American-Egyptian author Sara Hashem is preparing for her epic political fantasy debut, The Jasad Heir, inspired by her experiences living in Egypt. Hashem wrote this novel to answer the question: “what do you owe to a place and a people you’ve barely known but without whom you wouldn’t exist?” As a fugitive queen strikes a deadly bargain with her greatest enemy, she finds herself embroiled in a complex game that could resurrect her scorched kingdom or leave it in ashes forever.
Here’s a description of the story:
At ten years old, the Heir of Jasad fled a massacre that takes her entire family. At fifteen, she buried her first body. At twenty, the clock is ticking on Sylvia’s third attempt at home. Nizahl’s armies have laid waste to Jasad and banned magic across the four remaining kingdoms. Fortunately, Sylvia’s magic is as good at playing dead as she is.
When the Nizahl Heir tracks a group of Jasadis to Sylvia’s village, the quiet life she’s crafted unravels. Calculating and cold, Arin’s tactical brilliance is surpassed only by his hatred for magic. When a mistake exposes Sylvia’s magic, Arin offers her an escape: compete as Nizahl’s Champion in the Alcalah tournament and win immunity from persecution.
To win the deadly Alcalah, Sylvia must work with Arin to free her trapped magic, all while staying a step ahead of his efforts to uncover her identity. But as the two grow closer, Sylvia realizes winning her freedom means destroying any chance of reuniting Jasad under her banner. The scorched kingdom is rising again, and Sylvia will have to choose between the life she’s earned and the one she left behind.
The cover (designed by Lisa Marie Pompilio with art by Mike Heath/Magnus Creative) is below, followed by an exclusive look at the first chapter.
Two things stood between me and a good night’s sleep, and I was only allowed to kill one of them.
I tromped through Hirun river’s mossy banks, squinting for movement. The grime, the later hours—I had expected those. Every apprentice in the village dealt with them. I just hadn’t expected the frogs.
“Say your farewells, you pointless pests,” I called. The frogs had developed a defensive strategy any time I came close. First, the watchguard belched an alarm. The others would fling themselves into the river. Finally, the brave watchguard hopped for his life.
Dirt had caked deep beneath my fingernails. Moonlight filtered through a canopy of skeletal trees, and for a moment, my hand looked like a different one. A hand much more manicured, a little weaker. Niphran’s hands. Hands that could wield an axe alongside the burliest woodcutter, weave a storm of curls into delicate braids, drive spears into the maws of monsters. For the first few years of my life, before grief over my father’s assassination spread through Niphran like rot, before her sanity collapsed on itself, there wasn’t anything my mother’s hands could not do.
Oh, if she could see me now. Covered in filth and outwitted by croaking river roaches.
Hirun exhaled its opaque mist, breathing life into the winter bones of Essam Woods. I cleaned my hands in the river and firmly cast aside thoughts of the dead.
A frenzied croak sounded behind a tree root. I darted forward, scooping up the kicking watchguard. Ah, but it was never the brave who escaped. I brought him close to my face. “Your friends are chasing crickets, and you’re here. Were they worth it?”
I dropped the limp frog into the bucket and sighed. Ten more to go. The fact that Rory was a renowned chemist didn’t impress me, nor did this coveted apprenticeship. What kept me from tossing the bucket and going to Raya’s keep, where a warm meal and a comfortable bed awaited me, was a debt of convenience.
Rory didn’t ask questions. When I appeared on his doorstep five years ago, drenched in blood and shaking, Rory had tended to my wounds and taken me to Raya’s. He rescued a fifteen-year-old orphan with no history or background from a life of vagrancy.
The sudden snap of a branch drew my muscles tight. I reached into my pocket, wrapping my fingers around the hilt of my dagger. I usually carried my blade strapped in my boot, given the Nizahl soldiers’ predilection for randomly searching us. I’d used it to cut my foot out of a tangled family of ferns and left it in my pocket.
A quick scan of the shivering branches revealed nothing. I tried not to let my eyes linger in the empty pockets of black between the trees. I had seen too much horror manifest out of the dark to ever trust its stillness.
