the private papers of the Khan:
understand, Andronicus, I never saw my mother before that day; and even
then, I did not truly see her so as to recognize her. I was yet a child.
I had never before seen Maduc, my capital, named for my grandfather the
Khan, I had never yet set foot inside the door of my own house, and I
had no idea what to expect. All my concern was for my brother, though
he was only slightly younger, seemed like a baby to me, and I needed to
protect him. He wept when the Khan took him from Isolt, whom he clung
to like a nurse. The journey, and its sudden disruption, alarmed him,
and even I could not console him. I would often sing to him to settle
him when he wept, but even singing did not soothe him in Maduc. He had
a poppit, that is a sort of a doll, though it had no discernible head
or arms, it was a shapeless thing with a mop of hair sewn onto the top,
and dressed in a covering of blue brocade, that he kept gripped in his
hand, and in moments of anxiety he would bring it to his face and press
it against his eyes as though to hide behind it. This was the troubled
state of mind of my brother when we were brought to the house of the Khan
I thought it the greatest adventure of our lives. The house was magnificent.
An enclosure outside the walls opened onto a vista overlooking the Euxine
sea, and even though we had crossed the narrow defile of the Hellespont
earlier in the week, I never saw the open water as I did that first day.
The smell of fish and salt, stronger, more pungent than the river of my
childhood, delighted me. Everything delighted me, and I believed I could
see the forms ships moving against the hazy horizon to the north and west.
The building was made with both stone and aromatic wood, and lined with
wood within. The smell of the cedar that filled the air inside the house
was a pleasure I had never known. And the more joyful I became at these
new sensations, the more frightened my brother seemed. He stood in the
hall, and as I called to him to come in to the marvelous house of the
Khan he drew back, raised his doll to his eyes, and refused to look. Instead
he turned from me, and burst into fresh weeping. The Khan put his hands
on his shoulders and tried to console him, but Heli pulled away from him,
and went on sobbing. I could not tell what had disturbed him so, but he
stayed that way through the day until he exhausted himself with weeping.
At length, he slept.
until Heli was better from his fit, before we went for an audience with
our mother, the princess Sahera, that evening.
Even though lamps
had been lighted in both ends of the room, the dark panels on the walls
seemed to absorb all of the light, as evening poured darkness into the
corners of the strange, quiet house. it to Saheris seemed the place had
been stricken with silence, and until his eyes grew accustomed to the
shadows of the interior of his mothers sitting room, he did not
see anyone there; just the indistiguishable patterns of Scythian brocade
over a couch that stood tidily empty, a low chair, likewise empty, and
a lampstand, which held an old lamp whose wick guttered from time to time
from the impurities of the tallow. A long, dark tapestry hung from the
far end of the room, and to Saheris, it seemed to move and shimmer as
though disturbed by a breeze. He felt profoundly uncomfortable, and felt
the urge to call out. Saher saved him the trouble.
said in a low tone, directed to the interior of the room. "I have come
with the children. Please come out to greet them."
A voice spoke
from somewhere within the room, perhaps behind the tapestry. "I see them.
Bring them closer."
"Heri, sit down
there," Saher pointed to the low chair. "Heli, sit next to your brother,
thats the boy. They are seated out here in the sitting room. Be
polite to your children and show yourself."
Once again the
voice spoke, and Saheris detected that it was indeed coming from behind
the drape. "I cannot show myself to these children, it is not right."
Saher sighed audibly.
"Saheris, would you like to see your mother?"
"Yes, I would,
Khan," Saheris replied politely.
would you like to see your mother?"
"I - I dont
"Say yes, you
ass," Saheris said, squeezing his brothers arm.
"Yes, I would
like to see my mother, Khan," Sahelis said, pulling his arm violently
from his brothers grip.
"Your sons would
like to see you and to greet you. They have brought gifts for you, my
The dark tapestry
moved. From behind it, a slight figure, draped in heavy black clothing
from head to toe, emerged. The boys eyes fixed upon it as it approached.
Her face was entirely obscured by a veil that extended almost to her chin,
so they could not see her features. She advanced into the room slowly,
hesitantly, and stopped several yards from the now seated children. Saheris
yearned to leap up and run to her, to push aside the black damask and
reveal the mysterious mother beneath.
"And what is this?"
said the Khan angrily.
