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The Palmyrene Prince

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Ok folks. Another short story, since I’m writing them at a rate of knots at the mo. Something with a more eastern feel this time.

The Palmyrene Prince

Vaballathus, son of Odaenathus and Zenobia, crown prince of the Empire of Palymra, sat impatiently on the small, highly-decorated silk stool. His four guards stood by the outer door to the chamber, armoured but denied the right to wear their weapons within the palace. It galled him, as a member of one of the most noble royal houses in the world and heir to the throne of an ancient land, to be kept waiting in the entrance chamber by a fellow independent ruler.

He sighed and rubbed his knees. The ride from Palmyra, better part of four hundred miles to the west, had been a swift, desperate and uncomfortable one, with fewer in the entourage than he would have liked, but time was of the essence and the Palmyrene army had few enough men to spare at this point.

Standing, he strode along the walls of the great guest chamber, decorated with silk and gold, murals depicting Kings of Persia from the days of antiquity; faces long forgotten stared back at him from under glittering crowns and ruffled their huge beards grandiosely.

He ground his teeth.

“Erabas? What did the lackey say when you spoke to him?”

“Sire, he said he would consult with his master and find us upon his return.”

“Who does he think I am?” snarled the young prince, kicking the elaborate stool’s leg and chipping the beautiful carving.

Erabas swallowed nervously and steeled himself.

“Respectfully, your magnificence, your mother, may she bathe in the light and magnificence of a thousand suns, did make it clear that we were to be as polite as possible. Much rides on our success.”

Vaballathus’ head snapped round angrily. No one spoke like that to the son of the great Zenobia; yet the man was right. For all his insolence, they must maintain perspective on why they were here. Palmyra was not the power it had been when they freed themselves from Rome over a decade ago. Back then, the foolish Romans had neither the wit nor the power to prevent their cessation; now, with that strict and clever bastard Aurelian in the purple, they had all but brought Palmyra to its knees again. Hammered by the legions at Immae and Emesa, the shattered remains of the Palmyrene army had drawn itself protectively around the capital, preparing to fight to the last, for that was all that was left to them.

Unless Vaballathus could persuade the Persian King to send them more men; to support their ongoing resistance to Rome.

He ground his teeth again and snarled at the guard.

“Be grateful that we are here and not at home in a time to peace. The next time you presume to dictate to me I will have you flayed and then boiled.”

“Yes, your magnificence. A thousand apologies.”

It was an empty threat, of course. There was a very real possibility that when they returned to Palmyra they would find Aurelian sitting on the throne in his mother’s palace, heating up the oil for Vaballathus and his family.

He wandered impatiently around the walls. Prizes from a hundred campaigns filled this great chamber, placed here deliberately in the waiting room to impress and intimidate visitors. Roman standards were bolted to the wall in their dozens. No eagles, but many others, including a prized image of a long-gone emperor. There were jewelled weapons and silks and more from the peoples of the Indus to the east and a few furs, all that was worth taking from the nomad riders in the north. But Roman prizes were many.

His eyes settled once again on the most impressive and by far most grizzly of all prizes and he wandered over to examine it.

The body stood as though to attention on a wooden plinth, a post rising up from the base and entering the backside, rising to the head and forming a replacement for the man’s spine. Lifeless empty hollows stared out from beneath once-noble brows. Either the man had had bulky jowls, or the head had settled a little over time.

Valerian, once Emperor of Rome, had little to say these days. Having been taken in battle by the Persian King Sapor, he had served as Sapor’s footstool and mounting block for the next fifteen years until finally old age had rendered him incapable of performing menial tasks. When his bones grew too old, his muscles seized and his joints froze, Sapor had had him cut into pieces, emptied, preserved in the manner of the ancient Aegyptian Kings, and then stuffed and mounted as a palace decoration.

The Emperor Publius Licinius Valerianus Augustus stared desperately at him with empty eyes, his jaw sagging. The decoration clearly needed re-stuffing before it sagged too much.

Vaballathus stepped back, his eyes taking in not only the ghastly emperor, but the many Roman standards, officer’s helms, flags and cuirasses. He smiled for the first time since their arrival three tedious hours ago. Sapor would have helped Palymra fight the Romans off. He would have made Aurelian eat his own lips. Sapor was a King to be reckoned with.

But Sapor had died almost two years ago, his renowned son following soon after. This new Persian King was an unknown quantity.

Oh, Bahram had sent troops initially to help his mother hold the Romans off, but they had been too few; too small a gesture, and the Persian contingent had been slain at Emesa with the rest of the Queen’s army. But he could yet do so much more. It was said that Bahram modelled himself on the great Sapor; that he wanted to be Persia’s next great ruler. Clearly there was only one solution: Bahram would have to send an army to save Palmyra. The Queen would repay him with riches beyond belief, and the Persians would acquire wealth and glory both. Aurelian’s body would soon stand next to Valerian’s… unless Bahram was kind and let them keep it in Palmyra as a prize.

