The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(45) by Susan Mallery
Now, in the soft light of the morning in the beautiful tent, she wondered if perhaps she should make her peace with all that had happened. Was his behavior really that horrible? He’d only—
“Earth to Daphne,” she said aloud. “Let’s think about this.”
Rational thought returned, pushing away the lingering effects of the night of pleasure. Of course she couldn’t give in. Even if she wanted to stay married to Murat, she would still need to make him understand that he couldn’t have his way in everything. That for their marriage to be a happy and successful union, they both had to make decisions, and he couldn’t simply bully his way into what he wanted.
Which meant getting pregnant was a really dumb idea. She was going to have to avoid his bed.
She stood and faced the rumpled sheets. It was a very nice bed and the man who slept in it was nothing short of magical when it came to making love. Still, she had to be strong. At least until she knew if she were pregnant.
She washed using the basin of water on the dresser, then pulled on the garments that had been left out for her. Murat had mentioned something about a tribal council today. He would assemble the leaders from the various tribes and then hear judgments and petitions from the people. She’d agreed to attend.
Intricate embroidery covered her robes. In place of a headdress, a small diamond-and-gold crown sat on a pillow.
Daphne stared at it. While she knew that Murat was the crown prince and that he would one day be king, she never really thought about it all that seriously. But now, staring at the crown, she felt the weight of a thousand years of history pressing on her.
She carefully brushed her long, blond hair until it gleamed, then she set the crown on her head and secured it with two pins. She checked that it was straight, all the while trying not to notice she actually had it on her head, then left for the main part of the tent.
One of Murat’s security agents sat waiting for her. When she approached, he stood and bowed.
“Good morning, Princess Daphne,” he said. “The judgments are about to begin. If you will follow me.”
He led her outside into a beautiful, clear morning. The camp was nearly deserted, but up ahead she saw a huge covering that would easily hold a thousand people. They walked toward it, avoiding the main entrance and instead circling around to the back.
She ducked under a low hanging and found herself behind a dais that held several ornate chairs. Murat approached and took her hand in his.
“We are about to begin,” he said with a smile.
He spoke easily, but his eyes sent her another message. One that reminded her of their night together and all that had happened between them.
She wanted to tell him they couldn’t do that again. Not until things were straightened out between them, but this was not the time or place.
She followed him up onto the dais and sat in a chair just to the left and slightly behind his. On his right sat the tribal council. In front of them were hundreds of people sitting in rows. A few stood on either side of the room, and an older man with a parchment scroll stood in the center.
He read from the ancient document in a language she didn’t recognize. She remembered enough from her previous time in Bahania to know he called all those seeking justice to this place and time. That the prince’s word would be final.
Judgments against those charged with crimes were covered in the morning, while petitions came in the afternoon.
Several criminals were brought forward. Two charges were dismissed as being brought about by a desire for revenge rather than an actual crime. One man accused of stealing goats was sentenced to six months in a prison and a branding.
Daphne winced at the latter and Murat caught the movement.
“It is an old way,” he said, turning toward her. “A man is given three chances.
The brand allows the council to know how many times he has been before them.”
“He stole,” Murat said. “These are desert people. They exist hundreds and thousands of miles from the world as you know it. If you steal a man’s car in the city, he can walk or take a bus. You steal a man’s goats or camels in the desert and you sentence him and his family to possible death. They may starve before they can walk out of the desert or to another encampment. They would not be able to carry all their possessions themselves, so they would be discarded.
The youngest children might die on the long walk to safety. Stealing is not something we take lightly.”
His words made sense. Daphne understood that where life was harsh, punishment must be equally so, but the whole concept made her uncomfortable.
Several more minor cases were brought forward. Then a man in his late twenties was walked in front of the dais.
The guards took his left arm and held it out for all to see. Three brands scarred his skin. Daphne sucked in a breath.
“He is charged with stealing camels,” a member of the council told Murat.
Five people stepped behind the men. Two were his accomplices, while the other three—a father and two sons—had owned the camels. The father spoke about the night his camels were taken. He had a herd of twenty, and this man and his friends took all of them. He and his sons went after the thieves only to find that one of the camels had gone lame and the thieves had slit its throat.
The crowd gasped. Daphne knew that to kill such a useful creature because it had gone lame was considered an abomination.
The cohorts spoke of the crime. They had already been charged and had confessed.
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