The preparations for the festival were painstaking and intricate; no expense was being spared to welcome the Grande family to Renadi’s walls. The people knew that their King would not be at the festival. He was quite unwell and his son and heir would be expected to remain at his side through his illness as was their custom.
While this saddened things, it remained paramount that the festival be held on this date to celebrate the rebirth of their land. All the prayers and expensive burnt sacrifices were done to draw in continued blessings from the gods. All the pomp and pageantry was essential to show the world and all present that Goren and its regions were rich and flourishing.
Only the Grande Queen would be attending and the entire country of Goren loved her. It was paramount that a good impression be made.
The carpets that lined the long grand hallways came from the piers of Morocco; the colorful juicy fruits were said to have been grown in the golden sands of Lykos in Greece; the new glorious fabrics for the costumes for the gentry came from Egypt. The streets were steadily filling with carriages of all caliber, different tongues filled the air, and the atmosphere was one of unity, joy and merriment.
Asgar was not looking forward to it and neither was Prince Hammand although for totally different reasons.
Asgar was dreading another party where he would spend the whole day being inspected and admired and talked about as if he were not there. The whole companion thing had been blown entirely out of proportion by the Renakan court. He also did not want another confrontation with the queen. After that last encounter with her, with the warning and subsequent attempt on his life, he had stayed away from her and wanted to keep it that way.
Hammand, on the other hand, was dreading that his father’s friend, the Chief of Renakan, would come along with the daughter whom he was to marry before the year was out. He had warned his father and mother that he would not marry her, but he knew there would be dire trouble when the time came.
Chief Bani Manz was a quiet man at the best of times. He let his wife carry on mostly because he preferred that she play the bad person. That way his denial of involvement remained passionate and plausible. This was no problem at all for Queen Shila.
Hammand had already told him a million times that he was not ready for marriage and needed no woman to make him feel like the man he already was. Telling his father that his slave did not bewitch him, as his mother seemed to believe for some reason, still fell on deaf ears.
* * * *
The chamber was quiet save for the cool breeze that teased the heavily embroidered curtains. It was nightfall, and the middle-aged man who lay in the enormous bed sighed as the coolness enveloped him. He always loved the evenings for this reason alone. The sun gone, the intensity of the day diminished and was washed away by the cool dark skies.
He wondered if it would rain tonight. That would be the best… maybe not the best. The best would be to see him again. Just one last time. That was all he asked for.
His men were making very slow progress in an almost impossible task. To find a single person in such a large country was no small feat. He struggled to be patient.
A tall beautiful woman walked into the chamber and knelt demurely by his side. Her tears flowed freely. He took her hands in his and squeezed gently.
“Do not weep my love, all is not lost. My men believe they are close. They will go with you to Renadi. Be strong. We will find him. You have to believe. We must not give up hope,” he whispered.
* * * *
It was time.
The guests had begun to arrive in great numbers. Everyone knew they had to be present, for no one could enter after the Grande Royals had arrived. The banquet hall was as large as a small city in itself, brightly lit and resplendent. Everyone was dressed extravagantly, their need to outdo each other taken to the extreme with flowing robes and tall, jeweled headdresses with flowing robes and tall headdresses.
Prince Hammand entered the banquet hall and took his place by his brother’s side. He had no idea how breathtaking he looked in his simple matching white ciftini and trousers with the edges meshed in gold and his hair slicked back. The crown on his head was red gold with long cut emeralds and diamonds scattered delicately all round the top of it. It was a struggle for Asgar to keep his face carefully blank rather than letting his adoration show.
How could someone be so perfect?
The huge man took his spot behind the prince, close enough so Hammand could turn and speak to him with ease. His height made him very visible, and he felt a great number of leery and jealous eyes upon him. Not that he cared. He was more focused on the curve of Hammand’s neck before him and on trying not to lick his lips at the festering thought of teasing that soft flesh once he had the little man all to himself. He then had the naughty thought of whispering just that to Hammand, but he did not dare do so. He could just imagine the prince tenting right there and then just as the Grande entourage walked in. He could never cause his love such embarrassment.
And so his thoughts continued.
It was going to be a very long day.
