The honeybee took flight from the flower, releasing the siblings from the stillness that held them. They had barely greeted one another when it flew between them to land on the orchid and crawl into purple folds of the flower, seeking the nectar within and drawing them to watch in silence.
As the bee disappeared deeper into the gardens, wingbeats joining the hum of others of its hive, the brother and sister leaned back and regarded one another, much as they had many times before and, God willing, would have opportunity to do for many years to come.
She noted his smooth brow was furrowed under the gorgeous yellow turban he wore. She had not seen him so troubled since father had sent Aurangzib from the court. Jahanara folded hands in her lap, waiting. It was not often that the eldest came to visit, but when he did, it was nearly always to ask the same questions.
“And what of Father, sister mine?”
She smiled inwardly–but not wanting to show how easily she had read him and therefore hurt his feelings–she didn’t let the smile curve her lips. “He still pines for our beloved Mother, of course. The only thing he looks forward to is the daily meeting with his advisors regarding her tomb.”
“His remaining wives?” Dara asked.
She smiled openly. She had been composing a verse this morning, a playful little thing, and used part of it now: “The harem persists in its perennial practices: showing their love of Father and whining at his inattention.”
Dara nodded absently, but didn’t return her smile.
It was rare that he missed an opportunity to show his appreciation for her work. Resisting the urge to show her displeasure, she asked, “What troubles you, brother?”
“I wonder what it will take to shake Father from his grief.”
She strangled a sigh. “Must he be shaken?”
“Our brothers are not idle, sister.”
“No, but neither are they gathering armies to usurp father’s place.”
“Not that we know of, at least.”
“Our friend Mian Mir, in his wisdom, would have you set aside your fear, brother.”
Dara sniffed, “I know. I would argue that it is no sin to fear for one’s family.”
“If you only feared for your family, rather than fearing certain members of it.”
Another sniff, this one companion to a bitter twist of the lips,
“It has always been thus for the sons of this house.”
And the women of our house, they have free reign to do exactly as they wish, do they? She refused to let him see how much his self-pity annoyed her. “But our Father has chosen otherwise, for you.”
Looking through the walls of the garden, Dara whispered, voice so low it nearly drowned in the buzz of industrious insects about them: “Some days, I think he might have chosen the wrong son…”