Izdihar left to speak to her father and came back a short while later. “He’ll see us soon.” Tommy sat in silence while they waited, and Shahrazad told Izdihar everything that had happened.
The king was standing by his window when they entered the room. He turned round and glanced between them, surveying Tommy with mild interest for a few seconds. Shahrazad bowed, and said “King Basir, this is Tommy.”
“Izdihar tells me he came here from over the mountains.”
“Yes.” There was a silence.
“Who knows how he made it... I must say, I’m quite impressed.”
“So...” Shahrazad hesitated. “What do we do?”
The king sighed. “What do you suggest?”
“Help him get home. He’ll never get all the way across the desert on his own.”
The king gave Shahrazad a long look. “I’m sorry, but I really can’t spare anyone, not now.”
“So what’s going to happen to him? He’s just a child! A lost child! What about his parents back home?”
“I’m sorry, but it’s not my problem.”
“Yes it is!”
Izdihar looked at Shahrazad in shock. Her eyes were flashing with indignation, her mouth set. Izdihar had never heard anyone talk to her father like this, ever...
“You’re the king! Besides, he followed you! You’re the reason he’s here, so it’s your responsibility to get him home!”
“That may be true,” said the king, still perfectly calm, “He may have followed me, but that does not make me the reason he is here. He would not have made it across that desert if he didn’t want to.”
“So what are you suggesting? He just stays here?”
“He will have to, for the meantime. But he will be looked after. We can house him here, if you like, in the servants’ quarters.”
“No! He’ll stay with me! I’ll look after him.”
Shahrazad bowed, still scowling, took Tommy’s arm and left the room without another word. When the door closed behind them he started talking loudly in his own language.
“It’s alright,” she muttered, striding past two palace guards and heading out onto the steps that wound around the outside of the building. When she stepped off onto a walkway, Tommy suddenly wrenched himself free and was off at a sprint.
She raced after him, pushing someone impatiently out of the way as she rounded a corner. Was that him, disappearing down those steps? She ran on, craning her neck to try and see, but there were too many people in the way. She reached the bottom of the stairs and looked around wildly. He was nowhere to be seen. She kicked the nearest wall angrily and slumped onto the bottom step, her eyes watering.