All the Possible Futures, or How to Eat Pomegranates
The Prince of Persia games were originally created by Jordan Mechner and published by Broderbund. The Prince's most recent incarnation is the property of Ubisoft, as is Princess Farah. I'm only borrowing them, so please don't sue me.
This story takes place shortly after the end of The Two Thrones. If you have any comments or constructive criticism, I would be glad to hear from you. If you wish to post this story on another website, I would be flattered, but please ask me first.
I chose the name "Hesam" for the Prince from a list of Iranian names. In Farsi it means "sharp sword."
O illustrious lady! my history is not like that of these my comrades, but far more wondrous and far more marvellous. In their case Fate and Fortune came down on them unawares; but I drew down destiny upon my own head and brought sorrow on mine own soul...
--"The Third Kalandar's Tale," The Arabian Nights, trans. Richard Burton
Prince Hesam of Babylon stood at the window, which commanded a view of the city below the palace. He had retired to his chambers (or what were now his chambers, for his old rooms were in the collapsed part of the palace) after his father's funeral rites were over, seeking solitude and quiet. The prince had taken a piece of fruit from the bowl on the nearby table, but only so that he would have something to do with his hands. Tossing the fruit up and down, bobbling it between his hands, he gazed out over his city.
The dark pillars of smoke and mile-high columns of glowing sand that had been there two days ago were blessedly absent: still, the city showed signs of its recent ordeal. There were too many jagged shapes of half-fallen buildings, too many gaps where once high walls, grand domes and proud towers had risen. He could not see, but knew all too well, that many streets were still full of rubble. And, in some cases, corpses. This painful awareness, among other things, occupied the prince's thoughts, so much so that his eyes did not really see what they were looking at.
Hesam had never been given to introspection. Recent events, however, demanded serious thought, even if it thinking was not his habit. He had also finally learned the price of not thinking. But dealing with the immediate aftermath of the recent catastrophe had left him no time, energy or excuses to indulge in reverie. There had been so much to do – explanations had to be made, messages sent, plans to be drawn up,living and dead to be counted. And that was barely the beginning. This might be the last respite he had for a long time.
"Of all the possible futures," he muttered to himself, "this one held the most promise."
A woman's voice, from behind him: "What was that?" Hesam fumbled the fruit he had been tossing, but with a desparate grab saved it from tumbling. He prepared to chastise the person who had disobeyed his express orders not to be disturbed. But when he saw who had enetered, the intended scolding died upon his lips.
"Farah," said he, not as composedly as he would have liked. His heart beat a little faster, as it was always wont to when she was present. He'd barely had time to finish recounting to her the full story of his adventures before a score of concerned citizens, led by the few surviving counselors of his late father's court, had found him at the top of the tower. There had been no time for private conversations. Since then, both he and Farah had been engaged in reconstructing Babylon and ministering to its people. Though they had worked together at times, they had only been able to speak of the needs of the present – not the details of the past.
But now here she was, having traded her ragged garments and worn armor for a white gown. She looked at him apologetically. "Did I startle you?"
"A little," he replied, chagrined. The prince thought of several things he could say next, but they all seemed to crowd each other so that not one word could get out.
"I was looking for you," Farah said, closing the door behind her. "I thought you might want to talk. What were you saying when I came in?"
Part of him wanted to say no, he wanted to be alone, but the greater part of him was loath to send her away. And besides, she seemed determined to talk whether he would or no: she went to join him at the window. Her soft brown eyes watched him attentively. Hesam nodded at her. "It was something Kaileena said before our ship was attacked. I did not understand it at the time."
Farah cocked her head to the side. "Do you understand it now?"
Hesam recommenced tossing the piece of fruit back and forth between his hands. "I'm not sure. She said, 'of all possible futures, this one showed the most promise.' She could see the Timeline...she must have known that she would perish." He recalled the painful tenderness in her expression when she spoke those words. "I thought at first that she was mourning for the loss of our future together – mine and hers. That it would never be." Although he was somewhat wary of speaking to one of his loves about another, as any man would be, he knew deep down that he could tell Farah anything. She would keep his confidence and never be offended. It was hiding things from her that caused trouble. "But now I think that was wrong."
