Chapter 14: The
Arrus stayed in
Euxis with a small party and the Khanís heirs for two days, waiting for
Saher to join them. The Khan had gone west, bypassing Euxis, to join a
party of mercenaries who had been provided for his summer campaign in
Galatia, from his new ally from the north. No word had been received as
yet, but the Khanís arrival was imminent.
Saheris woke late
after his vigil, and found his brother in the yard chasing and being chased
by a trio of young dogs, under the dour eye of the Roman guard.
"Heri, you look
like youíve been trampled," Arrus remarked dryly.
"I was. The bed
was too hard, and I couldnít sleep."
"You should have
slept in my bed!" Heli sang. "Itís nice and soft Ė and Pinkeyes slept
spat. "I wonít get into bed with a creature."
"Heís not a creature,"
Heli objected loudly. "Heís my pet now."
"At least until
your father orders him boiled," Arrus added.
"Arrus, men in
the road!" Saheris shouted. His throat filled with a sudden, indefinable
panic. Arrus lifted his sword from where it leaned against the fence,
and waved the children toward the house.
"In, and quickly.
Iíll be in shortly. Bardis! Come out right away! We have visitors! Stay
in the kitchen, you two."
"Is it my father?"
Saheris asked, trailing Arrus out of the yard.
Arrus turned on
short, glaring angrily at Arrusí receding back, then turned toward the
The sound of horses
approached swiftly, and Saheris heard the shouts of the Khanís soldiers
greeting Arrus. At this, his anxiety increased.
instructions, Saheris ran up the stairs to his room, where the sword lay
hidden in his pack. What would happen if he were found with it? His anxiety
increasing by the moment, he rolled the sword in his spare cloak, and
tied it with a bootlace pulled from his new boots. Wrapped this way, the
bundled appeared to be an innocuous black parcel. Now Ė where to put it?
He flung open the shutter and looked down Ė below the window lay a thick
hedge growing beside the kitchen door. He dropped the bundle, handle side
down, into the center of the hedge. It disappeared completely into the
He made his way
"Where did you
go?" Sahelis asked from the kitchen door.
"You went upstairs.
"I fouled my clothes.
I had to change them."
Heli burst into
loud laughter. "You are a baby, shitting in your trousers!"
"Yes, Iím a terrible
baby," Saheris replied darkly, kicking aside his brotherís feet dangling
across the threshold. "Can you hear them talking from here?"
"No, I tried.
Itís Cliny and the doctor from Maduc."
"Where is Father?"
Saheris pressed, straining to make out the shape of the figures huddled
together in the street. Arrus was gesturing angrily and pointing back
toward the house.
"Heli, you have
to do something for me." Saheris grasped his brotherís shoulders and looked
into his face.
"What? Donít squeeze
Ė" he pushed Heriís hands away. "That hurts!"
"You sat up with
me last night when I had a bad dream."
"No I didnít."
"You have to say
"For Arrus and
Cliny. If anyone asks you, you have to tell them you were up with me."
"Just say I woke
you up because I had a dream."
"You will remember?"
"Yes! Iím not
stupid. Iíll remember."
"What was the
"I donít know."
"Horses. I had
a dream I was being chased by horses."
said emphatically. "And I was crying, and woke you up."
"I will tell them."
"Now letís find
something to eat."
children safe?" Heklitis asked, jumping down nimbly from his horse. His
face betrayed exhaustion Ė he had not slept that night.
"Of course theyíre
safe, whatís happened?" Arrus said. "What are you two doing here? What
of the Khan?"
"He left for the
west these two days past, we expected he would have arrived here already,"
Cliny replied. "He has not?"
Arrus shook his
head. "We expect him today. Tell me what happened!"
"Sahera has gone,"
Heklitis said simply. "She seduced her guard and has been gone a day and
night. We didnít find out until last night, when I went to see her."
Cliny said "Iím
surprised it hasnít happened before, actually."
"That may be because
I had forewarned the previous guards about her. I must have overlooked
this one," Heklitis wiped his face with his sleeve. "It was bound to happen
in time. That wonít make the Khan any happier."
"Do you know where
we expect she came here. The Khan learned of a hiding place she kept in
the sea caves, and mentioned it in a letter she sent to her Roman lover,
whom she intended to meet her sometime this summer. Likely, she is there,
or may have met him there," Heklitis explained.
mean," Arrus added.
"Then you know."
"Oh yes. There
is little Saher keeps from me. There is a ransom on Bellianus from the
time the baby was born."
