Mar. 21

12:33 PM

The Enterprise of Death Excerpt: The Worst Beginning Imaginable

For those interested in a taste of the new novel, here is the complete prologue. The style is actually a bit different from the bulk of the book, in the way of portentious prologues everywhere, but what better place to start than the beginning? If you find the following interesting, just imagine what it will be like once you have characters and dialogue to latch onto! Hope you enjoy...

 

The Worst Beginning Imaginable

Pity Boabdil. King of Granada, last Moor lord of the Iberian Peninsula, reduced to a suppliant outside his own city by a Spaniard sovereign, an exile from a home hard won. The truce signed by kings and Pope, all that remained was for Boabdil to bow before his victorious adversary and kiss the ma’s ring. The victor was supposed to refuse the offer, thus preserving some shred of Boabdil’s already tattered honor, but this stipulation must have slipped the Christian’s mind as he extended his pudgy fingers to the Moor. There was nothing for it. King Ferdinand’s seal tasted salty as the strait Boabdil would soon cross, and the man’s onion-pale queen leered at the Moor as he rose.

That dreadful Genoan sailor who hung around Isabella like a fly around a chamber pot stood a short distance off, and when they made eye contact Boabdil supposed the weather-beaten bastard was imagining his head on a pike. At the signing King Ferdinand had mentioned something about the explorer sailing for India the wrong way round and Boabdil had paid it no real mind until now, with the scheming seaman appraising the former ruler of Granad’s venerable pate. Boabdil hoped he drowned.

The handover continued, a grand display of pageantry and pomp, with the humbled Boabdil bowing in all the proper places as the procession carrying aloft a weighty silver cross all but stuck out their tongues at the defeated Moors leaving the city. Of course the treaty had many articles detailing how the Moors who chose to stay in Granada or thereabouts would retain all their rights and be under no pressure to convert and be protected as they had before, and of course each and every article would be cast down and shattered before Boabdi’s mustaches gained even a few ashen strands. The Christians had given him a token patch of broken Spanish earth upon which to reestablish his noble person, but Boabdil held no illusions, and so south they departed to sail to a continent Boabdil had never known.

When they came to a prominence upon the road where Boabdil could view the Alhambra of Granada one final time, history recalls the heavy sigh that escaped his lips, a sigh as weighty as if the whole country issued it. Indeed it might hav—with the passing of Boabdil the tolerance and culture that the Moors had slowly cultivated over hundreds of years of conquest was likewise expelled, and within Boabdil’s lifetime the Jews and Moors who lived at peace with the Spanish Christians would be banished, murdered, or forcibly converted, the lanterns of illumination that mutual respect fosters traded for brands used to burn Qur’an and witch alike. Small wonder Boabdil might sigh, and smaller wonder still that this most famous of sighs was actually a ragged, choking sob.

“Must you cry like a woman over that what you could not hold as a man” his mother asked him, which, predictably, only made him weep the harder. She could be unfair, could Boabdil’s mother.

Boabdil did not simply cry for his lost kingdom, he cried for his lost daughter. The son the Spaniards had kept ransom during the siege of Granada had been returned, but in his place Ferdinand, ever the son of a bitch, had claimed Boabdi’s daughter Aixa, and there was not a single thing the broken old ruler could do about it. A king should love his sons most, of course, but Boabldil was no longer king and so allowed his sorrow to run down his face in snotty dribbles.

The viscous, golden grief dangling from Boabdi’s nose and lips as his belly shook with emotion made him look for all the world like a walrus chased off a honeycomb by a greedier bear, for Ferdinand’s piggy little eyes and boxy jaw lent him something of an ursine face. None present had ever seen a walrus, however, and the only man who had encountered a bear was Boabdil’s second cousin, who had been severely mauled by the beast on a hunting expedition. The poor fellow had to be carried around in a lidded basket to keep those weak of stomach from fainting at the sight of the gnawed-up stumps where his legs used to be and the terrible scars crisscrossing his face. The result was that no one commented on the walrus-and-bear imagery, and Boabdil’s second cousin spent the rest of his life haunted by nightmares of the furry monster that had put him in his box. Pity Boabdil’s second cousin.

