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Mirage of the royals

Novel By: Regina De Corda
Romance



The story of a Persian warrior princess who overcomes her father's tyranny and threatens to destroy the kingdom with her will, while finding her true love and purpose in the most unexpected place. View table of contents...


Chapters:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Submitted:Mar 22, 2013    Reads: 68    Comments: 6    Likes: 2   


Two things have happened to me. One; my old laptop, which had all the chapters stored safely in it, decided that it needed a suicidal sip from my juice bottle and killed itself.

Second; I am ill because my flu germs have fallen in love with me. Writing from my bed, sitting amongst a sea of used tissues and empty soup bowls, I hope you all appreciate my next chapter. The 9th chapter will either be published tonight or tomorrow night, depending on my prescription for sleep.

Until then, enjoy chapter 8, folks!

Reg! X

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"WATCH OUT!" Salar yelled, grabbing Mirage by the shoulder. The floor shook as a resounding boom echoed through the seas. The Queen of the seas sliced through the water, zeroing in on the Mirage. The cannonball splashed beside the ship as Sepehr veered it off course.

"ALL HANDS TO STATIONS!" Sepehr yelled as the sails suddenly opened up and with a lurch, the ship gained speed. The island was within sight but still miles away. The deck exploded as a cannonball made contact and Mirage jumped as the splinters rained on them. The black sails of the Queen were clearly visible. Five men disappeared to the gun deck as they pushed the cannons out over to port side, ready for battle.

Grabbing Salar's hand, Mirage whirled and running back into her cabin; went straight for the bed. Grabbing the mattress, she and Salar threw it off, revealing a vast collection of arms. Flintlocks, Muskets, Colts, Carbines, Sabers, swords, rapiers; she had it all.

"How did you get all of this?!" He asked incredulously as Mirage started handing them to him.

"NO TIME!" She screamed back. Scooping them up, she shoved them in his arms. Back outside, Mirage handed the guns and swords to the men as the counter attack began with the Queen.

"You can't come out here!" Salar yelled, as Mirage took some weapons and adjusted her sword around her waist with one hand as she clicked open her colt to check for bullets. Snapping it back in place, she took his hand. "Don't tell me what to do." She said gravely and hesitated as another blast sounded, " And don't get yourself killed". Taking her hand away, she strode off to Sepehr as the pirate ship came near. She didn't check to see what Salar's reaction was. She never needed anyone to look after her nor did she need anyone now. She finally made it to Sepehr who glanced back anxiously.

"How are we going to outrun them? They're catching up with us. We can't even stop at the island now!" She yelled over the boom of the cannon from her ship. Suddenly, the entire stern blasted through as a cannonball ripped it straight out.

She heard the yells of the men as they made their way to Mirage and Sepehr but they both quickly stood up. Brushing the chips of wood off of them, Sepehr yelled back. "They saw the royal seal. They're here for you!"

"But they don't even know it's me who's here!" She said anxiously.

"Which means that they have a reason to believe that the entire royal family is here. They want all of you." He said.

The Queen was too near now. She could see the faces of the men clearly onboard the cursed ship, pointing their guns at them. Her eyes widened as she saw some men at the port side of the ship, and pointing her own gun at them, fired. One fell as the bullet pierced through his brain and immediately Mirage grabbed Sepehr by his collar. "DUCK!" They both dropped down as bullets rained over their heads. Mirage fired some more shots and another man disappeared.

Salar couldn't take it anymore as he fired his gun at the other ship and grabbing the cannon on deck; he pushed it in and adjusting it, pointed it straight at the Queen. Rostam loaded the cannon and Salar bellowed, "GET OUT OF THE WAY!" Mirage whipped around as the men jumped out of the way, and the boom followed. The cannonball, whistling away made a direct hit for the portside. The ship's wood splattered as the impact threw the men off their feet.

"I cannot let them get me!" Mirage shrieked as she saw the cannons on the pirates reload the cannons on Queen's deck.

"I know, I know." Sepehr said, and twisted the wheel to his right and the ship churned onwards.

"We're getting killed out here. She can't hold on for much longer, you know that!" Salar shouted, grabbing the sail as the boat swayed dangerously.

Navid's head popped up as he jumped up the stairs. "They shot straight through. She's taking on a lot of water, we can't control it!"

Mirage saw the Queen approach and taking aim, shot at the Queen's Helmsman. The man crumbled when unexpectedly, Mirage saw the crew on the Queen cease-fire.

"What's going on over there?" She said and the men turned. "Are they surrendering? But they're winning."

"Hey, whose side are you on? Do you want to die?" Navid said anxiously.

Mirage took a few steps forward and stared intently when suddenly she backed up.

"Oh, God!" Mirage murmured as the Queen pulled out the triple guns from the cannon ports. She watched as if it was all happening in slow motion as the smirking man behind the cannon pulled back and fired. She halted. The repetitive booms of the cannon slowed down her thinking. The floor shook as she heard the yells of her best friends when she heard Salar shout. He shoved her down just as the floor disappeared from underneath her and when she looked up, he wasn't there. The splinters stopped raining, she finally spotted him near the rail and gave a cry of horror as Salar groaning and rolling over, clutched his shoulder which was baring his flesh and muscles. She stumbled to him as her ears rang. Nothing came near her vision as the blood gushed out and rage boiled in her. Stooping down, she took off her vest, balled it up and held it against his wound.

