Now I don't want to sound ungrateful, but once my body had recovered fully, the inactivity and the luxury of this life began to grate on me. I had lived only to survive for so long that I found this state of ease unsettling. I begged the Princess to let me go for a few days. I needed to clear my head.
I don't think she understood what I was saying, and I could see that she took it personally. But I promised I would be back again within two weeks.
Now don't get me wrong, Hamza. I loved her more than my own life. But I needed to feel danger around me again, if only for a moment. It is said that people sometimes become accustomed to a way of life, and cannot change immediately to another. That was the case for me.
I wandered the streets of the city for a few days, daring fate and dodging calamity on a daily basis. TIhe escape from the dungeon had hardened me, and my wits were at their peak. Then, slowly, I began to see more clearly. I stopped fighting my way through my life and began to talk with the people of the city and to listen. When the first week had ended, I had learned much about the people of this land of which I expected soon to be a prince.
I don't know when the change actually occurred, but by the time I returned to the palace, I had come to love the city and its people. I was no longer at odds with it. And I knew - as no one bred to rule could ever know - its peoples' sufferings and aspirations.
I approached the gates and announced myself to the guards. I knew the Princess had left standing orders for me to be admitted without question. But the guards told me to wait and did not admit me.
I waited nervously at the gate until a cohort of 20 royal guardsmen arrived. Their leader took my sword and told me to follow him, then the troops fell in on either side of me, surrounding me. I kept pace with them, but inside I fretted. Something was wrong.
I was taken to a cell. Oh, it looked like a small waiting room with soft pillows and silent eunuchs waving fans to cool the air. But I recognized it as a cell. It was no dungeon, but it held me trapped, nonetheless.
Soon, the captain of the guard appeared again and motioned me to follow him. He was alone this time, but, unarmed, I posed little threat. He led me to the throne room where a powerfully built man sat in the place where Jaffar had previously sat. I knew him to be the Sultan himself. The Princess was not present.
"You are the impostor who has consorted with my daughter," said the Sultan in a booming voice. His tone was anything but inviting. How should I answer him? I could see that not only my marriage to the Princess, but my very life hung on my reply.
"I am he," I answered simply.
"You know that the punishment for seeing my daughter unveiled is death," he stated simply I nodded and turned my attention to my shoe tops. "On the other hand..." he began, and I felt a twinge of hope. "On the other hand, you have rid the land of the traitorous Jaffar. You have saved my kingdom and displayed qualities that I would hate to see wasted." I said nothing, but tried to look humble and worthy of his beneficence.
"My daughter has petitioned for your life. And due to your service to me, I will grant your life and any other boon you ask. My only conditions are that you leave my daughter alone and that you leave Persia, never to return. Ask of me anything else. Gold. Jewels. Any other woman in my kingdom. These you may have."
I had not expected this. I had been prepared for death. I had been prepared to marry the Princess, whom I loved beyond reason, I had not counted on exile.
"No," I blurted. "Kill me now it would be the most merciful act. For if you exile me from your daughter, I will certainly die slowly and unhappily. There is nothing I want from you, O Great Defender of the Faithful, but to serve you as loyal subject and son."
"By Allah, I must kill you then," he said with matter-of-fact sincerity. As I thought the Sultan was prepared to strike me down in that very instant, I prepared myself for Paradise.
"Praise be to Allah, the Merciful," I prayed. "There is no power nor strength save in Allah, the Almighty."
The Sultan rose mightily to his feet, his great jeweled scimitar half drawn. My vision was compressed to a tight focus on the gleaming blade. Then, as if from nowhere, the Princess suddenly appeared at my side.
"No, Father Please. Do not kill him," she begged. "How can you take the only man worthy of me? I wish to marry him, Father I will have no other suitor. Please. You will not regret it!"
Now I have known few fathers who could resist their daughters' wishes for long, and the Sultan was no exception. He blustered and threatened, invoked the Almighty, and brandished his sword. She begged, cajoled, entreated, bargained, reasoned, and she, too, invoked blessings of the Almighty. I said nothing during the exchange in which my life and future had been tossed back and forth like a child's ball. It was humbling. In the end, the Sultan relented. He agreed to the marriage at last. As he did so, his eyes burned holes through me.
Now, Hamza, I will not say that the next few days were pleasant. I spent much of the time being interrogated by the Sultan and his advisors. They pried every ounce of my history from me and explored my every thought and opinion. Finally, I guess I passed their tests, because the wedding was announced for the Spring Equinox.
Everybody in Persia knows of my wedding. It was the grandest affair in the country in years. For the first time, the beautiful daughter of the Sultan, Princess of the realm, was revealed to the people, and they cheered her seemingly for hours. And they cheered me, too. My story had been told and retold, embellished and expanded, untl it was a legend unto itself. And so they cheered me, too, the new Prince of Persia.