Aliah, p.2
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       Aliah, p.2

           RoxAnne Fox
 
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  Chapter 02

  The Lamp

  My heart was pounding as I made my way up the steps of the once glorious palace to see Lord Tryphon, or Prince Tryphon as he called himself in the decree, to ask if I was good enough for the task laid out in the poster. Thinking on it while I climbed the steps it still seemed unreal. If it was true it was the ticket to freedom I desired. Tryphon was willing to pay any single wish, within limit, to whoever could retrieve an item from the Forbidden Temple in the desert. That’s right, one item for one free wish, all you had to do was enter a place the king himself declared off limits.

  The idea of traveling somewhere the actual king deemed forbidden was enough to turn some of the people who could read the poster away and I was hoping the lack of reading skills and fear of real persecution would be enough to turn almost all curious parties away. For me, it was not enough. There was no risk too great for gaining my freedom as a woman. Even traveling to the mysterious temple built in a canyon wall. One said to contain demons and spirits who killed all stupid enough to venture in. The fables surrounding it were why the king deemed it forbidden … or, they arose due to it, I never found out.

  Whatever the reason, I pushed thoughts of them aside and wrapped my shawl around my face, less for the beating sun and more to hide my feminine jaw line from the guards I was approaching.

  “That’s far enough boy.” At least I knew my disguise was working. “What business do you have with the prince?”

  Casting my eyes away from his impressive sun-tanned muscles I tried not to wonder why Tryphon’s own guards were not men enough for the task I was about to inquire on. “I am here to speak to the prince about a decree I saw in a tavern.”

  Most times I didn’t speak, knowing my voice was just as feminine as my jaw line, so I held in a breath waiting to see if I was able to disguise it as well.

  The guard laughed. “What would a dirty street kid like you be able to do?”

  “Remember Azir, we are not to turn away anyone who comes. And, this boy is the first.”

  My heart almost stopped. I was the only one, no one else had even tried to speak to Tryphon. My chances were looking better and better.

  “Boy?” The second, kinder guard addressed me.

  “Yes sir?”

  “Where did you see the decree? Which Tavern?”

  Remembering what the guard had told the plump owner, I was glad I knew his name since his establishment had none. “The small place behind the market owned by Abdul Rashad.”

  The guard made an agreeable noise before asking me to follow him, leaving the other—who had tried to give me a hard time—to stand watch. My eyes shot from side to side as I kept my head down. I had never been close to the palace, let alone inside it, and it was hard to believe how posh everything was compared to the ruin of the city outside. There were more gold and jewels than I knew what to do with and they were just for decoration. Covering walls, tables, even the bellies of the women Tryphon had near him as he lounged by a low table covered with something even better than the riches.

  Food.

  He had more food, and types of food, than I had ever seen. My stomach made a noise in spite of itself and I hoped its rudeness would be overlooked as I tried not to breath in the delicious smells coming off the table or look at the glistening berries and succulent meats.

  Bringing my eyes up, I looked instead at Tryphon and my appetite went away. He was not the Tryphon depicted in battle all those years ago. No, it had seemed palace life had made him soft and quite large. He sat with his swollen belly hanging out as he ate some sort of meat in a way which made me almost decide to never consume a slice again myself. Juices dripped off his chin and as they did one of his courtesans would wipe away then sit back smiling behind her veil. Seeing the women in such a way showed me that being a poor beggar was preferable to some luxuries.

  “Prince Tryphon, there is a young boy here about the decree you sent out.”

  Tryphon stopped eating at once and sat up, swapping away the girl who tried to wipe the spit at his mouth. She let out a small noise and I could tell that she could be no more than twelve years of age. Only a handful of years older than I was when my mother tried to sell my body. My heart wrenched for the young girl but I tried not to think on it. It was her life and she was the one who had to live it.

  “So you think you can get what I need from the temple do you, boy?” The way he spoke was how he ate, loud and with a strained breath.

  “Yes, your highness.” Breathing in, I kept reminding myself not to call him a lord and was glad I hadn’t.

  “But you are just a boy.”

  “The poster said that any may try, and I wish to try, Prince Tryphon.” Using his name in such a way was a decisive play, I was hoping acknowledging his false title would gain me some favor.

  “Well, I have to say I do like that you are willing, even if the trip to the temple alone may kill you.” He let out a round of laughter, which seemed to wind him more than anything else.

  “Yes, your highness. It may.”

  “Okay, boy,” he said, after regaining his breath. “If you are to retrieve what it is I desire, what is it you desire in return?”

  It seemed odd he was not telling me what the item was, but I knew not to question someone who claimed to be a prince. “I wish for a meager amount of gold and my freedom.”

  From my downcast eyes, I could see his brow rise. “Are you an escaped slave?”

  The guard next to me seemed to tense, so I was quick to respond. “No, your highness, I am not a slave.”

  “If you are not a slave, then how are you not free?”

  Pulling in a lungful of air, I hoped my next move was a smart one. “Your highness, being that I am not a slave and all I wish is for this purse filled with gold coin and the ability to live my life free, is it not a small reward for what you are asking?”

  Tryphon was quiet a moment and I prayed to the heavens I had not overstepped my position.

  At last he spoke. “Very well, I accept. If you are to retrieve what I wish for, then I will fill your small purse with gold and write a letter of freedom for you, so if any should question your right to live free you have proof. If you wish, I could even get the great King to approve it.”

  My pulse sped up. No one would question that kind of letter. I could leave Babilli with that sort of freedom.

  “But first.” My eyes shot to his. “I wish to see your face.”

  The ruse was over. I was ruined. Somehow, he had found me out and this was the end. It wouldn’t just be the end of my deception, but the end of me as well. Swallowing hard, I grasped the edge of my shawl and pulled it aside. My dark curls fell free around my face and instead of anger when my eyes found Tryphon’s, I found shock.

  His surprise turned into a smile. “With the request you made, I had guessed you must be a woman hiding in disguise, and what a good one it was. However, I had not thought you would be so beautiful.”

  His smile was lecherous and I did my best to ignore it. “Your words are too kind for a street scum such as myself.”

  Bowing, I glanced to the side and caught the guard’s surprised stare before he looked up. Men were so predictable. As soon as anyone found out I was a woman they either wanted to own me, kill me, or have nothing to do with me.

  “What is your name, girl?”

  Straightening myself, I said, “Aliah, your highness.”

  “Such a beautiful name, for such a beautiful woman.” There was a fear building in me Tryphon was the kind of male in the first camp: the owners.

  “Your highness, may I ask?”

  “Yes, my dear?” The way he said “dear” turned my stomach.

  “What is the item you wish for me to retrieve? I would like to begin my journey soon.”

  Tryphon laughed, and I was sure my chance flew away as soon as he saw my face. “You are persistent, aren’t you? It will be interesting to see if a woman can do that which no man has been able to do. If you found the lamp, i
t would make you remarkable beyond your beauty, Aliah.”

  Ignoring how the way he said my name sent a chill down my spine, I focused instead on how he was still giving me the opportunity to find his lamp. Wait, his what?

 
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