This is the beginning of a piece inspried by a pic I saw today, it's only short but if anyone would like to give feed back etc it would be greatly appreciated!
Anyway, I hope you enojy reading it as much as I'm loving writing it and there will undoubtly be more fairly soon!
The hot sand blew around the caravan in whirling dervishes that had the servants whispering tales of demons and devils as they struggled, half blind, towards their destination. One man stepped too far from his master's camel and was lost to the desert in an instant, his compatriots warding themselves against evil at the news. But they could not be turned from their path, and for all that the wind howled and the sand danced, it did not touch them as long as they stayed within the safety of the caravan route.
The rumours said there could be war with Tumbik at the end of the storm season. A promise made between countries had been broken by a foolish princess too selfish to understand her duty to her people. The same mistake would not be made again. No pampering, no luxurious journey now, just a hard pressed caravan desperate to reach its destination before the allotted time. The precious cargo it carried was secured with chains and guards, kept half drugged and held in place. No, no mistakes.
Cool water was pressed to Kaheem's lips, soothing his dry mouth and parched throat as he swallowed greedily. Too soon it was snatched back and he moaned in protest, his head heavy and confused.
"Shhh, my Prince, we are almost to Tumbik'Ar, half a day at most and you must be made ready." The sleek whisper was comforting, familiar. His eunuch, Esla. "Oh my Prince, how it pains me that they have treated you this way!"
Kaheem tried to smile, but his face felt numb and limp. He lay still as Esla began his ministrations, washing and oiling his unusually pale skin, the colour of fresh cream without the caramel gold of his countrymen. The eunuch cooed and chattered constantly and Kaheem lost himself in the rhythm of his voice, the only familiar thing left to him.
Fine silks whispered against his flesh as he was dressed, his mind still too asleep to do more than lift his arms or legs as instructed. A comb snagged painfully in his hair for a moment and Esla gave a startled apology, running soothing hands over his scalp and twittering over how pretty and rare the red was. Perfumes followed oils, rubbed into sensuous pulse points and the very tips of his hennaed fingers, then jewellery. Rows of fine gold bangles lined his arms and ankles, some tinkling with tiny bells, others encrusted with jewels. His ear studs were replaced with smoky amber to match his eyes and heavy rings pushed onto his fingers.
By the time Esla came to paint on his make-up Kaheem was almost free of the drug haze, and he knew what his outfit was for. Marriage. He was to be offered up in marriage as his spoiled sister's replacement. It was not entirely unprecedented amongst the noble classes, but it remained to be seen if the Pharaoh of Tumbik would accept the lesser prize. After all, a man could not bear his son children.
The cool press of marble beneath Kaheem's brow was soothing, comforting. The gossamer fine silk of his veil, so thin that it merely drew the eye to his features rather than hid them, provided little barrier against the chill. He was grateful for it, hoping the cold would help conceal the hot flush of shame staining his face when he was finally permitted to stand. The argument raging above him was humiliatingly blunt, two diplomats bickering over his ability to be a husband.
"Honourable friend, you cannot be suggesting that a mere boy is an acceptable offering. We were promised a lovely young virgin-"
"And that, dear Chancellor, is what you are receiving. Prince Kaheem'na Azul's beauty and purity is one of the greatest treasures of the Azul Sultanate."
The pair had continued in this fashion for quite some time now and Kaheem, lowered on his hands and knees, felt the pinching fear that he would be sent home in disgrace. If he was judged unfit it would mean war, and Azul's people could ill afford such action. The deserts had been harsh in the last year and too few trade caravans had braved the journeys necessary to bring the much needed influx of wealth. Food was becoming scarce and expensive and with little access to the coast supplies were limited. Tumbik would solve that problem, the country was rapidly becoming a force to be respected, if not feared, and part of the bride price included use of several major ports.
