Disclaimer: The sandbox Belongs to Disney etc, I'm just playing in it and destroying the sandcastles. I'll give the action figures back when I'm done.
Genre: Romance / Adventure
Rating: T for 'violence'
Primary Characters: Prince Dastan / Princess Tamina
Summary: When he returns to the past, Dastan doesn't make it to his brothers on the steps to denounce Nizam and instead reached the high temple as Tamina is declaring the innocence of her city...
Note: There are quite a few lines from the movie since the confrontation at the end with Nizam and Dastan is just about my favorite part of the movie. Yet, I still asked myself, what if...
Dastan's feet flew over the cobblestone, the dagger of time tucked safely in the back of his belt, his swords in hand as he took the steps to the Alamutian Palace two at a time, the replay of the previous timeline's events swirling over and over in his mind.
He'd arrived late to find Tus in discussion with the Princess about a union; and Tamina willing to die before submitting. Until she'd seen him; or more accurately, the dagger he'd unknowingly placed into her line of vision on his belt.
His brothers and Uncle were nowhere to be seen on the Palace steps, indicating they were likely somewhere above, heading for the temple.
Calling for his brothers, Dastan flew on fleet feet into the palace, the soldiers opening their ranks to let him pass even as their mass swallowed up his call. Too late; he was too late here - would he be too late this time to save Tamina?
Looking around, he gauged his surroundings - and sprinted for the steps. Landing lightly on the first one, he used it as a spring board to the banister and then up. Like an acrobat, he sprang from level to level, all the while praying for time; his brothers needed to know they'd been deceived. They needed to know that this was wrong.
Landing on one of the upper landings, Dastan took the steps two at a time, listening for the signs of confrontation above. The clang of a container as it hit the ground, followed by Garsiv's harsh words - whatever they were - spurred him upwards.
Dastan slid to a stop inside the door to the main temple as Tamina was proclaiming the innocence of her people. The near physical impact of seeing her pressed the breath from his lungs and made his head swim. Alive, his heart chanted. She's alive; they're all alive!
For a long moment, as he stared at the proud tilt of her chin, he forgot exactly why he was there and simply drank in her presence; until her refusal of Tus' proposal and his brother's response penetrated the fog.
"I'll die first."
"That can be arranged."
The sight of the sword being leveled at Tamina's golden throat spurred him into action; and this time, it wasn't her voice that called for a cessation, but his own, even as he sprang into action.
Dastan's call reverberated through the level as he vaulted forward, spinning and sliding as his swords snapped from their scabbards and upwards. Planting himself before the Princess, he deflected the attack from his knees and sent the other man sprawling in surprise.
Tamina fell back as Dastan slid in, retreating to the protected tabernacle on the dais. Another blade angled in from the side - a soldier who thought to do Tus' bidding, and Dastan was on his feet in a flash, using strength instead of finesse to get the man to drop his sword. As the weapon hit the stones, Dastan's gaze darted left and right, looking for more adversaries.
"Dastan!" Tus' exclamation was angry. "What is the meaning of this?"
"We have been deceived, brother." Stepping back, Dastan took up a defensive stance in front of the tabernacle where the dagger had once been held, acutely aware that a wrong shift of his stance would reveal that very same dagger to the princess behind him - and he couldn't predict her actions. For all he knew she would snatch it away immediately and plunge it into his back. "We should never have attacked this holy city!"
"Have you gone mad?"
"I cannot stand silent in the face of treachery. This war was set up by one trusted above all else - our Uncle Nizam."
"Dastan," his Uncle's tone was patronizing above the murmurs radiated through the room, completely playing the part of concerned family member. A part he'd perfected but Dastan knew now to be a ploy. "You've fought hard today; too hard perhaps? You're confused; best you go rest to gather your wits."
"The weapons we found are forgeries!" Dastan's voice rang clearly, angrily, above the ripple of laughter. "There are no weapon forges here, Uncle and you know it. And the spy who supposedly intercepted them was hired by you to convince all of us to attack Alamut!"
"What is this Dastan, victor's remorse? You yourself led the attack, brought us this great triumph!"
Casting his Uncle a decidedly dirty look, he kept one eye on his brothers. "Yes I did - and I should never have let the attack happen," fixing Tus with a long look, he finished with deliberate inflection. "I knew in my heart it was wrong."
