with dawn, coloring Saheris room in gray. As the wan light filtered
through the closed shutter of the upstairs window, he gradually woke to
pain. Where his wrists had been chafed by the belt, bruises spread purple
across his hands and forearms, nearly to the elbow. He tried to sit, and
doing so caused stabbing pains to shoot through his shoulderblades where
they had been wrenched on the forced march through the forest.
Had there been
a mirror nearby for him to view himself, he would have seen a more garish
sight a score of cuts from the blade of the sword upon his neck
and shoulders, which still oozed and pricked his skin as he moved his
head. Wide scabs crisscrossed his shoulders where the deadly blade had
touched him. Everywhere it had touched, it had left a slight wound, an
undeniable script across his body.
It was this confusion
of bloody wounds on his neck and shoulders that Heklitis saw first when
he entered the room to rouse Saheris for breakfast; he stopped short in
the doorway and called immediately for the Khan.
"What has happened
to you, Saheris?" he gasped, rushing to the dazed child, bending to examine
the sword cuts, picking up each of his hands to examine the welts upon
his wrists and the puffy bruises covering his hands and arms.
me," Saheris mumbled, pulling away from the doctors grasp. "Dont
look at me." He turned toward the wall then, and drew himself into a ball,
dragging the edge of the rug up over his wounded shoulders.
do, child," Heklitis said, sitting down upon the edge of the bed and placing
his hand upon Saheris shivering back. "I must attend to you. Who
has done this?"
Huddled into himself,
Saheris did not answer. The words of the doctor seemed to buzz around
him like the noise of insects rather than of a man speaking; he did not
heed him. Yet, when Heklitis hand lighted upon his shoulder, he
cried out sharply as a new, violent pang assailed him.
are not helping yourself this way. You do not want your father to see
you this way, do you?"
At the mention
of his father, he stirred, and turned toward Heklitis in panic. "Dont
let him see me. Keep him away. He must not see."
"That is not possible,"
Heklitis said. "Even now he comes. Now you must tell me what happened."
"What is it now?"
Saher entered the room in haste, and did not wait for an answer. He leaned
over Saheris and spoke to him. "What has happened now?"
He had no choice
but to answer the Khan. Slowly, with great caution, Saheris drew himself
up as best he could, turned, and faced Saher. The Khans face registered
shock as he saw what could only be the mark of a sharpened sword upon
his grandsons neck, and the purple flesh of his arms. "He has been
tortured," he said, his voice flat.
"Without a doubt.
But I dont know why, or by whom."
Who did this to you, and where have they gone?"
his eyes, as though the words themselves were blows upon his head. "I
- I dont know," he replied, almost truthfully.
"Are you saying
you did not see him?"
He shook his head.
"He must have been carried out, there is no sign of struggle or blood
"How many were
there?" The Khan persisted, eyes appraising the window ledge and door
for signs of the intruders passing.
"One, there was
"But you saw him?"
replied, almost coherent now. There was a strange relief in the rhythm
of Sahers interrogation.
"Khan, if I may,
he should have the wounds cleaned and dressed, and I should give him something
to reduce the pain. He must be in very great pain, and his shoulders may
be more seriously injured. It is clear he has been bound and dragged."
Saher put his
hands to his face then, sagging visibly. "Who can justify tormenting a
child in this way? What reason could there be?" He gazed with tear-filled
eyes upon the bruised and bloody form of his beloved child. "What else
has been done to him? Can you tell?" he turned to Heklitis. "Was he "
"I do not know
as yet, Khan. He has not let me touch him."
the doctor do what he must do. You are wounded. When you become a soldier
you will get used to being tended to - it is just like the aftermath of
a battle. Do you hear me? You must treat this as the wounds from a battle..."
his voice broke then, betraying the extreme emotion that overcame him.
let Heklitis pull the rug from him, and examine him further. Saher rose
and strode to the window. "What kind of man does this?" he repeated to
himself. "This man will die, whoever he is."