He looked down and closed his eyes tightly to clear his head for a minute. Prince Hammand reached back and squeezed his hand as if reading his thoughts. He squeezed back in appreciation and got a beatific smile from his love.
Some minutes later, there was a lot of commotion outside, and then the gong sounded, heralding the entrance of the queen and her entourage. People were fidgeting, adjusting themselves, nervously shifting from foot to foot while they waited, craning for a peek at their beautiful Grande Queen, for not many had seen her before and those that had, not often.
She came down the aisle, like an amazon, tall and graceful. Her head was held high, like that of one who knew she was beautiful. And by God, she was: a slim long face, slanted violet-green eyes that had just the beginnings of laugh lines on the outer edges, plush curvy lips that promised a smile, and a long pointy nose. She confirmed the reports that the people of Renadi had heard of her great height, for she stood head to head with the men. She was fascinating.
She seemed familiar to Hammand for some reason but he knew he could not have met her close up before so he pushed the strange thought away.
They all remained standing as they were introduced to her one by one, waiting to give their bow and kiss her hand. It took awhile, for aside from the chief and his wife, there was Hammand and his brothers and sisters. Introductions were lengthy, seeming to go on forever as the exploits and accomplishments of whoever was being introduced were detailed. The more interesting the person’s life, the longer the introduction. His older brothers had fought in the last war, so there were many heroic tales to be told.
It felt like forever.
Hammand watched the Grande Queen in admiration, for despite the age-long introductions she kept her cool, welcoming countenance, as she appeared to listen intently. No wonder she was so loved by the people.
Then she stood in front of him.
Hammand looked up at her in confusion as her face lost its beatific smile, and she kept staring. There was silence and palpable fear as the people watched her, unsure what the problem was. People were looking back and forth, afraid to say a word.
She kept staring behind Hammand, filling him with a growing apprehension. He noticed her hands were shaking just before she made them into fists and stepped past him. Everyone gasped in shock at the break in royal decorum.
She walked in front of Asgar, whose eyes were wide… wide with… recognition?
His heart dropped.
“Mother?” Asgar said with a gasp as his mind flooded with memories of her in different scenarios – mother picking him up, soothing him to sleep, smiling at him, showing him how to wear his traditional royal robes, standing before a large crowd to be crowned and her eyes keeping him calm. His mother. This was his mother; he could see it, and yet it couldn’t possibly be. That would make him…
“Rodin? Prince Rodin?” A hush went through the crowd surrounding them.
“Is it really you? My Asgar, oh my God. You are safe. You are safe. I knew you were still alive. I knew.” The queen pulled Asgar to her and he crumbled into her arms, both of them crying in relief and joy as they sank to the floor together. She didn’t need to say a word, her entourage knew who he was as well. They all lay prostrate on the floor in seconds.
Crown Prince Rodin of Goren.
The heir to the entire kingdom.
The future ruler of the five regions.
* * * *
All hell broke loose, the quiet gone in an instant. Four Grande Guards stepped forward purposefully. It was clear they were the king’s own men for they were dressed in the emblem colors of black and purple. They took charge, making the large entourage join ranks tightly to block the monarchs from the view of the gaping crowd. The Grande Guards continued to move fast, swiftly herding all the guests out with firm grips on their sheathed swords.
Chief Manz stepped forward to request audience with the Grande Queen but was prevented from doing so.
“I will speak to her Highness.”
“You will speak when you are asked to speak.” He was told sternly by one of the King’s guards. Instead, he was pulled aside to await questioning when the Queen was ready. So was the rest of his family, Prince Hammand included.
Word was sent out to the king that the heir had been found and the horrendous circumstances surrounding the discovery. It would take days to reach the Goren capital on the fastest horse.
By nightfall, the people of Renadi were all hiding out of sight. The palace appeared to be empty; not even any lights shown in its dark windows. There were no traces of merriment left in the land. It was as if everything had been laid to waste, bleak and empty. The colorful festival was gone, no longer of consequence, the streets now littered with soldiers at every turn.
* * * *
Prince Hammand was in shock. He was unable to take in what was happening and felt sick to his stomach. He longed for comfort, preferably the comfort of Asgar’s arms. But there was no Asgar, not anymore.
