{Excerpt} "The Four Bewitching Sisters of Nahar" by Sameena K. Mughal

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Actually, this post came in yesterday when I was at the theater, and it includes an amazing, 11-page long excerpt! I didn't want to post it at 10 pm where you wouldn't see it, so I decided to go on and post it today.

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Here's a nice long excerpt from 
 Sameena K. Mughal's debut novel featuring 
the daughters of the heroine from  
1,001 Arabian Nights!

The Four Bewitching Sisters of Nahar
            Long ago in the land of India, there lived four unique sisters who, when united could rival any army.  Zubeida, Zainab, Layla, and Aisha could cast quite a spell even without practicing any magic.  The four of them had the strength of a typhoon and could be just as destructive.  They were never wrong (at least they never thought they were), which many times was the cause of much tension between them.  Yet when they came together for what they loved, they conquered a kingdom.
            Zubeida was the oldest and by far the most sensible and practical.  Zainab was almost as practical.  But she was more amenable and pretty much went along with Zubeida’s word or anyone else’s for that matter.  Then, there was Layla.  Beautiful, vacuous Layla.  She was so beautiful no one but her sisters knew how vacuous she was.   Her sisters forgave her that small shortcoming because she was as good-hearted as she was impetuous and impulsive.  Then, there was Aisha, the last sister.  She was certainly not last in beauty, charm, or practicality.  In the arena of intelligence, she was very nearly first.  Zubeida was actually first in that department.  Where Aisha was first was audacity.  She had the audacity, vivacity, and eager readiness to live life precisely how she wanted to.  Involuntarily entangled in this web of complex women was their brother, Nur Asif.  He was aptly named, as he was the light of their lives.
            They lived in the kingdom of Nahar, on the river Ganges.  People were generally happy in Nahar; except for when everyone seemed to know everyone else’s business.  It is rather alarming when someone seems to be aware of something that you never told them or even intended them to know to begin with.  However, there are far worse things in the world, as the subjects of Nahar were well aware.
In all this plenty, the sisters lived without their parents.  Nur Asif was their mother and their father as their parents left the world far earlier than they intended.  At that time, he was almost of an age to take care of his sisters.  However, the deaths of his parents forced the issue. 
And there they were.  Four spirited girls being taken care of by their equally spirited brother.  Spirited is a rather mild way to describe them all for they could be downright rambunctious on many occasions.  Yet for all their disagreements, the one thing they did agree on was their love for one another.
For these reasons, one could call the house of Nur Asif many things, but one could never call it boring.  Yet one day for Asif (which is what everyone called him because two syllables are always better than three), it became tiresome.  Layla and Aisha embarked on yet another debate about, well, nothing.  Of course, the mediator in all disputes was Asif.
After this last nonsensical sparring match, Asif really started contemplating his life.
It had been twelve years since their parents’ deaths, and he was beginning to feel restless.  Although he was not a selfish person, he started to feel as though maybe he was entitled to find happiness beyond his sisters.  While he loved them very much, he wanted more in life than to just raise them.
These were feelings that stirred much guilt inside him.  Since he was never one to share any of his burdens with his sisters, he sought the one person he felt he could talk to:  the vizier.  He found him in his favorite courtyard of the palace.  Asif had worked for him ever since his parents died.  The vizier had become a surrogate father for him, and he, in turn, had become a son to the vizier. 
     “Assalaam-o-alaikum, Hussein uncle.  I hope I am not disturbing you.  I know this is a time of rest for you.”
     “Certainly not, my boy.  Please sit.  I imagine there are many thoughts rushing about in your brain given your look at this moment.  What’s on your mind?”
     “I have been feeling rather anxious of late, uncle.  What is my life, really?  I have my sisters, and I have watched them grow and live their lives exactly how they want.  This is what I wanted for them and this is what our parents wanted.  But where am I, uncle?  I am a parent to four daughters who will one day leave me, and our whole existence is based on your pity.”
     “Pity?  You think I have kept you with me all of these years out of pity?  I am sorry to jar you out of your delusional self-pity, but you’re not an object to be pitied.  You have remained with me because you are the most capable young man I know, and if I thought otherwise, I would have dismissed you long ago.”
    “The girls will leave me one day, uncle,” he said, with a sigh.  “Then, what will I do?  In making a life for them, I seem to have forgotten myself.  Or am I just colossally selfish?”
     “You really don’t know yourself, do you, boy?  Neither are you worthy of anyone’s pity and neither are you selfish.  Every human being has a right to find their own happiness.  If you’re happy, you can make others happy.  Find what makes you happy and go after it.  You’ve done much for many.  Now do much for yourself.”
     “Thank you, uncle.”
     As Asif contemplated what it was he really wanted, his sisters arrived at a conclusion amongst themselves.  They decided that they should get him married.  They then decided that the bride should be none other than Salma, the vizier’s daughter.  The difficulty lay in convincing their brother.  He was never one to be told what to do, particularly by his sisters.
     “So how do we bring this about?”  Zubeida questioned.
     “If he wanted to tell one of us who to marry, he could, but we can’t do that with him,” Aisha remarked.
