Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shah of Parsa

[This is an original story I started in 2007. After 9 pages, I got stumped and gave up the project, at least for the foreseeable future. Here is how it starts.]

In the palace of the shah, in his white marble pillared audience chamber, Xshayarsha, Shah of Parsa and Emperor of the Achaemenids, took the parchment scroll held before him by his kneeling chief scribe. The scroll was heavy, wound thick around its gold dowel, and glittered with the jewel-like painted cuniform letters in sharply written Elamite. Once the scribe verified it was complete, Xshayarsha dismissed him. Then he took the unusual step of having his court cleared immediately. The palace guards were surprised, but obeyed at once. His courtiers were largely obedient too. They shuffled noiselessly out of the chamber, a sedate parade of men in women in high-waisted robes.

All left save Hadassah. Hadassah, once favored concubine, now first wife of the shah, head of his harem, and ruler of his heart, was alone immune to her husband’s commands. She walked nonchalantly past the row of Xshayarsha’s personal eunuch guards, seemingly admiring how they all stood as erect as statues waiting for their lord’s commands.

“What troubles you, my lord?” Hadassah asked softly as she glided across the room to the shah’s dais. Xshayarsha was on his feet now, walking from his throne and still holding the scroll in his hands. She intercepted him, fell into step right behind him, and followed him as he moved to the balcony overlooking his courtyard, so deep in thought it was as if he were sleepwalking.

The courtyard below presented a beautiful collage of fountains, gardens, and statuary that stretched across the palace grounds to the base of his father’s palace opposite his. The fountains were studded with gemstones that sparkled in the sun. Walnut, maple, and mulberry trees dominated the flora of the gardens, providing ample shade for the ancient leaders of Parsa, now immortalized in bronze and stone. In the midst of all this, a lamassu guardian – sphinx-like – lifted its head and quietly observed the arrival of the shah. Its wings remained folded against its bovine flanks.

“Your lord?” Xshayarsha echoed with bitter sarcasm. “Then why do I feel more like a slave than a shah? I could be out conquering foreign lands or dealing with the nomads that harass our borders. I could be leading armies.”

“You do great things right here, my lord,” Hadassah said earnestly, but Xshayarsha turned on her sharply as if she had insulted him. But that moment of anger in his face was already gone. It had melted away and been replaced with a tired, sedate countenance. His next words sounded self-reproachful instead of bitter.

“I while away my best years here at the palace because I cannot resist you. You were a concubine when I added you to my harem, and now here you are -- my first wife. You rule my harem and, through it, you rule me.”

“You give me too much credit that I do not deserve,” she responded quietly, but he did not seem to hear her and continued.

“When I think on how great a man my father was…” he said, staring off the balcony into space and gripping the fat scroll tightly in his hands.

“Every woman of yours knows what it is like to live in the shadow of a great man,” Hadassah said. “I understand. That is why you grow melancholy whenever a new part of your father’s history is written.”

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