Hello hello! Having recently revamped LofM's beginning and overcome some issues I was having with the manuscript, I wanted to share a bit that I'm really happy with! Please enjoy this first draft of the prologue of my fantasy series, a retelling of the first frame narrative of One Thousand and One Nights (aka Arabian Nights). I'd love to know what you think of it!
Once there lived, in the kingdom of Mourra, a woman as beautiful as the night sky. Her face was as round and bright as the faces of the moons-in-full, her eyes the pale grey of starlight, her hair as dark as the space between stars and falling in a lustrous veil to her feet, with beads of pearls woven through the strands. Her name was Nur-al-Hayat, and she was a poet and songstress of surpassing ability, her voice so lovely it was said to tame wild beasts and move even stone to tears.
King Haitham heard rumour of this lady and summoned her to his palace to sing for him and his court. Dutifully, she appeared. All attending were much struck by her beauty, and the king not least of all, stepping forward to greet and welcome her himself. Bowing elegantly, Nur-al-Hayat smiled demurely up at him and told him she had composed a poem especially for the occasion, and if the king would give her leave, she would be honoured to recite it for his pleasure.
Gratified by her courtesy, the king graciously bade her feel free.
With a voice as melodious as any songbird’s, accompanied by the skillful strumming of her qanun, Nur-al-Hayat wove a tale of the fall of the Lost Kingdom of Zerzura and the queen of that kingdom, who was called Zarqa’a. With great mastery did Nur-al-Hayat conjure for them a vision of that golden kingdom, illustrious and magnificent, with its great tower reaching for the heavens and its bountiful gardens of lush greenery and fragrant blooms spilling from their bounds.
Nur-al-Hayat’s very form seemed to take on that of Zarqa’a's as she wove her enchanting tale. Her audience exulted as the queen won renown and acclaim for her wisdom and keen sight, and fretted when rumour began to spread that, rather than skill, she had foreknowledge of future events. In growing perturbation they saw her enemies denounce her as an oracle, a mistress of djinn, and with outrage saw them seek to depose and kill her out of envy and covetousness for the prosperous kingdom, the jewel of the continent.
Many were moved to tears as Nur-al-Hayat spoke of how, in vain, Zarqa’a pleaded with her husband and her people, warning them of an enemy amassing in the desert, come to destroy them utterly, and was dismissed, for who could overcome the might of Zerzura? With hearts aching, they grieved as Zerzura was overrun, as Zarqa’a was captured and her eyes plucked out, as she was abandoned in the ruins of her city, with nothing but her sorrow to accompany her.
Her sultry voice lowering, Nur-al-Hayat dispelled the vision, solemnly conveying that though Zerzura was destroyed so utterly that only ruins now remain, and Zarqa’a’s ultimate fate is lost to the sands of time, every one of the queen’s enemies perished within a year of her death, and she alone ascended into the annals of history, to be remembered forever.
Applause thundered through the court as Nur-al-Hayat allowed her voice and her instrument to quiet. She bowed again, smiling sweetly, her eyes on the king, who went to her and raised her up and bowed over her hand, proclaiming her the finest poet and orator of Mourra.
It was with no great surprise that the King married her within the year, so entranced by her beauty, charm, and poetic skill as he was. And for a time they were happy, deeply so.
But it did not last.
Nur-al-Hayat was a woman of great ambition, and she saw in Mourra the potential to be more than just a kingdom, but an empire, and for herself to be more than queen, but empress. It was with envy that she listened to tales of the expansion of Diara, a country to the west that glutted itself year by year on its neighbours, while the King and the Council were uneasy and alarmed by this rapid and terrible conquest. Greatly did she wish for Haitham to put aside his peace-keeping ways and to look to his neighbours, if not in conquering wrath then in cunning alliance that would result in their subjugation to Mourra.
Haitham would not do as she advised him, for every argument of hers which moved the warrior heart of the king was overcome by the cooling, cautionary words of Luqman the Keeper of the Great Library, one of his closest and most trusted advisors. He alone was permitted to scribe within the Chronicles of Mourra, the sacred tomes of history in which were recorded every notable event since the time of Mourra’s founding and which could contain nothing of falsehood.
The queen grew resentful and discontent. She determined that if her husband did not love her nor value her enough to seek her approbation above all others, if he could not and would not share in her glorious vision, then she would find someone who did.
She set her gimlet gaze on the King’s army commander, Yusr, who had long held—and long-buried—a seed of malcontent, for in these times of peace, he had so little to do and despaired that he would ever achieve any glory for his prowess as warriors and tacticians, as his forefathers of old had.
Nur-al-Hayat knew this, and preyed on this, and found in Commander Yusr a man willing to be entranced by her ambitions. For many months, the King was none the wiser as they trysted and as they plotted, for Nur-al-Hayat commissioned a pavilion for herself—ostensibly so that she could compose her poetry without disturbance—and forbade any from disturbing her. There she would meet her lover and co-conspirator in secret.
