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Chapter 31: Examinations

Atthis and Heklitis withdrew with Sahelis into Saheris's bedchamber to await Munduk's return. "What I would not give to have Arrus with me here now," he said, almost to himself.

"Let me go with you," Sahelis said.

"No," said Atthis. "That is not possible. Sahelis, you have done a great service tonight, but you should stay with your brother until Spidios arrives. We go to perform a secret execution, one which you should not be privy to. Your knowing of it is bad enough; but to witness or participate is unacceptable."

"Why a secret execution?" he said.

She raised a staying hand. "There is no time, now. We must be swift, and I have somewhat to say to Heklitis. Please stay with Saheris, and we will send another guard to you, he will be Antipatros. Ask him for his name and he will give it; let him in to watch and protect you both. Now is not the time for mistakes."

Sahelis tried to gain a view of Heklitis's reaction and did not. The physician did not speak. "Come, Heklitis," she said, and took him by the arm. Heklitis left with her, without speaking.

"I think you know what this is about," she said when they were alone in the passage.

"Yes, had things not moved so quickly with Saheris, I had planned to seek your counsel."

"When? Today? Wouldn't that be fifteen years or more late?"

He met her eyes, levelly. "Yes, it would."

"You want to tell me or do I simply guess? That at the very least you had broken your vow of therapeusis and lay with Saher's daughter mere weeks from the last time you were at Eleusis. My opinion of you now is quite low."

"You do not understand."

"But that is the fact? Whether I understand why or not is irrelevant, isn't it?"

"That is the fact, Atthis."

"I am not going to ask why. How long have you believed that you had fathered Saheris?"

"Since his birth."

"And never once sought to learn the truth."

"The truth?"

"That you are not his father."

"I do not know that. You do not know that."

"Yes, I do. We all do. Certain precautions were taken with you, Heklitis. You were always intended to return to your family, and when you were sent back to them unknowing, the lure of blood is strong. The consequence of a sexual intrigue were high, but the consequence of incest is disease or malformed children. Spidios rendered you both circumcised and incapable of fathering children in you infancy, and you were sterile long before you ever reached adulthood."

"Rendered me incapable…. My family…"

"You are not Saheris's father. You are his uncle." She searched his face for recognition. "Your appearance alone should have told you."

"His - Sahera's brother…the son of Vira Al Alcal, then. Then this scar across my shoulder… Saher told me the story of this. Oh Atthis…" he closed his eyes then, and she gripped him by his shoulders. He stared at her wildly.

"Pull yourself together, Therapeutus," she said harshly. "Had you trusted us better you would have known long since! Tonight is not the night for weakness but strength. We have a horrible deed to do for your Khan and nephew. And if we had not done as we did in your case, it would be you who is the regent of Bithynia, and facing the grim life that awaits Saheris. Surely you can see how wisely you have been spared this, and yet not denied the parentage of Saher?"

Heklitis shook his head to clear it. "Spared? What have I been spared? That the only woman who ever succeeded in seducing me in my earliest youth was my own sister? Spared?"

"You had an oath to protect you from that! Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Here is Munduk now."

Sword bristling in his hand, with two of his personal guard with him, Munduk thundered down the stairs. Atthis and Heklitis ran to catch up to him, and he turned.

"Unarmed? I think not. Veruz, get them each at least a short sword. We do not know what ugliness we meet tonight, but it will be met with force."

The guard left, wordless, and returned shortly. "I do not know if I can stay myself against him," Munduk brooded. "What intelligence do you need, and how long will it take before I disembowel him?"

Atthis spoke. "We cannot say. That is for our master to decide. He should arrive within the day. At least, I hope he shall. We will need him confined, and isolate."

"No," he shook his head. "That will not happen. If I hold him, I must execute him. Otherwise I will have an insurrection. I must have swift trial, or evidence of treason against me. Holding him will not be acceptable, and it will foment unrest. His people will cry out for justice against me."

"You cannot --" she began, but Munduk raised a hand.

"This is my land, Greek. Do not tell me what I cannot. I won this country by might. I hold it by might and superstition. Do not presume in a land that is not your own."