His Asgar was the Crown Prince of all Goren.
He was gone.
He wrapped his arms round his mid section as a wave of nausea swept through him. His mind was reeling.
Oh Isis, I kept the future King as a slave.
A slave! Why did I not listen to Shetna.
This cannot be true. It is not possible.
He had been ready to fight his parents for Asgar. They were to elope. Now this. This was beyond him now. Asgar was the Crown Prince.
What have I done???
He knew the punishment and he felt sick to his bones.
* * * *
Asgar was overwhelmed with what was happening. His mind seemed to be exploding with new information. His mother… her smell… her familiar smell. Her face, he knew that face so well. How could he have ever forgotten it?
The relief that filled him was unbelievable and the tears overflowed as all his memories came back like waves, now confusing him with their intensity. There were voices and people everywhere. His mother excitedly gave him her own news through her tears.
She refused to stand up and refused to let go of him despite the coaxing of her adviser. Asgar found that he didn’t want her to. He held on as well, happy to be held, to remember his life, to finally know who he was.
He wanted Hammand, to tell him he could remember, to tell him everything and share his joy. But he knew his mother needed this time with him. He needed it too.
* * * *
Queen Shila felt as if she would throw up. Her stomach heaved again and again as she stared at what was unfolding in front of her.
The slave is the Crown Prince?
The slave is the future King?
In my lifetime?
She might as well have beheaded herself with her own sword. She knew well enough what would happen when he did ascend the throne. And that was very close for she knew the king had been quite unwell for a while now.
How could I have been so stupid?
How could my advisers not have seen this?
How could they have let me do what I did?
She looked around frantically for her son in the mounting chaos. He was her only hope now, however slim that was. It was all she had. All her entire bloodline had right now.
The room was filled with their extended family. Between Bani and her, that was a lot of people. And they were all terrified. They all knew about Asgar. They all had some idea what had been going on in her palace. Even Bani was looking at her with reproach. Trust him to happily let her take the blame for something he had fully supported.
Her daughters had the same looks on their faces.
Where is Hammand?
* * * *
A large sun seat was finally brought to where they sat and then his mother finally agreed to stand up and sit in it. She slowly regained her composure and took charge of the situation. Asgar just sat down quietly and watched everyone, taking it all in. Not seeing Ham anywhere in the disarray he sent someone to get him.
He had no idea that guards were holding him along with his family in the next room. Immediately upon seeing Hammand he rushed to him, hoisting him off his feet. His mother did not notice for she was at the other end of the hall giving orders, which was just as well for they needed their moment.
Asgar held him tight and Hammand welcomed it. It was a great relief after his earlier fears. He tensed as Asgar began to kiss him and then giggled as he remembered that it was the Crown Prince that was kissing him and not a slave. So he could do as he liked, he could do whatever he wanted with Hammand now.
They ended up huddled in a corner of the room, Hammand still up in his arms, a bit out of sight but not completely, and Hammand was well aware that the guards were watching them like hawks.
“I know who I am Ham,” he gasped between kisses, his huge frame shuddering with emotion and shock “I know who I am. At last.”
“Oh Asgar, it all makes sense now. No wonder…” Hammand said in awe as he remembered his love’s reactions to orders in the past.
“No wonder…you see?” Asgar laughed softly, “I can understand myself more now.”
“Yes, me too… your need to be in control… I am nobody’s companion… I will not sleep at your feet…” Hammand teased until the air was knocked out of him as he was slammed into the wall and the Crown Prince’s hungry mouth covered his.
Asgar pulled away when he heard a distinct cough. It was his mother all right—he remembered that cough clear as day. He gently put Hammand down and turned to face the Queen, protectively keeping Hammand behind him for the time being.
Her eyes flicked to Hammand but she said nothing to acknowledge what she had just seen. “We leave immediately Rodin. Arrangements have been made. Your father awaits.”
“And the Renadi family?”
“We will attend to them in time. For now we need to get you out of here and back to your home and family. You need to get back to where you belong. Then we will address this…”
“Mother, this is Hammand,” he said, gently pulling Hammand to his side. ”Fifth in line to the Renadi throne.”
He paused for a minute. “I love him.”
