Sunday, January 23, 2011
#SampleSunday: Sultana's Legacy, Chapter Fifteen
Chapter 15 - The Watchtower
Malaka, al-Andalus: Dhu’l-Hijja 704 AH (Malaga, Andalusia: July 1305 CE)
Fatima returned from her solitary ride in the late afternoon. Faraj was absent, but she did not inquire as to his whereabouts. She dismounted just outside the stables and slapped the reins into the waiting hands of a stable boy. Niranjan approached, bowing stiffly.
She grasped his hands and squeezed with deep affection. “You’ve returned at last. Your trip to the slave market at Madinah Antaqirah was a successful venture?”
“As you knew it must be, my Sultana.”
The gravity of his sullen tone made her withdraw her touch. “You do not approve of my choice.”
“I do not, my Sultana. What will your husband say?”
She drew back. “He should thank me for a show of wifely devotion.”
“Forgive my boldness, my Sultana, but I doubt that very much.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “You were ever bold, loyal one. You’ve never needed to ask forgiveness before.”
They walked the pathway together, he in his customary position just at her back. “There is another matter we must discuss, my Sultana. I have kept ties to the servants of your father’s household in Gharnatah. Praise be to God that the Sultan has not murdered them all. One of the eunuchs has informed me of the reason the Sultan shall not attend your daughter’s wedding.”
Fatima slowed and turned to him. “He has refused Faraj’s invitation? I do not know why my husband bothered to extend it.”
“It was the proper thing to do, of which the Sultana is well aware.” Niranjan’s gaze narrowed on her. For a moment, a spark of anger flared at his attempt to chide her, but then she recalled his lifelong devotion. For it, she could forgive him anything.
She continued walking, his footsteps crunching the gravel behind her. “Speak then. Why won’t he come to Malaka?”
“One of his concubines has delivered of a child. It is as the court astrologers predicted, the long-awaited heir.”
Fatima’s heart thudded. “A boy?”
“A boy, my Sultana.”
She grasped the blue-black prayer beads hanging from her belt. A pained breath wheezed between her lips. She stopped and face him. “Then we must do something about him.”
He halted at her side, his sheepish gaze downcast. He mumbled, “I do not see what we can do from here at Malaka.”
She shook her head. “Can you not?”
A long, tense silence passed before Niranjan sighed. “My Sultana, I have done much to aid you against the Sultan. I have kept your secrets from your husband, even from my own sisters. This is a dangerous path you tread. You are advocating the murder of a woman and her child….”
“A child that shall ruin our plans forever! Don’t you see? If this child, a male heir lives, the Sultan shall have what he most desires in life. No one shall dare support my brother Nasr’s claim to the throne, if Gharnatah already has an heir. I cannot allow that to happen! The blood of my father demands an end to the Sultan’s reign.” She paused and cast a glare at him. “You have aided me before….”
“The murder of Ibrahim of Ashqilula was just. The man killed your mother. He owed the debt of blood. But this is different. This innocent child and his mother are….”
“They are simply obstacles to be removed.”
Niranjan drew back with a sharp cry of disgust, but she met his gaze unflinching.
“My Sultana, I marvel at how hard you have become. Where is the good and sweet lady I knew from her childhood? The kind mistress whom I have served and loved?”
She turned away from him. In the privacy of her chamber at night, she had often wondered the same thing. Nothing gave her any pleasure. Not even the celebration of her third daughter’s marriage within a few weeks stirred her heart to joy. She lived only for vengeance now. It comforted her in the lonely dark of night, and gave her the will to survive the Sultan’s tyranny each day.
When Niranjan touched her arm timidly, she jerked away from him. “Do not. I shall tell you where your kind and good mistress is.” Her voice sunk to a low whisper. “She lies dead and buried at Gharnatah, beside her murdered father.” She raised her chin a notch, eyeing him. “I made a sacred vow to avenge him. If you remain loyal to me and my cause, then get rid of the slave and her child.”
“I would not be your dutiful servant if I did not caution you against this move. If you have become so cold and ruthless that you no longer care for the sanctity of life, then the Sultan has already won. He shall have turned you into a likeness of himself.”
She shook her head. “You do not understand, my loyal one. To defeat him, I must be like him. I must be ruthless. I must be without care. How else can I avenge the deaths of those he has taken from me?”
“This cannot bring your noble father, or the kadin Nur-al-Sabah or anyone else back from the grave. This slave girl and her son are blameless….”
“Yes, yet more innocent lives that must suffer because the Sultan! The woman and her son must die if Nasr is to take the throne.” Her chest tightened, rising and falling rapidly with each breath. She clutched at the point where her heart raced.
When she resumed walking the pebble path, he fell into step beside her. They mounted the steps together.
“I shall hasten to Gharnatah, my Sultana. I must first learn whether the slave nurses her child.”
“Why is that important?”
“If she does, there are certain poisons which, if introduced into the mother’s body would slowly weaken her, but shall certainly kill the child.”
Fatima nodded. “I don’t care how you do it, only be certain that it is done before you return to Malaka.”
Niranjan stopped as they reached the portico of columns. “It shall be done, my Sultana. I go to my duty with a heavy heart full of sorrow for you.”
She paused and eyed him over her shoulder. “Save your pity for the Sultan. He shall need it when this is over.”
Niranjan whispered, “It saddens me to see you this way. You risk everything to pursue this course, but it may cost you everyone you hold dear.”
Thanks for stopping by the blog for my last installment of Sultana's Legacy. The book will be out this fall. In the meantime, please re-tweet this post if you liked it.
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