Title: The Course of a River

Summary: "Why did I have to run into Kassim that time?" This is a story that describes what happened if Alibaba was stopped from sneaking out of the palace that fateful night.

A/N: 11 words: King Alibaba and Prince Consort Hakuryuu of the Kingdom of Balbadd. This idea led me to three-four days of thinking on how to let this happen and still enable events in the anime - like meeting Aladdin, conquering Amon's dungeon, etc - to occur. And I think I managed to wrangle a semblance of a sensible plot? We'll see.

I still haven't made up my mind on whether I want Hakuryuu to fall into depravity / 'daten' in this AU. My current vote is on 'no'. May be it'll change? Thoughts please?


Chapter 1: The Event that Changed Fate

"After the battle of the Eastern Plains, the people of Tenka…"

'It's unusually cold,' Alibaba shuddered as his tutor droned on, amber eyes staring at the darkening sky beyond the tiny hole of a window in his study room. 'And the sea breezes sound strong. Surely, the flimsy tents of the slums won't be able to keep the cold out…'

'…I wonder how they're doing?'

"Your Highness!" The third Prince of the Kingdom of Balbadd was snapped out of his musing. "Have you been paying attention to me?" the middle-aged scholar heaved a loud long-suffering sigh.

"Of course!" the blonde boy grinned charmingly.

The tutor squinted at his charge, completely unconvinced. "It's just another half an hour, Your Highness," he pleaded.

The Prince appeared admonished. "I understand."

Yet, as soon as the scholar opened his mouth again, Alibaba's mind wandered.

'Is tonight the night?' the royalty asked himself.

They were suddenly interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Your Highness," a nondescript man in the beige, yellow and maroon uniform of a guard, utterly undistinguishable from the men cluttering the hallways, entered. "His Majesty requested your presence is in the throne room."

Alibaba blinked, and barely managed to stop his jaws from dropping.

The throne room? At this hour!? When the ruler of this Kingdom had been ill?

"Are you sure? It's quite late," Alibaba pointed at the stars that had begun to twinkle on the patch of lavender evening sky visible to them, like diamonds spilled on a velvety carpet. "His Majesty should be resting…"

Also, why would the King want to see him in the throne room!? Alibaba had never been involved in the governance of his country.

"I received the order directly from His Majesty," the guard confirmed. "Your Highness, please," he bowed and gestured.

The pit Alibaba's stomach began to churn as he made his way to the throne room. A jumble of questions started firing in his mind, driving him restless. The ten minute walk had never felt so long.

"Prince Alibaba Saluja," the blonde jumped out of his skin as he was announced.

And nearly doubled over, because everyone was there. Every noble and official of importance.

"Oh, here he is," a frail voice spoke over the chatters that quietened upon his entry. "Come here." Alibaba's eyes were riveted to the ruler on the raised platform, supported by two servants as he sagged against the chair that threatened to swallow him. No amount of jewelry or fabric could hide how pale his face was.

Alibaba frowned inwardly as he lowered himself to one knee in front of the man who had brought him into this fortress three years ago. "Your Majesty," he bowed his head.

"Rise, my son," Alibaba's eyes widened at the floor in shock. The King had very, very rarely addressed him as such. "Come stand next to me," the grey-haired monarch commanded.

Alibaba raised his head…and inhaled sharply. Next to the King…closer to him than his brothers, Ahbmad and Sahbmad. Wasn't that…disrespectful? Ahbmad would be angry!

The King seemed to have sensed Alibaba's hesitation. He extended a hand toward the blonde. "Come," he repeated.

Alibaba obeyed and climbed up the steps immediately. Having the King order twice was rude enough as it was. Before he settled in his position, the blonde felt the first Prince's glare stabbing his back like a physical attack.

'What's happening?' The whole time, one question overpowered the rest and bounced off the insides of his skull, a loud echo in his head.

"My retainers," the elderly King raised his voice, finally addressing his subjects. "I apologize for having called you to gather at such an unreasonable hour. I have an important announcement to deliver."

Whispers returned to the hall instantaneously, a frantic buzz like that of bees defending their hives, until some began to shush their colleagues. Within ten seconds, silence reigned over the place again, all eyes on the throne with one word in their minds.

Succession.

Prince Alibaba had caught some of the sentences.

"The next King will surely be Prince Ahbmad, right?"

"He's been managing the court for a while, after all."

"Prince Sahbmad has neither the desire nor the fortitude, as well…"

"But…what is he doing here?"

