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
"You age. Battle
and fatigue, and other things, perhaps, age you. What ages you, Beshan?"
"Stiven ages me,
"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
"Which Greek did
they say he was?"
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
"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
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."
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
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.
he said. "How could his flesh be burned like that?"
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."
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."
"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?"
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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