Her name was Angela and she was in love. She had met Faisal at university and they had hit it off almost instantly. It was only a month later that he asked her to marry him.
He had never made any secret of the fact that he was a devout Muslim and she was prepared for the fact that he might ask her to cover her hair or wear long skirts or maybe wear a veil.
So what he actually told her came as a complete surprise:
“You’re a prince?” she said.
“Yes, Crown Prince of Kamboja” he said, smiling. “And you will be a princess. And one day Queen.”
She didnt know what to say. She was stunned.
“But..,” he continued, “There are certain…adjustments you must make if you agree to become my wife.”
“I love you,” she said “anything you want me to do I will do.”
He smiled again, “We must marry in my country. I will make the preparations.”
The next few days were a whirlwind of preparations. She gave up her university course and as she had no close family in the UK, sold all her property. Her friends were excited and bemused in equal measures.
Faisal gave her a copy of the Koran to read and also the holy book of Kamboja. She had agreed to convert to Islam but hadn’t realised the Kambojans were part of a strict sect that diverged from mainstream Islam in several ways. Not least the treatment of the women of the Royal family.
The night before they were due to leave, the couple were cuddling:
“The wedding day has been set for midsummers day. Four months from now,”said Faisal.
“So long,” said Angela, “is it an important date?”
“Your preparations will take that long,” said Faisal, “I will not be able to see you until the wedding day.”
Angela was prepared for that but was still disapointed.
She kissed him. “Its only four months,” she said.
The following morning the doorbell rang. She answered the door to two large men in suits with bodyguard written all over them. In the road was a large limo with darkened windows.
“Miss Foster?” said one.
“Yes.” Said Angela.
“We are to take you to the airport.” he said.
“What about my stuff?” she asked.
“That has all been arranged,” he said
Taking one last look around, she mentally said goodbye to her house and her previous life. Grabbing her bag and her passport she shut the door.
Climbing into the back of the limo, she was surprised that both men got into the front. Also that there was a solid bulkhead between them and the passenger section. And that the windows weren’t just darkened, they were blacked out. Seated in the back was a woman dressed in abaya and hijab and gloves. The car moved off.
“Greetings,” she said, “I am Mariam and I am tasked to be your teacher and companion.”
“Hello,” said Angela, “I think I’m going to need a friend.”
“I will teach you of our ways,” said Mariam, “and I will be your companion until your wedding through the trials to come.”
“Have no doubt, the next four months will be difficult for you. However your faith and your love will carry you through.”
“You have read our holy book?” asked Mariam.
“I did. But it was a long read.”
“You will need to have it memorised by the time you are married. But let me recite you this passage:
And the Angel looked at the woman and saw that she was not pure,
And he said unto the Lord of that land “I will make this woman pure”
And Lo, She found that she was unable to grasp with her hands,
And that she was unable to walk
And that she was unable to speak
And that she was unable to see.
And she lay thus.
For the passing of one moon she gave all her thought to the glory of God
And The Angel then restored her. She praised God
And the Lord of the Land made her his queen.”
“Bloody Hell,” said Angela.
“Do you want to walk away?” said Mariam, “Now is your chance.”
“Its only four months,” replied Angela.
Mariam smiled but Angela was worried about what was going to happen to her.
The journey continued uneventfully. Angela and Mariam chatted, sharing family details. Mariam showed her pictures of her new home; the royal palace at Tonati, the capital. It was huge.
Mariam gestured to one wing of the palace, “These are the queens quarters,” she said, “all of the women in the royal house live together there.”
“So how often will I see Faisal?” asked Angela.
“As often as he wishes,” replied Mariam. She would say no more.
The trip on the airplane continued in the same manner. Angela fell asleep at one point. She awoke to Mariam shaking her. “We are about to land,” she said, “It is important that you understand what is going to happen.”
“Ok,” said Angela, rubbing sleep from her eyes and the kinks from her neck.
“At the moment,” Mariam said, “it is important that you are not seen by those that are soon to be your subjects. Accordingly the plane will land near to a covered area where we will transfer to a blacked out car. You will neither see nor be seen.”
Angela could think of no reply to that so kept silent.
It went as Mariam said. The plane landed and there was some manouvering, the pair disembarked into a covered area which was completely empty. Of people and things. Mariam led the way to a door which opened into a large vehicle, again with blacked out windows.
The vehicle set off. It had airconditioning but Angela could feel the oppresive heat from outside. There was something else.
“Whats that noise?” she asked.
“Your people are welcoming you.”
Their arrival at the palace took Angela by surprise. One moment heat, the next coolness. The car stopped and the door opened.
Angela stepped out into an enormous vaulted chamber. Holding the door open was a woman, Angela assumed it was a woman as she was so heavily veiled that it was impossible to tell. The robes that she wore were so voluminouse that it was difficult to tell anything about her build.
“Thank you,” said Angela.
“She will not reply,”said Mariam, getting out behind her, “She is one of your servants and as such is forbidden from talking to the exalted one.”