The last one was directed at him, Alibaba knew. Half of those stares were on him, heavy with expectations and puzzlement the blond royalty also shared.

The King exhaled, the breath rattling his thin chest. Standing so close to the Patriarch, Alibaba could hear it, and his concern returned.

"As you all know, I don't have much longer," the long-haired man began again, and before anyone could cut him off with empty appeasements, the ruler of Balbadd tapped his staff on the floor. "This is my last edict. My heir…the person who would be the 23rd King of Balbadd is…"

Alibaba could see everyone craning their necks in anticipation. It was so palpable.

A hand landed on his shoulder, causing his heart to skip a beat. "My third son, Prince Alibaba Saluja!" the King of Balbadd finished his declaration.

There was a moment where everyone was blinking, gasping, dropping his jaws or all of the above. Nobody said anything, until the shock dispersed and comprehension filled everyone's expression.

"Fath-Your Majesty!" Alibaba was the first to exclaim. He dropped his weight on his knee and clasped his hands in front of his monarch. "T-that's not possible-"

"He's right!" Ahbmad yelled and swung his arm in a wide gesture of displeasure. "At least the street urchin is smart enough to recognize that! Haha," he sneered as he pointed a finger at the kowtowing Alibaba, before the older boy addressed his sire, "I'm the first son! The Crown Prince of Balbadd! It's my right to be the next King-"

"Who said so!?" The King bellowed at the top of his lungs.

The court was stunned.

"And my blood…the royal blood of Saluja runs in Alibaba," the King continued as he leaned on his staff to rise to his feet. Alibaba and the two servants on the elderly ruler's side quickly rushed to his aid. "Insulting him is akin to insulting me!"

"Y-your Majesty!" The man was quivering badly. Alibaba was anxious. "Please take it easy! Your health-"

"Besides," the King ignored the blonde boy, pulled out a wad of paper from his pocket, and threw them to his first son's face. "Could you explain what these mean!? Ahbmad!"

One of the notes fell near his feet. Alibaba looked at it, the stamp 'Kou Empire' inked in red, and a denomination '100' written on the paper.

"So you've found them, Father!" Prince Ahbmad looked so proud when he answered the older man. "They're 'Fuan'! They were introduced to me by Markkio the banker, a brilliant financial adviser who has fixed the economic woes of other countries before. These notes could be exchanged with various goods, isn't that awesome? I've entrusted everything to them! We don't have to worry about the standstill with Parthevia!"

Alibaba…couldn't believe what he'd heard. Paper money? Entrusting everything to the bankers? He'd only had three years of education under his belt, but his instincts told him…these didn't sound right.

The King gritted his teeth. "How could you have said that so guilelessly?!" he spat, before the words ended in a terrible bout of coughing.

"Your Majesty!" Alibaba patted his back as the two servants guided the ailing monarch back to the throne.

"Listen," the elderly man persisted, despite how tightly he was clutching his chest from the white of his knuckles. "For a trading port like Balbadd, the economy is the heart, the blood vessels of the country! Are you telling me you have handed our heart away to this…this banker!?"

The courtiers huddled amongst each other and started murmuring discussions under their breaths while keeping half an eye on the drama unfolding on the platform. Chaos was brewing.

Ahbmad's face was nearly as grey as the notes that had been flung at him. "B-but…everything has worked well!"

"Alibaba," the King turned to the blonde suddenly. "Tell me what the problem with paper currency is."

"Ha…" the third Prince was torn for having been placed on the spot. Surely…brother Ahdmad had weighed the pros and cons of the decision before going through with it, right? And brother Ahdmad had been studying way, way longer than him, right?

The man who had pretty much ignored his existence in the palace was watching him like he was the only thing in this room, before his lips curved upward. "It's all right," his fragile voice soothed, "I know you are good at Economics, Alibaba."

"I…" confidence began to grow within Alibaba, like a fresh sprout off the soil. The blonde boy recalled an interaction he'd encountered in a practical economics session. "I had seen a merchant refusing to trade his goods for these 'Fuan'. He said, 'I only trust gold or silver.'" The third Prince's voice grew stronger as nobody interrupted him. "I thought about it afterward…and realized it must be because metal currency has intrinsic value. The currency itself can be sold as goods, for example in countries where the currency is not recognized. The value of paper currency is assigned, and entirely dependent on the reputation of the issuer."

"Then we don't need to worry!" Prince Ahbmad argued in irritation. The look he was casting Alibaba…it was as though he was a dog and not human, not his half-brother. "Kou's power has been rising steadily as an expanding empire, and will only continue to increase! All the more reason we should stock up 'Fuan'!"