Tus' eyes widened at his statement, sharing a look with Garsiv as Dastan turned to look at Nizam even when his uncle wouldn't look at him. Pitching his voice low, he spoke directly to his father's traitorous brother. "It will never be you; you will never be king. You don't have the heart." As if surprised by the words, Nizam looked him in the face and Dastan smiled faintly. "You will die in the shadow of a great man."
Nizam went for a sword, and Dastan's gaze dropped to where the hand rested on the hilt, his smile challenging, daring his uncle to reach for it. To confirm Dastan's accusations. To show his concern for his family for the lie it was.
A rustle behind him reminded him of Tamina's proximity and while he hadn't heard her gasp, he debated reaching for the dagger to turn back time - to erase what was tantamount to a confession from her memory. Of course, there was no way of knowing if she knew he was capable of other means of discovery - and she didn't yet know he had the dagger. Only the knowledge that she didn't know stopped him from reaching for it in the end.
Garsiv stepped close, placing a hand on Dastan's upper arm. "You're making a fool of yourself brother; cease and desist before you make an even bigger scene."
Shrugging the hold away, Dastan turned back to Tus - and sealed his fate with the Princess. "Tus; before you left Nasaf, father told you this. That a true king considers to the advice of counsel, but he always listens to his own heart."
Shocked, Tus glanced from Dastan to his Uncle and back. "Father and I were alone; how could you know that?"
"He's right;" urging his brother to believe him, to reach the realization he needed to make. "He knows us, he knows what we're capable of. Just listen to your heart."
Nizam closed in, on Dastan's side. "He defies your order and the attacker now wants to turn back. Tus - take measure here."
Looking from brother to Uncle and back, Tus seemed torn between which of them to believe. Family was important to him; to all of them and Dastan knew his brother didn't want to consider their Uncle a traitor - but the dilemma he faced was not one Dastan envied. Either he branded his Uncle a traitor or his brother a liar; neither a good course of action.
Obviously struggling, Tus finally reached the only conclusion that would be fair to each of them - one Dastan knew would seal his Uncle's fate. "The spy knows the truth; find the spy! Bring him to me," turning, he headed for the main doors of the temple, retreating until he could either return as conqueror - or a man owing a beautiful woman and ruler in her own right the humblest of apologies. "We'll wring it from him."
Nizam fell back a step to the side of the stairs as Garsiv went with Tus, the rest of the invaders filing out with him as the cry for the spy went out. Dastan kept his gaze on his Uncle for a long moment, watching at how the older man seemed to be searching for a way to avoid the fate he was now bound to - for Tus would discover that things were as Dastan said.
Turning away, Dastan took one step upwards towards the tabernacle - and hit the deck as the sound of metal leaving its scabbard reached his ears at the same time the Princess Tamina's cry of "Watch out!" did. His blades appeared in hand as one of his uncle's nearby guards lunged in with a spear, and regained his feet swinging.
Defending himself from two sides at once, Dastan dispatched the first guard, and then the second before being forced to jump up and over the deadly swing of Nizam's. A burning trail upon the back of his right shoulders showed he'd not escaped unscathed. Landing on the balls of his feet, Dastan immediately turned, using the side of the tabernacle to propel himself up and over, twisting and spinning as he came down on even ground with Nizam.
The ring of metal on metal was loud in the enclosed room, an almost continual shriek of metal on metal as Dastan defended himself from Nizam's brutal assault. Ducking, dodging and weaving under his uncle's single blade, he counter attacked only when moments presented themselves. Quick footwork kept him ahead of his Uncle, leading them back up and onto the dais where the Princess still hid within the tabernacle.
Upon reaching the top, Nizam knocked one of Dastan's scimitars away, and Dastan used the momentum from the manoeuvre to fall, taking his Uncle with him, to neatly flip him over the stairs on the far side of the dais. Nizam hit with a bone jarring crash as Dastan nimbly rolled to his feet. Jumping down, he placed one hand on the center of his Uncle's chest, aware that - somewhere behind him - his brother's were hanging on his every word.
"You had what every man could ever dream of. Love. Respect. And Family." Shaking his head, disgust entered Dastan's tone. "But that wasn't enough for you was it?" The urge to spit was strong, but a glimpse of Tamina - still within the Tabernacle - from the corner of his eye was enough to convince him not to. Not in this sacred place. Pressing down, he pushed off his Uncle's chest, his gaze on the tabernacle as he vaulted the steps two at a time.