They made their way to Angelas chambers. Through two huge doors which boomed shut behind them. Her chambers were on the same scale. Room after room. Decorated with marble and silk, gold fixtures and fittings, a bed which was bigger than her old bedroom.
“All this is yours,” said Mariam, “In a sense this will be your world, because you will not be permitted to leave your apartments unaccompanied.”
“A womans life is restricted here, then?”
“To a greater or lesser extent, depending on the familys status. Never forget, one day you will be queen.”
They moved into the lounge, if lounge could do the room justice.
“Sleep now,” said Mariam, “your servants are never more than a call away. Your every whim is there command. I will return in the morning”
Angela realised that she was very tired and the bed was looking very attractive.
“HaGaha,” shouted Mariam. A veiled woman appeared. “Ready the exalted one for bed”
The woman bowed slightly.
Angela woke gradually. She was on the huge bed. Bright sun was streaming in through gauzy drapes that seemed to stretch up forever.
Where were her clothes?
“Now,” she thought, “How had Mariam done it?”
“HaGaha!” A veiled woman appeared.
“I want to get out up but I can’t find my clothes.”
The woman backed away and another woman, veiled this time in white appeared.
She spoke, “Exalted one. Now is the time for your trials to begin.”
Angela was surprised, “Mariam? Why are you wearing a veil?”
“I am not permitted to show my face to you until you are wed.”
“What about my clothes?
“Your clothes are part of your former life.You must now wear the clothes we have prepared for you. This is the first part of your trials.”
Two veiled women appeared. One was carrying some grey cloth.
The cloth was held out to Angela and was revealed to be a dress. It was floor length, full in the skirt and its sleeves seemed to reach below the hands. It opened at the front and the women held it for Angela to step into.
“Oh Well,” she thought, “this is my life now.”
She slipped it on. The front was fastened up by the women who dissapeared back where they had come from.
It was then that she dicovered that she could not lift her arms, the sleeves were attached to the body of the dress. Also the sleeves had no openeing at the bottom, nowhere for her hands to come through.
There was no way to use her hands or to get the dress off without help.
She looked at Mariam, helplessly.
“But..I can’t…,” she started.
“And Lo She found that She was unable to grasp with her hands,” quoted Mariam.
At this point the women reappeared with a voluminous cloak. They placed it around her shoulders. It was dark blue, again fastening at the front. There were no holes for hands and when the women had fastened it there was no sign that there had been a seem there at all.
“But how can I…?” began Angela again.
“Exalted one, anything you desire is yours. These women will provide for your every wish. However you will not be permitted from those doors until the day of your wedding.”
“I understand,” said Angela.
“I am here as your companion and teacher,” said Mariam, “to show you the holy book and your part in our life.”
“I understand,” said Angela again
“Good. Then come.”
Mariam led Angela to a part of her apartments that she hadn’t been in before. There was a throne set on a pedastal which in turn was set in an island in the midst of what appeared to be a pool of water. A walkway led to it across the water.
Mariam gestured and Angela went and sat on the throne.
“Very nice,” She said, “Now what?”
Two silver filigree doors came sliding soundlessly round from behind her, at the same time the walkway dissapeared into the floor. She was sat in a gilded cage marooned on an island.
“Mariam. Help.” She said.
“I cannot, Exalted one. If you are to marry the prince then this is what you must endure. Your path is set. ”
“But what do I do?”
“Learn our ways, exalted one.”
Angela sighed, “Does Faisal mention me at all?”
“I don’t know. I am not permitted to speak with the Prince. However if he does not miss you terribly then he is a fool.”
Angela smiled, “Thank you Mariam.”
The day passed. Mariam read to her from the Koran and the Holy book. They chatted. A meal was brought. Mariam read some more.
Although she had no way of telling the time she noticed that it seemed to be getting darker. She stiffled a yawn.
“You are tired, Exalted one?”
“Yes. Doing nothing is hard work,” she joked.
She couldn’t tell if her companion got the joke or not.
“Very well. You will retire for the night. HaGaha.”
One of the veiled women appeared.
“Prepare the exalted one for sleep.”
The woman backed away.
The filigri doors slid soundlessly apart. Angela stood and stepped down from the throne. They processed to the bedroom and the huge bed where she had woken this morning.
Wordlessly her cloak and grey dress were removed. She was guided to a bathroom where she was bathed and prepared.
She was led back to the bed where a large white garment had been laid out for her.
“Your night attire. Exalted one,” said Mariam.
The women held it open at the back for her. She stepped in and found that it was sealed at the bottom, in the manner of a bag. She slipped her arms into the sleeves and was not surprised to find that they ended in mittens. The whole thing appeared to be made of a silky material and was quite roomy, although she wouldnt be going for a midnight stroll.
All of a sudden one of the women slipped some cloth over her head and over her eyes. Her mouth and nose were left clear but the rest of her head was covered.
“Hey. Whats going on?” she said. She moved her hands up to try and remove the helmet.
She felt someone holding her hands as someone else fastened the seam up the back.
She was stuck.
“Exalted one,” said Mariams voice, “be at peace. This is the traditional sleeping garment for a princess. It will be removed when you wake. Now rest.”
