2. Mount Bashur (iii)

(notes)

For some time after the prince had crawled into bed in the adjacent room, Dariun and Narses continued their conversation in hushed tones. It was at this point that Dariun confided in his friend the peculiar orders of his Uncle Vahriz.

“That His Majesty can adore Queen Tahmineh to such an extent, and yet keep himself so oddly distanced from His Highness Arslan — I really cannot make sense of it.”

“The queen consort, eh…” muttered Narses, folding his arms. “I happened to see Queen Tahmineh a few times myself when I was a child. Her beauty was truly not of this world. But at any rate, before she became Prince Kayumars’s consort, it seems she was his framatar’s intended.”

“A lord steals his vassal’s intended? Such is the seed of national turmoil. And what happened to this miserable framatar?”

“Committed suicide, apparently. Pitiful to be certain, but I suppose there’s no guarantee things would have turned out better had he lived on.”

The two turned to their wine and fell silent, each recalling the history of events that had preceded Arslan’s birth.

.

In the 301st year of Pars and the thirtieth year of his reign, Shah Gotarzes II, Grand Protector of the Great Continental Road, passed away. The sixty-one-year-old king was survived by two sons, twenty-seven-year-old Osroes and twenty-five-year-old Andragoras. Before his passing, the king had already formally instated Osroes as crown prince, and as younger brother Andragoras was in full support of his older brother’s accession, Osroes succeeded the throne without incident.

The new king instated his younger brother as Eran, turning over command of the entire army to him. For two years the brothers successfully cooperated in upholding the legacies of their illustrious father, but it was not long before disaster came calling.

In the year 303 of Pars, civil discord arose in the southeastern Principality of Badakhshan, which had until then been allied with Pars. This nation had always been situated between Pars and Sindhura, and as such was sometimes on better terms with the former, and sometimes on better terms with the latter, but ever since the accession of Gotarzes II they had maintained an alliance with Pars. Despite this, upon Gotarzes II’s demise, the waning Sindhuran faction at the Badakhshan court began to wriggle back to life.

“The Kingdom of Pars owes its stability entirely to King Gotarzes. Without that great king, Pars is no longer to be relied upon. We ought to make a treaty with the Kingdom of Sindhura in order to ensure peace for our nation.”

As those voices gained in influence, the Principality of Badakhshan expelled the Parsian ambassador and established amicable relations with the Kingdom of Sindhura.

Andragoras made Vahriz his deputy commander and led ten thousand riders sweeping into the territories of Badakhshan. Prince Kayumars, the lord of Badakhshan, sent out a distress call to Sindhura requesting aid. Although Sindhura immediately sent relief forces, Andragoras had already, with cutthroat speed, traversed the entirety of Badakhshan and destroyed all the bridges on the river that the Sindhuran army needed to cross into the country. With the Sindhuran army’s advance thus obstructed, Andragoras turned his own forces back around and seized the capital of Badakhshan, Helmandus. Prince Kayumars of Badakhshan threw himself off one of the city towers, and every last one of the two thousand ministers and generals of the Sindhuran faction who had tempted him down this path were killed by the conquering Parsians. Upon Andragoras announcing the annexation of Badakhshan to Pars, the Sindhuran army gave up and returned to their home country.

Up to this point the Kingdom of Pars still had no inkling or foreshadowing of the misfortune yet to come.

However, Andragoras had discovered inside the capital a single woman whose existence would soon irrevocably alter the destinies of the two royal brothers. That woman was the deceased Prince Kayumars’s young consort Tahmineh.

Osroes gladly welcomed his victorious little brother back to the capital Ecbatana. To reward his brother, he intended to confer upon him the entire territory of former Badakhshan along with the title of Vice Regent.

But Andragoras shook his head and replied, “Brother, I need neither lands nor throne. All I ask for is Kayumars’s consort…”

That he should make this request was in accordance with the laws of Pars. All spoils of war went first to the king, who then distributed them among his soldiers as he saw fit.

“What, more than land or position, you say you want but a single woman? What an undesirous fellow! Very well then, I shall give you that woman — along with a new estate, and jewels to adorn her with!”

After Andragoras gave thanks and took his leave, Osroes’s curiosity was unexpectedly piqued by this woman who had stirred his brother’s heart. When it came to warring and hunting and feasting, Andragoras showed plenty of enthusiasm, but never before had gossip linked him amorously with any woman.

