The campaign into
Galatia had made it clear to Saher that it was time to rededicate himself
to a military life, and to build up his army once again. While his veterans
had remained in top condition, continued exercises and a lack of small
campaigns mean that most of the Bithynian army had no field experience
whatsoever. Following his return from Galatia, he began a routine of border
patrols to northeast Galatia, to northern Illyricum, and south into Pamphylia.
And at long last,
Saheris was given into the care of Sahers master of arms, Wynan,
to learn the sword and other weaponry. The boys now lived full time at
Maduc, in the quarters formerly belonging to their mother, Sahera, so
it was convenient to begin his training there.
The most difficult
weapon to master was the sword, and this was where Wynan began with Saheris.
And to Saheris great surprise, and disappointment, Wynan started
the nine-year old, not with a real sword but a foil, a flexible piece
of iron with no blade, and which resembled a sword only in its grossest
qualities of length and breadth.
The first lesson
was an even greater disappointment, for there was no battle practice at
all. Wynan merely showed him a series of postures to copy, which he did,
although reluctantly. The remainder of the first week was spent with the
troops in running, exercising, and mending tack, which task Saheris had
already become expert in, having learned from Arrus.
Though mad with
impatience, Saheris practiced his postures with the foil, imagining himself
holding the deadly blade Sahera had wielded above his head that unforgotten
night in Cormorin. When Wynan called for Saheris, he demonstrated his
fencing postures to perfection, and the master of arms was very pleased.
"How strong do
you think you need to be to wield an actual sword?" Wynan asked Saheris.
"Do you think you have the strength?"
know," Saheris said. "I think I do." Wynan picked up his sword from where
it lay and tossed it, grip first, toward Saheris. He caught the grip,
but could not hold it, as its weight bore down against his wrist. The
blade twisted slightly and it flipped over onto the ground.
"Pick it up,"
Saheris bent down
and picked up the sword with his left hand.
"What are you
doing?" Wynan demanded. "You used the wrong hand!"
"This hand is
stronger," Saheris replied.
"Then you will
have to strengthen the right more. Most commanders signal with the left
hand and attack with the right."
"Why?" asked Saheris.
"Because the right
hand is the normal hand for the sword."
"But what if the
left is stronger?" he argued.
"Then you train
until the right is just as strong!" Wynan bellowed. Saheris lowered his
eyes and held himself in check, transferring the sword to his right hand.
It swayed in his weaker grip.
"Your lesson for
today is to carry that sword for one hour. Now - hold it up!"
"An hour?" He
could hardly hold it up for a minute!
"Yes, that should
keep you occupied. How long do you think a soldier must hold a sword in
battle just hold it not including strokes!"
"Two hours?" Saheris
ventured, his wrist aching painfully.
"Ha!" Wynan shouted.
"Eight - ten hours! Sometimes from daybreak to sunset, holding a knife,
a bow, and a sack of bolts, plus a pack of provisions!"
"Then it will be daybreak to sunset," he murmured. Despite the wrenching
pain in his right wrist, Saheris did not put down the sword again until
called for the midday meal. He set it down carefully, massaging the spasm
in his wrist. And when the meal ended, he dutifully raised it again in
his right hand. He did not lower it again until sunset.
By then, his entire
arm was a solid spasm from shoulder to elbow, from elbow to wrist. But
he had done it.
At dinner, Saher
joined his sons and asked Saheris about his training.
"My right hand
is weaker than my left," he said. "But I am training it. I held a sword
all day today."
eating. "Wynan made you hold a sword all day?"
his head. "No, only for an hour. But he said soldiers often have to hold
a sword from daybreak to sunset."
"He said that?"
And if I am to command your army I have to be able to do that."
"At the age of
nine?" Saher was amused.
"Why not? I cant
see it will harm you - much."
day, Sahelis followed his brother around, armed with a wooden foil upraised
in his right hand in imitation of Saheris posture with his sword.
They gazed at one another for long minutes, until gradually Sahelis
grip on his toy weapon faltered, and it dropped from his hand.