Angela felt herself being lifted onto the bed and her head being layed down on many soft pillows.
Despite herself, she was quite relaxed. She drifted off to sleep.
And so that was how the first month passed. She slept in the big bed, woke and was dressed and spent the day sat on her throne in the silver cage, where she was read to. The only voice she heard was Mariam’s and she didn’t see another persons face. She was almost used to her routine by the end of the first month when her waking routine changed.
Angela was woken as normal. The women removed her sleeping garment. Washed and prepared her for the day. Instead of bringing the now familiar grey dress and blue cloak she was taken to a waist high bench where Mariam bid her to lay down.
Angela looked up at the veiled woman who she considered almost a friend.
“The second part of your trials, exalted one.”
The other women reappeared with rolls of yellow cloth. These they proceeded to wrap around Angelas prone form. Starting at the feet they moved swiftly up her body. Her arms were crossed across her chest and then wrapped in place. They reached her head and that too was wrapped in bandages. Her face was left uncovered however.
“Oh God”, she thought, “I’m a mummy.”
Next a padded silken sheath the size of a person was brought and Angela was placed inside it. It was black and was covered in silver Arabic script. The side was sealed. She found that it fitted her perfectly and that she couldn’t move a muscle. However there was a hole for her face and she was still able to speak.
“Mariam?” she said.
“She was unable to walk”, recited Mariam.
“Mariam, I don’t like this. Let me go”, Panic was starting to set in.
She wriggled as much as she could. Which wasn’t much.
“Exalted one…”Mariam began.
“Let me go. I’ve put up with enough over the last month. Let me go”, Angela was nearly shouting.
“Exalted one, I cannot.”
“You can. Let me go.”
“I cannot. If I don’t fulfil my duties to the satisfaction of the Royal family I will be stoned to death.”
“Oh!” Angela was suddenly quiet and still.
“I’m sorry, Exalted one”, Mariam was crying, “I cannot fail.”
“What sort of man am I marrying?” She was shocked.
“It is not the prince, Exalted one. It is his father, the king. He is a cruel man and the prince dare not displease him.”
“For Faisal and for you, my friend. I will continue.” Angela surprised herself. She was suddenly sure that she wanted to.
A wheeled trolley was brought and Angelas prone form was slid across onto it.
“I’m not going to spend the next month looking at the ceiling am I?” she asked.
“No. Exalted one.” Mariam pressed a concealed button and the trolley moved Angela into a sitting position.
One of the veiled women brought some of the, now familiar, silver filigree and fastened a cage over her. She was now trapped on the trolley, not that she could have jumped off before.
“Why the cage again, Mariam?”
“For your protection.”
They wheeled her into the main room of her apartments. The pool of water where she had spent the first month of her new life was now a fountain. The throne had gone. Mariam followed her in.
“When did the fountain appear?” Angela asked her.
“Last night. As you were sleeping, Exalted one.”
Angela stared at it. Listening to the tinkling of the water.
This was ridiculous, She thought, all these rooms were hers, technically. But she couldn’t get anywhere without help. She hadn’t seen outside of those enormous doors. She was more helpless than a newborn baby. Still, it was only until she was married, then she would be with Faisal and everything would be alight again.
Mariam and Angela chatted for a few minutes. Mariam produced the books and her lessons began again.
The day passed. She had no idea of the time. The drapes blew gently in the breeze. The fountain tinkled. She realized she was hungry.
“I’m hungry”, She said
“HaGaha”, said Mariam, loudly, “Food for the exalted one.”
Two veiled women appeared with trays of food.
“How is this going to work?” said Angela.
Part of the cage surrounding her was hinged. One of the women opened it and proceeded to feed her as she directed.
After she had finished the cage was closed again.
The lessons continued until darkness fell. Indirect light from unseen lamps filled the room.
Mariam shut the book, “I think it is time to finish.”
Angela said “Stay and talk awhile.”
“Are you not tired,” asked Mariam.
“No. I haven’t done much today.”
Mariam laughed, “Indeed.”
They talked for some hours. Mariam told Angela of her family in a province to the North and how she came to be in Royal service. Angela told her of her life in England before meeting Faisal. Mariam was amazed at the freedom that Angela had taken for granted.
“And you gave all that up for love?”
“I did that”, replied Angela, “I think I’ll go to bed now.”
“Very well Exalted one.”
She called the veiled women and Angela was taken to her bedroom. She was removed from the sheath that had imprisoned her all day. The wrappings were removed and she was bathed and dried. She let her attendants do all this to her. After a month she had got out of the habit of using her hands.
She was lifted from the bath and taken to the bed. The, now familiar, sleeping garment was waiting for her. They slipped it round her and as the helmet was slipped over her eyes and darkness fell, she felt it being sealed at the back.
The days passed. She began to understand the religion of this country and her place in the grand scheme of things. As before, the only voice she heard was Mariams. The only people she saw were women who were so heavily covered that she could tell nothing about them. Her previous life began to, ever so slightly, recede. She was becoming used to this strange, surreal existence.
Angela and Mariam were sat at lessons when there was a knock at the door to her apartments. A small hatch slid aside and a piece of paper slid through. The hatch slid shut again.
