Break the Gilded Cage Ch. 03byElenia26©
Even though this was the caliph's youngest daughter and therefore least important, the caliph spared no expense but for the quick notice. The palace was turned inside out to be decorated.
Julian supposed he didn't blame the caliph for rushing their wedding. He was beginning to get nervous jitters. Sometime that morning he had realized he didn't even know his bride-to-be's name yet, much less what she looked like. He would have asked Jasmine, but she was kept away from him all day, presumably to take care of her mistress. He wondered what she thought, cloistered in her nun's existence, soon to marry a foreigner. He might have reconsidered had it not been for the small note a page had pressed into his hand as the boy ran by.
It was two words, in a very familiar handwriting (his wife's handwriting, in twenty-four hours!) and it said simply "Thank you."
The day had dawned bright and clear. They gave him milk to drink and sweetmeats to eat and generally treated him like a king. He was washed by two older biddies who refused to hear anything he said and gently nudged him into the bath until he agreed. Then he was dressed carefully, by a valet.
First came a pure white cotton undershirt and shorts. Then came the silk pants, pajama-like, in white with gold embroidery. Over that was a long tunic which was open on the sides. This was also in white silk, and the arms and cuffs were heavily embroidered. The neck was open in a sort of U-shaped pattern and the border was also trimmed in gold.
Next came a silk sleeveless vest. The color was a rich plum, but the whole back of it was covered with a dragon stitched in the same gold thread. On the front he was pleased and surprised to notice on the right side his family's crest. On the left was the symbol of the family he would be joining.
Then came fine pointed slippers which were put onto his feet, also heavily embroidered. He was bade to sit, and a silk cloth was brought. The valet proceeded to wrap a turban around his head, with care and dexterity. The turban was the same plum color as his vest. In it was placed a single peacock feather, standing up straight.
He stood and looked at himself in the mirror. But for the green eyes and fair skin, he looked like a native.
They brought him back to the throne room and sat him amongst some other thrones, a little lower than the caliph. Other men began to arrive, swarthy and dark-haired. They nodded to him curtly, and he realized these were the other son-in-laws.
People began to arrive, and still no sign of his bride. Each person brought a gift and placed it at his feet, bowing. Expensive rings, jewelry for his bride, and silks were the majority of the gifts. One man brought twelve slave boys, however, and another brought sixteen camels.
The morning wore on, and it became ritual for Julian to stand, accept the gift and the sentiments, and seat himself again. At noon a bell tolled and everyone took their seats.
In the center of the room was a raised dais, about ten feet by ten feet. In the center was a small metal container. Its top was open and wider than the bottom, so the sides slanted outward. One on side was seated a priest, who began to chant and put things into the fire.
The other son-in-laws stood, and Julian took his cue from them and stood as well. A dignified butler type came up and gestured Julian forward, until he was standing in front of his throne, with his back to it. The far doors were opened.
In stepped a huge procession. First came jugglers, then dancing girls, servants, maids, all elegantly dressed.
Then in came four pavilion bearers carrying a plum colored silk-lined doli (pavilion) between them. They turned it sideways, so the open side was toward him, and stepped side.
A hand appeared at the edge of the curtain, and gently pulled it aside. The hand had henna on both sides, and gold hand jewelry on the back. A leg was extended and a small slippered foot was placed on the ground.
Out stepped a small figure, clad head to toe in jade green silk. There were embroidered flowers all over her brocade. Her head was covered by a red silk veil, and her lower face by another.
She stood a little over five feet tall. She walked toward him, and a few feet away she stopped, and knelt on the floor, her head bowed. Her herald stepped up next to her.
"Her Royal Highness, the Princess of this fair land, daughter of his most royal Caliph Fajlad, begs you to take her as wife!"
This was all protocol, and Julian had been instructed in it. He stepped forward and proclaimed in a loud voice, "I, Julian Alexander, son of Tiberius Alexander, do accept!" So saying, he bent to take her arm. She offered it to him, and as she rose he saw that she snuck a look at him from behind her lashes.
