Guarding the Princess - By Loreth Anne White
A plume of yellow dust rose along the horizon, carrying like spindrift over Mopani trees eaten squat by elephants. High above in a haze-white sky, vultures wheeled on thermals—drought had this southern region of Zambia in a death grip.
Amal Ghaffar raised his binoculars and studied the approaching vehicle. It was a jeep, drab olive-green, stark against the dry earth. As it neared, he recognized the hulking shape of Mbogo at the wheel. Amal lowered his scopes and resumed cleaning his AK-47 with his right hand. The sleeve of his khaki shirt hung empty where his left arm used to be. Heat pressed down on the shade cloth over his head, sweat trickling from his sideburns.
Amal didn’t bother to look up when the jeep drew to a stop outside the camp and the door slammed. He listened to the crunch of Mbogo’s combat boots approaching.
“What is it?” Amal said.
Mbogo slapped a newspaper onto the small table in front of Amal.
“Page nine.” His voice was a deep baritone and it carried the resonant rhythms of Africa.
Amal’s gaze slid slowly over to the newspaper.
“It’s a British paper, a week old.”
Mbogo remained silent.
Amal finally glanced up, then pulled the paper toward him and opened it to page nine. For an instant he was paralyzed by the black-and-white photograph.
He leaned forward for a closer look, to be certain. But there was no doubt—it was her. All flashing black eyes, thick dark hair, a broad smile across her exotic features. She was, as usual, exquisitely dressed. Standing beside her was a tall, dark-skinned man with hooded eyes and pitch-black hair. Her left hand rested on the man’s arm and the diamond on her ring finger was large enough to feed a small nation.
Amal’s attention darted to the text below the photo. A date had been set. The wedding of Princess Dalilah Al Arif of Al Na’Jar and Sheik Haroun Hassan of Sa’ud would take place in the Kingdom of Sa’ud nineteen months from now, as per the contract negotiated between their fathers almost twenty-three years ago. It would marry two oil-rich kingdoms, one in the Sahara, the other across the Red Sea in Arabia.
“According to that article she’s in Zimbabwe right now,” Mbogo said quietly. “And in two days she’ll be staying at a lodge near Victoria Falls.”
Amal stared at the photo. It was a sign—a gift from God, delivered right to his very hand. For two long years he’d been forced to live like a wounded rat, scurrying around the dry hills and plains, hiding in the insect-infested jungles of this dark continent with a rogue band of fugitives, eking out a living by doing mercenary jobs for corrupt men in power, thwarting the international agencies hunting him. The Al Arif family had taken everything from him, including his left arm, and his father. They had forced him into this existence.
Now, suddenly, he could taste revenge.
“We leave before nightfall,” Amal whispered. He got to his feet, his empty sleeve flapping in the hot breeze. “And in case we don’t reach her in time, put out word that I want her. Alive. Although dead will suffice as long as I am brought her head on a plate. Let it be known I’ll pay—very well.”
“And how will you pay?”
Amal’s eyes flared to Mbogo. “Her brothers will. Ransom. While they think I have her alive.” He grabbed his gun, a new fire burning in his gut. “The world will see what happens when you dare cross a Ghaffar.”
The screeching monkeys in the branches above the lodge patio forced Dalilah Al Arif to lean forward in order to hear what the shorter Chinese diplomat was saying. She smiled and nodded encouragingly, not wanting to ruffle any feathers tonight—this deal that would see Zimbabwe ceding platinum-mining rights to China was unprecedented in scope. For her part, Dalilah was in the country to ensure the provision of clean-water points for the impacted villages was firmly entrenched in the deal when it was signed in Harare tomorrow. ClearWater, the New York–based nonprofit agency for which Dalilah volunteered, would handle the installations over the next five years.
She’d been working on securing ClearWater access in Zimbabwe for almost four years now, and it would be her swan song. Because when she married in nineteen months, she’d be leaving Manhattan, along with her foreign-investment consulting career and charity work, to live in Sa’ud. There she’d be expected to work at her new husband’s side as queen when Sheik Haroun Hassan took the throne from his