"WHAT DID YOU DO THAT FOR?" She yelled at him.

"That could have killed you!" Salar yelled back and struggled to stand up but shock forced him back down.

"ABANDON SHIP!" Sepehr shouted to the others and froze. Mirage glanced up as Sam and Shaya, both bleeding profusely and burnt, pulled up two unidentifiable bodies up from the gun deck. Mirage blinked as realization came and from her depths, her scream of agony made all the way to the captain's cabin at the Queen of the sea. The captain raised his head and shaking, sighed and made to get up to see what the commotion was. He knew his ship was suffering from slight damage but he had seen a glimpse of the ship when it had come into view. It didn't stand a chance against his Queen. Such ships were not worth his time on the deck; he had just given his orders and retreated. He was much too old for the action.

Just then, his first mate, Hami opened the door. "We've made contact." He said, pink-faced and gleeful and shut the door. The captain sat down and continued working. The scream was definitely female. Oh well, at least the men will have some entertainment for a few days, he thought.

Mirage, who had never before screamed at the sight of battle wounds, ran to the bodies and fell to her knees beside them. Now that she looked at them through her tears, she noticed the high cheekbones of Emad and Aryan's distinct birthmark on his neck. That's when she saw him move. She stared as Aryan moaned as the burns on his neck and chest ached. Emad stayed still but his chest moved slightly and she let out a cry of relief and fell, holding onto him. Azin's head bled as he moved down and checked for Aryan and Emad's vital signs. He pulled Mirage away from Emad and Sepehr helped her stand up. She turned to Salar who stumbled up to her, his breath shallow and his skin pale.

"They could die…" She said, her ghostly eyes wide.

"But they haven't yet." Salar said somewhat reassuringly, holding onto his injured arm and trying not to let his face betray his pain.

Mirage looked at the Queen. The triple guns had stopped shooting but she could see the crew on deck, all looking at the small group as if it was so entertaining. She couldn't let them take away the only people she loved in the world. She knew what she had to do.

"And they don't have to now." She said squarely and just as Salar looked up; Mirage threw her sword and guns on the deck and jumped off the ship. She heard Salar call out her name but she didn't look back. She didn't have a choice of looking back now. She came up for air and from the corner of her eye, saw Salar and Sepehr jump after her. Groaning, she started swimming fast towards the Queen as Sepehr shouted something to Navid and started swimming towards her. She twisted as both men swam to her. She reached the side of the enemy ship and grabbing a ledge, quickly made her way up, missing Salar's swipe on her ankle. She heard the men cackle up on deck.

"C'mon men. You might as well come on up too. Don't worry, we won't hurt your crew onboard that ship! They're already running away."

Salar and Sepehr looked back as the Mirage started moving away towards the Islands and then gazed back at each other as Mirage climbed further up and grimacing, grabbed onto the hull of the ship and started their ascend. Faster than she expected, Mirage felt hands grab onto hers and squeezing her eyes shut, she let them pull her up. She felt the floor underneath her feet and stood up; feeling bristled as she heard the men's laughter. It could only be described as lascivious.

She felt someone touch her waist and reaching for the hand, she twisted it, applying all her strength and with her other hand, followed her instincts and launched the heel of her hand against the man's face. It made contact and she felt arms grab hers from behind into a lock and she was pulled aside. She heard thuds of Salar and Sepehr's boots and felt something in heart. Love, grief, anger… she didn't know.

She opened her eyes to face Hami, the first mate. She could still remember him from the hidden portraits she had seen in the palace's storage rooms. He seemed different yet still the same. His black hair had vanished and his bald head gleamed in the fog. Tall and slim, piracy had agreed with him. She felt him pull her to him and he enveloped her in a hug.

"I'd recognize those eyes anywhere. How are you, darling?" He said in her hair.

Pushing him away, Mirage brushed her clothes. "You have me now; you can leave my crew alone."

Hami chuckled, "I heard something had happened at the bonfire. Your father really has gone insane." Mirage stayed silent.

"Leave my crew alone." She repeated gravely.

"Well my darling; they're already gone but that is not my decision to make." He said good-naturedly as if they were merely discussing the weather when the door to the Captain's cabin swung open and the captain stepped out.

Tall, burly, with large brown eyes and peppered hair, an older man, perhaps even older than 70, stroked his peppered beard and looked up at the sky. Captain Jahanshah stepped into the hazy light, regarded his crew and hostages with interest. He stood proud and the way he presented himself reminded Salar of someone he had seen a long time ago, perhaps in a portrait. Sepehr's eyes grew huge beside him and he glared at Mirage and back at the captain.

When the captain's eyes stopped at Mirage, the slight good humor which was reflecting from his eyes a few seconds ago vanished; to be replaced by a cold glare. Mirage squared her shoulders and stared back. She had never thought this day would come. She never wanted to meet this particular skeleton from her father's closet and yet, she knew she couldn't get away from it now.

