"How are you faring?" Cecilia asked her silent companion. The man was stiff as a solid rock, his only movement was with the swaying with the carriage. His dark eyes opened at her question but they were dull and pained.

"As well as one can be in a cage," The man replied with a rasp. He had been roughed up twice by now in Cecilia's absence and each time he looked drained of all energy. If they continued their interrogation Cecilia feared he would whither away. She could see thin lines of blood streaking down his arms. They were torturing him.

"Let me do something," The redhead pleaded, "Perhaps I could escape in the next town and-"

"No," Shah's words echoed, harshly, "Don't do anything that irks them. Their restraint regarding you is all due to orders from above. They do not care if you live or die."

Cecilia shook her head, numbly but her eyes remained fixed on dry, flaky blood all over his naked torso. She was frightened she would return to the cage one day and find him depleted of all his life source.

Cecilia watched Shah's throat work. His dry lips showed none of his efforts of keeping himself hydrated were working.

"Please, can you fetch us water. My friend is thirsty. He hasn't had anything to drink today," Cecilia called out of the moving cart. If it weren't for her ministrations she knew Shah would not have a morsel for the entire journey. She looked back and realised that Shah was dozing off. His stiff shoulders were getting looser with each cart movement.

After what could be minutes or hours the cloth was removed from one side and their regular brown eyed guard appeared to see why she was creating a fuss.

"The traitor deserves nothing," The brown eyed man exclaimed hearing her repeat her pleas.

"He will die before you get any information from him," Cecilia was infuriated by the callous attitude adopted by the guards.

"He is a murderer. Don't you know such men are cursed. He deserves none of the earth's blessing," The guard snarled.

This revelation left Cecilia reeling but she was persistent in her goal, "If not for him then get me some. I'm not used to such an arduous journey. I fear I shall waste away."

The man eyed her warily but finally gave in despite knowing who the real recipient was. He slid the pitcher of water roughly over, not caring if it toppled over. Cecilia's clever hands managed to grab the wobbly pitcher before any more water was wasted.

She quickly brought it to her friend's parched lips and nudged him awake. Shah blinked awake as if uncertain where he was but he accepted the offering as soon as it touched his lips. He only let go when he began coughing over his excesses.

"My throat feels like it's been rubbed over with sandpaper," Shah uttered. He breathed heavily as if he'd run a mile.

"I'll keep you hydrated. You cannot survive this journey if you go on like this," The redhead said.

"Maybe I deserve to die," Shah's brow frowned with agony, "Did you not hear the man call me a murderer?"

Cecilia placed the pitcher away and took her friend's face in her rough palms. They were so close their noses nearly touched each time the carriage dipped and dove on the rough road.

"I will not let you die," Cecilia hissed feeling a lump in her throat. A lone tear splattered down her dust covered face.

"Maybe I am the villain in your tale," Shah rasped, "Maybe you root for the wrong man."

"I know you. I know everything about you," Cecilia was adamant, "How much you despise being so filthy, how much it's killing you to not have your modest attire, how much you don't want me here."

"Yet you know nothing about me. Nothing important at least," Shah flinched backwards and Cecilia lost her grip on his face.

"The mark of a man is not in big declarations. It's the subtleties lost on people that show the truth of man. You have been unfailingly kind since day one. No one can convince me you had anything to do with any murders," Cecilia shook her wild mane that was barely tamed. Shah sighed as if giving up the argument.

"How long will we be on this journey?" Cecilia too sighed the rhetorical question.

"Not long," Shah murmured, wetting his lips.

"How do you know? Did they say something?" Cecilia rushed her friend.

"The capital is not far away from the border. It's an easy days ride into your country. If they mean to take us to the Queen then they will take us to the capital," The man explained.

The cart vibrated as it clankingly traversed over a bridge. The pair was jostled and Shah's lips thinned with displeasure.

"We are close. Just a couple of hours," The man muttered making Cecilia tense up. The anticipation was unnerving her beyond anything she had ever felt. The plague felt like a distant memory compared to her current predicament.

"You're feverish," Cecilia remembered the feeling of his skin underneath her palm. She ripped her sleeve and unravelled the cloth around her arm.

Shah watched her rip the pieces until he suddenly noticed the bare arm in the dim light. The skin underneath was unlike the smooth, glowing ruddiness of her cheeks. It was an old injury with scratch marks and jostled skin.

"I've had my own share of suffering. I can handle the blood and pain. Don't underestimate me," Cecilia noticed where he was looking and said wryly. She dipped one patch into the water.