"He was bound
by the hands, and dragged some distance, and cut about the head with a
very sharp blade, although not seriously - it looks far worse than it
is. He does not appear to have been beaten, but the bruises on his legs
and backside show he was thrown down several times. There is the bruise
in the form of a hand upon his arm where he was seized. This is the hand
of his tormenter," he held Saheris left arm toward the light, and
Saher leaned close to examine it, placing his own hand nearby.
"That is the mark
of a hand?" he asked. "How can that be?"
"It is a small
hand, Khan. A youth, or a woman."
Saher fought back
the violent urge to seize the boy bodily and shake an answer from him.
"Saheris, son, tell me who did this to you."
"I - I do not
"What did he look
like? Can you tell me that?"
"Khan, I dont
think you are helping matters. Look at him. He is dazed. He needs a draught
for his pains, and he needs something put over these cuts. Can we pursue
with frustration, banged his hand on the windowsill and strode from the
room, pausing briefly. "You are right, of course. The man, or youth, or
woman -- the beast! -- who has done this to Saheris will die by my hand.
This I swear!" He left then, and took the stairs two at a time, and shortly
thereafter, the door slammed violently. From the distance of his inner
misery, Saheris heard the Khan shouting to his guard, rapidly issuing
orders. There was a sudden sound of galloping hooves, and then all grew
quiet, except for the subdued sounds nearby of Heklitis carefully dabbing
his neck with salve and winding a thin sheet of linen around his shoulder.
He closed his eyes as the room grew still again, and the throbbings that
assailed him from all around seemed to fade and dim. The draught he had
been given had begun to work, and all went gradually grey.
The house and
camp were quickly cleared of soldiers as Saher sent them into the woods,
the town, and down the road in either direction to search for Saheris
attacker. Heklitis, Isolt, and two others remained with Heli and the restive
patient, who slept fitfully. Every smallest movement of his arms in sleep
seemed to jar his shoulders and bring him back unwillingly to consciousness.
Heklitis had pronounced them dislocated, and bound them carefully to limit
his movements. As the day wore on, his wounds appeared to magnify, so
that by sundown his entire body felt like a single mass of throbbing agony.
bromides did not seem to be working; or rather, if they did, the pain
without them must have proven intolerable, for Saheris noted little relief
from each of the draughts he took. He could barely rest.
At last, when
it seemed Heri could no longer lay still to recover, Heklitis allowed
Sahelis into the room and left the boys alone. Heli climbed into the bed
in his normal manner, and put his arms around his brother.
Saheris cried, "youll kill me!"
to you? Father told Arrus you were attacked in the forest!"
"My arms were
torn from their place. Im all swaddled up," Saheris grumbled, turning
to show his brother the bandages that held his arms rigid to his sides.
"Was it her? Was
it the woman of the woods?"
at the innocent, inquiring face looking at him. "Who?"
"The woman of
the woods. She didnt say her name. She came into my room last night
she held a sword!"
out a swathed hand and, despite the pain it caused him, squeezed his brothers
"What did she
say to you?"
"She said where
is the other one, where is Saheris?"
"What did you
tell her anything. I thought I was dreaming!"
"You are lying."
cried, pulling away then, his face suddenly red. "You always say that
Im lying! I never said a word to her! Then she was gone! Like a
fox. It was her! She was looking for you. She found you, didnt she?"
he pressed, pointing at Saheris arms.
"Did you tell
"Tell him what?"
"About the woman
with the sword."
"No I told
you. I thought I dreamed it. Then when Father said you were attacked
I knew. Youve seen her before, at Euxis."
"How do you know?"
"Because of your
dream. She came to you before, didnt she? What did she want?"
know, Heli. But we should not tell anyone."
"Because - I dont
know why. Just because!"
"But Father is
searching for her! He has all the soldiers looking!"
find her himself."
lie, Heri. Father says not to lie."
"I know, but this
is different," Saheris said. But his words were wasted on his brother.
Sahelis, his dream now confirmed as truth, did not hesitate. "Heri, you
are not well. Im going to tell him."
