Sunday, December 30, 2012

Meet the Characters of Sultana: Two Sisters - Juan Manuel Gomero

Esperanza and her counterpart Miriam find themselves enslaved in Sultana: Two Sisters, sold by Ahmed al-Qurtubi and his nephew Fadil to a rich merchant, Juan Manuel Gomero. Men like Juan Manuel Gomero would have made their wealth from brokering profitable sales of slaves; men, women and children captured in Moorish raids along the towns that bordered the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. Beautiful women, like Esperanza and Miriam, would be considered suitable for concubinage. Private auctions were usually arranged for the female slaves sold to noble families and the Nasrid rulers of Granada, unlike the public display depicted below in Jean-Leon Gerome's Orientalist classic, The Slave Market. In medieval Spain, a bondwoman's origins did not prevent her children from attaining their freedom or prestige, even a crown. The Sultan Abu'l-Juyush Nasr, maternal great uncle of Sultan Yusuf in my latest title, was the product of a union between Sultan Muhammad II and a Christian concubine.

Of all the characters of Sultana: Two Sisters, Juan Manuel caused the most conflicted feelings. He has no qualms about gaining profit from the miserable existence of others. Inspiration for his hardened personality came from knowledge of attitudes during other historic slave-holding periods, including the Roman Empire and the Atlantic slave trade. As Miriam quickly discovers, her plight has no affect on this cultured and tolerant man.

Juan Manuel approached Miriam. He scrutinized her with a frown and then lifted an eyebrow. “You have spoiled this one, Ahmed. Look at these scars, that bruise, and this cut on her face. My patrons have very specific desires. All of my stock must be beautiful and free from blemish. You never mentioned she was pregnant either. I bargained for a midwife to attest to the younger one’s virginity, not for the sake of a breeding woman! Take this one away and make what profit you can in the market.”
Bitterness assailed Miriam. How dare this preening peacock dismiss her, especially after he had shown excessive reflection on Esperanza’s bland appearance?
Ahmed clasped his hands together. “I thought you would be pleased to know she is fertile. I could sell the mother and the unborn child for twenty maravedies less than the agreed upon price. You would gain two slaves at a bargain.”
“Only twenty gold coins less? Bah! You presume I still wish to buy her. You do not fool me when it’s clear you are eager to rid yourself of the woman.”
“You mistake me. She is yours. Do not quibble over a few scratches. They will fade.”
“In a month? I expected to auction both females at that time.” 
Miriam sucked in her breath. Juan Manuel's home would not be their final destination.

In Esperanza's encounter with the man, he teases at knowing more about her heritage than she does. She discovers something enigmatic about him, a side he does not hint at with others.

When she opened her eyes, Esperanza first became aware of the unusual tiling of the floor, another random design. Then she realized the brown-haired man who had inspected her the day before now sat on the stool. His elbows pressed against his knees and his chin propped up his fists. He wore a black silken pellote trimmed with gold braid. Beneath the sideless surcoat, the sleeves of a green tunic hid his fingers.
She tugged the damp cover around her naked form and sat up. “What are you doing here?”
He laughed in a rumbling, throaty voice. “I am master of the house and all who dwell herein.”
“Still, you should not be alone with me.”
“Why? You must know my coin built this bathhouse, provides every comfort you have experienced within it. Your youth cannot excuse ignorance. What is your age?”
“I have lived for fourteen years.”
“Tell me, is your full name Esperanza Peralta?”
“It is! I have no reason to lie.”
His gaze probed her face. Something unexpected glinted in his golden gaze. She thought she recognized sympathy, but his intent gaze suggested another elusive emotion.
. I should have known you by your features.”
Her temple pulsed and her breath quickened. “Why? You have never met me before now. My father never traveled to Andalusia.”
“Perhaps everything is not as you believe. Did he ever tell you how he came by the Peralta name, its origins?”
“If he knew, he did not say.”
“I suppose not. And you were born in Castilla-Leon?”
“At Talavera—”
“De la Reina,” he finished for her. “I should have guessed that too.”

How is a stranger, who has only recently met the heroine, able to discern so much from her looks? I promise Juan Manuel has much more to share with Esperanza as the story progresses!

Devoted to his business, Juan Manuel relies on a trusted slave to introduce the women to Moorish customs and ensure their cooperation. Next time, meet Sadiya, a beautiful French girl entrusted by her master with aiding's Esperanza adjustment to life as a slave in Moorish Spain.         

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