We are delighted to welcome Bradley Beaulieu back to the blog. Today Bradley shares with us another exclusive deleted scene from Blood Upon the Sand. Return to the ancient walled city of Sharakhai, home to the Twelve Kings and Çeda. This exciting extract follows Çeda as she finds out more about Zaïde’s mysterious past.
Zaïde shares her past with Çeda
“I’ll start where I please.” Her voice was sharp as stone, but then it softened. “Though I suppose it’s as good a place to start as any. My great-grandmother was from the desert. She was gifted in the sight, or so I hear, and yet her gift skipped two generations, passing down to me, which I suppose was only right as I was born only three days after her death. I was raised in the holdings of my father, King Onur, with servants who made my life pleasant enough. My mother, however, hated her life there. Or rather, she hated my father, and the rest was poisoned from that relationship.
“Onur is…” She took in a deep breath, and glanced back, as if Çeda were a force that grounded her against the memories now running through her. “Onur is a cruel, detestable man,” she said, so softly Çeda could barely hear her. “He refused to let my mother leave his estate. She knew she couldn’t disobey him, so instead she began calling others to attend her, our distant family from the desert among them. I saw Dardzada several times in those years. I might even have met your mother, though if so it was only in passing. In any case, one of my family was a seer, Amarine, my aunt, and she saw in me some potential, a thing she began to hone over the course of the months and years that followed. I began to read the palms of my friends. I was young then, perhaps ten, and I generally saw in them paths that would take them to fruitful places. They were mostly the children of Goldenhill, after all. And I did it occasionally for those who came from the desert.
“When I became more confident, I wanted desperately to read my mother’s palm. She was so sad I hoped to find happier days for her and tell her about them. She refused with a fierceness that made me realize it was fear that drove her decision, fear that ran deeper than the bones of a mountain. For many years I refused to ask her again, afraid of what I might find, but then one day I heard our maids speaking in low tones. One of them was crying, the other trying to console her. I snuck into the dining hall, and the girl who was crying said that Thian, her brother, a most beautiful man who worked in the stables, had displeased the King. Onur had come to ride with some Malasani prince. Thian had ridden with them and a dozen courtiers from Malasan and Sharakhai out to the desert. They rode quickly, too fast for the horses on such a hot day and for such a long ride. Onur was so large his horse soon grew tired, and much more rapidly than the others, but Onur refused to slow their pace. Soon his horse, a fine akhala, was staggering, and Thian offered Onur his own horse.
“‘Why?’ Onur asked. ‘Mine is doing well enough.’ And then Thian lied, all in hopes of allowing the King to save face in front of his guests. ‘A thousand apologies, my Lord King, this is all my fault.
In my haste to make the horses ready, I forgot to give him a proper ration of water before we left.’
‘Nonsense,’ replied Onur, his voice full of disdain. Then he looked to those gathered and spurred his horse into action. ‘This akhala could deliver me to Ishmantep and back, I assure you.’
“The horse collapsed not a half-league later. Onur was thrown from his saddle, and was cut along his forehead, a mark that can still be seen today. In his anger, he drew his sword from the saddle and raised it above his head, but Thian shouted, ‘No!’ and put himself between the akhala and the King.
‘My Lord King, this is all my fault. Please, take my horse. I’ll remain until yours recovers from this interminable heat.’ It was a grave mistake, and Thian knew it from the start, but what was he to do? Onur smiled. You’ve met him now. You know the sort of smile I mean. Hungry. Covetous. ‘Very well,’ my father said to Thian. ‘Bring the horse to my palace on your return. I would speak to you of how you’re keeping them.’
“Thian had gone the previous evening and hadn’t yet returned. ‘Surely he’ll be riding home soon,’ I said to them, coming out of my hiding place. But they merely shushed me and sent me away with barely concealed horror on their faces. I found out why that night. My mother had been gone the entire day, summoned to attend Onur. When she returned, I went to her in her bedroom and found her sitting in a chair, staring out the window. She wasn’t crying, but she was haunted. I’ve never seen the like, as if her very soul had been taken from her.”
Zaïde slowed and then stopped. She turned to face Çeda. Throughout the story, she’d spoken in a distant way, as if it were some ancient tale that had been told a thousand times over a thousand fires, but now, as she paused, gathering herself, her eyes flitted to and fro as if she were reliving those fearful moments. “I asked my mother what had happened. Her answer was to hold out her hand to me. Her palm.”
A chill settled inside Çeda, a feeling as cold as the winter sky. “What did you do?”
