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Chapter 30: The Trial

Sahelis returned from Numis's tavern at midnight. While troubled, their meeting was a good one, and he had a long list of names and dates, of rumors and of facts, that she had learned from the other whores, both male and female, concerning Saheris. He asked, it seemed, a thousand questions of her, with one true aim, to determine her feelings for his brother. And in the course of his questioning, he asked her if she would marry Saheris if he were an Alan prince.

"I would rather marry a Roman senator than Saheris El Maduc," she replied bitterly. "He is an arrogant, cruel, and pitiful excuse for a captain. In my country, he would be castrated and made an example of, and if he lived past the fever of losing his balls, he would be sold to the Persians for a catamite. Many a bad-tempered Armenian soldier, if he rapes a woman, has found himself receiving just punishment of his own by being raped in the same way - well, a different way… but it is the same, for a man. Had I not been protected here by the owner of the tavern below, I am sure he would have found a way to take me by force. And that is death in my country." Her eyes blazed.

"Numis, please, is this so hard for you to understand?" he cried miserably. "I am not favoring him! I am jealous of him! I could tear his balls off with my own hands right now, you don’t know the half of my feelings about Saheris!" His fists were clenched rightly, and to the girl standing in the shadow of the tiny garret, he seemed the picture of violence. She checked herself.

"Then do so," she said simply. "You have no reason to be jealous of him, however. Because he touched me here?" she placed a hand on her breast. "So have a thousand common soldiers in the course of a year. You are going to unman them all? Your captains, your armies? Because of one orphan whore? You speak no sense. You knew this before you bedded me, that mine was not a holy bed. Get your sense back, Eosa!"

"Don’t call me Eosa. I am not Eosa. That is a name of a fantasy," he said in an undertone, and made as though to pace. There was no place for him to walk, much less pace, so he contented himself with moving toward the bed where Numis sat, unnaturally composed.

"It is my fantasy," she replied doggedly.

"No, it is not. It is the fantasy of my mother, who was herself mad, and who has carried this madness on to my brother…"

"Your brother? You have a brother?"

"Ye – yes, I have a brother." Sahelis sighed deeply, and put his hands over his face.

She took his arm and pulled it away from his face, and knelt on the pallet, embracing him gently. "Oh, love," she said. "How this all pains you, first you have a woman and find that she is every man’s whore, then you find you love her, then you find your captain has had her, and all before you are blooded. It isn’t right you should know a woman before you are blooded. It destroys a man." She spoke softly into his ear, and Sahelis grew still, the warm scent of her and the touch of her breath on his neck soothing him despite his agitation. "I know what it’s like to miss a family. The friends I make are my family now. Let me be your family tonight, and you can forget your mad mother, your mad brother." Her searching hands went into his shirt and pulled it away from his shoulders, and she pushed him gently onto his back. He did not resist, nor open his eyes. She reached across him and took out a tiny pot of unguent.

"A Khan must always have a servant to heal his wounds when he returns from battle," she whispered, soothingly. "A special kind of physician who can tend to his body, release the pain that he cannot yet feel when he is fresh from the heat of struggle, and before the muscles grow cold." She rubbed the unguent onto both hands and smoothed across his upper chest and shoulders, seizing the tense muscles between her squeezing fingers. "Tell me when it just hurts, not enough to make you tense, but enough to make you notice."

"Oh, I notice," he whispered.

"Hush, it is not a night for love, it is for healing," she said. "Much as you please me," she concentrated her attention on the knotted muscles of his neck and shoulders. "It is a time when the body must be made straight. These things we women of the mountains know, when we hike until our legs grow an egg of throbbing pain, when our shoulders drop from our bodies and we can no longer carry, and no goat to help us with a skin of water. You will need women with these skills if you go to Pamphylia, or you will lose your ability to march."

"We don’t march, we ride," he corrected her automatically. She paused in the midst of rubbing him, and then continued on, persistent.

"You are much too literal a person, Eo – Sahelis El Maduc. Just rest, I will cease my chatter. Let me sing to you and you rest." She worked her way systematically across his upper body and neck, made him roll onto his belly, and with an energy he didn’t know she had, spent the greater part of an hour massaging his entire back and arms, until the tension had drained from him completely. A drowsiness crept upon him while he lay quiescent beneath her fingers, and she hummed a haunting and aimless tune that seemed to draw him deeper toward sleep.

