15 September 2011

Excerpt Thursday: Sultana's Legacy

This week on Excerpt Thursday, we're welcoming historical author and regular contributor, Lisa J. Yarde, with an excerpt from her upcoming novel, SULTANA'S LEGACY, the sequel to SULTANA. The novel will be available November 2011. Join us on Sunday, when Lisa will be here to talk about the book and give away a copy, in the winner's preferred format! Here's the blurb:

In thirteenth-century Moorish Spain, the Sultanate of Granada faces a bleak future, as a tyrant seizes control.

Fatima, the daughter of a Sultan, and her devoted husband Faraj have enjoyed years of peace and prosperity. Now, a power-hungry madman claims the throne. He murders almost everyone Fatima holds dear. His reign fractures a weakened Sultanate, under siege from Christian kingdoms to the north and Moorish dynasties in the south.

Fatima must preserve the legacy of her forefathers at all costs. She risks everything, even the love and trust of her husband. Amidst treachery and intrigue, she stands alone against her adversaries, determined to avenge terrible losses. Can she survive the test of divided loyalties and shocking betrayals?

**An Excerpt from Sultana's Legacy**

After prayers, the mid-afternoon sun beat down on the heads of guests at the walima, the marriage banquet. With her daughter Leila attentive to the guests, Fatima escaped the crowded, open-air hall for the belvedere by the sea. As she approached the exit, voices drifted from beyond the door.
Fatima ducked into a shadowy corner and peered around the wall. Faraj and her father rested their hands on the marble ledge.
The Sultan said, “You have prospered here. You have made my daughter happy. I had no cause to doubt you.”
Faraj replied, “Fatima is very dear to me and not only because she is your daughter.”
Fatima’s father straightened and rubbed the spindly arms under his robe. “I should move the capital to the coast, where it is temperate all year round. I believe my kadin Nur would like it.”
Faraj chuckled. “Fatima would be pleased also. She misses the company of your favorite Nur and her stepmother Shams ed-Duna.”
Fatima leaned against the wall behind her with a sigh. Her father and husband spoke as friends of old, as if the nightmare of the past years had not happened. Then the men regarded each other.
Faraj said, “Forgive me for the errors of the past, my Sultan.”
“Only if you would do the same for me,” her father replied. “I let myself be misguided about you. I was wrong to do so. You are a good man, a loyal governor, a worthy husband to my daughter and a blessing for my grandchildren. I ask your forgiveness too.”
Tears pricked at Fatima’s eyes. As she turned away, the sea breeze picked up again and caught the hem of her jubba. The white silk and silver brocaded folds of the robe lapped at the wall.
Her father’s voice beckoned and she stepped into the light. “I did not mean to intrude upon you and my husband.”
“You are always welcome,” her father said, holding out his hand. She rushed to his side and laced her fingers with his. His gnarled hand shook in her hold.
“Are you well, Father?” She studied the fine lines etched in his forehead.
He nodded. “I am overcome by the joy of this occasion. If you have a moment before you return to your daughter’s wedding guests, may we speak in private?”
“As you wish, Father.”
She glanced at Faraj. He bowed at the waist and then grinned at the Sultan, who said, “You shall return with me to Gharnatah in a month’s time. I need your counsel.”
Faraj nodded. “I am yours to command, my Sultan.”
He pressed a hand to Fatima’s shoulder. She squeezed her beloved’s lean fingers and smiled at him, before he left them.
She slid her arms around her father’s waist and pressed her cheek against his barrel chest. “It’s so good to have you here, for Leila’s sake. You have honored my eldest daughter with your gift and your blessing.”
“I should have done more when Leila was a child. Now, my granddaughter is a woman. One day, she shall have children of her own. I have not spent enough time with my grandchildren. I should have known them much better than I do.”
“It is the burden of your power. You shall always be my father and the grandfather of my children. Foremost, you are Sultan of Gharnatah. You belong to your people, not to us. It has always been so. I knew how it would be from the moment you ascended the throne. It has never diminished the love in my heart, the honor with which I revere you, as my father and lord of my life.”
He sighed. “I have not always deserved your love and respect. I feared I might not be welcome here today, after all the things I have said and done to your husband. To you.”
“Father, that is all in the past. You and Faraj have forgiven each other. My heart is whole again, not torn between the love that I would bear a father and a husband, once at war with each other.”
“I have made many mistakes in these long years. Things I must undo. It is part of why I came to you and Faraj, to seek your forgiveness.”
“You have it. Oh Father, you shall always have it!”
Fatima hugged him again. His frailty shocked her, bones and sinew knitted together in a wiry frame that was half his normal size. How did he possess the strength to stand?
