Dazzling golden sand stretched as far as the eye could see. I covered my eyes with my hand and squinted into the distance, the sun’s reflection off of the millions of grains making my eyes ache. For as long as I can remember, I’ve seen that sand, stretching endlessly under the pale blue Anviriean sky. My mind traveled back to a time when I had been standing in the exact same spot, though at the age of three…
A rustling of the gauzy cloth that hung over the hole that made the door made me swing around.
“Sabriyah, come off the balcony!”
I turned around, my fawn colored slippers moving soundlessly across the stone floor as I entered the adjoining room. Contrasting to the blistering wind and sun from the balcony, the room was cool and shady, covered in woven rugs that kept the sand, wind and sun out.
My hadara, or servant, Kareema, had called me.
“Briyah, you must change into something nicer for the return arrival of the Kharz.”
I lifted my arms above my head and felt the cool nimble fingers of my servant, who was as a mother to me.
Gently pulling, the tunic slipped off in one smooth movement.
Black curly hair swishing, Kareema held up a dark green and gold sahari, or royal tunic, to my face, her deep brown eyes appraising it against me.
“This will go very nicely with your skin tone and hair,” she said.
Her own olive colored skin clashed with the colors. I had often asked Kareema why I looked different, with my deeply tanned, but noticeably un-olive white, skin, and my eyes that changed their color with the outfits I wore, from green to blue to gray. Brown hair added to the difference. Kareema had only shushed me and told me that our hearts were the same.
She slipped the cool silky sahari over my head and brushed my hair softly with the brush bought from the Cavarian traders while I slipped on my sandals.
Kareema then turned me around and looked me over with a smile playing on her ruby lips, “You look very beautiful, my Sariba.”
Sariba meant princess, and whenever she felt especially proud of me, she addressed me by this.
I smiled proudly, and she took my chubby tanned hand in her own smooth olive and we walked down the winding clay steps, baked hard from past sun.
Once out into the dusty noisy roadway of the city of Taraquet, filled with street vendors and orphans, fruit sellers and camels, she put my head covering and pulled her own on over her sleek black head.
The sun felt hot on my feet whenever they peeped out from my sahari, and the dust filled my nostrils, along with the smell of fresh fruit, water, sand, and camels.
Kareema firmly held onto my head as we wove our way through the people to the center of the market. There, Kareema led us up to another servant of the royal household, Juolina.
Juolina was a large woman with long black hair piled onto her head. Her eyes were small and black, and she had a broad smile.
“Greetings, Kareema! I see you’ve come to witness the returning of the Kharz. Lucky Anwar gets to ride with Kharz Samir.”
Juolina was the hadara who took care of Anwar, a boy who Kharz Samir treated as his own son, but was not one of his real ones.
Anwar and I were fortunate to have found favor with Kharz Samir and be taken care of and protected by his royal hadaras.
My reminiscence was broken by Kareema, who yet again called,
“Briyah, come off the balcony for a moment!”
It was coming to dusk, and the sun was a red pulsing ball on the western horizon. Nine years had passed since my memory, and only three days from now I would be turning thirteen.
I obediently slipped into the room and looked at Kareema, who was still beautiful and young, with her sleek black hair, ruby lips, and chocolate eyes.
“If you’re going to head out with Anwar, at least change into this hadarian tunic so as to not get yours dirty,” Kareema said, holding them out.
I looked at Kareema in wonder.
“You didn’t think that after all of this time, I still didn’t know that you and Anwar explore the city, ride, and masquerade at dusk? Do I look blind to you?”
I laughed and hugged Kareema, taking in hand the tunic.
The hadarian tunic contained leggings and a long loose kurtah for underneath the tunic. A sash to tie over the shoulder and around the waist was also present.
I dressed quickly and gave Kareema one more hug before rushing out to the balcony and leaping onto the narrow parapet that surrounded our adobien, or house. With nimble silent feet I navigated the parapet until it was closer to the ground.
A young figure waited at the bottom.
Crouching on the narrow parapet, I launched myself gracefully into the air and landed in a dramatic poof of sand and dust!
“I thought you weren’t coming, Briyah!” Anwar said, running his tan hand through hair that was also brown. His green eyes met mine, then traveled over my outfit, “That’s new.”
