I’ve been writing a fantasy novel tentatively titled Sarel for over 3 and a half years now, and I’m on another round of edits. This will hopefully be my second- or third- to- last round before I start sending my MS to agents.
During this process, I’ve had wonderful beta readers go through my MS and leave beautiful and helpful feedback. I’m now opening up my chapters to you and what I’m sure will be your wonderful feedback as readers and book lovers!
Leave your comments below. Be honest, be brutal, and make my manuscript bleed. That’s the only way it’ll improve.
The woman’s face was a patchwork of scratches and dirt. She still hadn’t sensed me hidden behind the trees, my arrow nocked, waiting for release.
She slurped fat off the bones one last time before I released the poisoned arrow. Its golden head sliced into her arm, pinning it to her side.
She screamed, trying to tear her arm free as her eyes darted around the trees.
“Take her!” I yelled at the dead under my command.
She glanced down at the fatty bones still greasing her hands and dropped them, as if they burned her. Her mouth formed a wide O as she realized the bones were bait.
The qareen, some of them freshly resurrected, around me whooped and yelled as they raced into the clearing. The woman’s head snapped up, the smoky gray of her eyes being swallowed by the widening whites. She was a jinn, no doubt, her skin pale and streaked with thin lines of blue veins.
The resurrected dead – the qareen – surrounded her, their leathery bodies glistening with sweat. With sharp nails, fingers as strong as steel, and bodies hardened by being dead then resurrected, they snatched at the jinn’s body, blood trickling from cuts and wounds.
She didn’t even fight.
One of the qareen held a glass bottle to the jinn’s wound, capturing the blood flowing freely from it.
I reached behind me for another arrow, tempted to shoot it into the jinn. Most struggled, screaming and spitting, and sometimes killing a qareen or two before I slammed them in the back of the head with a rock or branch.
But this one let the qareen lead her to the wheeled cage hidden behind thick ferns.
“Wait,” I said, stepping out from behind a tree. Was this a trick? Jinns fought, even – especially – when they knew they were going to be executed.
Two of the six qareen I brought with me kept their hands on the jinn, but they paused, waiting for their next orders.
The jinn tilted her head, as if trying to view me from another angle.
“Eyelin?” she said.
My breath caught in my throat, but I cleared my throat to cover up my surprise.
“Your name,” I said, ignoring her question.
She blinked as a slow frown crinkled her mouth.
I noticed the qareen eyeing each other, shifting their weight from one foot to the other. I saw one reach out for the jinn’s throat, but then pull back in a closed fist.
I jerked my chin towards the qareen. His hand snaked out and clamped around the jinn’s scarless white throat.
“Your name, jinn,” I said, reaching for my dagger.
The jinn stared blankly at me, even as her face grew whiter as the qareen squeezed harder.
I sighed, flashing my blade in front of the jinn’s face. Her eyes followed its glint, even as I dragged it down her chest to her navel.
“Let her go,” I told the qareen.
He lessened his slack around her throat, but still kept it on her.
“I’ll ask one more time,” I said. “What is your name, jinn.”
I gave her a breath, then another, and even a third, fourth, to answer.
“Can you speak?” I said.
She shook her head, her eyes growing wider as I pressed the blade harder into her skin.
“Listen,” I said, lowering my voice. “My father always asks me the name of any jinn I capture. If I don’t tell him, I get punished. So please.” I tried covering up the hitch in my voice with a cough, but the way the jinn narrowed her eyes, I know I didn’t fool her.
“Just tell me your name, and we can be out of here.”
I eased the pressure of the blade, but still she said nothing.
“Fine,” I said, steel returning to my voice. “The sultan
The qareen wheeled the slumped jinn back to the castle. Her head was lolling against the bars of the cage, and I kept checking to make sure her chest was still rising and falling.
My father hated when I brought back a dead jinn.
They want an execution, not a stringing up of a body already dead.
“Take her to the sultan,” I told the qareen as I stepped cut through the palace courtyard, the guards pressing their hands to their chests as I passed by them.
Passing by the hammams, fed with waters brought up by the Hama River, I lingered for a moment by its doors.
A good, warm bath would do my sore muscles well.
After, I told myself, and headed straight for the Hama bridge and to the Graves.
The Graves was an old royal cemetery, built up over the centuries with tomb towers of the sultans’ most loyal noble families. Sometimes favorite mistresses and their bastard children were buried in small graves and marked with stones.
I headed for the largest tomb tower. It was almost twice as high and wide as the others surrounding it like sentinels. Slats were carved into the stone, keeping the air inside from growing musty with age and rot.
The tomb entryway was usually shut with a thick slab of stone harnessed with rope and hinges.
But today, the tomb was wide open, a gaping mouth ready to swallow me.
“Baba?” I called out as I ducked my head through the entryway.
“Back so soon?” my father said. He glanced up from the stone coffin that housed my mother’s remains. His hand rested on her death mask, palm cupping the cast of a plump cheek that once lifted up in smiles and laughs.
I fished a small stone from my pocket, an eye carved into it. As I laid it on my mother’s tomb, my hand skimmed the others resting around her, knocking them to the ground.
