The queen consort Tahmineh was waiting in the audience room for the heroic nameless archer. To the left and right of the throne she was supported by the principal retainers who yet remained in the capital — the prime minister Husrav and the Marzbans Garshasp and Saam.
The queen looked younger than her thirty-six years, or to be more precise, hers was an ageless beauty. Her raven hair, jet-black eyes, and ivory skin glimmered all the more for the jewels and silks adorning her.
On a rug ten gaz before the throne, a young man knelt down in reverence. The queen studied him with great interest.
“By what name art thou known?”
The young man lifted his face and replied to the queen’s query in a singsong voice, “Giv they call me, Your Majesty. A wandering minstrel by profession.”
This young man named Giv looked to be about twenty-two or twenty-three. His hair was rich and dark as wine, and his eyes were the deepest of blues. The ladies-in-waiting whispered and sighed, admiring his long, lithe build and fine, delicate beauty. But his expression as he stared back at the queen was incredibly brazen. Along with his earlier display of archery, it was hard to imagine that he was just a man who wandered the world plying his trade as a musician.
The queen inclined her head. The light of the lanterns seemed to sway with her movement.
“I play the oud1, Your Majesty. Other than that, I can either flute or sing; I am a poet and a dancer as well. I’m not bad with the barbat2 either.” He continued shamelessly, “If I might add, my technique with bow, sword, and spear is also a cut above the rest.”
Marzban Saam furrowed his brow while Garshasp scoffed. For two valorous Mardan-level warriors, this could only come across as a bunch of hot air.
“I too witnessed thy skill at archery from the west tower. Thou didst rescue faithful Shapur from his suffering. For that I must thank thee.”
“I am truly honored.”
Despite his words, it was clear from the way the young man looked at the queen that he expected some other reward in addition to her gratitude.
It might have been a look of worship, or perhaps even longing. Faced with the indescribably beguiling beauty of the queen consort Tahmineh, any young man would harbor such cheap sentiment, and likewise Tahmineh was used to being the subject of such. However, that was not the case here. His expression was not only one of brazen insolence, but seemed to regard the queen of an entire nation as one might judge any ordinary woman, and furthermore displayed dissatisfaction at being showered with mere praise, as well as a demand for some further form of recompense.
It was at this point that one of ladies-in-waiting standing in attendance at either side of the queen stepped forth and raised her voice in shrill protest.
“Please pardon my interruption. Your Majesty, your humble servant recognizes this individual. He is a most outrageous man.”
The lady stabbed an accusatory finger at this “vagabond minstrel.”
“This man cannot be trusted. He is a charlatan who deceived me.”
“Deceived thee? How so?”
“Allow your servant to confront this man, and it shall be known.”
Upon obtaining the queen’s permission, the lady glared at Giv and berated him.
“You are a prince of the State of Sistan, disguised as a minstrel while traveling about various nations in order to undertake training as a warrior — did you not tell me this just the night before?”
“But now you claim to Her Majesty the queen that you are just a minstrel. Is that not a lie!?” shrieked the lady. Giv, unaffected, rubbed at his jaw as he looked back at her.
“Not with the intention of pulling the wool over your eyes did I speak thus! That was my dream, a dream you shared with me for a single night. And when the darkness of night surrendered to the light of dawn, that dream vanished like dew upon grass and leaf. Nothing but lovely memory remains now.”
These could be described as lines no one could possibly stomach, but recited in Giv’s musical tones they sounded like the most natural thing in the world. It was really quite incredible.
“Come, is it not foolish to shred such a lovely dream with the wretched blade of reality? If only you had understood, the dream would have transformed into memory, all the more sweet and beautiful for it, coloring and enriching the rest of your life. Forcing everything to adhere to a pragmatic philosophy of profit and loss is uncouth. There is no need to pursue such a barren path.”
Giv had basically wrung every last drop out of this lady-in-waiting. Having left her with no possible counter, he turned to the queen.
“Sistan is the name of an ancient nation that no longer exists in this world, and thus is not something that should trouble a single soul. Rather, one cannot help but marvel: are women all over the world truly so weak to the word ‘prince’? No matter how a sincere a lover she might have, a woman will toss him aside just for a strange vagabond who claims to be a king’s son. Truly, such shallow women are suited only for equally shallow dreams.”
He was rather impudently dodging the point, but when it came to this young man named Giv, what was truly deceptive was the refined, princely mien he had been graced with. That, far more than the reality, lay in perfect accordance with the fantasies of most young women.
“Of thy eloquence I am now well aware. Thy archery, too, I have already witnessed. Now it should be time to display the skills of thy original vocation.”
Queen Tahmineh waved her hand slightly, and her ladies carried in a barbat made of gold. Giv accepted it and confidently began to strum.
Even if his technique was not perfect, of those present, not a single person could tell. To the mesmerized courtiers, the sound of his playing possessed an elegant lyricism, and to the women in particular every note seemed to be steeped in sensuality.
After a single song, the women greeted the beautiful minstrel with fervent applause. The men followed, somewhat more reluctantly.
Queen Tahmineh commanded the chamberlain to award Giv two hundred dinars. One hundred for his archery, and one hundred for his music, she declared. Giv dipped his head respectfully, but in his heart he decried the queen as an unexpectedly stingy bitch. He’d been expecting a reward closer to five hundred dinars, at least. At this point the queen spoke.
“For the crime of misleading my handmaiden, some amount was deducted.”