The Desert King's Housekeeper Bride(9)

By: Carol Marinelli

‘My first mother.’ His voice was softer now, his eyes kinder, when finally Effie turned around. ‘My first mother insisted we eat fatir in the morning.’

Scared of saying the wrong thing again, Effie nodded.

‘I have enjoyed my breakfast this morning. Tomorrow, though,’ Zakari said, ‘I just want coffee. I like to live simply during my time here.’

‘You can’t go out to the desert without eating!’ Effie snapped her mouth closed, terrified she’d gone too far again, only breathing again when instead of scolding her he took another bite of the fatir she had so skilfully made and again compromised. ‘Coffee and fatir…’ he relented. ‘But that is to be all.’

The winds of yesterday had wreaked change.

As Zakari set off into the desert he surveyed the endlessly shifting landscape.

If lost, the rocks—the constants—would guide him, were guiding him now, Zakari reminded himself, even if he felt abandoned. His search for the missing half of the diamond had taken many twists and turns. Since Aegeus’s death, when he had discovered that the stone had been replaced with a fake, his search had been relentless, taking him to Egypt, to America and to London. Some small Aristan pieces of jewellery had turned up at the most exclusive of auctions, and Zakari had purchased them back anonymously, positive now that Aegeus had kept a lover whom he had showered with gifts—and, Zakari concluded, perhaps even the stone.

But who?

Every lead he had followed seemed to take him further from the truth, every jewel that turned up confused the picture more. There had been rumours she had been a maid, but that search had proved fruitless; rumours too of a mistress during the early years of Aegeus’s marriage, but if there had been, then Aegeus had been more than discreet.

At every turn, there was nothing

That was why he was here, why he had chosen to retreat to the desert. The craziness of the past few months, Aegeus’s death, his son Sebastian relinquishing his right to the throne, his own brothers’ weddings, his pursuit of the stone… Zakari had chosen to clear his head, to come to the rich land and humbly ask for its help.

He wandered, only aimlessly now.

Effie speaking of his mother, daring to speak of his mother, had kindled something… First a flicker of a memory of a time when life was uncomplicated, running through their palace, in another land, another time, the sound of laughter from his mother.

His real mother.

He had not been born to be King of Calista and for a while that had troubled his mind and no doubt the people of Calista too.

His mother had died while giving birth to her seventh child, Zafir. His father, Sheikh Ashraf Al’Farisi, the third son of the ruling family of the Sheikhdom of Hadiya, had, after a period of grieving, fallen in love with Queen Anya, the ruler of Calista.

Unable to have children herself, she had raised and loved Ashraf’s children as her own, and had groomed Zakari to one day be King. A day that still should not have happened, that should still be in the distance, except Ashraf and Anya had been killed in a helicopter crash and the weight of the grieving island had fallen onto his shoulders.

Now, five years on, and at thirty-seven years of age, he felt the weight of responsibility had never been greater, or so willingly carried.

Power was everything to Zakari.

Finding the jewel his sole mission now.

So why, Zakari demanded of himself, couldn’t he concentrate on doing just that?

         * * *

             The day was long. Zakari had disappeared after breakfast and Effie had set about cleaning, happy to be busy so that she didn’t have to think about the events of yesterday!

There was a lot to be done.

He might make his own food and drinks but he didn’t wash a plate or cup. Clothes and towels littered the carpeted floors, and Effie set about picking up and washing and cleaning, indulging in a teeny fantasy of doing such a good job, of being so unobtrusive, yet so breathtakingly efficient, that Zakari might, on return to the palace, select her to replace Christobel as his personal housekeeper—for housekeeping duties only, though, Effie amended, her face suddenly on fire!