39. Roshani

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A sharp knock sounded on the doors to her chamber.

"Enter," Roshani called. She didn't look up from the parchment she was writing on as Farah entered the room and walked up to stand before her small desk.

Roshani kept her waiting a minute longer before setting the quill down and looking up to her. Today the princess was dressed in a pretty light green sari that trailed over left shoulder, a large golden broach in the shape of a roaring lion's head pinned on her other side. Large drops of emerald dripped from her ears, and her dark hair was coiled into a bun on top of her head.

Her dark brown eyes met Roshani's lighter ones with an open, innocent expression. She would soon see whether or not it was just a façade.

"Please sit," Roshani said with a smile, and Farah did so with a curt nod. Roshani waved a flippant hand and a servant rushed forward to fill two goblets with wine.

Roshani reached for hers as soon as it was set upon the desk and took a long, deep sip. The bitter taste in her mouth distracted her momentarily from her even more bitter thoughts.

"How are you handling the guilds?" she asked by way of conversation.

Farah rolled her eyes good naturedly, her lips turning up into a wry smile.

"They're as fat and greedy as ever," she said. "But they're coming around to our demands. I'm overseeing the new registration system as we speak. Soon it will be ready to test on the Nishapur markets."

"Good," Roshani said. She'd seen the disaster her father's trade policy had been, the utter failure of his merchant registration system. The idea had been heading in the right direction, however. Farah had a sharp and brilliant mind for finance and numbers, she soon realized. The former princess was now in charge of overseeing the new system ran smoothly once it was implemented, no small task for a city of nearly a million people.

Roshani leaned on her elbow, closing her eyes and rubbing her temples with her hand. She couldn't hold back a frustrated sigh.

"Headache?" Farah asked in a tone that indicated she already knew the answer.

"Constantly," Roshani replied. She sighed again and raised the silver goblet to her lips again. The cup was almost drained. She frowned to herself. Why was she stalling this? It had to be done.

"Soraya and Esfandar will meet in battle any day, if they aren't fighting each other at this very minute as we speak," Roshani said, meeting Farah's gaze across the table. "If all goes well, they'll destroy each other and do my job for me."

"Two birds with one stone," Farah chimed in with a nod.

"Two birds with no stone," Roshani corrected her. "Almost too good to be true." She didn't say anything more for a moment, letting the tone of the air shift with her next words. "But I can't stay my hand, not even for a second. I must act."

Farah sat forward in her seat, her brows furrowing as she frowned.

"You wish to attack?" She asked. "Now?" Roshani could see the wheels turning in her head with this new information. "But where? Azar-Atash?"

Roshani said nothing. Farah was too intelligent to be oblivious for long. Roshani waited for her to find the answer.

Sure enough, after only a few seconds more, she arrived at the answer. Her eyes widened almost imperceptibly, her mouth parting in surprise.

"No," she murmured. "No, Azar-Atash is weak, but not strategically valuable to attack. You're going to take Varaz while both of them are distracted."

Roshani smiled.

"I knew you'd figure it out on your own," she said. "You're smart, smarter than all of the other lords and nobles in this palace. That's what I like about you."

Farah wasn't listening to any of her praise.

"Roshani, are you sure?" she asked. "Expending such costs and efforts when all you need to do is sit back and watch your enemies fall- certainly it isn't necessary just yet."

Roshani sat back, lacing her hands together on top of the desk.

"It is always necessary to strike when my enemies will least expect it," she said. "That time is now. I will take Varaz and crush Soraya's most valuable ally."

She could see that Farah knew she was right, could see the girl struggling to come up with some reason to dissuade her.

"Could it be that you don't wish to see your home destroyed?" Roshani said quietly after a moment. "That you don't wish to see your family killed?"

Farah hesitated at the question, cautious in her answer.

"No one wishes for such things," she said slowly. "But if it is necessary for the good of the empire, it must be done."

Roshani met her gaze, and the two of them stared at each other with intensity, each daring the other to back down. Farah had a glare that could rival even her own in its intensity.

At last, Roshani looked away, releasing the hold. She took a long, slow breath.

"I can't say whether or not I believe you," she said, looking off into the distance. Farah said nothing, a wise decision given her precarious position in this moment. "But I believe you want what's best for Parthia, in your heart." She turned back to the princess, her expression resolute. "Prepare yourself, princess. Now we march on Varaz.""

""

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