Hidden in the Sheikh's Harem: Christmas at the Castello(5)

By: Michelle Conder

‘No, I do not. The Al-Hajjar tribe will never recognise Darkhan rule while I am leader and I can’t believe my own daughter is talking like this. You know what he stole from me.’

Farah released a slow breath. Yes, the king’s refusal to supply the outer regions of Bakaan with basic medical provisions, amongst other things, had inadvertently led to the death of her mother and her unborn brother—everything her father had held dear. Farah tried not to let her own misery at never quite being enough for her father rise up and consume her. She knew better than anyone that wanting love—relying on love—ultimately led to pain.

Her father continued on about everything else the Darkhans had stolen from them: land, privileges, freedom. Stories she’d heard at her bedtime for so long she sometimes heard them in her sleep. Truth be told, she actually agreed with a lot of what her father said. The dead King of Bakaan had been a selfish, controlling tyrant who hadn’t cared a jot for his people. But kidnapping Prince Zachim was not, in her view, the way to correct past wrongs. Especially when it was an offence punishable by imprisonment or death.

‘How will this bring about peace and improve things, Father?’ She tried to appeal to his rational side but she could see that he had a wild look in his eyes.

Her father shrugged. ‘The country won’t have a chance of overthrowing the throne with him on it. He’s too powerful.’

Yes, Farah had heard that Prince Zachim was successful and powerful beyond measure. She had also heard he was extremely good-looking, which had been confirmed by the many photos she’d seen of him squiring some woman or another to glamorous events. Not that his looks were important on any level!

She rubbed her brow. ‘So what happens now? What was the Bakaan council’s response?’

For the first time since she’d walked in, her father looked uncertain. He rose and paced away from her, his hands gripped behind his back. ‘They don’t know yet.’

‘They don’t know?’ Farah’s eyebrows knit together. ‘How can they not know?’

‘When I am ready to reveal my plans, I will do so.’ Which told Farah that he didn’t actually have a plan yet. ‘But this is not something I am prepared to discuss with you. And why are you dressed like that? Those boots are made for men.’

Farah scuffed her steel-capped boots against the rug. She’d forgotten that she still wore old clothes from working with the camels, but seriously, they were going to discuss her clothing while he held the most important man in the country hostage? ‘That’s not important. I—’

‘It is important if I say it is. You know how I feel.’

‘Yes, but I think there are more...pressing things to discuss, don’t you?’

‘Those things are in play now. There is nothing that can be done.’

A sudden weariness overcame him and he flopped back onto the cushions, his expression looking suspiciously like regret. Farah’s heart clenched. ‘Is he...is he at least okay?’ She cringed as visions of the prince beaten up came into her head. She knew that would only make things worse—if that was even possible.

‘Apart from the son of a dog refusing to eat, yes.’

‘No doubt he thinks the food is poisoned,’ she offered.

‘If I wanted him dead, I’d use my sword,’ her father asserted.

‘How very remiss of him.’ Fortunately her sarcasm went over his head, but it didn’t escape Amir, who frowned at her. She rolled her eyes. She knew he thought she overstepped the boundaries with her father but she didn’t care. She couldn’t let her father spend his last years in prison—or, worse, die.

‘Perhaps that is the answer,’ Amir mused. ‘We kill him and get rid of the body. No one could pin his death on us.’

Farah gave him a fulminating glare. ‘I can’t believe you said that, Amir. Apart from the fact that it’s completely barbaric, if the palace found out, they would decimate our village.’

‘No one would find out.’

‘And no one is going to die, either.’ She shoved her hands on her hips and thought about how to contain the testosterone in the room before it reached drastic levels. ‘I will go and see him.’

‘You will not go near him, Farah,’ her father ordered. ‘Dealing with the prisoner is a man’s job.’

Wanting to point out that her father was doing a hatchet job of it if the prince was refusing to eat, Farah wisely kept her mouth shut. Instead she decided to take matters into her own hands.

‘Where are you going?’

She stiffened as Amir called out to her in a commanding tone. Slowly she pivoted back around to face him. ‘To get something to eat,’ she said tightly. ‘Is that okay?’