Farah had never ceased to marvel at the miracle of flight, and as she sat by the window and looked out at the blinking points of light that were the stars, she thought it sad that mankind, with the intelligence to achieve space flight and perhaps some day to reach the stars, had never mastered the art of living peacefully together on earth.
She had been dismayed by the news in the paper she picked up at the airport before boarding. It was as usual mostly all bad: gang wars, the war on drugs, civil wars, religious wars ... there was no end to the wars. The focus lately had been on terrorism in the mid-East.
She put the newspaper aside, wondering if perhaps out there among all those billions of stars there was at least one planet whose inhabitants had learned how to co-exist peacefully.
Well, there was nothing she could do about it, so she would just enjoy the night. She was wide-awake, although most of the other passengers, including her seat-mate, were asleep.
It had been good to see her friends, and after her talk with Noel, she felt cleansed of the guilt she had carried all these years. Noel, as well, had seemed to find absolution, so now she could close the book on that episode in her life.
Her lips felt dry and she got out her compact to apply a little lipstick. She peered in the mirror to see if her make-up was holding, and decided it was okay. But in the process, her mind reverted to the morning they took the plane to Boston, and her memory, as she applied her make-up, of the one time she had had reason to doubt Michael.
It had happened about two years previous when Boris had asked Michael to take over some of his princely duties so he could spend more time with Maria. Her health had been fragile since her miscarriage many years before, exacerbated by her feelings of failure at being unable to produce an heir. In his concern for her, Boris felt incompetent to carry on alone.
To Farah's surprise, Michael, who had always been content with his status, was soon engrossed in his new duties and often toiled late into the night. It was only on weekends that he had time to relax with his family. Even then he was often plagued by phone calls.
One Saturday they had just finished lunch when Michael was summoned to the phone. He took the call in his study, and was gone so long that Farah went to see what was keeping him. Perhaps he had fallen asleep in his chair, as he sometimes did lately, but as she reached the door (which was slightly ajar) she heard him still on the phone.
"Before I hang up," he was saying, "I want you to get one thing straight. NO ONE MUST KNOW OF THIS. It will have to happen when Boris is entering or leaving, otherwise escape would be impossible. You have your instructions. WE MUST NOT FAIL!"
Farah went cold with shock. Her first thought was that she couldn't be caught outside the door, and she turned and fled to the patio and stood by the pool, staring unseeing into its gently undulating depths. She must have heard him wrong. He couldn't have meant . . . he wasn't capable of what she was thinking, not her gentle Michael. Oh, God, what should she do? Should she ask him to explain? No, no, she trusted him, she couldn't let him know that for one terrible moment she had considered him capable of . . . She couldn't finish the thought in her mind.
She heard him calling her and pulling herself together, answered without turning, "I'm out here, Michael."
When he joined her, she didn't wait for him to speak. "I think I'll take a swim," she said. "The water looks so inviting."
"Not me. I'm for a nap. I almost fell asleep with the phone in my hand."
"I worry about you. Those late hours are not good for a growing boy."
He kissed her cheek. "If I'm not up in an hour, wake me."
"Okay. I'll take a dip in the pool."
She changed into her bathing suit and jumped in, thrashing and kicking with all her might in an effort to rid her mind of what she had just heard. But it was no good. Finally she gave up and huddled in a chair, wondering what she should do about it. She couldn't face Michael with it. If she was wrong, what would he think of her? But if Boris was in danger, she couldn't stand aside and let it happen. She would have to talk to Boris.
Boris was scheduled to appear in public on Monday for the first time in months, to mark the celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of Zhad as a separate nation. If there was a plot afoot to assassinate him, that would be the time. She couldn't let him appear. She had to warn him.
She changed back into her clothes and wrote a note to Michael, saying she was worried about Maria and thought she should pay her a visit. She left the note with one of the servants with instructions to wake him when the hour was up (if indeed he was sleeping; she didn't know what to think any more). Then she got her car out of the garage and drove off, thankful Michael hadn't appeared before she could get away.
When she arrived at the palace, Maria was sleeping, and Boris took Farah to his study for a chat. He answered her inquiry about Maria's health by saying she had been feeling better lately and the doctor had hopes of her complete recovery.
"I'm so glad," Farah said, and to her surprise burst into tears.
"Farah," said Boris in concern, "what's wrong?"
"I heard something by accident today. I can't believe it's true, but I felt I had to tell you. Oh, Boris, I think your life's in danger."
"Why do you think that?"
