Sunday, December 19, 2010

#SampleSunday: "Sultana" - Chapter One

Kindle Author's David Wisehart, one of my favorite bloggers, recently started a new Twitter hashtag #SampleSunday. It's a way for new authors to share and promote their writing.

I'm hard at work on my next self-published offering, Sultana, which is set in thirteenth-century Moorish Spain. It's the tale of the last Muslim Dynasty to rule Granada. If you've known me for any length of time, you must have heard of it. You haven't? You truly have no clue what I'm talking about. Then I invite you dive right in:





A hot, dry hand covered Fatima's mouth, stifling the scream in her throat. She awoke to a nightmare unfolding in the darkness.

The figure in a black hood and cloak hovered in silence above her. As her eyes adjusted to the dimness of the shadowy chamber, she made out the images of three others, cloaked and hooded like the one who held her captive and quiet. Two of the intruders stood on either side of the olive wood door. Another treaded quietly toward the lattice window and shuttered it, before crossing the room and lingering beside the boy closest to the door.

Fatima froze, paralyzed by terror. Muhammad ibn Muhammad snored heavily, his head lolling on the silken pillow. In a deep slumber, he remained unaware of the danger they faced. The intruder bent and loomed above the boy, studying him in silence.

One thought burgeoned in Fatima’s mind, mirroring the whimpering plea muffled behind her lips. "No! Don't hurt my brother!"

She scratched and clawed wildly at the hand pressed against her mouth. Muhammad was the eldest among six sisters and their father's heir. She could never let anyone harm him. She struggled in vain. Her captor pinched her nostrils. A choking wave of terror swelled in her throat and squeezed her chest. Her eyelids fluttered and tears coursed beneath the lashes, momentarily blinding her.

On a low table at her side, the sparrow in its gilded cage chorused a cry of alarm and beat its wings against the metal bars.

The person beside her brother stood and approached, bypassing the white marble alcoves where her younger sisters Muna, Alimah, Azahra, and Tarub slept peaceably. Only the baby Nadira, born two months before, was absent. Fatima prayed Nadira’s wet-nurse would keep her safe and away from harm.

Each noiseless footfall brought the intruder closer to Fatima. Her fingers relentlessly clawed at the hands that left her gasping for breath. A tightening sensation swelled inside her throat and her eyes widened. Her body went limp and her limbs grew stiff.

The silent figure knelt beside the cage and withdrew a square of black cloth. She panicked and renewed her struggles, fearing for her pet as much as she worried for her family. The cloth went over the cage and covered it entirely. The sparrow quieted except for a few clicks and chirps.

Then blunt fingers alighted on her captor's shoulder. At this silent command, the one holding her nostrils released her nose, though the other hand remained on her mouth. The first merciful lungful of air burned at the back of her throat. Despite the harsh pain, she sucked in the next breathed with a heavy wheeze, before she stared at the intruders.

She could not discern their features in the darkness, except for heavy lidded eyes lined with kohl. Who were these people? She felt certain they did not speak to conceal their identities further. She would have known any of the eunuchs or retainers in her father’s palace by the sound of their voices alone. Had their servants betrayed the family and risen against her father?

Fists tightening at her side, she trembled with fear and a growing rage. If they had hurt her father or kept him captive like her, unaware of the threat to his children, she would…. Her hands slackened. What could she do, a girl who might now not live to see her ninth birthday?

The one who stood beside her lifted a burly hand. She glared defiantly at the intruders. If they had harmed her father, she prayed Allah would give her some means to avenge him.

Fingertips glided across her wet cheek, startling her. She jerked her head away, recoiling from the unwelcome touch. Tears trickled from the corners of her eyes.

"Take her."

The hand over her mouth withdrew for the course of one breath. In the next, a cloth saturated with a thick odor covered her lips and nose. Blackness encroached again.

Fatima awoke to the glare of lamplight. She opened her eyes to the golden light cast by iron brackets affixed to the walls. She rested on a pallet in one corner of an otherwise empty room. At its center, the lamplight shimmered and reflected in the depths of a pool lined with marble. Fatima shuddered with the realization that she could not be at home in her father’s palace.

As she sat up and looked around, a brisk wind raced inward and whipped through her curly hair, startling her. There were no windows in the room. She swiped strands of hair away from her face and marked the flow of a water channel connected to the pool, carrying the crystalline liquid outward and around a corner.

From that direction, a feminine voice echoed, “…She has demanded to see her, Abdallah. How could I have refused her?”

A man answered, “You risk too much. You should not have brought the girl here, all for the whims of an old woman.”

“A dying woman, Abdallah. My mother.”

