NOTE FROM AUTHOR: Booksie really slowed me down. Sorry for the delay, folks. As a treat, I wrote three chapters instead of my usual one chapter per addition. Hope you all enjoy the new twists. Reg! X
Three months later
“Three months went away like a snap, didn’t they?” Salar asked Mirage good-naturedly as he watched her straighten in her long dress of flaming red. She glared at him.
Salar grumbled, “You know, that’s the only thing you seem to do nowadays, you just stare at me like you want to kill me!”
Mirage took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“Now what?” Salar said irritably.
Mirage looked at him, surprised. “Nothing. You know I can’t breathe in this dress.”
“Oh.” Salar turned away from the mirror he was looking at himself in and walked away from the dressing room into their bedroom.
Mirage sighed and followed him. It wasn’t his fault she had been so cranky lately.
She followed him to the window from where he looked out at the forest afar, adjusting his shirt. He hated formal occasions. Coming around, she slunk her arms around his waist and climbed onto the toes of his boots so that her face came to his neck, and stood on her tiptoes.
“I’m sorry I’ve been so mean lately.” She apologized.
Salar resisted the urge to roll his eyes. That wasn’t the problem.
He kept looking out the window, ignoring her pout. Mirage reached up and grabbing his chin, pulled him to look it her.
“I’m sorry.” She repeated. Salar felt his resolve weakening. He didn’t like it when she’d apologize to him.
Letting go of his collar, he encircled her waist with his hands and hugged her. “It’s okay.” He mumbled. Well, just because I don’t like her saying sorry doesn’t mean she shouldn’t!
Mirage’s hands slithered to his neck and per his habit; he picked her up off the ground.
“Are you okay? You seem very tense.” He asked in a low voice and heard Mirage sigh.
“It’s just… the coronation is in a 3 weeks. And I’ve called on Queen Nikoo from Kasra. She’ll be here in six days. She seems to know a lot more about what’s happening with the other countries. And I’m studying the details of the war-torn areas and things just seem to be worsening. And I just cannot believe that my father did all this while lobbying the plan on my name. And he didn’t even tell me about the revolt in the other four countries. And I’m just going crazy over the fact that I’m going to have to take care of this mess. And my mother is driving me insane for an heir. She thinks that we need a child, immediately. I mean, the dust has just settled on our marriage, it nearly drove us mad and now she wants me to become a mother. I mean, it’s not bad enough that I have to take care of an entire country like a mother, but now she thinks we have to have a child of our own. Hell, I can’t even take care of the animals, I lost two horses last week in the forest; I don’t need to become a mother yet, I can’t be a mother yet. I need to take care of myself right now, and I just need to be with you without the constant reminder that we have a child to think of now. And on top of that, I feel like I’m getting fatter every day. And all I want to do sometimes is eat ices all day and just sleep and stay in bed and spend time with you. I don’t want to be queen. I just got married, for God’s sake. I don’t want all this right now.”
Salar fell silent. That was a lot to process. He hadn’t told Mirage about King Sarosh’s plan to use her but the truth was, she didn’t need to know. It would only cause problems. Similarly, unbeknownst to him, Mirage had kept mum about the reason of her fight with her father and had just dismissed it as a run-of-the-mill fight where her father was being stupid.
“So you see, I know I’ve been a pain nowadays but there is a lot going on in my mind.” She settled her face in his neck.
Salar nodded. Mirage raised her head weakly.
Salar looked pained. “Would you stop saying that?”
But Mirage shook her head and buried her head in his neck. “I promise that I won’t take over everything in our lives. I won’t let you be just the prince.”
Salar pulled her away from him and studied the look of grief etched across her face. She didn’t meet his eye. He leaned down and kissed her eyelids. “Mirage. I chose to be with you without any regard over the matter of my power.”
Mirage looked up at him as if he was insane. “So you’d much rather be a… trophy for me? A decoration?”
Salar didn’t answer. He absolutely hated the fact that he was to be a measly prince for the rest of his life. He could have been a king of his own land, his own people; but now he was reduced to nothing more than a tag-along lackey.
“You see” Mirage gestured to him, “I can’t do that to you. And I know you wouldn’t do that to me if it was the other way around. I have to think about you too. I can’t accept you like this. And I know you’d start hating me sooner or later, then you’d kill me and then you’d regret killing me then you’d be king but you’d live a cursed life forever…” She didn’t want to tell him that she had been thinking this way for quite some time now. For the sake of her own life and his, she wanted Salar to be more than just a prince consort. And because of her mother, the prospect of a child was becoming embedded in her mind a little too much. She needed to take care of things right away.
Salar shook her gently to snap her out of her reverie. She looked at him with startled eyes and blinked.
“I won’t hate you.” He said and sighed, “But I won’t object to having some power.”
“I know. Salar, you know more about this than I do.” She said, her undertone pleading him to take charge which he did.
“Mirage, don’t underestimate yourself. You know you can do this. You’re the queen now. You don’t need to answer to a parliament or your mother. You can make your own decisions. No one needs to influence your thoughts. This coronation is nothing. You’ve already started taking your job seriously. You’ve allowed the soldiers of the revolt to come to the castle and have a discussion. As for the baby”, He looked at her strangely. “That’s for us to decide, isn’t it? And I know that this is difficult for you now, but once your duties become a routine, we can enjoy our time together as much as we want.”
Mirage hung her head. “I’m just… I don’t know. I’ve never been like this. I suppose the stress is getting to me.”
Salar tilted his head. “Mirage, you’ve been in a lot more stressful situations than this.”
