The first scene for The Truth of Love.
That mysterious, elusive four letter word.
I knew what love was, or I thought I did. Did I not passionately love my father, mother and brother? Was I not fond of most of my siblings and their mothers, my aunts? I saw love all around me. My father loved his six wives and his children with a warm, indulgent, but firm, love. My aunts and mother held their children in their hearts with a mother’s never-failing love. We children played and lived together with typical sibling love. My brothers were bound to their tribe brothers with unbreakable cords of brotherly love. Every one of us adored our fiery Arabian steeds.
But, one short hour saw the arrival of the catalyst that would prove to me that I did not truly know what love meant.
I had been out riding my beautiful, black mare Najwa, all day. She had completed her initial training over the winter. This year would see the welding of a deeper partnership between us, until like my other three well-trained horses, there would be no way to tell where the rider left off and the horse began. I was ecstatic with her behavior today. She moved fluidly, like the water in the streams in the garden. She was willing, responsive and reading my body language perfectly. I was so happy that I rode farther and longer than I had intended, returning only at the hour of the evening meal.
I went immediately to my bedroom to change for dinner. My maid, Aisha, waited for me.
She assisted me off with my habit, “His Excellency says you are not required at the table for this meal. He will have your meal brought to you here or in the breakfast room.”
This announcement did not surprise me. Father sometimes preferred that we not appear when foreigners were visiting. My older brothers were allowed to attend the meal, and because she was the primary wife, my mother was almost always present, but the other wives and the daughters stayed away. I quickly learned however, that those were the most interesting of dinners and often chose to attend anyway. Most of the time Father did not mind too badly.
“Who has arrived, Aisha? I came in the back path from our stables.” The stables where the family kept their horses were separate from the stables where guests’ horses were taken.
My maid was only too willing to gossip, “There are only four of them, Mistress. They each look like they are from different countries. All of them are vastly handsome, Mistress. The leader is the finest man I ever saw, except the men of our tribe, of course. They are all vastly fascinating men.”
“Do you know why they are here?”
“No, Mistress. I think I heard something about searching for something.”
Searching for something? Now this promised some variety. My father would aid them, of course. It was an unwritten law of our land that all hospitality and aid be extended to visitors and often my father had helped find people or property who had strayed into our desert realm.
I turned toward the baths, “Prepare my turquoise and silver dinner gown. I will join my father at the table.”
Aisha clasped her hands nervously, “His Excellency was very firm about not wanting you at the table, Mistress. He did not look happy. I think he will be very angry if you go down.”
I shrugged, “He’s been angry before. I will go down to dinner.”
Aisha knew once I had spoken in that tone, there was no changing my mind, so she nodded, but it was jerky and she still nervously clasped her hands.
The bell signaling it was time to gather at the table rang just as Aisha had adjusted my veil. Custom demanded I be veiled in the presence of foreigners. It was a short veil, so I could still eat. It was opaque so I could still see out, but no one could see my features clearly.
I descended the stairs and entered the dining chamber. Four of my nine brothers were already seated. As usual, Mother was there, but no other women. Though they would be curious about the guests, none of my sisters had my boldness.
When she saw me, my mother darted a nervous, worried glance at my father. His eyes had darkened when I walked into the room. Had the guests not already arrived, I had no doubt he would have ordered me out of the room. I had timed my arrival perfectly.
The men stared at me, not rudely, but curiously. I was unaffected. Men, and women too, always stared at me for one reason or another. These men stared because it was unusual for guests to see a daughter of the house. Other people stared for the reason of my looks. Unlike my sisters I was tall and slim, which set me apart instantly. On the occasions when my veil was off, people stared even more. My looks marked me as even more different. I did not have my sisters' raven locks or their liquid brown eyes. My eyes were amber colored and I had brown hair. The only thing we had in common was dusky skin.
I took my seat between my brothers. My mother sat at my father’s left hand at the head of the table and my brothers and I sat at her left hand down the side. The guests faced us across the table, seated according to custom at Father’s right hand.
I could see nothing remarkable in the four men, not even these vast good looks that Aisha had been so excited by. They were good looking, but not striking. Aisha always did over-exaggerate. One looked part Arabian, the other three were obviously from far-off lands.
I settled back and waited for the start of the usual dinner conversation about their travels. Perhaps it would shed more light on why Aisha thought these men so fascinating.
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Miss Melody Muffin