Lost to the Desert Warrior(2)

By: Sarah Morgan

 Footsteps echoed on the stone floor of the bedroom.

 As the door closed behind them Yasmin pulled away, gasping for air. ‘I thought you were going to suffocate me.’

 ‘I thought you were going to scream.’

 ‘I’ve never screamed in my life. I’m not that pathetic.’ But her sister looked shaken and Layla took her hand and held it firmly as she peeped around the heavy velvet curtain.

 ‘They’ve gone. We’re safe.’

 ‘Safe? Layla, that wrinkled, overweight monster is going to marry you before dawn and he’s going to send me away to America, miles from home and miles from you.’

 Layla heard the break in her sister’s voice and tightened her grip on her hand. ‘No, he won’t. I’m not going to allow him to take you away.’

 ‘How can you stop it? I don’t care what happens, but I want us to stay together. It’s been the two of us for so long I can’t imagine any other life. I need you to stop me opening my mouth when I should close it and you need me to stop you living your life in a book.’

 Her sister’s voice was soaked with despair and Layla felt crushed by the weight of responsibility.

 She felt small and powerless as she stood alone against the brutal force of Hassan’s limitless ambition.

 ‘I promise we won’t be separated.’

 ‘How can you promise that?’

 ‘I don’t know yet. But I’m thinking...’

 ‘Well, think fast, because in a few hours I’ll be on a plane to America and you’ll be in Hassan’s bed.’

 ‘Yasmin!’ Shocked, Layla gaped at her sister, who shrugged defiantly.

 ‘It’s true.’

 ‘What do you know about being in a man’s bed?’

 ‘Nowhere near as much as I’d like. I suppose that might be one of the advantages of being banished to America.’

 Despite their circumstances, a dimple flickered at the corner of Yasmin’s mouth and Layla felt a lump in her throat. No matter how dire the circumstances, her sister always managed to find a reason to smile. She’d brought laughter to places without humour and light into the dark.

 ‘I can’t lose you.’ She couldn’t even bear to think of that option. ‘I won’t lose you.’

 Yasmin peered cautiously across the room. ‘Is our father really dead?’

 ‘Yes.’ Layla tried to find some emotion inside herself but all she felt was numb. ‘Are you sad?’

 ‘Why would I be sad? This is only the fifth time I’ve ever seen him in person and I don’t think this one counts so that’s only four times. He made our lives hell and he’s still making it hell even though he’s dead.’ Yasmin’s unusual blue eyes darkened with fury. ‘Do you know what I wish? I wish Raz Al Zahki would ride into the city on that terrifying black stallion of his and finish off Hassan. I’d cheer. In fact I’d be so grateful I’d marry him myself and give him a hundred babies just to make sure his line is safe.’

 Layla tried not to look at the figure on the bed. Even dead, she didn’t want to see him. ‘He wouldn’t want to marry you. You are the daughter of the man responsible for the death of his father and his beautiful wife. He hates us, and I cannot blame him for that.’ She hated herself too, for sharing the blood of a man with so little humanity. For sharing in his shame.

 ‘He should marry you. Then no one would be able to challenge him and Hassan would be finished.’

 The idea was so outrageous, so typical of Yasmin, Layla’s instinct was to dismiss it instantly and preach caution as she always did. But how was caution going to help them when her marriage was only hours away?

 Her mind picked at the idea gingerly. ‘Yasmin—’

 ‘It is said he loved his wife so deeply that when she died he made a vow never to love again.’ Yasmin spoke in an awed whisper. ‘Have you ever heard anything so romantic?’

 Layla’s courage evaporated along with the idea. She couldn’t do it. ‘It’s not romantic. It’s tragic. It was a terrible thing.’

 ‘But to be loved that much by a man as strong and honourable as him—I want that one day.’

 Yasmin stared into the distance and Layla gave her a shake.

 ‘Stop dreaming.’ The whole thing was alien to her. The only love she knew was her love for her sister. She’d never felt anything remotely romantic when she’d looked at a man. And nothing she’d read on the subject had led her to believe that would change in the future. She was far too practical a person, and it was the practical side that drove her now. ‘If they take you to America I’ll never see you again. I’m not going to let that happen.’