Osroes secretly called upon the mansion where Tahmineh was being held under house arrest, and there beheld her taking a stroll in the courtyard under the light of the moon. By the time he departed from the mansion, he had decided to wed Tahmineh himself. Neither his station as king nor his position as an older brother carried weight with him any longer.

During his time as crown prince, Osroes had taken a wife at eighteen and by the following year had sired a son. After that, his wife passed away from illness, and he had never officially named a queen, preferring to maintain a bachelor’s lifestyle. But now, he meant to bring those days to an end. The very next day, when Andragoras went to visit Tahmineh, she had already been moved to court on his brother’s orders.

Andragoras was furious. He pressed his brother the king, declaring “This is not what you promised!” — but Osroes resorted to the excuse that there had been no witnesses nor written agreement and dismissed his brother’s protests. At the same time, he granted his younger brother not only the territories of former Badakhshan and the position of Vice Regent, but also bestowed upon him 100,000 dinars and several beauties, thinking to placate him in this manner. However, Andragoras withdrew to his own estates and from then on refused to show his face at court.

Osroes had intended to wed Tahmineh by force, but due to the remonstrations of Vahriz and various other important retainers, he had no choice but to give up on that notion. No matter how he tried to defend himself, the fact remained that he had broken his promise to his younger brother.

Thus did the relationship between the brothers drastically sour, and discord spread throughout the court. If one were to compare, the sympathies of the courtiers lay in large part with the valorous warrior Andragoras, rather than the weak and ailing Osroes. Naturally, those who sided with the younger brother incurred Osroes’s displeasure, and were expelled from court, exiled to provincial cities and border regions. Vahriz, too, was relegated to a fortress at the western border with Misr.

Andragoras was growing increasingly unamused. Abandoning his duties as Eran, he holed up in his own residence and drowned his sorrows in drink. For King Osroes, this served as a perfect excuse. He dismissed his younger brother from the position of Eran, demoted him to Marzban, and deployed him to the eastern border.

“If I keep Andragoras and Vahriz too close, they shall no doubt plot rebellion. Splitting them up east and west by three hundred farsangs shall keep them from being able to discuss betrayal with one another.”

Such had been his considerations, but just as the new assignments were to be publicly announced, Osroes took to the sickbed. He had taken Tahmineh out hunting when his mount shied and threw him, injuring his shoulder. Because of this wound, he came down with a high fever.

After several days of unabated fever, the king’s physical condition swiftly deteriorated. His physicians’ arduous treatments were ineffective; the priests’ prayers were in vain. The king descended into a critical state.

If a king were to die, he must have a successor to take his place. Usually it was the king’s eldest male child who would continue the royal line, but as Osroes’s son was only eleven years old at this point, the ceremonies formally naming him crown prince had not yet been held. Osroes had kept from doing so on account of younger brother Andragoras and his supporters. After all, powerful enemies lay on either side of Pars, and if a mere boy of eleven were to take the throne, it would no doubt stir the ambitions of those various nations.

On the nineteenth day of the fifth month, a cloudless summer night overflowing with moonlight and flowery fragrance, Andragoras, younger brother of the king, was summoned to the royal palace. One hour later, news of Osroes’s demise and Andragoras’s accession was officially announced.

“King Osroes wrote a will stating that the prince was to succeed him after his death, with Andragoras serving as regent. But Andragoras smothered the king in his sickbed with a pillow and thus became king himself.”

“No, King Osroes grew suspicious of the relationship between his younger brother and Consort Tahmineh. Mad with jealousy, he summoned his brother to the palace with murderous intent, only for the tables to be turned on him.”

All manner of rumors propagated, but after Andragoras became Shah with the overwhelming support of the military, the people clamped their mouths shut. Not long afterward, a corner of the palace accidentally caught fire, and the previous king Osroes’s son burned to death. The palace chef who took responsibility for setting the fire was executed. Subsequently, the newly kinged Andragoras named Vahriz Eran. The mysterious longstanding guest of the palace Tahmineh was wed to Andragoras in the following year, and accepted the mantle of queen. After another year, Prince Arslan was born…

And until this year, not even the slightest peep of conflict had stirred Andragoras’s reign.


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