V. POMEGRANATE BLOSSOMS

 

MALACHI

1599 Bhadra (August) – Lahore, Capital of Hindustan, the Mughal Empire.

 

“Returning from the war, as I sat by the king’s side, Love came to me and asked, will you die for me? Will you walk through fire for me? Would you forsake the sweetest of wines and the greatest of feasts to never let go of my hand?”

      She glanced up from her instrument, golden rings upon her fingers, dressed in the most beautiful greens and jewels, her feet bare upon red tiles of very best of the courtesan quarters which Emperor Akbar, my father, had given her. Her long, brown braid lay over her shoulder where it spilled onto her lap. Seeking to deny me her smile and the beautiful warmth of her sun-colored eyes, she returned to her instrument, gently playing as she inquired, “And your answer to love was?”

“My answer,” I repeated following the shapes on the ground—green and gold on the other layer, following the pattern to her. “My answer was as love expected.”

“Love expects nothing. Not even love in return,” she murmured, her hands and eyes still fixed on the instrument.

Reaching the red flower pattern right behind her I placed my hand on the side of her cheek and she leaned on it. “My love does,” I whispered as I stroked her cheek. “So I said yes. I said yes to love. What is life without you? Let me die for I wish never to know. What is fire to one whose heart is ablaze? For I am fire for you.”

“And what of wine and feast?” she asked as I sat down beside her.

“That I could not release.” And before she could look away I placed my thumb on her pink lips. “For the sweetest of all wines are your lips, and greatest of feasts are the ones in which I may share with you.”

“Salim.” She giggled. “You are a prince in this life and yet you are still a poet.”

“Anarkali.” I grinned. “Who would not become a poet at the sight of you?”

“I do not care about who else…not even the Emperors’.” She hung her head and with the crook of my finger, I lifted her chin. Her face was more serious than I’d ever seen as she said, “I am not his courtesan.”

“You are not.” I agreed and as she relaxed I said, “You are mine.”

“You!” She reached out to smack me but I was already on my feet.

“Why do you not like the word courtesan?” I teased and as she lifted up her lehenga to chase after me, her odhani fell which offered me a clear sight of her waist and belly, allowing her to reach out and grab me in my distraction.

“If I am the only woman you touch again,” she whispered in my arms as I placed my hands upon her skin and drew her waist closer to me. “And if no man but you touches me…then I shall accept the word courtesan proudly.”

“And wife?”

She reached up, her fingers lightly touching the scar upon my eye. “This time you are the Prince of Hindustan. I cannot be anything more than a courtesan.”

“Everything I am changes, but my love for you. You are my wife until we are no more. Of all of Emperor Akbar’s sons, I am his favorite, I will request you as a reward for victory in the war. You shall become my courtesan. I shall have no other but you, and when I am the king of Hindustan, when no one can stand our path, you shall be my wife.” I had more than hope. I could see it. How possible it was for us to finally be together and she could too which was why she threw her arms around me and pressed her body against my own.

“Anarkali! Anarkali!”

We broke away quickly as the woman’s giggling voice reached us, and Anarkali dashed to pick up her veil while I hid in the corner behind the mirror where I was unable to see her as the girl came inside.

“Mansi? Do not run—”

“Anarkali you are the luckiest woman in all the world.” The woman sighed happily. “Oh if only the Emperor would call for me!”

“The Emperor calls for me?” She repeated much more softly and hearing the words once more, reassuring me it was not a nightmare but the force seeking to keep us apart in this life…my father.

“I came to see if you wanted help with preparations. And do not forget me tomorrow when you’ve truly become the Emperor’s—”

“No!” She hollered.

“Anarkali?”

“I am unwell, Mansi. Before they arrive tell them I am unfit to see the Emperor.” I heard footsteps close in until they were beside me. I glanced to my left, watching as she took off her veil, and select one of the scented oil from her trunk. She allowed a few drops to fall upon it before returning the oil and walking away. Never once did she look to me. “Have them give him my veil, and I will come for it tomorrow.”

“Anarkali…why are you unwell? Do you need—?”