The sound of metal leaving its scabbard spun him around at the same time the cry sounded, the sound of a blade piercing flesh - and a death gasp mingling together. Tus stood behind their murderous Uncle, his sword in the older man's back, a knife in Nizam's poised to enter Dastan's. Nizam's body fell away, dead before he hit the ground, and Dastan looked up to his brother in silent thanks. Two steps brought Tus to his side, his hand clutching Dastan's shoulder, Garsiv kneeling to ensure Nizam was dead.
A sound behind them brought Dastan around to see Princess Tamina standing framed within the doorway of the tabernacle, her gaze focused on him.
For the first time since he'd made the conscious decision to try and out Nizam before anything more could happen, fear invaded his limbs. If she knew about the dagger being in his possession, she'd likely try to kill him before he had the chance to explain. It was Tus who finally spoke.
"My Uncle's treachery misled me into attacking your city, your highness. I owe you an apology and reparations. I beg of you to allow me to try and make amends."
Tamina's regal gaze shifted to Tus, ice all but dripping from her lips. "Pretty words for a murdering barbarian; perhaps if you had more brains than brawn you'd have verified your information before attacking my city."
"An unforgiveable and unfortunate mistake, Princess; it was inconceivable at the time the attack was planned to think my Uncle would lie so convincingly to achieve his goals." Tus winced, a visible sign of weakness - far more than he owed her and at the same time, far less. "Or abuse the trust we placed in him."
Tamina strode forward and Tus gave ground - but it wasn't his way she came. Instead she turned to look at Dastan, her gaze assessing and condemning. "Dastan, was it?"
Inwardly he winced. "Yes, Princess."
"Out brother, Prince Dastan," Garsiv corrected hotly. "You've a sorry welcome for the man who just saved your life!"
"Peace, brother," Dastan interjected, raising one hand to stall Garsiv before Tus or Tamina could say anything. "It's the welcome I deserve."
n"She should show some respect," was Garsiv's hot reply. "She'd be dead without you."
"We'd never have entered Alamut if I hadn't disobeyed orders and opened the Eastern gate." He turned to look at her then. "This should never have happened."
"How is it, Prince Dastan, that the man who breeched the walls of my city so suddenly believes in its innocence?"
"Any venture embarked upon by faulty intelligence should not be paid by innocent blood, Princess." His lips twisted. "My brother is right; reparations will need to be made."
Her eyes widened fractionally and Dastan was acutely aware that no one else in the room - however focused they'd be on her - would have noticed. It was so subtle a movement, it was one he'd only just come to see in the minutes before Tamina had died. Except she hadn't yet - and she wouldn't if he had anything to say about it.
"If those reparations involve my betrothal to Prince Tus, than you can take whatever sympathy you have for us and leave."
"Not to him," Dastan cast an apologetic look at his brother, knowing she'd never accept Tus - or Garsiv - after the way they'd treated her; but there was an outside chance she'd accept him. "To me."
Tus and Garsiv spoke at the same time, tones of incredulity mixing together as Tamina reacted to his proposal not at all beyond a calm regard."To you - the man who was instrumental to the invasion of my city?"
"And in saving your life and your city." Dastan shrugged, words failing him suddenly. "I... uh - I..."
Tus spoke up, his tone respectful. "A union between our nations would be mutually beneficial, Princess. Dastan is correct, for all he's stumbling over the words. A bond through marriage to Persia's royal house will safeguard your city in many ways, not just allying you to our army. It will make us accountable for our actions and the people of your city will be well taken care of."
"My people will be well taken care of regardless of Persian support."
"Respectfully Princess, your people would suffer without it; they are ill equipped to deal with the aftermath of a siege or war."
Tamina looked less than impressed by Tus' argument and Dastan took the opportunity to kneel and collect one of his blades; the other lay near Nizam's corpse at the foot of the stairs. Staying where he was, he loosely gripped the blade's center, keeping the hilt Tamina's way as he rose back to his feet.
"An alliance with our would-be invaders, Prince Tus, is distasteful."
"And your saviors?"
Tamina turned Dastan's way, the words having slipped out before he could stop them. "Your actions here do not cancel out your crimes, no matter how you wish to justify them, Prince Dastan."
Staring at her, Dastan took her in for a long moment - the prideful tilt of her chin, the flash of her eyes and regal stance - and couldn't help compare her to the Tamina in his memory. The one smeared with sand, dirt and blood, her clothing torn and dishevelled, her hair in a simply plait down her back - and the tears in her eyes as she'd voiced her last wish before willingly allowing herself to slip through his grasp.