"He is in Maduc, your brother?"

"No, he is not," he replied automatically.

"Oh, he is in the wars then?" A soldier? Not a prince like you."

"Not like me," he agreed. "Not anything like me."

"In the armies of Bithynia? In Galatia?"

"He will soon be in Galatia, I think," he murmured. "Perhaps he will die at the hands of Bellianus the Roman."

"I’ve heard of him," she replied. "Bellianus will be your brother’s friend, if he takes his life and saves him madness. Then his soul can return to the great mother and live a happier day."

"A happier day for my brother. He has never seen a happy day."

"Then let us wish for him a happy day, now sleep." Sahelis sighed once again, and lost consciousness, briefly. He then sat bolt upright in bed, staring at the girl.

"What did I just say?" he cried. "What is the hour?"

"It is not yet midnight," she said, as she busied herself putting the unguent away in its little satchel.

"What did I say?"

"You said your brother would be killed by Bellianus in Galatia, and his soul would live to have a happier day."

"My brother?"

"Your younger brother, the mad brother who is not a Khan of Maduc."

"My brother?" He regarded her wildly. "What did I tell you of my brother?"

"Lay back, love, you were sleeping. Let me douse the candle and we can sleep for an hour, you will wake up rested."

"Numis, what did I tell you of my brother?" his voice grew hard, and he drew his tunic back over his now-cooling skin.

"You said he had your mother’s madness in him," she recited. "You said he was not a Khan, not like you at all, and that he had gone to Galatia."

"I said that. Do not repeat that to anyone."

"Who will I tell? You never mentioned his name, so what will I say to my friends? Sahelis has a younger brother in the wars, and he will die soon so what does it matter? That is the story of every soldier!"

"Oh," he replied, visibly relaxing. It suddenly occurred to him that he had not told her the one fact he wished to conceal, and that his secret was intact. But should he tell her?

Sahelis regarded Numis in the candlelight, recalling to mind her bitter words about Saheris. Yet at the same moment she was full of charity for the one who she believed was Sahelis’s beloved brother. He IS my beloved brother, I love him more than myself most days, he reminded himself. Better that Numis think of ‘my brother’ and I can hear the kindness that she has for everyone I love. This is not truly a deception; for she saw that part of Saheris even I do not understand and do not know. It is not truly him. So, he counseled himself, and it seemed right to him. But he realized that it was time for him to discuss this with Heklitis; the two natures of his brother, and why they were so unlike one another. But Heklitis was in Maduc, and he would have to write it onto paper; and writing onto paper was likely to be read. He would have to find a reason to bring Heklitis to Maeotis before they joined the army in Ilitrahant – he could not wait for this counsel. But now, he gathered his thoughts once again, it was time to do what he had come to do.

"Enough of my brother, Numis. I had an errand to do in coming here. For Munduk, and now I must discharge it."

"An errand?"

"Yes, to fulfill your wishes about ridding the town of disease and whoredom."

She clapped her hands together. "You are not joking? You went to Munduk about this? And so quickly?"

"I went to Munduk about it, yes. Privately. He chose, however, to involve Saheris, since Saheris is in charge of me."

"Saheris should not be in charge of a goatherd!" she spat.

"But he is. He is in charge of me. However, I also spoke to Munduk about your words concerning Saheris, and he took them very badly."

"Will Munduk punish me?" her eyes grew wide with fright. "Will Saheris come to finish his work now?"

"No, not at all. Saheris does not even recall where you live, he would have to follow me here to find you again." He smiled. "Saheris is not an accomplished tracker. He leaves that to me, I am his tracker. Without me, he will be lost between the gate and the threshold of his own door!"

Numis smiled. "Then it is well for me. But now what of Munduk? What does he wish of me, concerning Saheris? Does he wish to question me?"

"No. I will do that. But you will be very happy about this. I asked him if he could return you to Armenia at earliest opportunity, and he consented. If it is possible to do, and it is safe on the roads, he will see you released from bondage here, along with the rest of the orphans in the bordellos, and return you to your places, if they exist."

