A/N: The quote is from The Merchant of Venice. Bassanio has just attained his heart's desire by marrying the beautiful Portia; but when his best friend's life is threatened, he swears he would give her up to save him.
Everything and Nothing
Antonio, I am married to a wife
Which is as dear to me as life itself;
But life itself, my wife, and all the world
Are not with me esteemed above thy life,
I would lose all, ay sacrifice them all
Here to this devil, to deliver you.
The Merchant of Venice
Act IV, Scene 1
Chapter One: The Brothers
The grief of King Sharaman over his brother's death was such that his cries shook the walls Alamut and his tears flowed like the Tigris in a storm. He tore his beard and his clothes, poured ash from the hearth upon his head and sat down upon the dais in the middle of the chamber to weep. Two days passed before he admitted anyone, while afraid and ashamed, his three sons listened to the piteous sounds of his heartbreak from outside the door.
But when morning on the third day had waxed and waned, at last Sharaman called for his sons. They came alone into the dark chamber, which the princess had set apart for the king and his household. They found him alone, for Sharaman had dismissed all the guards and courtiers. It was to be a quiet, family talk; but still he seemed separated from them by an unbreachable chasm of sorrow and confusion. For all their courage, neither Garsiv nor Dastan could not bring themselves to come forward and touch Sharaman. Only Tus, the eldest, whose sword had been the cause of his father's tears was compelled to speak. Gently, he dared to approach the king and address him.
Before he had emitted a sound, however, Sharaman spoke. "My sons, it is good to see you." He wiped at his tired eyes with one grizzled hand and looked up to reveal a face smeared with ash and grime. But there was strength behind his gaze, and when he rose to his feet he once again seemed a mighty king.
"You must forgive me for shutting myself away in this manner, but surely you must understand my confusion. When I left the Eastern Palace, I thought merely to come and celebrate my sons' great triumph." He punctuated the word 'celebrate' with irony, infusing it with a certain venom.
Tus looked down at his boots.
"But I have come to find even greater wonders. My brother is a traitor and lies dead at my son's hand. Even more cause to rejoice!"
At this, Tus could no longer keep silent. "It is a difficult matter, Father, and I too have grieved for my Uncle. I hope that you know that I only did what I thought best at the time."
"No arrest? No trial?"
"He would have killed Dastan. I acted on instinct."
"The spy confessed without torture or threat. Here is the record," said Sharaman, gruffly. Yet he appeared to have accepted Tus's remorseful explanation. He set a scroll in his eldest son's hand. "We found deadly poison in the traitor's tent. Hassansin in make. This confirms that Nizam had been plotting behind our backs." Sharaman stopped for a long while, placing his hand upon his face as if to stop fresh tears. But they did not come. "He was my brother, my father's son . . . Now his head is to be cut off and boiled in tar and speared on a pike above the great gate at Nasaf. The orders have already been issued. Nazim . . . Nazim . . . Who could have thought it would come to this?"
Again the king shook his head, but at last he descended from his lofty place above his sons to embrace Tus, then Garsiv, and last of all Dastan. They looked at him with eyes beseeching his forgiveness and approval. With a full heart he gave it.
"Dastan, how did you know?"
Dastan had prepared for this question since the incident. And as he faced his father's questioning, he wondered not for the first time whether he ought to have waited until Tus gave him the poisoned cloak. He was aware of the glaring inconsistency in his actions. He knew how flimsy his evidence appeared, and how his sudden knowledge of Nizam's betrayal might reflect poorly upon him. But it was too late to go back now. "I was first to enter the city, and I found no forges," he answered. "I did not even find the weapons used by the Alamutians to be similar to the ones Nizam said he intercepted. Had they been of the same quality, our blood would have run in gallons upon the city streets."
"Only because of this?" said Sharaman, knowingly. "No other word or act of his made you suspect?
"I thought to bring him to trial only," said Dastan, flustered. He tried not to look as if he was hiding anything. "But he attacked me."
"He would certainly have killed Dastan," Tus interjected. "Surely a guiltless man would have protested his innocence before he attacked his nephew."
"Surely a loving nephew would have assumed his uncle had made a mistake rather than betray his family."
"Father, there is no reason to single out my brother," said Tus. "I am the murderer. And as for suspecting Nizam, you know as well as I that Dastan has always seen into the hearts of men faster than any of us."
At this the king relented, and his sons saw he had not the heart to interrogate them any longer. "How oft have I spoken of the bond between brothers? At last, I see my prayers answered. O, my fine sons, the love between you is strong. But as for me and unfortunate Nizam . . . "
Here he could not go on. He stopped to find his voice again.
"We will speak of other matters now. Most pressing is the attack on Alamut. And yes, it was foolish, Tus, to commence without more definite proof of its treachery."
"But I see your regret, and that is chastisement enough. Besides, your deft handling of the matter from the end of the battle to my arrival has been worthy of praise. You have apologized in a manner that does not make Persia seem foolish, while promising a modicum of reparations. And somehow you have managed to negotiate a political alliance! The union of Alamut to Persia pours wealth into our treasury that our enemies could not cross in a thousand years. Excellently done, my son."
"Thank you, Father," said Tus. And he savored his father's rare words of commendation for a long time afterwards.
"And you, Dastan, do you take pleasure in doing your duty?"
Dastan smiled at his father, with his blue eyes sparkling. "I must confess that for me it is more pleasure than duty."
