“Where have you been these two years?” Fariha spoke quietly.
Fariha had already prepared two glasses and had retrieved a bottle of wine from somewhere in the tent. She poured herself a small glass and was more generous with Hasib’s portion.
“Here and there,” Hasib answered casually. “What about you? Found a suitable husband that your father approves of.”
Fariha looked at Hasib with pity and compassion in her eyes and shook her head.
“He is your father too, despite the argument you and father are having,” Fariha spoke softly.
“Avoiding the husband question are we?” Hasib asked, smiling.
“You are avoiding the father question!” Fariha responded raising her voice in defense.
Fariha immediately realized that it was almost midnight and hardly a time to be speaking loudly especially when the other tents were so close. She placed one hand over her mouth and listened intently for a response. Hasib watched her smiling and then laughed.
“You don’t need to be so paranoid, if anyone hears you, I’ll just hide. You’ve already demonstrated your diversion and cover up skills, you’ve become quite the manipulator,” Hasib teased.
“I deny everything,” Fariha responded, smiling. “As for the husband situation, I think I’ll die an old maid, if my opinions are continually ignored.”
“If you continue to be ignored, you’re more likely to take part in an arranged marriage set up by father,” Hasib said. “We both know how that’s going to turn out.”
Fariha turned to him seriously and shook her head.
“No matter how I feel, I would never run away like our mother did,” Fariha said passionately.
Their mother, Rana, had been extremely beautiful and highly sought after for marriage. An eladrin from a Varian family that had moved to Vishen as part of the merchant trade, her features had at first been seen as novelty. Various men were merely curious about her cream skin and light brown hair, but soon became enraptured by her grace and natural compassion. She had her pick of suitors and even princes fancied a courtship with her. Rana however had been fiercely independent and was passionate about trade and bartering. Her freedom was short lived however, when her father tried to undertake a business deal with Malek Asad, the leader of the most influential glass tribe. Rana’s father, Nuha, had always undertaken risky decisions for his company, which, although no one else knew, had been part of the reason for leaving Varian. While deep in negotiations with Malek, Nuha was already building a connection with an opposing glass company. He planned to sell the secrets behind Malek’s fine glass techniques and thus earn more money on the side.
Malek caught onto the plot however, for one doesn’t become successful in business by being careless. Malek had connections all over Vishen and dealt business with various other cities across Ryllia.
An associate visited Malek late one evening, while he was feasting with his family. After a hushed conversation, Malek excused himself from the party and marched out of the building. Malek was in a rage, though he wouldn’t allow it to show on the outside. No one could cross Malek Asad and get away with it.
Malek arrived at Nuha’s house and knocked on the door, then waited for a response. He waited a moment then wrapped on the door again, sharply, demanding a response. Light footsteps could be heard approaching the door and a moment later it swung open slightly. Malek barely noticed that the person was female before demanding to see Nuha.
“I’m afraid he left for business earlier this evening,” a young voice answered.
“Typical,” Malek thought with a sigh.
“When does the house expect him back?” Malek asked
“He’s usually back by ten o’clock at the very latest. You are more than welcome to wait inside until he arrives back,” the woman answered, opening the door to allow him in.
The woman’s frame was tall and slender against the door and she was wearing a fine blue robe with silver thread embroidered around the edge. Cobalt blue eyes were surrounded by long lashes and pointed ears were decorated with silver ear cuffs. A smile revealed white teeth between parted red lips. The woman led him to a large sitting room and motioned for him to have a seat.
Malek was surprised however when she took a seat on the long couch opposite him. Malek crossed his legs and leant back on the chair, his arm spreading outwards along the back of the chair. He surveyed the room, which was roomy with a few expensive ornaments dotted around tastefully. Malek brought his attention back to the woman, who he immediate met eyes with. She smiled serenely at him and then picked up a sewing project. Silence ensued and half an hour went by with not one word spoken between them. The woman got up and called for some coffee, which was brought directly. The woman spoke with the servant in a friendly way and even enquired about their ill mother. On hearing that their mother’s condition had deteriorated over the day, she insisted a doctor be sent to her and the bill sent directly to her. The servant thanked her and hurried off, bowing as she left. The woman sat down again and picked up her sewing yet again.
“Do you not agree that the situation befallen many citizens in servitude is a disappointment to the entire realm? Many can hardly earn enough money for everyday supplies let alone medicine or doctors to treat their sick,” the woman spoke suddenly.
