Asgar missed Hammand. He missed him in an intense strange way. There was an ache deep inside him. He kept feeling like he had forgotten something, like a part of him was missing. Then he would remember that he had left his love behind. He tried to shake off that train of thought as it sounded so bad—he was coming back for his love, no question.
But he ached all the same.
So by the time they arrived in Goren, he was very irritable and impatient. The pomp and pageantry only served to frustrate him more as he just wanted to get into the palace and discuss Hammand’s situation with his parents.
He remained quiet while his mother made excuses for his behavior. He wondered why his mother would arrange a celebration for the return of a son no one had known was missing in the first place.
He felt like an outsider looking in, and that had changed his way of thinking.
His mother knew him well for, when they arrived, they immediately headed off to see his father.
Grande King Ghull was in his bedchamber. Asgar recognized the rooms as they walked the extremely long hallway. It was the most resplendent Asgar had ever seen. This might have been why he had not been overwhelmed by the Renadi palace.
His heart thumped in his chest. He was afraid. He knew the issue of Hammand tainted his parent’s joyous discovery of him. They seemed hell-bent on the punishment despite all he had told them. It was like his feelings meant nothing. He also knew he would never let Hammand go. He was afraid for that reason alone.
His mother walked with him but their entourage stepped back delicately at the door to the Grande King’s bedchamber. His father was sitting upright, propped up by large heavy pillows. He was surrounded by a good number of his advisers, not a conventional thing in his bedchamber. He dwarfed them all with his huge frame despite being in bed. The men bustled about him, making the enormous room look tiny.
It was a nice space, not flamboyant in any way, not that the Grande Queen didn’t tried over the years. Asgar’s father had never liked decorations, or any excess for that matter. Asgar recalled his father once saying decorations hurt his eyes. They had had a good laugh about that, much to his mother’s frustration.
There was the odd vase of flowers here and there through the entire chamber of rooms, dark red roses in a dark red vase, so that it didn’t look too ‘busy’. Most of the décor was dark, except for the bedcovers, which were all made of the purest whitest silk. His mother had made sure to get the best of whatever his father would allow her touch.
It was all still familiar to Asgar. But it was too hot, there were too many people in here. It really surprised Asgar, for his father was quite a private person. He wondered if his illness had changed him.
More shocking was his father’s face. Asgar had seen himself in that face throughout his youth. Now it was deathly pale, gaunt and haggard. He was unable to rein back his sorrow at the sight and rushed to him, dropping to his knees.
Grande King Ghull stroked his son’s head as it lay in his lap.
“My son.” His voice was raspy, like he was having trouble breathing. “My son…”
With a wave of his hand, the chamber cleared of all but the Grande Queen.
“You are home…”
Asgar was heartened by the depth of warmth and joy in his father’s voice.
More memories flooded Asgar and, for the most part, they hurt horrendously. His father had been weakening steadily over the years. They had travelled far and wide seeking a healer but no one had been able to treat him successfully. They had only managed to make him as comfortable and pain free as possible. The illness remained. Age was also not on his side. The Grande King had married for love, which meant for one who spent the better part of his youth fighting to protect his land, he was a good fifteen years older than the Grande Queen. His only child, Asgar, had been born five years after their marriage, when he was five and forty years old.
He knew he was his father’s light, even though he could tell the Grande King strove not to show it.
“Father… you are worse?”
“Yes my son, I am glad you remember that I am ailing. I do not think I would have been able to recount it all.”
Asgar did not speak of Hammand that night. He just stayed with his father and cared for him.
* * * *
He woke up with a start the next morning when his father’s advisers trailed into the outer chamber, chatting loudly. He had fallen asleep in the lounge chair beside his father’s bed.
After telling them to keep it down, he helped his father to the bathroom and then left him to the care of his handmaidens.
As his mother walked with him to his chambers, his heart ached with the loss of his beloved. “I will speak to him today about Hammand, Mother.”