“My chest pains me but do not worry. Go. Do not keep the Emperor waiting,” she replied. Saying she’d return, the girl left just as loudly as she came.

It was only when it was silent that I came out from behind the mirror. She stood in the middle of the red flower of her room with her arms wrapped around herself. Looking up to me as if she were already the Queen of Hindustan she ordered. “Save me from this or I shall rather die and meet you again elsewhere.”

“I will,” I said as I reached out and placed my hand upon her cheek again. “Smile. What is it you always tell me?”

She tried not to, but couldn’t stop the corners of her lips from turning up. “We’ll make it. You’ll see. This is the last one. Our last life.”

 

ESTHER

BEEP…

      BEEP…

“99.1 °F.” I read. “It’s coming down.” Sighing in relief I reached for the cold patch on his forehead when suddenly his hand grabbed me, and his eyelids snapped open he tightened his hold. “Ahh!”

“Who are you?” His blue eyes glared at me as he pulled me in closer. “Who are you?!”

“LET GO!” I hollered, scratching his arm as I tugged my hand away from him. “What is wrong with you?!”

Damn that hurt. I rubbed my wrist and he kept glaring as if he really didn’t know who I was. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe the fever had left him dazed. “Esther Noëlle? Alfred Noëlle’s granddaughter—”

“I know! But who…” He paused, his gaze drifting to my hands, one of which was rubbing my sore wrist and the other gripping onto the thermometer. “You were wearing rings?”

“Huh?”

“The rings! The ones on your hand when you shook mine? Those rings?”

He was insane and I didn’t want to get closer to him. I pointed to the rings which sat on the coffee table next to the bottle of water, medicine, and ice packs. He reached out to touch them but hesitated. It was then that I remembered Jeff Wheeler’s novel The Queen’s Poisoner.

“Are you allergic to nickel?” I asked carefully leaning in and he lifted his head to look at me and I leaned back again.

“It’s not gold?”

I snickered. “I doubt Li-Mei would have given me her solid gold rings. I’m sure it’s made up of a whole bunch of different metals but I read that even the slightest amount of nickel can cause—”

“These are Li-Mei’s?” he asked softly looking back at them.

“Mine now…but they were hers. We share stuff all the time.” Her hands are smaller than mine so instead of dealing with the hassle of returning them, she’d given them to me.

When stared at them without saying anything I found myself walking forward. He looked like he was in pain. Not physically but…like he was recalling something sad. Reaching for the empty ice-patch box he flipped it over, covered the rings and slid them to the end of the table and into the box. Rising to his feet, he walked over and handed the box to me. Confused and a bit stunned I took them slowly. He peeled the patch off his forehead and placed it over my wrist.

“Sorry.” He muttered pressing it down. “You’re right, I have nickel allegory. I’m usually much better at avoiding it but it seems I overlooked it.”

“Crap.” I sighed dropping my head. “I guess I can add poisoning you to my list of screw ups today.”

He stepped back and looked around the house which had the most picturesque wide-open views I’d ever seen. The whole house itself was made of wood, and yet most of the furniture felt much more modern. The colors kind of bored me though. Everything was bland. Like a model home. Maybe it was a way to make the inhabitants focus on the views?

“You cleaned up? How long was I out?”

“It’s a little after noon, so I guess about five hours. My grandfather said not to call for help and that you’d be okay. I was nervous and decided to clean up seeing as how I caused the mess in the first place.”

“Alfred? He called you?”

“Yeah. I was able to find a charger in one of the boxes in the guest room along with some old clothes…seeing as everything else I owned was in that jackas…don’t curse, Esther…” I corrected myself. “That thief’s car. You should lie down, maybe eat—”

“I smell coffee,” he said, and like a bloodhound he walked around me and headed towards the kitchen. Without cream or sugar or even bothering to heat the pot he took a black mug from the cabinet, filled it, and chugged it.

“I’ll take you to file a police report. You can take the rest of my mom’s clothes to the guesthouse when you get back,” he said as he placed the cup back on the counter.

