"Love does not exist." Said the King righteously as he adjusted his cuff.
"Well then, I'm pretty sure having eight children will not strengthen that point of view." Said the queen tersely from the dressing table as she brushed a stray of lint off her shoulder.
"You know what I mean. Our love, my dear, is one for the history books. But love could not possibly exist for what the others say. Love for money, for life, lust..." He wiggled his eyebrows at his wife provocatively and she rolled her eyes, smiling.
"These things are not related to love. They are related to greed." She interjected.
Turning to look at her, the king reached and took her hands, making her stand up. "Exactly my dear. That's what I think. But I have to say, greed cannot be a sin if it is exercised with caution."
The queen pursed her lips as she allowed the king to take her in his arms. "You do mean power, rather than caution?"
"Both have a balance." He said, picking up his wife in his arms off her feet and twirling her around. She held onto her tiara and tutted. "Put me down. You'll ruin my hair."
But the king kept on twirling her. He nodded towards his own crown, sitting on the dressing table above a satin pillow, shining in the bright light. "You see that? I got that crown because I made a balance between power and greed for power."
The queen pointed towards the window and they waltzed to it. Looking out over the lake, they spotted numerous ships of every shape and size. "And that is what happens when you let the greed for power control you. You end up losing, and then you have to face your humiliation in the worst way possible." She murmured.
The king guffawed and pulled her away from the window. "Yes. Worst way possible. By facing up to the winning opponent and grudgingly accepting a life of slavery to him after losing horribly in the war."
The queen looked up at the king with a hitched eyebrow and he let her down sheepishly. "Dearest, you mustn't boast of your winning. The wounds are still fresh."
The king snorted. "I let them live. I'm sure the wound will heal soon enough."
The queen shook her head. "What does our darling daughter have to say about this?"
The king looked afar and tapped his chin absent-mindedly. "Well, she truly believes that this scene is not for the likes of her, and last I knew, she had retired to bed with a good book, a glass of cocoa and her teddy, Mr. Biggums."
The queen pursed her lips. "I meant our other daughter. The one responsible for all this."
The king grinned and marched upto the dressing table. "Oh, she's fine with all this."
The queen studied him intently when he didn't look at her in the eye. "Did you speak to her about your decision?"
The king picked up his crown and studied it. "I talked about it with the clerical leader. He says it is allowed. I have confirmed it with the advisor, and I've studied her work in the battleground. I believe she's ready."
"Yes, but did u ask her? Does she believe she's ready? Because you know how mercurial she is. She might not react the way you'd expect." She said, gently putting a hand on her husband's shoulder.
"I know how she'll react. She'll get used to it in a while. She hates change but soon she'll see it's for the better. She's like me, so I know what to expect from her." He said, rubbing on a non-existent mark on the crown.
The queen let her hand fall. "Don't you think she's too young?"
The king looked away from his crown. "No. She's perfect. She's going to represent the new generation at a time when we need that support the most." He placed his crown on the pillow again and turned to his wife.
"And besides, she always wanted to be queen. She knew she was one day going to become one. She is the youngest general in the history of the armed forces, she's ruthless when it comes to defense strategies and she is not one to be fooled by any emotional calamities." He said, reassuringly.
"But she's like ice. She has a blood-lust even you cannot account for. She isn't like our other daughters who at least showed that they were elegant women." The queen said rather anxiously.
The king chose to roll his eyes on this comment. "She wears a gown. She wears that bloody rouge on her cheeks which makes her look like she had a bad reaction to some allergy, she has hair down to her knees, she knows how to cook and she speaks in any language you can throw at her. How much more of a girl do you want her to be?"
The queen tutted. "She needs to be more of a woman if she is going to attract any male suitors."
The king forgot his irritation. "Ah yes, I've already come up with a solution on that."
The queen looked surprised. "Really? What are you going to do?"
"Well, darling", he placed his hands on his wife's shoulders. "You know how love doesn't exist?"
The queen grudgingly nodded.
"Well, since we know our daughter is not capable of loving anyone because she has no heart, I decided that the best way for her to marry was to involve her in the only thing that convinced us that she had the female gene in her after all."
The queen looked alarmed. "And what's that?"
The king smirked. "Shopping."
"They're going to kill me." Said the senior ladies-in-waiting owlishly. "She could be in there sleeping for all I know. And we have to get her ready in eight minutes."
