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.
For centuries it was customary within the Ottoman Empire that a man could marry as many as four wives. But...one could also have concubines, as many as their harem could financially support.
Only a small percentage of Ottoman men actually had more than one wife. However, within the palace, both luxury and beauty were abundant.
My character, Leila, was enslaved after her missionary parents were murdered by an angry neighbor. She has been in the Imperial Harem since she was eleven years old. At age eighteen, she has been gifted to the sultan's son, Emre. Needless to say, she is not eagerly embracing this new life with him.
The Merchant’s Pearl
“Do you normally bathe every single day?”
“Yes,” she answered, a little amused.
“Do you…ever receive notice well in advance of his wishes?”
“Sometimes. On occasion, he may tell one of us—in the moment—that he desires us to return again the next night. But even still, you should try to be ready no matter what has been said. Prince Emre is fairly consistent in his word, but even he has been known to change his mind from time to time.”
“Are we not on rotation? Like the Valide set up for the Sultan?”
“Not when things run smoothly. You see, the prince doesn’t like the palace rules all that much. He feels such things shackle him and hinder his pleasure. And unlike the Sultan, he can go more unnoticed here.”
“He feels shackled?” I snorted.
She shrugged her shoulders.
“At times last year, with feuding between Jasmyne and Aster, Robinson administered a strict rotation. But now that it’s been just the two of us, it’s not been necessary. What can I say? I appreciate peace more than power.”
“It is so bizarre to me…”
“What is?” she asked, momentarily pausing from her handiwork.
“I guess I just don’t understand the immense need these men have for variety. You are beautiful and you seem kind. Why should he not like to be with you every night? Why should he need me, Aster, or any other?”
“I don’t know.” She tilted her head, half-smiling. “Did you enjoy the muffins I brought up this afternoon?”
“Yes, very much,” I said, feeling it was an awkward leap in our conversation. “I should have liked to have eaten the other one.”
“But would you wish to eat nothing but poppy seed muffins every day for the rest of this week or even for the rest of your life?”
“I suppose I would not,” I confessed, seeing where she was leading.
“I don’t make the rules. I just see them as they are.”
“Fools made these rules,” I whispered. “My own father loved my mother very much. They were married for many years. Would have been married for many more if it weren’t for—”
“Mine too. But you know, we were very young when we were with our parents. Perhaps we made our fathers out to be better than they really were. In hind sight, my father spent a lot of nights away from us. I can’t help but wonder what he was truly doing with his time.”
“No. Not my father! He was at home. He loved her. He loved us both too much for that.”
“I would say, it is not for us to judge what our fathers have done or whom they loved,” she replied. Her eyes searched mine compassionately. “The truth is, these great men have more power and luxuries offered to them than either of our fathers could ever have dreamed. They have grown up with these customs. It is in their blood.”
“So you are alright with it?”
“No, Leila. What woman could ever be alright with it?” she asked, smiling and turning to her needle once more. “I just try not to dwell on it.”
I wanted to tell her that she seemed much older than her small frame gave her credit for, more collected and serene. But before I could speak, I noticed that her hand was just the slightest bit shaky as she held the hoop and tried to probe the needle into her fixed mark. I realized she was just as trapped as I. She’d just learned her own way of coping—sympathy.
I wanted to believe that I was a person who could empathize with others, but I couldn’t bring myself to feel what she felt. Not when it came to the ways of greedy men.