“Rodin, I thought you had removed that from your mind. Your father should be your utmost concern now! You are heir to the throne!”
“Hammand is the betrothed of the heir to the throne!” he answered back. “And my love for my father is not in question.”
She stopped as they reached his rooms. They stared at each other in anger for a few moments, then tears sprang into her eyes and she pulled her son into a fierce hug. “Clean up and come back. We will talk with your father some more.”
Asgar hugged her back tightly even though he found no consolation in her words. He was going to have to do a lot to convince them that Hammand was worth saving.
Wasn’t the fact that he loved him so much enough?
His furious gaze was enough to send his handmaidens scurrying away. They had no idea how he had been living all this time. He did not think he could stand anyone but Hammand touching him now.
* * * *
The huge prince lay sprawled on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. His personal advisers and a few friends had been waiting for him. They had not been allowed anywhere near him the night before so had practically camped out outside his bedchamber.
It had been a great struggle to put on a brave face all through the greetings. He had only a few friends that he’d truly missed. All of the others were hangers-on. He had a hard time not rolling his eyes as virtual strangers told him how much they’d missed him. His closest friend, Amerk, noticed his discomfort and pulled him aside.
“This is all too much for you is it not?”
Asgar nodded. “I want to say much more, Am, but I do not have much time. But you will know everything. Soon.”
His friend nodded. “I will get everyone out. You take all the time you need. You know where to find me.”
“Thank you brother,” Asgar murmured as they hugged. ”We will talk more.”
“Be strong, you.” His friend said quietly. “I am here whenever you need me.”
Amerk led all the men out and Asgar was alone again. He imagined bringing the little man here, the delight on his face as he walked through his rooms, taking in the details of the place where his love had grown up.
He needed courage to fight. He needed to try to convince his parents to let him marry Hammand. Otherwise they would lose each other.
The carriage he had restored with so much time and so much love and expectation called to him. His life had been all mapped out and ready to begin in reality before this. A part of him felt wrenched apart while another was elated to be with his family.
He wanted to be with Hammand so much sometimes it felt like he was being torn in two.
Courage was what he needed, because time was of the essence. He needed to deal with the matter and get back to his love before any harm came to him.
Wiping away tears he hadn’t realized he’d been shedding, he sat up and called out.
A handmaiden rushed in and bowed.
“Fetch me Mans. Tell him to return with his ink,” he ordered. Mans was his adviser and wrote all his letters.
He needed a letter sent to Hammand immediately. Miriam would ensure it got to him. Maybe it would help calm him down, especially when he replied to tell him how things were in Renadi. If Asgar was feeling this way, only the gods knew how his beloved would be feeling.
* * * *
Feeling a lot more like himself now that he had begun some contact with Hammand, he headed to the throne room where his adviser had said his parents were awaiting him. He expected his letter would reach Hammand by the end of the day.
At the throne room, doors which were guarded by four guards on each side and ruby eyed stone dragons, he stopped and took a deep breath.
By nightfall, my love will have my letter in his hands. He wished he were that letter, soon to be in those delicate, lovely hands.
The intricately carved, double doors were opened at a nod of his head.
Despite the vast size of the throne room, it all went quiet as soon as he stepped in.
His parents sat at the thrones with their stern faces on. It saddened him that this was the case, when they should be ecstatic to that he was found..
Stares and nods followed him but the court all stepped back as he reached the thrones.
“Father, I wish that we speak in private.”
“Very well.” Grande King Ghull looked up and that was enough. All present retreated out of hearing to one of the anterooms attached to the throne room.
“I met Prince Hammand of Renadi in a slave market. I was being sold for menial labour. I do not deny that he bought me. He did, but he treated me like a friend, a companion. In fact I was so idle that it became a problem.”
“So you were his body slave,” his father muttered in anger.
“No Father, I was not. He is an innocent little thing. If anything, I am the one who should be punished for defiling him.”
“Were you his body slave or not Rodin?” His mother’s eyes pierced his, as if she had caught him in a lie.
