Padeshahi (the Kingdom)

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Arash's Story II

While Arash was happy that Basma was going to help him and Yuri out, he was less so that Kambiz was out and unable to contribute. He had been counting on the lizard man -Bozmajeh-Mard he corrected himself before swearing internally about the awful effect his companions were having on him- to be their muscle. Granted, Kambiz’s style of fighting didn’t compare to how graceful the duelist was, but having two massive axes swung at people was definitely intimidating. After all, Arash reasoned, he could only be so charming on his own and some people responded better to vinegar than to honey.

“How long is he going to be out?” he asked the Qazzam, careful to put some concern into his voice so he didn’t sound like he was being selfish. Not that he had anything against Kambiz, but he was trying not to see all of them just as tools to help him get revenge, and his natural tendency was to take care of himself first and foremost.

The shaman gazed down at her partner, gently stroking his cheek in the direction his scales sat so she didn’t cut herself. “The healing sleep usually puts a person out for around four hours or so. Why?”

“Well, since we interrupted your sleep, I figured that Yuri and I could go do some more preparing while the two of you get some rest.” Shrugging, the Aryan male went on. “Of course, if my concern is out of line, please tell me and I shall apologize the best that I can.”

Frowning up at him, Basma mulled over Arash’s words. “Well…I guess it wouldn’t hurt to actually get some rest. After all, some of us,” and here she glared up at the duelist who did his best to appear innocent, “aren’t as young as we used to be, and can’t just gallivant around all night and day.” Sighing once, she went on. “Fine, meet us back here at 13th bell?”

“Let’s say 14th just to be safe. Take care, my dear,” he told her, actually sincere for once. The Qazzam didn’t look like she could believe it, and as he turned to Yuri, the Sandstrider didn’t appear to believe it himself. Gesturing towards the door, Arash led his companion out while Basma locked and bolted the door behind them.

They stood there for a second, getting accustomed to the bright morning sun, before they walked away from the shaman’s home. Not that the duelist was worried about being accosted, but this wasn’t exactly the best neighborhood to be standing around in, even when the sun was up. Besides, Arash thought, there was nobody around who could truly appreciate how clever and handsome he was, and going too long without being the center of attention made him itchy.

“So, what do we do now Arash?” Yuri asked him in a low voice once they had put some distance between themselves and Basma’s domicile. “Do you have a plan?”

“Of course I have a plan,” Arash lied to the boy as he ran his right hand through his hair from forehead back. “I’m just working out some of the smaller details, no need to worry.”

Yuri snorted. “That’s what I thought, you don’t have a plan.”

Putting his hand over his heart in mock pain, Arash replied. “You wound me, good sir! Do you think that I would lie to you about something as important as this?”

“Since you’d rather die than admit weakness it seems, the answer is yes,” the Sandstrider shot back drolly. Arash knew he should start referring to him as a Liyudi, even if just in his own head, but he was damned if they were going to rub all of his hard edges off.

Shaking his head, Arash put his arm around Yuri’s shoulders. “Yuri, my friend, would I steer you wrong? About the amount of fun you seem to be lacking in your life or if that stall owner over there is staring at your rear, maybe. Don’t look,” the Aryan male said as he turned Yuri’s head back around. Besides, he really didn’t need to see how old or ugly the stall owner had been. “But about this, about something this serious and potentially fatal? Not at all.”

“Hmmm,” was all the young Sandstrider said as he let Arash steer them out of the slums and through the marketplace. “All right, say I believe you. Then where are you taking us?”

“Ah, now that’s a more important question than if I have a plan, my young friend. I think we should go back to your caravan and start building a device. Well, you should start building it. I wouldn’t know the first thing about being a gadgeteer, after all.” Yuri’s frown deepened, and Arash had a brief worry that if the Sandstrider kept hanging around him, he would get wrinkles in his face way too early. He quickly discarded such thoughts. Focus on the plan, he chastised himself, not on whether Yuri’s face will get lined!

“You do know that I have to have some idea what I’m going to construct, right? It’s not magic, where I can just wave my hands,” and Yuri did just that, “and poof, the device is built. I have to have plans, and since whatever it is you’re scheming probably is something unique, I’ll need to draw out the plans before I start constructing it.”

Arash threw up his hands. “By the Elemental Princes, you sound just like my father! Always going on about how being an architect means you have to plan, plan, and plan some more. I thought you were more creative than that!” Aghast that he had revealed something about himself, the duelist glared at Yuri as if he had tricked him, and stomped along slightly ahead of the Sandstrider.

Catching up to him, Yuri appeared to be giving some thought to what he was going to say. Finally, he spoke up. “I am creative, but I need to know what you have in mind to build. For example, will it need a power supply? Which kind? They all have their advantages and disadvantages. What kind of material will I need to work with? How big is it? Do you see? Being creative doesn’t mean going off half-cocked.” Looking down at Arash’s waist, the Sandstrider grinned. “After all, it isn’t like being a duelist or anything.”

Spinning around to face Yuri, Arash snarled and pushed him against a nearby wall. “Being a duelist isn’t like that at all, Sandstrider! I’ve trained for years in various moves and techniques, all so in combat it looks effortless and flows like poetry on parchment.”