Anwar is my best friend, who’s older by almost two years, and he’s the only person I know besides me that doesn’t have the olive colored skin, black hair, and brown eyes, typical of an Anviriean, although I doubt that he’s ever wondered why. Kharz Samir had adopted Anwar as his own son, and so in this way, he was a Sarib, or Prince. I’d heard, more than once, the other royal girls who lived in the palace, including the Saribas, giggling whenever Anwar went past, but whatever that means, I’m not sure. We’re just friends, and that’s the way it’s going to stay.
I shook my brown hair out of my face and said, “It’s nice, not in the way like a sahari, and I imagine it will be very nice for riding.”
We began dodging through the peasants as we made our way through Taraquet.
Anwar grabbed my arm and pulled me through a group of rough looking peasants before saying, “ I was thinking that we should explore the eastern part of Taraquet tonight. I heard that there was an unusual gathering outside the eastern market.”
His eyes were excited looking in the fading evening light, Anwar practically lived on excitement.
“Anwar, isn’t that where the poorest peasants and rough people usually live?” I asked calmly, stopping in the street.
“Well, we won’t ever know if we don’t find out,” Anwar said, confidence pouring from his mouth.
I didn’t really want to find out, but I finally consented and we broke into a jog with Anwar leading the way.
When we began arriving in the eastern end of the city, it began becoming increasingly dirty and destitute, and my heart felt heavy and sad.
Skinny faces and hollow eyes sadly followed us as we quickly and quietly walked through the disgusting streets.
As we got farther east in the city, it got worse. Yet Anwar kept us going. Finally, we reached a little market.
A large group of peasants were gathered in a circle, loudly shouting at something in the center.
I looked at Anwar, but he cautiously kept going closer toward the gathering of chaos.
With a firm grip on my arm, Anwar pushed and jabbed us to the center ring of people.
Two roosters were fighting each-other in the center of the ring.
Several wild looking men holding gold and silver coins loudly called names.
Anwar looked at me disgustedly, rooster fighting was supposed to be banned from Taraquet. It encouraged gambling, and provoked fights; and to say the least, Anwar was hoping for something much more exciting.
We turned away and began walking back toward the center of Taraquet, passing raggedy shelters and cracked adobiens that looked like they would crumble on top of its occupants immediately.
As I looked around at the poor places, a compassion was arisen inside of me; I wished I could do something to change the helplessness of these people’s situation.
I knew that I’d been very fortunate to have been taken in by the Kharz. Kareema said that one day, a baby had just been left on the palace steps.
That baby was me.
Kharz Samir had graciously taken me in and made me royalty. I’d lived under the protection of the Kharz ever since.
A cry shook through the air, stopping Anwar and me in our tracks. The cry had come from a nearby shack, which was the most desolate of the ones we’d seen so far.
Before I could stop him, Anwar was charging toward the dirty rag that covered the door with a vengeance that scared me.
All I could do was follow him. The scene before my eyes made my heart ache.
A little girl, no older than six, was on the floor, being beaten mercilessly by a huge brute of man who I assumed was her father.
“How many times have I told you that you must steal if you want to get any food in this impecunious place?!” the beast screamed at the tear-streaked, ragged little girl.
She shrank back in fear, sobbing loudly, terror in her young eyes.
Suddenly I saw the lout’s shoulder being wrenched around by an all-too-familiar hand.
With his face turned to us, the lout was even uglier. Black, beady eyes were set deeply in a olive-tanned pockmarked face. Stringy, black hair hung in greasy coils about his equally greasy and fat face. Thick, hairy eyebrows shrouded above the watery, beady eyes…..ewww. He was even uglier than a camel, and that’s saying something!
He was stunned for a moment before he could catch his rancid breath and roar in Anwar’s face, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE!?!?”
I could almost see Anwar’s brown hair being blown back from his face.
To say the least, my stomach dropped to my sandals.
Yup, I was terrified.
Anwar looked slightly nervous as he strained to make his voice sound strong and firm, “You are NEVER to hit her again, do you understand me?”
The man pulled back his hand as if he were going to slap something, and it seemed that Anwar’s face had a target all over it.
I saw a hand reach out and yank Anwar’s shoulder and jerk him away before I realized that it was my own.
I was tearing out of that small shack as if a great big ugly lout was behind us…oh wait, there was. Anwar being trawled along, held in my vice-like grip on his shoulder.
That ugly ruffian began closing in on us…
We nimbly jumped over a low fence made out of bricks and who knows what else before scampering down a narrow alley lined with adobiens and huts. Ragged cloths hung over crude doorways, and little children stared at us.
