Thirty-FourMature

After what seemed like forever, Izdihar heard footsteps outside and the sound of someone unlocking the door. She jumped up nervously as the door opened to reveal one of Sayyid’s guard.

            “You are to join King Sayyid for dinner,” he said.

            Izdihar thought about refusing – how dare he summon her for dinner like that, after keeping her locked up all day – but, little as she wanted to see the new king, she was desperate to get out of the tiny room, and this might be her best chance of finding out what Sayyid was intending to do with her.

            She followed the guard in silence along corridors and up stairs, passing few people, the odd guard or servant. They came to the large, grand dining room where Sayyid was sitting at a table. Two guards were standing stiffly against the far wall.

            “Ah, Princess Izdihar,” said Sayyid, looking triumphant, smiling that horrible, slightly amused smile he so often wore. “No, my mistake, just Izdihar... After all, your father is no longer king.” He gestured to the seat opposite him.

            Izdihar steeled herself and sat down.

            “You must be hungry?” said Sayyid. He nodded to one of the guards, and a minute later two servants appeared out of a door opposite the one they had come through, laden with dishes of food – meats, salad, bread... When the smell reached her nose and the dishes were set down before her, Izdihar realised how hungry she was.

            “Please, help yourself,” said Sayyid, filling his own plate. Izdihar ignored him and ate silently.

            When Sayyid finished, she noticed him staring at her as if she were the next course. She suddenly felt so angry she could barely contain it. She sat back, determined not to play his games any more.

            “Let me go home, Sayyid,” she said.

            “I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” he said, that cold amusement never leaving his eyes. “This is the royal tower now. I have plans for the old one.”

            “Let me stay somewhere else then, just let me go,” said Izdihar, thinking of Shahrazad’s flat. You can’t keep me here.”

            “On the contrary, there is absolutely nothing and nobody who can stop me. I am the king and I will do what I like.”

            “But what do you want with me now? You’re already king, you don’t need to marry me!”

            “You’re right, I don’t,” said Sayyid coldly. “But I want to. I need a wife, and as king I can choose any woman in my kingdom. You’ll do perfectly.”

            Izdihar felt sick. She met Sayyid’s unwavering gaze and was overcome with hate for him.

            “I refuse to marry you!” she said. “My father said you were to leave me alone, he took back his permission!”

            “Your father’s not here, sweetheart,” said Sayyid. “He’s lying in the desert somewhere, having his flesh picked at by vultures.”

Izdihar flinched. She stood up. “I won’t marry you. I won’t!”

          One of the guards made as if to come towards her, but Sayyid made no move, perfectly calm. “Oh, but you will.” Izdihar shook her head, a feeling of dread rising in her chest.

            Sayyid continued, sounding like he was approaching the punch line of a joke. “You see, I have every one of your father’s guards who was involved in yesterday’s events locked up in prison. I could have any one of them beaten, tortured or killed.”

            Izdihar was staring at him in horror.

            “One word from me and a certain young man – his name is Faruq I believe, is that right? – will find himself hanging in Central Square.”

            “No!” she choked. “No!”

            “His fate rests in your hands, Izdihar.”

            “Don’t hurt him, please!”she gasped. “Please, I’ll do it, I’ll do anything, I’ll marry you, whatever you want, just please don’t hurt him!”

              “Very well.” Sayyid got up, all businesslike. “We will be married in one month’s time. In the meantime here’s how things are going to work. You will be free to move around the tower but under no circumstances are you to try to leave. Know that if you did you would not get past my guards. You will come here for your meals. I’m sure I don’t need to warn you of the consequences if you disobey any of my orders. Good night.”

            He left the room and it was silent for a second. Izdihar sank to the floor, heaving with great sobs, barely aware of the two guards still standing there watching her.

The End

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