13 June 2013

Excerpt Thursday: Sultana - Two Sisters by Lisa J. Yarde

This week, we're welcoming author Lisa J. Yarde with the third book in her Moorish Spain series, Sultana: Two Sisters. Join us on Sunday, when the author will offer a free copy of the book to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb:

In fourteenth-century Moorish Spain, two survivors of a devastating tragedy become captives sold into the harem of Sultan Yusuf of Granada. Once bound by a deep friendship, both slaves vie for Yusuf's heart and the future of his kingdom. 

A young Christian girl with a hidden heritage forges a new identity as Butayna. She becomes the mother of Yusuf's firstborn son and a beloved first wife. A Jewess forsakes her past, embraces the name of Maryam and bears Yusuf several children. The clash between former friends is inevitable, as each finds diverging paths in a dizzying rise to power. A deadly rivalry lies ahead for Butayna and Maryam. Only one heir may inherit Yusuf's throne and only one woman can claim the revered title of Mother of the Sultan.

**An Excerpt from Sultana: Two Sisters**

“Moors! To arms!”
The terror laced in the voice from outside left Esperanza aghast. Her fingers tightened on the rosary until the golden cross cut into her palm. Moors in La Mancha! They had received no word of a renewal of the ageless conflicts between the Christians of Castilla-Leon and the Mohammedans with their false religion, who kept a tenuous hold on southern Spain from their stronghold at Granada. Her father would never have risked the arduous journey given any advanced knowledge. The danger their party faced now derived from the frequent raids, with which the Mohammedans drove terror into the hearts of Christians. How had they crossed la frontera between their kingdom and the towns at the outskirts of Castilla-Leon without detection?
“The men must protect us. Your husband has twenty in his pay for our protection.”
Miriam sneered. “And if the Moorish number is greater?”
“Then, Dios mío help us.”
“You may wait upon heaven’s grace. I intend to save myself and my child.” Miriam unlatched the bolt over the shuttered doors.
Esperanza grabbed her shoulder. “No, you can’t leave!”
Miriam shrugged her off and clambered down with Palomba perched on her hip. A streak of burnished orange blazed across the evening sky. Shadows darkened the rough-hewn walls of Alcaraz, their destination.
Esperanza hung back for a moment before she followed Miriam into the crisp, dry air. The tip of her boot stubbed against a low bar and plunged her into the dirt. Dazed, she pushed herself up on her palms and knees. Her fingers fisted in mounds of sienna-colored earth.
“Esperanza! Get up now!” Efrain Peralta steadied his skittish mount and reined in the horse near her, before he dismounted. His sharpened gaze reflected in eyes the color of burnished brass. He flung the folds of his rust-colored mantle behind his left shoulder and revealed a green samite pellote slit up to the inner thigh, worn with a gold belt and a dagger in a scabbard at his hip.
A sinewy ragged man, Efrain Peralta shared the diminutive stature of his daughter. Late evening sunlight framed him in a golden-orange glare as he strode toward her. Spurs affixed to his zapatos drew furrows across the soil. The dusty tips of the shoes peeked from beneath the hem of his mantle. Lines etched in his olive-brown features betrayed a year’s worth of misfortune. The dark brown hairs atop his head had lost their luster and begun a steady retreat from his sloped forehead. A full beard with flecks of gray almost hid the creases around his mouth. At fifty-six years old, his gnarled fingers and gangling arms coupled with a receded hairline gave him the appearance of a man burdened by age. His prideful gait and a strident tone hinted at the strength he retained.
She scrambled to her feet and clutched his arms. “Papa, what are we to do?”
He clasped her to him for the space of a heartbeat. “You must flee!”
She warbled, “Where, Papa? Where can I go? I won’t leave without you or Miriam!”
The first haven along their route might have been at Montiel. They had avoided the castle there, because the Cerdas held sway over its inhabitants. Most of the sparse settlements across La Mancha crowded around fortified defenses. Set on a wide plateau, Alcaraz abutted a rugged hill. Her father had hoped to reach the township this evening. The Mohammedans had held Alcaraz until a century ago, when the tide of the Reconquista under Alfonso VII of Castilla-Leon swept over the town and its castle. It could not offer refuge from the attackers, not when they approached from the same direction.
Gedaliah’s men had closed ranks and surrounded their charges. More than half the men brandished swords, while six others drew their crossbows. Before the Mohammedans could close another third of the distance, a lethal volley of bolts cut down three men at the lead. The Jews cheered, but a slight decline in the enemy numbers would not be enough.
Miriam stood silent beside her red-haired husband’s horse with Palomba. Their mutual gazes took in the approach of the Mohammedans, who drew their swords and whooped in spiteful glee. They showed no interest in minor losses and left the bodies where they fell. Faded light clung to the edges of their long, curved blades.
Esperanza strained for the sight of someone at the ramparts of Alcaraz. No denizen appeared at hand to witness the drama south of the township. Unimpeded, the formidable band of dark-clad Mohammedans drove their mounts across the meseta, the tableland of La Mancha.

Lisa J. Yarde writes historical fiction inspired by the middle ages in Europe. She also moderates the Unusual Historical blog.