Stories are told of a hero who will come to Farsala's aid when the need is greatest. But for thousands of years the prosperous land of Farsala has felt no such need, as it has enjoyed the peace that comes from being both feared and respected.
Now a new enemy approaches Farsala's borders, one that neither fears nor respects its name and legend. But the rulers of Farsala still believe that they can beat any opponent.
Three young people are less sure of Farsala's invincibility. Jiaan, Soraya, and Kavi see Time's Wheel turning, with Farsala headed toward the Flames of Destruction. What they cannot see is how inextricably their lives are linked to Farsala's fate until it's too late.
In Fall of a Kingdom, the first volume of the Farsala Trilogy, Hilari Bell introduces readers to a world of honor, danger, and magic in this spellbinding tale of self-discovery.
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Fall of a Kingdom
By Hilari Bell
Simon & Schuster Children's PublishingCopyright © 2004 Hilari Bell
All right reserved.
Jiaan ducked, and a bronze cup shaped like a ram's horn crashed into the wall behind him. It didn't clatter on the floor, since the thick carpets that had already absorbed its contents muffled the sound. He hoped the carpets wouldn't be too hard to clean. Jiaan knew that some people found it harder than others to fight off the djinn of rage. But he didn't think the lady Soraya was even trying.
"Lady, if you'll just lis -- "
"I have listened," the girl snarled. Her grip tightened on the second cup. Her loose hair -- the straight, black hair of the noblest of noble lines -- was disheveled. The tight vest she wore beneath her loose, silk overrobe rose and fell with the force of her breathing. At fifteen, she was probably the most beautifully feminine creature Jiaan had ever seen -- so what djinn-cursed fool had taught her to throw like a shepherd boy?
"I have listened," she repeated. "But all I've heard is that my father -- my own father! -- seeks to cast me out like some peas -- like broken rubbish!"
Like some peasant-spawned bastard. It was an insult so familiar that Jiaan's heart hardly flinched. At least she hadn't said it aloud. That surprised him; most deghasses wouldn't have given a moment's thought to the possibility that he might be offended. But Jiaan's father hadn't cast him out. Far from it. And High Commander Merahb didn't intend...
"He doesn't intend to cast you out." Jiaan made his tone reasonable, despite the way her lovely, dark eyes narrowed. "He only means to hide you away for a time, in order to -- "
"Away in some peasant sty..."
The second cup flew, and Jiaan sidestepped nimbly.
"...in some dung-sucking outland while..."
Her groping hand found a niche, carved into the outer wall between the arched windows, and came to rest on a goblet whose glass bowl glowed as blue as the heart of a flame. Its base was chased in gold. Its worth was probably ten times that of Jiaan's sword, and his sword was more costly than all his other possessions put together.
The goblet hurtled toward the wall. Jiaan leaped, cursing the carpets that hindered his feet. He caught the goblet with the tips of his fingers, fumbled with it for an endless moment, and settled it into a secure grasp.
The plate it had rested on, thrown like a discus, struck him full in the chest, bruising him even through the padded silk layers of his armor.
"Ow!" Had she distracted him deliberately? "He's only trying to save your life, you...Lady Soraya. The gahn rules all of Farsala. Even the high commander has to obey him."
"Dung!" she shrieked. The incense burner her hand fell on next -- small but solid stone and bronze -- made a dent in the heavy panels of the door at Jiaan's back. "The armies of Farsala haven't propitiated the war djinn since Rostam cast down the last djinn emperor. Centuries ago! And he thinks he's going to exile me for however long it takes to win his stupid war? Well, I won't -- "
The door behind Jiaan opened. "You won't have any choice," said a woman's voice coldly. "And if you're overheard by the wrong people, your choices will become fewer -- and even less pleasant than exile."
Jiaan stepped aside and bowed, the goblet still in his hands. Commander Merahb's wife, the lady Sudaba, moved gracefully into the small solarium.
