Prince in Waiting
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I didn’t talk to him much for the first few weeks after we had moved into his room together. I couldn’t find any words meaningful enough to share with him, and he was often gone during the day to attend to his duties, leaving me to my own devices more often than not.
Kithia would tend to me everyday by bringing me my food and bathwater. I suspected that she volunteered herself for this role, knowing Gozdarz wouldn’t have cared enough to send a servant to tend to me and Khoroush would have insisted that we shared every one of his meals. Whether or not this was true, I would never know. She certainly never told me or acted in a way that showed me she still cared for me enough to do this. Our presence was marked with an awkward silence, and the few words we shared between us were stiff with practiced courtesy. Many times I came close to speaking up, to maybe explain myself to her, only to be met with eyes well-worn with the kind of anger that could silence anyone with a glance.
Khoroush had taken up the habit of talking to me even when I showed no sign of listening to him. He talked about dancing a lot, his horse whom he called Lumpy on account of its slight limp, and the stable-master who taught him all he needed to know about horses and riding. He talked about gardens and steam-baths, oranges, pomegranates, and sunrises. All of these little images and anecdotes of his he had compartmentalized under “In the City”, so that he began every story he told me with “In the City…”.
“What’s Shahristan like?” I asked one day, annoyed enough by his constant retelling of this city that I became curious.
His smile grew wide to a wistful grin as if he were suddenly recalling the distant memories of someone he’d spent all his youth loving, though really, he was only seventeen.
“The most beautiful city you could ever witness and imagine.” He cooed, sinking deeper into the couch he rested his side on as if he had been lovestruck by a god.
I smiled, not believing in such dramatic displays of affection. So what if there were gardens and baths? You could find them anywhere. I told him I wanted to hear about canals, of ocean mounds and the great trunks of the Woodhenge.
“Bah!” He waved dismissively, attacking me with an olive that I caught with my mouth. “You can’t impress me further. I’ve seen everything I’ve ever wanted.”
“How convincing.” I rolled my eyes, crossing my arms against my chest as I sat up on my pallet across the room from him.
“I’ll take you there.”
I liked the way he says such things. The simple way he would decide on things with as few words to think it over. Ask anything of him, and he would swear on it as easily as he would say ‘Yes.’
“If you want.” He added carefully, noting my silence as something of a warning that he had crossed some sort of line.
I shook my head, hoping the slight smile I offered him was enough to reassure as I stood up from my pallet to pour some wine into a drinking horn.
“If you liked Shahristan so much, why are you here?” I asked, offering him the cup mixed with salt-water.
He hesitated for a bit, biting anxiously on his lower lip as he thumbed over the features of the ram engraved on his cup.
“My father thought it was good for me to…” He began, and when that didn’t satisfy him, he shook his head and started over.
“I’m the Prince-in-waiting.” He explained, eyes flickering up to me to see if I understood enough what he meant, sighing when he remembered that I was, unfortunately, a foreigner.
“My brother, Aspad, is older and my father favours him. So he was sent to the Saffron fields near the city in case…” His voice was shaky, awkward, and he looked back up into my eyes, almost pleading me with them. “I don’t want to talk about this, Tsavo.” He admitted.
I bit my lip, knowing it was I who had crossed some sort of line this time. “Okay.” I said.
“Okay.” He nodded, becoming silent as an awkwardness threatened to cloud over us from the quietness of the room. Suddenly, he turned to empty his cup onto another, offering the one I had poured for him to claim as my own - to drink with him.
“Is that why you didn’t want me to call you Agha?” I asked, joining him on the foot of his couch, leaning against the armrest there.
He looked at me through the brim of his cup, nodding his head thoughtfully. “I don’t think I even want you to call me Mazha now.”
“As you wish, Agha.” I teased him with a wide smile, triggering him to kick his feet against my thigh, soon entangling our legs together as I fought back, the two of us too young to linger on worries that have yet to happen as the room soon filled with our laughs and jeers, and the cicadas began to sing outside.