A/N: Uh, just another AU, I hope you enjoy it. Reviews are always welcomed with open arms.
The kingdom of Masyaf was alive with the cries of merchants and haggling citizens which crowded the markets. The sun had long since risen over the steep horizon or the hilly city and the day was running its usual hectic yet somehow steady pace. As said, Masyaf is a highland kingdom, the houses and buildings of every rich colour of the earth spiralling up the steep slopes. The city had no walls, only the large stone gateway at the foot of the mountain pass, but it was surrounded by a gorge which promised certain death if anyone was unfortunate enough to fall from the cliff face. But risen above the town of colour and spice was the palace fortress which loomed over all at the very top of the Masyaf mountain.
"Altair where in the name of Allah are you?"
Adha called as she ran through the palace corridors, the skirt of her dress hitched up in her hands so that she did not fall over. The bells at her waist jingled as she flung the doors leading out onto the master's private garden and hopped out over the warm tiles. It was not regular for a simple servant and dancer woman to be trusted to convey a message, but if anyone could find Altair it would be Adha.
"There you are." Adha sighed as he came to a stop underneath one of the palace's tall towers over looking the gorge. Silhouetted against the sunlight was the young prince, sat on the high ledge of the tower with his legs dangling over the rim. It was a wonder how Altair had managed to get so high, but everyone knew he was a skilled climber and a daring bravado.
"Altair I have been looking for you everywhere!" Adha shouted, gathering all of the wind into her lungs and cupping her hands around her mouth in order to amplify the sound.
"Adha I'm glad you're here, you should come up here and join me" Altair's reply was faint even though it had been shouted from such a height. Adha frowned, placing her hands on her hips and shaking her head up at the other.
"Al Mualim wishes to see you; apparently there has been a word from Jerusalem."
No reply came but Adha could see the figure of the prince moving a top of the tower. Suddenly the prince was air born, arms out spread as he leaped through the tower ledge, falling and twisting in the air with a grace of an eagle. Adha gasped as he landed safely within the haystack at the foot of the tower. Altair popped out of the hay with an impish grin on his face and a completely innocent look in his eye.
"One day you will hurt yourself doing that." Adha sighed, shaking her head as her heart pounded against her ribs. Altair only chuckled, brushing hay from his silk robes and proceeding to stroll lazily up towards the Palace.
"Nonsense, I will be fine. Now what is this about Jerusalem?"
"I do not know but I am sure you will tell me provided that you are allowed. Maybe it is about that charming prince they keep hidden there." Adha teased nudging the Masyaf Prince in the ribs.
Altair sighed, shoulders sagging as he bowed his head. The many conversations he had had with Al Mualim concerning the Prince of Jerusalem was tiring and even hearing the name of the city was beginning to become grating. One moment they should be pursuing the Prince, the next they should be keeping as far away from that kingdom as physically possible. The Prince of Jerusalem was growing notorious throughout the land for his stubborn behaviour and terrible habit of insulting and rejecting any suitor which came within a mile radius of the city gates, no matter how rich or powerful.
"Hopefully Al Mualim will have come to a decisions over affairs concerning Jerusalem and we shall be done with it, these conversations are becoming tedious." Altair sighed, walking through the opened doorway and disappearing up the steps towards Al Mualim's study.
"So this is where you have been hiding brother"
Malik looked up from his book at the sound of his brother's voice. Kadar smiled, vaulting over the low wooden wall and lounging back against the hay with his older brother. The idea of the two princes of Jerusalem lounging in a horse stable was preposterous, and the exact reason why Malik took to hiding away within the soft hay.
"If you have come to gossip about my recent suitor then please little brother, proceed to stuff the hay in your mouth and be gone." Malik said blandly, returning his gaze to the book laid open across his crossed knees.
" No, but father does wish to see you." Malik sighed, flipping his book closed and tugged up the hood of his long, simple black robes before climbing to his feet. His expensive, princely robes had been replaced with simple robes similar to that of a scholar so unwanted attention was not drawn to him when walking through the city. Well most of the time attentions was not drawn to him, but the fact that he had only one arm did sometimes attract the wrong sort of attention from the wrong sort of people.
