its grave.
He fell to his knees, his back heaving as he tried 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 shallow 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 a hall. He walked in, seeing in the blue shadows of moonlight and wreckage of time what no longer was. He lowered his old body to the soft grass that grew where cushions and diwans once ranged.
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.
Photo by Binkstenet via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)