Turismo de Alcalá de Guadaíra

The Guardian of the Castle


From the battlements of the barbican tower, the caliph's wife watched tirelessly her children's games. On a soft slope, at the foot of the castle, the children ran with wooden swords in their hands, fighting imagined enemies and defending the fortress against legendary monsters. The children's voices, the song of the cicadas and the smell of the fig trees mixed with the stables' dung framed the everyday image of the mother's protection, who did not give up looking at the river's strip fearing any of her younger children fell into the water.

Yacub, the youngest, was the most audacious. Being seven years old, he intended to run the same adventures as his elder brothers, he was intimidated before any danger and was firmly convinced that he would became someday a sovereign like his father. He blew bravely with his wooden cutlass the prickly pear cactuses, now turned before his eyes into giant-sized looting pirates attacking the white village spread lazily around the walls, ignoring the young leader who saved their lives every day from terrible threats.

When the trumpets of the tower of arms announced the monarch's return, the tiny warrior forgot his rivals and ran up the slope after his brothers to be present at his father's arrival. The expedition to Portugal had lasted several months, messengers had informed of bloody but victorious battles and the Almohad army's triumphal return promised a booty where there presents for children would not lack.

They have been living in al-Qalat for two years already. Their mother's fragile health, who broke in with frequent cough attacks, had favoured their moving from Sevillian al-Qasar to the new castle on the Wadi Xira. It was the very Averroes, the best physician of the world, who suggested the sultan the airs of the extensive pine forests to keep his wife's illness in check. And the decision proved to be right: The resin scent, the clean water and the village's white bread had returned the colour to the sultaness' cheeks that now was welcoming her husband with brilliant eyes on the stage hurriedly raised at the fortress' doors.

Yacub looked for shelter behind his mother's skirt, fearing his royal father's oblivion after so long absence.

- Where do you come from, son...? - asked who had been watching him without missing a single movement.

- Defending the village, mother- the warrior apprentice answered showing proudly his wooden sword.

The arrival of the king and his entourage was simple and austere as it pleased the owner of the village fate. Neither nafir-horns nor drums roared, nor banners in the wind and cheers brightened up the entrance. The king entered on horseback, preceding his large escort, smiled moderately to his expecting people and headed to the stage where his family stood. He came down from his mount, looked at his children's mother for a long time with complicity and embraced his three heirs at the same time.

Yacub, without leaving his sword not even for a moment, let his father squeeze him, who had brilliant eyes with restrained emotion.

- I have brought you presents-he said. - I know you have been good sons in my absence and I have remembered you. To you, Yusuf, my first-born son, I bring you your first steed, white as silver, fast like the wind and obedient like intelligence, it is the jewel of the stables of the duke of Santarem. To you Mohamed, as you are already old enough to learn, I give you your first book as a present, with all the knowledge of Aristotle translated into Arabic that was just given to me yesterday up in Isbiliya. And to you Yacub... something you cannot even imagine...

- A cutlass...? - asked the boy imagining a shining weapon own of a great warrior.

- You are still too young to handle such dangerous tools... My gift is even more exotic... A dragon egg.

- One...? - the child's eyes opened up, unbelieving.

The king exclaimed dramatically - This ... -.

A knelt slave offered a silver tray where a big egg, the size of a human head, of steel gray colour and rough and wrinkled surface was placed.

- I found it at the bilge of a pirate ship that came from the Kingdom of Thule. It is said to be a trophy that turns lucky its owner as it gives him or her strength, agility and fierceness of the dragons.

Yacub forgot his cutlass, his eagerness to be a warrior and even the sovereign's presence. Overwhelmed with emotion, he took the present in his hands and got surprised by its lightness. He thought it would be heavier. He held it tightly against his chest and ran to show it to his mother.

- How lucky, Yacub- the sultaness smiled. - We'll have to look for a place at your bedroom...

- Is there a small dragon inside...?

- I don't know it...- she white-lied her son. - Not all eggs are fertile. Besides, if his mother does not incubate it they do not give birth... The important thing is that it comes from a dragon. As your father says it will bring you fortune.

Yacub knew dragons very well. Sigrid, the old Norman female slave entrusted of the castle's laundry, had told him legends of her people and talked to him about mythological animals. That is the reason why he knew that adult dragons are big-winged giants, with shining eyes and mouth that belched fire. He had learned that they were fierce but noble beings, forever loyal to their owners, implacable with their enemies and eternal guardians of theirs. Deep caves were their natural habitat, their kingdom, the night and their food, the forest as they were vegetarian. They were very long-lived and defended their kingdoms during millennia.