He could see nothing of her but her eyes but her eyes made him forget where he was for a moment. They were of the deepest emerald green, heavily framed by black lashes. They seem to be filled with their own luminescence. Heavily lined with kohl, they were the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen.
Their eyes met for the first time, and Julian felt a spark run through his body. He didn't have time to wonder if she felt it too, for the valet was already turning him toward the ceremony. They both continued to the platform and knelt there.
The wedding ceremony was two hours long and consisted of getting up, sitting down, walking nine times together around the fire (for each of the nine lifetimes they were to be together), putting various things in the fire as offerings, and repeating vows as instructed. She was very quiet but occasionally he would see a flash of green eyes. They remained in his mind even when she didn't look up, it seemed to him.
After the wedding, they were seated on matching thrones. For about two hours they received people's blessings.
Julian was having a hard time getting around the fact that they were married. It came home quickly enough when after two hours several maidservants came over, giggling, and took his new bride away. He knew they were taking her to the bedchamber. He also knew that the custom here was for the bride to keep her groom waiting as long as she desired on the wedding night. Perhaps it was the only bit of power she got. He wondered how long his new wife would make him wait. It would have to be at least half an hour, for modesty's sake.
The call did not actually come until an hour later. The same maidservants came back, giggling, and walked him down the hall and out of the throne room. Behind him he could hear the dancing and the drinking and the reveling beginning.
They took him to a decorated door and opened it and thrust him inside, still giggling.
The bower was dominated by a very large bed. This was covered with flowers, as was the custom, and hanging vines of flowers surrounded it. The entire room was decorated beautifully.
He advanced, glancing at the candles lighting the room and the customary glass of milk the wife was supposed offer her husband. Then he stopped, suddenly, as he heard a voice from behind him.
The voice held overtones of honey and milk, with a sweet, musical tone. It was young and slightly accented, and he knew instantly it was the voice of his bride.
He turned, and saw there was another doorway which he had missed seeing right away. It led into sort of a lounge room. In the doorway was standing a young...well, person. The person was dressed in black boys' clothes from head to toe. What little he could see of the face had been darkened by some sort of skin color, and there was a cloth across the lower part of the face. The person wore a black turban. But the eyes...the eyes were the same emerald, with flicks of gold, that he had seen on the marriage altar. This was his bride, and this was what she had been doing in the hour – getting dressed like this.
The girl stepped forward and bowed. "Alexander sahaab? Thank you for saving me from a truly terrible fate." Although she spoke without the haughty arrogance of her father, he thought this girl had steel in her. "I am sorry to rush you, my Lord. But you are in danger, and so am I. We must leave immediately, tonight."
He finally found his voice. "In danger? What do you mean, Rajkumari?" He called her the correct Arabic word for Princess.
She replied, "My...suitor...is furious with me for rejecting you. He means to kill me, so no man may have me. And my father wishes to have you killed in an accident, so he may say the son of the great Tiberius Alexander is still allied to him. Even after you die my father plans to use your name."
He nodded, gravely. Truthfully, the only thing he was surprised at was how blithely the girl spoke of her own death. "How do you plan to escape?"
"Jasmine and my tutor have agreed to help me. Your things have already been packed onto your horse by Jasmine. My tutor is waiting with the horse in a place not far from here. And here is your sword, my Lord."
He had to repress a smile at her thoroughness. "You sound like you have really planned this out, Rajkumari. Now how do we get out of this room?"
"First you must wear this over your clothing. You can put your turban into this bag," she said holding out a black cover-all and a burlap sack. He removed it carefully and walked up to her.
From this close he could smell her even with the strange clothes on. She smelled delightfully sweet and young, and rather exotic. He dropped his turban in the bag and took the cover-all, as well as a pair of black slippers. Their fingers brushed, and he realized she was wearing gloves.
She turned away politely, and went to the window. He began pulling it over his head, watching her. She cautiously peeked out of the window, then tugged on something. It took him a second to realize she was checking a rope which was tied to the window. He was lost in admiration for a moment. This girl was something else! Here she was, on her wedding night, preparing to sneak out of the window of her bridal chamber.