"You do this and
you are not my friend!" Saheris sobbed, his words dissolving into tears.
"I have to." Heli
drew himself up with dignity, and left the room. Behind him, Saheris wept
on helplessly, not knowing the true reason for his tears, while twilight
gathered around him.
the guards to watch the children, with instructions to attend them personally
to prevent a repeat intrusion, and set out south toward the garrison where
Saher went to conduct his search. He found Saher seated, alone, in the
main room of the unused barracks.
has just told me of an armed intruder who entered his room during the
night seeking Saheris."
"Did he tell you
what he looked like?" the Khan said, rising to his feet instantly.
"Yes, Khan. Please,
sit. I am grateful to find you alone, I would not have wanted to "
"Curse you to
death, Heklitis!" the Khan shouted. "What did he look like?"
"It was a woman,
Khan. I am certain now it was Sahera."
Saher grew abruptly
still, and after several moments, moved slowly backward and resumed his
seat. He said nothing for a time. Heklitis stood before him patiently
in the gathering shadows.
Then Saher raised
a hand and wiped it slowly across his face, letting his hand drop once
again to his knee. "This curse does not end," he said, his voice now empty
of all feeling. He looked up at the doctor then, his words betraying the
emotion of sheer helplessness. "I thought you said she only desired my
own death. Why Saheris, why now?"
his gaze respectfully, embarrassed by the complete helplessness he saw
in the Khans eyes. "A physician does not always know these things,
Khan. But I think that if Sahera had wanted to take his life, he would
be dead now. She had another goal."
"Such as ?"
Saher gestured impatiently, the color returning slowly to his face as
his mind began to work on the problem.
"Such as abduction.
If she wished to draw you out, taking Saheris from you would be the most
"And what else?
I can tell by your face there is something more. How much more horrible
does this get, Heklitis?"
He shuffled his
feet, and spoke again. "There was some evidence of sex, Khan." He held
up his hand. "I cannot say if it was prompted by the contact with Sahera,
but there was semen upon him, as though he had been aroused and spent."
"But could that
have been caused by "
men, and boys likewise, do not ejaculate from fear the reaction
is exactly opposite. The loss of passion is a reflex to self-protection
when threatened. He must have been specifically aroused or seduced in
some way. It is possible he may have indulged himself prior to her seizing
him, but he is rather too young to have the urge come upon him naturally.
When did it begin with you?"
"When my cousin
Atridda disrobed and climbed into my bed at the age of twelve!" Saher
retorted uncomfortably. "You think she seduced him too, dont you?"
"I would say,
given her personality and her sexual obsessions, it is likely. If she
is capable of abducting, binding, and beating him, she is equally capable
"Rape. Well we
already know this, dont we," Saher said flatly, completing the doctors
inevitable thought. He rose once again and began to pace, his usual occupation
when extremely agitated. "So I am to believe that the only child of my
begetting is a rapist and kidnapper and a patricide. How do you think
I must feel about that?"
"It should make
you feel protective toward the children you have adopted. Do you not think
there are conditions that are not carried in the blood, and may be otherwise
caused? Do you believe you should be powerful in some way to have prevented
know!" cried Saher in frustration. "But for me to think otherwise might
drive me mad! There must have been something I could have done."
"Khan, I have
tried every herb in the Greek pharmacopeia, and many in the Egyptian as
well. I tried drugs that relax, compounds to take away dreams, remedies
for subtle poisons that can mimic insanity, such as lead, arsenic, and
belladonna. And I even used Hippolytus technique of dream interpretation.
All of these methods I applied over three years time, with very
little effect. Denying her wine and controlling her liberties had some
effect of appearing to calm her, and little else. Your daughter may be
one of those cases of deliberate lunacy."
"What do you mean,
"She may be one
who enjoys her fantasies, because they are preferable to reality. She
devotes herself to them in a conscious manner. She could easily be as
sound of mind as anyone, and chooses not to be so, because it does not
"If this is true,
Heklitis, then this is the cruelest news of all."
