The Sheikh’s PrizeBy: Lynne Graham
‘SHEIKH King Emir has agreed that he will speak with you.’
Amy looked up as Fatima, one of the servants, entered the nursery where Amy was feeding the young Princesses their dinner. ‘Thank you for letting me know. What time—?’
‘He is ready for you now,’ Fatima interrupted, impatience evident in her voice at Amy’s lack of haste, for Amy continued to feed the twins.
‘They’re just having their dinner...’ Amy started, but didn’t bother to continue—after all, what would the King know about his daughters’ routines? Emir barely saw the twins and, quite simply, it was breaking Amy’s heart.
What would he know about how clingy they had become lately and how fussy they were with their food? It was one of the reasons Amy had requested a meeting with him—tomorrow they were to be handed over to the Bedouins. First they would be immersed in the desert oasis and then they would be handed over to strangers for the night. It was a tradition that dated back centuries, Fatima had told her, and it was a tradition that could not be challenged.
Well, Amy would see about that!
The little girls had lost their mother when they were just two weeks old, and since his wife’s death Emir had hardly seen them. It was Amy they relied on. Amy who was with them day in and day out. Amy they trusted. She would not simply hand them over to strangers without a fight on their behalf.
‘I will look after the twins and give them dinner,’ Fatima said. ‘You need to make yourself presentable for your audience with the King.’ She ran disapproving eyes over Amy’s pale blue robe, which was the uniform of the Royal Nanny. It had been fresh on that morning, but now it wore the telltale signs that she had been finger-painting with Clemira and Nakia this afternoon. Surely Emir should not care about the neatness of her robe? He should expect that if the nanny was doing her job properly she would be less than immaculate in appearance. But, again, what would Emir know about the goings-on in the nursery? He hadn’t been in to visit his daughters for weeks.
Amy changed into a fresh robe and retied her shoulder-length blonde hair into a neat ponytail. Then she covered her hair with a length of darker blue silk, arranging the cloth around her neck and leaving the end to trail over her shoulder. She wore no make-up but, as routinely as most women might check their lipstick, Amy checked to see that the scar low on her neck was covered by the silk. She hated how, in any conversation, eyes were often drawn to it, and more than that she hated the inevitable questions that followed.
The accident and its aftermath were something she would far rather forget than discuss.
‘They are too fussy with their food,’ Fatima said as Amy walked back into the nursery.
Amy suppressed a smile as Clemira pulled a face and then grabbed at the spoon Fatima was offering and threw it to the floor.
‘They just need to be cajoled,’ Amy explained. ‘They haven’t eaten this before.’
‘They need to know how to behave!’ Fatima said. ‘There will be eyes on them when they are out in public, and tomorrow they leave to go to the desert—there they must eat only fruit, and the desert people will not be impressed by two spoiled princesses spitting out their food.’ She looked Amy up and down. ‘Remember to bow your head when you enter, and to keep it bowed until the King speaks. And you are to thank him for any suggestions that he makes.’
Amy bit down on a smart retort. It would be wasted on Fatima and, after all, she might do better to save her responses for Emir. As she turned to go, Clemira, only now realising that she was being left with Fatima, called out to Amy.
‘Ummi!’ her little voice wailed. ‘Ummi!’
She called again and Fatima stared in horror as Clemira used the Arabic word for mother.
‘Is this what she calls you?’
‘She doesn’t mean it,’ Amy said quickly, but Fatima was standing now, the twins’ dinner forgotten, fury evident on her face.
‘What have you been teaching her?’ Fatima accused.
‘I have not been teaching her to say it,’ Amy said in panic. ‘I’ve been trying to stop her.’
She had been. Over and over she had repeated her name these past few days, but the twins had discovered a new version. Clemira must have picked it up from the stories she had heard Amy tell, and from the small gatherings they attended with other children who naturally called out to their mothers. No matter how often she was corrected, Clemira persisted with her new word.