He realized she was watching him. By the slight crinkle in her eyes he knew she was smiling. He wondered what her smile looked like. Was she ugly? With eyes like that? He followed her gaze and realized she was smiling at his feet – he had put one of the new slippers on but the other was still the fancy silk one. He quickly changed them and dropped them both in the bag. The cover-all was very well made, thick and heavy yet not constricting.
She nodded, approvingly. "Come. We must go. Give me the bag so I may secure it to you." She dropped some small packages into the bag first. Smiling, she continued, "These are some of our wedding gifts, at least the portable smaller ones. I see no reason why we should leave them with my father." She took it from his fingers and deftly secured it over his shoulder and neck with a strap.
She tried to reach up, and he watched her eyes darken charmingly. "Please bend down." He did so, and she pulled a hood from the back of the garment and pulled it over his head. "That will do. Once we are gone from the castle no one will care about a foreigner. However I can't afford to be recognized. Again, my Lord, I thank you. What you are doing for me is kinder than any of my own kin ever did." Was that just a hint of bitterness in her tone? But her eyes were as clear as ever.
She moved toward the window, sat on it, and swung her legs over the edge. "I hear you can climb, my Lord. I hope you can climb well. We don't have far to go once we hit the bottom. There is a small boat waiting for us. I also hear you can sail, and I am hoping you sail us away from here."
"You certainly know a lot about me. I barely know anything about you."
"I may be young, my Lord, but I have learned one thing. If you have a plan, do your research."
She made as if to swing over the edge and he touched her arm. "Wait!"
She turned her head to look at him, and once again those emerald eyes nearly nailed him to the floor. "Rajkumari, I'm sorry. I don't even know your name."
Her eyes crinkled in the charming way again. "My Lord, I didn't know they didn't tell you my name! And yet you wed me without knowing?"
He looked embarrassed. "I think the priest said it, but I couldn't pick it out of all the prayers."
She nodded. "My, Lord, my name...is Alania."
So saying, she turned and trusted her weight to the rope. She began climbing down efficiently and quickly.
Alania, he thought as he also swung down after her. What a beautiful name.
They only climbed about three stories, resting on the ledges in between. Soon enough, they dropped to the garden below. Without speaking, she gestured him to follow her. They raced lightly through the garden. Twice she dropped down behind a shrub or tree, gesturing him to follow suit while guards walked by. Once they hid outside a gazebo for fifteen minutes while a guard and a maid had a tryst inside the gazebo. They heard the sounds, and her eyes were amused.
Eventually, though, they made it to the other side of the garden. Here she looked at him worriedly. "This is the part I was concerned about," she whispered, and pointed.
Down at the bottom of the high surrounding wall that enclosed the garden there was a hole. It had recently been dug out deeper, so they would be creeping under the wall, but it was not huge. She would fit through it easily but he would have a lot more trouble. She glanced at him, appraising his 6'4", 200 lb. figure. "I'll go first."
She crawled into the hole and easily slipped through, kicking until she made it. Then as he watched her hand came back through and beckoned him forward.
It wasn't easy, but in the end he managed to do it. His coverall was filthy though, as she grabbed his hands and pulled him through. While he stood up she turned to a familiar young girl and spoke to her in fast fluent Arabic.
"Jasmine. Stay out of trouble, yes? Father will not punish you if you stay well away from the bridal chamber. Fill in the hole and go." She kissed her maid's cheek and hugged her, and Julian heard her whisper "Thank you."
Jasmine bowed deeply to her mistress, then to Julian, and immediately crawled back through the hole. On the other side he heard her refilling the hole.
"Will she be all right?"
Alania nodded. "I think so. After all, no one is allowed near the bridal chamber so obviously she could not have helped me escape. They should not punish her."
Alania smiled up at him. "It is but a little further, my lord. Let me help you with that." And quickly and efficiently she dusted him down, removing the dirt from his coverall.
She led him in the trees along the path, down to an opening in the forest. She listened, then nodded. "Come. It is but a few hours until dawn. They will come looking for us at first light."
He looked puzzled. "Why?"
She looked at him, and quickly looked away, but he thought she had started to blush. Her answer explained why. "In my country it is custom to fly the bridal bed sheet out of the window, so that...so that all may see the bride is a virgin."