She lowered her eyes. "I did not mean to --"

"Oh yes you did! Munduk, his rage spilling over, reached a coarse-skinned hand out and held Atthis cruelly by the chin, forcing her to gaze into his furious eyes. "Do not presume! You are here by invitation, and your assistance to Saheris is appreciated. But cross me at your peril! I have no trouble in slaying women either, for treason against Scythia." She glared into his face, her own anger flashing to the surface, and she pulled away from him.

"Your rage is getting away from you," she commented in a low voice. "Contain yourself."

"Bah!" he cried, and turned away. "Here are the weapons, let us go." Munduk stormed out of the house toward the now-dark building that housed the necromancer and priest, Stiven. Heklitis and Atthis hung back, Heklitis still silent, now holding an awkward weapon near his side. It was doubtful he knew how to use it, or could defend himself with it except in the crudest possible manner. It was better than nothing.

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A voice echoed in the darkness, and Saheris tried once again to stir. "Who do you serve?" the voice called. He opened his eyes, and around him was an impenetrable darkness he could not fathom.

"Who is here, what do you want?" Saheris spoke into the darkness. "I can't see you!"

"I said who do you serve? Answer me now!" He cast about wildly, trying to catch the echo of the voice which seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere. He felt feverish, disembodied, and the words that echoed about him seemed dreadful and familiar.

"Who do I serve? Serve how?"

"Who is your master?" The voice rose. Saheris lost consciousness once again.

"What did he speak? I am not that good with the Syriac tongue," Antipatros said to Sahelis.

"He said 'serve how'? It makes no sense. He is in fever, and having a dream of fever." Sahelis' eyes were cloudy with exhaustion, and tears were streaked across his cheeks. In the comparative stillness of the night, with the lamps guttering, untrimmed, he sat in a stew of remorse, his mind racing still over the course of the events of the day. Stiven, a regicide, and lover to the madwoman Sahera. Munduk's rage; Eldana, the beautiful queen, at court in her bed. Atthis, the mysterious Greek physician, and intimate friend of Heklitis. What must it be like to have the love of such a fiery, powerful woman as Eldana? The images crowded themselves against one another, and then at length were crowded out utterly by his fear for Saheris, who moaned again and cried out.

"Show yourself!" he cried sharply, and moaned again in his fever. Sahelis shivered, and put his arms around his brother's shoulders, holding him still.

"Do not be afraid, Saheris. I am with you, I am watching you. It is Sahelis, do not be afraid." His fingers touched the little welts that ran from the taut flesh of his neck downward in vague patterns. Blisters, red, festering, and hot. How could he not have noticed this? How could Saheris have tolerated these blisters all over him for weeks without heeding the discomfort? What was he, that he was so unaware of himself? He felt a great shame in himself, and realized with certainty that though Saheris was in many ways very clever, there were many other ways in which he was careless and even stupid; and that his stupidity was an extremely dangerous thing. It could have cost his life; again, just as it had before, when he wandered freely in the woods of Cormorin near Ilitrahant. How many more of these would there be, and how long could he expect Saheris to survive, since he had now reached the age of miltary maturity, and would lead? Couldn't Saher stop him?

He knew then that Saher would not stop him. It was not in Saher's nature to punish or to hold back Saheris' aggression; aggression was the one thing Saher had encouraged in him. And Saheris was what he had been made: a ruthless warrior. Someone very, very different from himself, and growing moreso each day. Is this the effect of having a different father? Bellianus was a warrior, a patrician, and a member of Attalus' house. Did this make his son Saheris more ruthless? Was it because of his Roman-ness? And Sahelis, his father was known for his mildness and reticence - is this what gave Sahelis his nature? There were no answers to these things. Sahera had told Saheris that it was Sahelis that was the son of the war god. Was this a delusion? He did not feel like the son of anything warlike, but a weary boy who had grown up much too quickly. At length, his eyes closed and he slept.

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The house was quiet as they approached. Munduk signaled his men with his free hand, and they flanked him as he gained the front stoop and placed a hand upon the door. It was locked. He hesitated for only a moment, then banged on the door.

"Stiven, come out. It is I, and there is grim news. The Khan is dead!" he nodded to his men, who drew closer to the sides of the door, swords drawn. From within there was a clatter, and a loud cursing. Munduk drew aside from the door, and gave a brief glance to Atthis and Heklitis who had hung back. "Come out, old man, there is much to discuss!"