Zaïde’s distant gaze focused on Çeda once more. “I shook my head and pleaded with her not to make me do it, but she was adamant. ‘You will know the sort of man your father is.’ In the end, I was weak. I took her hand and read her palm. It was the strongest vision I have ever had, then or since. I saw her secreting a slim blade in her shoe. I saw her going to Onur in his palace. I saw her stab him, but she managed only one strike, and then Onur had her. For all his weight, he is a powerful man, stronger even than Husamettín, and he broke her. I saw nothing after this. I begged my mother not to leave.
When she refused me, I tried to run from the room, but she held my wrists, gripping them so tightly her nails tore my skin. She made me stare into her eyes, eyes filled with hate and regret and so much sorrow. But more than anything I saw the resignation there. ‘You know it will be so,’ she hissed at me, ‘so do not fight it.’
“In the days after I learned that she and Thian had been lovers. I knew she cared for him, but callow as I was I had no concept of a wife being unfaithful. And my mother was a careful woman, more careful than I had ever given her credit for. What she shared with me next shook me to my very core. You may have heard rumors of Onur the Feasting King. That he eats his will and that his will is great. That he feasts on the bloody flesh of horses and goats and all manner of beasts. What you may not have heard is that he has other, more abhorrent tastes as well.” Zaïde’s lips became a thin line. “Onur had learned of my mother’s misdeeds, and contrived to bring Thian to him, and then summoned my mother to sup.”
Çeda’s hand shot to her mouth. Goezhen’s sweet kiss, the things the Matron was implying. Hot tears streamed down Çeda’s face, while Zaïde’s eyes remained perfectly dry, perfectly composed.
“Onur forced her to sit by his side, two Blade Maidens standing behind her chair, while he ate and spoke of the weather, how very hot it had been on their ride, how kind Thian had been to give up his own horse, even if he’d erred in not preparing Onur’s horse properly. Never once did he bring up the fact that he knew she and Thian had been lovers. Nor did he ask her to his bed, thank the gods, or I might never have seen her again. My mother refused to eat. You can see why. And she feared that he would force her, but he merely waved his fork to the meat on her plate, asking her why she wasn’t more hungry when her hunger had been shown to be strong at other times.
“He must have known she would try to kill him. Why he even let her go I cannot say. He is a twisted man and may have reveled in the pain he was causing, and perhaps welcomed the chance to see what she would do when pressed so hard. My mother left that very night, hours after I’d read her palm, and returned to Onur’s palace. She never returned. She was never even given a funeral. To this day I don’t know where her bones are buried, if they even are.” The way she’d said that was so pitiful, it made Çeda’s arms and shoulders curl around her own sadness. Zaïde reached up a hand and wiped Çeda’s tears away. “Do not cry for me, child. My mother is long dead, but her memory lives on. It drives me every day.
“I had no idea at the time that I was one of the Thirteenth Tribe. I’d heard only whispers of its existence. But after learning of my mother’s death, my aunt, Amarine, told me all of it. Our story in the days leading up to Beht Ihman, of the massacre, of the sheltering of our blood among the remaining twelve tribes, of the origins of the Moonless Host, which was born from hatred of the Kings, but also a thirst for revenge for what we had lost.”
For long moments, Çeda could only stare in wonder at the path Zaïde had taken. “Why did your mother never tell you?”
In truth, she asked for selfish reasons, because in understanding Zaïde’s mother, she might better understand her own. Zaïde started walking along the tunnel once more, which was rough now, and wide enough for them to walk side by side. “A question I’ve asked many times. There was no time to ask her then, and she would have refused me in any case. I suspect she hoped she might shelter me from it. She felt it a fight that was just, but also one that had little to do with her. She, like so many in Sharakhai, and even the desert, are the silent horde. Were they to rise up, they could overthrow the Kings tomorrow, but they will not. Fear prevents it.”
“They feel alone when they are not.”
Zaïde nodded. “But how to rouse them? That is the question. They need a leader, Çeda, someone to follow. A viable alternative to the Kings.”
It was true. Çeda had known it for some time. There were those that loved Ishaq and Macide and the Moonless Host, but they were comparatively few, and everyone in the desert knew they risked their lives by merely aiding the Moonless Host. The Kings had done an admirable job turning the collective sentiments of not only Sharakhai against them, but many in the desert tribes as well, even as they used their power indiscriminately. Allegiance among the twelve desert shaikhs had been groomed carefully over the course of generations. The Kings were not loved, but what is love when the weight of fear all but suffocates it?
Excerpted from Blood Upon the Sand © Bradley Beaulieu 2017