The voice, still
speaking in a slow and measured way, replied, "Since these children may
not know me as their mother, it is wrong to show my face to them. If they
do not see my face, they will not learn to love me or to miss me when
you take them from me again. It is painful enough that I may look on them
this once, knowing I will not see them again. But to inflict that same
misfortune on such small children is cruel."
"This is nonsense!"
the Khan retorted, and advanced upon the draped figure, which shrunk back
said. "I have endured much at your hands, and I am sure you dont
wish them to know the pain you have put me to..." Saher hesitated. The
boys watched in fascination at the tableau between the Khan and their
mother, who, though she stood before them, was a mere figure and a voice.
Suddenly, Saheris had an idea, and whispered, unnoticed, in his brothers
A loud wailing
then filled the tense room as, on request, Sahelis produced an instant
storm of tears. He brought his doll up to his eyes and twisted his face
into a mask of exquisite anguish. Saheris looked coolly toward the black
figure. "He is crying because we have come all the way from Illyricum
to see our mother for the first time, and she will not allow us to see
"I cannot do that,"
she replied evenly, strain growing evident in her voice, yet barely heard
over the screams of the now nearly-apoplectic Sahelis, who had by this
time slipped to the floor and was banging his fists miserably against
"I cannot stay,
this is not right." The voice suddenly broke off. Then, as rapidly as
a cat, the woman in black advanced toward the older child, leaned down,
and brushed her cheek against his cheek, in the Bithynian mode of embrace.
Her hand squeezed his shoulder. He caught from her person the faint odor
of candles, perhaps of incense, but nothing he could define, nothing he
could grasp and hold. She was a stranger. The draped figure then bent
over the screaming child on the floor and placed a hand on the back of
his head. The sobs ceased for a brief moment, and she leaned down and
brushed her face against the side of Sahelis face, then straightened
up and withdrew, faster than Saheris eyes could follow, behind the
curtain that must have led to her room.
Saheris was stunned.
"But - what about our gifts?" he stammered. "I made an amulet for her!"
"We will leave
them for her. Perhaps she will change her mind later. I will speak with
her," Saher was just as astonished, and did not hide it from the children.
"Come, pick up your brother, it is time to go and have our meal."
"She will not
even dine with us?" Saheris demanded, his voice grew loud and angry. He
became aware that she must be listening from beyond.
"No, I dont
think she will," Saher replied.
"Then I wish we
had not come at all!" Saheris pronounced, very nearly shouting, and, pulling
Sahelis sniffling, by the hand, he stalked out of the room without a backward
"You lie, Primus
Bellianus," said the voice, now unheard in the empty room, as Sahera drew
the veil back from her face, addressing her now-absent son by his Roman
name. "And I will see you and my son Eosa again before dawn breaks."
Saheris sat up, grew still, and watched the shadows for signs of movement.
Someone was in the room. He drew from beneath his pack his hunting knife,
and held it at the ready, as he moved slowly toward his brother, whose
sleeping breaths remained regular. Sahelis had not awakened. Holding the
knife before him, he slid from the bed to stand, and moved his head gradually,
watching and listening for a repetition of the sound that had awakened
a slight sound from the far corner of the room. He turned toward the sound,
but saw and heard nothing more.
"Shhh... do not
disturb the guard," said a whispered voice. Still, no movement, and still,
Saheris could see nothing.
"Who is it? What
are you doing in our room?" Saheris demanded, speaking aloud but in a
A shadow moved
against the deeper darkness of the room - the light of the waning moon
outside was too faint to show him anything. A hand brushed against his
neck, and he started, gripping the knife and moving away from the touch
on his shoulder. Hands gripped him with a sudden strength and violence,
and knocked the knife clattering onto the floor. "Stupid child," the voice
hissed in his ear. "Do not raise a weapon to me."
"Who are you?"
Saheris demanded, the anger in his voice wavering with fear. The unseen
figure did not loosen its grip upon his shoulder and hand.
"You should not
be afraid of your own mother," came the whispered reply. "I wished to
thank you for your gifts, and have brought you and your brother a gift
in return." She released his hand, and he felt a small, odd-shaped object
pressed into his hand; then another.
"This is your
inheritance," she said, in a more normal tone of voice. "I had this coin
severed by a jeweler, into two equal parts. Dont ever lose them.
Give the one piece to your brother, and keep the other for yourself. And
tell no one about this. Particularly not Saher.