The door cracked open, and a wizened head appeared. "Munduk? It is the middle of the night! Why do you disturb me with your wanderings? Take a draught!"

"Come with me, old man. Saheris El Maduc lies dead, and we have some talking to do. The door swung open, and the wizard stood, only partly clothed, silhouetted by the light of a lamp behind him. He was unarmed. As he stepped out, he spoke.

"The boy? Dead? How?" his voice cracked, and as he raised his arm, Munduk's men moved rapidly to seize him. "What is this nonsense? Not another arrest, Munduk. Surely you don't think I --"

"I don't think. I know," Munduk replied, his voice rising. "You will pay for this regicide, wizard. You will pay in pain and with your life. Take him. I want him in chains, hand and foot. Then, you two, you may have him for as long as you care to, or until I must act."

The priest struggled vainly in the arms of his captors, and began to shriek. Munduk advanced upon him and struck him with the full force of his arm against his face, and the man slumped. "Take the creature now, and bind him very well. I am done with him for now."

 

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Against his own word, Munduk retreated into his house and waited for Atthis and Heklitis to do whatever it was they intended to do with Stiven; in very fact, they forced a draught on him and left him bound, soon unconscious, in a closed room, where he could not disturb either Saheris or themselves while they tended to him. Heklitis, now returning to his old composure, took charge of his nephew, and began to work on treating the damaged skin, as Atthis had told him, while she compounded some treatments for the others who would be found to have the spirochete. There was too much work for them to do any more wait for Spidios, and even at that, he would have to send for more assistants to help them, if they were to clear out the town and set up hospital.

What they could do, however, was to make sure Saheris was as comfortable as possible for the ordeal that awaited him; his examination by their master.

They did not have to wait long, for Spidios had set out immediately upon receiving his message, and brought four with him in his party from Scythia, where he had been serving in Eldana's house for some months, teaching midwives. Munduk's guards, who stood now outside his gate, which remained locked, admitted him, and he relieved Antipatros when he arrived at Saheris's bedside.

"This is the child, then. How powerful a physique for such a young man," he did not touch him, but gazed upon the now peacefully sleeping form of the young khan. Heklitis and Atthis were the only ones besides their master in the room, and they remained quiet as he regarded his patient. He then turned to them, and spoke to both:

"What do you find? Tell me all." He listened while they described the poisonous wounds from the armored vest, the undeniable evidence of treponema pallidum. He nodded. "I agree here. Now, Atthis, you took him by seduction. Tell me all you did, all you said. This was a risky method, but better by far than having a dead initiate on our hands."

"He may have killed a soldier who took him by force," she commented.

"Agreed. This was agreed. But explain what you did?" He peered carefully, still not touching, at the undeveloped genitalia of the boy. "Curious."

"When I put the sheath upon him he spent himself immediately, so it was necessary to restimulate him. Anally."

"You what?" Heklitis stared at her.

"I caused him to ejaculate by direct stimulation of the gland. He was fully spent, and I risked no more than my hands."

"He might have some problem, being not fully grown," Spidios said thoughtfully. "Did he appear to function normally?"

"What is normal for an overactive, physically overdeveloped youth in his first manhood?" she replied. "He spent himself upon first stimulation. Considering how rapidly he made his way through the town, he might have gained some experience by now but that was not evident."

"Do you think he is of normal development?" He asked, eyes meeting her own.

"Of the males I have seen of his age, no."

"And anything else unusual?"

"A large interior gland, overresponsive."

He nodded.

"What is this, master?" Heklitis said, his voice betraying some strong emotion.

"What do you think it is, Heklitis?"

"You think he is in some way deformed?"

"Don't you?"

"I never - well he is not fully grown yet!"

"Have you compared him with his younger brother? What of him?"

"They are not in an way the same in physique. The younger is far more robust, taller, and longer of limb.

"I mean, genitally. Sexually." Spidios waited, patiently.

"Oh," Heklitis said. "That. I would say that Sahelis appears far more normal for the age, though perhaps more physically mature, certainly he is growing faster."

"No, he is not growing faster. He is growing. Saheris is not."

