One night, while Izdihar and her father were eating their evening meal together, King Basir said “I’ve arranged you to go out in the coach tomorrow. Get out of here, get some fresh air. How does that sound?”
The idea of getting out of the palace, presumably without any of Adviser Sayyid’s men accompanying her, was wonderful. Her father was looking at her intently. She nodded. “That will be nice.”
So the next day she made her way down to the ground where a servant was supposed to be waiting. When she got there it turned out to be Faruq waiting for her. She knew it was him as soon as his back came into view, still harnessing up the camel.
As she approached, Faruq turned around and bowed. “Princess Izdihar.”
“Hello, Faruq.” He smiled and she smiled back. It was good to see that smile. She hadn’t seen him since before the engagement, that time just before the ball. But then he went back to looking all serious. He took her hand to help her into the cool, dim interior of the coach, and disappeared round to the front where he’d be driving it.
A minute later, they moved off, and Izdihar lay back against the cushioned seat. She watched as they made slow progress through the teeming lower city, several people watching them curiously, before they crossed into the stunningly green park area surrounding the small lake which was the reason the city existed. It was built on an oasis. For Izdihar, used to spending most of her time at the top of the tallest tower, looking out over the vast desert, the park never failed to be a remarkable sight every time she visited it. It was quiet here, not a person around, and completely peaceful.
It was certainly good for her to get away from the highest reaches of the palace, which had seemed suffocating over the past few days, like it was closing in on her. But she had a feeling that there might be more to her father arranging this trip than just giving her some fresh air. And she was right.
They stopped in a spot closely surrounded by trees and bushes on three sides, and overlooking the lake from the top of a small slope. Faruq appeared and helped her down, and she sat down on the grass, not caring if she got her clothes dirty. After circling the coach several times, scanning around to see if there was anyone near, Faruq sat down beside her.
“Princess Izdihar, I need to talk to you about something,” he said. “I have a message from your father.”
“I thought so.” He needed to get her out of the palace because they couldn’t talk there anymore. “Why didn’t he come himself?”
“He thought Adviser Sayyid would be less likely to suspect something.”
Izdihar nodded. “So what is it?”
“I’m here to tell you about the plan that your father has put together. It’s due to take place in two days time.”
“Two days?” Izdihar felt a mixture of relief and panic at this.
“Yes. Your father wants it taken care of as soon as possible.”
“What’s he going to do?” asked Izdihar.
“He is left with no choice. He’s going to kill Adviser Sayyid.”
There was a silence. “How?” Her voice was little more than a whisper.
“A few of us guards will infiltrate Adviser Sayyid’s tower at ground level and work our way up, hopefully distracting the guards away from Adviser Sayyid himself. There can be no witnesses. King Basir will cross the bridge and find the adviser.”
“Surely there will still be some men with him?”
“There might well be one or two, but the king should be able to take care of them. No one will know that Adviser Sayyid’s death had anything to do with the king.”
“But then shouldn’t someone else do it?”
Faruq smiled. “He says it’s something he needs to do himself, that he can’t hide behind his men. Besides, there aren’t many of us that he was able to trust with this. He needs us all as part of the distraction. You are to be in your father’s quarters while he is gone, and to claim that the two of you were together the whole time. ”
Izdihar nodded. “But if his men are attacking Adviser Sayyid's tower at the same time, won’t it be obvious that it was on his orders?”
“We will not be in our uniform, and we will be wearing masks,” said Faruq.
Izdihar bit her lip. It seemed to her that there was a lot that could go wrong with this plan, and she was scared both for her father and for Faruq and the other guards. The thought of him fighting, outnumbered, Adviser Sayyid’s men, made her shudder. And her father, facing the adviser, who might not even be alone...
“I know it’s risky, and your father doesn’t like to have to be dishonest to the people, but it’s the best we can do. We can’t risk Adviser Sayyid finding out... or holding a sudden wedding.”
There was a long silence. Izdihar was aware of Faruq staring at her.
“Izdihar...” she looked up. “You’re doing a very brave thing for the kingdom.”
“You helped a lot,” said Izdihar.”You made me see that even though it seemed hopeless, I had to have faith in my father.”
Faruq didn’t return her smile. “I had no idea what you’d been asked to do,” he said in a low voice, looking down at the grass.
“But you made me see that it didn’t matter. You were the one that told me that you’d risk your life for this kingdom. You and my father are risking so much. And this was all I could do. Of course I had to do it.”
And suddenly everything didn’t seem so bad. Izdihar realised she felt happier, and safer, than she had since her father had told her about Adviser Sayyid’s plans for the ball. “You don’t know how good it is to see you, Faruq,” she said, and without thinking about it, she gave him a hug.
They pulled apart. Faruq looked like he wanted to say something but he didn’t. For a few infinite moments they looked into each other’s eyes and Izdihar found herself unable to speak or move.
Then Faruq leaned forward slightly and kissed her. Their lips only brushed gently together for a second before he turned away, looking down. “I’m sorry, I...”
Izdihar grabbed his hand so he turned back round to face her and kissed him fiercely.