At the Beginning
Cool and soft breeze caressed her tanned skin. It was the morning breeze, she knew, she had been feeling it every single morning, just before dawn, all those days she would visit the High Temple and pray. But how was it possible for her to feel the Alamutian air; she was way too deep in the ground to even feel anything but the heat of the Sand Glass and the beads of sweat on her forehead. Wasn't she?
She forced her eyes open and blinked at the bright, blinding light of the morning sun. What had happened? Where was she?
Her eyes scanned the area and met a dozen pairs of concerned ones, blue, green or brown, staring at her with concern. Arching a manicured brow, she realised she was in the High Temple. It was the dawn the Persians breeched the walls of her city. The battle cries and the great horns of alarm only confirmed her suspicions. She had turned back three weeks' time. Before everything had started, before the Prince had even managed to have in his hands the precious Dagger.
She had to take action. She was but one woman alone against them all, even against the man she had been allies with just moments before. She was all alone but not helpless, she would make things right, all she had to do is find the Prince and convince him of his uncle's treachery. It wasn't an easy task since she remembered the praises and loving words Dastan expressed for his uncle before he learnt he was the traitor. It would be a great difficulty to make him see the man he had so eagerly and affectionately come to call family was the one man that hated him most.
Tamina's head jerked towards the owner of the deep voice; Asoka. He was holding the cloth with the Dagger. What was he still doing there? No, matter, she had to show Dastan the Dagger in case he wouldn't believe her. Or should she let him discover it the way he had in the previous time? She decided it was better for him to find out on his own since she would not feel as a traitor of the secret she had so hard tried to keep hidden, even if it was Dastan the one she talked to about it.
"Princess, are you all right?" the man interrogated again. His dark eyes full of concern and impatience. His grip around the Dagger was strong, unbreakable, he truly was a devoted guardian, unlike the one Nizam had corrupted. The young woman's eyes grew wider than before. Turning back the time, she had reversed all of the deaths, even the Hassansins'. Another great task was burdening her now; finding the compromised priest and silencing him once and for all.
"Yes, Asoka. You know what you must do." She felt strange repeating words she had given him just three weeks before, three weeks he had not lived, three weeks that were just a memory of her own mind, nobody else's. She knew those memories would forever haunt her from that point on, but she could fight, she couldn't let the pain and sorrow they caused her, take over her. After all, she had far more important things to do than sinking in these bittersweet memoirs.
Her most trusted Guardian nodded. "Above all else it must be kept safe." she heard him promising again and the faintest of smirks appeared at the corners of her lips remembering the turn of events in the previous time, when he had unintentionally broken that promise, the real cause of the events that followed next. What an irony… But that time, she prayed it would happen again, that whatever the way, Prince Dastan would once again find the Dagger. For the sake of them all. But she was neither frightened nor uncertain. Seeing him falling off the cliff, she had realised protecting the Dagger was part of his destiny as well, that's why the sacred item had fallen in his hands in the first place.
Once her trusted Asoka had left the High Temple, she rapidly followed on his footsteps but instead she headed towards the great balcony of the palace, the one she remembered herself on, observing the Persian besiege just before Dastan's men breached the walls of the Holy City. After such a long period for her and her only, she violently pulled the velvet, transparent curtains that revealed the balcony apart and stood motionless, supporting a little her weight on the stony ceiling. Her eyes traveled through the streets of Alamut in a desperate search of her priest.
The bright, vivid sun that was already rising was slightly blinding her, its golden sunrays blurring her eyesight. She narrowed her lashes only a little and lowered her head, her eyes still scanning for the carrier of the sacred Dagger. And there he was, riding his strong black mare, exiting the royal stables. He was running furiously along a narrow street, his spear in fighting position, aiming it at some Persian. His face was hard and a blood thirsty, determined look rested in his eyes; he was ready to do anything to take the Dagger to the Guardian Temple, to safety.
The horse and its rider entered a tunnel, chasing the man who was blocking their way. Tamina ran to the right corner of the balcony and tried to get a clear view of the priest. Only when she saw him being unhorsed by a man running on walls did she realise that the man was none other than the Prince. Jumping on walls, how like him, she thought slightly amused. The sword fight took them out of her sight, behind some houses. Damn, why did they have to be hidden from her sight at such a crucial part?
