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Çeda Visits Roseridge

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 visits Roseridge.

 

Çeda Visits Roseridge

As Çeda left through the main gate of the House of Maidens and headed west along the Spear, the sounds of the city rose up around her. She wore not the Maidens’ black, but a flame-orange dress and an ochre hijab that veiled her face. It made her feel anonymous in a way her turban and battle dress—symbols of power, control, and, for many, fear—never could.

While skirting past a man selling sweet lassi, she noted how packed the streets were. This was surely a trading day. A day when a number of caravans had arrived simultaneously. Nothing else could explain the sheer mass of people moving to and from the House of Kings. Soon she came to the Wheel, a ceaseless gyre of men and women and children, of horses and carts and wagon trains traveling to and from the many centers of commerce around the city: the harbors, the bazaar, the spice market, the slave blocks. She merged into the flow, a leaf borne along the edges of a great, circling pool. Eventually she fought her way to the edge and continued along the Spear, then began wending her way through the streets toward Roseridge.

Three weeks had passed since her failed assassination attempt. The days that had followed had unfolded in a strangely surreal manner. The Matrons had questioned Çeda over her involvement that night but seemed satisfied with the story she gave

them, that she’d been out for a walk, that she’d heard the bells, that she’d come running as fast as she could to join the hunt. Dozens of other Blade Maidens were questioned as well, but whether they were difficult interrogations or not, Çeda never learned. Life seemed to go on as if little had changed. The Maiden who’d died had been given a night of honor, one in which those who knew her had sung songs, had told stories around a fire, but beyond this there was little evidence a Maiden had been killed. Even in the city, where the Spears were searching for clues, Çeda heard rumor that it was not as exhaustive, or as cruel, as it might have been.

There were only two reasons Çeda could think of that would cause the Kings to suppress the knowledge that an assassin had gained the walls of Eventide. The first and most obvious was that several of the Kings had nearly been killed; surely they had no desire, so soon after King Külaşan himself had been killed, to project weakness of any sort. Could it be, then? Had Cahil lost his battle against the poison? She regretted the deaths of the Silver Spear and the Blade Maiden, but if Cahil had died in the bargain, it would have been worth it.

The only other reason she could think of for their uncharacteristic ease was that they wanted no scrutiny to be brought to the grizzly ritual they’d performed. All in Sharakhai knew of the asirim, but precious few knew much about them beyond the story the Kings had fed them: that they were holy defenders of Sharakhai, that they’d sacrificed themselves on the night of Beht Ihman to save the city from the might of the desert tribes. Certainly they wished none but their most trusted to learn what they’d done. They’d sacrificed a woman. Created an asir in the bargain. Çeda had wondered often who that woman had been, and the only reasonable explanation was that she’d been a daughter of the thirteenth tribe. They’d taken someone with the blood of the lost tribe and used them to create another asirim, another slave, a weapon to wield in their war against the Moonless Host. It made some sense in the context of the poem she’d discovered in her mother’s book, which she had little doubt now referred to Mesut:

 

The King of smiles, from verdant isles,

the gleam in moonlit eye;

with soft caress,

at death’s redress,

his wish, lost soul will cry.

 

Yerinde grants, a golden band,

with eye of glittering jet;

should King divide,

from Loves sweet pride, dark souls collect their debt.

 

The golden band on Mesut’s wrist. The dark souls. He’d somehow summoned a wight with that bracelet. Or released it after it had been trapped within. Çeda knew that gemstones could be used to trap souls. Could Mesut not have been given one by the desert gods? Perhaps, but there would be precious few ways for her to learn the truth of it for the time being.

All too soon the machine that was the House of Maidens had returned to a sense of normalcy. Maidens patrolled the city or guarded the Kings. Others, Çeda among them, were sent on specific missions for their King or for the wardens who guided them. King Yusam had called Çeda to his palace two days ago and given her a new task—the most challenging one he’d given her yet and her reason for being in the city today. And never had he or anyone else mentioned that four of the Kings had been in so much danger.

Çeda reached the west end proper. She knew all of Sharakhai passably well, but this section of the city she knew as well as the grip of her ebon blade. As she went, she passed more and more places that reminded her of Emre. A listing acacia they’d often climbed, a sandal maker they’d stopped at once to have Emre’s miserable excuses for sandals repaired, a fruit cart run by an old woman that Çeda suspected had always known about their thieving but had allowed it anyway. Now that Çeda had left the eyes of her youth behind, she could see that the fruit seller had always known; it had simply been her way of redressing the balance in a city of stark contrasts, especially in the ways of money. Çeda stopped there and bought a golden pear, a rarity in Sharakhai, giving the woman three sylval for it, easily twenty times the price. The woman called to Çeda, but Çeda just moved on, lifting  her veil to take a huge crunch from the moist, brightly flavored fruit.