Captain Jahanshah strutted forward, his unblinking eyes never leaving Mirage's. The crew around them bowed as the captain stopped in front of Mirage and finally, he smiled cruelly. Mirage took a deep breath and spoke.

"Hello, grandfather."

~0~

"Father ousted him." Mirage said in a low voice. "He knew that grandfather was corrupting the country, we had lost the war because of him. My father gave him just one night to run. Grandfather's supporters, of course followed him. He didn't have a chance on land, he had too many enemies so father supplied him with the best ship we had so that he could get away. Father took hold of the throne that night. He told everyone that grandfather had died in his sleep and he took his place. The funeral was held privately a few days later."

Mirage pulled on her restraints which had her tied to the ceiling. The chains rattled but didn't budge. The empty deck remained illuminated in the dull afternoon light reflecting in from the outside. Her feet were planted firmly on the ground but her heart was still hammering from the earlier encounter. Salar was tied to a wooden pillar near her, bound with chains. Captain Jahanshah had asked who she wanted to be near when she'd die. She had asked for Salar; almost pleading that they wouldn't hurt her crew and send Sepehr back. It was a request, she had no advantage over them, but she knew her grandfather would want her crew to go back without Mirage, to show her father that he had killed her even when they had been with her. They couldn't protect her against him.

He had let Sepehr go, who didn't fight to stay back. She was right, he held her responsible for Tatiana. Sepehr may have been her friend but without Tatiana, he didn't want her to live either, it wasn't fair. This way, he'd have his revenge. This hurt her more than anything or so she thought.

"Why did your father let him go?" Salar grunted as his injured arm jerked. He was in excruciating pain and even in the state Mirage was in, she was still trying to distract him.

"Love, basically. He couldn't kill him." Mirage said anxiously as a wave of pain went across Salar's face. She couldn't stand to see him in such hurt. His lips were blue and his fingertips were starting to swell on his burnt left side.

"And yet, here you are, sentenced to death by torture." He grunted heavily.

Mirage would have shrugged if she wasn't tied up. "Grandfather holds father responsible for his mistakes. He wanted my uncle Aref to be his successor but father took the throne from under him. Forced grandfather into exile, so I don't think grandfather would take it lightly that the next successor of the son he hated was to live. You know, everyone always thought that father and grandfather were so much alike."

Salar felt another pang of ache run up his arm and choked, "But everyone also thought he was dead."

Mirage bit her lip. "Yes, that was for his safety. And it's also the reason why this ship doesn't take any prisoners."

"But he won't gain anything from your death." Salar shivered as nausea caused his eyes to water.

"Actually, he will." A voice came from afar and Mirage looked back at Hami, who was accompanied by the smirking man who had fired the triple guns at her ship. This time, he had a leather bag in his arms, his smirk in place. Dumping the bag behind her, the man stooped down and starting taking out whatever it was in there.

"You see son, when the princess dies, her death will become a message to the king that we can reach up to those nearest to him and do whatever we want and there is nothing that he can do about it. Now, since the princess has not yet named her own successor, the throne will be empty, her father cannot come back. At that moment, King Jahanshah will announce his arrival and how his own son had betrayed his father and killed his own daughter in cold blood because of his greed for power. And ever since he took over the other countries, enmity has been running high against King Sarosh." Hami said, patting Salar on the head.

Salar whipped his head away. "That's impossible. No one will believe you."

"Oh they will. Think about it." Hami said, satisfied. Coming to stand in front of Mirage, he smiled. "This will hurt, dear but you need to understand, death hurts."

Mirage took a ragged breath. "What do you mean?"

Suddenly, she heard a whipping sound and then, she felt the sting of the first whip hit her back. Shock went through her body as she stiffened as the first ripple of pain emanated from her slightly vibrating pores. She felt electrocuted and the pain reminded her of the many times she was whipped as a common soldier for not completing her exercise. Her ears felt popped and her eyes watered. Her backbone felt stiff and yet, as she took a deep breath to calm herself, she remembered that when her father had once been tortured, he had remained stoic. She probably wouldn't last as long though.

Breathing out, she glazed as the man who had whipped her threw the whip down as Hami signaled something to him and walking up to Salar, unchained him from the pole and dragging him by the chain holding onto his cuffs, he pulled him in front of Mirage who looked at him miserably. She was more worried about him. His face was white and his arm looked in the worst shape.

The man came to stand behind her again. Leaning in, Hami whispered kindly, "That is for your benefit. Maybe you'll get some comfort, knowing that you can see your loved one in these final moments."

She looked at him incredulously as Salar forced himself up and another lash hit her back and she closed her eyes. The pain went to her head and her ears rung, but she wasn't weak, not now or ever. Accordingly, she opened her eyes and looked at Salar who was being tied to a railing behind him. He looked back at her as another lash hit her but she didn't want him to know the pain she was in, and she kept breathing deeply. The next lash hit her shoulder, she didn't flinch. Salar stared back. He was weak, he was hurt and he was tied with chains which were normally draped on an elephant. The pirates knew he'd break through ropes in a second. The next lash sounded around the room and Salar sat up, but Mirage raised her eyes, as if signaling him to back down. The next lash came and he fell back as Mirage shook her head marginally. She didn't want him to die before her.