"Why do you give
us these coins?"
"It is only one
coin. It identifies you."
"You will find
out in time. That is the only gift I can give you. You will in time find
out what it means." Sahera then withdrew her grip from Saheris shoulder.
Saheris began. "I wish to know something."
"What?" the womans
voice grew impatient then - it was clear she was in fear of being discovered.
"Who is my father?"
To his surprise,
she laughed. "Saher did not tell you?"
"I did not ask
"Your father was
Byriac, the son of Arianus, chief of the Unari, who died in Armenia."
is he also the son of Byriac?"
"His name is not
Sahelis, his name is Eosa, which means bear. Saher re-named
him as your twin brother, so that the two of you would appear to be twins
when you were older. That is part of his deception."
"Then he is also
the son of Byriac?"
The woman in the
shadows laughed again, an unpleasant sound. "No, he is the son of a great
warrior, and when his father comes for him, the only thing that will protect
you from his sword will be this coin."
"Who is Eosas
father then?" Saheris persisted.
"His father is
Ares, the god of war." Her voice, though still low, carried the thrill
of violence and triumph. "Now, I must go. Protect your brother, if only
for your own sake."
Saheris said, but the figure had gone, soundlessly.
sat up the remainder of that night thinking, and as dawn softened the
shadows, he began to examine the pieces of coin his mother had pressed
into his hand. Questions crowded each other in his mind - was it possible
that a god could father a child? He didnt know this, and it didnt
seem possible to him. And if this were true, and Sahelis was really the
son of Ares, the formidable god of war, why was it he, Saheris, who was
always the one who found himself in trouble? Perhaps his mother was confused,
and got the two of them mixed up in her mind, and it was really he who
was the son of Ares. Sahelis was the fearful, mild-mannered, one, cried
easily, and was always running to his brother. And why did Saher give
Sahelis a different name than the one given to him at birth? Eosa was
a fine name - it wasnt a Bithynian name, it was more like a southern
name as the Avars or the Alans have, or even a Greek. Usually names ending
with a were for females - that could have been Sahers
objection to it.
The coin was gold
covering iron and brass, it seemed to him, as the cut through the metal
revealed the alloy beneath the surface. The imprint on the coin showed
it was a coin of the realm, with a faded likeness of the Khan Saher. He
had several such coins in his pocket, each worth about 10 Roman denarii,
and the preferred currency of Asia, though he also had Roman coins, bearing
the likeness of Theodosius, provided for their trip to Thrace. At length,
he placed the two halves of the coin in his shirt and went in search of
Despite the early
hour, the Khan was awake, and it was clear from his haggard appearance
that he had been up for some time, if he had retired at all. Saheris doubted
whether Saher had slept yet, for sleepless work was a common habit with
the Khan. Suwetus sat, exhausted, by his side, neither reading nor writing,
when Saheris came into the room.
"What are you
doing up? The cock has not yet crowed."
"Father, I must
talk to you. Alone." Suwetus rose to his feet.
"No. There are
no secrets from my secretary. Not even for you, Saheris." Saheris shrugged,
drew the coins from his inside his shirt, and placed them on the table
before the Khan. Suwetus sat down once again.
"What is this?
A coin, severed in two pieces?"
"Where did you
"From my mother."
"Khan, no more
than an hour or two past, she was in our room. Please do not tell her
that I told you. She told me not to tell you."
"I will do as
I please. What did she say? Tell me everything she said."
"I was the only
one awake, Heli heard nothing. She told me that Heli is the son of Ares,
the god of war, and that I am the son of Byriac the son of the ulu chief,
and that only holding these coins will protect me from death when Ares
comes. She told me that Helis name is really Eosa and that it means
bear. Is this true?"
"Is what true?"
"Is his name really
"That is a name
she called him when he was born. But that is not the name we call him
- we call him by a Bithynian name which is like yours, because you are
"Is he really
the son of Ares?"
"Do you want to
know the truth, Saheris, or do you want to believe the fantastic ravings
of that woman?"
Saheris gave the
Khan an unreadable look and answered immediately. "I want to know the
"Then I will tell
you the truth. And when Sahelis is your age I will tell him exactly the
same, because it is the truth. I will keep none of this from you. Your
brother is the son of Byriac, who married Sahera at my request before
he fell in battle. He was born in a place called Berayn, on the Moesian
frontier, where you all lived until I brought you to Illyricum."
