Authors: Megan Derr
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Gay, #General
She stared at him. "Majesty? But-you told me yourself all the problems-I know-" She bit the words off, because saying she knew she could not compare to her sister but sounded too much like a confession.
"That is no excuse to treat a woman cruelly," Shahjahan replied. "I never intended that, and there is no excuse for my behavior. I will endure whatever befalls me for not following through with this marriage, if your desire is not to marry me."
Fahima dropped her eyes, at a loss for words, looking at the way he still held her hand.
"Majesty..." She shook her head and pulled her hand away, turning away because she could not focus her thoughts as she would like while facing him. She wanted not to be a substitute, but to confess such a thing sounded weak. Women would kill to be her right now, why did she fuss over such minor details?
Shah moved away, striding back up to the dais - but he returned a moment later, holding a small bundle.
She recognized it instantly, though before she had only seen it in the dark. By daylight, it was far more colorful than she'd realized - the crescent moons were either silver or gold, and the starts scattered amongst them were every color of the rainbow in rich jewel tones, against a black background, the whole trimmed in bands of more silver and gold.
"I first spoke to you at dinner that evening of our meeting because you seemed sad and bored. Your answer was far more than I could have expected, for even more experienced diplomats at the table missed certain details which occurred to you. It occurred to me then that perhaps there was more to you than I had thought."
Fahima nodded, acknowledging his words, but said nothing.
"I confess also your sister had not interested me at all; she felt flat. I am confused as to why everyone says she is the better." Shah shook his head and held out the bundle. "I know you have already refused this, and I promise it is merely a minor token, but whatever you decide -
priestess or Queen - it is yours. You should also know that I never considered you a mere substitute. I think that regardless of these events, I would have wanted you for my wife anyway."
Her eyes widened, and she willed her fingers not to shake as she finally took the bundle he held out - mostly because this King who always seemed so in control and unruffled by anything seemed suddenly uncertain.
Slowly she unwound the fabric - and nearly dropped what was inside from sheer astonishment.
The moon orchid broach she had seen in the marketplace. Pink sapphire shimmered in the sunlight. She looked up. "How?"
"We noted you leaving from the balcony, and I bid Beynum follow you for we knew you were upset."
Beynum? The concubines were forbidden to leave the premises, except in the company of the King or Queen. He'd followed her? Why?
Shahjahan laughed. "He was furious that you wandered alone into the market - I think only the knowledge he would be in a great deal of trouble kept him from hauling you right back to the palace.
Fahima frowned. "I go alone often to the market back home."
"It was not intended as an insult, my Lady," Shahjahan replied. "Merely that we felt guilty, and worried for you. I wanted you protected, but also left to your own devices."
Slowly Fahima nodded, unable to argue with so earnest an entreaty. She looked again at the broach, rubbing her thumb over the brilliant pink gems and gleaming silver. "I did not mind trying to be Queen," she said haltingly, fighting the sting in her eyes, refusing to look stupid by crying. "I did not want to be one simply because I was the only available replacement."
Gentle fingers touched her chin, urging her head up. Shahjahan smiled faintly, more than a bit ruefully. "Lady Fahima, I have been raised since birth to be a King; more lessons than I can fully recall drilled thousands of skills and volumes of knowledge into me. The one thing all my tutors seemed to miss was how to treat and court the Lady I would like very much to take to wife. Forgive me any awkwardness or unintended slight, and believe me when I say I consider you no mere replacement - I would like you to be my bride."
Fahima gave a shaky laugh and nodded, wiping away tears of relief - and no small happiness. "Perhaps we are well matched after all, Majesty, for I do not really know how to be courted. I'm afraid I skipped those lessons to read my father's mathematical treaties."
Shahjahan laughed and took her hand again, lifting it to kiss her knuckles softly. "Then may I assume, my Lady, that you will consent to be my wife and Queen?"
"Yes, my King, I consent most happily," Fahima replied, scarcely believing she was saying it.
That did not keep her from going easily as Shah drew her closer still, and his kiss was completely different from Gulzar's, firmer, almost spicy, and the scratch of his beard was odd but not awful.
He was grinning when the kiss finally ended. "Now, my dear, I will introduce you to one of the better compensations for being a ruler."
Fahima looked at him, confused by the words but somewhat amused at how boyish he looked saying them. "What is that?"
"Telling the council I have yet again done what I wanted, and not what they wanted, and there's nothing they can do about it."
Fahima let out a startled laugh. "So it's true you like to aggravate them?"
"Quite true," Shahjahan said. "You will see. It is fun to do."
She shook her head, somewhat amused - but she could not dismiss the council as easily as he. "They have every reason to be upset, really. I was never meant to be Queen. I have no training for such things."
Shahjahan reached up to catch a curl which had slipped free of the knot in which she'd bound her hair. "You are more suited than perhaps you realized. These past days you have gotten men who normally only squabble to chat almost like they were friends." He took the broach she still held, and had all but forgotten, and carefully pinned it to her shoulder. "I promise, my jewel, you will be a fine Queen."
Fahima started at the endearment, glancing briefly at the broach before looking up at Shahjahan. Finally she nodded. "I will do my best."
"You will be brilliant, my jewel. You shine," Shahjahan replied, and bent to give her another kiss.