A/N – I first read "The Lions of Al-Rassan" some eight years ago. I'm still hopelessly in love. This is going to be a place for all my "Lions" stuff, because I know I'm not going to be able to stop at one.
Disclaimer – "Lions" is the property of Guy Gavriel Kay and his publishers, agents etc. I'm just playing.
Rodrigo Belmonte had been ridiculously young, all of eighteen, nineteen, in the last, golden years of the Khalifate, when Raimundo had fallen afoul of his father and been exiled to Al-Rassan. Drawn by the promise of travel and adventure, captivated, as always, by Raimundo's mad, hotheaded, often selfish charm, he'd accompanied the prince on his journey south. Together, they'd been awed by the great size and diversity of even the least of the Asharite cities; Fezana had intimidated, Lonza had enchanted, and Cartada had overwhelmed them.
Silvenes, the greatest city of the peninsula, in the shadow of the heartbreaking beauty of the Al-Fontina, had captivated them with its glorious history, its brilliant culture, and its rich humanity. There they stayed, Raimundo, Rodrigo and the others who had followed them into exile amongst the infidel, in a rich house with a slow-trickling fountain in the courtyard, and an orange tree that bloomed with sweet-smelling flowers. In the market near their lodgings, star-born Asharites, wandering Kindath and Jaddites alike mingled with relative freedom, creating, in their interactions, something extraordinary; it was a world apart from the steel and mud and blood of life in Esperana, where he'd ridden to war at twelve years old, and had been a hardened killer at fourteen.
It was here, in this great, beautiful, diverse city, where the streets, taverns and palaces were filled with music and debate and laughter, that Rodrigo had developed his liking for poetry. It had begun with an infatuation with a courtesan's glorious kohl-lined eyes, and a desperate, fumbling search for something that would impress her. Raimundo, laughing, had directed him to a scribbling hack, who had charged him an exorbitant sum for six lines of mediocre verse. After that, the dark-eyed lady had introduced him to a place where he could hear true poetry spoken –
There, in that small, poorly lit common room, he'd first heard the verses of the young poet-lord of Aljais. The experts had praised them, and Rodrigo, who was no expert, had thought them pleasing – it had been very early, then, in ibn Khairan's career, before he became notorious for something far removed from his poetry.
Strange, now, to think of how close they had come to meeting then, all those years ago.
Nearly twenty years later the Khalifate was gone, Silvenes and the Al-Fontina had fallen, and Raimundo was dead. Rodrigo, exiled once more, stood in the palace of the king of Ragosa and stared at a man he had never before seen, but who he knew immediately –
Rodrigo wondered what he had been like, that young, bright poet, before the one, irrevocable act that had defined his life forever. He wondered what they might have shared, in that brilliant city, before the last fall of the Khalifate had destroyed something extraordinary in this harsh, cruel world.