The look she'd given him then was miles from the one that speared him now, bringing home just how much their relationship had evolved in a time that would never be.
"You do what is best for your people, Princess," his reply was quiet, soft even, holding nothing more than quiet conviction. "I did what I felt was best for my men at the time. I cannot change what has been done-" if only she knew! "- but, with your help, I can minimize the lasting impact of my actions."
"I will... consider your proposal, Prince Dastan." Surprise flickered through her gaze, something Dastan was certain no one else would see - and something he only saw because of the time he'd spent in her company - regardless of the existing timeline. "But this is not the place for this discussion. Leave - all of you. I will consider what further concessions Persia must offer before we reconvene in my audience chamber at high sun."
The brothers inclined their heads, dismissing their troops from the holy sanctuary. Several of the men stopped to collect the corpses as they filed out, leaving the Princess behind. Dastan detoured to collect his other sword, sheathing them with a fluid move - and feeling the way the blades crossed at the base of his back, pressing the dagger into his spine.
Pausing in the doorway to the temple, Dastan looked back over his shoulder to see she was watching him, her expression blank. He smiled faintly, inclined his head, and turned to go, not taking his gaze off hers until necessary.
Descending towards the ground, the soldiers queued out in an orderly fashion with the Princes at the back, Dastan trailing behind his brothers as if still protecting the Princess. He wouldn't allow anyone to go back if they had a mind to; Tamina, he knew, needed some time to organize her thoughts. Not that she was slow witted, but the more space she had, the less likely she was - he hoped - to dismiss him out of hand. Cornering her into marriage wasn't the solution to this mess.
"First Uncle Nizam's treachery and now a proposal to a Princess?" Tus inquired with a shake of his head, glancing back at Dastan. "You really are mad little brother."
"You proposed first." Dastan looked down the stairs to where his Uncle's corpse was being carried. It would be laid out with the rest of the dead to await their father's decision on what to do with it - a dispatch Tus was no doubt already attempting to form in his mind. "I meant what I said, Tus; I never should have allowed this attack to go forward; it didn't feel right."
"What didn't feel right was the way our Uncle kept applying the pressures in favour of attack," Tus corrected, his bewilderment at Dastan's actions buried beneath the weight of Nizam's treachery. "I should have seen something was amiss."
"What I don't understand," Garsiv interjected, "was why attack Alamut if there are no weapons? What did he hope to gain?"
"Any ideas, Dastan?"
Dastan looked away as his brothers turned the question his way, unable to look either of them in the eye; how did one explain knowledge gained in an unconventional manner without giving away the secret? His silence, unfortunately damned him as much as any vague explanation he could have given. The downside to a family like his was that his brothers knew him a little too well.
"Dastan - what do you know?"
"Dastan." Stopping on one of the landings leading out of the tower, Tus blocked the stairway and turned to pin the youngest with a look. "You know things you shouldn't little brother; things about me, things about our Uncle. How did you know the attack was a lie?"
"The clues were all there, Tus; we simply didn't see them at the time."
"You'll never be a politician, Dastan." Garsiv snorted. "If you'd had proof, you'd have said something when Uncle Nizam presented the forgeries."
"Exactly," Tus concurred. "So what changed between the war council and the end of the battle?"
Looking from one brother to the other, Dastan clearly remembered seeing them covered in blood, their eyes lifeless - and, instead of answering the question, he stepped forward and wrapped one arm around each of their necks. Releasing his brothers as fast as he'd clasped them, Dastan offered them a smile. "Someday I might tell you, but it is not my place to say."
"It is, however, my burden to bear."
Garsiv made a frustrated noise, stepping forward to grab him - probably to beat him until he spoke - but Dastan stepped back, to the rail by the stairs.
He smirked. "Now if you'll excuse me?"
Tus' frustration and exasperation followed him where they couldn't as Dastan gripped the railing and, with a barely cursory glance about for a safe path, vaulted over the side and down. Gripping the rail on the landing below for a brief second with his finger tips, he found the wall underneath it and pushed off with his toes, sending him catapulting into space. Tucking into a roll upon landing, he was down to the base of the stairs and out the front door before either of his brothers were half way down.
With a grin and a wave to where his brothers shouted for him to stop, he exited the Palace. Dastan strode out into the courtyard - and detoured immediately. Word was already spreading that the invasion and occupation of Alamut was in error, confusion starting to spread among the troops.