“I suppose. I guess marriage did change me, don’t you think?” She smiled weakly.
Salar held her in his arms again. “Am I a good queen or what?” He heard her muffled words from his chest.
“You’re a great queen.” He said firmly, stroking her head.
“And you’re a great husband.” She smiled goofily.
Salar grinned. “Thanks for marrying me, by the way.”
“You knew I was always going to choose you, right?” She asked.
Salar shrugged. “Even if you didn’t, I would have convinced you with another night in the library.” Mirage poked him in the ribs.
“Speaking of which”, she looked up at him with a mischievous look in her eye. “The dinner is ages away and I hate this dress, would you mind tearing it off me and explain to me what you would have done in the library that night had we carried on?”
Salar grinned. “I’d be glad to.”
Two months earlier
“Oh Darling, you look like a firecracker.”
“Oh… Thank you, mother.”
“That wasn’t a compliment. You dress was supposed to be white, all white. Why did you have to go and add those dreadful colors to it?”
“Mother, these colors look beautiful. The dress is such a perfect fit and I didn’t want to look like any other ordinary bride.”
“But why these colors? You could have added ivory or cream embroidery. But this?”
“Mother! Who is getting married today?”
Hesitation. “You are.”
“Well then, I think that the dress is perfect. You wore the dress you wanted on your wedding day. And I’ll wear what I want on mine. So please, save your breath. I am not going to change.”
“… Well… alright then. I suppose the dress does have a rather whimsical feel to it. Though it’s not according to my taste at all.”
“Exactly. It’s according to mine.”
“Well darling. I hope you’re happy with it and I hope you did the right thing by choosing that boy.”
“I know I did, mother.”
“You certainly seem smitten enough. Although dear, if you are having second thoughts, we can create a distraction and you can run out.”
“Mother! I’m already married to him! How could you say that?”
“Oh, I was hoping you had forgotten that little detail. Do not roll your eyes at me, young lady. I just don’t want you to think that one bad decision can ruin your life. You can still let Salar go. Only a select few know about your marriage. We can annul it.”
Eyes agog. “Wow. I don’t know what to say to that except… If you don’t get out of here right now, I’ll have to force you out those doors myself. I cannot believe you’d even think about such a thing. I will not let go of Salar just because you don’t like him.”
“He turned you against your father.”
“NO! My father did that himself. Salar had nothing to do with it.”
“Why are you taking Salar’s side in this? Your father did the right thing by coming to you with that information and instead of being grateful; you had the entire place in an uproar. For Allah’s sake, you threw a vase at your father’s head! He’s lucky it missed him by an inch. And you haven’t talked to him since. All of your rebelliousness started as soon as that man came into the story. Otherwise you worshipped your father!”
“Mother, please! I never worshipped him. I tolerated him. Like I’m tolerating you. I mean, seriously!” A jump from the stool lands Mirage in front of her mother. “Do you want to know why I acted that way with father? It’s because he doesn’t know left from right in my situation. He thinks he knows everything! Well, did he ever ask me? Did he ever ask for my opinion? I mean, we already know how reliable his sources can be after what almost happened with Tatiana. And now that I’m starting to work my way, he starts blaming my husband for something that I KNOW he’d never do.
Queen Nadira bristled. Mirage saw her opening. “And you want to know why I’m not talking straight with you? It’s because I know you told Salar about Uncle Ali!”
“That’s right. Tatiana blurted it out. She knows how I feel about this subject. She told me you told Salar everything, she didn’t tell me the whole story; whatever it was you told her, but from the little details she could give me, I just simply couldn’t believe it. Even when you know Uncle Ali was wrong, you still defended his honor even when he doesn’t deserve it. You didn’t even speak the whole truth. So please mother. Do not lecture me about taking sides; because you need to have a strong enough defense to actually prove your point!”
Silence prevails as the bride turns back to the mirror and adjusts her veil casually, her slightly pink nose prominent.
The door bangs open. The guards outside give the visitor dark looks. “Is that what you’re wearing? You look like a peacock!”
“Well… that’s what I was going for.” The bride steps up on the stool and admires herself nonchalantly.
“I don’t know what my son saw in you. You clearly have no taste. I thought you’d have enough common sense not to make a fool of yourself. I will not stand for this. I’m going to Salar so that I can talk some sense into him. It’s still early; maybe he’ll listen. Good day to you, Nadira. I feel sorry for you. I don’t know how you controlled this one.”
The door slams shut as the bride calls out, “Good luck!”
The queen stares at the door. “Why doesn’t she like you?” A snort of derision is heard. “I mean, it’s not like you did anything to offend her personally.”
The bride sighs. “I don’t know mother, why don’t you go and ask her that? I simply don’t care for her anymore.”
“You know what? I think I will.” Mirage turns just in time to see a storm of beige and cream disappear through the door.
The bride turns to her reflection. “Well, that should be interesting.” She muses.
“I can’t breathe.”
“Good. Because if you do, then that coat is gonna rip right open. And believe me; no one wants to see your mutton during the ceremony.”
“I thought women weren’t supposed to breathe on their wedding day!”
“Who told you to take it easy when you were taking out your anger on those rocks with your fists? Huh? I told you one day the muscle will go to your head.”
“You’re bigger than I am!”
“Man, I’m bigger than everyone here. My clothes are especially made.”
Door opens. “What the hell are you wearing? You can’t get married in that. You look like someone stuffed a gorilla in a suit!”
“THANK YOU Seph! That’s what he was reminding me of. I just couldn’t place it.”
“Both of you get out. It’ll only be for a little time, okay? I didn’t want the uniform to be altered before but I didn’t know it would become so tight.”
