Bonus Scene: Prologue – The Prince

 

1808

Kingdom of Tabir

 

“Awake, Ziya.”

The whisper roused Ziyaeddin from a dream of a sky all gold and saffron and fire and striped with migrating birds. The birds flew out of the flames toward a brilliant blue sea, in haste yet steadily, with the great rhythmic flapping of a thousand wings.

Ziyaeddin rolled away from his sister’s voice to reclaim the image, mumbling to her to hush, that she mustn’t be here, that she took too great a chance always coming to borrow his books while his tutor slept nearby.

“Awake, brother,” Aairah whispered again, more furtively. “Men with torches come. They are shouting in Turkish. Mother says we must go at once.”

“Shouting?” he mumbled, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Father will be displeased.” Their father was a man of culture and education. He did not permit raised voices in the palace, especially not in Turkish, the language of their mother’s family who disapproved of him.

In darkness lit by a sliver of moon, Aairah’s eyes were round with fear as she lifted a finger to cover her lips. Beyond her by the door, crouched low to the ground were her nurse and his tutor, their eyes wide.

Ziyaeddin scanned the chamber. Past curtains of silk, firelight danced on the courtyard walls. The patter of footsteps came swiftly—many footsteps, two-dozen men, trying to silence their approach but weapons clinking against armor making wicked music in the night.

Not thieves. Thieves would make no sound. These were guardsmen moving as quietly as their gear allowed.

Ziyaeddin’s tutor often told him that as a prince he was a poor student of war craft, for he did not relish the tactics of bloodshed. But he had the gift of naturally keen observation, and he knew well the sounds of stealth.

A trumpet blared across the night. Then another, frantic.

“To the prince, at once!” came a guttural shout from the courtyard.

Aairah grabbed Ziyaeddin’s hand. “Come now.”

Tumbling onto the floor he slid like a salamander, his muscles that were sore from swords training that morning protesting now, but following his command.

His tutor and his sister’s nurse had disappeared.

Aairah’s strong little fingers cinched around his again just as the clank of metal sounded at the open window. A blade sliced through the curtains, gleaming. A booted foot swung over the sill.

Ziya pushed his sister ahead of him, for she knew the way too.

Many times they had practiced this. Many times had their mother taken them aside when all the household rested, and shown them the secret passage into the private garden, and from there the tunnel that led long and dark and narrow all the way to the waterside. Many times had she instructed them to tell no one of this secret, and that they would know when to use it.

Bursting from the narrow corridor into the garden that was soft with a thread of moonlight glimmering on the lily pond, Ziyaeddin grasped his sister’s hand and together they ran beneath the trellis of night jasmine that made the fraught darkness sweet.

The shouts had grown distant. When they reached the hidden door to the tunnel their mother was not waiting there for them.

“Mama?” Aairah’s whisper mingled incongruously with the cricket song as she peered into the darkness, her lips now trembling.

“She will come,” he whispered. Now he understood this was the moment for which their mother had prepared them. For he could see with his sharp eyes the glow of firelight from the direction of the throne room, and he could smell smoke upon the night.

“You must not hesitate, my son,” his mother had whispered the words each night, speaking them like a prayer into his ear, for him alone to hear, when she bid him sweet dreams. “You will know. Trust your heart.”

Grasping his sister’s hand and meeting her stare with a single nod, he flung open the hidden panel. The tunnel disappeared narrowly ahead, the future of their family—of their dynasty—beckoning from the darkness ahead.

 

I’m a big fan of prologues; many of my books include them. And I loved writing this one. Ultimately, though, I wanted to begin The Prince with Libby’s disguise, and her encounter with Ziyaeddin, and instead to reveal Ziyaeddin’s past much later in the story. I’m so happy to make the prologue available here now.

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