"Are you sure she hasn't gone away? We could say she's gone away." Said another, looking reproaching at the door leading to the princess's room.
"We'll have to break the door down." Said the senior lady as if she was talking to herself.
"With what? It's not like we have a wooden log with us. We're standing in a stairway which is barely comfortable enough for the two of us to stand in, how are we going to get a log up here?" Snapped the other.
The senior looked down at the other. "Don't be stupid." She sighed. "I can't even get my husband to break down the door. He just had to be on the other side of-" She stopped as the door opened suddenly.
The princess stepped out, brushing her gown with one hand and holding two pairs of shoes with the other. There was a light stain on the side of the dress and the senior ladies-in-waiting gasped.
The princess looked up. "Stop being so dramatic. I dropped some goo from the Turkish delight on it but i cleaned it up." She said with a flourish.
The senior lady did not care for niceties. "That is why you have seventeen maids-of-honor to help you." She reached in and grabbed the side of the dress. "So that this doesn't happen!" She shrieked pointing to the stain. The other ladies hesitantly looked up the staircase at the encounter.
The princess wasn't offended. Snatching the dress away, she held up the two pairs of shoes. "Which one?" She asked.
The senior lady snorted and crossed her arms. "Well, it's not like you'll listen to me. You might as well go barefoot."
The princess grinned. "You know what? I think I'll do just that." And then tossing the shoes at the ladies, she scooped up her dress and thundered down the stairs.
"But princess, you don't have your tiara on!" Called out the other women as the senior lady deemed to shout out the princess's name in outrage. "Mirage! Get back here!"
The princess shouted back. "Get my tiara for me. You've already made me so late!"
It was a day of celebration. A little than a quarter left of the Victorian era, with the gilded age starting soon, the world was astounded to witness the victory in the east. More astounded were many when they'd come upon the reason behind that certain victory. But the High King and Queen of the East were not anything but gracious. It was a dawning of a new era and they wanted everyone to take part in it. It was the day when 14 states united to form the Kingdom of Rehbartaj. The festival was held at the palace complex reminiscent of the Golestan Palace. Royals from all 14 states were gathered at the king's palace in the capital city of Farajtah, and a feast was underway.
The king of Rehbartaj, His Royal Highness King Sarosh sat at the head of the table, and gazed at his subjects warily. King Sarosh was a proud man, and would stand before his loyal subjects without displaying any modesty for his position, and would make anyone who would doubt him lose his life. With curly brown hair, broad shoulders and a short beard, he didn't seem any different than your every-day gentleman, but what really made people fear him were his eyes. Big and brown, his wide eyes would remain passive as he'd survey his subjects and it was rumored that during a time when he was tortured, not once did his eyes betray his pain, nor did he emit a word from his mouth. So much was his tolerance that his torturers had to kneel in weakness in front of him, forfeiting their allegiance.
Beside him on his right sat Queen Nadira, gently prodding her greens with a fork. Queen Nadira was regarded as the beauty of the land, and it was said that any man who would set his sights on her would not be able to look anywhere else. Before, she had not been seen as beautiful, however what had been noticed was what set her apart from the rest. It was her grace and elegance, and they way she carried herself that made one stand up and take notice. Nevertheless, that had been before her marriage almost twenty-five years ago. After marriage, with the help of her own personal staff, she had been groomed into a beauty worth the breathlessness of her admirers. The king treasured her long straight golden sun-kissed hair, which down to her hips; shone in the moonlight as she bent slightly to bite into a leaf of lettuce. Her turquoise blue robes swayed with the breeze as she straightened up and regarded the room. Her eyes were the most beautiful of all, and it was true indeed that upon her birth, many had gasped at the sheer sharpness and beauty of such fragile a creature. She had inherited them from her great-great-grandmother. Large eyes in the shade of ice blue; so light that they'd seem almost white; dominated her features, and set a sharp edge to her small nose and lips the shape of a sculptor's dream. Tall, with her head in the air, she had cast a spell on the king the first time he had seen her in the village square and his decision to wed her had set this future in stone; King Sarosh's rule was going to change everything.
