4. Beasts and Beauties (ii)

(notes)

Even one such as Innocentius VII, who had used God and fate to justify himself to his generals, probably did not dare appeal directly to God regarding this matter. He had been fretting all by himself in the bedchamber of Andragoras, from which all traces of blood had been wiped away.

Since he abstained completely from alcohol, the silver goblet set on the Serican-imported red sandalwood table was filled with nothing but sugared water. This was one of the things Guiscard found tiresome about his older brother. Nevertheless, reining in his feelings, Guiscard expressed his approval regarding the marriage between his brother and Tahmineh.

“Oh, is that so? You approve?”

Innocentius VII’s sallow face was suffused with joy.

“Of course I approve. Albeit not just for your sake, brother mine. If the queen of Pars were to wed the king of Lusitania, it would strengthen the relations between these two nations of ours.”

“Indeed, it is as thou sayest.”

King Innocentius took the powerful hands of his brother, only five years his junior, into his own plump and feeble grip.

“Unfortunate though it is that much blood has been spilled, that which is already past needs must be forgotten. The people of Lusitania and the people of Pars must join hands in the name of the one true god, and together build a kingdom of heaven upon earth. For that purpose, my marriage to Tahmineh is certainly of utmost necessity.”

Guiscard gaped in amazement at how promptly his brother had managed to twist everything into his own self-justification. Joining hands was all well and good. But to the Parsians who had been brought to such bitter grief, was “forgetting the past” something so easily accomplished? Such were the thoughts he harbored, but what he said out loud was something else entirely.

“Alas, brother mine, there are still two or three minor impediments to your blessed marriage.”

Hearing him say so, the Lusitanian king’s anxious eyes swiveled over at once.

“And what might those be, my beloved little brother?”

“First and foremost is the archbishop Jean Bodin. As Queen Tahmineh is a heathen, that fussy archbishop shall certainly not accept it. How are we to deal with him?”

“I see; however, this is easily resolved by commanding the archbishop to convert Tahmineh to the faith of Ialdabaoth. Should the archbishop so desire, I shall donate however much he wishes from the Parsian treasury or some such, and if that is still not enough, from our own treasury…”

Cut this shit out already, swore Guiscard inside. That brother of his simply did not comprehend just how many sacrifices they’d made to get their hands on “the Parsian treasury or some such.”

Having ended the conversation at a suitable point and taken his leave, Guiscard returned to his own room and downed several cups of wine in succession. It seemed he’d drunk too much sugar water, for he felt sick to the stomach.

It was then that the man of the silver mask appeared, and Guiscard spluttered out the gist of the discussion.

“Well done.”

Silver Mask, commending the royal prince, whispered poison into his ears.

“If His Majesty the king donates overly much to that Bodin, the dissatisfaction and unrest of the generals shall only grow. And should Bodin still cleave stubbornly to his doctrine and obstruct the king’s marriage, he shall almost certainly incur His Majesty’s displeasure. No matter how things progress, Your Highness shall not be at a disadvantage.”

“Right, that’s good. But even so, my brother just doesn’t understand a single damn thing. Countless enemies remain within Pars. It’s uncertain how Misr, Sindhura, and Turan shall move next. To say nothing of marriage! If those bastards unite and attack…”

Guiscard clamped his mouth shut. His expression shifted slightly as he glanced at the man of the silver mask. Something seemed to have occurred to him.

“Speaking of which, you sure were a great help at the battle of Atropatene, eh?”

“You flatter me.”

“Some say that the unnatural appearance of fog at Atropatene was caused by sorcery.”

There was no reply.

“That fog certainly was convenient. No matter what strategies we came up with, if it hadn’t been for that fog, we probably wouldn’t have defeated the Parsian army.”

“Is it not said in the teachings of Ialdabaoth that sorcery cannot overcome the power of God? It must have been divine providence.”

“Hm…”

Though he didn’t seem entirely satisfied with this, perhaps the wine dulled his persistence, for Guiscard did not pursue the matter further, and the man of the silver mask took his leave.

Silver Mask strode swiftly and without hesitation through the long, confusing corridors of the palace. Paying no heed to the looks of disgust shot toward him from the Lusitanian soldiers he passed by on his way, he began to mutter to himself as if out of habit.

“When Badakhshan fell, still that woman survived. And now that Pars has fallen, yet again she lives on. However, upon the fall of Lusitania, that shall no longer be the case. When she has gone to the next world, I wonder how that woman plans to face all those men who died for her.”

In an arcade along a spacious cloister that showed signs of recent devastation, the man of the silver mask came to a stop. Qaran, after walking around to confirm no others were present, bowed.

“Qaran, have you not yet captured Andragoras’s brat?”

“My deepest apologies. I ordered my men to expend all their efforts in the search, but still we have been unable to uncover his whereabouts.”

“Have you not grown lax?”

Although this was not at all a strong rebuke, that Qaran grew somber was due to the silver mask’s voice. That voice was once again in its most natural state, a striking contrast to the polite tones he had produced when facing the royal prince Duke Guiscard. Qaran, with something resembling fear to any potential onlooker, bent his waist deeply once more.

“To hear such words, my shame knows no depths. I did not mean to disappoint…”

For a man of his size to be cowering in this manner was most unlike the behavior of a Marzban.

“No, you have done fine. Not the type to be negligent, are you? Come to think of it, Pars is vast. Even the shade of an orange tree is enough to hide a single lone brat. One single lone brat…”

The man of the silver mask trailed off. A brief silence was followed by a brief chuckle. The rays of the setting sun dappled through the leaves of the orange trees in the courtyard, caressing the side of his mask.

… The very next day, a single pale-faced knight, whose pride had suffered deeper wounds than his body, rode forth from Qaran’s territories, heading toward his master in Ecbatana.

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