Decades before Cristoforo Colombo had set sail from Spain, bound for the East, by sailing west, Asif al-Khidr had known of the adventures and voyages of heroes in ancient times. From the exploits of Odysseus to the Alexander Romance, tales of forbidden lands and mythical creatures had captured his imagination. As the son of an alchemist, the prospect of journeying in search of wonders had merely been a fantasy.
Then fate intervened.
When the Crown of Castile ordered Muslims in Spain to convert to Catholicism, many had sought passage out of the Iberian Peninsula. Those who could not secure safe passage, due to health or lack of financial resources were forcibly converted, and came to be known as the Moriscos. Among them was Asif’s father, Tariq al-Khidr.
In the twilight of his life, Tariq al-Khidr knew that his failing health prevented him from surviving any voyage. He preferred to die a Muslim on the land where he had been born, rather than to suffer the fate of the sea.
For his son, however he wanted a greater destiny. The chance to see this come to fruition presented itself when the Seducer of Souls came to him in a dream. He promised Tariq that Asif’s journey would be in the service of God.
“You lie!” Tariq said. He recognized the Seducer of Souls as Ilblis.
“I cannot lie.” Ilblis replied. “I am an angel. I am His servant. And everything I do is for the kingdom of Heaven, and the glory of God.”
Tariq refused to believe him until he asked why the Seducer of Souls wanted his son. It was then that Ilblis first spoke of Cristoforo Colombo and Amerigo Vespucci, and their clandestine journey to the New World. He revealed their plan to thwart the Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca, who had convinced Queen Isabella de Castile to persecute the Believers.
“What role will Asif play in this endeavor?”
“Everything he has learned in your home about faith and alchemy and legend will serve to aide the explorers.”
“To what end?” Tariq al-Khidr asked.
“To protect the secret of Heaven.”
Tariq al-Khidr woke with a start at dawn. He roused Asif, and together they sought the Italians that Ilblis had mentioned in his dream. They found them at the port as they loaded their ships. Tariq offered them all the gold he possessed to secure his son’s passage.
But gold they did not need, for Amerigo Vespucci had wealth as the head of the most powerful bank in Europe. Tariq asked them to employ Asif so that he may earn his passage, as he was well versed in cartography and navigation and knew the workings of a ship. They had no use for Asif in that regard either, since they were experts in those fields as well.
Dejected, Tariq al-Khidr turned to his son and lowered his eyes. “Come, let us see what fate awaits us at the edge of a sword.”
“Wait.” Cristoforo Colombo stepped off the ship. “What is your trade?”
“Alchemy.” Asif al-Khidr replied.
Cristoforo Colombo smiled. “What do you know of the Philosopher’s Stone?”
“It is an allegory that represents the purification of the human body and soul.” Asif al-Khidr said.
“Then it does not exist?” Cristoforo asked.
“Not in the form that you think.” Asif stepped forward.
“Enlighten us.” Amerigo interjected.
“The stone itself represents the human body. The philosopher represents the soul. Immortality is achieved when a man bathes in and consumes the elixir of life.”
“And where does one find the elixir of life?” Cristoforo Colombo asked.
“It is the water that flows from the river of the underworld and sprouts from a spring in the undiscovered country.” Asif al-Khidr said.
“Do you know where that is?” Amerigo Vespucci could not resist asking.
“Aye,” Asif nodded.
Satisfied with his reply, Amerigo Vespucci and Cristoforo Colombo invited Asif al-Khidr to join them on their journey to the New World. Whereas greed and ambition had fueled the hearts of other men, dreams of immortality and adventure propelled these three on a mission from God.