Soraya froze, her hand clenched around the carved wooden horse she'd been about to throw. "Madam my mother, have you heard of this...this outrage? What about my marr -- "
"I imagine everyone has heard." Sudaba took the goblet from Jiaan and crossed the room to return it to its shelf. "But I see no reason to give them any more information about our family's private affairs." Her ironic gaze rested on Jiaan.
He bowed himself out of the room, but not before Sudaba seized her daughter's ear and twisted it.
His own peasant-born mother had twisted his ears, and paddled his buttocks as well. But along with occasional -- and usually deserved -- punishment, there had been warmth, laughter, and love. Not only from her, but even from the farmholder to whom Jiaan's father had given her, when he was required to wed a deghass and produce a noble heir. His mother had died of a fever two years after the commander had outraged everyone by taking a peasant-born bastard into his household as a page, instead of as a servant. Jiaan still missed her.
Jiaan looked around the second-story gallery on which he stood. Intricately carved rails, sanded, waxed, and polished, encircled the courtyard below. Summer was ending; the leaves on the ornamental bushes looked dusty, almost ready to turn and fall, but a handful of late roses still bloomed, and the splash of the fountain calmed his ruffled nerves.
The home in which he'd lived till he turned ten had rough, log walls, and the plain, plank floors had never seen a carpet -- yet he thought he'd been luckier than the lady Soraya.
On the other hand, all she had to do was go quietly and be patient for a while. Was that too much to ask?
The door behind him opened, and Sudaba emerged. "Soraya will depart with you tomorrow morning," she said calmly.
"Yes, madam." Jiaan bowed. She was eight inches shorter than he, but the assurance in her eyes made him feel as if he were the smaller.
"You should have pointed out that her father is plotting to save her," Sudaba murmured. "At some risk."
The crash of priceless glass against the door made Jiaan wince.
Sudaba didn't even twitch. "And however inconvenient it may seem, it's much better than the alternative."
In fact, Jiaan had pointed out all those things. Soraya hadn't cared. "Yes, madam."
"This is just a ploy." Sudaba leaned on the gallery rail, gazing down at the garden with unseeing eyes. "Another move in the game. But a good one."
Jiaan settled back to wait with the ease of long practice, till she noticed his existence long enough to dismiss him. The late-afternoon sun lit the expensive, brocaded silk of her overrobe and the almost equally expensive, fine-woven linen underrobe beneath it. Gold on brown, to honor the approaching harvest. Her hair, as straight and black as her daughter's, was caught up in a complex coil, twined with silk ribbons knotted with glowing glass beads and the hawk feathers only a deghass, a lady of the noble class, could wear.
Jiaan's hair was brown and curly, like his mother's...and his father's. Many of the deghans had peasant hair. But not Sudaba. In her youth, the poets had said, she'd been as lovely and imperial as the moon. And as distant, Jiaan thought now, watching her calculate the political implications of her daughter's fate. As indifferent.
But then a black-haired boy, his brown skin as naked as the day, burst shrieking into the courtyard and toddled toward the fountain. Two nursemaids, armed with trousers and tunic, hurried after him.
Sudaba's frown faded and her eyes lit, her face suddenly, warmly maternal. Merdas, the long-awaited heir, had finally confirmed her status, eliminating the danger that she could be set aside allowing High Commander Merahb to take another wife. But still...Jiaan had served in the high commander's household for seven years -- as page, as squire, and now as the commander's aide -- and he had never seen Sudaba's face soften like that for Soraya.
On the other hand, her father loved her best. "The commander of the army must sacrifice the being he holds most precious in all the world," the priests had said. "Or the djinn of war will give their favor to the armies of the Hrum, who will roll over Farsala like the darkness of the pit itself."
Jiaan wondered uneasily which of the commander's enemies had bribed the priests to say it. And why. No, he didn't envy his half sister. Even if she was a silly, spoiled she-bitch.