Beside the king and Queen sat their 4 children, 8 in all. The oldest twin daughters Aria and Alana sat beside their husbands, chatting discreetly. Their marriage had been a joyful occasion of sorts. Being fraternal twins, they had wed another set of fraternal twin brothers, Arman and Cyrus at the age of 18 with the boys being 24. The girls' only different features were their eyes, one had black eyes, and the other had light brown eyes. Both had been gifted with their father's curly brown hair which they both kept bounded in pins and sashes. Their husbands had dark brown hair and each had a tan to their skin, result of spending too much time sailing in the seas and catching the sun. Strongly built, with booming voices and with a sense of humor to each of them, they were set apart by their nature. Whereas Arman was always ready for a laugh, Cyrus, the oldest of the son-in-laws kept a quiet setting in front of his in-laws. 7 years later, one could easily see that it was Alana who wore the pants in their relationship, even if her husband was in charge of the Kingdom's security.
Sitting on either side of the King and Queen were the young teenage Princes' Razin and Rayan. Rayan was 15; a year younger than Razin and each had their mother's golden hair, and their father's face, with only Razin gifted with his mother's button nose. Each looked at the other sulkily from the corner of their eyes, thinking about ways to seek revenge from the other sibling for being blamed for their previous deadly mischief of setting fire to the hay piles to see if they could make smoke signals like the Indians. Beside Rayan, sat an empty chair, waiting for its occupant's arrival who was currently running down to the dining hall bare feet followed by her 17 maidens, the oldest among them, around the princess's age, carrying a pair of satin pink slippers and a heavy tiara bouncing around her elbow.
Excluding the runner, three of the children had already been sent to bed, having been too young to understand what all the festivities were about, since they were all under the age of 10.
The subjects talked amongst themselves for the time until desserts were brought out, and as each tucked in with relish, the king leaned discreetly towards his wife and whispered, "Any sign of Mirage?"
Queen Nadira gazed at her husband, resignation etched on her delicate face, "I've washed my hands off that girl. I've told her so many times to be on time, and yet she disappears to God-knows where. And now look, it's all ruined." She said ruefully.
King Sarosh smiled a bit and regained his posture, "That girl is me, Nadira, don't you forget that. She does what she wants", he paused as he bit into a spoonful of his dessert, "However, she can't fool her father." He tapped the side of his nose and his smile widened.
"Where did you learn that heinous expression? And what do you mean?" Queen Nadira hissed quietly without moving her lips, not wanting anyone to hear their quarrel.
King Sarosh looked down at her with a slight mock wounded expression, "I learned it on my trip to the west. Don't you know what it means?"
Stopping herself from rolling her eyes, she straightened herself as if ruffling her feathers, "The west was not a good influence on you." She said with disapproval.
Smirking, the King stood up and instantly all the servants stepped forward, and in seconds, with plates and cutlery cleared away leaving the table spotless, the king looked at everyone fondly as the last servant left, closing the side door without noise.
"Brothers and sisters", his voice boomed, "Tonight, we celebrated a monumental event in history; the union of our countries as one. Together, we are stronger, smarter, and quicker."
Queen Nadira looked at her children as they listened to their father, stopping only to glare at Razin, who quickly stifled a yawn.
"We are of one belief that if we stand, arm in arm, with each other to fight against the forces which might attempt to penetrate our walls and our culture, they will be met with the wrath of the people and their protectors. Such a move might not have been easy for many, but I assure you all, that with a little time, your former countries shall too flourish like the great country of Rehbartaj; your people too shall be awash with happiness and content with their King. From this moment on, we are all one family…" He said and suddenly as if on cue, a loud sound was heard from outside the dining hall doors followed by silence.
Glancing at his wife, King Sarosh smothered a smirk as Queen Nadira crossed her arms, her jaw set. "Finally gracing us with her presence…" She muttered through gritted teeth. Beside her, Rayan caught Razin's eye, all enmity forgotten, and both snickered.
Outside, the princess giggled as the guards helped her up. She had been running so fast that for a second, the world had disappeared from before her eyes and she had skidded right into the candelabras on the sides of the door leading to the dining hall. The ladies flocked her and quick as a flash, straightened her dress, settled the tiara on her head and made her to wear the slippers but she waved them away. Holding onto the wet patch where the Turkish delight had christened her dress, she scrunched the side in her hand and breathlessly smiled at the man standing a little further away, shaking his head.
She took a deep breath. "I'm ready." She announced.
