In fourteenth-century Spain, former friends vie for a man’s heart and the future of his kingdom. Both women are captives sold into the harem of Sultan Yusuf I of Moorish Granada.
A young girl with a hidden heritage, Esperanza Peralta, forges a new identity as Butayna and becomes the mother of Yusuf’s firstborn son.The Jewess Miriam Alubel takes the name Maryam and also bears Yusuf’s children, including two sons.
The clash between former friends is inevitable, as each finds diverging paths in a dizzying rise to power beside their husband. Both remain aware of the struggle ahead, for only one heir may inherit Yusuf’s throne and only one woman can claim the revered title, Mother of the Sultan.
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“Come with me to your chamber. I have something to show you.” Yusuf winked and interlaced his fingers with hers.
He led her down the marble steps. Jawla and Hafsa sat in a circle of the rest of Leila’s women with Muhammad’s wet-nurse. They ate date balls and drank mint tea. When her servants raised their heads from the meal, Butayna waved them off.
She and Yusuf took the stairs together. They entered her chamber, one-roomed but spacious with gossamer purple curtains arranged around the bed. Now, there was more in the room than when she had left it. Cloth of gold and varied silken fabrics piled high on the stools beside the bed. Two engraved brass lamps were on either side of the door, along with a silver tray decorated with mother-of-pearl. Turquoise, opal, amber, and gold necklaces spilled from a small coffer set at the base of the bed. A silver statue of two birds intertwined occupied the table beside her fruit bowl.
She turned to him, rendered speechless. Her stomach fluttered.
Yusuf brought her hands to his lips and kissed them. “Mufawwiz had the eunuchs bring these gifts all here while you were with Leila. I grant them in honor of my beloved kadin, who has borne my cherished first son.”
She peeked past him at the chief steward, who smiled and bowed.
Yusuf drew her attention again. “These trinkets are nothing compared to my love for you. You are my heart and my life, Butayna.”
Euphoria overwhelmed her at his pronouncement. He had whispered his love often in the darkness of their respective chambers, but never did she feel it more than today.
“I have another gift for you.” With a wave, he beckoned Hisham, who knelt at his side and held out a rolled parchment with Yusuf’s unbroken, red wax seal.
turn, Yusuf handed the document to her. “This belongs to you, drawn up by the hand of my katib sirri-hi this morning. The Diwan al-Insha composes the most important proclamations on fine vellum. Break the seal and read the words.”
As she did, her fingers flew to the pulse at the base of her throat. “You have freed me?”
“You are no longer a slave, Butayna. You are the mother of my son, a free woman with your own will to do as you please.”
She clasped the precious words to her chest, while he continued, “No one shall ever call you a slave again. Read on.”
Her tentative smile flourished as her gaze flitted across the delicate script again. “You have granted me the freedom to practice my Christian religion for the rest of my life.”
Cheeks aglow, his radiant expression conveyed the depths of his emotion for her, even as his words provided confirmation. “I would never force you to convert, even for the sake of our son, my love for you, or my most fervent wish for us to share the same faith. Our religious differences shall never alter what I feel for you.” He turned from her to the others. “Leave us, all of you. My next words are for Butayna alone.”
“I hear and obey, my Sultan.” Hisham bowed and departed in a bustle of white silk.
The footfalls of the others with him soon receded, until Butayna stood alone with Yusuf at the threshold. Her took her hand and guided her through the gifts scattered through the chamber to the table. A small, red leather pouch rested behind the fruit bowl.
He admired her again. “We will soon retire to the Jannat al-’Arif. When we are there, I wish us to celebrate an important occasion. To do this, I must have your consent.”
She bounced on her feet. The lightness of her limbs made her glad for his hand. It kept her grounded. “You want my approval? My Yusuf, you may do as you please. You do not need my leave to commit any act.”
He chuckled. “My sweet love, you are wrong in this instance. The learned men of my court would say I do require your permission.” He knelt and looked up at her. “Is this how the caballeros of your cantigas pledge themselves, their hearts, to their ladies?”
Her eyes watered. “I have never known a caballero, Yusuf.”
He kissed her fingers. “Then I have nothing to offer you except what a Christian knight would give his lady—my heart and my love. I ask you on this day to share a life with me, not as my kadin, but as my Sultana. You shall be my wife and my queen. You will sit by my side. You shall share in my joys and tribulations. I ask you to comfort me as I would comfort you. What say you to this, Butayna? Will you have me for your husband?”
When she would have answered, the breath caught in her throat.
He smiled. “Mufawwiz informed me it is customary among Christians for the prospective bride to receive a token from her bridegroom when their betrothal occurs, a sign of his intent to marry her.”
He reached for the pouch and opened it. He drew out a gold band topped with a luminescent pearl the color of her skin, which he held up to the light. “For my pearl.”
Tears streamed down her cheek.
He half-pleaded, “Shall you make me wait forever, my love, for your answer?”
She set the vellum on the table, crouched before him, and drew him into a long, deep kiss. When she released him, his Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed.
“Does that mean you accept me? I must have the words, my sweet love.”
“Nam, my Yusuf. I accept you and this way of life because I love you with all my heart. I will be your Sultana.”
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About the Author
Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the Middle Ages in Europe. She is the author of two historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon’s Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers. Lisa has also written three novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, and Sultana: Two Sisters, where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family.
Her short story, The Legend Rises, which chronicles Gwenllian of Gwynedd’s valiant fight against English invaders, is included in Pagan Writers Press’ 2013 HerStory anthology.
Born in Barbados, Lisa currently lives in New York City. She is also an avid blogger and moderates at Unusual Historicals. She is also a contributor at Historical Novel Reviews and History and Women. Her personal blog is The Brooklyn Scribbler.
Learn more about Lisa and her writing at the website www.lisajyarde.com. Follow her on Twitter or become a Facebook fan. For information on upcoming releases and freebies from Lisa, join her mailing list at http://eepurl.com/un8on.