The Last Prince of DahaarBy: Tara Pammi
PUMP HIS BODY full of narcotics and fall into blessed oblivion? Or suffer a fitful sleep and welcome the madness within to take over?
Abuse his body or torture his mind?
It was a choice Ayaan bin Riyaaz Al-Sharif, the crown prince of Dahaar, faced every evening when dusk gave way to dark night.
After eight months of lucidity, and he used the term very loosely, he had no idea which he would favor on a given day.
Tonight, he was leaning toward the drugs.
It was his last night as a guest in Siyaad, the neighboring nation to his own country, Dahaar. He would be better off knocking himself out.
You did that last night too, a voice whispered in his ear. A voice that sounded very much like his older brother, who had spent countless hours toughening up Ayaan.
Stepping out of the blisteringly hot shower, Ayaan dried himself and pulled on black sweatpants. He had run for three hours straight tonight, setting himself a pace that lit a fire in his muscles. His body felt like a mass of bruised pulp.
He had kept to lighted grounds, to the perimeter of the palace. And every time he’d spotted a member of the royal guard—both his own and Siyaadi—his breath had come a little more easily.
Walking back into the huge bedroom, he eyed the bottle of narcotics on his bedside table. Two tablets and he would be out like the dead.
The option was infinitely tempting. So what if he felt lousy tomorrow with a woozy head and woolen mouth?
Another night would pass without incident, without an episode. Another night where he accepted defeat, accepted his powerlessness in his fight against his own mind.
He picked up the plastic bottle and turned it around, playing with the cap, almost tasting the bitter pill on his tongue.
A breeze flew in through the French doors, blowing the sheer silk curtains up. Dark had fallen in the past half hour, the heat of the evening touched by its cold finger.
Peaceful, quiet nights were not his friends. Peaceful, quiet nights in a strange place were enough to bring him to his knees, reducing him to a mindless, useless coward.
He was still a bloody coward, afraid of his own shadow.
Powerless fury roared through him, and he threw the painkillers across the empty room. The bottle hit the wall with a soft thud and disappeared beneath an antique armoire.
A quiet hush followed the sound of the bottle, the silence beginning to settle over his skin like a chilly blanket.
He grabbed the remote and turned on the huge plasma TV on the opposite wall. He had specifically requested the guest suite with the largest TV. Flipping to a soccer game, he turned the volume up so high that the sounds reverberated around him. Soon, his skull would hurt at the pounding din of it, the echoes ringing in his ears. But he welcomed the physical discomfort, even though at this rate, he would be deaf by the time he was thirty.
Walking around the room, he turned off the lights.
As his eyes became accustomed to the dark, he got into bed. A pulse of distress traveled up his spine and knotted up at the base of his neck. He curled his fists, focusing on the simple act of breathing in and out. He willed his mind to understand, to stop looping back at its own fears and feeding on them.
Sleep came upon him hard, a deceptive haven capable of snatching control from him and reducing him into a cowering animal.
* * *
Zohra Katherine Naasar Al-Akhtum slowly made her way through the lighted corridors toward the guest suite that was situated in the wing farthest from the main residence wings of the palace.
Her feet, clad in leather slippers, didn’t make a sound on the pristine marble floors. But her heart thumped in her chest, and with each step, her feet dragged on the floor.
It was half past eleven. She shouldn’t be out of bed, much less roaming around in this part of the palace where women were expressly forbidden. Not that she had ever heeded the rules of the palace. She just hadn’t needed to be in here until now.
Now...now she had no choice.
She straightened her flagging spine and forged on.
The fact that she hadn’t encountered a guard until now weighed heavily in her gut instead of easing her anxiety. It had been easy to bribe one of the maids and inquire which suite their esteemed guest was staying in.
Suddenly there she was, standing in front of centuries-old, intricately carved, gigantic oak doors. Zohra felt as if cold fingers had clamped over her spine.