Ferdinand, king of This, That, the Other, and now Granada, was very fond of sexual relations so long as they were not with his wife. It was Isabell’s eyes, eyes so widely spaced she looked more sardine than woman, and seafood gave him gout. That the portly Boabdil had sired such a gorgeous girl as Aixa pleased Ferdinand greatly, and almost quicker than he felt the pinch in his hose the lecherous ruler had her baptized, renamed after his wife—a coup to Ferdinand, but a choice that unsettled everyone else he told about it—and established as a mistress. Behaving in a beastly fashion to Moors was something of a hobby for Ferdinand, and so as Boabdil kissed his ring that fateful January day in 1492 the conquering king murmured in his fallen adversary’s ear that were Boabdil to send him a beauty who outshone Aixa then the Moor should have his daughter back, thereby ensuring Boabdil knew just what carnal fate awaited his beloved child.

The time for pitying poor Boabdil has now passed. Upon emigrating to North Africa and settling in Fez, the still obscenely wealthy Moor did little but acquire pretty young girls in hopes of offering one to his old enemy. He thought his daughter peerless in beauty, however, and as the years passed an—whether or not he would admit it even to himself—his memory faded, he remembered his daughter as being yet prettier and prettier still, until a manifest goddess would have been hard-pressed to get an approving nod from the gloomy old walrus, and so none of the bought women ever made it further than his personal harem.

At long last the would-be royal pimp came into possession of the Egyptian jewel of a local merchan’s harem, a girl who caused even Boabdil’s rheumy eyes to sparkle and widen. She was little older than the son Isabella-née-Aixa had by this time borne Ferdinand, but the former king of Granada saw the potential her beauty hinted at and so he wheedled and maneuvered and finally managed to get her sent straight toward Gibraltar, accompanied by a dozen slaves to tend to her and two dozen eunuchs to guard her and three dozen servants to carry the crates of incense and wine and dates and other presents he included to help persuade Ferdinand to release Aixa.

Do not pity Boabdil, who committed vile sins in the name of fatherly love. When he heard that the ship carrying his nubile gift was sunk by Barbary pirates, he did not believe the herald and had him flayed, and the second one to bring him the same news he had burned alive, and the third he had quartered, and the fourth he had buried alive, but the fifth he believed, and was saddened. Having now lost two peerless beautie—which should not be possible in the first place, but pity the pedant who told Boabdil that—the former sultan finally gave up on freeing Aixa, and his sorrow was so pronounced that in his dotage he scarcely enjoyed his prodigious harem, or his sumptuous table, or his magnificent hunts, or his impressive stable, or his pleasure cruises.

As for Omorose, the young Egyptian girl Boabdil had sent to exchange for Aixa, she did indeed fall victim to piracy and shipwreck on the crossing from Ceuta to Spain. Rather than surrendering to the notoriously ruthless corsairs, the shi’s captain had sunk his own vessel, Boabdil’s incense perfuming the waves as the less suicidal crewmen dumped out the chests to use as rafts. The pirates were able to fish out most of the servants and slaves and eunuchs and sailors to sell into bondage, but a few drowned along with the captain, who had tied himself to the mast to ensure a proud end. Only Omorose and her least favorite slave, Awa, escaped both pirates and sea by dint of a courageous eunuch named Halim, and after a terrifying night at sea with Omorose sitting in a myrrh-stinking box as the other two clung to the sides, all three washed up on the coast of Spain.

Omorose was the oldest of the castaways and barely a woman herself, and her sheltered life had made her as skilled at taking charge of calamitous situations as it had at flying through the air. The two younger adolescents had weathered much harsher lives, thankfully, and Omorose deigned to heed their counsel when both Halim and Awa advised moving inland in search of fresh water. Instead of a stream or spring they found a gang of bandits, who wasted no time in tying their hands and feet. Omorose allowed her hands to be tied with a haughty dignity and poorly concealed relief at being discovered by someone, even if it was only a pack of mangy thieves. Halim took more umbrage at his mistress being thus detained and so had his nose broken before finding his own limbs bound, but Awa, who had fled bondage several times on her native continent only to find herself with a new master whenever she sought shelter, knew well when she was caught and obediently offered her wrists.

Off they went toward Granada, where the chief of the bandits had a brother who spoke the heathen tongue of the Moors and could appraise the worth of the incomprehensible foreign prisoners accordingly. Away from the coast and over plain and mountain they went, into that highest Spanish range to avoid the known roads where servants of King Ferdinand might cheat an honest businessman and his partners of their fairly found booty. Up and up they went, along paths unfit for goats, until they were forced to take shelter from a thunderstorm in a narrow cave. None of the three Africans had ever known such chill as the wind whistling down into their damp shelter, their weather-ruined garments small protection, and there, in that cold, miserable cave, their nightmare began in earnest.

*      *      *


The Enterprise of Death is currenty available in the UK and launches this week in the US. Thanks for reading!

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