Book 4: Chapter 5 (6) |
Ecbatana had been the royal capital of Pars for over three hundred years, and now, even under the occupation of Lusitanians, things seemed to be calm. The market was open as usual, and although the Parsians and the Lusitanians were at odds with each other, they still maintained order, buying, selling, eating, drinking, singing, and making noise. Although the Lusitanians used threats of violence to bargain for lower prices, the Parsians had also thought to raise their prices from the beginning. The citizens did not let themselves suffer under the bullying of the invaders, so both sides were evenly matched.
However, in a corner of the royal palace, a dark shadow began to rise, unimaginable to both Lusitanian forces and the citizens of Pars.
The Lusitanian courtiers and soldiers were on-edge, because the King's brother Guiscard had been taken as a hostage at the hands of King Andragoras of Pars, who had escaped from the dungeon. Now, a tower in the royal palace was occupied by Andragoras, and Guiscard was imprisoned in it.
"If we’d killed Andragoras long ago, we never would have ended up in this situation. It seems that Archbishop Bodin was the only one that was right about this matter.”
Montferrat sighed, but it was now too late for regrets.
That said, King Andragoras' strength was truly beyond the imagination of the people of Lusitania. He could be handcuffed for more than half a year, and still have the strength to live after experiencing harsh torture. A bloody path led to the door of the room where Andragoras was lurking. More than ten reputable knights had been killed, not to mention the other soldiers who had fallen victim to Andragoras' sword.
"When I saw that black-clad Parsian knight at Atropatene, I thought for sure that there could be no other knight as powerful, but it seems that Andragoras isn’t inferior to that Black Knight at all."
Bauduin discreetly wiped the sweat from his forehead. Of course, Andragroras was able to occupy a corner of the palace, partly because of his strength, but also because he held the king's brother Guiscard as a hostage. Although the Lusitanian army had prepared archers, they did not dare act rashly, afraid of harming the king's brother.
If they forced their way in, King Andragoras could kill Guiscard. Of course, this was why Andragoras had to take a person of sufficient status as his hostage. Everyone knew that the pillar of Lusitania was not the king, but the king's brother. If Guiscard was killed, the Lusitanian army would crumble on its own without Arslan’s army even having to attack. Although Bauduin and Montferrat were both accomplished military generals, they were far less capable of handling politics than Guiscard.
Even if they surrounded Andragoras and killed him with swords and a rain of arrows, it would have been a lost cause if Guiscard was killed before then. Even if King Innocentis VII was still alive, it would not be worthwhile.
"It would be better if it was not His Highness the King's brother who was taken, but the King himself, who would prove useless as a hostage. Then, we wouldn't have to worry so much about what strategy to use."
There were people who murmured these thoughts, but hurried to cover it up with a joking tone. Nobody was admonished, as all were aware that this was truly everyone's sincere thoughts.
The two generals, Montferrat and Bauduin, came up with a way to negotiate with their "useless" king, visiting his sitting room.
"Your Majesty, please give us that Tahamine woman. We will use her as a hostage to negotiate with King Andragoras for the release of His Majesty's brother."
Montferrat bluntly questioned King Innocentis VII. The king's face turned from blue to red, then from red to blue, and finally to purple. The wavering of his mind was fully visible on his face, but his stubbornness did not budge at all. He insisted that taking Tahamine as a hostage was something that God would not allow.
When Montferrat, who could not stand the king's stubbornness, was about to raise his voice, Baudiun turned pale and spoke up.
"I’ve told Your Majesty from the beginning that this Tahamine woman was bad luck. But the past aside, is your brother or some pagan woman more important to Your Majesty right now?"
While the stubborn Innocentis was left speechless by this remark, a fragrance wafted gently by and a light powder drifted between the three men. All eyes turned in the same direction, gazing at the figure.
The Queen of Pars was standing in the doorway of the adjoining room.
“Let me, Tahamine, repay the kindness that was shown to me by Your Majesty! As the Queen of a defeated nation, I could have been subjected to cruel torture, but you’ve treated me as a guest."
This was the premise. The ageless Queen of Pars, with a sultry beauty, asked to be allowed to convince her husband to put everything to rest before things got out of hand.
"Ah, Your Majesty, do not let this woman deceive you. If she is freely allowed to go back to Andragoras, there is no telling what kind of mischief they will come up with together."
"Watch your words, Bauduin!"
The king's voice was so sharp that both generals felt as if their eardrums were about to be pierced by needles.
