the princess leaks to make the fight fair.

The night air was cool as a light desert breeze tickled the treetops.  All around the sleeping princess, silken curtains throughout the palace trilled in the caress of unseen hands, until finally her eyes opened.  She stood and wrapped an ornate robe around her shoulders, clutching it at her neck, and walked over the flawless marble floors which gleamed in the moonlight, to the balcony.  Her head and her heart were both heavy with the impending battle, and finding sleep proved troublesome.  A battle which would benefit no one, and one which would no doubt hurt both her father and her lover.  So she walked into the crisp nighttime air in hopes that it would clear her head, perhaps even make her feel better.

It did not.  It served only to ignite the smoldering anxiety which had churned beneath her thoughts for some time.  What was she to do?  She dared not choose sides between her father the king and Mamba, Zoumbou's sworn enemy -- yet Ghalia's dearest love.  Losing either of those men would dash her heart to pieces.

Her next move was an obvious one: she needed to stop the battle, of course.  But how?  The bloodlust of a mounting war had gained much momentum in the last few weeks, and Ghalia feared it now moved with a building force too fast for even her deft touch to abate.  She could wake her father, talk to him, make him see the backlash such a battle would bring to the kingdom, but did she dare?  To her knowledge no one had ever opposed King Zoumbou.  She hoped that being his daughter might lessen his anger, but Ghalia was no fool; the king was was a determined and hard man who was not easily dissuaded.  His temper was legendary.  She needed to choose her words carefully if indeed she did decide to confront the old man; she certainly did not want to face the brunt of his ire.  Ghalia shivered -- not a byproduct of the cool air either, and held herself tightly in her own grasp.

She set her jaw with an air of resolution and walked back inside and into her wardrobe, where she replaced the robe with something more suitable and straightened her long black hair back into a bun.  She looked at herself in the mirror and worked to control her breathing with slow, deep breaths.  Then, with her resolve at its pinnacle, she whirled and set off silently down the hallway to her father's bed chamber.

She crept through the palace corridors in complete silence, her long and lean feet expertly gliding over the cold surface of the flooring, and before she realized, she stood before Tumer and Veld, her father's most trusted soldiers, who stood post just outside the king's door.  She regarded them with a nod and pushed her way into Zoumbou's darkened room.  She was able to navigate through the pelts and pillows which adorned the area, until she was at his bedside, quietly watching him sleep.

There were many things Ghalia wanted to tell her father, a multitude of things which she felt were of great importance, but when it came right down to it, to the moment when she was to awaken the tyrant, the scourge of the desert, she hesitated.  She had long been aware of the stories spread throughout the land of her father, told by those who feared him or were vanquished by him.  The stories of the heads of his victims on pikes, or of people who stood up to him and were fed to hungry lions for sport.  She wasn't sure she believed those stories (at least not all of them), but even if they were true, that wasn't the Zoumbou that Ghalia knew.  The quiet and thoughtful man who used to take her on walks through the botanical gardens, the man who would place his giggling little girl atop his mighty shoulders as they strolled through the town square.

Still...

Ghalia sighed and decided not to wake him.  She would instead take her leave and hope Mamba and Zoumbou could settle their quarrels without bloodshed.  She nodded to the guards as she slipped from the King's chambers and hurried back to her room, where she packed a light bag of clothes and climbed down her balcony and into the dark sands below.

The End

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