The prince pushed the woman off of him and staggered backwards. For a moment, he struggled to regain his senses; the woman was looking at him, and her lips had curled into a satisfied smile, and her topaz-colored hair was tossed back over her shoulders. Her eyes asked, “Well? Aren’t you going to say anything?” The prince fought in his head for what to say. Finally, at a loss for anything else, he just said, “Why?”
The woman laughed—a deep, rolling, throaty sound that resembled a growl more than a laugh. The prince felt that she was mocking her. He had to say something more. “Why did you do it?” he asked. “Why did you kiss me like…like that?”
“Because I love you,” the woman answered.
To the prince, everything began to feel like a mirage again, or perhaps a dream. Nothing about it seemed real, and he wondered if perhaps he had somehow fainted in the forest while he was chasing the peahen. Maybe he had run into a tree branch and was knocked out. He couldn’t remember running into anything, but there was certainly a possibility. Or else it was an effect of the venom from whatever had bitten him. The prince held his head in his hands and shook back and forth, muttering to himself, “This isn’t real. This isn’t real.”
The woman sat down beside him, slipped her hand under his chin, and pulled his head up so that he looked right at her. He thought she was going to kiss him again, and tried to pull backwards, but she grabbed him with her other arm and pulled him close to her. Before she could do anything, he asked abruptly, “Who are you?”
Instead of kissing him again, the woman placed her other hand on his cheek. “I am Lizana, the desert queen,” she told him.
“It is a lovely name,” said the prince. He tried to remove her hand from his cheek, but she held it there like a vice. “So this is your desert?” he asked.
“Indeed it is,” she replied.
“And you love me?”
“I dearly love you.”
“You are a divinely beautiful lady,” the prince told her, and he meant what he said. “But we do not know eachother. Until today, I have not laid eyes on you, and I am certain that you could say the same about me. How could you love me?”
“I have laid eyes on you,” Lizana said, “many times.”
“Have you? Well, why do I not remember this?”
“I was in the form of a peahen,” Lizana said, “and I watched you from under hedges and from the bushy undergrowth. I concealed myself in the thickness of the forest and watched you while you hunted. When you retired to your quarters, I snuck into the palace grounds and watched you through your chamber window. I watched you from the chicken farms and the pig pens. I watched you from the courtyard. Nobody pays any mind to a peahen, after all. It’s the males and their brilliant feathers that turn heads.”
The prince felt as if his stomach was twisted in knots. “You’ve been watching me all this time, while I was not aware?” he asked in bewilderment. “My word, I’m sure I do not like that! I do not like that at all! Why didn’t you simply show yourself to me, or go in through the palace gates and request an audience? You are a queen! They would never turn away a queen, though they would ask her of her business with the prince, and I’m quite certain they would not like your answer! But oh, the wound on my back is beginning to throb! Something in the sand bit me not long ago, and it’s quite alarming. I think it must have been a venomous spider. Do you have a remedy for such a thing? If you do, I would be so much obliged if you were to heal my wound.”
Lizana was not looking at him. She was looking at the golden sands below her feet. The prince could see that her shoulders were beginning to shake, and he thought he must have really offended her. “Oh, my lady, please don’t be so vexed!” he cried, and gently patted the queen’s shoulder. “I don’t wish to hurt you. I’ve only been taken aback by what you told me. Wouldn’t you be quite taken aback if somebody told you that they had been watching you for days and days without you knowing it? And anyway, I have a betrothed, and we are to be married on the first day of the next spring. She has been my betrothed for years and years, and I love her dearly and could never give her up. You are a beautiful lady—indeed, one of the most beautiful I’ve laid eyes on—but you really must seek another!”
Lizana looked at him, and her eyes stung him in the heart the way the creature in the sand had stung him on the back. “When you are ready to accept my love,” she told him, “then you may have the remedy!”