Stars of Gold

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Chapter 2

C H A P T E R T W O : R E G A L

THE JOURNEY TO THE PALACE HAD BEEN quite inexorable. Exhausted, I could hear the sharp snaps of the whips on the horses to move faster. I didn’t like the sounds of the whipping on the horses as I felt they worked hard carrying a huge carriage. Despite being wary, I would push back the curtains every now and then. I wanted to witness the outside world and what it looked like now.

The night sky seemed to glimmer incandescently tonight, with the expanding of the stars. My head turned itself to look at the Malika. Even as she slept, she still looked as intimidating as ever. There was one thing that I could not deny about her and it was her priceless beauty. You would think you would see the tiniest bit of peace in a person whilst they rested. However, all I noticed was the smallest bit of vulnerability. My hand reached out to help move her into a more comfortable position.

Drawing back from helping her, I noticed the carriage halted to a stop. The men, who accompanied us, knocked on the outside of the carriage door to inform us we had finally reached the palace. The Malika woke up as if she was being attacked. Her entire body language reeked of being panicked. When I stared into her eyes, I could see the pain and hurt. It was as if she had been harmed deeply before in the past. I decided that I should not take notice of it.

The carriage door opened, summoning me to take a step outside. Staring into the outside, I noticed the lamps lit with fire. The specks of the light lit the palace. A colossal building stood before me. My eyes scanned the beauty that was the palace. Every small detail did not leave my sight unescaped. Knowing me, I had to drink the splendour in. A dome had sat upon the palace, creating the exterior more attractive. In response to this, my jaw dropped open. Excited, I ran through the gates.

Hearing the Malika chuckle, I turned around to see her compose herself elegantly. Her eyes sparkled upon seeing my childishness of wanting to explore the palace completely. She caught up with me with her power-walking. Her hand rested upon my shoulder. It felt like she was telling me everything would be okay and I should not worry. I briefly smiled at her friendliness. In only a couple hours, she had caused the small feeling of her being somewhat of a mother figure.

In the far background, a man walked towards us. He seemed tall from my vision. I stood frozen to the ground. I didn’t dare inch the will to move my body from its place. The Malika stood completely firm before the man who was walking towards us. My best guess would be he was a high-ranking member in the Palace. Who could be more high-ranking than the Malika? Perhaps, her son. I knew the Malik had passed away a couple of years ago and that the Malika was handling everything right now. Everyone had heard the rumours that the Malika was waiting for her son to get married before she placed him on the throne. Everyone, who had seen her son, described him with a pleasant face.

Eventually, the tall man had reached us. I placed my eyes upon him and gazed at his face solemnly. Eyes shaped like an almond, they reminded me of the ocean. Eyes so sickenly blue, green hues and specks swam inside the ocean that was his eyes. They reminded me of the eyes I had seen before. A faint stubble decorated his face, adding to his ‘manliness’. He raised a thick brown eyebrow as he noticed my stare. He scrunched his slender and small nose in annoyance. Quickly, I diverted my gaze. He was extremely handsome with a lean but muscular physique.

Fixing the veil on my head, I saw that the man went down on his knees. He was greeting the Malika. His station was not above the Malika’s. The Malika placed her hands on his shoulders and brought him up. She smiled at him. I noticed her friendliness to him. They must have been well-acquainted.

“Abdulrehman, there is no need for such formalities. You are practically my son,” she stated. “Ah, I forgot to tell you. We have a guest, Shehrbanu. She is a Princess of Persia.”

“Princess of Persia? I have never heard of her,” he replied, unenthusiastic about my arrival.

“She is Jahanara’s daughter, they had hidden her,” the Malika informed him. “Because of Salman’s other wives.”

“Oh, I apologise, Princess. Assalamualaikum,” he greeted me.

“It is okay. Walaikumsalaam,” I said. “Have we met before? You seem so familiar?”