Sneering, Yuri looked down at Arash. “Hit a nerve, did I? Just think, someone had to create those moves and techniques for you to learn; almost like they…planned it out.” Arash released Yuri and stepped back, turning red from his embarrassment. “And, while I do owe you for not turning me into the city guard, if you don’t start treating me as an equal and not disparaging my people I will gladly take whatever punishment they dish out, just so long as I can be away from you!” The Sandstrider’s face contorted in anger, and Arash realized he may have went a step too far. What’s worse, Yuri looked serious about facing the guard rather than continuing to work with him. This made what Arash had to do ten times worse.

Swallowing once and looking away for a few seconds, Arash squared his shoulders and took a deep breath before looking Yuri in the eyes. “I…apologize. My manners seem to have been misplaced, and you’re right. I should treat you like a partner and not an underling.”

Looking like he couldn’t believe it, Yuri took a second to straighten out the wraps covering his chest before he answered. “Apology accepted, Arash. I know how painful that must have been for you.” Before it got awkward, he turned and started walking towards his caravan and the duelist quickly caught up. “So,” the young Liyudi said, eyeing the Aryan male from the corner of his eye, “your father is an architect, yes?”

Sighing, Arash responded. “Yes, and he helped build the stadium that I fight in now when he was younger, before I was born. He told me if he had known that my blood would darken the sands that make up its floor one day, he never would have taken on the job. For some reason, even though my mother is a fighter, he always expected I would take after his side of the family and follow a more…intellectual pursuit. Thankfully, he has my sister for that.”

“I didn’t even know you had any siblings,” Yuri said.

Snorting loudly, which startled an old man who had been napping in his chair outside his market stall, Arash replied. “Sometimes I wish I could forget! Firuzeh is always being upheld by our father as a shining example of what a good child grows up to do. Studying away at Gundishapur University, being a good little know-it-all…ugh!”

Putting a hand on his shoulder, Yuri gave him a sympathetic grin. “Hey, I know all about annoying siblings. I feel your pain.”

Grinning back, Arash remembered Yuri’s brother. “His name is Foma, yes?”

Now it was Yuri’s turn to snort. “Yes, Foma; always the good son, always helping our mother with the deals, rubbing it in how he has both of his arms intact.” Here he unconsciously rubbed his artificial arm, and Arash could faintly hear the sounds of the gears turning around in the limb. “And it’s a good thing we’re heading back, it’s just about time for me to put some oil in it. I have to oil it roughly every 8 hours or so, you know, and wind it up.”

“You know, I’m surprised that you haven’t taken to carrying this key and some oil around with you, just in case. I mean, you are a smart lad, why risk it?” Arash thought out loud, knowing that his words would get under the skin of his young companion.

And they did. “Yes yes, you’re right. It is quite foolish to leave behind the tools necessary to keep my arm in working condition while I went off to help you in your mad crusade.” Yuri frowned to himself as they continued their walk through the bazaar and towards the campground where his caravan was parked. Arash hid his smile as the young gadgeteer pulled ahead and went stomping up to the wagon his family shared, obviously annoyed to having to be dealing with them so early. The Aryan could definitely relate to that.

As quiet as Yuri tried to act, his artificial arm chose that moment to squeak as the young man was opening the door to the wagon, and the young gadgeteer winced as voices slurred out from inside. “Who’s there? I’ll have you know, I have a big strong son and a crossbow and I’m not afraid to use either of them on you, intruder!”

“Mother,” Yuri kept trying to interject over his mother’s increasingly loud voice. “Mother, it’s Yuri. Put the crossbow down, you’re going to hurt somebody!”

“I’m warning you, whoever you are! Stay back or I’ll do it! Foma, get up and take care of the miscreant.” Foma’s voice whining and grumbling brought a huge grin to Arash’s face. As Yuri climbed into the wagon, sounds of struggling ensued until the sound of a crossbow string being released rang out and wiped the grin off of Arash. “Yuri!” his mother called out, all drunkenness vanished from her voice. “Oh my sweet little Yuri, are you OK?”

“Yes mother,” Yuri finally called out, and Arash remembered how to breathe. “I’m fine, I caught the bolt before it could hit me…or anyone else.” Arash was impressed. It seemed that the young lad’s mechanical arm was good for more than just being an arm. He would have to remember that if a similar scenario ever came up.

“Why are you coming into the wagon so early in the morning, Yuri?” his mother asked him, and even from out here Arash could hear Yuri sigh in frustration.

“It is already 9th Bell, mother. And I’m just getting some spare oil and my winding key. The Chuzhak you met last night, the one who ate borscht and danced in the rain with you? He has hired me as his gadgeteer for a project we’re working on, very secretive.” The Aryan was impressed with how quickly Yuri thought on his feet, lying to his mother but with enough truth blended in that it sounded believable.

“Really? I want to meet him again - and discuss payment for loaning out my brightest son. Just let me freshen up somewhat.” No matter the race, all females wanted to look presentable it seemed, Arash mused to himself as Yuri hopped out of the wagon with a kicked dog expression on his face.