“Well, we can’t do anything about it. Just don’t bend or twist or anything. Just don’t move at all and you’re good to go.”
“Your advice is life-altering.”
“I do what I can.” A smirk can be heard in Behroz’s voice.
The doors open and Nana walks in. Salar turns to look at her and holds his arms out with a flourish. She sniffs in disapproval.
“It’ll do. Now please, I need to talk to my grandson in private.” Both men retreat.
The door closes. “That girl is a menace.”
“Her dress is an abomination. She looks hideous in it and I won’t have the royal family laughed at by some… some child who has no decent fashion sense.”
“Nana, I told her to choose a dress that would make her happy. I really don’t care what she dresses like. She can do whatever she wants. And come on, stop with all this. I thought you liked her.”
“I did. But that was before I got the news about her insolent act. She should be ashamed of herself, doing such a thing like running away and kidnapping you so that you could accompany her on a boat trip. I know how you are; you would always respect a woman, but really? If people would have found out that you two were alone on that boat for Allah knows how many days that it would have created such a major scandal. The royal family would have become a laughing stock.”
“Nana, is that all you care about? The royal family, don’t you want Mirage and me to be happy? Nana, you’re being very old-fashioned. This is the new era; you can’t let insignificant details like those ruin a perfectly good relationship. No one found out about our trip. We are getting married properly now. And we were not alone; her entire crew was with us. And Mirage deserves a good break. She’s been through a lot.” He thanks Mirage silently for forcing him to keep their marriage a secret from Grandmother Dara.
“Pah! A little whipping was just what she needed. She should have gotten a good beating as a child; it would have knocked some sense into her! And as for her crew, having 9 men on board a ship with only one woman does not help her case. God knows how many times she gone on her little ‘trips’.”
Knuckles are cracked. “Nana, what’s wrong with you? Why are you talking like this? She’s a good person and I recall you telling me not to kill her. I remember you telling me that I shouldn’t let my anger guide me! Isn’t that what you’re doing right now?”
“I do not trust her. She was different than all the others. All of her siblings. Now, she’s put you under a spell and you cannot see it. She simply chose you from a long line of easily disposable men. She’s using you. Why can’t you understand this?”
Grim pause. “Nana, who is giving you all of this information? Whose words are you repeating?”
Grandmother Dara fidgets. “That’s none of your concern.”
“It is if it’s something that is causing you to have so much poison in your heart for my soon-to-be wife.”
“Fine Salar. I’ll back away. But I’ll have you know, I’ll always be there for you, whenever she kicks you away, you can always come back to your family.”
“Nana, why do you hate her?”
“… She reminds me of your mother. And that woman died for love. Which I don’t see in Mirage’s eyes for you. That makes her even more dangerous.”
“She is not! Salar, tell her.” A voice calls by the door and Queen Nadira storms in.
“Do not tell my grandson what to do!”
“Why are you so against my daughter?”
“Why shouldn’t I be? She… she took away our freedom!”
“Oh please, you’re wearing gold weighing more than your grandson over there! You have all the freedom you want.”
“She took his freedom!”
“HE AGREED TO MARRY HER ON HIS OWN TERMS! It’s not my daughter’s fault that your grandson is so gutless.”
A squabble ensues and Salar sighs. If only I could choose family…
Salar and Mirage gazed at each other; their eyes blank. They were married… again.
Salar uttered his first words to his new-new wife rather tonelessly, “I will kill your mother.”
Mirage nodded vaguely. “And I will kill your grandmother.”
Salar didn’t even care. “You know, your mother has been pestering me that it’s been a month now and you and your father still haven’t spoken to each other. She never leaves me alone. All the time, it’s like she’s right around there somewhere. I can’t even go to the bathroom without thinking that she’ll be knocking on the door to talk to me. The whole week during the voyage, she kept telling me that as much as she hated me, I was her only hope. She kept making me so mad on purpose, it’s like she wanted me to burst out of my own skin like some monster just to show the others that I was an insane psychotic madman hell-bent on destroying you. She even screamed something like that to my nana. They had a huge fight right there in the dressing room.”
“Your grandmother always looks at me like she’ll take great pleasure in sawing my head off with a bread knife. Even yesterday, she accused me again of marrying you without my parent’s permission like I should be condemned to death for doing what I want. It felt like she thinks I took you away on gunpoint and snatched your virtue in front of a swooning audience. She thinks you don’t love me and that I put you under my spell or something. She won’t even listen to me when I tried to calm her down and tell her why I did it. She still feels like I should have just stayed put and let my father make the decision for me. I mean, I know I told you it was a good idea not to tell her that we were already married, but I think not telling her about the marriage only made things worse. ”
“Your mother actually accused me of manipulating you to do my bidding. She doesn’t trust me and neither does the king, they just want their daughter back. It’s like I’ve killed you and taken your soul for keeps or something.”
“Your grandmother hates me. She spent the entire time during my bridal dress fitting telling me about Azila. She loves Azila. ‘Azila is so nice and pretty. Azila is so well-mannered’, well, if she loves Azila so much than she should go and marry her then! You’re my husband, she should accept that. And I don’t even know about Salud, he stares at me all the time, I can’t figure out if he hates me or loves me.” She firmly skips the fact that she had actually met Salud before.
“Your mother definitely hates me, and your father. Your brothers and sisters are fine, but your parents must have some very sadistic thoughts for me. Your father accused me of trying to kill you. It’s like one problem gets solved and another just pops right up. It’s not fair.”
“Your nana is driving me crazy.”
“And your mother is driving me crazy.”