Soon she reached Roseridge and came to a narrow, winding street that made her heart ache with memories. Two children hung from the window of the bedroom that had once been hers. The boy and girl, close in age, leaned out over the sill, watching the occasional passerby. Both had closely shorn heads—a bout with lice, perhaps. They waved to her, and Çeda waved back. It still felt bizarre to see someone else in her home, but in the desert, the sands shift. The dunes roll on.

She headed toward a home with a plum-colored door, the paint faded and cracked with age. She made a show of glancing up and down the street. Seeing no one watching save the children—who did so with conspiratorial glee—she winked at them, then picked up a fistful of dust and sand. After tugging her veil free, let the sand fall from her hand. “Please, Nalamae,” she whispered as it fell, “send tidings.”

When the last of the sand had fallen, she dusted her hands off and knocked. Her stomach twisted in knots as footsteps shuffled behind the door. Old Yanca appeared, peering out, squinting at the sun. When she raised her hand to shade her eyes and fixed her gaze on Çeda, recognition came and she pursed her lips, shook her head quickly, as if she were embarrassed to do so.

Çeda’s stomach sank. There had been no news of Emre. The very notion made her stomach knot in worry, as it had every time she’d thought of him since abandoning him in the crypts beneath Külaşan’s palace.

Seeing Çeda’s reaction, Yanca took her hand and patted it. “Word  will come, my darling child. See if it doesn’t.”

“Of course,” she said, though she was beginning to doubt it. Her mind was telling her to be patient, but her heart wanted to scream. Dardzada had had more than enough time since her last visit to send out queries to the Host, but it was possible that getting word to the right people was difficult. The entire desert around Sharakhai for five hundred leagues was under siege, after all. Ships of war still departed daily from the King’s Harbor, laden with Maidens and Silver Spears to hunt those of the Moonless Host who remained near, leaving fewer to scour the city for the Host and their sympathizers.

But perhaps that was ready to change at last. It had been a dark time since Külaşan’s death, but there were fewer hangings at the gibbet of late, fewer given to Cahil for his attentions, fewer ships reportedly brought down. Even the fury of the Kings was not an inexhaustible flame. It had been terribly expensive for the city, both in coin and in lost revenue from the caravans that felt it too risky to travel the Shangazi until the bloodshed had been stemmed. When she thought about it, it was perhaps another reason the Kings didn’t wish anyone to know of the assassin gaining the walls of Eventide. War was bad for commerce. Tensions may have eased, but were the Kings to leak the news that another of their number had nearly been killed, or that one had been, surely it would make every caravan master think twice about braving the desert.

“Why don’t you come in?” Yanca said sweetly. “Have some tea.”

Yanca kept Çeda’s hand, inadvertently compressing the puckered wound on the meat of Çeda’s thumb. The wound still hurt, just as Zaïde had said it would. Sometimes she hardly knew it was there, but at other times it ached horribly. Today, at least, it was only a minor irritation. Çeda hid the flare of pain Yanca’s feeble grip was causing, and said, “I can’t. Not today.”

Yanca smiled until her eyes were mere slits. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the world will wait for your tea, and you’ll be the happier for it.”

“Thank you, but no. I need only the package.”

Yanca frowned. Struggled to find her voice for a moment. “I’m to ask what you mean to use it for before I give it to you.”

Çeda laughed. “That’s none of his business, and none of yours.”

Yanca waggled her head, eyes pinched in mirth or irritation, Çeda wasn’t sure which. “He said you’d say that.”

“I need it, Yanca.”

Yanca’s frown deepened, then she turned and went back into her home. She returned with a small burlap package wrapped in twine. “He’ll understand.”

Çeda accepted it. It smelled of Dardzada’s apothecary. It smelled of her childhood. She nearly wept. Then she laughed at the very thought of it, weeping tears of nostalgia over her days with Dardzada.

“What is it, child?”

“Nothing, Yanca.” She raised the package up. “Gods bless you.”

“And you.” She kissed Çeda’s hand and went back inside, shutting the door with a clatter.

She left Yanca’s and headed for the endless tents of the bazaar, sticking her tongue out at the children above as she walked. They did the same to her, then giggled and waited for her to do it again. But Çeda merely smiled, replaced her veil, and continued on.

On the way to the spice market, she passed a smith, the tinging of his hammer rhythmic, almost melodic. A dozen or so men and women in bright Malasani clothing were watching, talking and pointing, as a Sharakhani girl spoke loudly, telling them of the famed swords made in the desert. Çeda continued past, smiling, remembering the summer she’d tried to do the same. The smith put on a good show, but he made shit weapons, and it had never sat right with Çeda, even if she were selling them to wide- eyed foreigners with fat purses who would likely do no more than return home and hang the sword on a wall. Besides, the smith paid terribly and had leered at her well too often.

