Gathered in a farmer’s residence at a certain village laid to waste by Lusitanian soldiers were the modest but stalwart anti-Lusitanian forces. Arslan, Dariun, Narses, Farangis, Giv, and Elam. Each and every one was very young — like Elam, who was no more than thirteen. However, for they who had chosen to resist the powerful Lusitanian army like the lowly mantis before the chariot, surely no promising or fruitful future awaited.
Arslan received a great blow upon being told that his mother the queen was being pressed to marry the Lusitanian king.
Both Narses as well as Dariun had intended to hide this news, but either way, once the wedding ceremony was held, the reports would reach Arslan’s ears whether he liked it or not. It was not something that could be kept secret.
For some time the knights watched wordlessly over the equally taciturn prince pacing back and forth in the room.
Before long, Arslan came to a halt and muttered through gritted teeth, “My lady mother must be rescued without a moment’s delay.”
That beautiful and yet somewhat aloof mother of his — both the first time he rode a horse, and the first time he set off on a hunt, he had received praise from her, but something about her words had been lacking in warmth.
According to the court ladies he had overheard gossiping behind her back, “It’s because Her Majesty values only herself…” It was possible, perhaps, that their criticism was justified. However, Tahmineh was nonetheless the woman who had given birth to him; as a child he could not fail to rescue his own mother.
“My lady mother must be rescued. Before she is coerced to wed the Lusitanian king…” Arslan repeated.
Dariun and Narses exchanged a furtive glance. The prince’s feelings were only natural, but with their currently inferior might, prioritizing the queen’s rescue would significantly restrict their tactical options.
“I bet Her Lying Majesty seduced the Lusitanian king in order to preserve her own well-being. She’s the kind of woman who’d pull something like that…”
Such insolent fancies had occurred to Giv, but as expected, they did not leave his mouth. Though he now counted among Arslan’s party, he was the least necessary of the four, so he was currently just enjoying himself on his own terms. He’d heard that Narses was to become court artist; well then in that case maybe they’d let him become court musician himself. Such things were running through his mind.
Green-eyed Farangis gazed sympathetically at the prince.
“Your Highness, be not hasty. The Lusitanian king may wish to wed your lady mother, but in the eyes of the Lusitanian people, your lady mother is a heathen. Those around him are not likely to grant their approval so readily. It is my belief that the state of affairs shall not grow concerning anytime soon.”
“It’s as Farangis says. If he forces the marriage, he will invite the revolt of the clergymen in particular, and if any ambitious royals or noblemen stress the issue, it shall probably provoke infighting. He cannot afford to force the matter.”
Following that, Dariun spoke as well.
“Unpleasant though this may be for Your Highness, if the situation is as such, there should be little chance for Her Majesty to come to harm. As for His Majesty the king, it seems he is at least still alive, so an opportunity to go to his aid shall surely arise.”
Each of them knew that their presented arguments were sound, but whether or not they were comprehensible to a youth of fourteen was a different issue entirely. More so than acknowledging the difficulty of the situation, they hoped Arslan would display the forbearance of a ruler and place his responsibilities as such above personal obligation.
In the end, Arslan’s shoulders slumped.
“At any rate, our numbers are much too few. By what means shall we best gain allies, Narses?”
After a while, Narses replied, “To impose absolute justice upon the earth is probably impossible. However, there should exist some form of governance preferable to that of Parsian rule until now as well as to Lusitanian tyranny. Even if we cannot be rid entirely of that which is unreasonable, we should at least be able to diminish such things. To gain allies, Your Highness should make your future intentions known to the Parsian populace. For royal legitimacy has naught to do with the blood one possesses, but is guaranteed solely through upright governance.”
This was the essence of his views, but what Arslan was hoping for was a more explicit strategy. Narses, knowing this, continued.
“Forgive my rudeness in saying so, but as a ruler, one needs boast neither strategic mind nor military prowess. Those are the roles played by his retainers.”
Staring straight at the red-faced Arslan, Narses swallowed a mouthful of wine from his cup.
“First, Your Highness, please disclose your objectives. That way, we shall be able to concentrate all our efforts on helping you fulfill them.”
Arslan was quiet.
“When the conquest reaches an end, the Lusitanians shall no doubt embark upon the total eradication of Parsian culture. They shall prohibit the use of Parsian speech, style Parsian names after the manner of Lusitania, destroy the temples of all the gods of Pars, and erect temples to Ialdabaoth everywhere they turn.”
“Will there be no alternative?”
“That is why they are called barbarians. They are unable to comprehend that other people also have things they value, so to speak. When it comes to the destruction of temples, at least…” Narses replaced his wine cup on the table. “According to the teachings of Ialdabaoth, there exist three ways of dealing with nonbelievers. Those who convert voluntarily are allowed to preserve more or less all their wealth and become free citizens. Those forced to convert find their wealth confiscated and are enslaved. Those who stubbornly refuse to convert…”
Giv drew a finger emphatically across his throat. Narses, nodding in response to the movement, gazed at the contemplative Arslan. The prince’s cheeks were flushed.
“I cannot allow the people of Pars to meet with such an end. To that effect, how should I act? Inexperienced though I may be, please lend me your strength.”
All five of them, Elam included, fixed their eyes upon the prince. At last, Dariun represented them all in reply.
“Modest though our strength may be, gladly shall we aid Your Highness in opposing the Lusitanians and restoring peace to Pars.”
“You have my thanks. I leave myself in your hands.”
Arslan did not yet possess much else beyond this vague conviction. Of the long journey of self-discovery, so to speak, that he must now set out upon, he had yet to receive any insight. At fourteen he was still immature: whether to the great mardan warriors surrounding him, or to his innumerable enemies, he was a powerless existence. Among the many responsibilities he now bore, foremost among them was no doubt his own growth.