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The Silk Road: The Prince and the Quest for the Hidden Oasis

By Marty Kate All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy

Blurb

Don't think "Prince of Persia"" please. Think instead the Arabian Nights and The Hero's Journey. Darius was a foundling, adopted by the mighty King of Kings who sits on the throne of Persia.. He knows he is capable enough and intelligent enough--with the exception of the heir, Cyrus--to be a good ruler, but the heir and two brothers stand in his way. He has all but given up, contenting himself with the possibility of being Cyrus's Grand Vizier some day, when something strange happens. When he and his brothers return from hunting antelope an old woman runs up to him, telling him the tale of a long forgotten kingdom on the Silk Road, taken over and ruled now by an evil djinayah. She alone knows how to kill the djinayah, and with the help of Darius she can kill her and the rule of the oasis will be his. Skeptical he sends her away, but decides to consult with Cyrus, who is his favorite brother, and find out if the old woman's story was even possible. Intrigued himself, Cryrus agrees to help, and brings in their old teacher to see what he knows. After all, anything is possible, for magic is real why should the old woman's tale not be true?.

Djinayah and Antelope

The vast expanses of the Persian Empire made it the mightiest the world had ever known. Its army conquered the world as far east as the Indus Valley and as far south as Egypt. Its able administrators assisted the monarch who had made all of this possible.

Dravidus, King of Kings, sitting on his marble throne, exercised great wisdom and caution, in the administration of his vast kingdom. He was rich beyond reckoning, goods and tribute poured into Persia, ensuring the well-being of the empire. His favorite wife had produced Cyrus, his heir, and lesser wives produced the second and third in line. He had also adopted an infant found abandoned at the city gates. Darius, the son who should have been of his blood, favorite to both him and Cyrus.

The other two brothers were jealous of the youngest, but that did not stop them from hunting, drinking, and whoring together in the stews of the city. They had been raised together in the royal nurseries, but it was clear from the start the nursery was divided into three different camps: Marbonius second in line was amused by his foster brother and on occasion even liked him. Artabanus, who would inherit the throne if something happened to the older brothers, was jealous of Darius. His looks, his intelligence, his favor with his father, all made him jealous of the dark eyed intruder.

Darius himself did not care. He wanted to see Cyrus ascend the throne so he could devote himself to hunting, women, and fighting. The responsibility of ruling a kingdom was not for him, though the two would-be heirs never quite believed that. He himself suspected that he might be a royal bastard, but outside of the occasional fits of envy, he was more happy just being a king’s son, than a son and heir.

In the manner of brothers, they often fought and in fighting might come to blows. Today was supposed to be a day for a gazelle hunt in the desert, or so it should have been. The two sons of Dravidus, Marbonius and Artabanus, and their foster brother, Darius, had started out at first light while the air was still cool and pleasant. The Princes rode their horses while a small train rode camels carrying a pavilion, food and drink for when the princes wanted to take their rest.

But any who observed what was taking place at the moment would truly wonder what the future of the great empire would be. What started as a simple hunting trip was turning into a brawl. Two brothers, who knew better, had drawn swords against each other; though, to be fair, one had drawn his sword in self defense.

“Sons of Zoroaster, Artabanus, when are you going to learn I am a better fighter than you? Stop trying to kill me before I hurt you!” Darius, was fighting furiously with his older foster brother, their swords clashing, rays of light from the desert sun flashing from their swords. Marbonius, watched impassively. If Darius killed Artabanus, that would be fine with him; it was nothing personal. Darius would not inherit the throne, but Artabanus was in line after him. He was content to let Artabanus get himself killed if that was what his foolhardy brother wanted.

At last Darius knocked the sword out of his older brother’s hand, then tossed it away. He shook his head, “Why do you bother? You’ll never be as good as me, and I’m not in line for the throne, anyway if that is what this is about. And besides, you’ll only have a chance of inheriting if something happens to Marbonius or Cyrus.”

Artabanus picked up his sword and slipped in into its scabbard. “You never know. Someday, maybe only you and I will be left, and only one prince can sit on the throne of Persia. It would not be the first time a royal bastard claimed the throne.”

“If that day ever comes, Artabanus, I’ll offer to be your general, and you won’t have to worry about leading the armies, or being killed in battle. I don’t know why father adopted me; but putting me in line to inherit the throne was not the intent, I can assure you. He could have given me to a commoner instead of keeping me. Now, if we don’t have any more duels today, I want to go home, bathe, and eat dinner. These gazelles we killed should please Father. The cooks will hang and dress them, and when they are ready, we’ll feast to our successful hunt..

Marbonius came up and slapped him on the back. “Well said, Darius. Artabanus, one of these days our foster brother will fulfill your death wish. I should forget about fighting him in the future if I were you.” Marbonius had his own plans for Darius. If he could succeed in assassinating Cyrus, once he ascended the throne he would place Darius in charge of the mightiest army in the world. With his adopted brother as general there would be no threat to Persia; or, if Persia went to war, with Darius at the head of the army, he could remain safely home in Persia. Either victory would be assured or Darius was killed in the process; in that case, he would throw him the most lavish of state funerals, and none of the nobility or common people would have cause to scheme to topple Marbonius from the throne.

Marbonius had always been a suspicious of the origins of the little orphan that had appeared in the royal nursery one day. The nurses were whispering, so his little ears could not understand their words. The infant had round brown eyes and golden skin, looked more like royalty than a commoner. As Marbonius grew older, he suspected that one of Dravidus’ brothers had sired a bastard, and it had been left at the gates of the palace, like a gift.

