This is the first novel from Amie O’Brien, but she would tell you her characters are constantly nagging her for their future installments. Madly in love with her husband and children, she hopes to spend more time petting horses, reading books, and pursuing her addiction with world travel.
Here’s a scene where Leila and the concubines she shares a room with each receive a gift from Emre. I won't speak of Leila's gift, and Aster's was merely an item I encountered in my research. But Dariya's gift was special to me—a ring that used to belong to my mother.
We lived in a modest home, but my mother had a fondness of rings. She had six on her fingers on any given day. One ring fascinated me the most, an over-sized, pointy onyx ring she wore on her middle finger. I used to try it on as a child whenever she would take it off. It went far past my knuckle. When I was eleven, much of my mother's jewelry was "lifted" from her jewelry box by someone familiar with our family, going through a rough spell. My mother was sad and rarely collected any special pieces after that.
When my mother passed away recently, my father presented me with her wedding ring, other rings, and just about every earring my mother had ever owned. He uncovered a bag of miscellaneous rings, too, and I began to hope the one I loved was in there. It wasn't.
Though it remains missing, it's nice to know that I somehow preserved that memory of her here, within these pages.
The Merchant’s Pearl
The next delivery was waiting for us after dinner. It was a large box with a note from Robinson:
His Highness says…“Enjoy.”
Aster was the first to pillage the box, finding a large, soft package with her name on it. She unwrapped layers of muslin, revealing a beautiful French dress. When she lifted the garment, we noticed there was another item, also wrapped in muslin.
“What do we have here?” Aster cooed as she set aside the red dress and lifted the second, smaller package from under Dariya’s curious fingers. She was careful this time, sensing the object was hard and heavy. It was a beautiful gold hand mirror—ornately studded with silver flowers, beautiful ambers, and sparkling square emeralds.
“Whoa,” we all breathed in unison, gawking at the luxurious relic.
“It looks to be a few centuries old,” I said, while examining the craftsmanship from where I sat. I didn’t think she’d allow me, like Dariya, to touch it.
“Now you.” Aster looked over to Dariya.
She smiled back as she sifted through the box.
“My fabric!” Dariya beamed, removing four large, tightly secured bolts of silk. “I told him I wanted some just like this.”
“You told Emre?” I giggled. I didn’t mean to tease, but I couldn’t picture him discussing fabric.
“No. I told Robinson. He’d brought me samples from the Jewish vendor. I pointed these exact four patterns out to him.” She freed a bolt, spreading a yard of it across her quilt.
“Apparently, not too much of Emre’s budget.” Aster smiled, tossing Dariya another gift.
This package was small, but it housed a rather large investment—an onyx ring with a solitaire diamond placed squarely in the center.
“That thing could be a boat.” I laughed, looking at the sheer size and vessel-like shape of it. “Your very own onyx caique.” I smiled, as she held her hand over mine.
“Let’s see what you got,” Dariya said excitedly.
I looked in the box, feeling around. For a moment, I began to think my hands might remain permanently empty. Finally, under a sheet of crumpled tissue paper lay my gift—a small, single, white box tied shut with a thin silver cord.
“Jewelry,” Dariya suggested. “I know that packaging. He’s given me something from that merchant before.”
She pulled me down to her bed, sitting right beside of me. I almost asked if she would prefer to open it herself, she looked so intensely satisfied while I felt nervous—almost nauseated. I struggled to approach the ribbon.
“You’re too slow. Give it here.”
“Be my guest.” I chuckled, shaking my head, and handing it over.
Even Aster had taken a seat beside her now.
Dariya worked to loosen the knot and lifted the lid off the box, revealing a small, satin satchel.
“I bet it’s a necklace or a bracelet,” Aster agreed.
Dariya opened the bag and poured the delicate contents into her palm.
“Oh my!” She looked at Aster, gesturing her palm towards us both.
“What a lovely strand of pearls,” Aster murmured, lifting it gently with one finger. “It’s definitely not your typical find at the bazaar.” She sniffed. “I suppose Robinson had to seek elsewhere for such a splendid piece.” She rose from Dariya’s bed and walked over to her dress.
“You’ve said nothing.” Dariya’s eyes were gentle as she considered my look of shock. “Prince Emre always gives a grand gift the first time,” she reassured me and Aster, who had also grown noticeably quiet.
Reaching to her jewelry tray, Dariya pulled out a white gold rope necklace with a large princess cut diamond. “This was mine. See, it came with a similar corded sash. It has to be the same merchant, don’t you agree?”
I examined hers, choosing to hold it rather than my pearls. After a few seconds, she lifted it from me, placing my gift from Emre in my open palm. I stared at it. It was beautiful, no doubt the most expensive and exquisite possession my hands had ever held.
“I cannot keep it,” I said, swallowing hard.
“Whatever do you mean?”
“It’s too fine a gift. I’m…too simple for such extravagance. I should never have an opportunity to wear it.”
“You’re kidding me. A girl can wear a rope of pearls with anything,” she said, smiling at my naivety of fashion. “That is the sheer beauty, Leila. You can dress them up and dress them down.” She lightly touched the tip of the clasp that dangled between my fingers. “I think it to be a gesture of him knowing you so well.”
“I don’t want it.” I put it back in the box, replacing the white lid and quietly setting it on my tray. “I’ll return it to him next time we meet.” I turned away to wipe an unwelcome tear.