Tus could handle them; Dastan raised his hand to the troops in acknowledgement before taking a running leap at one of the nearby statues, using it to rebound himself to the top of the wall surrounding the Palace. Running lightly around, he skirted to the inside wall, dropping several feet to the lower section before continuing his run.
Tus and Garsiv would corner him eventually to demand specific answers - answers he knew he couldn't give because they weren't his to give. Knowledge of the dagger and the sandglass was jealously protected by Tamina and her fellow guardians and, without her permission, he knew he couldn't speak of it.
Tamina would be in the high temple, and would no doubt be informed shortly that the Dagger had never made it out of the city; he hadn't, after all killed the man he'd found it on. It would depend on the soldier as to if he owned up to the loss or not. Making his way around the private garden, Dastan circled back to enter the Palace from the rear. He passed the secluded partition where the wives of the king would one day eventually be, passed the main floor apartments, ran lightly across the roof of one of the guard towers and finally scaled the higher wall once more.
Not quite sure where he was going, luck was with him as he dropped down from the wall into a smaller garden area that wasn't just deserted, but open to the palace. Striding forward confidently, he headed back inside to search for Tamina.
Before she could many any kind of informed decision, they needed to talk.
Princess Tamina stared out across Alamut from one of the windows in the high temple, watching as Prince Tus and Prince Garsiv ushered their men out of her city. The Persian army's withdraw hadn't been demanded - yet - but it would have been one of the first concessions she required.
The Persians, for all their barbaric rituals, were known far and wide to be wise in victory and that showed now. Tus, the future King of Persia, was showing remarkable insight in removing his army before she was forced to demand it.
Without turning, she held up one hand to the Regent as he entered the Temple, her eyes still scanning the area below. She searched for the figure who'd saved her life and her city - and spoke of things he couldn't possibly have known. Cornered and on the defensive upon the death of Nizam, she'd lashed out as the sovereign of her kingdom - and not taken all of what she'd heard into account.
Prince Dastan, the man who had been instrumental in breeching the walls of her city, had proven to be an unlikely ally during her confrontation with his brother, standing up for what was right in the end.
Having witnessed the conflict, having heard his statements to his Uncle and brothers, a fear had knotted itself in her belly, and she searched now for that very same figure, knowing she must speak with him without his brothers present before high sun. Whatever he had to say would likely influence her opinion of their proposed union.
But Prince Dastan, from what she could see, was not with his brothers or anywhere else among the Persian troops. Turning, she faced the Regent.
"What word of Asoka?"
"He did not pass through any of the city gates, your highness," the man swallowed hard. "His location as of this time is yet unknown. The guard believes he may have fallen in the battle - it will be some time before we can remove the dead from the streets."
Bowing her head, Tamina closed her eyes for a moment, the echoes of this ill-advised invasion already reaching beyond the initial impact. The Dagger was gone, stolen, likely among the Persian troops and the thief as of yet unaware of its significance. She'd failed in her duty as the primary guardian.
Lifting her head, she let none of the desolation and pain she was feeling show on her face. "Send the guard to assist the people, we must find him - dead or alive - and the Dagger."
"But the Persians-"
"Are no longer a threat. With them camped outside our gates, there is no need for more than a minimal watch. Send all available men to help with the search." Sweeping past him, she headed for the stairs. "Let me know the moment either one is found."
"Where are you going, your highness?"
"To prepare; the Persians will return at high sun."
"But they've withdrawn, Princess, surely-"
"They withdraw as a sign of faith," the Regent fell into step behind her as she strode gracefully from the room and started down the stairs. "The attack was urged by the King's brother Nizam, now dead, and Prince Tus has made his apologies."
"Then the matter should be settled."
"They have proposed a marriage alliance."
The Regent was silent, following her as she crossed one landing before continuing to the next. It was long minutes before he spoke again. "An alliance to the Royal house of Persia would be an asset, your highness, but I fear your union would weaken Alamut should you be required to leave with the crowned Prince-"
"The alliance would not be through Prince Tus," Tamina informed him. "Prince Dastan has offered himself as the sacrificial lamb."
"And the savior." Why was she defending him? Hadn't she the same reaction as the Regent? "There is more happening here than any of us are aware. Gather the council, present the matter - I must prepare."
The Regent bowed as they reached the hallway that led to her rooms. "Yes, Princess."
On her own, Tamina headed for her chambers. She turned the corner, the doors ahead, when a voice from the side stopped her cold.
"Do you always accept their council, Princess?"