She skirted the edge of the spice market, ready to head back to the House of Maidens but stopped just short of an old pistachio tree when she noticed a dozen gutter wrens playing at swords. A boy and a girl were sparring while the others watched, awaiting their turns. Çeda had taught many in this very group. The girl was named Lilis. Çeda drilling her over and over, trying in vain, it seemed, to teach her to keep her guard up, to keep her stance proper lest her opponent catch her unprepared. And here she was at last, showing excellent form for a girl of ten.

Little thanks to me, though. I haven’t taught her in half a year.

Just when Çeda was about to leave, the boy Lilis was fighting stepped in, blocked a hasty swing, and cracked her along the side of her head. Lilis crumpled, and Çeda rushed forward.

As she did, she felt a tug at her belt.

Immediately she felt for her purse and found it missing, then saw the crowd parting in surprise as a girl with curly brown hair wove between them.

Çeda gave chase, recognizing that hair, the way she ducked her shoulders as she ran. “Mala!”

Mala continued for several more paces, but then stopped and turned. She regarded Çeda with a frown, a look of confusion. “Çeda?”

Mala was the girl she’d saved, along with her mother, Sirina, from the asirim years ago. Her hair hung all the way down to her shoulders now. It was curled and snarled in places, dusty from a day of running through the city. Çeda stepped toward her. The nervousness on Mala’s face was clear, as if preparing to sprint away at any moment, but when Çeda removed the veil across her face, Mala went still, her eyes widening to great saucers. She opened her mouth to speak, but Çeda put a finger to her lips to keep her from saying her name again. Çeda beckoned her closer, then knelt down until the two of them were eye-to-eye. The crowd parted and flowed easily around them, giving them a strange sort of privacy.

Nearly overcome with nostalgia, Çeda pulled Mala into a tight embrace.

“Were have you been?” Mala asked once she’d pulled away. “We all thought you were dead.”

“I’m still here,” Çeda said, then took the purse Mala had cut from her belt back from her, “but I’m a Blade Maiden now.”

“You aren’t, either!” “I am.”

“Memma said they took you, but I never believed her.” “They didn’t take me”—Çeda shrugged—“not exactly.”

Mala’s gaze roamed over Çeda, appraising. “But your dress. And you wear no ebon blade!”

“I have a Maiden’s dress. And I was given an ebon sword.” “By Husamettín?”

Çeda nodded. “By the King of Swords himself.”

Mala stared in wonder. “Will you fight them now? The asirim?” Mala and her mother had nearly been murdered by them. They’d been marked by Sukru, the Reaping King, for death, and Çeda had only just managed to lead them away before the asirim had come that night of Beht Zha’ir.

Çeda pulled Mala in closer. “Never speak of such things, Mala. Do you hear me? It’s too dangerous.” Mala nodded, but Çeda could see in her eyes that she didn’t understand. “Can I ask you something else, Mala?”

Mala nodded again.

“Have you seen Emre? Has anyone?”

Mala hesitated. She’d always been eager to please Çeda, but she also wouldn’t lie to her. “No one’s seen him.”

Of course she hadn’t. Emre wouldn’t show his face around Roseridge or the spice market or any of his old haunts. She nearly asked Mala to watch for him, but if she did, Mala was likely to go looking for him, and that was something she couldn’t allow. It was simply too dangerous.

She stepped in and hugged Mala. “Go back to your friends. And stop thieving, Mala. It’ll get you hurt one day.”

Mala hugged her back and then was off, lost among the crowd, heading back to the pistachio tree—no doubt to tell her friends what she’d seen, who she’d seen—while Çeda headed in the other direction, east toward the heart of Sharakhai.

With every step, she tried to convince herself of the reasons for Emre’s absence.

Hes alive. It’s just too dangerous, and he can’t risk it. It isn’t because he’s dead.

She returned to the House of Maidens. She’d been so eager to walk the streets she knew so well, but now they only seemed hollow and filled with ghosts. She made her way to the barracks and into the flat she now shared with Sümeya, Melis, and Kameyl. Thankfully, their rooms were empty. She went to her room, sat on her bed, and held the package Yanca had given her. She held it to her nose and breathed deeply, laughing once again at the bittersweet memories of life in Dardzada’s apothecary.

She pulled at the twine and found a small box inside. With great care she slid the lid of the box back, revealing a small suede sack that contained fine grey powder. Satisfied, she pressed the lid home and hid the box away in the chest of clothes at the foot of her bed. Then she took out the dress she’d started sewing the day before. There was still much to do before tomorrow tonight.

 

Excerpted from Blood Upon the Sand © Bradley Beaulieu 2017

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