My gaze moved to the identical black marks on the row of trees behind me. Carved into each tree was the symbol of a raven spreading its wings. Each line was clean and sharp. In the muck of the woods, these ravens remained pristine. The raven-marked trees formed a loose perimeter around Mahair. Crossing the perimeter without permission was an offense punishable by imprisonment or worse. In the lower villages, where the kingdom’s leaders were already primed to turn a blind eye to the liberties taken by Nizahl soldiers, worse was usually just the beginning.
I traced one outstretched wing with my thumbnail. I would have traded all the frogs in my bucket to be brave enough to scrape my nails over the symbol, to gouge it off. Maybe that same burst of bravery would see my dagger cutting a line in the bark, disfiguring the symbols of Nizahl’s power. It wasn’t walls or swords keeping us penned in like animals, but a simple carving. Another kingdom’s power billowing over us like poisoned air, controlling everything it touched.
I glanced at the watchguard in my bucket and lowered my hand. Bravery wasn’t worth the cost. Or the splinters.
A thick layer of frost coated the road leading back to Mahair. I pulled my hood nearly to my nose as soon as I crossed the wall bifurcating Mahair from Essam woods. I veered into an alley, winding my way to Rory’s shop instead of risking the exposed—and regularly patrolled— main road. Plunged into darkness, I placed a stabilizing hand on the wall and let the pungent odor of manure guide my feet forward. A cat hissed from beneath a stack of crates, hunching protectively over the half-eaten carcass of a rat.
“I already had supper, but thank you for the offer,” I whispered, leaping out of reach of her claws.
Twenty minutes later, I clunked the full bucket at Rory’s feet. “I demand a renegotiation of my wages.”
Rory didn’t look up from his list. “Demand away. I’ll be over there.”
He disappeared into the back room. Scowling, I arranged the poultice, sealing each jar carefully before placing it inside the basket. One of the rare times I’d found myself on the wrong side of Rory’s temper was after I had forgotten to seal the ointments and sent them off with Yuli’s boy. I learned as much about the spread of disease that day as I did about Rory’s staunch ethics.
Rory returned. “Off with you already. Get some sleep. I do not want the sight of your face to scare off my patrons tomorrow.” He prodded around the bucket, turning over a few of the frogs. Age weathered Rory’s narrow, brown face. His long fingers were constantly stained in the color of his latest tonic, and a permanent groove sat between his bushy brows. Despite an old injury to his hip, his slenderness was not a sign of fragility. On the rare occasions where Rory smiled, it was clear he had been handsome in his youth. “If I find that you’ve layered the bottom with dirt again, I’m poisoning your tea.”
He pushed a haphazardly wrapped bundle into my arms. “Here.”
Bewildered, I turned the package over. “For me?”
He waved his cane around the empty shop. “Are you touched in the head, child?”
I carefully peeled the fabric back, exposing a pair of golden gloves. Softer than a dove’s wing, they probably cost more than anything I could buy for myself. I lifted one reverently. “Rory, this is too much.”
I only barely stopped myself from putting them on. I laid them gingerly on the counter and hurried to scrub off my stained hands. There were no clean cloths left, so I wiped my hands on Rory’s tunic and earned a swat to the ear.
The fit of the gloves was perfect. Soft and supple, yielding with the flex of my fingers.
I studied them near the glowing lantern. These would certainly fetch a pretty price at market. Not that I’d sell them right away, of course. Rory liked pretending he had the emotional depth of a spoon, but he would be hurt if I bartered his gift a mere day later. Markets weren’t hard to find in Omal. The lower villages were always in need of food and supplies. Trading amongst themselves was easier than begging for scraps from the palace.
The old man smiled briefly. “Happy birthday, Sylvia.”
Sylvia. My first and favorite lie. I pressed my hands together. “A consolation gift for the spinster?” Not once in five years had Rory failed to remember my fabricated birth date.
“I should hardly think spinsterhood’s threshold as low as twenty years.”
In truth, I was halfway to twenty-one. Another lie.
“You are as old as time itself. The ages below one hundred must all look the same to you.”
He jabbed me with his cane. “It is past the hour for spinsters to be about.”
