I got a lot of great responses for the prologue, and have decided to keep posting! Please keep those reviews and comments coming, they really give me that kick in the ass I need to get these chapters out to you on time (maybe even early!)

Chapter Warning: This chapter contains triggering material and some adult themes. I hope it goes without saying (especially to those that have read my other works), that I do not always condone the actions of my characters. I will take this opportunity to remind readers that this book takes place in a different time and culture.


Twenty-Five Years Later

Chapter One


They were different like the seasons.

Her father was like the Flood. His words flowed in an unbroken stream, incessant, loud, and riddled with nonsense. He drank all the beer set before him and paid no mind to the flecks of grain stuck to his trembling lips. He was always moving, always consuming. His presence sat as heavy as the sea upon her shoulders, and his voice—strung through with all his silly ignorance—threatened to smother her.

Lady Kiya, aged and genteel and patient, was the Harvest. She was the lady of the house, the first wife, the professional homemaker. She brought forth the bountiful feast before them, and by her lord husband had borne four children, all sons. She was in every way the perfect wife-fertile, obedient, and self-assured.

If her father was the flood and the grand Lady Kiya the Harvest, then Lord Pathi was the Sowing, for he was the sower of seeds. He was huge and powerful and older than the graying Lady Kiya sitting at his side. He was a warrior, a politician, a judge. He was a father of four, and yet he still desired more. And who would stop him, when he was rich and could afford what so few could—a second wife?

They were the seasons, and Aisha was the earth upon which they trod. She was at the mercy of their whims. She was clay waiting to be molded and painted and fired. Her father had offered her up like lamb on a platter, Lady Kiya had assented to the marriage with a backwards sneer, and Lord Pathi—her now-groom—had felt the shape of Aisha's hips before announcing, "Very well, I'll have her."

So here Aisha sat, at one end of a table far too long for the four people sitting around it. She had every comfort as the bride: a plush cushion, a goblet of beer, a platter of mashed chickpeas and roasted flatbread. In honor of the occasion, Lady Kiya had even ordered a roasted lamb haunch. It occupied the center of the table, charred black and studded with garlic, cloves, and coriander pods.

Her father tore at the meat straight, and it fell away from the bone with a plume of steam and the pungent fragrance of cumin and lard. The grease staining her father's hands shimmered in the light of the braziers.

It wasn't that Aisha wouldn't eat, but that she couldn't. She didn't dare move for fear that the delicate façade her sisters had spent all morning creating would crumble away. Her makeup had dried hours ago, and it fractured and cracked with each word she spoke and with each smile she forced. Her mask was peeling away like bark from an acacia tree, and she feared that her groom would see her plain face and know her father had lied to him.

For Aisha was no beauty, just as she was no singer or dancer. Such pretty accomplishments were better left to her two younger sisters, beautiful lucky girls, who were now sitting at home thinking their eldest sister fortunate in her advantageous marriage.

Ini and Nafrini were young and romantic, but Aisha was old enough to know the truth. Lord Pathi hadn't picked her for her face or skills. She was picked because she was older than her juvenile sisters and therefore more likely to bear the children he desired.

He would sow his seed within her, and while the child grew in her womb she would be subject to the first wife's commands. Aisha was only the second wife, and as such she was Lady Kiya's servant in all but name.

This was to be her life now. She was a wife and would be expected to fulfill the duties accompanying the station, but Lord Pathi was a large man, tall and muscular, and she feared the strength of his arms. She feared the pain she would endure in accepting his passions. Scars and veins stretched over his arms like spider webs, and when he reached forward, his muscles curled and bulged.

Tonight he would reach for her with those arms, and he would rip at her clothes as he ripped at the lamb. He would order her to lie down before taking her from above. His bulk would cast a shadow over her face so he need not see the plainness her sisters had worked so hard to disguise.

Her hands trembled, so she laced them together in her lap to still them.

Her groom had ordered for more wine, and the servants carried in the enormous amphorae upon stooped shoulders. Their faces were plain like Aisha's, their hands stained and wrinkled from washing, and their cheeks marred with red splotches. Perhaps Lady Kiya preferred to hire unattractive men and women. Perhaps she wanted to spare her husband from the temptation.

Then Aisha realized the deeper truth: this was why she was picked over her sisters. Ini and Nafrini were spared not because they were younger, but because they were beautiful. To preserve her position, Lady Kiya picked the ugly daughter. After all, what threat could Aisha pose to her graceful, motherly figure?

The first wife ladled the wine into cups, passing them out with confidence and poise. She set the first cup before Aisha; and she saw the liquid was darker than the beer preceding it.

"Sweetened with honey," Lord Pathi explained as he accepted his own cup. He raised it in her father's direction before taking the first sip.

