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The interior of the tent was illuminated by dozens of small oil lamps. On the floor were layers of lush carpets woven in bright jeweled tones. The interior walls had been covered over in silk fabrics that matched the numerous throw pillows strewn carelessly around the floor for the guests to lean on. There were bowls and platters aplenty scattered about and the few guests present were eating while they watched one of the prince's many concubines dance for his pleasure.
The interior of the tent was illuminated by dozens of small oil lamps. On the floor were layers of lush carpets woven in bright jeweled tones. The interior walls had been covered over in silk fabrics that matched the numerous throw pillows strewn carelessly around the floor for the guests to lean on. There were bowls and platters aplenty scattered about and the few guests present were eating while they watched one of the prince’s many concubines dance for his pleasure.
She was not dressed in the traditional dress. Her costume was revealing. The red veiled material was of the sheerest silk and it was lushly beaded. The beads clacked against one another as she moved her body in time to the sensual music. The prince openly admired her curves and it was clear to everyone in the room that the erotic display was meant for him alone. As she neared him he stood up and possessively reached out grabbing her around her waist. He pulled her roughly against his body and crushed his lips to hers taking what was his. As the prince broke off the kiss he noticed, for the first time, that Crawford had entered the room. Without a second glance he pushed the woman away carelessly so that she fell at his feet onto the floor.
"Lieutenant Crawford, come and join us!" he called out, waving Crawford into the room. "Sit! Enjoy a delicious meal with me!"
"It would be my honor, my lord," responded Crawford, bowing with deference. "I have been anxious to discuss business with you. The British—"
"Enough!" shouted the prince. "Tonight is not about business, Lieutenant, it is a night for celebration. You have traveled far. Enjoy yourself."
"Thank you, my lord," responded Crawford as he accepted food and drink from one of the prince’s concubines.
"She is lovely, yes?"
"Quite, lovely," responded Crawford politely.
"I enjoy beautiful things," said the prince as he ran a finger down the side of the woman’s face. "How long since you have been with a beautiful woman, Lieutenant?"
Crawford choked slightly on the mouth of food that he had begun to swallow.
The prince laughed, "That long? We will rectify that tonight. You may have your pick. I am feeling generous."
"Your kindness overwhelms me, my lord, but—"
"Where is Hessa? Jemal!" bellowed the prince.
"Yes, my lord. I regret to say that Hessa seems unwell. Perhaps it is the fever the Lieutenant had earlier. She helped me ready his tent when he arrived. She is still frail, you know," Jemal started to explain.
"Nonsense! Bring her to me. I wish it so. And have her wear the garments I sent over this afternoon," demanded the prince.
"Of course, my lord," said Jemal, a combination of panic and fear briefly flitting across his face as he bowed to the prince.
"Would you excuse me for a brief moment, my lord," asked Crawford. He stood up. "I have a gift for you that I seem to have left in my tent. I will return directly."
"By all means, Lieutenant. And don’t forget my offer. I assure you, I have spent considerable time ensuring that they each have a wide range of skills. You will undoubtedly be pleased."
"I am confident that you are right, my lord, but—"
"And I am quite certain that you do not wish to insult me by refusing," interrupted the prince.
"I was going to say. But the choice will be difficult. I will have to give it careful consideration, so many beauties. With your permission I will take my leave and return momentarily," concluded Crawford.
"Yes! Yes! Go!" said the prince, waving him off.
Crawford quickly slipped out of the prince’s tent. He saw the tent flap of the servant’s tent flutter close. He swiftly followed Jemal through the entrance.
"Jemal!" he called as he walked into the tent. "What is going o—"
Crawford stopped mid-sentence. He had obviously walked in on an argument.
Both Jemal and Fatima were begging - no pleading - the woman he knew as Hessa to reconsider and join the prince.
"You cannot insult him, Hessa. He will have you executed without a moment’s thought!" warned Fatima.
Hessa was sitting on a small stool, her arms stubbornly folded over her bare stomach. She wore white beaded undergarments that were covered by a sheer cerulean blue silk fabric. A matching veil covered her dark blonde hair and part of her face. She was a portrait of perfection, the personification of every man’s fantasy. Except for the positively enraged look on her face and the waves of intense fury that seemed to emanate from her, that is. The forcefulness of her anger engulfed him—anger and humiliation.
"She won’t come," said Jemal, hopelessly.
"Let me try," said Crawford, gently. "Leave us for a moment."
Jemal and Fatima shared a worried glance, then nodded and left the tent.
"Hessa," he began kneeling before her. "Do you remember me?"
She responded by slightly nodding.
"Of course you do. So, you’re not daft. You realize the prince is very powerful, yeah? The good news is that I don’t think he’s very bright. I can only imagine how humiliating this must be. Well, honestly, I probably can’t. But you must push that aside. You must come Hessa. Chin up and all that," he said attempting an encouraging smile.
She turned and looked at him. Not a sideways glance. Not a fleeting look. Not a shy glimpse stolen through her dark charcoal lashes. Her eyes, moist with stubborn tears that she refused to let fall searched out his. His eyes, his heart, his soul, and as they silently pleaded, they stole them all.