He stood up. ‘You saw how it’s done... We can say the words to each other. Obviously we’ll get married officially, but I don’t want to waste any time.’
Charlotte’s vision blurred and she nodded. ‘Yes, I’d like that.’
Salim let her go and dragged a throw off the couch. He spread it on the floor and put down two cushions. He knelt on one and put out a hand for Charlotte to join him. She knelt in front of him on the other cushion, heard the fire crackling in the hearth.
He took the ring out of the box and joined their hands together in the prayer position. Then with his free hand he touched the tops of their fingers with the ring saying, ‘I marry you...’ three times, until he came to her ring finger and slid the ring home.
Then he took another ring out of his pocket, for him, and gave it to her. Charlotte felt the intensity of the moment as she copied his words, sliding his ring onto his finger and holding it there.
Salim interlaced their fingers. ‘Now we’re married.’
Charlotte said emotionally, ‘For better or worse.’
‘In sickness and in health.’
‘Till death do us part.’
A huge smile split Salim’s face, making him look young and free.
He reached for her. ‘Come here, Queen Al-Noury, I need to make love to my wife.’
Charlotte went willingly, and it was much, much later when they finally emerged, sated and happy, to enjoy the first of many happy Christmases together.
Christmas Day, a year later. Tabat City.
Charlotte’s breath caught along with the crowd’s as the massive Christmas tree in Tabat City’s main square sparkled and shone when a thousand tiny lights came to life against the clear dusk-filled sky.
It was stunning, and she had been deeply moved when Rafa had come to tell her that the city’s councillors had decided they wanted to do this to honour their English queen’s heritage and make her feel at home.
‘Is this okay?’
Charlotte heard the genuine concern in her husband’s voice and felt him slide an arm around her waist. She nodded and bit her lip to contain her emotion, and then said, with a small hitch in her voice, ‘It’s more than okay... I think your antics last year cured me of any negative associations with Christmas for ever, and now this...’
He made a harrumphing sound and said, close to her ear, ‘You talk of the deeply romantic actions of a man who had never done anything like that in his life.’
Charlotte turned her head to look up at her husband and remarked with a teasing smile, ‘Indeed—who knew that behind the stone-cold heart of a playboy there was a romantic dying to be set free?’
He smiled and lifted her left hand, the light glinting off the solid gold eternity ring inlaid with tiny emeralds that he’d presented her with on the birth of their daughter, Sara, three months before. A month after Zafir and Kat—now both firm friends to Charlotte—had given birth to their son, Kalim.
The crowd cheered and clapped and the bundle in Charlotte’s arms started to move, making small mewling sounds. She looked down into the just-awake eyes of her daughter and her heart squeezed.
Sara’s eyes were still an indeterminate colour—somewhere between blue, grey and green. Charlotte secretly hoped they’d be blue, taking after her father and the beloved aunt they’d named her for. She would be the first Queen of Tabat, if she so wished. And if she didn?
??t wish it, then that would be ok too.
Salim had vowed to do everything in his power to ensure the rules of succession were as democratic as possible so no child of theirs would be forced to take on a role they didn’t want.
Sara’s garden in Jahor was now a much loved and visited site—a place of peace and contemplation for anyone who had suffered loss. In the past year Salim had done a lot of healing, together with his brother, and he’d truly come into his own. He was the beloved king, who was slowly but surely bringing his country into a new future.
He had set up a foundation to take care of all his myriad business concerns, run now by carefully handpicked staff. And he was also setting up the first digital hub in this part of the world, determined not to let his tech investments fall by the wayside. There was an air of industry and optimism throughout Tabat now, and tourism was rocketing.
Kat had been invaluable to Charlotte—helping to ease her into the intimidating role of queen—but to her relief the people of Tabat had welcomed her with unconditional acceptance and affection. The birth of their daughter had helped unite the country even more, and Charlotte’s favourite moments were those spent with the nomadic tribes out in the far reaches of the endless desert.
Salim saw the telltale brightness in his wife’s eyes as she looked out over the crowd and felt an answering surge of emotion. He still couldn’t believe where he was now—who he was. How rich his life was. And how poor it would have been if he hadn’t finally embraced his destiny.
He deftly took Sara from Charlotte’s arms, cradling her against his chest. His daughter gazed up at him with the unblinking trust and love that humbled him every time he looked at her.