They both paused, lost in thought. “Maybe we should kill them.”
“… Deal.” Mirage slowly nodded.
“I was joking.”
“I’m not. I’ll do it. You know that.”
Salar smiled reluctantly. Mirage’s eyes softened. “I missed talking to you. I missed you.” Her voice was barely above a whisper.
Salar reached for Mirage’s hand to pull her into a kiss but Tatiana stepped in. “Come on, you two. It’s time for the people to meet the newly married couple.”
They both felt their little bubble of solitude break. Salar prayed no one had heard what they were talking about. Sepehr came behind Salar and brushed Salar’s shoulders while Behroz straightened his collar. “Breathe a little.” Behroz instructed and Salar obliged, willing himself to bring some color on his face.
“Pull yourselves together for Allah’s sake. Stop acting like the world is coming to an end just because you both have pesky in-laws.” Tatiana huffed as she bent down to adjust Mirage’s gown.
Salar and Mirage both stared at her owlishly.
Tatiana shrugged. “Fine, that’s a bit of an understatement. But right now, you two need to look like a euphoric couple who just got married 10 minutes ago.”
Mirage sighed. “We’re married already. I mean, what’s the point of making us stay in separate rooms and not letting us talk to each other for 21 days?! We kind of defeated the purpose of that separation weeks ago.” She mumbled to Tatiana who reluctantly smiled.
“Tradition… and you had to put on a show.” Tatiana said in a low voice as Behroz jerked Salar’s sleeves down.
Satisfied that the two were looking like perfection with a final sweep, Tatiana nodded to the guards standing beside a double door which led to the balcony.
“Smile for your fans.” Tatiana gently pushed them both out on the balcony and their smiles switched on as the pressure of the cheer hit them and Mirage gasped. She couldn’t even hear herself think. They had rehearsed it for weeks separately. How they were to stand, how they were to accept their vows, how they were supposed to smile and wave and even how they were supposed to eat. All they both really wanted to do was collapse in bed beside each other and sleep for at least a week. But right then, their rehearsals hadn’t prepared them for the rush of emotions reverberating from the people.
With a hand nestled in the crook of Salar’s arm, Mirage held her flowers with the other. Her dress of white silk satin flowed over her body like water. Embroidery of her choosing glistened like dew on wide columns of cobwebs on the hem of the dress. Each panel of the dress started with a sliver of shaded wire and sequins and went down to form a feather-like texture, as if the dress itself had grown the peacock feathers. Blue, green, brown, yellow, purple, and pink shades went down the dress like licks of flame. The bodice itself was simple and white, the full sleeves white except for the cuffs, also decorated in thin lines of the same colors as the embroidery. The dress floated behind her in the breeze and from afar, it seemed as though the dress was actually moving on its own, the skirt swaying with her every move.
The sun shone on the Sahilibur castle as the people looked up to get their first glimpse of their new Queen and her prince. The tail of the dress brushed along as Mirage tentatively took her steps forwarded, concentrating on not tripping up in her rather high heels, which she really hated, but was comforted that at least they were hidden under her dress. Her hair flowed down to her hips from underneath her simple white veil which went down to the floor. She had minimal jewelry on but for a heavy ornate crown of silver encrusted with diamonds which sat on her head. It was damn near heavy but the moment Mirage saw herself in the mirror, she decided to let it stay on.
Salar stiffened as they neared the edge of the balcony. He was wearing his army uniform which made him look very much like he was threatening to burst out of it. He had forgotten how long before he had worn it and he didn’t remember how much muscle he had gained after. He had wanted to alter it, but last night’s little sexual adventure with Mirage in the tailor’s room had made the decision for him. His bland red and blue uniform which shone with his numerous medals stuck on for good measure had made Mirage weak at the knees and she had practically thrown herself at him, and although they hadn’t so much as talked, knowing so was good enough for him.
They finally came to the ledge and looked out. Salar raised a hand majestically and Mirage smiled as people screamed out their names and chanted praises, most of them chanting out, Malikah-E- Mirage or Malik-E-Salar. As far as the eye could see, tens of thousands of people screamed and called out in excitement as their eyes adjusted to the brightness and they finally saw the queen-to-be and her husband. Salar pulled Mirage’s hand to his side as he gritted his teeth and she squeezed his shoulder reassuringly.
“Take a deep breath and relax, you two. Deep breaths, smile and it’ll all be over soon.” Tatiana spoke discreetly as she stood behind them, waiting for any moment that Mirage would show weakness. The Queen had ordered Tatiana to follow Mirage everywhere, which wasn’t something she did to annoy her daughter; it was necessary. A few days ago, Mirage had fainted unexpectedly, causing the whole castle to go into a panic. More to do with the fact that the tailor had tightened her dress a tad too much due to grandmother Dara’s at-times humiliating taunts about Mirage’s figure, Tatiana was ordered to be with Mirage at all times.
Mirage nodded and smiling, she waved, mimicking Salar’s actions.
Tilting her head up, she took a deep breath as she felt Tatiana leave them. “You know we might as well just forget about it. It’s not like I'm going to let my mother or my family stay with me after the coronation. They won’t be able to make you insane after that. Killing them would create such a fuss.”
Salar discreetly nodded. “And my family is moving to Rehbartaj after. So they won’t be able to drive you nuts.”
“Hmm… See? Solutions.” Mirage smiled.
Salar nodded again and as if unable to help himself, leaned in and whispered. “You look so beautiful right now, and if I could, I would drag you to our room, rip that dress off and take you until you’d be begging for me to either keep going or stop.”