Mariam went to the door and retrieved the paper. She opened it and read.
She began to shake. She walked over to Angela.
“The King”, she began, “The King is coming.”
“What, here”,said Angela, “I didn’t think he was allowed.”
“The King cannot be denied if that is what he desires.”
“What of me.”
“You must be prepared. You cannot see him.”
“And he cannot see me.”
Mariam called “HaGaha.”
Two women appeared.
“Take the exalted one to the robing room”, she instructed.
The women pushed Angelas trolley into the room where she had been dressed earlier.
She was extracted from the cage and a large, red, silken bag was brought. She was laid down on it and the women began to seal it around her. The sealing was finished and her entire world was now coloured red. She could see nothing at all. She felt herself being lifted back onto her trolley and heard the cage click shut around her.
Mariams voice said, “Please, Exalted one. Do not speak again until the King has gone.”
She heard a booming knock at what she assumed was the main door.
A voice said, “Women. Open for the King, your master.”
A creaking noise.
Mariams voice said, “Enter and be welcome, oh light of the desert.”
Another, deeper voice, “Rise woman. Where is that which my son would make his wife.”
“In the far room, Lord.”
Footsteps, getting louder.
“Here is the exalted one Lord.”
“Hmm. She is proper?”
“She is familiar with our ways?
“Woman. Will she make a good wife for my son?”
“I believe so Lord.”
“Hmm. If you succeed in your tutelage you will be richly rewarded. If not, you know the penalty.”
“Yes Lord. Thank you Lord.”
Footsteps fading away.
The door creaked shut.
Mariams voice again, “The king has left, we will remove your outer covering Exalted one.”
She heard the cage click open and felt herself being lifted from her trolley.
Natural light suddenly became part of her world again.
She saw the figures of Mariam and two of the women.
“I think he is happy”, said Mariam.
“I’m glad to hear it”, replied Angela.
She was placed on her trolley and it was moved into a sitting position.
“I miss Faisal,” said Angela suddenly, “I haven’t even spoken to him, let alone seen him in months.”
“I know Exalted one,” replied Mariam, “it must be difficult for you.”
“Is there anyway I can see him or talk to him.”
“Unless he requests it, no. He will be under pressure from his father and the priests to bow to tradition, which will forbid any contact.”
More days passed. Days of learning, sleeping and sitting. She passed from loving Mariam to hating her to loving her again. As the only voice she had heard for nearly two months she was Angelas only link to the rest of the human race. Faisal became an unattainable goal. The wedding began to recede into the future as she adjusted to her present.
The second month ended without Angela being aware. In fact she had completely lost track of the time of day, the day or even what time of year it was.
She woke as normal, or what passed as normal for her these days. She was undressed, bathed and fed. She was taken to the robing room where she was laid on the table. Two of the women appeared with rolls of cloth and began to wrap her from the feet up.
“Exalted one.” said Mariam, “The second part of your trials is now over.”
“It is?” Angela was surprised.
“Yes, Exalted one.” The women had reached her head.
“The third part of your trials begins now.” The women had covered her head and were passing loops of cloth over her mouth.
“Mmmmm”, said Angela. This was an unpleasant shock.
“Mmmmmm”, She said again, staring at Mariams shapeless form.
“And She was unable to speak,” recited Mariam
Another silken sheath was brought. Again it was the length of her body and padded. It was dark red in colour and was again covered in silver Arabic script. It opened at the side and her bound form was slid into it. The opening was sealed shut. The opening at the head end was this time only big enough for her eyes. She stared at Mariam, hoping that the other could tell what she was thinking. If she could she gave no sign.
The trolley was brought and Angela was lifted onto it. The cage was clicked over her, and she was moved into a sitting position.
They wheeled her into the main room and Mariam sat down next to her. The veiled figure turned to Angela and said, “Be strong Exalted one. Take each day at a time. Your wedding is now only two months away.”
“They can’t expect me to stay like this for a month,” thought Angela, “bound and gagged, in effect, in a huge middle eastern palace. I’ll go mad.”
Mariam was reading.
Angela wasnt really paying attention although there wasnt anything else for her to focus on.
It was a week later when something monumental happened. The weeks routine had not changed. Sleeping in darkness, sitting, mute in her cage while Mariam read to her, the brief moments when she could see and converse like anyone else.
She was sitting and Mariam was reading when there was a knock at the door. The slit opened and a piece of paper slipped through.
Mariam went to fetch the paper.
She was reading it as she came back, “It is a letter from the prince to you.”
“Faisal”, thought Angela, “at last. He hasn’t forgotten me. He’ll come and get me out of this.”
“He is coming to see you,” said Mariam, “soon.”
“When though”, thought Angela.
“In an hour,” said Mariam, finishing the letter, “he is coming in an hour. His father is hunting in the mountains and he is seizing the chance.”
“Mmmm”, said Angela.
“No, Exalted one. I cannot free you.”
“He can’t see me like this,” thought Angela, “I need – I want – to talk to him.”
The hour passed quickly for Angela. Before She knew it there came a knock at the door.