But stupid, selfish Salima had risked it all. Too concerned with her own shallow pleasures, the fool had been caught compromised and fled. Kaheem had no more marriageable sisters. The night Salima's betrayal of her people had been discovered Kaheem had slipped into his father's rooms and found him praying for his country, his knees swollen from kneeling. It hadn't seemed such a hardship, at the time, to smile and offer to go in her place.
His willingness had not fooled the Chief Vizier, whose sharp eyes had seen the flash of fear in his eyes, and so he'd been sent drugged and bound with his guards holding him prisoner. Kaheem didn't mind, the Vizier had been right. Oh, he'd never have disgraced Azul and tried to escape, but he was terrified of taking a husband. At least the drugs had sped the long and uncomfortable journey.
"That's quite enough."
Kaheem started, it was the first time the Pharaoh had spoken from his perch on the raised golden throne. The command was quiet but forceful, and instantly obeyed. It took every ounce of Kaheem's self control not to flinch or look up. He had yet to see his intended future father beyond a stolen glimpse as he'd entered the throne room with his eyes demurely low. He'd thought the man looked to be fairly large but apart from that he'd only managed to see a swath of gold and purple before he knelt as an offering. Even that faint glance had been risky, but the temptation had been just a little too great.
"Have the Prince stand and reveal himself."
Kaheem couldn't see who the order was directed at, but a signalling touch brushed against his lowered head, he finally had permission to rise. With his eyes still cautiously lowered he slipped slowly onto his knees and rocked back onto his heels to gracefully stand in a single, smooth movement any courtier would have been jealous of. He felt Esla step against his back and suddenly his veil was pulled free and the carefully placed pins removed. Kaheem's fine robes slid from his body with a shushing whisper that seemed deafeningly loud in the silence that rippled through the room as his nakedness was revealed.
"Raise your head."
Kaheem obeyed slowly, carefully hiding his shame and discomfort and schooling his features in a placid mask. His gaze was caught immediately by a pair of dark eyes painted thickly with kohl and gold leaf, the Pharaoh. The man was indeed very large, his face elaborately made-up, although even make-up could not hide his age, and his greying hair bound with jewels and beading. An enormous headdress of gold mesh and rubies formed a bird of prey around his head, the wickedly curved beak arching over his forehead. And the rest of the throne made up the bird's body, its wings outstretched to cover each wall with golden feathers. At the centre the Pharaoh, in his lavish indigo robes, looked almost about to take flight. It was a sight as terrifying as it was awesome and Kaheem struggled to maintain his calm façade.
It was lucky the man seemed almost as intrigued by Kaheem, for he would not have heard or answered any questions in that moment had they been asked.
"A fine Prince indeed." The murmur was barely audible but enough to lift Kaheem's spirits immeasurably. A least he had not been outright dismissed.
"Tell me, Prince Kaheem'na Azul, how did you come by such unusual colouring?" It was not an unexpected question, but it still caused Kaheem to flush.
"My mother was a second wife sent in treaty from the Northern lands, my Pharaoh, she blessed me with my skin and hair." His looks as well, Elani was a beautiful woman who prided herself on bringing pleasure to those that surrounded her. On hearing of his impending marriage she had cried herself into a fever and insisted on instructing him in the fine arts of caring for a husband. He prayed he would do her justice.
"Indeed. You are a great rarity then, even amongst your own people." The Pharaoh gave a sharp glance to his Chancellor. "My son would enjoy such rarity, it honours him. Prince Kaheem'na Azul is a suitable offering, he will have until the last day of storms to impress my son into marriage. If he does not do so he will be given a place of honour in the harem. Our bargain is completed, the appropriate tablets will be drawn up and ready for his escort's departure."
With a final glance at Kaheem the Pharaoh stood and walked from the throne room, servants scrambling after him. The instant he was gone a wave of chattering broke over the assembled nobles and Esla began to hurriedly cover his prince.
Until the end of the storms? That gave Kaheem less than a month to prove himself to a prince he had yet to meet or spend his life cloistered.