"Let yours go,
Heri," he said. "I dropped mine, now let yours go."
his head. "I havent grown weak yet. You grew weak."
"Let it go!" Heli
insisted, reaching toward Saheris blade.
youll hurt yourself. It is a real sword." Saheris drew the blade
away from his brothers hand, but Heli lunged toward him. Saheris
pushed him away, growing angry.
"Let it go! I
am not weak!" Heli shrieked, once again lunging across Saheris to grab
at the sword in his hand and break his grip.
Saheris did not
see how his brothers hand struck the edge of the blade, or if the
reflex of his own arm had caused it to shift, but the air exploded simultaneously
with a shower of blood and Sahelis high-pitched scream. Saheris
dropped the sword, grabbed his brother by the shoulders, and pulled him
down. A gush of blood rose like a tide from a garish wound on the back
of Helis left hand, which twitched with each gush. The childs
screams deafened him. He clamped his hand over the wound and held fast,
holding the elbow with the other. "Father!" he shouted. "Arrus! Heli is
There was an interminable
wait, it seemed, while the terrified boy trembled, sobbing, in his brothers
relentless grip. He dared not slacken his hold, for even holding the hand
as hard as possible, fresh blood continued to well up between his fingers.
Saheris sat in a slow panic, and waited for help to arrive.
He could not recall
who arrived first, but eventually found himself staring incuriously at
Heklitis, who was attempting to pry his fingers from the back of Helis
hand. "Its all right, you can let go. I have it staunched at the
wrist and elbow." Slowly, Heklitis words cohered into sense, and
Saheris relinquished his rigid grip on Helis hand. The younger boy
"It runs in the
family," he said, his voice weak.
"You saved your
brothers life," Heklitis said. "Now quickly, I have to sew it together
before he wakens and begins to scream again."
want to watch," Saheris said, rising. Looking down at himself, he saw
that he was covered with blood from head to foot. "Better wash," he mumbled.
"Are you sure hell be all right?" Heklitis nodded, and patted Saheris
on the shoulder.
"He grabbed the
sword, didnt he?" Heklitis said, as he threaded his surgeons
"It looked that
way. Now perhaps hell be careful of them. And perhaps youll
stop taunting him by letting him near real weapons."
his mouth to answer, then closed it. He wandered outside, still dazed,
to find the water pump and rinse off the blood now crusting on his skin
and clothes. As he rubbed his hands under the stream, the water ran red
with gore. He retched once, the vomited his dinner onto the ground.
lessons in weaponry were moved to the main barracks following the accident,
and Saheris would ride a mile to where he would meet Wynan each morning.
Sahelis wound was bound in a bandage that made his hand look like
large ball with tiny fingertips protruding. The scar would be impressive,
and once the severe pain subsided, he began to take a certain pride in
the wound, as though his struggle with Saheris had been an actual duel.
Saher did not
discourage Helis bragging; to him, it showed a healthy attitude
toward his body while injuries should always be avoided, the results
should not be a source of shame. "You just need to learn to battle with
your sword, not against it, Heli," he would say. The accident was not
an unusual one. Sahers brother had had lost a finger in his early
training; Heli was more fortunate.
to be a superior student at arms. The strength in his right hand and arm
grew, as did his confidence, and before a month had passed, he had started
work with the bow and spear as well. His precision was uncanny.
Saheris knew how
well he pleased his teacher, but it was not the master of arms whose approval
he sought; it was Sahers. After several glowing reports on Saheris
progress, Saher began to attend some of his lessons, and offer suggestions
on technique. The sword was Sahers preferred weapon; he avoided
the bow as much as possible, because he was slow at aiming. As a result,
Sahers battle strategy was to lead a column of mounted archers ahead
of his own column, and himself conduct a charge of swordsmen on foot once
the lead force had engaged an enemy. Saheris showed no such prejudice
against the bow; and took to each weapon as readily as the next. With
the additional training, he became equally competent with either arm.