Mariam went to open it. She fell to her hands and knees as the door opened.
There he was, Faisal. Dressed in the robes of a prince but otherwise looking just as she saw him last.
“Rise woman,” he said, addressing Mariam, “Where is Angela?”
“Thank you my prince,” Mariam gestured to where Angela sat.
Faisal rushed over.
“Oh My Love, My Love,” He was pressing his hands on the cage which seperated them, “I am sorry you must endure the trials. But it is the only way if we are to be together.”
“Yes,” thought Angela, “ But let me go now, I want to talk to you. I want to hold you.”
“Mmmmm”, she said.
“My love, it is not for much longer. Then we can be married.”
“Let me go,” shouted Angela in her mind, “Just ungag me so I can tell you I love you.”
Faisal stood and turned to Mariam.
“She is strong? She will endure?”
“She is, My Prince. I presume to call her my friend and I belive she will endure.”
“Don’t talk about me”, thought Angela, “I’m here.”
Faisal turned back to her, “My time is limited, farewell Angela. Be strong. Remember I love you.”
He turned to go.
“No,” she thought, “Let me go. Dont leave me like this.”
He was gone and the door was closed.
Mariam came back to her, “Oh Exalted one. You are crying.”
That evening as Angela was being bathed and made ready for bed she asked Mariam something she had never asked before.
“Mariam,” she said, “please dont seal me in that bag just yet.”
“But Exalted one. We must.”
“Just give me a few minutes of freedom. Please.”
Mariam thought for a while. “As you wish Exalted one. I can give you half an hour.”
“Mariam,”asked Angela, “Will you hold me for a few moments. Please.”
“Yes. Exalted one.”
“Its been so long since I have touched another human being I just need to be reminded of what its like.”
“Yes. Exalted one.”
The two women hugged. Angela felt Mariam through the layers of cloth that covered her. It had been many months since she had seen her face but the memory of the day the first met was clear in her mind.
“Thank you,” said Angela, “I’m ready for bed now.”
“As you wish.”
She was helped to the bedroom as she was finding it increasingly difficult to walk these days. The white night sack (as she had taken to calling it) was layed out for her. She was helped into it and the helmet was slipped over her eyes. Her arms were pushed into the sleeves and she felt herself being lifted onto the bed.
“Sleep well, Exalted one”, said Mariams voice.
“Thank you” said Angela.
She didnt sleep well however. She lay awake for many hours thinking and thinking until finally she dozed into a fitful sleep.
The days and the weeks passed. Angelas routine continued as before. Sleeping, waking, bathing eating, sitting in silence, bathing, sleeping. She took each day as it came. She didnt see Faisal again. The only person who communicated with her in any way was Mariam.
And then the month was over and it was time for the forth part of her trials to begin.
She woke and was bathed, fed and taken to the robing room. She knew what was coming. As the women wrapped her in cloth she lay and stared at the ceiling. She was resigned to the month ahead. Sure enough the wrapping reached her head. As it did she smiled.
“I’ll see you tonight Mariam.”
The wrapping covered her mouth, silencing her, but this time they didnt stop there. The wrapping covered her eyes and darkness fell in her world.
She heard Mariams voice say, “She was unable to see. And she lay thus.”
She felt herself being lifted and guessed that she was being slid inside another of the silken cocoons. Strangely, she could hear clearly. The sound of the cage clicking shut. Mariam directing the women to move her into the main room.
Mariam began to read to her.
The days passed. Her hours in darkness and enforced silence began to fade into each other. Sometimes she thought she dreamed and sometimes she was sure she was awake. It was becoming more and more difficult to tell which was which. They only constant was Mariams voice. Once she thought she heard Faisals voice and felt his arms around her but couldn’t be sure it wasn’t a dream. The only times that were real to her were the brief periods between day and night when she was bathed and fed. Only then did she actually see things and react to what was going on around her although she was so weak that she couldn’t really move at all.
Then. One day. She woke and as the women were removing her sleep sack she saw that Mariam had a face again.
She remembered to speak. “Mariam. I can see you.”
“Yes. Exalted one. Your trials are over. You are pure. Your wedding is in two weeks.”
“Wedding. It’s finally here.”
“Yes. Exalted one.”
They bathed her and she was fed. Instead of being mummified for the day she was dressed in a exeptionally large abaya. It covered her hair and reached down to the floor. If she had had the strength to hold her arms straight out it would have been rectangular. Her hands pushed through loops in the sleeves. There didn’t appear to be any holes for her hands to reach open air.
“Somethings don’t change,” she thought.
She was helped to a large chair where she sat down, the abaya folding around her until the chair was completely covered in black cloth.
“Exalted one. The palace jeweler will be here in a few minutes to fit your er.. the best translation is gloves, I think.
“Gloves from a jeweler. It sounds exotic.”
“Yes Exalted one. They are gold.”
“We must be veiled as it is impracticle to blindfold the man. He will, however be fitted with earplugs so we may speak freely. He is forbidden from speaking to any women here.”
As she was talking Mariam had veiled herself and had become again the shapeless, faceless figure that Angela had known for so many months.
