“Yes, all those ridiculous men–and women, sometimes–wanting so much for me to be something I was not. Their vision of what royalty should be, or justification for hiring me to f*–… Have I shocked you?”
– Queen Malka (who becomes known as Shoshana by the people who save her life, “Rose” by the Romans)., Prelude
In 1053, a young Syrian queen, the last of the Khazars, is deposed by an arrogant young soldier of nobility, Duke William of Normandy. 13-year-old Queen Malka goes into deep hiding, taking shelter among the people of her father’s last surviving general. They are an odd bunch, living a semi-nomadic life as they raise prized horses, isolated enough from the world that they have escaped the ravages of the encroaching empires (Byzantine, Islamic, and Roman), and worshiping a very old Goddess.
They teach Malka (known to them as Shoshana) their ways, giving her a unique view of both the commanding world of the God and the gentler, more sensual world of the Goddess. Trained in statecraft by her mother while at court, now she’s trained in human nature, as viewed by a people largely untroubled by the power plays of the empires swirling around them.
When she makes her way back to “civilization”, she brings this unique education with her. Prompted by a pragmatic old nurse who had followed her into hiding, she uses her strange education to take advantage of a weakness of William’s: an appetite for young girls. William abducts and assaults her; she is soon surprised to find that she will bear him a son, whom she must hide at all costs, while at the same time consolidating her power and seeing to her safety and that of her adopted people.
She enters her old palace through the back door, as a courtesan, gaining respect as an intelligent and thoughtful companion to those who would hire her.
In an unguarded moment, she reveals her identity by recognizing one of her childhood toys, and William moves to have her killed as a danger to his holding, but by that time, she is far too popular and knows too many secrets to be so easily disposed of.
William is recalled to Normandy, leaving a governor in his place — a strange and rare man who has never taken advantage of Shoshana’s talents. He learns of her son, and of the people she is trying to protect, but instead of killing them all, works with Shoshana to find ways to accommodate this ancient people within the confines of draconian Roman Catholic authority. Acknowledging her rare understanding of the region and its diverse people, he quietly helps Shoshana ascend to something near her former stature, as regent. For in the child, they see a way to bring together the old Khazar dynasty with the increasing reach of the Roman Catholic empire, and extending peace a little while longer.