More Precious than a Crown(5)

By: Carol Marinelli

‘Donald Foster?’ The King halted and turned round and Zahid silently cursed Abdul for insisting that they go through the diaries now. He had been hoping that his father would not find out. ‘That is the man who saved our family from shame...’

‘That was a very long time ago, Father.’

‘Our country has a long memory,’ the king responded. ‘You owe that man...’

‘I have more than repaid my debt to him.’

Over and over Zahid had repaid his debt to Donald—he had been his friend when, perhaps, Zahid would rather not have been, he had secured invitations to functions that Donald would never have got into had he not asked Zahid to intervene, and over the years Donald had also borrowed significant amounts of money and made no effort to pay him back.

‘Were it not for Donald,’ the king pointed out, ‘you would have been brought into disrepute. More than that, you would have brought our country into disrepute. When is the wedding?’

‘It is in two weeks,’ Abdul said, then looked at Zahid. ‘We could rearrange your schedule.’

‘First a wedding and, given the speed it’s been arranged, soon it will be a christening...’ Zahid pointed out, and the King tutted.

‘I would support a polite declining of your attendance at a christening for a child conceived out of wedlock, as would our people, but the wedding...’

To the king’s surprise, Zahid took no more persuading, for he interrupted with a brief nod and then turned to Abdul. ‘Very well, arrange my schedule but make it a brief visit, two nights at the most. I will fly out the day after the wedding.’

‘If only it were that easy to get you to agree to more pressing matters,’ Fahid commented, but Zahid did not respond, for he knew what was coming next—his father had brought him here for a reason, Zahid was sure. ‘We need to speak about the renovations that are needed here.’

Memories stirred for both the king and Abdul as they walked through the second jewel of Ishla. The second palace was where Zahid and his sister Layla had been born and raised. Even on their mother’s death, when Zahid had been seven, they had lived here. The king had been heartbroken at the death of his wife, Annan, but thanks to the privacy the second palace had afforded them, he had been able to grieve largely in private.

Zahid deliberately kept his face impassive as they discussed the work that needed doing, but he knew that just the fact his father had chosen to speak with him here meant that the reins were tightening.

His father had long since wanted him to choose a suitable bride. So far Zahid had resisted, he liked his freedom far too much, but this was a working royal family and Zahid’s skills in engineering were being utilised, his vision for Ishla was taking shape, and more and more his time was spent here.

It was time for Zahid to raise a family.

‘There is much work to be done,’ Abdul said. ‘The chief architect is concerned about some erosion on the cliff face and, as we thought, the great hall and the master suite are in need of structural repair.’

‘How long will that take?’

‘Six months to a year is his best estimate,’ Abdul said, and went into further detail. It wasn’t as simple as commencing work—the second palace contained many valuable pieces that would need to be catalogued and stored before work could even begin.

‘You do realise, Zahid,’ the king said to his eldest son, ‘that once it gets out that activity has commenced at the second place, our people will assume that we are preparing the palace for the crown prince and his bride.’

‘I do,’ Zahid replied.

‘And does six months to one year sound like a time-frame you could operate within?’

Black eyes met black eyes and there was a small stand-off. The king had raised a leader, which meant Zahid would not simply be told what he should do.

‘I think that at this stage, it would be premature to go ahead with the renovations.’ Zahid did not flinch as he defied his father’s request that he marry soon.

‘Your country wants to know that they have a prince who will—’

‘They have a prince,’ Zahid calmly interrupted, ‘who shall one day rule fairly and wisely. I do not need a bride to assure them of that.’

‘You need an heir,’ the king said. ‘If something should happen to you, they need to know that the line will continue.’ He let out an irritated breath. Zahid refused to be pushed into anything, which the king grudgingly admired, but the people needed reassuring. Time was running out for the king and so he chose now to play the one card he had that just might persuade Zahid to submit to his will. ‘Of course, should something happen to you, it would be Layla’s son who would be next in line.’