- Where must I keep it, Sigrid? - he asked with the egg in his arms.

- Look for a sheltered cave. Make it be warm every night... If it has been fertilized it will hatch with the new moon... They are always born in the darkness... But it's very unlikely that it is that way... It has been out of its nest for months.

Yacub did not want to hear the last sentence and came downstairs like a bat out of hell. He was heading for the castle's basements and once there he looked for the small door of access to the water mine. The cave was always lit with torches fastened to the rock walls; the vault was blackened with the soot left by the smoke in search of the vertical vents that aired the labyrinth of caves where the spring flowed.

Yacub had always felt insecure, he would never have admitted he was frightened in the depths of the earth, but now his mission provided him courage and daring. Without a doubt, he ran along the bank of the subterranean lake looking for a hidden, dark branch and out of the sight of the strange visitors to such lonely place. Although the gallery at his right looked dark and ominous, he went into it with the eyes tightly closed, and felt with the hand in search of a place to deposit the egg. After walking some thirty steps and a couple or three dodges, he found an aired space, guessing in the dark thanks to the extremely low light filtered from outside through a vertical vent.

He left his trophy carefully inside a hole and back looking for moss, leaves and branches to make a nest, a place where his creature felt comfortable.

During the following weeks Yacub spent more time at the cave, holding his egg to keep it warm, than on the slope of the castle lost in battles against imaginary infidels.

- Where are you hidden, son, I do not see you with your brothers?- the sultaness asked, worried.

- I'm taking care of the egg, mother. It cannot be left without protection; somebody must be its guardian.

- You could have it at the bedroom and that way I would know where you are.

- Yusuf says that it stinks -the boy lied- so I put it in the basements...When will there be new moon, mother?

- In three days time. Nights are right now darker...

The boy was not allowed to leave his bed at night time, so he had to wait for the entrance of the first sunbeam through a gap of the window shades to jump up and go downstairs jumping in a castle where everybody slept lulled by dawn. There had been new moon already so his egg was supposed to have chosen between bringing a new being to the world or remaining forever as a decorative object. With the heart pumping fast inside his chest h went into the mine and ran alongside the water sheet to get inside his secret cave. Almost nothing could be seen, but his eyes were used to darkness after so many wakeful hours, and he believed guessing apparently intact the figure of its treasure on its vegetable bed.

Discouraged by the imminent disappointment he could foresee, he got closer and touched the egg with his hands... It was broken! Although it looked intact, there was a big hole in the back; there were pieces of the broken shell on the ground and an empty space inside.

Almost crying with emotion, Yacub felt the dark space with his hands until the brush of a cold and reptilian creature made him take his hand away brusquely. Then, regretting his weakness, he stretched his arm out pushed by a braveness he insisted on taking out from his heart and held in his fingers the little animal.

In the light of the nearest torch he could contemplate his longed-for companion. He was green olive coloured, so brilliant as if it was impregnated of alpechín, weak and shivering, a tiny dragon palpitated in his hands. He had the eyes closed, a hint of a comb and folded wings; these were as subtle as a butterfly's, creased by drawings of cartilages and veins. From his body, long as a tiny snake's, two arms and two legs with sharp claws started.

Everything in him gave off an enormous weakness. His shivering resembled the death's trembling and his mouth opened and closed as if missing some breath.

- What do the newborn dragons eat...?- He had asked Sigrid.

- What are they going to eat...! Leaves' pulp. They are vegetarian...

Gently he left his creature on the nest and ran looking for food. Later, he fed him by putting a finger impregnated in a concoction made by himself with donkey's milk, prickly pear blade macerated with a stone and a fig chewed and mixed with his own saliva into the young dragon's mouth.

The dragon did not mind the present and licked and ate the whole contents of the boy's bowl.

When Yacub went back to the real world he had decided not to tell the good news. A dragon in the basements of the castle was not going to be welcomed by its inhabitants. They would look at it with distrust, even with disgust or fear. He remembered the luck of the giant lizard that had appeared some days ago behind the drawbridge and, after being used for games and mockery, it ended up in the frying pan of the guard corps.

Nobody ever knew that, in the following two long years, the sultan's son had gone each dawn to feed a dragon, always bigger than the day before, that became giant-sized creature that used to wand through the infinite network of galleries of the mine, under the slope where the castle was.

During the first weeks he had kept the greenish colour he had been born with, but it changed from one day, when Yacub went down the mine with a ring with a red ruby, a present from the caliph's wife, feeling thrilled to show it to his friend. The dragon seemed hypnotized by the gem, whereas a broad smile appeared in his jaws. Suddenly six bright red circles appeared on his back and, as if he were satisfied with his mimicry capacity, he clicked his tongue, amused.