Mirage’s grin grew with her popped eyes. Salar never talked dirty. “Don’t worry. I’ll take it. I survived our first week, didn’t I? And besides, I hung from the chandelier for you, doing something that only trained professionals can do. I think I’ll be fine.”
Salar visibly relaxed as he smirked crookedly. “I remember that. Don’t worry; you won’t have to hang from the chandelier tonight. I’ve made other arrangements. I want to see how far I can take you.”
Mirage looked up at him. “We’ll see.” She said regally and Salar raised her hand to his lips, kissing it. The crowds went crazy. Mirage could see many girls screaming Salar’s name and felt smug. No way was he ever going to be theirs, he was hers forever now, whether they liked it or not.
The previous month flashed before her eyes. The stops at the Islands due to her over-excited siblings which were really the only fun she had; her arrival at beautiful Sahilibur. That moment when she and Salar were separated because they weren’t supposed to be seen together, especially in such a situation where they needed to at least touch each other all the time. That had been torture. Then there had been the meeting with grandmother Dara and Salud for the first time, the wedding preparations, her mother constantly pestering Salar; it had all been painful, but worth it. Now, she stood beside her husband, properly accepted by the world as a married couple, Mirage looking as though the angels had been especially sent from Allah to make a dress for her that would make her the envy of all who would look at her.
Now she was queen. Originally, her father had to die for her to become queen, so she had no idea why he was abdicating. It was in the back of her mind that perhaps he had realized that he had made a mistake and didn’t want to face it.
Salar leaned towards her. “What do you think of my home now anyway? You said you’d hate it.”
Mirage looked up and grinned. “I admit I was wrong. It is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.”
Greenery stretched out for miles. Even the court yard in front of the balcony had tall trees grown in between stone steps. The smell was heavenly and it rained practically every day which was something she wasn’t used to, since back in Rehbartaj, the only thing they had in abundance was sand. However, this new weather was suiting Mirage perfectly. She thrived in it.
“All these people”, Mirage sighed, “All of them came from so far just to look at us.”
Salar spoke from the corner of his mouth. “That’s because they wanted to see how beautiful you look.”
Mirage rolled her eyes, “Stop being sarcastic.” Salar chuckled.
Tatiana called out. “All right, you two. Inside. The people are becoming rowdy.”
And waving, Salar and Mirage retreated. Shuffling back, the doors closed and they took a breath of relief.
“That was so... Wow. There were so many people out there.” Mirage squealed excitedly and Salar grinned.
“I’m glad that you’re both in a good mood because both your families are waiting downstairs for you two to begin the celebrations.” Tatiana said, fluffing Mirage’s dress behind her.
“Forget them.” Salar took Mirage’s hand. “C’mon. I want you to meet all my friends.”
Mirage smiled adoringly at his innocent little-boy excitement and allowed him to lead her down the stairs.
“And finally, this is Iraj, you’ll remember him from this glass eye he’s staring at you with and his missing teeth, that’s Adel, the one coming over here with those three wine bottles in his hand and this hairy bastard is Nima.” Salar slapped his friend on the back. The three men who seemed as tall and burly as Salar looked at the couple with huge smiles on their faces.
Mirage acknowledged their smiles with a curious grin, taking in their appearance. So far, she had met so many of Salar’s friends, male and female that she had lost count.
“We are glad for Salar. He won the grand prize.” Said Iraj, slapping Salar on the back.
Salar shook his head. “Iraj has a tendency to speak without thinking.” He informed Mirage and she grinned widely.
“Well, I lost my eye tooth along with my eye, so I can’t see what I’m saying, can I?” Iraj wagged his finger at Salar incredulously and Mirage giggled.
“Now c’mon Mirage.” Adel ambled over and without even asking her permission called her by her first name. She liked him. “Mirage. Tell us. Why did you choose him? You know you could have had better luck with some other good-looking princes… or even some officers.” Adel wiggled his eyebrows flirtatiously in what he thought was a provocative way. Nima slapped Adel on the back of his head, glaring at him furiously for talking like such an imp with the queen.
Mirage shrugged. “I guess he was it. It was fate.”
“Sure it was. Everything Salar does winds up as something fate had her claws in.” Adel raised his bottle to her with a wink. Salar rolled his eyes. As much as loved them, he hated that his friends became so frank with anyone they’d see Salar with. He couldn’t blame them. They were with him in the army, fellow commanding officers but they weren’t of royal descent so they didn’t care, even if you were.
Jostled by Abid, they made their rounds with the guests, graciously accepting their congratulations and well-wishes. Finally, the happy couple was seated on stage in the great ballroom. Ornate, gothic and beautiful; history and details surrounded them and the atmosphere could not be more jubilant. Even outside, the people were celebrating the union. Food was flowing from the kitchen like water, and wine was available at every table. There were even waiters making sure that people weren’t drinking too much. Arman and Cyrus were in charge of security so there was no worry about any unwanted guests.
“Stop fidgeting and straighten your dress.” Queen Nadira hissed from Mirage’s side. Mirage turned and glared. Now that she was married, her mother had no hold over her.
“If you’re going to point out my imaginary mistakes, I’d suggest for you to move your seat because I’m not going to let you ruin this day.” Mirage snapped. Queen Nadira looked shocked and backed away.
Mirage felt guilty for her rude behavior and was about to turn back and apologize when someone tapped on her shoulder. Salud bowed and smiled as Mirage registered her brother-in-law’s awkward manner. He was still acting like a common soldier with her rather than a close relative. Very much like his brother but with brown eyes, and no scars or proof of broken bones to speak of but for a broken nose, he was perfect and he knew it. Mirage remembered the cause of that broken nose and smiled instinctively. Salud’s smile tightened.