Mirage looked out the porthole above his head and saw only the cloudy sky. The ship lurched and swayed but as the lashings increased, she averted her eyes back to Salar who was growing paler by the minute. Another lash as the leather made contact with her skin sounded, Salar moved to her and staggered into an upright position. Her eyes grew wide as she tried to block out the pain but couldn't and she couldn't show how much she wished that Salar wasn't in pain. The cracks of the whips increased and became harder as Hami observed her.

By now, the back of her shirt was torn into pieces, hanging onto her only by the threads on her sleeves and covering her chest. She felt blood trickle the back of pants and down her thighs. Her back felt numb and unbelievably, her mind wondered to the number of lashings she'd actually have to endure before she'd actually die. Her back ached and she knew, by the warm wetness she could feel trickling down her legs that she would probably bleed to death slowly.

Not feeling the next whip, she blinked. Perhaps they had stopped.

The nine strings of the single whip hit her unexpectedly. They went around to her stomach and she cried out. Salar tried lunging for her but the chains held him back. The leather of the whip stuck to her back and the man pulled. Mirage's eyes grew wide and her scream pulled up all the pain from her body as the shards of glass that were sticking to her flesh pulled her apart. The man purposely softened his pull on the whip and gently coaxed it out by waving the leather. She screamed as the hundred needles dug into her flesh and she felt as if they were pulling her soul out of her. Another nudge and the shards dislodged themselves from her skin. Her stiffened back felt raw and she gasped and whimpered. She stared up at the ceiling at her restraints. They were rusty, and the ceiling was blood-soaked. She'd probably be just another spatter of blood on the ceiling soon. The last shard tugged away from her and she felt the life seep out of her and she dropped her head, relaxing her shoulders and panted as her back felt stripped.

Her hazy eyes came into focus slightly and she looked into Salar's eyes which were only a few inches away from hers. She hadn't even heard his howl when she had screamed. Salar fought against his chains as she slumped forwards, her feet dragging, her weight supported by her own chains. Wheezing, she felt the tears prick behind her eyes and suddenly, she didn't know why but she started laughing. Her laugh started with a giggle and soon she was howling with mirth.

She felt Hami pull her up by her jaw and he stared intensely. "This is not the reaction I expected from you."

Still giggling, she replied, "I am my grandfather's granddaughter. And you know he's insane. There is no unearthly reason why I shouldn't be laughing." She looked back at Salar, whose muscles seem to be bulging under his restraints, and the image of him bursting out of them made her giggle more than ever.

Letting go of her jaw, Hami shrugged. "Everyone has a way of acceptance of death, I suppose. Don't you think so?" He turned to Salar.

Salar growled, his face growing purple with anger. "I will kill you if you don't stop. I will literally take your neck and snap it from your body."

Hami patted Salar on the shoulder, reassuringly. "Big boy like you, I'm sure you will, but for now, why don't you just accept your fate and enjoy what little moments you have left for now."

"What's in all this for you? She can save you, I can save you, just let her go!" Salar begged.

"I am honest to the King. He was wronged in so many ways. I cannot betray him." Hami said, frowning, "But I knew this girl's mother before she became queen, so I wouldn't want her daughter to be all alone in this, but I fear that a long time at sea has dulled my moral senses, I don't feel anything but righteous indignation for the injustice to king Jahanshah!"

The torturer nodded behind Mirage at this and as her eyes focused on Salar, the whip came back and she felt the nauseating feeling of being violated as the whip slashed at her inner flesh. She couldn't help it and spoke.

"You know it will take a long time before I actually die." She didn't wince as the intensity of the whipping increased and she felt the world gently blur around the edges. She was getting tired of fighting the pain.

"Well, judging by the blood gathering at your feet, I think that time will arrive sooner than you thought." Hami said, feeling uncertain because she was smiling.

"You know" She continued over the sound of the flogging, "I wanted to work behind the scenes. I didn't plan to be Queen. I imagined and daydreamed about becoming one but I never thought it would come true, and now that it is, I'm here, being tortured to death onboard my own exiled grandfather's ship! It all feels so surreal." She giggled and breathed as the tip of the whip snapped at the back of her neck. Her hair did nothing to lessen her pain. "I think everyone would have wanted this. This would have been such a great show for those who wanted me dead. Imagine the Great Mirage who single-handedly destroyed countries and brought them to her feet; being flogged to death on her own grandfather's ship, by her own grandfather's orders. It's darkly hilarious!"

She heard Salar plead. "Mirage, stop this."

But she didn't listen and jabbered on as she unconsciously started counting the number of times she was being whipped. "I meet you Salar, and suddenly I look forward to our marriage. And now look at us. I'm dying and you'll die with me. When we get married, our fates entwined, but look. I brought you nothing but trouble. I deserve all this, don't I?"

Salar looked helplessly as the torturer mercilessly began whipping her with a thick cane and she bowed her head and gritted her teeth against the pain, her smile fading.