So many important things had been said in those two sentences. While I was contemplating how to reply he was already walking back to the stairs.

“Wait!” I reached out to him mid-step.

“What now?!”

Forgive him, he has a fever.

Clamping my mouth closed I shook my head. He merely rolled his eyes and continued on his way up towards his room.

Reaching into the back pocket of the ever-so-stylish late 90’s high-waisted jeans with the hole in the knee, that I now wore, I took out my phone and texted what I wanted to say instead.

 

MALACHI

Happy Birthday! It’s why I said wait. I wanted to say it to you but I get that I’m probably not making it all that happy. Also about your mom’s clothes…I’m sorry for going through your stuff. I kinda ripped my pants moving you onto the couch. And before you say I’m a klutz remember I was moving dead weight in skinny jeans! 😀 Lol. Yeah but thanks for all of this. Starting tomorrow I’m going to be much more professional. We’ll get the book done! Lastly, as I said, I’m your biggest fan and run your fansite. I decided to replace the site with a countdown to your birthday and told everyone to reflect on why they are fans, then send videos of their thoughts, it’s live now. Thank god I set it before my laptop was stolen! Here’s the link… http://www.LordNationOnline.com/LoveyouMalachi01/HB_wishes

Part of me, the suppressed egotistical part of me, was tempted to look. But the rest of me knew that Li-Mei would be among the messages and I didn’t want anything else to trigger a memory. If her rings along could do that, then what could a video do?

Closing her message I realized something else—she now had my number.

“…this life,” I whispered as I contemplated whether or not I should save her number. I was just about to hit delete when Alfred’s call came in. Relaxing, I answered.

“You’re still alive.”

“So are you. Thirty-two missed calls though? I’m a little touched, Malachi.” He chuckled and strangely sounded much better.

“What happen to you?”

“This and that but the drugs they gave seem to be helping actually.”

“So how do I return your granddaughter?”

“Aye, she nursed you back to health didn’t she?”

“She put an ice-patch on my head which has left a strange red rectangular mark behind and—”

“And she ripped her jeans lifting you onto the couch.”

She’d told him that too? “Honestly, does she not have any filter? Or the ability to stay on her feet—”

“Give her some slack you ungrateful little …” He sighed. “She’s shy around new people so she tends to either do too much or freeze up. Besides, it doesn’t help that she doesn’t know how to treat you.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means she knows I basically raised you after your mother passed. So you’re like…cousins.”

“Cousins?”

“Exactly! To her you’re like a long-lost successful cousin and she wants you to like her.”

“And you know this how?”

“She said so when I called.”

She’d said so? Of course. Us, cousins…The more I thought about it the more I actually felt a little relieved. “At least she isn’t in love with me…”

“Yes, because you’re so easy to love and women are falling at your feet on a daily basis.”

“Your sarcasm is unappreciated.”

He laughed…but it was followed by that cough again. He coughed so loudly that even though he pulled the phone from his ear I could hear him just as clearly.

“Esther in love?” he said when he finally returned the phone to his lips. His voice was much softer now. “That girl wouldn’t know love if she ran right into her soulmate. Unlike some other person I know. How painful was it this time?”

      The irony of him asking about my pain as he sat in pain wasn’t lost on me.

“It wasn’t painful. Get some rest. Don’t worry about her.”

“I’m not just worried about her, Malachi. If you’re her cousin, it makes you my grandson. I’m worried about you.”

I snickered as I walked into my bathroom. “Don’t get all sentimental, that’s something someone says as they go quietly into the night.”

Silence.

“Alfred?”

“Your heart dropped a little bit there, didn’t it?” He snorted as he chuckled.

This old… “Goodb—I’ll talk to you later, Alfred!” Hanging up I stared at the screen which glowed with the option to delete his granddaughter’s number…my new cousin apparently.

“Crazies flock together,” I muttered as I hit save.

 

ESTHER

Why was I like this?

