The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn #1)


by Renee Ahdieh

PROLOGUE

IT WOULD NOT BE A WELCOME DAWN.

Already the sky told this story, with its sad halo of silver beckoning from beyond the horizon.

A young man stood alongside his father on the rooftop terrace of the marble palace. They watched the pale light of the early morning sun push back the darkness with slow, careful deliberation.

“Where is he?” the young man asked.

His father did not look his way. “He has not left his chamber since he gave the order.”

The young man ran a hand through his wavy hair, exhaling all the while. “There will be riots in the city streets for this.”

“And you will put them to rout, in short order.” It was a terse response, still made to a somber stretch of light.

“In short order? Do you not think a mother and father, regardless of birth or rank, will fight to avenge their child?”

Finally, the father faced his son. His eyes were drawn and sunken, as though a weight tugged at them from within. “They will fight. They should fight. And you will ensure it amounts to nothing. You will do your duty to your king. Do you understand?”

The young man paused. “I understand.”

“General al-Khoury?”

His father turned toward the soldier standing behind them. “Yes?”

“It is done.”

His father nodded, and the soldier left.

Again, the two men stared up at the sky.

Waiting.

A drop of rain struck the arid surface beneath their feet, disappearing into the tan stone. Another plinked against the iron railing before it slid its way into nothingness.

Soon, rain was falling around them at a steady pace.

“There is your proof,” the general said, his voice laden with quiet anguish.

The young man did not respond right away.

“He cannot withstand this, Father.”

“He can. He is strong.”

“You have never understood Khalid. It is not about strength. It is about substance. What follows will destroy all that remains of his, leaving behind a husk—a shadow of what he once was.”

The general winced. “Do you think I wanted this for him? I would drown in my own blood to prevent this. But we have no choice.”

The young man shook his head and wiped the rain from beneath his chin.

“I refuse to believe that.”

“Jalal—”

“There must be another way.” With that, the young man turned from the railing and vanished down the staircase.

Throughout the city, long-dry wells began to fill. Cracked, sunbaked cisterns shimmered with pools of hope, and the people of Rey awoke to a new joy. They raced into the streets, angling their smiling faces to the sky.

Not knowing the price.

And, deep within the palace of marble and stone, a boy of eighteen sat alone before a table of polished ebony . . .

Listening to the rain.

The only light in the room reflected back in his amber eyes.

A light beset by the dark.

He braced his elbows on his knees and made a crown of his hands about his brow. Then he shuttered his gaze, and the words echoed around him, filling his ears with the promise of a life rooted in the past.

Of a life atoning for his sins.

One hundred lives for the one you took. One life to one dawn. Should you fail but a single morn, I shall take from you your dreams. I shall take from you your city.

And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold.

MEDITATIONS ON GOSSAMER AND GOLD

THEY WERE NOT GENTLE. AND WHY SHOULD THEY BE?

After all, they did not expect her to live past the next morning.

The hands that tugged ivory combs through Shahrzad’s waist-length hair and scrubbed sandalwood paste on her bronze arms did so with a brutal kind of detachment.

Shahrzad watched one young servant girl dust her bare shoulders with flakes of gold that caught the light from the setting sun.

A breeze gusted along the gossamer curtains lining the walls of the chamber. The sweet scent of citrus blossoms wafted through the carved wooden screens leading to the terrace, whispering of a freedom now beyond reach.

This was my choice. Remember Shiva.

“I don’t wear necklaces,” Shahrzad said when another girl began to fasten a jewel-encrusted behemoth around her throat.

“It is a gift from the caliph. You must wear it, my lady.”

Shahrzad stared down at the slight girl in amused disbelief. “And if I don’t? Will he kill me?”

“Please, my lady, I—”

Shahrzad sighed. “I suppose now is not the time to make this point.”

“Yes, my lady.”

“My name is Shahrzad.”

“I know, my lady.” The girl glanced away in discomfort before turning to assist with Shahrzad’s gilded mantle. As the two young women eased the weighty garment onto her glittering shoulders, Shahrzad studied the finished product in the mirror before her.

Her midnight tresses gleamed like polished obsidian, and her hazel eyes were edged in alternating strokes of black kohl and liquid gold. At the center of her brow hung a teardrop ruby the size of her thumb; its mate dangled from a thin chain around her bare waist, grazing the silk sash of her trowsers. The mantle itself was pale damask and threaded with silver and gold in an intricate pattern that grew ever chaotic as it flared by her feet.

I look like a gilded peacock.

“Do they all look this ridiculous?” Shahrzad asked.

Again, the two young women averted their gazes with unease.

I’m sure Shiva didn’t look this ridiculous . . .

Shahrzad’s expression hardened.

Shiva would have looked beautiful. Beautiful and strong.

Her fingernails dug into her palms; tiny crescents of steely resolve.

At the sound of a quiet knock at the door, three heads turned—their collective breaths bated.

In spite of her newfound mettle, Shahrzad’s heart began to pound.

“May I come in?” The soft voice of her father broke through the silence, pleading and laced in tacit apology.

Shahrzad exhaled slowly . . . carefully.

“Baba, what are you doing here?” Her words were patient, yet wary.

Jahandar al-Khayzuran shuffled into the chamber. His beard and temples were streaked with grey, and the myriad colors in his hazel eyes shimmered and shifted like the sea in the midst of a storm.

In his hand was a single budding rose, its center leached of color, and the tips of its petals tinged a beautiful, blushing mauve.