Asgar watched his mother’s eyes flicker with warring emotions; interest, surprise, and ultimately, anger. He had known his mother would accept his love for Ham, but this slavery thing was going to be a major problem. He could see that in her eyes.
“The family that has held the Crown Prince of the land in slavery and dared to flaunt it in my face?” she stated slowly and carefully, her calmness belying her rage. “That is where you find love?”
Hammand stepped forward, head bowed, in order to explain that it was he who had bought Asgar and not his family, but this action only caused the guards to seize him. Asgar spoke sharply to them and they let him go, back into Asgar’s arms.
The guards looked murderous and Asgar felt the first flicker of uncertainty since his new euphoria at having control of his future with Hammand.
The Lineagea Papirianum Legis.
It came to him like a bad headache and he held his love tight to his chest.
It was the first laws he had been taught as a child. He knew them by heart for they had been literally drilled into his mind by his philosopher tutor when he was young enough to read and assimilate.
The protection of the lineage was paramount in Goren. The laws were made to protect them in all cases whether war or peace and had been set in stone by their gods over a thousand years ago after their lineage had almost been eliminated after a vicious civil war.
The royalty had an inherent hierarchy. The Grande royals ruled the country. The royals ruled their regions.
Only a Grande royal could punish or imprison a Grande royal.
Only a royal could punish or imprison a royal.
A royal could only have justice against wrongdoing by a Grande royal to his or her person or office through a Grande royal.
To attempt to so punish was on pain of death.
A royal could only be imprisoned by another royal after the imminent imprisonment had been made known to the entire population.
A Grande royal or royal could never be a slave.
They could never be in servitude of another who was not of their lineage.
Anyone found to be contravening these laws was to be put to death.
Anyone found to be aiding another to enslave a Grande royal or royal was to be put to death.
Anyone found to have had knowledge of a Grande royal or royal’s status while he or she remained enslaved and did nothing to report or resolve the matter was to be put to death.
The laws had been written by the gods.
There was no middle ground, there had never been.
Ignorance was not an acceptable defense. Error was not an acceptable defense.
Gifting was not an acceptable defense, whether by one of the lineage or not.
Everyone was expected to adhere to these laws.
Everyone was expected to know and respect them.
To question them was akin to treason.
No one had ever sought to change, amend or challenge these laws.
No one had ever felt the need to.
This was the greatest problem they had ever faced.
Rather than be broken by the knowledge of this, Asgar let it all wash over him.
He silently made a resolution – no matter what the future held, he would simply not let anyone harm a hair on Hammand’s head.
“Anyone who dares harm Prince Hammand of Renadi in any way will answer to me with his life,” Asgar growled. “Let that be clear to all of you. I will not repeat myself and I will not be merciful. Watch yourselves.”
The guards all across the room fell to their knees, mumbling their praise mantra. Asgar turned away.
He rocked the small prince as his mother turned to the guards. “Bring the rest of them in,” she ordered. “Rodin, beside me.”
Asgar kissed Hammand’s forehead and squeezed his hands, “I am here okay. Do not worry.” Then he went over to stand by his mother’s right side.
The guards quietly stepped around Hammand, a little too close but Hammand said nothing. This was not the time for that. He needed to be strong. Asgar was here.
Asgar cringed as the family was brought in and he realized that all of them, including Hammand, must have been held as prisoners. And Hammand had not said a word.
Asgar realized that he needed to wake up and face the reality that his family was the powers that be. They could do anything they wanted.
If Hammand’s mother was the way she was, what about his mother? She couldn’t be that way, surely?
He needed to wake up. His mother… his father, may be even worse.
Life is getting very complicated all of a sudden.
Too much too fast.
I just want to be with Ham.
Chief Manz and his queen stood in front of the Grande Family, and Asgar was faced with his nemesis. His eyes were sad as he remembered all what she had been prepared to do. He hated that her actions were causing him to doubt so much now – even his mother, when he should have been rejoicing.
“I am the Prince of all Goren, future king of all the land. Your future King. Would you say I am bewitching your son now? Now that his position is meaningless, just like it has always been to me… what is it I am bewitching him for now?” His sadness swiftly built into rage and his eyes blurred with tears. He wiped them away furiously still focused on her, “You were going to have me killed… just because you could not imagine what manner of love we had? You were not even going to try… you were just going to kill me.”