"Why not just shoot her and get it over with?" Salar exclaimed exasperatedly, as Mirage bit down on her lip hard as each impact increased in force. He saw her lip draw blood.

"Too easy." Hami replied dismissively.

"Just kill her. Shoot her. You can't watch her like this." Salar said in frustration as Mirage swayed forward, her eyes squeezed shut.

"Ah but you see, the king wanted to see whether she had the same famed tolerance her father supposedly had and I can say I'm rather intrigued. She reacts differently to torture than her father did." Mirage heard Hami reply and smiled.

"I told you I was crazy." She winced as the caning continued. Light-headed, she felt the cane strip away at her flesh and the sudden shocks she felt at each impact started running in a constant dull ache.

She heard Salar's voice and lifting her head, she spoke in his general direction as she felt her vision disappear. "We never got any time to ourselves, did we?"

She didn't hear his reply because as soon as she uttered those words, the dreaded shards of glass came back and her eyes popped open as she felt the first blow and couldn't help but scream as the glass dug into her skin like iron nails getting hammered in wood. She couldn't see; she could feel her brain, her heart and her lungs struggling to hold onto her spirit as the man pulled at the scourge, and the glass ripped apart her muscles. The pain crossed her threshold and she felt her life give up on her but not yet. At that point, she wanted to die but cursed inwardly as each blow of the whip came and went and her senses dulled but she stayed awake. Her vision would come back for only a few seconds and she'd catch Salar's ashen face looking into hers and she'd slip back into blindness.

Salar, who had never begged for anything; pleaded as the blood dripping down her back and to the floor, increased. He couldn't pull away from his restraints and he struggled as Hami studied Mirage from every angle as the whipping continued.

Mirage's back soon started glistening and glittered as her raw flesh caught some of the glass shards. They stuck to her as if decorating her and she continued screaming. Her head lolled forward as her feet gave out from under her and she hung from her wrists. She felt lifeless and as her eyes finally focused one last time, she felt her head cloud up, and as the pain started to feel like a part of her, a subconscious part of her mind reminded her that at this moment, where she was inches from dying, she looked at Salar and she knew that she had made the right, if selfish decision to have him with her when she'd die. Finally, she felt the scourge hit her and as the man heaved it back, she felt it pull her soul out of her. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head, and the last image of Salar's twisted face and his scream echoed through her thoughts as she felt her heart give away. She didn't hear the now-familiar boom of cannon, neither did she know that her torturer had been blown apart the next second and was now floating in the sea as shark chum. She didn't see her rescue. She didn't see her family. She saw darkness, and felt no air to breathe in.

~0~

Hami stared. The side of the ship was blown up and Amir, who had just killed the princess was nowhere in sight. He stood dumbfounded as the second boom heard overhead and passing Mirage's now-lifeless body, he came to see who had attacked them. Why, it was a ship, no doubt but what angered him was that it was equipped with cannons of each type and suddenly, the bell started ringing and the trampling of boots on wood ran across the deck. Hami couldn't believe it. The princess's guards had attacked, but he was sure they were outnumbered. He didn't notice his boots getting drenched in Mirage's blood. Neither did he hear Salar call out Mirage's name. When she didn't answer, Salar pull at his restraints with all his might. Such was his force that Mirage's drooped eyes and face caused Salar to pull apart the restraints from the railing. The wooden railing ripped out from the wall and Salar's chains fell to the ground. He didn't care about his own wound, it was nothing.

Hami turned around just in time to see Salar march up to him and suddenly, his hand was on Hami's throat. Reaching for Hami's sword and gun, Salar threw it away and lifting Hami by the neck with his good hand, Salar glared murderously as Hami's feet hung in the air. Tightening his grip, Salar didn't give Hami enough time to react and bringing Him close, Salar whispered. "Told you I'd kill you."

And with that, Salar swung Hami by the neck like a plank of wood and bashed the back of his neck against the pole to which Salar had previously been tied to. Hami's neck snapped from his body and his head lolled, his eyes rolled back. Salar threw his body out the hole on the side of the ship into the water. Reaching around, he stared in horror at his wife's wounds. He had seen horrific war injuries before but such torture, it was unimaginable. Coming to her, he grasped around her waist carefully, and held her face against his. Over the sound of the booms, he breathed sharply. She was breathing. He couldn't believe it. He had seen his fellow soldiers die after half of the torture Mirage had endured but she was alive, mercifully, but just. He gripped the chains holding her to the ceiling and pulled but they didn't budge. Noticing Hami's gun in the puddle of blood on the floor, he picked it up and fired at the lock on the ceiling. Two blood-soaked shots further, the lock gave in and Salar gently pulled Mirage down. She wasn't responding but he felt the ghost of a feeling run across her face as her back stretched.