     “As if he could tell you who to marry!  As if he could tell any one of us!”  Each one of us is headstrong in this family.  It’s not that easy to tell anyone anything,” Layla responded.
     “For once, I have to agree,” Aisha said with a smirk.
     “First of all, does he even like her?  That would be a good place to start,” Zainab added.
     “I don’t think he dislikes her,” Zubeida said.
     “Zubi, find out if she likes him, or at least notices him.”
     “I will see her this afternoon, Layla.  I’ll find out.”
     “Who is going to talk to Hussein Uncle, then?”  Aisha asked.
     “Our brother, of course.  Just let me to talk to Salma first.  We don’t want to force anything on her.  We wouldn’t want someone to force a marriage on us.”
     “Certainly no,”  they all said in unison.
     So Zubeida obtained the necessary information from Salma, and it was just what she and her sisters hoped for.  The next step was to speak with their brother and find out what was on his mind, which was no small task considering their brother was not big on sharing his emotions, particularly with them. 
     When they all sat down to dinner that night, they approached their brother. 
     “Bhaiyya,” Aisha started, “We think it’s time you marry.”
     “Excuse me?”
     “Aisha, do you know nothing of subtlety?”  Zainab asked.
     “Subtlety is for strangers,” Aisha responded.
     “What we were thinking, Bhaiyya,”  Zubi interjected, forever the voice of reason,   “that it is time for you to stop worrying about us so much and start focusing more on yourself.”
     “And marriage is a way of focusing on yourself?  Last time I checked, there was another person involved,” he quipped.
     “You need someone to take care of you for a change.  Do you remember what that was like?”  Layla asked.
     “Not really,” he said.  This time, he was serious.
     “Bhaiyya, one day, we will move on into our homes.  Where will that leave you?”  Zubeida asked.
     “I see you all have this figured out.  Have you selected a bride, also?” 
     “As a matter of fact, we have,” Aisha responded, wide grin on her face.
     “Salma,” they all said at the same time.
     “Hussein Uncle’s daughter?”
     With that, he left the table.
    Long ago, they all made an unconscious decision that in intensely serious moments Zubeida was the best person to talk to their brother.  Zainab was too passive.  Aisha was too blunt.  And Layla was just too silly.  Not that Zubeida didn’t have all of these qualities, she just knew when to use them.
     She found him on the veranda staring at the moon, which was what he did when he needed to think.  
     “Don’t approve of our choice, Bhaiyya?”
     “No… Salma is,” he responded awkwardly.
     “Wonderful?”  Zubeida said with an unabashed smile.
     Asif turned his head, unable to hide the embarrassment this conversation flooded his way.  So he reverted to playful banter since that was more natural for him.
     “Stop smiling, you intrusive sprite!  What can I really offer her? A modest estate and four witches?”
     “Yourself, which is more than enough.  But the four most enchanting girls in Nahar are a boon very few can hope for.  Besides, you know Hussein Uncle loves you like a son.  He’d be more than willing to allow you to marry his daughter.”
     “But is his daughter more than willing to marry me?”  he asked quietly.
     “Of course, she is.”
     “I just don’t know,” he said as he got up to walk away.
     “Yes, you do,” Zubeida responded, matter of factly.
     It was that simple.  The next day, Asif brought his proposal to Hussein; Hussein was more than ecstatic but spoke with his daughter anyway before he gave his answer.  Of course, her answer was yes, and the engagement was fixed.  With that matter settled, Hussein sent Asif off to a neighboring kingdom to attend to one of the Sultan’s interests there.
     That same day, the Sultan Ahmed brought his own proposal for the hand of Salma.  Although Hussein was quite aware that the sultan would not take offence to his refusal, he still did not feel comfortable denying a sultan, who also happened to be his friend.  At the same time, however, he felt quite justified in denying Prince Ayub, the sultan’s oldest son. 
     Prince Ayub was notorious throughout the kingdom for his dismissive and selfish manner.  His number one priority was always achieving his own interests no matter the cost to others, including his own brother, Prince Mehmood.  Prince Mehmood was everything his brother was not.  He had the honor and sense of justice that was completely lacking in Prince Ayub.
     Although the sultan was completely aware of his eldest son’s shortcomings, it did not stop him from approaching his vizier for his daughter’s hand.  Actually, he was quite hopeful that Salma and his friend’s influence would be beneficial to his son. 
     So, his disappointment was quite palatable when his vizier told him no and the reason for his refusal. 
     “If only I had come a few hours earlier,” he sighed.
      “Of course, sire.”
      Being a vizier, Hussein knew what to say to whom, and although he knew his answer would have been no regardless, he thought it best not to say that to the Sultan. 
      Sultan Ahmed was a fair man with no desire to force his will on anyone, even where his son was concerned.   So, he accepted the refusal gracefully.  His son, of course, thought otherwise.
     “Father, you accepted his refusal?  You are the sultan!  And I am the prince of this land!  To refuse the prince of the land for a penniless orphan!”
     “Ayub, you know full well that Asif is not penniless.  Besides, there will be no shortage of brides for you.”
     “Salma is the bride that I want,” he responded.  With that, he stormed out of the room like the petulant child he was.
     Later that day, Prince Mehmood went to see Salma.  Prince Ayub complained to him of any situation that was not going his way, and this situation was no different.  Prince Mehmood, as empathetic as his brother was selfish, decided to find out if there was not something he could do to help Prince Ayub.