“I was not Mother. He remains a virgin,” he continued softly. “He does not even know much about carnal acts. You have met him, Mother. Surely you saw that?”
“That has nothing to do with this matter, Rodin,” the king said.
“I love him. It has everything to do with this. There is not a bad bone in his body, Father.”
“There are rules, Rodin. And no one is above them.”
“But you are the rule maker so you can change the rules. You are above them in that regard.”
“Can you imagine how that would look? What people would think of me? Of us?”
“How it would look? And to whom exactly? No one even knew I was missing, let alone sold as a slave.” Asgar’s anger was building. He was struggling now. “Why would your actions make any difference to anyone? I love the prince. Should that not be enough for you to consider my request?”
“People will think I am getting soft. The throne will be threatened.”
Asgar laughed at the thought of his father ‘getting soft’ as he blinked back tears. “What throne? If Hammand had not bought me, you would never have found me. Of what use would this throne have been then? If he had not kept me by his side, Mother would never have seen me when she paraded at the festival. I would never have remembered anything. I would have been lost forever, slaving away on some farm for the rest of my life. Is that not worth something, Father?” he went on, “It would have been different if he had known who I was and continued to keep me as a slave. But he did not know this. And he was good to me.”
Grande King Ghull thought for a moment. “It is not the treatment after or the position given through the slavery. It is the actual purchase that is the crime.”
“But I would not be here now if not for him. There would be no heir.”
Both his mother and father just stared at him, resolute.
“I love him.” he said, “We have gone through a lot together because his parents, his mother especially, hated me. He agreed to give up his life to be with me. I was going to take him away from his life on the day of the Festival. We were going to live out our lives quietly in one of the villages. Now you expect me to throw that all away for this throne?”
They gaped at him, not wanting to believe what they were hearing their son say.
“You think all of this means anything to me?” he continued. “I have lived as a slave. I have also lived with a prince and I never wanted the life for myself. I never craved all of this nor did I miss any of this. The only thing I longed for was my family. And now you seek to make me regret that?”
His father frowned. “We do not seek to make you regret your emotions. But people have to know that with actions, there are consequences.”
Asgar gasped in despair, realising this fight was going to be a hard one to win, for his parents were not listening to him. He could see Queen Shila in his mind’s eye. This situation seemed more and more like what she had put them through and it made him sick.
He wanted to run, he really wanted to run. Take his beloved and run.
I so regret leaving Hammand behind. We would have been long gone by now if I had him with me. I just want all of this to be over so we can live our lives in peace.
Throne? I don’t want it. Not if it means losing Hammand.
He turned and walked out.
* * * *
“Mmmh…” Inco the guard stared at the Prince Hammand through the cell cage in interest. He practically licked his lips as he watched the small prince. He was a tall broad man with arms as thick as a baobab tree trunk, so much so that he appeared very stocky despite his great height. His teeth were blackened from chewing tobacco instead of smoking it and he reveled in the fright the sight of them had on the dainty royals that crossed his path in his dungeon.
He and his friend Cias had joined the Dark Dungeon Guard five years earlier and loved every minute of their service. Growing up they’d shared the same bitterness against the royals and their powers and this job served as a great outlet for their frustrations. Like most of the other guards employed there, their choice was this or a life of crime.
They had specifically been warned not to touch or defile the little man because he was betrothed to the Crown Prince. It was very clear who he was from the rusine art on his right hand.
But why would he be here if he was so special?
He had given the powers that be two entire days to change their minds and take the little prince away from the dungeons. But that had not happened and Inco had run out of patience. He liked to think that this period of grace was generous on his part. Anything that happened after that time was not his fault.
It was time to do some defiling. He loved this part of his job greatly.
Inco really liked the look of him, all tiny and delicious and creamy. He could see what the Crown Prince saw in him. Even despite the lack of food, he still looked so fresh. They had been giving him only a bit of water after all.