"You’re being a little too harsh in your suspicions, aren't you? This lovely woman wants to solve the problem for us and return to her bloodthirsty husband, coming up with a reasonable way to solve things! God above, Tahamine’s courage has really moved me to tears. I don’t want to allow it, but I must. You see why I must! The generals know the pain in my heart!"
As soon as he finished speaking, two streams of tears began to flow from the eyes of King Innocentis.
While bowing their heads deeply to their lord, Montferrat and Bauduin could not help but feel despair within. No, nothing more could be done at this rate!
This was decided upon, and the resurrected King and his Queen were thus able to meet again.
"You seem to be in good spirits, O’ Tahamine, my wife!"
Hearing King Andragoras’s voice, Tahamine walked toward the center of the room without even the slightest sound of footsteps. Her gauzy blouse reflected the light.
"How many years has it been since I snatched you from the hands of the Duke of Badakhshan? During this time, you have never loved me. You are a stubborn woman. Once the door of your heart is closed, it will never open again."
The smell of alcohol emanated from the king's body. Not only because he had drunk wine for the first time in six months, but also because he had washed his wounds with it. His hair was loose, and he was wearing armor, but no helmet. These things had been obtained at his request by the Lusitanians. Since the king's brother Guiscard was taken as a hostage, the Lusitanians were forced to do as they were told.
"I only truly love my child."
Tahamine's voice was low, so low that it felt colder than the temperature in the dungeon.
"It is only natural for a mother to love her child."
Hearing her husband's insincere reply, Tahamine suddenly became frantic. The tone of her voice raised throughout the room.
"Give me back my child! Give me back my child! Give me back the child you took from me!"
Ignoring his wife's agitation, the king turned his head away.
"I heard from the Lusitanians and the torturers that Arslan has led an army out of Peshawar fortress in the east and is now advancing towards Ecbatana. Isn't this great news for Arslan’s parents?"
Arslan’s name did not seem to bring any warmth to Tahamine’s face. The passion seemed to come and go quickly, and Tahamine’s face, seemingly carved of white Serican marble, did not waver in the slightest. Her gauzy blouse that bore the light glowed like a firefly against the queen’s smooth skin, a stark contrast to her blood-soaked husband.
"There's plenty of time for that."
Andragoras sat in a chair, the clattering of his sword and armor filling the chamber.
"O’ Tahamine, it took me quite a long time to make you mine. And after more than a decade, I still don’t have your heart. Since it took so long to see you again after the defeat in the Battle of Atropatene, I have become accustomed to waiting, so I will wait once more!"
King Andragoras laughed, like a thunderclap that shook the sky.
In one corner of the wide room, the torturers, who had become the faithful servants of the resurrected king, were guarding Andragoras’s greatest weapon, the man who was boiling with shame and helpless, chained like a prisoner.
He was Guiscard, the King's brother of Lusitania.
Arslan and the others, who were continuing West, of course, were unaware of the sudden change of events that took place in the royal capital of Ecbatana.
In the middle of May, the news of their capturing of two fortresses had spread throughout the whole land of Pars. It was generally believed that the continental highway seemed to be the road to victory.
With each advance of a farsang (about five kilometers), more and more comrades came to join them. Ironically, the great strength of Kubard was nowhere to be seen among those who came to join them.
"This increase in troops is certainly a good thing, but it must mean even more headaches for the tactician."
The black-clad knight Daryun teased, while Narsus replied without a smile.
"Too many people want to come to our banquet without bringing a dish of their own. It is indeed giving me a headache!"
Hearing the two of them talking, Arslan couldn't help but laugh. Right now, he was about to face an even bigger obstacle, but he had no way of knowing at this time.
At the end of May, a hymn of life rang out from the cattle cars of the Lusitanians. A pregnant woman had given birth to a baby. The woman's strength was very poor and both lives were at stake, but because of assistance from Farangis and Alfreed, the baby was born safely.
"It is a healthy baby boy. No matter which gods he believes in, the heart’s compassion will illuminate the path of this child's life."
Farangis smiled and handed the baby, wrapped in crude newborn clothing, to Estelle.
Tears welled up in Estelle's eyes. They were certainly not tears of anger or sorrow. After the weight of countless tragic deaths, the birth of this baby held a remarkable significance. This fact transcended the hardships put forth by the state and religion, and shook the young girl’s heart.
Arslan and his army had already made it a third of the way to the capital, Ecbatana.
At this time, the vast grasslands in the north of Pars surged up in dusty clouds, dying everything in the colors of war, expanding towards the south.
These were the grassland people of the kingdom of Turan, a generations-old enemy of the Kingdom of Pars.
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