"But why? Surely treponema could not have --"

He held up a hand. "This child is not growing. How tall does he stand?"

Atthis answered. "He is just under my height: perhaps 3 cubits and a hand."

"Shorter than the average female adult, perhaps the same height as a female of his age. And if he grows no further, then he will be of a size of an average female. Regard." Spidios carefully drew back the linen from his body. "Look at the width of his hip. The length of his ribs. How does that appear to you?"

They both looked where their master pointed, then at one another.

"You don't see it, do you?"

"See what?" Heklitis burst out.

"This is not the body of a male. Not a normal male, in any case. And you say he does not behave as a normal male does, either?"

"What is he then? How could he be female, with…"

"He is not female. And not male. He is likely, both, or neither. I would venture - both."

"Hermaphrodite," Atthis breathed the word.

"We would not know unless he also has a womb, no matter how undeveloped. And that womb may not have any outward opening. We could -- but probably should not - open it. Were he an orphan in our care, and infant, then we might do somewhat more. But he is a king. And kings do not have wombs. Most likely, Atthis, you felt within him his female organ, difficult of reach and satisfaction, thus an inward aggravation to him at all times which causes such excess of behavior. Though I wonder, whether in this particular case, some breast may emerge. It does happen."

"So what is to be done?" Heklitis put his hands on his face. "Is there nothing simple about this? Must it all be so incredibly complex?"

"Atthis tells me that you only now discover your parentage," Spidios said, wiping his hands delicately on a piece of linen. "Let us leave this child for now, and speak among ourselves, privately. I have no doubt but that in some way, he hears and registers all that we say, and it is best not to test this. In some manner I wish him to know his own nature so that he can learn to accept it; but that may not be possible to do. But of these other matters, there should be complete discretion. Let us go, and attend our wayward student."

The door closed softly behind them, and in the shadow, the physician Antipatros re-entered and took up a seat next to the now quietly sleeping form. He placed a cloth on his head. The fever of the drug was passing, as expected. He would be waking soon, and then, the trial would begin.

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The morning was nearly over. Even so, the aging Greek sat calmly in the small room that had the previous night served as the bedchamber for Ildico, Munduk's daughter. Food was brought by Eldana herself, who had risen early to feed Munduk and Sahelis and to usher her daughter up for an early trip to a hunting lodge a half a day's ride away. Events in Maeotis had become critical and possibly dangerous, and it was no place for a vulnerable heir of Munduk to be found. Munduk's most experienced personal guard would be with them; and he examined them himself. Munduk had suggested that Sahelis attend her, but he had refused, insisting that he had a duty to stay by his brother, whether or not he was allowed to see him. Munduk's entreaties had no effect upon him. When Eldana had withdrawn, leaving them their bowls of soup, only Spidios reached for his bowl, and began to sip, slowly.

Heklitis forced himself to meet his teacher's eyes steadily, and spoke. "How is it you can be certain that Saheris is not mine?"

"Absolutely certain."

"She must have conceived within weeks of…"

"Absolutely certain. You had this fantasy of parentage, Heklitis, that is all. That may have actually led to your assignation with the determined Sahera. Lacking all familial contact, you would naturally seek to gain some. That is why men reproduce, after all." He smiled slightly. His words were reasonable, but Heklitis was not satisfied with the explanation.

"Yet still --"

"In your case, there could be no reversal of the sterilization I performed upon you. I did so under the strictest orders, and from the word of Apollonius himself."

"And why?" To his own ears, his words sounded immature, plaintive.

"To prevent such a birth as may produce a deformed child."

"But isn't his deformity… isn't that evidence of …"

"Incest? No. Hermaphroditism is not caused by incest. Though it may be possible Sahera did lay with one of her own Alan chieftains, I doubt it seriously. The father is almost certainly Priscus Bellianus, and a close examination of physical features may show this. His coloring and other features show a definite Roman quality, though I do not know the Attalus visage myself. He is not your child. You just wish him to be."

"And I would not be able to have any other, either!"

