Author's Note: Thank you Caroline.
He knew it was Farah since after knocking she opened the door without even waiting for him to tell her that she was allowed to enter. Already there had been several times when that habit of hers had brought about some awkward situations. It was something he should have put a stop to right away, but he had been too lenient with her, memories of Azad clouding his judgment. To her none of the ordeal had ever happened, all they had been though there was just a story, memories that belonged to him alone.
She always had been bold that and he now realized what a problem that boldness was. Back in Azad he had noticed it, yet he had tolerated it for far too long, intending to do something about it without actually moving to do anything.
All that was in the past though, even if she was coming to apologize he had no desire to talk to her at the time. He had something far more troublesome to worry about than her being contrary for its own sake after all. Instead of turning to face her, he continued to look out over the city in the hope that she would just leave.
"Yes, ignoring problems works so well, doesn't it?"
The only indication he gave of having heard the voice was to tense slightly. Talking to a voice that existed only in his mind was not a very wise thing to do when there were others around, no matter how annoying the voice got.
Her tone of voice alone made it clear that she had not come to apologize.
While he waited in silence for her to continue the voice in the back of his mind began to hum an off key tune, probably an attempt to get him to lose his temper or to distract him. If he were to do such a thing he would never get Farah to give up on her silly arguments. She would think that she was the cause of his frustration and taken it as a sign of weakness on his part, that he might eventually be worn down to agree with her.
The humming intensified in volume, a tune he could not quite place, but would probably recognize if he gave it some thought. Yes, it was definitely something he had heard before, recently too if he was not mistaken.
How was he to carry on a rational conversation with such a distraction? Here he was trying to remember a song when his wife had come to him with matters she thought to be serious. A small laugh sounded in the back of his mind, then the humming resumed, a new tune this time, as off key as the first.
Once she realized that he had no intention of replying, Farah continued, "You're a king now and you need to start acting like one. You may have left here for seven years, but in that time the rest of the world didn't cease to exist."
On the upside, the voice had ceased its humming after that comment, clearly interested in any conversation that would involve the Prince being berated.
If there was a point to be made by her statement it was lost on him. She may have thought that there was some value in stating the obvious, but such things were unnecessary from his point of view, "I understand that."
"No, no you don't," determination mixed with sorrow filled her voice as she picked up their argument right where it had left off, "Both of our homes are just beginning to recover from the Vizier's mad rampage. Soon enough people will be through with mourning and begin looking for someone to blame. Already there is talk that India, my home, is responsible for the devastation. I can only imagine that something similar is happening with my people."
As she spoke he had heard her approaching him, so that by the time she was done she was able to place a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to get him to face her.
"At least now you know where her true loyalties lay," the voice offered, but he ignored it.
So far it sounded like she was trying to have a repeat of their entire argument, "Yes, we've been over this before. India suffered under the Vizier far longer, so it stands to reason that by the time they're sufficiently recovered we'll be a position to make them think twice about declaring war."
With a small noise of annoyance she actually, physically forced him to turn and face her, "Is all you think about making violence and war? Yes, our kingdoms can end up at war again, and end up in ruins again as well!"
The voice responded enthusiastically to this, "Unless you attack India first, then they end up in ruins and you end up with new land, new riches, new slaves, new –"
"Our kingdoms have never been friendly in the past, this is no different than before," he put his hands on her shoulders to put himself in a better position to look down upon her, to remind her that he was the king and her husband. "If the price of attacking is too steep India will leave us alone, that's how it has worked in the past. I see no reason to try anything different, especially in the current situation. A request for peace will be seen as a sign of weakness."
She pushed his hands away and glared at him, as though the intensity of her gaze could will him to see things her way.
"I can't be king of my own kingdom and another, and you cannot be queen of two kingdoms, so why do you trouble me with rumors from India when my own people are still living in fear that the monsters your traitorous Vizier unleashed upon them will return?" he demanded as he stepped aside so that she could look out over the city and see the portions of it that were still in ruins. If she was going to insist on continuing this, the least he could do was be the reasonable one, let her see how foolish her demands were.