“Look!” Anwar pointed at a broken off beam that was about ten feet off the ground, yet about four feet below the parapet, and that stuck out of one of the adobiens.
I nodded and he gave an extra burst of speed before leaping up, grasping the beam with his hands.
Holding my breath, I, too, gave an extra burst of speed before lunging and taking hold of his feet. Combining our momentum, he swung me up until I was almost level with the parapet. I felt that stomachless sensation as I let go of Anwar’s legs and barely managed to grapple onto the sandy parapet edge before I scrambled up securely and reached back down as Anwar swung and grasped for my hands.
The ugly man was barging through the alley, knocking over the weak fences, cloths and garbage trailing in his wake.
We paused only for a moment before we began running along the parapet, the lout’s greasy head staying with us as he charged along the alley below us.
I lurched for a second, dangerously close to falling to a dusty demise, and I decided to jump onto the roof of the nearby adobien.
Anwar followed before taking the lead, leaping from the roof to the parapet on the other side.
We made our way across the rooftops and parapets, sprinting past bewildered and outraged residents and under lines of drying clothes until we finally reached the center of town.
Anwar leaped down from the roof and I followed, Anwar weaving through the dusty people that were still arguing over food prices and purchasing cloth. We finally reached the back of my adobien, where we have a pile of sand where I used to play. At the same time we both sank down into the sand, panting and laughing at the same time.
“That was close,” Anwar said, when he could catch his breath between laughing and gasping.
I looked over at him. His green eyes were laughing and full of life.
“Yeah,” I breathed, “yeah it was.”
He looked over at me, “It’s always gonna be like this, huh?”
I looked back, “What do you mean?”
“We’re always going to be best friends, right?”
“Yeah,” I breathed, “Yeah.”
“Sabriiiiyaaah!” came Kareema’s sweet voice.
“Coming!” I called, before standing up and brushing the sand out of my tunic.
Anwar got up, too, and bade me good night, giving my hair a rough tousle.
“See you tomorrow,” he called as he trotted off into the night darkness.
I calmly walked up the adobien steps and went into my room, putting my light nightgown on and settling under the cool carpets.
Kareema got me up early in the morning, and told me to put on a sahari. Her normal calmness was replaced by a nervous excitement that I hadn’t seen before.
“What’s so special about today?” I queried, pulling the silky blue sahari over my head.
“Oh, we’re just going to go to the market and buy some fruit,” Kareema said casually, but I could tell this wasn’t some normal casual event.
Her olive-colored cheeks were prettily flushed and her eyes were bright with excitement. I wondered what was up.
Kareema led me at a brisk place through the ever crowded streets. I watched as an angry man slapped his camel and the camel planted a foot onto the man’s shoe, turning his head around to placidly stare and chew in the man’s face. I laughed.
Kareema followed my gaze and a smile played on her lips. We finally wove our way to the marketplace, and Kareema walked over to a fruit stand full of papayas, bananas, star fruit, mangos, dates, and other colorful fruits. The fruit stand was being taken care of by an older woman named Ethylene. Her face was covered in wrinkles, and her eyes were a dark black. Kareema usually tried to buy from Ethylene because her fruit was fresh and undamaged and she charged a fair price.
I wandered a little ways over to watch the man who could close his mouth around a flaming stick.
When I felt the touch of a hand upon my shoulder, I whirled around smiling, expecting it to be Kareema. Instead, I found myself dumbly gazing into the eyes of Anwar’s older stepbrother, Prince Nasir.
“How are you today, little sariba?” he teased, gently pulling my long brown hair, “Do I have something on my face?”
I gave him a slight scowl before I began peering eagerly around him for Anwar.
Nasir looked a little disappointed, but replied with a hint of smugness, “Anwar’s stuck in the palace today, taking warrior lessons I imagine. So thankful that I’ve already accomplished those.”
I gave him a small smile before I heard Kareema’s unmistakably pretty laugh and turned around.
A handsome young man was standing beside Kareema. He had dark curly black hair, laughing black eyes, and skin that had been bronzed even darker by the sun. White teeth flashed as he laughed with Kareema.
I felt a charge of jealous electricity run through me, seeing him stand next to her so closely.
Nasir gave a gentle laugh at my obvious dismay.
I turned and looked at him with sorrow and a bit of anger in my big eyes, “Who is that man?”