At Grande Queen Waina’s stare, Queen Shila kept her head down in supplication, feeling the coldness of death’s door brush over her.
This time the guards did not dare stop Hammand as he ran to Asgar, grabbing at his waist in silent plea for his mother’s life for he knew where Asgar’s rage was heading. He had no idea what this turn of events would bring for them both, but he knew he needed to calm Asgar down before he did the worst.
Grande Queen Waina watched in hidden surprise at the effect the small man had on her boy. She could literally see his anger melting away as soon as the boy was against him, without even one word uttered. She had known of men going this way, but had never seen her son in that light. Then again, there were those that had only one true love, whatever form that may take. If a man, then so be it. It wasn’t necessarily that they liked men. Wherever love drew them, they followed.
She sighed to herself, knowing that her son would fight to his last for this boy. That was a problem, for he had to be punished for the crime of keeping Asgar, future King of all Goren, as a slave. This she kept to herself. That would be the only way to deal with it.
* * * *
The Grande Queen went over the next steps with the family but Asgar pulled Prince Hammand away to tell him by himself.
“Ham, I have to go to the capital to see my father,” Asgar whispered to Hammand. “Nothing can be decided about anything until I meet with him. I know what the law says but it is ultimately up to him. I will convince him. Ham, I will come back for you you know that. There is nothing to worry about.”
Hammand nodded but Asgar could see through his love’s smile to the hurting underneath. All the fears he’d had that the last few weeks had pushed to the fore, all the fears Asgar had spent so many nights trying to erase. He knew Hammand would not be able to deal with this all on his own, not with Asgar elsewhere, now Crown Prince, and the most eligible bachelor in all the land.
The insecurity would kill him.
He realized he could not leave him like this; he would not.
He squeezed Hammand’s hand reassuringly, and then he turned back to his mother, face set with determination. She knew that look but pretended she didn’t and tried to smile it away for it always spelled a fight.
“I will not leave until he is marked as my betrothed.” There was a hush in the entourage and Hammand’s family alike. Even a few gasps could be heard. Betrothals were a big deal, not taken lightly especially between royals. Families had to meet, extensive investigations and discussions had to be completed, and bodies had to be examined by healers and priestesses, not to mention the social requirements and events that usually surrounded a betrothal. To actually be marked as betrothed was as binding as a marriage contract, for the marks were permanent.
Asgar knew that; so did Prince Hammand. He too was staring at Asgar like he had gone crazy. But he was also looking at him with so much love in his eyes that the huge man wished they could just elope there and then, like they had planned to do.
“Rodin,” his mother stated sternly.
“I’m sorry, but that is the way it has to be. Either that or he comes with me right now. I will not leave him here without my promise, mother. If you love me, if you ever loved me, you will grant me this.”
His mother stared at him in shock, then anger, then finally, slowly, in resignation. Her son may have lost the majority of his memory but he was still the same stubborn hothead.
“Fine,” She muttered, turning to her entourage “Kemih, fetch the Matrimonius here.”
The Royal house’s Matrimonius would be carrying out what would usually be the second stage of a betrothal. It was a painstaking process of art that would have been done with a lot of care over a fortnight. It was no surprise that he was in complete shock when he was brought in along with the priestesses of Isis who were required to provide blessings and act as witnesses.
When the matrimonius was able to still his hands which were shaking badly at being in the presence of not only the Grande Queen of all the land but the future king, he began to put the emblem of Asgar’s family on the back of Hammand’s right hand with Asgar’s full names surrounding it. The priestesses prayed and chanted through it all.
The rusine art were a work of art. The matrimonius had done his best work for the future King and his consort. It was also permanent, painted underneath the skin with a mixture of Asgar’s blood for Hammand’s art and Hammand’s blood for Asgar’s along with special ink, so all would know without question to whom they belonged. Most especially so no one would question to whom Hammand belonged in this uncertain times. He would be safe from all advances as well as from his own fears.
