Jewel in His Crown

By: Lynne Graham

Striving to recall her manners and contain her impatience, Ruby asked her visitors to take a seat. Wajid informed her that her uncle, Tamim, his wife and his daughter, Bariah, had died in a plane crash over the desert three weeks earlier. The names rang a very vague bell of familiarity from Ruby’s one and only visit to Ashur when she was a schoolgirl of fourteen. ‘My uncle was the king…’ she said hesitantly, not even quite sure of that fact.

‘And until a year ago your eldest brother was his heir,’ Wajid completed.

Ruby’s big brown eyes opened very wide in surprise. ‘I have a brother?’

Wajid had the grace to flush at the level of her ignorance about her relatives. ‘Your late father had two sons by his second wife.’

Ruby emitted a rueful laugh. ‘So I have two half-brothers I never knew about. Do they know about me?’

Wajid looked grave. ‘Once again it is my sad duty to inform you that your brothers died bravely as soldiers in Ashur’s recent war with Najar.’

Stunned, Ruby struggled to speak. ‘Oh…yes, I’ve read about the war in the newspapers. That’s very sad about my brothers. They must’ve been very young, as well,’ Ruby remarked uncertainly, feeling hopelessly out of her depth.

The Ashuri side of her family was a complete blank to Ruby. She had never met her father or his relations and knew virtually nothing about them. On her one and only visit to Ashur, her once powerful curiosity had been cured when her mother’s attempt to claim a connection to the ruling family was heartily rejected. Vanessa had written in advance of their visit but there had been no reply. Her phone calls once they arrived in Ashur had also failed to win them an invitation to the palace. Indeed, Vanessa and her daughter had finally been humiliatingly turned away from the gates of the royal palace when her father’s relatives had not deigned to meet their estranged British relatives. From that moment on Ruby had proudly suppressed her curiosity about the Ashuri portion of her genes.

‘Your brothers were brave young men,’ Wajid told her. ‘They died fighting for their country.’

Ruby nodded with a respectful smile and thought sadly about the two younger brothers she had never got the chance to meet. Had they ever wondered what she was like? She suspected that royal protocol might well have divided them even if, unlike the rest of their family, they had had sufficient interest to want to get to know her.

‘I share these tragedies with you so that you can understand that you are now the present heir to the throne of Ashur, Your Royal Highness.’

‘I’m the heir?’ Ruby laughed out loud in sheer disbelief. ‘How is that possible? I’m a girl, for goodness’ sake! And why do you keep on calling me Your Royal Highness as if I have a title?’

‘Whether you use it or otherwise, you have carried the title of Princess since the day you were born,’ Wajid asserted with confidence. ‘It is your birthright as the daughter of a king.’

It all sounded very impressive but Ruby was well aware that in reality, Ashur was still picking up the pieces in the aftermath of the conflict. That such a country had fought a war with its wealthy neighbour over the oil fields on their disputed boundary was a testament to their dogged pride and determination in spite of the odds against them. Even so she had been hugely relieved when she heard on the news that the war was finally over.

She struggled to appear composed when she was actually shaken by the assurance that she had a legal right to call herself a princess and then her natural common sense reasserted its sway. Could there be anything more ridiculously inappropriate than a princess who worked as a humble receptionist and had to struggle to pay her rent most months? Even with few extras in her budget Ruby was invariably broke and she often did a weekend shift at Stella’s supermarket to help make ends meet.

‘There’s no room for titles and such things in my life,’ she said gently, reluctant to cause offence by being any more blunt. ‘I’m a very ordinary girl.’

‘But that is exactly what our people would like most about you. We are a country of ordinary hard-working people,’ Wajid declared with ringing pride. ‘You are the only heir to the throne of Ashur and you must take your rightful place.’

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