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Chapter 29: The Arrest

Slowly, with a deliberateness born of years of practice, Queen Eldana, the hieress of Rurik, unwound the tresses of her hair. Attended by Munduk, who held a large wooden brush in one hand, she paused before the glass and glanced at him briefly before speaking. "What do you suppose he is doing, now?"

"He is probably dead asleep now with the draught she gave him." Munduk's face was grave, deep in thought. "How well I remember my first night with Circe - what pleasures she wrought from me, I thought I would never sleep, and yet, it was my first good night of sleep in a lifetime."

"I don't approve of these ways, and these deceptions," Eldana replied. "I do not like to think that such an emotional child as I observed tonight, so desperate to please his lord as he is, must be brought low with the basest of humiliations, just to teach him chastity. Can you not simply warn him against the risks of whoredom, and clear your garrison of whores?

"Clear them I will," Munduk replied, tugging at the honey-colored strands of her coarse hair. "Perhaps, when I finish combing out your locks. Can't you northwomen ever just cut it, and make cushions out of it? Must you carry it all with you like a dowry? I could take it all now with my knife, and make of it an entire mattress!"

"Do not jest with me, husband. You know our ways and accept them. And there are times when you have enjoyed me with these locks around my shoulders. But there is hard work involved in maintaining one's natural crown. That is the crown of a queen, her hair. Would you take my crown from me?"

"Of course not, dearest. And you are the most beautiful of your sisters. And for your beauty alone, I would come to you now," he kissed her shoulder, nudging the linen aside from her collar to seek the warm paleness of her flesh beneath. She shrugged him off.

"They could come to us at any time, and may," she said. "Besides, I wish a child, and it is not my time. Do not spend your seed emptily to satisfy a mere passion. We have the days to wait for the ripe moment, and you aren't as virile as you once were. You age, and this worries me."

"I do not!" he cried, piqued.

"You age. Battle and fatigue, and other things, perhaps, age you. What ages you, Beshan?"

"Stiven ages me, wife."

"Oh, the whoremaster of Scythia!" she scowled. "Kill him and make an end."

"I nearly did."

"A man who has boys to wife should be slain, and no mistake. Do it, and be done. Now I wish to talk of this heir, this Saheris. What do you wish me to say to him, when he is brought?"

"Let us let Atthis tell us - there should be some time before Saheris wakes."

"If I threaten him with the dead bones of my father, then one day he will march into Scandinavia with an army to challenge him. Your deceptions can be a dangerous thing for a violent youth and king. But more than this, his humiliation may be so great that he will forever banish all of the Rus from the farmlands of the Crescent. If you cede these things to him, my people are driven back again into the snows. We must make a pact of some new kind."

"Let us ask Atthis when she comes up. That is all I can say. She is here with her priest, and they have something in mind for him I do not wish to know. They know best about these magicks of kingship. Do you know they say that he is the soul of one of their great leaders? They all assembled so quickly and rode when I wrote them, they are in an excitement they never displayed toward any of my brothers, or those of Saher - you would think Saher, being of Illyria, would be of their sacred blood of Cadmon, and not the bastard Roman."

"Which Greek did they say he was?"

"Ha, Diocles. The emperor who slew every Christian in Antioch; who shared the Empire with his tetrarchy, and wrote the new law of Constantinople."

"He is a superior soldier. We of the Rus believe that our dead rise, but they stay safely in Valhalla."

"No, I am sure they return. I have seen souls that I have known, inexplicable."

"If Saheris is the soul of this emperor, then perhaps he has the appetites of an emperor, and will conquer all of us one day, passion or no passion."

"I have been told as much by Stiven."

Eldana rose, seizing the now-loose curls by the handful, and turned to face her husband on their bed. "Do not tell me the idiotic prophecies of that beast! You do not see that he is merely a madman far gone in the diseases of the loins - they grow mad, in time. It is a demon in their brains, they say. Kill him and be done, or speak no more of it to me. You anger me."