"I believe it
is only fair to tell you my own hypothesis. I have spent more time with
Sahera than I have ever spent with another patient. And that is my best
conclusion. She is brilliantly intelligent and insightful, and she has
chosen to seek refuge from the unpleasantness of her mothers treason
and death through a fantasy in which she must seek vengeance upon you."
"Enough now of
theory," Saher said brusquely, bringing himself up short mid-pace. "Our
task now is to find her. She is a criminal, and must be found and punished."
shouted angrily. "Now let us talk about how we can go about finding her."
It was Heklitis
notion that she would not give up her plot easily, simply because Saheris
had escaped, and he was convinced she would conceal herself until the
next opportunity arose. But he was not sure how cautious she might grow
in reaction to the days intensive search. He suspected two likely
methods she would use - stealth, or the riskier method of disguise.
The search had
turned up the corpse of a partly-eaten rabbit, a doused campfire, and
the pieces of a severed leather belt a mile from the billet. But there
was no sign of additional provisions, bedding, or tracks, nor any horse
with the Khan on the kitchen doorstop of the house, with full darkness
before them. There was no moon. "To Sahera," he was saying, "stealth and
trickery are important. It would satisfy her deeply to hang from a branch
a dozen feet above your head, unseen, knowing that your soldiers are seeking
her on the road. It gives her a feeling of power, of superiority over
her enemy. Even now, she may be listening to my words, and feeling satisfaction
because, for this moment, she is the victor."
"And how does
knowing this help us?" Saher replied irritably.
"It is likely
she is nearby. If you call out, she may hear you. If you say something
to provoke a response from her, she may show herself, and be apprehended."
"What should I
say?" Saher dropped his voice so that only the doctor could hear him.
"Let me think.
You might try telling her that you wish to bargain for Saheris life,
because you fear for him."
"Bargain for his
are you mad?" Saher grew angry then. "I will not "
"Khan, I am suggesting
this as a ruse. Try to remember that. You must make it sound convincing.
Do you think you can sound fearful and distressed? She has a great contempt
for you, and any show of weakness in you may cause her to grow overconfident
and will draw her out."
"Yes, yes, I can
see that," the Khan said. "Let me have a moment. Have they withdrawn?"
"Yes, but there
are two men at each side of the house, and two others behind the door."
"Make sure they
understand not to move until they see my hand drop. Is that clear? She
is as good as I am at detecting movement in darkness, curse the girl.
From stop to a dead run. Stealth will not work."
"Yes, I have told
called into the darkness, using the name he had called her as a child.
"I know you are nearby and watching." Saher tried to make his voice sound
strained and broken, pouring back into himself the grief and shock of
the morning passed. "You know my men have tracked you and are in despair
of finding you."
"You have left
me no choice, Herrada. I have come to you to plead the cause of Saheris
The velvet darkness
"I need only to
know what you want from me in order to spare him from your vengeance."
Could Heklitis be mistaken? Struck by a thought, Saher drew his sword
and threw it down on the ground before him, then advanced slowly with
his hands open, to show himself unarmed. "Perhaps this will convince you
of my earnestness..." he let his voice waver, as though in fear of moving
forward into the darkness toward her without his sword.
ahead of him, a darker black against the inky darkness. A voice hissed,
barely heard above the riotous noise of the night insects.
"Do not call me
by that name," she spat, advancing toward him several paces. Saher stopped,
both hands still at the level of his waist, unmoving. "You will call me
Shar Tanzin, for that is my true name."
Saher did not
"If you wish the
life of that weeping, gutless child, you will do as I say," she spoke
"Very well, Shar
Tanzin," Saher replied politely. "And is that all you require?"
She laughed aloud
then, not moving from her refuge in the shadows. "Oh, no. Far more than
this, I fear, my Khan. More than you would be willing to sacrifice." The
air whistled with a keen sound she had drawn her blade and brandished
it toward Sahers chest. He felt the air sing in front of him.
"You want to take
the life of your father unarmed?" he gasped.