“Inco, you better forget that. He belongs to the Crown Prince. We cannot touch this one.” Cias had come to stand behind his friend. He was as tall as Inco, the height a strict requirement to be a member of the Dark Dungeon Guard. He was not as broad as Inco, but his limbs were still thick and powerful. He was very good at torture but he did not like hard work. He liked the innocent, easy ones that had no idea what you were doing. Life was too short for unnecessary exertion.
“I do not agree Cias. Why is he here, of all places? They all know what we do here. It is by no means a secret. Surely the Grande Prince will not expect him to be treated any differently. They are all ‘royals’ here after all.”
Cias did not look convinced, but Inco knew him well enough to see the faintly building lust in his colleague’s eyes. Cias liked the young ones, the younger the better. The prince may not be that young but his size could make up for that in Cias’ mind.
“He is nothing. We have him all to ourselves,” he whispered. “Look at that skin… I am sure it is soft as a baby’s bottom. Look how small he is. Imagine how much enjoyment we will get from that little bundle. He may be untouched too. You can have him first, Cias, clear the way for the rest of us.”
It did not take much talking to convince a man to do what he really did want to do. And Cias was no different.
He stood up with a grin and nodded quietly at the cell doors. Inco let out a hearty laugh, rubbing his hands together. He opened the door and held it out for Cias who punched his arm playfully as he stepped through.
Hammand looked up at them in the hope that they had brought him some water. But their hands were bare. Their eyes though, told him something else. His blood ran cold even before they spoke.
“Stand up, ‘your highness’ and come over here.”
Hammand managed to do this, stumbling weakly from the lack of food. He made his way over to them but stopped at a healthy distance. He was out of breath already, as if he had been running.
He got a slap for that and it threw him to the floor.
“When I say come over here, I mean over here. Where do you think you are?”
He was grabbed by the hair and pulled onto his feet. He began to cry without realising that he was doing so. He pulled on the hands that held his hair and got more slaps for that.
This time when he fell, he was left there. But his clothes were ripped off him amidst spitting and laughing from both guards at how small he was. He struggled futilely until he completely naked. Then he just wrapped his hands around himself and curled into a fetal position.
He had all but forgotten about Miriam’s protection until the guards stepped back in unison, staring at each other and back at him in puzzlement.
This was what Miriam had feared.
“What evil is this?” The taller one growled. With his right foot, he kicked Hammand’s thighs apart. Again and again. Bruises sprouted across the pale flesh of his thighs and legs until there was nothing pale left.
The one with the permanent stick in his mouth knelt back down to have another look. “There is nothing there.” He grabbed Hammand’s legs and twisted him until he allowed himself to be turned onto his stomach. The prince wept as his bottom was pried apart, he had never known such horror as this defilement. “It is evil for sure, there is nothing there, front or back. It is just bare skin. Evil! This may be why he is here.”
He stood up solemnly, “He is surely evil. Or cursed. Or both.”
Inco looked very angry, not caring about the possibility of a curse. “So we cannot have our share of him! What sorcery is this? Is it permitted in Goren?”
“It is a shame. What a waste of such beautiful flesh.”
“He is cursed! He should not even be here!”
In anger, they began to kick and spit at him. They did this for what felt like hours until he was bloody and broken. The only part of him they left alone was his beautiful face; it remained neither touched or defiled.
* * * *
Three nights passed, with Asgar spending much of his time in long-winded arguments with his parents.
He was getting more nervous each day. A letter per day had gone off to Renadi. He had heard nothing back either from Hammand or from Miriam. By now he should have received a response or a message.
It irked him that his parents were also dragging their heels on carrying out Hammand’s sentence. Even though that in itself was a good thing, for he had more time to convince them, something still felt wrong. With all their adamance that Hammand be punished, they were much too at ease with the delay.
It was all a bit strange.
His mother kept coming to his chamber in the evenings to talk him round but he would have none of it.
He closed his eyes and tried to collect his thoughts. Maybe it really was time to forget all of this royalty and run.