An introvert some days an extroverted the next. Which would have been okay if it didn’t keep adding to the mountain worth of inconsistencies I tended to find in myself. There were days in which I hated winter and days in which I loved it. I loved the sunshine but I also loved the rain. I liked all the colors in the rainbow. Some days I loved the smell of coffee but there were other days when I couldn’t stand to drink it. I could be a vegetarian for a year and then wake up one day and eat a whole stack of bacon. Religion? I’d done almost all of the most widely practiced religions and enjoyed them. I could fight some days, not just any fighting but kickass Mortal Kombat-Karate Kid-Eye of the Tiger-style fighting, and then the next I would find myself tripping down a flight of stairs and unable to do anything right! It was so frustrating! I didn’t know who I was. Not like what my name was or who my family was, but who I, Esther Noëlle, was on the inside. If I was a little bit of everything didn’t that mean I was a little bit of nothing too?

      What was wrong with me?

      “You ready?”

“Huh?” I sat up and quickly wiped my eyes.

He froze at the glass door of his cabin-styled home as he regarded me with his complementing his blue eyes. He was wearing dark blue jeans that were tucked into black boots, and a black leather jacket over his green and blue flannel shirt.

“I cry a lot,” I said much quicker than I wanted and I felt like kicking myself but tried to save face by saying, “My grandfather said my tear ducts are loose and so my eyes tear up even when the wind blows. HA!…So how far is the police station I really hope they can find my stuff—”

“The report is simply for insurance proposes,” he said as he walked down the first few steps of the house. “Your things are most likely long gone by now.”

“Right.” I should have figured that.

Without another word he kept walking until he stood upon the driveway and I followed expecting to see a car when he lifted the garage door. But instead, sitting in the middle of the oversized garage was a pure black Harley. He headed past it and picked up a helmet from the counter at the back of the garage before coming back and handing it to me. The helmet that was supposed to protect my skull…though I wasn’t buying it.

“Would you prefer to walk?” he asked as he kicked his foot over the motorcycle and sat down.

“You just got over a fever and—”

“Last chance.” He started the bike.

Taking the helmet from him I put it on before I nervously climbed onto the bike. I sat behind him unsure of what to do with my hands but he reached back and placed my hands around his waist. “Hold on tightly. And don’t worry, I’ve never fallen before.”

“You’ve never ridden with me.” I reminded him. “I’m a klutz now apparently.”

The corner of his lip turned up as he kicked the stand up. “I thought you said you retired?”

Before I could reply he launched the bike forward and I closed my eyes and held on tighter, as my hair flew up and all around me as we cut through the wind.

“Open your eyes!” He hollered at me.

“I’m good, thanks!” I yelled into the wind.

“You’re crushing my liver!”

My eyes snapped open and my hands loosened. However, I saw that the smirk was still on his lips.

“Relax. Look.” He nodded towards the lake and I watched the way the water seemed to sparkle as we passed by. We were not where I’d been abandoned but were instead on the side that was closer to the mountains.

I didn’t know why or how, but I began to relax and the wind no longer bothered me. The fact that there was nothing to separate me from the road below or the air around me felt strangely familiar and as he rode on I let go of him completely and outstretched my hands as far as I could from my body. Why did this feel so nice?

“Malachi, this is amazing! I feel like…like…I’m riding a horse!—Ah!” I clasped my hands around him tightly once more as the bike swerved but I felt his chest shake as he chuckled. “That was not funny! Ugh!” I coughed as I clutched at my throat, really hoping that what I thought just flew into my mouth hadn’t actually flown into my mouth.

He drove us right into the heart of the small town which sat a little way off from the foot of the mountains and in the midst of the massive trees. I realized then that if I had walked in the opposite direction of his house, I would have been much worse off, and probably completely unable to find anyone. Lieber Falls, population of one thousand and ten—eleven if you now included me—was completely hidden, a small town tucked into the valley with a massive lake and trees sprinkled in. He pulled to a stop at the red brick building where a statue of two little kids—one was holding on to the pole which held the Montana state flag and the other had a bird nestled inside its outstretched hand.

“Are you getting off?”

“No. I plan on growing roots here.” I made a face behind his back. I was really getting tired of him talking down to me. Stepping off the bike I removed my helmet and tried to fix my hair—the keyword being tried.

