“I am truly ashamed for what has transpired. The crown prince Arslan and his fellow fugitives escaped our encirclement and have concealed their current whereabouts.”
Looking down upon the subordinate who had come groveling to him in report, Qaran’s eyes flashed with near murderous fury. He had always treated his men with generosity and fairness, for which reason they had followed him until now. However, this time, Qaran was forced to suppress his urge to kick his groveling subordinate in the head.
“How did the situation turn out like this? Explain to me clearly!”
When Qaran managed at last to school his expression into calmness, quite some time had already passed.
Aware that if he continued babbling excuses, his master’s barely restrained anger would no doubt explode, the subordinate outlined only the essentials.
As Arslan, hiding at Mount Bashur, had not immediately come down from the mountain, Qaran’s men had conducted a search of the mountain itself.
At this time, a single woodcutter showed up to inform them that just the other day, he’d heard the sound of human conversation coming from a cave that should have been uninhabited. The men hiding within were tying messages to pigeons’ feet in order to communicate with their allies outside the mountain. According to him, it seemed they planned to act in concert from within and without, and break through the blockade on the night of the fourteenth that very month.
Qaran’s men, exulting at their good fortune, prepared for the night of the fourteenth. And so — as they slept soundly on the night of the thirteenth, the blockade was broken. Though they sprang up at once to carry out their defense, not a single person could stand against the valiance of Dariun, and their command was all in a jumble, and so in the end the escape succeeded. And to top it all off, a man thought to be Narses told Qaran’s men the following: So terribly sorry, but since we were holed up in the mountain with no calendar, we mistook the date…
“In other words, you were all completely played. That woodcutter was probably paid off by them.”
“Whether it’s Dariun or Narses, neither can be considered an ordinary man. Did I not mention as much, and tell you to keep that in mind? Useless fools!”
Qaran, revealing his displeasure, angrily upbraided those unreliable men of his. This was proof of his anxiety and unease. If Arslan, accompanied by Dariun and Narses, joined up with the troops of Keshvad deployed at the east and led a charge back to Ecbatana, what would they do then? In any case, the Lusitanian army would be defeated, and wouldn’t the great ambition of that honored person then remain unfulfilled?
Though it was not that Qaran did not quail at the name of Dariun, now that things had come to this he had no choice but to make his own move.
In order to request official sanction from Duke Guiscard to deploy troops, Qaran hurried down the hallways, but could not avoid overhearing the voices of the passing Lusitanians.
“Hmph, a traitor putting on such airs…”
“One of the conquered, and not even a convert; but before you know it, he’s become some sorta vital participant in our plans.”
“Looks like selling out your own kind as a heathen’s more of a shortcut to success than giving your life in battle against those very same heathens. Aww, we sure got born into the wrong place.”
They spoke loudly, obviously meaning for Qaran to hear. The Marzban of Pars did not refute them. The humiliation stiffened his face.
The royal prince Duke Guiscard was in the middle of drawing up plans for future territorial divisions and security measures, both for the sake of Lusitania as well as for himself. When Qaran came calling at the former minister’s offices that were now allocated to the prince, he was not made to wait long, perhaps because the prince was just then in the mood for a diversion.
Qaran bowed deeply upon entering the room, and begged the royal prince’s permission to quash Prince Arslan and his party.
“Arslan is no more than an inexperienced child, but Dariun and Narses are a pair that cannot be underestimated.”
“What kind of men are they?”
“Narses was formerly a royal dibir. King Andragoras prized his cleverness, but he has now retired to the wilds.”
“As for Dariun, Your Royal Highness is probably already aware of him. He is the man who singlehandedly broke through the Lusitanian ranks, that day at Atropatene…”
For the first time, Guiscard reacted. He threw his peacock quill down onto the desk.
“So he was that knight in black!”
“Thanks to that bastard, several of my friends and acquaintances perished in these heathen lands. I’d like to flay him alive!”
Qaran was silent.
“That said, he is undoubtably a man of great valor. In petitioning me, I assume you’re confident in your prospects for victory?”
“Is that so? Then go ahead and try. But only if you Parsians can’t end this with your own hands will I be sending the regular Lusitanian troops to clean up after you.”
Guiscard had made calculations of his own. If the Parsian factions were set against each other, Lusitania would not be at a disadvantage. And if the Parsian prince were exterminated by Parsian hands, then the Lusitanians would not have to dirty their own. Besides, in raising his hand against the prince, there would be no more turning back for Qaran.
However his royal brother or Archbishop Bodin might feel about it he couldn’t say, but from the start there had never been any reason to wipe every last Parsian from the earth. Pull a tenth of the Parsians over to their side, and let them govern the remaining ninety percent. Divvying up rule in this manner was to display true wisdom as a conqueror.
A man like Qaran ought to be bled dry and worked to the bone. At the very least, he should be far more useful than Bodin and his ilk. If he wanted to establish his own merit, it was perfectly fine to give him the chance to do so.
Seize the Parsians’ land and ghulam, then parcel them out to the Lusitanians. This formed the basis of Guiscard’s plan, but a proactive collaborator like Qaran could not be grouped with the other Parsians. Guiscard intended to recognize Qaran’s right to his own territories, but would most likely be met with opposition from among the Lusitanians.
“This is no jest. Why must the conqueror curry favor with the conquered? Should the spoils of the defeated not go completely to the victors? For this we have paid with our own blood. Who else is there to worry about?”
Those who were greedy and shortsighted would say such things. Moreover, such sorts of people were typically in the majority, and held considerable influence all around the world. If he did not act accordingly with these circumstances, Guiscard would not be able to achieve his true ambitions.
“At any rate, the matter of Prince Arslan is yours to deal with for the time being. Make a good job of it.”
“I am grateful for your kindness.”
Guiscard seemed to have an unexpected question. How would the Parsian aristocracy and military command feel if Queen Tahmineh of Pars were to become the wife of the Lusitanian king?
Qaran’s expression blanked as he replied.
“That lady was never Parsian to begin with, but the consort of Badakhshan. Everyone should well remember this.”
“… Hm, I suppose that’s another way of looking at it.”
Guiscard tilted his head doubtfully, but could recall no reason to detain Qaran any further, and so dismissed him with a wave of his hand.