Nasir’s eyebrow raised ever so slightly, “Him? He’s a wealthy man by the name of Yushua. I’m surprised you don’t know him.”
I looked at Nasir in surprise, “Why should I know him?”
Nasir paused a moment before he gently said, “Because he plans on marrying Kareema.”
“MARRYING HER?!?” I burst out.
Nasir clapped his hand over my mouth and swirled me around so that his body blocked Yushua and Kareema’s view of me and he pushed me in front of him as he walked away.
“Yes, shhhh!” Nasir whispered laughingly.
I scowled fiercely, and began feeling big tears form in my eyes. I wanted Kareema to be mine forever. I began rapidly blinking them away in embarrassment.
Nasir looked embarrassed and then concerned before he brusquely wiped them away and swooped me up onto his shoulders.
“Put me down!” I hollered, kicking and screaming, “Put me down I say! No, I command you! Nasir!”
Nasir chuckled as he began running through the market. I embarrassedly pulled my head covering up so that no one would recognize me, although I’m sure a million already had. This certainly wasn’t something that a sane girl who was turning thirteen the next day would participate in without feeling humiliation. How was I going to live down the mortification?
Nasir was still running before he slid to a stop, grabbed me in his arms, and plopped me down next to Kareema, grinning an obnoxious smirk.
I was seething from my hair to my feet. I set my worst death glare upon those annoyingly black eyes and turned the fury up full notch, imagining a hole was being burnt.
“SaBRIyah! What on earth were you doing?”
Kareema asked embarrassedly.
I’d obviously made a bad first impression on Yushua.
“Kareema, can’t you see? The little girl and The Prince were just playing sariba and camel, nothing harmful,” Yushua said in a playful tone.
Kareema? He was already calling her Kareema. Yeeeelch. And just who was he calling little girl, I mean, hello! I was turning thirteen tomorrow. But in a way, that made things even worse.
“Excuse me, sir, but she’ll be turning thirteen tomorrow,” Nasir said with a twinkle.
“Thirteen and she’s still playing those games? Hmm… that’s a little strange.”
I gave Nasir a scalding look before turning to Kareema, “Kareema, can we please go home, I am really not feeling very well.”
Kareema nodded before giving Yushua a last look and followed me home.
We walked silently up the steps and I walked furiously to my room and sat down upon a pile of carpets. I could hear Kareema’s sandals crossing the thick carpets before the foof of her sitting down.
“Sabriyah, can you look at me?”
I turned a tear-filled gaze up to her.
“Why Sabriyah, whatever is the matter?”
She pulled me onto her lap and I let loose a torrent of sobs.
“Shh, shhh… can you tell me what’s wrong, Sabriyah?” came Kareema’s soothing voice in my ear.
I managed to blubber out, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“That you’re getting married to that man,” I sobbed.
Kareema was silent for a few minutes, “I wasn’t ready yet, but I was going to tell you today. Aren’t you happy for me?”
“No,” I wailed miserably, “cause now you’ll leave me and I’ll be left all alone.”
Kareema laughed and stroked my hair, “I’m not leaving you, silly sariba, you’re coming with me! We’re going to live together with Yushua, I’ve already talked with him.”
I turned to look into her calm, pretty eyes, “Really? You mean I’m not going to have to live in the palace?”
“Really, and I’m going to make sure of it this afternoon,” Kareema said soothingly.
I sat straight up, “Sure of it! You mean you’re not sure?”
Kareema replied cheerfully, “Well, I’m pretty sure. I mean, there’s really no reason why not. I can’t see the Kharz separating us. But that’s why I’m just taking a precaution and checking it out with him.”
I relaxed, “Oh, okay.”
Kareema turned to me, “Don’t you like Yushua? He’s so nice and caring, and good looking.”
For the first time ever around Kareema, I wanted to roll my eyes.
“He seemed to really like you,” I said encouragingly.
Kareema laughed a little whimsically, “He’s just so kind. Unlike that mischievous Nasir, how did you even get up there?”
I really did roll my eyes, “I got up there cause that moronic boy lifted me up there and wouldn’t put me down! Erggh, he really makes me mad sometimes. If Anwar was there, that wouldn’t have happened.”
I looked up to find Kareema staring at me with a silly smile on her lips.
“Well, I better be going and see if the Kharz has enough time to see me,” Kareema stated, getting up.
