More Precious than a Crown(6)

By: Carol Marinelli


Zahid’s jaw gritted because Layla did not have a husband, let alone a son.

‘Perhaps,’ the king continued, ‘if the crown prince chooses not to marry yet, another royal wedding might appease the people.’

‘Father...’ Zahid addressed him as a father and not a king, trying to reach for his softer side, for the king truly adored his daughter. ‘Layla does not like any of her prospective husbands.’

‘Layla needs to understand that with privilege comes responsibility. I am thinking of inviting the Fayeds to dine here at the palace next week.’

Zahid thought about Layla, who had kicked, screamed and bitten when her father had once attempted to drag her out to meet suitors.

She was a rebel, a challenge, and reminded him of...

Perhaps it was the wedding invitation but Zahid’s mind drifted back in time and he recalled Trinity. Not the kiss but the fire in her eyes and a spirit that would not be crushed. Imagine Trinity being forced to marry. It would never happen.

‘You wouldn’t do that to Layla,’ Zahid said, but the king nodded for Abdul to leave them for a moment and, once alone, he addressed his son.

‘Today there are reports in the news that I have lost weight. Last week it was reported that during my last overseas trip I was hospitalised. Soon I will not be well enough to leave Ishla for my treatments and the people will know that I have little time left. They need to know the future is secure.’ It was said without emotion and should be accepted the same way. Feelings were frowned upon, especially for a male royal, but Zahid could not allow Layla to be used as a pawn. If he married then he could change things for Layla, who, unlike him, believed in foolish things like a marriage based on love.

It was not just the king that Layla had wrapped around her little finger. History meant that Zahid too, was extremely protective towards his sister. Not that Layla knew why, for the time of the queen’s death and its aftermath must never be discussed.

‘I want to announce a royal wedding,’ the king reiterated. ‘I want to hear cheering in the street when you walk onto the balcony with your chosen bride.’

‘Chosen?’ Zahid’s word was tart. For all the dining with families that would take place, for all the pomp and ceremony that went in to choosing a bride, both the king and Zahid knew it was a given. Zahid must choose Princess Sameena of Bishram and right his father’s wrongs for Fahid had not chosen wisely.

Instead of choosing Princess Raina of Bishram, a younger Fahid had fallen in love.

Zahid though, would choose wisely. Sameena was his father’s first choice, for the long-ago snub to the now Queen Raina still caused problems and both men hoped for friendlier relations between Ishla and Bishram.

Zahid, though, leaned towards Sheikha Kumu.

Her country, though small, was prosperous and had an extremely efficient army.

It was a business decision to Zahid and one he would not take lightly.

‘You do not need to ask the Fayeds to dine just yet.’ Finally Zahid relented. ‘You are right: the people have already waited long enough for their prince to choose his bride. Six months to a year sounds a suitable time frame.’

‘I am pleased to hear it,’ the king said, and then called his aide to join them again. ‘Abdul, do what is necessary for the renovations to commence.’ He did little to contain the smile of victory that played on his lips as he continued speaking. ‘And send out the invitations for potential brides and their families to dine.’

Zahid walked through to the master suite and on the king’s instruction a servant opened the huge shutter and the sun streamed into the room and fell on a large carved wooden bed. Here, Zahid and his bride would first live till, on the king’s death, they moved to the first palace to rule the land that he loved.

Zahid did not have six months left to enjoy being single for once his bride was officially chosen his playboy reputation must become a thing of the past.

It was a very sobering thought and one that did not go unnoticed by his sister.

As he prepared to fly to London for Donald’s wedding, Layla came to his suite.

‘Father says that the renovations are starting.’

‘Correct.’

‘Do you know who you will choose as your bride?’

Zahid did not answer, not that Layla let that stop the conversation.

‘Perhaps Sheikha Kumu?’ Layla fished. ‘She is well connected and very pretty, or maybe Princess Sameena, she’s so beautiful—’

‘It is not about looks,’ Zahid interrupted. ‘I will choose the bride who will best serve our people. One who will understand that my heart belongs to them.’