A rustling sound broke his thought process and he jerked upright. The blazing fireplace seemed be billowing out and back on for no reason. Red charcoal sizzled as it hit the marble floor.
Another rustle and a woman suddenly appeared in his bedroom.
“Miriam!” he gasped as she finished pulling off her invisible cloak. In seconds he had grabbed her in a fierce hug, swinging her round in circles and laughing.
But when he put her down, she was crying. He pulled her to the side of the bed and sat her down, grasping her hands in his.
“Tell me. Hammand, how is he doing? I have been writing every day. Have my letters not been delivered? How is he?”
“Oh Asgar, the letters all came. But—” She took a deep breath, squeezing his hands tightly. “They took Hammand, Asgar. From that very first day you left Renadi. He is here, somewhere. He has been since the day you left.”
In that moment, his world fell apart.
“No!” His voice broke as terror settled into his heart. He snatched his hands away from hers and curled them into fists. “My parents… no… they wouldn’t do that to me!”
“I have been trying to get to you. The guards would not let me leave my rooms. In all this time I have been trying endlessly to increase the cloak’s powers to bring me this far. It finally worked today. I am sorry. I have failed you. I should have come sooner…”
Fear filled Miriam’s heart as she watched him. He looked like he was going crazy, his eyes had gone a bit wild and he would no longer let her touch him. She had no idea what he would do now. She would have stopped him, calmed him, if time was not of the essence.
“Find him, please.” With trepidation and hope, she watched the Crown Prince slowly get to his feet.
* * * *
Asgar stormed into the throne room. He was dressed in his slave clothes, and had strapped on a double sword belt, complete with sharp edged swords.
His parents were holding court with some royals and advisers. He didn’t care who witnessed what was about to happen.
His father looked somewhat amused at his dress and swords. His mother looked wary.
“My son, what is all of this? Do you mean to fight for us?” His attempt at laughter turned into a raspy cough. His wife looked at her son and then her husband in concern.
“Where is my betrothed?” Asgar asked. His voice shook with restrained anger.
His father looked at him, his face stoic with equal determination, all amusement gone. Asgar refused to meet his mother’s eye, not with what he was about to do.
“Come Rodin, that is a strange question,” she said, her slightly shaky voice giving her away. “Why would you think we have him?”
“Who?” his father asked. His frown did not shake his son in the least.
Asgar glared at him. “Prince Hammand of Renadi.”
“Rodin—” his mother began.
“I know you have him!” he screamed, losing the tenuous hold he had on his anger. “Where is he?”
“That is of no consequence!” he father said abruptly. “You are not betrothed to anyone. No unplanned frivolity would tie the Crown Prince to an unvetted person! Much less someone who had breached the strict laws of the land. Do you not understand the rules that your ancestors created? Do you not know what it is to rule? You will listen to reason, Rodin. We shall not go over this issue again. I thought I made myself clear! Forget about him. Where he is or is not should not be a concern of yours.”
The Grande Queen grabbed her husband’s hand and looked at him in a bid to calm him down. He shook her off, sweat covering his brow. “This has to stop. We must indulge him no longer. I will not tell lies to placate him for someone that is of no worth.”
Asgar stared at his parents, chest heaving greatly. “You are right Father, I will not ask again.”
He lifted the swords and swiftly slashed across his chest from shoulder to side. The movements were so fast that the onlookers did not register what he was doing… except for his mother. Of course.
“Nooooooooo!” she screamed and threw herself towards him.
He stepped back, out of her reach. The action seemed to cause the fresh wounds to stretch and blood filled them out. A collective gasp filled the room at the sight.
“My son… what have you done?” the Grande King struggled to stand up. He was unable to hide his shock. And his fear.
His son would hurt himself for this?
Asgar raised the swords again, slashing so viciously it was hard for the onlookers to believe it was himself he was cutting. His huge body shook violently in shock.
“Rodin?” Grande King Ghull cried out.