Alibaba shook his head. "No…" he wouldn't back down from a debate this time; he had to say his piece. "Both metal and paper currency are vulnerable to changes in demand and supply, but the value of metal currency cannot fluctuate much, because mining and minting coins take time and effort. Paper currency is easier to produce, and we have no control over how much 'Fuan' Kou issues! If tomorrow, Kou floods the market with 'Fuan', we will suffer huge losses, as may be a 'Fuan' can buy two apples today, but tomorrow can only buy one!"

"Y-you-" Prince Ahbmad was rendered speechless it seemed, unable to rebut, but soon he bared his teeth in a growl. "Impertinent cretin! How dare you try to scare my court with baseless speculations!?"

A loud laughter broke through the air, cutting the tension between the two.

"T'is not your court. And you lost this round, Ahbmad," the King placed one hand on Alibaba's shoulder, and pulled him closer, "Alibaba is right. I have never considered Balbadd issuing a paper currency of our own, let alone relying on one issued by another country; the latter is just a disaster in the makings." The elderly ruler smirked as he turned to his third son. This was the most lively Alibaba had seen of him in ages. "Alibaba, you have a good head on your shoulders and a heart that genuinely cares for the people of Balbadd. You may be the only one I can turn to, but I trust that you can do it."

Alibaba blinked. He had so much fun with Economics he forgot that they were disputing on succession. "But…" he curled inward, like a sunflower in twilight.

"You won't be alone. You will support your brother, won't you?" The King referred to the wavy-haired young man at a corner of the platform, standing a feet behind Prince Ahbmad. "Future Deputy King Sahbmad?"

The second Prince was visibly spooked when the court swiftly remembered the existence of the royal middle son. "I-I…" the tall, gangly man's gaze skittered all over the hall like a cornered mouse's, before it was locked onto the blonde prince's. "…Y-yes," he exhaled as he straightened his frame.

Alibaba's eyes widened. The admittance was the biggest surprise he had heard this evening.

Prince Ahbmad fumed, his eye twitching. "You…you TRAITOR!"

The eldest son seized the sword of one of the guards below the throne and charged at the second Prince.

"No!" Alibaba ran toward Sabhmad and blocked the attack by changing the direction of Ahbmad's swing with the heel of his palm, causing the blade to land on the tiles. While the older, larger royalty was shaken by the turn events, Alibaba leaned his weight on his right foot and slipped under Ahbmad's chin, smacking him with a head-butt. [1]

"Ah!" The physically unfit prince fall on his arse and winced as he cradled his tender jaw. "Y-you-" he glared at Alibaba intensely as he picked himself back up. "I'll remember this!" he let out a muffled scream as he fled from the hall.

"B-br-brother!" Prince Sahbmad shouted after him.

The King sighed. "Let him be," he literally slid down his throne. His face was bloodless. "He'll…be back…" the sick ruler fainted.

"Your Majesty!" Alibaba panicked. "You, carry His Majesty back to his bed chamber!" He ordered the servants.

It was hours before the long-haired monarch opened his eyes again. Alibaba sat by his bedside and held vigil. He might not have felt much for this man; he'd seldom seen him after all, but it was the right thing to do.

The sensation of bony fingers carding through his hair brought him back from dreamland. Alibaba snapped to attention. "Your Majesty! Would you like anything?" he spoke in rushed words.

The man shook his head.

"…Will you accept…?" The whisper was as soft as a gust of wind. "…This country?"

Alibaba opened his mouth to refute…and thought better of it. "…Your Majesty," he stared blankly at the blue blanket in front of him, "There is one thing I would like to ask."

"What is it?" The ruler turned his face toward him.

Alibaba deflated a little. "Your Majesty, Mom…no, my mother, what did you feel about her?"

"…Anise?" The man was silent for a while, appearing deep in thought. "…There were too many obligations and expectations…we couldn't be together," his voice was tinged with sadness. "But…" he curled his fingers.

"I…loved her."

Alibaba took a deep breath…and stared at King Rashid. For the first time, he could acknowledge that this man, the man who separated him from Kassim and Mariam, only to neglect him in the palace, was his parent.

"Thank you, Your Majesty," Alibaba said with resolve. "With those words, I know I can make it here."

And the river had changed its course.

TBC

Review please!


1. I know in the anime Alibaba just blocked the sword head on with his two palms and flung it aside, but his body was smaller here, I'm not sure he could perform the same feat as he was at 18 years old.