I nodded and lay down on the carpets, listening to her footfalls descending down the stairs. After she was gone, I made my way to the downstairs eating room and took a gourd full of fresh cool water up to my room along with some dates and bread.
I munched a while, then changed into the tunic, kurtah, and leggings, and then took up a papyrus scroll and began the laborious calligraphy that Kareema deemed so important.
After craning my neck and crimping my hand for an hour, I stretched and went out onto the balcony, letting the early afternoon breeze caress my warm cheeks.
I watched beggar children fighting over bread, camels chewing their cuds, merchants haggling over prices, and the other everyday scenes.
I startled when I heard a soft drop behind me and whirled around to find Anwar staring me in the face.
“You didn’t hear me, did you?” he asked.
“I was watching for Kareema and looking over the marketplace,” I said defensively.
Anwar grinned, “No matter. I’ve been studying warrior lessons and tactics all day, so I get to have a break. I brought the horses with me so that we could go ridi-”
I was already hopping onto the parapet and dropping to the ground.
Anwar dropped down behind me and pulled me to the backside of the adobien.
Two Arabian horses were being held by Nasir, who was astride a pretty chestnut mare.
I glared at Anwar, a look that he knew full well to mean, “Why on earth is he here, and why did you let him come?”
He cleared his throat innocently before whispering in my ear, “Father said that Nasir had to accompany me to teach me the warrior’s riding tips.”
“Do know what he made me go through this morning?” I hissed.
“Yeah, I heard about it in the marketplace on the way over,” Anwar said a bit apologetically.
I groaned in frustration, “My life is miserable.”
Nasir sat on his dancing mount as he handed over the reins to my horse.
I was tempted to give him a snooty look, but instead busied myself mounting before bursting into a gallop into a less-crowded street.
Hearing Nasir’s holler of protest and Anwar’s evil snicker, I grinned and let Dhuka, my mount, bolt toward the southern gate.
I could hear Anwar closing in beside me, and I slowed Dhuka’s pace a little so that we were riding abreast for the gate.
With his brown hair billowing in all directions, Anwar hollered back in an evilly smug voice to Nasir, “Warrior Rule When Riding Horses #1: Always ride faster than your pursuers, and never let them catch you, no matter what you have to do!”
We both broke out in a fit of laughter as Nasir tried to catch up.
I urged Dhuka faster as we flew through the gates, Anwar commanding they be shut.
The gate guards obediently began shutting the door, a slow clunk-chunk-clunk-chunk sound grating our ears.
Nasir’s frustrated, “Guards! Blast it, open the gates! What were you thinking? It’s not time to shut the gates yet!!!” rang through the gates to us.
Laughing evilly we let Dhuka and Anwar’s mount, Windyr, stretch their legs as we coursed through the sand, grains spraying up behind us.
After a brisk gallop around the city, glowing softly in the fading light, we slowed our pace and let Nasir catch up.
He gave a short laugh, “You two… Anwar, what will I tell Father?”
“That I easily accomplished rule #1 of Warrior Rules When Riding a Horse,” Anwar replied a bit smugly, lifting his eyebrows for effect.
Nasir rolled his eyes before ruffling his hair. “Well, time to be heading back. We don’t want to be stuck out in the night if the gates shut.”
As we cantered back through the sand Nasir admitted, “Nice stunt you pulled back there.”
Anwar grinned teasingly at me before saying in an overly snobby voice, “Oh, that old trick? Nothing to it.”
The boys dropped me off at the adobien and I bade them goodnight before scaling the walls and walking into my room.
Kareema sat cross-legged on my mat, patiently waiting.
“Have a good ride?”
I gave a mischievous grin and sat down beside her, “Uh huh.”
“Well,” she said, her hand gently patting my leg, “it’s time for this young sariba to be getting some sleep,” her voice seemed tired and troubled, “You have a long day ahead of you tomorrow.”
I pulled on some evening clothes and snuggled under the cloth. “Oh, Kareema?”
“Hmm?” she called, absentmindedly from the stairs.
“How did the talk with the Kharz go?”
There was a silence, before I could hear Kareema’s footsteps coming slowly closer.
“Briyah,” she heaved a deep sigh, “well, it didn’t go so well.”
I felt a chilled fear grip me, and I sat straight up. “What is it?”
Kareema’s face looked old and weary as she confessed, “He said you couldn’t come live with us. That tomorrow we were to move your belongings into the palace, that the palace is now your home.”
