Rashid rubbed his hands together and folded his arms. It was his habit as a story drew to a close.
‘The silversmith looked at the casket, opened it, glanced in, and without ceremony led Omar behind into a shaded room.
“I’m blessed with two daughters,” he said after Omar told him he was seeking a bride, and not any bride but Mahesh’s own daughter for the emperor. Mahesh rubbed at his face, scratched his balding head, and walked around the carpet thinking. “Both are of equal beauty but the older one was wed last week. You could take the other. We’ll drink tea. Later you may speak with her. She is a girl of few words. She’s the quiet one as lovely as her sister. Very good girl …a great loss if you take her…but if we are well compensated …”
And so they ate sweetmeats and drank tea served by the girl who appeared suitably humble. The suitable girl shimmied and glided around the carpet in an extravagant robe covered with silken, emerald-colored veils, her face well-concealed as if she were under a burqa. There was just the hint of green slanting eyes from beyond the veil and Omar longed to see more. His only reward, however, was the tread of a bracelet encircled ankle past him as he reclined on a magnificent carpet.
And as they set off she was wearing a burqa, of course, so he could not find out.
The very next day the girl was seated under a canopy, on top of the elephant where she curled up into the pillows and didn’t say a word. She ate in silence too. The eunuch sat by her feet trying to see beyond her ankles, feeding her sweetmeats and fanning her as the cavalcade slowly once again crossed the sweltering plains.
“She’ll be talking soon,” he squeaked to Omar. “She needs the company of other wives. She needs to settle in. Just wait until we arrive. I’ve seen it all before. Women gossip.”
“If only I could have a peep,” sighed Omar. “I’ll pay a big price if she’s not as beautiful as promised.”
“I’ve got an idea,” whispered the eunuch. “Wait and she’ll want to be rid of the dirt and dust”
“Ah…” said Omar. “And to change her clothing.”
The eunuch winked.
They traveled on for what seemed weeks but was only a few days over the dusty plains and the bride did not utter a word the whole time. At last, they reached the mountains and put up tents for the night as usual. The eunuch set to heating water and strewing herbs into a great wooden tub. The girl was led into a tent misty with steam. She was pleased and nodded. She signaled to the eunuch to leave her. Assuming she was alone she removed her burka, and then her robes. Both slid to the carpets laid out for her comfort. As arranged he signaled to Omar. They watched closely from just beyond the curtained entry into the tent. Omar could not believe what he saw. Indeed she was very beautiful, pale skin and long fine hair and such a lovely face but as she rose, reaching for dry pieces of cotton, they looked at each other, shock in both pairs of eyes. This was a mistake for which both would pay dearly. Their eyes slid downwards again and away.