Chapter Thirty-One—Naked Revelation
The presence of Shiro Takeda receded away from the throne chamber. But he had been here just moments again, and in a state of white hot rage.
With his inner thoughts, Darius smiled and regarded the surprised crowd of satraps, viziers, princes and princesses who gasped and hissed in hushed whispers.
Darius spread his arms wide. “My loyal subjects of the Abassir Empire!” he called exultantly. “Our empire… is strong!”
The crowd cheered.
Darius nodded once.
“Many of you have wondered after my long lasting youthfulness. There have been rumors… speculations…” He looked at Jessamine with an exaggerated turn of his shoulders, and in a heavy tone as if he were introducing a god to the crowd, said, “Look! No! Further!”
Jessamine made a flourish of her hands, summing some bright magical aesthetics of fire and blue mist pleasing to the eyes. Turning her hands and swaying her hips with a dancer’s grace, her display was sensual and wondrous to behold.
The crowd gasped.
“She is a jinni!” one woman called out.
“Yes!” Darius continued. “Jessamine al Adarnases—magical spirit and jewel of my heart.” He looked at her with feigned affection. “Jinni!”
Faining along with him—though he could sense her distaste—Jessamine smiled affectionately back at Darius, an act worthy of the best performers of any troupe of travelling theaters in the empire.
With wide eyes and many slack jaws, Darius continued.
“It is not spoken of in the open—and even less so here in the capital—but we face a powerful enemy—an imperial power from across the seas. Strangers... Conquerors....”
He let the last two words hang for some time as he glanced across the sea of faces. Their expressions were of awe, surprise, horror and somber reflection concerning Jessamine and especially his last words.
Darius lunged to the side as if a dagger and been placed inside his heart, as if he were the lead actor in this theater. “I too am beset with worry. I have lain awake many a night, wondering—praying to the gods!” He nodded solemnly. “Praying for an answer.”
All was silent, save for one man, who hissed, “You are the Commander of the Failthful! You can do anything!”
Jessamine looked at Darius, a countenance inferring something he was not expecting. Darius had thought Jessamine was an unwilling participant in all this, but upon hearing his last words, he could see that they struck deep within her moral center.
Could feel it.
If I am an evil man—I am evil because it is what my empire needs of me.
“BEHOLD!”—he called as he threw out his hands—“YOUR IMMORTAL LEADER AND HIS JINNI!”
The crowd cheered.
Darius looked into their eyes—into their souls.
He raised his hand for silence.
“With Jessamine at my side, I am more powerful than ever. AND I WILL NOT LET YOU—MY PEOPLE—TO BE ALLOWED TO SUFFER AGAINST THE HANDS OF THESE BARBARIANS FROM ACROSS THE SEAS!”
The crowd cheered again, a deafening roar of screaming—of near worshipful adoration from his people, forcing a smile out of Darius.
Raising a hand once again, they quieted after a time.
Then, quietly and with pangs of emotion, both practiced and real, Darius added, “I… will not fail you. But I too, need you. The Abassir Empire needs you… My loyal satraps… my viziers… and you most of all—my beloved people.”
All was quiet as a tear rolled down Darius’ cheek.
And then he smiled, spread his heads, slowly—ever so slowly, turned and raised them up, his palms open as if he were readying to catch the sun.
And then suddenly in a violent motion, he dropped his hands and showed his palms. “SO ENJOY THE PARTY! BECAUSE TOMORROW THE ABASSIR EMPIRE GOES TO WAR!”
Just as the crowd exploded like a cache of pots containing fire oil, the musicians from every alcove of the throne room—and indeed the palace as a whole, began to beat their drums in a fast and aggressive staccato tempo, the lute players and flutists joining in to match their pace as the dancing girls suddenly flung into motion.
Other guests, girls and women alike, threw off their clothes and joined the dance, twirling and singing up toward the heavens as the faces of Darius’ guests brightened with excitement and hope-filled exultation mixed with lust for life and wine and women in their wide-eyed and toothy smiles of pure drunken exhilaration—an exhilaration Darius himself shared.
“TO WAR!” a satrap cried, spilling half his chalice of wine.
“DEATH TO THE CONQUERORS!” a princess called out aggressively.
“BLOOD!” a nobleman screamed as he pulled a naked woman closer to his side.
Grinning like a madman, Darius glanced toward Jessamine, a look of approval, worry, and contempt all at once upon her face.
“The empire needs you, Jessamine!” he said, his voice loud and carrying across the music and the blissful partying of the guests. He turned to her and put out a hand, and only so she could hear, said, “I need you.”
She hesitated, then tentatively, she reached out and took his hand.
He looked into her eyes.
Did he… believe her?
“My lord sultan!”
Darius turned and almost backhanded the godsdamned fool who interrupted them. It was Abdalkadir. “Your speech… it moved me!” He bowed low. “After tonight, I will call upon all the viziers of my satrapy and begin calling forth men to fight.”
Darius nodded solemnly as he reached out and sat a hand on his shoulder. “This I know, my loyal savant.”
“And I!” Princess Hamrazi said, her face a mask of exuberance and anger.
Smiling, he nodded and strode past his satraps and viziers proclaiming their loyalty and promise of a unified force of destroyers hells bent on ending their enemy from across the southern seas.
As the guests parted, he strode to his concubines from the palace harem. He so loved this girls, but as a gift to his people, he would forever part from some of them.
He strode up to Almira. As he leaned in and kissed her, the crowd watched. Taking her shoulder straps, he pushed them aside, making her gown drop.
Turning from her, he said, “A gift, for my satraps. Partake of them as you will!” he pushed the girl forward into the crowd and she was gobbled up by hungry lustful nobles.
The opening in that portion of the crowd closed as he walked away, up the steps and back onto the dais. He sat on his throne where Jessamine followed from below. She took her chair next to his, the chair meant for the queen of the Abassir Empire.
All was going to plan.
His satraps were more fervent and fired than ever. What Darius had said—what he had proclaimed concerning the war was nothing but truth. The empire would fight—and it would win this losing war that no one knew was being lost, save for his most trust confidants.
Even now, he was probably foaming at the mouth over what had just happened between Darius and Jessamine.
The Sultan smiled and he regarded the crowd while entertaining his own private thoughts.
Jessamine looked at him. Then turning to the party, she smiled. “You are a horrible man, Darius.”
Glancing over the drunken revelry of eating and drinking and fornication, Darius said, “I know.”
Bio: Some believed me to be a wandering samurai, or a vagrant, or possibly a ninja—though perhaps in my infinite mystery, I am none of these things. Whichever the case, I wander home as Odysseus did after the great Trojan War in some realm unbeknownst to our world. And—by direct theft of a quote from a certain dwarf named Varric Tethras—"I occasionally write books."