"And what of my
"If I tell you,
you must tell no one, not even your brother, until he is older, for to
tell others would be dangerous to you. Do you promise to keep this to
yourself? Are you mature enough to use discretion?"
"Yes. If it is
important to you."
"It is extremely
important to me. You are the son of Priscus Septimus Bellianus, a Roman
senator, and youngest grandson of the former Regent of Ravenna. I wish
no one to know this."
at Suwetus. The Khan had known his father all along and not told him.
Maybe everyone had known, and had not told him. He grew furious at that
thought, and at his gullibility to his mothers lies. "Why is it
gestured for the child to come to him, and took him up on his knee. "I
am very sorry, Saheris, but I did not know that Sahera was going to come
to you to try to deceive you. I should have known, but I was not prepared."
He patted the boys rigid shoulders ineffectually.
think a boy should know who his father is?" Saheris said forlornly.
"I am your father,
Saheris. Bellianus came to Berayn as a traitor, broke his fathers
treaty with me, and dishonored my daughter, keeping her and you in hiding
without my knowledge. In time I will tell you the entire story, but you
are very young still to know these things. The fact is that it doesnt
matter to me who fathered you, or even who bore you, it matters that you
are in my house and my care, and that you are my child. Dont you
want me to be your father?" Sahers voice then grew plaintive.
his arms around his grandfathers shoulders. "Yes, I do. I just
I am afraid of Sahera. I dont know what she will do - she is strange!"
To his embarrassment, Saheris burst into tears, and wept helplessly against
the Khans shoulder. He was overwhelmed by the revelations of the
night, and it seemed like all at once, the world was falling down around
him. The son of a Roman traitor, an enemy of the Khan? It was all too
much for him. After several minutes, he drew his sleeve across his face,
and straightened up, climbed out of the Sahers lap, and stood before
him at attention.
"I wish to know
the story now, please. Will you tell me about how I was born, and about
my parents, and what happened that you took us away?"
the private papers of the Khan:
often kept vigils, much as I do I must have learned the habit from
him while still a child. He had already sat up a day and a night, working
only on the business of Maduc. I learned later that he had not been to
that city since before the death of Theodosius, and his consul there,
Unghenis, had been overwhelmed by requests for military assistance from
the eastern frontiers and from Cappadocia. The Avars were moving west,
pressed by Persia. It was fortunate that Saher decided to travel to Maduc
at that time, for with the news of Eutropius' death, the eastern hordes
had grown more bold and restless. War appeared inevitable.
despite the crushing preoccupation with Bithynia and the Asian nations,
the Khan waited up with me, and told me the story of my discovery in Moesia,
and a plot to conceal me and my brother for an obscure purpose. Bellianus,
I learned, was a close relative of the Theodosius and Constantine, and
Sahera could not have been ignorant of this fact in choosing Bellianus
as her lover. What remained a mystery far longer, however, was why she
attempted to convince me that I was the son of Byriac when she knew full
well I was not; and why she persisted in proclaiming that Sahelis was
the son of Ares. It was Sahers opinion that in her deepening madness,
Sahera devised a plan to gain revenge against Saher, by bearing a son
to Sahers historic enemy. It was many years before I discovered,
through Sahelis, the true nature of his relation to Sahera - by then,
my brother had been adopted by Bellianus in Italy, and we had effectively
switched places, which is what Sahera had originally planned. What she
had not planned for was the completeness of our education, and the revelation
of our true parentage. With that, we proceeded as though still ignorant
of the truth (as the Romans were) and decided to pursue her plan for our
Saher was standing
uneasily beside his desk as Heklitis entered the room. His posture betrayed
an acute agitation. The doctor was not truly surprised; the Khan had been
tense upon his visits to Maduc ever since the attack upon him in Moesia.
The ensuing years had not lessened his anger at his daughter significantly.
A year had passed since he had last seen her; and Heklitis knew this was
"What do you make
of this?" Saher asked without preamble, pointing out the severed pieces
of coin that lay where Saheris had left them.
slightly to examine them more closely. "It is a Bithynian coin," he observed
quietly. "Cut with an excellent tool the edge is carefully heated
to smoothness. Sahera took some trouble. Whatever it means, it must be
very important to her."
"That is obvious,"
Saher replied with some impatience. "But what?"