He was serious.
Blood slowly began to drip, steadily tracing the cuts and bubbling, telling the tale of exactly what damage had been done. Then it began to literally pour to the floor. Crown Prince Rodin had cut up his entire chest. He was going to kill himself right there.
The Grande Queen began to weep loudly, crumbling to her knees. Her maidens hovered behind her, crying quietly as they watched their queen.
He raised his swords again. Gasps filled the room, all looking to the Grande King. His scared face struggled to shift to fierce.
“Stop him!” his father bellowed as much as his strength could let him.
The guards began to advance. The huge man looked around at them and turned back to his father. His swords went even higher. Across his neck, poised to strike.
He laughed bitterly, tears streaming down his cheeks in his despair. “Let them try, dear father. I will behead myself right in front of you before they can reach me.”
The guards stopped immediately, looking to their King. More screaming came from his mother. Everyone seemed to be weeping along with her.
Healers scrambled into the room, ready to take over.
“Noooo!” his mother screamed, turning to his father. “I will not lose my son, Ghullan. Ghullan!” she wailed at her husband, “Do something!”
His father stepped down from his throne, hands held out to his son. Asgar looked at them, blinked and shook his head.
His hands flexed.
“No!” his parents screamed in unison.
“Stop!” the Grande King gasped. “Please my son, stop.”
“He is in the Red Room in the Rumaria dungeons,” his father said breathlessly. “The Red Room. Now please drop those swords and let the healers tend to you.”
“Oh Father!” Asgar said with a sorrowful laugh, his pain beyond belief.
They had put his beloved Ham in the worst place: the Rumaria dungeons where the worst of the worst royal prisoners were kept. His beloved was in that place. It did not bear thinking about.
“This is far from over. I will find my betrothed. And if he has left the land of the living in that ‘Red’ room, then so will I.”
The Grande Queen lay flat on the floor, weeping, praying as she had never prayed before.
Her husband just sat beside her and stared at nothing. They knew he meant it.
They had thought they would leave the young prince there in the hope that Asgar would get so caught up in getting his life back that he would forget all about him. And the prince would pay for his crimes in due course after a stay in those dungeons, without any decree being made that their son could hold against them
Somehow their son had found out. How, they did not know. No one knew they had taken Prince Hammand. His family thought he was on house arrest at the Palace and not allowed to see anyone. The motherly maid servant, rumored to be quite close to Asgar, was also locked in house arrest.
They could make no sense of it. Or their son’s actions. Their world that was only just healing was crumbling all over again.
How could this have happened?
No one came close to them. They were all in shock.
They all knew what being in the Red Room meant. They also realized that they may just be about to lose their future king.
* * * *
Asgar ran. With all his power and all of his love. He had no idea what he would find. He was afraid to hope for anything. The Red Room was a horrible place. The prisoners, usually left to the devices of the guards, often died from torture, cruelty or both. He could not imagine his beautiful man in that dirty filthy place, defiled, debased…
Tears blurred his vision but he knew the way so he kept going.
His personal guards ran with him, moving people aside to let him pass. He knew he must be causing a spectacle, racing through the palace covered in blood, and he did not care.
Fear gripped him as he approached the dungeon doors. Reality was coming and he had to be ready for it. He knew he may be about to die.
The young guard manning them stared at him and his guards in shock.
“Who guards the Red Room?” From what he could remember, there were two guards assigned per prisoner for the life of the royal’s imprisonment. He wanted their names.
“I do not know, my lord. I only just finished my training. I only do the main doors here. I am too young, they say—
Asgar swept past him with his guards in tow. He would have liked to know who they were. His hands tightened on the grips of his swords. It was now or never.
The Red Room was the furthest cell in the dark dungeon, so called because the room cast off a strange red ambience when hit by the light coming through the thin slits that trailed across the bottom of the external wall. It also the room where the highest number of royals that had killed themselves.