Copyright © 2003 by Hilari Bell
Excerpted from Fall of a Kingdom by Hilari Bell Copyright © 2004 by Hilari Bell. Excerpted by permission.
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Reading Group Guide
A Simon Pulse Guide for Reading Groups
The Farsala Trilogy Book #1: Fall of a Kingdom
By Hilari Bell
About the Book
They are three people who on the surface appear to have nothing in common. Each has a different background, different expectations, and a different place in society: an aristocrat, a soldier, and a thief whose lives will become inextricably intertwined by fate. For as their country prepares to do battle against an enemy that wishes to conquer Farsala, these three will have a part to play in the machinations of politics and war. And each of these three must decide where they stand...and what they stand for.
1. Why is Jiaan's lineage so important, both to him and those around him? In what ways does it help him and in what ways does it hinder him? How would his life have been different if he'd been born to a different deghan?
2. Soraya was born into a position of wealth and power. How does this affect the way she interacts with others? How does the fact that she is female impact her social standing? Do other people view her the way she expects them to?
3. Kavi does not define his place in society in the same way that the other characters define their own. How do you think this is connected to his background and occupation? What benefits might there be for him in defining himself so loosely? Are there any drawbacks?
4. What do each of the three main characters Jiaan, Soraya, and Kavi love? What do they dislike? How do these loyalties affect the choices they make?
5. Why are the Hrum attacking Farsala? What factors work against the armies of Farsala in this war? How does the Hrum timeline help and hinder each side?
6. What role does Jiaan play in the war? What about Soraya? And Kavi? How do their respective roles change and why?
7. Discuss the social structure of the people of Farsala. What privileges come with being a deghan? How do the lower classes feel about the deghans? Do you agree with Patrius' claim that the Farsalan people would benefit from a Hrum victory?
8. What makes the Suud people different from the Farsalans? To what or whom are they loyal? Why do they accept Soraya into their tribe?
9. Although most of the people of Farsala claim to no longer believe in magic and djinns, they are mentioned often Soraya is sacrificed to satisfy the djinns, bad behavior is blamed on them, the Suuds are thought to be descended from them. Why do you think djinns are so prevalent in their daily life? Do you agree that the Farsalans no longer believe in magic?
10. Why do you think that the story of Sorahb is interjected into the main story? Why do you think we are given this tale in pieces instead of all at once?
1. Most of the characters in the story are accomplished archers and swordsmen. Find out if there is someplace in your community where you can learn to fence or shoot a bow and arrow. Estimate how long it would take you to become good enough to hold your own with Jiaan or Soraya.
2. Kavi was an apprentice to a weapon-smith until his hand was injured. Choose some aspect of metalwork blacksmithing or working with a specific metal such as gold or iron and research it." Try to find out about the history, techniques, and technological advances of the field.
3. Soraya is shocked by the theatrical elements of her appearance before the ghan. Choose a section of the book to dramatize, using lighting tricks or other theatrical techniques.
4. The first battle between the Farsalans and the Hrum involves a great deal of planning on both sides. Study some famous historical battles to learn some of the strategy and logic that goes into planning a war. Perhaps you can play a game like Risk or Stratego that requires you to stage a battle.
5. The Suud mark their passage into adulthood with a sophisticated version of hide-and-seek that proves their hunting and hiding skills are equal to the standards of the tribe. Organize this same sort of hide-and-seek event with your friends to see who is the best hunter and who is good at hiding. Those who are being "hunted" should try to be as elaborate in their methods of escaping detection as the Suud would be.
6. Kavi secretly learns the language of the Hrum so that he is not dependent upon a translator to know what is happening to him. Choose a language that you would like to speak and study it.
7. Hilari Bell plans to write two more books about Jiaan, Soraya, and Kavi. What do you think will happen to them? Create an outline for each character that tells what you think they will do in the upcoming war and how you think their lives will turn out. Read the next two books and compare your predictions to what really happens.
This reading group guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.