4. Beasts and Beauties (i)

(notes)

When King Innocentius VII first set out from his true motherland, the full military strength of the Lusitanian army was said to consist of a cavalry of 58,000, an infantry of 307,000, and a navy of 35,000, for a total of 400,000. Of those, 32,000 had been lost during the subjugation of Maryam, and disregarding the over 50,000 lost at Atropatene, 25,000 had been killed in the siege of Ecbatana, cutting their numbers down to less than 300,000.

When the storm of slaughter and pillaging settled, the chief generals of the Lusitanian army had no choice but to begin working out long term strategies for subjugating the rest of the Parsian kingdom. It was at this time that a single message arrived, and sent them all into such a frenzy that had not been seen since they first departed from Lusitania.

In this message, their king Innocentius VII proclaimed his desire to wed Queen Tahmineh of Pars.

“Just how old is the Parsian queen anyway?”

“Well, she should be in her late thirties or so. Of an age not unsuitable to His Majesty, at least.”

“That’s hardly the issue here. That woman is the queen consort of another kingdom, not to mention a heathen. Should not such a marriage be utterly unthinkable to begin with?”

Flustered by this unexpected development, the generals gathered at once before the king to persuade him of the foolhardiness of his desire.

“Tahmineh, queen of Pars, is a most inauspicious woman. All men involved with her ultimately meet with doom.”

“As long as she is no heathen, as long as she is not the wife of another man, Your Majesty has the authority to make any woman your queen. Take your pick from the finest beauties of Lusitania.”

The king fell into a sulk. He’d known from the start it was an impossible desire. Upon seeing the king’s demeanor, one general pressed on loudly without thinking.

“Prince Kayumars of Badakhshan, the prince’s minister, King Osroes V of Pars, and Andragoras the Third. These unfortunate men, bewitched by Tahmineh’s beauty, all ended in demise. Even knowing this, does Your Majesty wish to become the fifth?”

King Innocentius, as if struck, remained silent. The king had always been an obtuse one, and within him now superstitious fear seemed to do battle with extreme fixation. At last, the king said, “However, those unfortunate men were every last one of them heathens disfavored by Ialdabaoth, were they not? It may well be that God Himself set her these trials. Perhaps it is fated for her to become a devout Ialdabaothan wife.”

And that was that. The generals were unable to protest. Clucking their tongues in dismay at the king’s obsessive sophistry, they retreated for the moment to await the next suitable opportunity for remonstrance.

.

Gold, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, pearls, amethysts, topaz, jade, ivory… the mountain of valuables in the Parsian treasury dazzled the Lusitanians’ eyes. How could they have triumphed over such a powerful and wealthy nation, they wondered? Even if all of Lusitania were to be wrung dry, such a fortune could not be amassed. This was the reason for their aggressive territorial expansion.

The horses for the exclusive use of the king and his consort were perfumed with saffron upon their manes and heads. Scented torches illuminated the paths of the courtyards as well; the torches had all been dabbed in musk.

The palace treasury had not been targeted by looting Lusitanian soldiers. This was because, unlike the other rooms of the palace or the homes of the citizenry, the treasury was off-limits, and anyone who attempted to would be sentenced to death by fire.

During the king’s initial inspection of the treasury, the generals accompanying him cried out in wonder.

“The wealth of the Parsians surpasses even rumor!”

“All belongs to God! By no means shall this fall into the hands of the likes of you.”

The king’s genuine piety caused his generals much displeasure.

Of course their official reason for abandoning their destitute, dry and rocky homeland to invade these otherwise untroubled heathen nations was to sweep away every last existing heathen for the glory of Ialdabaoth. However, already Atropatene had been won, and the capital Ecbatana destroyed, and the glory of God achieved. Was it not now the turn for mortals to benefit?

Everything goes to God, the king declared in his blind faith, but in the end the ones who managed these commodities for God were the “holy men” as represented by Bodin. And what could they claim to have contributed to these victories and conquests?

This along with the matter of Queen Tahmineh caused resentment against the king to fester among the generals, who pinned their hopes more and more on another royal, Duke Guiscard.

As the king’s younger brother, Guiscard was possessed of more titles than he could count: Duke, Knight Commander, General, Lord Governor, and so on and so forth. He stood about as tall as his brother the king, but his figure was far more youthful and defined, and his gaze and movements both brimmed with vigor. Unlike his brother, who looked only to God and to the clergy, he cared far more about earthly and human affairs. By planning carefully around such matters and hoarding material wealth, only then could there be a life considered worth living for him.

King Innocentius, or “The Possessed” as his little brother called him, had never had the ability to conduct a campaign across even the western third of the continent to begin with. Presented with the question, “What shall we do for supplies, oh brother mine?”, he was the type of man who would reply, “God shall rain manna from the heavens upon His followers.”