“May I have this dance, your Highness?” He asked tentatively, extending his hand.
Mirage glimpsed at Salar. He was arguing rather energetically with Cyrus, Alana’s husband about some fighting technique he had learned from his trip far east. Mirage sighed inwardly and nodded, taking Salud’s smooth hand and standing up. It’s not like she didn’t like Salud; it was just that she felt quite uncomfortable under his gaze. She felt like he could see right into her mind, and although she shivered under Salar’s intense gaze, Salud’s made her want to throw something at him. Especially since she mostly knew what his gaze meant and where it was directed at.
She ran her other hand over her veil as Salud practically dragged her to the dance floor amongst the other dancers. Coming to the middle, he twirled her and caught her in his arms.
Mirage frowned as they started dancing. After a few moments of silence, Salud looked down at her. “How are you?”
Mirage blinked. “Fine.”
He nodded. “Good. Good.” He trailed off.
Mirage rolled her eyes. “You don’t need to look so tortured. I haven’t told Salar anything.”
Salud looked down anxiously. “You haven’t?”
Mirage shrugged. “There was no need to. I didn’t need to tell him what happened when we met in London. It was a long time ago. You were young. You didn’t know better.”
Salud stared. “We’re the same age.”
“Well, I’m a lot more mature than you so…” Mirage resisted the urge to laugh at the expression on Salud’s face.
“Well, I’m still sorry. I didn’t mean to… do what I did. And I know that for the sake of your marriage and my brother, you won’t say anything.”
Mirage narrowed her eyes. “You don’t need to tell me that. I know what’s at stake.”
“I just want you to keep your mind at ease over the fact that Salar won’t do anything to me if he finds out. But you would be in trouble. And Nana just needs a reason to disown you from our family. She’d love an opportunity like this.” Salud’s eyes darkened.
“Do you really think that Salar wouldn’t beat you up when he finds out what you did in London?” Mirage asked.
“Oh, I know so.” He said confidently.
Before Mirage could answer, Salar tapped on Salud’s shoulder and cut in. “Mind if I dance with my wife?”
Salud stepped back and Salar resumed the dance with Mirage. Salud gave her a look and stalked off. Mirage smirked at the thought. Well, we’ll have to see about that now, won’t we?
Mirage stretched beside Salar. She was naked and relaxed, lounging in Salar’s arms after a tiring day. Her face was bare of any powder or whatever it was that her ladies put on her face to give her skin some glow. Her hair, washed and combed, gleamed on the pillow. “I think they’re still partying downstairs.” She said lazily.
Salar rolled over and pulled Mirage into his arms. “I know. I think this’ll go on for two days.” He, like Mirage had disposed of his clothes as soon as he had shut the door and instead of jumping onto each other had simply climbed into bed, falling asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow. Five hours later, they both woke up to the sound of fireworks.
They watched from the wide window in Salar’s room. The display was right beside their room. Now focusing on her surroundings, she took in the atmosphere. The room was draped in grey curtains, dull silver ornaments, and a large king size heavy bed, much larger than her own bed in Rehbartaj, which made this one huge, considering that Mirage had had her bed especially made because she used to fall asleep on one corner of the bed one night and wake up in the corner of the bed with her head hanging down the next morning.
A larger-than-life painting hung over the fireplace of a huntsman cornering a lion with his two dogs in the wild. Mirage would have laughed at the picture had she not become occupied in something else when she had entered the room. It rather caught your eye in an alarming way. The fireplace itself was lit when they had first come in but now the embers emitted a slight glow.
Mirage wondered that even though her room was in a tower, she still had glass windows. Here, the window was just an extremely large and long space at the far corner of the room knocked out of the wall, along with a balcony on the other side which was filled with flowers; something that had been brought up probably for Mirage. The room even smelled of Salar. Fresh grass, spice wood and perhaps lavender, which Mirage made fun of, but secretly loved.
“You know, I’m really glad that you and my brother are so friendly with each other. I want you two to be close.” Salar murmured in Mirage’s ear as a firework boomed.
Mirage smiled. She felt mischievous. “Well, in that case, you need to know something.”
Salar looked into her face. “And what’s that?”
“You know how I went to England when I was 16?”
“Yes, you mentioned it.”
“Well, when I was there, I met Salud. We really hit it off; we became good friends at that time. I really liked him too, we had a lot in common, he showed me some of his fighting techniques, I talked to him about some political strategies, even though he wasn’t much of a thinker, it was fun to be around him, but I suppose he had other plans in mind since he pretty much showed me one night that he didn’t think of me in the same way I thought of him.” Salar looked perplexed.
Mirage was enjoying this. “One night, it was very late and Salud came into my room for a chat, but as soon Sepehr turned his back for a minute, Salud sort of tried to attack me, but with his lips actually. Of course he couldn’t, he was already drunk out of his mind by the time he got up to my room, so he slipped and banged his nose against the arm of my chair. That’s how he broke his nose. Sepehr kicked him out and the next morning, Salud was really sorry but a few days later after that, he cornered me again and asked me for a nightcap in his room. Since I didn’t know what that was, I said no. He got really angry after that. It was quite funny watching him. He blushes just like you do.”
Salar stared at Mirage. He couldn’t believe it. He had no idea Salud and Mirage had even known each other before. And he remembered Salud telling Salar that he had broken his nose in a pub fight. But still, he couldn’t believe it. Salud and Mirage? Together? It was too hilarious for words but it was also making him angry. But then again, now that he thought about it, he should have concluded that both Salud and Mirage had visited England the same year, since Salud spent practically his entire life there, it was inevitable that they would become friends. He gritted his teeth. “Well, what happened after that?”
