“Yes, all those ridiculous men–and women, sometimes–wanting so much for me to be something I was not. Their vision of what royalty should be, or justification for hiring me to fuck–… Have I shocked you?”
– Queen Malka (who becomes known as Shoshana by the people who save her life, “Rose” by the Romans)., Prelude
And just like that, we were once again packing in a hurry as we had when we left the palace. It was a strange, sad feeling of familiarity, tinged with something like despair. I wondered if we were doomed to repeat this cycle as long as I lived, or at least as long as Rome’s puppets occupied the region. A fleeting thought whispered across my mind, that perhaps it had been better to stay and fight for my people, and maybe die in the process. Just as quickly, I dismissed the notion. In dying alongside the remaining denizens of the palace, my death would have been useless. Stories had come to us from the marketplace, tales of wholesale slaughter: anyone they had found within the palace walls, whether nobility or servant, was killed without hesitation. No mercy, no imprisonment, no interrogations. Witnesses had seen William’s soldiers stacking bodies and burning them unceremoniously in the courtyard, like so much garbage. Continue reading
Yadin’s home was in the mountains south of Shamar, as the royal city was called then, in a fertile valley near the Belen road. What normally took him a day and a half took us twice that.
That first evening, the road out of the city was crowded with refugees. The lot of us moved with a singular purpose, but necessarily slowly simply because of the vast numbers. We had little fear that William’s men would pursue the throng; they had come from the West and we were headed south, and it was generally understood that he had wanted the city for its strategic location. Rome had been wanting to regain a foothold in the region, and what better way than to capture the royal city, the last remaining stronghold of the Khazars, which stood between Rome and its path eastward.
No, Rome wasn’t interested in the common people just yet. And with Adina and the decoy child in place, we were assured of anonymous safety for a time. Continue reading
Of the nurses who stayed, one was known and dear to me — Maryam — one I vaguely knew — Adina — and one I didn’t recognize at all. That happened a lot. Nurses came and went and, except for Maryam, I hardly even looked at them. So it was nothing remarkable that Bina was unknown to me. I thought she was so new to court life that she simply hadn’t yet tired of my childish antics.
Despite my father’s lack of leadership and my mother’s more ascetic approach to court life, I had managed to receive an excellent education up to that point. Tutors had been imported from the great courts of Persia, and I soaked up their knowledge; the Greeks with their logic and the Goliards with their music; truly I was a fortunate child, and more fortunate still that these subjects had been of such interest to me, for of course they served me very well in adulthood.
My father’s reign was disastrous, as you know. As much as I loved him as a child, I know him now for a self-indulgent fool in a time that could ill afford luxury of any sort. When he should be inspecting troops before they were sent off to guard the borders against the very motivated invaders, he was inspecting wines instead. When he should be conferring with his generals on the best way to address the new war machinery that Rome’s engineers had wrought, he was conferring with his own court engineers on a new mechanical toy to be unveiled at my next birthday fête. Continue reading
I am not a beautiful woman.
I’m not even particularly pretty.
Oh, I suppose I’m handsome enough, with even features, green eyes, decent cheekbones. But without the benefit of the paint pot, I wouldn’t consider myself anything beyond merely plain.
Nevertheless in my long and very interesting life I have been called “beautiful”, “stunning”, “breathtaking”, and worse. I couldn’t tell you why, except that it is, I guess, a wish on the part of the speakers that I be those things to fulfill their own strange and fevered imaginings. Continue reading