     He found Salma and Zubeida in the palace study.  Although he came to see Salma, he found his eyes wandering to Zubeida many, many times.  Even with the distraction of Zubeida, he managed to have some semblance of conversation with Salma.
     “Salma, were you aware of the sultan’s visit to your father?”
     “Yes.  What of it?”
     Involuntarily, his gaze shifted to Zubeida, who pretended to be engrossed in her book.
     “Yes… Salma,” he stuttered, “Did he respond as you would have wished?”
     “Of course.”
     “May I speak plainly?” he asked, as he eyed Zubeida.
     “To whom?”  Salma smiled, not being able to resist having a bit of fun at the prince’s expense. 
     “You, of course,” he snickered, not at all pleased with his own transparency. 
     “If given the choice between Prince Ayub and Nur Asif, your choice would be Nur Asif?”
     “Yes, Sayedi.  I apologize if my answer displeases you.  But since you spoke plainly, I thought it best that I did the same.”
     “While I am disappointed for my brother, I would never want anyone to feel forced into doing something they did not want to do.” Again, his eyes shifted towards Zubeida.
     “Of course, Prince,” Salma responded.  She did not want to tempt fate by teasing the prince a second time; although it took quite a bit of forbearance on her part.
     “Yes… Khuda hafiz.”  And he ran out of the room as if he were being chased; which was fortunate for Salma because, at that moment, her laughter gushed forth like a waterfall.
     “What exactly are you laughing at Salma?”  Zubeida grinned, although she knew the answer.
     “I was not sure if he was talking to you or me!  What were you doing to him, Zubi?”
     “I was reading my book, you silly girl.” 
     “Yes… between exchanging glances with a prince of Nahar.”
     With that, Zubi threw her book at her friend.
     Elsewhere in the palace, the mood was not so jovial.  Prince Ayub was seething at Hussein’s refusal and his father’s complacence.  It was at this time that he decided that Asif was an obstacle to be eliminated.  Prince Ayub had many attendants in his entourage, but one who was particularly useful in the many dastardly deeds that the prince needed assistance in accomplishing was Jafar.  It was with this man that he schemed to eliminate Asif.  They decided that upon his return to Nahar the next day; it would be very easy to dispose of him.  Travelers were often robbed and murdered on route.  Asif would just be an unfortunate victim.
      It was a perfect plan.  What Ayub and Jafar had not expected was Asif’s sisters foiling them, which is exactly what they did.  Zainab and Layla were sitting alone when Zainab proposed that they meet their brother on his way back from his journey.  Layla agreed, and they set off.  Along the way, they happened upon a sultan’s guard, Kassim who fancied Layla.  Of course, Layla could never help but indulge in conversation with an admirer.  When she quickly grew bored of the conversation, she asked to be excused as she was going to meet her brother.  So she and Zainab set off again.
     At the same time, Asif encountered two rogues and prepared to defend himself.  Not long into the unfair battle, Zainab and Layla arrived.  This intrusion was most off-putting to the rogues as now they would have to dispose of three bodies instead of one. Layla ran off toward Kassim, and for the first time in her life, Zainab stood her ground and proceeded to throw rocks at the swordsmen.  His sisters’ arrival gave Asif even more determination to win this fight because now it was a question of his sisters’ safety along with his own. 
     He wasn’t fighting alone long because Layla brought a quite eager Kassim into the fight.  Fate was kind to Kassim because it brought one of the “thieves” towards Zainab and her rocks, and gave Kassim the opportunity to prove his worthiness to Layla.  Kassim overpowered and killed his foe quickly because one of Zainab’s rocks found its way to the man’s head and stunned him. 
     The other bandit recognized Kassim as one of the sultan’s guards and decided the money Prince Ayub was paying him really wasn’t worth the trouble and ran off.  Even with Kassim and Asif in hot pursuit, he managed to escape.
    Although Asif was relieved to be alive, he was quite disturbed by his sisters’ stumbling into the fray. 
     “What were the two of you thinking?  You should have run the moment you saw what was happening.  You are so lucky you were not hurt.”
     “First of all,” Layla responded, “We were not going to watch you get yourself killed.  Second, we should have done that because that’s what you would have done?”
    “Who says I was getting myself killed?  I was fine.”
     “It was two against one, Bhaiyya.  I don’t know that I would call that fine,” Zainab interjected.
     “You did not even thank Kassim,” Layla pointed out.
    “Yes, Kassim.  Thank you.  Even though we all know what your valor was about, I thank you.”
     “My job is to protect all the sultan’s subjects,” he replied, ignoring Asif’s implication, all the while acknowledging the truth of it. 
     “Some more than others,” Asif rejoined, “Come, girls.”
    “I’ll offer you an escort,” Kassim said, while looking at Layla.
    “I am sure you’re willing to offer more, and rest assured you will if you want my sister,” Asif replied as he planted himself between Layla and Kassim.
    “Bhaiyya,” Layla scolded.
     Kassim blushed.
    While the girls fawned over their brother for the next few days, Prince Ayub was incensed that his plot had been foiled.  He and his attendants racked their brains for days to concoct a new plan for removing his rival.  Then, another perfect opportunity fell into his lap.  Through his network of spies, he was informed the vizier was sending Asif to inspect the construction of a library.  Although Prince Ayub was a complete stranger to hard work and labor, he knew accidents happened on construction sites all the time.  He was quite pleased with himself, as usual.   This time, he thought, nothing should go wrong and to ensure it, he would be there himself.


