They were here, I could sense them in the warm wind mixed with the smell of blood or feel them in deadly silence of the castle. Those barbarians had reached the heart of our land, killed thousands and soon they were conquering our homes, our bodies and our souls. They had came for our wealth and our soil but most of all, they wanted our veiled princess.
I stood on the castle top, smelling the breeze. I could see our cursed land under my feet, it looked like a ghost town. No soul was seen anywhere, even animals were hiding. There were less than hundred guards left to protect the castle, the rest joined the battle which was happening in the big valley, not far from where we were. The servants were leaving one by one in silence, not wanting to be there when the blood lusted soldiers were entering the castle to rub and kill everyone.
Yes, We were surely cursed. The gods turned their back on us long time ago, leaving us with disasters that one by one destroyed happiness and joy in our green land. I could not remember when it started, but it got worse when the late king Arashk died of his long time illness. After that, the prince became the new king and our dark age really started. The new king was ruthless and cruel, he did not care for the people and this was the result of his act, in the time of his need, the people left him alone. I heard a voice from my behind and I turned immediately: "my lord, we should leave. They will be here soon." I smiled to my faithful servant, Araz. He had been with me since he was 5 and I was more like a father to him.I asked:" where are the women?" Araz answered: "in the hall, waiting for news." King Daruis's harem had more than a hundred women, most of them concubines he had kept for his amusement. His queen, mother and sister were in charge of the harem. I advised the king days ago to release those poor girls so they could return to their families in case anything happened but he did not listen.
That was my job, advising the king. He rarely listened to my advise but still, he wanted me around. I was one of the few who had his trust. If he had listened to me, we would not have been in this mess. I knew Alexander, the barbarian king, would attack us because he was ridiculed and his pride was wounded. Alexander was a power thirsty king, he was young but had the support of his people to deal with his enemies, unlike our king. He sent a messenger to Darius, proposing to his sister, princess Roxanne, a year ago. Darius laughed at the message and sent the messenger back with a sheep, replying that this is the only female Alexander deserved from our land.
Right then and there, I warned him about what he was doing. He had already refused all his sister's suitors to that point and continued to do so without considering the consequence. All the noble men from our land and eligible princes from others came to ask for her hand but the king never even thought about them, he refused every single one. The time was running out and it was best if we vacated the castle. Not that it would have saved us all together, it may have just made it harder for them to find us. The king and remainder of his army were in the battle field and I did not know how I was going to help the women escape and run away myself. After all, I was only an old man.
As I made my way to the women's hall, I could hear them scream and cry. They were scared for their lives. I saw couple of eunuchs running away with a large trunk which seemed heavy. As they saw me, they dropped it and ran away. I smiled to myself thinking that all these gold and jewellery were going to be possessed by barbarians so they may as well took them. There was no servant available to announce me entering so I went in the hall unannounced.
There, in the middle of the room, was the Alexander's motive. Roxanne was standing there, other girls circling her and asking her to tell them what to do. She was veiled as always, her small body was dressed in a riding outfit. Her voice was steady and firm, trying to calm others down. Even though she was younger than most of these girls, they still sought her advice. My eyes searched for queen Yalda, the king's wife, and found her in a corner with puffy eyes and a pale face. She was staring into space and did not notice me.
A hand touched my arm, I turned and saw Atusa: "any news?" As always, my heart skipped a beat. I dropped my gaze and shook my head:
" we need to leave my lady...."
She sighed and mumbled:" maybe, just maybe the gods start loving us and the king wins this battle... "
I looked at her and I saw hopelessness in her dazzling indigo eyes. She did not believe herself in what she said.
Roxanne saw us and made her way through moaning girls to where we stood. She said:
"you heard from my brother? "
" no, my lady, but we have to leave soon. They will be here and I do not believe it is safe for any of us"
"and where do you advice us to go? Half of these girls were kidnapped from their families in other lands and if they just run away, barbarians will capture them and god knows what they will do to them."
She was angry. I could sense it in her velvety voice. She did not wait for my reply and stormed out of the hall.
I turned to Atusa and whispered to her: "my queen, listen to me! As much as the princess cares for these girls because of her kind heart, we have to remain sensible. Alexander wants her and we have to run away and hide her by any means." Atusa shook her head": I know my daughter,it is no use, she will not leave them. She blames herself for this battle and will not run away."
The door opened and Araz entered, hurriedly. The hall went silent and all eyes turned to him. I asked:
"what has happened Araz? Any news from the battlefield? "He hesitated a second and then answered:
" no my lord, but princess Roxanne just came to stable, she took her horse and she said she was going to the valley. She said she wanted to talk to the king". I heard a slow moan and saw Atusa's body falling on the ground. I caught her arm, helping her to lie down slowly and shouted to the girls to bring water. Queen Yalda, the king's wife, also rushed to help us. I thought for a moment about the stupidity the princess had done. She was going into the dragon's lair.