Agitated, the boy ran up his rooms, took his elder brother's beautiful dagger went back to the cave. On the hilt, emeralds, pearls and sapphires shone brightly. It had firstly belonged to León's King, then to a nobleman of his Court who had received it in reward for a heroic deed and finally to his father, after taking it in a fair fight against Christians. The dragon trembled captivated by the rainbow spread before his eyes that until then had only known darkness. Some minutes later, there started to appear along his back with sudden impulses, strings of brilliant stains reproducing the iridescent green of emeralds, the royal blue sapphires, and, at the same time, his belly acquired the white colour and the texture of pearls.

For Yacub it became fun to design gradually the colouring and lightness that were going to make up his giant-sized protégée's skin. It was an unusual day when he would not find in the Sultaness' jewel box a new precious stone of exotic colour to give another different chromatic bit to his dragon. He was as someone who plays excited how to create a different image; he alternated aquamarines, topazes, moon stones, grey pearls, ivory, amethysts, tourmalines, quartz, pink diamonds... And his living work of art took his part in the game choosing the most suitable place of his anatomy to fit each new colour harmoniously.

An evening, Yacub got strongly startled. He had woken up an hour before dawn and not being able to wait for sunrise in bed, he went downstairs in silence anticipating the daily appointment with his friend. But when he reached the mine he found it empty. Feeling worried, he went running over all the known galleries but could not find any sign of his pet that, on the other hand, had already reached a size impossible to hide.

At the end of the last tunnel he saw the stars. The water mine had mouths to the exterior of the castle and his dragon should have escaped through one of them. When he went out, he did not see him. The moonlight bathed the slope and drew with phantasmagorical strokes the fig trees branches shades. The boy was brave but it was also his first night-time exit outside the castle walls. Besides, he feared his creature would have escaped and would have left him forever, which made him felt a painful anguish on his heart.

A crushing sound behind made him jump. When he turned his face back, he found an enormous mouth, full up of fangs as large as swords, that was closing onto his back. For a moment he thought that the dragon had forgotten their friendship and was going to devour him. He felt caught by the nightdress, raised as a doll and turned over through the air until he found himself with his legs around the animal's neck. When he saw how high he was, he became aware of the enormous wingspan of his mate and of the narrowness of the cave, which did not allow him to display it. There, astride, watching the jewelled back of the dragon shining under the moon, he felt like riding the most beautiful figure of the universe.

And he trembled with emotion when he saw him spreading his enormous wings and flying away. Slowly, majestically, the impressive image rose to float over the silver string of the river. Yacub pinched himself. Probably he had not woken up yet and was living in his imagination from bed all his eyes refused to accept. But the dawn breeze, the smell of damp ground and the rhythm of the heartbeat he noticed under his legs were too real to be a dream.

As if the dragon and boy couple slid through the air, he flew over the castle, let down the battlements and farther on the Guard Yard to descend rubbing the rooftops of the white houses that surrounded the fortress. Alcalá's people slept placidly without having notice of the legendary figure that flew over their firmament.

They were many the nights in which the sultan's son travelled on the dragon's back, flying through the Hills' skies. Sometimes they got to Isbiliya, which shone like a gem in the dark. There they rubbed on a low-level flight over the Wad al-Kabir sheet of water, they crossed over the great bridge of boats, ordered to be built by his father and they contemplated the incipient tower aimed to be one of the jewels of the World.

Always at dawn, when the sun beams painted in pink the summits of the mountains of al-Mouron, they went back to the cave, the dragon to his daytime dream and Yacub to play with his brothers biting his tongue to keep the secret he knew should have be kept forever.

Autumn brought bad news. The sultaness felt completely recovered and had decided to return to the capital city of Al-Andalus. Yusuf, the eldest son, was already old enough to participate at Court and to help his father to keep the kingdom's unity. The day when they told Yacub they were departing on the next dawn, leaving al-Qalat and returning only occasionally, he felt like dying.

Al-Tinnim, his dragon, was already self-sufficient and fed himself in his night-time wanderings. Nobody knew about his existence and that was a life insurance for his friend. But he did not know if he, Yacub, would be able to live without his company, his periodic visits to the mine and the wonderful night flights. In his last hug to the enormous head he thought he had perceived a tear's twinkle at the corner of the great magical eye of the reptile that seemed to suspect it was a goodbye.

