The Epic of Sakina
By Shari Paul
The moon was a pale, golden disc in a lavender sky. Sakina, in a brilliant blue caftan that brought out the colour in her skin and eyes, strummed her kora a few times to check the tuning. At her ear, an ancestor whispered, “He is quite brazen to be out here when the moon is full…or powerful enough to resist it.”
Sakina looked over at the tall, thin man sinking into one of the dougou-tigui’s fine silk cushions. Asif the alim looked as if a stiff breeze would knock him over, the skin stretched tight over his bones. Naima had called him a ghoul and Sakina agreed. He noticed her stare, smiled, and said, “Of all the djeli I have met in my travels, you are by far the most captivating.”
There were a few titters from the assembled guests, wealthy merchants, fellow djeli, and the imam of the Cunapo Mosque. Their host, the dougou-tigui Hussain, coughed lightly, embarrassed, and said, “My nephew, Farouk, certainly thought so. He could not have found a more beautiful wife.”
“Yes, yes,” said Asif, still smiling at Sakina. “And then he left her to go travelling with your maghan. If I had found a wife as lovely, my journeys would end.”
“They are young, they think they can do whatever they like,” said Hussain with a chuckle, jiggling two of his three jowls.
Sprawled beside Asif, surrounded by trays of fruit and starches and spiced teas, the dougou-tigui was the larger of the two but he sat considerably higher. The ancestor continued at Sakina’s ear, “See how the mass he does not show nevertheless affects the environment around him? The beast he becomes must be strong.”
“Tell me they at least have a son, something to hold her attention while he is away,” said Asif, popping another date into his mouth.
Sakina hoped he choked on it. Was that a flash of gold in his eyes when he lifted his gaze to her? Alas, he merely sucked away the fruit and spat the seed into a bowl near his feet.
Hussain sighed heavily. “Their time together as man and wife was, perhaps, too brief.”
“Oh dear,” said Asif, giving Sakina another appraising look, his eyes amber.
Sakina forced herself to focus on the kora in her hands until she could calm her racing heart, then looked up and said, “Apologies for the delay. Shall we begin?”
Early evening in Cunapo village was cool and quiet and the sky was clear, so the doors to the great room of the dougou-tigui’s manse had been thrown open to the central courtyard and its spectacular fountain. Carib and African servants flitted back and forth amongst the guests with trays of coffee or the Aztec chocolatl or assisting with galyan pipes. A group of musicians had been playing earlier but had given way to Sakina when she arrived. The alim had wanted to hear stories of the Niani in the isles so the dougou-tigui had summoned the djeli. Sakina, who had been hoping for the request, had graciously agreed though she joked about not being a dancing girl. The men had laughed, and she settled on a beautiful Persian rug to play.
There were only a few hours left until the attack and Sakina welcomed the distraction of her work in the face of her worry. Her uncle Suleiman, the farin, and his men should be well on their way back to the village with reinforcements, and Leif would meet them to head it off. Sakina’s role was considerably easier: distract the esteemed alim for a few hours until she heard the signal—a howl that would call to the monster hiding in the scholar’s blood—and then call the man out. This also made it the most dangerous part of the plan.
“What are you going to sing for us tonight?” asked Asif, still smiling at Sakina. He let his dull gold gaze drift over her form again.
Another ancestor whispered at Sakina’s other ear, “Those who induce the wolf are considered especially dangerous. They claim that the wolf is noble, like lions are noble, but ignore its other nature. No one chooses to become a monster unless it is the truest expression of themselves.”
She repressed a shudder, and swallowed the retort that Leif was the furthest thing from a monster she had ever met. She replied to Asif, “This was my favourite story when I was a girl. After the Mansa Abu Bakr’s arrival in these isles, he and our people endured many hardships to form a place for us. They would have died if not for one Taino woman who accepted the teachings of the Prophet and later become the Mansa’s wife, Aaliyah.”
Asif, as expected, sniffed a little and said, “I have heard this story.”
Hussain, wrinkled his nose too, and said, “I hardly think our guest would like a story about these native monsters.” To Asif, “It is a children’s tale popular with nursemaids to frighten their charges into obedience. Sakina…needed to hear it more than most but still took the wrong lesson from the story. She found the creature fascinating.”