* * * *
Hammand was beside himself with joy. He had been trying to hide his fears in order not to spoil the moment just as Asgar suspected. Things were working out for the best after all, now that he could be wed to Asgar without question. They did not have to run away after all, though he had been looking forward to having Asgar all to himself without interference from prying eyes or wicked hearts He just hoped Asgar’s mother was not as bad as his own.
All eyes seemed to be on him after Asgar’s obvious declaration of love. Even Asgar seemed to be looking at him differently now.
Asgar breathed easy after the marking was finished, especially on seeing the sheer joy and relief on Prince Hammand’s face at last. He squeezed the prince to him all through the marking, whispering more promises in his ear, hating that he could not take him along, somehow afraid to leave him with his mother even though he knew the queen could not hurt her son any more than she already had.
He was just afraid deep inside, afraid that the discovery that he could have it all would be snatched from him by a wicked twist of fate.
He needed to speak to Miriam. Only she could they both trust in all situations. She would protect Hammand with her life.
He ordered Miriam to be brought to him for his mother would not let him leave her sight.
By the time Miriam arrived, Hammand had gone to show his siblings the marking. It held a great deal of hope for them all and he wanted to give them that.
She was not surprised by what she heard and saw. It was what she had suspected of Asgar all along, though her more strongly and surely than others.
Asgar introduced her to his mother, singing her praises until both women were red in the face.
The Grande Queen held Miriam’s hands and kissed them. Tears filled Miriam’s eyes at this and she gasped when the Grande Queen then pulled off her blessed necklace and placed it delicately round Miriam’s neck.
“I got this when I gave birth to my Rodin. But in this bleak time of his life you gave him some solace. For that I will forever be in your debt. You have shown him the love of a mother in this difficult time in his life. This necklace will show the world that.”
She made her bow and was pulled aside by Asgar immediately. The Crown Prince was desperate to ensure that everything was in place for his love before he left.
“I will protect my son with my life,” she promised. “You know that already.”
“I do,” Asgar agreed. “I will keep in contact with him daily so you should get regular letters from me. If they stop, find a way to let me know even if you have to come yourself.”
Miriam looked at him in puzzlement.
He smiled ruefully, “After Queen Shila, I know that you cannot trust parents to love who you love.”
She nodded, now understanding.
Asgar continued, “I will come for him in two full moons.” The words jarred him – the reality that he would away from Ham for so long sunk in– shaking him to his core. A tear dropped from his right eye. “I hope to come sooner, but I believe my father is quite unwell. I need to see him; let him see me, convince him not to take any action against Hammand or his family for my sake.”
“Oh Miriam.” His voice shook. He was clearly in turmoil. Miriam took both his hands in hers. “I don’t know if I can do this. As much as all of this is wonderful, I just want Hammand. We were to elope during the festival. I fixed our carriage so with all my heart and soul, up by your shrine, in the mountains… it is beautiful. It is all set, we would have been on our way by now. I can almost smell the dusty streets… Now, I don’t know what is in store for us. I just want to take him and run. Even more so now than ever before. Do you see?”
Miriam knew about the carriage. She had seen it for herself after all and numerous times too. She would have to do something about that. Maybe keep it in hiding for another day. For their future.
“Yes my son, I see. I understand your fears.” She said softly, gripping his hands tightly to make him look up. “You are the only child of your parents. That means a lot. They will heed you. You have to believe and be firm. I will do my best here as I know you will do yours. Isis is on your side. Remember that and be strong.”
“If all fails, then I shall have to forfeit the throne.”
Miriam knew the strength of their love so she knew not to say a word about this dire idea. If she could help it, they would be together on the throne of Goren and there would be no forfeiting.
* * * *
It was a hard goodbye, taking place way past midnight the second day because Asgar was reluctant to let Hammand go.
“Oh Ham…” he whispered tenderly, worry written all over his face. “I hate all of this. The timing is all wrong. We would have been long gone by now…”
His heart felt like it would burst at the thought of leaving his love in Renadi. They had not spent a day apart since they’d met. It felt like tearing out a part of himself.
They sat huddled together in Hammand’s chamber for hours until his mother had come herself to coax them out. Then they moved to the carriage that would take him to Goren, and Asgar carried the small prince into it as well, not wanting to let him go. Hammand was utterly terrified of losing Asgar. But he knew the protocol in these matters. Especially this.
