Alanzo slipped in between the shadows as he silently moved through the maze to their secret meeting place. After that first meeting, he never again received a message to come to the palace mosque. Instead, they met at agreed upon times late at night where only the stars could give evidence against them. He stilled his pace as he came upon the most dangerous part of the journey. He pressed deeply into the shrub wall and looked out onto a large open courtyard. This spot was patrolled by palace guards. However, luck was on his side and the two guards stationed to the area sat propped up on either side of a marble statue with closed eyes, both snoring softly. He stuck his head out of the greenery to give a cursory glance to the rest of the courtyard before slipping around the edge into a neighboring leaf-strewn passage. He didn’t spare the courtyard a second glance as he picked up the pace winding through the twist and turns of the maze as if he had been navigating them his entire life. When he came to the final turn that would bring him to their moon-lit courtyard he again slowed.
Alanzo again discretely moved into the shadows of the hedge as he peeked around the corner. Hawwa stood as always nestled into the shadow of a leafy arch waiting for his arrival. She had already removed her Yashmak veil which lay in a pile at the foot of the fountain. Her dark silky hair fell down her back loosely. She fidgeted nervously like she always did and it made him smile. Tonight she wore a deep purple gown and Salvar trousers trimmed in gold. The cloth hung off of her shoulders exposing the line of her neck and collar bone. She had refrained from wearing a Jelick vest and it seemed almost indecent.
He spent a few moments drinking in the sight of her. She dominated all of his hours most of which were spent outside of her presence and he needed moments like this to commit to memory. Alanzo still didn’t quite understand how she could affect him so thoroughly. He was a well traveled man and had loved women before. No woman had ever made him feel so out of control before and in the moment he decided he should try to reclaim some of it back.
Hawwa stood with her back to him and he silently moved up from behind her and quickly grabbed one of her arms and pulled it up behind her to an angle that would be slightly painful for her. His other hand wrapped around her throat and held her in place. Before she could scream he whispered into her ear. “A princess should be careful, walking alone at night. You never know what rogue could be lurking in the shadows.”
He felt her relax slightly as she realized who was holding her. He relished the control he was regaining in this moment and bathed in the feeling of her firmly in his hands. He breathed in the cinnamon scent of her hair and she leaned into him. Arching her back she rubbed her hips across his groin. His grip on her arm weakened as a hungry moan rumbled in his throat. She swiveled her hips in a circular motion pressing harder into him, but then she continued the motion quickly slipping her arm out of his grip and rotating to face him. As she slipped expertly from his grasp he went to grab her again but stopped short when he felt the sharp tip of a tiny dagger press firmly against his groin.
Hawwa whispered back into Alanzo’s ear, “And rogues should be careful, attacking princesses. You never know what could be lurking in the shadows of their skirts.”
Alanzo immediately pulled his hands from her and put them up in the air in surrender. His eyes were wide with surprise yet he was still smiling easily at her. “I would give anything to find out.” She returned his smile playfully and slid the small dagger back into the folds of her skirt. As soon as the dagger was put away he pulled her into his body and kissed her with every secret desperate desire he had. He leaned over her wanting to deepen the kiss but he only accomplished bending her backwards. She disconnected herself from his lips and he felt her gulp at the night air. Without her lips to kiss, he immediately trailed a line down her neck and began to nip at the exposed skin of her shoulder. He still had her leaned over backwards and her head fell back her long midnight hair falling to the ground as it hung from the top of her upside-down head. He could feel her heart race under his lips and knew that he would not be able to take much more of this torture.
He forced the raging fire within back trying to keep control and pulled her pack into a standing position. Alanzo returned to her mouth so that as he spoke his lips brushed hers. “It’s been too long. I can’t take this waiting in between the times I get to see you. It feels like the only time I’m alive is in your presence. The rest of the time I am walking around as if in some terrible prolonged half-life.”
Hawwa’s eyes took on a sad shadow and she said in a soft whisper. “It is for our own safety. You know this.”
Alanzo chuckled before responded. “The guards are no problem. Most nights they sleep. Sometimes I come here on nights that we don’t meet just so I can remember what it felt like to have you in my arms. Please, don’t make me wait so long next time.”
She shook her head at him. “It’s not the guards I’m worried about. It’s the harem.”
He scoffed, “Those women you hang around all day with. They’re just a bunch of pampered house pets. Why should you worry about them?” As soon as he said it he knew that he had upset her. She quickly retreated from his reach and crossing her arms sat down on one of the marble benches.
“You don’t understand what it means to be in a harem. My father may be the sultan but the real power is concentrated within the bureaucratic structure of the harem. Most of the women fight for positions of power that revolve around my father’s bed, however, my father has sired many daughters. I am one of 200 daughters, 75 of which are of a prime child-bearing age. There are not enough suitable husbands for all of us, and many have to settle for spinster positions within the harem or husbands of lower class. I am the daughter of one of the most powerful Sultana’s and I have only recently come of age. Some of my sister’s would like nothing more than have some tragic accident befall me so that they may take my place within the hierarchy.”
Alanzo did not really believe what he was hearing. He could never really see a woman as a threat but it seemed that she believed that her life was at risk. She looked towards the fountain as a midnight breeze brought the smell of jasmine into the courtyard. Alanzo looked at her profile and moved a long strand of black hair over her shoulders and said, “You could marry me.”
A soft smile grew on her face and she looked towards the ground saying, “Are you asking me to marry you?”
He leaned into her and caressed her face. “I cannot imagine life without you, please marry me.”
She looked into his eyes and he saw that self-assured fire that sometimes scared him. “I accept, but I fear you do not understand what exactly is at stake here” she said softly.
He huffed, frustrated that a marriage proposal did not end in the romantic bliss he had been hoping for. “I don’t care. All I know is I want to take you away from here. Runaway with me and live out the remainder of your days at my side.”
She looked shocked at his proposition, “Alanzo, you must realize that if I leave and runaway without a word, my father will come looking for me? It could cause a war. No that is not how this is to be done.”
“So what, we ask your father if I can marry you? Granted, the thought has crossed my mind that a joining of our households could result in some very lucrative trade arrangements, but it’s impossible. I am an infidel. Even looking upon your face is a crime.” he retorted.
She pressed her lips together before saying, “That is the main hurdle. I think there is only one way around it, but I am afraid to ask you to do it.”
“Well what is it”
“Before you present yourself at court you will need to convert to Islam” she said without looking at him.
For the first time since meeting her in the maze he looked away from her. He exhaled as he dropped his head and rubbed his hands over his face thinking. With enough money to sweeten the deal perhaps conversion would be enough to allow the match to move forward. It would take every ounce of charm he possessed. However, what would his parents think? He closed his eyes and then looked up into the night sky taking in the moon hovering over them in a bed of stars for a long moment before saying, “I would damn my immortal soul to the depths of hell for a short mortal life by you side. May god forgive me. I will begin the arrangements tomorrow.” As the words tumbled from his lips a moment of fear gripped him for what he was saying. He felt broken. She moved her body in between his legs and sat on her knees. She cupped his face in her hands and looked into his eyes and he saw her love for him there. “If you must convert to Islam, I will convert to Christianity so that we may dine in hell together.”
In that moment they looked at each other and an unspoken promise bound them together forever. They would do anything for each other, and they crashed together sealing the pact with a kiss. A tide of passion came upon them, and they pressed their bodies to each other riding that wave recklessly. It was already too late when Alanzo noticed the torch lit faces that stood in the archway entrance of the courtyard.ns 126.96.36.199da2