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Allah's Children

The cauldron of his gloomy mind bubbled over angrily. The surrounding countryside, consisting of bed sheets and tapestries, bowed down to him, the Prince of the Eastern Kingdom. And his name was Raja.

The seventeen-year-old laughed resolutely while his feet continued their journey round the room. It was a fact—he was bored. So very, very bored. There was absolutely nothing to do, not one new game or pastime in all of India. Especially not on a dreadfully hot day like today—the Eastern Kingdom had never seen a spring as fiery as this one.

Raja heaved a tired sigh and leaned his tall frame against the wall. He closed his eyes. Various hues of blue light reverberated against his eyelids, but they couldn’t be helped. The sunlight had a way with such magic. At least the color was a nice place for a picture. Soon, Raja’s mind was whirling—images swirled through his head and before his eyes. There was his father, the wise King Ramadan. Contrary to popular belief, the King wasn’t all that wise. Quickly replacing the King flew the Queen Vashti, whose name was just about the most powerful thing she owned. A timid raven was she—meek around her powerful husband but beautiful in every way. Next on the blank parchment of Raja’s mind was Kiran, his older sister. She was the spitting image of the Queen—quiet, industrious, and very pulled-together. The perfect marital partner. Unfortunately, Kiran was engaged to an idiot. The fool only wanted Kiran for the title sure to follow, and Raja couldn’t bear it. Why didn’t the King and Queen put an end to the relationship? But it was not to be, for no one else dared ask for the hand of the High Princess.

When the image of himself finally flashed upon his imaginary screen, Raja was wearing a peasant’s clothes. He scoffed, but knew it to be somewhat true—after all, the King Ramadan would never allow Raja to become King, not when Kiran was his firstborn. She had always been the King’s favorite, but Raja didn’t care. His sister deserved it, what with all of the decisions made for her. Anyway, Raja didn’t want to become king. Ruling a land would be an awesome responsibility, but he wasn’t sure if he was up to it, and Raja didn’t want to risk it.

Just before the pool of light slowed to the point of blackness, the fading image of a golden sky flashed upon his eyes. Its warm glow was entrancing…it was familiar. Somehow. He didn’t remember where he’d seen it, felt it, lived it before, but it was familiar, and it was there.

He opened his eyes in front of the Grand Windows, where there was a perfect view of the gardens. They weren’t very pretty; merely a blur of greens and blacks and the occasional brightness of a chaotic tropical flower. And Raja smiled. Yes, they were disorganized, and yes, they were overgrown…but the gardens were great for one thing. Hiding.

Raja slipped off his sandals. He was going to wade in the Pools, the Pools of Saraswati.

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“So,” Neela whined. “Tell me again why we’re riding all the way to the Eastern Kingdom.” She turned her lips into a pout.

“I’ve told you this twice already! Do you not tire of hearing what is to come? Your parents have decreed that you must find a suitable husband if you are to gain the crown.” Noting Neela’s glaring displeasure, Daian added, “Please forgive me, next time I’ll venture off on my own to find your future life partner.” Despite herself, Daian smirked. It was these rare moments to taunt the princess that she lived for.

“Rubbish! My parents know nothing.” Neela retorted calmly, flipping a lock of dark hair over her shoulder.

“Mind your tongue! Or so help me, Neela, I will make you walk across India.” Daian crossed her arms over her chest. If only Neela’s parents knew how much she wanted to be a sole ruler…but it was not to be so, for never in all of India had a woman reigned without a king.

“By Allah, you will.” Neela whispered under her breath. It was a great dishonor to forsake a god like she had just done, and so Neela turned to face to carriage walls. Yet she could still feel her teacher’s sparkling eyes bearing into the back of her head, and the silence was unbearable.

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Raja dipped his toes into he cool water. He had considered pulling up his silk trousers, but the water was so tranquil, and he didn’t want to move.

Suddenly, a taut voice interrupted his imposed serenity. “Raja! Little prince! Come quickly!” It was the doorman, Arun. Raja liked the doorman, but he was nothing compared to a real friend. Arun motioned with his hands. “Kasa hua!” Raja shook the water off his feet and pulled his slippers back on. The king required his presence.


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King Ramadan sat proudly on the gleaming throne. He ordered, “Raja, son. Sit.” Raja did so, looking expectantly at the Queen Vashti. She didn’t return the glance. Her face was blank, the way she always kept it for fear of penalty from the King. Women in the Eastern Kingdom weren’t allowed to voice their opinions, either; not unless agreeing with their politically correct husband. “Come the eve of Holi, you shall marry.”

