“Sultana” by Lisa J. Yarde

Recently I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Lisa Yarde. Lisa writes historical fiction, which is something I particularly enjoy. In fact, I’m working on a couple of historical fiction novels myself, but more on that another time. I asked Lisa if she’d like to come visit and talk about one of her books, and she decided to discuss her novel “Sultana“, a book that shows the bonds of family and love surviving the tests of betrayal and warfare.

Lisa J. Yarde is the author of “On Falcon’s Wings” and “Sultana”. She is passionate about history and writing. Her love of the past inspires her to write historical fiction. Her favorite period is medieval, an interest which began in her childhood. Since she crafted her first stories about knights and castles in junior high school, she has not stopped writing. She loves to travel, and research on her books has taken her to England, Spain, Portugal and Barbados. She currently lives in New York.

Her book “Sultana” is set in thirteenth-century Moorish Spain, where 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.

Below is Chapter 1 of “Sultana”:

A hot, dry hand covered Fatima’s mouth, smothering the scream in her throat. She awoke to a nightmare unfolding in the darkness of the bedchamber she shared with her siblings.

A lone figure in a black hood and cloak hovered in silence next to her on her pallet. An unwelcome weight and warmth from a burly hand held her pressed against the pillow beneath her head. The odor of saffron and rosewater filled her nostrils. In the fading glow of a dying iron scone on the wall, she could hardly tell where the folds of the cloak began or ended. She guessed by the rough touch and strength of the hand on her mouth, as well as the husky shape in the darkness meant her captor was a man. Raspy breaths escaped the stranger’s throat, as if he had been running and fought for each breath now.

Though her heart pounded steadily, she forced herself to remain calm. She did not know what this stranger intended or what he might do to her. As her eyes grew accustomed to the dimness of the shadowy chamber, she made out the images of three others, cloaked and hooded like the one who held her captive. Two of the intruders stood on either side of the olive wood door, occasionally peeking through the slats of the entryway. Another who stood taller than the other two walked toward the window and closed the lattice, shutting out the sounds of crickets chirping and owls hooting at night, before crossing the room and standing beside the boy who slept closest to the door. The intruder bent and moved closer to Muhammad, peering into his smooth, olive-skinned face.

Fatima froze, paralyzed in terror. Her brother Muhammad ibn Muhammad, only a year older than her, slept peacefully on a pallet below the wall scone. The ebbing light revealed the disheveled mass of his dark hair on the silken pillow. Thin and lean like her, he stretched out on his back and snored lightly. He must have kicked off his woolen blanket during the night. One arm dangled off the pallet and touched the floor immediately below, while he had thrown the other back behind the pillow. In a deep slumber, he did not know the danger they faced.

One thought filled Fatima’s mind, mirroring her whimpering plea behind her captor’s hand. “No! Don’t hurt my brother!”

Muhammad was only nine years old, the eldest child of her parents and her father’s heir. She could never let anyone harm him.

She clawed wildly at the hand pressed against her mouth, but her little fingers could not fight off the heavy hold. Then her captor pinched her nostrils closed with his other hand. A choking wave of terror swelled in her throat and squeezed her chest. Tears trickled beneath the lashes, blinding her.

On a low table at her side, the sparrow in its gilded cage whistled cries of alarm and battered its wings against the metal bars.

The person beside her brother stood and approached her pallet, bypassing the white marble alcoves where her younger sisters Muna, Alimah, Azahra and Tarub also slept. Only the baby Nadira, born two months before, was absent. Fatima prayed Nadira’s wet-nurse would keep her safe and away from harm.

Each noiseless footfall brought the intruder closer to Fatima. Her fingers still scratched at the hands that cut off her breathing. The tightening sensation grew inside her throat. Her body went limp and her limbs slackened.

The silent figure knelt beside the cage and withdrew a square of black cloth. Fatima panicked, fearing for her pet as much as she worried for her family. The cloth went over the cage and covered it. The sparrow quieted except for a few clicks and chirps.

Then thin, almost womanly, fingers rested on her captor’s shoulder. At this silent command, the one holding her nostrils released the brutal hold, though the other hand remained on her mouth. Wonder at whether this was the leader of the intruders died away, as the first blessed lungful of air burned at the back of her throat. Despite the burning, she sucked in the next breath with a heavy wheeze, before she stared at the trespassers. Tears spilled from her eyes but she immediately swiped them away. She was not going to let them see her cry or show them that she was afraid.

She could not make out their features in the darkness, except that both had heavy lidded eyes lined with kohl, gazes that returned her watery stare. The one standing her side had a smaller frame than his companion did, but beyond the differences in their shapes and the size of their hands, she could not discern anything else. Who were these people? She felt sure they hid their characters further by not speaking. She would have known any of the eunuchs or retainers in her father’s palace by the sound of their voices alone. Had their servants risen against her father and betrayed the family?

Fists tightening at her side, she trembled with fear and a growing rage. If they had hurt her father or kept him captive like her, not knowing of the danger to his children, she would…. She sagged against the pallet. What could she do, a girl who might now not live to see her ninth birthday?

She glared defiantly at the cloaked intruders. If they had harmed her father, she prayed Allah would give her some means to avenge him.

The tall man bent toward her. His eyes were large and luminous in the dark. Soft fingertips glided across her wet cheek, startling her. She jerked her head away, pulling away from the unfamiliar touch.

“Take her.”

His nasalized voice barely rose above a whisper. The hand over her mouth withdrew for the course of one breath. In the next, a cloth, thick with the smell of horse manure and camphor, covered her lips and nose.

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© 2019, Steven R. Drennon. All rights reserved.

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