17 Dystros

I slept most of a night and a day after our council. And Memnon is not well; I had been so intent upon myself, and distracted by my condition, I did not notice his short wind, the garish bandage that still clung to his ribs - he had taken a blow in the delicate part of his right side, hard by his kidney, which smashed one of the bones and affected his wind and movement; but not wanting me to know, had dressed himself with care and showed no stiffness when he walked with me. However, with the return of the sharpness of my mind after the restoration of sleep, and no short period of love with my woman, my next meeting with Memnon told a greater truth; he was wounded, and not as yet recovered. Two of us, nursing wounds, though probably not mortal; and we, holding the delta of the Caester against the force that should land but did not. My pain, however annoying for being placed at the joint of the neck and arm, was more an inconvenience and torment than a wound to be nursed, and I chafed against it. Worse a wound than that arrow which felled Achilles? I wondered. My wound is not of the heel, I had often wondered if it would, when it came, be instead the shoulder - I dreamt of taking a wound often; and here it lay, in the left shoulder. As though prophesied. Would I have died but for the act of the priestess in my tent? Would I have leaked out my life while I slept heavily after battle? These things I could not answer.

I sat in long council with these, as I mended, and as I prayed that Memnon would mend as completely as I always did, as I always seem to. But I am, as they repeatedly tell me, still a youth. With age, healing proceeds more slowly, and is often incomplete. Tonight, Schera came to me, in her usual fashion, freshly washed and wafting some lingering, intriguing scent from her ablutions or her worship, and as is our new fashion, she took some of her oily balm and applied it to the places on my neck and back wherein I had been bruised and injured, and soothed them. This were a greater pleasure in many ways than sexual, and more and more our hours together grew to be of this kind. Her ministry to my body came in a dozen ways I would not let the therapeutus do, an intimacy I would never allow to him out of personal disgust with being touched. She told me, in her slow and deliberate counsel, that a massaging of all of my spine muscles, and those of the limbs, would make me more peaceful and calm, and more effective in battle, ultimately stronger, and this I could believe. I found I grew quite languid from it, and adored it this sensation. It relieved me of my nervous pacing. Her touch upon me was as a sleeping draught, and I slept more beneath her watchful eye than ever I did with my hand upon the stone of the god. Rarely if ever, did I close my eyes before the blush of dawn, and was ever wakeful by the time the camp rose, and many nights waked completely and did not close my eyes, before Schera. Perhaps this was the type of attendant I had always needed, one I did not fear but who wisely watched over me while I slept, and cared for me when I woke in pain.

These skills, she tells me, are all of the education of the children of the temple of Marduk, and their ministry to the people of their cities, particularly the priestesses who remain chaste in their lives. All this I learned from questioning her idly as her fingers worked their spell upon the knots of tension in my neck, and avoided with great care the gradually closing, drying wound that lies dark brown and surrounded by bruises like a great stain on my flesh. I despise wounds; and I fear this one will not part from me; but it did not trouble her, nor did she look away from me, marred. I have a great vanity of my body, I realize, for I care more for how I might appear, marred, than she does of herself - she cares not for how she appears to me, and never do I see her preen or pose. Where did I learn this pride of body that is so lacking in humility, I wonder? How did this seep into me, while I slept in Pella, while I lay a prisoner in the bed of the queen? Yes, this. I was propped on my good side, and while Schera pressed against the mass of my body she grew sweaty with exertion and removed her burnous, keeping upon her a thin piece of linen that lay as the thinnest possible covering, and revealed more of her than it concealed. Through this, I beheld her breast a hand's span from my face, and raised my hand in curiosity to touch it; whereupon she ceased in her labor and looked down upon me.

"You have never done that before," she commented.

"No," I replied, but did not remove my hand, but grasped the breast as though some new thing I had discovered and did not yet understand. A breath escaped her, and her hands sought suddenly to embrace me, and I took the other as well. Her response was remarkable. "Do you want this?" I spake, closing my eyes, but she did not need reply, for my fingers told me what she replied. My touch provoked the flesh beneath the linen immediately, and strove against my touch. Had I opened my eyes once again I would have seen an expression akin to pain upon her face, for it crept into her voice then.

"Must you always speak?" she cried, plaintively. "Cannot passion be silent? It is not in me to speak of desire, Basileus - yes, I want this!" I opened my eyes then, to regard her.

"What is it? What is wrong?"

A look was upon her face, something I did not understand, and a flush of scarlet; as of passion or shame. "Is this what you want me to say, take my breast in your mouth? Then I will say it - words empassion you more than anything!" her cry was almost of anger, and she busied herself, dropping her gaze, while she struggled out of her shift, exposing her naked breast to me.

"Yes, they do," I answered, "for speaking somehow makes it so…" and once again my hands sought that which I had not touched except incidentally in passing, the bare nipple between my fingers, the delicate petal that rose hard against the white pallor of her skin; I drew her close to me and put my mouth upon it, "this is what you desire?" my lips whispered against it, speaking to it, and touching my tongue to it… this new thing, had I ever done this?

"Yes" the word was strangled from her and all forgotten was her care of my condition, for she writhed then. All Apollion said were true of women, and their requirement for suckling - it is built into them; and perhaps built into us, that we must drink of them, or try, as in infancy. It is a passion of its own, and enflamed me with a fresh lust I must once have had and had forced myself to forget, these many years. And so I drank of her virgin breast, and then slaked with my tongue her woman's sex, until I was complete in her satisfaction, and had none of my own, but remained unspent. When she came to herself, she roused and sat up.

"What of you?" she spake. "Do you not…"

"I am enjoying your pleasure," I spake, though she could see I remained aroused. "Let me enjoy it."

She lay back against my whole arm. "This is strange, that I come to you to please you and you take not from me but please me instead."

"Not true, all of my pains are lifted from your hands, and I please you in thanks."

"I am thanked," she sighed. In that very moment, Memnon came into the tent to raise me, and spied the naked priestess in my arms.

"A wholesome occupation," he spake dryly. "How refreshing to see what I had ever despaired of seeing, a girl in your bed."

I sat up and covered my arousal. "I hope this is important, Memnon, you just ruined my night and my privacy."

He waved at me with his hand, dismissive. "This one is wise," he replied, his eyes flickering across Scheravasana's form and face, "she knows when duty is upon you, and is a good choice. Do you not?"

"Yes I do," she spake boldly to him. "The Persians come." I turned to her on the bed.

"What did you say?"

"They come."

"Basileus, she is an oracle, of course she knows this. Up with you, it is time to be king."

My convalescence ended this suddenly, and my passion for Schera was bled away in the passion of pursuit for the enemy who now shows his face. For the first time ever, we were been attacked by stealth, and my perimeter breached. Even then, as Memnon threw my arms upon me I could hear the clash of engagement. We fought them in the dead of night, this time, upon the verges of my own camp, and though my left arm were near to useless, I had another arm with which to fight, and was glad of darkness, lest the enemy see I could kill with either and strike just as true. This secret I preferred to keep from all except those to whom I dealt a death blow, but I need not keep that secret under cover of darkness.