Prologue

In the year 1482, the bountiful land of Al-Andalus, home of the Alhambra palace and stronghold of the Spanish moors of Granada, was finally conquered by Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. The Catholic Monarchs fondest desire had been to recapture Andalusia from the grasp of the heretical moors, the conquest had been swift and the Spanish armies under the banners of the Holy Church and the Blessed Virgin had finally taken back the fertile lands lost to them centuries before.

Almost at once, Ferdinand and Isabella based their court at the magnificent Alhambra and took up the momentous task of Christianising the former Islamic province. The royal couple commissioned many churches to be built in an attempt to cleanse the city of Granada of the stain of heresy and return it to the fold of the one true God. Many of the moors had already fled to North Africa, but some had remained behind, reluctant to leave their homes and the lives that they had built up over generations.

The King and Queen awarded vast estates and lands of the former moors to those who had served them well during the campaign; one of those who were high in the royal favour was a certain Don Fernando Narcisco de Travelez.

Fernando de Travelez came from an impoverished but noble Castilian family. Born in Valladolid, with little option about his future, he yearned to join the priesthood, but as the only son he knew he had to marry to continue the family name. Travelez turned away from the contemplative path at sixteen and joined the Castilian army, he proved his valour in battle and it was this combined with his noble blood that bought him to the attention of Ferdinand and Isabella. After many adventures, the penniless soldier was awarded with the rank of general and given several properties.

General de Travelez commanded thousands of Spanish troops during the conquest of Granada and was noted for being an outstanding military strategist, he personally captured much of the city and presented it to his rulers after the siege. Although he was young, Fernando was fiercely brave and had developed great camaraderie and discipline amongst his men who were considered to be the finest unit in the entire Spanish army.

At the great celebration that was held in Granada in January 1492, the soldier of fortune, Fernando de Travelez was formally raised to the title of Marquess of Algarinjeo and given not only many magnificent estates in Andalusia, but also the youngest daughter of the Duke of Cadiz, Dona Maria Luisa, whose enormous dowry more than made up for her swarthy complexion, dumpy body and abject selfishness.

The Marquess was initially happy with the bride that had been selected for him, she came from an impeccable lineage, was fabulously wealthy and provided an excellent opportunity to restore the once grand House of de Travelez. The groom who was thirty two, his bride twenty, married in a lavish ceremony in Granada and moved to a wing of the Alhambra as personal guests of Ferdinand and Isabella, whilst the Marquesse's new Castle Algarinjeo was being built.

It was whilst living amongst the splendour of the Alhambra, young Fernando discovered that his wife had the personality of a water rat and was both cruel tempered and selfish. Marquessa de Trevelez surrounded herself with piety and riches and only shared a bed perfunctory with her husband. A year after the marriage, Luisa gave birth to a daughter, Dona Atalaya Leonor y Leon de Travelez, Fernando rejoiced at being a father, even a girl and moved his wife and child to the nearly completed Castle Algarinjeo. The Marquess stayed in attendance on Queen Isabella and was much in favour at the Spanish court. Whilst away from his shrewish spouse, the young and handsome general found himself free to roam the vast Alhambra. He spent the long summer days wandering through the heady gardens marvelling at the exquisite fountains and the mosaics, all decorated with staggering geometric designs.

He strolled through the Court of the Lions, fascinated at the Moors strange religion that strictly forbid the portrayal of any human image, it seemed very odd, as Catholic churches would be very bare without statues of the Virgin or the saints.

It was on one of these garden sojourns that Marquess de Algarinjeo met a strikingly beautiful girl sat on a stone bench reading a scroll written in Arabic. Fernando knew at once that this woman was Moorish, her clear skin was the colour of new honey and her dark hair was reddish, shot through with gold. Her turquoise trousers and silk tunic were exceedingly fine and heavily embroidered and she wore gold bangles around her ankles and wrists. Fernando was astonished at her beauty and felt an urgent desperation to talk to her, he called out, but she looked up startled and rushed away towards the women's quarters.

Several of the Nasrid princesses and their servants had not yet left the palace for exile in North Africa, Queen Isabella, in a show of generosity had allowed them to remain for a grace period of six months. Fernando assumed that the woman must be one of these, he was stunned by how much he desired her, so much that it dwarfed his piety to the church and the sacred vows he had made to stay faithful to his wife. However repellent he found Luisa, she had made him the richest man in Granada.

Despite his reservations, he was determined to meet to the young woman and took to lurking every afternoon in the Court of Lions in the hope she would return. It took a week, but eventually his patience was rewarded, the woman appeared one hot afternoon and much to Fernando's surprise, she approached him smiling. The Marquess drank in her beauty and marvelled at her eyes, pure green, almond shaped and shaded by heavy black lashes.

The young woman sat down on the marble bench, she spoke flawless Spanish with a soft accent and introduced herself as Mahja , the youngest sister of the defeated Emir. She told him that she had sneaked out from the women's quarters and the eunuchs who guarded them and that before she had not meant to run, but had been startled. Fernando could not stop watching her as she spoke, she was twenty five and widowed, which why she was not watched as carefully as her unmarried female relatives.

