The sweat trickled between Prince Jalen ‘Anaq Al-Jameyri’s shoulder blades, down his back, and pooled at the sash tied around his waist. Sweat made his indigo silk tunic cling to his skin, and the rich golden embroideries decorating it itched enough to be a distraction. He longed to shed the constrictive garments and his decorative scimitar, but ceremony demanded he dressed befitting his station whenever he presented himself in front of his father.
He stood at attention facing King Jameyri ‘Anaq Al-Ahofe, with the captain of his personal guard, Kadar Ibn’ Al-Amar, behind him. Sitting next to the king was the new queen—Queen Devi Al-Jameyri—a year into her ascendancy. Her lush, dark curls were artfully arranged in a sweeping coiffure, and her rich silk gown shimmered softly in the sunlight as she sat on the queen’s throne, watching him while the king spoke.
At twenty-seven, Jalen’s new step-mother was a year younger than himself, and at one time had seemed like a favorable match for him. That is, until she attracted King Jameyri’s eye. The wedding had been a swift affair. The need for more children was a driving force for the king since his late queen—and Jalen’s mother—had not produced another son before her death. Queen Devi had made him happy soon after the consummation of their marriage by producing a long-awaited second son. The babe was not yet a year old.
“Protecting your mistress—especially one who is not oholibah—is not a valid reason to attack a member of our royal family.” The king’s irate voice echoed in the empty throne room, making Jalen cringe inwardly.
The strength of the voice did not match the physique of the man. At fifty-four, King Jameyri showed the weight of years of indulgence, of no exercise, and too much rich food. His dark blue tunic strained at the seams, and his gut threatened to spill out at any moment. Jalen pitied the young woman at his side—if only for the fact she had to suffer his bulk in the marriage bed.
King Jameyri interrupted his thoughts when he made a motion with his hand to someone behind Jalen. “And strangling the queen’s brother with your magic cannot be ignored. Or go unpunished. It will require some form of restitution.”
Jalen hadn’t just strangled the would-be rapist pig. He’d focused his entire curse-induced rage toward the man for daring to attack his Sadie. Anger and frustration at the situation had allowed the beast to break through his defenses and take over without his knowledge. He had to still his hand from reaching up to rub his neck and face where the tendrils of the curse swirled just under his skin, never quite painful, but nonetheless irritating.
“It will not happen again, sire,” Jalen replied, tight-lipped. “But I protect what’s mine.”
“I should have her removed from the palace. She clearly has been given too much freedom.” The king paused and scowled at Jalen, making him feel like a disobedient child all over again.
He didn’t know if it was the curse or some long-buried desire to rebel, but Jalen wanted to throw a tantrum to get out of the lecture. Could a twenty-eight year old prince, and heir to a kingdom, be punished? He expected his father would try. Not that it would stop him, though.
“But I won’t,” King Jameyri continued. “For one, I know you too well. You would find some other way to get what you want. And then—” King Jameyri’s voice grew soft, sad “—it’s clear the Shifting Sands Curse is to blame. It has advanced to a level where you cannot control yourself anymore.” He sighed. “Enjoy your mistress, for she is the last woman you will have access to.”
The king gained his feet and looked around the room, managing to look commanding and regal in spite of his girth. In a commanding tone, he decreed, “I hereby revoke your rank as general. Your duties to the kingdom are no longer. I strip you of your access to any and all of the oholibah and palace servants. From now on, you are to be confined to your own wing of the palace.” The king held his gaze steady on Jalen. “Is the talisman ready?” he called to someone behind Jalen.
“Yes, your majesty,” came the reply.
“Bring it forward.”
Before Jalen could turn toward the voice behind him, the weight of a sturdy chain settled on his chest. He tried to look down at it before it was fastened to his neck, but failed to move fast enough. As it was pulled tight against his throat, a strange numbness travelled down his chest and limbs. Jalen staggered, feeling his powers drain away. The sensation was not unlike trying to hold water in his cupped hands while it poured through his fingers.
Struggling to keep calm, Jalen asked, “What did you do?”
“This talisman will nullify your magic.” The king again softened his voice, his expression holding great sorrow. “I’m sorry, my son. It’s for everyone’s safety that I do this.”
The king looked over Jalen’s shoulder, one more time. “Captain Al’Amar?” King Jameyri added. “Escort the prince back to his quarters and make sure he stays there.”