I left the shop in higher spirits. I pulled my cloak tight around my shoulders, knotting the hood beneath my chin. I had one more task to complete before I could finally reunite with my bed, and it meant delving deeper into the silent village. These were the hours when the mind ran free, where hollow masonry became the whispers of hungry shaiateen, and the scratch of scuttling vermin the sounds of the restless dead.
I knew how sinuously fear cobbled shadows into gruesome shapes. I hadn’t slept a full night’s length in long years, and there were days when I trusted in nothing beyond the breath in my chest and the earth beneath my feet. The difference between me and the villagers was I knew the names of my monsters. I knew what they would look like if they found me, and I didn’t have to imagine what kind of fate I would meet.
Their superstitions came from stories preserved through generations. Mahair was a tiny village, but its history was long. Its children would know the tales shared from their mothers and fathers and grandparents. Superstition kept Mahair alive, far after time had turned a new page on its inhabitants.
It also kept me in business.
Instead of turning right toward Raya’s keep, I ducked into the vagrant road. Glancing over my shoulder, I checked for anyone who might report my movements back to Rory.
We had made a tradition of forgiving each other, Rory and me. Should he find out I was treating Omalians under his name, peddling pointless concoctions to those superstitious enough to buy them—well, I doubted Rory could forgive such a transgression. The ‘cures’ I mucked together for my patrons were harmless. Crushed herbs and tampered liquors. Most of the time, the ailments they were intended to ward off were more ridiculous than anything I could fit in a bottle.
The home I sought was ten minutes past Raya’s keep. Too close for comfort. Water dripped from the edge of the sagging roof, where a clothesline stretched from hook to hook. A pair of undergarments had fluttered to the ground. I kicked them out of sight. Raya taught me years ago how to hide undergarments on the clothesline by clipping them behind a larger piece of clothing. I hadn’t understood the need for so much stealth. I still didn’t. But time was a limited resource tonight, and I wouldn’t waste it consoling an Omalian’s embarrassment that I now had definitive proof they wore undergarments.
The door flew open. “Sylvia, thank goodness,” Zeinab said. “She’s worse today.”
I tapped my mud-encrusted boots against the lip of the door before stepping inside.
“Where is she?”
I followed Zeinab to the last room in the short hall. A wave of incense wafted over us when she opened the door. I fanned the white haze hanging in the air. A wizened old woman rocked back and forth on the floor. Bloody tracks lined her arms where nails had gouged deep. Zeinab closed the door, maintaining a safe distance from the woman. Tears swam in her large hazel eyes. “I tried to give her a bath, and she did this.” Zeinab pushed up the sleeve of her abaya, exposing a myriad of red scratch marks.
“Right.” I laid my bag down on the table. “I will call you when I’ve finished.”
Subduing the old woman with a tonic took little effort. I moved behind her and hooked an arm around her neck. She tore at my sleeve, mouth falling open to gasp. I dumped the tonic down her throat, loosening my stranglehold for her to swallow. Once certain she wouldn’t spit it out, I dumped her and adjusted my sleeve.
It took minutes. My talents lay in efficient and fleeting deception. At the door, I let Zeinab slip a few coins into my cloak’s pocket and pretended to be surprised. I would never understand Omalians and their feigned modesty. “Remember—”
Zeinab bobbed her head impatiently. “Yes, yes, I won’t speak a word of this. It has been years, Sylvia. If the chemist ever finds out, it will not be from me.”
I returned Zeinab’s wave distractedly and moved my dagger into the same pocket as the coins. Puddles of foul-smelling rain rippled in the pocked dirt road. Most of the homes on the street could more accurately be described as hovels, their thatched roofs shivering above walls bricked together with mud and uneven patches of cement. I dodged a line of green mule manure, its waterlogged, grassy smell stinging my nose.
Did Omal’s upper towns have excrement in their streets?
Zeinab’s neighbor had scattered chicken feathers outside her door—a sign of good fortune. Their daughter had married a merchant from Dawar, and her dowry had earned them enough this month to feed their whole family chicken. From now on, the finest clothes would furnish her body. The choicest meats and hardest grown vegetables for her plate. Would she ever muddy her shoes in the villages again?
