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19. Only 19 and he was already being thrust into the position of Sultan. How had the world dissolved into such rampant decay that he was being thrust into a position that he had no right to be taking hold of? Granted, he was the only son of the previous Sultan and thus the sole heir to his father's empire...but at his age there were many other things that he should have been doing. He had the right, nay the priority, to travel the world at large to learn of the other civilization's plights and wants. To understand their culture so that once he did become Sultan he would better understand how to interact with the different rulers yet he did not have that luxury now. Instead he had advisers that were breathing down his neck with copious amounts of information over each separate matter of state to fill him to the brim with information that he did not know what to do with. To such a point that today he'd had to command each one of them to cease with their nonsensical mouthing and to leave him be. Regardless of what 'needed' to be taken care of to get the empire back on track and to a more stable point after the death of his father.

Not even having received time to grieve over his practically estranged father, the duties had been piled on nice and thick even in lieu of his mother's presence. In fact, his mother wasn't exactly the most supportive of his choices during his life...nor his personal wants for some personal liberty to leave the palace and explore the city by his lonesome. He was tired of constantly being flanked by brawny, intimidating royal guards that seemed to dissuade any normal folk from interacting with him when he did make the traversal down into the city. The only people that seemed to take any form of interest in him were the merchants and other service men who recognized him and understood the importance of making a good rap for themselves to the up and coming Sultan.

Now, that's not to say that his mother wasn't a kind woman as she was...and she made sure to take care of her son plenty...it was just that she tended to be a tad overprotective and didn't exactly see the point in allowing him to have his own frame of mind when it was so 'dire' that he make sure to keep his opinions in line with what was 'best' for the empire.

And on the topic of parents, as previously stated, his father was practically estranged as the old man's duties oftentimes kept him so busy that he had no time to interact with his son. And what free time was allowed and sought ended up being reserved for his mom and their alone time. This left the new Sultan with a bitter taste in his mouth seeing as the old man had keeled over without so much as a kind word his son's way. Most of his dying days were spent cooing and fawning over the widow to be and setting up contracts, duties, memorandums, etc for his son to inherit. Even if they were done for the young man's benefit they still felt like a distraction that ripped what little time he could have had with his father from him.

One of the changes that was still settling in to the not yet crowned Sultan was the pushing of him towards the harem...he might have been a young adult at the end of his teenage years but he'd never been one for sexual endeavors or even really one that sought the comfort of a woman. Instead finding his peace in meditation and hanging out with his menagerie of exotic pets that he had been able to raise from relative birth to their current points. This meant he was a very peaceful man that sought to find balance in all things whilst trying his damndest to resolve what conflicts he found without the use of violence. And yet, even with this mentality he was no stranger to the many weapons that were used throughout the empire. Having been a protege in the domain of military tactics, strategy, and martial use, he could wield each weapon and defensive item with prowess that normally wasn't found unless the person had been practicing with that specific weapon since their young years all the way up into the mid-thirties.

One might have made the assumption that the reasoning behind his negligence in the chousting of girls was that he was socially awkward or even perhaps was gay. This simply wasn't the case. His social demeanor was flawless since the classes he'd been forced into since his single digit years had prepped him for the strenuous exchanges that a Sultan-in-waiting was forced to make. And in truth, those that had had personal interaction with the young man generally found him to be well spoken if not a bit shy. Not shy enough to garner the notion that he was unable to speak with a girl of his age or older at length but shy enough that it might cause issues when making finite decisions for the empire at large.



Ismael had retreated away from the advisers for the day, his mind flooded with information and choices that he would eventually have to address but for now it wasn't worth the drain on his mental health. As such he'd made his escape to the recessed courtyard that had been made into one of the only true gardens in the entire city. It's bounty might have seemed endless to a long lived native of the city due to the many foreign trees, flowers, and shrubs that littered the abundant space. Even having small streams running through the flooring that kept all of the greenery watered and healthy for those that lived in the palace to enjoy when they could. Today, the newest Sultan found refuge here of all places and after the tenders had been asked to take a break he was finally able to relax on one of the many stone/marble benches, laying down upon it to gaze up into the blue sky so that he might begin to regain some coherent thought and process all that had gone on within the past few days.

Slighted. Somehow the other woman felt wronged and she was the source of the wrong done, the jingle at her ankle seemed to echo as she stumbled back on bare feet under the weight of the slap to her cheek. The other women of the harem had been told to of course treat the slave girls as if they were any one of them; despite such words that was still a work in progress. Despite her best effort to be nothing but obedient and obliging, when she had said that she wouldn't possibly look pretty in such robes, the woman had taken offence. Now sitting and rubbing a sore cheek and quickly apologizing, she clarified that she merely meant she wouldn't look as pretty in anything as the woman did. Placated, the wronged woman huffed an agreement, tossed the clothes at one of the other slave girls who gratefully grabbed them up and both left to go find tea leaving her there on the floor. After a few moments of silence she sat up to find her reflection to see that the red was already fading and soon would be gone entirely. Suddenly a eunuch was at the door, looking around for one of the girls. Then another, and one of the ladies in waiting. Spotting her, they sighed and decided she would have to do since they didn't have time to find someone else on such short notice. They didn't want to go running through the harem to find a girl on her own so as to not stir up the other girls. Here she was, alone, and she was pretty enough they decided.

They ushered her into an outfit of creams, whites and gold accents that seemed to accentuate the gold 'collar' at her neck and the anklet that jingled at every movement. Sheer sleeves and a beautiful veil that came around and covered the lower half of her face with gold coin pieces dangling along her right side from an ornate headpiece, and a beautiful matching belt that fit her slim waist barely. "Thin, so thin." The woman said, "we'll have to put some meat on you, you're too skinny." She was, they had been trying to 'fatten' her up since she'd arrived but to no avail as of yet. "At least your eyes are pretty, you can dance, yes?" Said one of the men, and she barely got a nod in before they were pulling her down the hall and whispering hushed instructions. Don't speak, unless spoken too; not a new rule for her. If you are not asked to approach you just sit there until either dismissed or you are left alone. Barely fifteen, she'd only turned of age the day of the auction and been swiped up by the selectors from the palace. A rather picky pair of eunuchs and a fussy hand-maid of the sultana. Only she'd been bought that day, and since only two other females had entered and they were both pretty in their own rights if a bit short of anything but air between their ears. A huff of air between a few steps, that pressed memories of another place behind her. Pretty eyes had gotten her sold instead of being able to stay where her family had been going; and she missed them terribly. The merchant who owned her mother and two cousins had set sail, taking them with him - she did not yet know that the boat had sunk during a storm and it was probably for the best she didn't.

One last instruction, "don't upset him." Was given as she was then literally thrust into the garden of the sultan whom she did not know wasn't expecting her. A hop, a skip, and a few messy steps but she managed to catch herself into a graceful slip onto her knees without ruining her outfit on the ground beneath her. Her whole body dipped into a full body bow, her eyes landing on his feet and another shaky breath. She was not nervous to be in front of the sultan. More than once in her youth she had caught the attention of wandering eyes of wanting men, despite her thinness that almost made one believe her to be ill, she had a curve to her body that was alluring. Her milky skin, and soft golden eyes that looked like water reflecting the soft summer sunset. Her exotic hair was silver strands that shimmered under the sheer creamy colored veil, hair her mother had said reminded of her father. A foreign man turned slave when he came over and couldn't pay a debt. Her father had died when she'd been far too young to remember him. Now her mother was gone as well. It was just her, and no one left to protect her. No law here to protect her if the sultan wanted something she didn't want to give. Most importantly, she was nervous that now on full display were the marks on her lower back from a lashing when she was a child, the deep inset scars sometimes still felt tight if they got dry or she was out in the sun for too long. What if he saw them and turned her away merely because of them, her chances dashed because of something not her fault. Khadija too another deep breath, "Khadija is here to entertain you, my sultan." She offered as she'd been instructed, "if you will have me."

Ismael was no stranger to having people pushed upon him for purposes of entertainment. It was something that had been done all through his life as a means to tide him over or to quell the (considered) incessant whining for his parents to spend time with him. It didn't take long for the young heir to learn that he was not an exact priority for his parent's time and therefore he should just accept what he was given or shut up. This practice had continued on into his young adult years even though he'd made it quite clear that when he asked to be alone, he meant it...he didn't want another servant thrust upon him with some obscene request that they entertain the prince. He was fine being alone and in certain times he reveled in the clarity of thought that it provided.