“Another kill,” my father said.
“Another execution. Good. It’ll entertain our guests.”
“The caravan arrived already? Why?”
He ignored my question. “They’re interested in meeting you, my jinn-hunter daughter.”
He settled a warm hand on the back on my neck, the weight pushing my head down a nod.
“Tell them I’m sick. Or travel weary. Or tell them I’m out on another hunt.”
His hand pushed down harder now and I slapped my hand against my mother’s coffin, catching myself.
“I need them to give me that land,” he said. His fingers were tightening, the bones of my neck cracking under the pressure. “We’re having a feast tonight, to celebrate their arrival. You will be there. And after that, we will have the execution.”
“Yes, of course,” I said, waiting for him to ease off me.
He did a breath later, stepping back from both my mother and me. “Go wash up,” he said a moment later. “You smell like those stinking qareen.”
I shuffled around him, heading straight for the Hama bridge.
A nice hammam is all I need. Hot, steaming water, hot shiye to drink.
A deep voice cut through my thoughts.
I glanced up, startled to see a man walking towards me. His clothing was loose around him, the extra fabric hanging down between his legs like a curtain. A tawny caracal walked beside him, its black-tipped ears pointed up towards the sky.
What is this man doing within the castle bounds?
I stared at him now, taking in the smile that seemed too wide for his narrow face. He certainly didn’t belong to the castle; no noble would be caught dead in untailored clothing.
“Amira Sarel,” the man said when we were an arms-length away from each other. “If I may be so bold.” He gave me a slight bow, petting his caracal as he did. The animal bared its teeth at me.
He paused, as if waiting for me to acknowledge him.
Caravan, I realized. Those from the al-Myra oasis wore the looser clothes as a rule in the hot sun of the desert.
I quickly arranged a smile on my face. “Ah’lan, ah’lan,” I said, “Welcome to Belad.”
“Yes, yes, shakran. We’re very glad to be here. I am Lebnan,” he said without another bow.
“’tarifnah,” I said, indicating he was free to continue speaking to me. “You’ll have to excuse the dirt on me, I just returned from a hunt.”
His eyebrows shot up and another wide smile overtook his face. I noticed his teeth were white and almost straight save for a single bottom tooth. “A successful one, I hope. We’ve had a few jinn raids over the years.”
“She is in the prisons now,” I said. “We’ll be executing her tomorrow.”
“Well you know what they. The only useful jinn is the one that’s been bled dry.”
I forced a laugh, nodding in agreement. “True words, yes.”
“Please,” Lebnan said, stepping aside, “Don’t let me keep you. I’m sure you’d like nothing better than to be out of those clothes and into fresh ones.”
I ignored as he raked his eyes down my body, lingering on my hips. “I will see you at the feast tonight, I hope,” he said.
“Of course,” I said. “And Amir Aneyd will be there, too,” I added. My betrothed, I wanted to add.
I clenched my teeth, trying to keep from grinning as the man’s smile dropped from his mouth.
“I didn’t realize the amir would be here.”
“Why wouldn’t he be?” I said innocently.
Lebnan gave a tight smile and stepped aside to give me more space. “Please, don’t let me keep you.”
Without a glance back, I walked as fast I could to my rooms without looking like I was hurrying. The whole time, I felt eyes boring into my back until I turned a corner and was out of that man’s view.
Who brings a desert beast to meet a sultan and his family? I thought, as I stepped into my rooms, two maids shutting the door behind.
They looked young – younger than most of the other maids.Quite pretty, too, with their hazelnut skin and braids as thick as fists coiled on their heads.
“Are you new here?” I asked them.
They looked at each other and nodded, blushes creeping onto their cheeks.
“We’re from the same village, and Amir Natlus spotted us in the souk just some days ago. He offered us jobs here at the castle.”
They blushed again, and I wondered what else my brother offered them.
“Be careful what other things Amir Natlus promises you – he’s led other girls down paths they couldn’t return from.”
I left a final blush creep over their faces. “What are your names, then?”
“Acha,” the shorter and plumper one said.
“Jazarah,” the other said.
“Pleasure to meet you, though I’m sure you don’t think the same of me,” I said, gesturing down to my dirt-covered clothes. I was sure I didn’t smell any better than I looked, even though I oiled my skin with perfume before I left on my hunt. Three days of travel without baths, though, couldn’t be contained by some perfumed oils.
I let them peel off the sweat and dirt-encrusted tunic and pants from my body – hunting and training were the only times my father allowed me pants.
“I will take fresh clothing and drying cloth to the hammam, amira,” Jazarah said as Acha draped a long dress over me.
“In a bit,” I said, suddenly feeling so tired I stumbled into the nearest chair and sunk into it. “Bring me shiy first, with honey and some figs.”
“Hadarh,” Jazarah said with a slight bow of her head as she slipped out of the room.
“Draw me warm water,” I told Acha, who turned quickly to small hammam attached to my bedroom. “I’ll take my bath here.”
Before Jazarah returned with the shiy, I was asleep in my chair, my mind eased of any thought, even of my own stink and sweat.