Dar and Khimilah ran down the hill with Nemo in tow. They were laughing and enjoying the garden. Khimilah’s nurse was nearby, careful to make sure that the boys didn’t get too rough with her. Jael and Hasani sat on a bench nearby. As the older children, they were confined to each others company.
They still hadn’t said a word to each other. Jael was watching the children play and thinking of her last outing with Althea. She wondered how the Curator was coming along with the artifact. If it was anything of importance he would call for her, or at least send her a message. So far there had been no word, and she was getting frustrated with his lack of communication.
Hasani chuckled to himself, and then leaned back on the stone bench, stretching his legs.
Jael glanced over at him, and she saw that he was watching her.
“What?” she demanded, and realized that probably wasn’t the best approach to talking to him. They were supposed to be on good terms, after all.
“You are hating this so much,” he replied, laughing again.
“I beg your pardon?”
“This whole being a princess thing. You have to sit with me all day and watch after your little brother while the adults talk. And all you want to do is go out and ride on your falcon and hunt for artifacts.” His accent was distracting, especially since he was laughing so much, but she was able to understand him.
She scowled before she could help herself.
“You don’t seem to be too happy sitting here with me either,” she snapped back at him.
“That’s because you haven’t liked me since we were ten, remember?” He was still laughing, clearly amused at Jael’s expense.
She couldn’t help but remember the incident. They had been in a parade, walking behind their parents. Hasani had been wearing a sword on his belt, and it was too big for him. Every time he turned it had bumped her leg, and once, when someone shouted his name and he turned, it tripped her. She had fallen flat on her face, and even though he had apologized and sworn it was an accident, he had laughed, and she hadn’t believed him. She still didn’t believe him now, although the way he said it made her feel almost mean for holding a grudge for seven years.
“You haven’t changed since then, have you? You are laughing at me, even now.”
His whole manner seemed to change. “You think I am laughing at you?”
She scowled at him. “What else is there to laugh about?”
“I’m laughing at us! You do realize what our parents are talking about, don’t you? My father plans to marry me off, to you. And then the twins will ascend the throne as Pharaoh, because together they are good luck. And you don’t even like me because of some silly incident that happened years ago, and I have lacked the courage to even look you in the eye because of it.
“I have never been more intimidated by a woman than by you, and it’s ridiculous. The two of us, it makes me laugh.”
Jael stared at him, open-mouthed. Her mother was planning on forcing her to marry Hasani? She didn’t know why it surprised her so much, because it all made a certain sort of sense. Hasani had always been present when the Pharaoh came to visit, even though his other children often stayed at home. She was always thrust into Hasani’s company, whether she liked it or not.
Finally his last words sank into her brain. She clasped onto the one thing that didn’t involve her having to marry him.
“You are intimidated by me?”
“At least once a month I hear stories of your deeds. I hear that you are a Forager, and you are not afraid to engage demons directly. You are well read. I have seen some of your paintings myself, and you still manage to defy your mother, even though she is the most powerful woman on the earth. My father barely lets me go hunting, and yet you flout your mother’s decree like it were nothing. I think you are braver than me, so yes. I find you intimidating.”
“I don’t disobey my mother for the sake of disobedience,” Jael said softly. She looked at her hands, noticing the faint scars along her knuckles.
“Have you really fought a demon before?”
“Just once,” I admitted. “Dar followed me out once. He only had his elk, and Althea saw them behind us, a demon creeping up on them. I had to do something, so we attacked it.”
Hasani looked so interested that she finished telling him the story. It really had been Althea doing most of the work. She had to fly in close enough to the creature’s mask for Jael to release her sleeping potion. Jael didn’t have the nerve to kill the creature, so they left it there and hurried back to Jyato. Once she told the guards, they went out after it, and she had gotten in big trouble with her mother, and Dar was grounded for a year.
“You weren’t afraid?” he asked after she had finished.
“Of course I was afraid. I was so scared that I could barely hold the potion steady, but it would have killed Dar. He’s my only brother.” She looked up at him, teaching Khimilah to braid the grass into a crown.
“I know that you think little of me,” Hasani began, “but I am certain that neither of us has the means to defy our parents in their wishes. I would like to make a good partner to you, Princess, if you will have me.”
Jael couldn’t speak. It wasn’t that Hasani was a bad choice. As far as she was concerned, anyone that she didn’t choose herself was unacceptable, but she had long since given up the notion that she would truly find love. She would have to deal with whatever her mother decided for her, especially since her father was gone now, and had been gone for years.
“Let’s just be friends first, okay?” she replied, giving him as bright of a smile as she could manage. “I forgive you for tripping me unceremoniously in that parade.”
He smiled back, and took her hand and kissed it. “You are most gracious, Princess. I am so glad that you have finally come to your senses.”
She pulled her hand away and stood up. “Let’s go help the kids make their crowns. Maybe we should make one with flowers for you. It would look so lovely against your dark hair.”
She hurried down the hill, grateful that she had been allowed to wear a simple shirt and long skirt instead of a thick gown. She plopped down with the kids and started helping Khimilah. The two of them working together were able to make short work of the braid, and Jael fixed a couple pink daisies to the grass to make it prettier.
She could feel Hasani’s eyes on her, and she couldn’t help but glance at him herself. Every time she did she found herself getting embarrassed, but also angry. She didn’t want to marry this man, even though he was clearly a good match for her. She didn’t like the idea that her mother had never once mentioned it to her, even though it was obvious that Cheops had discussed it with Hasani at some length.
Then there was the little matter that Hasani actually found her intimidating, and if his confession was to be believed, he admired her a little bit. He was willing to marry her to please their parents, and she knew she had no other choice. She wanted nothing more than to run away from him, but she couldn’t.
She looked up at him, helping Dar train his puppy to sit, and she knew that for better or for worse, she’d have to get used to him.
Andrew Boyd (via coffeeislovely)
Avengers Stamp by TwilightProwler