Lady Aya and her retinue had arrived in Fahržan some hours ago. No doubt, thought Mithras, they’ve taken leave to freshen up, after weeks of being asea.
He groaned loudly, How dare Father remind me to be charming and impressionable. As far as Mithras was concerned there was no one more handsome or engaging, talented or capable than he. So for the king to insinuate otherwise offended him greatly. It insulted him to the point that his father might think he was unworthy of succession.
Mithras sighed then, and told himself to not be so irascible; to not be so quick to anger. Ease your mind. Think soothing thoughts.
Since childhood, his temper was prone to flare from time to time and his mood swing erratically. And extending well into his youth he had had terrifying and disruptive dreamscapes of being abducted; taken from his home in the palace. To remedy his ailments, his father’s mystics developed a tonic for him. A narcotic tincture derived from the nectar of poppies and lavender root among other compounds.
The prince took a swig of the medicine and felt its bitter sting all the way down his throat. After a minute he felt much calmer. Better, thought Mithras.
He pressed the front of his silken robes of violet and dahlia red cloth, and cinched his belt, rubbing the suede leather and sapphire gem set in the buckle. He rubbed the furs of the Látos panther wrapped around his shoulders too. Finally he placed his scimitar into a jewel encrusted sheath which was tied to the sash, and made his way to the veranda.
The doors leading out into the night were carved from olive and plated opals, and the floor was tiled marble, and a topaz blue mosaic. Mithras stepped into the fete where numerous guests made themselves at home.
Nobles from the capital, and foreign dignitaries were present that night. They indulged themselves, and enjoyed the entertainment of light and music, theatre and magic, and of course food. They were there for the celebration; to pay homage to Arkiva’ Rial, the goddess of peace and serenity.
Though many of the high class were ‘disguised’ behind masks, Mithras was able to identify many of them with relative ease. He looked about and saw among the guests were the habitué of the king’s council, naturally, and the courtesans. Also there were the conte and contessa of Tezan; ladies of Sidòn; royalty from the courts of Vuseos; and the viceroy of Rhøsus. But most important of all that evening was Lady Aya of Nundir, and the people were honoured by her presence. That she was able to arrive on the final night of the festival was considered a blessing.
Wading through the mass of the aristocracy, Mithras paid no notice to the beautiful carpentry which had been assembled at the venue in a single afternoon, nor the attention to detail that had been put into the decorations which adorned it.
Above and around all of them was the lattice where the greenery of ivy and wild rose had been wrapped around, and the trellis ceiling twenty feet high had been crafted into a dome, where hundreds of lanterns hung in a spectacular arrangement. On the fringes of the balcony were platforms where musicians, jesters, acrobats, and even sorcerers could perform. And peppered across the forum were tables piled with food and wine.
Yet Mithras was uninterested by both splendour and refreshment, and his eyes darted between the fashionable women there. Though if they didn’t rise to his standards, he quickly moved along.
Unfortunately for the prince, he was inevitably harangued by the multitude of guests. Some of which he would have cared not to speak with that night.
The first undesirables to interrupt Mithras were a pair of his father’s delegates.
“Prince Mithras,” said Ahmad, the minister of state affairs, “always a pleasure to see you, Sire.”
Mithras nodded, and Rafe the minister of the exchequer had the same greeting. The two of them, like most of the king's other council members were pawns. Kowtowing to anyone with a sharper sword or a larger crown.
Brushing past them, he arrived at the font at the centre of the veranda. There there was a statue of a bare-breasted Arkiva’ Rial in the middle of the fountain. She stood in a welcoming pose with arms outstretched and her palms up. Jets shot water straight into the air, and fell back into the pool over the goddess’ head as rain.
Shortly after reaching the fountain, Mithras felt a hand placed on his shoulder, and immediately he wheeled around to face them.