I turned the corner, absently counting the coins in my pocket, and rammed into a body.
I stumbled, catching myself against a pile of cracked clay bricks. The Nizahl soldier didn’t budge beyond a tightening of his frown.
Heavy wings of panic unfurled in my throat. Though our movements around town weren’t constrained by an official curfew, not many risked a late-night stroll. The Nizahl soldiers usually patrolled in pairs, which meant this man’s partner was probably harassing someone else on the other side of the village.
I smothered the panic, snapping its fluttering limbs. Panic was a plague. Its sole purpose was to spread until it tore through every thought, every instinct.
A cool calm spread through me. I immediately lowered my eyes. Holding a Nizahl soldier’s gaze invited nothing but trouble. “My name is Sylvia. I live in Raya’s keep and apprentice for the chemist Rory. I apologize for startling you. An elderly woman urgently needed care, and my employer is indisposed.”
From the lines on his face, the soldier was somewhere in his late forties. If he had been an Omalian patrolman, his age would have signified little. But Nizahl soldiers tended to die young and bloody. For this man to survive long enough to see the lines of his forehead wrinkle, he was either a deadly adversary or a coward.
“What is your father’s name?”
“I am a ward in Raya’s keep,” I repeated. He must be new to Mahair. “I have no mother or father.”
He didn’t belabor the issue. “Have you witnessed activity which might lead to the capture of a Jasadi?” A standard question from the soldiers, intended to encourage vigilance towards any signs of magic. The most recent arrest of a Jasadi happened in our neighboring village. From the whispers, I’d surmised a girl reported seeing her friend fix a crack in her floorboard with a wave of her hand. I had overheard all manners of praise showered on the girl for her bravery in turning in the fifteen-year-old. Praise and jealousy—they couldn’t wait for their own opportunities to be heroes.
“I have not.” I hadn’t seen another Jasadi in five years.
He pursed his lips. “The name of the elderly woman?”
“Aya, but her daughter Zeinab is her caretaker. I could direct you to them if you’d like.” Zeinab was crafty. She would have a lie prepared for a moment like this.
“No need.” He waved a hand over his shoulder. “On your way. Stay off the vagrant road.”
One benefit of the older Nizahl soldiers—they had less inclination for the bluster and interrogation tactics of their younger counterparts. I tipped my head in gratitude and sped past him.
A few minutes later, I slid into Raya’s keep. By the scent of cooling wax, it had not been long since the last girl went to bed. Relieved to find my birthday forgotten, I kicked my boots off at the door. Raya had met with the cloth merchants today. Bartering always left her in a foul mood. The only acknowledgement of my birthday would be a breakfast of flaky, buttery fiteer and molasses honey in the morning.
When I pushed open my door, a blast of warmth swept over me. “Raya will have your hides. The waleema is in a week.”
Marek appeared engrossed in the fire pit, poking the coals with a thin rod. His golden hair shone under the glow. A mess of fabric and the beginnings of what might be a dress sat beneath Sefa’s sewing tools. “Precisely,” Sefa said, dipping a chunk of charred beef into her broth. “I am drowning my sorrows in stolen broth because of the damned waleema. Look at this dress! This is a dress all the other dresses laugh at.”
“What is he doing with the fire?” I asked, electing to ignore her garment-related woes. Come morning, Sefa would hand Raya a perfect dress with a winning smile and bloodshot eyes. An apprenticeship under the best seamstress in Omal wasn’t a role given to those who folded under pressure.
“He’s trying to roast his damned seeds,” Sefa sniffed. “We made your room smell like a tavern kitchen. Sorry. In our defense, we gathered to mourn a terrible passing.”
“A passing?” I took a seat beside the stone pit, rubbing my hands over the crackling flames.
Marek handed me one of Raya’s private chalices. Come dawn the woman was going to skin us like deer. “Ignore her. We just wanted to abuse your hearth,” he said. “I am convinced Yuli is teaching his herd how to kill me. They almost ran me right into a tombs-damned canal.”
“Did you do something to make Yuli or the oxen angry?”
“No,” Marek said mournfully.
