Sunday, January 16, 2011
#SampleSunday: Sultana's Legacy, Chapter Three
Sultana's Legacy begins more than a decade after the events that ended in Sultana. My heroine Fatima faces greater conflicts. Her devotion to her father and husband remains the same, but the family dynamic is shifting, as in this scene:
Three: Fathers and Sons, Part II
Gharnatah, al-Andalus: Dhu’l-Qada 691 AH (Granada, Andalusia: November 1292 CE)
Fatima stood alone in the upper storey apartments of her father, awaiting his arrival. She gripped his bejeweled khanjar. Lapis lazuli and gold filigree covered the dagger's leather sheath in ornate, swirling designs. She removed the weapon from its encasing. It had been her grandfather’s dagger. Her father kept it among the possessions he prized for display in his quarters. The metal felt cold but light against her palm. How many people had her grandfather killed with it?
“Are you contemplating murder, daughter?”
Startled by her father’s sudden appearance, her hand closed on the blade. He rushed to her and she opened her hand, revealing a long, bloody gash. He took the dagger, while she dipped her hand in the ornate fountain at the corner of the room. Afterward, she accepted a clean cloth and bound the wound.
“No more playing with daggers for you,” he said. “At least, not until I’m around to save you.”
She mimicked his animated smile, but her mood did not allow for levity. His expression smoothed. He must have sensed the tension roiling inside her.
“Your note was delivered to me just after my meeting with the council. What could be so urgent, Fatima? Has something happened to one of my grandchildren?”
“No, I have had no news from Malaka since my arrival a few days ago. Niranjan knows well enough to write if something is wrong with the children. They miss you and long to see you, again.”
He turned toward the fountain. “Fatima, you know my grandchildren are welcome at any time in Gharnatah.”
“Even if their father is not?”
Her shaking hand closed on his shoulder. He stiffened at her touch. Despite it, she willed courage into her voice.
“Father, this cannot continue. How long shall you remain at odds with my husband?”
He scowled into the basin of the fountain. The ripples of water made the reflection of his face appear blurred and older than his fifty-eight years. Years had passed since they last saw each other, but was it so long that he should now seem decrepit to her eyes?
“Fatima, do not speak of matters that do not concern you.”
She shook her head. “How can you say so? You are my father and Faraj is my husband. Both of you are the two men I love most in this world.”
“His actions have shamed me before the Marinids. I cannot ask you to choose between your father and your husband. You must decide.”
He shuffled toward his writing desk and sank down on the cushioned stool with a grunt. She eyed him through vision blurred by unshed tears.
The years had changed him. His anger rose swiftly these days. He had even shouted at Shams ed-Duna yesterday evening, after her cook burnt his favorite dish of chicken with herbs. Although he apologized later to his queen with a gift of a turquoise and gold filigree necklace, Fatima had never seen her stepmother so hurt.
Over his shoulder, he asked, “Did you come home only to plead for forgiveness for your husband?”
She stared at his rigid back. “No. There is something else. Father, I have always trusted your judgment….”
He turned to her and raised a dismissive hand. “Then, trust it in matters concerning your husband. Consider him lucky that he lives and remains the governor of Malaka. If he were any other man, I would have had him executed for his defiance. It is my right.”
Fatima nodded and bowed before him, though her heart pounded a tattoo behind her chest. He gestured toward a carved cedar stool beside his seat. She settled next to him, gathering the silken folds of her jubba around her. Her stomach knotted and she drew a deep breath before speaking.
“Father, I must talk with you about the Crown Prince.”
He raised one dark russet-colored eyebrow in a questioning slant. “Your brother? What mischief has Muhammad done now?”
“He has done nothing wrong.”
How her heart lurched and tore at that lie, but Muhammad’s petty actions the day before paled in enormity to the risk he posed to her father’s entire legacy.
“Father, you know I would not speak ill against my own brother without just cause. I am concerned for Muhammad and the throne he shall inherit.”
She stood and paced for a time. Her father’s watchful gaze followed her. “Fatima, speak plainly.”
She gathered strength from his obvious interest. If he did not care what she thought, he would have dismissed her curtly without entertaining further discussion. He deserved the truth, even if she went against her stepmother and Nur al-Sabah’s objections. She had to protect them and her father. None of them knew the sort of man Muhammad truly was, but she did. Her own brother had tried to murder her and her unborn son. A man who could do that to a once beloved sister was capable of anything.
“Muhammad should be dearer to me than the sons of Shams ed-Duna and Nur al-Sabah, because he is the only son of my mother.” She paused, gauging his reaction. When he gave her a look of uneasy puzzlement, she rushed on. “Still, I have long suspected that his reckless nature as a child would make him a dangerous man. He cannot follow you on the throne of Gharnatah.”
Her father stood. “You want me to deny my eldest son the succession? Do you forget the traditions my late father established, that it is the eldest son who should rule?”
Although his tone was even, the words belied his expression; a knitted brow, the veins in his neck standing out in livid ridges while his eyes raked over her face.
“My grandfather chose you as his successor because you are a wise and good man. You have always held the conviction to do what is right and the humility to admit when you are wrong. My brother does not have these qualities. He is not fit to rule.”
He slumped on his seat again, shaking his head. “You have requested an audience only to tell me who should sit on my throne? You dare much, my daughter.”
“Father, I mean no disrespect.”
His gaze narrowed. “Yet, you show me much the same, as your own husband did some years ago in this very place! His bad habits have affected you, too.”
Mistrust darkened his expression. She had seen that look before, directed at other people.
“Do you deny that Muhammad is unpredictable?”
“He is my son, as you are my daughter! Have you no loyalty, even to him, now? Is your only duty to your husband?”
“Father, this matter we speak of has naught to do with the conflict between you and Faraj. The future of your country is at stake. Would you see your son destroy your legacy of learning and just laws, out of some misplaced sentiment towards him?”
“Misplaced sentiment!” His voice thundered through the room. “You dare call my love for him ‘misplaced sentiment’ and expect me to listen. I thought you knew my heart and the honor with which I still revere his mother….”
“She is gone, Father. Gone! Do you think ‘A’isha would know a mother’s love and pride in Muhammad?”
“She never loved him! She never loved anyone of you! She abandoned you for the sake of the Ashqilula. Or, do you forget that, too?”
She turned away, as memories flooded her mind. Now that she was a mother, she understood the complexity of a parent’s emotions. If anything, her experiences as a child had taught her to show each of her children her devotion, so that they might always be certain of her love.
“It is the past, Father, it cannot be undone. ‘A’isha’s son does not honor you. Muhammad squanders the privileges you have given him. If he succeeds you, he shall make a mockery of every achievement you have attained.”
She knelt before him and grasped his hand. He pulled it away, but she reached for him, again. “I do not make these claims with an easy heart, or take pleasure in my warnings. Muhammad can never become Sultan of Gharnatah. If you love your people, if you love this land of your children’s birth, do not allow pride and emotion to sway you. Your great father taught you that the future of Gharnatah is all that matters. If you would see the prosperity of this state continue, do not let Muhammad inherit. Do not leave such a legacy.”
He closed his eyes, blotting out the sight of her. She willed him to open them again, but he did not.
“Father, please think upon all I have said.”
“You have said quite enough, Fatima. Leave me now, before I forget that you are the daughter I have loved and treasured above all your sisters. Just as you have forgotten that I am your honored father, and your duty owed to me.”
She raised the hem of his jubba to her lips and forehead. He opened his eyes then, but stared straight at the alabaster wall, his face like a statue carved of stone. She rose and left him. The door closed with a resounding thud at her back.
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