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Chapter no 20

This Woven Kingdom (This Woven Kingdom, 1)

NIGHT HAD COME TOO QUICKLY.

Kamran lay sprawled across his bed in nothing but a scowl, crimson sheets tangling around his limbs. His eyes were open, staring into the middle distance, his body slack as if submerged in a bath of blood.

He cut a dramatic figure.

The sea of dark red silk that enveloped him served to compliment the bronze tones of his skin. The golden glow of the artfully arranged lamps further sculpted the contours of his body, depicting him more as statue than sentient being. But then Kamran would not have noticed such things even had he cared to try.

He had not chosen these sheets. Nor the lamps.

He’d not chosen the clothes in his wardrobe, or the furnishings in his room. All he owned that were truly his were his swords, which he’d forged himself, and which he carried with him always.

All else in his life was an inheritance.

Every cup, every jewel, every buckle and boot came with a price, an expectation. A legacy. Kamran hadn’t been asked to choose; instead, he’d been ordered to obey, which had never before struck him as particularly cruel, for his was not such a difficult life. He had struggles, certainly, but Kamran owned no proclivity for fairy tales. He wasn’t so deluded as to imagine he might be happier as a peasant, nor did he dream of living a humble life with a woman of common stock and weak intelligence.

His was a life he’d never before questioned, for it had never before constrained him. He’d wanted for nothing, and as a result deigned not to lower himself to the experience of desire, for desire was the pastime of poorer men, men whose only weapons against the world’s cruelty were their imaginations.

Kamran desired nothing.

He cared little for food, for it had always been abundant. He looked upon material objects with contempt, for nothing was rare or uncommon. Gold, jewels, the most singular objects on earth—had he cared even a little he’d need only tell Hazan, and all that he wanted would be procured. But what were such trifles worth? Who did he hope to impress with baubles and trinkets?

No one.

He detested conversation, for there was always an abundance of callers, endless invitations, doubtless hundreds of thousands—if not millions—

across the empire who wished to speak with him.

Women—

Women, he desired least of all. For what appeal was there in an arrangement with no uncertainty? Every eligible woman he’d ever met would happily have him even had they found him eminently unworthy.

Women were perhaps his greatest plague.

They hounded him, haranguing him en masse whenever he was forced, by order of the king, to give them cause. He shuddered even at the memories of his rare appearances at court, social events at which his presence was required. He was suffocated by imitations of beauty, of poorly disguised ambition. Kamran did not possess the necessary stupidity to desire anyone who sought only to claim his money, his power, his title.

The very idea filled him with revulsion.

There was once a time when he’d thought to look beyond his own society for companionship, but it was quickly revealed to him that he’d never get on with an uneducated woman, and as a result, could never look beyond his peers. Kamran could not countenance dullards of any vintage; not even the most extraordinary beauty could recompense, in his mind, for brainlessness. He’d learned this lesson thoroughly in the first flush of youth, when he’d been foolish enough to be taken in by a pretty face alone.

Since then, Kamran had been disappointed over and over by the young women foisted upon him by their sycophantic guardians. As he did not, and would never, possess the infinite time required to comb through hordes of women on his own, he’d promptly extinguished any expectations he might’ve once had with regard to marriage. Dismissing the possibility of his own happiness had made it easy to accept his fate: that the king—and his mother—would choose him the most suitable bride. Even in a partner, he had learned to want and hope for nothing, resigning himself instead to what seemed inevitable.

Duty.

It was too bad, then, that the sole object of the young man’s first and only desire was now—he glanced up at the clock—yes, almost certainly dead.

Kamran dragged himself out of bed, tied on a dressing robe, and walked over to the tea tray set down earlier by his minister. The simple service had been abandoned there hours ago: silver teapot, two short tea glasses, a

copper bowl filled with jagged, freshly cut sugar cubes. There was even a small painted plate laden with thick dates.

Kamran lifted his cup from the tray, weighed it in his hand. The glassware was no bigger than his palm and shaped a bit like an hourglass; it was without a handle, meant to be held by the rim alone. He cradled the cup now in a loose fist, curling his fingers around its small body. He wondered whether he should exert a bit more pressure, whether he should crush the delicate drinkware in his hand, whether the glass might then shatter and lacerate his skin. The pain, he thought, might do him good.

He sighed.

Carefully, he replaced the glass on the tray.

The prince poured himself a cold cup of tea, tucked a sugar cube between his teeth, and threw the drink back in a single shot, the bracing, bitter liquid cut only by the grit of the sugar cube dissolving slowly on his tongue. He licked a drop of tea from his lips, refilled the short cup, and began a slow walk around his room.

Kamran paused at the window, staring for a long while at the moon. He shot back the second cold cup of tea.

It was nearly two o’clock in the morning, but Kamran did not hope for sleep. He dared not close his eyes. He feared what he might see if he slept; what nightmares might plague him in the night.

It was his own fault, really.

He hadn’t asked to know the details. He hadn’t wanted to know how they’d come for her; he hadn’t wanted to be alerted when the deed was done.

What Kamran hadn’t realized, of course, was how much worse it would be to leave such details to his imagination.

He drew in a deep breath.

And startled, suddenly, at the sound of furious pounding at his door.

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