"Wife, we too have our ways. You are too quick with judgements; and you have agreed I will run Scythia my way. To run Scythia my way, I must have a wizard to enthrall the people. They will not listen to a king without his priest; or the priest will raise up another king and have the other poisoned. If you wish me dead of poison, you will not repeat these words beyond our bed."

Eldana sat, her face closed and cold. "Too much wickedness can never make goodness. Warriors do not bow to priests, or the priests will take the manhood of the warriors," she mumbled, indomitable.

"And take it he has, apparently," Munduk said sadly. "I age."

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Atthis rose from Saheris's bed, removing the gown that covered her, replacing it with a dark tunic that covered her to the neck, and trousers. She pocketed a small skin bag, reached across the boy and took a sizable hank of hair from his head with a knife. Lighting a large lamp that illuminated the room completely, she arranged him on the bed, and examined him thoroughly, particularly the genitals, under the arms, the hair, and musculature. Saheris was unconscious, hair matted with sweat, color high. She had drugged him heavily, enough to keep him asleep for a day and a night, and the drug caused his entire body to grow hot with fever. When he woke, he would be weak enough that he would not be able to defend himself, even if armed, and would be easier for women to handle, if necessary. Though small, he was powerfully strong, particularly in the arms, and she was sure that had they met in personal combat, she would not have lived to cry out. And had she been a man, approaching him by stealth as she had, he would have bested the combatant in the dark, even one considerably larger. There was no other way but by deception to take this youth; and taken he must be.

Heklitis knocked softly on the door, and she admitted him. "Your charge?" she asked him, and he nodded. "This will be hard for you to see." She drew back the linen she had drawn over the boy's body, and showed first his shoulders and back to the physician.

"Burns…" he said. "How could his flesh be burned like that?"

"Pitchblende, possibly. Munduk has a necromancer near, and if he plots assassination, he may be putting pitchblende into his clothing to sicken him. Powdered or in some ointment, it would erupt his entire skin, and weaken him with fever and visions. We have seen this amongst the gypsy priests - their arts of poisoning are crude but hard to defend against out here."

"That makes no sense. Saheris would not accept medicines from that man - he detests him!"

"He may have given him a piece of clothing that Saheris has recently worn. This is of recent use," she persisted. We will be able to find it, or ask his brother. The brother sees and knows more than he. And the brother would also know if he had seen burns on Saheris recently, and we would know when this began. But we are not done."

Atthis pulled the coverlet all the way down, revealing the as-yet hairless groin. "He has swellings. It is disease. I do not know yet if he has the spirochete, his seed may tell us more; but if so, we have a far larger problem in Maeotis beyond the education and therapeusis of one minor Khan. We have an epidemic of the spirochete."

"Syphilis."

"Indeed. He may be cured if it is recent, but the others may already be mad or dying if the disease has been in Maeotis for more than a year."

"A year only!" Heklitis gasped. "The germ destroys that quickly?"

"If not treated, if reinfected, and if fed properly. Saheris has been feeding it quite properly, and we must know who he has spread it to. We will need a hospital, and he will have to be evacuated if we cannot stop him. The chances of Munduk mounting a force to help Saher in Galatia with this affliction here are not good. We must take Saheris and isolate him. When he is cured, and when the others are cured or dead, then Munduk may safely join his armies to the east. Not until then. We will have to try him, and we will have to now involve the brother. What are the chances that the brother has done as Saheris has done?"

Heklitis thought a moment. "Doubtful. Sahelis is not of the same temperament whatsoever, nor was he attacked by their mother in youth. He is as normal a child as one could wish, and most likely remains a child, with some slight adventures pressed upon him by his brother. You may test his temperament in the same way if you wish. It will take some time for us to gain all the intelligence we need, and until then our brethren should take him and confine him. The night is yours."

She nodded, briefly. "I only hope he isn't of the same temperament. I have had enough of opening my legs to boys tonight." She drew a dark robe across her shoulders, and wadded up the Greek gown, depositing it in a pile. "These clothes are all contaminated, as is his bed. Have it all burned. I have adequately protected myself from the spirochete. And put calamine on his sores."

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