this is a disclaimer.
AN: No real spoilers except for Dastan's origins.
to fuel your fame
Dastan is not afraid. He doesn't know how to be any such thing. He's never been afraid a day in the slums, he wasn't afraid when he was saving Bis, he wasn't afraid when the soldiers caught him and dragged him into the square to be beheaded, and he won't be afraid now, perched on a horse in front of the King's own brother, cantering through the gates of the Palace.
He sets his jaw and squares his shoulders, rebellious, determined. The King is watching him, he can see, with a strange little smile on his face, and for a moment a cold shiver walks down Dastan's spine. He's no fool and no naive child: he knows what happens to boys a noble takes a liking to. Just the other week Ahmed disappeared after selling a bit of cheap cloth to a Sheikh come to visit the city.
But Dastan is not afraid.
"What," Garsiv demands, "would our father want with a guttersnipe like you?"
Dastan shrugs. "You'd have to ask him," he says. "I just do what I'm told."
He's fairly sure the other, older Prince can tell he's lying about that last part. He puts on his most innocent face and smiles his most harmless smile, trusting in unusually blue eyes and a guileless look, and finally Tus stoops to grinning at him, just a little.
By the time Dastan has been at the Palace six months, the opulence of his quarters has begun to fade a little, one might say. A hanging taken down. Several objects missing. The boy seems to lose lesson books at almost the same alarming rate as he does his shoes.
Still, the King hasn't once come to visit in all that time, preferring to summon Dastan to his own chambers or the gardens if he wants to talk to him, so it hardly matters.
And of course that has to change just as he's wrapping a rather spectacular plate in one of his new tunics, ready to be... moved elsewhere.
"Prince Dastan," the King says, and he jumps, spinning round, heart thumping in his chest.
"My L – Father," he says, stumbling over the unfamiliar word.
"What are you doing with that?"
"Answer me, boy!"
Dastan straightens, eyes narrowing. "Nizam said it was mine. He said everything in these chambers belonged to me, so it's not stealing."
"Stealing?" the King repeats. "Why – Dastan, answer the question. What are you doing with that?"
Dastan sighs. "I was going to give it to Bis," he explains.
The King's eyebrows climb. "To Bis – ah, the other boy in the marketplace. But why?"
"Oh, I don't know," Dastan snaps. "The fact that selling it could feed him and his family for two weeks might have something to do with it!"
The King sits down sharply. "Feed him for – Dastan, that plate could probably feed your friend and his family for a month or more."
"A month?" Dastan repeats, looking sceptical. "Are you sure? He's got three sisters."
The King throws his head back and bursts out laughing. Dastan isn't sure why, but it suggests he's not about to be punished, so he doesn't say anything, although he does start to feel like an idiot eventually, standing there with his loot in one hand and his old clothes on the bed behind him, ready to disguise him.
"Ah, Dastan. Have you been giving all of your things to Bis?"
Dastan swallows and shrugs. A month! Someone somewhere has been cheating them out of their profits, apparently.
"Certain... trappings... are expected of a Prince of Persia, Dastan," the King says gently.
"You'll tire of me eventually," Dastan says, never one to beat about the bush. "I just thought – I wanted Bis and the others to have as much as they could, while I could still help them."
The King is on his feet and across the room faster than Dastan would have thought he could move.
"Dastan, I'll not tire of you, boy," he says, gripping Dastan's shoulders firmly. "According to all the laws of this Empire, you are my son."
Dastan squirms. "You don't have to lie to me," he says. "Boys go missing from the slums all the time. I'm very grateful to you, sire, for taking me in – for giving me all this. I just wanted to help some of my friends..."
"Sire again, ey," the King says gently. "Perhaps... perhaps, Dastan, we could go down to the slums today and take food for your friends? Perhaps that would be better than selling crockery. Perhaps we could even make it a regular occurence."
Dastan's face lights up. "You would do that?" he says eagerly. "You really would? There could be a place where the others could all go – the children, you know – somewhere they'd always get food..."
There is such a hope shining in his eyes that the King smiles again.
"Is zakat not one of the pillars of Islam?"
There's something hot and heavy sitting in Dastan's stomach, and his eyes are burning: imagine, a regular occurrence, no more hunger, not if he can help it, and of course he can help it, by staying here, by making things like this happen. Already his thoughts are jumping ahead to kitchens and almshouses – safe places for his friends to go, to find refuge. Boys like Ahmed would never disappear again, Bis and Aisha and Feisal and Tirdad and Zoya and countless others would be safe, too... they wouldn't have to worry about the slavers or the brothel owners or Zoya's father who's too quick with his fists and too eager to drink to remember about food...
He lets the plate fall with a clatter and swipes at his eyes with the back of his hand.
"You'd do that?" he asks again, sounding lost even to his own ears.
The King grips him tight and pulls him in for a long embrace. "Of course," he says. "Of course, my son. As much as I can."
Dastan tucks his head under the King's – under his father's – chin and holds on tight, fighting back tears.
"And for once you'll leave the Palace by the front gate," his father adds wryly.
"I didn't think anyone had seen me."
"Not until last night. Nizam saw you climbing a wall."