The cell gate was wide open and he could see through the bars of the cell. His heart felt like it would burst out of him as he looked into it.
There stood two burly guards, chuckling as they both directed their piss over a little unmoving fetal form.
Stepping forward and roaring in wild anger and oh so much pain, he threw down his knives, drew his heavy swords from their scabbards and beheaded both men before they could even acknowledge his presence, let alone plead for clemency.
* * * *
The Grande Royals had wanted to be able to tell their son the Prince had died of natural causes in the dungeon, thus killing two birds with one stone. They had ordered that the little prince be without food since they arrived in Goren. In addition, the guards had ensured he had very little water either once they discovered they could not defile him.
He was in so much pain that he had been looking forward to death.
Miriam worked with the royal healers to save him. She feared he was dying for the pain in her back made her steadily weaker with each day. There were so many broken bones, almost all his ribs and his left shoulderblade and left hip. Clumps of his hair had been pulled out so badly that the healers had had to shave all of it off. His entire body was black with swollen infected wounds and bruises and he remained unconscious. They had to keep bleeding him to fight the fevers that kept returning each night. She could not keep her fears from Asgar, much as she tried to give him hope, he could see it in her demeanor.
Asgar refused to leave Hammand’s side. He slept with the little man in his arms every night, refusing to let him out of his sight for any reason. He held him through his nightmares, crying with every scream of terror. When Hammand opened his eyes, they were sightless and could not focus. He remained weak and listless, his only sounds were cries of pain and terror.
Only Asgar fed Hammand, making sure he ate along so no one was tempted to poison the food. Hammand couldn’t eat as such; he only managed sips of soup as he struggled to keep his mouth open. As a result, Asgar lost weight rapidly.
He watched his love like a hawk, listening for his breathing at night. Hammand was yet to awaken properly. His eyes were open yes, but they saw nothing. Asgar kept his dagger with him at all times, waiting for the moment his love stopped breathing, ready to go along immediately. He would not let him be without him ever again. He cursed the day he allowed his mother to convince him to leave Hammand to come later. He should have known the rules would always come first for his parents.
Never again. He would die with him.
Miriam tried to talk him out of it, his mother tried but he listened to no one. He just waited. His parents did not dare take him away from Hammand after he told them that if they were separated he would kill himself immediately.
* * * *
Miriam’s back was constantly on fire. She feared that she would lose them both. She knew that Asgar would go as soon as Hammand did, so she prayed for Hammand and offered all the possible sacrifices. She knew that, for as long as her back burned, they were in danger.
This was the worst time of her life.
She prayed to Isis day and night, feverishly, with all of her soul. She cried and begged so hard through her prayer stupor that she was unaware of her surroundings.
One evening, she woke from her prayers to find the Grande Queen kneeling beside her, weeping. It was quite a surprise and for the first time in her life, she found herself utterly angry and discourteous. She stood up, stared at the woman in undisguised contempt and walked out.
Asgar’s mother rushed after her.
She stopped, tears filling her eyes as she called on Isis to help her, grant her control.
“That is your name?”
“Yes your majesty.”
“How is he doing?”
Miriam swirled round in abject shock and the Grande Queen had the grace to blush.
“I know I have no right to ask, but –”
“A few more days and he would have died in that place.” Miriam cried, “My poor innocent boy. Kicked and spat on like he was of the streets. The love of your son his only crime.”
“You must understand-”
“I am sorry if I am not graceful in this, but if he dies, then like your son, I have nothing more to live for in this world. My graces are gone from me I am afraid. I understand nothing that you have done. I cannot tell you any more than your son already has. And you did not heed him.” She eyed the mother that Asgar had longed for for so long, incensed by the destruction of that hopeful memory, “Prince Hammand is an innocent, you cannot say you did not see that for yourself. You could have done anything to him, anything but throw him to the wolves. Do you know what they would have done to him in there?”
She choked up with tears, unable to speak anymore.
Please” the Grande Queen wept. “He is our only son. And the little prince cannot bear us the grand children we need.”
