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Chapter 19: Maeotis

Finally, Arrus stopped laughing and regarded the two princes with a more or less sober expression. "You two are serious, aren’t you?"

Saheris nodded, and Sahelis cried "Of course! Having whores is part of being a soldier, and we are soldiers."

"You’re not just any soldiers, my boy, you are the young Khans. And for this you just can’t go have any whore of the town or countryside."

"Why is that?" Saheris asked.

"Because your care and education is the greatest concern of the Khan, and he might object. Have you discussed this with the Khan?"

"Of course not!" Saheris replied darkly. "Why should we? It is our own business!"

"No, it is the Khan’s business. What if you were to lay with a woman and she were to have a child? Would you marry her then, and would the child of that whore become the next Khan? These are things you should think about."

The two boys looked at each other in bewilderment and disappointment. "We will have to go to the Khan and ask him?"

Arrus nodded briefly. "All right then," Saheris said. "We will do that." Saheris gripped his brother’s arm in one hand. "Come on, Heli."

Sahelis was angry, and when they were out of hearing distance of the grinning soldier, he pulled away and rounded on Saheris. "How could you give up so quickly?"

"I didn’t give up. He’s not going to help us. He probably was told not to. We will have to find another way. I still remember where Arrus went to that night - do you?"

"No," Sahelis admitted.

"Well, I do. So I’m going to go there and see if I can do this on my own. If I succeed, then you can go."

"Why can’t we go together?" Sahelis whined.

"Because that’s not how it’s done," Saheris replied with finality.

Saheris had recalled, from their night of espionage, how much Arrus had paid as well. It was merely a matter of finding the sum and going to the address and making the appointment. He waited until he observed the Khan ride off in the afternoon, and entered his study, and began a systematic search through a large pot of coins behind his writing-desk.

As he combed through the various coins, his fingers felt an irregular shape, and he extracted one of the half-coins Sahera had given him. For a long moment, he gazed at it, memory flooding over him of the night she had accosted him in his bed. Then he set the piece on the table and resumed his search. After some digging, his fingers found the other half of the coin, and placed it against the first, so that the halves made a complete circle. He then resumed his search for the coins he would need to purchase the services of Arrus’ whore.

Dinner was long over, and the sun had disappeared into twilight by the time Saheris made his way into the town. It was a modest part of the city, near the waterfront, and as he walked he heard the benign lapping of the surf against the hard shingle of the shore. At length, he came to a stair, and ascended it. At the top was a small, dark door, hardly visible except to those who knew it was there, hidden deep in shadow. He looked around him, but there was no one in the street. He rapped on the door.

No one appeared to be home. He rapped again, this time more loudly, and then stepped back, so that he would not be visible to anyone who happened by below him. Finally, he heard a movement within, and the door cracked open. A woman’s voice said "What do you want?"

"I wish to buy you," he said simply, repeating what he had heard Arrus say that night.

The door opened a bit further and a head thrust out and looked down. "Oh you do? And who might you be? You’re only a boy."

"I am a friend of Arrus. He said you would admit me."

"He did? Do you have any money?" A shoulder emerged from the dark doorway, but he could see very little of her features in the gloom.

"Yes, of course I do." Saheris reached into his cloak and brought out the coins - it was more than Arrus had paid, in case she had objections.

"This will do," she said. "Now come in."

The door closed, and his eyes adjusted gradually to the bright lamp within. It had been so simple! Saheris looked up, and for a long moment he stared in silence, for the woman who stood before him in every detail was the very image of his mother, Sahera, down to the features of her face and the black hair which flew around her in disarray. This was the woman as he had last seen her in the cell in Cormorin. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

And then she spoke. "Do you have a name?" and the spell was shattered. The voice was not hers, and the manner was wrong.

"Heri," he stammered.

"What is wrong with you? Am I not what you expected? Why are you staring?"

"Nothing, nothing," he murmured. "You look like someone I knew."

"Some men tell me I resemble the mad princess. Perhaps that is why I have so many clients," she smiled. "Is that who I resemble to you?"

"Yes."

"And did you find her very lovely?" the smile widened as she drew him by the hand into the room and toward her bed.

"Yes," he stammered.

"You are rather young to have known the princess. But not too young to have dreamt of having her. Now you no longer have to dream."

Saheris was inarticulate; here was more than he had imagined - here was a woman who resembled in every detail his forbidden fantasy. And at the same time, he was numb with confusion.

"Have you had a woman before?"

"Yes," he answered, then refocused his eyes upon the woman’s face. "I mean - no." He fell silent.

"Sit down," she said. "Heri – you said your name was? You are a very comely boy. Take off that sword, that won’t do you any good here." Automatically, Saheris reached for his belt and loosed it, and let it slip gently to the floor as he sat on the side of the bed next to the woman. "Isn’t that better?" she spoke softly in his ear, and the heat of her breath touched off in him a flame which seemed to travel through him all of a moment. From those three words spoken in his ear he became completely aroused. He felt the woman’s deft fingers push apart the clasps on his shirt and slide against his chest, and he fell back upon the bed.

In moments, it seemed, she had unclothed both of them, and his senses were assaulted with the sight and scent of the woman upon him, but more than this, the satin sheen of her flesh pressing upon him, provoking into flame that ember of fantasy that had lain dormant for so many months and years: which now grew into an all-consuming need. Her hands guided him into her then, and within moments, it seemed, the fury of his passion spent itself in a few rapid strokes, and he lay back, panting and spent. He closed his eyes.