Asif sat up straighter on his cushion and said, “Our most popular tales are children’s stories. And you claim that your djeli has the best voice in all the islands.”
Hussain smiled. “Allah has blessed our Sakina in many ways.”
“Then who am I to refuse His gift? Sing, please,” said Asif. “Let me hear you so that I might tell the world of the night that I met tranquillity in Al-Tanan.”
Sakina resisted the urge to gag. She was a married woman. The sooner they got this over with, the better. She did not smile at Asif’s statement, but struck the first chords of the song on her kora. Sakina was the djeli of this village and Asif was going to find out exactly what she was willing to do to protect it.
One week earlier, a man wearing nothing more than a wolf pelt washed up on the beach near the village.
Sakina had spent the morning in the great library of her father’s house with their students, going over observations of the weather and the storms that the native peoples had blamed on their god, Houracan. She had first heard the story of the angry, one-eyed god as a child from her nurse, Asma. The woman had been reluctant, but Sakina had insisted on its retelling until she could recount it by heart. Sakina tried now to incorporate many of the native stories in her lessons, particularly since her classes were mainly with young children. Her father frowned upon the idea.
“While I agree that it is important to preserve as much as their knowledge as we can, you understand that not everyone agrees with this, yes? You are wading into a controversy that started long before you born. You thirst for knowledge as badly as your mother, but you lack her caution.”
But her father had gone to hajj and without Farouk to enforce his rule, Sakina had done as she pleased. Ironically, the most resistant to the idea was a native student called Ali, who had even threatened to report her to the imam. After a morning of the boy’s vocal disapproval, an afternoon walk on the beach was a breath of fresh air. Until, Sakina nearly tripped over a half-naked man on the shore.
He had been mixed up in a pile of debris, driftwood, and bits of sargassum that stank of sea salt and decay. Sakina had tried to laugh through her embarrassment, but when Ali poked at what he thought was a dead animal in the rubble with a stick, it moved. His horrified shriek had brought the other students running and jerked the man under the pelt fully awake.
Delirious, sunburnt, and naked, the man yelled at them in what might have been Norse or English, before promptly fainting again. Sakina checked at once that he was alive, and then checked him again for any wounds while the group excitedly speculated where he might come from. His breath was faint and his heartbeat racing, but he that might have been the heat. She sent one of the other students to fetch the doctor and ordered the rest to bring him into the shade.
The doctor, Ismail, brought the farin with him and a handful of soldiers, a necessary precaution with the constant threat of the Christian kingdoms and their pirates. Ismail examined the man right there, while Sakina tried to keep the other students from crowding him, and declared the man severely dehydrated but otherwise unharmed. Suleiman then detained him at once, though the doctor requested that he be allowed to treat the castaway at the hospital, and escorted them back to the village.
The man woke up again as they approached her father’s house, eyes shining gold, and looked directly at Sakina. In her ear, she heard an ancestor whisper over the wind, “Demon.”
Sakina started, surprised, and nearly fell out of the cart. The others turned to look at her, but she was focussed on the man. She tried in English, “Who are you?”
He stared at her for a beat longer, then closed his eyes and lost consciousness.
Suleiman had not been pleased with this and told her so before he left her and the students back at her father’s house.
“As a matter of professional courtesy, I would prefer it if you left the interrogation to me,” he said.
Sakina looked at her uncle and asked, “Do any of your men speak his language?”
Gaze narrowed, he replied, “No. But I’m sure we can wait for a translator from Mucurapo to speak with him.”
“Why, when I am right here?” asked Sakina, smiling at him with her eyes wide.
His nostrils flared, and he folded his arms, lifting his chin away from her. Sakina bit back the smile, and said, “Something about him…piqued interest. This isn’t an ordinary man, uncle.”
Suleiman glanced back at the cart where his soldiers sat with the man, and said, “More reason for you to stay away from him.”
“Perhaps,” said Sakina, nodding. “But if you are there with me, what do I have to fear?”
“I told you not to try those games with me, girl,” her uncle snapped.
Sakina straightened, trying to ignore the sting of the scold, and said, “I’m not playing a game. You are my father’s brother. You know what we are. If I told you that the ancestors were interested in that man, do you think that’s a joke? There is something about him that is familiar to them.”
