Here’s a sneak peak of Pirouette, book three of The Andari Chronicles:
Princess Ilani Rohin Adayan could not sit still.
She was distracted during breakfast, and barely touched her favorite fried flatcakes. She fidgeted through being dressed, and had to be scolded when her dancing sashes kept coming unpinned. She squirmed while her hair was brushed and braided, and nearly spilled the tray of pearls waiting to be woven into her silky dark locks. She bounced impatiently in her seat while her shoes were being put on and broke three of the gauzy golden ribbons that wrapped around her ankles.
Panya fussed, Mazri scolded, and Ilani paid no attention whatsoever. It was the day she had been looking forward to for months—her birthday. She was seven years old. She was her father’s seventh daughter. And today she was to dance for him.
She had danced since she was old enough to toddle unevenly across the pavilion and cry disconsolately for music. Her sisters, all twelve of them, had done the same. Old Panya, who had wet-nursed the eldest, and had been there for each of the princesses’ births, claimed that Varinda had danced before she walked, and that Dariya had three times danced in her sleep. Ilani believed her. They were Caelani and therefore they danced.
And they were Caelani princesses, therefore they danced more beautifully than anyone else in the world. Or so her father said.
Her father, of course, would know. He was Shakah Omaru Adayan, Malek of Caelan. Ruler of the greatest empire the world had ever seen. Father to thirteen daughters of incomparable loveliness.
At least, so he had been claiming for the last three months, to anyone who would listen, which, when you are the Malek, is everyone. Because at last, three months ago, after many wives and many years of wondering if it would never be, a son had been born. To Ilani’s mother.
Ilani barely remembered her mother. All thirteen of the princesses had been raised by Panya and the other slaves who lived with them at the Pavilion. Their mothers lived in another part of the palace, with the Malek. But Ilani could recall a small woman with dark hair, hair that was so long it brushed the ground when she sat. Hair that smelled of rain and wind, even though she lived in a palace where no rain or wind was permitted to enter.
And Ilani had her mother’s gift—a bracelet. Her mother had placed it on her wrist when Ilani was still very tiny. The bracelet was of plaited metal strands, like silver, looped over and over so it would not fall off, and it had no clasp. Silver was not truly fitting for a princess, silver was for slaves, but Ilani’s mother had given it to her, so Ilani wore it because she missed her.
That morning, as Ilani was dressing, Panya had scowled at the bracelet. Little Lani must not dance in front of her father wearing a slave bracelet.
But it was a gift from my mother, Ilani protested. I must wear it. For luck. And anyway, the bracelet did not come off. She had tried.
Then Panya whispered that even her mother would not wish her to wear it any longer. Now that her mother had a son, she would not want her daughter to be seen wearing such a paltry gift. The woman who had provided the Malek with his long awaited boy child would be his most favored wife, and could afford to give her daughter a better bracelet. One with gold, and gems.
And this made Ilani glad. Perhaps if she was very good, she would be allowed to see her mother again. So she let Panya take off the bracelet, to keep until after her dance. The dance that was to be her father’s gift to the gods who had so favored him.
A man who had seven children was said to be blessed by all the seven deities. And a man who had fourteen? Doubly blessed. And she, Little Lani, was the Malek’s talisman. The seventh. The lucky one. And now, he had a son, the fourteenth, whose mother was the same as the seventh, and these were great and glorious omens that must not be ignored. He was the most fortunate man who had ever lived, and to show the gods his gratitude for this blessing, his seventh daughter would dance, on her seventh birthday.
It was not one of the grown-up dances, those that the older girls practiced and giggled and blushed about later, the dances meant to catch the eye of a man who wished to marry. Nor was it one of the dances that a girl would perform only for her husband. It was a child’s dance, meant for parties or festivals, but Ilani had practiced and practiced until every move was perfect. She knew every line, every spin, every graceful turn and twist, knew how to use her sashes to make herself a part of what the music represented — a bird, a butterfly, a flower. And she loved it, those moments when she was no longer seventh princess Ilani Rohin Adayan, but simply a dancer.
So when the moment came, Ilani was ready. She entered her father’s audience chamber on silent, slippered feet, and bowed solemnly before him where he sat, at his ease on his great golden throne.
He smiled, a beneficent smile that said he was pleased with all the world. Beside him sat his advisors, and beside them were his most favored men, the emirs and their sons and their wives and the guards that each of these brought with them. The chamber was full, but for the center of the floor, where Ilani was to dance.
She might have felt nervous, but then the music started and her father smiled and was pleased with her and so she danced as she had never danced before. It was different, almost immediately. Ilani could feel it. Could feel the music in her head and in her heart and in her feet and in her fingertips. It was alive. It warmed her and breathed with her and it was beautiful. And because it was beautiful, Ilani wanted to share it.
So when she was a bird, and the music was a bird, there was a yet another—a glowing golden bird that appeared in the air above her and flew with her across the floor and sang for the pure joy of singing. When she was a butterfly, her sashes fluttering delicately from her arms, there was another butterfly that caught the sun and flitted from moment to moment with unmistakeable joy in its own freedom. And because of that joy, Ilani did not see her father’s face change when he saw the beautiful golden lights — from pride and anticipation to shock and horror and loathing. She did not hear the whispers that turned to murmurs that became cries of fear.
She was caught utterly unprepared when the music died and the butt of a spear caught her across the shoulders and knocked her mercilessly to the floor.
Then she could hear it. The words that flew from corner to corner of the chamber: “Filthy witch…Blasphemous… Evil … ” And she could see her father’s face. Frozen, in naked hatred and revulsion.
She had no idea then of what had occurred. Only that she was caught up in a wind of anger and noise that carried her swiftly from one horror to the next. There was a rush of people, fighting to escape the audience chamber. A thunder of feet, as she was surrounded by guards. And a chill terror, as she looked into her father’s face and saw no love, no pride, no hope. When he spoke, his voice was that of a stranger—flat and cold and dead.
“She must never dance again.”
And for thirteen years, she never did.
Pirouette is now available:Available on Amazon