"It's a wonderful thing," the merchant said after sharing the toast, but Aisha doubted that her father could taste anything with his beer-saturated tongue. "The grapes are quite fine this year," he added, as if he knew anything about grapes and wine. Aisha couldn't recall the last time she had seen wine. It was a luxury her family couldn't afford, not since her mother's death.

But her father was a merchant, and when he lied, he lied well. He simpered and smiled and smacked his lips after each delicate sip he took from his cup. To those who didn't know him well, he would seem like a true connoisseur.

"Four years ago the wild bees outside Bast produced some of the finest honey…" and he was off, answering Lord Pathi's fondness with wines with his own tales of the gourmet foods he had encountered in the years he had spent on the road.

He knew where to find the finest figs, the freshest perch, the largest mussels. He described flavors Aisha knew for a fact he had never tasty: succulent octopus and savory beef and spicy cinnamon bark.

Aisha wrung her hands as she listened to her father blather on. She was supposed to be eating and drinking and laughing, and yet she could hardly muster the strength to maintain her posture, let alone converse.

Night was descending, and the servants crept from the shadows to throw dried dung on the braziers. But despite the smoke, the mosquitos came all the same, rising off the courtyard pond and skirting past the rustling curtains separating the diners from the gardens beyond. They arrived in droves to feast upon the feasters.

Aisha could feel them settling upon her skin and boring down through her face paint to the flaming cheeks beneath. They would chip her mask completely away, one tiny flake after another.

Her father's voice droned above the mosquitoes, and the lamb vanished piece by piece. The wine was inhaled and empty cups clattered across the table.

The braziers burned low and the smoke continued to rise like a fog, spilling from the copper basins and bathing their legs in its acrid stench.

Aisha's back was aching and her stomach grumbling by the time Lady Kiya acknowledged her again. Leaning across the table, the first wife whispered, "You should eat something. You'll need your strength."

The air escaped Aisha's lungs with a hiss. Her hands, already moist, came apart to grip furiously at the linen dress bound around her thighs.

You'll need your strength.

Did Lady Kiya mean to be cruel, or was she simply warning her? After all, she knew Lord Pathi best. She had shared his bed for over twenty years now.

She should eat, Aisha knew, because Lady Kiya was right. It was already late, but it would be many more hours before it would finally end. It was coming, that mysterious event separating childhood from womanhood.

That's when Aisha realized she couldn't… She just couldn't do it, not for her obnoxious father, not even for the younger sisters who had seen her off with smiles and cheers. Aisha couldn't do it, she wasn't ready for any of this.

"Please," she muttered before Lady Kiya could pull away. "Please, help."

Did the first wife understand her meaning? Aisha didn't think so. The lady leaned closer, but there was no pity in her round face. Her lips pursed and her forehead creased, but when she took Aisha's hand it wasn't to comfort her. The grand lady was checking her pulse, examining her as if she had fallen ill.

"You need to eat," Lady Kiya said again.

The conversation at the other end of the table quieted. The men's eyes were drawn to the unexpected closeness between the two women, the way the older of the two inclined her head, the way the younger one shook head to toes.

"Please don't make me." The whole table was listening now, all of them playing witness to Aisha's crumbling resolve. "I'm just a girl."

Lady Kiya released Aisha's hand and straightened on her cushion, every one of her movements slow and deliberate. She waved at the dark corners of the room, summoning the women awaiting her call.

They came at their mistress's beckons.

"Please, don't. I'm not ready."

"You're overtired from the day," Lady Kiya told Aisha, as if saying it made it true. To Lord Pathi she explained, "I shall send your bride to her chambers so she may collect herself, my lord."

The servants seized Aisha's shoulders, and she watched mouth agape as her groom shrugged and turned away. His gaze was already returning to the wine amphorae at his side.

Aisha's arms draped over their shoulders, the servants hauled the bride to her feet. They were about to lead her away, when Lady Kiya turned and offered a single assurance, "It will be over quickly. Stay relaxed and be still."

The first wife turned away, her hand swatting at the mosquitoes hounding her nose.

"Come, my lady," said one of the servants as they dragged her backwards from the table.

Aisha's knees were too weak to bear her, but the servants were strong. They carried her down the winding halls lit only by the occasional lamp secured to the wall. They turned one corner and then another, dragging her deeper into the bowels of the estate.

Her apartment was hung with tapestries and laid with carpets. The dresser's surface was cluttered with tiny cosmetic jars, face paints and body oil, brushes with ox hair bristles, and a mirror, gilded with mother-of-pearl and gold. Cushions laid scatted around a low table covered with a platter of fruit: dates and figs and nabk berries. Aisha took it all in—the chest, the stool, the washing stand—until her eyes landed upon the bed at the far end of the room.

The frame's wooden hooves gripped the stone floor, and soft cushions littered the freshly-stuffed mattress. The linens had been folded back to reveal the beige sheets beneath. It was beckoning to her, she thought, alluring her with its misleading promises of warmth and comfort.