"Does anyone know
where this hiding place might be?" Cliny interjected.
"One of her lovers
might know..." Arrus said.
"It might be better
simply to search instead of wasting time trying to find someone who had
been there with her," Heklitis added.
"I agree," said
Cliny. "How many men do you have with you?"
"Six," Arrus said.
"Plenty to find one girl and one Roman in the cliffs."
"I should hope
so," Heklitis said. "Better to leave at least two men here with the children,
and we can all go. We have sent a message north to the Khan already to
meet us here, if he is not already on his way. He would return immediately."
The Khan did return
immediately Ė he was already preparing for departure when he received
a message from Maduc, and rode for Euxis without retiring. He arrived
at the billet in Euxis within hours, to find Isolt and a second guard
alone with the boys.
"They are out
on the beach still, Khan," Isolt said as Saher came into the house.
"Where are my
sons?" Saher removed his cloak, thick with dust, and shook it. The trip
had been a hasty one, and he was filthy.
"Here we are,
father!" Heli pounced on him, trying to scramble up his back.
Iím too old to be climbed like an olive tree!"
the Khan more quietly.
"You donít look
good," Saher observed.
"Father, why are
Cliny and Heklitis here? What has happened?"
some news from Maduc, thinking I was here. That is all."
his head. "Why did the doctor come? Is my mother ill?"
"If she was ill,
he would be attending her. No, Saheris, there is nothing that should concern
"I just want to
know what happened..." Saheris insisted, frowning.
"When I know, I will be sure to tell you. There is nothing to tell as
yet. Fair enough?"
"You are much
too curious for your age. And you donít look well. Travel bothering you
"Yes, and I donít
like this house. I canít sleep in it."
"Well youíll have
to for at least another night. Then we go on to Ilitrahant."
cut in, "is there going to be a war?"
"Unless the emperor
signs a pact with the eastern hordes, yes, there will be a war."
"Can we go?"
Saher shook his
head wearily. "You wouldnít want to go. You will be staying with Arrus
in Ilitrahant. You were there when you were a baby, do you remember?"
"I do," Saheris
said grumpily. He was still musing over the happenings outside the house,
and all he could do was wait.
"How long will
you be gone?" Sahelis wheedled, swinging the Khanís arm back and forth
and pulling on it. Saher gently drew his hand up and away. "Heli, I am
very tired right now. Can you bring me a cup of good water?"
"Of course, father!
Heri is tired too. He didnít sleep at all last night!" The younger brother
cast the remark over his shoulder as he danced into the kitchen to find
Isolt and the water pitcher.
"What is this,
Heri?" the Khan said. "Is this what has put you out?"
"I am not put
out. I just want to know what is happening. Everyone was in such a hurry
to find you, now you are here, and they are gone."
"I asked you a
A look of dark
defiance crossed Saherisí face rapidly, and passed. "I did not sleep well."
"Was there a disturbance
here? Tell me."
"No," he answered
truthfully. "All was quiet inside. I think the sound of the sea is too
loud though. It keeps me awake."
"You need to get
used to it then. All there is in Bithynia is the sound of the sea. It
can prove relaxing, and the salt air is good for your health. Thereís
a boy!" Saher cuffed Heri affectionately on the head as he brought a large
cup brimming with water.
"He had a dream
that horses were chasing him!"
"Shut up, Heli!
Father doesnít need to know everything of my dreams."
"And he dreamed
of a woman who came at him with a sword!" Heri added. Saher stared at
his oldest child.
"I did not. Heís
making that up!"
Heli shook his
head fervently. "I heard him, this morning. He was fending her off with
his knife - this way, that way. He shouted ĎDrop the sword!í and it woke
me right up!" Heri plopped down on the floor at the Khanís feet, and began
to untie the laces of his boots.
"Not so soon,
child, I may yet ride again tonight. Heri, what are these dreams your
brother speaks of?"
"I donít remember
any dreams like these," Heri said, but his face was crimson with the denial.
"I see. And Heli,
did this woman have a name?"
"Yes, he called
her by her name, what was it - Tanya, Tanda, I think."
"You are rather
young for such fantasies, I think," Saher remarked, scrutinizing Saheris
carefully, who dropped his eyes. "Is there something you wish to tell
"There is nothing,
Father," Saheris said, eyes fixed at a point behind the Khanís shoulder.
He dared not look at him, and he hoped fervently that Saher would not
demand it of him now.
He did not. Saher
took a long drink from his cup and set it down empty. "How about another?"