“Asgar,” he sniffed, “you have to go alone. I know that is the way it must be. You have not set eyes on your home or your family in such a long time. They have the right to see you and have you all to themselves. They need to understand what happened here… without me to distract everyone. You have to.”
That broke Asgar. He buried his face in Hammand’s belly and wept. His love was so strong and supportive, his memory was back, and he was reunited with his family. He needed to believe that all would be well – considering how well everything had turned out despite Queen Shila’s efforts.
He had to believe things would work out. If gods forbid they did not, he would fight with his life to protect his love. Once he made his family understand that, it would all work out.
The Renadi family would remain under house arrest until the king made a decision on what should happen to them and to Hammand. They were not to leave the palace for anything at all on promise of death. They knew the law. Asgar hated that it had to be so. He could not wait to see his father and deal with this.
Miriam waited outside, ready to pick up the pieces of Hammand when Asgar eventually left. She dreaded it immensely for she had no idea how her son would manage this break in contact.
The couple slowly stepped out of the carriage after an age, both visibly shaking. Miriam would have consoled them but she did not do so for this was way out of her hands. Her back ached steadily, the pain slicing through the art and increasing in its intensity. She knew she would have to call on the gods all day everyday from now on. There was much to fight for, much to pray for.
And indeed she was right.
She knew something was amiss when the four advisers in charge stepped back as the queen’s carriages prepared to take off. She had wondered the significance of that. She knew they were important men – they wore the Grande King’s colors rather than the queen’s.
She didn’t let Hammand linger after the carriage had moved, she grabbed his hand, ignored his weak protests, chanting prayers under her breath.
As she expected, the sand behind them began to whirl slowly, blocking the guards from seeing them. A carriage was coming down the road with more guards flanking it. Just as she had suspected.
She walked faster. The horses drawing the carriage stopped following direction, whiffing and trotting all over the place in confusion.
The whirling became a sandstorm just around the guards so they could not budge. At the frightened neighing of the horses, Miriam began to run, a confused Hammand was dragged along.
It was deathly quiet in the palace and this worked in their favor. There was no one to slow them down with questions, no advisers or maidens to stare at them or follow them offering assistance or sympathy at the Renadi’s royal houses’ plight.
She pulled him into her chamber and further, through a hidden wall by her bed.
“Mother?” Hammand gasped as he squeezed through behind her and into the antechamber.
How had he never known this? He wondered, taking in the surroundings. The place did not appear to have been in use for a while, there was a film of dust on everything. Maybe that was why he had never known.
She would have laughed at his expression if there had been time to relax for such niceties.
Instead, she said sternly, “Take your clothes off.”
He just gaped at her, chest heaving as he tried to catch her eye.
There was palpable tension in the air.
“Please my son. Trust me.”
She needed to focus, there were so many tall baskets in the room, all filled to capacity. She needed to find the suit.
As she closed her eyes to start her chanting, the small prince slowly began to do as he had been asked.
A basket at the far end of the room suddenly tumbled over. A strange light brown leather contraption with strings all around it slid out with a thud, displacing all the dusty grime around it. They both coughed. Miriam went over and grabbed it, shaking it out. She looked over at her beloved child. His eyes were wide as he watched her, no care whatsoever as to his modesty.
“Mother?” he asked again when she stood before him and held it up. He could see what it was although it was completely different from any he had ever read about.
“Is it a chastity…?” Despite himself, he blushed brightly in the dark room.
Miriam nodded. It was similar to a chastity belt but more so as it went up to his shoulders with ropes to fasten the sides about his waist and neck. It was sleeveless but went up to his chin. Hammand stepped into the open sections for the feet and Miriam began to strap him in. It was made of leather and fit like a glove.
“Yes, it is akin to a chastity belt but provides more protection. It is called a Xhasimt, a chastity suit.”
“But why would I need protection? Asgar said…”
Miriam paused and straightened up. She took Hammand’s hands in hers. “Look at it this way my son - you love Asgar. But your mother, your parents do not.”