One of the women had brought armfulls of white cloth and she proceeded to place it on the back of Angelas head. It appeard to be fashioned into some sort of cap. The cloth dropped behind her and the woman then lowered it in front as well. It was a traditional burqa. It covered Angela completely. Her world view shrank to a small grill.
Mariam reached into the folds of cloth and did something that released both Angelas hands.
At that point there came a knock at the door.
Mariam went and opened the door. A small, bearded, elderly, almost stereotypically middle eastern man entered carrying a case.
“This is the palace jeweler,” said Mariam.
“Come in”, said Angela from within the yards of cloth covering her.
“He cannot hear, Exalted one.”
The jeweller made his way to Angela. A chair was brought and a table was placed between the two of them. He sat.
“Please place your hands on the table, Exalted one”, said Mariam.
Angela did this.
The man reached into his case and retrieved what appeared to be two gold replicas of her hands. They had rubys set where each of the finger nails would be, silver arabic script inlaid in the back of each hand and a cuff of diamonds around each wrist. They were beautiful and must have been very expensive.
The jeweler did something that split both of them in half. They were hollow. He quickley took each of Angelas hands and placed them inside the replicas. The other halves were pressed down and were fixed. Angela looked as if she had two gold hands.
It was then that she discovered that they were not flexible at all. They had made her hands useless for anything but the most basic of tasks.
The man stood, bowed and left the room. Mariam removed her veil. Angela tried to lift her burqa over her head. Her now useless hands made this difficult.
“Help me,” she asked.
One of the women came and drew the burqa back over her head. The cap was left on her head however.
The days passed. She became stronger. Her walking became easier. The gold gloves remained on her hands and meant that she was still unable to do anything but the most basic tasks. Her clothing became relatively less restrictive. The abaya was the standard day clothing and the sleep sack had been replaced as well. The new night attire was still white, still large but actually allowed her the use of her legs. The helmet too was gone, covering her hair was a softer veil that didnt cover her eyes or any part of her face.
The wedding came closer.
“So what,” Angela asked, “Am I going to wear?”
“The tradition is for the bride to wear gold,” said Mariam, “The husband is supposed to free the bride and admit her to his family.”
“Oh,” Angela was intrigued. Although the memory of the last four months promised her that she was going to be restrained in some way.
The day dawned. Mariam woke Angela early.
“Come”, she said, “We must prepare.”
She was washed and perfumed. The women helped her dress. Her wedding costume was elaborate.
For the first time in months she was wearing something similer to normal underwear, but that is where the similarities ended.
A corset was fastened around her waist and tightened, and tightened.
A skirt, cotton, so narrow that she was unable to take more than very short steps. A small blouse was slipped over her head.
“Oh,” She thought. “This isn’t too bad.”
A dress appeared and was slipped over her head. Light,and white in colour, with ordinary sleeves and unadorned in any way. It was floor length, with a train that was only a few inches long. It had a high neck. A second dress came next. It was blue and was of a similer style to the first although more open at the neck and with a fuller and longer skirt. In all five more layers were brought. Angela was finding it difficult to move her arms. The final overdress brought. Gold coloured. It was huge. The skirt was twenty feet round. The women lowered it over her head.
A high collar of solid gold was fastened around her neck. It fitted from from the top of her chest and came up under her chin and reached behind her ears. It meant that it was impossible for her to move her head. Looking forward and level was all she could do. The golden gloves that held her hands rigid were themselves covered in thick, golden, brocade gloves that covered her forearms to her elbows.
She could barely move. She tried to walk forward a few steps. The underskirt limited her steps giving the impression almost as if she was gliding.
Lastly an abaya style overgarment in red was wrapped around her.
At this point Mariam appeared with a large ebony box studded with precious jewels.
“This, Exalted one, is the wedding mask.”
She opened the box. Inside was a mask that appeared to be made of gold, set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. At the back were straps made of leather.
Mariam lifted it to Angelas face. It was strapped on. She found that where the opening for the mouth should have been was nothing.
“I’m gagged again”, thought Angela resignedly.
To top the entire ensemble was a large, silver burqa. She could see very little, she couldnt speak and could hardly move without help. She could hear, but not well and she heard Mariam say,
“Let us go to the wedding chamber.”
She felt four pairs of hands grasp her and guide her forwards. The journey was going to be a slow one because of the small steps that she was taking.
For the first time since her arrival she left through the main doors. The procession made its way for what seemed like hours. Angela could see very little of the journey. Really only variations in light and dark. Shadows passing in front of her. The only sound she heard was a rhythmic chanting that came from all around her.
Eventually they arrived at their destination, wherever that was. The chanting was still going on. She could see people, shadows, in front of her, women they seemed to be as they were all veiled. The men, she assumed, were elsewhere.
She desperately wanted to sit down but nobody offered her a chair. She was so incredibly hot under all the cloth. She could hardly breath.
The chanting continued, first many voices, then one voice, then many again.
Eventually there was a shout from everybody in the room. Angela was guided into another room and was left on her own.