"One other thing, Dastan."
The King draws back a ways and cups his face in his hands, very serious. "From now on, boy, remember that I do not lie. If I tell you a thing is so, then it is so. Understand?"
Dastan nods. "I'm sorry."
"It is no matter," the King says quietly. "You have seen much you should not have, at your age. I had underestimated your experiences, Dastan. I will not do so again. I give you my word."
Dastan looks into those dark eyes for half an eternity, searching for deceit and finding none, and for the first time since coming to the Palace, he starts to let himself believe, just a little.
The part of statesmanship that Dastan turns out to have the best knack for is the law: he has very firm ideas of right and wrong, of fair and unfair, that somehow make him both the most suited of Shahraman's sons to study the law and the least. It becomes a hobby for him, in between learning of politics and economies and religion and the stories of the Westerners and their strange customs and as much history as he can and the language of the Greeks and the Arabs and even the Western Latin, a tongue as ugly and graceless as its script.
Father is pleased with his progress in studying the law, even if Garsiv mocks it for the work of weaklings and deceivers. And Uncle Nizam never misses an opportunity to debate with him – even though Dastan wins half the time.
It's strange and new, being so good at things, and being praised for them. In the slums, if you're not a good runner jumper liar seller sweet-talker thief, you starve. Being less than good is not an option if you want to survive.
And so Dastan discovers that there are people in the world who can afford to fail, and that they think it's a very great and unusual thing to be smart and devious and determined to win, instead of simple necessity.
"Ah, it's a sad truth that great men too often sire inadequate sons," the Sheikh says, his speech beginning to slur a little with the wine he had consumed. "I wonder if that's why Shahraman adopted that thieving guttersnipe of his!"
Dastan, hidden away in the alcove to watch the feasting, isn't sure who he's angrier for: his brothers or himself.
His brothers are the ones who teach him to ride, to handle sword and knife and bow and spear, but somehow Dastan's aptitude for acrobatics just won't be taught, no matter how much he tries to repay them for their help. Garsiv gives up, hiding his damaged pride behind his anger, the third time he falls off the roof of the stables into a haystack, and Tus declares that kind of jumping around doesn't befit a future King anyway.
For months after that, Dastan and Garsiv quote that at him whenever he gives up on a task, or delegates one, or even just finds his meal overcooked, until eventually Tus has to wrestle them both, declaring his intention to extract a promise from them both never to bring those words up again if they lose.
Tus does actually win, but of course they break their word eventually. Some things are just too funny to give up.
When Tus marries for the first time, the celebrations last a month. Dastan has been at court for nearly eight years, yet the ceremonies and the heavy robes still leave him feeling uncomfortable beyond words: they chafe and itch, and he goes through the rituals feeling out of place and strangely alone.
Garsiv endures the whole thing with perfect grace, of course; he was born to it.
On the fourth night after the wedding, Dastan slips out of the Palace and heads back to the streets, discarding his fine clothing until he's in his pants and undertunic, a rich commoner's son looking for some evening entertainment.
He finds it.
There's a wrestling match and a lot of Shirazi wine; he meets up with Bis and they gamble half the night away, amassing scandalous amounts of coin and having to fight their way out of the coffeehouse with their loot.
The next morning Dastan asks him to come to the Palace with him, and join his guard. Bis agrees without a second thought, and a month later, when Tus leaves for the campaigns in the West, Dastan and Bis go with him.
There was a girl, during those campaigns, the daughter of some lowly Sheikh, smart and charming but no match for a Prince of Persia.
Tus puts an end to it, citing their father's position and the necessity of making worthy matches with an eye to alliances and the future security of the Empire. Bis is furious, but Tus silences him with a look.
"Dastan," he says.
Dastan looks up at him, torn and hurting, and for once his words fail him.
No more is ever said of the matter.
By the time Dastan has reached his twenties and become a man, he is prideful, still sharp-tongued, intelligent, educated to the highest standard of the Persian court, fluent in four languages, but still uncomfortable with too much ceremony and lavish displays of wealth. It pricks his conscience, he tells Bis, who rolls his eyes at his friend and Prince.
"You should enjoy what you have without regret or reservation," he tells him. "You got lucky, my Prince, and you deserve it. You're wasting all your good fortune by feeling guilty."
But Dastan notices this attitude doesn't extend to suggesting he leave whatever tavern or wrestling match they have found to entertain themselves at the time in order to attend to bigger, better things.
While his brothers often get impatient with the way Dastan spends more time with his men than the officers of the Persian Army, the King never reprimands him for it.
"It is one thing to be made a part of a second family," he says. "It is another to forget who you are."
Still, as time drags on, Shahraman wonders sometimes about the wisdom of his decision to take Dastan in.
As the kitchens and the almshouses in the slums take up less and the Armies more of Dastan's time, as the fire in him dims a little more with every formal Court he attends, as the heavy robes sit ever more easily on his restless, eager shoulders, as the first ambassadors begin to subtly suggest a marriage between the King's youngest son and their respective Princess and Dastan finds it easier and easier not to gag at the idea of tying himself to a girl he neither knows nor cares for for purely political reasons...
And then word comes that his sons have taken Alamut.