Hirmiz returned to his own room and removed his silver mask. He placed the mask on a walnut table and wiped his face with a towel.
The touch of fresh air upon his bare face, even in a stuffy, secluded room such as this, was comfort enough for him. Hirmiz drew in a deep, unhurried breath, clearing the air in his lungs.
Along the wall was placed a mirror that reflected all the way down to the waist. Hirmiz stood before it and began to smear murr ointment on the burn scars covering the right half of his face. Suddenly, his gaze shifted. The door to the room opened, and there appeared the face of a serving girl bearing a tray. In the mirror, Hirmiz and the girl’s gazes met.
A scream surged from the girl’s mouth. The tray fell with a great clatter, and with it a jar of nabid, goblets, a plateful of dried figs, and other miscellanies all tumbled to the carpet.
Hirmiz reflexively covered his face with his left arm. This was a pitiable habit of his. One he’d picked up sixteen years ago, after escaping from that eddy of flame and smoke. Only by offering half his face as a sacrifice to the god of fire had he been able to preserve his life in the end.
However, unexpectedly, the expression in Hirmiz’s eyes changed. He let his arm drop and slowly turned to face the girl.
“Is it so grotesque?”
From his mouth glided a voice of seeming calm.
“What’s the matter, is it so terrifying?”
Despite himself, his voice shook slightly, not just with anger at the other party, but also with self-ridicule.
The petrified girl, finally coming to her senses, began to gather up the tray and platters.
“Ah, my deepest apologies, sir. I shall clean up at once, please forgive me.”
“I’m about to leave. Do it after I go.”
“Y-yes, as you command.”
The girl bowed, then turned on her heel. Hirmiz understood all too well that she was keeping in check a desire to run for her life.
Hirmiz wordlessly watched the girl’s retreating figure. The burnt right half of his face had already lost its ability to display any feeling, but upon his pale and elegant left warred a number of violent emotions. Perhaps he ought to have cut the girl down with his blade on the spot the moment he heard her scream, but he had lost his chance. For whatever reason, it had not even occurred to him to chase after her and cut her down from behind.
He turned back around again and punched his own reflected face in the mirror. With a crack, the mirror splintered like a spider’s web, and his figure vanished.
“Andragoras! Fucking usurper!”
Seeing red, he cursed at his uncle imprisoned in the dimas.
Sixteen years ago, he had been a royal prince, the pride and joy of Shah Osroes V. One day, in early summer, at the pairi-daiza, a fenced hunting enclosure, he had gone joyfully to his father the king to report his bagging of a bear and a sher, the first he had ever shot down in his life. His father, in his sickbed, praised his bravery in a weak but gentle voice. And it was that very night that his father the king died — murdered by his younger brother Andragoras. Andragoras stole the throne and even named his own son crown prince, freely exploiting the royal authority that had not even been theirs to begin with. Was this something that ought to be forgiven? Even if the gods forgive, I will not.
Hirmiz chuckled softly. He had thought of a new method of revenge.
If Arslan were captured, he would not be killed at once. Before that, let half his face be burned. The terror and agony Hirmiz had tasted sixteen years ago must be experienced in full by that damned son of Andragoras. It would not be too late to kill him after that. Would beheading be best? Or should father and son be forced to take up swords and kill each other? Or perhaps…
Hirmiz put his silver mask back on once more and fastened its clasp. He left his room decked in full armor. Outside, Zandeh awaited him. After a single respectful bow, he called out like a baying hound.
“Come, let us commence upon the hunt for the wretched Arslan and his company!”
Hirmiz, silver mask gleaming in the light, strode toward his mount without a word.
“… I hear that fool Hirmiz has set out to capture the son of King Andragoras.”
Into the underground chamber flowed a voice reporting thus. The gray-robed elder nodded.
“Our comrade Arzhang has also departed, this time to shed the blood of innocents outside the capital. I believe he shall return to report to you, Master, after killing around ten villagers.”
“Let him do as he pleases.”
“By the way, regarding that man they call Bodin, the murder-loving archbishop, is it all right to let him live on, Master?”
“Let him live, shan’t we. For where our hands cannot reach, he shall shed the blood of innocents.”
The gray-robed elder laughed. To what extent would Bodin, using the so-called Templars as his own personal army, run rampant with zealotry from now on? This was something to look forward to.
“Sooner or later, it shall be good to put that man to the same death as his own victims, with the cruelest of his methods. If he thinks of it as martyring himself for his god, that man shall no doubt exult, no matter how excruciating the pain!”
… Before long, the sorcerer, now alone, having dismissed his disciple, removed the hood that shaded his eyes, baring his face. Under the dim lamplight, he peered into a small mirror.
“Hm, so my strength begins to return at last? Just a little longer now.”
As if satisfied, the face in the mirror smiled. This was not the face of an elder, but the keen, vigorous face of a man in his forties or fifties.