“I may have used the horse’s stalls to…entertain.” He released a long-suffering sigh. “…his daughter.”
Sefa and I released twin groans. This was hardly the first time Marek had gotten himself in trouble chasing a pretty smile or a kind word. He was absurdly pretty, fair-haired and green-eyed, lean in a way that undersold his strength. To counter his looks, he’d chosen to apprentice with Mahair’s most demanding farmer. By spending his days loading wagons and herding oxen, Marek made himself indispensable to every tradesperson in the village. He worked to earn their respect, because Mahair valued little more than calloused palms and sweat on a brow.
It was also why they tolerated the string of broken hearts he’d left in his wake.
Not one to be ignored for long, Sefa continued, “Your youth, Sylvia, we mourn your youth! At twenty, you’re having fewer adventures than the village brats.”
I drained the water, passing the chalice to Marek for more. “I have plenty of adventure.”
“I’m not talking about how many times you can kill your fig plant before it stays dead,” Sefa scoffed. “If you had simply accompanied me last week to release the roosters in Nadia’s den—”
“Nadia has permanently barred you from her shop,” Marek interjected. Brave one, cutting Sefa off in the middle of a tirade. He scooped up a blackened seed, throwing it from palm-to-palm to cool. “Leave Sylvia be. Adventure does not fit into a single mold.”
Sefa’s nostrils flared wide, but Marek didn’t flinch. Whatever bound Marek and Sefa was thicker than blood, stronger than a shared upbringing.
“I am not killing my fig plant.” I pushed to my feet. “I’m cultivating its fighter’s spirit.”
“Stop glaring at me,” Marek said to Sefa with a sigh. “I’m sorry for interrupting.” He held out a cracked seed.
Sefa let his hand dangle in the air for forty seconds before taking the seed and setting it aside. “Help me hem this sleeve?”
With a sheepish grin, Marek offered up his soot-covered palms. Sefa rolled her eyes.
I observed their exchange with bewilderment. I’d known them for five years now, but it never failed to astound me how easily they existed around one another. Their devotion had naturally led to questions from the other wards at the keep. Marek laughed himself into stitches the first time a younger girl asked if he and Sefa planned to wed. “Sefa isn’t going to marry anyone. We love each other in a different way.”
The ward had batted her lashes, because Marek was the only boy in the keep, and an exceptionally attractive one at that.
“What about you?” the ward had asked.
Sefa, who had been smiling as she knit in the corner, sobered. Only Raya and I saw the sorrowful look she shot Marek, the guilt in her brown eyes.
“I am tied to Sefa in spirit, if not in wedlock.” Marek ruffled the ward’s hair. The young girl squealed, slapping at Marek. “I follow where she goes.”
Their connection to one another hadn’t prevented them from taking an instant liking to me the moment Rory dropped me at Raya’s doorstep. I was almost feral, hardly fit for friendship, but it hadn’t deterred them. I adjusted poorly to this Omalian village, perplexed by the simplest customs. Rub the spot between your shoulders and die early. Eat with your left hand on the first day of the month; don’t cross your legs in the presence of elders; be the last person to sit at the dinner table and the first one to leave it. My bronze skin was several shades darker than their typical olive. I blended in with Orbanians better, since the kingdom in the north spent most of its days under the sun. When Sefa noticed how I avoided wearing white, she’d held her darker hand next to mine and said, “They’re jealous we soaked up all their color.”
Endearing myself to the other wards hadn’t been easy. Everyone here had an ugly history haunting their sleep. I didn’t help myself any by almost slamming another ward’s nose clean off her face when she tried to hug me. My aversion to touch was well-known in the keep.
Fortunately, Sefa and Marek weren’t scared off. Sefa was quite upset about her nose, though.
I hung my cloak neatly inside the wardrobe and thumbed the moth-eaten collar. Sadness swelled at the realization I would need to replace it soon.
I recoiled from the cloak, curling my fingers into a fist. I promptly tore out the roots of sadness before it could spread. Someone in my position could afford few emotional attachments. At any moment, a sword could be pointed at me, a cry of ‘Jasadi’ ending this identity and the life I’d built around it. A regular orphan from Mahair could cling to this tired cloak, the first thing she’d ever purchased with her own hard-earned coin.