The doors opened and the Vazir, Abid dressed in his signature red robes smoothly walked in as if he was floating, his wrinkles, white hair and thick white beard reflecting his wisdom. Clearing his throat, he called out, "Her Royal highness, Princess Mirage of Rehbartaj", bowing and stepping aside, a vision in pale pink stepped into the moonlight.
Many breaths were drawn as this particular child of the King and Queen had never deemed to show her face at any event, and had been rumored to be physically ill or worse, but this thought was banished from everyone's minds as she raised her eyes and looked shyly from beneath her long black lashes. Long as a cow's, she remembered her grandmother's chuckling words. Her black pin-straight hair hung down to her hips, and her eyes, even paler than her mother's cast a chilling glow to her appearance. Her eyes were decorated with black kohl and made them look eerily alien, yet captivating. Her long fingers brushed against her blushing cheeks as she shortly tried to control her rapid breathing, her pointed cleft chin quivered as she tried to calm herself down. Her widow's peak winked from underneath her golden headwear, her neck elongated as if she was wearing only a feather on her head instead of the heavy solid gold crown given to her as a gift from a visiting prince from Greece. Her pale pink robes stuck to her skin as if they were sewed onto her without making her look provocative. Slim but not thin; she looked more like a Goddess than a mere Persian princess. Her long robes hid her bare feet as she glided forward towards the head of the table. Each pair of eyes tracked her every movement, judging her, curious to find any fault but not succeeding. However, her mother grimaced.
I knew it, I knew she wouldn't wear her slippers; she looks two inches shorter than before! Is that a stain on the side that she's trying to hide with her hand? Oh at least she wore her head gear…, the Queen thought as Princess Mirage came near.
Spreading his arms wide, King Sarosh's voice broke the trance that her appearance had caused, "My daughter, Mirage", He called out proudly and lunging an arm towards her grabbed her by the shoulder and dragged her towards him, crushing her to his side and continued, "The reason we are all actually gathered here today."
Looking puzzled, Mirage glanced at her mother from her father's arms who had gone uneasy, suddenly dropping her frown and not meeting her daughter's eye.
That does not sound good, Mirage thought.
"As you all know, it has been a tradition that has been carrying on for many years in this royal family, that at an age, the King would choose from his children one who he would want to take his place. We have had successful Kings and Queens who have led this great kingdom to a bright and glorious future; and by not choosing the eldest and thrusting such a responsibility onto that child, we have rarely had any mistakes." He looked down adoringly at Mirage, and let her go unexpectedly.
Stumbling, she took her place beside Rayan who clutched her hand and squeezed tightly, looking at his sister of twenty and one proudly. Frowning slightly, Mirage thought, Rayan being nice to me? What In the name of Allah is going on?!
"I have had the pleasure of being loved by my family. I can say that my life has been perfect, even with a few ups and downs'. At this, the guests chuckle lightly, "However, being the youngest; my father chose me for this responsibility and I have made him understand that I am worthy of being King."
"Without further ado, with all of my close friends and family, I would like to announce something tonight." Clearing his throat, he picked up his wine glass, and everyone followed, eyes widened with anticipation. "I am not amusing you with any antics when I say that you are all like family but I would say that only one family from all of you will be joining me for a lifetime."
Guests still agog, he continued, "Tonight, I am announcing my successor." He waited patiently, as the sounds of gasps filled the room. Many sat with their mouths hanging open, staring at the good King. Queen Nadira smiled weakly. This had just been decided tonight, the union of the lands, he's only been in rule for 35 years, how can he give it up now?! These thoughts ran through the minds of all except his royal Vazir and family, with the exception of Mirage who sat there, staring at her father.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? ARE YOU CRAZY?! ARE YOU TRYING TO DESTROY THIS COUNTRY?! She wanted to shout at her father, than a horrible thought ran through her mind, please don't let it be Rayan, he's an idiot. Sweet but still an idiot, he had to be taught how to play polo 9 times, how will he rule a country?!
It is as these thoughts were running through her mind that she heard her father's next words, and slowly, her world collapsed around her.
"My successor is my beloved, brave and perfect daughter, Mirage." King Sarosh raised his glass and spread an arm towards Mirage who sat still, her eyes huge, threatening to envelope her face, her eyebrows disappearing into her hairline.
No, no, this is not real. Wake up, you imbecile, wake up. This cannot happen. I couldn't even keep my pet chick alive for two days, how will I run a country?! Mirage thought to herself, and suddenly she felt her hand being pulled and she stood up as the guests; rulers, Kings and Queens from other countries clapped for her fate and chanted well-wishes for her.