Mirage was loving this. Salar actually looked as if he was jealous that Salud had tried to tempt her, even if his efforts were unsuccessful. “One night, he sort of tried to, I suppose, seduce me by climbing in through my bedroom window and serenading me with his God-awful drunken breath and tone-deaf voice. I woke up when he got to me and he pushed me into my bed and then he tried to kiss me, but obviously, I took care of that.”
Salar took a deep breath, trying to remain calm. “Really?”
“Yes. I punched him in the gut and told him to get a life.” Mirage said, matter-of-factly. “I pushed him out of the window but sadly my room was only on the first floor and there were bushes underneath so he didn’t even break a bone. I always hate this fact whenever I remember this incident.”
She felt Salar nod in her hair. Next time he sees Salud, he was going to beat him to a pulp. Now that Mirage said it, he rather guessed that this was something that could be expected from Salud.
“After that, I pretty much ignored him even though he sent me flowers of apology every night. Lilies, which I’m allergic to, but he obviously didn’t know.”
“I didn’t know that.” Salar said quietly.
Mirage shrugged. “Of course, you didn’t. I don’t think that that’s something you tell your brother. But obviously, if there are ever any awkward silences and moments between your brother and me then you need to know the truth. Oh, and did he tell you about Tatiana?”
She felt him shake his head. He was breathing quite heavily and she needed to distract him from the mess that was his brother.
“Well, one night, I sent Tatiana to his room to tell him to stop sending me those stupid flowers and there, she met Behroz, Salud was downstairs at the bar and Behroz was off-duty. Well, she said that she spent the entire night talking, although that’s something that she said she did, and since I don’t know the truth, I guess I’ll trust her for that.”
She felt Salar get up and she rolled over, pulling him back down. She climbed onto his chest and settled and felt his breathing relax.
“Well… that I do know. Behroz told me all about that.” Salar said, his tone modest.
Mirage’s head snapped up and she looked into his eyes. “What did he tell you?”
Salar sighed. “Mirage…”
But Mirage slid off him and sat up excitedly. “Oh come on. Please tell me. I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
Salar stared. “Mirage. It’s our wedding night. Do we really need to talk about some other couple?”
Mirage stared icily at him. “We celebrated our wedding night months ago.” Her tone switched to begging in a second. “Now come on, please tell me. I promise I won’t let anyone know we talked about this.”
Salar groaned. “Do I really have to-” Mirage silenced him with a long and deep kiss. Salar hands immediately roamed over her body but quickly, she stopped and pulled back.
“If you want more, than you’ll have to tell me what Behroz told you.” She smirked.
“The very best kind, I assure you.” Mirage wiggled her finger at him.
Salar reluctantly sat up and mirage snuggled to his side facing him, her legs crossed against her chest. She looked at him earnestly.
Salar grimaced. Behroz will kill him. “They… did a little more than just talk that night.”
“I knew it!” Mirage gasped. “What did they do?”
Salar felt uneasy. “Hasn’t Tatiana told you anything? I mean, she is your best friend, maybe you should ask her all this stuff.”
Mirage gave him a dirty look.
Salar continued. “They… well, Behroz told me that they spent the night together, and I don’t know what to make of that.” He added quickly as Mirage’s eyes widened with a gasp.
“OH MY GOD! It means… Oh my God, did they really? Do you think so?” Mirage said through her fingers, her eyes still comically wide.
Salar held his hands up. “Now don’t jump to conclusions. You don’t know what really happened.”
“Oh but I do. She looked like she hadn’t slept at all, AND she looked like she had just walked in front a windstorm, she looked so disheveled, oh my God, I cannot believe this.” Mirage ran a hand through her hair and stopped. “I have to ask her about all this. I knew she spent too much time with Behroz. I mean, I even saw them kiss when we were all leaving. They thought no one had seen them. It’s a good thing I saw it and steered everyone away but I cannot believe that little cow didn’t tell me everything. And I know that she didn’t accept the home religion until she was 17, she tells everyone that she did it when she was 12, but that’s not really true. Oh God, I just thought they had fooled around for a bit, I never knew they had actually done the deed.”
Salar reached out and held Mirage by her shoulders. “Mirage, this is none of your business. If Tatiana didn’t want to say anything about this then it’s her choice. You have no right to ask her about this stuff. And besides, she’s married to Sepehr now. Do you really want to tear up old wounds?”
Mirage fidgeted and mumbled. “No.”
“Then don’t speak of this.” He let go of her and settled back in a triumphant stance.
Mirage scowled. “But it’s not fair. Behroz gets to talk about it like he’s some hero. I mean, when mama and papa came here all those years ago, Behroz had moved on. I mean, how can he do that? He totally ignored Tatiana, even though they… did it.” She rolled her eyes as Salar smirked and whacked him on the shoulder with the back of her hand.
“Stop that. I mean, how can you men be so cruel?” She asked accusingly.
Salar held up his hands in mock surrender. “I never did anything like that. And I can’t help it if Behroz is a bit of an ass. It’s in his nature, I guess.”
“Nature Shamture! I’ll kill him the next time I see him!” Mirage made to get off the bed but Salar pulled her in and she struggled against him. “He ignored her after what he did. I always thought they had just flirted and that had been it. But… he took away the one thing that makes a girl… well, pure. How could he ignore her after that?”
Suddenly, Mirage started crying. Salar held her back to look at her face in shock as angry tears streamed out and she brushed them away roughly.