Suleiman dropped his gaze away, exhaling heavily. Then, “He needs rest. I will call for you when we are ready.”
“Thank you, commander,” said Sakina with a respectful nod.
The next two days would have been torturous if Sakina had not spent every free moment trying to figure out why her ancestor called the man a demon. Her family’s compound, which her father had converted into a school after his marriage to her mother, had the largest library in the island of Al-Tanan. Most days it was packed with former students, djeli and scholars visiting from more rural communities. Her father had stated that he wanted his library at the edge of the world to rival the great ones of Timbuktu. When Sakina walked through their doors after sending her students off for the day, the manuscripts had called to her.
“The Norsemen made a failed raid on the then Emirate of Cordoba in year 229. You will need this account of the warriors that the Emir’s men met.”
“They are mentioned here in two sagas, translated by an alim travelling through their region around the years 730 to 733.”
“There are accounts of wolf warriors in many cultures. The Romans are well-known for their claim that their city was founded by twin brothers suckled by a she-wolf. You should read this translation…”
Sakina pulled down the manuscripts as they came to her. Her father had once travelled as widely as her husband but most of his books had been specially ordered from Granada and Baghdad. The ancestor that had first identified the man repeated only one thing as she went about her research, “Demon! Demon! Demon!”
By the time Sakina left the library again, night had fallen, and her maid Asma greeted her red eyes and great yawns with disapproval. Sakina let her fuss over her as she prepared for bed, but when she lay down to rest, she said, “Can you tell me the story of the kanaima again?”
Asma, halfway out the room, stopped and looked back at her with wide eyes.
Sakina sat up at once and said, “You heard about the man we found on the beach.”
“He is not one of them,” said Asma firmly. In another life, Sakina had been told, Asma had been the daughter of a shaman. She still practiced some of their rituals, though Sakina had never seen her do it, and would not ask. She preferred to leave the religious quibbles to the imam.
“I know that,” said Sakina. “But he’s something like it, isn’t he? A man that can draw on the power of beasts when he needs it.”
Asma took a breath and said, “Anyone who does that is evil.”
“You told me of men who did it to avenge murdered families,” said Sakina.
“And those men died for it. Pray that your uncle executes him as quickly as possible,” said Asma.
Sakina said nothing, and Asma quietly left.
The next day Naima, arrived almost before Sakina could finish breakfast.
“Saki! Saki! Oh, where are yo—there you are!” Naima cried as she burst into the room.
Sakina soaked a piece of bread in her soup, glanced up at her friend’s flushed face, skin shining with sweat and slightly-dishevelled dress, and said, “Your husband has finally found out about your lover, and you need me to hide you?”
“Pshh,” Naima scoffed, fanning herself with her hand and straightening her clothes. “That old bastard wouldn’t notice if I had my own harem. This is what I married for? Gah, why can’t he go travelling like yours?”
Sakina pressed her lips together, stomach clenching, but Naima continued without noticing, “Tell me everything.”
Sakina shook her head and said, “Where is my greeting?”
“The Norseman, tell me everything. I’ve heard his eyes are blue and his hair is white,” said Naima. She took a seat before Sakina and poured herself a cup of coffee.
Sakina sighed. “His eyes are not blue, and his hair is black.” In fact, now that she was thinking about it, his skin had been darker than she expected.
“So, the rumours are true then,” said Naima.
“Rumours?” asked Sakina, only half-listening. She wondered what else she had missed while her ancestor fussed over demons at her ear.
“They say that he might not be a Norseman after all,” said Naima. “They say he’s actually a runaway slave.”
Sakina considered this. Bare as he was, Sakina had not noticed any brands or scars. To Naima, she said, “If he is, then he is a free man now. The Mansa declared that there are no slaves in the Niani Empire in the West.”
The man being an escaped slave would also save him from execution. Though now that Sakina had mentioned the ancestors’ reaction to the man to her uncle, well, his freedom was another matter entirely.
“Doctor Ismail attended to him personally at the jail and your uncle put only his trusted men at the door,” said Naima with a pout. She looked up at Sakina. “You need to go see him. Your uncle will let you in.”
Sakina scoffed and sipped her coffee. Naima glared at her, “If your father was here, they would not hesitate to consult him.”