She stood, wondering what was going to happen now. She felt the burqa being lifted from her and dropped behind her. Hands behind her head were unstrapping the wedding mask. It was lifted from her.
Faisal was standing in front of her.
Hardly believing it was him, she said, “Hello.”
He smiled, “Hello.”
She smiled as well, “It’s you.”
He tenderly caressed her face, “It is.”
She started to cry, “Is it over?”
“Yes. We are married.”
They embraced and kissed. She held him almost as if she wanted to make sure he was really there.
“Are you ready to go outside and meet my father and the court.”
“Yes. But we can wait a few minutes.”
“Have I got to wear the mask again?”
“No. No more masks. No more gags. Just the veil.”
“Can I take this off?” she asked, indicating the collar.
“Yes,” he said, unfastening it and letting it drop.
“Lets do it then”, she said.
Faisal dropped the burqa back over her head. Her vision retreated to a small grill directly in front of her.
The door opened and the married couple left to meet the world.
Angela woke gently. The sun was streaming in through the huge window. The drapes fluttering in the soft breeze. She was in her chambers, in her enormous bed. She had been married for a month and her life was relatively good.
She had ultimate luxery, dozens of servants at her beck and call but she was a bird in a gilded cage. The gold gauntlets that had been fastened over her hands before she was married had remained. She had begged and pleaded with her husband to have them taken off but initially he had avoided the subject and later he had refused point blank. She was almost used to not having the use of her hands but they reminded her how helpless she still was.
Mariam was still her constant companion. The two had become fast friends and sat for many hours talking.
She saw Faisal every day. They had seperate apartments at the palace but did not live together. Either Faisal or Angela made the journey to the others rooms at least once a day. Admittedly it was easier for Faisal to come to her but She insisted on making the journey to him occasionally as it was the only time she actually ventured outside her four walls.
Mariam had obviously heard her stirring. She appeared by the side of the bed.
“Good morning, highness.”
“Good morning. How are you?”
“I am well highness. Do you wish to rise?”
“Yes. I think so. Breakfast and then a bath I think.”
She clapped her hands and two of the omnipresent veiled women appeared.
“Breakfast for the Highness”.
They bowed and left.
Mariam lifted the thin sheet from the bed and Angela rose. Her night dress was white, floor length and again voluminous. The sleeves were tight to the elbow and the forearms were puffed. Gloves were attached. The gold gauntlets were covered for the moment.
She was helped to the dining area and was fed her breakfast. Then She was undressed and helped into the olympic pool sized bath. One of the women got into the bath with her, fully dressed and still veiled. She proceeded to clean Angela thoroughley.
Angela was dried and dressed. She was now wearing a large, dark blue kaftan. Of a silken material it rustled when she moved. From her golden hands it dropped straight to the floor, rectangular in shape, only her hands and head were uncovered.
“Mariam. I’m going to see my husband,” she said.
“Yes. Highness.” She gestured to two of the women who disapeared.
They brought a black scarf which wrapped around her head, hiding her hair and her neck from prying male eyes. Over this was placed an abaya in black. This followed the lines of her kaftan but covered her head as well. Floor length with a high collar, it fastened in the front with buttons. Only at the wrists did it narrow slightly, forming small cuffs through which her golden hands protruded.
The final layer was a burkah in dark green. The cap from which the garment draped was placed on her head. She felt the weight of it behind her. The women gathered it up and lifted it over her head. Her world view constricted to a small grill in front of her. She had no peripheral vision at all. Her breath lingered hot and stale around her.
The now veiled Mariam appeared in front of her. “The prince is expecting you, Highness.”
“Excellent. Let’s go.”
It occurred to Angela, as they processed through the seemingly endless corridors of the palace, that she hadn’t actually seen much of her new home except through at least one layer of cloth. She hadn’t seen any of the country outside the palace at all.
The corridors were empty of people. All the servants and other members of the royal family had been instructed to stay in their rooms until She had passed by.
Soon the doors to her husbands apartments came upon them. Mariam knocked and the doors swung silently inward.
There was Faisal waiting to greet Angela. First there was palace protocol to deal with.
“Your Serenity. May I announce the arrival of her highness, princess of the house of the desert eagle, your wife,” said Mariam.
“Thank you,” said Faisal. “You may leave us.”
Mariam bowed once and backed out of the room.
They were alone and the doors closed.
Faisal grasped the bottom of the burkha and lifted it over Angelas head.
Daylight flooded back into her world.
The pair looked each other in the eyes and embraced long and hard. Then kissed long and hard.
“Hello.” said Angela.
“Hello.” Said Faisal, smiling.
Sometime later the pair were sat on a large sofa in Faisals appartments. They were sitting entwined in each others arms. Angela had stripped down to her kaftan. The blue cloth enveloped her and draped onto the floor.
“Oh,” said Faisal suddenly. “I forgot to tell you. We have bought an estate in England.”
“Really?” She sat up. “Can we visit?”
“Yes. I don’t see why not. Preparations will need to be made, but yes.”
She held up her golden hands. “Please can you take these off?”
“No. No. No.” He was angry. He stood up.
“But why. I can’t remember what it’s like to touch, to feel something.”
