FROM THE Bab al-Faraj with its wooden gatehouse, a cobblestone road between Al-Qal’at al-Hamra and the summer palace gave way to abundant orchards and forests. Even the first full rays of sunlight could not penetrate the airless canopy beneath which Moraima hurried. The land ascended at a gradual incline under her sandaled feet. Errant branches of the laurel and cypress trees along a well-worn path tugged at her hijab, although she clasped the veil beneath her chin with one hand. Skirts of emerald and brown samite swept aside the detritus. Despite stunted legs and an ungainly waddle, Jaasus kept pace. She gritted her teeth at the chimes coupled with each footfall.
Instead of the usual complaints about the shoe bells, she urged him on. “Faster! All of the Sultanas must already be there.”
Jaasus wheezed, “How is such possible when you’re not among them?”
She shook her head, still in no better mood for his witticism. “I’m not a Sultana. I mean, not as they are. I will never be the equal of the Sultan’s wives.”
“For certain. While you hold your noble master’s heart in its entirety, the Sultan’s attentions vacillate between two queens. One who loves him, but shall never claim him as hers fully because he also belongs to another who despises him, one who can never escape their bonds.”
Jaasus couldn’t understand her true import and Moraima had neither the time or inclination for a thorough account of her worries.
“Don’t speculate on royal relations or matters beyond your concern! You’re a servant of a great prince’s household. Your performance is hardly dutiful. Now come, the summer palace is in sight.”
“I hear and obey, most prudent of Sultanas.”
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