If Zahra had been expecting a craggy old prince with a crooked brow and a spiteful sneer, her expectations were sorely unmet. For instead of a cruel-looking man, there sat in the throne a very young man with a most beautiful appearance.
The prince was tall, though perhaps not so tall as Adrian, with dark brown, wavy locks and grey eyes that betrayed no emotion...except for, maybe, a bit of weariness. His build was lean, and his handsomeness was so harsh that Zahra caught her breath.
"What is it?" Prince Alexander asked, sceptre in hand.
"Alexander, I know you just had your last audience for the day, but this girl...well, she was..." Adrian stopped and coughed. "She profaned the sacred grounds."
A smile that almost appeared genuine tickled the prince's lips. "The sacred grounds," he said, tone sardonic. "Can't have that, can we?"
"I know you're far less concerned about the rules of the kingdom than I am, but the sacred grounds...well, they are sacred."
Chuckling in spite of herself, Zahra couldn't help but find humor in Adrian's obvious statement. At her chuckle, the prince turned to study her again. Embarrassed under his perusal, Zahra put her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows. "Well? What are you going to do about me, eh?"
"It's true," the prince said, rising from his throne to walk over to the window. "The kingdom hates to have its sacred grounds mocked. Take her to the most comfortable prison cell you can find. We'll deal with her tomorrow, after I've consulted the Book of the Sacred Remnants."
"Oh, the most comfortable prison cell?" Zahra snorted. "Whyever for?"
"Ladies do not belong in dungeons," Prince Alexander said with a wave of his hand.
"Oh? You think we women are too weak to handle it, do you?"
"On the contrary, I think women are to be - " and there, the prince stopped, turning back to the window. "Adrian, find a guard to take her away. I need to speak with you."
Zahra was led away, but before she was ushered from the throne room, she stopped and looked back. What she saw took her by complete surprise.
Adrian had walked up to the prince's side. Wearily, if not brokenly, the prince leaned against the window, resting his head in one hand. Adrian reached up to place his hand on the prince's shoulder, as though in comfort. The whole scene was so different from what Zahra had experienced from either Adrian or Prince Alexander that she stood, frozen and transfixed.
And then, Zahra was led from the throneroom.