Together they aimed to persuade the Council on matters of war, alliances, and expansion, garnering support slowly and cunningly in an attempt to achieve a majority vote, and working ever to advise the King to align with their aims. And so things might have continued, if Keeper Luqman and the Wazīr—the King’s younger brother, Imtiaz—had not intervened.
Keeper Luqman had known since first meeting her that Nur-al-Hayat was not to be trusted. Gifted with the ability to see something of the secret aspects of people’s hearts, he knew that the queen was ambitious to the point of imprudence and greed, but knew also that the king loved her so deeply that he would be (and often was) wroth at any suggestion of fault in his wife. Without proof of any wrongdoing, Luqman could do nothing but hold his tongue, watch her shadow, and hope that her love for his Majesty, true as it was, would not be deficient and might overcome her avarice.
The Wazīr, meanwhile, was alarmed at the changing of the opinions of the Council, whose members had begun to whisper, though not yet outright proclaim, that the King curtailed the might of their country and that it was foolish to watch and hope that the Diaran Empire might not soon look to them as a starving wolf looks to a lamb unguarded. That they should demonstrate their might and expand upon it, and thus cow the Empire entirely and—if they could not—then they might at least meet the Diaran’s on equal footing. Imtiaz had traced the source of some of these whispering to the commander, but he knew Yusr must have an ally elsewhere, and a powerful one too, and he was alarmed that he could not discover who it might be.
Together, Luqman and Imtiaz spoke, and Luqman revealed his suspicions of the queen, and Imtiaz believed him, and believed also that she was the commander’s supporter and the spur to his ideas. They might have approached the king even then, with no concrete proof to provide him, had the queen not fortuitously announced that she was with child. The king’s joy was so great that they knew they could tell him nothing of their suspicions, but still, they sought proof in desperate secret.
And then the king began to sicken from a mysterious wasting disease that stripped him of his flesh and vitality, as though he and he alone was struck by a famine. Nothing and no one could avail him of his suffering, though remedies, tinctures, poultices, and medicines from all over the kingdom and even from their neighbours were tried and applied. Luqman looked at Nur-al-Hayat and saw carefully concealed vindictive delight rather than grief in her lovely eyes, and knew then that he must speak against her…or lose his king.
He and Imtiaz approached King Haitham and bade him follow them and witness something that might heal him, though the healing would not come without some suffering, if he had the courage to face it. Neither of them would say aught else, and weakened by his disease but curious, the king submitted to their urging and followed. He was led by secret ways in the palace to the queen’s pavilion, and before he could ask in bewildered unease what they were about, directed to a window carefully screened, and bade him look and see what he might see there.
The king looked within and was met with devastation on devastation. Nur-al-Hayat lay in the arms of Yusr, his commander. They spoke of the king’s illness and named it poison, and laughed cruelly, and hoped that he might succumb to it soon so they could be free to pursue their aims and their love. And as they spoke, Yusr caressed the queen’s quickening form and rejoiced that their child might soon rule Mourra and—if all went according to their plan—an empire.
“And it shall surpass even the might and glory of Zerzura,” Nur-al-Hayat replied exultantly.
She had never looked so beautiful, nor seemed so monstrous, to Haitham before.
The depth of the king’s heartache and betrayed fury cannot be expressed. It was so great, in fact, that he swooned and had to be bodily led away by his Keeper and Wazīr. Devastated, but unable to deny the proof of his own ears and eyes, the King summoned Nur-al-Hayat and Yusr to a private trial attended only by the Keeper and the Wazīr.
In a voice devoid of emotion, he laid out the charges of adultery, to their shock, dismay, and immediate denials. So King Haitham brought forth Yusr and Nur-al-Hayat’s personal attendants, who confessed to knowledge of the crimes committed against king and country. By this, Yusr was silenced and, belligerently shamefaced, he bowed his head and would say nothing more in defense of himself.
The queen, however, persisted in protesting her innocence. With a great display of feigned emotion, she spun a tale of coercion on Yusr’s part and weakness of vanity on her own, naming herself a victim and a fool, implying the affair was because the king had made her feel less esteemed in his affection, and begged his mercy and forgiveness. To this, King Haitham looked to Luqman, who solemnly procured an effigy of the king made of knotted string and hair. At the sight of it, Nur-al-Hayat went red, and then white, and quieted abruptly.
“I might have believed you,” King Haitham said slowly, “Even now, even though I myself witnessed your betrayal of me. But Luqman searched your quarters and your pavilion at my command and discovered this thing, and we know it to be the means by which you have poisoned me. We know you to be a magician of foul arts. We know you to be false to your core.”
At his direction, the effigy was burned then and there, and is it blazed into ash, health and vitality seemed to flow into the king, the hollows of his face filling and the lines of premature age upon his brow fading, the haggard diminishment of his figure vanishing like a mirage in the desert.
“For this and your other crimes,” the King intoned, his voice strong as it had once been but no less cold, “You are each of you sentenced to death.”
