Once Upon a Time, Carrey sat with Mirabelle, two people sharing secrets which had cast the kingdom into a fragile accord. One of those secrets was Mirabelle, murdered by a maddened servant.
There were others, but some of them were unknown even to them.
‘This is your idea?’ she said.
Carrey rubbed his temples and inhaled as they sat in the chambers assigned for the dead queen. He had kept her hidden, even from his wife and children, let alone the court. Mirabelle noted the flecks of silver in his beard, a few weeks of rule aging him more than a life of battle and service. She wondered if she bore such ravages, and if Eilhu would notice them.
If. She prepared herself for the possibility although it stung like a cut in the roof of her mouth. Nobility was preparation and Mirabelle took more from her father than his eyes or the dimples in her cheeks.
‘I cannot afford to spend effort pretending you’re dead when discovery is an unguarded glance away.’ he said.
She grimaced and looked about her.
‘Well, I’ve left once, one more journey won’t hurt, will it?’ she said.
Carrey picked up his goblet and took a deep draught before he set it down.
‘You’ve not asked where I am sending you.’ he said.
Mirabelle raised her eyebrows, her heartbeat gaining pace as she appraised Carrey.
She travelled alone, dressed in the robes of an apothecary with letters of introduction folded into small pockets on her person. Her hair was dark with oil, worn away from her face in a long braid which fell down between her shoulder blades. It had been three days ride from the castle, escorted through a side gate just before dawn with Carrey accompanying her.
‘If he returns, will you send word?’ she said.
He took her hands in his, and tilted his head, smiling at her with a fragile warmth.
‘I will come find you myself, your highness.’ he said.
She blinked away tears but held her head up and met his gaze.
‘See you do, Carrey. It is my command.’ she said.
His smile wavered and he bowed from the waist, his eyes never leaving hers. They glinted with the deep fire of honour and she knew he would keep his word.
Three days of riding took her to the port. She handed over one of her letters to Boyle, a captain who ran regular sorties across the oceans. He had all his own teeth, and a nose for intrigue but the mention of Carrey’s name made him soften and he bowed to her once he had read the letter. She handed him a doubloon for his trouble and he offered the use of his cabin.
She accepted. He led her below decks and she thanked him.
She sat down on the hard, narrow bed and wept herself to sleep.
The air shimmered with heat, lending it a brutal weight as Mirabelle looked over the water, saw the tall, winding structures of the city and heard the heartfelt call to prayer. She had seen emissaries from here, their dusky skins and dark eyes, the habits of praying several times a day and the lists of admonitions their god gave them.
Boyle coughed to announce his presence and she glanced over her shoulder.
‘Your first time?’ he said.
She managed to nod but nothing more. The sight of the city had robbed her of speech.
A small group of soldiers met her, swathed in white robes with strange curved swords hung from their waists and wrappings around their heads to ward off the worst of the sun. They were tall and broad, stood without wavering in the oppressive heat of the day.
When the woman stepped forwards, Mirabelle grinned. Large brown eyes, with a silk headscarf and robes, all in a deep, regal scarlet. Brown-red patterns of beautiful intricacy snaked down the backs of her hands. She had a pair of the curved swords, worn either side with jewelled hilts which caught the sun in flashes which made Mirabelle wince. The woman brought her hand to her forehead and smiled, showing white even teeth.
‘Your highness, welcome to the Caliphate.’ she said.
‘I do not have the honour of your acquaintance.’ she said.
The woman smiled and shook her head.
‘Allah created us as equals, but I have the advantage of birth and position.’ she said.
She extended her hand.
‘Your highness, it is a pleasure to meet you.’ she said.
Mirabelle asked her name. The woman blushed and curtseyed.
‘I am Asra. I understand you need my father’s help.’ she said.