"My father!" she
shouted angrily. "You think you are my father? This cannot be! I am the
youngest child of the Caliph Teramijin of Byblos. This my mother told
me, that she never conceived from your loins, but from the faithful seed
of her true husband who served her at Ankra!" A derisive laugh echoed
loudly from the stone walls of the little house.
"And you believed
her, I see," Saher retorted, his pretense forgotten. "It helps you to
see me as an enemy to believe this convenient but absurd lie. You are
welcome to it. But you need only to look in a glass to know that you are
my child, though your temperament is purely of your mother."
"You lie, old
man," she spat, and the air sang as she once again smote the space between
them violently with the sword. Saher lowered his hand.
She had barely
time to raise the blade and turn toward the assailant to the left of her
before Arrus flying leap brought her down flat on her back. He dashed
her sword-hand against the ground and broke her grip. The tense air exploded
then in a fury of Saheras curses as she struggled vainly against
the immovable bulk of the Roman upon her.
"I rather prefer
you in this position," Arrus remarked, catching his breath.
She spat in his
"I think that
makes us even in saliva," he grinned. "Now what, Khan?"
And have Didymus find her horse and provisions. And her servant if she
once again in the doorway, now flanked by Sahelis on the one side and
the bandaged Saheris on the other.
"That is her!"
Heli cried excitedly as Arrus prodded Sahera across the yard, arms bound
behind her. "The woman of the woods!"
"That is your
mother," Saher said tiredly.
then, and fell to the floor, unconscious.
the Private Papers of the Khan:
the Khan spoke those four simple words, it seemed that the world had come
undone around me. I no longer trusted anything I had previously known.
I have asked myself a thousand times, no - more! a hundred of thousands
of times -- did I not know that the woman I saw in the cave was the same
as the one who appeared in my room only months before? Did I not recognize
her voice, her smell, something in the words she spoke? But the more I
worried it, the more I tortured my mind, the less certain I was. The memories
grew vague in my mind, and it seemed to me that this could not have been
the same woman. I, who had spent altogether less than half an evening
in total in the presence of this mad creature, each time I had seen her,
or felt her presence, or heard her voice she was so utterly changed,
her aspect so reversed from what it had seemed previously, and even in
the long morning during I watched Arrus exchanging taunts with her in
the hallway as I hid above the stairs the next day, this cursing, malevolent
thing appeared to me in yet a new and even more unfamiliar guise that
could not be matched against what I had seen, and heard, and felt before.
Was I such a poor observer, or had my own extremity of emotions blinded
me so that I could not perceive her as I did others? I dared not approach
her, for fear of angering the Khan, but more for fear of what she might
say to me in front of these others. In truth, my greatest dread was that
she would tell them of the incident in the cave, or of that moment in
the woods when she had unclothed herself and placed my hands upon her.
Did she know, could she see that I had responded? Did it matter? To be
entirely honest with myself at last, there was mixed in with my fear and
loathing of her, a bright core of passion which forbade me to think of
her as my mother, who at some forgotten time had given birth to me and
nursed me at that same breast. How could I reconcile the unquenchable
torrent of passion she had awakened in me with the hard need of a child
for its mothers love?
not. For days, as the Khan argued with Heklitis about what to do with
my mother, I watched from a safe hiding place the cold, distant, and unfeeling
visage of the woman I both loved and hated. Sahelis, for his own part,
was triumphant that his intelligence had led to her capture he
seemed insensible of the bald fact of her identity. It did not seem to
matter to him - she was the enemy of the Khan and she was now bound, in
his hands, and Sahelis no longer needed to fear the night. How easy it
all seemed for him!
the throbbing pain of the wounds she had inflicted upon me, one unseen
wound continued to ache unabated and did not heal, but opened afresh again
and again in the form of an intense, recurring dream - the dream of reliving
the moment when she took my hands and placed upon her breasts, when the
first shudder of passion coursed unchecked through my loins, and the moans
of pleasure escaped from her cruel mouth. And each time the dream came
upon me, I would waken from it in full darkness, soaked to the skin with
sweat and my own spent seed.
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