His own looks were to not be dismissed as the young girl at his feet might eventually come to notice. His features were sharp, with a defined jawline and an acutely proportional nose. His brow was not bushy as many men of his ethnicity had, instead taking after his mother's genes that gave him a neat and thoughtful brow that managed to highlight his dark blue, ocean hued eyes that when caught in the sunlight seemed to lighten to a cerulean of sorts that beamed with friendly nature during good times. His lips were just a shade darker than his natural skin tone that was quite tan and though they were thin they managed to provide a very kissable visage. Then, jumping up to the top of his head, you had his hair which was a relative mop of deep chestnut brown. Even in an unkempt form it still managed to settle in such a way that never felt out of place or didn't look almost exquisite around his mug. - Then, if one were to take in the clothing that he wore then they would find that his fabric was not much different than the girl's own. It was light, almost to the point of being sheer though it was dark blues with golden trimming. His shirt was barely that as it wrapped around his shoulders and hung down but the middle was left in an unbuttoned state to leave his hardened abs on complete display. Then down to his pants that were quite poofy to denote high-quality and yet cool even in the hot temperatures. Its colouring was of an off-white with a golden coloured sash to keep the whole ensemble in check. He, himself, had discarded his shoes and hat that at one point had been required to wear but now lay somewhere amongst the palace that he couldn't bring himself to care about.

Now there was a girl kneeling just off to the side of the bench he had chosen to be his resting place and he couldn't help but loose a sigh. He'd heard them coming and had even made note of the way the girl had stumbled to a point that he even guessed that her bow came as more of a cover up to her clumsiness than out of a meaningful choice. His eyes were still glued on the sky, his body laying out on the bench, up until she spoke her introduction. There was a smirk that came to his face, his body rotating to get him into a more upright position as without a second thought the words left his mouth, "Does Khadija always speak in the third person?" It was informal enough for him to speak like this and he knew it but with the way she had already presented herself and after judging her to be young just by the way her voice had sounded, there was no reason for him to act high and mighty when there was little chance that this girl would go running to his mum telling her things that shouldn't leave the privacy of two people.

It was after he had offered his question that a hand extended downward open palm up in a gesture of help to stand. Ismael was no fool when it came to official court protocol and he was not an idiot about the rules that were supposed to predicate his life. But he was not about to let such things ruin what might be this girl's only refuge as well as his.

His shift in position did not go unnoticed by the female at his feet, her eyes angled upward to try and catch what he was doing in an attempt to not miss any beckoning or dismissing gesture. It was his hand that she saw fully at first, besides his legs, an invitation to stand and his question ringing in her ears still. She took his hand so as not to upset him, while the jingle of the anklet of golden bells and coins buried her stifled giggle at his question. For the first time since its placement upon her, at her arrival, thankful for the noise it provided, "Khadija speaks to those of her betters in the third person, yes. Unless you would prefer otherwise?" She asked him curiously, as she found her feet beneath her, the cream colored fabric of her pants was solid, and the white sheer wrap was loose and would provide movement if she were asked to dance. While the veil did little to hide her delicate features, it gave her an ethereal look, her sunset colored eyes catching his dark blue only for a moment with a smile still on her face before she lowered them once again. His face burned into her memory was enough to make her blush, oh the others would be so jealous that she was one of the first. She knew some of the others had been asked to dance during dinners and such but none had been this close that she was aware of. If they found out, the other two slaves would feel bitter - and the women there as gifts? Oh, she dreaded the thought. They'd be angry with her for weeks, even if they knew as well as she that she stood no chance as anything more than entertainment.

A deep breath lifted her shoulders, and lowered them in turn, as she tried to ground herself in the moment. It would do no good to worry about others, for the moment she needed to worry about herself and what she needed to do. Khadija had long ago developed the habit of speaking in the third person to those above her station. When so many became nothing but 'you' or 'slave', she had developed a way to keep her name and it just made many think she was inept in some fashion. The truth was she was bright, very bright. Khadija had learned to read, could almost write, could read music, and sing, play two instruments, do beautiful beadwork, knew numbers even if she could read what was around them all the time she knew what to do with the numbers. Her brightness is what had ended her up in the auction, the merchant had gotten a pretty penny from the auction for her, worth more than taking her on a ship and having to pay for her to eat would be.

However, he had just said her name. A selfish thought came to her unbidden, it sounded nice from his tongue. A Sultan had said her name, speaking to her, and she'd touched his hand. Was still touching his hand. Oh, no. Her face went red and she pulled her hand from his and clasped them in front of her, and lowered her chin to her chest, "Khadija is sorry for imposing so long on your kindness." She said quickly, afraid that this would have upset him. It had seemed the hardest of all the rules they'd given on the way here and she feared that she could ruin it so easily, she knew not of his temper save for what she could hear through gossip.

Impatient. Stubborn. Far too much like his mother. Who, when she came through the harem to inspect, she wore a sour look that spoke of how she felt better than those around her. If it was an act, it was a good one.

Having the girl's hand unceremoniously pulled from his gentle grasp left the young man at first wide eyed that she would react so suddenly after having just responded to him with such a calm note. In fact, he'd watched her take that soothing breath and had assumed that she was warming up to the notion that he wasn't a cruel person or some asshole of a guy. Though that thought was shattered when she spoke up again claiming that she was apologetic for having let her hand be held in his for any length of time. It was much to his chagrin that some such reason was given and even more to his disappointment that yet another person's mind had been sullied regarding his presence or image. At length it hadn't surprised him as it was the routine of most people within the palace to spread rumors over the royal family and to dictate how the rest of the staff(especially the new ones) would perceive them during the normal course of a day. And at short it brought a small sigh from the Sultan, his small smirk up turning into a slight frown as his eyes cut off to the side. His mind whirling at all the possible perpetrators that could have caused this girl to react in such a way on their first meeting. - It wasn't even as if he'd met any of the harem or for that matter any of the eunuchs.

Then his frown was replaced by a gentle smile; tender and caring as he reached forward to take the girl's hand in his once more. Though, this time his fingers moved to grasp perpendicular to the girl's, his thumb landing and rubbing across the tops of her own fingers as her hand was brought down to a point that he could place a single, solitary, reassuring kiss upon the back of her hand before releasing it once more to let it fall as it may. "I see no issue in you continuing to refer to yourself as such. Khadija is a charming name after all..." He remarked lightly, his body shifting to one side of the bench so as to make room for the girl to sit if she so chose going forward. "And I'd hardly consider myself better than you." He had to stifle an almost resentful laugh, "I'm just a spoiled brat who gets to live solely on a family name in luxury." Another chuckle though this time more open and without reservation. He was speaking out of turn even for who he was and yet they were words that he desired to speak and thus he did. There was no one around that he had noticed that would tell him otherwise or that would berate him at saying such 'nonsense'.

After finishing with his short chuckle that he'd allowed himself, his face beaming quite brightly in the closeness of the girl that he'd only just noticed was a technical slave, his eyes canted upward at her to catch what was probably cheeks that were either slowly starting to return to a more normal colouration or were freshly made crimson in colour. Regardless, Ismael would let another breath push past his lips and out through his nose before giving a modest nod, his lips thinning out into a line so as to give intro to his next spoken dialogue, "Do you like it here?" His eyes cut to the space next to him then back to the girl's face, "And you may sit if you desire...or stand. Do what is comfortable for you." It was the most he could offer after having dumped so many things on the girl at the same time. Not only had he spoken an insult towards himself in the company of a slave girl who he was not quite acquainted with but he'd also just asked a question that could have easily been misconstrued as a trap in the disguise of genuine conversation making.

Still blinking, her hand stuck there as if she didn't believe what had happened in that moment as her ears filled with the noise of his voice once more. Long past his reassurance of her name of which she knew well enough that her name was charming. No, now he spoke terms of self humbling and brought himself down to such levels and spoke what many would have naturally thought. Her hands fell back to her front to clasp as she lifted her head to watch his form as he shifted and moved onto his next and moved onto his next words. A question. A trap if she'd ever heard one, especially after what he had just said. Maybe he was as malicious as she felt all people in power were, and she found herself feeling damned no matter her choices here. However, he offered her a seat and something in her felt a soft twang, almost as if it were a pain and she found herself sitting next to him rather obediently while trying to think of what to say.