He heard footsteps from the stairs and fired, hearing someone shout to hold back. Cautiously, he pulled Mirage in his arms, balancing her back against his arm and pointing the gun forward, he kicked a charred remain aside and stomped up the stairs, instantly firing into someone's face who drew his sword to fight. Up on deck, it was pandemonium. Soldiers, some of whom he recognized slashed and fired at the pirates, creating a protective circle around Salar and Mirage. He caught a glimpse of a fleet heading their way. Couple of them already had their ladders aligned on either side of the Queen. He side-stepped over a body of a pirate, and searched for a more familiar face and fired at a man who made a sudden lunge for Mirage's dragging chains. Suddenly, someone caught the chains cuffed around his wrists and Salar launched his arm around to attack but Sepehr caught it. Staring at each other, Sepehr nodded, as if paying respect and took Mirage from his arms.

"She's our duty. I didn't forget." Sepehr said gravely and handing Salar a sword, Sepehr jumped off the ship, catching a swinging rope in time and swung to the ship on portside. Bodies fell around him and he turned, plunging his sword into the back of a pirate who had gotten hold of a teenage boy by his neck. The pirate fell and the teenager stared, wide-eyed and scared.

"GO ON! GET AWAY! YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE!" Salar yelled as another man made his way to them. The teenage saw the pirate and yelping; jumped over the side of the ship into the water. Another boom sounded and the ship shook. The attacking man disappeared as the floor vanished and all around him, men yelled as they felt the ground slip from underneath them. Salar wanted to kill Captain Jahanshah. He could hear the growls and yells of the certain captain from the upper deck and grabbing hold of a stray rope just in time, Salar swung to the deck as he saw Captain Jahanshah shoot at the other ships, frazzled and angry, a body by his feet, one of his own men. The ships rounded the Queen of the seas and circled like a shark at prey. They were surrounded by Salar's men and Rehbartaj's soldiers.

Salar swiped his sword as the captain turned, making him drop the gun. The captain stared, his hand aloft. He looked scared, like a little boy.

Salar gritted his teeth, glaring menacingly at the captain. "King Sarosh gave you everything to have a good life. He let you live, he gave protection in the seas; he got you this ship as an island from your enemies. And this is what you do?"

The former king looked around helplessly and Salar yelled. "LOOK AT ME!"

Shaken, the captain looked at Salar. "This is your grand-daughter's blood! Your blood!" Salar gestured to his shirt which was stained heavily with Mirage's blood. "She could be dead right now because of your rivalry with your own son. She was to be queen. You son's successor! And you took that away from her. She was going to start something, a new life as a ruler who wanted best, she was perfect! And you took that away from her! You took away her freedom by killing her!" Salar swung his sword and slashed at the captain's chest. Blood oozed from the cut and Salar stepped back as the captain backed away.

"You're a coward! You let your crew kill the prisoners and expect to go back on the throne after having Mirage's blood on your hands! You can't even fight with me because your protection is gone. Look out, your crew is dead! THEY'RE DEAD!" He pointed to the deck and captain Jahanshah stared out blankly, clutching his chest as the few of his men left fought with Mirage's guards who had made onboard the queen.

He gazed back at Salar and his eyes darted to the blood. "I was the king. And my son betrayed me. He wasn't my flesh and blood anymore. How could I forgive him?" His voice gave away a weak tremor.

"You were cruel, insane and a coward. You ran when you should have stood to face the consequences of what you had done. You don't deserve to be back on the throne." Salar spat.

The captain stayed silent for a moment. "Was she like her father?"

Salar swiped his sword and the captain's sword fell from his hand limply. "No. She was the opposite, she had a heart." He answered, throwing his sword down and pulled up Hami's gun.

"Who is she to you?" The captain asked.

"She's my wife." Salar pulled on the hammer of the gun, "And I think she'll feel nothing knowing that you're dead."

"I didn't want her to go through the same thing I did." The captain said weakly.

"By torturing her to death? You're a barbarian!" Salar pointed the gun point-blank.

Captain Jahanshah stepped back as the sunlight pierced through the fog and suddenly, he felt blinded. "I was the king. I ruled over my beloved country for 50 years and Sarosh took that away from me. He is nothing to me. Just like my grand-daughter is nothing to me. Her blood means nothing." He took another step back. "But I would have loved her if my son hadn't exiled her. He made his enemies and I tried to stop him but it is too late now. He's already made his bed, and I'll tell you this, son…" He blinked at Salar, "My grand-daughter might have died by the torture she so rightly deserved today, but it will be nothing compared to what the rest of the people of the new kingdom has in store for Sarosh's family yet. He proved to have more enemies than I did, and you may not know me son, but everything that happens in this family happens for a reason, and a sinister one at that. Keep that in mind."

And with that, he pulled out a set of keys from his waistband and throwing them at Salar, he reached for his gun from behind his back and quick as a flash, put it to his own temple and fired. The sound of the shot echoed and Captain Jahanshah fell off the deck and off the ship. Salar stood, shocked. The former king had just killed himself. His head reeled as he lowered his own gun and looked out. The last pirate fell to the ground in a dead heap as a soldier pulled his sword out of him and they all looked at Salar, waiting for his orders. They didn't know the captain had killed himself.

Salar hesitated and called out, "back to the ships." The men nodded and made their way to the bridges towards the ship. He heard the sailors and soldiers yell out in jubilation. They all thought that the princess was alright. Coming to his senses, Salar scooped up the set of keys, and uncuffing himself, jumped to the deck and searching for Navid; caught him as he helped an injured soldier over the bridge.