"You kept this from me, while I comforted you?" she cried, momentarily angry. "You are a beast! I will call you Saheris El Maduc, the Beast!"

"Hush, Numis, be happy and not angry with me. I am a boy, remember? I am not blooded yet, and a woman has destroyed me." A mischievous grin began to spread across his face, and the news he gave her began to dawn on her.

"Yes, but what a man! You have done what a year of my scheming in the beds of Maeotis with a half a thousand drunken soldiers could not have done, and in one brief night! Oh you are my salvation then, Eo… Eosa. You will always be Eosa to me."

He ignored her comment this time. "But there is little time. I need you to tell me, and I will write down, the names of all the women Saheris has bedded that you know. Munduk has need of knowledge of his – iniquities, and to find if he has made any pregnant. These women will be cared for together, and when they give birth the children will be raised by Munduk himself, because he believes that the seed of Saheris is magical." He elaborated the truth from moment to moment as he watched the expression on Numis’s face.

"Munduk is an idiot," she replied. "But as long as his idiocy helps me home to Armenia, he can be as stupid as he wishes. Yes, I will tell you the women he has bedded. It will shock you and dismay you, for some are the wives of men you know, who were bored and intrigued by the offer he gave them in the marketplace in the evening. The young soldier, Wols – you know Wols?" (he shook his head) fell in love with Saheris, and took to following him in the town. Wols knows every step that beast took, for he followed him from threshold to threshold as a shadow, thinking to approach him alone and offer himself to him. But he never had the courage, and he feared that if he did this, Saheris might disembowel him."

"He was right, he probably would have. He detests catamites. He once followed me to a place where he saw two soldiers who were as man and woman to one another – the woman soldier was my caretaker for a time, in youth! – and he grew so angry he would not speak to me for a day and a night."

"That is because it aroused him. Saheris is far more the woman than you, and I have seen this many times. If they are beautiful and delicate of face, then they have a passion of a woman in them, and men can see this, men respond to it as though they regard a woman – they can’t help it. They desire the face but the body is not the body they desire. This is why Wols follows him and has this love for him that Saheris cannot feel. Because inwardly, Saheris is a woman."

"What are you saying, Numis?"

"They are called angelus by the Christians: messengers from god. Saheris would be an angelus diabolus, an evil spirit who brings destruction. They wear the body of a man, but they are neither man nor woman, but both, or either, as is their will. He seeks the beds of women, because he wishes to see through them as mirror, and return to his god – he is one of the lost spirits fallen from god. He is small, delicate, feminine, and does not have the virility of a true man. This is why he struck me, because I know this. I told him I would not have angelus diabolus, I would not have Saheris El Maduc -–I would have a man."

"Does Munduk believe this nonsense too? Or is it just the Christians?"

She regarded him coldly. "Do you wish to know of the exploits of Saheris, or don’t you?"

He bowed his head. "Yes, but without the religious interpretation, please. Just the names, and the addresses, if you will." He drew from his specially-prepared scabbard the small book he carried with him, and a length of coal chalk. "I am ready."

 

Heklitis shook himself awake. He had watched long over Saheris’s sleeping form, occasionally moving his body and propping it up with cushions so that he would not grow stiff. Every few hours, he would massage the passive limbs to keep the muscles from growing stiff – Saheris was, despite his illness, and the mysterious eruptions across his shoulder and arms, were an athlete’s, and in his fevered sleep, the quiescent muscles of his shoulders and arms twitched. After one such treatment, Heklitis returned to his seat, and upon resuming his vigil, found his face wet with tears, a deep sorrow outwelling from him, and he longed to speak again with Saher, to tell him what he had refrained from saying that night in Berayn, when he had watched over the sleeping Sahera in this same manner.

But he had not; nor had he told anyone; and the knowledge that he now may never get the opportunity to do so, or see Saher alive again to tell him, weighed upon him with an absolute weight. If he could not tell Saher, perhaps there was someone he could tell. Spidios would be arriving within the week; his teacher and mentor from Eleusis; and from whom he had no secrets until this event occurred, the week after joining Saher’s service and journeying from Eleusis to Maduc.