That’s what he would do when…

He was interrupted as the main door opened.

Four servants scurried in, one of the numerous palace officials hurrying along behind them and pausing to close the door. The servants bowed deeply to the guest before rushing across to the wall. The minor functionary in his silks and robe of office, his beard combed and intricately plaited, inclined his head respectfully and smiled.

“Forgive our interruption, eminence.”

Vaballathus frowned.

“You have not come for us?”

“I regret no, sire.”

The Palmyrene prince watched in confusion as the four servants grasped the sagging body of the Roman emperor, his frozen rictus vaguely comical, and hurried across the floor with it. The official bowed once more and then the five opened a previously unnoticed door at the far end of the room and passed through it carrying their strange, macabre load. Vaballathus stared at the door as it closed.

“What in the name of Baal?”

Almost as the second door closed with a quiet click, hiding the strange procession, the first door opened once again and the vizier who had first greeted them hours ago entered with a deep bow.

“Good morning once again, Prince Vaballathus. I must apologise for the delay. I have been consulting with my master.”

The prince turned and strode toward him angrily.

“And will his majesty be joining us now?” He tried to keep the irritation from his voice. Everything depended upon their success, which would require patience and a show of respect.

The vizier stepped back, giving a strange, oily smile.

“I am afraid not. His majesty is tied up with affairs of state. In the meantime, though, his majesty would very much like me to introduce you to our other visitor.”

The four guards reached for their sword hilts, remembering too late that the scabbards were empty. Vaballathus’ eyes widened as a full century of Roman legionaries stomped into the room, their hob-nailed boots clattering as they chipped the delicate marble flooring. The horn-players and standard bearers stepped to one side as their fellow soldiers surrounded the four Palmyrene guards. The centurion followed his men in and stood beside them as they came to attention in ordered rows in the hall.

A man appeared behind them in the doorway; a tall man with aquiline features and severe, iron grey hair. He wore the decorative breastplate and Hercules knot of a senior officer in the Roman army, his crimson cloak settling as he came to a halt.

“Gaius Attius Severinus at your service, Prince Vaballathus.  I must say, the Imperator Aurelian is very much looking forward to meeting you.”

He smiled.

“You are looking well, highness. Let’s see if we can change that.”

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Written by SJAT

October 18, 2011 at 11:23 am

8 Responses

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  1. I think you are creating a book of short stories…….SJAT’S LIFE LESSONS?

    Like

    Terri T.

    October 18, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    • The former is likely, though it’ll be a freebie. I’m quite enjoying writing them. Many more to come yet, though.

      Like

      SJAT

      October 20, 2011 at 4:21 pm

  2. Terri said it first!

    Like

    Captain Poolie

    October 18, 2011 at 4:33 pm

  3. Nice. I was following the historical fate of Queen Zenobia, so this tickled me.

    I have another story for you to put into prose – and it will be a difficult subject to tackle, but I am sure you are up to it. I will let you know the subject in October 2012.

    Cheers,
    Ralph Ellis

    Like

    Ralph Ellis

    April 14, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    • You have me intrigued, Mr Ellis…

      Like

      SJAT

      April 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm

      • They were very famous people, who founded Palmyra in the 1st century. On the historical level it seems likely that they were the descendents of Queen The Muse Ourania, who was thrown out of Parthia in AD 4 (for poisoning her husband, Phraates IV and marrying her son, Phraataces). A real web of royal intrigue there….

        That is almost worth a short story in the first place – but I will let you know the full details in October, after publication.

        Cheers,
        Ralph

        Like

        ralf.ellis@me.com

        April 17, 2012 at 5:31 pm

      • Jesus was a king of Edessa. (A rich reign for story-telling, surely).

        As the title suggests, this new book claims that the biblical Jesus was a son of King Abgarus of Edessa. This is not a claim made lightly, and there is ample evidence to back up this claim. Indeed, nobody has yet undermined the thesis.

        The research began with the discovery that the biblical (King) Jesus was probably King Izas of Adiabene, the son of the famous Queen Helena. But who was Helena, and where was Adiabene?

        It was then noticed that the Syriac historians recorded that Queen Helena was the wife of King Abgarus of Edessa.

        Therefore King Izas (ie: King Jesus) was a son of King Abgarus of Edessa.

        This turned out to be a rich vein of research, and the case has been all but proven – Jesus was indeed King Manu VI of Edessa.

        Some of the many strands of evidence for this identification include:
        The Edessan monarchy wore a ceremonial Crown of Thorns
        The son of Abgarus was called King Manu, while Jesus was called King Em-Manuel.

        (the late chronology is easily explainable).

        Sincerely,
        Ralph Ellis

        Article available, if you can send an email address.

        Like

        Ralph Ellis

        November 27, 2012 at 2:32 pm


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