Her mouth opened, and then closed once more, and her orange eyes fell to fidgeting hands at her lap before she opted that the truth would be best. If a bit guarded, it would at least be enough to give him an answer that she hoped would not get her in trouble with anyone. "Khadija misses her mother, her bead work, her chances to practice reading." She says, "but if Khadija did bead work here, she would either make the ladies upset by out doing them or just enforce their belief she is nothing more than a slave." Trying to read had already proved painful the first week here, the woman had teased her and taunted her shortcomings in that area and her inability to write anything other than a few letters of their difficult alphabet. It was bad enough when they spoke in foreign tongues, and thought she couldn't understand. Turning her head slightly to look at him, her smile here was warm, "it is a lose, lose situation either way." Turning her head away to look around, she saw some beautiful flowers and greenery and this was a world she had never known. Yes, there was beautiful greenery in the town but nothing to this extent.

"If my Sultan feels he is no better than Khadija, should he not work to be worthy of being my better?" Looking at him finally, raising her eyebrow and then sighing before she let loose a breath. His laughter earlier rang in her ears and she lifted her left leg up and her ankle jangled, and she giggled, "If you try, you shall succeed. Mother told me so, and it always worked for me." Her orange orbs aglow with her mirth as she leaned back on the beach and her leg fell to the ground once more gently and she looked up and around. "You are blessed my Sultan, to live such a life as this it would be an insult to all of those beneath you if you did not at least try." Then she blinked, "but Khadija speaks out of turn, forgive her again." Looking down to her lap once more as she found herself coming back to her senses and remembering that this was the Sultan, the king of her world and if she upset him she'd not long be in this world - or any world for that matter she figured.

Ocean eyes fell to their owner's lap, hands bracing against the stone beneath him as the girl moved and answered his question. She had already shown that she wasn't a numb in the head like most other women that were brought to the palace as playthings...she at least had an awareness of her situation and that much spoke far more about her mental state than any singular answer to any question that he could formulate. And yet, even if his question was layered in such a way that most in his position would have used it as a trap, she still answered with at least some amount of sincerity. That much could be ascertained from the way she spoke. It had taken a few short moments surely, but the fact remained that she found ground to stand upon and pressed forward without fear which was something that Ismael as a person could respect.

His body didn't shift or move whilst she answered his question though his eyes did cut to the hands that had been moved to her lap. Watching and listening to the girl with a deep set mindfulness that normally wouldn't have been afforded to someone of her place. It was the way in which she lost herself in the topic at hand, the way she settled when speaking of the things she both seemed to enjoy and to resent. He didn't know why but he felt at ease merely listening to the girl speak. It wasn't something that he would admit to and certainly wouldn't allow it to be made public knowledge seeing as he hadn't even figured out this girl's age as of yet but it was something that he would take to heart and attempt to understand. All the while making an attempt to wrack his brain for ways that they could meet and talk without it being perceived as him choosing her over the other women.

In fact, this was not the first time that the Sultan's mind had wandered to such things that would be a direct disobedience to his lineage and to his position. Many times a day he contemplated ways that he could escape the palace without anyone knowing or being any the wiser when he sneaked back in. This was just another fleeting mindset that he was promptly snapped out of when the girl brought her own question to the table.

Those eyes of her's finally met his as his face expressed wholesome shock that a girl of her position would be so bold in such a short amount of time so as to inquire such a thing. He was so used to peasants and the like simply cowering under the notion that he could have them exiled at any second that they never offered any hard truths or devil advocate positioning. It was so profound in that moment that the movement with her leg and the obvious nod towards the anklet that locked the poor soul in as a slave to the palace was missed. Ocean settling on those sunset pools for the longest amount of time that was allowed before she broke said contact to continue with her oddly refreshing, earnest words. He was awestruck by this young girl...and there became a tightness in his chest at the very moment she seemed to backtrack away from being open. His hand closest to her darted out, landing on her own hands to squeeze the uppermost one as if in plea. "Please...you do not speak out of turn. I, myself, only just said I was no better than yourself, no?" His visage broke the shocked and almost crestfallen expression it had been holding to better show the genuine content feelings that he held for the girl in how she had just spoken to him. "As such, I do not wish to be viewed as someone who is higher, who has power over you." His shoulders managed to slump at this point knowing that regardless of how he worded it it would still come across as a command that was expected to be followed. So instead he switched direction, "I have every intent to lighten the load that those in the slave bracket carry. I have never believed that such things should be sanctioned or kept sanctified by the court. Yet, at the current moment most of the hard labour and brothels are manned by people under the tag of slave which means that simply abolishing it would not go over well. Especially in the eyes of those few lords and barons that still preside over the thriving industry." He sighed here with a slight shake of his head that had him removing his hand from atop the girl's so that it could fill the space at his side once more.

"Forgive me. I did not mean to turn our meeting into a discussion about politics and economics..." He offered a faint chuckle to clear the air but felt awkward at having gone on such a tangent.

An eyebrow was raised here, as her fidgeting hands paused as his hand landed there and she wondered if perhaps here she had crossed a line. In her moment of honesty she had lost track of whom she was talking to, this was not one of the other slaves, this was her sultan and her life lay in his hands and his words were slow to sink in that she was not in trouble but in fact her honesty was welcome. Perhaps the gossip was not to be taken at face value about the prince turned Sultan after all, however it wasn't until he had removed his hand. It took everything in her power to not gasp in the air her lungs now burned for, her fear had pulled the breath from them and she hadn't yet taken a breath in return out of her panic of a wrong she had apparently not committed. Here, in private, at least she now knew that he was not as arrogant as many in his position might be. "Khadija is at fault for the talk of politics, for talking so honestly. Perhaps this one made her Sultan feel as though she was ungrateful for her position? That is not true." Standing up here, she took a few steps from him and spun around gently, as if pivoting on air to face him. The melodic chime of her many adornments filling the air and catching the attention of some birds somewhere that chirped. "If Khadija was not a slave, and just some peasant, Khadija would have never seen a place as beautiful as this. Or worn clothes as grand as this. I may have earned coin to make them, but never worn them." As she became more comfortable, the reference in third person was beginning to slip at intermittent times.

Thinking for a moment she then cast her gaze back to him, in hopes of catching his face, and whether she did or not she was wearing a beautiful bright smile as her quick movements had made the tuck of her veil release which allowed her whole face to be on display freely and her silver strands that looked like a waterfall as the veil fell down to her feet. "Khadija is most grateful, she has seen the great library, and wonderful gardens. There were more books than I could have ever hoped to see in a lifetime, even as the greatest merchant!" She laughed, and dipped to pick up the veil that would have to be worked back into place eventually. "I even had a bath in sweet smelling oils, with water that ran hot from a tap in the wall. Looking up from her crouched position, "not all slave work is bad. Many take advantage, and the economy must turn. Many slaves enjoy their work. Many do not. Can that not be said for everyone, slave or not?" She posed thoughtfully, "but Khadija has only ever seen the palace here, and the coast where she grew up. Perhaps that is not true everywhere." Honestly wondering this out loud, as she stood and brought her hand grasping the sheer veil to her cheek in a visage of deep thought. "As it stands, Khadija has no one to tell about your manner of speaking, perhaps the Sultan would not tell on Khadija for her open words?" She asked very hopefully here.

The graceful movement was not lost on the young man. His eyes catching on her feet as she stepped from him, only to proceed up her body in a way that was more so done to fully take in her form than to size her up for any one thing in particular. Eventually, as she came to face him in full his eyes would once more land on her own and there they would stay for a long moment. His face losing much of its happier tone in favour of a thoughtful furrow and catch to his mouth that let the girl know that he wasn't upset but rather that he was putting thought into the words she spoke and trying his best to give her his rapt attention so long as she would let him. It wasn't something so plainly obvious that kept his eyes almost glued to her own, though one could easily argue that the shade of her eyes was entrancing or that the abstract beauty of only getting to see such a refined section of her face would cause the young Sultan to focus so intently. Yet, in truth he could see past the veil with relative ease as it was so sheer that his keen eyes had already picked up on the features that had lay partially hidden underneath. This isn't to say that he didn't raise an eyebrow in curiosity when the girl discarded the accessory with such abandon seeing as they were pieces that were technically only supposed to be removed by a lady-in-waiting, another of the harem, or himself.