But to tell Spidios this thing…! How would he be received? Would this be the ignominious end to his career as the finest physician ever sent abroad from Eleusis? Thus he had reasoned originally, and had not turned back from his service to Saher. Thus he reasoned once again.

"But does familiarity with a choice, no matter how wrong, make it the right choice to make twice?" Counsel he needed, and as he had been taught, the best counsel is often nearest, if it is trustworthy. No one more trustworthy than Atthis, and she was the only one available to him from Eleusis. But he did not trust her objectivity: did she not this night lay with Saheris? How could she advise him? The boy had seduced grown women in Maeotis, thinking himself entitled to the powers of a king. Heklitis knew this madness: Sahera had done the exact thing with him as he attended her – ah, Sahera, the source of it all. And it dawned on him with a sudden clarity, it was because of Sahera that Atthis was exactly the right person to counsel him; and so he was resolved.

The lamp guttered; he rose wearily to trim the wick and replenish the oil, and to wait for Atthis to return to tell of her progress with Sahelis.

 A distant rapping woke Sahelis from a light sleep.

"Who knocks?" he called, rising cautiously and firing a lamp. He had been half-listening for Saheris, and because of Saheris’s unnerving habit of appearing unannounced at his bedside, staring sometimes for long minutes over him before startling him awake, Sahelis had barred the door against his entry. He had expected a knock, the clash of a sword against the lock, and soon enough, the rapping woke him.

"Saheris?"

The knock continued. He went to the door and placed his hands against it. "Who knocks?" he called, more loudly. "I will not open the door, Saheris, unless I know it is you and know that you are unarmed."

"It is not Saheris," came the immediate reply.

"Then who?" he said, startled.

"Let me in, please, Khan. I will wake the house if I have to call like this through the door."

"Then wake the house, stranger!" he called back angrily. "I will wake them myself, and be prepared to greet me armed when I open this door."

"There is no need for that," came the voice again, less strongly. "My name is Atthis, I am a physician. I am here with Heklitis, your own therapeusis. Your brother Saheris is ill and I must speak with you immediately."

Sahelis unbolted the door, holding his sword. Blocking the entryway, he held the lamp up slowly.

"Please, let me pass within. There is risk of danger without."

"What danger?"

"From Munduk’s familiars. Close the door." She slipped past him with a sense of urgency, and sat on Sahelis’s disturbed bed. He turned to her.

"Now who are you really? You have the mannerism of the woman at the end of the table with whom I spent an exhausting hour last night. What game is this that Munduk plays today, and what lies do you speak to me tonight? I am mightily tired of Scythia and its deceptions."

"I am not from Scythia. And yes, I am the woman at the table. My name is Atthis, and I grew up with Heklitis in Eleusis, and trained as he was to be a physician. But I stayed at Eleusis, and learned additional skills of treatment of sexual disease. I was called here by Munduk, because I have been in his service before and am so again."

"The hetaera!"

"Not as such, no. Only if that proves to be absolutely necessary. The story Munduk told is a more classic tale from the days when the Persians and Caliphs ruled southern Asia,. In those days the Greeks sought female companions of the educated class as concubines for their sons as a defense against the corrupting influences of the southern enemies. With one highly skilled concubine, the energies of the prince could be fully distracted from unfortunate engagements with foreign women. This proved valuable for such as Philip and Alexandrus, but these things are ancient history. Munduk’s father Akuk requested such an arrangement from Eleusis and we obliged him – once. Munduk may think that we supply courtesans as part of our duties, and thought perhaps it was a permanent arrangement for his heirs.

"Heirs? What heirs?"

"You do not know, then, that Munduk has named Saheris his heir."

"How can he? Ruash is his heir."

"No, Ruash is not his son."

"You speak too fast, and this night has been too long by half. What in the name of heaven are you getting at, and what has this to do with my brother falling ill? Where is he? I must go to him."

"Go to him you may, but you will not be happy with what you see. He is safe for the moment, but only just. There are some things that must be accomplished before the day breaks, and they will not be pleasant. Can you remain awake, or should I gave you a draught of patchaput to waken you for this night?"

"Patcheput! Everyone wants me wakeful! What is this? Surely if Saheris –"

"Do not argue with me, young Khan. You are a youth. You must listen now. I have Munduk’s full confidence; and if I must get Heklitis to come to make you listen first and talk later, then I will do so. But that will take him from your brother’s bedside."

