28. Esfandar

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Esfandar walked amongst a group of his highest generals, observing the men of their army training. All of the preparations seemed satisfactory, and all of the generals assured him that they'd be ready when the time came. Still, Esfandar couldn't rid himself of the uneasy feeling in his stomach.

The training facility was an open field within the city limits that had been commandeered for the armies use. Now the soldiers and admirals camped in tents over downtrodden crops yet to grow. It didn't seem like a good omen.

He thanked every soldier he saw, shook the hand of every officer, payed lip service to each of his generals. Everything was according to plan- so why did he feel so paranoid?

He dismissed his men, and made his way out of the fields and back to the city center, accompanied by a few guards and officers. Their bright orange turbans seemed to burn in the setting sun, the tall winding streets of the city transforming into mazes of shadows.

He glanced to his right, expecting to see the face of his right-hand lieutenant, but she wasn't there. Gita was overseeing the building up of defenses along the city wall tonight, directing the soldiers and organizing the supply lines.

Gita had never been far from Esfandar's thoughts in the past days. His mind always circled back to her. Her tenacity, her selflessness, her strength. He had always known that Gita inspired him but now he was beginning to see that it was something more- she captivated him.

His thoughts returned to that night, not at all long ago, when she had kissed him. It felt like a million years had passed since that moment, yet at the same time he swore he could still feel the imprint of her lips on his.

He continued to march through the streets with his guard, through the alleyways and gutters, as they approached the palace in the city center.

Esfandar had not nearly worked out how he felt towards Gita- but he knew that he couldn't continue to avoid her forever. For one, she was a commanding general in his army. For another, he missed her strong, reassuring presence by his side.

Esfandar returned to the palace and immediately made his way to his study chambers, the room with the burnished mahogany desk and ornate, hand woven carpets. The carpet's pattern was one of pomegranates and lotus blossoms, a common theme in Parthian art. Esfandar shook his head to clear it. Why was he contemplating the artistic pattern of a rug? He had an army to run and a war to win.

"You are dismissed," Esfandar told the guards who had escorted him from the training grounds. "Summon Lieutenant Gita."

"Yes, your highness," the soldiers replied, bowing and leaving the room to retrieve her.

Esfandar couldn't stay still. First he sat on the cushioned sofa, trying to appear relaxed, but it looked so laughably forced that he knew Gita would only mock him for it. He then moved to sit behind the desk, but he felt too constrained sitting, needing to be up and moving about. He stood up once more to find another spot when the doors to the chamber opened and Gita walked through.

Her braid, usually hanging effortlessly down her back, today was coiled into a tight bun, a simple golden pin fastening her black locks in place. Her dark eyes were intense and mesmerizing. She always looked so deep in thought. He couldn't help wonder what she was thinking.

She still wore her traditional garb of a deer hide sleeveless tunic and flowing cotton trousers, but now she at least wore the bright red silk belt to identify her as a top ranking officer. The cloth was wrapped loosely around her waist.

Her upper arms were covered with all of the bracelets and bangles she always wore, perhaps eight on each arm. Some had small stone charms, some were silver bangles, and others appeared to be simply braided reeds. Each one, however, seemed essential, a part of her.

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