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His Queen by Desert Decree

By:Lynne Graham

His Queen by Desert Decree

Lynne Graham


KING AZRAEL AL-SHARIF OF DJALIA studied the British newspaper headline with scorchingly angry dark golden eyes, his wide sensual mouth set in a harsh line. Long, luxuriant black hair fanned round his set bronzed features as he sprang upright.

‘I do not think you should concern yourself with such trivia, Your Majesty,’ his right-hand man, Butrus, assured him. ‘What does it matter to us what other countries think? We know the truth. We are not backward. It is merely that Djalia’s infrastructure was neglected while the dictator was in power.’

What infrastructure? Azrael almost asked, because his tiny oil-rich country was suffering from a sustained half-century of neglect. Hashem had been a cruel potentate of legendary excess, as fond of torture and killing as he had been of spending. A newly enthroned monarch, painfully aware of the trusting expectations of a people who had suffered greatly under Hashem’s rule, Azrael sometimes felt weighed down by the amount of responsibility that he carried. But he was downright enraged when other countries laughed at Djalia through the offices of their media.

The newspaper showed a cart and oxen travelling down the main road of Jovan, their single city, and asked if Djalia was the most backward country in Arabia. Azrael was willing to admit that anyone looking for skyscrapers or shopping malls or fancy hotels would be disappointed because, except for a showpiece airport and an imposing motorway to the former dictator’s palace, there was nothing contemporary anywhere else in the country. But given time, Djalia would move out of the Dark Ages and into the twenty-first century.

Mercifully Djalia had the wealth to power that transformation and Djalian citizens from all over the globe, medical staff, engineers and teachers, were already flooding back home to help in that Herculean task. Azrael, whose besetting sin was a serious nature that lent him a forbidding aspect beyond his thirty years of age, thought with relief about all those people coming home to help rebuild the country that he loved more than his own life. People like him who believed in religious tolerance and female equality and who desired to live in a modern, enlightened society where all had access to education and healthcare.

‘You are right, Butrus. I will not concern myself with such nonsense,’ Azrael acknowledged briskly. ‘We must have faith in the future.’

Relieved to have lifted his monarch’s mood, Butrus departed, having decided not to mention another possible problem. According to the staff at the newly opened embassy in London, Tahir, the King’s younger half-brother, was infatuated with a sexy redhead. Another piece of trivia, Butrus decided loftily, for boys chased girls and that was life, although for Tahir, who had grown up in the much more restricted society of the neighbouring country of Quarein, it was undoubtedly a novelty to even be allowed to speak to an unmarried woman.

Azrael studied the walls of his twelfth-century office and then studied his desk instead. He lived and worked in a castle. He was a very fortunate man, he told himself nobly. He had refused to take up residence in the late dictator’s vulgar gilded palace, which was currently being converted into an opulent and very much-needed hotel. He would not think about the reality that that palace had enjoyed an Internet connection and many other contemporary enhancements.

But he could live without those soft unnecessary extras, he assured himself. They were not necessary to a man who had spent a great deal of his life in a nomadic tent and an equal amount of it as a soldier in the desert. He was tough. He did not need such comforts. He had also known that his people did not want to see him occupying Hashem’s palace, which was a symbol of both suffering and selfish extravagance. He had to show that he was different despite the blood in his veins, the blood that he fortunately also shared with his heroic father, Sharif, who had been executed for his opposition to Hashem.

A knock on the door was swiftly followed by its noisy opening, framing Butrus, who was pale as death and sporting an aghast expression. ‘I am so sorry to enter in such a rude way, Your Majesty, but I’m afraid that your brother has done something very shocking...very shocking indeed. A huge scandal will break over our heads if we cannot find a remedy.’

* * *

A mere day before King Azrael’s faith in his family’s intelligence was destroyed by his brother’s act of insanity, Molly remained in blissful ignorance of the storm clouds of threat gathering around her.

In fact, Molly was happy. Small and curvy, her eye-catching fall of long coppery ringlets dancing on her slim shoulders, her green eyes sparkling, she was visiting the care home where her grandfather was lodged. The home was awash with seasonal bustle and carol singers and some very tasty mince pies and the residents were thoroughly enjoying the entertainment. She gripped Maurice Devlin’s gnarled hand and smiled when he mistook her for her late mother, Louise, and made no attempt to correct him. Her grandfather had dementia and his hold on faces, dates and events had slipped, allowing only brief little windows of comprehension. As he recounted a memory of some long-ago Christmas when he had chopped down a tree for his little daughter’s benefit, Molly was simply delighted that he had recognised her as a relative and that he was enjoying himself.