Mahja and Fernando spent the entire golden afternoon talking and they arranged to meet in a secret part of the palace the next day. In the days and weeks that followed, the young general and the Emir's sister started to fall in love and began a passionate affair that was absolutely forbidden by both of their cultures. It was unthinkable for a married Catholic grandee in such high esteem with the devout Ferdinand and Isabella to begin an affair with a Moorish woman of the Islamic faith, but Fernando was like a man bewitched by a Jinnee and could not resist. He continued to meet Mahja in secret whenever he could although both knew that their affair could go nowhere. Eventually, Fernando was summoned to the Spanish court in Valladolid and Mahja would be departing soon for her brother's estate in the mountains before leaving Europe altogether for Morocco.

Marquess de Algarinjeo returned somewhat reluctantly to his life in the army and was given command of the Spanish forces in Granada. His star continued to rise and his magnificent castle was finally completed, upon reuniting with Luisa, Fernando was once again reminded of how sweet his forbidden affair with the beautiful Mahja had been. Luisa reminded him of a lemon, sharp and sour, whilst Mahja was a pomegranate, sweet and fragrant.

Castle Algarinjeo was a massive edifice and a direct testament to newly acquired wealth of Fernando and the high esteem in which he was held by his royal patrons. Luisa was as shrill and unpleasant as ever, but Fernando knew that he had to take her to his bed and beget a male heir to his title. He gritted his teeth and slept with her, but it gave him no pleasure. In the chaos of the move, Fernando had forgotten about his infant daughter, Atalaya, who must be about a year old now. He cared little for anything connected with his despised wife, but he supposed it would not kill him to go and see what she was like.

He went to the chamber and peered into the cradle, on the pillow lay a small dark head with downy jet black hair. The babe's skin was olive and considerably darker than Fernando's own. He sighed with disappointment; this child was absolutely going to take after her mother in both looks and temperament. Fernando was about to leave Atalaya to her nurse, Chaya, when she stirred and her eyes opened. The child had not inherited her mother's watery hazel eyes, but instead took after her father, and Fernando was speechless to see his own haunting dark eyes so brown that they looked almost black staring back at him.

The little girl yawned and snuggled back under her lacy blankets, de Trevelez smiled, perhaps this dark child would be more like her father after all, he kissed her soft head and left the nursery.

Life at the castle passed pleasantly enough, Fernando was kept busy with his new military duties and soon forgot about his affair with Mahja, until he received a visit that threatened to destroy everything he had worked for. It was a cold afternoon in January and Fernando was in his chamber reviewing the latest reports from his captains when his steward announced he had a visitor who would not leave until she had seen the general. Looking for a distraction, Fernando ordered the steward to show the woman in waited expectantly, wondering what the woman could want so badly.

He was soon greeted by the surprising sight of a woman in the respectable dress of a matron, her hair decently braided and covered under a starched veil, but it was clear by her lightly accented voice that she was Moorish. She introduced herself as Sa'ya, a handmaid of the Lady Mahja and that she came only in the gravest of circumstances.

It seemed that the affair had certain consequences that could be far reaching for the rest of Fernando's life, Mahja was seven months with child and he was the father. Sa'ya told him that her mistress had been able to disguise her pregnancy from her family but because she was departing soon for Morocco and could not take the babe with her, arrangements would need to be made for the child. Fernando was an honourable man and a pious one; he knew that he would face terrible anathemas on Judgement Day if he did not take care of his sin and face the penance that was due. He would have to confess to his chaplain, Fra Lazaro and seek forgiveness from the Lord. The child's identity as well as its Moorish heritage would remain a closely guarded secret. Sa'ya was assured that arrangements would be made for when the child was born and that Fernando would take responsibility for what had happened, it was the least he could do, Mahja, after all was a woman of royal lineage.

Two months later, at a small house in Granada belonging to a trusted servant of the Marquess, Lady Mahja was bought to childbed and delivered a healthy girl. She was allowed to hold her daughter for all of an hour and whisper the name Aisha Maryam before a sour faced midwife hurried into the room and took the child from her. Mahja did not resist although hot tears were running down her pale cheeks, there was no way Allah would allow her to keep the child, her brother would probably order her death if he ever found out that his sister's honour had been compromised in such a way.

The midwife took the babe to the general, who stared at his second born, illegitimate child. The girl was not even an hour old, but she was perfect. A small face, white skin and luminous green eyes. Faint wisps of auburn hair were plastered to her tiny scalp. Fernando thought that she looked like a faery child, so delicate and pretty was she. The girl would be forever tainted by the sin of bastardy and her Moorish blood, even if it was royal.

Despite what Mahja had whispered, he would name the girl Anamaria, she would be fostered with a deeply pious family on one of his estates and raised as a good Catholic. Furthermore, he decided that the only way to seek penance for his infidelity would be to take Fra Lazaro's advice and give the girl to the church. When Anamaria was old enough, she would be provided with a generous dowry by her father and become a bride of Christ, preferably of the Benedctine order.

Fernando's youthful indiscretion would remain a secret, Luisa of course would probably find out eventually, her prying nose missed nothing, but at least he could reassure her that he was paying the penance due for his sin.

Very few people would ever know about his second child, Aisha Maryam, she would be like a character from a Moorish tale, imaginary, elusive and as beautiful as the new moon.