"I have never underestimated you. You saved me and you followed me here," Shah whispered, softly. His eyes raked over her face with tenderness.

"Then don't let my sacrifice and efforts go to waste. Don't let them kill you," Cecilia begged.

She wrung out water from the dampened fabric but when placed against his forehead the water darted down his neck and onto his carved, bare chest before disappearing into his trousers.

The tall girl quickly brought up another patch to dry him up before realising how inappropriate the situation was. They were far too close together. If she lost her balance on her knees she would end up in the man's lap.

"You've been tied in one position. Have they no mercy.." Cecilia wondered, hoping to cover her embarrassment.

"They said I showed none and thus must be punished accordingly," Shah said flatly. He leaned against the bars of the cage in an effort to make himself comfortable.

As the morning sun rose Celia dozed off only to be awoken by the hustle and bustle of a market place. From the sounds she could estimate this was much larger then their previous stops. Finally the cart lurched to a stop for the final time.

The cloth was removed with a flourish and Cecilia realised they were already at the Royal Palace. There was more gold flattened onto the cornicing then in her King's Palace. She tried to remember all details of the room but she was only confronted with gold and more gold.

The pair stumbled out of their cage and instead of being darted Shah was kept awake. He strained against his bindings but they were surrounded by far too many guards. Cecilia placed a calming hand on his raggedly breathing chest.

"The Queen awaits," Their usual guard uttered as they were led into another gold laced room. The room was meant to be entry way with only a long staircase but it was much grander then anything Cecilia had seen before.

"Will we have an audience like this? If there no protocol," Cecilia asked the guard but the man did not answer. On her other side was her friend whose jaw was stiff as if expecting to fight for his life.

Suddenly the doors atop the staircase slammed open and flurry of maids scattered out. The women, like Shah had mentioned early, were dressed in every colour conceivable. The man firmly guided Cecilia behind him in hopes of hiding her behind his large figure.

At the top of the stairs a woman dressed in red appeared. The fabric of her skirt glimmered with each step she took down the stairs. Her maids helped carry the voluminous skirt.

"It seems we have arrived after the last day of mourning," The guard uttered very low but Cecilia caught the disdain in his voice.

"Shahzad," The young woman spoke. Her beautiful, round eyes glistened as she watched the man from afar, "You returned."

"It's not like I was given an option," Shah said, stiffly. His eyes contained mistrust as he eyes wandered over the woman's delicate features. He still had no recollection of her.

"I'm sorry, love, but I couldn't have let you go. You had something so precious of mine," The woman walked closer her eyes fixed on the man. It was as if she had not even noticed Cecilia standing behind him although the girl noticed how the new arrival was not speaking in their mother tongue.

The Queen's hands reached out to his numerous injuries but the man stepped away from her prying hands. He looked at her as if trying to figure out who was around him. One of his arms remained behind him holding onto Cecilia's waist in a protective stance. The Queen dismissed the guards as if she was not fearful of supposed murderer.

"I'm afraid I cannot help you. Your guards must have told you..."

"That you've lost your memory?" The woman's nose wrinkled with disgust, "Yes, I will have them punished for attacking you so. You must help me..."

"How can I help you when I do not remember my own name. Is it what you call me?" Shah asked with a breath-taking vulnerability as if expecting to have that sliver of information snatched from him.

"Oh, love, you've been abominably treated. You're Prince Shahzad, the younger brother of the deceased King," The woman announced. Cecilia inhaled noisily at the new information but no one paid her any heed.

"Deceased?" The man asked sharply.

"His death is what led to this mess. Your brother found out about us," The Queen leaned in close. Her exquisite, wide eyes staring beseechingly.

Shah took a step back and nearly bumped into Cecilia, "I- I'm sorry, I do not gather."

"I am your brother's wife. The current queen. Your brother intended for me to inherit the throne after you expressed no wish to lead your people but we were attacked by a treacherous fraction of the courtiers. You ran for your life trying to protect the Noor."

"The Noor is what will help you obtain the throne?" Cecilia asked quietly and suddenly the Queen's sharp eyes landed on her. The woman noted the foreigner's ripped dress and unruly hair but did not comment.

"Yes, I squashed the uprising but without the Noor I cannot have the formal coronation," The Queen reverted all her attention back to her brother in law.

"Pardon me but why would the Prince help you..." The redhead blurted out, grateful the conversation was in language she understood.

"Because we love each other," The woman's swayed on her two feet as if mesmerised by Shah's appearance, "We were always meant to be until your brother took me away from you."