Stiffening, she turned towards the shadowed alcove, the voice already familiar despite having only heard it for the first time barely an hour ago. "Prince Dastan; I asked you to leave."
"And so I did," he returned, continuing to lean casually against one of the pillar's, his face obscured by darkness, his arms crossed over his chest. "My return was planned - I suspect you have questions you wish to ask me before you can properly barter with my brother."
"Barter!" Outrage surged through her. "Lives are not currency."
"Only mine, it would seem." Stepping out of the shadows, Dastan allowed her to see his face. "You've questions for me, Princess. I can see them in your eyes."
"And I see shadows in yours, Prince; you musn't look at me thus."
Considering the question was more of an accusatory observation, Tamina stared at him for a long moment before answering. His expression remained the same, but his eyes... his eyes had softened, looking almost... grateful? Relieved? Elated? Searching his gaze, she realized what she was seeing - and couldn't account for it. He didn't know her, how was that expression even possible - unless her fears were true.
"Like what, Princess?"
"As if I am something precious. Something you'd lost and never expected to see again."
"I... I don't..." Dastan's lips curved into the barest of self-depreciating smiles as his brain caught up with his tongue. "You're seeing things."
"Am I?" She skewered him with a haughty expression, expecting him to recoil and bristled when he only seemed amused. "You're not so good at guarding your thoughts as you think, Prince."
"Ask your questions, Princess, and then tell me if you can answer that without my help."
"What do you know?"
"About what?" Dastan arched his eyebrows. "Alamut? My brothers? My Uncle? The answer to that question could take a lifetime."
"How do you know we are innocent; that we have no forges and sell no weapons?"
""That isn't the question you wish to ask and we both know it." Staring at him, she knew he was right, but asking about the Dagger - if he didn't know about it - was a risk she wasn't willing to take. Dastan seemed to know it, but would give no quarter, taking a step towards her. "Ask me."
Tamina held her ground, tilting her head up to maintain eye contact. "I have."
"Then perhaps you should only be granted a single question, Tamina."
"Princess Tamina, Prince," she snapped, irked by his informal use of her name and the way he'd turned it into a caress. "You'll answer as many questions as needed until I am satisfied."
"Satisfied in what way - your curiosity? Impatience? No, Princess, I don't think I will. Not unless you're going to ask the right questions."
"And what is the right question - how did you know what your father had said to your brother in closed session?"
"One of them," Dastan replied softly. "And I know because Tus told me."
"You lie - his response clearly indicates he did not!"
"Not that he remembers."
Tamina's eyes widened almost imperceptibly in alarm, the fear in her gut coiling into a hard knot of dread. "How did you know about your Uncle's aspirations when your brothers did not?"
"Tsk tsk, Princess. Try again."
"I followed the clues."
"That's no answer."
"It is the one I choose to give."
"So you've implied. Have you nothing more to ask me?"
"One?" Dastan couldn't keep the amusement from his voice and Tamina had the distinct impression he was enjoying himself at her expense.
"Do not mock me, Prince."
"I don't think we yet know each other well enough for that Princess-"
"We do not," she agreed sharply, cutting him off. "If not weapons, what was your Uncle searching for in Alamut?"
Dastan's mirth faded away completely and he inclined his head. "The right question at last."
"If my company is as vexing to you as yours is to me, I'm surprised you could stand to wait."
"I find your company engaging, Princess; never doubt it," he turned, heading for the alcove. "But I'm afraid I'll be late to the council if I tarry any longer."
"You've not answered my question."
"I've one for you first," he turned, starling her, and they found themselves but inches apart as she'd been scrambling to catch him. Dastan's eyes dropped to her lips, and her whole body felt that look as if it were a physical thing. She saw him swallow hard, his voice slightly hoarse as his gaze returned to hers, darker than before. "What is time but shifting grains of sand?"
This time her eyes widened fully, almost rounding with her shock. Searching his gaze, his expression, she looked for some hint he wasn't saying what she believed him to be saying - and found none. "It's not possible."
"I believed my Uncle to be a good man, Princess - what else would convince me otherwise?"
"I don't believe it." Tamina's hands closed over his forearm as he made to leave again. "Speak plainly; what do you know about the sand?"
Dastan's gaze dropped to where she gripped him, lingering on the way her fingers curled around his flesh before lifting back to hers. "Only what you once told me in confidence, in a time that will no longer be."
