Michael met her at Orly Airport, having flown his own plane from Zhad. He seemed in a holiday mood.
"I hope you're not exhausted from your trip," he said. "I thought we might go some place for lunch and maybe do a little shopping afterwards. Mother's birthday is coming up and I don't know what to get her."
"I'm never tired," Farah told him. This was true, she had unplumbed reserves of energy, which she attributed to Jason's experiment on her. But this fact, like her worry over never seeming to age, she kept to herself.
Over lunch she gave him a brief run-down of her stay in Los Angeles, including her visits with Suzi and Monica, and her meeting with Grant Allen. She told him she had taken flowers to Kevin's grave, glad that she could discuss this with him because he had never shown any resentment or jealousy in regard to Kevin. She didn't mention Noel.
Sometimes she felt guilty about the secrets she carried, which she would never be able to reveal, but in essence she had really become Farah, and Donna Harris seemed like someone she had read about long ago.
"How is Maria?" she asked.
"It's miraculous the way she has improved. She's up and about and able to go out now and then. The doctor tells her not to overdo, but in general he feels very optimistic about her."
After lunch they wandered hand in hand through the shops, looking for a present for Alexandra, but deciding on nothing. As Farah said, "It's hard to find a present for someone who has everything."
Finally it was time to go, and they taxied out to the airport where Michael's plane was waiting. The sun was low in the sky when they reached Zhad. After landing they picked up Michael's car, and as they drove away he said to Farah, "Would you mind if we stopped by to see how Maria is? I know she's anxious to see you, and there's some business I need to discuss with Boris."
"I'm badly in need of a shower and change," she said.
"You could do that in Mother's apartment. Lucky we have your luggage in the car trunk."
"Okay," she said.
After Alexandra's show of affection in Boston, Farah wondered if it would be all right for her to kiss her on arrival. Well, why not? she thought, and proceeded to do so. Alexandra looked first surprised, then pleased, and almost gushed when agreeing to allow Farah to use her shower.
"Maria wants us all to stay for dinner," she said, when Farah emerged showered and dressed.
"How nice," Farah said. "I'm so glad she feels up to it."
Michael had been on the phone. Now he sat down and said, "I called home to let them know we're staying for dinner."
"Can we leave early? I'm anxious to see the children."
"Of course," Michael told her.
Upon arrival at Boris and Maria's apartment, Farah was totally unprepared to find waiting not only their hosts but also Nickolai and Megan. And standing to one side as her family greeted her was Hack. Beside him, holding his hand, was a pretty blonde young woman.
"Hack, how nice to see you," said Farah, her face alight with pleasure, and went to him with outstretched arms.
Hack hugged her, then indicated his companion. "Princess Farah, may I present Stacie Wells, who in a moment of insanity has agreed to marry me."
"Hack, how wonderful," Farah said. "But don't be so modest, she knows a good man when she sees one, and I'm happy for both of you." She smiled at Stacie and held out both hands. "Welcome to Zhad," she said. "I hope you can stay long enough for us to get really acquainted."
"Thank you," Stacie said. "Hack told me I'd like you."
"Thank You." Farah turned to Michael, who had joined them. "How come you didn't tell me?"
"Hack swore me to secrecy. He wanted to surprise you."
"I'm surprised, all right." Farah studied Hack's face. For the first time in all the years she had known him, he was looking at another girl with love and affection. She had always felt guilt that his feeling for her had kept him from finding another love. But now that he had found someone, why did she feel a bit jealous?
She laughed out loud and took Hack's hand. "Have you set a date for the wedding?"
"Not an exact date," he told her. "Some time in the fall."
"Hack is working on a dig in Asia," said Stacie. "When the weather gets too cold to continue he'll be back teaching and the wedding will be soon after that. I"m a teacher, too, that's how we met." She put her arm through Hack's. "I'm trying to persuade him to give up all that hard work and teach full-time. He has so much to offer as a teacher."
Farah looked quickly at Hack. She knew he enjoyed teaching, but he loved his "digs" more. If Stacie wanted him to give it up there could be trouble. On the other hand, if he had a good marriage he might be happy to settle down with his teaching and research. Well, she had faith in his ability to work it out, so she dismissed the thought.
