Lost to the Desert Warrior(4)

By: Sarah Morgan

 Abdul, his advisor and long-time friend stepped forward. ‘There is something else, Your Highness. As you predicted, Hassan plans to marry the eldest princess in a matter of hours. Preparations for the wedding are already underway.’

 ‘Before her father’s body is even cold?’ Raz gave a cynical laugh. ‘Her grief clearly overwhelms her.’

 ‘Hassan must be at least forty years older than her,’ Salem murmured. ‘One wonders what she gains from the match.’

 ‘There is no mystery there. She continues to live in a palace and enjoy benefits that should never have been hers to begin with.’ Raz stared at the horizon. ‘She is the daughter of the most ruthless man who ever ruled Tazkhan. Don’t waste your sympathy.’

 ‘If Hassan marries the girl it will be harder for you to challenge the succession legally.’

 ‘Which is why I intend to make sure the wedding does not take place.’

 Abdul shot him a startled look. ‘So you intend to go ahead with your plan? Even though what you’re suggesting is—’

 ‘The only option available.’ Raz cut him off, hearing the hardness in his own tone. It was the same hardness that ran right through him. Once, he’d been capable of warmth, but that part of him had died along with the woman he’d loved. ‘We have considered every other option, and—’ He broke off as he heard a commotion in the darkness and then lifted a hand as his bodyguards emerged silently to flank him.

 They were men who had followed him for fifteen years, since the brutal slaying of his father. Men who would die for him.

 Abdul thrust himself in front of Raz and that gesture touched him more than any other, because his trusted advisor was neither physically fit nor skilled with weapons.

 Gently, but firmly, he moved him to one side, but Abdul protested.

 ‘Go. Go! It could be the attempt on your life we have been expecting.’

 Aware that Salem had his hand on his weapon, Raz fixed his gaze on the slim figure of a boy whose arms were gripped by two of his men. ‘If my death were the objective then surely they would give the responsibility to someone I could not so easily crush.’

 ‘We found him wandering in the desert along the border with Zubran. He appears to be alone. He says he has a message for Raz Al Zahki.’

 Knowing that his men were protecting his identity, Raz signalled for them to bring their captive forward.

 His hands were tied and as they released him the boy stumbled and fell to his knees. Raz stared down at him, noticing absently that his robes swamped his thin body.

 It was Salem who spoke. Salem, his brother, who rarely left his side. ‘What message do you have for Raz Al Zahki, boy?’

 ‘I have to speak to him in person.’ The words were mumbled and barely audible. ‘And I have to be alone when I do it. What I have to say is just for him and no other.’

 The guard closest to him gave a grunt of disgust. ‘Someone like you wouldn’t get close enough to Raz Al Zahki to wave from a distance, let alone be alone with him, and you should be grateful for that. He’d eat you alive.’

 ‘I don’t care what he does to me as long as he hears what I have to say. Take me to him. Please.’

 The boy kept his head bowed and something in the set of those narrow shoulders drew Raz’s attention.

 Ignoring Salem’s attempts to hold him back, he stepped forward. ‘So you’re not afraid?’

 There was a brief pause. The wind blew across the desert, whipping up sand and catching the edges of the boy’s robe. He clutched it desperately.

 ‘Yes, I am afraid. But not of Raz Al Zahki.’

 ‘Then you need to be educated.’ The guard dragged his captive to his feet and the boy gasped in pain. ‘We’ll keep him here tonight and question him again in the morning.’

 ‘No!’ The boy struggled frantically in the man’s grip. ‘By morning it will be too late. I have to speak to him now. Please. The future of Tazkhan depends on it.’

 Raz stared at the boy, half shrouded by robes that were too big for him. ‘Take him to my tent.’

 Salem, Abdul and the guards looked at him in disbelief.

 ‘Do it,’ Raz said softly, but still the guards hesitated.

 ‘We’ll strip-search him first—’

 ‘Take him to my tent and then leave us.’

 Abdul touched his arm, his voice low. ‘I have never before questioned your decisions, Your Highness, but this time I beg you, at least keep the guards with you.’