In due course, Sahelis began the same training, and by the summer of Saheris
thirteenth year, the two young soldiers were prepared to enter field training.
Saher had so far
not brought either of his sons to his increasingly frequent summer campaigns
in the south and east; they summered while Saher was away at Euxis, when
the Khan brought his army to battle against the encroaching Gepidae, the
Avars, and the Alans, who were once again harrying the borderlands of
Pontus and raiding the rural provinces under Sahers rule.
In one such campaign,
Arrus, Sahers personal guard, was severely wounded in the arm, and
was forced into retirement. He returned early in August, to everyones
surprise, his shoulder bound and plastered. Saher had given Arrus a second
career during his convalescence, to serve as a military advisor and tutor
to his heirs; for the time was approaching that they would take to the
field themselves, and learn to lead a cavalry army.
During his slow
recovery, he began their tutelage by taking them on long rides on horseback,
into the hills far south of the city, where he showed them how to assess
distances and the condition of terrain. After they had completed their
observations, they would ride and measure the distance in stadia, take
a close look, comparing their distant observations with the closer ones.
At distance observation, Sahelis proved superior; his eyesight was very
keen, and he could detect movement and objects long before Saheris could.
"You will need
Heli to be the scout," Arrus remarked. "He could spot a rabbit before
an eagle does."
When Saher returned
with his weary army at harvest time, Arrus gave a favorable report. "They
should not be held back any longer, they are ready to train with the army."
Saher shook his
head. "Must childhood end so soon?" His face, already lined with the weariness
of battle, grew sadder at Arrus news. "We are perpetually at war,
it seems. But I would like them to spend some time with Beshan in the
north, he is a very clever general."
"Send them to
Maeotis?" Arrus made an unpleasant face.
"Why not?" Saher
"Do you trust
Beshan with your own children?"
"He has served
with me now in three campaigns, and is entirely trustworthy. His field
command has saved us hundreds of lives against the Syrians just this past
month. If there was such a thing as a genius in military matters, it is
Before the week
ended, Saher dispatched a letter across the Euxine sea to Maeotis, where
Beshan had retired for the season, and requested his help in training
his children in military matters.
Maduc was once
again alive with the victorious return of the army; not all had returned
with Saher, a force had been left at Tarsus to handle a situation with
some hostages who had claimed rights to landholdings in Pamphylia under
the law of Julian. Saher kept ten thousand troops in the area in case
the claimants made a plea for military assistance to the Avars to the
east or the Alans to the west.
The barracks that
had stood empty since the end of spring was being cleaned out, as the
soldiers without families moved back in. The streets were busy with talk
and the loud scrape of boots.
be in the army," Saheris told his brother, as the two sat on a wall overlooking
the barracks. "But we will have our own separate lodging - we wont
have to share with the rest of the soldiers."
"Will I get a
sword like yours?" Heli asked, pulling Saheris weapon from its sheath
and comparing it with his own.
"Not until youre
taller. You have too long a sword, you cant control it," Saheris
told him, pulling the grip gently from his brothers hand and returning
the sword to its sheath. "You have to be more careful," he chided.
"Heri, look down
there, its Isolt."
"Are you sure?"
Saheris could not make out the figure.
with someone. Come on, lets see where theyre going."
wasnt interested in sneaking through the grasp just to spy on Isolt.
"They might be
going to meet their whores," Heli said. "Come on!"
down from the wall into deep grass, which concealed them completely. Ahead,
Heli peered from time to time in the direction the men had gone. If Heli
had not had such perfect eyesight, they would have lost the trail of the
men completely in the grass. Then, abruptly, Heli held up his hand. "Theyve
stopped by that tree. Theyre probably going to wait for them there.
Lets see if we can get a better view."
A small knoll
rose to their left, covered, with small shrubs, about thirty or forty
paces from where the two men now stood. The boys lay flat, and peered
out of the bushes, unobserved by the two men below them. The man with
Isolt was obviously a soldier, older, with a beard that showed grey here
and there. For a few moments they conversed, and then sat together in
the shadow of the tree.