Shock allowed him to pry his arm from her fingers and Dastan was gone in the moments before she recovered enough to speak. Numb, Princess Tamina proceeded to her chambers and sank down into the pillows near the hearth. With an abrupt dismissal of the handmaidens waiting to tend her, she was left to her own devices.
Dastan knew about the Dagger and the sandglass. He knew what it could do - had, in fact, used the dagger in conjunction with the sandglass to do the forbidden; to turn back time; to rewrite history.
And the world had not ended.
As the primary Guardian of the Dagger, everything within her rebelled, the doctrin instilled in her from birth crying out for his death - only the fact that he'd saved her city with the knowledge he'd gained gave her pause. Nizam had wished to be King - surely eliminating his nephews and brother would have made him King - but she recalled how old Nizam was and no man wanted to be king for just a few years. If he'd eliminated his brother before Sharaman took the crown however... It was chilling to think how different life would have been had Nizam succeeded; he would likely have come for the Dagger and sandglass immediately, securing it so no other could do as he'd done.
It would have meant her own death - or she may never have been born.
Time passed as she stared into nothingness, Dastan's voice and expressions as he'd spoken coming back to her. He knew things about her he couldn't otherwise have known; acted protective - knowing. And, if what he said was true, she'd been the one to reveal Alamut's secrets to him. Having sworn never to do so, her whole life focused on the protection of the dagger and its sacred covenant between man and the Gods, she couldn't imagine what circumstances would have led her to do such a thing.
What was he to me - and me to him?
That thought careened around and around in her mind as the hour grew later and high sun approached. Had whatever occurred influenced his decision to present himself as a would-be husband? Was he driven by greed or was it that unidentifiable emotion in his eyes whenever he looked at her?
Regardless, the haunted sadness behind his look of pure relief whenever his eyes softened on her was what held sway in her mind. It was a look she couldn't fully understand; the look of a man who'd lost everything and been given a second chance - but there was more too. There was a peace within him despite the outward unease, a sense of rightness she couldn't explain. A sense that he knew who and what he was; as if his journey with the dagger had forced him to accept some hard truths.
She knew of the powers of the dagger, knew of its capabilities. But just what had happened to cause him to regard her as he did now - and did she really want to know? Did she-
A knock on her door startled her from her thoughts.
"I asked to be left in peace."
"My apologies, Princess," the handmaiden replied respectfully. "But the Persians await you in the throne room - it is high sun."
Her eyes darted to the window, dismayed to realize so much time had passed - and she'd spared barely a thought to the concession Persia would need to give to make amends. Rising to her feet, she squared her shoulders and donned the cool mask of state she always used for such functions.
"So it is."
The handmaiden stepped into the room without asking for permission, brushing down Tamina's robe and arranging her hood to hide her features. The efficient and practiced movements of the handmaiden quickly eliminated the larger wrinkles and set her clothing to rights. A small touch up of kohl to her eyes and she was headed for the throne room... and the meeting that would shape the future of her kingdom.
"Nervous, little brother?"
Dastan shifted, adjusting the cuff of one sleeve. "Unlike you and Garsiv, I've never done this before."
"A Princess for a first wife," Tus clapped him on the shoulder. "Better that you offered instead of being thrust into it; think she'll say yes?"
"With what I have in mind for a gift, she'll not be able to refuse."
"Only you, Dastan," Garsiv slapped him on the other shoulder, directly over the cut he'd gained in the fight in the High temple and making him wince. "Would come up with something a Princess could not refuse on the day of a siege when you were instrumental in gaining access to her city."
He was saved from saying anything more as the doors opened, drawing everyone's attention, and Princess Tamina entered - alone.
A hush settled over the crowd as many of the gathered bowed to her, her magnificent features shrouded once more in her hood. Ascending to the dais which held her throne, she turned and sat before looking directly at the Princes. Silence reigned for a few long moments before Tus stepped forward.
"Your highness; Persia humbly offers her apologies for the grief it has caused you and your citizens. I was misled to attack your city. Please allow us to make amends as a gesture of friendship and understanding - starting with my pledge that our army will never again enter Alamut on hostile terms and have since withdrawn."
Knowing what she knew, Tamina stared at Tus for a long moment before lifting her hands to remove her hood. The collective gasp - a sound she was used to - as it fell away, faded almost as it was breathed. Staring at Tus, she kept her face impassive but her gaze went to Dastan's, hardening imperceptibly before sliding back to Tus.
"We are the wronged party, Prince Tus," Tamina told him coolly. "Your pretty speeches mean little to the families of those who have lost loved ones by your rash actions."