Her actions didn't beget a negative response though. He was comfortable enough in his authority and status to know that if someone were to come along and inquire about such a thing that he could easily have them dismissed or at the very least pay to shut them up. His raised eyebrow was soon relaxed as the wanton grace of this newfound beauty dipped to pick up the discarded item all the while wearing a smile that Ismael found himself wishing he had the aptitude to wear. It wasn't until the girl was standing once more with her hand pressed against her cheek that his own disposition of merely sitting there with his hands braced against the bench changed. He found that his gaze broke from her face, nay, her entire body to be cast down to one side; off into the depths of the gardens somewhere before shifting in time so that his darkened eyes could drift off into the peaceful sky displayed overhead. His posture only shifted to give a more obtuse angle in line of his body so that his hands had to shift to the back of the bench to better support his cloud watching.

Mulling over what had been shared thus far it wasn't long before the question came that he'd been almost too nervous to inquire about. With a deep breath that filtered out around the corners of his mouth his voice carried gently in the open space between the two people, "How old are you Khadija?" It was his only response to everything that had been proposed thus far and even though he wanted to defend her stance and desired to lament on the notion that she might have come to the palace even if she hadn't been a slave. More than anything he wanted to convince her that she shouldn't have to worry about how he felt or about offending him in any way. - That type of attitude was exactly what had earned him the reputation of being so short with the staff. They fawned over him so intensely that he found it irritating and grating to not simply have someone be genuine with him. His only true reprieve in life had been his sparing exercises that more than one older general and their most esteemed officers...but even then they had been forced to 'take it easy' on him in most...if not all...respects.

His question caught her off guard as she tried to tuck the veil that had come undone in her elaborate twirl, her eyes crossed as she tried to look up to no avail to tuck the veil into place at the band there and at each gold adornment at either side of her head that had gold coins in long strands dangling to connect to one another behind her back. Orange shot back to him, almost as if worried about his sudden desire to know her age, but she answered in truth all the same. "Khadija is eighteen, she is so, one month from yesterday." Finally her hands managed to tuck the veil into place and she searched for the other piece of length to pull it back around and tuck it behind her right ear. "Or else Khadija could not be bought at auction. All slaves must be of age to be sold and bought at auction without parent or guardian." She pointed out, "Khadija likes that rule." She offered positively, a slight ramble to hide her nerves at his sudden question as she moved forward a step to gently slip to her knees to be in front of him.

Sitting next to him on invitation was alright, and she was sure that invitation still stood but if someone were to walk in and see her standing above the Sultan in such a fashion while they spoke she would get in trouble and there would be little he could do to save her from the punishment. On her knees, her feet under her butt she looked up at him in a fashion that beget her innocence, as she bit her lip and looked to the ground before back up at him, "would that please, or displease you? My age that is?" Her lips were pursed in a line of her own thought here. Her age, her lack of ability to read anything in depth, and thus her ignorance of the world spoke highly that every word she had said came of common sense and firm belief in them, but nothing more. Maybe now he would discredit them, but lying of her age would do no good here and now, he could only find out the truth later and then she would be labeled a liar by him. That would not do to lose what trust she had gained of him, and in him, during their visit.

There was a sharp exhale when the question was answered. Followed shortly in turn by a deep breath that was relatively held for the time being as the girl continued to speak her peace on the whole ordeal. And though his attention might have seemed to slip from being held on her since his eyes were cast upwards, his hearing did not betray where his true attention lay. Her movement was discerned by the soft jingle of ornaments that adorned the girl's body and the muffled sound of cloth and flesh alike hitting the ground denoted that she had fallen or, at least settled herself down on her knees so as to not be standing above him since she wasn't performing a service that required her to do as such. In fact, he was so acutely aware of what she was doing and how that he needn't look to her to ascertain what question would be levied against him in return. And it did come, her curiosity over whether or not he was 'okay' with her age...which only served to hit him both in the gut that such a thing could be judged as not okay and that he had to be asked such a question.

The feeling developed through his tone of speech when he next opened his mouth, "I'd like to parry that with another inquiry of my own...do you think you are old enough, that you have experienced the world enough to bare children?" It was coming from a heartfelt place seeing as his own mother had conceived him when she was naught but of the early age of 15. Even still she was only in her mid-thirties and the lack of worldly experience showed. If not for his own search for external knowledge it would have been doubtful that even as a prince he would have been well taught on the outside world. That he might have forever stayed ignorant to the plight that plagued most of his people and the upset that such tremendous changes brought upon the 'higher-ups', the so called lords. Their society so rarely allowed a woman to take charge and made it into a form of patriarchal single-mindedness that left the brilliant women to receive no credit where it was due. Most of the time their husbands or father's receiving the praise instead...and whilst Ismael didn't consider himself to be radical in the domain of change he did find it as a perverted thought that someone might not receive proper recompense for the time and effort that they put into their work or labour. That a woman who designed a revolutionary gadget could be downtrodden in favour of her husband or father who would receive all of the credit and wealth.

These thoughts withstanding, to the Sultan, he did not want to be known as yet another single-minded ruler. Even if his father was compassionate enough to only have eyes for his mother it still did not change the fact that he never pressed to have her learn to read and write in more than just basic scripture. That he never wished for her knowledge to swell even past his own if given the chance…

At first the question stung, she was a woman after all and what else had she been prepared for most of her life if not to bear children? However, as she let it stew watching him seemingly ignore her she realized that was not the case. He did not ask of her ability, but rather if she thought herself prepared, and her mind paused. Catching at her answer because it was different, and yet she did so desperately not want to speak above her place or give an answer to a question he may not be asking. He was only recently crowned, he had not even taken a wife yet so could he truly be thinking of heirs already and her as a potential candidate to bear such a child. They had only just met, which meant he was either smitten with her beauty, or he saw her as an oddity worth owning for her strange honesty.

Finally she found an answer, but once more her mouth had to work around the words as she tried to think of how best to answer without getting in trouble. Without offending without meaning too. If she had been able to learn more, or speak her mind more often than perhaps it would not stunt her so in moments like these. He presented them too often in such a short amount of time. There was a grace to it, and she was still young and not fully learned in such political speaking. "If a man wanted nothing but pretty children with air in their heads, then Khadija is ready. If a man wants more than an ornamental piece, then I am humbly not prepared." She could only barely read, hardly write, she knew numbers but she could not do anything with them without something telling her what they meant. By most popular judgement a girl - a woman - was at her prime to bare children between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. The earlier on that scale the better she would be to 'bounce back' so they said. Khadija had seen many women into their thirties bear children, healthy and happy on both ends so she did not put much stock in such factors other than it gave noble men reasons to have pretty young wives.

To his question though, if she judged based on her mother's wisdom to choose to bear a child at the later end of the spectrum after she had come under good ownership then - No, Khadija was not prepared. She was in an unsure place, and while any child of a sultan would be well looked after and and the mother of such child as well. She wanted to give a child the chances she had not had, as selfish as that was. Here she could dream on such a stage. Such an answer would probably upset the Sultan no matter the sugar coating and so she pressed forward ready for the punishment at hand after a quick look to make sure he was all that would hear. "If I bring a child into a world of privilege, I want that child to feel as if they deserve it." Looking up at him, with no attempt to hide the fear that cut at the corners of her eyes at her answer to his question, "Khadija assumes too greatly though, and so apologizes again." She quickly bowed her forehead nearly touching the top of his foot at her deep position that once again put the scars on her lower back on display but she did not think she could look at him if he decided to dole out punishment she knew she 'deserved' for speaking so out of turn.

"Then mayhaps you understand my position." Came the shorthand reply just as the girl was finishing up her apology and bowing her head to such a point that reflexively had the young man pulling his foot away. This motion was followed through so that his torso swung forward enough to allow his eyes to catch on those marred places along the girl's back before his hand could reach down to be placed tenderly along her left shoulder. "I only recently was announced as the next Sultan. My title has not yet been affirmed to the public. And yet I have advisers already pushing potential women upon me." He sighed at this point; his hand squeezing with a novel notion as his voice dropped to barely over a whisper, "Please, Khadija, I don't require your apologies." His body shifted and if she weren't to have looked up by this point then she might have felt rather than seen that he was removing himself from the bench to come down to the ground beside her. Seating himself with crossed legs and an upright back that spoke of the many intense meditative sessions that had taught him such posture. "What I require right now is a friend. One who is not afraid to speak their mind whilst we are in private and who is not on the payroll of my mother or the others."

