We do not change our faith, at least. Every palace servant has to
give lip service to the beliefs of the One True Church. The horns of the
mosque are silenced; there is to be no call to prayer in my mother's
hearing. And anyone who disagrees can either leave for Africa at once,
convert at once, or face the fires of the Inquisition. We do not soften
under the spoils of war; we never forget that we are victors and that we
won our victory by force of arms and by the will of God. We made a
solemn promise to poor King Boabdil, that his people, the Moslems,
should be as safe under our rule as the Christians were safe under his.
We promise the convivencia -- a way of living together -- and
they believe that we will make a Spain where anyone, Moor or Christian
or Jew, can live quietly and with self-respect since all of us are
"People of the Book." Their mistake is that they meant that truce, and
they trusted that truce, and we -- as it turns out -- do not.
We betray our word in three months, expelling the Jews and
threatening the Moslems. Everyone must convert to the True Faith, and
then, if there is any shadow of doubt, or any suspicion against them,
their faith will be tested by the Holy Inquisition. It is the only way
to make one nation: through one faith. It is the only way to make one
people out of the great varied diversity which had been al Andalus. My
mother builds a chapel in the council chamber, and where it had once
said "Enter and ask. Do not be afraid to seek justice for here you will
find it," in the beautiful shapes of Arabic, she prays to a sterner,
more intolerant God than Allah, and no one comes for justice anymore.
But nothing can change the nature of the palace. Not even the stamp
of our soldiers' feet on the marble floors can shake the centuries-old
sense of peace. I make Madilla teach me what the flowing inscriptions
mean in every room, and my favorite is not the promises of justice, but
the question written in the Courtyard of the Two Sisters, which says:
"Have you ever seen such a beautiful garden?" and then answers itself:
"We have never seen a garden with greater abundance of fruit, nor
sweeter, nor more perfumed."
It is not truly a palace, not even as those we had known at Córdoba
or Toledo. It is not a castle, nor a fort. It was built first and
foremost as a garden, with rooms of exquisite luxury so that one could
live outside. It is a series of courtyards designed for flowers and
people alike. It is a dream of beauty: walls, tiles, pillars melting
into flowers, climbers, fruit, and herbs. The Moors believe that a
garden is a paradise on earth, and they have spent fortunes over the
centuries to make this "al-Yanna": the word that means garden, secret
place, and paradise.
I know that I love it. Even as a little child I know that this is an
exceptional place, that I will never find anywhere more lovely. And even
as a child I know that I cannot stay here. It is God's will and my
mother's will that I must leave al-Yanna, my secret place, my garden, my
paradise. It is to be my destiny that I should find the most beautiful
place in all the world when I am just six years old, and then leave it
when I am fifteen, as homesick as Boabdil, as if happiness and peace for
me will only ever be short-lived.
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