Izdihar went out onto the balcony. She’d had little sleep after she’d gone back to bed, gripped with a mounting panic. She’d never expected this. Somehow she’d always thought that once her father returned, everything would be fine, all her problems would be solved. For as long as she could remember, as a little girl growing up without a mother, her father had been the one person she looked up to, went to for help. He always knew what to do. He always protected her. As a child she could snuggle in his strong arms and know that nothing could hurt her. Seeing that helpless look on his face the night before had shocked her more than she could say. Things must be worse than she’d thought.
She stared out over the desert, to the grey mountains in the distance. Just what had he been doing on his trips over the mountains? It had to be important, or he would never have left the city. He must have had some sort of plan. Well, whatever it was, she thought, he must have failed.
Was there no hope then? She buried her face in her hands, haunted by the image of her father’s hopeless face.
“What am I going to do?” she murmured. She felt tears flood her eyes, and a few sobs escaped her.
She shot round, immediately on guard. A young man had come round the corner of the balcony, which ran around the outside of the tower in a square. He was in the deep blue and cream uniform of the palace guards. He was familiar; he often guarded her rooms. She sniffed and wiped her eyes.
“Here...” He produced a handkerchief from his pocket and held it out to her. She took it and smiled, blinking back more tears. “Thank you...”
“Thank you Faruq.”
He smiled back and waited patiently for her to finish with it. She stared ahead, into the sands of the desert.
“This is my favourite place to stand guard,” said Faruq. “I love being able to see out so far...”
“It’s where I come to think,” said Izdihar. “It’s peaceful out there.”
They stood in silence for a few minutes, looking over the balcony.
“Faruq, my father can trust you, right? You are loyal to him?”
“I would risk my life for my kingdom, and for my King,” he said earnestly.
“But not everyone would?” She looked at the guard.
He hesitated, looking down at the ledge. “There are rumours. People are paying a lot of money for... information.”
Izdihar closed her eyes and breathed deeply, her heart heavy, trying not to cry again.
“How many? Be honest with me. How many are there that we can trust?”
“I couldn’t say...” She met his eye and he looked uncomfortable. “There are a small group I would trust with my life. Apart from that... I don’t know who I can trust anymore.”
“I was afraid of that.” There was silence. She handed him back the handkerchief.
“Thank you.” He made to turn away, then paused. “Princess... It’s going to be alright. Your father will put things right. I know he will. He’s a great king.”
“But what if he doesn’t?” Izdihar turned to him, fear strangling her voice. “He may be a great king but he’s only human...” She knew she shouldn’t be saying this to some guard, but she couldn’t help it, it had just spilled out.
“Of course he is. That’s why I have faith in him,” said Faruq.
Izdihar gave him a small smile. She felt instinctively that she could trust him.
“If there is anything you need...” said Faruq, and carried on his patrol of the balcony.