"Then take me to Heklitis, stranger. You are no one to me."

"Very well. Follow, and be silent."

Sahelis followed her down the passage to Saheris’s room. Heklitis was at the door.

"He will not speak with me privately. He insists on seeing you."

"Heklitis!" Sahelis gasped. "I’m sorry. I know this woman has already deceived me once, in Munduk’s presence. What is going on? Saheris!" he cried, and went to the bed, his hands touching the fevered brow of the naked boy sprawled unconscious where Heklitis had left him when he went to the door.

"He looks so innocent," Sahelis said. "Such monstrous things, such an innocent face."

"Monstrous things?" Heklitis inquired. His tone was mild, but within it was a hard edge.

Sahelis looked away, reluctantly, from the inert form of his brother and met Heklitis's gaze, his eyes filling with tears. "Saheris has been abroad with women in the town. Has he grown ill from it, so quickly? Only tonight he challenged me in the street! How can he lie here so still, his face so hot with fever? Is it typhus?" Despite himself, he shuddered, and his fear for Saheris overcame his anger in a brief moment.

"No," Heklitis replied, and took a seat by Saheris's bed. "Nothing so serious. You see him lying still and feverish from a drug given him by Atthis. He was taken by force, because he was belligerent, and we - our master, Spidios, thought it best to drug him. He has been drugged with henbane."

Sahelis approached the bed. "Belligerent. Yes. But no longer. Heklitis, Munduk asked me to go into the town and find out who he had been with, and I find out he has been with dozens of women, perhaps a hundred if the truth be known, in the months since we arrived and were first paid! He must have been with several each night… and still to rise before me each morning and be on the field…" he shook his head as though to clear it. "Why would he do such a thing?"

Heklitis's eyes had fallen. "I cannot say for sure, but I suspect. It would be best to ask him, but we have more pressing matters to attend, if you will answer Atthis's questions now…?"

Sahelis found a seat and perched upon it, his attitude still anxious. "What do you wish to know?"

Atthis came forward, a shapeless cloth in one hand, to carefully wipe Saheris's sweating brow as he slept on, senseless. "We need to know if Saheris had suffered from a burn or other injury involving heat, that you know, or whether he complained of it."

"He said his skin felt as though it were burned, but since it has been so overcast, it could not have been sunlight. He showed me eruptions on his skin, and I told him I thought it was the underbrush we had crawled through had poisoned his skin. There are many poison bushes we learned about here, and Scythia is a peculiar place for these things. Saheris likes to exercise with little clothes, so he could easily get a rash or burn on his shoulders and back. I didn't think more about it - this is always happening to him."

"What about new clothing. Has anyone given him a new article of clothing he has worn, a coat, a cloak, an undergarment?"

"No, no cloak, no coat, and he wears no undergarment that I have ever seen - Saheris has no modesty. A - vest of mail! That is new. Stiven had him made a new vest of mail that he had made of small links of bronze, forged and knitted in Gallia. He was going to first give it to Ruash, but then he took a liking to it, and would wear it without any other clothing on the field. He asked me to shoot arrows at him to see if the mail would protect him, but I would not. He might have got another of the officers to do it; I did not want to watch. Is that what you mean?"

"Do you know where he keeps this vest of mail?"

Sahelis cast his eyes around the room. "Who is to say where Saheris keeps his things? He might keep it on the back of his horse for all I know. I can try this drawer." He pulled open a heavy drawer that was built into the wall. Within it were a mass of cloaks and trousers, tunics and stockings. The vest was not there. He then opened a small recess in the wall where his sword and equestrian gear were hung. Within glittered a familiar golden sheen: the vest. He drew it out and held it in the open. "This!"

Atthis advanced quickly, and took the vest from his hands quickly, casting it onto the floor. "If this is the item, you should not handle it. It will make your skin erupt in burns, and you may grow sick from it."

"You are jesting!" Sahelis laughed with sheer surprise.

"Look upon his shoulders and back, where this rested against his bare skin, and tell me how much I jest," she challenged him. Sahelis drew back.