Heklitis did not
reply, but with some deliberateness stepped to the side of the Khans
desk and took his customary seat, at Sahers left hand.
The left was the
place reserved for those less favored, and for those of lower rank and
position in the Khans service. Heklitis, who was neither a native
of Bithynia nor a citizen of the Empire, was among the youngest of Sahers
attendants, though possibly the most highly educated. His taking the left
hand place was a simple gesture of respect for his older and more noble
colleagues in the Khans service. And this was where he felt comfortable.
"You have spoken
to her of this?" Heklitis asked then, after a brief silence.
"No. I have not
seen her. I sent news of this to you immediately, as soon as Saheris left
me. It has been no more than two hours."
musing. "Good. It is good. I do not believe you should discuss it at all."
"What? Why do
you say this?" Saher, obviously distraught, began to pace. It had been
a night of obsessive preoccupation evidence of his frantic mental
activity lay strewn across his desk and scattered on the floor. Small
rolls of letters and scraps of notes in Sahers hand had tumbled
from the desk, all but forgotten. Heklitis took it all in with a single
glance, realizing that only the coin occupied Sahers mind at this
moment. The coin, and the woman who had cut it in two. Some obscure trial,
seemingly in abeyance, had resumed, and the evidence was written in lines
of pain across Sahers face.
"You say that
the princess appeared in the childrens room without beings seen,
though Isolt and Issarcha stood watch in the hall, and two others were
posted at Saheras rooms?"
"Yes," Saher said.
"Saheris is not fabricating this tale. He was abashed, as though struck
some blow. And the way he described the woman, it could only have been
"Yes, of course.
I am not questioning him. He has your skill in observation, and your directness.
That is well. I am simply considering." Once again, the doctor fell to
Saher paced the
length of the room, returned, paused by the cluttered desk, strode back
again to the window, and then returned. He struck his hand against the
back of his unoccupied chair. "Curse you philosophical Greeks - what are
you considering? Consider more loudly so I can hear you!"
The doctor looked
up at the anxious man standing before him. "It is best," he began reluctantly,
"to ignore any unusual actions Sahera makes. She designs them as dramas,
to gain sympathy and interest from others, most particularly yourself.
She has attempted the same with her sons, now that she has seen them and
spoken with them."
"That was a blasted
mistake, it was wrong for you to advise it."
"No. No, I dont
think so. Not for the children, at the least. You could not keep them
from her once they advanced in childhood. Otherwise, they would always
question your reasons for keeping them from her when you have no wife
to mother them in her absence."
"There is my sister
Cariana," Saher objected. "She doesnt treat them as her own sons,
true, but she is affectionate enough. And there are my brothers
sons, and their wives, who see them each week. And my cousin Thedora who
teaches them singing and woodcarving. There are women in plenty to mother
them in Illyricum. That was my greatest reason for retiring there to raise
But Heklitis was
shaking his head. "It is not the same as the filial bond, Khan. Among
your people, just as among the Greeks, the role of the mother is very
highly esteemed. Among Asians, it is seen as a grave error for you to
adopt children and not take a wife to mother them. You cannot be their
mother. This they learn each day as they play among their Illyrian servants
and cousins. They are motherless."
"Surely you exaggerate."
his head. "Having the Khan as their father does not replace that lack.
That is why they must know, or at least meet, their mother, and familiarize
themselves with her, if only slightly."
Saher raised his
hand. "Lets get back to this problem. You say to ignore this act
of stealth, this assault upon my heir. She could have attacked him - she
could have killed him!"
"Yes, possibly. But not likely. She is distraught, irrational, but she
is not just arbitrarily violent. If she were, I would not have advised
you to bring the children here at all. Mothers with a particular sort
of madness often slay their children in vengeance against their lovers
or families, and must be confined to restrain them from murder. But I
am fairly sure she only poses the risk of murder to you, Khan." Heklitis
stopped, and waited.
"How nice for
me," Saher said bitterly, and wearily resumed his seat. Belatedly, he
realized that he had called Heklitis to advise him, and it was time to
listen to his counsel, even if he didnt like it. "Go on... Saheras
"She has spoken
very little to me of the children, and has spent more time trying to convince
me that she will fall ill if forced to live from day to day without a
lover." Heklitis glanced uneasily at the Khan. "She proposed that I could
counsel her best in her bed."
Saher smiled without
humor. "And did you?"
