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.“Hassim comes before Your Highness with a gift of admiration and esteem.”Hassim, so busy bowing and bobbing, was startled by a soft, feminine chuckle as gentle as water babbling down a brook.“Come and rise, good trader,” the woman bid him.He lifted his head cautiously and found himself staring at a youngish woman clad in cloth of gold embroidered in bright hues and stitched with precious jewels.Her dark hair was draped with creamy gold pearls, and her dark eyes gleamed with good humor.The curve of her lips was a graceful, friendly curve, like a hunter’s bow that had been strung but not nocked with an arrow.“I would not have a traveler such as yourself lose his way in an excess of politeness, nor allow him to trip and injure himself.Lift your head and be the man you are, and honor me by it.”Blushing at her praise, embarrassed by his overwhelmed awkwardness, Hassim straightened, gave one last hasty bow, and lifted the casket that had been tucked under his arm, presenting it to her.“I.Your Highness is most gracious to receive a humble merchant such as myself.I come on behalf of Wali Daad, who wishes for me to present to you this gift of beauty, which until now I thought was incomparable.But now that I have met you in person, I know that it is comparable, and I am afraid it now seems flawed.” Aware he was babbling—for while her nose was ever so slightly crooked, the warmth of her spirit made her look like a deva-angel to him—Hassim struggled to remember his message.“Wali Daad sends you this gift, which was made by the hands of Prince Kavi of the East Kingdom himself—I mean, by the royal jeweler of Prince Kavi, by the jeweler Pramesh, he who crafts all the adornments of His Highness’s court.It was made by His Highness’s jeweler.”Princess Ananya blinked.“It.was made by the jeweler who serves Prince Kavi of the East?”“Yes,” Hassim agreed, relieved he hadn’t made too much a fool of himself.“The name of the jeweler is Pramesh?” she asked.“Yes, Your Highness,” he confirmed.“Then who is this Wali Daad?” Princess Ananya inquired.“The wisest man I know,” Hassim told her.Then he quickly bowed, in case his bluntness was offensive.He fumbled for the key to the casket and unlocked it as he spoke.“It was requested that these be given to the most wonderful woman in the world.A woman of high intellect and compassion, of noble virtue and great wisdom.We immediately thought of you, Your Highness—Wali Daad said that only a woman whose inner beauty exceeded all outer expectations could possibly be worthy of these bracelets, commissioned and crafted by the royal jeweler’s own hands.Indeed, Prince Kavi himself could not have owned a more beautiful pair, and so he wanted you to have them.”Opening the lid, he displayed the bracelets.Her Highness drew in a sharp, startled breath.Hassim blushed, but this time with pride, not fumbled embarrassment.Even the guards and servants attending Her Highness stared wonderingly at the contents.Wrought from the finest filigree gold, the finger-length cuffs had been encrusted with tiny pearls, each no bigger than a lentil in size and all carefully matched in color so that they formed zigzagging bands of pale blue and pale pink, creamy gold and silvery gray.Each cuff mirrored the other, so that one could tell left from right, but such was the selection and the craftsmanship that it was the only discernible difference between the two bracelets.“Ohhh.these are beautiful,” Princess Ananya whispered.Gently removing them from the silk-lined casket, she turned them over and over, examining them reverently.“You say His Highness wishes them to go to a woman as beautiful on the inside as these are on the outside?”“Uh.” Not quite sure how to correct the ruler of a nation, Hassim shrugged helplessly.“After consulting with Wali Daad—who is the wisest man I know—he said they should go to a woman as beautiful on the inside as these gems are on the outside.Without any doubt, that woman is you, Your Highness.Your people sing your praises more about your compassion and your skillful management of this land than they do of your face.Having seen you for myself, I can say that you have the face of a deva on earth, yet it still cannot match all the good things for which you are renowned.”Gently caressing the pearls, Ananya smiled.She even blushed, her tanned cheeks taking on a charming rosy hue.“Such a beautiful compliment should not go unanswered.Chamberlain?”“Yes, Your Highness?” a man clad in crimson silks asked, stepping forward from the side of the chamber and giving her a deep bow.“Give this good merchant a camel to take back with him to his patron, a camel laden with the finest weavings of the West.Silks, brocades, and even a length of our best cloth-of-gold, all of it from the looms of our royal weavers.As a token of esteem for this wisest man in the world, that he should name me the most beautiful woman solely for what lies within, not merely what is seen without.Good merchant, pass along my gift to this Wali Daad, along with my thanks to His Highness, and His Highness’s jeweler, for the crafting of these bracelets,” Princess Ananya added formally [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]