The departure started up in a hurry. The caliph's army's main body was in an expedition to Algarve and the Sultaness and her sons' entourage counted on a minimal escort of some twenty soldiers. Alarming rumours had spread: A rebel group from Ronda was in the proximities taking advantage on the absence of the army to loot the nearby cities.

That is the reason why, in order to avoid surprises, the queen decided to start the journey in the evening. When the castle gate opened ten chariots and carts started coming out taking with them the essential trousseau and the royal family seated on cushions and carpets. Beardless Yusuf rode the white steed his father had given him as a present, heading the guard that had to protect them during the trip.

After leaving around the slope, the procession headed towards the Roman Bridge to cross the river and get to Isbiliya through the less-frequented and safer road of the left bank of the river. Three leagues downstream they would find the ford that would allow them arriving to the capital city.

Just when the last man had left the fortress, a terrible scream was heard and the sound of galloping of horses turned into real drama their worst premonitions. A hundred Almoravid warriors that lived in the mountains from pillage and revolt surrounded aggressively the entourage. In their faces hatred, rage and avarice could be read and in their eyes the murderous instinct of leaving no one alive. Yusuf brandished his cutlass, ready to defend his family, and Yacub took out his wooden sword as if he could defeat the bandits with the energy he defeated the fig trees with.

The bandits' captain flourished an enormous scimitar and he came closer unhurriedly toward the Sultaness' chariot. They all remained in silence waiting for a fierce slaughter to start. When he put his arm up to give the final blow it seemed impossible that Yusuf's steel would be enough to stop the impact. Nobody moved the eyes away from the scene that is the reason why they all could see with surprise the jet of flames that appeared from the sky to wrap the figure of the aggressive warrior in a shroud of fire. Where could that igneous ray and the terrible roar of rage that split the vault of heaven come from?

The incredulous eyes looked above and opened and closed repeatedly to check it was not a dream. A dragon, a giant-sized animal, flew over the scene with the open wings, the extended claws and the nostrils spitting smoke and sparks.

The aggressors underestimated the wild beast and they threw themselves at the entourage en masse. Some fifty men, placed on the Roman bridge tightened their bows and filled in the air with arrows in search of the flying body.

Yacub, excited, got these pictures recorded in his retinas to remember them for the rest of his life. The arrows bounced on the leathery skin, some of them stuck on his wings' membranes, exciting the fury of the wild beast. A turn of the head and a roar of horror served as preamble to the belch of fire that destroyed the bridge leaving its surface made a torch where life was impossible. Then, the fantastic image nosedived using the claws like sharp swords to reap the heads of the aggressors, right, left and centre.

In less than five minutes there was not even a single standing aggressor. The Sultaness, pale and incredulous saw her people harmless. She did not know what that dragon was that spitted anger and fire, either from where he came from, but definitely she was perfectly aware of the party it belonged to.

- He is my friend... -.Yacub muttered

- ...The egg?- the amazed queen asked.

The boy agreed.

- How will we cross the river now?- Yusuf was indicating the funeral bonfire that preventing crossing the Roman Bridge.

Guessing the difficulty of the expedition, the dragon landed on the right bank, reached out with the front claws the left bank, spread its wings and it volunteered as improvised bridge to the entourage.

Yacub jumped off the chariot and ran over the animal to reach his head to stroke him gently. They all perceived the trembling the gesture provoked in the mythological beast. Yusuf, when seeing his brother, dismounted, caught his steed by the bridle and crossed on the wings that were offered steadier than they seemed. When he arrived to the opposite side, he wove his hands encouraging to the rest of the group to follow him.

Once the river was crossed, Yacub got on his mother's chariot and asked:

- Can he come with us?

The Sultaness shook her head. The boy himself justified the refusal.

- He cannot live in Isbiliya. There is no mine there.

She touched his face softly and tried to cheer him:

- Now we are leaving, the castle needs a guardian to defend it. There is nobody better than him. People form al-Qalat will feel protected with his presence.

- Will we return someday?

- If God wants. Here we have been very happy and you have become men. But your father needs us at his side.

Yacub got down the chariot and he addressed the dragon that remained in silence with the big brilliant pupils as if he understood what was happening and was thrilled with the transcendence of it.

- I am leaving, my friend. But do not be sad, because one day I will turn to fly together again. And then nobody will be able to separate us... Wait for me until I come back. In the meantime, take care of the village and the castle...

Yacub never got back to the fortress. Life, wars and History took him through other courses. They say that, after that day, nobody has seen the dragon ever that is the reason why it is believed to be only an Almohad legend. But there have been also special people, convinced that in the depths of the water mine a mythological being with the skin covered by gem stones lives waiting tirelessly for a boy's return while he takes care of, protect and you preserved the great castle of al- Qalat Wadi Xira.