“You done?”

“Do you always ask these many questions or are you just trying to annoy me?” I asked him.

I’m annoying you?”

“Yes.” I turning toward the building. “Not coming?”

“Actually, no. I said I’d bring you here not hold your hand and walk you through. You really shouldn’t inconvenience your clients, Ms. Noëlle.”

I watched in shock as he zipped off down the street, the black of his jacket and his bike disappearing as other cars pulled out of their parking spots.

“Fine! I’ll go in alone! No big deal.” I spun on my heels and looked straight at the building as two officers stepped out. One of them gave me a look over as he walked to his green and white squad car. I smiled and nodded at him as I walked into the building which was actually much smaller on the inside. As I looked around I saw that two drunk men lay snoring on the floor of the holding cell. Leaning against the counter with a coffee in one hand and a bagel in the other an old, white woman who had crow’s feet around her brown eyes and whose gray hair was cropped short behind her ears looked at the two men and shook her head before noticing me. She looked me up and down from my bell bottoms to my face, and her chewing slowed.

“Hi. My name is Esther Noëlle—”

“Let me guess…” She stood up straighter. “You were robbed coming into town yesterday?”

My mouth dropped opened. “How…”

“This is my town, young lady, I know everything that happens here—”

“Alfred Noëlle called yesterday demanding a manhunt to find you. I could hear him yelling on the other side of the phone.” A tall younger man with blond hair and brown eyes came around the counter and stood beside the woman who glared at him. “I’d never seen my grandmother get bossed around before—ouch!”

“You ain’t seen the inside of your own stomach yet either.” She lifted her mug up as if she were about to smack him with it. “And it’s Sheriff to you, Officer Richards. Sheriff Eleanor Richards, been that way for the last—”

“Last hundred years?” he asked smiling wide at her.

“Keep smiling. I’ll see how much you smile when I start docking your paycheck.” She nodded as she walked back to her office.

“Sheriff!”

“Let the guys know we don’t need a search anymore.” She nodded at me then frowned. “And tell your grandfather we’ll find the thief. We backwater cops know how to do our jobs thank you.” The door slammed behind her.

I cringed. “Please don’t tell me my grandfather called you all backwater cops? I’m so sorry I got him all—”

“It’s okay. Lieber is pretty backwater.” He grinned and handed me a clipboard. “Besides, like I said my grandmother has never been so tongue-tied before. Here, fill this out and we’ll see if anything pops up in a pawn shop or online.”

I gasped in relief. “Thank you, Officer Richards.”

“That was my father. You can call me David.” He grinned and I stared up at him. And to think Li-Mei said we all wanted bad boys. Ha! Give me a nice guy any day.

“You okay?” he leaned forward.

“Yeah, I’m just thinking you’re really nice.” I smirked

“I’m not always nice, you just happen to be cute.” He winked and nodded to the clipboard.

“It’s the bell bottoms isn’t it?” I asked as I twisted my leg for him to see and as he laughed so did I… finally.

MALACHI

How long did it take to file a damn report?

      It was a minute after five in the afternoon and she still hadn’t called for me to come get her.

Was she lost again?

Should I go…why should I?

The sun was still up but knowing her she’d most—

Knowing her? How did I know her? I’d only just met her. Whatever! She was big girl…who managed to catch a ride with a thief, get lost, and fall down a flight of stairs in less than twenty-four hours.

Alfred, you better not die and leave me with this girl! I groaned as I dropped the paintbrush, rose from the floor and snatched my leather jacket from the bed while rushing down the stairs. I opened the front door just as the red and blue lights of the squad car pull up in front of my house.

Great, what had she done now?

“Hi! You’re here” She waved at me like we hadn’t seen each other in four decades and not four hours.

“Of course I’m here, I live here.” I reminded her once I reached the bottom.

Ignoring me, she and the blond-haired office pulled out bags of… of God knows what out of his car. “This town is amazing! I love it!” She declared.