A fugitive of the scorched kingdom could not.
I turned my palms up, testing the silver cuffs around my wrists. Though the cuffs were invisible to any eye but mine, it had taken a long time for my paranoia to ease whenever someone’s idle gaze lingered on my wrists. They flexed with my movement, a second skin over my own. Only my trapped magic could stir them, tightening the cuffs as it pleased.
Magic marked me as a Jasadi. As the reason Nizahl created perimeters in the woods and sent their soldiers prowling through the kingdoms. I had spent most of my life resenting my cuffs. Resenting my grandparents for forcing them on me as a child. I suppose they couldn’t have anticipated dying and leaving the cuffs stuck on me forever.
I hid Rory’s gift in the wardrobe, beneath the folds of my longest gown. The girls rarely risked Raya’s wrath by stealing, but a desperate winter could make a thief of anyone. I stroked one of the gloves, fondness curling hot in my chest. How much had Rory spent on this gift, knowing I’d have limited opportunities to wear them?
“We wanted to show you something,” Marek said. I slammed the wardrobe door’s shut, scowling at myself. What did it matter how much Rory spent? Anything I didn’t need to survive would be discarded or sold, and these gloves were no different.
Sefa stood, dusting loose fabric from her lap. She snorted at my expression. “Baira’s blessed hair, look at her, Marek. You might think we were planning to bury her in the woods.”
Marek frowned. “Aren’t we?”
“Both of you are banned from my room. Forever.”
I followed them outside, past the row of fluttering clotheslines and the pitiful herb garden. Built at the top of a grassy slope, Raya’s keep overlooked the entire village, all the way to the main road. Most of the homes in Mahair sat stacked on top of each other, forming squat, three-story buildings with crumbling walls and cracks in the clay. The villagers raised poultry on the roof, nurturing a steady supply of chickens and rabbits that would see them through the monthly food shortages.
Beyond the main road lay Essam Woods. The moonlight swayed over the trees stretching into the black horizon. They formed an impenetrable blanket of darkness, forbidding anyone from venturing too close.
I’d encountered my first bizarre Omalian superstition the week after I emerged from Essam. I’d spent the night sitting on the hill and watching the spot where Mahair’s lanterns disappeared into the empty void of the woods. I endured a two-hour lecture from Raya about the risk of staring at Essam Woods and inviting mischievous spirits forward from the dark. As though my attention alone might summon them into being.
I spent five years in those woods. I wasn’t afraid of their darkness. It was everything outside Essam I couldn’t trust.
“Behold!” Sefa announced, flinging her arm toward a tangle of plants.
We stopped around the back of the keep, where I had illicitly shoveled the fig plant I bought off a Lukubi merchant at the last market. I wasn’t sure why. Nurturing a plant that reminded me of Jasad, something rooted I couldn’t take with me in an emergency—it was embarrassing. Another sign of the weakness I’d allowed to settle.
My fig plant’s leaves drooped mournfully. I prodded the dirt. Were they mocking my planting technique?
“She doesn’t like it. I told you we should have bought her a new cloak,” Marek sighed.
“With whose wages? Are you a wealthy man now?” Sefa peered at me. “You don’t like it?”
I squinted at the plant. Had they watered it while I was gone? What was I supposed to like? Sefa’s face crumpled, so I hurriedly said, “I love it! It is, uh, wonderful, truly, thank you.”
“Oh. You can’t see it, can you?” Marek started to laugh. “Sefa forgot she is the size of a thimble and hid it out of your sight.”
“I am a perfectly standard height! I cannot be blamed for befriending a woman tall enough to tickle the moon,” Sefa protested.
I crouched by the plant. Wedged behind its curtain of yellowing leaves, a woven straw basket held a dozen sesame seed candies. I loved these brittle, tooth-chipping squares. I always made a point to search for them at market if I’d saved enough to spare the cost.
“They used the good honey, not the chalky one,” Marek added.
“Happy birthday, Sylvia,” Sefa said. “As a courtesy, I will refrain from hugging you.”
