The city of Thebes in Ancient Egypt
Princess Analika could barely contain her excitement. The day of her marriage to Prince Kamil had finally arrived! Her anticipation had grown so great during the past week that each day had seemed an eternity. But soon their separation would be over. Kamil would arrive at her family’s palace, and once he had presented her with his gift, the Crown of Desire, they would be joined forever, man and wife.
The golden crown with its heart-shaped ruby had been in Kamil’s family for many generations. Its beauty was legendary throughout the land. As was tradition, it was given to the bride of the first-born son, on their wedding day. Analika knew it was a tremendous honor to be entrusted with it, and she planned to do all she could to prove to Kamil that she was worthy of that honor.
At the thought of her handsome prince—of his dark hair, dark eyes and lean, powerful build—Analika’s eyes shone with an inner glow and a flush of eagerness stained her cheeks. She could hardly wait to be in his arms again, feeling his lips upon hers. Kamil was her soul mate, her love. Many women had vied for his attentions, but he had chosen her. She loved him more than life itself, and she knew theirs was a love that would last for all time.
Analika picked up her mirror and studied her reflection. Kamil would be arriving soon, and she wanted to make sure she looked her best. Before her maid had left, she’d anointed her hair with sweet-smelling oil, and made sure her thick, black tresses were tamed and shining. Her eyes had been lined with kohl, and her lips painted red. The sheer, white linen gown she wore was straight in style, fastened at one shoulder by a single jeweled strap. The gown caressed her slender body revealing enough to tantalize, yet demure enough to proclaim her virtue. Analika wanted Kamil to be proud of her. She wanted to be perfect for him and to spend the rest of her days pleasing him.
Prince Kamil stood at the front of his fifty-foot barge as it made its way down the Nile toward his beloved Analika. Soon, he would be with her. Soon, he would present her with the Crown of Desire and make her his bride.
Kamil smiled at the thought. He loved Analika with all his heart and soul. This day was going to be the happiest of his life. He had waited a long time to choose a bride, and he had done so with great care, knowing that many of the women who sought his favor were merely after the coveted crown. Analika, however, was not like the others. She cared for him, not the riches he would bring her. It was her purity of heart and gentleness of spirit that had won his devotion, and he knew he would love her forever.
The barge slowed slightly as it followed a bend in the river, and it was in that moment, as the boat drifted close to shore, that disaster struck. The screams of the attackers broke the peace of the morning as a barrage of arrows rained down upon the boat.
Kamil called out a warning to the men in his guard, rallying them to his side, but it came too late to save many onboard. Several of the oarsmen were killed and many others wounded by the ambush. Kamil knew that without the oarsmen’s strength, the barge was helpless before the current. They drifted toward the bank where the attackers waited. He could see the viciousness in their faces, and as the barge ran aground Kamil drew his sword . . .
Analika had never known time could pass so slowly. She’d expected Kamil to arrive an hour before, yet there had been no sign of him, and no word. She had just left her room to seek out her parents when horrified cries and shrieks of terror echoed through the heart of the house.
Analika raced down the hallway toward the main hall, when she reached the entranceway she stopped, frozen in place by the gruesome scene before her. Two strangers had entered, carrying a grievously wounded man.
As if in a distance, she heard her mother saying, “Take him into our bedchamber and send for Analika immediately!”
In that instant, she recognized the battered, bloodied man as her love, and a cry of desperation erupted from her. “NO!!”
She ran after the men, following them into her parents’ room. The moment they’d laid Kamil upon her parents’ bed, she was beside him, dropping to her knees and clasping his bloody hand in hers.
“Kamil!” She sobbed his name as she stared down at him, seeing the savage, mortal wounds he’d suffered. “My love!”
This couldn’t be happening! This was her wedding day! Kamil was coming to marry her. They were going to be happy for the rest of their lives. They were going to have children and live to be old and wise . . .
There was a flurry of feverish activity as her mother and father, Nafissa and Ahmed, and all the household servants raced to deal with the emergency, but Analika was oblivious to their presence. It was as if she were suspended in time and space. She clung to Kamil’s hand, trying to will him her strength, to force him to live, yet knowing that his life’s blood was flowing from him.
“Kamil!” she cried in frantic desperation, needing to hear his voice, needing to know that he was still alive, wanting to believe that he would be all right, that there was hope.
Kamil heard her cry and dragged himself up from the depths of the torturous black sea of pain that engulfed him. Analika was by his side. He had to get back to her. He had to see her again, just one more time. “Analika . . .” He said her name in a hoarse, ragged whisper.