Tus, ever the diplomat, forged ahead. "A cost that Persia can never repay, Princess. At your request, we have returned to hear your terms of our assistance in helping repair both city and relations between our nations. Support for widows and orphans of war has always been strong within Persia," his gaze slanted towards Dastan as he spoke. "Our father demands it and it will be so with Alamut. It... has been suggested a bond stronger than friendship would be mutually beneficial - in ways none of us can yet anticipate."
Tamina didn't look convinced, but then - sitting on her throne - she didn't look anything but beautifully remote and unattainable.
Tus backed away, going to stand with Dastan and clasping his little brother on the shoulder, urging him forward. Garsiv, on his other side, helped propel Dastan towards the throne and the Princess waiting there. Dastan could see the challenge in her gaze, almost daring him to present a reason she couldn't refuse him and never dreaming he had one.
Except he did.
Tus spoke before Dastan moved forward. "My brother Dastan is both conqueror and savior of your city. A noble man despite his lack of royal blood; a true son to our father and beloved brother to Garsiv and me," Tus gripped his shoulder tightly, Garsiv on his other side doing the same - a show of solidarity by the Princes of Persia. "A true Prince of Persia."
Smiling thankfully at his brothers, Dastan bowed his head to Tamina, inclining his upper body to her as he stopped at the base of the stairs. His gaze found hers, seeing how the challenge hadn't diminished - if anything it had increased. She was mad, he realized; angry to be placed in this position - an anger he only saw because he was familiar with it. Taking a deep breath, he took two steps to be just above eye level with her and opened his mouth.
"Hello Princess." Tamina was silent, watching him, and Dastan knew he'd get no encouragement - he was on his own. Clearing his throat, he forged ahead. "It is customary to accompany a proposal with gifts, but alas, I was unprepared. I had nothing for you. Save..." exhaling, Dastan reached for the dagger, withdrawing it slowly, and in an unthreatening manner.
Several of the guards reached for their weapons, but Dastan ignored them. Keeping his movements fluid, he saw Tamina's whole form stiffen, her gaze dropping incredulously to the dagger and then back to his. Surprise showed on her features and, if he wasn't mistaken, a grudging respect. Bringing the blade to his finger tips, Dastan pointed the tip of the blade away from her and knelt.
"...that which is already yours."
Tamina didn't react initially, her gaze locked on his and Dastan extended the dagger to her, daring her to refuse him at this moment. To refuse him and his gift; to refute the knowledge that simmered between them. She knew he knew of the Dagger's powers; she knew he knew of the Sandglass - and yet here he was, offering her the Dagger... and the wealth of meaning in that gesture wasn't lost on her.
Of all the choices he could have made with regards to the Dagger, returning it to her care instead of keeping it, or presenting it to his father as a gift beyond price - this gesture wasn't just a proposal; it was his way of showing she could trust him.
Her lips twitched and Dastan's echoed her amusement, the grudging respect in her eyes warming him through. He'd out manoeuvred her and she knew it. Capitulating gracefully, she plucked the dagger from his finger tips and inclined her head. "I accept, Prince Dastan."
Dastan's smile was heart-meltingly boyish as he offered his hand - which she accepted by sliding her fingers into his. Their gazes locked, Dastan lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a heart-felt, lingering kiss to the backs of her fingers - and a familiar surge of awareness arced between them as his lips brushed her skin.
An unexpected cheer went up, drawing them back to the present, and Dastan didn't relinquish her fingers as he rose to his feet. Using them as leverage, he also pulled Tamina to his feet. "May I present the Princess Tamina of Alamut," he declared, lifting their joined hands with a smile. "My future wife."
They stood where they were for a few moments before the cheering started to subside and Dastan reluctantly let her go. As Tamina retook her seat, she placed the Dagger in her lap, one hand resting protectively over the blade. She turned her gaze from Dastan to Tus with difficulty, his gesture having surprised her beyond measure. "Alamut and Persia will be allies, Prince Tus; your men may re-enter the city to assist with the repairs."
"Might I suggest, Princess, that we guard your walls as well?" Dastan's suggestion drew his brother's gaze and he shrugged. "We have the men to spare and they are better equipped for guard duty."
"A surprisingly wise suggestion, brother." Dastan shrugged uncomfortably, well aware he'd gained that wisdom in the most painful manner possible. Tus inclined his head to the Princess. "We offer our aid in any capacity you require Princess; the Persian army is yours to command."