It took him a moment but he understood. "Oh! You mean..." and then grinned in the darkness. "Forgive me, Rajkumari." Refraining from asking the obvious, he simply nodded. "Very well. Lead on."
They entered the clearing. An older man stood there, holding the reins of Julian's fine stallion, Wilhelm. Ah, but what had they done to him! Wilhelm was a fine white Arabian, but his coat had been rubbed down with coal until he was black as night. He didn't look too happy about it, either, but he nickered slightly upon seeing his master. He knew when to keep quiet. Julian saw all of his things bound tightly – and professionally – to the saddle. He also noticed some extra bags, which he presumed must be her things. Wilhelm's feet were also wrapped with cloth, presumably not to make any noise.
Alania hurried forward. The old man bowed deeply, but she went to him and hugged him tightly. He smiled, patting her back gently. "It's all right. Don't be frightened. Let me meet your protector."
The old man came forward and examined Julian closely, who bowed. Suddenly he grasped Julian's hand in his. "Please take her from here and protect her. She is headstrong and stubborn but there is wisdom in her."
"Master!" Her tone was slightly reproachful. The old man chuckled.
"I am old, my dear, and I speak the truth. Now run like the wind, child, and don't ever look back. Don't ever come back. Don't forget us, either, though."
One last hug, and the old man nodded to Julian and disappeared into the trees. When Julian turned back to her he barely caught her wiping her eyes. He pretended not to notice and spoke. "Now what?"
"It's only two miles down to the docks. There will be only one guard where we are going, as tonight is a night of celebration. Unfortunately I could not get another horse, as my father would sooner chase horse thieves than daughter-thieves." Now the tone of bitterness was clear, but faint. "I must ride with you. We should meet no one on the way. Many nobles ride with their lovers at night, so their wives will not catch them. Oftentimes the lovers are not female."
He caught her meaning at once, and nodded. "Can you ride, Rajkumari?" He was amused to see a hint of exasperation in her eyes. "Of course, my Lord. Whose daughter am I?"
In answer he stepped forward and grasped her around the waist. Even as she gasped he was surprised to feel how tiny it was. He lifted her bodily into the saddle. He grasped the reins and swung up himself, behind her.
His arms automatically slipped around her to reach the reins. He felt her body stiffen, then relax by degrees. She pointed. "That way."
Julian didn't think he would ever forget that ride. One the one hand there was the ever-constant threat of discovery, although it seemed to recede as they approached the shore. He wasn't deluded and knew the penalty would be death. On the other hand, there was next to him, a living, breathing warm female body. He couldn't help but be aware of her back pressed against his chest with every breath he took, for after her initial resistance, she had relaxed against him.
They didn't speak except for terse directions from her. Soon they came upon a hill. Down below he could see the docks. They were in a darkened alley, which led almost all the way down to the northernmost pier. There would be maybe ten feet of ground to cover in the open.
She climbed down and gestured for him to dismount and wait. On cat's feet she ran down to the edge of the alley and peeked out. Quick as a wink she pressed her back against the edge. A minute later a guard came into view. He was singing, and obviously drunk. He stopped, with his back turned to them, and proceeded to blow his nose between his fingers.
After what seemed like a maddeningly long time but was probably only a few seconds, he turned and went back the other way. She gestured to him, and he followed her down to the end.
She motioned him to bend down. Her whisper in his ear reminded him of silk sliding against silk. "I will deal with the guard. Do not worry, I know what to do. When he is down, hurry to that boat." She pointed, and he saw a low-lying skiff, just big enough for maybe four people or two people and a horse. He nodded, and started to ask a question, but she covered his mouth. She turned to look at the guard.
He had sat down not too far from them. She withdrew from her pocket a small vial. Pulling out a handkerchief, she upended the vial into the cloth, being careful not to breathe any of it. "Sleeping potion", she whispered.
She crept out onto the street, taking her time. Her eyes never left the guard.
Truthfully it was almost too easy. She came up behind him and slapped the handkerchief over his face. He was indeed very drunk and barely let out a murmur. She held it for a minute, then let him slip to the ground. She waved him to go.