"That's right," the voice chimed in, ready as always with a snide remark, "You can't be king of India unless you plan to make it part of your own kingdom. Give her what she deserves."
For a moment she was silent and he began to hope that she was finally beginning to see the truth of the matter. Then she spoke, "Just because we've been at war doesn't mean that we'll never be at peace. You can change things you know."
At the same time the voice spoke, "Listen to her, a woman telling you how to run your kingdom!"
"Will you stop nagging me!" Too late did he realize that it seemed for all intents and purposes his comment was directed at Farah.
Riotous laughter echoed in his mind as Farah stormed out of the room in tears, "I couldn't have said it better myself. Or were you talking to me?"
"Farah, wait! It's not –"
"It's not what it seems, right? I think we've all heard that one before."
The Prince slumped to the floor, filled with a sense of despair the likes of which he had not felt since on the Island of Time. So much was happening so fast and he was deprived of even what little sanctuary solitude could provide. To be able to be alone with his thoughts might allow him to make some sense of the situation, find a way to make Farah realize that she was mistaken about the whole situation. Now, with her in such a state of hysterics there would be no reasoning with her.
Though it had been his intention to convince Farah to abandon her little argument, bringing her to tears was not something he had planned to do.
Everything was spiraling out of control, never in his life had he expected to find himself in such a situation. Ruling a kingdom was proving to be far more difficult than anything he had previously been through. Before he had only himself to worry about, other people made it all so much more complicated.
As if to prove this the voice spoke again, "Yes, quite the king you are, not even able to control one woman."
If he solitude was not an option a change of scenery was. Even if they had yet to be repaired he was going to the gardens.
It went without saying that no one questioned him about where he was going as he walked through the palace, but it might have helped him if someone had. As the youngest son there had never been any reason to believe that he would find himself in any position of power, struggling to do the best he could for his kingdom when so many things conspired against him. He had never learned to ask for help, though he would not hesitate to accept it if it were to be offered. Some sympathy and assistance would be greatly appreciated.
"What, my advice isn't good enough for you?"
There was no one around at the moment, so it was safe to speak, "Listening to you would only bring about my ruin."
"Really?" came the caustic reply, "You don't seem to need any help with that from what I've seen."
What could he say to that? There was no denying that in his past he had made many terrible mistakes, but he vowed to never make the same mistakes again.
"No, you'll make all new ones."
It was as though it had read his thoughts. Maybe it could, that would certainly explain how it always knew exactly what to say to get him angry. He would have replied to it, but he heard the sound of approaching footsteps and had no desire to run the risk of being heard.
Content to have gotten the last word in for the time being, the voice fell silent. A servant walked past, gave a slight bow and left, leaving him alone again, able to ponder how strange everything had become since his return from the Island of Time.
He had never intended to save Kaileena only to bring her to her death, yet it had happened. The most disturbing thing was that she must have known what awaited them. Why had she not given him some warning of what was to come? He might have been able to save her then and avoid the whole mess he was in now. On the island she had been so determined to live, yet in the end she accepted her death without a struggle. Maybe her actions could be attributed to spite, she had known that he planned to kill her and might not have forgiven him for it despite all he had done. She had made the island a fortress after all, knowing that someday he would arrive to kill her. All of those years of fear and anger might have been too much for her to give up.
"That's how women are," the voice sounded contemplative, perhaps savoring the memory of the events on the island.
For once he was inclined to agree with it though, Farah had also proven that she was capable of holding on to anger for far more time than was proper.
No, he was making an effort to forget about her for now, not to dwell on every tragedy that had ever befallen him because of a woman. Tomorrow when he was calm and his mind was clear he would take care of his problems with her. Walking through the gardens would make it so much easier to think of other things, happier times. If everything else he remembered was in ruins, or changed beyond recognition the gardens would still be the same as always. Some of his earliest childhood adventures had taken place there, playing that had later inspired him to explore outside the palace walls and see the city in a truly unique way. Those memories of carefree times were something to hold onto in the face of all that he now had to deal with.
