Alicia Elfston

Written for the Cambridge Fiction Award with the topic "Ring."

There was a hitch of doubt in the old man's voice.

The veiled woman on his customer bench was poised in tension. "It was a gift," she whispered and, in the dark, the silk hiding her face rustled.

He examined the ring again. Pin-points of firelight glimmered in the diamond's facets.

"I am but a small trader," he sighed and shrugged.

"You must take it. I cannot sell it in public."

Her voice was young but beneath the shrouds she was determined. She was energetic, insistent, animated - perhaps beautiful.

Perhaps sensuous.

"This is a jewel I cannot afford." He raised his palms and turned away to end the discussion.

"My family is sick," she implored. "My father is dying. The sultan's son gave me this, for... thanks. I value it as straw, but he cannot know I have sold it. You will never get a better deal."

The trader tapped a fingernail on his teeth. The black silks slid over her body and billowed with her breath. He unlocked a strong box and paid a fair price.

Outside, a tall shadow was waiting to share her gold.

In the morning, the dealer heard the news of the princess' elopement.