Sameena Mughal was born in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. She is the daughter of immigrants who came to the United States from Uganda in 1972. Sameena is a freelance writer and teacher with a passion for literature and 1001 Arabian Nights especially. As an English and ESL teacher, she designed units where her students either retold these stories or wrote one of their own. After reading her students’ stories, Sameena decided to write one of her own. That one story led to ten, which led to the creation of SHAHERAZADE'S DAUGHTERS, her first book.

Check out Sameena's website and follow along on Twitter and Facebook

Author: Sameena K. Mughal
 Publication date: Nov. 4, 2013
Publisher: Laredo Publishing Company, Incorporated

In a world of genies and fairies, extraordinary women from all over the East make extraordinary journeys of the spirit, mind, and heart. In SHAHERAZADE'S DAUGHTERS, different women follow in the footsteps of the legendary heroine of 1001 Arabian Nights. The short story collection by Sameena Mughal pays homage to the classic tales yet adds a modern, feminist twist. The diverse stories comprising SHAHERAZADE'S DAUGHTERS range from the adventurous and comedic to the dark and dramatic. Each offering explores the complex pathways to self-discovery.

 There is no listing on Goodreads yet. 

You can order the paperback from Amazon and B&N. Currently, the ebook is only available through the author's website, located here.


  1. New Link To EBook


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