Her father held her hand tightly and flexed it a little, snapping her out of her traumatic state. Blinking, she looked at the table, and returned her eyes to her mother, looking at her for reassurance. Her mother looked up at her daughter from her glass and setting it down, took her other hand and smiled. Instantly, all of Mirage's angst vanished.
Even if I killed that chick by making him sleep by putting a pillow on it, I still grew up to train the armies. I have a position in the armed forces, Smiling slightly, she chided herself, what's wrong with me? This is the best thing that can happen to me. It's perfect.
Smugly, she let go of her mother's hand and raised her own in victory. Her father roared with laughter as the noise of claps and wishes registered to her shocked mind.
King Sarosh clapped Mirage on the back heartedly, "Princess Mirage will soon be the new Queen." He bellowed as the table quieted down.
"Now family, it is time to reveal to you what my true purpose was for this celebration" and seating Mirage back in her seat, he smiled his secret smile, which only Mirage could spot. What are you going to do now, you old man? She thought, smiling.
"My purpose; is to join one of your families with mine by the true symbol of union, marriage." He said.
Mirage came crashing back to Earth from her happy cloud. "WHAT?!" She screamed, staring at her father with horror. Inside, her subconscious screamed, I KNEW IT!!! I KNEW HE'D PLAY DIRTY! I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT! YOU HORRIBLE EVIL MAN!!!
Ignoring her outrage, King Sarosh continued good-naturedly, "I happen to know that 12 of your families have been gifted with sons, which is the reason that I have not yet killed all of you" he joked, not considering whether it was funny or appropriate. Queen Nadira coughed a little to break the awkward silence and chuckling at his joke, King Sarosh said, "So now, I have a proposition for you 12 families. Bring your sons and my daughter will choose one of them to marry as a gift to you. To show how much you all mean to us. With that marriage, this contract will become immortal, and we will forever be joined as the united nations of the East. As for those whom she doesn't choose, they will be granted the excuse as not being worthy enough for my daughter." He boasted as all the former Kings and Queens regarded this offer, some with horror etched on their faces, others more thoughtful.
"I will give you a week to arrange your affairs, after which you shall present your sons and my daughter will take her decision." He said, looking from one face to the other, carefully judging their expressions, noting down every movement.
Silence spread through the hall. Some guests sat back in their seats, thinking, worrying, strategizing; how will the princess and soon-to-be-their-queen choose her future partner? Mirage, her mouth hanging open, her eyes watery but with no threat of any tears spilling over this unfair situation turned to her sisters who equally had an expression of shock on their faces. Razin and Rayan looked down at their hands in their laps, knowing what will happen. King Sarosh was basically selling his daughter to the highest bidder, one who would profit the Kingdom, and all her siblings; even Queen Nadira knew, Mirage may become Queen, but after her marriage to a man of her father's choice, she will not be able to leave him, and even as Queen would not be able to dismiss her husband by divorcing him, which was against the law and would have to live with him till death, bearing his children.
Nodding at Abid, The king smiled and slapped the table with his hands, and instantly loud music on the Vazir's command wafted from the gardens behind the King. All the guests looked up, surprised. "Come", King Sarosh boomed, "Let's celebrate." And grabbing his wife's hand, he dragged her from her chair and led her out to the gardens. The dining hall doors opened and the servants helped the guests drag their chairs back so they could join the King, many walking off as if in a daze. The Vazir walked to Mirage's chair and looked down at her as she sat, motionless, all the guests and her family swarming off, their sound of laughter ringing in her ears. Perhaps it's actually my subconscious laughing at my smugness, Mirage thought hazily.
Abid cleared his throat and Mirage looked at him, her eyes droopy. Looking at her with his brown clear eyes, he said in his deep voice, "You are a leader." His voice echoed in the empty hall.
Mirage blinked at him.
"A leader meets every problem head-on. A leader does not act like a little girl without her toys. Your father has made this decision for you, well, you are wrong if you are thinking of letting him walk over you." He said, he mouth thin with disapproval of her attitude. "You stopped your father's killer when you were sixteen with only a knife and without any training. You trained the armies of this kingdom without reverence of their skills and you made them what they are now; soldiers. You are a dominator, you do not submit to anyone's will."