“This may be bigger than a runaway slave. For that, the dougou-tigui will want to consult someone higher ranked than him. The kafo-tigui or the dyamani-tigui himself, who might then talk to the mansa. They will not want the word of the djeli of Cunapo, and a woman at that,” said Sakina.
“Do you think he is dangerous?” asked Naima.
“I do not know,” said Sakina, honestly. “Demon,” her ancestor whispered at her ear.
Naima nodded at this and said, “Speaking of the dougou-tigui, his esteemed guest has finally arrived. I was on my way to open the shop when I overheard talk. You should receive your summons this afternoon.”
Naima was not wrong. Sakina had just finished the morning classes and let the students out for lunch, when Asma announced that they had a visitor. It was Chidi, Hussain’s errand boy, who ran everywhere he went. He was hopping about when Sakina went to him at the door, and he greeted her with a smile and said quickly, “Master wants you.”
“Hello, Chidi,” said Sakina. “Did he tell you why?”
“The alim wants to meet the djeli and that’s you,” said Chidi, spinning in a circle now.
Sakina thought of the afternoon classes and research she had to do before she went to the barracks the next day. Even if he had agreed before, her uncle was still going to give her a fight about the prisoner. But ignoring the dougou-tigui’s summons was not an option. He was also her uncle by marriage. She said, “Tell your master that I shall be with him in an hour.”
The dougou-tigui’s compound was on the other side of the village from Sakina’s family compound. She was not surprised to find a litter waiting for her when she stepped out the gate, though she would have preferred to walk. Farouk’s uncle liked to show off his wealth.
The village of Cunapo had been built on the site of a Carib settlement, near a river that famously ran red as blood and had been the subject of the wildest tales from Sakina’s childhood. The Caribs had been re-settled further south. At the centre of the village, a great mosque had been built in the Granada-style, in plaster-covered stone, where the Carib longhouse had once stood. Over the centuries, the mosque had been surrounded by numerous low mud-brick buildings, the homes and businesses of her ancestors and the others who had flocked to the isles after the rest of the Dar-as-Salam learned of the Niani Empire’s discovery.
The Mansa Abu Bakr had stated that he wanted to recreate and exceed the grandeur of Al-Andalus in the isles, and to an extent he had succeeded. The Niani Empire in the West stretched well into the northern and southern continents. They had traded successfully for centuries with many native tribes and kingdoms, spreading the teachings of the Prophet wherever they went, and had made many powerful allies. But not all who they encountered welcomed them, and the Christian kingdoms were envious. The Niani Empire, with the support of Granada and Baghdad had been at war with the Christians almost from the beginning, and though the Christians had gained some territory in the north and south, they could not overrun them.
The barracks that housed the farin and his troops was set to the east of the town, closer to the sea, and there was a fort further north near the fishing village of Toco. Sakina had spent much of her childhood watching ships sail past the lighthouse in the town, under the guns of the guard of Al-Tanan. She had seen ships from as far east as Ming China and the Mughal Empire, and once, a pirate ship captured from the English. She had never ever seen a ship from the Norsemen though, and according to everything that she had read, they should no longer exist.
The dougou-tigui and his guest were having tea when Sakina finally arrived at the house. Sakina walked into the sitting room to greet them, smiling at Chidi when she passed him, then looked up at the two men and felt her blood run cold.
“Monster!” an ancestor screamed into her ear.
“Demon! Demons in Al-Tanan!” cried another.
She froze, unable to get out even words of greeting. The alim’s eyes glowed a dull amber at her for a moment, before he blinked, and they were plain brown. The dougou-tigui, oblivious, said, “Here she is at last, my niece by marriage, Sakina.”
The alim stood to came to greet her, smiling broadly, “You did not mention that she was also lovely.”
“The women of the Niani Empire prefer to be known for their quick wit and cleverness,” said Hussain, with a dismissive wave. He smiled at Sakina and added, “It has been too long since we last saw each other.”
The ancestors were still screaming at her ear. Sakina swallowed and walked forward to greet them, “And you, Uncle. I am sorry that I have kept away, but you understand. With Farouk gone, I could not stay in that house by myself. Besides, his brother does a fine job of overseeing the family business.”
