Through the fog coursed the flash of blades and spears, like lightning piercing through the clouds of a summer storm. Everywhere whirled the bright red of riotous flame. Heat blasted past, stinking of char.
The young knight in black could not help but question whether he were brave or just reckless — searching for a single boy amid this vast, chaotic battlefield.
“Arslan, Your Highness! Where are you!?”
After shouting time and time again, Dariun’s black armor was now spattered with the blood of countless Lusitanians. He could not remember how many enemy soldiers had met their ends at his spear since he left the king’s column. He knew only that in all three directions, none now stood before him.
He continued to sweep his gaze from left to right, then focused upon a single point. About a hundred gaz1 ahead, he had spotted a familiar face. Marzban Qaran. On this face, however, was an expression he had never seen before.
Upon seeing Dariun draw near, Qaran silently raised his hand. The riders around him pointed their spears at Dariun. Dariun realized that they were not men of Pars, but of Lusitania.
“What is the meaning of this, Lord Qaran?”
Despite voicing the question, Dariun had already read the answer in Qaran’s face. Qaran had not confused the enemies’ troops with his own. Nor had he gone mad. Dariun knew very well that Qaran had just knowingly and deliberately roused the Lusitanians to action.
He took a deep breath, then spat, “You’ve turned traitor, Qaran?!”
“It is not treachery. If you truly care for Pars, you should join us in removing Andragoras from the throne.”
Qaran had not given the king his due respect, but rather, referred to him by name alone. Dariun’s eyes flashed with understanding as he growled, “Is that so? I see now. That’s why you wanted me to address His Majesty before the battle. So that I would incur His Majesty’s displeasure and lose my position as Marzban — that’s what you were hoping for, wasn’t it?”
Qaran replied with a high laugh. “That’s right, Dariun. You’re no mindless brute. How could I possibly let you remain in command of ten thousand cavalrymen? After all, no matter how fierce of a warrior you are, there is no way for a single man to affect the flow of battle by himself.”
Having gloated thus over his success, Qaran changed tacks and stilled his tongue. Dariun raised his spear and spurred his black mount forward.
One of the Lusitanians at Qaran’s side leapt upon a dapple gray horse to meet the charge. He raised his own lance — which, unlike the Parsian equivalent, had a raised vamplate in the middle to protect his hand — and thrust toward Dariun.
Like two streaks of lightning crossing paths, the Lusitanian’s lance glanced off Dariun’s armor into empty space while Dariun’s pierced through his opponent’s throat. The tip flew out the back of the man’s head. He toppled to the ground, the spear still impaled through his body.
At this point, Dariun had already drawn his sword. The blade gleamed white, like the first light of a winter’s dawn, drawing ribbons of blood from the next rider’s helmeted head.
“Stop right there, Qaran!”
Dariun cut down a third enemy rider. With his following strike, he sent a fourth flying from his saddle in a spray of blood. Before Dariun’s swordsmanship, the mighty Lusitanians who had sent the kingdom of Maryam up in flames were little more than helpless infants. One after another, riderless horses fled wildly into the fog.
“Betraying His Majesty, deceiving me. A crime twofold, for which you shall now pay!”
The black horse, responding to its rider’s fury, screamed and charged straight toward Qaran.
Even now the remaining Lusitanians intended to halt Dariun’s charge. An admirable sentiment; however, their courage cost them their lives. Dariun’s charge was swift and unrelenting. Before Qaran the light of crossing blades flickered. The intense clash of metal rang through the air. Brilliant blood spilled across the earth. And now Qaran himself appeared before Dariun’s eyes. Between him and Dariun there was no longer even the shadow of a single person. Nothing but a bloodstained sword slicing down from above.
Qaran too was a seasoned warrior, but Dariun’s valor had far surpassed his expectations, and perhaps his own guilty conscience had shaken him as well. For suddenly, he turned his horse and fled. Dariun’s sword met empty space.
Through the swirling fog raced the two riders. He who had betrayed his king and yet remained safely ensconced as Marzban; he whose loyalty had cost him his position. They traversed the patch of plains like a pair of tangled threads. Even as he fled, Qaran fought back, exchanging around ten rounds of blows with his pursuer. But there was no one who could counter Dariun’s strikes now. Then Qaran’s horse slipped, throwing its rider to the ground. Qaran’s sword flew from his hand. As he scrambled to his feet, hands raised protectively over his head, he said in a hoarse, strained tone, “Wait, Dariun. Listen to me!”
“What is it now?”
“Just hold on. If you knew the truth, you would not blame me for what I’ve done. Please, hear me out –“
Dariun’s sword flashed out. Not to cut down Qaran, but to knock aside a sudden rain of arrows. When the brief onslaught came to a stop, Dariun glimpsed Qaran’s fleeing back among the ranks of the Lusitanian archers. There were about fifty riders. They nocked new arrows to their bows, watching for their enemy’s approach. Dariun abandoned all thoughts of pursuit and turned his horse away.
“Plenty of chances left to kill him,” Dariun told himself. Upon him still weighed the great responsibility entrusted to him by his uncle. He had to rescue Prince Arslan from this fray and bring him safely back to the capital. He could not throw away his life in a fit of passion here.
1 ~100 m ^