Eight centuries after another boy came with his sick mother in search of the healthy air of Oromana pine forests. There, in the evenings at the open air in the neighbourhood of El Perejil, he heard about the legend and, excited, dreamt of seeing the dragon.

An evening, running after a ball on the castle's slope he fell through a hole covered by undergrowth and fully terrified plunged into a steep well that seemed endless. The journey ended up in a subterranean lake, a dive in cool water and the fear of knowing himself lost below ground.

A weak zenithal light allowed the glimpse of a wide rocky cavern full of turns and galleries. The boy checked he was able to touch the bottom and shivering with cold and fear got near the shore.

- Yacub...?

The whispering but powerful voice thundered the vault.

- What...? Who are you...? - the accident victim asked, frightened but with a bit of hope to have been found.

From one of the side caves a brilliant eye appeared, as big as his house's door, that stared at him joyfully.

- It has taken you a long time...! - the voice complained. I was afraid to die without seeing you again ... It's a good thing you are back. I have missed you a lot in my flights...

- You are the dragon...-the boy muttered, forgetting his fear unexpectedly.

The enormous head came into the cavern, took the child's shirt with his mouth, as he did in days of yesteryears, and got him up on his neck.

Some minutes after they flew smoothly through the skies of Alcalá. It seemed impossible to go by unnoticed in the light of the twilight but invisibility is an attribute that magic dragons practice at will.

- Do you remember when I became a bridge for your mother and your brothers...?

The boy was about to say no, but he felt sorry for that extraordinary creature that oozed nostalgia from each pore and kept his head motionless.

Once on land, at the entrance door of the mine gallery, the dragon asked:

- Yacub, will you return to fly tomorrow?

The boy answered with the frankness of the naive souls:

- My name is not Yacub...

The mythological head turned in surprise. He stared at him to detect a possible joke until his eyes confirmed the mistake. A grimace of pain and outrage crossed the corners of his mouth.

- You have occupied a place that was not yours. I can fly only with my master- he reproached him.

- It was you who caught me. I have not asked you anything.

The animal agreed, understanding.

- Just for a moment I thought that you were somebody I love more than nothing in this world... But you are right ... You have not desecrated anything. Besides, you look like him... When he returns and knows of this, he will not get angry.

- Then... Can I come back tomorrow...? - the boy decided to ask; he would have given anything to repeat the magic experience he had just lived.

The giant-sized creature turned his head sadly to avoid the child's eyes.

- I cannot take anybody that is not Yacub. Whereas I wait for his return I keep doing so alone, watching to protect al-Qalat and its people from any enemy.

The boy felt moved and stroked tenderly the skin adorned with jewels of the sad and nostalgic animal.

- I will tell everybody in the village that you are real. Alcalá's people will feel safer when they know they are protected by you. The whole world will envy them.

- Nobody will believe you. Men think we are children of legends and that we do not exist in the real world. My invisibility helps me to remain hidden and makes my mission easier.

The boy frowned, stubbornly and replied:

- But they will believe! I am going to tell thousands of times I have seen you, I will describe even to the very last of the scales of your body, I will draw you on notebooks, papers, blackboards and walls...

- You would have to make a sculpture as big as me to be believed- The magical animal smiled sceptically...-People do not trust the children.

-They will trust me - the boy said strongly, who did not want to give up.- And if you say that it is necessary, I will do it. When I grew older I will model you crossing over the river, just the way you are. When people see your size and your beauty will end up believing in you.- He was saying it with such conviction that, moved, the words mixed with tears.- I promise you that I will leave no stone unturned until I learn how to build a full-scale statue... You will be again a bridge, in so all the people from Alcalá will cross over you, day after day, to be until they get convinced that you exist.

- Good-bye, Yacub- smiled sadly the King of the Air.

- Good-bye, Dragon... I swear to you that when I grew older, you will fly over yourself above the Guadaíra... and the people from Alcalá who believe in you will erect a monument for you, as you protect us all from every evil...

And legend says that the boy, that went back home with his eyes in tears, did not quit in his effort until he managed to keep his promise.

Also it is told that, every night, a dragon, eternal guard, flies over the castle to take care of their inhabitants, and sometimes he goes down to his replica of ceramics over the river to look incredulously at himself, amazed, while he dreams on the impossible return of Yacub...

Dr Jose Luis Manzanares Japon
Doctor in Civil Engineering
AYESA President

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