This is where even he found himself backtracking with an embarrassed, slight laugh that had his chin dipping towards his chest and his cheeks reddening quite a bit in lieu of the thoughts that came to his mind in an attempt to form what he wanted to express to her next, "I do not mean to neglect your beauty. As I do find you to be attractive. And I'm sure that together we would make flawless heirs...I just wish to broaden my horizons and to have an opportunity to fully address the world that I rule before coming under the burden of siring such things." He had to give a full clear of his lungs at this point, even his eyes closed in an attempt at recomposing himself to the standard that a Sultan should address his harem. Finally, with ocean eyes peeled, a faintly excited spark found within, he gazed at the girl that was just across from him now. He breathed in the cool air around them that the mixture of plant life and streams provided before a tranquil tug came to the corners of his mouth, "I wish for us both to gain knowledge and to learn without the constant nagging..." It was there that Ismael found himself lacking in what else to say. His hands having come to rest, palm up over his knees as he finished what he had to say with little regard to who and what might have made its way into the area with them.

As such, he was caught wholly off-guard when a certain little creature that had been stealthily making its way from shrub to shrub, cover to cover, suddenly sprang from its hiding place nearby to sprint forward and launch itself directly into his lap. It was a no more than a ball of fur at first that had no place being in such a location as this until two distinct features became clear...those two things were oddly disproportional ears that stood straight up and rotated any time new sounds could be heard off in the ever changing background noise of the palace. The next defining feature was the sandy coat and pointed muzzle that denoted a fox. Its small stature obviously contained an overload of personality as the creature rummaged around in the Sultan's lap for a second or two before facing him, standing up on its back legs and lapping at his chin before looking over its shoulder at the girl that was accompanying him. It then made quite the effort to settle down; setting itself down onto all fours as it worked around the young man's lap until finally deciding that it felt comfortable enough to take up a stately seat facing the girl in a regal position. Its tail curled warmly around its legs in a defensive manner.

Wide eyes took in the creature at hand, she had never seen such a thing before - at any closeness at least. It was both adorable and daunting, even in its small stature. She had almost squeaked, once when much younger the sons of a neighboring well-off merchant had a large dog. It barked at anything and bared fangs at their command, and they had backed her into a corner and kept her there crying until dark when her master came looking for her . While it had never harmed her, the event had scared her of all like creatures and so even this small thing had her slightly nervous. Most females may have been fawning over the cute thing, wanting to pet and love on it - there was a woman in the harem who had a fur that looked much in its color and she might have then decided she needed another. No, Khadija simply looked at it as if trying to decide if it was friendly or not before opting to partially ignore it for now.

With a hesitant look around to assure herself that it was only them and the animal now, she offered quite honestly, "the other two girls, the slaves were hand picked specially by your mother I believe she had all the girls of a recent auction brought in and chose them. They have even received private lessons from her. I do not say this to put you against them, only so that you are aware when you spend time with them. The other girl is older than me, maybe nineteen or twenty, and is much more set in her way of things." She said honestly, "many," she would almost say all, "of the woman in the harem will not speak as frankly as I do. If it is honesty you seek, Khadija can do that - so long as we are in private. Also, you are Sultan, why must you be nagged about learning?" She quizzed him quite seriously, "I cannot imagine anyone bugging you as the woman in the harem teased me about my inability to read. Or my choice in such."

Ismael had little reaction come from having the animal suddenly appear in his lap other than to accept the licks that it offered and to brush a hand over its head and down its back once it had gotten settled. His attention didn't falter off of the woman that he sat across from even for a moment as he nodded towards the creature after having seen her reaction to it and listened to the almost detached words that she spoke after showing such surprise at the fox's appearance. "Its name is Saleem. He is a type of fox that is native to the deserts surrounding the city though they are rarely captured and kept as pets. I managed to find this one in one of the few outings that I was allowed...I've had him since we were both young..." The reminiscence that came with his explanation showed the softer side of the young man as he looked down to the creature to offer another appreciative rub along its body. "He often finds ways to escape from my residence to track me down so I apologize for his interruption." His tranquil smile by this point had turned into a full fledged joyful expression; especially after having had time to process what information his newfound friend could offer.

Though he had to readdress a certain point that had apparently not come across quite as clearly as he'd hoped. "It is not that I am nagged to learn or that I am kept from it. It is that many times my days are planned in advance without my knowledge. I may not get to accomplish the reading that I desire or get to spar with one of the many men that are so kind as to lend me their martial prowess so that I might train in military tactics." His chin dipped so that his eyes could firmly set on the fox in his lap until a point where the creature looked up to return his gaze in a way that might have seemed that it understood the frustration that was trying to be expressed. "In many ways I am no different than a slave. One of them being that...as I said...my schedule is dictated by advisers or my mother rather than getting to make my own plans." He snickered ruefully at this notion due to his current seated position and clear lack of having to attend to one of many duties that he was supposed to be doing. "Today is an exception. I told the old men to kindly depart from my presence and to leave me alone...in turn they sent you to me. I assume as a peace offering..." His smile hadn't faded though his tone had shifted to one of placated resentment for circumstance. "I do not wish to sound ungrateful for the position that I have been placed in. Nor do I wish to come across as any more of a spoiled brat that I must already appear. Yet, I cannot deny feeling trapped even as being the one single man in this entire empire that should have the most freedom."

Ocean eyes swiveled up to rest on the girl, trying to search for an earnest response that even someone as young as she could offer. Something that would convince him that he wasn't wholly crazy or that his feelings were misplaced. And even still, there was the imminent sense of dread that came from opening his mouth in such a way to a relative stranger that had more to gain off of his insolence than lose. Even though he was technically the Sultan and according to her thought processes it would do her no good to reveal anything that they had spoken about here.

After seeing its master become so downtrodden, the fox's ears swiveled around to lay relatively flat in relation to its head. Beady brown eyes going from searching the young man's face to looking ahead at the girl in a way that showed that it was not some stupid animal and could quite easily pick up on attitude and atmosphere. So much so that it noticeably huffed as if to get the attention of the girl before bobbing its head upward towards the Sultan as if making a request for more reassuring words to be said.

The motion of the small creature was not missed, and she was thankful for his assurances that the creature sought only his attention and not to harm her. In this moment she knew not what to say, that would appease his concerns. A purse to her lips, and she finally gave her own huff of air that very much mirrored the small animal in his lap. She could not offer him time to spar, which he may honestly enjoy it seemed, and she could not grant him any more freedom than she herself had. Her lips continued to press into a thin line until finally something dawned on her, and a moment of enlightenment lit up her face only to quickly fade once more as she thought of the implication such an answer would bring.

"Khadija is sorry my sultan, I have no answer. I would say call on this one whenever you desire time alone, you would certainly have it. I can be an ear, or I can be blind to your actions. However, Khadija would then have many eyes on her. Many unhappy eyes, and many expecting eyes." A frown, she sighed and looked down in defeat at the creature in his lap. "It has become apparent that the palace is a cage to many, not just slaves and beautiful creatures." She had seen the large aviary of birds already and could imagine the other creatures. After his inauguration, after his rise to the throne had been announced to all and everyone and presented to the world. He would be expected in time to start choosing women from the harem for certain acts, and people would know whether he acted on them or not. If a woman came back to the harem untouched once or twice, it could be said they did not fit his fancy, but eventually he'd have to pick one. Or more. Eventually even his freedoms in such passing would be fleeting. He was entitled to free time, but she knew his schedule would only now get more busy until maybe months from now, if not close to a year. Many foreign countries would come, have their dinners, present gifts and beg for his ear. Nobles and merchant princes, great scholars and his advisers would all be needing audiences. Poor Khadija could only imagine how thick the bars of his cage felt and how heavy his chains would come to be in the coming months. If she were a man, she could serve by his side without pause, but alas she was a woman who must stay in the harem. Unless being presented as potential selection for honored guests or as a member of his family - of which she did not want to be a prize for some guest.

"It is all I can do, my Sultan. I could dance, or sing, or tell you stories of the servants. I could make a fool of myself attempting to read, or simply sit and look pretty. If any of that would ease your burden, you may call on me whenever, I will help with all my might." She offered, smiling as brightly as she could and looking optimistic even though she did not feel as such.