He hugged her close and turning to the alim, said, “My niece’s mother’s family is descended of the djeli that accompanied Mansa Abu Bakr to the isles. Anything that you need to know of our history, you can ask her.”
“Is that so?” asked the alim. “I am Asif al-Idrisi, it is an honour to make your acquaintance.”
He extended his hand for hers and Sakina allowed him to take it, even as her every instinct recoiled. She had to make this meeting short.
“Come, come and sit with us. Dinner will be ready soon. We are having a Carib delicacy, pepper-pot, and Asif was telling me of his last visit to Christian lands. Were you invited to the court of the King of England?” asked Hussain.
Sakina settled on the other side of the dougou-tigui, and though Asif glanced at her, he said, “No, no, they would never allow one of us ‘Moors’ in their court. But I have met with nobles, and briefly, their cardinals in Rome. These Christians firmly believed it is their right to establish their will over the world. In the name of Allah…I am forever grateful that we have managed to hold them away from this land. Let them fight over the old one.”
“They have attacked us before,” said Sakina.
“Yes, but without success. It is good to have powerful friends,” said Asif.
“And a powerful army and the will of Allah behind you,” said Hussain.
“Yes, yes…I noticed the barracks, and the fort as we were sailing in. It is a shame that these things are still needed,” said Asif.
“It is good that the farin isn’t here, he would think you’re trying to get rid of him,” said Hussain, chuckling softly.
“I would not dream of it. Someone has to protect the most beautiful djeli in the isles,” said Asif, smiling at Sakina again.
It was going to be a long night.
As promised, her uncle sent for her early the next morning. Sakina had returned to her family compound rather late, but she had refused to sleep under the same roof as the alim. It did not matter. That night, her ancestors’ warnings and her research gave life to her fears in dreams. Great dogs with glowing eyes charged out of the bushes to tear down the village, crushing children underfoot and snarling at her in their foreign tongue while all she could do was scream. The third time she jolted awake, she walked out to the central courtyard to watch the sun come up, the ghosts of ancestors whispering reassurances at her ear. Sometimes, Sakina hated that she had been born a djeli.
Naima arrived with daybreak and a litter to take them to the barracks, though Sakina was very sure that her friend had not been requested. The streets of Cunapo were already bustling with activity, despite the hour. Vendors called to them from their stalls along the narrow streets, the smell of fresh bread and coffee reminding Sakina that she had chosen a light breakfast. Pedestrians scurried out of the path of the litter, though sometimes someone would stop and try to peer in. Naima had drawn the blinds against them, but she could not help poking at her friend whenever an interesting specimen walked past their window. Sakina’s father always said that Naima was a woman on the verge of scandal, and sometimes it was difficult to doubt. It was no secret that Naima did not love her husband.
The doors to the barracks opened for them without the usual hassle. When they stopped before the entrance, Sakina realised why. Suleiman was waiting for them himself.
Naima whispered into her ear as Sakina stepped down from the litter, “You must tell me everything. He’s awake this time and clothed.”
Suleiman exhaled heavily when he noticed Naima, but said to Sakina, “Thank you for arriving promptly, and your assistance. We do need help with translation and I know from experience that you were a quick study as a child.” His tone was conciliatory but gruff.
“My mother insisted on it,” said Sakina.
“Yes, well,” said Suleiman and he turned and led the way in, calling over his shoulder as he went, “The prisoner speaks very little Arabic, but not enough, and my translator does not understand the form of the Norseman language that he speaks. He said that it was ‘old’.”
A young soldier appeared and deposited a sheaf of papers, ink, and pens into Sakina’s hands. Sakina supposed she was to be scribe as well. Suleiman glanced at her expression and said, “Our usual scribe is ill, you do not mind, do you?”
She did not reply, and they continued their way. Sakina’s father had first brought her to the barracks as a very young child, and she was still awed by the massive walls—almost as high as those of the mosque—and the many rooms therein. She had played in the courtyard, imagining herself defending the town against great monsters. She supposed that it was fitting that she was doing the same now.
The prison was set to the back of the barracks, a long, low building with stone walls and high, small windows. She had never been allowed to play here, but Sakina knew it too. Here was where she learned that fear had a scent.
She wrinkled her nose and Suleiman said, “Do not let him see that you are afraid. They thrive on fear, these foreigners. Keep well out of his reach. If he gets his hands on you, he will tear you to shreds.”