“It is unfortunate,” Malek agreed. “However many would be able to afford such necessities if they didn’t waste it on liquor. You cannot sympathize with those who simply can’t manage their finances properly.”
“Many are not that way however, and as such can’t be punished for those who are wasteful. Everyone should have the same opportunity, and those who work hard should be rewarded.”
“You speak very strongly on the subject, who, I may ask, taught you?”
“No one taught me, I have come to this conclusion on my own. My father believes that servants should act as servants and be ignored at any meeting.”
“Yes, I am Nuha’s daughter,” the woman answered.
With the realization that this woman was Nuha’s daughter, Malek became cautious. Perhaps this was a plan to ensnare him, to seduce him into making a mistake. However the woman seemed to take no particular interest in him and seem to be quite ignorant of his societal status. This offended Malek slightly, after all he wasn’t that bad looking. Many woman thought him to be quite handsome, perhaps even more so with such wealth at his fingertips.
Another hour went past and Malek was becoming more and more uncomfortable. Nuha’s daughter was truly a beautiful woman and every move she made seemed to accentuate the natural beauty even more. Malek felt the beginning of a plan begin to form in his mind, and moments later he had a course of action. He stood suddenly and bowed to the woman.
“I’ve waited and intruded long enough. Tell Nuha that I say called and will call again tomorrow morning,” Malek said, smiling slightly.
“Certainly, who can I say called?” the woman replied, rising from her seat.
“Malek Asad. May I be so bold as to enquire to what your own name is?” Malek asked.
“My name is Rana,” the woman replied smiling.
“Then I bid you goodnight, Rana,” Malek said, bowing once more.
Malek had Nuha followed closely over the following days, evidence collected with each meeting Nuha had. It took all Malek’s patience and will power to prevent himself from confronting Nuha at that point in time. Yet Malek’s plans needed to have Nuha caught red handed. The opportunity came when Malek traded his first batch of premium glassware with Nuha, two weeks before he planned to journey back home through the desert. When details on a meeting between Nuha and the glass rival was revealed, Malek sent one of his men to inform Nuha of a false change of meeting place. The moment he entered, Nuha’s face revealed the horror he felt on seeing that he was set to trade Malek Asad his own merchandise. Nuha dropped to his knees at Malek’s feet and begged for his mercy. For, though foolish, Nuha wasn’t stupid and knew it was likely that Malek was already aware of all his dealings.
“I don’t wish to hear your whimpering excuses,” Malek spoke with authority.
“Please, sir, I know I’m unworthy of any forgiveness, but I’ll do anything…” Nuha trailed off.
Malek let his rage burn into Nuha by the way of his gaze and he leaned forward in the chair. Nuha was a coward and deserved to be punished a thousand times over. However, the day Malek visited Nuha’s house, he became aware of a jewel more precious than any item Nuha could offer.
“You have a daughter…” Malek said. “What does she think of your business decisions?”
“She’d be ashamed, sir. My daughter is the best thing that ever happened to me, yet I disappoint her so. If I could have another chance, I’m swear I’ll never do such a thing ever again,” Nuha answered.
Nuha was so transparent, trying to earn sympathy by using his daughter. Malek let a sly smile appear slowly and he then lent back in his seat.
“Very well then…” Malek said, pretending to ponder a thought for a moment.
Nuha looked hopeful and straightened from his prostrate position on the ground.
“I’ll just need one thing in return for you…freedom,” Malek continued.
“Anything, sir, anything at all. I swear on my honour, whatever you want you shall have,” Nuha responded eagerly.
And so the prey was caught, hook, line and sinker. Nuha could hardly go back on his word now.
“In two weeks I’ll be returning to my home, and I’ll be taking Rana with me… as my wife,” Malek stated. “You will arrange and pay for the wedding and anything your daughter needs for the journey. After we are married and return to the desert, you will not visit. Under no circumstances will you be allowed in my community, the only time you will see your daughter will be when we visit town.”
Nuha sat in shock and stared at Malek, who had stated everything with the utmost ease.
“My daughter…” Nuha stated quietly. “What if my daughter refuses to marry you?”
“You and Rana have no choice in the matter, it is either that or the entire world will know of your sketchy business dealings. No one in the realm with trade with you then,” Malek said, frowning. “I will not listen to any attempts to change my mind.”
Nuha let out a long sigh and fell forward onto the ground.
“Very well, I will prepare everything immediately,” Nuha said, his voice breaking in defeat.