She ignored his questioning look. “I’m just mad at him. I can’t believe Tatiana kept something like this to herself for so long.”
Salar pulled her into a hug and she settled back onto his chest. “It’s okay. She’s with someone much better now.”
“I guess.” Mirage mumbled and rubbed her nose gingerly.
“And don’t worry. I’ll take care of Salud.” He cajoled and felt Mirage pull on his chest hair. She reached up and kissed him again.
“Don’t you dare! I don’t want things to be more awkward then they already are. I’m just comforted by the fact that you know so you won’t suspect anything if he keeps staring at me or something.” She said in a low voice and rested her head against his throat.
They stayed silent for a while as the fireworks started again and the room shone in Technicolor. Salar absent-mindedly traced Mirage’s scars on her back. His own wounds were healing quite nicely but many a times, he’d catch Mirage wincing whenever she’d be doing something slight, like reaching up to fix her veil. Today, even though she had looked beautiful in her dress, he could see the points on her back where the dress was hurting her.
Mirage sighed as the whole day ran through her head and fixated on her conversation with her mother. Oh well, might as well get this over with too.
“At this moment, since we’re sharing secrets, I think we should come clean about some other things. I know my mother told you about my uncle, Salar.” She said and felt him stiffen. “It’s all right. I’m not mad at you for keeping this from me.”
“Umm… When exactly did mama tell you about it all? I mean, how…” Mirage trailed off, steeling herself for the lie in between.
Salar hesitated and started telling Mirage the story about how she had dragged him away to talk about what she had done, although when he got to the part about the whole story, Mirage struggled against him and sat back, her face aflame with rage.
“I CANNOT BELIEVE HER!” She screamed and Salar stared in shock as she started laughing in a hollow voice.
“I cannot believe that woman. She even made up a story about him. She’s still defending him. I mean, how could she?” She stared accusingly at Salar as if he had something to do with it.
“What are you talking about? What do you mean she’s still defending him?” He asked, thoroughly confused.
Mirage scoffed. “What I mean is that she’s defending him so that you don’t judge him. Uncle Ali did not go mad because Grandmother made the girl of his dreams slip away from him. He went mad because…” She stopped, pondering over whether or not she should tell him.
Salar raised his eyebrows. “What?”
Mirage took a deep breath. “Uncle Ali… wasn’t interested in women at all.” She gestured for him to understand.
Salar stared at her. “Well, if he wasn’t interested in women then… what?” He said as Mirage exclaimed in frustration.
“He wasn’t interested in the… female version of a human.” She said and fiddled with his fingers. Right then, it hit him. “Ohhh…”
Mirage pursed her lips and nodded. “Exactly. He didn’t think about women at all. The men caught his eye. Grandmother noticed it and asked him straight out. He didn’t deny it. After that, grandmother sent him to the army. He obviously excelled there, but when he got back, grandmother wanted him to get married. He said no. That’s when grandma went a little crazy and started getting all the girls around to seduce him. He was so irritated by it but he remembered his manners and graciously declined the girls’ advances. Grandmother started beating him after that. She told him what to do, where to go, who to be with. She had driven him insane. Then one day, he snapped. He was seriously being mentally tortured by grandma everyday for being a ‘failure’ in her eyes even though he was a brilliant officer. He snapped and he beat grandma up so bad that she was sent to bed rest for the rest of her remaining life, which wasn’t much, I’ll tell you that.”
Mirage examined Salar’s nails. “After her death, he stayed with mama but then I was born and he already wasn’t thinking straight. Then when he saw me, I suppose it triggered everything wrong that had happened to him and he saw grandma in me. So he continued with the beating. It’s only a miracle he didn’t butcher me up.” Mirage shrugged and suddenly shivered. She snuggled into the warm arms of her husband. Salar was growing tired of Mirage’s family, to be honest. He couldn’t understand how she had stayed sane with them.
“I just couldn’t believe it at first that mama had told you about it without even consulting the matter with me.” Mirage murmured.
“She was worried about you. I guess she thought she was doing the right thing.” He stroked her hair gently.
Mirage sighed. “I don’t think my parents have an exact sense of thinking.”
“It’s okay now though. I mean, it’s not like I changed towards you after I found out.” He shrugged.
“But it was something that I was supposed to tell you. It happened to me; my mother had no right to tell you that. Knowing that you already know something so personal about me that was told to you by someone else is very… disheartening, I suppose.” She fiddled with a strand of her hair. Salar pulled the strand away from her fingers and taking her hand, put them on his lips. He felt Mirage shiver.
“He’s not here now. No one is here to hurt you. And no one can. You’ve proven beyond your own abilities that no matter who hurts you, you can stand on your own two feet and beat the living daylights out of them. You don’t have to think about what your parents did. You’re the master of your own life now. You have nothing to worry about; no one can hurt you now. And if you think that whatever your uncle did would affect how I think about you then you are sorely mistaken.” He kissed the tip of her fingers and smirked. “Woman, I left everything for you. I don’t think I have anything to go back to. You have it all.”
Mirage smiled shyly. “Really?”
Salar sucked on her little finger and she giggled, biting on her lip. “Really.” Salar pulled her in for a kiss.
A few minutes later, Mirage mumbled against his lips as Salar threw the blanket away from them both so that they shone in the glitter of the fireworks and the moon. “You’re right. I don’t have anything to worry about. Let’s distract ourselves, shall we?” She rolled on top of him and slithered down to his navel, smiling coquettishly as Salar groaned and dropped his head back against the pillow.
© Copyright 2016 Regina De Corda. All rights reserved.
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