He eventually learned that his brother, named Darius by their father, was no fool and a bad enemy. Though younger and smaller, the young prince was strong. Marbonius bested him in their first fight—but only the first. Darius would have beaten him to a bloody pulp one day if not for intercession by their father. It was all right, princes of Persia were expected to be strong and ruthless. And since heirs to the throne often did not survive to inherit it, Marbonius recognized that Darius might prove useful insurance when it came to keeping his throne.

If he could find a way to get rid of Cyrus, the Royal Heir, that is.

The brothers mounted their horses and rode back to the capital, their servants following on camels, struggling to keep up. It made no difference to them if a son of the king was killed, though, to a man, they would prefer Darius. It would never happen, but some still harbored secret hopes.

The guards opened the great bronze gates to allow the princes and their company in. Soldiers held the common people back, so that the princes could ride back to the palace unimpeded. They missed, however, one small woman who had been biding her time and ran to the stirrup of Prince Darius.

“Your majesty,” she hissed, trying to keep the others from hearing, “You must come and speak with me, I beg you. It is a matter most urgent.”

Darius looked down. The woman holding onto his stirrup was old, but her dark blue eyes were bright, even if her hair was streaked with white. Her teeth were perfect ivory in mouth lined with wrinkles.. The look she was giving him was as intelligent and intense as it was crafty, though the lines of age were sketched deeply on her face. There was something her eyes were telling him--he might be a fool if he kicked her away.

Curiosity got the better of him. He motioned to a member of his guard. “Follow me, out of sight of the others, but keep within earshot. He pulled the old woman onto the saddle behind him and rode away from the train. She directed him to an alley and he halted his horse. She slid down and took his reins, not afraid of the animal or what it might do.

“Well, old woman, what do you want? I could kill you right now for daring to touch me.” He put his hand on the hilt of his sword.

“Yes you could. When the gods will it, I will die, as will you. But tell me prince, do you not tire of laboring for those you cannot be the equal of? You are the adopted prince and someday may find yourself at the mercy of your brothers. What if I told you there was a kingdom where, if you have the courage, you could take for your own? You would be your own master and have more wealth than you can imagine. It’s there, ripe for the taking, just waiting for the right man to come along.”

“And where might this be?” Darius folded his arms across his chest, not wanting to give the woman any hint that she was describing his dreams. He didn’t want to be beholden to any son of Dravidus in any form. Excepting Cyrus, he trusted his brothers no more than they trusted him. Sometimes he swore that his stars had decreed that he would die as he had lived, slave to a king—whether father or brother.

“You know the caravan rout to the kingdom of the Chinn, the “Silk Road”? It is a long and treacherous road, the caravan route, and not always safe. But there is a path that few know of, that branches off from the main route. Along this way there are oases with water for thirsty men and beasts, plentiful game for men who crave meat, yet few bandits to harry the caravans. Eventually this path re-joins the main road, but those who take it save precious time, arriving before the others.

Best of all, at the largest of the oases, there is a kingdom, a kingdom of rare beauty and wealth. Once kings sat on its throne, but now it is ruled by a jinniyeh who tricked the last sultan into marrying her. A week after their wedding night, she killed him, or caused his death. Anyone who opposes her, she curses—and it is the lucky ones who die. And since she is immortal, she will sit on the throne forever, amassing wealth and enslaving whomever she wishes.

“If she is a jinniyeh, how then might she be killed?” asked Darius, intrigued by the story he was hearing. Sometimes the djinn had a weakness that could be exploited, some became slaves to men, others were powerful beings that could be killed only by magic. If this old woman spoke the truth, not lies, the danger would be as great as the rewards. If her words were indeed true.

“There is a spell,” she looked up at him, grinning, “It was given power by the curse of the daughter of the sultan she killed. It is a potion—you must first try to get her to drink it. If you do not succeed, then you must throw it on her and she will burst into flames. But the ingredients can only be found there, they grow no other place in the world. She guards them jealously, for she knows that they spell her own doom. Indeed, she knows that one day it will happen, for it is written in the stars.” Her face looked eagerly at him, seeing what affect her words were having on him.

’But if you wish to take your fate into your hands and capture the jinniyeh’s kingdom, you must take me with you, for I am the only living person who knows how to mix the elixir. We will gather the herbs and make the potion to kill the jinniyeh, and the kingdom will be yours for the taking. But don’t imagine it will be easy, you will need help. You must take me with you.” She gave him that intense look again.

“And what if this potion fails? What if it’s spilled, or made wrong? What are you not telling me—er, I do not yet know your name.” Darius looked down at her. By the gods, her face suddenly looked young, how could that be? She was an old woman, if well preserved.

“My name is Artemesia. She is responsible for the death of my father and I want revenge. You are right, young prince, this is not without risks. But there is one card we would have to play. The jinniyeh fears fire and none is allowed within the palace grounds. But it is said that that he who possesses the courage can accomplish the impossible. You must decide soon, young prince. It was a full moon last night. We have only until the next full moon to accomplish this. Leave a message for me at the water stand near the palace. It is run by a Greek named Demetrius. If you will not help me, I must find someone soon, otherwise I shall have to wait a full year for the moon to be right again.” Darius watched her ran down the alley, until she disappeared from sight.

“Artemesia,” Darius thought, “I have heard that name before, but where? He mounted his horse and rode back to the palace, pondering the words she had told him.

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Chapters
1. Djinayah and Antelope
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