For a moment, I could have sworn I saw fear in his eyes. He immediately diverted his sight from mine to the floor. I continued to fixate on him, trying to read his body language. He fixed his posture, going back to the stern position he was in before.

“No, Princess. I do not believe we have,” Abdulrehman claimed. “I am King Ilyas’ second-in-command.”

“King Ilyas? I thought he was still a Prince?” I asked, confused.

“Do not concern yourself with these matters, Shehrbanu,” the Malika whispered in my eyes. “I will explain to you when the right time comes.”

“Malika, should I escort you and the Princess to your chambers?” he questioned.

The verb ‘Princess’ rolling off people’s tongues for me was such a peculiar feeling. Like I had said, I was a pauper. In a quick moment, I had suddenly become a Princess. I wanted to ask for them to stop calling me a Princess. I didn’t feel like one and I didn’t want to be one. However, I am especially grateful for my freedom. The freedom that was bought by the Malika Humera of Bayinar. You could say I owed a favour to her.

“Yes, Abdulrehman. Do not worry for me though,” she replied. “Escort my dear Shehrbanu though.”

“Alright,” he noted, shaking his head.

The Malika strode into the palace, a bunch of ladies swarming behind her. Now, it was just me and Abdulrehman. His tall height made me feel small in comparison to him. I gulped, trying to hide my anxiety and nervousness.

“May I take you into the palace and show you to your chambers?” he politely asked. “I would offer you a tour of the palace right now but I am afraid it is late and people will talk.”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you. Yes, please show me to my chambers,” I nodded. “You can take me on a tour tomorrow if that pleases you.”

“If only I am not busy, I will take you. Thank you. Let’s move,” he communicated.

When he began to walk forward, I followed behind him. It was so peculiar that I felt that I had known him from before. Although I asked him if we had met before, he had assured me that we didn’t. A familiar aura surrounded him along with his ocean-shimmering eyes.

Once we reached inside the palace, I did not hesitate to admire every inch of the interior design. Gold lamps, extravagant paintings, and a rich scent of roses filled the palace. One thing particularly caught my eye. It was the replica sword of Zulfiqar. It had been hung on the side of the wall. My feet immediately began moving on its own, shocking me. My hand reached out to touch the replica sword before I felt the presence of Abdulrehman right behind me. His breath tickled the back of my neck through my veil. I gulped. Taking a step to the right, I placed some distance between us.

“So I am going to assume you are interested in this sword?” he commented. “Do you know the name of this sword?”

“It is a replica sword of Ali’s. The Zulfiqar,” I divulged, feeling small and humiliated by his remark. “Famously known as the sword bestowed to him by Allah.”

“You are right. I’m impressed,” Abdulrehman remarked. “Princess, we should be heading to your chamber. Like I said before, I will give you a tour tomorrow if I have the time.”

“I’m sorry. My childishness carried me away,” I apologised. “Let’s move.”

Once again, we began to walk. Only this time, I had been greeted by a magnificent staircase. The fencing upon the staircase was impeccable. Designs of twists and turns filled them, showing the rich nature of the Bayinar royals. I reached to touch the other railing, reminiscing of the cold touch of the metal. We walked up the stairs as it took us to the second floor. However surely, there must have been three or more floors to go. The palace was humongous and every bit more than the rumours said.

The walk to the chambers had been quiet. It was somewhat awkward but peaceful at the same time. In my mind, I wondered if I would make any friends. I didn’t communicate much with people back at Babak’s except for Askari. Every now and then, I was reminded of my childhood memories. It meant a lot to me but to other people, it wouldn’t seem like much. We reached outside the chambers.

My eyes met Abdulrehman’s cobalt orbs, shying away from the immediate eye contact. From the corner of my eyes, I could see him smirk at my reaction. He opened the door before us and showed me my room. It was like a dream. This is the room I would have never dared to sleep in when I was a servant. It had a balcony that showed me a direct view of the city before us. The room had doors that led to other parts of the chamber I was living in. I gasped as I turned around to look at Abdulrehman gazing at me. He smiled, witnessing my reaction.