Coming up the steps he stood eye to eye with me. “Ah, so you’re Esther’s top secret client. Nice to meet you, I’m Officer David Richards.”

He stretched out his hand but I reached for the bags instead and took them from him.

“Thank you for driving her back, Officer.”

“And for the tour.  If you see Mr. Baker before I do don’t you dare help him cheat.” She pointed her finger at him while struggling to hold her other bags.

“Me? Never.” He nodded as he glanced down at the bags in her hands. Before he could take them from her I reached down and pick them up as well. His brown eyes shifted to me. “It was nice meeting you, though I’d love to get a name other than ‘the author?’”

“Am I required by law to give you my name—?” I bit my tongue as she jabbed her elbow into my ribs.

“Told you authors are a bit crabby sometimes. Thank you again, David, and please tell the sheriff that I’m deeply sorry for the backwater comment on behalf of my grandfather. Let her know I’ll surely have a word with my grandpa about it.”

“You apologize too much.”

“Yep. I’m part Canadian, don’t you know?”

Was I not here? Was that what was happening? Had I become invisible?

“Mr. Author.” He nodded to me and I nodded back as he got back into his squad car and pulled away. Esther was giving him the same goodbye wave she’d given me.

“Wow, you really can’t help yourself can you?” She turned to me, daring to cross her arms. “He was being nice.”

“The last nice guy you met here robbed you, remember? Sorry if I don’t trust your intuition.”

“I never said the taxi driver was nice!”

“Oh? So you knew he was a bad guy and you got into his car anyway?”

Her fist balled up as she glared at me. “Why did you even come outside then?”

“Excuse me? I live here! I can come outside if I like. You’re the one who disappeared for five hours.”

“You’re the one that left me!”

“Did I not say to call when you were done?”

“No!”

I paused as I realized I hadn’t. “Well, I meant to. Here, take some of these.” I outstretched my hand for her to take half her shit back. But she just stared. “Equality. I have half, you have half.”

“You’re every girl’s dream, aren’t you?”

“I don’t need every girl, just one.” We’d been going back and forth but the moment I said it I saw her eyes widen. “Not you—”

“You have a long lost love? Is that why your books always end tragically? For some reason it didn’t work out and so now your characters can never be happy? Is that why this new book is so hard for you to write?”

Return to sender. I wanted to stamp it on her forehead and ship her off.

“Give me your other hand,” I told her.

As she lifted her other arm with a confused look on her face as I placed the rings of the bags over it causing her hand to drop under their weight. Reaching into my back pocket I then pulled out a key which I placed into one of the bags.

“The guest house is around back. What you do with your day is your business. Just let me know. I don’t like people wandering around my house. Goodnight.”

“What happened to equality?!”

“This is equality. I came with nothing I’m leaving with nothing.”

“That’s justice, not equality.”

“Huh…” I nodded slowly. “That’s true. Goodnight.” I turned back around and walked up the stairs to the house.

“Oh, everyone is right! You are a massive jerk!”

“And you’re my number one fan!” I replied slamming the door behind me and the moment I was alone everything I’d just done came flooding back to me. Why was I acting like such a child?

Alfred. His name flashed through my mind. I was acting this way because if she’d gotten herself lost or hurt again he’d come here personally to talk me to death.

That was the reason.

Heading back to my room I took off my jacket and tossed it onto the bed and turned back to the painting. Kicking off my shoes I sat in front of it and picked up the paintbrush. Dipping the bristles into the gold paint, I touched it lightly to the canvas, creating a thin streak that became her golden nose ring. Her hazel brown eyes sparkled too.

I don’t need every girl just one…Just one who apparently looked differently each time, I thought as I glanced from the painting to my bedroom window, watching as Klutzarella herself heaved all the bags she’d bought onto the deck of the guest house before collapsing there for a moment. The winds blew strands of her hair around her face and she muttered what had to be a curse at me though I didn’t know why. She had her own private place overlooking the water completely rent free because I was just that nice a guy. If she didn’t like it she could leave.

“Ah—” I hissed reaching up to my eye as the paintbrush dropped from my hand.