Kadar carried Malik's book as they walked through the city, much to Malik's protest. The streets of the rich district were cramped with servants fetching food of their masters and mistresses buying richly embroidered rugs to furnish their homes and please their husbands. The strong smell of spice and incense wafted through the air, mixing with the cries of merchants and the chatter of passersby's. No one paid attention to what appeared to be two young scholars walking through the streets, merely moved aside to let them pass without a fuss.
"So, the Prince of Italia joins the long list." Kadar prompted looking anywhere but his brother's direction as he felt the heated glare drive into the side of his skull.
"What did I just say about gossiping?"
"We're not gossiping, we are discussing...besides I could always ask the kitchen servants who are most certainly liable to gossip."
"Fine, fine we may talk about the Prince of Italia and his overbearing nature." Malik sighed in defeat, resisting the urge to growl at his younger brother's insistence.
The crowd thinned as they took the route leading up towards the palace gates, the high walls and domed ceiling of the majestic building already coming into view above the market stalls.
"I thought he was charming, and he showed his liking towards you more than previous suitors. Those birds he bought you were magnificent" Kadar said with wonder, eyes wide with an almost dream like expression on his face.
Malik huffed under his breath giving his brother a disgusted look. Yes the birds had been magnificent but their feathers had shed all over the floor of Malik's chambers and they sung noisly into the early hours. Eventually, angry with lack of sleep and little patience at the result of the birds and their gift bearer, Malik had batted away the drapes and shooed the creatures out of his bedroom windows. They had been found in the morning sitting about the palace grounds, eating the food straight off people's plates as they breakfasted in the gardens.
Rolling his eyes Malik threw his arm up in frustration. "He was over bearing and childish and seemed to enjoy flirting with anything with a skirt on then actually having an intelligent conversation with me. I'm surprised the boy could even dress himself without assistance opposed to successfully ruling a kingdom by my side."
"He was only three years younger than you Malik, hardly a boy."
"He may be an adult in age but he was a boy in mentality."
It was Kadar's turn to roll his eyes at his older brother's behaviour as they came to a stop besides the palace walls. They had managed to effectively sneak passed the guards and all that was left to do was to scale the walls and return to the Palace. For once, Malik did not protest as Kadar offered him a leg up, allowing his brother to hoist him up and scramble on top of the wall. When he was safely straddled over the warm stone, Malik reached his hand down and helped to pull Kadar up alongside him before they both swung their legs over and landed on the soft grass of the Palace gardens.
"To be honest brother, I'm surprised father even bothers trying to marry you off anymore; I think you would be much happier if you were left to your own devices." Kadar whispered as the two discarded their scholar robes and revealed the expensive silk ones hidden underneath.
"Unfortunately that cannot be so little brother." Malik whispered back, failing to hide the glumness which laced his words. Shaking his head, Malik quickly ruffled his brother's hair and pushed a smile onto his face.
"No, you must return to your studies little brother, and hopefully there shall be no more talk about marriage today." Kadar scowled but bounded away nonetheless, eager to return to the library before his tutor noticed his absence. Malik watched him go until the tails of his cloak disappeared behind one of the pillars
Smoothing out his robes, Malik preceded up the staircase towards his father's study. He met the odd servant on his way, each one of them bowing their head in his presence before fluidly moving on their way without a word. The only one who felt uneasy was the young prince as he neared the open doors to his father's study. All they seemed to talk about these days were suitors, about marriage, about Malik's stubbornness and lack of understanding to the situations and frankly he was not in the mood for another scolding or forced courtship. It was exhausted and staining on both father and son's behalf.
Wrapping his knuckles of the open door, Malik lingered in the doorway to the grand study. His father, Faheem Al-Sayf, was hunched over his desk engrossed in writing what appeared to be a very long letter and Malik bit the inside of his cheek as his father looked up.
