Tuesday, May 26, 2015
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
“One life to one dawn.”
Shahrzad al-Khayzuran volunteered to become the latest bride of Khalid Ibn al-Rashid, the caliph of Khorasan. Only eighteen-years-old, the boy king is known as a monster throughout the land. At sixteen, Shahrzad’s life is now forfeit. By sunrise, she is expected to suffer the same fate as all of the caliph’s previous wives, death by a silken cord. Shahrzad has other plans. She hopes to murder the caliph out of revenge not only for the death of her best friend, Shiva, but for every girl and her family that has suffered at his hands. Khalid wants to know why she chose to volunteer.
Irsa, Shahrzab’s younger sister and their father pack up in the dead of night to begin three days of hard travel to Taleqan. Taleqan is the stronghold of Nasir al-Zizad, emir of the fourth-richest stronghold of Khorasan. Nasir’s son, Tariq, is Shahrzad’s childhood sweetheart as well as Shiva’s brother. Tariq is determined to rescue Shahrzad from the caliph. Before they depart, her father grabs one book before he locks the door. Formerly a vizar to Khalid’s father, he is now a custodian of ancient texts. He refuses to answer Irsa when she asks what book he took.
Shahrzad will answer the caliph’s question after she tells him a story. He agrees, but becomes difficult as she begins her tale. As Shahrzad tells the story, she notices the first light of dawn behind the caliph. Continuing on, she finally stops as she gazes across the terrace to see that the new day has arrived. The caliph follows her gaze and then asks her to finish the story. She refuses, saying that she has only just begun. The caliph guesses correctly that her storytelling is a tactic she has employed to stay her execution. Shahrzad fully plans to finish the tale tomorrow night, but only if he wishes her to. Even though she knows her life is forfeit, Shahrzad would like just one more day. He agrees to one more day and leaves.
Awoken at noon that first day, Shahrzad’s handmaiden, Despina introduces herself. She lets her know that she is the caliph’s spy but that she hopes that Shahrzad is able to survive. After helping her dress for the day, Shahrzad asks Despina if she is allowed to leave her room. As long as she is with the Rajput, she may. Despina informs her that the caliph has given her a gift of one of his personal bodyguards. Shahrzad is angry that she necessitates a spy and a ready executioner. Rajput is the best swordsman in Rey, perhaps all of Khorasan, with Khalid al-Rashid, the King of Kings a close second. Despina thought she should know that. Shahrzad realizes that there is one more obstacle to her plan to kill Khalid.
Walking through the palace with Despina and Rajput, Shahrzad asks to go outside. Searching the grounds, Despina asks Shahrzad what she is trying to do. She replies that she is looking for someone and makes her way to the training grounds. Rajput grunts his disapproval. Despins asks if she is looking for the caliph. Surprised to find that he isn’t there, Shahrzad feigns ignorance and asks Rajput to teach her how to shoot. He refuses and she asks if he must always be so difficult. Rajput stiffens when a voice says that he always is but could he offer his assistance. Shahrzad accepts and goes to introduce herself but is stopped. He already knows who she is. He says that his name is Jalal but Despina finishes by letting Shahrzad know that he is the captain of the guard and son of General Aref al-Khoury, the Shahrban of Rey. Jalal says that he is nobody of consequence, even if he is the son of the highest-ranking general. Shahrzad says that she is no one as well but Jalal disagrees. She asks him to teach her how to shoot and he agrees, but on two conditions. One is to call him Jalal and to never tell Khalid that he taught her how to shoot. Shahrzad is taken back that he referred to the caliph by his given name. Despina and Rajput are unhappy, but Jalal takes Shahrzad to a rack of bows. She begins to inspect the arrows and Jalal surmises that he has been duped. They look at bows but he is unconvinced of her ignorance. She knows that she will have to do better in the future. Shahrzad asks if he knows the caliph well and Jalal tells her that he has known Khalid since he was a little boy, but they aren’t good friends. He and Khalid’s older brother Hassam were the best of friends before his death. Khalid’s father died the following year and he took the throne at the age of fourteen. He was traumatized by an incident involving his mother years earlier. She isn’t thrilled by Jalal’s sympathy toward the caliph. She turns away and shoots another arrow. Jalal laughs at her when he realizes she has played him. His silence has a price he tells her. Jalal isn’t sure what she is up to but Shahrzad is “the first person to rattle (the caliph) in years. And he needs to be rattled.” Shahrzad wants to know what the favor is. Jalal says that Khalid is his king, not his friend nor enemy. He remembers the boy he use to be and just wants to fix the broken creature that Khalid has become. Jalal hopes that Shahrzad can help him in this endeavour. Despina races forward, horror stricken. Shahrzad notices that the caliph has arrived. He states that Jalal can continue to teach her since he is the better marksman but he will see her that night.
That evening, the caliph remarks that Shahrzad seems to have developed a lack of decorum around him. She quips that someone needs to and the more she is at the palace, she finds that her fear is waning. He seems surprised but remarks that she knows nothing. The moment passes before she can gain any new insights from him. The caliph asks her to continue the story. The power of love comes up in the story and the caliph makes a snide remark. Shahrzad comments about the importance of love and how his opinion about it is predictable. He says that she seems to know a lot for only being his queen for two nights. Dawn breaks once again as Shahrzad attempts to start a new story while finishing another. The caliph isn’t pleased by her antics as a persistent knock is heard at the door. The caliph instructs the person to enter and it is General al-Khoury. He says that it is morning as his soldiers go to Shahrzad’s side. One goes to grab her arm and she yells for him not to touch her. Panicking, she looks at the caliph. He introduces Shahrzad to the General as his queen. al-Khoury doesn’t understand and the caliph remarks that he may never.
Why has Shahrzad survived the first two nights? What are the caliph’s intentions towards Shahrzad when he refers to her as his queen? Why did her father and sister flee and what is so important about the book he took? Will Tariq be able to get Shahrzad out of the palace? What tragedy happened concerning the caliph’s mother? Why has Khalid killed every wife after one night? How is Shahrzad different from Khalid’s previous wives? Will she work with Jalal? Will she be able to see the caliph as Khalid and no longer hate him? What happens when hate turns to love?
The Wrath and the Dawn was inspired by One Thousand and One NIghts. The story will conclude with The Rose and The Dagger.
Visit Renee Ahdieh’s website.