"That was not your destiny, Heklitis. Your destiny at birth was interrupted by the compassion of Saher, who spared you from death. From that point, he placed you in our care, and it was our will, Apollonius' will, to spare you further, from the destiny of being named Saheris El Maduc, and serving out his great but troubled future. That would have been a great injustice, to you, and to Saher. Because of this --" and here, Spidios raised his hand in the style of lecture, "you became ours; and we chose, and I think rightly - to give back to Saher the son he was denied, the scholar he wished that he could raise, someone who could serve him at his side, and never have to be risked at life. One child who would not be lost to war. Don't you think that was worth it?"

"But - he does not know I am that child!"

"He knows that we took care of him, and every year he asks, and receives, report of his wife's child."

"He does?" Heklitis was stunned. "What do you tell him?"

"The truth. Such of the truth that does not compromise your privacy. He is content in that he had made the right choice on behalf of the boy, and that he lives free from the spectre of warfare. That is Saher's greatest grief; that he must raise his two grandchildren to war, in a way they should not have to be. And this child, born to such misfortune, and raised to adulthood and such good success in the employ of a kind and canny leader." Spidios directed a kind, compassionate look to Heklitis, whose eyes dropped. "Though not without blemish."

"Master, I --" Spidios raised a hand to stop his speech, and Heklitis closed his mouth.

"When, and if, Saheris and his brother fall in battle, if they should die before Saher, you will be his only comfort. At that time you may be free to tell him what you know of your parentage. I would strongly advise against it before then."

"I wish to explain, on the matter of Sahera."

"Yes, your vow of celibacy. Didn't work all that perfectly, did it?"

"No, it did not."

"And yet you never admitted this to me, all of the hundreds of letters, and never once admitted this."

"No. I was ashamed. And frightened."

"You should know me better than this. I know far more about the emotions than I do about the body; I could have helped you with this."

"Helped me? With my disobedience?"

Spidios pointed a small hand back toward the door. "You were hardly older than that impetuous child when you went to Saher! Be reasonable! He has bedded - how many? Thirty? Fifty? And in this same age, you yielded to the forceful temptation of an obsessed seductress, bent upon pregnancies of any kind? It is a wonder she had no more than two sons! Europa, mother of nations!" Again, the two students exchanged puzzled looks.

"Now, to serious matters. We shall have to proceed with care. You understand why I am here now? Not simply because of the presence of disease in the house of Kadmon, or a threat to its life."

They shook their heads.

"I am here to examine him for his divine heritage. You may witness the examination. I have consulted with the others of the priesthood of Krotona, and there is some agreement within us as to how to proceed. From this moment, you must wipe away all you have previously thought of Saheris El Maduc, his childhood, his weaknesses and frailties, the human and fallible part, and consider that other part. That part which has determined, of its own accord, to come to this place, in this time, and to pick up its work. We believe we know its work, and are here to guide Saheris to it; for it is ordained to be done. What the Hebrews refer to as prophecy. We too have prophecy, and it is a prophecy concerning souls of those who descend to us from Olympos."

"What does your prophecy tell you?" Heklitis asked in a hushed voice.

"That Saheris is the soul of the greatest of all Greek warriors, and has through the course of history risen at the exact moment in which an empire will rise, and another will fall. Often born under unusual or negative circumstances, set out neglected or abandoned to die. Set upon a hillside and abandoned, for the carrion birds to pick; and he, the son of a king, sent from him due to the superstition of an oracle."

"You quote the text of Oedipus the King," Atthis stated matter-of-factly.

"Just so."

"But Oedipus the King is a drama!" Heklitis objected. "Saheris is a real king."

"Where is Kadmon? Can you tell me?" Spidios queried by way of reply.

"North of Athens, at Thebes," she replied quickly.

"Yes, Thebes. And where is Thebes?"

"In Boetia."

"Yes, and after the destruction of Thebes by the Macedonians, where did the Kadmons wander?"

"Illyria."

"And where was Saheris raised?"

"Illyria," Heklitis said.

"Not so difficult then."

"I don't understand."

"Oedipus the King," Spidios repeated.

"A drama."

"Not a drama. A king."

"Not a historical king, however."

"Yes, a historical king."

"You aren't telling me anything," Heklitis argued.

"I am telling you all and everything. Reread your Sophocles. Now, our young king should be awake and ready for interrogation. At least, the initial portion."

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