Protecting the Desert Princess

By: Carol Marinelli

CHAPTER ONE

‘PRINCESS LAYLA, are you excited to be…?’

Layla patiently waited as the little girl on her computer screen faltered while choosing her words. By video link Layla was being beamed into the classrooms of the girls and young women of Ishla. Each class took an hour and, by working hard, Layla managed to get to each classroom once a month. Here she encouraged the children to converse in English and to work harder on their schoolwork, and it was proving a huge success.

‘Princess Layla.’ The little girl tried again. ‘Are you excited that you will travel to Australia with Prince Zahid and Princess Trinity on their honeymoon?’

At the word ‘honeymoon’ the class exploded into a fit of giggles and Layla did her best not to join in with them. This class consisted of ten-year-old girls and they were all terribly excited that the handsome Prince Zahid had married the English lady Trinity, and they were all only too happy to talk about weddings.

And honeymoons!

‘Well done,’ Layla said to the little girl when the laughter had died down. ‘You asked your question beautifully. Yes, I am very excited that I shall be joining my brother and his bride in Sydney, Australia. Did you know that you are my final class before we leave on the royal plane tonight?’

Zahid and Trinity’s wedding had been beautiful, and the whole of Ishla had joined in the celebrations, even though the shocking news had hit, just before the wedding, that Trinity was already pregnant.

Layla’s rule was that so long as questions were politely asked she would answer as best she could. Some of the questions, though, about Trinity’s pregnancy, had been more than awkward—and not just because the subject in Ishla was sensitive. Layla simply hadn’t known the answers, and had begun to understand just how naïve she was.

Layla craved knowledge.

She had long dreamt of a world outside the palace walls.

Before Zahid had even known who his bride was he had agreed to allow Layla to accompany him on his honeymoon. As a future king Zahid could not be expected to entertain his wife all day, and of course it had been assumed that his bride would need a companion.

They were so deeply in love, though, that perhaps they would prefer to be holidaying alone—but there was no way Layla was going to give up her first and only trip out of Ishla.

Guilt gripped her.

Not because she might prove a bit of an imposition for a couple in love—instead the guilt was for what Layla was secretly planning to do when she got to Australia.

‘Princess Layla, are you scared?’ another little girl asked.

‘A little.’ Layla spoke a guarded version of her truth. ‘After all, I have never been out of Ishla, and so I don’t really know what to expect, but I am also very excited. It is going to be a huge adventure for me and I have been looking forward to it for a very long time.’

‘Princess Layla…’

All hands were raised. Her students adored her. They always did their homework now, just for the chance to speak with their princess each month. There were a lot of questions, but Layla’s father, King Fahid, wanted to speak with Layla before she left and so she brought things to a close.

‘Now,’ Layla said to the students, ‘there is no more time for questions. Instead it is time for you all to wish me a safe journey.’

She smiled at their voices as they did just that.

‘Will you miss us?’ they asked.

Layla held up her finger and thumb and held them a small distance apart. ‘This much,’ she said. As they all moaned their protests Layla stretched out her arms as wide as she could reach. ‘Or perhaps this much! All of you know that I will miss you to the moon and back.’

She would miss them very much, Layla thought a little while later, as she lay on her bed on her stomach, going through her computer and checking and rechecking details for the very last time.

Would her father even let her teach them again, after she—?

Layla halted her thought processes; she could not allow herself to think like that now. Whatever the consequences to her actions, Layla had long ago decided that she was prepared to bear them.

One week of freedom would be worth whatever punishment her father would serve out for her.

Layla was petrified about taking a taxi alone in Australia, but she had watched little clips on her computer over and over and was as certain as she could be that she knew what to do.

How she loved her computer!

King Fahid was getting older and, though no one in Ishla must know, he was seriously ill, so perhaps had not investigated Layla’s teaching aid quite as thoroughly as he once would have. Fahid did not really understand the access to the world that the computer gave his daughter. Layla lived a very protected life and wasn’t even allowed a phone—she had never seen a television.

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