In the end, the one who organized that army of 400,000, made arrangements for supplies, prepared the naval fleet, plotted their course, and directed combat, leading their generals to victory, was Duke Guiscard himself. All his royal brother did was pray to God for victory, without commanding even a single soldier. All the more incredible was that he did not even ride his own horse, but had come all this way borne on carriages and litters.

It is I who am the true king of Lusitania; so too was it I who actualized the conquest of Pars, thought Guiscard, as he expressed his sympathies for the disaffected generals who’d come running to him.

“I understand your feelings well. I too have felt this way for some time — that my brother the king is overly generous to those clergymen who offer him naught but lip service, while overlooking such meritorious veterans as yourselves…”

The royal prince Guiscard’s voice was low, but impassioned. He was fanning the flames of the generals’ discontent in large part for the sake of his own ambitions, but what he spoke was no lie. That rabble-rouser constantly lurking at the king’s side, Archbishop Bodin, was a particular source of indignation.

“Your Royal Highness, take for instance that cur Bodin. Subjugating heathens, eradicating heretics, hunting witches — all just an excuse to torture and slaughter those who are helpless to resist. Not even once has he stood upon the battlefield and crossed blades with the enemy himself. Why is a man like that allowed all the wealth and power he desires, even as the rest of us toil and risk our very lives?”

“There was that incident from before, too. Heathen though he may have been, that Shapur was nonetheless a hero worthy of respect. Had his hands been free, a man of Bodin’s caliber would have been crushed like a chick. Making a scene with all that hollering and flailing about with his rod made him as unsightly as some crazed monkey.”

The generals’ ire over these various matters, along with their overall agitation, served as a most valuable source of information for Guiscard. It did get rather tedious, but to just bluntly dismiss their concerns was out of the question.

Upon hearing that his brother had become enamored of the Parsian queen, Guiscard’s initial reaction was to laugh coldly to himself.

“That brother of mine, enthralled by a woman? Apparently it’s impossible for a man to lead a life devoted solely to God after all. Still, no matter what, better a young maiden than one already matured…”

Curiosity thus roused, Guiscard took a peek at the captive Queen Tahmineh, and found that he could no longer laugh at his brother. It wasn’t just a matter of physical beauty; it was as if Tahmineh herself emanated some great power, a beguiling charisma that affected all who came into her presence.

This time, as Guiscard brooded in private, there came someone to advise him. This was the man unofficially in charge of operations under Guiscard, the one responsible for guiding their expeditionary forces, a man whose true likeness even Guiscard himself did not know. This man, who never removed his silver mask in the presence of others, warned the Duke in a goading manner, “Should Your Royal Highness accomplish all that you intend, not just one but any number of beautiful women shall become yours for the picking. What reason is there for you to dwell on this woman of a fallen nation, who belongs to another?”

“… Mm, I suppose that’s true.”

As if shaking off any lingering regrets, Guiscard nodded and gulped down a goblet of wine before heading off to see his brother the king. When it came down to it, the greatest difference between him and his brother was probably his ability to give up.

<– PREVIOUS | THE CAPITAL ABLAZE | NEXT –>

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2 thoughts on “4. Beasts and Beauties (i)

  1. alter says:

    “What shall we do for supplies, oh brother mine?”, he was the type of man who would reply, “God shall rain manna from the heavens upon His followers.” – I’m LOL-ing at this (and picturing Guiscard suppresing – very -hard – the intention to roll his eyes and/or thwack his brother in the head. Since capable royal blood like Guiscard cannot just replace his inept brother (“oh come on, you guys can see who’s the one more fitting”), it seems the feudal ‘older brother must rule – good or bad’ system is really strong (as much as strong as the slave system, I guess). Kinda hard to picture in the democratic system we have now (then again, in democratic system, either capable/incapable person is in charge, there’s always non-stop bickering and dissatisfaction – cannot think which one is better. At least Guiscard still feel ‘bound’ to help his country.

    and guiscard/tahmineh = oh come on, no one escaping her charm? (except Giv, but he’s bitter due to his shortchange, so that’s probably don’t count ❤ <3)

    • T. E. Waters says:

      Yeah, LOL, poor Guiscard. It’s hilarious imagining how much he has to put up with, though it seems he’s learned to handle his brother pretty efficiently anyway. XD

      I think it’s really interesting especially that the book seems to be drawing parallels between Innocentius/Guiscard and Osroes/Andragoras — Guiscard is obviously the better ruler and their relationship is really insincere, but even Osroes/Andragoras, who started out with a much much closer/equal relationship, ended up with major issues because of their culture prizing military skill more than administrative skill (granted, we aren’t told much about whether Osroes was an effective administrator or not, but at least he seems to have been much less incompetent than Innocentius). Without spoiling anything, the book returns a bit to that concept of “rightful rule” towards the end of this chapter, in fact.

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