“Do you like it, azizam?” he queried.

“Wait, what did you say?” I gasped.

“Nothing. I just asked if you liked it?” he responded.

Azizam. No one has called me that in years. It was a Farsi endearment that meant my dear. I closed my eyes and remembered the memory of that word. Such sweet memories were attached to the word. My heart pounded whilst I reminded myself of that memory.

It was a midsummer morning. I and Askari were working hard that day. I was only thirteen years old. Babak had given us extra work instead of whipping us, due to us taking a break and ‘slacking’ off. He claimed that it was a small punishment and that we should be grateful that we didn’t get a beating.

Askari was ripping out the weeds in the ground whereas I was planting more flowers. Askari was only two years older than me but he was so patient. Yet his age was only small, he spoke great words of wisdom. He always talked of justice. That justice was about how we servants should not be treated as if we were animals.

Whilst I planted the flowers, I noticed that Askari had stopped ripping the weeds. Something was crawling up my arm and I didn’t notice before Askari hushed me and told me not to move. Panic began to fill my body from head to toe. I was quaking despite being told not to move. A spider was on my arm, a venomous one. Askari caught the spider on my arm and chucked it into the lake nearby Babak’s home.

Quickly, I ran towards Askari. I opened his hand, checking for any bite marks. Thankfully, there was none. I whispered thanks to Allah and wrapped my arms around Askari. He hugged me back, showing his love for me. I began to cry softly into his arms. I was only a mere teenager and I had always wanted to be free from this life. Askari’s hands stroked my head, attempting to soothe me.

“Azizam, do not cry. It’s okay, I’m always going to be there for you,” he whispered into my ears. “One day, I’ll marry you. Mark my words.”

“Really?” I murmured, in doubt. “Askari, I love you. Never leave me alone, promise me. Promise me that, please.”

“I promise you, azizam,” he avowed.

A tear struck itself down my cheek. That memory was a lie. Askari lied to me; he was my first love and my only ever love. Grief filled my body. My lips quivered while I tried to cover my tears. Ever since he left me, there had been a void in my heart that I couldn’t fill up. My hand wiped away the incoming tears streaming down my cheek.

I hadn’t noticed but I saw Abdulrehman had stood right near me. His hands had been crossed behind his back and it looked like he could see right through me. He could see that I wasn’t just some pathetic servant girl that had become a princess quickly. He could have seen a woman, who had evolved from her pain and learned how to use it to become her strength. Or maybe, I am just lying to myself. I knew I wasn’t weak; there was no way.

“Are you okay, Princess?” he genuinely implored.

“Sorry. You just reminded me of someone who I knew,” I answered. “Someone very dear to me.”

“I’m sorry, Princess,” Abdulrehman professed. “I truly am.”

“Why are you sorry?” I retorted. “It isn’t like it’s your fault, Abdulrehman.”

“Oh,” he spoke softly.

“Now, if you don’t mind, I would like some alone time,” I pleaded.

“Right. Good night, Princess,” he wished me.

“Good night, Abdulrehman,” I mumbled.

I watched as he walked out of the room. I closed my eyes and tried to stop the tears from flowing down. I had moved on and I shouldn’t cry over such memories. It was not as if I could resurrect the love that we had shared before.

A lady knocked on the door and I let her in. She left me a nightgown for the night. I thanked her politely and began to change into the new offer of clothes. After I had changed, I walked out into the balcony. The warm breeze of the wind brushed against my hair and my skin, tickling my body. The streets were lit with people walking. A sight so outstanding stood before me. Houses and houses after another, gardens so magnificent and elated people filled my vision. I sighed as I had finally acknowledged that it could be me now.

Free from bondage, I was obligated to fill my heart’s desire. I walked towards my bed, glad and grateful. I opened the covers and stepped into my bed. The pillow rested beneath my head, promising me luxury for the night. I snuggled into a position to make myself comfortable. My eyes drifted shut as I forgot about the worries before. It was now time to enjoy myself and have a restful night’s sleep.