Raja felt the color drip off his face. “On…on Saturday? Who am I to wed?”

“You shall marry the daughter of King Dharesh, ruler of the Imperial City.”

Confused thoughts swam around in his head. “…When will I meet her?”

“It is to be decided.” Raja frowned at his father’s response. He always said that phrase when he wasn’t sure. “You may leave.”

Later, despite the reality of the situation, Raja smiled. He was going to have a friend! But he grew curious—what was her name? He had asked about the name of the princess several times, and it was only when Kiran told him that no one was to speak the bride’s name until the day she arrived that he stopped asking. Raja couldn’t wait for her to arrive.


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Neela pushed her head outside of the curtains in the carriage. “Where are we?”

Daian adjusted her sari. “We’re almost there, Neela. Be patient.”

Neela couldn’t help but smile at her teacher’s comment. Daian was grinning, too. They both knew that if there was one thing the princess did not posses, it was patience. But she did have another characteristic trait, one that would be far more useful—leadership. The only thing Neela wanted in all of India was to rule the Imperial City. Solo. Without a husband. And with that thought, Neela felt herself drifting back into her thoughts.

Neela ran into the entrance room, eagerly searching for her parents. They had called her. She hoped it was about matters of the City again—it was great fun listening to those. Her father, King Dharesh, greeted her. “Good morning, Neela.” He sounded tired.

She remembered grinning. “Yes, Papa. And what a beautiful day Allah has given us.”

“Neela, we need to send you to the East.”

Neela’s eyes widened. Would she be able to rule there? “Why, Papa?”

Her mother cut in. “You must find a husband. King Ramadan allotted us the marriage of his son—You are to marry Prince Raja.”

Neela’s mouth dropped at her mother’s bluntness. Didn’t her parents listen to her? Didn’t they care about her? Tearfully, she ran out of the room, cursing Allah as she fled. What a horrid day it would be.

Neela was tossed out of her reverie with a shake to her shoulders. “Come on, love, we’re here.” She pulled her mouth into a tight frown. This’d better be worth it.

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Raja tapped his feet impatiently. The princess and her escort should’ve been here by now! No sooner had the thought formed in his mind than the princess Neela and Daian stepped into the throne room. Daian bowed politely to the prince and his parents. Neela gave a subtle curtsey to the King and Queen, but stayed firm for Raja. He would get no such courtesy.

Raja wondered which he was to marry—they were both fairly young, and each was dressed quite regally. Daian addressed Neela properly, but Raja couldn’t stop staring at Neela’s teacher. Surely this woman wasn’t the princess’s mother? She looked far too young to even have considered childbearing. In those few moments of trying to regain any past scraps of memories, Raja was hit with recognition. This was Daian! She had been the Court’s milkmaid twelve years before. Daian had been his best friend, his only friend, during his childhood. Those years had been the happiest of his life. Now, she was here, in his courts!

Raja couldn’t help it. Before he’d even introduced himself, he ran down off the Royal Platform and into Daian’s arms. Neela was disgusted. Who was he to think that it was okay to hug her Daian? This certainly changed her opinion about the prince. He was just another snooty, prided, spoiled brat. She was sure that Raja would only marry her to gain access to the Imperial City, where he could legally rule if they were married. Oh! She’d kill him if he tried to lay a finger on her. Neela was going to rule the Imperial City by herself, without this snob of a prince. Hah!

Raja and Daian were talking, laughing, rejoicing. He had finally found her! Or rather, she had found him. It didn’t matter—they were together at last! Neela watched the scene unfold with fury. It was all she could do to avoid punching the prince on his sensitively royal face. She wished she could see him crying. He deserved it.


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Of course Raja and Daian didn’t hear what was happening at the back of the room. For that matter, neither did Neela. What was happening in the shade of the ivory thrones shouldn’t have been welcome information, either.

Hushed whispers. “He shall be punished. Affiliating with a commoner, much less one stained with poverty! How dare she return to my courts?” King Ramadan’s voice wavered and threatened to break over a harsh whisper.

A sweeter, milder voice spoke out then, but the undertone of fear left the speaker’s identity obvious. “Yes. When Raja marries, that dreadful peasant should be disposed of immediately. The girl though, the princess, she looks regal enough. You have chosen well, my Lord.”


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Five-year-old Raja stepped into the sunlight, giggling. He and the milkmaid were playing hide and seek, and he couldn’t wait—it was finally his turn, and Daian was always a good hider. Hmmm…where could she be?

And his game was interrupted by the furious shout of King Ramadan. “YOU! Peasant! Leave my courts immediately!” Little Raja never understood why Daian had to leave so suddenly. All he knew was that his father had taken away his only friend.