Nur-al-Hayat cried out and fell to her knees, swearing by the Creator that she was no magician, that she had created no such thing and knew nothing of it, but the king would not believe her, and his face grew thunderous that she would persist in her lies. And then Nur-al-Hayat knew that all his love of her had been extinguished and her end approached, but still she begged the king for his mercy for the sake of her unborn child, innocent of its mother’s crimes.
So great and terrible was the king’s devastation and wrath that he might have condemned her regardless, for he did not believe this child truly his, even as she insisted it was, and that she had lied to Yusr to manipulate him further for her aims. But Luqman advised the king against this evil; whatever other lies she told, Nur-al-Hayat spoke truly on the innocence of her child.
“You may live,” the king decreed, eyes burning like black flame as he regarded her with loathing and misery. “You may live, but I exile you and yours forever, but your name shall be struck from the Chronicles and you shall be Nameless. Never again will anyone speak it to you, nor call you by it, nor recall that it once belonged to you. You will be forgotten, utterly. I renounce your child from any claim of kinship upon me and mine. I renounce you as my wife.”
At this the Nameless Queen was wroth as a viper. She would have thrown herself at him to claw at his face like a wild creature, but Yusr–spurred by the revelation of her sorcery into realizing her evil—held her back. Tearing herself from his hold, the Nameless Queen spat at the King’s feet and swore by the Creator’s Name that he and all those he held dear would one day rue this day, and that she would be an enemy to him forever, in this world and the next.
And so ended the marriage, and the record, of she who was once Nur-al-Hayat, wife of King Haitham of Mourra.
But it was not the end of their story…
Hello hello and happy November! It's been a hot minute since I've posted directly to this blog (I'm much more active on tumblr and send monthly updates via newsletter, which you can sign up for here), but I wanted to share a few things in longer form here.
Firstly, I'm doing NaNoWriMo! Or rather, my version of it, as per usual. What that means is, I'm not aiming for any specific wordcount and I'm not even aiming to write for any specific amount of time. Rather, I'm aiming to just write daily and to work specifically on LofM before I work on anything else.
Initially, I'd had the highly aspirational (and highly unachievable) goal of focusing solely on LofM from the beginning of October to the end of December, in the hopes of finishing the second 1/3 of this novel. That...didn't pan out. But I'm happy to say that my 'chill NaNo' goals are mostly being met. There have been two or three days so far where I haven't written, but those days coincided with a pet emergency, family obligations, and getting sick, so I'm taking it easy on myself.
Speaking of LofM though - on November third I had a crisis about it brought on by 1) being sick 2) being stressed and 3) being stuck on the WIP. I am now 1/3 of the way through the manuscript, and I was not liking how it was panning out, for reasons that have nothing to do with it being a first draft and therefore understandably rough.
So! November is over! Last post I said I hoped to have a whole--if rough--draft of LofM completed by now, and I really have to laugh and wonder what in the heckity heck I was thinking. A whole draft? A whole draft????
Needless to say that did not end up happening (a whole draft! which would've been between 50 and 70k?!). But I did write, and enjoyed writing, even though it wasn't every day. After all, I went from having nothing at all to having something that I am, crucially, pretty happy with.
I also didn't end up posting excerpts weekly here, though I did share a few on tumblr. I've gathered them all here for your perusal. I also made two posts corresponding with some entries in my worldbuilding encyclopedia, featured below! I love them and am excited to create and share more!
Once, in the oldest of days and times, there were four kingdoms: the kingdom of Men, the kingdom of the Djinn, the kingdom of the Elyoud, and the kingdom of Beasts. I say once, but they are kingdoms still. They are not, nor have they ever been, united, though only two are sworn enemies: the Djinn and the Elyoud, who will have no alliance or consortium with each other.
Sirin's son has been kidnapped by the djinn, and she will stop at nothing to find him and bring him home, even if that means marching into the realm of the Unseen on what everyone insists is a hopeless mission. He's gone, she is told. Grieve him, for he is as good as dead. If he is returned to you, he will not be the same child you knew.
But he isn't dead, and Sirin refuses to wait around for an if. She doesn't care that no one has ever returned from such a venture. She's going to save her son, or die trying.
Enter Halah; the only person taken by the djinn who claims to have escaped them, rather than been returned. Only she knows the paths into the Unseen realm and the ways through the kingdom of the djinn, and when Sirin pleads for her help, she agrees.
She can't abandon a child, even one she doesn't know. Even if it does mean returning to the last place in all the realms she ever wants to see again...
Sirin | a desperate, determined mother, chief of her tribe after her husband's untimely death.
Qusaiy | Sirin's son, a six year old boy, renowned for his beautiful voice and excellent memory.
Raoul | Cousin to Sirin's husband and her childhood friend, secretly in love with her, utterly devoted to her.
Halah | escapee from the djinn, living as an outcast at the edge of a village with her best friend and a sootdragon for company.
Ilyas | Raoul's best friend and a fierce warrior of Sirin's tribe, Nilam's twin brother, and a former slave.
Nilam | A Ranger, Halah's best and only friend, Ilyas' twin sister, and a former slave.
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Featuring prompt fills, excerpts from my wips, posts about my writing process, and more.