The Pirate Prince
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by Temple Hogan
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: From the first moment Prince Rajak laid eyes on Azara, the Persian Princess intended as a bride for his younger brother, Mohan, he has desired her. Now that his brother has stolen the fabulously wealthy Peacock Throne of India, which belongs to Rajak, Rajak seeks revenge. Turning pirate, he steals back the wealth that once would have belonged to him--gems, gold and silver and even the beautiful Azara, whom he claims as his own. Together, Azara and Rajak fight to take back the Mogul throne and return it to its rightful heir.
eBook Publisher: Resplendence Publishing, LLC, 2012 May
eBookwise Release Date: September 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [141 KB]
Reading time: 89-125 min.
"You, my brother, are a thief and now you would be a murderer as well!" Prince Rajak Jehan, son of Shah Jehan, Mogul ruler of India's famed Peacock Throne, stared into Mohan's eyes over their crossed blades. Their muscles quivered with the pressure they exerted, but neither would give way. To do so meant certain death to one.
"You are unfit to rule the empire," Mohan gasped. Sweat ran down his brow and plump cheeks. He blinked against the sting of sweat in his eyes. The whites of his dark eyes were streaked with red lines.
"You are the one who is unfit, Mohan," Rajak said through gritted teeth. "Did you think your assassins could kill me? Did you think I wouldn't escape your attempt to enslave me? Do you take me for such a fool that I would trust anyone you sent as a friend?"
"A fool is what you are," Mohan countered. "Your claim to the throne is lost. I have won."
He smiled triumphantly and Rajak was reminded of that younger brother who had won his way many times with stealth and trickery. Then it had been for a favored toy or his father's attention, now it was for the vastly wealthy Peacock Throne of India. The throne that was rightfully Rajak's, but he'd been abroad tending to his father's business--arranging a marriage for Mohan--when the ruler had taken ill and died. Rumors abounded that the shah had been poisoned.
Now, gazing into his brother's eyes, Rajak was sickened at the clarity of Mohan's guilt.
"You killed our father," Rajak growled and tightened his grip on his blade, wishing for a mad moment to run it through his brother's heart.
Mohan looked startled at his words and shook his head once as if to deny the accusation, but the words died on his lips and he smirked.
"It was time," he said without any remorse. "He was an old man. Why should we wait for our inheritance? I did it while you were gone so I might secure the throne before you could return and lay claim by right as eldest--"
His words were cut off by Rajak's sudden movement. Putting all his strength behind his effort, Rajak gripped his brother's wrist and flung him backward, wanting only to avenge his father's death. Mohan slammed into a wall and crumbled to the floor, his blade spinning across the tiles. Seeing him disarmed, Rajak stepped forward and placed his blade against his brother's neck. With one swift swipe, he could behead Mohan and regain his throne, but something within him, some long accepted role as protector of his younger brother, stayed his hand.
Mohan looked up at him with black, terror-filled eyes. "Brother, I beg you for mercy," he said.
"Did you show mercy to our father?" Rajak demanded, warring within himself. "Did you stay your hand when you administered your deadly poison? There is no mercy for the unmerciful." He raised his blade, willing himself to strike, but he hesitated, unable to mete out such final punishment. Even as he lowered his blade to his side, Mohan took advantage of his brother's moment of weakness.
"Guards!" he shouted and immediately, quick footsteps sounded outside the sumptuous chambers.
Rajak spun and saw two armed men enter.
"Kill him," Mohan commanded.
Mohan's men rushed toward Rajak, their blades at the ready.
Rajak met their attack and quickly disarmed them, but he knew it was only a matter of seconds before more guards would converge on them. Casting a final glance at his brother, he ran to the balcony and looked for an escape. Even as he climbed on the balustrade and prepared to jump, he heard the shuffle of more armed men coming to his brother's aid.
"He's on the balcony," Mohan shouted. "Hurry, kill him."
They reached the balcony, Mohan's harsh voice urging them on to kill. Rajak let go of his grip on the posts and did a free fall, spreading his arms so his robes might soften his landing, but he'd chosen well and he tumbled into a wagon of grain that had been left below. He lay on his back, gazing up at the balcony where his brother leaned over the railing, his face twisted in frustration.
For one moment, their gazes held, and it seemed to Rajak that all the years passed between them--years of life shared in the royal palace, years of being taught by the wise men about what would be expected of them as future rulers. Such bright promise was gone. Their father had been slain by his son's hand, and Rajak's claim to the throne had been usurped by the brother he'd loved. Now he must flee for his very life from men Mohan had drawn to his cause.