Before him was a swarthy man, with a full beard, and the musk of a tiger. He barely came up to Mithras’ elbow, so to reach his shoulder, the prince felt less alarmed and more amused.
A fake smile formed on the prince’s face upon seeing his guest. He was clad in a plain black robe, aside from the silver diamond pattern sewn into the collar, and he wore a black dumalla. Sheathed in his headdress were a pair of short curved blades, and a sword under his robe which curved even more than Mithras’ did. Yet he wore no mask. He was mysterious enough.
The man bowed his head as far forward as possible, and made a flourished gesture with his hands. It was clear to Mithras the man was foreign, but from where he hailed he had no idea. Even the man’s heavy accent revealed nothing.
Where are you from? wondered Mithras.
“Prince Mithras,” said the foreigner, “My name is Qesalah Saat. ‘Tis urgent that I speak with you.”
“Qesalah… Saat?” asked Mithras.
“Yes Sire,” Saat confirmed.
“From where do you hail?”
“I am from S’Ulatar, Sire.”
“The South Cities?” said Mithras with intrigue. “There were rumours of plague in your lands many years ago. Stories that your people were erased from the face of the earth!”
The look in Qesalah Saat’s eyes turned leery, and slowly he scanned the perimeter to make sure no one was eavesdropping. Not looking particularly satisfied the man replied, “Sire… perhaps we could speak somewhere more private? The issue is urgent, but sensitive.”
Mithras raised a brow, “Why? And why must you speak with me? Surely my father—”
“Your father cannot be trusted with anything I have to tell you.”
“What could possibly be so confidential?”
“Please Sire! It is a matter of death and life!” muttered Saat, taking a step closer so no one could hear.
Before Mithras could respond, he heard “Mithras!” declared behind him. The voice belonged to his father. “My son… finally he hath made an appearance.”
Cyrus placed his hand against his son’s back and escorted him away. Mithras followed without protest, as his father whispered, “Now is the time captivate.”
Qesalah Saat looked on with a worried expression, consumed by some unknown danger; anxious to reveal all to the prince.
The two royals had walked a mere yard when they came upon two women. Cyrus cleared his throat and the women turned and curtseyed. First to the king, and then to Mithras.
“Ladies,” said the king, “allow me to introduce you to my son, Prince Mithras. Son, these doves are the delightful Lady Vida, and her stunning daughter Lady Aya.”
Mithras bowed as he was introduced. Both women were exquisite. Their skin was umber, and soft to the touch as he kissed their hands. Perhaps black thrushes, not doves, thought Mithras. He contemplated mocking his father's word choice aloud, but that seemed inappropriate.
Lady Vida was quite tall; barely an inch shorter than Mithras. She glittered from head to toe. In her large curled hair were strings of spun gold, around her ears and her neck hung auric hoops and chains. And emerald as her banner draped her dress flowing green.
Slightly smaller and thinner than her mother was Lady Aya. She was ravishing and even more opulent to behold. Though covered by a white turban, her hair was black. Her dress, a thin fabric, was as alabaster as the turban, and it fit tight to her body, accentuating her curves from waist to bosom. Thick platinum braces adorned her neck and wrists, and a mask of similar design covered her eyes. The patterns engraved in the metals were so fine the prince was envious.
Aya was a beauty; possibly the most beautiful of all the women gathered there that night. And Mithras briefly imagined a union between him and her before resuming their conversation.
“Lady Aya,” Mithras whispered, holding her hand close to his lips a moment longer than prescribed. “It is an honour to be meeting you for the first time.”
“The honour is mine, Prince Mithras,” said Aya taking back her hand, but keeping her gaze fixed on the prince. “I have heard many a great thing to your regard.”
Cyrus grinned, pleased that his son had not failed him. Then to Lady Vida he said, “M’lady, I think we should let our children to their dalliance, what say you?”
Lady Vida replied, “Perhaps.” She took the king’s waiting hand and let him guide her away, leaving Aya and Mithras alone.