MENTOR: Meredith McCardle

MENTEE: Addie Thorley



WORD COUNT: 91,000



When her sister and friends are sold to the Imperial harem, seventeen-year-old Nia vows to save them— even if that means conspiring with mystic Bedouins, betraying the boy she loves, and slitting the Sultan’s throat.



The harem traders circled my sister like wolves— lips curled over yellow teeth, fingers clawing at her face. I couldn’t watch. I bowed my head and whispered a prayer to Bacha, Goddess of Beauty, begging her to smite Akilah with leprosy or make warts sprout from her nose. Something so unsightly the traders wouldn’t wish to take her.

I was ashamed to admit it wasn’t the first time I’d asked Bacha to curse my sister. But it was the first time it hadn’t been for jealous, selfish reasons.

“Magnificent.” One of the traders turned Akilah’s chin this way and that.

The crowd whistled and clapped, but I muttered oaths.

Bacha had failed me. Again. I knew she would. Not even the gods could diminish Akilah’s glossy brown hair and blackberry eyes. She was a peacock among pigeons. A ruby among pebbles. A queen compared to the other girls for sale in the yesir.

The square was full to bursting, every soul in Bagrati crammed inside the open air plaza, crawling over each other like weevils to get a glimpse of the traders. There was no escaping the smell. Between the camel dung, spice shops, and sweating bodies, it was enough to make the strongest stomach turn. And it was hot, hot, hot— the sizzling sun on my face, the blistering sand between my toes. I couldn’t imagine how much worse it was for Akilah, trapped in the center of the commotion, withering beneath the weight of so many eyes.


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