"We gather before the gods on this day of celebration for the great empire of Parthia and all the world," the high priest spoke loudly. His voice carried over the crowds of people gathered below in the palace courtyard, in the gardens and pavilions, spilling out the eastern gate. "Today we devote our lives and our prayers to the crown prince, next great emperor, son of her highness Empress Roshani."
The high priest held Kasra in his arms as he spoke, making sure the young boy was visible to the crowds, who cheered at the priest's words. He held Kasra not like a baby, but like an offering of gold or silver to the gods.
This man wasn't really a high priest of course. All of the high priests were in Azar-Atash, allied to Soraya and her claim to the throne. The ceremony, however, had required a high priest and Roshani hated to break tradition if she could help it. She'd quickly had one of the minor clerics declared to the position of high priest and signed the official decree of his promotion. She made a small note in the back of her mind to appoint an entire new cadre of priests and monks to oppose those devoted to Soraya. For now, however other troubles dominated.
She stood behind the high priest as he spoke and performed the ceremony to the masses. She looked on Kasra, his small arms and legs dressed in an elaborate, silver robe that he'd tried to kick off, and felt intense pride and relief swell inside of her. He would be crown prince, and then one less concern would exist for her.
There was more than Kasra's coronation to celebrate today, after all. Soraya's armies had set off from Azar-Atash for Shiraz, Esfandar's base city. Any day now Soraya's troops would arrive at the city walls and begin their assault on their brother.
It was good news to say the least. With any luck, they would decimate each other and leave Roshani with little more to do than clean up the mess they left behind. Perhaps this first battle would be the last, and this horrid civil war could end.
The high priest dipped his fingers into a golden bowl of red powder and gently rubbed some of it onto Kasra's forehead. Kasra's nose wrinkled and he let out a short sneeze as some of the stuff tickled his nose. Roshani beamed.
But despite her good fortune and her luck from the gods, this war wasn't over yet, and she was never one to remain idle. She had considered her options carefully.
She could attack Azar-Atash while Soraya and her forces were gone and raze the city and its temples to the ground. That would never do, though. The people already hated Esfandar for his harsh stance towards the priests and their customs. She had no desire to become a second target of that hatred.
She could also remain at the palace and wait out the battle. Roshani's generals had assured her that despite Soraya's recent rise in power, Esfandar would still be the likely winner of the battle.
Roshani had her doubts about the conclusivity of the fight, but whether it was her sister or her brother, someone would emerge victorious and set their sights on Nishapur. Defenses had to be made for eventual attack and siege, troops increased, men trained, and defenses fortified. There was much to be done here.
But if Roshani had learned anything from observing her mother maneuver through the webs of intrigue and betrayal in the palace, it was that you wouldn't gain anything without first taking a risk.
Goshtab Varaz and his house were traitors the lot of them, and their armies had been summoned to join Soraya's in their march on Shiraz. The city of Varaz was left with a small force to defend it, but against an army they wouldn't last long. That had been a great risk on Goshtab's part, one that Roshani still could not understand why he'd chosen it. Perhaps he'd counted on her being cautious, or he'd though that the difficulty of crossing the mountains to reach Varaz would deter her.
Or perhaps he trusts his daughter to sway your choices, a voice whispered in her head. She listened to it, and tucked the thoughts away silently. Farah was her friend now as well as her advisor, the only one in this world who she could confide in. She wouldn't entertain thoughts of her treachery until solid proof came about.
The high priest's voice ceased and the crowds grew silent. Roshani's attention returned to the present and she walked forward to stand before the railing.
The high priest gave Kasra to her, and she cradled him in her arms. Kasra smiled up at her, his eyes scrunching up and his dimples appearing like they always did. The red powder had gotten into his hair and he half-heartedly tried to brush it off.
Roshani gave him a quick smile before raising her gaze to address the mass of people below.
She held her hands up to the sky, raising Kasra as high up as she could. She kept her gaze straight ahead, but she imagined he was looking out in wonder at the crowds of people who had come to the palace only to see him.
"Behold," Roshani said, her voice booming out louder than even the high priest's had been. "Crown Prince Kasra, my son and heir, next emperor of the Parthian empire!"
The crowd erupted into sound. Roshani couldn't have said whether it was cheers or boos or meaningless shouts, for the collective noise was so massive that it all blended together into one indistinguishable cacophony.
Roshani slowly lowered Kasra back down to cradle in her arms, holding him tightly to her chest.
It was done. Kasra was crown prince. Someday, he would succeed her as emperor of this empire, the empire of their father and their ancestors, all the way back to the first Emperor Ijan, founder of Parthia.
Kasra began to cry. It was the overwhelming noise, most likely, that caused the normally calm child to cry out and wail. No doubt that was the most plausible explanation. Yet somehow Roshani thought that he understood the incredible burden that was now placed on his shoulders, that of a ruler and a prince.
He would carry that burden for the rest of his life. Roshani stood on the terrace with Kasra, remaining there for several minutes so the people could get a good look of them.
Roshani said nothing out loud as she rocked her son back and forth, trying to quiet him down, but in her mind, her message to him was firm and clear: I'm sorry to give you this responsibility. One day, you will understand.
YOU ARE READING
Shah Jamshid al-Hassan, king of the Parthian Empire, is dead. He is succeeded by three heirs: Esfandar, the crown prince; Soraya, the forgotten daughter; and Roshani- the one who killed him. Roshani felt no remorse shoving her sword through her f...