The Fountain of The Twelve Lions
By: Mehreen Ahmed

One delightful spring afternoon of 1203, a Moor princess by the name of Zaida, stood gazing at the Nasrid gardens from an alcove near her palace at Alhambra. At the palace entrance, rows of majestic pines and hedges adorned these gardens with myrtles and myriads of roses in yellow, pink and red; the white tiger lilies, the unfathomable bushes of lilacs, the carnations and the scarlet geraniums were some among the flowers. Most prominent were the roses, flanked alongside and around the fountains of varied shapes and sizes; a posy of roses, overlooked either the circular or the elongated basins, while the tall hedges rose above every flowerbed, setting boundaries between the gardens and the main thoroughfare.

On the outskirts of the palaces, lay several meandering mountain passes leading to these princely homes of the Moorish Emirates. The towering torre de las infantas, one of many towers built on the hilly slopes of one of the voluptuous mountains, served as a distinctive landmark. Visible also were the snowy peaks of Sierra Nevada, or the snowy range in Spanish, whose snows of spring still melted over the horizon. A terrain most formidable and stark for not being garnished with that many magical groves, perhaps, but, owing to the precipices, this view added an inescapable look of sublimity to the landscape.

This afternoon, the air was heavy with the seductive aromas of diverse oriental flowers. Princess Zaida stepped out into the Jannat–al–Arif, or the architect's garden. She stood on its edge and took a few exhilarating puffs of the fragrant air. A sensuous atmosphere infused with the sound of a cascading waterfall, and perfumed flowers, lent an unearthly perspective; the pregnant orchard laden with oranges, lemons and pomegranates. The chirrups of a lonely dove to boot, an expression of an idyllic milieu, short of an oriental paradise.

Wandering through these orchards of many years, princess Zaida heard whispers. She listened. They pulled her into the realm of the other; otherworldly creatures conferred with her. She went into a stoned, trance state. Her almond eyes widened to observe elements that she was only privy to. She began to walk. The soft rustle of her green, resplendent dress stirred an inner sense of foreboding. Along this trail, she plodded by the leafy vines over the lofty, Moorish walls to the hilltop of Assabica. Her shadow fell under the Torre de Comares. Set against a backdrop of the court of the myrtles, this another notable tower housed the throne room of the North African ruler of the Nasrid dynasty, Mohammad the 1st. She left the tower of throne behind as she drifted through to the Puerta del Vino, the wine gate towards Alcazaba, not too far from the gates of the wine, an old fortress of the Moors. She trod lightly down a pebbled path. Hundreds of intertwining, serpentine paths, broken midway into Escher–like painting of nonlinear staircases, into narrow flights of stairs without any marked ingress, or egress.

Her own royal apartments, the magnificent rooms of The hall of Abencerrajes, were close to the Palacio de los Leones, the Court of the Lions. These rooms were notable for superb craftsmanship. Every ceiling in these rooms was decked with a bejeweled dome and a central star theme made of muqarnas prisms. The motif continued, and gradually merged into the square shaped floor under the hanging muqarnas spandrels. Rooms shimmered with speckled pearls of pink rubies, white sapphires and sparkling diamonds in gilded silhouettes of an unrivaled beauty of an oriental, fairy tale.

But she was depressed. To lighten her mood, her palace maids organized the flamenco dance at the fountain of The Twelve Lions. The princess's laughter rang in unison with the gentle sway of the plash from The Twelve Lions; doves chirruped away. The palace became an enchanted Eden. Then she heard the ghosts again. Their sighs encircled around the cold marbles of the pillars, within its Arabic inscriptions of the mosaic halls; purportedly, imbued in history. The princess began to talk incoherently aloud.

"I cannot do what you ask. I can't … , you horrible creatures of fate and death. How could you?… Is this true, indeed? What they say? Someone's trying to kill the seven Nasrid princes? Awful! It's awful! Owwwww! … What're you saying? That I should pray, not take this potion? You say, do not take those pills. Push her away. Push the nurses away. Come, come away with us. We will take you down an ethereal path ... a new land of wondrous spirits …,"

The whisperings continued until she was brought to her bedroom. A psychiatrist called upon to assist her.

"Is this malady in the head?" The handsome psychiatrist of thirty years tried to decipher. She sat erect on bed. She looked placidly outside through the palace windows at a melancholy sunset, decided that this evening reflected her own tetchy mind. Mourning became her, like Electra. She viewed at the other Alhambra palaces at a distance in the departing sun; how the facades looked just as tetchy in red.

Her nurses stood by her bed with herbal concoction in a silver chalice, gently nudging her to take some. She took the goblet and swallowed the potion.

"These voices drive me crazy," the princess complained.

"You might have to take medicine regularly. That's what they are for."

"No medicine has ever worked for me."

"They will work just fine this time. I'm sure of it."

"Tell the voices to leave me alone. Give me a cure for this disease."

"Tell me more about them."

"They call themselves The Moirai."

"The goddesses?"

"Yes, that's what they call themselves, The goddesses of fate."

"Hmm."

"Why do they haunt me and hound me so?"

"You are unwell, that's why," says the psychiatrist nonchalantly.

"I see these three ghastly shadows dancing at sun down, spinning threads in flowing robes. I hear them each whisper to themselves, and to me."