Heli hopped up immediately and took the cup to replenish it. Heri followed
"You little beast!"
he growled, pinching Heli on the arm until he yelped and pulled away.
"What? You had
a bad dream, a real bad dream, I was there and heard it!"
"So what, did
I tell you to say that?"
"No. What difference
does it make?"
"It makes a difference.
Why donít you learn when to keep your mouth closed?" Saheris was furious
beyond all reason, and any moment, he felt he was about to dash his brother
onto the floor and kick him bloody. He forced himself to grow quiet, observing
with an acute alarm the violence that had welled up so suddenly within
Sahelis drew back,
his eyes wide with terror. "Whatís wrong with you? Youíre mad!" The boy
stumbled backward, escaping from his brotherís rigidly clenched. "Father,
Saheris has gone mad!"
The Khan appeared
in the doorway and placed a heavy hand on Saherisí shoulder. "What is
this? I ask for a cup of water and it is cause for a brawl? I didnít know
I was so popular!"
"He is mad because
I told his dream, and he didnít want me to!" Heli whined.
still, feeling as though something had frozen within him. In his clenched
hand, he could almost feel the cold handle of the sword, and wished he
held it now. He closed his eyes.
me." He opened his eyes, to see the face of his father gazing into his
"What is it?"
he answered, his own voice sounding very distant from him.
"What has happened
to you? Are you ill? I will have Heklitis look at you when he has returned."
"No, there is
nothing. I am not ill," Saheris shook his head wanly.
"It is my decision.
Now go up to your room, I want you to rest. You are not yourself."
He was definitely
not himself. But he did not object to being sent upstairs alone; it would
give him time to consider once again, to ponder the confusion of images
that even now were taking on the dimensions of a dream in his mind. Was
it a dream? No, his cloak lay in the hedge next to the kitchen door, concealing
a sword that was all too real. The flint and match and lamp he had fired,
the smell of the oil on his hands... this was no dream. And yet Saheris
had awakened from his trip to the cave changed, as though he himself had
fallen asleep, and could not awaken.
The room had grown
dark; somehow, Saheris had fallen asleep, no one had come to waken him,
and the day had come and gone. He felt stricken with a chill, and could
not stop shivering. He pulled the rug closer about his shoulders, his
teeth chattering. What was wrong with him? He felt along his forehead
with his fingers, he was damp with sweat, and the room felt frigid. He
could not get warm.
He dared not venture
out, for fear that removing the rugs he huddled under would cause a new
bout of chill; he lay still, drifting, his mind, so full before, was empty
He tried to piece
together the recent past, and found himself instead, absurdly considering
the face of his brotherís poppit which lay at eye level on the bed opposite.
Its head was misshapen and appeared to be a sort of birdís beak, with
two clumps of black yarn in place of eyes. The little woven eyes seemed
to stare and wink at him as he watched, and he blinked several times,
yet the impression remained. Then it seemed to move slightly. ĎAh,í he
said, speaking to himself, Ďthis is what madness is, when you lie abed
and watch things that cannot be alive wink and nod at you.í His eyesight
blurred with confused tears, and he wept quietly, wondering all the time
why he was weeping. What was there to weep about? And still he wept, unknowing,
feeling an indefinable comfort as one by one, strange sobs escaped from
somewhere deep in his chest. Gradually, he tired, the sobs ceased, he
coughed, and fell back into a heavy sleep.
"He sleeps, Khan.
He is in fever, and needs to sleep."
"Is this a normal
thing with youth?"
"If it is a germ,
then Sahelis will fall ill within three days and suffer the same symptoms.
If it is a chill, then it will run its course and we need do nothing.
It could be something simple, the overexcitement of the journey, the change
in the air, the salt, or the food. It is easy to fall ill from strange
"What is so strange
about this food?" Saher held up the thick joint of a crab before cracking
it open. "This is the best food a body can eat. Keeps you young!"
tightly. "Yes, but it contains substances the children are not used to
eating in large quantity. It can cause them to sicken for a time until
they grow used to it. You may have forgotten how delicate children are,
when they seem so energetic."
"Maybe so. You
will watch him then, and tell me if he worsens?"
The Greek inclined
his head. "I am far more worried about your daughter, Khan. She has gone
to great trouble to plan this escape, and has done so in a way that would
be sure to anger you the most."
"Oh, I donít know.
Killing my guards would anger me the most. But she might reason that I
would find that a reason to execute her."
"Does she think
that poorly of you?" Heklitis asked then, sadly.