“I know. Please don’t ask again. Just know that I love you with all my heart and that they can never be removed.”
“I’m not your wife. I’m your prisoner.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way. I really am.”
“It’s just…I’ve given up a lot. My life, my friends. And now you won’t let me do anything, touch anything. I feel trapped.”
“I know,”said Faisal, sitting down again. “I know and I’m sorry. It’s just that it is the law of the land. You must remain pure if you are to be a wife and mother in the Royal Family. To remain pure You cannot be allowed to touch earthly things.”
“I must get back,” said Angela. “Can we go to England?”
“Yes. I will make preparations.” He called Mariam.
The days passed. Pretty soon a month had gone by.
Mariam arrived one day and said, “Highness. We are to travel to England.”
“At last,” said Angela. “Oh, you’ll love it Mariam.”
“What is it like in England Highness?”
“Green, Mariam. It rains a lot but the whole country is green.”
“We must pack Highness.”
“Yes, of course.”
Angela had expected to go that day but the packing was taking a while. It was two days later that Mariam appeared and said, “Highness, we must dress you for the journey.”
“When are we due to go?”
“As soon as you are dressed Highness.”
Her normal day wear in her appartments was a kaftan of varying colours but of the same cut. This was removed and she was dressed in a tunic and trousers of a very baggy style narrowing at the ankles to buttoned cuffs.
Over this was placed a dress in white that had a tunic style top but flared out below her breasts. It goes without saying that it was floor length.
She was bidden to sit down and Mariam said to her, “Highness, we are going to a country of unbelievers. For the journey at least it is forbidden for your ears to be sullied with their voices and sounds.”
“What does that mean?” asked Angela incredulously.
“We must insert plugs into your ears.”
“What? That’s ridiculous. That’s where I’m from.”
“I know, Highness, but you are of this country now.”
“Very well,” said Angela resigned to the fact.
She saw Mariams hands move to her ears and suddenly she could hear nothing.
Mariam gestured her to stand. A head abaya was brought and placed on her. Her hair was covered and it stretched to her wrists and down to the floor.
She was expecting a burka next but she was surprised. A gold eye mask was brought. It reached from her forehead to her cheeks, the eye holes were covered with gauze and a niqab fell below which covered the rest of her face.
Lastly thick black gloves were placed over her golden hands.
They left her appartments. Walking through the corridors, Angela could hear nothing. She was, however, moving more freely than she had in months. The garments she was wearing, while they covered her completely, barely restricted her walking.
They came to a large door which opened onto a tented area in which was a large limousine with darkened windows.
Mariam opened the door for her and she stepped in. She was surprised that the darkened windows were one way. She could see outside quite clearly although no one could see in.
The journey to the airport was quick and, because of the earplugs, silent. A police escort accompanied them to the airport. Angela was fascinated by her first view of her adopted country.
Soon they were at the airport and drove into the covered area that she was expecting. They stepped out of the car and made their way into the aeroplane.
The flight was boring in the extreme. Angela could see very little and could hear nothing. She slept for large parts of the journey and soon felt the bump and vibration as the plane hit the tarmac.
She was back in England. But she was now an outsider.
She expected to have to go through customs but apparently this was not to be. The disembarkation was a mirror image of getting on the plane. The car was similer. Again she saw no one.
Soon she was back in a country that She had left mere months before. Her life had changed so dramatically that there was no way for her to do those things that she used to take for granted.
Within hours they arrived at their estate. They shot through enourmous security gates and spent another five minutes driving before arriving at the big house.
They parked and Angela and Mariam made their way to her rooms. It appeared that she had been given at least one wing of the house. It was furnished in an almost exact replica of her rooms back in the palace.
Mariam helped her remove her veil and abaya. She touched Angelas ears and again she could hear.
“Ooh. Thats better.”
“How do you like your apartments Highness?” said Mariam.
“Its just like the palace. Where’s Faisal?”
“I would imagine that he is settling into his rooms Highness.”
“Good. Call him please. I want to go and have a look round.”
“Of course Highness. But would you like to rest first?”
“Actually, yes. I am quite tired.”
“Very well, Highness.”
She met up with Faisal an hour later in his rooms.
“Let’s go for a walk round the grounds, I want to see what it’s like,” said Angela.
“Ok,” said Faisal, “Mariam. Outdoor clothes for the Princess.”
Angela had assumed that she wouldn’t be allowed outside in something as revealing as her blue kaftan but she had no idea what would be produced for her to wear in the significantly colder climate of England.
Her answer came in the shape of a large, heavy, black cloak. It fastened all the way up the front and there were no holes for her arms. The collar was high and stiff. It kept her facing forward although she could turn her head with difficulty.
Over this was placed a black piece of material which was dark enough to hide her features but transparent enough for her to see though. It was weighted at the bottom so the effect was that she was totally veiled.
“Lets go and look around,” said Angela. She glided out with Faisal.
They remained in England for three months and were due to stay longer but two things happened that cut short their stay.
The first was that Angela discovered that she was pregnant.
And the second was that news came that the King, Faisals father, was dead.
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