“Oh, my love! Thank the gods you’re alive!!” Her tears flowed freely as she clutched his hand to her breasts, unmindful of his blood upon her.
The prince opened his eyes slowly, and he gazed up one last time at the woman he adored. Despite her weeping, she looked more beautiful than ever to him. “My love . . . I . . .” The words were in his heart, but it was a life-draining battle to say them. Excruciating pain wracked his body, and it took all his strength to draw another breath.
Analika saw his distress. She wanted to help him, but there was nothing she could do. He was dying, and she couldn’t stop it! “I love you . . . I will love you forever.”
“Analika . . . I love you with all my heart. Our souls are one. Though our bodies may die, we will never be parted . . .”
“Don’t say that!”
“Analika,” he spoke more strongly as he gathered the last of his strength. “My love, be my wife before I die . . . Take my gift and seal our love.”
Ignoring the pain that wracked him, he lifted the blood-stained crown he’d held clutched in his other hand. He had defended it with his life, and he would now give it to his bride.
Analika stared at the crown, and hysteria welled up within her. Kamil couldn’t be dying! He couldn’t! “No . . . No . . . Not this way . . .”
“This is my wedding gift for you . . .” he whispered. With a superhuman force of will, knowing it was the last thing he would ever do for her, he offered her the crown. “Analika, please . . .”
She met his pain-fevered gaze and saw his own desperation and need. Her heart swelled with love and agony. She wanted to flee, to deny the truth, to turn back time and be happy again. But reality forbade it. Kamil was here, offering her his life. She could do no less than be a woman worthy of him . . . of his love.
“I love you, my prince,” she whispered as she took the bloodied crown from his hands.
With infinite care, she bent to him, her lips meeting his in a kiss of wonder. For a second, they were whole and vital and one. They had no cares. Life was perfect. They loved. But there could be no denying the inevitable. Analika felt the moment of his passing just as surely as if it had been her own.
“Kamil! I don’t want to live without you!” A guttural, soul-wrenching scream of torment erupted from her, and she collapsed upon him. His blood, still warm with life, stained her clothes, her flesh, her hair, but she didn’t care. Kamil was gone . . . lost to her forever. Their future destroyed.
Moments before, the day had promised laughter and love, and now, all happiness and light had been devoured by Ammit, the monster of the dead. There would be no joy, only sadness and misery. The prince had been murdered, struck down by thieves who’d coveted the Crown of Desire.
Analika clung to Kamil until Ahmed went to her and gently tried to pull her away. Wild-eyed and crazed with grief, Analika tore away from him and fell back to her knees beside her prince. She would not be separated from Kamil again! With infinite tenderness, she touched his hair, then his cheek. She leaned closer to him and kissed him softly one final time, whispering, “We will be together, my love.”
She rose and stared down at the crown she held. Kamil’s blood covered her hand and dripped from the crown. The revulsion she felt for the bloody treasure showed clearly in her expression. “This crown, cold to the touch and without heart or soul, was the price of my love’s life? They murdered my prince for this?!” Her cries were demented as she lifted it up for all to see.
All in the room gasped as they saw the blood-stained golden crown for the first time.
Analika had been so eager to wear it. But no more. The Crown of Desire was no longer a symbol of Kamil’s love. Now, it symbolized his death.
“I curse this crown and the men who would kill to possess it!” Analika’s voice turned hard, and her eyes burned with a madness born of loss. She lifted the reviled object even higher. Light glinted off the ruby, and it shone blood-red as she spoke. “I curse all who seek it in greed! May Kamil’s blood mark them and may they suffer the torment of the damned! Only those whose love is pure may possess the crown in peace!”
Analika’s gaze fell to her father and the ceremonial jeweled dagger he wore in honor of her marriage. Suddenly beyond reason, beyond caring, she reached out and snatched the knife from his belt. Without pause, she plunged the dagger deep into her own breast. The pain was terrible, but she didn’t stop. No physical pain could be worse than living without Kamil. She had to join her beloved.
Cries of horror erupted around her, but she didn’t hear them. Her parents reacted quickly, trying to get to her, wanting to pull the knife from her body, but Analika turned away and slumped down beside Kamil, still clutching the crown.
“I am coming with you, my husband . . . my love,” she whispered, caressing his cheek.
As Analika’s life’s blood mixed with Kamil’s, their fates were sealed; they were together . . . in heaven.