She couldn't believe she wanted a Persian to take the Dagger! Her, the woman who had thought that the Persians were nothing but camel-riding illiterates; not to mention brutal and without honor people. Well, the Prince had proven himself worthy of her trust and affection so he was excluded from the list. Maybe his brothers were too.
"Silly songs and scented smoke will do little for you now!"
Uh…scratch that… she thought rolling her eyes. Prince Garsiv's words were not meant for her that time but to her priestesses that were on their knees, their white hoods on their ebony heads, praying for the safety of the precious Dagger and for the salvation of their city. The Princess of Alamut took a deep breath, as she walked slowly but determinately back in the room and prayed to her gods to give her the strength and courage to do what she must and to bless her mind and tongue with witty remarks and clever replies. She had to handle with delicacy and cleverness such a matter.
Like during the previous time, Prince Tus, covered in blood and holding his mighty scimitar with his right hand, stood before the crowd of Persian soldiers, while the middle Prince and their disgusting uncle stood by her right hand side. It took a lot of strength from her part not to even glare at Nizam. She hated him with all her heart and she wouldn't get satisfaction unless she saw him in despair and hopelessness, feelings he had caused to people who loved him or respected him, because of his greed. She stood tall before the eldest Prince, her face fierce and hard to read. Her lips didn't move, she just waited for them to blame her and her people for conspiring against Persia and for hiding their nonexistent forges.
The eldest Persian Prince raised his sword and with his blade, he gently removed her hood she had forgotten she had been wearing. Once more, all of those impertinents exclaimed in awe and approval when seeing her face.
"So for once the stories are true."
Tamina mocked a faint smirk. Yes, stories of her beauty traveled all around the Empire. They all called her beauty a gift and a blessing given to her by the gods while she had never stopped believing that it was a curse as well. She couldn't stand the stares of all those men thirsty for a beautiful woman's skin and love. It just disgusted her and made her want to wipe those smug grins of them off their faces. But she remained perfectly still as she heard the accursed man charging her with treason."We know you secretly build weapons for enemies of Persia. Now show us where."
Putting on a mask of surprise and disbelief, she turned and faced the old man, and looked deep into his dark eyes. "We have no forges here and what weapons we had you overcame."
Prince Garsiv eyed her, determined to get the truth out of her lips. "Our spies say differently. You can save lots of pain-!"
"Your spies, Prince Garsiv?" she cut him off, earning a threatening glare from the middle Prince which she chose to ignore. "You seem to be showing too much trust in your spies' words." The Prince raised his brows, clearly not understanding what she meant or not wanting to accept what she implied. Of course, he would not believe her; his mind was so blurred by his uncle's misleading words about frames of alamutian conspiracy that it would not be easy to make him see the real truth. After all, it had taken so many days for Dastan, his own brother, to persuade him he was innocent and Nizam was to blame. "Hasn't even the thought that your so-called spies have been bribed crossed your mind, Prince Garsiv?"
She wished that Nizam's flinching and slightly suspicious eyes had been noticed by all of them or at least, the Princes and not just by her. But maybe she was able to see it since she knew the truth and she expected him to react that way.
"What are you suggesting, Princess?" Prince Tus asked skeptically, clearly considering just a little bit her theory but not being convinced. She turned to look at him when a sparkle of red caught her eye. She searched the room and for one more time, her gaze fell on the Dagger strapped around the youngest Prince's waist. He had taken it, just like she had guessed.
And then, she looked again at his face. The last memory of him was a face that showed pain, fear and despair. The relief she felt to see him alive was inexplicable and the joy to see him again was overwhelming; but he did not remember her, he did not know her. That was the price she had to pay for not protecting the Dagger the way she should have. He stood there watching with curious eyes the conversation. She wanted to run to him, to hold him and to tell him everything that had happened, everything that had not and everything that would. But it would have been in vain and she would have probably looked like a lunatic.
"I should think it's obvious, Prince Tus." She answered, breaking the eye contact with the youngest Prince."Your spies do not deserve the trust you have shown them. They have been paid by someone to give you false information."