"How long will you be here?" Farah asked Hack during the evening. Michael was talking with Stacie across the room, looking pleased with her.
"Four days is all we can manage."
"You're staying with us, of course." A thought struck her. "Unless the two of you ..." She didn't finish the sentence.
"We'll be glad to stay with you. In separate rooms, of course."
She felt embarrassed and awkward. "I didn't mean to sound like a prig."
"Nor did I." After a short pause, he said, "You know, of course, how I've felt about you since the first day we met. I had never expected to find anyone to take your place. But Stacie is like you in many ways, and she's made me very happy. Wish us luck, Farah. I do so want it to work. I need to settle down with someone I care for who cares for me."
Her eyes filled with tears. "You're the very best friend I have in the world, Hack, and I don't think I'd have survived without you. I'll say a prayer every night for your happiness with Stacie."
"Thank you, friend," he said, and kissed her cheek.
Farah woke Michael in the middle of the night. She had just had a wonderful idea.
"michael," she said, shaking him, "why don't we ask Hack and Stacie to get married in Zhad? We could put on a wonderful wedding for them."
"Talk to me about it tomorrow," Michael said sleepily.
"We need to discuss it now, so we can spring it on them in the morning and have all day to talk them into it."
"They might have other plans. After all, Stacie has a family."
"I bet she'd jump at the chance. Her family, too, probably. If anyone has to be talked into it, it'll be Hack."
"I think that between us we can handle him," Michael said. "If you want my consent, you've got it. Now let me go back to sleep. I was having a wonderful dream about a beautiful blonde siren who loved me madly."
She patted his backside and he fell asleep again at once. But Farah was too excited to sleep, so she got up and started planning an impromptu luncheon to announce the engagement to Hack's many friends in the area.
As she had predicted, it was Hack who didn't take immediately to the idea of having their wedding in Zhad, but he gave in when it seemed to mean so much to Stacie, who had never in her wildest dreams pictured herself being married under such circumstances.
"As soon as you set the date, we'll start making arrangements," Farah told them.
When the time came for Hack and Stacie to leave, Farah, Michael and even Alexandra went to the airport to see them off. Michael had offered the use of their private plane and pilot, but Hack refused, saying he had ridden the shuttle to Paris so often it was like a second home.
"Write to us," Farah said to Stacie as she told her goodbye.
With assurances that she would do so, Stacie then said goodbye to Michael and Alexandra. Hack and Farah embraced wordlessly. The bond between them was strong -- the bond forged by their closeness to Jason and nurtured after Jason's death by their dependence on each other.
"Let us know when you've set the date," Farah said, "and we'll give you a wedding worthy of the prince you are."
The wedding of Hack and Stacie was held the last week in December, 1980, during the school Christmas vacation. Hack had finished his tasks at the archeological site for the season, and would work at the college until spring.
It had occurred to Farah and Michael that Hack might want Michael as his best man since they had been close friends for many years, but as plans for the wedding progressed, there was no word from him.
"Michael," Farah said at last, "I wonder if he's waiting for you to offer. Maybe he thinks it would be impertinent for him to ask."
"I thought of that, too," Michael said. "Should I mention it to him?"
"Why not? And don't expect me to be Stacie's matron of honor. That would be too much."
But they had waited too long. Hack thanked Michael for the offer and admitted he had wanted him but hesitated to ask. "I knew little of court etiquette," he said, "and I thought perhaps the offer should come from you, and as time was getting short, I chose a colleague at the university."
Stacie's best friend would be her matron of honor, and her father would give her away.
The ceremony was performed at the same church where Farah and Michael exchanged their vows. The reception was held at the palace, after which the bride and groom left for a honeymoon in Hawaii, where the weather was more temperate. On their return, they would both resume their work at the University. After a couple of postcards from Hawaii and a short note on their return, Farah and Michael heard nothing from them. When Farah mentioned this, Michael laughed and said they had other things on their minds.
It was not until April that a letter came from Hack saying he had asked for a replacement and would not be returning to the archeological site. He would spend the next year in research at the college.
"I see Stacie won," Farah said after reading the letter aloud to Michael.
"What does that mean?"
