Once the feast had ended, Arslan, Farangis, and the other four were each allocated separate lodgings. Crammed into a single room, Dariun, Narses, Giv, and Elam began to converse about what had happened at the banquet.
“It seems Hojir’s aim is to make his daughter the consort of the next king and thereby exercise authority as a royal in-law.”
Narses smiled cynically. There had been countless examples of such throughout the history of Pars.
“And, knowing his true intent, we cannot just let him be.”
Dariun was a bit cross. That he’d been separated from the prince bothered him. He had planned to take blankets and sleep at the door to the prince’s chambers, but Hojir had refused him this.
Hojir was able to deploy 3000 riders and 35,000 foot soldiers. Moreover, were Hojir to raise a call to arms with Arslan at hand, one could fully expect all the other shahrdaran to respond. It was for that very reason they and Arslan had come calling at his castle. If it were possible, they wanted to avoid making an enemy of him.
Narses, chin cupped lightly in one hand, was lost in consideration.
“… Although, should the other party think of making an enemy of us instead, well, there’ll be no helping it…”
There was a low knock on the door. Giv, sword in hand, demanded who it was, and on realizing it was Arslan, hurriedly opened the door. Arslan, ever since the arrangements at the banquet, had been isolated from his subordinates until now, unable to approach them for discussion.
“Hojir proposed two conditions to me.”
The first was to make his daughter the future queen. And the other was to refrain from such radical reforms as the emancipation of the ghulam and other similar breaks from Parsian tradition.
“Is talk of such things not premature? It is hardly something that should be discussed before we first muster military forces to battle against the Lusitanian army, seize back the royal capital, and rescue my lord father and my lady mother.”
“And so? What was your reply, Your Highness?”
“I told him that I could not give him an immediate response, and would provide him an answer in the near future. Was that all right?”
“That should be fine.”
“Honestly, just what is he thinking? I’ve never even met that supposed daughter of his!”
Seeing that the prince’s unhappy expression was in earnest, Narses’s lips twitched into slight smile.
“I too am unable to entirely comprehend Hojir’s deepest intentions. No, I daresay even he himself is wavering. Does he wish to set up Your Highness as the liberator of Pars and enjoy power under the reign of a new Shah? Or…”
Or perhaps, surrender to the Lusitanian army with Arslan’s head as a gift and receive some reward? No matter what, this garrulous lord of Kashan Castle was probably planning to use the prince who had flown right into his lap to his own greatest advantage. And furthermore, he must by all means prevent any interference from Dariun or Narses, and would almost certainly make an attempt to eliminate them.
“No doubt Hojir will make his move sometime tonight. Though you must be feeling tired, Your Highness, please be prepared to depart at any moment. We shall take care of everything else.”
Saying thus, Narses sent Arslan back to his room. Then he whispered something in Elam’s ear. Elam, nodding, opened the window and sneaked out without drawing the notice of the guards stationed on the ground floor roughly five gaz below.
After about an hour, Elam returned with something in hand for Narses. Narses brought it close to his nose and sniffed; then, chuckling under his breath, he dumped it into a water jar and covered it up with a lid. Resin extracted from black lotus stems, mixed with perfumed oil and poppy sap and kneaded into a block of soporific incense that gave off a colorless and scentless smoke. Elam had spotted it hidden above the ceiling.
“Just the sort of petty trick a fool like Hojir would pull. Whatever the case, it seems there’s no more need for discretion on our part either. The fellow’s no doubt aware that the prince dropped by our room earlier, anyhow.”
“That so? No need to hold back? Well, if that’s it, let’s get ourselves ready to rumble.” Giv, apparently intending to nap until further developments arose, wrapped himself up in his blanket in the corner of the room.
Seeing this, Dariun murmured to his friend.
“Narses, I’d like your opinion on something. Though it’s horrifying just to consider it, one cannot possibly claim that His Highness Arslan is the orphaned son of His Majesty the late Osroes V. Right?”