"I overheard Michael on the phone. The things he was saying . . . I couldn't ask him. But I couldn't NOT warn you . . ."
Boris looked aghast. "You thought Michael . . .? What was he saying?"
She told him what she had overheard, feeling disloyal to Michael, relieved that Boris was taking it so calmly, and finally extremely foolish for having made such a fuss over what now appeared to be a misunderstanding.
Boris was saying, "I'm sorry you had to know, Farah. One of my men got wind of a kidnap attempt to hold me for ransom. We're not sure who's at the bottom of this, but since we were forewarned there's no danger of their being able to pull it off. We'll have men posted outside and inside the hall and will go ahead with the ceremonies as planned."
"I feel like such a fool," Farah said. "Promise me you'll never tell Michael that for one crazy minute I doubted him. I couldn't really believe it, it couldn't be true, but still, I had to tell you. Can you understand that?"
"Farah, you did a very brave and honorable thing. I know how much it must have cost you. You thought my life was in danger and you were trying to save me."
"You won't tell Michael?"
"Never. I give you my word."
She hugged him, then looked in on Maria, who was now awake. After a short visit she went home, not completely convinced. She knew what she had heard.
The celebration began with a parade at ten o'clock in the morning, to be followed by speeches in the auditorium of the City Hall. There was whistling and cheering when Boris arrived, accompanied by guards dressed in business suits. Armed police formed a double line from the curb to the entrance, through which Boris walked with his guards. He entered the hall without incident and waited in an anteroom until it was time for him to address the crowd.
Chairs flanking the podium on both sides had been set up on the raised platform to accommodate the royal family and visiting celebrities. Between these groups a small band was playing the national anthem. Speakers had been installed to pipe the music and the speeches to the crowd outside.
As soon as the noise inside the hall had subsided, the master of ceremonies rose to make a welcoming speech, after which he introduced the visiting celebrities, each of whom said a few words. Then the band sounded a fanfare and Boris came on stage to thunderous applause. The audience rose amid cries of "Boris! Boris!"
Boris spoke eloquently from long habit, his speech, constantly interrupted by applause, cheers and whistles. In the middle of one of these demonstrations, Farah, whose eyes kept searching the crowd, saw a furtive movement in the back of the room and what looked like a glint of metal. Michael had seen it, too, and with a shout he sprang to his feet and threw himself in front of Boris as the sound of a gunshot echoed through the chamber.
Screams erupted from the audience. There was running and shouting in the back of the room as the guards wrestled with a man who had been standing unobtrusively with the rest of the standees. Hindered by the crowd, the guards were having trouble holding him, and he broke away, turned the gun on himself, and put a bullet through his brain.
Meanwhile, the bullet meant for Boris had struck Michael in the shoulder. He stood for a moment with a look of surprise on his face, then slid slowly to the floor, unnoticed by most of the crowd who, when they saw everyone standing, assumed no one had been hit, and turned their attention to the fracas in the rear. They now turned back to the stage and saw Farah and Boris kneeling over Michael. Someone had produced a knife to cut away his clothing, and the blood was being stanched with handkerchiefs.
Sirens announced the arrival of an ambulance summoned by one of the guards, and Michael was whisked away to a hospital, accompanied by Farah, with Boris and Alexandra following in a limousine. At the hospital it was determined that the bullet had entered the flesh on one side and come out the other without doing serious damage, Michael was treated and put to bed for at least an overnight stay in the hospital.
Even though the assassin's target had been Boris, guards were posted outside Michael's door. Ridden by guilt, Farah had refused to leave his side, so another bed had been brought in for her.
As the plane droned on through the night she was remembering that sleepless vigil and how relieved she had been when Michael was allowed to go home in a couple days with strict instructions to take it easy.
Now she was wondering if she had done the right thing by not telling Michael about her fear that he was involved in an attempt on Boris's life. She had never forgiven herself, but it had seemed to her that telling was not the answer. He had risked his life to save Boris and deserved all the accolades showered on him by the citizens of Zhad and a generous press. How could she spoil all that by telling him she had thought, however briefly and reluctantly, that he might be involved in an attempt to kill his brother? She couldn't seek her own peace of mind by destroying his. Only she and Boris need ever know.
Peace flowed over her. She had made the right decision. Earlier, she had told Noel she would do no more penance for Kevin. Now she told herself, she would do no more penance for her brief disloyalty to Michael. She would try to learn from her mistakes, but it was maudlin to carry them forever like an albatross.
Having come to this decision, she fell asleep immediately.