03 January 2017

Meet My Protagonists - The Love Story of Moraima and Muhammad in Sultana: The White Mountains

Sultana: The White Mountains, set in late fifteenth-century, is the story of the protagonists Moraima and Muhammad, based on historical figures of the same name. The hero Sultan Muhammad XI (more commonly known as Boabdil in Spanish history) is aged 24 at his introduction. He faces a struggle that will determine his family’s fate and the future of Islamic rule in Spain. He is the eldest son of the Moorish Sultan Abu’l-Hasan Ali (Muley Hacén) of Granada and his wife Sultana Aisha. Born a prince in 1458, Muhammad ascends the throne as a Sultan in 1482. Born in 1465, Sultana Moraima is the youngest daughter of Ali ibn Ibrahim ibn al-Attar, governor of Loja and his late wife Mahjuna. Aged 17 at the novel’s opening, she is also the sole wife and mother of the only children of Sultan Muhammad XI, whom she married in when she was 15. How can Moraima protect her small family from their enemies within and outside the kingdom of Granada?

Granada's Alhambra Palace, where the real Muhammad and Moraima lived
Sultana: The White Mountains, the final novel of the six-part Sultana series, begins at a tumultuous time in history, the last period of Muslim rule in Spain. Spanish chroniclers of the era recorded several details about the real Moraima and Muhammad as the one-time ruler of Moorish Granada and his young wife. Both have also been portrayed onscreen, most recently in the Spanish dramatic series, Isabel, about the unification of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. There are even brief depictions of the turbulent life of Muhammad and Ahmad, his eldest son with Moraima, in the 2016 fantasy film, Assassin’s Creed.

Muhammad XI, as depicted by Alex Martinez
in the Spanish series, Isabel
History has deemed Muhammad XI as a hapless pitiful pawn, caught up in the machinations of his mother Aisha, who reviled his father Abu’l-Hasan Ali and rebelled against him so their son could take the throne. A famous legendary saying of his mother upbraided him with, “Do not weep like a woman for what you could not defend as a man” – a ridiculous fable considering the woman who presumably spoke those words, but for some reason, the association has remained. Moraima comes down through the ages as a wilting wallflower, the sweet but pretty daughter of an aged provincial governor, overwhelmed by marriage into the Nasrid royal family and the ambitions of its powerful members. On her wedding day with Muhammad, she described by the historian Lafuente Alcantara as having “… borrowed dresses and jewelry. A chronicler invited to the wedding feast indicated that the bride wore a cloth skirt and black shawl and a white veil that almost covered her face…’pity because her features are pleasing and seductive.’ And a Muslim poet added Moraima had large expressive eyes in an admirable face, and conjectured, ‘through thick clothes one could guess the shoulders, arms, hips and waist contours as classic and opulent.”

Moraima, as depicted by Alba Garcia in
the Spanish series, Isabel
But just because Moraima and Muhammad’s past is already etched in the annals of history doesn’t mean their full story has been revealed. They enjoy a love match, rare among those of the Nasrid rulers. Muhammad is a poet at heart and often expresses his feelings in verses for his wife. While no actual record of poetry by the historical figure exists, the inspiration for the behavior of the fictional character comes from another Sultan who lived in the next century, the Ottoman Suleiman the Magnificent who wrote verses for his greatest love, Hurrem Sultan. While Moraima and Muhammad's union occurred after a chance meeting in the previous novel, their mutual regard endures across the pages of Sultana: The White Mountains, as Muhammad comes to the throne during a coup against his father. In the quest to ensure the viability of his reign, and ultimately, the survival of their family, Moraima seeks out his erstwhile allies and sometimes his rivals. Even in defiance of her husband’s wishes. More than twenty years of study has revealed the power of the Nasrid queens, many of whom were anything unlike the stereotypical view of Muslim wives, veiled and secreted behind harem walls. If Muhammad’s mother could successfully plot against a reigning monarch, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Moraima played her part in dynastic intrigue as well.

What else can readers expect of the protagonists in the novel? In keeping with the theme of the series, Moraima and Muhammad not only share a deepened respect for each other, but they want the same goal – the consolidation of their familial interests in the survival of Moorish Spain. Readers can anticipate there will be dangerous enemies attempting to thwart their plans, who pose threats inside the Moorish kingdom and outside its borders. The novel features its most powerful nemeses in Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragón, whose marriage for Spanish hegemony over the Iberian Peninsula has direct consequences in Moraima and Muhammad’s lives. There are rival court ministers and incompetent generals, dutiful bodyguards and faithful servants. Muhammad’s mother, an inherent schemer, also impacts several events. An intimate connection for Moraima also occurs with a wily former courtesan to Sultans, called The Thousander – readers will be entertained by her antics, including how she got that strange name!

Now, meet Moraima and Muhammad in the first chapter of Sultana: The White Mountains.

The House of God
Sultana Moraima

Gharnatah, Al-Andalus or Granada, Andalusia
29 Jumada al-Thani 887 AH / August 15, AD 1482

Moraima stirred just as Muhammad nuzzled her cheek. His husky voice whispered in her ear, “The ornament of the world, my precious jewel. The center of my thoughts. My immortal garden, my fragrant rose. The fulfillment of the heart. My music, my song….”
She rolled beneath the damask coverlet and reached for his hand on her shoulder. His thumb skimmed her flesh. “My guide, the brilliance of a thousand suns. My sweet waters, the solace of my soul.”
How many mornings in the past two years had they awoken like this in the bedchamber they shared? Each subsequent day had seemed the happiest of her life, though always surmounted by the arrival of the next dawn.
She sighed as he bent his head and kissed her closed eyelids. “The abode of bliss. My opulence formed in purest gold. My elegance arrayed in finery. You, who have bound me in your spell. Do not relinquish the heart, which never ceases to love.”
Her eyelids flickered and she smiled up at him. Beyond the bed, faintest morning light seeped through the lattice-covered window. She caught his bearded face between her hands and silenced him with soft pecks on his lips. Cinnamon mingled with sugar, from the dafair loaves shared at dinner, lingered on his breath.
Then Muhammad laughed against her mouth. “Were this morning’s verses so poorly composed, so unworthy of the one who inspires them?”

Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the Middle Ages in Europe. She is the author of two historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of one of the first countesses of Leicester and Surrey, Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers before the Battle of Hastings. Lisa has also completed a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two SistersSultana: The Bride Price, Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, and Sultana: The White Mountains, where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family. Her short story, The Legend Rises, which chronicles the Welsh princess Gwenllian of Gwynedd’s valiant fight against English invaders, is also available.