"She said she hoped to persuade him to give up the digging."
"Well, perhaps she was right. It wouldn't be much of a marriage if he was off somewhere digging all the time."
"She could go with him. There's plenty of work for a woman around those digs. Don't forget, that's how I met you."
"How could I forget that meeting? You shared your lunch with me and talked to me like an errand boy."
"It was because I thought you were cute and I was self-conscious."
"A likely story. I'd never been treated so informally before." He grinned at her. "I loved it."
"And then you rolled up in your fancy car to take me to lunch and I really was self-conscious. Not to mention the day of the Festival when I found out you were a bona fide prince."
"I admit I gloried in the revelation," he said, "but it didn't seem to make any difference -- you still talked to me the way you would to an errand boy."
"I did not." She took his hand and pressed it to her cheek. "Meeting you was the best thing that ever happened to me," she said. Then with a quick change of subject, "I think I'll write Stacie and tell her if she wants to hold on to Hack, she'd better accompany him on his digs. That's his life, and she knew it when she married him."
"You'll do no such thing. Let them work it out."
"You're right, of course," she said with a sigh.
Summer seemed to come quickly, bringing hot, humid weather, and Maria's health took a turn for the worse.
"She's giving up the struggle," her doctor told Boris. "She's held on so tenaciously that I keep hoping for a complete recovery. But she's tired, and I think she's lost the will to live."
"She's never forgiven herself for losing the child she was carrying and being unable to conceive again." Boris's voice was full of pain. "I keep telling her it's my fault as much as hers, because the men of my family have often been sterile. We've all assured her that it doesn't matter, anyway, now that Michael has children who can carry on the line. But she still blames herself."
"I know. Our emotions have a lot to do with our health."
"I'm not giving up on her," Boris said. "But if she's too tired to struggle any longer . . . if she really wants to go . . ." he was unable to finish the sentence.
Maria died in her sleep one night in September of 1981. Even though they were prepared for her death, it was a great shock to her family. Shops and businesses were closed in mourning, and other countries sent representatives to attend the funeral. This involved a lot of management, and to everybody's surprise, Cousin Andre volunteered his services in handling the visitors and in helping with funeral arrangements. Alexandra made the decisions, but Michael and Farah, with Andre's help, carried them out.
"Because of Maria's health I never got to know her well," Andre confided to Farah. Then he smiled. "As a matter of fact, I never got to know any of the family well until after you became a member. I've often wondered if you had something to do with that." He paused as if expecting an answer.
Farah smiled back at him, thinking that despite the fact that he was handsome and helpful, there was something about him she didn't like. "Actually," she said, "I think it was Michael who mentioned it to Alexandra. Times have changed since Grandfather's peccadillos, and there's no reason you shouldn't be considered a member of the family."
"You surprise me. You're not only beautiful, you're sensible."
"You think the two are not compatible?"
"Well, actually, I've never given it much thought, but it seems to be a universal opinion."
"So much for woman's lib," she said with a smile.
Boris moved through the funeral ceremonies with strength and dignity, but afterwards collapsed, and Alexandra took him in and looked after him until he could deal with his bereavement.
Unable to bear the emptiness of his own living quarters, he asked his mother to move in with him, and with her help he was eventually reconciled to his loss.
Farah mourned for Maria, too, because she had been like a sister to her, the sister Farah never had.
Hack showed up alone for the funeral. He explained that since the new school term had so recently begun, Stacie was unable to get away, but sent her regrets. Farah thought Hack's face showed signs of stress, but on consideration decided he looked different because he had lost the deep tan he usually acquired in the summer at his digs. He stayed a week, visiting with her and Michael, with Boris and Alexandra, and with friends.
He had stopped by "Jason's house" on the way to the airport to tell Ned about Maria's death, he said, and found everything there ship-shape. Ned sent condolences.
This news from California revived for Farah a lot of memories, both happy and sad. By seeking death, she had found life, a new life that had brought pain and loss, but also hope, and, finally, a future rich beyond her wildest dreams. It was not often now that she remembered her roots, and each time she did she felt gratitude to Jason for the safe haven of family and happiness she had found.
It often appears that whatever gods are watching over us are just waiting to take advantage of such complacency.