Gwilym stepped back and vomited in the bushes. By the time he returned to the knight, the blood was only oozing out of the neck and arm. Gwilym swung the sword one last time and severed the head from the torso. Then he lifted the helmet free from the gore and unbuckled the chin-strap, allowing the head to fall free. It dropped onto the forest floor, face first, and then rolled up. Gwilym was shocked! This wasn’t Palomides at all. It looked like one of his younger brothers, Segwarides or Safir. He hadn’t seen either since they were young boys.
Gwilym thought about this for a moment. The knight had said “We,” so Palomides was not alone. Had he brought his brothers with him on this quest? Escalbor, their father, was dead. And he had sent them after him on a death-bed request. That meant that these brothers would stop at nothing to get the book.
He had a pretty good idea why. His father had told him that their Quraysh clan worshipped one of the 360 idols that filled the Kaaba within the trading town of
This god, which they called El Ah, had similar characteristics to the creator
god the Jews’ Yahweh and the Christians’ God. Escalbor wanted to take control
of this trading town by promoting his god above the others. The Kaaba was a
place of pilgrimage for all the superstitious Arabs who prayed to their
individual idols before and after the dangerous trek though the desert on the
spice road. Control of the Kaaba meant control of Mecca and control of the caravans passing
Escalbor wanted to use the book that Gwilym’s father had created about Jesus, along with a book he possessed that Willem believed was the original Gospel of Joseph, to show that El Ah was the only god amongst the idols worthy of worship. He would throw out the other idols and take control.
Escalbor had threatened Willem. Gwilym remembered arguing with his father about this. “Give him the book, Papa. You can always rewrite it.”
But his father had been adamant. “The man is sick with power. We cannot give him any more. He wants to do evil things with any more power he gets. His ideas of law are sick and twisted. He will stop educating women, will buy and sell them as chattel, wrap them up in heavy robes and hide them from sight. He will set up harsh rules about drinking and adultery. He want to hold public stonings to terrorize people into obeying him. He’s mad! Right now he is held in check by the different clans who have more liberal beliefs. We cannot be the instrument to allow him to rise above them.”
That was the last night Gwilym had spoken with his father. And now one of Escalbor’s sons was lying at Gwilym’s feet, half buried and beheaded by Gwilym’s hand. He felt sick to his stomach again but there was no more to retch. Gwilym dropped the sword, retrieved his scimitar and spade, and jogged off after the wagon tracks. He followed them, with difficulty, off the main deer path into the woods until he arrived at wagons.
Where is my family? Oh, that’s right; hidden by Grainne’s spell. What was the secret word I gave her? “Zamzam!” he cried. Why had I chosen this word in a moment of crisis?
His children ran up to him from behind some trees. He knelt down and spread his arms to receive them. They stopped short and looked at him in horror. He looked down at himself and saw that his lower body was covered in the blood that had spurted from the knight’s wounds. “It’s all right. It’s not my blood. The knight is dead. We needn’t worry about him anymore.”
They asked him all about the fight. He told them they would hear more later, when they had cleared this dangerous forest. As Grainne directed the horses back to the main path, he changed his soiled clothes. “Was it bad?” she asked.
“It wasn’t dangerous. I had him at a disadvantage the whole time.” He told her all about the rope and the pit he had quickly dug with the spade.
“Did you leave the body? There would have been gold coins on him.”
“I’ve no wish for his blood money. Let the forest bandits have him. They’ll be blamed for his death that way.”
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