She drew back and searched his gaze. “Something more than this resolution between you and my husband, more than Leila’s union has drawn you to Malaka. Father, what ails you?”
His long sigh confirmed the suspicions that had dogged her since his unexpected arrival.
Fatima maneuvered her father to the carved stone bench on the belvedere. When he settled on the seat with a groan, she sat and took his hand. He held her fingers in an unsteady grasp and looked out on the water. Sunlight shimmered in the depths of the White Sea. Birds whirled and circled against the blue backdrop and wisps of clouds.
“Fatima, have you ever slept for so long that when you awoke, it seemed you had been slumbering for years?”
When she shook her head, her father continued. “I have lingered in a haze of dreaming. I am awake now. My eyes are open. I see the world as it truly is. I see my heir for what he truly is.”
Her heart thudded
He reached into the fold of his leather boots and pulled out a slip of parchment.
He gave it to her. “Read it for yourself.”
Her gaze darted across the page once, before she re-read.
“This is a letter to Sultan Abu Ya’qub Yusuf of the Marinids, Father, inviting him to another alliance with Gharnatah. Why would you do this? Your last letter to me at the beginning of the year mentioned new negotiations with the Christian King of Castilla-Leon. Why would you risk siding with his enemy, Sultan Abu Ya’qub Yusuf?”
“I did not write this letter.”
She stared at the dried ink on the parchment. “But it’s in your style. It bears your great seal.”
“Look at the date on the letter.”
She did so. “It says it was transcribed in Rabi al-Thani…but I don’t understand, that was four months ago. I had written to Shams with invitations for the wedding then. She replied that you remained at the Castillan court at the time. How can it be that this letter bears this date and your signature?”
“Because it is a forgery, a damnable forgery meant to draw me in with the Marinids again!”
Her chest tightened. She fought for every breath. “You know who created this forgery.”
“Yes, as you do. It was your brother, the Crown Prince.”
The Sultan stood and shuffled to the ledge. Even with his back to her, she could not miss how his hand brushed his face with a quick swipe. His knotted fingers rested on the marble.
“How did you come to realize the truth, Father?”
“Ridwan of the Bannigash clan, a talib of the Diwan al-Insha, saw the letter mixed among others I had signed before I left for negotiations with the Castillans. The date puzzled Ridwan and he brought it to my Hajib Ibn al-Hakim al-Rundi. The Prime Minister showed it to me. Fatima, I have been a fool for my son. But no longer.”
She drew in a harsh breath. “You confronted my brother!”
The Sultan nodded, though it was not a question. “Muhammad denied it, of course, saying anyone could have done it. I know his handwriting. It is very similar to mine but there are subtle differences. For several months, he has counseled me against negotiations with our Christian neighbors to the north. I refused to destabilize my regime with another war, a new jihad. Muhammad said we would not lose if we had Marinid help.”
She shook her head. If the letter had reached the Marinid capital at Fés el-Bali, her father would have had no knowledge of it. The Marinids would have produced the proof and deemed him an oath-breaker. Wars began in such ways. Gharnatah could not risk a conflict with the Marinids. The Sultanate would never survive it.
“Father, what do you intend to do when you return to Gharnatah? Is this why you asked Faraj to accompany you?”
The Sultan looked over his shoulder. “It is. I shall need your husband’s support, with the changes to come. Shams ed-Duna’s son shall need him as well.”
As she pressed her fingers just above her heart, he returned to her side and cupped her chin with his hand.
“I want you to know, you were right to caution me in the past about your brother. I have indulged him too much. The fault is mine. If he is deceitful, it is because I have failed him as a father, as I have failed you.”
“No, no, you have never failed me!”
“Fatima, hear me in this. I should have trusted in you and your instincts about your brother. You have never led me astray before. Now I pray Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, may bless you with the knowledge I did not possess. Have the courage to see your loved ones as they are, not as you would wish them to be. Be strong, my daughter, in the days of trial.”
He sighed and smiled, but it was a sad, empty gesture. Then he pressed his forehead to hers. “It should have been you, my Fatima. You should have been my firstborn and a male. What a formidable Sultan you would have made! I charge you, my most precious and beloved child, with a sacred responsibility. It is yours until death. I bequeath the glory of our family name and require your defense of it. Guide and protect those whom we love. This is my last and best legacy, the duty to our family. Promise me you shall hold fast to it.”
She blinked hard against her tears and embraced him once more. She buried her face in his familiar comfort.
“To the end and with my last breath, I shall honor you and our family always, blessed Father.”