Excerpt from Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Beneath a Marble Sky

by John Shors

Beneath a Marble Sky
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2004, 325 pages
    Jun 2006, 352 pages

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Nodding to a pair of imperial guards, Mother paused as they opened a teak door leading into a massive structure, a sprawling room called the Diwan-i Am, the Hall of Public Audience. This chamber was much like our harem in its comforts and décor but even more splendid. The room’s ceiling was covered with beaten silver, and its decorated walls enclosed a crowd of well-dressed nobles and warriors.

In the Diwan-i Am’s center, atop his Peacock Throne, was Father. The throne was a raised dais bearing a cashmere carpet and a sizable red cushion embroidered with golden stars. Father always knelt on the cushion. Around him, twelve pillars supported the canopy. The pillars were inlaid with perfect pearls and the canopy was topped by a golden peacock. Sapphires coated its tail.

Gathered immediately below and in front of the Peacock Throne were high-ranking nobles. These mustached or bearded men wore silk tunics and strings of pearls. Several nobles carried muskets, while others boasted swords encased in jeweled scabbards. On either side of this assembly, servants used long poles topped with tear-shaped fans to cool Father and his audience.

More removed from the Peacock Throne, separated from the nobles by a gilded balustrade, stood officers of the army. A further balustrade, this one silver, divided these figures from several score of foot soldiers and servants, relegated to positions most distant from Father. Nobles, officers and soldiers wore tunics that fell below their knees and covered loose-fitting trousers. The jamas and paijamas were of brightly colored cotton or silk tightened about the waist by a sash.

As we entered the room, heads turned to regard Mother and shoulders straightened at her sight. I smiled at the reaction. Though emeralds, rubies and diamonds graced every spot of Father’s throne, in Mother’s presence men forgot such unimaginable wealth.

She was an orchid placed within a bouquet of poppies. She wore her robe tight enough to boast of the slightness of her body, which lacked none of a larger woman’s curves. Rubies were pinned to her raven locks; her ears were contoured with pearls, and the lobes beneath carried emeralds set in silver. A golden hoop pierced her nose. A delicate diamond necklace fell to just above her navel, and sapphire bracelets adorned her wrists. Like many noblewomen, she wore a miniature mirror on her thumb so she could keep herself in order.

Mother’s face never ceased to capture people despite its familiarity. Her bronze skin was soft and flawless, her lips sculpted. Her walnut-colored eyes were rounder than most of our people’s, and her nose seemed somehow more tapered. If compared to her I knew I’d never be beautiful. My teeth were less straight, my eyes closer together. Yet we had the same skin and the bodies of the same ancestors. My brothers mixed her traits with those of our more average-looking father. The boys were slightly small for their ages, with thick hair and wiry muscles.

"You honor us with your presence," Father announced, rising. Broad in the shoulders as well as the waist, Father stepped down from the dais looking extremely pleased to see us. He wore a yellow tunic, a black sash and a crimson turban. His jewels were as plentiful as Mother’s, though excepting a pearl necklace and a few rings, they were fastened to his garments.

Father said nothing of his children’s arrival but smiled at each of us. I found comfort in his bearded face, which was round and fleshy. His nose had been broken long ago, and his chin was rather expansive. "You remind me, Arjumand, that this morning’s business should end, for don’t even leopards rest every now and then?"

From our left emerged a low voice. "Forgive my impertinence, my lord, but one matter can’t idle."

"And what is that, Lord Babur?"

"A serious subject, with serious consequences."

From Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors. Copyright 2004 John Shors. All rights reserved.

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