On the battlefield he may have been a hero who knew no such thing as fear, but at a time like this, he was unable to conceal his expression of unease. To raise such a topic now of all times was surely because he could no longer bear to keep his thoughts to himself.
Narses crossed his arms.
“It’s not that I haven’t considered it myself. However, when Osroes V passed away, it was the fifth month of the year 304. His Highness Arslan was born in the ninth month of the year 306. With a gap of two years and four months, there is simply no possibility for His Highness to be the bastard son of King Osroes.”
As if heaving a great sigh, Dariun nodded. Narses, in contrast, seemed to have unsettled himself. He pulled an aged scrap of paper out from his sturdy cotton traveling bag and spread it out on the carpet.
It was a chart tracing the lineage of the royal family of Pars, starting from the founder, Kai Khosrow, all the way through the eighteenth king, Andragoras III.
“Look at this family tree, Dariun. In the history of the Parsian royals, there were three Shahs who went by the name of Andragoras. These three men share one common point: have you noticed?”
Dariun, brows slightly knit, moved his gaze from Narses’s face to the family tree. Nosy Giv, burrowed in his blankets behind them, strained to listen with all his might. Of this Narses was well aware, but he did not bother calling him out on it.
Before long, Dariun voiced his single discovery. “The relationship between Andragoras and Osroes?”
“Yes, that’s precisely it. Andragoras I was enthroned following Osroes III. Andragoras II succeeded Osroes IV. And…”
Andragoras III, whose whereabouts were currently unknown, had acceded to the throne upon the decease of Osroes V. The three kings named Andragoras corresponded with three kings named Osroes, each of the former succeeding one of the latter. The first instance presented no questions whatsoever. The second instance was perhaps mere coincidence. However, the third could no longer be considered coincidental, could it?
This was not such a huge stretch, Narses felt, for when the King of Kings Gotarzes II, two reigns before, had named his two sons Osroes and Andragoras, it was a fact that there had been some among the courtiers and nobles who had furrowed their brows. Is he daring the brothers to contend for the throne? they asked.
Gotarzes, as might be expected of one called King of Kings, had been an illustrious ruler; however, if one were forced to point out a shortcoming, it was that he was superstitious, and was taken in indiscriminately by all sorts of omens. Placing his confidences not just in virtuous priests, but also in oracles or sorcerers of unknown character, he was the cause of much inconvenience for his closest retainers.
“Dariun, do you believe in that so-called prophecy junk?”
Dariun was somewhat startled by Narses suddenly asking this sort of question.
“Nope, I don’t. More accurately, I don’t want to believe. Just imagining that everything I do or think has already been predicted by ancient oracles makes me feel like shit,” Dariun replied with a wry chuckle. “I live my life according to my own will. Whether I succeed or fail, I’d like to think it’s all my own responsibility to bear.”
“Spoken like a true hero. But in this world, those who feel differently comprise the majority by far. Even that King of Kings, Gotarzes, was ensnared by prophecy.”
“Narses, just what are you trying to say?”
“My apologies, Dariun; please wait a little longer. I’ve not yet finished sorting through my thoughts, nor is there much proof. But I’ll explain soon.”
Dariun nodded wordlessly.
Narses sank into his own contemplation.
Prophecies came true only under two situations. One was when humanity discovered truths according to the laws of nature. When these things became common knowledge, though, it also became ludicrous to refer to them as prophecies. For example, “After winter comes spring” or “High tide will occur at around noon tomorrow” and that sort of thing. And as for the other, it was when those who believed in prophecies carried out actions themselves toward the realization of such. What Narses was currently pondering was this second situation.
Currently, this country had transformed into a haunted realm overrun night and day with hundreds of demons. Narses did not think King Andragoras had been an ideal sovereign. However, he did not deny that King Andragoras had been a powerful pillar supporting the Kingdom of Pars.
That pillar, somehow or other, had apparently been lost. Could the crown prince Arslan, still only fourteen years of age, become the new pillar of the kingdom?
This was not just a problem for the royal family, but one concerning the fate of all Pars.