46. Soraya

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Soraya had never thought to see the proud and powerful Goshtab Varaz in such a state of mourning and despair, and yet here he was- hunched over and muttering to himself as if he were close to going mad.

Soraya had closed the entrance to the tent and ordered guards not to let anyone in. Seeing one of their leaders in such a state would do no good to the army's morale.

They were currently stationed several days' march from the Varazi capital, close enough to be a threatening presence, but far enough to keep their distance from Roshani's troops. Soraya had been expecting another battle for the city once they arrived- dreading it, really. Her troops had done admirably against Esfandar, but a second battle so soon after the first would come close to destroying them.

But instead, Roshani had removed her troops from the perimeter to within the city's limits. It seemed she intended to stay there for some time.

Soraya and her generals had argued and debated the next step. Massoud had advocated for a direct assault on the city while Dashna had advised a retreat back to Azar-Atash.

In the end, it was Parvana's suggestion that she had listened to. To maintain a safe distance in the countryside and wait. It was the safest option, and also the smartest. All three armies fighting for the throne had seen action in the past week. None of them would be eager for another clash until they recuperated and rebuilt their forces.

She grimaced at the thought. Parthia was being torn apart now, ripped from the seams. And there was no indication that this bloody war of succession would end any time soon. It would be years before that day would come.

Goshtab banged a fist against the low table in the tent, his hand shaking. Whether in rage or sorrow, Soraya couldn't tell.

Despite her better judgement, she couldn't help but feel pity for Goshtab, pity even. She had just lost her own parents, and she may as well have lost her siblings for all that had happened between them. She had no family left in the world.

Goshtab had still retained his somehow, even amidst all the politics and intrigue of the court. But now his carefully balanced status had tipped and shattered. He'd fallen so far so easily. It made her cautious- if even the most powerful couldn't protect what they held dear, then nothing in this world was safe from destruction.

"I'm sorry," Soraya said. There was really nothing else to say. Goshtab merely turned his bloodshot eyes towards her in a glare. She felt that he sensed her pity, and resented her all the more for it.

The old man slowly stood to his feet, leaning heavily on his jade cane. He stormed towards her, his steps surprisingly steady for a man in his condition.

"This began with you," he growled as he drew closer. Soraya stood her ground, meeting his wild gaze head on. "If you hadn't-"

His next words were cut off by a great commotion outside. From inside the closed tent came the sounds of people moving about and loud yelling. Before either of them could move a soldier burst through the tent flap.

"Your highness. My lord," he said, bowing shortly. "We've apprehended a group that wandered into camp. They claim to be Varazi lords, but we couldn't confirm-"

He hadn't finished his sentence before Goshtab had shoved past him and out of the command tent. Soraya followed him out into the dimming light of the evening. A group of soldiers surrounded a group of six people. The men and women looked battered and weary, but strong in their stature and confidence. They bore the posture of royalty.

Goshtab froze when he saw them. His cane slipped from his fingers and he wordlessly moved forward to embrace one of the group, a young man with Goshtab's curled hair and brown eyes.

The soldiers shifted awkwardly as they viewed the reunion, unsure of what to do and whether they had made a grave mistake. Soraya was all too happy to inform them.

"Arrange another command tent and bring me a grand feast," she commanded them, raising her voice above the confused murmurs and relieved cries. "The heirs of House Varaz are here."

"

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