“She wants to…” the young gadgeteer started to say before Arash held up his hand.

“I heard her, my friend; in fact, pretty sure your whole caravan heard her,” he said as Yuri’s face turned red and he hung his head down in shame. Arash found his grin again.

Within minutes, Yuri’s mother stumbled out of the wagon and carefully walked up to where they stood. If she had done something different to herself since last night when Arash had met her for the first time, he couldn’t tell, but he wasn’t going to say that to her. “You look amazing, Yuri’s mother, thank you so much for being able to meet with me,” the duelist said as he took her hand and bowed slightly over it, as if this meeting was something he wanted and agreed to instead of being forced to participate.

“Call me Anya please, Mr.…” Anya hesitated.

With a forced smile, Arash replied. “Rostami. Arash Rostami at your service.” His surname sometimes had an effect on people who knew of his family, and apparently Anya was one of those people. It was almost worth it to see her eyes widen as she gripped his hand tightly.

“Rostami? As in the Rostami who helped design so many buildings around Padeshahi? The same Rostami who is married to the legendary warrior…?”

“Yes, yes, that’s my family. Now, about hiring out your son…” Arash tried to steer the conversation back towards more familiar and less embarrassing territory.

As awed as she was, Anya was a shrewd merchant, and she quickly settled down to business. “What are you wanting to hire my son for? Is it dangerous? Is it for building weapons?” Her eyes grew hard, and Arash knew he would have to dance around this as carefully as a pit full of scorpions driven mad with hunger.

“It is not for a weapon, Anya, and it is not for anything dangerous. If it was, would I be involved in it, right there beside him?” Arash replied, not lying but not being honest either. After all, it wasn’t for a weapon since it was going to stop Barham and Barham alone, and he did plan on being right beside Yuri when the device was activated.

Eyes furrowed as she mulled over his words, looking for some hidden meaning, Anya spoke up. “All right then, Mr. Rostami, how much are you willing to pay us?” Arash noticed her use of the word ‘us’ but also understood that by Liyudi culture Yuri was barely past his teens, so he was promising his mother that he would keep the young gadgeteer safe while he was in his employ.

“25 qiran,” he quickly replied, and watched as Anya’s eyes widened in disbelief. “After all, I don’t know how long the project will go on, and I understand how valuable he is to your family.” He paused to look as if he had made a mistake. “Is that an acceptable price?”

Try as she might, Anya couldn’t hide the naked greed in her eyes. “That seems barely acceptable, but I understand that you need someone as intelligent and gifted as my Yuri. Besides, maybe you could introduce me to some of your family’s connections after he helps you out, hmm?” Arash really wanted nothing to do with his family, but understood that this was how the game was played, and plastered a smile on his face as he nodded his acceptance. He was surprised when Anya placed both hands on the sides of his face and leaned down to kiss each cheek. “Now, you must do the same to honor our agreement. When can you have the money for me? I’m afraid I can’t release my son until you do, you understand.”

Arash stood on his tiptoes to kiss Anya on each cheek before he responded. “Last night I gave the money to Yuri to hold onto for safekeeping. I believe he put it in your moneybox.” Spinning around, Anya began to berate Yuri in Liyudian and he defended himself as best he could, both of them speaking so rapidly that even if Arash could speak their language he was unsure he could follow. Finally, they calmed down and Yuri went inside the wagon to collect his things. “Was that not OK?” he asked, false concern painting his words.

Smiling down at him, Anya simply said, “What has happened, has happened. We cannot change the past, so it is done. Please,” she whispered to Arash while Yuri finished packing, “take good care of my boy.” Her bargaining voice was gone, replaced with motherly concern.

“You have my word,” Arash promised her, right hand over his heart, and was pleasantly surprised to find he meant every word. Just then, Yuri hopped out of the wagon and shuffled up to them, trying not to eavesdrop. The Aryan gave the young Liyudi a wink to let him know that everything was settled.

“Be safe, my bright star, and don’t do anything too foolish.” Arash did his best to turn his head as Anya gave Yuri a kiss on each cheek and then his forehead before hugging him so tightly that the young man started to turn red. Then, wiping her eyes, she spun away from both of them and climbed back into her wagon. The closing and locking of the door seemed to echo loudly, and Arash prayed to E’laa’hi for once in his life that his actions wouldn’t cause the death of another…and that this wasn’t the last time Anya would see her baby boy.

“So,” Yuri said while trying to recover his dignity, “what happens now?”

Putting his arm around the tall Liyudi, Arash forced himself to smile and lead the young gadgeteer away from his family wagon. “Now, my good friend, now we visit a place that I’m unsure if you’ve ever visited before.”

“You’re not taking me to a brothel, are you?” Yuri seemed disgusted.

“No, not now at least. There will be time for fun later. We are going to visit the greatest library that exists in all of civilization, and see if there isn’t something we can find in those musty tomes and dusty books that might help us in our fight. What do you say, Yuri?”

The boy’s face had light up like a firework. “I say, what are we waiting for?” And with that, Arash could barely keep up as the two men raced off to the Sassanid Library.

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