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THIRD PERSON POV

Humera paced up and down her room, in anger. Despite being the Malika of Bayinar, she could not control Khadijah and Ilyas. Ilyas had no insight whatsoever that his mother, the Malika, knew of his love for her lady-in-waiting Khadijah. She could not allow for Ilyas to promise a nikkah (marriage) to Khadijah. She was thankful to Allah that both of them were still chaste and pure. However, she hated the abomination that was their supposed love for each other.

Khadijah was only meant to be loyal to Humera, only her only. In fact, she had only wished for Khadijah to gain knowledge and information about Ilyas’s plans for the future. The saying ‘curiosity killed the cat’ certainly was what occurred to Humera. Her plants went awry and caused the coupling of Khadijah with Ilyas. However, Humera had a counter-attack for their relationship. Her new pawn, Shehrbanu. Shehrbanu was not a Princess of Persia. Humera lied.

If anyone indeed found out the real truth about Shehrbanu, there would be unrest. Shehrbanu belonged to the fallen kingdom of the Damascus royals. She was originally from Syria, just like Humera. Though Humera was not a royal before, she was a lady-in-waiting for Queen Reem of Syria. The night the Kingdom of Damascus fell, Queen Reem had given birth to Shehrbanu. She had given Shehrbanu to Humera to take care of.

After two years, Humera’s beauty didn’t go unnoticed. The young King Malik noticed Humera and wedded her. Humera had to cover her secret of Shehrbanu and paid well for a young couple to take care of her. Yet, the young couple sold her and earned the wrath of Humera. Humera imprisoned them, still keeping them there to this day. Whispers and rumours of the heir of the Damascus Royals still lurk to this day. Humera would never want the enemies of such to touch Shehrbanu. It was her late friend’s Reem’s wish to take care of her child and she would fulfill it now.

Her plan consisted of a marriage between her son Ilyas with Shehrbanu. She would fight fire with more fire. Smirking to herself, she brushed out her honey tresses. The servants took off her hijab and oiled her hair with coconut oil. She washed her face with rose water and gaped at herself in the mirror. The crinkles in her eyes were beginning to appear with the faint smile lines. Humera knew of her unmatched beauty. She caught the eye of a young King when he was about to marry another Princess from a faraway kingdom.

Despite her husband’s passing, she still remembered the sweet sentiments and love they had for each other. Nothing could have paralleled their love. It was one of the stories. She smiled, recollecting their memories. Her hand smoothed down her long hair, trying to calm the smallest flyaways.

Hearing a knock on her door, Humera waved her hand. She allowed for the door to open only to reveal her least favorite person right now. Massive hazel eyes revealed themselves with great beauty. Khadijah had entered the room. She had worn a plum thobe with a chiffon veil today. Her pink and plump lips had formed into a smirk. Ever since her talks with Ilyas, she had grown far more confident.

Humera told everyone to leave from her chambers tonight while she decided to have a private talk between her and Khadijah. All the servants left in a hurry upon hearing their Malika’s wish. She gestured for Khadijah to take a seat as she got up to walk towards her. Humera composed herself into her intimidating stance to try to show that she wouldn’t back down from trying to destroy her son’s relationship with her. Khadijah crossed one of her legs over the other leg, trying to demonstrate her nonchalant mood right now.

Smirking, Humera decided to take a seat beside Khadijah. Grimacing at the scent of Khadijah’s woodsy scent that she used to take pleasure in, she seated herself a bit further away from Khadijah. Humera placed her hand on top of Khadijah’s knee as she began to start a conversation with her.

“Assalamualaikum, Khadijah,” Humera politely greeted.

“Walaikumsalaam, Malika,” Khadijah answered. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this meeting?”

“I am sure you must have heard we have a new guest in the palace,” she disclosed. “Shehrbanu, the Shah of Persia’s fourth wife Jahanara’s daughter. You see, she was meant to be a secret.”

