14 April 2011

Excerpt Thursday: Lisa J. Yarde

This week on Excerpt Thursday, we're welcoming longtime contributor Lisa J. Yarde, as she celebrates the release of her latest novel, Sultana, set in thirteenth century Spain. It's available now. Join us Sunday, when Lisa will be here to talk about her book and give away both paperback and Kindle copies! Here's the blurb:

         In thirteenth-century Moorish Spain, the realm of Granada is in crisis. The union of Fatima, granddaughter of the Sultan of Granada, with the Sultan’s nephew Faraj has fractured the nation. A bitter civil war escalates and endangers both Fatima and Faraj’s lives.

All her life, Fatima has sheltered in lavish palaces where danger has never intruded, until now. A precocious child and the unwitting pawn of her family, she soon learns how her marriage may determine her future and the fate of Granada. Her husband Faraj has his own qualms about their union. At a young age, he witnessed the deaths of his parents and discovered how affluence and power offers little protection against indomitable enemies. Guilt and fears plague him. Determined to carve his own destiny, Faraj struggles to regain his lost inheritance and avenge his murdered family.

Throughout the rugged frontiers of southern Spain, the burgeoning Christian kingdoms in the north and the desert states of North Africa, Fatima and Faraj survive ruthless murderers and intrigues. They unite against common enemies bent on destroying the last Moorish dynasty. While Fatima and Faraj establish a powerful bond, the atmosphere of deceit creates opportunities for mistrust and tests their love.

Excerpt from Chapter 25 of Sultana

Fatima learns that her greatest wish is within her grasp and a great destiny lies ahead of her.

Gharnatah, al-Andalus: Safar 677 AH (Granada, Andalusia: July AD 1278)

Fatima endured seven weeks of bitter silence, during which she received no word from Faraj. Her father shared the daily dispatches on the reclamation of the port at al-Jazirah al-Khadra and the defense against the Castillans. Still, no word arrived of her husband’s fate. She retreated into a shell of suffering, filled with self-recrimination. The remembrance of his final words offered little comfort in the emptiness of her bedchamber at night.

On the first cool day of the summer, Sultana Shams ed-Duna insisted she accompany her and the kadin Nur al-Sabah to the souk of Gharnatah. Her stepmother refused Fatima’s initial rebuff.

After prayers, the trio, in the company of Niranjan, the palace guard and some servants, took the route down the Sabika hill and across the bridge of the Hadarro River. The Qaysariyya spread across the dun-brown plain at the south of the city, the marketplace extending from the foot of the Sabika hill to the red brick walls of Gharnatah. Jewish and Christian merchants plied their trade alongside their Moorish counterparts, the local goldsmiths, armories, shoemakers, blacksmiths and textile makers.

The Sultan’s guards jostled everyone and made a clear path for the women. Fatima shrank from the resentful gazes of those displaced by the guards’ rough handling. She kept close to Shams ed-Duna and Nur al-Sabah, who doggedly haggled with the market sellers, while their slaves idled alongside the narrow streets and alleyways. Merchants offered slaves from faraway lands, bartering away their lives as easily as the silk, leather goods, brocades, ivory and olive oil sold in the souk.

The stench of piss and offal in the streets vied with ambergris, musk and incense from a nearby stall. Fatima gripped her stomach, as a wave of dizziness overcame her.

The kadin frowned at her. “Are you unwell?”

“I hadn’t expected it to be so crowded, or smell so bad.”

“Look, it’s a symbol of the Nauar.” Shams pointed to a burnished copper wheel dangling from a tent post under a faded, blue awning. “I have not seen one since I left Fés el-Bali.”

Nur al-Sabah peered over her shoulder. “Hmm, the Gypsies. Is it true they foretell the future?”

Fatima shook her head. “What nonsense they must teach in Christian households. The Nauar speak only in riddles to confuse and delude the mind.”

Shams asked, “How can you be so certain? Have you ever been to one?”

Fatima replied, “I wouldn’t dare. Sorcery and divination is the work of the court astrologer. Ask him anything you would like. I’m sure Father wouldn’t object.”

Then, a heavily veiled woman followed by two eunuchs exited the shop. One of the slaves pressed two silver dirhams into the olive brown hand of a little girl with bulging, black eyes. She took the coins and disappeared into the tent. The other eunuch handed his mistress a silken kerchief. She dabbed at the corners of her eyes, before bustling through the marketplace, her slaves following.

