"Meticulously researched. A fascinating historical." Heather Graham, New York Times bestselling author
Call of the Trumpetby Helen A Rosburg
Born to a rich Frenchman and a Bedouin beauty, the lovely Cecile Villier can find no comfort in the immense wealth of Parisian society. Intent on finding a home she can call her own, Cecile returns to her mothers birthplace, the Sahara Desert. There she finds freedom in a new way of life--and the most captivating man shes ever seen.See more details below
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Born to a rich Frenchman and a Bedouin beauty, the lovely Cecile Villier can find no comfort in the immense wealth of Parisian society. Intent on finding a home she can call her own, Cecile returns to her mothers birthplace, the Sahara Desert. There she finds freedom in a new way of life--and the most captivating man shes ever seen.
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Call of the Trumpet
By Helen A. Rosburg
Medallion Press, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Helen A. Rosburg
All right reserved.
Chapter OneParis, 1859
There was no lonelier sound in the world than that of dirt thudding dully on the lid of a coffin. Cecile sensed the priest at her side, felt his light touch on her elbow, but she was unable to move. The thudding continued and a misty rain began to fall. It did not move her. She stared into the slowly filling grave.
"Mademoiselle ... Mademoiselle Villier, please. It is time to go, come along. You will catch a chill standing in the rain like this."
Cecile ignored the priest, though not intentionally. Her only awareness was of the terrible numbness that lay like lead upon her breast and weighted her arms, her legs, her very soul. If only she could cry. Something within her might move then, and end the awful paralysis. But she could only stare, watching until the coffin's lid was completely covered with the dark, sodden earth.
"Come along now, mademoiselle. Really, you must," the priest urged.
"Excuse me. Excuse me, please. I will take the mademoiselle."
The priest moved gratefully aside, making way for the small brown man dressed entirely in white. The little man held a black umbrella over his mistress's head and gently touched her shoulder.
"Come now, halaila," he said quietly. "He is here no longer. We must go."
Cecile nodded slowly. She raised her eyes from the steadily filling grave to the jumble of headstones around her, elaborate statuary, crypts, and monuments of the Cemeteries Pere Lachaise. It was a city of the dead, and their cold, silent homes lined the brick-paved streets. Next to her father's grave stood a large crypt carved of white marble, on top of which stood the statue of a weeping woman. Cecile returned her gaze to her father's simple headstone.
It was exactly as he would have wished. There were only three things he had cared about in his life; his daughter, his horses, and the memory of the only woman he had ever loved. Cecile read the simple words on the stone.
Francois Louis Villier 1806-1859 Father of Cecile Marie Elizabeth Husband of Sada bint Mustafa
Unresisting at last, Cecile allowed Jali to lead her away. The narrow, uneven street sloped gently downward and she leaned lightly on her escort's arm until they reached the waiting coach. Its black sides gleamed under a coating of rain. Four matched bays, all Arabs, stood quietly. A footman opened the door and lowered the steps.
Cecile turned, prepared to thank the priest, but saw only his black-clad back hurrying away into the mist. With a small shrug she climbed into the coach, Jali at her heels. The coachman cracked his whip and the matched bays darted forward.
"I regret much that man hurt you," Jali said, sensitive, as always to his mistress's every mood. "He is very rude. It was not necessary."
"It's all right, Jali." Cecile stared out at the passing tree-lined avenue. New-leaf branches glittered under their burden of rain. Distant thunder promised more. "He was merely impatient to conclude his business with me. He is no different from anyone else."
"Halaila ..." Jali began, but Cecile silenced him with a wave of her delicate hand.
"Please don't waste your breath, Jali. You and I both know the truth. It's very simple. I am a half-caste, therefore I am shunned."
As she was right, Jali held his tongue. She knew the truth pained him, however, as it had pained her father. She was an alien, a stranger, in her father's land. She always had been.
The journey continued in silence as Cecile watched the passing landscape. Soon the city was left behind and the coach entered the impossibly green, gently rolling countryside. An occasional chateau slipped by, sitting grandly at the end of its broad, shady avenue. Cecile's dark eyes narrowed as they passed one imposing structure in particular. Normally she blocked the unpleasant memories the sight of it evoked. But today was a day for remembering.
She had received the invitation from Madame Arnoux shortly after her twelfth birthday. Cecile had been excited, still riding on the wave of elation from her very successful birthday party. Her father had given her a two-year-old filly, a granddaughter of his precious Al Hamrah, one of the horses he had brought back to France with him, and she a descendant of the great stallion, Vizir, who had come from Ali Pasha Sherif's stables in Egypt. How she loved to say those names! How she had loved that filly! Cecile had been ecstatic. To top it off, there had been a very merry party. All the servants had attended and each brought her a little gift, not the least of which was a beautifully carved Arab horse from Jali. It had never occurred to her that there might be others at her party, children her own age. It had never been so. She did not miss what had never been. Cecile was surprised, therefore, when her father came to her with the invitation.
"But what does it mean, Papa?" she had asked.
"It means madame would like you to come and join her for a little party Saturday afternoon," her father had replied. Though he had never seemed a suspicious man, she saw in his eyes that he had his doubts.