“Yes, our new guest,” she calmly muttered. “What about her?”

“You see, I want you to train her on how to become a Princess and how to act like one too,” Humera demanded. “Maybe train her how to become the future Malika too.”

“Malika of where?” Khadijah hissed. “Bayinar?”

“Oh, silly you. Persia. I need a strong enough friend in power down in Persia,” Humera expertly lied. “Jahanara cannot do anything politically.”

“Okay, I’ll do it,” she agreed.

“Any information on Ilyas?” Humera interrogated.

Despite her knowing that Khadijah will not disclose anything about her son, she still felt the need to ask. Ilyas had given up on talking to his mother for anything except for when they had public celebrations. He thought this was her way of controlling her life, controlling every aspect by sending her lady-in-waiting to ‘woo’ him. It worked. The ‘wooing’ worked but the loyalties of Khadijah had now laid with him. Humera felt guilty for what she had done yet even apologising to him every day and night she saw him.

She knew of nothing to do to please him. Regret filled her body as she recalled the last time they spoke even properly. It had been a long six months. Her sight caught the look of Khadijah. She was smirking! The audacity of Khadijah to smirk before Humera due to her failure of plans. If only she could have called off her plan before, none of this would have happened. He wouldn’t have fallen for the lesser Khadijah.

“Only that he will not talk to you still,” Khadijah whispered so that anyone from the outside wouldn’t have heard.

“And why is that? Because your lying and manipulative self has influenced his decisions of everything! Mark my words,” Humera gritted her teeth. “I will never allow you to become the next Malika after me. You do not have what it takes.”

Both Khadijah and Humera stood face-to-face. The blatant anger, displayed by Humera, had shaken Khadijah to her core. In her eyes, Humera noticed the quick flash of fear. Fear of the Malika Humera of Bayinar. Not the previous, loving, and caring friend Humera she had known. Khadijah didn’t blink once while she looked at Humera. She gulped whilst she took a step back.

“Thank you for everything, Malika. I am afraid I must take my leave,” she ignored everything Humera had just said. “I wished we were still friends after I had fallen in love with your son. I truly regret everything that has occurred between us, Humera.”

“Go!” Humera shrieked. “I cannot take seeing your face anymore or listening to it.”

“As you wish, Malika,” Khadijah mumbled.

The door slammed shut behind Khadijah. Her eyes squeezed shut as if she was blocking out the pain and betrayal she felt from her lady-in-waiting. Pursing her lips, she picked up the candle placed in a candle-holder beside her. She had quickly thrown on a veil as she placed her slippers on.

Walking out of her chambers, she took it upon herself to go visit her husband’s rooms. She knew he had died but she couldn’t keep it in herself to allow other people to sleep in it yet. No. Only the Maliks were allowed to sleep here and it would belong to Ilyas when he chose to become the next reigning Malik after his wedding. No one knew but Humera went every night to look at the bedroom of her husband’s. It was a ritual now, at this point. Two years had passed. The pain was still fresh but it was becoming less over time. Her open wounds from her death were healing.

Once she had reached the room, she opened the door. The unmade bed, from when he passed away, was still there. The lingering scent of pine had once belonged to her husband. Her heart stopped for a brief moment. She saw a paper underneath his bed that she had not noticed before. Mainly, her eyes were always teary and blinded from anything else except for memories in this room. Tonight was the night that she had not cried for the first in two years.

Humera picked up the parchment paper and noticed Arabic handwriting covering the paper. It was the Malik’s writing. Her hands shook whilst she opened the paper. How did she not find this at first? It had always been there but she was too distracted to even think to search the rooms.

The letter read:

Dear Humera,

Hayati, if you are reading this, this means I have passed. I feared for my life but I have repented. Repented for so many of my sins. May Allah forgive me for not doing enough to learn about my Lord and his believers. You must miss me very much; I am deeply sorry. I always said I couldn’t live without you and look at that. You outlived me. I will always love you, even in death.

