Ashtizai raced frantically to Sham’s quarters, where she was sitting drinking tea with Vahoush. ‘The queen is gone, I saw the guards with her, she is in a carriage, I don’t know where…’ the frightened maid’s garbled message interrupted the calm repose of mother and daughter.
Sham’s lined face dropped with instant concern. ‘Quiet yourself girl, you must be confused, are you sure it was Vashti?’
‘Yes,’ tears rolled uncontrollably down Ashtizai’s face. ‘She was wearing the gown I dressed her in this morning. Perhaps…they are going to kill her,’ she cried.
‘Nonsense girl, the law of the Medes would never allow it.’
‘But mistress, the anger of the king, it was terrible.’
‘He will cool down soon; we all know what he is like. Vashti was probably just going out for a break after the busy time we have had. You know how she likes to be alone sometimes.’
‘But with so many guards? And without letting me know? She always tells me her whereabouts, in case she is needed for anything.’
Vahoush stood and went to the door. ‘I will find Harpagos, to see if he knows where she is. If the queen is in danger, he will surely find her.’ But Vashti’s sister felt distinctly uneasy. Astyages’ new advisors were decidedly secretive about their intentions in matters of government. Taking advantage of the delinquent behaviour of the king, had they devised a plot to depose the queen? Or worse still were these officials seeking to overthrow the Medes’ hold on both empires? On her way to the barracks Vahoush slipped briefly into the royal family’s shrine room to make a special appeal to Auramazdaha for her sister’s protection.
Harpagos was in a tumult of distress. It seemed his lifelong friend had done the unthinkable by banishing his wife forcibly without giving her access to legal appeal. He paced up and down the floor of his quarters, while Gulwashoo tried to understand the day’s events. ‘If only someone could penetrate the king’s addled mind,’ she lamented. ‘Then he might see reason.’
‘His habits have twisted it so much, I fear it will never be straightened,’ Harpagos commiserated. He looked directly at Gulwashoo. ‘If we have lost our beautiful queen at a time of extremity for our government it surely cannot be a coincidence.’
Gulwashoo had never seen such remorse in her husband’s eyes. ‘We must not waste time speculating, you must approach the king. Perhaps Vashti has been kidnapped?’
Harpagos had heard otherwise from reliable sources. But he had to know the truth. He reached for his sword as his manservant entered to announce the arrival of Princess Vahoush. She was panting and her face was flushed. When she saw the expressions on the faces of the vispavada and his wife, Vahoush became alarmed. ‘Is it true?’ she gasped. ‘My sister has been taken away under the king’s orders?’ Harpagos could only nod while Gulwashoo hugged Vahoush.
‘Surely something can be done,’ Vahoush cried.
‘I am about to request an audience with the king,’ Harpagos replied flatly, ‘but I hold little hope for the queen’s rescue. Apparently she has been sent to confinement and deprived of her throne, by immutable decree of …’ Harpagos paused as though lifting the weight of monumental words, ‘the Shahan Shah.’
Two hours later Harpagos returned, his face set like rock. ‘It is done,’ he declared to Gulwashoo and Vahoush. ‘She is on her way to Ecbatana for indefinite imprisonment.’
Vahoush collapsed into Gulwashoo’s arms. ‘How will I ever tell Sham?’ she cried. Then she turned to Harpagos. ‘You must lead the Bears to retrieve her. Vashti is the legally appointed Queen of the Medes she is being subjected to treasonous treatment.’
Harpagos shook his head. ‘Then I and the regiment would be committing a mutinous act against the king. And to use the regiment for such a purpose could place the soldiers under the same charge. We also risk civil war if the people decide to choose between the king and… the former queen.’
Vahoush gasped. ‘But we cannot leave her to rot in some obscure prison in Ecbatana. We must go to her. We will have visiting rights.’
‘That depends on the king’s will.’
Vahoush looked to her husband, who had not long arrived. ‘This is the work of unseen forces whose intent we cannot fully determine,’ he tried to explain to his stricken wife. ‘Nor can we tell how long they will prevail.’
“And it seems we cannot fight them.’
‘We may be halted in a worldly sense, but the power of Auramazdaha is not challenged,’ Pir Daidwar asserted. ‘We must unite ours with him and trust, because we know Ahriman’s defeat is not far away. These happenings confirm the Piree Magush’s belief that we will soon learn the time of the Saoshyant’s appearance.’ The young Piree’s efforts to encourage his listeners hardly seemed to soften the blows they were enduring.
But Vahoush wondered how she would help her mother through yet another ordeal. ‘We must uphold each other at this terrible time,’ she asserted, as she led the way to Sham’s quarters. Ahead she saw Prince Darius hurrying down the corridor.
When the little party reached Sham’s quarters the sound of sobbing could be heard from within. Freshta had her arm around Zrena, who held her grandmother’s hand. ‘Has mother really been taken away by the guards?’ Zrena cried on seeing Harpagos.
The vispavada glanced at Sham who rocked gently in her chair. ‘For a while, we do not know how long.’
Sham looked straight ahead. ‘First my husband, then my nephews and my son, Cyaxares is gone and now my daughter is too. Will Auramazdaha let everyone be taken from me?’ the old woman asked incredulously.
Harpagos searched desperately for words of comfort. ‘I advise you to gather your household and return to Ecbatana as soon as possible,’ he stated. ‘Vashti will need to know you are all close to her.’
Prince Darius, who had been pacing the floor, interrupted, his face white with rage. ‘I will stay here,’ he protested, ‘until I finish off that dog.’ Darius had rushed out to Vashti after his father’s judgment against her. His distress had been heightened by his horror as she spoke desperately to him in the corridor outside the banquet hall.
Drawing his sword he strode towards the door. But Harpagos brandished his quickly to prevent him. ‘If you are thinking of visiting the Shahan Shah consider again,’ he advised tersely. ‘It may mean your life.’
‘What does it matter if my mother’s is not avenged?’ he cried. ‘It was not enough that he humiliate her with his whores but then he expected her to dance like one in front of all those people. The man is mad… and dangerously evil. If he held so much as a candle to my mother the stink of his breath would extinguish it instantly. He deserves to be left in eternal darkness. Let us rid ourselves of him and replace him with my mother. Queen Vashti is the only one fit to rule.’
There followed a stunned silence. Darius had expressed what they had all often thought, but been too afraid to speak. Harpagos broke the silence. ‘Prince, as the heir to the throne you warrant my protection, only minimally less than your father does. The enemies of the empire might mount another attack. I advise you to remain within the palace grounds and I will double your guard. And as commander of the armed forces I order you to stay away from the Shahan Shah.’
To continue in the book of Queen Vashti