Lord Pathi would come for her soon, and he would look for her in that deceptive bed. He would claim her, transform her from a girl into a woman.

Her tongue seemed to swell on the floor of her mouth. She could hardly breathe around it, and she certainly couldn't speak to ask for help. Please, she would have pleaded with the servants, please let me go!

The servants either failed to notice her increasing distress or chose simply to ignore it. They led her to the stool instead, and forced her down in front of the cosmetics dresser.

Aisha couldn't tell one face from the next as they crowded in around her. They were dark and unsmiling and brisk. Their every movement was sharp as they washed her face with chafing ferocity. Her cheeks burned, and the water dripping into her gasping mouth tasted like dirt and sweat.

"Ple—no—"

The hands shifted to cover her mouth, the fingers wordlessly demanding her silence. So Aisha wept instead. Tears soaked the linen dangling in her face, and her eyes itched no matter how furiously she blinked them.

Then her cheeks were scrubbed and the servants were lifting her back to her feet.

They peeled off her sheath dress as a hunter skins a hare, revealing her sinewy plain body. They unwound the starched bandages that had softened the curves of her figure. Her skin stank of old sweat and her ribcage ached.

As the last of the fabric was pulled away, she inhaled the deep breath she hadn't known she had so desperately needed. As her lungs filled with air she could at last form words, "Please, let me go. I'm not ready."

But even this did not faze the women working around her. They undressed her and toweled her dry with terrycloth. In calloused silence, they doused their hands in coriander oil and rubbed it into her chest, arms, and belly.

"I don't know what I'm doing." But Aisha knew they would never help her. They were Lady Kiya's servants, not Bride Aisha's. The first wife was their goddess and they were her priestesses. The maids cleaned and prepared the second wife as they would a sacrificial lamb. That's all she was, after all, an offering from Lady Kiya to her powerful husband.

Lady Kiya would lay Aisha upon the altar and pray, "Oh, Foremost of Men, please won't you accept this young body in my stead? Won't you take pity on my aging bones and pass your passion onto another?"

And the stoic groom would lean over her, his arms flexing and bulging, and reply, "I accept your offering, loyal wife Kiya, and will pass these duties onto a person with the youth and strength to receive them."

Aisha would have lost herself in these imaginings if a servant hadn't picked that moment to reach up between her legs and perfume her inner thighs. The woman's hands were scaly and dry as they skid across her skin with methodical practice, devoid of any gentleness. Maybe the maid was a cook, Aisha supposed, and better accustomed to dressing a goose for a dinner than a bride for her groom.

The woman-the cook turned priestess-straightened in time to lock gazes with Aisha. It was the first time any of the estate's servants had deigned to look her in the eye.

Aisha's heart leapt with hope as she plucked the woman's hand from her thigh. Then, putting all her desperation into the words, she begged, "Please, I'm just a girl."

The woman wrestled her hand from Aisha's grip and turned away.

"We all must grow up, my lady. Now please, won't you sit?"

Aisha wiped the tears from her flushed cheeks as they forced her down upon the stool. What was the point now? If a servant, her likeliest ally, wouldn't help her, who would?

"I don't know what to do."

The woman surprised Aisha by responding, "There will be a pinch, my lady, and perhaps some discomfort. But you needn't do anything. Relax yourself, and the pain will pass."

And with that the preparations were complete. They led her to the bed, settled her on the mattress, and dragged the sheets up around her naked shoulders. She gripped the linen and lifted it over her puffy eyes so she would not see when the stern-faced servants left her at last.

Her face was still hidden beneath the blankets when Lord Pathi came for her more than an hour later. A breeze accompanied his arrival, and the reed blinds draped over the window slapped against the brick wall.

He came for her, ferreting her from her cocoon of sheets and claiming the wedding gift only a maid bride could give. His weight pinned her to the straw mattress as his hands roamed over her, and when his face descended to lay salty kisses upon her throat, sweat dripped upon her upturned face.

She was still through it all: through the pinch, through the discomfort, and then through the pain. She was a lady, a she told herself. A girl cried and whimpered, but a lady bore her misery with grace and dignity.

This was her duty as it was her mother's, as it would one day be her sisters'.

And with a single thrust, Aisha was a woman.


There we have it. Chapter One and our formal introduction to the female protagonist.

I hope you all were able to sympathize with Aisha and forgive me for the hardships I placed upon her. This chapter contained some difficult material, and while Aisha does not consider the actions of her new husband as 'rape,' I hope all of you recognize the wrongness of his actions. If this chapter is at all upsetting to you, even on a personal level, please feel free to message me.

Okay, so now that that's out of the way. I hope to hear from you all. You're words of encouragement are the swift kick to the ass I need to get things done!