By the time he was at the gate leading into the gardens, he had banished any notion from his mind that they too might have been touched by time and war.
"Ooh, cheerful!" Malicious glee colored the words as he stepped outside into the warm night air. Nothing could have prepared him for the sight that greeted his eyes.
The gardens were in ruins, in even worse condition than when he had passed through it on his way to defeating the Vizier. Then the plants had only been suffering from a few days worth the neglect, some of the more delicate plants just beginning to wilt with weeds starting grow in amongst the flowers.
Now the harsh climate had taken its toll, leaving the gardens desolate, not a single thing remained alive as far as he could tell. Even the hardiest of weeds had given up on trying to survive.
It was like seeing his home in ruins all over again, a recent wound being ripped open to bleed anew.
Dry grass rustled as he walked along stone paths past dust filled pools. A gentle breeze blew dust along the ground, swirling around his feet.
Maybe some of the hardier ornamental trees would recover with proper care, but as far as he could tell the gardens would have to be started again from scratch.
Not even the roses had been spared. They were by no means his favorite flower, but they were a garden constant, one simply could not have a garden without roses. All that remained were shriveled buds and blackened leaves clinging to dry stems. Still, there might still be life remaining in them. Sometimes plants did go dormant after all, just as the voice had until earlier.
Reaching out to one of the pathetic plants, he ran a nail along the bark with the intent to scrape a bit away to see if there was green underneath, a sign that it could still be saved. Instead the desiccated twig snapped in his grip, causing a number of thorns to sink deep into the palm of his hand.
A smug snort sounded in his mind as he shook his hand in the air to dislodge the thorns.
Bright drops of blood spattered against dead leaves, a color as rich and deep as rose petals.
"And the point of that was?"
He ignored the voice as he attempted to work out one last particularly stubborn thorn. When it came free he allowed himself a small, grim smile of satisfaction. If only all hurts could be fixed so easily, if only.
"But it doesn't work that way."
"The sands are gone, you have no place here," alone, he was able to speak freely without worrying that anyone might hear him and think him mad.
"It was the sands that awakened me," the voice spoke in a knowing tone, lecturing him, "I existed long before then and will not cease to exist simply because it would please you if I were to do so."
"What are you then?" Perhaps discovering its nature would give him some clue as how to finally be rid of it.
"We've been over this before Prince."
Yes, it had claimed to be his better half, among other things, "I refuse to believe your lies, you are not a part of me."
His voice had risen in volume as the conversation progressed. No longer bothered to speak quietly he was yelling at the thing within him, not thinking that he might be overheard. The outrage he felt now made his argument with Farah seem like nothing, he had been a fool for getting dragged into such a petty disagreement. Once rid of the voice he would seek her out and put matters to rest once and for all.
"Denial always was your strong suit."
That comment struck a nerve and he responded far more loudly than he had intended, "I will be rid of you!"
A number of birds were startled from their roost in one of the dead trees and made quite a commotion as they flew off to find a more tranquil place to spend the night. Other than that there was no response to his outburst. The voice remained silent, thought he could not help but think the silence to be a pensive one.
Lingering in the garden a while longer he waited to see if any further comments would come. If the voice were to continue tormenting him he wanted to be in a position where he would be able to respond, rather than be forced to suffer in silence.
Tomorrow he would see to it that something be done about the gardens. Despite the fact that there was still much to do to restore the city, he needed the sense of escape that they could provide, a place to be away from all his troubles. Also, it would probably be easy enough to restore them, providing him with one place where there was a sense of normalcy.
Soon the not quite silence that filled the gardens became too much to bear. The rattling of dead branches and hiss of the wind through dry grass combined with the darkness made them seem a place from a nightmare.
He sighed as he left the ruined gardens and returned to his bedchambers, expecting the voice to resume tormenting him at any moment. Rather than serve to comfort him, the silence from it brought to mind the calm before the storm.
A servant girl was there in his room, waiting for him, but he dismissed her with a wave. After all that he had been through he felt no desire for feminine company.
Emotionally exhausted he collapsed onto the bed and soon fell into a restless sleep.