“Still, it is a heavy burden you bear. Now, to involve the child and ask her to….”

“I ask nothing more from her than her grandfather has already demanded. He knew the risks when he married her off. If you had seen her earlier today at the wedding…. She is barely eight years old, and already a bride. She cannot begin to understand the consequences of this union, what it may mean for her and for us all. This husband of hers,” her voice seethed with disgust, "Prince Faraj has his father’s selfishness. He shall ensure his own protection, not Fatima’s. The Sultan and my husband are responsible for her final fate. She is a mere child, not some pawn in this game of her father and grandfather.”

Fatima did not recognize the voices, though each person seemed to know her. She frowned at the woman’s reference to a chess game. How could a person be a pawn? Pawns belonged on the chess board with which she and her father played in the evenings.

The man continued, “It is finished now. The girl has done her duty.”

“Duty! She had no choice. Just like me. My husband thinks I am a fool, who knows nothing of his father’s plans. He thinks to keep me an unwitting fool, a prisoner caged within the walls of his palace. I have been nothing more than his broodmare.”

“We must leave the city at first light when the gates are opened. My coming to Gharnatah cannot remain a secret for long. Are you certain of this course? Your husband shall believe the worst of you, that you have betrayed him. He shall hate you.”

“No more than I have hated him.”

Fatima snapped aside the silken coverlet draping her, and crept across the marble floor. She winced at the coldness of the tiles, and peered around the corner into the antechamber.

A brazier cast a shadow against the wall, the aroma of ambergris and musk scenting the air. The pair in the antechamber was settled before a lattice-covered window, where the water channel dipped below the plaster wall. The man knelt beside the woman on the stool. She wore silver silk robes and a black hijab covered her hair. The man’s large, olive-brown hands covered her smaller, slim ones. She looked down her aquiline nose at him.

“There is hope for Fatima. You have given it to me, Abdallah, the means to save her from the schemes of her father and grandfather.”

“Neither of them can trouble you here. Still, I regret my part in this. You risked too much in coming. I should never have asked it. I have placed you in grave danger, ‘A’isha, you and your daughter.”

She withdrew one hand from his grasp and smoothed a lock of his thick, brown hair from his forehead. “I have known danger most of my life, Abdallah, ever since I married the Crown Prince of Gharnatah. Why should tonight be any different?”

He brought her hand to his lips and kissed the fingertips. Fatima smothered a sharp, involuntary cry behind her hands, but not quietly enough. The pair jerked toward her.

The woman’s wide, green eyes sparkled like emeralds. At first, Fatima imagined those eyes glistened with tears, but that could not be true. Fatima had glimpsed her only briefly, a few times in the past. She had never seen her cry.

Fatima’s hands fell at her side, shaking. “How could you do this to my father? Steal me away? Be here with another man? Why are you letting him,” she stabbed her finger at the stranger, “touch you?”

The woman rose and approached, her slim fingers clasped together. Her pallid face resembled a stone carving in the garden – beautiful, but cold and hard. She had rejected the charms of the world around her and the joys within it, even her children.

The man behind her stood. “Ignorant child, you know nothing of what you are speaking. You are being disrespectful to your mother.”

The woman hushed him. “Do not chide her, brother. If Fatima is ignorant or willful, it is because her father and grandfather have allowed her to be so.” She paused and held out her hand. “Come, daughter, it is time you learned the truth.”

Fatima drew back. “Don’t touch me! You’re not my mother, you never were.”

Comments are always welcome. Next Sunday: the second half of Sultana, Chapter One.


Linda S. Prather, Author said...

Wow! Fantasy is not a genre I read a lot, but occasionally I run across an author who piques my interest with great writing and a good story. You have both, and I would definitely read more of this.

Lisa Yarde said...

Hi, thanks for reading the sample. This is actually one of those cases where truth is stranger than fiction LOL.

Victoria Dixon said...

What a great beginning, Lisa! This had me glued.

I was a little confused at the beginning because I thought 1. Fatima was older than she is. 2. You describe her brother as "the boy closest to the door." Then the next sentence gives the name of a man sleeping on a pillow. Since the boy is close to a door, I took him to be a servant asleep by the door and the man on the pillow was her husband. (I'm positive this is why I thought her older, btw.) If you can say something along the lines of, her brother slept on the side of the bed closest to the door - only much better, LOL - that would help.
Otherwise, this was marvelous. Well done!

Lisa Yarde said...

Hey Victoria, thanks for stopping by the blog. Your comment on Fatima is spot on - I've always struggled with her scenes as a child. It's still hard to grasp the enormity of everything she faced at that age, being a child bride and having that wedding start a civil war. Guess that's what edits are for next month.

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