Chapter Eight: The Pain of Caring
Tus stepped out of Dastan's tent completely shaken and feeling as if he couldn't breathe. He did not know what to think anymore. He had spent his whole life working towards becoming a king that would make his father proud, yet never before imagined he would face such heartache and hardships. Tus looked up and saw his other brother frozen in place only a few meters from Dastan's tent with a set expression etched on his face that Tus rarely had seen. It wasn't until that moment, when Tus saw his hot headed brother so lost, that the Crown Prince knew they were in real trouble.
Tus followed Garsiv's gaze back to the tent, they had been worried over their little brother for two days now. Two wretched days of doing something they both hated: waiting. During that time however, they were anything but still, Tus and Garsiv worked to piece together what had transpired since Dastan stumbled into the tent out of breath and full of warning. A warning which fell upon deaf ears, because no one ever imagined that they would be the ones ambushed upon. What generals remained, worked through their ranks to seek the answers they needed. Every soldier who had witnessed Dastan's actions reported straight to the royal brothers, regardless of rank, and gave a direct account of what they had seen. And with each account, troubled Tus and Garsiv even more.
Tus let out a tired sigh as his fingers slowly went over the beads of his rosary, a habit he refused to break. He needed sleep himself. The last two days had really taken a toll on him, and no doubt the rest of their men, that is, what was left of them. He looked back to his brother standing there like stone and could only imagine he too was thinking about those reports.
The battle with the Hassansins had only lasted ten minutes. Within those ten minutes they had lost slightly more than a quarter of their men. Most of their deaths were by those damn snakes that could have only been controlled by some form of dark sorcery. Reports from survivors told of how Dastan seemed to know which Hassansin controlled those snakes and took him out with such ferocity never seen before. It was confusingly clear that Dastan's quick attacks meant that he had to have known the fighting styles of the Hassansins. He knew what to expect and hadn't been surprised by anything regardless of how strange a weapon or attack it was, though he never had fought with them before.
It shook Tus to the core hearing from soldier after soldier tell of how Dastan went straight for the kill, fighting for so many lives, acting without hesitation, and had such a wild and desperate look about him. Dastan had always been such a light hearted, carefree spirit, even in battle. And now seeing his blood brother so affected emotionally, he himself was afraid. Their younger brother should not have known these kinds of things. In the very least, Tus had made sure those wicked men were gone from the world. He had all of their possessions gathered up and locked in a chest, then had the bodies beheaded and then burned to become one with the sands. He would take no chances in easing his younger brother's nightmares.
Shaking the memories from his head, Tus approached Garsiv tentatively. "Hopefully Dastan's strength will return to him enough for the journey home." Tus spoke softly, however the middle prince had no intension of having a two sided conversation. "Perhaps," Tus continued, "back at Nasaf, Father will have better luck with Dastan. He was always more open to Father."
Garsiv's eyes moved away from the tent to the sand beneath his feet. Tus' statement clearly stirred an unwelcome emotion in the warrior.
"What is wrong?" Tus finally asked, but of course he did not get an answer back. It was then that Tus' tolerance of his brother's dark mood evaporated like rain in the Sahara. "Are you going to shut me out like Dastan? Refuse my help? I swear you too are so much alike it's a mystery why the both of you don't get along better." Tus turned to leave. He was too tired to deal with another stubborn, emotionally distant brother.
"He said again."
Tus stopped and turned around, "What?" He was surprised Garsiv had spoken at all.
"He said that he could not lose us again," Garsiv said still looking away.
"It must be the dreams that have been plaguing him these last few weeks," Tus tried to reason, remembering the night they came rushing into Dastan's quarters back in Nasaf.
Garsiv turned around to face his brother. "Dreams do not cause that much fear. He said that because he saved my life, that it cost the life of Bis, as if there was no other way around that. Look how long it took for Dastan to realize that Bis was actually alive, and he was standing right there! Are you telling me that amount of grief is from mere dreams?"
"I don't know Garsiv," Tus responded with a heavy sigh that held an amount of defeat. "Dastan refuses to speak to me. Father said that he believes that the gods must have given Dastan the knowledge about Nizam. Maybe they also made him a seer."
Both men had a hard time grasping such a concept, but nothing made sense anymore. Even going out to defeat an enemy hadn't been normal. They both did not want to admit it, but something far greater and more mysterious was at work and they did not know how to handle that.
"We didn't listen to him," Garsiv then admitted as if what Tus said was true. "He tried to warn us about what was about to happen. He somehow knew these Hassansins were different from any enemy we had ever faced before. Perhaps that is why he feels as if he cannot talk to us," he admitted to his own shame.
"Then perhaps, we too are to blame for his pain," Tus agreed, squeezing his burning eyes shut. "When he looks at us his eyes shine with fear and misery."
Garsiv now closed his eyes as well, "because we refused to believe him."
They were at their breaking point, but neither man would allow a tear to form. They loved their brother fiercely and it was bad enough to see him falling apart, but to think that they too were also the cause of that torture was too much to bear. Finally after a time, Tus slowed his breathing and regained his composure. Opening his eyes, he stood silent as his tired mind tried to process theories that he had little knowledge about. Then it came to him like a cool breeze. "Tell the men that we leave at first light to Alamut."
"Alamut! For what reason, Brother?" Garsiv called out with confusion as Tus made his way to his personal tent.
"It is a Holy City is it not, and if our brother had indeed become a seer, than what better place to help him?"
As shifting and perilous the sands of the desert can be, men from different nations will always seek to cross them. Caravans of tradesmen seeking new markets, merchants en route to acquire rare goods, soldiers heading out to new posts, or refugees seeking a new life... all and more can be found risking the heat and storms to cross those baron lands which can have only been smite by god himself.
Yet on a day like today, if a traveling merchant came across this particular caravan, he would know just by looking at them that the Persian army had suffered greatly from their latest battle. Less than 50 soldiers slowly trekked across the hot desert sands, the wounded road on horseback while the uninjured carried the supplies. The Crown Prince and his brother lead the broken army, ranks marbled down the caravan until the lowest soldier brought up the rear. And for that many men to be traveling for hours, very few found a reason to speak.
Near the back of the group, where the men were fanned out among the sand, one horse bore two riders. A large solider slowly guided the horse through the endless sea of sand, careful not to jar the other man seated behind him. However, as the hours passed the sun pressing down on them, the horse made a quick movement, and by the sharp intake of breath followed by a muffle curse behind him, the solider felt guilty to have cause the man more pain. He felt a weight pressing against his shoulder blades and unconsciously the solider steered the horse farther away from the others giving the man at his back more privacy.
Dastan's head fell onto the larger soldier's back, too tired to keep it held high. It was the last bit of pride he had left, after Tus and Garsiv had all but thrown him on the back of the horse with an unknown soldier. However, after hours in the hot sun, Dastan did not care anymore. The men around him were strangers to him and the young prince was glad of that. He could not take the concern glances from his men or from his brothers anymore. A new emotion started to overtake all other feelings within Dastan as they road on. He was becoming numb about everything. It was almost like he finally hit rock bottom. All the fear, despair and sadness of falling now gone as he just lay broken in his own dark pit, staring up at an unattainable blue sky of freedom. Oddly, he was at peace with knowing this was how life was going to be from now on, or in the very least accepting of it. He could live with the numbness as it would be so much easier to pretend like everything was okay without feeling suffocated by the despair.
However, as they reached Alamut, doubt started to fill the back of his mind again. And as they road past the gates, Dastan grasped onto the ledge of numbness, praying to whatever god that could hear him that the ground beneath him would not give way again.