Looking back Cecile understood now his fears. Since his return from the African continent, with a half-caste child, her father had been virtually shunned by society. Why an invitation for Cecile now, after all this time? Did Madame extend the offer from a generous heart to a lonely little girl? Or did she have a more sinister motive? Would Cecile be simply another little girl at an afternoon tea, or an oddity on display?
"Oh, Papa, I love parties! May I go?"
"Of course you may go, my pet," Villier had replied, his daughter's excitement overriding his doubts. "Of course."
So she had gone. With a book on etiquette borrowed from her father's vast library, she had studied for hours what to say, how to sit, hold a cup. And she had followed the book's instructions faithfully. She had curtsied to madame and spoken politely to the other little girls. She had sat in the elegant salon with her ankles crossed, her hands in her lap. She had accepted tea and cakes courteously and spilled neither drop nor crumb.
So why did they stare at her without speaking? Why did they giggle behind their hands? Why did Madame Arnoux eye her crossly when it was her own daughter, not Cecile, who jostled Cecile's teacup and knocked it to the floor?
Happy anticipation had rapidly turned to growing horror, then to cold, hard realization. She was not one of them. She did not even look like them. They were light-haired and blue-eyed. Their skin was pink-white, their bodies fleshy and moist. Suddenly aware of her own body as never before, Cecile knew how very different she was from them, with her olive skin and blue-black hair, her lean and muscular frame. It was not the only difference.
The chatter she had overheard was inane; clothes, boys, endless parties. They apparently did not read, or ride, or do anything remotely constructive. Furthermore, their manners were atrocious. Cecile would never, under any circumstance, treat a guest in her house as she had been treated in Madame Arnoux's salon.
She had risen from her chair with grace and dignity. "Thanks you very much, Madame Arnoux, for inviting me to your party, but I think I should like to go home now. And I don't think I should ever like to come here again. Good afternoon."
Cecile's exit speech created something of a minor scandal for a time. Didn't it just prove, they had said, that breeding will always tell? Cecile agreed wholeheartedly.
She had never received another invitation. She had never wanted one. Life was fine just as it was. She had her horses, Jali ... her father ...
"What is it, halaila? Are you all right?"
"Yes, I ... I'm fine." Cecile pressed her black-gloved fingers briefly to her temples. Her father was gone now. She was alone. She had to face the world on her own.
The carriage turned up a long, curving gravel drive, and Cecile felt some of the lonely ache drain from her. The mere sight of the solid, imposing stone façade was comforting. There was not, she thought, a more beautiful chateau in all of France. Not even the overhanging gloom could mar its charm. Newly blooming gardens flanked each graceful wing. Dozens of horses, foals at their sides, grazed the white-fenced acres. It was home. The only home she had ever known.
She hurried up the steps and entered the elaborately carved front door, leaving Jali behind.
Cecile stepped out the black gown of mourning and left it in a puddled heap on the floor. Silken undergarments followed. Then she put on the clothes that had become her uniform over the years; loose cotton trousers, muslin shirt and sash that wound several times about her slender waist; tall black riding boots. She pulled the pins from her hair and it tumbled past her waist. She turned to the ornate cheval mirror.
Huge dark eyes peered back at her from beneath the thick, straight fringe of bangs. Eyes that had not yet shed a single tear. Why? What was the matter with her? Her father had been the most important, beloved person in her life. And what was the cold, hard lump in her breast that had replaced the joie de vivre with which she had once faced each new day? Abruptly Cecile wheeled from the mirror and stalked from the room.
The door to her father's study was ajar. Cecile hesitated, then cautiously pushed it open. Everything remained the same, exactly as it had been the day he died. She glanced at the desk chair where she had found him, where he had spent his final moments before the weakness in his heart had swiftly killed him. There were no ghosts. Cecile entered the room.
Someone had opened the drapes and dusted the furniture. The afternoon sun had not yet managed to pierce the low-hanging clouds, and the dim light lay softly on the highly polished antique pieces; the huge old desk, the two leather chairs facing it, the globe in the corner, the hundreds of books that lined the shelves. Cecile idly ran her fingers over the marble mantel above the fireplace, then turned toward the desk. And froze.
It was still there, just as he had left it, as if he had somehow known the end was near ... the innocent-looking, plain brown envelope. It contained both her past and her future ... and the dilemma she was not yet ready to face. Cecile turned on her heel and fled into the cool, dim corridor. There was only one thing she wanted to do now.
It had been several days since Cecile had ridden her mare and she started out slowly. With light pressure on the reins, she held her to a walk until they had passed the low stone stables, then eased the horse into a jog. When the chateau had receded into the distance, she urged the mare to a gentle lope. The miles fell away.
The scenery, the rocking motion, the scent of the good, clean earth, all were familiar, so familiar. Years and years she had done this very same thing, good days and bad. On the good days she had ridden for the joy of it, racing through the countryside with happy abandon. On the bad days she had ridden to soothe her heart and sort her thoughts.