“What!? I thought you said that you were almost positive that I could come with you! Kareema!!” I practically wailed, fighting my tears.
No. NO. This was not happening! No! My mind fought the panic that threatened to take it captive.
I looked and saw Kareema bracing herself against a beam, tears glistening in her eyes.
“Kareema, there’s something more, isn’t there.”
She nodded her head, tears squeezing out and rolling down her cheeks.
“What is it?” I asked softly, in a dread.
She took a gasp of breath, “I’m so sorry, Sabriyah, I’m so sorry. I told him I didn’t want to leave Taraquet, I pleaded with him but he just wouldn’t listen! I tried, Sabriyah, I really tried! Finally he consented to waiting for a month.”
“Tried what?!” I said above her sobbing, “tried what, Kareema?”
Suddenly the understanding of her words hit me, knocking my breath out of my lungs. “Yushua… you’re leaving Taraquet! You’re leaving me!!” I was sobbing hysterically, “You’re leaving me behind!”
Kareema shook her head violently, “No, Sabriyah! I’ll come visit you when we come to trade and sell things in the market, I really will! And you’ll have me for another month!”
“Where?” was all I could manage to tremble out.
“Parquay,” she shuddered.
Parquay?! That was a whole two days travel away!
“I’m sorry, sariba, I really am.”
I listened to her fading footfalls before crying myself to sleep. I. Was. Alone.
The next morning, I got up early and faced the rising sun. I’d chosen to forgive Kareema and make the most of the last day I had with her.
When her voice entered my room to wake me up, I ran into her arms.
“I’ll survive,” I mumbled into her shoulder.
“I know you will, but it will be hard for me to survive without you,” she whispered back.
I nodded and we just hugged eachother for a while.
A knock jerked us away, and the royal guard entered our house, here to deliver my possessions to palace.
Kareema directed him to a small pile of my clothing and sleeping mats.
The guard picked up my possessions, and I was led dumbly out, feeling a numbness. This wasn’t really happening.
As I stepped into the small cart that was being pulled by two burly, hairy, sweaty men, I turned back for what seemed would be my last look at the adobien I’d lived in for as long as I could remember.
A small movement caught my attention, and as I peered closer at the parapet, I realized that it was Anwar, getting ready to try and surprise me.
I grinned a little devilishly when I realized something else, Anwar lived at the palace! It couldn’t be all bad if I was living by Anwar.
Glancing back through the gauzy curtains that protected us from the bright sunlight, I watched as Anwar burst out of the adobien, looking around wildly.
Just you wait, I thought.
When we reached the palace, Kareema and I arose from the cart, and stepped out onto the large, tiled plaza.
A marble fountain spewed clear water, making me thirsty as the sun shone down directly upon us.
Kareema ushered me up the steps, followed by the guards carrying my clothes. I continued following her until we reached the huge doors that led into the room where the Kharz and his brother, and advisor, were reclining.
The guards ushered us in, and we both bowed down as the Kharz arose.
“Arise,” he commanded us.
With a quick glance, I saw that the well-lit room was filled with beautiful vases with palm trees and other various plants in them. Running water flowed from a man made wall-waterfall from behind the throne and into channels in the marble floor that circled the edge of the room, keeping it cool.
“Your Highness,” Kareema meekly said, head lowered in submission, “I have brought the sariba, as you requested.”
I took a chance and looked up at the Kharz’s handsome face. Bronzed, and with a slight tinge of silver to his hair and short beard, he was an impressive and daunting man. A thick chest and broad shoulders rested on small hips. I knew that when the Kharz had been younger, he had himself personally gone on raiding parties, and that he’d been a very successful warrior.
“Well done, my servant. You may leave now.”
The Kharz dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
In a whisper that was barely understandable, I heard Kareema whisper, “Happy Birthday, sariba.”
And then she was gone. I’d nearly forgotten. I was thirteen. If this day was a preview of the rest of the year, things weren’t looking too promising.
“Look at me, my child.”
I raised my head and looked at him.
“You are free to roam the palace, and I will have a guard take you to your room. When leaving the palace grounds, from now on, you must have an escort.”
He clapped his hands, and the guard carrying my possessions came forward, and taking me by the arm, guided me out of the room.
I looked over my shoulder and met eyes with the brother, Advisor of the Kharz, Zubayr. His sparkly brown eyes smiled at me, and I smiled back.
