The True King of Dahaar

By: Tara Pammi


DR. NIKHAT ZAKHARI followed the uniformed guard through the carpeted corridor of the Dahaaran palace, assaulted from every side by bittersweet memories. Eight years ago she had known every inch of these corridors and halls, every wall and arch. This palace, the royal family, they had all been part of a dream she had weaved as a naive girl of twenty-two.

Before it had come crumbling down upon her and shattered her.

She stepped over the threshold into the office and the guard closed the door behind her. The formal pumps she had chosen instead of her usual Crocs sank into the lush carpet with a sigh.

She had been in this office one night when the Crown Prince had been the man she had loved, the two of them slipping in like thieves in the night.

All because she had voiced a juvenile wish to see it. Her long-sleeved thick silk jacket couldn’t dispel the chill that settled on her skin at the memory.

Drawn to the huge portrait of the royal family behind the dark sandalwood desk, she gave in to nostalgia.

King Malik and Queen Fatima, Ayaan and Amira, each member of the royal family was smiling in the picture except Azeez. Because of what Nikhat had told him that day eight years ago.

A cavern of longing opened up inside of her. Even thousands of miles away, she had felt as if she had lost her own family when she heard of the attack. Her throat ached, her vision felt dizzy. She ran trembling fingers over Azeez’s face in the photo.

She leaned her head against the wall. Seeing this familiar place without him was shaking the very foundations of the life she had resolutely built for herself.

And she couldn’t—she wouldn’t—give that much power to a memory. Couldn’t let it undo everything she had accomplished.

“How have you been, Nikhat?”

She turned around and stared at the new Crown Prince, Ayaan bin Riyaaz Al-Sharif, the boy she had once tutored in chemistry. His copper-gold gaze shone with warmth. The cut of his features, so similar to Azeez’s, knocked the breath out of her.

She had gone into shock the day she had heard of the terrorist attack. To see Ayaan again, so many years later filled her with a joy she couldn’t contain. Nikhat reached him, and hugged him.

Something she wouldn’t have dared do eight years earlier.

A soft chuckle shook his lean frame. Stepping back, Nikhat fought the urge to apologize for her impulsive gesture. Her composure was shaken by being back here but not torn. A woman, and one not connected to the royal family in any way, would never have hugged the Crown Prince. But she was not the average Dahaaran woman anymore, bound by its traditions and customs. “It’s good to see you, Ayaan.”

He nodded, his gaze studying her with unhidden thoroughness. “You, too, Nikhat.”

He led her to the sitting area, where a silver tea service waited. Settling down opposite him, Nikhat shook her head when he inquired if she wanted something.

The Ayaan that she had known had always had a twinkle in his eyes, a core made of pure joy. The Crown Prince that looked at her now had the mantle of Dahaar weighing him down. There was grief in those eyes of his, a hardness that had found a permanent place in his features.

She had been back in the capital city of Dahaara hardly a day before she had been summoned to a private meeting by the Crown Prince. Not something she could have actually refused, even if she had wanted to. “How did you know I was back in Dahaara?” she said, getting straight to the point.

He shrugged and crossed his legs. Hesitation danced in his eyes before he said, “I have an offer for you.”

Nikhat frowned. After eight years with no word from her father, she had been beyond thrilled to hear his voice. But now… “You ordered my father to call me home,” she said, the unease she had felt the minute she had received his request solidifying. “You knew how eager I would be to see my family. That’s a low blow, Your Highness.”

Ayaan rubbed his brow, no hint of guilt in his steady gaze. “It’s the price I have to pay for that title, Nikhat.”

His words were simple, yet the weight of responsibility behind them struck Nikhat. Clamping down her anger, she remained seated. “Fine, you have me here now. I should warn you though. I’m not a genie to automatically grant your wish.”

A sudden smile split his mouth, warmth spilling into his eyes. And the flash of another face, smiling like that, similar yet different, rose in front of her eyes.

Her chest felt incredibly tight and she forced herself to breathe through it. There were going to be reminders of Azeez everywhere in Dahaar. And she refused to spiral into an emotional mess every time she came across one.

She had done that long enough when she had left eight years ago.

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