Mirage's mind clicked into gear as the memories whizzed in front of her eyes.
"Your father may be using you, but you will be Queen. Show him that he made a mistake by selecting you as his successor. Show him that he chose the wrong child to push his decisions on. Stand" He said, pushing her chair away from the table and she stood up quickly, eyes blazing. He looked into her eyes, his own dead yet deep. "You are a fighter. You are a Queen. You are ascension. You are Mirage… Do NOT disappoint me."
Nodding, her gaze follows her mentor as he glides away to the gardens.
I am Mirage. If my father thinks he can live my life for me, he's surely mistaken. Lifting them hem of her robe, she walked elegantly out to the gardens and towards her father who stood talking to his son-in-laws by one of the many fountains. Taking his hand, she led him to the middle and gently started waltzing to the music. Holding his daughter in his arms, King Sarosh dipped his head down and whispered in her ear, "I love you, my child. Do not create any trouble for me."
Mirage was the only one who had heard her father's voice like this. His wrath and anger had been how he had become King, and only Mirage knew the difference between the Man who was beloved to so many and the King who beheaded soldiers to watch their blood rivulet into rivers.
Looking up in to her father's eyes, Mirage smiled cruelly, a trait inherited from her father. "I'll try not to let you down, father", she said, her eyes challenging him. And her father knew; he knew as his guests and peeking servants looked at the loving picture of a father and daughter, as King and successor danced slowly, that she was surely going to bring trouble.
In the land of Sahilibur, far from Rehbartaj, in the middle of a forest shadowed by a haunting image of a gothic castle in a room built with large slabs of stones and no roof, except for a criss-cross of timber, Crown Prince Salar kicked a bag of sand suspended from the ceiling with such force that it split. Rain poured heavily and his shirt of royal cloth clung to his body like a second skin. Oozing wet sand, Salar wiped specks of sand from his face, shouting, "Another."
Another bag of sand shot down and bounced in the air before settling from the edge of the timber in the middle of the makeshift roof. A man with a shaven head and rather attractive scars on his face sneezed and held onto the rope before tying it to the centre. Jumping down, he clapped Salar back with both his hands as he went past him.
Grinning, Salar asked, "Which one is that?"
Taking a knife out of his pocket, Salar's personal bodyguard, Behroz cut the rope holding the emptying bag, "27th, I think."
Slamming his fist into the new bag, Salar's muscles flexed as raindrops slid from his curly head of black hair into his soaked emerald shirt. His green eyes flashed as lightening brightened the sky. The weather matched his mood. His father had gone off to Rehbartaj, leaving him behind to console everyone. Wet sand spat back at his angular face and he wiped his chin with the back of his hand. Picturing King Sarosh's face instead of the sand bag, Salar slammed his fist into the bag so hard that the rope tore, sending the bag flying.
Sighing, Behroz picked up the strewn bag and tossed it in the corner, looking back at his friend and boss. "Enough for today?" he asked.
Nodding, Salar arched his shoulders, hearing his shoulder blade pop. His training had given him muscles which he really didn't want. Although women swooned at the sight of his burly self, he hated it when he'd have aches from over-work. Bending down, he picked up his sword and swung it around his waist, clicking it in place.
Grabbing onto the timber, which was easy considering his height, over 6 feet, he pulled himself up by one hand and as he rose, he felt a lightening in the rain. Finally, he thought, looking up glumly at the grey sky. Behroz followed suit and Salar jumped down to the other side of the stone wall, landing smoothly. His bodyguard easily slid down, considering his enormous size, with enough muscles and height to spare.
Walking back to his castle, Salar inhaled the smell of the rain as thunder sounded and the rain went from light to pelting.
This is all his fault, King Sarosh had to come here while my armies were out training. What did father expect the new recruiters to do?!, he thought as he trudged up the hills, nearing the castle's side entrance.
I don't care, he thought darkly, As soon as I see that miserable excuse of a man, I'll take this sword and plunge it in his gut before chopping off his head, along with his entire family. They would look good nailed to my wall. Smiling at the thought, he patted his sword unconsciously.
"What?" Behroz asked.
"Happy thoughts, B. Happy thoughts." Salar said as he entered the dryness of his home and strode past a young maid, casting the briefest of glances towards her as she flushed red and dropped the dry clothes she was carrying, shivering with silent delight that his Royal highness deemed to walk past her.