He leaped from the cart and fled the home he'd always known, racing down narrow alleys and doubling back so his trail would be lost. Only when he was sure he wasn't being followed, did he turn down a passageway that led to a high brick wall with a single door set in its center. Knocking a special code, he cast a glance over his shoulder while he waited. Good, the street was still empty. They'd all been in hiding since Mohan's attempts to have Rajak assasinated, while they worked to gather their supporters who would rise against Mohan's treachery. The door opened and he slid inside.
"Master, you have returned safely," his manservant and friend, Basa, exclaimed, running to meet him.
"The royal guards are right on my heels," Rajak warned him. "We must go separately, in case they come upon us."
"I will not leave you, Rajak," Basa replied.
"You will do as I say, old friend," Rajak answered in a tone that tolerated no insubordination.
Basa's expression grew troubled, but he nodded in obedience. "As you wish," he replied without enthusiasm.
Rajak placed a hand on his shoulder. "Gather our men and meet me on the dock. Tonight, we make our getaway permanent, and we strike back."
Basa brightened. "I will do as you command," he said, making a formal bow, but when he straightened, his face was alight with anticipation. "May Allah go with you, master."
"And with you, Basa."
Rajak left the courtyard where they'd rendezvoused and, making sure no one was about to spy on him, he stepped out into the alley and disappeared into the night. Basa would take a different route to the hiding place of their outlawed men. Outlaws, Rajak thought sourily. To think he and his loyal followers should be considered outlaws was an outrage. He knew they believed he was destined to be a great Mogul ruler like his father before him, but Mohan had betrayed them all. Rumor was that he had even imprisoned his own three sons and his daughter so he would have no opposition for the famous Peacock Throne. Now Rajak and his supporters were left to hide for their very lives. They all worried what would happen under Mohan's bloody rule.
Preoccupied, he made his way back through the city of Kabul, dodging into shadowy corners at the first sound of guards. Though he felt a haste to meet his ragged band of men, he could not leave without making one last stop. He had to return to the castle to see Nidra. She had been one of his father's harem favorites and a good friend to his mother when she was alive. He went slowly, creeping into the royal garden where the concubines lingered in the moonlight. He took up a position behind an exotic plant heavy with blossoms, filling the night with sweet perfume. Peering through its branches, he watched and waited until the woman he sought made her appearance. She walked proudly, her head tall beneath its covering, her silken garments moving lightly in the breeze of her passing. She came directly to the end of the garden where he waited.
"Rajak?" she called softly.
He shifted closer so she might see him. Relief crossed her face when she caught sight of him. She was well past her youth, but her beauty was still luminous.
"Are you all right?" she asked with some anxiety. "It was whispered in the palace that you tried to kill Mohan as you have killed your father."
"So, that's the way of it," Rajak growled, the sound all the more fearsome for its quietness. "You know the truth of things, Nidra. I could never kill my father. I honored and loved him too much for such an evil deed. Besides, I was on my way back from Persia with news of Mohan's bride."
"I know as do many of us. We don't believe Mohan's accusations. He has men in the street, crying out news of your murderous deed, but still the people don't believe him. They remember Mohan as a boy, who never spoke the truth and was a coward. They do not want him as their ruler, but if they speak out, they will be killed."
She gasped as a guard entered the garden and milled about.
"You must go. They are searching everywhere for you."
"How have you and my father's other wives fared under my brother's rule?" he asked, keeping his eye on the guards.
"He has had many of us assassinated. He will not take his father's women, but he knows some of us hold power even with the shah's death. He must proceed slowly so as not to outrage the palace elite. I am safe for now. He believes I possess knowledge that he must have to rule effectively." She turned to face him, despite the danger of discovery, and her voice shook with emotion when next she spoke.
"You must not worry about me, Rajak. I will survive if it's to be. I am but a woman, but you are meant to be the new shah and you must survive to take back the throne, otherwise we will all be lost. Stay safe."
She held out her hand to him and he quickly grasped it. She passed a bag to him, heavy with gold then turned and walked away. The guard glanced at her and she smiled at him. She said a few words that Rajak couldn't hear then turned back to the entrance to the harem. The other women followed, swaying like flowers in the moonlight. Soon the garden was empty save for the guards who looked around then seeing nothing amiss, left the garden as well. When he was sure everything was clear, Rajak rose and made his way back the way he'd come.
