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
"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."
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."
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,
"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."
"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
"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
the son of Vira Al Alcal, then. Then this scar across my
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
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?"
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
"You had an oath
to protect you from that! Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Here is Munduk
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?"
"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
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
"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.
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
"Who do I serve?
"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.
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
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.
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
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,
"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."
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.
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
"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."
"A large interior
"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?"
"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.
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?"
"He is just under my height: perhaps 3 cubits and a hand."
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
They both looked
where their master pointed, then at one another.
"You don't see
it, do you?"
"See what?" Heklitis
"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."
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?"
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
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.
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.
himself to meet his teacher's eyes steadily, and spoke. "How is it you
can be certain that Saheris is not mine?"
"She must have
conceived within weeks of
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"No. I was ashamed.
"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
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
"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.
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.
"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.
And where is Thebes?"
"Yes, and after
the destruction of Thebes by the Macedonians, where did the Kadmons wander?"
"And where was
"Not so difficult
"I don't understand."
"Oedipus the King,"
"Not a drama.
"Not a historical
"Yes, a historical
"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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