"Ismael." He spoke shortly and with heated breath in lieu of the girl's most recent sign of at least a higher conscious form of common sense that seemed so rare in this day and time. Her words had wrung true more than once this day and it was almost a source of further frustration for the young heir. They were all words that needed to be spoken, that needed to be affirmed by someone who was not of the advisers or his mother; just of someone who understood just enough to get by. Someone who had an earnest mouth and mind even if it would get her in trouble with any other noble. His heated speaking of his own name came and went before lidded oceanic eyes moved to rest on the girl's lower half, "My name is Ismael...and I would prefer that you use that when we are in private." His lips took their turn to purse in tandem with the maelstrom of thought that was occurring behind a stalwart visage, ""Sultan" sounds good and fine but from your lips it sounds odd. Out of place...." There was no buffer here as he was speaking from his heart on this matter. The way she said, "my sultan" did indeed sound foreign to the young man and as such he didn't want her calling him such a dreadful title when there was no reason for it.

Having such a perch for listening to the sway of conversation, the dainty fox chose this moment above the others to hop from its master's lap. Paw after paw being placed until it came to rest alongside the girl; sitting on its haunches to before levying its muzzle against one of her hands as best it could. Nuzzling in tender fashion to attract some form of petting or affection in a timid hope to show how it felt about the girl's attempt at cheering the fraught boy.

It was with a heavy sigh that Ismael relinquished his final lamenting notion that had been trying its hardest to leap free from his lips ever since the girl managed to speak to him unabated by the primal fear that most had towards his position. "I'd rather like for you to have the freedom to choose what it is that you do, for yourself. I would take no pleasure in watching you make a fool of yourself. Nor would I find comfort in forcing you to dance. Gossip has never been a past-time that I particularly agree with. And whilst I do find your beauty intricately entrancing...I do not wish for you to become yet another woman that is placed upon a pedestal due in part only for such attributes." His dialogue carried in hushed tones so as to not upset the fox that sought the affection of a human that it had only just analyzed and yet even in hushed tones it still held within it a deep set sincerity that was only further expressed by the pained expression that the young man wore. - He did not have 'friends' as he had already stated previously. Well, none that were of the human variety as his only partners in crime tended to be the exotic pets that he'd been raised alongside and been able to sneak away to play with through his adolescent years. But right now that is what he needed more than anything. He just needed a person that could be his friend without the hindrances of being forced into a position that they might not want to fill…

The name at first sounded almost scolding and so she had to look at him with a curious sense of wonder as to why until he specified further, and she nodded quietly, and his words brought forth a light air of joyful laughter from her that filled the air gently. It was cut short by the sudden realization of the fox moving closer and she had to bite her inner lip in order to not pull away from its want for attention. "Ah, Saleem, you are soft." She said finally in quiet tones, a breath above a whisper that spoke of her timid hesitation to enjoy such a moment. Her hand rose and softly moved to pet along his head as she had seen Ismael do only a few moments prior. A smile finding its way back onto her face as she looked at him, a cant to her head as she tugged gently on the veil to further adjust it back into its proper place.

"Ismael," she offered warmly and in hushed tones, grinning as if it were a best kept secret. Yes, she had known his name, everyone did. However, being given permission to say it, from his mouth, she felt rather proud of her achievements this day. Small as they might be. "In truth, Khadija enjoys dancing, and music. I enjoy my beadwork, it is calming. I enjoy reading a great deal, even if it does bring great amusement in others to tease me for my slowness and struggle over words and phrases." Shrugging here, "I am not an ornament with air between my ears, but I am indeed an ornament nonetheless, so I am glad that you at least find some appeasement in my appearance. So long as you do not put me on a pedestal for only such a thing after coming forth with such harsh truths, then Khadija will not mind if others only find her pretty or petty seeking of the Sultan's attention." Shaking her head, "we have only just met and we have a great secret between us." Her whispered tones carried as she continued to gently give the fox attention. He could decide upon her leaving that it was a dangerous game to allow her to continue along, and she'd never be seen again. However, in this moment she felt powerful and smart, and pretty. For a moment she thought that even if he betrayed her she might die happy for having a moment of such open honesty it felt like.

Saleem seemed to catch on to the shift in demeanor upon feeling the girl's hand fully accept his need for attention. When she started to pet him in earnest there was a brief delay before the small animal let out subtle purring sounds that were dissimilar to the way that a cat would have done the act. Instead of mere vibrations coursing through the animal there was also a light yip that seemed to emanate from the over-excited voice box of the creature. And even though its chatter was noticeable it was oddly quaint enough that it could easily go without mention in this time of times. Though, the fox did have quite the smug look on its face, with ears laying back against its head and neck to allow for more stream-lined petting.

When the girl finally did speak his name he felt a catch at his chest. A painful tug at his heart when his mind latched on to the fact that no one called him by his name....not any more...not even his own mother. It was a feeling of intense bitter-sweet agony; to be a man of such high position and praise and yet to feel as though you were no better off than some nameless slave that worked the pits during long laborious days. It almost seemed as though his name meant just as little. All that mattered was the title that came before it and whilst his body and mind were still reeling from this most recent development on how to feel about the way his life was proceeding he had this wonderful young lady speaking to him in such a way that expressed her own naivety towards how he spoke and what he held behind the words offered. And thus it caused a hand to raise as if to command her attention so that he might clear the air, "I did not mean to assume on you enjoyed or did not enjoy. I merely meant to declare my unwavering desire to give you freedom on what you do with your body." His voice was almost honeyed so as to belay the offending nature of his hand gesture just as it was lowered back to his knee so that another exchange could take place, "You say you struggle with reading?..." Ocean eyes dipped for a moment, "If I am allowed free-time much like I have obtained today then mayhaps I could help you..." An offer that came with the sole intent of requisitioning a possible friend. As to him, the 'secret' that she spoke of was of no consequence. He would not have to deal with any serious punishment if their current exchange got discovered and maybe that was the true difference between their worlds.

"I would hate to bother you with such a frivolous thing, I have ample free time as of late and am more than capable of continuing to teach myself. Would you rather not our time be spent in different fashions? Just talking, or perhaps something more silly? I cannot spar with you, or I would offer that." She joked, shaking her head, "but if you have such free time, and I am struggling, I would not turn down the offer of help on words and letters I struggle with still." Khadija pressed her head to look down at Saleem before hushed whispers and hurried footsteps began to tease at the edge of her range of hearing. They were coming back, probably to fetch her since it was obvious they had remained in the gardens instead of retiring elsewhere.

The sounds were caught by the young Sultan just as well if not at the same time as the girl and with a mischievous smirk one hand reached forward in an offer to be taken, "Come, if they seek us then we shall make a game of it." One of the few ways he got pleasure out of his condition of constantly being pestered by those of the upper echelon staff, he would oftentimes find new locations and wings of the palace simply by outsmarting and avoiding the people that were scouting for him. At this time though he had one or two exact spots that he wished to turn to so that he might get truly uninterrupted time with this girl alone. Not in a series of bedroom curtains or a form of private bordello so that the imaginations of the local Ladies-in-waiting and other such staff could wander and ponder on such perverse curiosities as the Sultan's sexual preferences. Rather, he wished to take the girl some place that was not easily discovered or ventured to whilst at the same time being a location for thought and certainly not sex.

So, if the girl accepted his hand he would just as soon have them both up out of seated positions and making a few shuffled feet before the jingling around the girl's ankle would force Ismael to stop, turn, and glower down at the exposing accessory. Yet, in a moment of clarity that had his face lighting up, his hands moved to the girl's veil that had only just recently been settled back into place. Deft hands made short work of the bindings as the cloth was taken in hand before the young man stooped low in front of the girl to tie the cloth firmly around her ankle clasp in such a way that it would mute if not fully stop the jingling sounds that the ornamental chimes made. With a resolute knot having been made, the Sultan gave a quick glance up to the girl who he was quite intimately close to by this point and with a subtle blush to his cheeks he stood once more, taking her hand in his again before setting off in the opposite direction of the shuffled footsteps they'd heard.

Saleem was wise to such escape attempts by this point in the fox's life and as such he was not surprised by the sudden movement and instead chose to keep even step with its master up until the complete stop that was used to hush the chimes that were overtly obvious to the attentive creature. Though its eyes kept flicking backwards, as well as its ears, towards the direction of the hurried shuffled footsteps to a point that with a light yelp it turned on a mid trot dime to head back towards the onset of people. Knowing well that it could easily distract the entourage for at least a minute or two which should be enough time to let the pair escape to a more open area.

