Toi Kratistoi - A Prologue Part 2
She knew her son would not be king. A mother knows these things.
Koroush, her little Kesh, had been too shy during his childhood, too nimble and sensitive. She was mortified and one day she discovered that Koroush had started to make offerings towards Zindagir along with her ancestors. A king worshipped Ferozd.
She tried to steer him towards the right path; employing tutors to teach him how to shoot a bow and ride a horse as much as to govern and hold symposiums. But she knew he hadn’t in him the makings of a king.
She was not even the queen-consort to Artabat - that was reserved for his first wife; the mother of his first-born who, in contrast, grew up to be everything that Artabat had hoped for in not just a child and heir, but in himself. It was of little wonder that Aspad was sent to govern the saffron fields in the outskirts of Shahristan while his younger brother Koroush ran a miserable little outpost in the Doxuni mountains.
It was foolish of her to try, but what could one do when the child they had raised was destined to be strangled at the end of the father’s life?
She might not have been his first wife, but she was his favourite. Perhaps Artabat had taken a pity to her, knowing that she had not provided the offspring that he had wanted from her. For that, she was made his cupbearer - a position responsible for the pouring of his wine as well as the administering of small doses of poison that Artabat had insisted he take once it was clear that discontent was in the air over him.
She knew that even the Padidat Virosht had grown tired of Artabat, and she knew Virosht was in acquaintance with the husband-surgeon of the new bitch Artabat had taken into the harem. There was no doubt that Virosht would act given the opportunity, it only mattered when and who he would support in the coming succession.
She knew it would take approximately three days for a slightly higher than normal dose to become unbearable, even if it were not fatal. Time was of the essence to make this work; and she had always been a keen observer of the going-ons of the court.
The beginning of spring would mark the return of Artabat’s sons to the palace in Shahristan. Aspad would arrive first, being the nearest, and would only stay for two days before fancying a trip to hunt in the meadows to the south. Her Khoroush would arrive then, when the poison would start to become painful and a doctor-surgeon would be summoned.
Now she stood at the aftermath of it all, with her husband's dead corpse lying on the slab-throne, the surgeon kneeling upon the courtroom floor, and the Padidat Virosht in supplication for her.
“You are troubled by my presence, mazh Virosht?” She said, seeing his hesitation to address her unexpected attendance.
“No, mother Khurrem.” He responded, lifting his head from the floor to look at her. “I am distressed at your recent loss.”
Khurrem nodded. An eloquent man.
“I am as well.” She responded with a nod as she began to take her steps from the dais and onto the lowered floor of the court. “At the loss of my extended family.”
Virosht stared at her with unchanged expression, though she had no doubt that he was measuring his words then and there. A careful man, she thought.
“I know as much as you do that we share a burden here, Padidat.” Her eyes flickered towards the two guards that stood at either side of the kneeling surgeon. They too would have to be killed she thought.
A shared understanding flickered in the eyes of the kneeling Padidat. “Your son, Khoroush…” He trailed.
“Will never be safe.” She completed his sentence with another nod. And it was true. Khoroush was not born to be king. He was destined to die when Aspad would take the throne. Yet here she decided otherwise and placed him in an unprecedented position that he was not made for.
What matters is that he lives, she thought, knowing and not knowing whether she was sparing or damning her Kesh out of love for him.
“Swear unto me, Virosht.” She said in a measured tone that was softer and lacking in the authority that she had possessed all this time talking to him. “Swear that before you swear unto my son, that for our sake, you will protect him.”
The Padidat was silent for the longest of moments, his face unchanged and expressionless. Yet his eyes answered her before he had even drawn a breath to put it into words.
He produced his sword from its sheath, stepping forward towards her direction and stopping suddenly to cut the surgeon by the neck in a silent death. He touched the tip of his bloodied blade upon the lifeless body.
He answered; “With you we serve and follow Saka.” And Khurrem smiled.