Cecile rode on until the already gloomy sky rapidly darkened with the oncoming night. She turned her mare back toward the chateau then, reined her to a halt, and surveyed the green, tree-studded acres that had been her home for so long. Home ...
Never before had Cecile thought about that word. Now it seemed to have taken on a tremendous significance. Home was where she had been raised and had lived with the people she loved. With the exception of Jali, however, they were gone now. The nurse who had accompanied them from the desert had died before Cecile had even been old enough to remember her. Most of the old servants had retired, familiar and beloved faces. What was left for her?
Loneliness. The answer came without thought or hesitation. Greater loneliness than she had ever known before, had ever imagined. As much as she loved France, it was not the land of her birth. The people around her were not her people. She was all alone. Truly alone.
Something in Cecile's breast moved then. The great weight shifted and became a painful lump in her throat and a hot dampness at the corners of her eyes. "Oh, Papa!" she cried aloud to the gathering gloom. "I miss you so!"
Cecile could not remember a time when she had cried, and the broken, ragged sobs sounded alien to her ears. But she could not stop. She cried until she was exhausted and limp, her face buried in her hands. Yet when she was done, the leaden numbness was gone, cleansed away as the earth is washed by the rain. She wiped her eyes and pushed back the long tendrils of hair that had fallen over her shoulders, then patted her patient, faithful mare and urged her back into a lope. The early night surrounded them.
* * *
Long years Jali had known Sada's daughter. All of her life. And he knew her well, better, perhaps, than anyone. He could tell by the set of her shoulders or the tilt of her chin what kind of mood she was in. Through her eyes he could read her soul. So he knew, when he saw her lead her horse in through the wide double doors of the stable, that she teetered on the brink of a momentous decision. He could see she had cried, and the tears had cleansed her soul. She was ready now, ready to hear and to know, and to decide what she inevitably must. Jali leaned his pitchfork against the wall.
"Al guwa, ya halaila," he greeted her.
"Allah i gauchi, Jali," Cecile replied automatically. "Allah give you strength in return." She lowered her eyes, avoiding Jali's intense gaze.
Jali overturned a bucket and lowered himself gingerly. He watched Cecile unsaddle her horse, give her a brisk rub, and return her to her stall. He waited while she gathered her thoughts. At long last she looked up at him from beneath the thick, dark fringe of her bangs.
"Tell me about my mother, Jali," she said. "Tell me about how she and Papa met."
"This I have told you many times," he replied, a smile in his voice.
"Tell me again, Jali. Once more. Please."
"Very well," Jali shifted until he was a bit more comfortable. He let the soft and fragrant silence of the stable descend upon them, and looked deeply into his mistress's eyes. This telling of the tale, he knew, would be the last.
"I met your father when he came to the suk in Damascus," Jali began at last. "He had lately come from Egypt, where he had met, and been befriended by, the great Ali Pasha Sherif. All knew of the Frenchman who had bought the finest of the shaikh's horses. All knew he looked for a guide, someone to take him into the desert in his search for more of our proud and noble steeds. So I went to him, and I was young and strong then, and we became friends and into the desert we rode together."
He continued the tale and watched as Cecile listened to, and drank in, the familiar words. How her father and Jali had gone from tribe to tribe, until they came at last to the camp of Mustafa, one of the strongest shaikhs among the desert peoples. How the camp was raided by enemies and many camels and horses were stolen. How her father could not refuse when Mustafa asked him to ride at his side when they went out to reclaim their animals and take revenge upon their foes.
"He was fearless, your father," Jali continued. "He rode Al Hamrah, and at the shaikh's side waited outside Mustafa's tent for his eldest daughter to appear."
For it was Rwalan custom that the chief's eldest daughter lead her father's men into battle. Heavily veiled, mounted on an elaborately decorated maksar, a camel saddle, she was to lead the mounted men against their enemies.
"And this she did, as dawn broke upon the sands, for Sada was brave, even among her kind. She was one of the greatest of Rwalan women, revered by all who knew her. She rode at the head of the party until they reached the camp of the raiders. Then she stripped away her veil and tore open the bodice of her garment, revealing her breasts, and giving a great cry, led her father's men into battle.
"It was then your father loved her, when first he looked upon her lovely face, and saw her courage. And later, when they returned victorious, she looked upon your father and love was in her eyes also. This I saw. Allah had written on their page long before. It was meant to be.
"So, in time, your father asked Shaikh Mustafa to give his daughter in marriage, and so great was your father's fame, and so beloved by the peoples was he, that Mustafa granted your father's wish, and gave him Sada bint Mustafa."
"And they lived long upon the desert, and happily," Cecile said, picking up the thread of the story and weaving it smoothly. "And their joy was unbounded when they learned at last they would have a child."
Jali nodded solemnly and Cecile fell silent. "On the night you were born, and your mother went to Paradise, your father went wild with grief," he continued. "He took you and we rode through that terrible night until we came to the camp of Shaikh Haddal. There you were suckled at the breast of Sita, thus becoming foster-daughter of the most powerful sheikh of all the Rwalan tribes."
Excerpted from Call of the Trumpet by Helen A. Rosburg Copyright © 2007 by Helen A. Rosburg. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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