"This is genuinely
boring, Heli," Saheris said, laying his head down on his arms. "Im
taking a nap. You let me know when the women show up." He closed his eyes.
think theyre waiting for the women," Heli said, slapping Saheris
on the shoulder. The older boy opened his eyes.
The man had sunk
to his knees before Isolt and was loosening the front of his trousers.
Isolt put his hands on his shoulders, as though to steady himself. The
look on Isolts face was beatific; as much was evident from a distance.
Saheris pulled on his brothers arm. "We shouldnt be watching.
"How come? Sahelis
was genuinely surprised.
Heli. Its not right." To him, it seemed what they were witnessing
was terribly wrong
not right for men to - do that to each other."
"Then watch if
you like!" Saheris said angrily, and turned away. "Heklitis explained
it all to me. Its called buggery."
"What is buggery?"
"Where a man uses
another man as a woman."
"That sounds painful,"
Sahelis replied philosophically.
"It probably is,
but it doesnt stop them."
"Stay, Heri, please?
I dont want to be up here alone. What if they catch me watching?"
strip you and bugger you too. And youll get some terrible disease
of the bowels."
Sahelis hung onto his brothers arm. "You already know all about
it, and I dont."
know all about it, Heklitis explained to me about catamites and why they
are a bane."
"What is a bane?"
stay away from. Im going," Saheris repeated, and jumped down from
the knoll, striding off rapidly in a private fury, back to the house,
where he could be alone.
The moon still
hung high in the sky when Saheris woke and sat up. His brother sat on
the edge of his bed, observing him quietly. The sight of Sahelis startled
sleep," he said, seeing Saheris awake.
"Well I can. So
"I need to know
"What now? Why
cant it wait until morning?"
keeping me awake."
"Then what is
"Why would men
want to screw each other instead of have a wife or a whore?"
you ask Isolt? He would know."
Then he would know we saw him."
you ask Isolt to bugger you and see if you like it?"
"But how would
I know?" Heli replied seriously. "I havent had a girl yet!"
"Maybe you wont
want one after that," Saheris said sarcastically.
"Maybe not," Heli
replied. "But I should have a girl first. Besides, you said Heklitis says
it causes disease."
not a good thing."
"Heli, if youre
so curious, go ask Isolt to bugger you, and see if you like it as much
as he does! Now go to bed."
Sahelis left with
a murmured good night, leaving Saheris wide awake. Secretly, Saheris wondered
how he would feel if a man knelt down before him and unfastened his trousers.
Would he respond? Did he want to find out?
He decided he
did not want to find out. He had his answer, years before, beside a fire
in the woods of Cormorin.
amazement. Sahelis had taken his advice and returned with a report in
two short days. They were polishing swords in preparation for their lessons,
which were soon to resume once the town had gotten settled and its armory
restocked. "So I asked him," he said.
"So you asked
"I asked Isolt
why he would want a man instead of a woman."
"You did?" Saheris
dropped the cloth he was polishing with. "What did he say?"
"Well, first he
was embarrassed and didnt say anything. Then he said if I really
wanted to know, he would tell me. So I said I really wanted to know."
"And he said it
was because he did not feel drawn to women."
"Well did he ever
try? Did he ever have "
"Heri, I didnt
"Did you ask him
"Because I got
the answer to my question," Sahelis said.
"And that satisfies
I am drawn to women. All the time. Sometimes I cant stop thinking
about them. So - thats that."
"So why were you
so curious about Isolt?"
"I just wanted
to know. You saw them. I wanted to find out if Isolt felt the same way
about men that I do about women."
"You should decide
that when you have one."
I decided," Heli said. "Im going to ask Arrus to bring me to his
whore. If you want to go, you can go too."
"Yes he will.
He already told me he would."
Saheris was amazed.
"Well of course I want to go! But Im older, so I should go first."
"It was my idea,
so I should go first."
Arrus, and he can decide." They abandoned their task, and went in search
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