"But what is it? And how can that be inside a metal? There is only metal in it!"

"There is a metal that has a quality that burns. It is called pitchblende. It is very hard, and very poisonous. In time, it will sicken and kill directly through the flesh, in sufficient quantities. This is what necromancers in these countries sometimes use to poison a king or rival, slowly, and in great pain. We need not wait long to discover if this contains pitchblende."

"Yes. Yes. Now I see," Sahelis grew thoughtful. "Is that what has sickened him?"

"No, that has only contributed. In a few more weeks it would have made him much more ill, since it takes time. It is the assassin we must attend to right away. Stiven, you say? He would be the assassin.

"But the other problem is worse than this I'm afraid," she went on. "He has treponema pallidum, the sexual disease that also kills, in time. Have you been taught of treponema, and how it is caught? And what it does?"

"Treponema. This is the disease boys get from catamites?" Sahelis leveled Heklitis a questioning look, a suspicion creeping over him.

"It is not particular to catamites, or boy whores, as you say. Although sodomy carries more risk of infection than the usual method of intercourse. In any case, he caught it - from where, it may be impossible to learn. But where he has spread it is of more concern, and forcing treatment upon him is necessary, or he will surely sicken further, and from this, he will die."

"Oh Saheris," he wailed, and put his head in his hands. "How can I remain angry with a man so careless of himself? He is no more careless of me than he is of his own body!"

"That is true," Heklitis responded. "However, there is a cure proposed, and a rather lengthy experience we must put Saheris through, while he is under treatment. It is now in great doubt as to whether he could go to Pamphylia, or even if he can travel to the Khan in Ilitrahant to help with the Roman problem."

"Cure. You said he had a disease that would kill."

"In time. If he has only been at most three months in the beds of the women of Maeotis, then there is plenty of opportunity to kill the spirochete and return him to health. But there are those not so fortunate, and then there are those we cannot know about and therefore, not treat. The whorehouses of Maeotis must all be emptied, and all of their inhabitants treated, so that the disease can be wiped from the garrison of the Scythians. Munduk might, in time, lose half his army to this one epidemic, spread by his own chosen heir."

Sahelis turned white. "All - treated? What is this treatment?"

"Garlic," said Atthis simply. "Cloves and cloves of garlic, freshly eaten, several times a day, and for several months.

"That does not sound so wretched, but you may have to keep Saheris confined to make him eat it. He detests garlic."

Heklitis nodded grimly. "I know."

"Now what of this?" Sahelis asked, pointing to the garment on the floor.

"We must act, and quickly. We can confirm the presence of pitchblende easily enough, upon Spidios' arrival. But we may find out more quickly than this, simply by querying Munduk. So now I must wake him at bed with his wife."

"Munduk's wife! Then she is here, and that was no lie."

"Of course not. If you think back, Sahelis," Atthis said soberly, "no lie was spoken, it was only that you were allowed to believe what you wished based upon the situation. Munduk's wife was present at all times in the room. As well as his daughter. They served the meal from their own hands."

"The blonde, tall women! The Gepidae?"

"Not Gepidae. Rus. From the kingdom of Rurik. They are similar to Gepidae, but if you look closely the head is shaped differently. You will meet her once again, an imposing woman of great charm. Now, let us wake Munduk."

But Munduk was not sleeping. He and Eldana had sat long into the night, worrying the issue of Stiven, when Atthis and Heklitis appeared with Sahelis at his door.

"What news?" Munduk called, and they opened the door to enter.

"Grim news, Khan," Atthis replied simply. "May we enter?"

Eldana sat upright upon the bed, a soft gown upon her body, her hair surrounding her like a golden mist. Sahelis gasped when he beheld her, and flushed with confusion. She was beautiful, and in her bedclothes, a vision to him of feminine loveliness that he would not soon forget. How could he have failed to notice her beneath the modest clothing of a servant? Munduk soon noted where his eye traveled. "Yes, Sahelis. My wife. A beauty to be enjoyed if only by the eye, if you take my lesson. But she may have available a daughter who might attract you."

"My apologies, Khan," he mumbled, deeply shamed by the fact that his emotions had been clear on his face. Munduk laughed aloud.