Humera, now, this is a serious matter. Despite us grooming Ilyas to become the future King, you must remember that Khalid needs to be groomed too. I have left four secret funds behind me. No one knows of them except for me and you now. Those funds were meant to be emergency payments for us if we ever fell into harm or danger. Or if we were overthrown in Bayinar. Now, I am leaving them for you. I entrusted those funds to my dear childhood friend’s bank. My friend Rasheed in the city of Aleppo. I kept them under the name of Zaid ibn Abbas.

Ilyas hasn’t been too keen to hear of his newly received kingship. It was always in my best interest for him to be King. He had what it took and he would be better than me. And Khalid, he was fit to be a fierce warrior. His prowess of power overtook him in fights and battles. He knew how to handle a sword like a warrior. Send them my love. I love those two very much despite not showing it enough. They are my sons who will carry on our line.

And you, Hayati. My beautiful bride. I can still remember the first day I saw you, seated on that bench with your friend’s baby. Though I am sometimes afraid that it was your child and you had lied to me, I’m thankful you told me the truth of the child. Hayati, you will always be the one for me. I love you so much. Now, I await you in the afterlife with me. If you find love again, take it. Keep me in your prayers.

From your husband

Humera’s eyes were glued to the paper. How had she not seen the letter before? She bit on her lip and wondered if she should tell Ilyas and Khalid of the secret funds he had kept. Perhaps, not yet. When Ilyas became King, she deemed it fit to tell him then. Her hands brushed through her strands. She stared at the massive bed before her.

Tonight, Humera decided she would sleep in her husband’s sheets. She placed her body and wrapped the blanket around her body. She inhaled in the comfortable scent of pine from her husband and closed her eyes. Soon enough, she would drift to become asleep.

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Shehrbanu’s POV

A constant knock had been pounding on my door for the past few minutes. Sluggishly, I walked up towards the door. Peeking through the door, I noticed a stunning lady behind the door with green orbs. I groaned as I swung the door open. A perfectly positioned lady stood before me and I had embarrassed myself with my bed hair. I couldn’t help but admire her beautiful facial features.

She was dressed in an extremely expensive kaftan with a gold bracelet on her wrist. Her bejeweled head-covering meant she was of high station. I assumed this was about my training to become a Princess of Persia. Confused, I stepped back as I noticed her glide into my room. The door slammed shut. The lady sat herself down, crossed her right leg above the left leg.

She had a smug look on her face.

“Princess Shehrbanu, is it?” the green-eyed lady questioned.

Despite being called Princess about ten times already, I still felt uneasy about it. Princess was a title that my feelings didn’t deem fit to call me. Nervously, I realised I had to reply. I must have seemed crazy right now. I was shamelessly staring at her and I hadn’t replied. She chuckled a little under her breath.

“Yes, I am. And you are?” I replied.

“Khadijah, the Malika’s lady-in-waiting. I must not lie when they said a going-to-be Princess, I expected a great beauty. Not to say that you are ugly,” she smugly jokes. “You are pretty. It’s just your bed-hair.”

I didn’t know whether I should feel offended or not. A pang of hurt overfilled my senses, causing me to realise how stupid I must have looked right now. Bed-hair with dried drool, I certainly could see what she had meant.

“Oh, thanks? Why are you visiting me today, Khadijah?” I further interrogated.

“Why, of course, I am going to train you how to become a Princess, princess,” she giggled.

“That’s nice of you. Malika told you to?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, absolutely. I have better things to be doing, habibti,” she snarked.

Despite only having one conversation with her, I felt that she didn’t like me. She seemed bitter and I knew I was innocent in whatever her enmity with the Malika was. I could tell my lessons with her would be long and unwanted. I braced myself for the first lesson that I had to bear with her. Hopefully, she wouldn’t seem too hostile about teaching me. I put on a fake smile as I got ready for my lesson with her today.

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