The whore leaned back on her elbow and ran an idle hand along his chest. "That was a bit desperate, even for a first time," she commented. "Would you like some more?" Saheris nodded, eyes still closed, but opened them in surprise as he felt her mouth upon his genitals, and moaned. He rapidly grew aroused, and she drew him down upon her this time. The pace was somewhat more leisurely, but before long the explosion that had torn through him before built up once again in a series of wild thrusts that left him once again gasping, flooded by a relief he had never before felt.

A hand was patting his cheek, and gradually he resurfaced to consciousness. "It’s time for you to go. You are not my only appointment tonight, you know." Saheris came completely awake then, and took in his surroundings. He was in the bed of Arrus’ whore, and had fallen dead asleep in her arms. He busied himself with his clothing then, as she straightened the bed and combed her hair, turning from him as he pulled his trousers on.

"May I –"

"Return? As long as you have money you can. You overpaid me, though. I generally charge only 50 denarii."

"No - I wanted to know if it was all right if my brother were to come."

"Is he younger than you?"

"Yes, but not much."

"I don’t know. Yes... I suppose so. But it can’t be tonight. I only took you because it is early. Send him an hour after sundown. 50 denarii."

Saheris tightened his sword belt, and picked up his cloak. She came up to him then and put her arms around him. "You are a very sweet boy," she said, pressing her cheek against his. "My name is Kara. You can come back any time."

"Thank you," he replied, suddenly embarrassed. She put her hands on his shoulders, and pushed him gently toward the door. "Go now, or you’ll never go," she said gently.

He made his way down the stairs, lost in contemplation. As he began his walk along the waterfront, he heard the sound of knuckles rapping on a door. He looked back, but saw no one on the stairs in the darkness.

 

Sahelis was waiting in his room when he returned.

"Well?" he asked without preamble.

"Well what?" Saheris retorted, throwing down his cloak and starting to unlace his boots.

"Did you go?"

"Yes."

"And what was it like? You have to tell me everything."

"It was incredible," Saheris said. "Not like dreams at all. She was... beautiful. Much more beautiful close up than she was from far away."

"Did she do.."

Saheris nodded. "Yes. And I had her twice - but the first time was pretty quick."

"Tell me more!"

"I don’t need to. You can go tomorrow. An hour after sundown. And she said I could come back anytime. If I pay, that is."

"The money! I’ll need money!" Sahelis burst out.

"Here, I got enough for you as well." Saheris drew the coins out of his inside pocket. With them were the pieces of Sahera’s coin. He handed the gold to his brother, and then held up the piece of coin. "And here is something you should never lose."

"What is it?" Sahelis pocketed the gold, and brought the severed coin closer to the lamp to inspect it.

"It is your inheritance. I have one too." He drew out his own piece and showed it to his brother. "Now, sit down a bit. Let me tell you what happened."

 

Sahelis never got his chance to visit Kara, however. Early the following morning, Saher himself woke them, and hurried them through an early breakfast.

"Today, you are both taking ship to Maeotis, to take up field training with Beshan."

Sahelis rose to his feet. "It’s too sudden! We can’t leave just like that!"

"And why not?" the Khan replied, eyebrows raised. He looked at Sahelis, who dropped his gaze before his father’s. "You have an appointment to keep?"

"No," the younger boy said. "But – what about our training? Our horses?"

"You will have other training, and different horses. It will only be for a few months. And in the spring you will march with Beshan to Galatia and join me for your first campaign."

"All winter?" Sahelis said in a weak voice. A look passed between the two boys.

"Suwetus has already had your clothes packed. You should be sailing within the hour - there is a good south wind."

Saheris spoke up then. "Father, just why are we going to Maeotis to Beshan for training? Can’t we get our training here with you and your chiefs?"

"You could, but Beshan is far more clever than I am, and has much more experience. If you would like to be a better general than I am, you have to learn from someone other than me. I have sent all of my new captains to Beshan these past three years, and I’m very pleased with them. To lead these men, you must learn what they know. It will only be a few months. When you take up your careers as soldiers, you will have to be gone from your loved ones for months at a time. It’s time you got used to it. Now hurry off and collect what you want to bring with you, you will be leaving soon."

"What wonderful timing," Sahelis remarked sarcastically as the two retreated to their room.

"I’m sorry, Heli," Saheris said, genuinely sorry. "It’s not my fault."

"Maybe it is. Maybe he is sending us away because he found out where you went last night."

"That is stupid. How could Beshan send a ship instantly? No, this was long planned. He is just surprising us with it today."

"I don’t want to go, Heri", Sahelis said with finality, plopping down heavily on his bed.

"You can’t refuse."

"Yes, I can."

"Look, Heli. If there are whores here in Maduc, there are just as many in Maeotis. And probably easier for us to get, without Father or Arrus watching us."

"True," Heli admitted.

"You’ll have your chance. I’ll make certain of it. Besides, I can’t go and leave you here. It would be miserable in Maeotis without you."

"I’d be miserable in Maduc without you, too, Heri."

Saheris throw an arm around his brother’s shoulder. "Cheer up, Heli. We’ll find you a woman as soon as we get to Maeotis."

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