Nizam laughed in irony. His first mistake, she thought with a faint smile. "And what reason would this…someone have to do such a thing? What could he gain by conquering this city?"
Tamina slowly walked before him, facing him directly into his dark orbs. "Why don't you ask your spies…Prince Nizam?" she made sure she looked and sounded suspicious and quizzical to the man, giving away the fact that she, too, was suspecting someone in particular. His icy expression did not leave his face for one moment. He locked his eyes with hers, searching them, trying to figure out what she knew but she had been trained to never give away feelings or truths with her eyes or her lips.
Garsiv stood next to them, his puzzled stare moving between the two. "And what is making you so confident to support such a claim?"
Tamina reluctantly turned her attention to him, her eyes letting go of the treacherous man. "You can search every single corner of my city, you can tear this palace apart brick by brick but you will never find any forges."
Prince Dastan studied intrigued the Alamutian Princess who had the courage and the strength to stand up against his two brothers and his uncle and insist strongly they have been deceived into attacking her city. But he really had no idea whether she was truthful or not. Was she speaking the truth? It seemed so but one can never tell when somebody they've never met before lies or not. She examined with pride and superiority the troops, her eyes were full of determination and obstinacy when she addressed his brothers but the moment her eyes fell upon his uncle, he thought he saw a faint sparkle of hatred and disgust in her dark eyes. But that could have just been his imagination, his tired mind that had no time for rest or sleep that night.
And then, there was the look she had given him. Unless his slightly blurred mind had deceived him yet again, her fiery eyes had been glued for a brief moment on him and all he saw in them was recognition, persistence and relief. The feelings were faintly apparent and he was able to spot them because she had locked eyes with him, she had addressed those feelings to him. Had he been just another soldier observing the whole situation it would have been impossible for him to make them out.
"Prince Tus, you should be more careful whom you trust." the Princess said again and despite that she was addressing to a very perplexed Tus, her eyes rested for a few seconds upon every Persian's face, including his, until they finally rested once more on his uncle. "Because you can never know who is going to backstab you when you least expect them to." Nizam's jaw clenched and his fists took the shape of hard rocks' as she focused her knowing eyes on him again. "Do you not agree, Prince Nizam?"
The man couldn't contain his anger anymore, couldn't keep his easy, sincere mask on for any longer. His eyes darkened as she had seen them numerous times do and his breathing grew heavy and nervous. "Tus, this woman is hiding the city's forges, selling weapons to our enemies and is trying to befool us with her hallucinations and lies. Take measure here!"
Tus pursed his lips. His uncle was standing right before him, a look of expectation and demand to listen to him written all over his slightly scared face while Tamina had taken a step backwards, leaving him room to consider what she was suggesting. The young man seemed to be having a dilemma, being torn between the two solutions. So the only thing his mind could come up with was a solution, which according to him, would be beneficial for both Alamut and Nasaf. "Join hands with Persia's future king."
"Wait!"All heads turned to Dastan's direction. He seemed troubled and perplexed just as much as his brother. Having listened to the Princess's implications, he found it reasonable that the spy might have been bribed. But what would someone want to attack a sacred city for? Because of its wealth? Because of the Princess herself? They had to get a clearer view of the situation. He didn't trust the Princess for he did not know her but he did not think of her as an unreliable woman. He had never heard for her anything but rumours of her beauty and her devotion to her Holy City. But why was that city holy? What was so special about it that his father had not wanted them to attack it? There surely was more to it than what it seemed and he wanted to find out."I suggest we find the spies. They know the truth and I'm sure my brother Garsiv will be more than pleased to get the truth the Princess speaks of out of them. If the Princess is speaking the truth." Princess Tamina looked at him with the faintest hint of gratitude and he thought that the corners of her lips had slightly curled into a smirk. There was something about her that it seemed mysterious and cryptic yet enchanting and different. "I am speaking the truth."
"Fine. Find the spies! Bring them to me! We'll wring it from them!" Prince Tus ordered, making everyone in the room scatter noisily. Persian soldiers were all around the palace and the magnificent city of Alamut in quest of the spies who had delivered the news of Alamut's treachery.
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