"I donít know
what she thinks. I have infuriated her by keeping her under guard in Maduc,
that is certain. But I have no other choice. She is a danger to me, and
now, it appears she is a danger to others as well. Perhaps that idiot
Bellianus as much as anyone. Has anyone caught sight of him in the city?"
"Arrus has not
yet returned from his inquiries. I do not know."
Saher set aside
his plate. "That is enough. Perhaps youíre right about the shellfish.
They are so easy to prepare badly, and Heri might not have gotten a fresh
piece at dinner. I hope that is all it is. His brother told me he had
some garish dreams about a woman with a sword."
"Could it be from
his encounter with Sahera in his room in Maduc last month?" Heklitis mused.
"He never told
me she was armed, simply that she came to him in his room and seized him
bodily. No, he would have mentioned it if she had been armed."
"It is hard to
tell what fires the imagination of a child, particularly a child like
"He is exceptionally
intelligent, but very moody," Saher commented. "What do you make of that?"
"I think his mother
occupies his mind far more, now since they have met under such bizarre
circumstances. I donít know how we could change that, however. It is done."
"I know how we
can keep it from worsening. We have to get them both out of Euxis, and
find that cursed girl before she does kill someone, or worse, gets pregnant
again. Now THAT would aggravate me beyond all reason. Just when the first
two are of manageable age."
"We will have
to make sure that doesnít happen then," Heklitis replied.
They found the
cave, and aside from an unused hunting knife without its sheath, a flint,
and the remains of a burned and scattered torch, there was no true evidence
pointing to the missing princess. Cliny insisted that the long hairs he
found on the bed were from the black tresses of Saheraís head, but Arrus
was skeptical. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of black-haired
women in Bithynia, any of them could have had an assignation in that cave
at any time, he said, dismissing the hair. Only the knife could serve
to identify someone, except that it was an ordinary knife, without any
particular feature that would identify it or its owner. They took it anyway
to show to the Khan.
Saher set the
knife down upon the table as the servants cleared away the remains of
his late meal. "Has anyone learned anything of substance?"
"There has been
no sign of a Roman, and no word of a woman of your daughterís description,"
Arrus replied tiredly. "But that means next to nothing. The entire town
is on the water from dawn until dusk in this season, and they are nearly
blind from sunshine when they return. Sahera could walk right past a dozen
fishermen in a tavern and they might never see her there."
"I see," Saher
replied, growing restive. "So now what do we do? You found the cave, and
nothing in it except this knife?"
"A table, a chair,
a bed, some hair..." Arrus added, with a sidelong look at Cliny. "Cliny
says its her hair, but I donít know how he could tell unless she gave
him a lock at one time."
Arrus," Saher rumbled. "She has seduced more than one of my servants with
intrigue, drink, and sheer force, and just because she has not tried with
you..." Arrusí face grew red. Cliny put his hand over his mouth to conceal
an ill-advised smile. "Letís work on the problem now shall we? We can
either search for her, or try to divine where she might go. It might prove
easier to find her lover, but we still donít know if she met him or not."
"If I might suggest,"
Heklitis spoke quietly from his seat at the Khanís left.
"She may be following
was genuinely surprised. "I thought you told me she had the desire only
to murder me."
"I didnít say
murder, I said follow. Curiosity. Your removal of the boys so rapidly
from Maduc may have convinced her of the necessity to follow, and make
an escape to determine where you would send them. She did not follow you
to Moldova - she followed them to Euxis. Or at least, it appears that
"Thatís a good
point. So you think she lies in wait to follow?"
"It is as good
a theory as any. At any point on the road she might send a message to
her lover to meet up with him, but it may be her goal to keep the children
in sight, either to take them or to encounter them again."
"I think the Greek
is right," Arrus said, sitting down heavily.
"Then if I want
them concealed, I should not go to Ilitrahant with them. Perhaps I should
make as though I am bringing them with me east to Iberia to meet Beshanís
main force, and flush her out of hiding on the road."
"That might prove
to be a great deal of work," Cliny said.
"How much work
will it be to try to find her if she disappears completely? Do we want
a repeat of events in Moesia? This child is capable of anything!" Everyone
stared at the Khan, and no one said a word.
"I am very concerned,
particularly for Saheris," he added hastily, covering the awkward silence.
"He has been troubled by dreams, and it would seem the dreams are of his
mother. I myself have had similar dreams. No matter how many times a man
has challenged me at arms, or sent a spear flying at my head, not one
of them has terrified me like a woman at arms." His voice turned hard
and decisive then. "We must find Sahera, even if it means changing our
plans, and our route. And I want a guard up all night at this house until
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