met by three of their training companions of the Ugar, had a hard but
enjoyable morning, and upon returning for their meal, were laden with
dark pelts from the unfortunate denizens of Red Hill. The foxes, having
overgrown their territory, had begun to prey on the fowl of the garrison.
Each morning told the tale in blood and feathers as the flocks of Munduk
were thinned. The hunting parties were not truly for fur but for population
control they stood to lose half of their fowl to foxes if the winter
proved cold; they had to be thinned.
At the door, they
were met with sheer surprise: "I trust you remember me," Heklitis greeted
them quietly. They ran up to him as he stood talking with Munduk.
is Arrus? Did you bring Tethys too?" Heli asked one question after another,
not pausing for an answer.
the shoulder of each in a powerful hand. "Not so much talk, come in and
eat. No wash the gore off you first, then come in and eat."
Then men went
inside and left them at the pump. "I wonder why he has come. Has Saher
fallen ill?" Heri wondered aloud.
"What?" Heli replied.
"Why do you say that? If Saher was ill he would be with him!"
a brief gloom settled over the boys. The arrival of Heklitis generally
meant unpleasantness. The physician must have sensed it, or their faces
gave away their anxiety, for he rose and drew them aside. "Saher is well.
I left him yesterday and he sends letters for each of you."
audibly with relief. "Then why
Saher just wishes for me to be with you for a time. Lets eat. I
cannot take food on ships and I am weak."
"Ha ha!" Heli
laughed loudly. "Heri too! He puked the whole first day!" Saheris smiled
Munduk had a broth
made for Heklitis, and he sipped at it delicately while the boys told
of their morning in the woods to Munduk, who listened raptly. After Saheris
third refusal to sing his song of the old black fox, Munduk raised his
hand for silence.
we are fed, and the children rested from their hunt. You have come on
some errand. I am concerned about this errand, and there are those who
are more concerned than myself."
up from his bowl. "If you do not mind, it would be far better for me to
see the boys privately, and I will answer your questions afterward."
that passed across Munduks face was unreadable. "I do mind," he
replied tightly. "You are in my house."
"Khan, I apologize
if this is an offense to you, he said patiently, almost cordially. The
work I do for the Khan must be discreet, and the health of his children
are his greatest concern at all times. He has not asked you to safeguard
their health; that is my duty. I assure you that once I have done this
duty, nothing of importance will be kept from you. I carry Sahers
letter which should be sufficient to explain my presence."
He held out the
letter to Munduk, who put it next to his plate, unopened.
his spoon once again, and took a final sip. He was waiting for Munduks
"There is no offense,"
Munduk said at length. "They are well, I have treated them well these
last weeks, as soldiers, but as elite soldiers. Have I not?"
Saheris rose to
his feet. "We are in perfect health, and brown as nuts. Saher should not
worry." Heklitis waited, silent.
"Go then," Munduk
said loudly, waving his hands at the children. "I have things to do. Come
to me before dinner, Heklitis, and tell me what it is you have to tell
They were dismissed.
Heklitis was given
the last free room in Munduks house, a room most often used by his
wives when they visited him here, which was infrequent. Though the children
had not seen any of Munduks wives, the slight evidence of women
was noticeable here and there in this room: woolen tapestries, several
of which were unfinished on their looms, a large table with boxes for
combs, rings, and earrings. The boxes stood empty. The long, tapered needles,
some of quill and others of iron, lay untouched where unknown hands had
ceased their work. The room smelled slightly of perfume. Saheris was reminded
for a moment of his mothers room in Maduc but this room held
only the distant memory of women, as though the passage of months had
obscured their presence.
no preamble. "It is important for you both to be extremely discreet here,
and to say nothing of our discussion to anyone in this house, or in this
country. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Heli replied.
"No," Heri said,
annoyed. "What is "
"Hold your tongue,
Saheris," Heklitis said firmly. "It is because of you that I endure that
Maduc you had a whore on the waterfront."
Saheris put a
hand over his eyes. Heli grinned widely.
"No," he said
"And did you succeed
gaped at him.
"And from the
look on your face, Sahelis, you were not with this woman yourself."
"He would have
been if we had not left the next day. But I dont know if he would
have succeeded," Saheris said bitterly.
"I would have."
"Stop now. I am
not here to embarrass you. The Khan did not send me from himself to chide
you on morality or women."
up. "He didnt?" The color that had suffused his face began to fade.
"If you succeed
in satisfying yourself with a woman, or even more, if you bring her to
satisfaction, you will soon have a family of angry whores and bastard
children. Because as soon as you can do this, you will father children.
I have taught you this since."
"But " Saheris
was abashed. "I thought that whores were "
They may be clever, and know much about when not to take a man in their
bed, but they too will carry a child if they are able, and if you choose
the wrong day to lie with her."
"Its a matter
of choosing days?" Heli asked.
"Yes, and those
days they are most ripe are the days they are most desirable. There is
an essence that comes from the woman that a man cannot smell with his
nose, but the rest of him knows it, and responds."
know," Saheris intoned darkly.
"Much like that.
When a woman seeks your bed it is often at this time. This is when you
must make a choice."
choice is there?" Saheris said, the small agony of embarrassment giving
way to a greater alarm.
"This choice Saher
has made, and the physicians of Eleusis have perfected. He always wishes
for you to use good judgement, and to give respect to all of the women
you meet and may love or marry. But he does not expect abstinence. Nor
does he ask this of you now."
"Then what does
"For you to choose
wisely. We have two remedies. One is temporary, and the other permanent.
If you choose the permanent remedy, then you will never father a child
in your life. But that is a choice you can make at any time. The temporary
remedy requires me to train you to a simple preparation, but will ensure
you will not impregnate the woman you lie with, almost always. Even when
she is fertile."
we just wait until we have our wives and then we dont need to bother?"
"That is not realistic.
Saheris did not wait to take a wife. Do you?"
"No. And I dont
want to take a wife. Not this winter anyway."
"Are you ready
to choose a wife now, Heli, to satisfy a curiosity for sex?"
"No," Heli admitted.
"Then you will
attend me tomorrow to learn to make the preparation. For Munduks
information, I will tell him that I have discovered a kind of tree In
Scythia that does not exist in Bithynia which has caused a rash that could
harm you if its thorn were to prick you, and that it sickened Arrus on
his last trip north. You will not say otherwise."
"Do we have to
eat some foul thing, this preparation?"
"No, it is somewhat
worse than that. You have to place a small quantity of a very sour fruit
into the womb. If you are unskillful, it will sting badly." Heklitis
eyes lighted with a youthful mischief.
"Have you done
this yourself?" Saheris accused.
"Only when requested."
your woman?" he laughed.
"No. By the Khan,"
"I suggest you
ask the Khan," Heklitis replied.
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