There were moments where Sakina wondered if her uncle forgot who she was. She was the one who found the wretch.
Hussain was waiting for them at the cell door. He lifted an eyebrow at Sakina but to Suleiman said, “He does not look like much. Is all this necessary? Can’t we just set him on a ship and send him on his way?”
“Let us first be sure that he is not a threat,” said Suleiman. To Sakina, he added, “Hussain has told me that he has a famous alim visiting, though I’ve never heard of him, so we must never hint that our town has trouble.”
Sakina wanted to say that the ancestors were convinced the visitor was trouble, but Asif had done nothing to warrant her uncle’s interest except for his unwanted advances. Instead, she said with a smile, “What are you talking about, uncle? Our town has no trouble. If we did, no one would be talking about the man we found on the beach.”
“If he is trouble, just execute him. Do keep me updated,” said Hussain, and he walked away.
The Norseman was huddled in a corner when they entered his cell. They had taken his pelt and had given him a peasant’s rough, cotton caftan. Clean and rested, it was clear that the man had light brown skin and long, loosely curling hair that formed a thick, dark crown around his head. His eyes lit up when his gaze fell on Sakina and he stood and started in English, “Where is this place? Am I in Africa?”
Stunned, she stopped and stared at him.
Suleiman had paused too when the Norseman stood up, wary of attack, but then glanced between the prisoner and Sakina and said, “Ah, so he remembers you.”
Sakina glanced at the commander and said, “He was barely awake when we found him. I thought the sun had driven him mad.”
“What are you talking about? Can you tell him that I mean you no harm? My ship was blown off course by a storm…I suppose my crew is dead,” said the man.
Sakina looked over at him, then back to her uncle and translated for him. Suleiman stared at the man for a beat, and said, “I think we should all sit.”
He sat down on the floor at the edge of the prisoner’s chain. It was a small cell and the chain was barely ten links long. How the prisoner manoeuvred in the tight space, Sakina could not guess. Sakina joined her uncle, and the prisoner carefully lowered himself to the floor. In the light of the lamp her uncle had brought in with them, Sakina saw an ordinary-looking young man, perhaps around her age or older. The ancestors had not reacted as strongly to him as they had to Asif, anyway.
Suleiman began, “Tell him exactly what I say: I am the Farin, Suleiman Yusuf, and this is our djeli, Sakina. I have asked her to come here to help us communicate. I would very much like to know where you came from.”
Sakina repeated this to the man. He nodded and said, “My name is Leif. I…I was born in England, but my father is from Norway. My uncle and I were heading to Africa for trade when we encountered the storm. I thank you for saving me and I promise that I am no threat.”
“Demon,” said the ancestor.
Sakina looked at her uncle for approval, and said, “You are in Al-Tanan, an island at the tail end of the Niani in the West. Do you know what a djeli is?”
Her uncle snapped his gaze to her, but Sakina was watching for Leif’s reaction, so she noticed when his eyes widened. Sakina said, “You do. Then you know that we are not just, what is the word for your travelling musicians? Minstrels? We are not one of those. Depending on what you tell me, you will either walk out of this cell a free man, to offer your services to whichever captain will take you back home, or you will be executed. You know that your people want us gone.”
Leif said nothing. Sakina asked, “What are you?”
Leif exhaled heavily, but before he could reply, Suleiman said, “While he rested, we sent word to others asking if they had found wreckage or men. They had, though only two men like him wearing animal pelts, drowned in the storm. They also reported that a few fishing villages had been attacked in raids from the south. Though not by Christians, but for the first time in ages, native tribes. I cannot help but think those things connected.”
Sakina repeated this and watched as Leif gave a relieved laugh, then sighed and finally he said, “I had hoped we were in Africa.”
Sakina looked over at her uncle, who was studying Leif with a stony expression, waiting. Leif looked back at him and said, “We are mercenaries, available for whatever you need once you pay well enough.” He shook his head. “My uncle was hired by a nobleman and a Moor hoping to earn the king’s favour with a risky venture. My mother was a kind of djeli too, though our ancestors had left Africa centuries ago. My father on the other hand…do you know what an ulfhedinn is?”