First Rory, now this? I cleared my throat. In a village of empty stomachs and dying fields, every kindness came at a price. “You just wanted to see me smile with sesame in my teeth.”
Marek smirked. “Ah, yes, our grand scheme is unveiled. We wanted to ruin your smile that emerges once every fifteen years.”
I slapped the back of his head. It was the most physical contact I could bear to express gratitude.
We walked back to the keep and resettled around the extinguished fire pit. Marek dug through the ash for any surviving seeds. Sefa laid back on the ground, her feet propped on Marek’s leg. “Arin or Felix?”
I slumped on my bed and set to the tedious task of coaxing my curls out of their knotted disaster of a braid. The sesame seeds were nestled safely in my wardrobe. The timing of these gifts could not have been better. As soon as Sefa and Marek fell asleep, I would collect what I needed for my trip back to the woods.
“Are names of the Nizahl and Omal Heirs.”
“Sylvia,” Sefa wheedled, tossing a seed at my forehead. “You have been selected to attend the Victor’s Ball on the arm of an Heir. Arin or Felix?”
Marek groaned, throwing his elbow over his eyes. Soot smeared the corners of his mouth. Neither of us understood why Sefa loved dreaming up intrigues of far-flung courts. She claimed to enjoy the aesthetics of romance, even if she didn’t believe in it herself. She had wedded herself to adventure at a young age, when she realized the follies of lust and love did not hold sway over her.
I sighed, giving into Sefa’s game. Felix of Omal would not recognize a hard day’s work if it knelt at his polished feet. I had listened to his address after a particularly unforgiving harvest. He brought his handspun livery and gilded carriages, leaving behind words as empty as the space between his ears. Worse, he gave the Nizahl soldiers free reign, reserving his resistance to intrusion on Omalian society’s upper classes.
“Felix is incompetent, cowardly, and thinks the lower villages are full of brutes,” Marek scoffed, echoing my unspoken opinion. “I would hesitate to leave him in charge of boiling water. At least the other Heirs are clever, if still as despicable.”
My thoughts swung to Arin of Nizahl, the only son of Supreme Rawain.
Silver-haired, ruthless, Heir and Commander of the unmatched Nizahl forces. He had been training soldiers twice his age since he was thirteen. I had always thought Supreme Rawain’s bloodthirst had no equal, since it wasn’t his kind heart responsible for murdering my family, burning Jasad to the ground, and sending every surviving Jasadi into hiding. But if the rumors about the Heir were true, I could only be glad Arin had been an adolescent during the siege. With the Nizahl Heir leading the march, I doubted a single Jasadi would have made it out alive.
The constant presence of Nizahl soldiers was common to all four kingdoms. An incurable symptom of Nizahl’s military supremacy. But the sight of their Heir outside his own lands spelled doom: it meant he had found a cluster of Jasadis or magic of a great magnitude. I struggled to repress a shudder. If Arin of Nizahl ever came within a day’s riding distance from Mahair, I would be gone faster than liquor at a funeral.
“Sylvia?” Marek asked. Marek and Sefa wore a familiar frown of concern. Black strands had drifted into my lap while I unbraided my hair. I rolled them up and tossed the clump into the fire, watching it blacken and curdle.
“Sorry,” I said. “I forgot the question.”
As it always did, thoughts of Nizahl curved claws of hatred in my belly. I wasn’t capable of sending magic flying in fits of emotion anymore. All I had left was fantasy. I imagined meeting Supreme Rawain in the kingdom he’d laid waste to. I would drive his scepter through the softest part of his stomach, watch the cruelty drain from his blue eyes. Plant him on the steps of the fallen palace for the spirits of Jasad’s dead to feast upon.
“Ah yes, an Heir.” I paused. “Sorn.”
“The Orban Heir?” Sefa lifted her brows. “Your tastes run toward the brutish? A thirst for danger, perhaps?”
I winked. “What danger is there in a brute?”
Excerpt from The Jasad Heir by Sara Hashem reprinted with permission from Hachette. This copy is not yet final.
The Jasad Heir is available for preorder now. It will release in July 2023.
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