(By Juan Cole)
The Fall of the New Year Throne
(To read this sword and sorcery novel as it has unfolded before this installment, click here)
Piltanu deflected Vivana’s dangerous question. “I am not a priest or a judge, to decide such matters. Those who come to my house of strength simply desire to learn chivalry, and that is what I teach. Chivalry is one thing, theology another.”
Vivana looked with disappointment at his teacher, then fixed Kaveh with a menacing stare. The other boys, seeing that no open conflict would break out that day, began to file out into the alley so they could reach home before the dread night fell.
Vivana was waiting for him outside. “I’m going to report you to the bazaar guards, Kaveh. Don’t get too comfortable in that hovel of yours.”
Kaveh had beaten his rival before, but this time just stared at him. “Persians tell the truth, Vivana. They don’t serve the lie. You can’t be one of us. Your mother must have enjoyed a Mannean manservant on the side.”
Vivana knew better than to reply physically. “You might as well just climb atop a tower of silence and give your flesh to the vultures right now, blacksmith. You are a dead man.”
Kaveh wended his way home through the dusty shortcuts he had begun to know well. The sight of the humble little hut always depressed him when he thought of their old home near the royal crafthalls. It was almost night when he arrived, and his mother chided him for tempting the demons that way. Cyrus, Nefayan, Jamaspa and the other men of the clan were sitting in the courtyard sipping mugs of beer, their faces grim. The city rang with drums, flutes, tambourines, and trumpets as the populace marked the disappearance of the sun, their shield against the devils of gloom. Kaveh thought achingly of Roxanna. The experience of sharing the kidenn stone had strengthened the bod between them the way burning coals strengthened iron. He wondered if Vivana had been telling the truth. If she was in the wilderness, she had no such shield in the night.
Kaveh hated living in one room with his entire family behind the bazaar, and missed crafting fine swords and daggers for the royals and their guards. The new, cramped workshop occasionally produced weapons for tribesmen, but on nothing like the previous scale, and he now spent much of his time hammering out humble tools for workers and peasants, and simple anklets and bracelets for town women. His aspiration to create a completely perfect, major piece of work seemed farther away than ever.
His father was still master of the iron smiths, but most of the men said that they could no longer afford dues after they paid their taxes, and the post brought in little more than promissory notes and nasty looks as income. Some artisans half-blamed Cyrus and Kaveh for the executions of the striking guildmasters, and Kaveh found himself having to defend his family honor with his fists. But he often did so guiltily, since he could not erase from his own mind the image of the dead women and children he had seen lying awkwardly in the main square after the shah’s troops charged them. The apprentice felt weak from eating only one meal a day, all they could now afford, and some days he had little interest even in his one bowl of porridge. He wondered if the court would come after him after Vivana had reported him. And what if they came after his whole family? He did not sleep that night, his eyelids refusing to close.
The next day he and Jamaspa headed out to the bazaar to man their ironworks stall. They reached the main square in time to hear town criers delivering the latest decree.
“The shah has been generous with the loot of the caravan, liberated by Prince Spityura. But in the aftermath, prices in the market went up, and the court had no share in that prosperity. A tax will be levied of one half on all bazaar goods sold, to support the new cult of Yima!”
The other criers circulated into side streets and living quarters. “A tax of one half!” they proclaimed.
In the main square, the artisans reacted angrily.
“I could barely feed my family as it is. Now I have to give up half of it?” a tinsmith pushed the crier.
A crowd began assembling, chanting back against the message of the criers.
One of the smiths saw Kaveh and Jamaspa and came over to them. “Can you believe this cow manure? We were wrong to agree to end the last strike. Now the shah thinks we are weak and he can do to us what he pleases.”
Jamaspa grinned. “Next they’ll be saying they’ll keep the bulls and we can have the bullshit to eat.”
Kaveh was angry. He knew that his own household could not afford to give up half their modest earnings without going to bed even hungrier. He thought about how thin his little sister Parmys was getting.
The bazaar guards rode through the crowd, whipping the artisans and ordering them to disperse.
The one named Chishpish saw him. He rode over.
“Is it true, producer? A heretic?” Chishpish’s gravelly voice was full of disgust.
Kaveh kept his eyes on the baked bricks of the square.
“Got nothing to say for yourself? Let’s try this. I greet you in the name of Yima, lord of the underworld. What say you?”
Kaveh’s gorge rose. “I affirm that Ahura Mazda is the wise creator.”
“Well I’d say that’s clear defiance of the shah.”
The other smiths had heard. A tinsmith’s face reddened. “The shah is starving us! I wouldn’t worship him if he was the last being on earth. Good on you, boy!”
“The shah is a lie to the lord of contracts!”
As had happened before, the angry artisans crowded around Kaveh, and some began murmuring, “Demonslayer!”
Then a leather worker shouted “Jamshid is the demon that needs slaying!”
Chishpish leaned over on his horse and gave Kaveh a slap. “This is rebellion. blacksmith, I’d advise you to support the king.” He raised his baritone voice above the chanting of the artisans. “Is the shah god? Will you pay the tax?”
Kaveh kept his eyes down and refused to answer.
“I bind you to answer me or it is death!” Chishpish raged, his short sword out of its scabbard.
Comments and suggestions on the installments are welcome, but they should please be constructive. Commenters relinquish the rights to any ideas they express in the comments section, which become the property of Juan Cole. Presumably they want them incorporated into the final work, and they might be. The novel is copyright by Juan Cole, 2014, and may not be mirrored or reproduced without express permission from the author.