"You come to my bedchamber in the middle of the night, child, and see me abed with my love, of course it would intrigue you! Now come, what grim news? Things are afoot and I must know them."

"Indeed, Khan," replied Atthis, and they gathered around the bed for their consultation.

"This is what we know. Saheris is ill with treponema, and the disease is rife in your garrison. This is the first great threat. We must now set up a hospital, and confine him indefinitely until he is much improved. He is also ill with another sickness more mysterious, and more malevolent. It indicates the work of a poisoner, a necromancer. The garment he was given by Stiven is the most likely source of the poison, and so it indicates him directly. We must find out further if this may be true. Can you tell us of this garment he gave to Saheris?"

Munduk launched to his feet, heedless of his nudity. Eldana pressed his tunic into his hands, and he hastily donned it. "We were just speaking of this very thing!" he cried, and began to pace the room, furiously. "Eldana, may I speak of our discussion?"

She gestured assent, turning her eyes away from the group, a grim set to her mouth. "These things must out."

"Yes they must, Wife. Therapeuti, our respect for you is very great. We know that within Scythia's borders there is a great poison of superstition, and Stiven is the carrier of it. So in this way yes. But I know of no garment. What garment, and how can it carry poison?"

Heklitis spoke now. "We do not have proof, but we see that Saheris is burned as if from pitchblende. We need to know if you have any direct knowledge that Stiven obtained pitchblende and used it for anything."

"Well of course. He has all manner of poisons in his laboratory. The smells in there are sickening! If pitchblende is a potent poison you can be sure Stiven has it. Sometimes the bodies of his servants are carried out to the ash-heap to be burned, and the marks upon their bodies show that he has done wicked and unspeakable things to them with these poisons. He calls it 'experimentation' - and I have loathed him since the first was brought out and sent to his god. This I did not count on when I took Scythia for my stronghold. I have long sought to either flee from this place, or subdue it for this one reason. But these are magicks the people hold dear. I cannot educate them that these monstrosities are valueless and barbaric. How can an Ugar speak of barbarians to barbarians? But here I do not understand. He set out to poison Saheris? That makes no sense! He thinks that Saheris is his ---" he stopped, red-faced.

Eldana was glaring at him, speechless with rage.

"Wife - we must trust these people." She did not reply, but gathered her clothing about her shoulders as though to protect her from the truth that would follow. Sahelis could feel the emanation of pure anger from her as a physical blow, and stepped back.

Heklitis spoke, his voice mild. "This may be of crucial value to understanding how Saheris's life has been placed in jeopardy. Please understand. We are your most confidential allies."

"You are not my ally, Greek," she said, her voice tight with fury. "I do not know you. My trust does not immediately extend from my kingdom to Scythia. to Bythnia and thence to Eleusis."

He bowed his head; his manner, humble. "Shall we leave you then? It seems we must allow some time for discussion among you."

"No!" Munduk shouted. "Our aim is the same. The demise of this wizard. This is my land, Eldana, and you may have me at your mercy yet this night, but it is time for me to speak, and to act. This child is his charge, and mine."

"As you will, husband," she spoke, grinding her teeth. Sahelis could only imagine, from the frozen look of loathing on her face, how much it cost her to capitulate to Munduk then. There was a person with exquisite self-control; and the sight of it made him feel utterly intimidated. The power she held within her! And did not let loose; he found himself both frightened and aroused by it. Thus I learn about myself, he found himself thinking. This is what I wish I could have in a wife.

But Munduk now spoke, and captivated all of them with his words. "His son! He told me he believes that Saheris is his son."

Heklitis gasped. "That is impossible."

Atthis nodded, confirming. "Yes, impossible."

"Not entirely impossible to me," Munduk said. "I know that Stiven was intimate with the children's mother, Sahera, and at a time in the past that could easily have been that of Saheris' birth. No later, though. What age is he?"

"He will be fifteen in the winter," Heklitis replied tightly. "That is the winter of the year in which I was apopinted to attend Sahera, and was to remain with her by the Khan Saher. So I would know who she took to her bed. She had gone to Moesia by the time of her confinement, and I was not aware then of her pregnancy. She concealed it well until her departure." Atthis turned to look at him, her eyes boring into his face, and the look they exchanged was noticed by Sahelis. "Unless Saheris was born a mere six months after his conception, which I do not believe, I would know of any visit to her by a Scythian in Illyricum or Bithynia. I was with her in both countries."

