THE HANDMAIDEN’S TALE meets HELEN OF TROY. As the Scepter’s favored paramour, Esma uses her beauty to beguile foreign dignitaries while secretly dreaming of studying astronomy at the empire’s renowned academy. When she flees into the desert to evade marriage to a power-hungry prince, she ignites a deadly war that will devastate the empire–unless she can invoke the dark celestial magic that rules the land.
I’d snuck onto the fortress roof to escape the Giving for as long as I could. Searching for constellations in the twinkling stars, I got lost in my own private world, like a moon tucked in a pocket of clouds.
If I were a real passeri, I’d soar away to join the stars. But tonight was the worst night to be one of the Scepter’s Passeri. Tonight was the Giving, and a Passeri would be given away to the highest bidder, her wings plucked before she could ever fly the Golden Cage.
The fortress gong struck. Its wail vibrated the stone beneath my feet, a warning of the impending celebration. My chest tightened.
The whole of Isbulta’s court would soon be gathered in the Elephant Room, tipping back flutes of plum wine, a frenzy stirring amongst them in anticipation for tonight’s celebration. I loathed the annual Giving and all the greedy men eager to outbid each other.
Sneaking back into the Golden Cage would prove to be a nightmare with so many servants scurrying around, harried by all the preparations. I should have been more careful, but the roof’s solitude offered a freedom that gave me breath to keep going. And I needed to fill my lungs before I entered back into the throng of thirsty men, trapped girls, and the ever-watching eyes of the golden mother, Mulier Sceptera.
I wouldn’t let them break me.