32. Esfandar

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Esfandar clenched his jaw as he read through the scroll the messenger had just delivered to him. The news it bore was what he'd been waiting for nearly a year now, after all this time spent waiting. But still, it made him shudder at the thought.

Soraya's troops were on the move, and had been for almost two weeks. That meant he had a week to make all of the proper preparations and defenses, or only a few days if Soraya really pushed her soldiers.

"Es, what does it say?" Karim asked, leaning forward in his seat with a serious expression. He was in his usual chamber with both Karim and Gita, a common scene these days. His generals he trusted to follow his orders and fulfill their duty- but only Karim and Gita did he truly trust. They were his only true friends in these times.

"It says that Soraya has mobilized her armies and is heading towards Shiraz," Esfandar read. Karim sat up in start and Gita unconsciously moved her hand to hover over the pommel of her dagger. "It says-" Esfandar had to read twice to make sure that he was reading it correctly. "It says that Parvana is leading her army."

Gita let out a sound that Esfandar could only describe as a snarl. Her teeth bared at the sound of that name, not spoken between them for years now. His old teacher and mentor, now on her way here to bring his head to his sister.

He closed the scroll and turned to the nervous messenger kneeling on the marble floor.

"Thank you," he said. "You're dismissed."

The young man nodded and hurried out of the chamber. The heavy wooden doors shut loudly, the sound reverberating through the tense room the messenger boy left behind.

Gita gripped the handle of her dagger tightly, her teeth still bared in rage. Karim merely paled, looking between the two of them in concern.

"Where has she been all this time, to suddenly pop up now?" Karim asked incredulously to no one in particular. Neither Esfandar nor Gita answered his question, and it was left hanging in the air.

Gita took a deep breath, slowly relaxing her tensed shoulders. Esfandar could see how much effort it took her to return to her usual stoic composure. When she opened her eyes again, that anger was refined, and much more deadly.

"This must be the fate of the gods," she said after a moment. "This time, Parvana won't get away. When I meet her on the battle field, I'll finish her for good."

"Gita," Esfandar said in protest, but there was no force in his voice.

Gita turned to him, walking up to him purposefully.

"Tell me you're not still forgiving of her, Es," Gita said, her tone outraged. "After everything she's done- after how she betrayed you?"

"I know," Esfandar shot back. He met her gaze stubbornly. "I know. You're right." He sighed. "She'll be our enemy on the battlefield. Kill her if you can. She won't make it easy for you though."

"Believe me, I know," Gita said gravely. Quicker than Esfandar's eyes could follow she pulled a dagger from her belt and twirled it around her nimble fingers. "And believe me when I say that I'll be ready for her."

"Why would she be fighting for Soraya?" Karim asked no one again, still with a tone of incredulity. "I would have thought she'd follow Roshani if anyone, but then again I hadn't expected her to play a part in this war at all."

"No, she never would have followed Roshani," Esfandar said, shaking his head. "She can't abide by that kind of leadership, when she isn't allowed her autonomy. And Soraya is desperate for military expertise- she probably got whatever she asked for the position."

He quickened his pacing of the room, carving out a pattern in the beautiful red carpet. He felt a hand on his shoulder and started. Gita squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. She caught his gaze with her own, trying to convey her words through them.

He nodded and put his hand over hers. He couldn't manage a smile, not even a fake one.

Instead he returned to his desk in the back of the room. Spread out onto the surface was a map of the city of Shiraz painted in beautiful blues and greens. The hills surrounding the city were painted to look like small mountains, and the city walls looked menacing in impossibly tall. The map was fairly accurate as well, and proved a good judge of military movements in the city.

Gita and Karim came to stand by his shoulders, peering at the map alongside him. He'd drawn rough sketches of his troops' current positions. The main force was guarding the city walls, most heavily concentrated by the eastern gate. A significant force was also currently inside the city, in the army fields. Those men would become the infantry troops stationed outside the city walls. They would be the ones to first meet Soraya's armies on the field of battle.

"I'll take command of the infantrymen," Gita said, reading the map exactly as he did. She said it as a command, not a request. Esfandar nodded. There never really had been any question of who would lead them. Gita was the most skilled and qualified of all his generals. If he trusted anyone to repel the initial attack, it was her.

"I'll command the eastern cavalry, then," Esfandar affirmed, his hand running over the intricate drawings of the walls.

"Wonderful," Karim said, a bit of his humor returning to him at last. "I'll be sitting in here, drinking exorbitant amounts of wine and waiting for you two to return. I hope you won't disappoint me."

"

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