Basa was watching for him and his worried expression lightened when he caught sight of Rajak.
"What took you so long?" his servant demanded sharply. "Where did you go? We thought you had been captured."
"Don't worry about me so much, old friend," Rajak said, placing a hand on Basa's shoulder. "Tonight, we make our first stand against Mohan." He turned and moved among his men who greeted him with quiet words and affectionate handclasps.
"Kalari," he said when he reached a slim, young man with a round face. "What have you found out about The Black Swan? Have you spoken to the captain, and will he and his crew sail with us?"
"Madhava declares his allegiance, Rajak, but I do not trust him, nor do some of his crew. We must proceed with caution."
"You are wise beyond your years, Kalari. I will heed your warning. Where is he waiting?"
"This way, my prince," Kalari said and led the way toward one end of the wharf where a warehouse cast deep shadows.
Rajak followed, his gaze darting here and there for signs of treachery, but there seemed to be none. Perhaps Kalari was overly cautious. They came to a halt in the deepest shadows, when a man dressed in the finest of garments stepped forward. He was a portly man of medium height with a fleshiness about him that hinted of his preference for easy living.
"Prince Rajak," the man called, holding out his hand in greeting. His voice rang out in the darkness.
"Madhava," Rajak replied in a quiet voice meant to carry only to the captain's ears.
Suddenly, the empty wharf erupted with moving shadows as guards came out of their hiding places and rushed forward.
"It's a trap, Rajak," Kalari cried.
He and Rajak's men raced to form a circle around their prince, but Rajak had already drawn his sword. He wrapped his arm around the neck of the rotund captain and held the point of his weapon against the man's fat neck.
"Call them off," he ordered.
"I can't. They're not mine," Madhava gasped. He was sweating profusely and a stench rose from his body.
"Then you are of no further use to me," Rajak said and made to plunge his blade into Madhava's neck.
The man squealed like a pig and struggled. "I'll do as you say," he cried. "Don't kill me."
"Call them off." Rajak repeated his order.
He could feel the man shaking like a leaf. In a voice considerably less arrogant than he'd sounded upon first greeting Rajak, Madhava called to the men and one by one, they drew back.
"They would not have obeyed you so readily if they'd not been your men," Rajak muttered.
"Yes, yes," Madhava said and hiccupped, "but I was only following orders."
"Whose orders?" Rajak tightened his hold on Madhava's neck.
The man squealed again and shivered harder. "I cannot say, oh prince, for it would surely mean my head," the frightened man whimpered.
"You need have no fear of that, Madhava," Rajak replied. "For if you do not tell me, you will have no head to lose. Which is it to be, a quick death now or a chance to flee?"
"It was your brother who ordered all men along the wharf to report if you appeared seeking passage. When your man talked to me, I knew I must send word to him or else be killed myself."
"You would betray your sovereignty to save your own neck?"
"I'm sorry, Prince Rajak, but I had no choice."
"Of course, you did. And you chose your life over mine. I would have done the same."
He released Madhava, shoving him away with contempt, so the man fell to his knees and looked up worriedly.
"Wha-what are you going to do, great Prince of all India?"
"I'm taking your ship," Rajak replied "and any of the crew who wish to join me."
"But what about me?" Madhava whined. "What will I do? What will I report to the sh--" He hesitated, aware he'd betrayed his own allegiance. "Please, Prince Rajak. I am but a poor captain who has nothing but loyalty for whoever sits on the throne. They tell us Mohan is our new ruler and we must be loyal to him, so I am loyal." He shrugged as if he truly didn't know or care who ruled him.
Rajak thought that was probably true. As long as the man had his ship and was well rewarded for his service to the throne, Madhava didn't care who ruled. Money was his ruler.
Disgusted with the corrupt man, Rajak knelt over him. "I will give you your life," he said, "and I will take your ship in return. Go to your sovereign and tell him these words and from whom they came. Say, his rule on the Peacock Throne will be fraught with danger for one day I will return and kill him as he has killed our father. Can you remember that?"
Madhara looked at him with uncertainty, his eyes reflecting the sudden respect he felt for this young royal, but Rajak didn't pause long enough to assess the man's mood or loyalty further. He straightened and signaled to his men. With single-minded purpose, they moved toward the ship, weapons drawn, expressions grim. Any man who sought to stop them would meet with death this night.