No. Not again.  

      “AH!” I slipped as I tried to make for my bed but fell just short of it.

 

1599 Ogrohayon (November) – Lahore, capital of Hindustan, the Mughal Empire.

“My son! Another victory—”

“WHERE IS SHE?!” I yelled to the court. I advanced and drew my sword as the guards rushed towards me.

“Salim!” My mother tried to hurry over to me however the guards reached me first and I slashed at their hands gashing one of them. In that moment it was as if time it slowed and they gasped, watching in horror as the blood fell upon white of the floor in the midst of the flower petals.

“HAVE YOU NO SHAME?!” My father, the Emperor, rose from his seat at the head of the hall, and all rose with him. “YOU DARE SHED BLOOD IN THIS HALL? MY HALL?!”

“Akbar!” My mother dropped to her knees in front him kneeling until her head touched the white titles. “Forgive my son! Our son! He has been hexed! He is blind! That is the only sense for this madness.”

“Anarkali!” I yelled over her. “Where is she?”

“Do you not see your mother pleads for your life?!”

“I have no life without my wife!”

“The one you call your wife put poison upon my table!”

He walked down the steps, his hands behind his back, until he stood beside my still kneeling mother.

“I, your Emperor, gave NO blessing of such a wife!”

“I needed no such blessing!”

All among the Great Hall gasped while my mother sobbed. Not only had I broken the law and cursed myself by shedding blood upon sacred ground, but I’d forsaken the Emperor, my own father.

“Lufti!”

“Yes, Father!” My younger brother dropped to his knees.

“From this day forth you shall be Salim, Prince of Hindustan, and MY HEIR!” He declared to all the world, and Lufti looked to me wide eyed as he continued. “Woman, rise and embrace your son. Salim rise and embrace your mother!”

My mother would not rise.

Lufti, rose and walked over to the woman who raised me, who loved me, who wept for me even now, and in my heart I was sorry, but I could not go to her. I could no longer be her son.

“Guards, take this…this…man…to his wife! Let them die together!”

I threw my blade, the tip of which was stained red, along with the turban upon my head and all the jewels from my body upon the bed of flower petals. Outstretching my arms for the guards—men I’d trained with, men I’d went to war with—to take me. As they pulled me back gently, as if to not hurt me, I looked into my father’s green eyes, eyes that were glazed over with rage and pain. Lufti held my mother as she covered her mouth to silence her sobs.

“GET HIM OUT!” My father bellowed for all to hear.

They said nothing as they took me through the halls of the palace towards the pit of the forsaken. It was the one place I’d never seen in all of my life. Within the chamber there was nothing, the walls and ground were devoid of any color and life. There was nothing but the dark pit that had been dug into the ground. Even the sun was only allowed through a matching circle in the ceiling directly above her, a circle meant to scorch when the sun arose, and drown when it rained.

“How long has she been here?” I whispered as they released me at the edge of the pit.

None of them answered. Instead, Rashad, my General…no Salim’s General said. “You’ve given up the world in exchange for a woman who is leaving it.”

She was still alive. I held my chest. Turning back to him I smiled.

“Rashad, returning from war, as I sat by the King’s side, Love came to me and asked: Will you die for me? Will you walk through fire for me? Would you forsake the sweetest of wines and the greatest of feasts to never let go of my hand? And I said yes.”

He took a step back from me. “Love was cruel to ask such of a Prince.”

“Love did not care that I was a Prince. And so goodbye my friend. Protect Lufti as he is now the prince you once followed.”

He gripped the staff tightly but was unable to push me into the pit. None of them seemed able to and so I stepped back. The sun blinded my eyes as I fell into the darkness towards her, the woman, whose face was like pomegranate blossoms…my one and only love in this life and all lives.

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4 comments

  1. I love reading this. All of the lives, the people, the relationships. The fact that there is no color barrier, no status barrier between the love two people share. It’s so refreshing reading about so many different cultures and the details you put into each story

  2. He is so mean. Life has been so cruel that he only reserves it for his one. Though even then . Great chapter! Can’t wait for more!

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