Sakina had read the accounts. Men who wore wolf skins into battle and fought like monsters, fearless and nearly invincible. She explained for her uncle’s benefit, and Leif said, “It is my father’s legacy. His family were supposed to have converted since the eleventh century but, well, you understand how we can keep these things alive. This was also something one could not exactly…leave behind.”
“Your people attacked us?” asked Suleiman.
“We were advised that there were native tribes to the south that would be willing allies. We were part of a small fleet, no more than five ships, but that is more than one hundred men. I…steered us into the storm, but some may have gotten away,” said Leif.
“Why should I spare you?” asked Suleiman. His expression had not changed much since Leif started talking. “My niece said that the ancestors call you a demon and you just admitted that you were hired to kill our people.”
“But I didn’t,” said Leif. “I’m not a monster. I want to help you.”
“Why?” asked Sakina. She glanced at her uncle and said, “What do you want?”
“To stop my uncle. He believes that God has mandated him to rid the Carib lands of the Moors and heathens. And he also knows that he will be rewarded richly for it, and he cares more about the money than anything. When my father died…my uncle threatened to throw my mother out of our home, sell her to the slavers. He only stopped because I told him I can Change. That I had been dreaming of the crow and the one-eyed man and the wolf threatening the moon. I was a child, saying anything to save my mother and he believed me. If he were to die here, my mother would be safe,” said Leif, looking directly at Suleiman though Sakina knew her uncle only understood half of that.
“They would kill you if they found out,” said Sakina.
“Then I die, but my mother is safe,” said Leif.
Silence reigned in the cell for several minutes after this. Sakina contemplated the paper in her hands, and her uncle. Then her uncle asked, “You said you were hired by a ‘nobleman and a Moor’?”
“The nobleman is some distant relative of the king, or so he claims. As for the Moor, I never met the man personally, but my uncle knows him. He said he was a scholar travelling the world to teach his people about the Christians. He’s also a terrible gambler who owes a lot of money. He was supposed to meet my uncle here,” said Leif.
Sakina bit back a horrified gasp. Both men noticed though, and she said, “Hussain’s visitor…there was a reaction to him too.”
“Why did you not mention that before?” asked her uncle.
“I was going to,” she replied. She asked Leif, “Is this man like you? Is it something that someone can…learn to do?”
“Yes. Or so I was told. Now it is not encouraged. There are so few of us to keep the bloodline pure,” said Leif, a little bitterly.
Sakina turned to her uncle and said, “There is a dangerous man in our midst.”
Suleiman said, “I cannot accuse a highly-respected scholar on the word of an admitted mercenary, whom I barely believe as it is. And your word, Sakina, will not be enough.”
Sakina sighed, feeling her lack of rest bearing down on her, and said, “This should not be too difficult to prove. You already have a prisoner and warning of another attack. We just need to get the alim to expose himself.”
Suleiman narrowed his eyes at her and said, “You will not endanger yourself, nor will you make any such accusations.” To Leif, he said, “I must have proof of your story. You will remain here until then, and you will speak to no one of it except me.”
“And me,” said Sakina.
Suleiman said nothing. Leif looked at them both and nodded. Then Suleiman said, “Give him a pen and paper. I will take his confession now, but he will write only what I say.”
This concludes Part 1 of “The Epic of Sakina.” Part 2 can be found here.
About the Author
Shari Paul is a speculative fiction writer from Trinidad and Tobago. A clerk by day, Shari writes adventures in strange new worlds by night. Shari is published in FIYAH and The Dark, and is soon to have her first translated work in a forthcoming issue of Italian speculative magazine Il Buio. Shari has a BA in Literatures in English, and is currently writing for a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of the West Indies.
About the Narrator
Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and three children. By day she works as a breast oncology nurse. At all other times she juggles, none too successfully, writing, reading, gaming, and gardening. She has written one novel entitled An Unproductive Woman available on Amazon. She has also been published in or has stories upcoming in Escape Pod, Diabolical Plots, and FIYAH. Khaalidah also co-edits podcastle.org where she is on a mission to encourage more women to submit fantasy stories. Of her alter ego, K from the planet Vega, it is rumored that she owns a time machine and knows the secret to long youth. She can be found online at http://khaalidah.com and on Twitter at @khaalidah.