"Malik, we have been looking everywhere for you, come in we must talk." Faheem said with a smile as he leaned back into his chair and beckoned his eldest son into the room. Malik entered as the few servants in the room departed and shut the door behind them, giving the two men privacy when in reality the servants would only be standing with their ears pressed against the other side of the door.
"If this is about the Prince of Italia, I have no regrets about the way I treated him and I shall not be writing a letter of apology to him." Malik said, laying his arm over his chest as if to cross his arms but failing since he only had the one as he sat. Faheem pursed his lips and sighed at his son's stubbornness.
"Luckily the Prince was not offended by your actions and has not requested a letter of apology from you; however it is of a different Prince we must speak about." Malik resisted the urge to sigh and sink further into the chair like a bored teenagers.
Talk of Princes and Princesses and of kingdoms wishing for his hand was dull. Malik found his eyes lingering to the open window, looking out at the bright sky lit up by the yellow sun as his father spoke. He watched the birds spiralling in the sky wishing to feel the wind beneath their wings and the freedom of their flight. When he had shooed the song birds from his chambers a couple of nights before, Malik had watched them flutter into the night sky and wished to join them and fly over far away mountains.
"I have been in contact with Masyaf and they have agreed to let you stay there for a period of courtship with their young prince Altair Ibn-La'Ahad." Malik was roughly shoved out of his daydream by calm words blazing his ears.
"You wish to send me away to a Kingdom I know nothing about to play suitor to a prince I have no interest in? I refuse father." Malik snapped.
"I'm afraid you have no choice in the matter Malik. Prince Altair will be arriving in a matter of days to visit the city and you shall be leaving with him when he departs."
"The prince may come, but he shall be leaving empty handed." It appeared that something in Malik's tone triggered something within Faheem since he suddenly slammed the palms of his hands down onto the desk with a thundering bang.
"Do you not understand me boy? You shall be going even if I have to allow the guards to bundle you in a sack and haul you there. You do not seem to understand the seriousness of this Malik, you must marry whether you like it or not and I have been good enough to allow you to chose your partner instead of arranging it myself for personal benefit." Malik opened his mouth in interject but his father had not yet finished speaking.
"As eldest son and heir to the throne it is your duty to marry, especially since you have no interest in women and thus will not be providing an heir for the kingdom it is vital you marry into another family in order to secure your position. We have been over and over this Malik yet you still do not seem to understand this!"
Malik tensed his jaw and held back the snide back chat which was welling in his throat. He understood perfectly well, but that did not mean he was willing to comply. Instead he blinked, rising to his feet and walking over to the window to feel the breeze brush against his face.
"Will Kadar be coming with me?" He asked quietly feeling hollow.
"No, your brother has studies he must attend to and your absence from the kingdom will serve to him a valuable lesson in royal responsibilities."
Turning sharply away from the window, Malik glared at his father as the rage in his stomach failed to hide itself.
"So you are sending me away to an unknown kingdom without even a familiar face to confide to. If this is a punishment then please father, do not be so cruel."
"This is no punishment, but maybe these so called cruel actions will serve as a lesson to you and your self righteous attitude." Faheem shouted at his son who turned his face away and bit down harshly on his bottom lip.
"You will not be going alone. A selection of the palace guard is going with you and I know you are friendly with your personal guardsman. I'm sure Kadar will write to you."
The calmer tone of his father after a moment of silence did nothing to calm Malik's frustration. Yet again he felt like he was being used. Masyaf was a powerful position and could easily block off trading routes, also the highland ground served as a useful territory to have during battle situations and was known for its impenetrable fortress. It would be a useful ally to have and even more useful when concreted by the foundations of marriage.
"How long until the Prince's arrival?"
"It is a three day ride, so it would be four days at the most."
"I do not look forward to the event, now you must excuse me father their are duties I must attend to." Without waiting for his father's consent, Malik bowed slightly at the waist and departed swiftly. The servants hurried clumsily away from the door as it was flung open and a very angry Prince Malik came storming out.