Hammand gasped, pulling his hands away. “Are you saying Asgar’s parents would hurt me like mother tried to hurt him?”
“What I am saying, is that we protect you and hope for the best. Asgar will do all he can but ultimately his parents are the Grandes. They have all the power in the whole country. No one can challenge them. The only person I know who will challenge them is Asgar. But we do not know that they will listen. We have to be very careful.” She looked at her son solemnly. “I can only do so much and we cannot stand against them at this time. They will take you to Goren against Asgar’s wishes. I will get word to him of this so never fear. But – ”
He shook his head in disbelief. Deep inside he feared she was right. “How can you be so sure?”
“I saw the second carriage coming towards us. Just as Asgar left.”
“That is why you were running?” his eyes flicked left and right as realization hit. “I knew something was wrong, but the sand…”
Miriam nodded, divulging nothing about what she had done. “They search for us as we speak. We will go to them willingly, but I will protect you as much as I can before that. If they take you away as I suspect, wherever they take you, no one will be take away your dignity.”
“Thank you mother.” a shaky sob escaped the small man. That someone would indeed try to take away his dignity did not bear thinking about. He would have been with Asgar now, in his arms even, in their very own carriage… He took a deep breath. “But Asgar…?”
He pushed back his tears and breathed hard, “We cannot just give in!”
“There is nothing to fight for right now my son. We cannot start a war when there is none. Remember your parents, your sisters and brothers remain in custody. Anything we do now will affect them as well. We will wait. Asgar will do what he can, then we will know what next to do.”
She began to tug and tie the ropes that were at the back of his neck and then those on each side of the outfit. Each side had about six ropes. She pulled a small dagger from under her dress and made a small cut across the rusine art on his hand. She pressed on the cut and got blood over all of her fingers. Then she spread this all over the ropes.
Hammand watched in fascination; for the knots began to disappear as soon as Miriam finished bloodying the last rope. A shock went through him as the Xhasimt’s power took hold. Slowly, it became almost transparent, like a trick of light.
“You are ready. Now only Asgar can get this off you. Even I cannot take it off. You will be safe.”
“Only Asgar???” his blush came back full force. “B-but I don’t understand… how will I relieve myself?”
“You do not need to worry about such things any longer. Until Asgar takes it off, Isis will worry about that.”
The prince was overwhelmed by the information and felt a flash of terrifying claustrophobia. He stared down at himself and up at Miriam, trying to dig his hands into chest area of the suit. Miriam held out her arms and he rushed into them. They hugged each other like it was their last time together.
“Be strong my son. Remember Asgar will come for you, no matter what happens. Do not ever forget that. You hear me? Until then, you will be safest in the Xhasimt.”
He nodded in her shoulder.
After a long time, she pulled away and helped him into his clothes. He marveled that he could not feel the Xhasimt at all, it was as if he had nothing underneath. The claustrophobia ebbed away.
Prince Hammand walked out to the centre of the city with Miriam beside him, heads held high. They ignored the shout of recognition they heard, letting the guards scramble after them as they headed to where the carriage remained waiting just as Miriam had suspected.
They were surrounded as soon as they stopped.
“Be strong Prince Hammand.” She whispered. The small prince filled his mind with thoughts of his love – his face, those eyes that could so mesmerize him, his laugh, his overwhelming presence, his promise, his trueness. He let the love he knew envelope him as he walked right into danger.
Miriam was roughly separated from Hammand and her face was struck before she was thrown aside. She managed to keep her balance and could only watch in horror and despair as her sole reason for being on this earth was tied up and bundled into the carriage. Wiping blood from her nose, she stepped in front of two of the Grande King’s advisers and they had the same look of exasperation on their faces.
“You best guard Prince Hammand with your very lives. Remember, in all you do from this moment onwards, that Crown Prince Asgar will be Grande King of all Goren very, very soon.”
Their exasperated expressions flickered with fear for a moment but they shrugged it off. But this time, very gently, they moved her further away from the carriage.
Miriam’s satisfaction at this soothed her own tremendous fear. The stabbing pain in her back that she had been ignoring for so many days now hit her full force and she crumbled to the ground with a cry as the speeding carriage left her in its dusty wake.
TO BE CONTINUED…