"Then you know much I could learn," Munduk replied equably. "I am relieved that Stiven's was the raving of a madman. He first believed Saheris to be his, but upon closer examination, he said that Saheris was the bastard of a Roman, due to the shape of his face. But what would give him to believe he had fathered Saheris, if only briefly? Surely, he must have lain with the mother, though I find it loathsome in the extreme that such a man could have done that, or that she would accept him. In any case, however, he was abnormally excited to receive the boys here, and in fact had encouraged me for months to extend this invitation to Saher. I did it in part to sooth his agitation; I was angry to find he had this belief, and did not know how to approach Saher to look into it further. You say then it is not possible that Saheris was fathered by Stiven?"

"No," Atthis shook her head.

"His parentage is known," Sahelis said loudly.

"Known?" Heklitis asked, his voice hushed.

"Yes, known. Saher revealed all to us. Stiven is not his father; could not be his father." Sahelis said firmly.

"Then who is his father, if I may ask?" said Munduk. "And why is it of such interest?"

"Can Munduk know these things, Heklitis?" Sahelis said.

"At this point, Heli, I can't see that concealment is of any value. Saheris --"

"His father is Priscus Bellianus," Sahelis pronounced. Munduk's face registered surprise, and he looked to Heklitis.

"You knew this?"

Heklitis bowed his head. "That is Saher's belief. I have no reason to question him."

"The man he goes to seek in Ilitrahant is Saheris's father? Why?"

"Because he is an enemy of Rome now due to his entanglement with Sahera, and the circumstances of Sahera's death, and has been ordered out of the provinces. He sought some sort of refuge in Pontus, and it has caused local problems. Saher has ordered his death if he is captured."

"This can't be!" Sahelis cried. "Saher cannot have ordered his death?"

Heklitis looked down on Sahelis. "Sahelis, we have more pressing matters to attend right now. The sentence upon Bellianus has been in place since the time of your birth. There is nothing new in this."

Sahelis grew quiet.

Munduk spoke then. "We are not upon the subject we should be. Stiven: he has attacked Saheris with poison, and the regicide must die. I shall dress and do the deed."

"Do not be hasty," Atthis said.

"Hasty?" Eldana interrupted. "These many months and years I have tried to move Beshan's hand to execute the beast from this land, and he has stayed it! He has drawn his sword against the shriveled neck of that demonic creature innumerable times, and his own gutlessness has weakened him to carry through! Hasty? There is nothing of haste in it, now that the beast strikes against a very Roman governor's heir and regent of Beshan's nation."

"You speak out of turn, Wife," Munduk turned back to her. "And you embarrass me unnecessarily. Atthis, I see you are not one who is vengeful or quick to withdraw life, but I am not so nice as this. I have an obligation to Saher, and there is enough evidence of his malevolence to bring me down upon him now."

"We have need of intelligence from Stiven. Can you arrest him and give him to us to interrogate him?"

"I am not sure I can take him safely," Munduk replied. "I can try. But I will go now. I shudder to think what I may find when he is at his bed this time of night - perhaps he lies with toads acrawling while he satisfies himself with his boy slave. Perhaps he poisons them while he buggers them, and drinks their blood anon." Munduk was enraged, and he became louder and more animated as he spoke. He was working himself into a frenzy, a state of mind in which he could kill single-handed. Saheris could see the rage contort him - such a rage can protect a man when he feels vulnerable or frightened, and it was clear that Stiven frightened Munduk. It was not a normal fear. "I will probably need to bring more than one with me, he will be protected."

"We will go with you - the need for discretion is absolute," Atthis said. "And we will need to take him unharmed if we can."

"Then let us go," Munduk said. "I will be dressed and ready in a few moments. And when you have finished with him, his murderer's head will be taken from his body, and burned." Again, his face contorted in rage, and his wife put a staying hand on his arm. He pulled away from her. "You wanted this!" he shouted. "You revel in it! I only hope I can hold Scythia now, after this!"

"You will," Atthis spoke, her voice also loud. "We will make certain of it."

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