Once upon a time, there was a kingdom called Tranquility. While it was a small country, it was beautiful, with the ocean on one side and mountains, plains, deserts, and fertile rolling hills, all within its borders.
The ocean border had long, sandy white beaches and sandstone cliffs. Children would run along the beach and splash in the crystal blue water. Early in the morning, fishermen would leave in sturdy wooden boats and would return before dusk with nets full of shrimp, tuna, cod, mackerel, sea bass and even the occasional lobster.
Tranquility bustled with commerce, education, and the arts. In the hills, sheep roamed through green pastures and shepherds led them up well-worn paths to bubbling streams or freshwater lakes. In the plains, there were fields of wheat and corn. The lush landscape included avocados, grapes, citrus, and, mangos.
Tranquility was a land of peace.
The king was named Azam. He was a good king – he was wise, merciful, and loving. He listened to the people of Tranquility. Unlike other rulers, he wasn’t greedy or dishonest. The people of Tranquility loved and respected him.
Azam was also very powerful. All the surrounding nations deferred to him and respected him. Enemy countries didn’t dare to invade or threaten Tranquility because they knew that Azam was a masterful warrior. The leaders of allied nations often visited Tranquility, bringing gifts, and asking Azam for advice.
Azam had been a widow for 18 years. His wife of one year had died during childbirth. The people of Tranquility gathered around the palace courtyard and Azam had come out to share the tragic news and presented to them the prince of Tranquility, a baby boy wrapped in blankets. Azam named his son Aristide.
Aristide took after his father. He was wise and powerful. He was also kind and good. He loved the people of Tranquility and they love him.
Gomer had been beautiful when she was young. But circumstances, time, and bad decisions had worn her down. As a child people would see Gomer and her mother, Diblaim, in the market and comment that she was the most beautiful child they had ever seen. She had had light olive skin and green eyes. Her mother adored her and spoiled her.
While overall life was good in Tranquility, Gomer’s childhood had been rough. Her father drank too much wine. He’d start at the dinner table and at first, would be loud and funny, but eventually, he’d get mean. Loud and mean. He’d throw dishes at Diblaim. He’d yell at Gomer. He’d call both worthless and ugly.
Eventually, he left. But the damage was already done. Diblaim and Gomer both believed they were worthless and ugly. Diblaim tried to be a good mother and to convince Gomer that she wasn’t worthless. But eventually, overcome by her own pain, Diblaim gave up. Instead of taking the time and energy to show Gomer love, her mother just let her run wild . . . hoping that Gomer would heal herself.
Things didn’t get better. They got worse. Gomer was a wild child. By the time she was sixteen she was living on the streets or spending the night from house to house. While still beautiful, her skin was already turning sallow. Her green eyes no longer sparkled.
Sunlight came through the open window. It was warm and bright on Gomer’s face. She groaned and turned away, burying her face into the silk sheets. An unfamiliar smell filled her nostrils and jarred her awake. It wasn’t a bad smell, but it wasn’t the smell of her home. She was in a stranger’s home. Again.
Gomer laid back into the bed and closed her eyes, trying to remember the night before. Instead, her mind wandered to her mother, Diblaim, miles away in their home in a mountain village, only a few miles from the border of Tranquility and Assran. Her mother used lavender to wash their sheets. As a child, Gomer would wake up to the faint scents of lavender, coffee, and vegetation.
Now she could smell musk, mangos, and salt water. Her feet hurt. She could tell she’d been running on the sand the night before. Her temples ached. She could tell she’d had too much wine.
But she still couldn’t remember whose house she was at or whose bed she was in.
Gomer gathered her dress off the floor, pulled the fabric over her shoulders, and snuck out through the open window.
Gomer found her best friend, Adaliah, in the market. Though it was still early, the market was already crowded and loud. Women were setting up booths, laying out eggs and olives and brightly colored fabrics. Children were running through the booths, laughing and chasing each other until their mothers shooed them away and sent them to the beach to play.
Adaliah’s mother, Mary, sold jewelry. While it wasn’t made from gold or diamonds, it was still beautiful. On the table, there were rings and necklaces made of bronze, glass, stone and even wood. Sometimes Gomer would help Adaliah and her mother carve intricate designs into the wood; pictures of doves, ravens, and lions.
While Adaliah’s mother tolerated Gomer – and appreciated her help with the jewelry – she worried about her being a bad influence on Adaliah. Gomer had a reputation for partying too much and drinking too much. Sometimes she spent the night at their house. But Mary had no idea where Gomer slept when she wasn’t on Adaliah’s floor.
Mary and Adaliah were unloading crates of jewelry when Gomer arrived at the table. While acting like she was inspecting a necklace, Mary observed the girls. Adaliah was pretty and still naive, her curly brown hair bouncing on her shoulders. She was short in comparison to Gomer. Gomer was tall and allusive, with long dark hair glistening down her back. Her face was beautiful, but she carried pain in her green eyes. There was already a hardness in her, even though she was only 17-years-old. Mary worried what would become of her in the future. And she worried about what would become of Adaliah if she spent too much time with Gomer.
As Mary and the girls set out the last pieces of jewelry and pushed the crates under the table, they hear a crowd down the street. It was loud and getting closer. They could hear people talking about King Azam and the palace.
“What’s going on?” Mary called to a woman who sold dates and pomegranates a few booths away.
“I don’t know for sure, but it sounds like something terrible happened at the palace. King Azam is going to be making an announcement soon,” the woman said while hoisting a basket of figs onto her head. “I’m going to have my son watch my table so I can go to the palace to hear the King.”
Mary felt a pang in her stomach. Even though King Azam was young – he was only 24 – he was a great king. He loved the people of Tranquility. He was merciful and powerful and kind. A rare combination to find in anyone, let alone a king.
Adaliah looked at her mother with pleading eyes. Mary could see that Gomer had already taken off toward the palace, her long hair blowing in the wind. Mary sighed, “Go ahead, Adaliah, but come right back to tell me what he says.”
Adaliah ran to catch up with Gomer and when the girls arrived there was already a crowd surrounding the palace. The palace was on a hill, overlooking the ocean. Far behind it was the outline of the mountains. And somewhere in the mountains was a small village of shepherds and a cottage where Diblaim was probably cooking or cleaning.
While most of the crowd gathered around the palace looked worried, Gomer and Adaliah squeezed through the crowd in excited anticipation to see the king. They pushed past children and old men and anxious women to get to the front of the crowd.
Suddenly the palace doors opened and a hush fell over the crowd.
King Azam walked into the courtyard. He was tall and handsome. But his pain was obvious. In his arms was a small bundle of blankets.
“My people of Tranquility, I love you all” he began, “And it is with great sorrow that I need to inform you that your queen has died.” The crowd gasped and people began to whisper in shock. The soldiers standing near the king signaled for everyone to be quiet, as King Azam raised the bundle of blankets into the air.
“I present to you, my son, Prince Aristide, whom I love,” said King Azam, his voice cracking.
Gomer and Adaliah pressed forward to get closer to the king and prince. Soon there were only a few rows of people between them and the king. Gomer pushed her way forward until only a small group of children separated her and the king.
As King Azam walked by, Gomer peered into the blanket in his arms. The tiny infant was sleeping peacefully, wrapped in swaddling clothes. His little lips were slightly parted as he slept completely content in his father’s strong arms.
Gomer lifted her eyes from the sleeping infant to King Azam’s handsome face. She could see the tears in the king’s eyes. Their eyes met.
Gomer felt a spark like she’d never felt before.