"What do they say?"

"Oh, about the same."

"Can you tell me what these sisters say to you?"

"Oh, these are diabolic, vile ghosts of darkness, whispering nonsense that no one wants to hear."

"Like what?"

"They are here again."

"No they're not, be brave. You take some rest. We will be in the next room," the psychiatrist said. And they left her side.

The sun dipped on the edge of the Assabica. Darkness crept into the room. A deathly light is cast. The flustered princess in a limbo of a grisly underworld and her own of the living; another psychotic episode loomed. In that distorted reality, she grinned. She spaced out. Her expressions turned from grim, to stoic. The fleeting hours passed. Another change occurred. Her hands on her ears. She shook her head vehemently.

"No. No. No. Go away!" she screamed.

Something tried to calm her down. They put a supporting hand on her back, massaging it up and down the delicate spine. Beautiful bones. But it didn't work. The princess was inconsolable. She narrowed her edgy eyes; silent tears oozed out of those kohl corner slits.

The princess wailed. Then she was aggressive and suddenly strong. Her fragile demeanor replaced by an unsightly pallor of purple; her voice, a shrieking nightingale. She rose and stood tall. She levitated mid–air, thin like a leaf of autumn, but dropped thick through like the granite of Colosseum. Anyone watching her now would stand petrified. There was no match for this newfound brawn.

Stepping down from bed, she began to follow her whisperers. She glided through air, walked over the jaded waves of the Darro River, and tried not to lose sight of the three spinning goddesses. They took her through a secret passage of a garden. A garden, hidden from the public eye for centuries. Under a shroud of moss, the wild ferns and the wet heaps of parasitical creepers, the garden spread sidelong up an old, Moorish wall. In the far corner of it, a creaky, wooden door appeared to be slightly ajar. She allowed the voices to egg her on, as the priceless princess followed them. She sleepwalked over a dead log. Her aerial body rose above it; she, a blind seer of an alternate plain, followed them through the great palace gates, then headed further away into the depths of the garden's jaded hedges. She plummeted and fell on the stump of an old, oak tree.

In demonic possession, she lay there clutching to her emerald dress. Her whisperers hissing by her side. Under their influence, she rose again and saw a portal open before her eyes; a fiery ball showed itself like sharp torch–light through a dark tunnel. It began to move towards a door. Gawking at it, she realized that the dot now assumed the shape of a man. Her lips parted. Her tear stained eyes glistened. Her dress remained in her clutches. The female voices came and went intermittently.

"Come with me, princess," commanded a hoarse, male voice.

"Where?" Came the automatic response.

"Come. You have a mission to fulfill."

"A mission to fulfill? What mission would that be?"

"Take this."

The fiery figure offered her a sword studded with precious rocks, asking her to hold it. She slipped her tiny palm robotically over its hilt. Her hand now locked under the man's iron fist. Her eyes, a decanter of damp tears of frozen acids.

"What's this?"

" Follow them. The Moirai," he instructed.

The apparitions, the three goddesses jetted through the air to propel her into the portal until they arrived to the regal bedrooms of her cousins. All her seven cousins, the future Moors of Alhambra lay asleep, breathing heavily on the stately beds. The Moirai prodded her. She made a beeline for the young princes' rooms. Then picked them up one at a time. She complied and carried them out to the fountain of The Twelve Lions. While the naked sword rested tight in her other firm hand, she gathered them, and held them tight by the locks of the black mane. They slept standing; the life size rag dolls of men drugged with opium poppies this morbid moment. She wielded her sword. And in one precise strike, the incisive blade sliced right through their ebony necks.

She saw it through, this massacre at the fountains of The Twelve Lions; the severed heads of all her seven cousins, lay scattered amok along the cross–paths of the ponded blood. A job well done, the other worldly spirits relished in the success. At a lightening speed, they unplugged themselves from the princess's hook and took the sword to release her. She entered her domicile alone, but she felt dead lost like the last unicorn.

For this freedom came at a cost; a far cry from peace. As soon as they disbanded her, the pale princess lost her balance, and fainted in the garden of hedges, a few steps away from the fountain floor. She did not wake up until the warm touch of the human hand jolted her back to full awareness. She found herself not in the garden, but within the walls of her own quarters, with the psychologist and nurses pouring over her in deep concern.

"What just happened?" she asked.

"Something strange happened, your royal highness from the effects of the medicine. We were not here but by looks of it you had hallucinations after we left you to rest in your room. And you did some pretty crazy things."

"Like what?" she asked.

"Sleepwalk. You sleepwalked, my royal highness. We found you among the foliage of the hedges, not too far from the fountain of The Twelve Lions. Your sleep was deep."

"What was it? I can't remember. Was it a horrific nightmare?"

"No, it was a delusion," the psychiatrist answered.

"That maybe true. I do hear voices in sleepwalks."

They looked at each other. Princess Zaida held the young psychiatrist in her mesmerized gaze. After a while they both smiled. Whether or not this was true, that was hard to gauge. But the princess's delusions foretold a surviving legend, not easily beguiled by imagination. At some point in history, those princes, her cousins were actually killed at the same place and in the same manner by some elusive red hands. To this day, it remained a mystery as to why or who murdered those young Moors at the fount of The Twelve Lions.

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