As the guard guided me out of the room, Anwar sprinted down the hallway and barged into the reclining room without a proper entrance.
“Father! Father!” Anwar cried, oblivious to me.
“Son, calm down!” the Kharz ordered, “Now, whatever is the matter?”
Anwar skidded to a stop. “They’re gone! Gone! I checked bu-”
“Wait, gone? Who’s gone?” the Kharz patiently questioned.
“Ugh! Sabriyah! Sabriyah and Kareema! Vanished! Vanquished!” Anwar spluttered.
The Kharz began chuckling and Anwar began to look angry.
“I don’t see what’s so funny abou-”
I’d broken free from the guard’s grasp by then and run up to Anwar, gently punching him.
“Surprise ya?” I asked, cocking my head and grinning at him.
His eyes grew huge.
The Kharz interrupted. “Anwar, Sabriyah is coming to live with us in the palace.”
“Here? In the palace?” Anwar’s voice was high, “With us?”
The Kharz nodded slowly and teasingly. “Yes, son, here, with us. Like I said.”
“Yes!” Anwar cheered, pumping his fist and jumping.
“What’s all the commotion about?” came a voice from the open doorway.
Nasir and the other three older princes, or saribs, were standing at the doorway.
“Sabriyah’s going to live with us, at the palace!” Anwar excitedly announced, more like a four year old than a fifteen year old boy.
Uggh, I thought, remembering that not only would I live with Anwar, but Nasir. Oh joy. What a terrible thought. Endless teasing.
As the doors closed to the reclining room and I was led past Anwar, Nasir, and the other three princes, a glimmer of… something… lit up Nasir’s eyes.
“Well, well, couldn’t stand to be away from my charming presence any longer, could you? I should have known, I’m surprised you didn’t come soone-”
I broke off Nasir’s stupid prattling with a none-too-gentle punch on the arm before haughtily striding down the hall.
“In your dreams, you moron. Being with you is about as pleasant as being stepped on by a camel.”
Snickers erupted from the other princes, and Nasir embarrassedly looked down, before good-naturedly saying, “I suppose I deserved that for the marketplace fiasco.”
I didn’t respond and continued to stride down the hall with the guard.
After leaving the princes behind, the guard led me to a large door.
Handing me my clothing, the guard left me to enter my new room.
Gently pushing the doors open, cool air greeted me, and I looked in to see a huge, elevated bed made out of palm wood with a canopy of the most expensive palm leaves. Smooth, light woven carpets covered it in cooling shades of brown and green.
I glanced over and saw that I, too, had a man-made wall-waterfall, although smaller, to the left of my bed that ran into narrow channels in the tiled floor around the perimeter of my room. No wonder it was so pleasantly cool.
Laying my clothes in a palm wood trunk at the foot of my bed, I heard a slight movement to my right and looked over and gasped.
A large tawny-gold cat the size of a small pony was reclining on a circular mat in front of a large wall mural.
“That’s Adara,” came a voice from behind me.
I whirled to see Anwar standing behind me.
“Oh,” I managed, “I’m guessing she’s tame, then?”
Anwar laughed and said in a teasing sarcastic tone, “Nooo, she’ll kill you once you turn your back to her. That’s why we keep her in the palace.”
I glared at him.
Adara yawned lazily, and flicked her tail twice before slowly rising and sauntering out of the open door. When she’d passed through, she turned her regal head and stared at me with a large golden eye.
I shivered and looked away as the huge cat padded silently away.
“So, how about I show you around?” Anwar asked, already grabbing my arm and dragging me down the large, tiled hallway. Pillars of marble held the roof up on both sides of the hallway, and large palm trees in expensive cherry and gold colored vases stood between them. Glass covering the pillars on the outside shielded us from the overwhelming heat of the outdoors, and more channels of water ran along the edges of the hallway, keeping it cool.
I smiled and looked up at the paintings as Anwar excitedly talked about the different chambers.
“There’s the training chamber, where we learn all the warrior stuff, and there’s the kitchen, and the reclining room, and the-”
“Anwar, slow down,” I laughed, “you’ll have time to show me, don’t worry.”
He grinned and asked what I wanted to see first.
“How about you show me where the stables are,” I suggested.
That would be handy.
After a tour of the palace, stables, and, of course, kitchen, a gong clanged, and Anwar rushed us off to the feasting chamber.