"Burn this ship." Salar growled and Navid nodded.

"The captain…" Navid prompted and grimaced at Salar's expression.

Salar looked back at the ships and his eyes adjusted. The fog had lifted and he clearly saw that they were close to the series of Islands. He was home. His mind jumped.

"Mirage..." He stated and Navid took a deep breath. "She's not looking good."

Salar shoved a man who was about to climb onto the bridge and nearly running, he balanced his way over the other ship. The water fell back and he jumped down on the other ship, where the men clapped him on the back for a job well done but Salar ignored them and pushed his way around, looking for Sepehr. Shoving his way out of the throng, Salar thundered down the general steps leading to the lower deck and skidded to a halt. The lower deck seemed empty, surprisingly and in the far end before a closed door, stood Sepehr and an older man, talking discreetly. As they saw Salar approach, both became silent and waited as Salar staggered forward. The older man with a short white beard and heavy wrinkles made to speak but Salar ignored him and opening the door, looked in. The room was small, but clean. A bed stood in the corner, the porthole covered with a piece of cloth. He approached the bed slowly.

Mirage lay there on her chest, her ripped flesh exposed to the air. The flesh glittered as Mirage breathed, her body moving up and down, ever so slightly. He spied the glass shards embedded in her skin and he screwed his eyes shut and fell to his knees beside her. She had her eyes closed and seemed lifeless, her lips white and her hair lank against the sweat, matted with blood.

"We will have to wait. We cannot begin the extraction of the infected glass and skin until we reach land. I would have to need assistance. I'm a doctor." The older man said quietly. Salar hadn't noticed him entering the room with Sepehr. The older man and Sepehr kept their eyes averted and Salar suddenly felt an enormous wave of grief wash over him. His shoulders shook and he took a deep breath, not wanting to break down. He took Mirage's limp hand and squeezed it in his. It was cold.

"I will have to treat to your injuries as well." The doctor said.

"I won't leave her." Salar replied, and reached out to wipe away a dried mark of a tear from Mirage's soft cheek.

"I can tend to your injuries here. You don't need to leave." The man said kindly.

"I won't leave." Salar repeated, somewhat blankly and as Sepehr helped Salar onto a chair, Salar's eyes never left Mirage. She was deteriorating. Any minute now, she'd breathe her last breath and die. The thought made him want to kill King Sarosh, King Jahanshah and all of the imbeciles who had done their deeds and left, leaving Mirage to suffer for them.

The doctor washed Salar's burns, murmuring that he was lucky that the burn was only minor, if a little deep. Wrapping the gauze around Salar's arm, Salar waited until the doctor's hands left his and standing up, he moved and leaned over Mirage, looking at her wounds.

"We don't have much time. I can help you with these. I can help you take the glass out and see to her injuries. She lost some blood and she's hanging on by a thread, if we wait a while longer, she'll die." Salar said, turning to the doctor.

The doctor shook his head. "But you cannot touch her, son…"

"SHE IS MY WIFE AND I WILL HELP YOU! IS THAT CLEAR?!" Salar shouted. He remembered Mirage's rant at the ship a few days ago, about how she'd say something and no one would actually listen. The thought made him want to smile but it only made him sad.

The doctor, apparently stunned by the outburst, blinked. Recovering quickly, he nodded. "Very well."

Supplied with the required aid, Salar and the doctor, Milad sat to work on Mirage. Reaching for a pair of tweezers, Salar started pulling out the glass flakes from her skin. He remembered Mirage counting each blow as it hit her. It had probably gone over 60, apart with the 9-stranded whip which had caused the most damage. Dropping each shard into a metal bowl, the twang of each shard hitting the coldness of the metal made Salar grit his teeth. His frustration mounted but slowly started abating as the amount of glitter on Mirage's back reduced. The glass shards became fewer to Salar's eyes. Doctor Milad cleaned around Mirage's cuts, applying light pressure but the skin kept ripping under his touch. The third time it happened, Salar snapped. Snatching the gauze from the doctor, Salar threw his tweezers down and gently began wiping her blood. Her stiffened trousers brushed against his skin and he paused, thinking that he should probably change her clothes.

Telling the doctor to leave, Salar asked for some clothes. Handing them to Salar, Sepehr mumbled, "We'll be near the first island in about 20 minutes."

Nodding, Salar closed the door. Feeling awkward, Salar turned and gazed at Mirage, thinking that if she was awake, she would have probably told him to stop staring at her life a dead fish and get out so she could change her clothes herself.

A fleeting memory of her blazing face snapped him out of it and leaning down, he tenderly picked her up from the waist, pulling the shredded shirt from underneath her. He reached between her breasts under her shirt and placing his hand on her collarbone, like one would with a baby; he gently lifted her and withdrew the rest of the shirt. It disintegrated in his hand. Floating to the floor, the stiff parts of her shirt skirted away. He looked at her legs and wondering what to do, since even though she was his wife and he had had his fair share of female anatomical admiration, he felt uncomfortable touching her that way without her consent, but soldiering on, Salar reached for the bed sheet underneath her and pulling it, he draped it on her to cover her from his gaze.