Her eyes widened at his sudden stop and his imminent closeness, and shifting to awe at the silence of her ankle. If she had done such a thing she'd have been terribly punished for such a trick, but seeing as it was the Sultan, it could be argued that the sound offended him in some way and thus she felt at least for the moment. As she was led along, only barely catching a glimpse of the fox as it turned back the way they had only just left with a curious look. She let him lead without a doubt, partially because she really didn't have a choice in the matter because she'd get easily lost without him; and partially because she trusted him for some reason. Maybe a naive girl's fantasy that a Sultan could truly find interest in her for something besides her pretty eyes, or pleasing figure. That he could find a slave worth his company. She was not so naive to think that the world would change over night, and she knew she was a slave with no nope of that changing any time soon. She had been born a slave, and would die a slave in one form or another be it here in the palace or on the arm of some well-off member of the court. Not naive enough to hope to be a wife, or anything more than a courtesan; dared not think of being even a favorite. Khadija followed Ismael with hushed awe and curious wonder at everything around her as he tugged her along until their destination.

By the time that the young man's footsteps trialed to a soft pattering that symbolized his want to either slow down or stop they had already passed many doors and grandiose hallways that would have taken them to multiple separate wings and yet none of them were the Sultan's choice of direction. In truth there was very little turning or dipping off into different hallways during their trip. Not until they had reached a wall that would allow them to go no further in that chosen direction so they had to choose either left or right. Ismael had chosen left and within just a few more quick paces he was darting right again until they reached the point that they were now...soft steps leading them towards a staircase that had an archway leading to it, the steps whirling around and out of view to give the inclination that it was spiraled.

Ocean eyes never did gawk backwards at the girl, instead only offering slight glances every few feet to make certain that she could keep up with his pace and also that she wasn't distraught over his choice of being a bit rebellious towards his duties and 'protocol'. They had been blessed in the form that they had only passed one or two servants and most had either been dipping into a room or had their backs turned just long enough to the point that they couldn't have recognized the Sultan for who he was unless they chased after...which none did. So now, at the base of this staircase, that playful spirit still burning bright in the young man's chest he turned back to the girl with a joyous expression; wordless he took a deep inhale of the air that they shared before leading her up. Calmly this time, taking each step in time and in turn so as to let them both maintain a good sense of balance and to naturally increase the suspense of what could possibly lay at the top.

Eventually, they would indeed reach the peak of the staircase that would open up to what must have originally been designed as a watch tower but what was now made into a sitting space with two luxurious sofas and an assortment of greenery that was kept at the base of each pillar that served to keep the domed ceiling from crushing those under it. Though, between each of those pillars was open space...perfect glass-less windows to peer out over the entirety of the city from a serene place that had the backdrop of the mountain behind them. The faint trickling of water coming from that side whilst the bustle of the city came from the opposite end. And if one were observant they might notice three or four more of these towers at intermittent points around the palace but none were placed quite as...perfectly...as this one.

Ismael would release the girl's hand when they had reached the top. His feet carried him to the edge that faced the city, his hands landing on a short wall that kept him from being free to fall straight over and out of the tower. Another deep breath would be taken and released in a slow methodical manner. "I haven't yet been discovered up here...and whilst I do enjoy the garden as a place to think I don't imagine one can get any more clarity of thought than the fresh air that this vantage provides..."

Her own physical prowess began to leak through as they continued, clearly she didn't just enjoy dancing - she was probably rather good at it. Quick feet kept his pace no matter the speed, and she didn't pant heavily or out of breath when they reached the bottom of the stairs. By the time they reached the top, she was ready to slow however and be it because of the view or the need for air finally catching up with her she did slow to a stop after he had released her. Eyes catching over the window, and then out, warm eyes brightening to an amazed glow under the light up here. Pressing carefully forward, she eased her steps towards the small wall, her own hands catching on it before she saw the view and gasped slightly. It was amazing. The whole city on display like a map and sprawling out in its busy state. "Amazing!" She chirped quietly, looking now back into the room that she had barely noticed past the view.

Khadija had kept ants as a child, in a cracked glass vase that had been given to her instead of thrown out. From this view, the city looked much like the trails they had carved in the sand and dirt she had packed into it for them to explore. "I feel you sneak away a great deal my Su-" A short pause, to correct herself, "Ismael." A short snuffle of sorts as she looked back down, she was sure to get in trouble for letting him gallivant off as he had. Luckily she was naught but a slave and had to do as she was told by the great king, and he had instructed them to run. The one small thing afforded her station compared to the other girls who could have denied and remained in the garden to avoid his fancy to hide.

"With so many days in a year, a kid such as myself had plenty of time to escape from my mentors' watch to explore the sections of the palace that intrigued me. My father was oftentimes busy with stately affairs and my mother was wrapped up in the same business...therefore I had a keen sense of loneliness that was only quelled when I could explore." Here the young Sultan paused, unafraid to divulge such privy information about his upbringing to this girl since she had very little to gain from it on top of the fact that he had yet to find a reason not to trust her. His eyes turned to take in the beauty that the woman had on display in the cooling afternoon air; soaking up the wonder that she had expressed shortly before this new bout of regimented worry. "So, to answer your observation, I have found the time to sneak away plenty. Though in recent months it has only grown more difficult." Then the man went oddly silent. His lips pursing against the thoughtful expression that dominated his visage as he turned back to look upon the city.

It was a long moment before he would think to speak once more. "I do hope that I am not infringing upon your own wants. I did not even consider whether or not you would wish to continue speaking with me further." Hands removed themselves from the ledge that they had been braced on so that they could hand by his sides, turning to the young lady that had joined him on this escapade in evasion. There was no warning and without any form of telegraphed body language, the Sultan dipped into a full bow at the waist. "Please forgive me if I have caused you undue trouble. It was selfish of me to assume..." He trailed off but kept his bow in place, waiting patiently for the response to come from the girl.

Wondering suddenly what he was doing, she was caught greatly off guard by his bow and her hands came up to fuss as she reached out and moved to gently have him right himself. "No no, I have enjoyed this greatly." She pressed urgently, "there is no need to apologize." Fretting hands finally dared to touch him in an attempt to guide him back up into standing, landing gently on his shoulders to give a slight guiding motion up of which she hoped he would follow. Trying to think over what she had done that may have given him the assumption that she was not enjoying her time with him a great deal and then some. "You have amazed me this day, that is all. I am simply in awe taking everything that you have had at your disposal since youth. I am sorry if I made you feel as if I was not enjoying our talks. On the contrary, I have learned a great deal about the new Sultan-to-be. He is kind, wise, and as stubborn as everyone has said." She offered as a way of her own peacemaking, not thinking of the insult he might take it as. Orange dipped away from him, and her hands returned to herself, "and it is alright to be selfish, no one would wrong you for that. Especially not I."

Having naught a reason to remain bowed after the girl came to him and went through the trouble of attempting to right the bent out of shape sultan, he rose once more to his moderate height of 5 foot 10 inches. Ocean eyes refocused on the girl in front of them, specifically on her face to accrue an understanding of what she had said and how exactly she felt about it all. There was a stark contrast between them and it was a tightness that seemed to constantly return to his chest as he made the unerring yet pointless attempts at trying to bridge that gap. To remove the boundaries and to let them simply be two people of similar age...no adjectives or titles to ruin the experience of being near one another. No inhibitions to keep them from acting on a thought or a whim...

"If I was able I would abolish any reason for you to have fear." He stated rather firmly even through his softly spoken words, "It has been in how you react more than what you have said during our time together. Subtle movements that hint at it...even in speaking freely you still harbour the thoughts that you are a slave. That as such you have no right to say certain things or to act in specific ways." A sigh that had the young man reaching forward to take the girl's left hand, lifting it to eye level between them before flattening out his palm against her own so that their appendages could press against one another in a show that they were much the same save for the minute differences that came between being a man or woman...of being royalty or slave. Ocean eyes moved to settle on those hands as his mouth opened once more. "I know not the reason why but I feel at ease around you. You provide no air that you might have ulterior motives..."pure of heart and mind" is what my father would have called it." His hand would tense against her's, a pained expression breaking through his calm charade that had become of his face. It was fleeting and was just as soon replaced by a weak smile. "I don't want to make trouble for you and yet at the same time I desire the right to be selfish...for I know what the others would do if they found out about our prolonged meeting. If they understood that I had not drug you out here for a romantic or sexual engagement but merely to talk." Ocean eyes glossed over as they fell away, once proud shoulders slumping perceptibly upon reaching his final point in quoting the girl's own words from earlier, "Damned if I do, damned if I don't..."