“I’d like to go in.” Nur al-Sabah cupped the roundness of her belly jutting beneath the green silk robe. “The court astrologer has promised another girl, but I know the Sultan wants a son. Perhaps the Nauar might know for certain.”

Fatima sniffed at this and looked away. She did not resent Nur al-Sabah’s desire anymore. Still, her father did not need more sons. He already had her brother Muhammad and now Shams ed-Duna’s boy.

Shams ed-Duna tugged at her hand. “What harm could there be if you came with us, Fatima?”

She pulled away. “I forbid it!”

Shams ed-Duna chuckled and Nur al-Sabah rolled her eyes.

Fatima gritted her teeth together and then expelled a sighing breath. “Very well, I’ll indulge you both in this foolishness. Come, let us see this fraud.”

They crossed the street, avoiding refuse and excrement, while a cadre of the guards and their servants surrounded the stall. Niranjan held aside the low curtain hanging over the entryway. Fatima glanced at him briefly, but he averted his eyes from her. She entered first and asked the little girl with black eyes for the fortune-teller. She led them behind a cloth curtain and gestured to the lone seat at a table.

Behind it, a shriveled figure with lips drawn tight over her teeth peered at them in silence. A ring of seashells, all oddly shaped, dotted the edge of the table, with one black pebble in the center. Fatima grinned at this poor mockery of mystic symbolism, but Shams ed-Duna urged her forward.

The gypsy woman bowed her head. “Peace be with you.”

Fatima asked, “And with you. Are you the one who speaks of the future?”

“Do you wish to know the future, noble one?”

Ignoring Nur al-Sabah’s gasp, Fatima leaned forward. “Why do you call me ‘noble one’ when you do not know me?”

“It is what you are.” The woman turned to the girl hovering at her side. Whispering in some language other than Arabic, she waved the girl away. The child soon returned with a cup of fragrant tisane, which the woman offered to Fatima. “It cannot harm you.”

Fatima glared at her companions, both of whom nodded. She drank the brew, bitter to the tongue at first, but sweeter as she continued. She finished and handed the cup to the woman, who said, “If you could swirl the cup, noble one?”

Fatima ground her teeth together, but complied. She set the vessel down with an abrupt clank. A few of the leaves clung to the sides and bottom. Her gaze fixed on the woman who nodded. “We must wait for the leaves to settle.”

When Fatima groaned, Shams pressed a hand against her arm. “Be patient.”

After an interim, the gypsy asked, “What is it that you wish to know, noble one?”

Fatima countered, “Tell me what you see.”

The woman stared into the cup and after a brief interval, she pronounced, “The future of Gharnatah lies within you.”

Fatima smiled at her companions. “You see? An answer, if I can call it such, without any meaning. Just as I expected.” She stood and looked down her nose at the gypsy. “Can your leaves tell you anything about me?”

The woman stated, “Nothing you would believe, princess of Gharnatah.”

Nur al-Sabah pecked at her arm and whispered something, but Fatima stilled her and leaned toward the gypsy. “Why do you call me a princess?”

“It is what you are. As I have said, the future of Gharnatah lies within you. Already, you carry one of its heirs in your womb, your son, who shall become the Sultan of Gharnatah.”

Shams ed-Duna pressed her hand against Fatima’s shoulder, but she shrugged her stepmother off. “If you knew anything of me, you would know that no child of mine could ever be Sultan. It is treason to suggest it, when the Sultan already has an heir. Besides, I would know if I am with child.”

“I speak only of what I see, noble one. You are a princess of Gharnatah. You carry a son. One day, he shall become the Sultan. Such is the fate that awaits you, whether you would wish it or not.”

Lisa J. Yarde is a historical fiction author. Her novels ON FALCON'S WINGS, an epic medieval novel chronicling the starstruck romance between Norman and Saxon lovers, and SULTANA, set during a turbulent period of thirteenth century Spain, are available now.

2 comments:

Pamala Knight said...

Oh yay! Lisa's such an excellent writer and I'm anxious to read this new and intriguing tale. Thanks for sharing the excerpt.

librarypat said...

Thank you for the excerpt. It sets up much of what is to come by the sound of it.