"No, Khan. Our
profession receives little enough respect without our bringing dishonor
to it that way. Besides, it is considered poor medicine to give in to
a patients fantasy, regardless of how pleasant or harmless it might
appear. In Saheras case, it could not be harmless. And it was easy
for me to refuse. Ferocity does not endear me to a woman."
in spite of himself. "She frightens you!"
his head decisively. "Not at all, as long as I have guard at the door
and a garrison outside the gate. But in her bed it would be another
story. Im not sure I would find myself capable in the bed of such
a violent warrior. There are some pleasures not worth the risk."
"And how did she
receive your refusal?"
"She was angry.
She accused me of being a catamite. I have had her restrained several
times for assaulting me to attempt to prove her point."
"Am I what?" Heklitis
blinked without comprehension.
"A catamite. I
never thought to ask."
"No, Khan. But
I would prefer not to be asked to prove it."
"Why is that?"
once again, and Saher began to wonder if he had resumed his considering
posture. Then he spoke. "I was born a Jew. That fact, as you know, is
difficult to hide when unclothed. But since I am not a Jew by religion
or culture, I would prefer that this not be known."
"I see. I have
no reason to tell anyone. I will make sure you have your privacy."
"Thank you, Khan.
Heklitis smiled briefly. "As to Sahera, her obsession is peculiar but
not especially unusual, among Asians. And considering her experience,
it is predictable. She has many ideas that must have been important to
her mother. The first of these ideas is that a god has placed a curse
on her soul to be born female, as a punishment from a former life. Therefore,
she can only redeem herself by bearing a great hero. And this great hero
is her younger son, whom she calls Eosa.
"Is that an Alan
"Roman, I think.
Or perhaps Macedonian. I am not a linguist, Khan. The Roman meaning is
"bear" as in the Bear constellation in Ptolemys book of the heavens.
The Bear is sacred to Ares in the old Greek religion, and she says that
Eosa was fathered by Ares. She has told this to Saheris as well, no doubt?"
Eosa whatever was fathered by the most peculiar rape never
punished in Bithynia," Saher exclaimed.
at him. "Rape?"
"Do you believe
a woman capable of raping a man?" Saher asked him.
but if it is Sahera, yes. I can believe it."
Saher spoke quickly.
"Sahelis father was seduced, bound, tortured, and milked of his
seed in a most degrading manner by my daughter in a cave along the southwest
coast. I have the tale from Byriac himself who swore me to secrecy for
his life. The boy was completely unmanned. And it is no wonder he died
by an Avar sword in his first battle. What man could take up arms after
being raped by the daughter of his Khan and then forced to marry her?"
"I see your point.
This explains much."
"That she will
not acknowledge Sahelis had a true father, you mean."
"Yes, her fantasy
of being impregnated by the gods. Perhaps taking a human victim by force,
as in the myth of Zeus and Europa, was a part of her fantasy. The continent
is named for Europa, the mother of nations, who was raped by Zeus, you
"Yes, yes," Saher
said, newly impatient with the doctors pedantry. "What I wish to
learn is what to do about this!" He pointed at the coin.
"Ignore it," Heklitis
replied. "Ignore the entire incident. Make no mention of it to Saheris,
and do not allude to it before her or the children again. If they ask
you about it, treat it as unimportant."
"Should I throw
these coins away then?"
"No, I dont
think you should. That would make them appear important enough to throw
away. And doubtless, she or Saheris would attempt to recover them. Best
to put them where they belong in the jar you keep all the rest
of your unspent coins that grow too heavy in your purse when travelling.
Forgotten among its fellows."
"You are ingenious, Heklitis! Ignore it! How simple! How sensible!"
should not keep the children at Maduc with her here. She cannot be trusted
with them any further; she is predictable, but certainly not sane."
"I am thinking the same thing."
"I am relieved."
"Any other problems
"Only that I am
certain she is in contact with Rome or with other persons abroad. I found
letters in Latin in her room an dread them. She has arranged an assignation
for August outside of Maduc, and has since requested to be allowed to
go to the seaside at Euxis during this time.
she has her secret chamber in the sea caves. I want that place found.