It was the pained expression that caught her, that let her know he was truly concerned about her feelings and well being as a result of this meeting. "They will believe whatever is told to them," she said, "you may tell them all you whisked me away to awe me with different places of the palace; that I danced for you in the gardens, and you enjoyed your time with me in a private corner." Khadija shrugged, "they will take from it what they want, and what they expect of you. When I am asked, I will say the truth; you wished to avoid being interrupted, dragged me away to show me to a private place where you whispered sweet nothings in Khadija's ear." She laughed here, full of amusement and shaking her head at him.

Looking out the window, and then back at the sultan who stood in front of her prepared to be eaten alive by the world around him and she saw this. "You must be Sultan, and I must be a slave, those are our roles to play. Use who you can, even Khadija, if it will make your life easier." Nodding exuberantly here, she braved shifting her hand to interlock her fingers with his before he could pull his hand away from her. "You said you used weapons, I can be a weapon against others if you use me. I have thick skin," she said, eyes shifting slightly at the bad pun made on her part without intention, "their words and actions will not bother me so long as they come not from you." Khadija smiled, "if it would make Ismael happy." She cant her head to the side, the wisdom of her words rushed and not entirely all coherent but she hoped he understood.

The way that their fingers interlocked afforded the young Sultan some confidence as the wise words were ushered forth from his aptly noted friend. Without thinking about it his thumb even began to caress the skin that it found to brush against just as Ocean eyes found those sunset hued orbs to lock on and absorb. It was long before what needed to be said had been laid out in the open and with it came yet another move from the boy that not even he had any true time to prepare himself for. His free hand moved up, cupping along the girl's cheek to rectify the cant that she had obtained, then his head moved forward until his lips were pressing tenderly against the girl's forehead. This position was held for a long moment before Ismael drew away enough to reposition his head so that their foreheads would meet and their noses would brush against one another's. From here the deep set ocean eyes glanced downward, entranced upon the younger girl's lips that had given him such strength and wisdom in a moment of weakness. "Thank you, Khadija. Though already I can say that to me you are much more than a mere slave or tool to be used..." Softly spoken and easy on the ears he left his voice drift as his eyes closed, thumb brushing along the girl's cheek bone for a few more enchanting moments.

There was something to be said about the Sultan's mindset. He was far from the type to be overtly cruel to those under him and for the most part his heart bled for those that suffered the most. Yet, his largest issue came from his own being. He was filled with angst at the objectification of his role; both feeling as though he should have all the power to change things but being able to act on nothing. Not only that but even for all of his rather graceful bravado and beaming livelihood, what had killed his father was not some freak disease...it was a hereditary affliction that would likely be passed on to him and even if it hadn't shown purchase in his life just quite yet there was a more concrete reason as to why his heart pained him the way it did, why his chest felt tight during certain moments when there was little reason for such a reaction to occur.

Red hued her cheeks at his intimate action, her forehead felt warm to her under his kiss and warmer still with his face so close and their foreheads touching. She was sure it was only on her end and had no actual effect on Ismael, but it made her cheeks redden further at his words of kindness towards her lot in life. Her mouth parted as if to speak words, but she found nothing coming forth and instead closed it quickly and looked at the blue that reminded her of the ocean she had grown up near. Khadija pressed her hand into his all the more, and merely smiled. "Khadija is glad, but now - " she looked towards the sun, she realized that they had spent hours in each other's company by now and if she did not return soon even she would be missed in the harem. "Khadija must return, or it will only cause trouble for you. I am patient, the other women of the harem are not." She gave a gentle laugh here, before she pulled to part herself from him and dipped to undo the veil he had used to muffle her anklet. The first jangle brought a sigh to her that was somewhere between relief and remorse, as she then moved to start tucking it back into its place at the various head pieces she was wearing.

"Khadija serves excellent tea," she said as she did this, "if ever the Sultan needs tea but does not want the constant in and out of staff to prepare such things." It was a way for him to see her again with a purpose that could be explained to the staff. It was not uncommon for any woman of the harem to provide refreshments to visiting elites or even to provide service for the Sultan's mother. Khadija herself had served the stern woman tea three times already, during a meeting about 'charity' work. "No one thinks twice of a slave girl being called to serve tea," she pointed out, as she finished tucking and her face was veiled once more.

Even Ismael gave a lighthearted chuckle to the keen observation that Khadija had made towards having a reason for them to meet without raising too much suspicion or having thoughts occur to those that would have perverse reasoning as to why a newly appointed Sultan was requesting the company of a girl that was as exotic and beautiful as the slave. His features softened as he watched her place the veil once more around her visage so that only her eyes and the top part of her nose were able to be properly seen. And it brought a slight involuntary nod from his head. "I'd like to share tea with you sometime..." His focus somehow managed to seclude the notion that he'd just embarrassed her away from mind as instead there was the single fleeting thought that she looked oddly pretty and cute in those few moments before that material was hiding her face. Beyond that his wording had come with the proper intent to give merit to his earnest words he'd only just spoken beforehand. For he did not wish for her to merely serve him tea....that simply would not do. He wished to share a few cups with her and have a chance to sit and talk like friends could.

His own fantasies aside, there was the imminence of time that kept biting at his heels to step into motion so that neither of them would be caught in a troubled web. So, he took a tentative step past the girl, his hand moving to take her's in his once more as he started to lead the way back down the stairs. Albeit at a much slower pace than their original traversal. "Follow my movements and stay in time. We must make our way to a more fitting local before making our presence known once more...and if I have any mind for it I think that Saleem will catch on in time." Hushed words that were carried briskly up to the girl's ears as they made their descent back to the proper level of the palace. By the time they'd reached the bottom, Ismael's demeanor had all but made a complete shift as his body hugged the wall, pressing closer to the doorless entryway so that he could peek around to make certain that their path was currently clear. After a thorough check he gave yet another involuntary nod and a quiet, "Okay..." Sighing just as he stepped out, tugging the girl behind him at a vigorous pace.

They would make their way back in the direction of the garden though minute changes were made here or there depending on if sounds of upcoming servants could be heard or if other miscellaneous sounds deterred the Sultan from going a specific direction. His aptitude for sleuthing around was quite apt even with the girl's anklet causing more than its fair share of jingling noise. And soon enough they were safely within one of the more intricate rooms. It had a sauna-like pool along one side lined with beautiful varieties of coloured rock and marble, then another side was solely devoted to having a form of bar that had more than its fair share of refined drinks that were exotic within the kingdom. And the entire room was practically made to seem like one large art piece that could be used functionally yet was likely sparsely visited by even those that had access to it. Even to that degree the water still let off a gentle steam that proved that it was a functional room, it just was devoid of residence.

And that exact reason is what had brought them here as Ismael quickly walked them forward and gave the indication for the girl to step behind the marbled bar counter as he sat upon one of the few ornate stools. "So long as they go off of the assumption that you were serving me drinks we should be fine." He managed to quip playfully before pointing to a specific spot, on the ground behind the counter just to the far left along the wall. "There is some crisp ale inside that small cask...would you mind fixing me a glass of it?" Obviously an attempt at both staying kind and keeping his position intact. It wouldn't be long before Saleem would lead the 'right' people too them as was his nature when the fox picked up on the technical return of its master. And in fact this would be a new location that they would find him in which was planned in advance so as to keep the many that would search for him guessing.

Khadija fetched the requested refreshment for Ismael and was handing it off just as a trickle of three wandered in finally, each bowing in turn as she dipped back and into a bow of her own at their request that she take her leave. Soon enough she was being ushered back down the hall and being scolded for letting the Sultan do such fanciful things, but they did not punish her and in fact praised her and told her to keep the clothes that it would be explained away since all the girls would be getting new outfits soon enough anyway for preparation of the presentation of the harem and the many events soon to come.

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A note from VanillaBerry

I hope that the first foray into this world has been an enjoyable one! 
It is my great desire to eventually work towards being able to make authoring webserials into a full-time job. To do this, I'll need your help! 

I plan to release a new chapter every week with an additional chapter being put out on my patreon a week ahead.

If you've liked what you've read so far, consider helping me out on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/Berryprime

It's still a very rough work-in-progress but I hope to see you join me in growth and experience the adventure together!


About the author

VanillaBerry

  • VanillaBerry

Bio: Socially anxious writer who loves video games.
Other than that, I really enjoy world building and crafting unique or personally interesting characters to live in the cyberpunk-ian fantasy world that I've been cooking up for the last several years.

New Patreon page is live! https://www.patreon.com/Berryprime

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