Miriam took a difficult breath, “You had only one son after a five year wait. What would have happened if you had had none?”
Asgar’s mother blinked profusely in shock, for the words dragged her back in time to that time. A time when the Grande King had filled his days comforting her, reminding her that having an heir did not matter to him for he loved her and his brother could inherit the throne easily.
A time she had long forgotten since her son had been born.
She stared at Miriam. Her expression was unreadable.
Her maidens, breathless from searching everywhere for her, rushed and surrounded her.
Miriam simply nodded and walked away.
* * * *
Many weeks later, because Asgar still refused to speak to his parents, they summoned Miriam.
Her anger remained heavy as she stood before them. A constant reminder buzzed in her head that these were Asgar’s parents and that his father was unwell keeping her from cursing them. It was sad that they could think so wickedly even with him being so ill.
They watched her for a while. She let them, saying nothing at all. She worked on keeping herself calm before the people that had dared to hurt her son.
“You are Miriam.” The Grande King said. It was not a question so Miriam said nothing. She simply looked up.
“You were Prince Hammand’s nurse from his birth.”
Anger flashed in Miriam’s eyes at this declaration. The King caught it.
“We know you harbor hate for us. We understand that. The young prince is like your own son. But you must understand our predicament. You know the law as well as any one in this country.”
“I just protect my own as best I can.”
“As do we.”
“I disagree.” She ignored the King’s look of surprise at her speaking back at him that way. “Protecting your own does not include doing the one thing that would surely destroy them.”
“We were protecting our son from the one who enslaved him!”
“Enslaved him?” she said very softly. “Hammand let your son be himself. He set him free but Asgar refused to be free of their love.”
They stared at her in shock.
“Did he not tell you that?”
They shook their heads in unison.
“Well, he did. Prince Hammand handed him his scroll in full view of his adviser and guards. This happened a long time ago. Asgar no longer saw himself as a slave. He was part of our family. Hammand is his life. To kill him is to kill Asgar. To separate them is to do the same. I have seen them together for a long time. Believe me when I say you have done them so much harm. For as one goes, surely so shall the other.”
“I have never seen my son as I saw him that day. He would have killed himself?”
“Yes,” she said softly. “Just as surely as the sun rises.”
“He hates us. He would not speak to me!”
“You have wounded him beyond belief. What he thought only Hammand’s mother was capable of, you have surpassed tenfold. She tried to kill him numerous times, but she never made him want to die. You both did—his beloved parents that he dreamed of finding for so long. Even now he struggles with that the knowledge of what you have done.”
Asgar’s mother began to weep. She knew what Queen Shila had tried to do. Asgar had told her all about it. It served to heighten her sorrow and shame in herself. King Ghullan wrapped his arms around her as she cried, a tear trickling down his left cheek.
“How… how are they?”
Miriam stared at them without empathy. “So my son is safe?”
“Yes he is. We resolved not to harm a hair on Prince Hammand’s head after seeing our son’s reaction to his imprisonment. What you have just told us about your son granting him his freedom has strengthened that resolve. We did not know he had been freed.”
She stared at the King, picking up on the slight reluctance.
“You have my word. We will never harm a hair on his head ever again. We will never let harm come to him. You can rest assured that I will never go back on my word.”
The Queen cried even louder at the declaration, her relief overwhelming her.
“Now, we can all try to heal from this.”
Miriam bowed and excused herself, walking backwards with her head bent.
“You will tell us… how they are doing?”
She raised her head and nodded, stopping for a moment. “All I can do now is pray that my son survives. You must do the same. Or we shall surely lose them both. I cannot bear to think what will become of us all if that were to happen.”
* * * *
Two weeks later.
Asgar was awakened by fingers stroking his cheek. His eyes fluttered open sleepily and widened considerably when they met with Hammand’s hazy but focused ones. It felt like heaven had come down to earth and settled in his chest.
His beloved was awake.
* * * *