Reaching down, he pulled the pants away from her and they tore. His hand brushed against her skin and he remembered that the blood had probably dried on her legs too. Throwing her trousers away, Salar stretched for more gauze and water, and softly started rubbing. Eventually, he lifted the sheet off her thighs and rubbed away the stray patches of blood. Gingerly, he reached up and started wiping the trickles of blood off her buttocks. Any other moment and he would have been acting a lot differently. Finally, he took hold of the clean pair of pants and pulling them on her with a bit of difficulty, he felt comforted to see that even though her wounds remained open, she was clean.

A knock on the door surprised him and calling out, the doctor entered and silently resumed his place beside Mirage and started stitching her wounds. Salar resumed his task of taking the shards out and discovered that there were no more. Looking into the metal bowl, he felt distressed to see that as they all skidded like a wave in the tiny bowl, their amount was more. Thinking back, he had probably pulled out more than a 100 shards. The ship reached the dock and Sepehr called Salar out of the room.

Leaving the door ajar, Salar kept an eye on the doctor. "What?" He grunted.

"How is she?" Sepehr asked.

"She's alive for now." Salar replied blandly.

Breathing deeply, Sepehr looked down at his feet awkwardly. "I've notified the others but they know only vague details. They know Mirage is injured but they don't know the extent of her injuries."

"I'd rather you keep it that way." Salar said and Sepehr nodded.

After a few moments of silence, Salar asked Sepehr, feeling worse for even thinking along the lines. "Do you think she'll live?"

Sepehr turned to look at Salar thoughtfully. "Women are a lot stronger than we take them to be. They can withstand more pain than most soldiers. Mirage… she comes from a long line of warriors. It won't take something as little as a severe flogging to suck the life out of her."

Salar looked away, "You weren't there."

Sepehr grabbed Salar arm. "What was she doing before she passed out?"

Salar thought. "Laughing…" and shook his head.

Sepehr let go of him, "Than she probably knew she wasn't going to die, she just felt tired of fighting the pain."

"How do you know?" Salar asked, watching the doctor brush away a few strands of Mirage's hair off her back, his glasses perched on his nose as he frowned and tut-tutted.

"She was always like this. Whenever she felt that she should just give up hope or that things couldn't possibly get worse, she'd start laughing or cracking jokes. It is how she deals with everything." Sepehr said and clasped his hands behind his back, frowning slightly.

Wanting to get back inside, Salar fidgeted with his arm.

"One thing I'm happy about." Sepehr said, as if he was speaking to himself. "You have grown to love her, otherwise you wouldn't be here."

Salar felt himself smile a bit. After a few moments, he said lazily, "Now I know why Queen Nadira didn't let the king separate you all from her. You know her and those around her."

Sepehr crossed his arms and shrugged, "Of course. Now let's just hope that Emad and Aryan pull out. They're in really bad shape."

Salar opened his mouth to ask, but they got interrupted by the doctor, asking Salar to come in. Ducking in, Salar breathed with relief as the gauze covering Mirage's back remained white. Her bleeding had stopped. Thanking the doctor, he waited until the door closed behind him and leaning down; he planted a kiss on Mirage's cheek, gently rubbing his nose against her skin. He felt her breath and kissed her again.

She had been right. Her grandfather had been right. King Sarosh had created enemies for himself and it was soon that Mirage would be suffering because of him. He heard another knock and irritably, he got up and marching to the door opened it with a snap, "What?!" Standing there were four women, glaring at him as if he had just thrown a snake at them. Sepehr just shook his head at Salar behind them.

The foremost among them, an old woman, probably over 50 with a handsome face barked at him, "Get out of the way, we need to take the princess away to safety before the people start coming in throngs to look at her. They'd treat her like a fascinating animal and I most certainly will not have that. Not on my watch!" Pushing Salar aside, the rest of the ladies followed. Shoving Salar out of the room, the older woman tut-tutted and gently fingered Mirage's dirty hair.

"Don't worry dear; we'll have you back to looking like a princess in no time." She muttered, and the other ladies, who had brought a make-shift stretcher along with them, placed Mirage, face first onto it. Twisting Mirage's hair into a knot, they draped a light white silk sheet on top to cover her up, and ushered her out.

Salar followed, feeling uncertain. "Have you asked the doctor if you can take her away?"

The youngest of the group, only a bit older than Salar himself sternly looked back as they carefully started maneuvering Mirage up the stairs. "The doctor is my father and I'm pretty sure he won't object to anything I do. Now come on, don't just stand there gaping like an idiot, move!"

Salar stared and quite out of character, Sepehr led Salar up the stairs by the hand like a father holding onto his son. The shock is probably getting to Salar, now that we're safe. Sepehr thought and taking him up on deck, they both look in long gulps of air as the men on the ship soberly surrounded Mirage and moved her discreetly down from the ship onto land. Baltoti opened up and the vibrant colors of the trees against the sand almost made Salar wince.

He wondered that perhaps he had gone soft, because if every girl he met treated him the way that were starting to now, then Mirage was probably a deficit to his reputation, and in a way, he didn't even care anymore.





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