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Every Best Gift - a tale of the ages

by  vynnie

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2005
Word Count: 397
Summary: The opening paras of my book.


Where did you get this, my son?”
Muhammad Amer al-Jamil was seated in a cushioned chair at his well-worn timber desk. His thick black eyebrows were raised in the direction of his eldest son, fifteen year- old Ali, who had just placed a small roundish object within reach of his right hand.
The boy hesitated, unsure, before drawing up the breath of youth-driven courage. “From the fortress, my father.”
Muhammad swivelled his body around to face the small window, which provided the room with its principal source of illumination, and stared vacantly through the speckled glass, summoning from memory his one and only visit to the fortress of Tikrit.
Ever since the Great Uncle had risen to power, he’d made political capital from the fact that Yussuf ibn Ayyub had also been born in Tikrit, in the fortress itself. But Muhammad had not known that when he’d ventured there as a young boy and, even if he had, its sinister aspect would not have chilled him any less, or lengthened his stay by any measurable amount of time.
Its great bulk sat atop a steep cliff overlooking the Tigris, and was originally accessible only by a set of steps that climbed upwards from the water’s edge to penetrate into the heart of the once-formidable, now crumbling citadel. It had, of old, been defended on its landward side by a wide moat that was now mostly filled with the gravel and silt of centuries, although the river’s seasonal spate occasionally forced passage through the ditch.
Muhammad turned away from the window. To discountenance the boy, he narrowed his hawkish black eyes. “You were told not to go there! Now you must be punished.”
Those final words, fading away on the emphatic syllables, betrayed a hint of the automatic response. Ali began to feel a little more confident that no reprisals would be visited upon his head. Nevertheless, he lowered that head in a show of shame and circled the bare big toe of his right foot on the carpet; he had so much to remember but had made excellent use of the long journey homewards by repeating, over and over, what he had been told to say.
“I’m sorry I disobeyed your command, father, but when you see with your own eyes all that I have found, you will forgive me.”