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Khalida

Once there was a beautiful princess named Ijlal. She had hair the color of dates, and eyes as blue as the sea, eyes that were so captivating she had thousands of suitors falling at her feet every day. She had the most renowned kings and princes begging for her hand, she was the envy of all women, near and far. But it was not enough for her. She was always bored, constantly seeking ways to entertain herself, she never stopped complaining, and her blue eyes often narrowed in annoyance at the folly of the maids. If men married for love, then she would not have a single suitor, but all they wanted was a beautiful wife, and that she could give them. Her beauty had not even entered her prime yet, and already the men fell to their knees when they saw her.

Because of all this, her sister was forgotten. Khalida was not as beautiful as her sister, since she did not hold the same beauty ideals as her sister, for her long, crow-black hair and pond-green eyes were not the beauty ideal. If men married for love, she would be the one with suitors falling on their feet, for she was the sweetest princess one could ever hope to meet in a lifetime. Her melodic voice was often raised in song, her nimble feet often stepped in a dance, and even her gait was graceful. She always complimented everyone on everything, from the new apron of a maid to a prince’s sapphire ring.

Regardless of all this, Khalida was forgotten. The only time she was truly remembered was at her coronation for the princess title of her district, for as the younger daughter she was only entitled to one district. It was then her father pretended to love her, he laughed at her jokes and smiled at her, but Khalida knew it was just a show.

Life was about to change for Khalida. Her sister Ijlal finally accepted the proposal of one of her suitors because his kingdom neighbored their own, and such a union could only bring good. The marriage ceremonies went on for weeks and weeks and there was dancing and partying and laughing, and it was there Khalida met Prince Ahmad.

Khalida had never wanted to get married, she was stubborn and headstrong and refused to answer to anyone. The last thing Khalida wanted was to have to bow down to a man, one she might not even love! However, Prince Ahmad was different.

She found him in her own place, a little stone bench in the gardens. Through the humid air the sound of socializing and laughter rang through the trees.

“What are you doing here?” she asked in shock, for he was simply sitting, not even moving, almost like a statue. A smile was tugging on the corner of his face as she sat down next to him, a very handsome face, Khalida thought. Nice dark hair, light amber eyes and a muscular frame told her that he was most likely a noble, married most likely. He didn’t respond at first, just looked at her with those amber eyes and tried to stop from smiling, but it was a losing battle, and soon enough he could not control the twitching of his lips and the sparkle in his eyes, and so he broke out into laughter. Quite annoyed, Khalida gave him her best glare, for she was rather angry at this strange man who was laughing at her, a man she had never seen before.

“What is tickling you?” she inquired in a hurt tone. That just made him laugh harder, and she turned her nose up to him in some version of stalking off, though really she had no inclination to leave, for this man was making her feel rather funny inside.

Finally, he got a grip on himself and leapt to his feet in a low bow.

“Sorry, princess,” he replied, still smiling. “I could not help but laugh at your very funny entrance and the way you looked at me like I was a bug,” and with that he started laughing again.

“I did no such thing,” Khalida said, extremely bemused.

“Ah! but you did,” said the prince, “I too have forgotten my manners. My name is Ahmad al Qasim, my friends call me Ahmad, and my enemies are forced to call me Prince Ahmad, for my father is the king of the neighboring region.”

Khalida smiled, for she liked this man with his funny way of talking and his good attitude towards life. She self-consciously brushed a bit of hair back from her forehead and shyly glanced at him, only to find he was staring at her with rapt amusement. She blushed and felt her body start to heat up a bit.

“My name is Khalida al Salim, my friends,” here she paused for a second, for truly, even though she was nearly fifteen years of age, she had no proper friends, ones she would call so. She did not pause long, because she did not want Prince Ahmad to think she was unfriendly, since the reason she had no friends was because there was no-one suitable to be her friend other than her sister, and she would rather sleep on a bed of nails than be friends with Ijlal. “My friends call me Khalida, and my enemies have to call me Princess Khalida.”

“Excellent!” he said.“We have something in common then, something very important in common!”

“Well, what is it?” asked Khalida, intrigued.

“We both have last and first names!” said Ahmad, with nothing but seriousness in his captivating amber eyes.

Khalida could not help herself, she laughed so hard that tears tumbled down her face, and Ahmad in mock horror made a ridiculous face, and that just made Khalida laugh harder.

The rest of the night was spent on that little stone bench, laughing until their stomachs hurt, and in the morning Khalida was sad to see him go.

But Ahmad had not been gone five moments before she was called to her father’s study. There she saw him smile at her, with a twinkle of kindness in his eyes, the way he always looked at Ijlal.

“Now Khalida, I have called you here for something very important, I saw you last night with Prince Ahmad,” he began, and held up a hand to stop her protests and excuses.

“Very good,” he continued, “the king will be difficult to convince, but a marriage will be arranged. Tell me, daughter, why does he love you?” her father asked.

“I didn’t do anything, and Father, I am not in love with him, he is just–” she began. Rage darkened her father’s face.

“It matters not, Khalida, and you should know that. I want not another sound on the subject. Now tell me, what kind of a wedding do you want?” he growled.

Khalida knew there was no hope. She looked up with fake joy in her eyes, and began to tell him of the wedding she would never want.

“A summer wedding, outdoors and near the sea, when the sun is shining,” Khalida answered. She could imagine Ijlal there, so that would please him.

“A beach wedding,” he muttered. Then he smiled. “My dear, shall we discuss this later?”

Nodding, Khalida fled from the study. She knew she could not marry Ahmad. In the safety of her room, Khalida fell to her knees in prayer.

“Allah, Allah, Allah,” she chanted like a mantra. She prayed for delivery from the marriage and delivery from her sad, sad life. She refused to think of anything else but her prayer, and she nearly cried every time she took a breath, for each breath was limited unto her freedom, as an unmarried woman. She had no freedom, none at all anymore and then –

She was free. Her body began to shrink and her arms grew feathers and her racing heart slowed down and her green, green eyes became beady and black and her skin also grew feathers and became white, white as a cloud on a summer’s day.

When her father called her for dinner, her room was empty but for a pale green shift and a single white feather. When he shouted and ran to the window, he saw nothing but a pure white dove wheeling in an azure sky.
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