But not disturbed in any way. I will send the boys with Isolt and Arrus
to Ilitrahant. We will stay in the area until August and see who comes
to meet her. But by the end of summer, I will need five thousand men to
move into Galatia. The Persians are coming, and my retirement is over."
poorly that night. The day was frustratingly anticlimactic. After the
breathless adventure of his mothers mysterious visit in the hour
before dawn, and his decision to reveal her secret, he expected a confrontation,
a summons, a sudden flash of a cold knife reaching out from behind a restless
tapestry, to seek his life for violating her covenant. Saher would not
see him; he spent all morning meeting with the ulu chiefs. Each ulu, a
sort of family-based clan, had a chief, sometimes referred to as a commander
(in the Roman system) or khan, in the Ugar system. The northern chiefs
were often called Tesar by their men, the eastern pronunciation of "Caesar"
or high chief. Their king was Great Khan or BelzheTesar. Saher, in assuming
military command and taking leadership of Bithynia and the Asian client
states, was always addressed as Great Khan by his Asian army, BelzheTezar
by the Ugar mercenaries from Armenia, and as "Shah" or "Shah-han" by his
Mesopotamian enemies. To the Roman imperials, he was an indigenous regional
sovereign, a prince, who served them also as procurator or governor of
their semi-autonomous borderlands. Beyond the Carpathian basin and the
rich sea routes of Thrace, the sparse lands of Galatia, Syria and Cappadocia
concerned Rome only as buffer zones against eastern hostiles, who posed
a far greater risk to Asias peoples than they did to Thrace, Macedon,
Saher spent the
day with his ulu chiefs, and this could only mean war. Saheris thoughts
drifted back and forth between three things - Sahera, war, and Maduc.
If war were coming, then they would stay in Maduc, rather than return
to Illyricum. That idea seemed like an undreamt fantasy to Saheris. It
was so strange that only two weeks before, he knew nothing of Bithynia
or Maduc, and now he could not close his eyes with the excitement as he
pondered the possibility that they might remain.
And what of his
mother? Did Saher go to her with the coin and accuse her? Would she reappear
tonight again, a dark wraith in a black cloak, and seize him once again
as a robber seizes a traveler on the Via? As he mused, he felt his heart
pound uncontrollably in his chest and throat. What would he say to her
then, as her blade lay poised against his neck "I am sorry, Mother,
but I serve only the Khan of Asia," - then would she laugh and pierce
him with a mortal wound? She must have been armed last night perhaps
she had a sword at her side.
The shadows grew
menacing along the fragrant cedar shakes that lined the walls of the boys
room. Sahelis slept on, as ever, blissfully lost to his dreams. Saheris
watched the play of weak moonlight against the wall...
"Answer me," said
the voice, more insistent now.
"Who is here,
what do you want?" Saheris called out into the dark. "I cant see
"I said who do
you serve? Answer me now!"
"Who do I serve?
"Who is your master?"
The voice grew loud, close, and impatient. Saheris thought wildly, who
is this speaking? but did not ask again.
He cleared his
throat and spoke, his shout barely heard among the loudly ringing echoes
around him. "I serve Saheris El Maduc, the Khan of All Asia. I am his
"You serve whom?"
The voice was incredulous. "Who is Saheris El Maduc?"
"He is the Khan
of the Unari and of the Sabiri, the son of the Khan Munduk El Beshan,
and governs the territories of Scythia, Thrakcia, Illyria, Syria, Dacia
and Moldova. Who asks now whom I serve?"
The voice did
"Who speaks to
me in the dark and has no courage to show himself?" Saheris ventured,
standing fast, a part of him marveling at his unhesitating recital of
nations, some of whose names he did not know.
Saheris waited, and noticed that he had begun to shiver.
"Who do you serve?"
the voice asked again.
The shadow against
the wall made a slight swaying motion as Saheris came to himself once
again in his bed. He gradually became aware of his surroundings. Beside
him, Sahelis made a slight movement with his hand and sighed. The voice
that thundered out of the darkness echoed back into the silence of his
mind. There was no sound but that of his own blood in his ears, the rush
of his breath in his throat. He was soaked with sweat, and his arm ached
as though he had fallen asleep upon it.
"I serve Saheris
El Maduc," he had said. He had not said "Saher." Was that an error? Did
he make a mistake in answering the voice? Yet he was sure that was the
right answer! And who was Munduk El Beshan?
His eyes probed
the shadows, but nothing emerged to seize him, no voice spoke, not even
a whisper upon the wind. After an interminable watch, it seemed, he finally
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