Crossing her arms, Farah frowned at him quizically. "Then what do you think?"
"She did know that she would die," Hesam said, "she could have warned me and saved herself, at least for a time. But then Babylon might have been lost," he said, indicating the city spread out below them a wistful look. "I might have been lost." He looked down at the fruit in his hands. "And the last time I saw her, when I gave her the Dagger of Time, I did not thank her for her sacrifice. This future," he said, gesturing out the window to take in all of Babylon, "is her gift to me. And yet I fear it."
He had not expected Farah to understand, but she surprised him by nodding with perfect comprehension. "You're afraid of going on alone. Everyone is depending on you, but you don't know what you're supposed to be doing."
Hesam felt unable to meet her eyes, so he gazed out the window instead. "I was never meant to be king. My eldest brother was the heir, but he is dead, and it falls to me. I never learned how to rule, and I am not in the least wise." He held the fruit in his hands, as if it were some charm from which he could derive comfort.
Farah reached out her hands to touch his own. Surprised, he blinked at her. She smiled reassuringly at him. "You are brave and good," she said, "You care for your people. That's all that really matters." Then she looked down at his hands and her expression changed to one of amusement, and she let go of his hands. "I thought you said you didn't like those."
"What?" he followed her gaze and saw that the fruit he was holding – the one he had absentmindedly picked up when he came in – was a smooth red pomegranate. "Oh. I wasn't going to eat it, I was just...um." At a loss for what to do, Prince Hesam offered the pomegranate to Farah. "You can have it if you like."
Her smile broadened into a grin, showing her pearl-like teeth. "Thank you," she said, taking the offered pomegranate. Holding it up in one hand, she regarded it for a moment, and then looked back at the prince. "Perhaps we should share it."
Before he could answer one way or the other, Farah had gone to the table and picked up the small, sharp cutting knife that sat beside the bowl of fruit. "Most people who find pomegranates troublesome just don't know the right way to eat them," she remarked, expertly halving and then quartering the fruit with deft strokes of the cutting knife. Taking one of the quarters in hand and leaving the others on the table, she returned to Prince Hesam's side. She held up the quarter of pomegranate like an offering: the clusters of red seeds embedded in the fruit's yellow flesh were like rubies in the sand.
"You can't just pluck them out," she said. "You have to sort of ease them out with the tip of your finger." She demonstrated, gently prodding with a fingertip to coax out a few seeds. She picked them up delicately bewteen finger and thumb, and held the slice of fruit out to Hesam. "Now you try it," she said, before placing the seeds she had taken in her own mouth and chewing them.
Hesam took the bit of pomegranate from her hand and, aware of her expectant gaze, turned it in his fingers and looked for a likely group of seeds. When he thought he had found one, he attempted to do as Farah had done and pry a few of the red globules out with his finger. But he pushed at the wrong angle, or too hard, resulting in a spray of red juice that stained his tunic. "Ah! You see why I don't like these...oh!" Hesam noticed, belatedly, that some of the juice had caught Farah in the face, which she was wiping off with the back of her hand. "I didn't mean to..." he said, feeling the color rise in his cheeks. "A thousand pardons."
Farah smiled and chuckled – fortunately, she did not seem to be laughing at him. "For that, I think, one pardon is enough," she said, lifting her hand to touch his cheek. "And that I will gladly give you." She drew him toward her – with only the light touch of one hand, but it had him mesmerized – and kissed him. Her lips were soft and tasted faintly of something sweet and tangy It must have been the pomegranate juice, but to him it was the taste of hard-won victory.
When she parted from him, Hesam raised an eyebrow at her. "Is that your way of giving pardons?"
She broke into full laughter this time. "No, that was something else."
"And may I give 'something else' to you in return?" the prince asked.
Farah made no answer, but took a half-step to close the distance between them and twined her arms about his neck. Hesam tossed the slice of pomegranate out the window.
And just like that, the future became something full of promise.