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Neela’s existence revolved around three things: eat, sleep, and be angry. Never once did she smile at the prince, his guards, or his bratty royal parents. She knew best—it was them who needed to be taught a lesson. No one was to boss around Neela, daughter of the King!

Neela took every chance she had to wreck Raja’s life. She spat on his tapestries, broke imperial vases by accident, took her meals whenever she pleased, and refused to address him by his proper title. Needless to say, Raja wasn’t very pleased with this. Why was she purposefully trying to aggravate him? He had brought her into his home, and been nice to her. He had provided her with clothing and rooms, and this was how she acted? Yet Raja tried his best to give her second chances. She was, after all, a potential friend.

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Daian’s eyes twinkled as she spoke to him. “Yes, Raja, the mighty Mountain Village of the Sun! Her regal queen was named Anakai, and she was the greatest ruler Turkey had ever seen.”

Raja interrupted. “But how could a queen, a woman, rule on her own?”

Daian cocked her head. “Are you implying that I could not rule the world if I chose to do so?” She laughed. “I’m just teasing you, Raja. Those were distant times, and women were at equal boundaries with the men. Many queens were more powerful then even their husbands!”

Raja smiled. “I wish it were still like that.”

“You wish you were lower than a woman?”

“No, I wish everyone was equal again.”

Daian pushed back a strand of hair. “I do too, Raja.”

“Daian, what will happen to you when the Princess marries?”

“I’m not sure. Neela won’t need me anymore, so I won’t be able to stay. I’ll have to go home.”

“Back to the Imperial City?”

“No, back to Anaheim. Where I used to live, Raja. I suppose I’ll have to get a job there.”

“Being a nanny, right?”

“Anaheim is a poor one, Raja. Children are lucky if they get a roof over their heads; no parents can afford teachers. My sister; she lives there. She knows who I must marry.”

“Marry?”

“Yes, Raja! I cannot be in that city alone. I must marry, to protect myself. Dangers lurk in India, Raja, more than you will ever know. If I don’t marry, I could die.”

Raja became quiet, and listened half-heartedly as she continued her story of the great Mountain Village and Queen Anakai.

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After a while, living in the Eastern Kingdom became painfully boring. Neela had never fully explored the palace, and that moment seemed the perfect time to do so. The princess peeked her head out of every ancient window, stopping as she came upon a wide expanse of water. Ooh, she thought. The Sacred Pools! Wading in the blessed water would certainly evoke a rain of panic upon Raja and his turned-up nose. Ha! She couldn’t wait to defy the law. Quickly, Neela ran down the steps and into the courtyard.

Neela didn’t bother to shed her sari before getting in the water—it was fine if it got wet. She pleasantly brought cupfuls of the liquid to her face. It felt so good, so inncocent. For a minute, she felt sorry for what she had done to Raja. The devil sitting on her shoulder pushed the thought away. No! You’ve done well, Rajkumari. Neela nodded in acceptance, albeit nervously. It wasn’t her fault he had to go and marry her. Try to, anyway.

And it was when Neela turned a bend in the pool that she heard the noise, a sort-of lilting song that she couldn’t tell the lyrics too. Neela waited and listened. Finally, she could tell who the singer was: her dreaded husband-to-be. He was murmuring something, some form of a prayer, maybe? He continued, oblivious to her presence.

Neela began to enjoy listening to the notes. They floated quickly past her ears, low sounds whispering carefully by her; almost tauntingly. They were pretty.

Suddenly, for a reason unknown to her, Neela began to cry. How could she have been so cruel to him? How could she have possibly justified herself? Tears streamed down her face silently, blurring her senses, and she wallowed in the depths of her own self-pity.

Her head peaked up in recognition, recognition of a suddenly vivid sound. A dull thud echoed across the water. She couldn’t tell what exactly had happened, but the music had stopped, and ripples appeared in the water, leading her towards the faller. Neela ran.

Neela’s eyes traced a path through the water, her legs trailing clumsily behind. Finally, she saw him. Raja lay face down in the water, motionless.

Dead.

His eyes gleamed coldly, like a long-forgotten silver crown. His mouth was set in a curve, but Neela couldn’t tell exactly what it meant.

Out of his hand slid a piece of parchment, and she snatched it up before it could get wet and be further unreadable.

Dear Daian,

Please do not be upset. I want you to be safe. I don’t want you to be forced into marriage, or be thrown into a city you don’t wish to be in. I was not killed by any person, Daian, I did it myself. Don’t worry. I love you. Take care of Neela.

Ever yours,
Raja

And Neela wept.



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