"She is beautiful, then?" asked Sharaman.
Dastan imagined her long dark hair spread out upon his pillow; he thought of the taste of her lips and the graceful arch of her neck. He was almost shy of making his answer. "Beyond words, Father."
"It is no less than you deserve, Dastan," he said. "Yes, forgive my harsh words just now. They were spoken out of grief. Truly I am proud of you. I hear they call you the Lion of Persia, and that thanks to your ingenious sneak attack the battle was nearly bloodless on both sides. Some might have thought I was mad to take in a youth from the streets and raise him as my son; but you have proven this week that honor and nobility is not limited to royal blood."
"Thank you, Father," said Dastan, with a grin he did not try to suppress. His father touched him upon the shoulder and patted his cheek affectionately. He had always been kinder to Dastan than to his sons by blood, not because he loved him more, but because he wanted others to see that he loved him as much.
At last, Sharaman turned to Garsiv. "My beloved son," said Sharaman. "You have had your share of the spoils as well, for it was your well-trained men who caught the spy and unveiled the truth. You have always been hot-headed, but in the end you have never failed to do what is right."
"Thank you, Father," said Garsiv. "I hope I never shall fail in the end."
"Tell me, son, Dastan stole the honor of first blood from you. Do you begrudge him for it?"
Garsiv risked a quick glance at Dastan, who shook his head, indicating he did not know what their father was planning. But they knew him well and sensed a trap.
"Yes, Father," said Garsiv, honestly. "I wanted the honor of attack. But that does not mean I hold any lasting ill will towards Dastan. . . . Nor do I covet anything he has or wish him to be anything save my little brother."
Sharaman nodded. Then he turned away abruptly. "Tus, you have seen this woman of Dastan's. I wonder her legendary beauty had anything to do with your decision to attack."
"Do you take me for a Greek? I would never attack a walled city simply for the right to look at a woman's face," said Tus, with a laugh. But he watched his father carefully. He looked helplessly at Dastan, who had also sensed what was coming next. Sharaman had always been a harsh judge of wives. "When at last I saw her, I cannot deny her beauty. But I have four wives and countless concubines besides. It is no more than I have already waiting for me in Nasaf."
"You still want her for yourself, Tus. I know you, my son. You are unaccustomed to going without what you want."
"Father, I wanted a political alliance between Alamut and our empire, something our allies could see as a legitimate reason for our presence here."
"They'll see that we marched into Alamut and seized its princess from sheer lust. That's what they'll see. There is no other reason to match a Prince of Persia to the defeated ruler of a conquered city. Alamut can do nothing but bend to our will. It is entirely subdued. The Princess's dowry would be a boon, as I stated before. But what need do we have of more gold? We have enough to feed and arm ten armies."
Dastan chimed in, "Alamut is deemed holy by all our allies. If it lies within our protection, then we gain a moral foothold at the negotiation table and on the battlefield. Who would attack the protectors of the gods? Not even Koshkan would resume its aggression toward us."
Garsiv spoke again: "Its abundant waters would give our armies sustenance and a chance to resupply in the middle of a barren desert. It would increase the reach of our armies one hundred fold."
"Armies and friendships and alliances are nothing when a man wants a woman," said Sharaman, and he was quiet for a long moment. "When a man is ensnared by a woman's beauty, there is no stopping him. He will rise to any feat, or stoop to any treachery . . . "
"I feel you doubt the wisdom of this alliance," said Tus. "And if it is on my account and Garsiv's, then I feel your doubt is misplaced."
"It is because I am older and have a better knowledge of women and the traps they lay for us that I have my doubts," said Sharaman, casting sharp looks at each of his sons. "I know of poets and bards who sing of love and passion, and their stories are all very pretty. I would not wish to deny a man such a feeling. And yet, this woman is powerful. In all my past dealings with Alamut, I have seen that she is not to be trifled with. She wields great authority in her own right and will not relinquish it. And I can tell that Dastan is already besotted."
"Father, I would not do anything to hurt my brothers," pleaded Dastan. "Whenever Tus needed me, I would be at his disposal. I cannot be controlled by man or woman. I will only follow my heart and do what is right."
"And I would never take what belongs to Dastan," said Garsiv, stepping forward with his chest puffed out. "The Princess Tamina seemed rather shrewish to me anyhow."
"And had I wanted her so badly, I would simply have taken her for myself," said Tus.
Sharaman pondered this for a moment. "Do you swear on your lives that this woman will never come between you?"
"I swear," cried Dastan. Tus and Garsiv followed suit.
"On your honor, and on all you hold sacred? For as I have always said, the bond between brothers is the sword that defends this kingdom."
"We swear," said Garsiv, pulling his knife from its sheath and making a clean cut across the palm of his right hand. "I swear."
"And I," said Dastan, who took the knife from him. Without wincing, he made the cut and pressed his palm against Garsiv's. His blue eyes bored into his father's, willing him to see the earnestness of his vow.
"And I too," said Tus, who repeated the gesture.
"The bond of marriage too is sacred," said Sharaman after a long pause during which he considered his sons. "What if your duty to Persia conflicts with the duty owed to your wife?"
"Just meet her, Father," said Dastan. "I beg you, to do that at the very least. You will see she is not scheming or cruel, but honest and virtuous."
"Then I will meet her," said Sharaman, at length. "But again I say, promises and vows mean nothing when a man is in love."