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Chapter 33: Stiven's Prophecy

In a less comfortable room in the basement of Munduk's garrison lay another prisoner, marred by a large bruise rising on his temple from where Munduk had felled him the night before. Stiven stirred, groaning, and reached once again for the pitcher that sat on the low stool next to his pallet. He was unattended, once the draught had worn off, and took the advantage of solitude to explore the wound on his face and test his limbs, muttering to himself. Unlike Saheris's lightless chamber, however, Stiven's had a small window that faced outdoors and allowed in a slight gloom. This lent him some slight hope of gaining help and rescue, and in the relative quiet, he called.

"Can anyone hear me? I am trapped in here! Help me, let me out. It is all a sad mistake. It is I, Stiven the priest! Can anyone hear me?"

"Oh someone can certainly hear you," came a quiet voice from the direction of the window. "And if you persist, you will lose the privilege of this window for the length of time you remain alive, and be sent into a completely dark place."

"Who is that, there? Munduk has put me here in error! Let me loose!"

"That will not happen," came the voice again, and a few minutes later, the door scraped open to admit Heklitis and Atthis, armed both with draughts and writing implements to record his confession. "You two! Greeks!" he spat, and sank back down on his pallet. "Look what Munduk has done to my face!"

"That is the least of what you can expect for your misdeeds," Heklitis said, barely restraining the rage in his voice. "We have just come from your dwelling, and would like to ask you about some curious things we have found there. In the the midden beneath the fireplace, for example."

"I will not answer your questions!" he shrieked. "Where is Zanthras? Get me my boy, oh why has my enemy done this to me?"

"I think you may change your mind, wizard," Heklitis said, and took the prepared draught from Atthis' outstretched hand. She grasped one of his arms, and Heklitis held the other while he pinched the wizard's nose shut, forcing him to open his mouth for air. Then he put the the jar to his lips and forced him to drink, which he did, amongst much gagging and spitting. At last, the drink was down, and the two waited for the hallucinogen to take effect. He would be more compliant in another hour.

What they had founded beneath Stiven's house, in their search for evidence of pitchblende manufacture, was a horrifying collection of human bones, charred in his fireplace. When taken and questioned, his remaining servants, those who had not been brought for confinement and treatment for treponema, confessed that Stiven had performed ritual sacrifices of some of the children who had been sent to him. Altogether, from the bones retrieved, at least a dozen young boys had been slaughtered over the five years he had dwelt in Maeotis. The remainder of his servants were terrified into silence, fearing that they would be the next. When Heklitis examined the remains, he was enraged, and found it easy to make the decision to drug and interrogate the old man. He would be put to death in any case, so interrogating him under the drug, particularly as it was necessary to discover the risks to Saheris's life, was certainly called for, and Spidios approved the action.

Heklitis spent the wait nervously pacing the length of the cell. Atthis stayed quiet, observing the old man's nervous twitching, his frequent gulping, and when she was fairly sure he was entranced by the drug, loosened the garment on his upper body and performed a brief examination. There were telltale swellings beneath his arms, of the final stages of treponema, and weeping lesions in his armpits and upon his neck. A definite odor emanated from him, and she felt slightly sick from both the sight and the smell. Here was a man who was only months from his own death; she wondered how he had managed to remain so active and be so ill. His execution would be a mercy to him; for he must be in constant pain.

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Spidios instructed Tethys to administer another draught to Saheris, and he sat, patiently watching, while the boy reacted to it, growing more restless and feverish as the minutes passed. He waited a half an hour, quietly watching. Occasionally, Saheris would sit up and stare, blindly, before him, and then turn to Spidios, as though about to utter some revelation, but no words emerged, at least, none that were audible. Then he would fall back onto the bed, sleep fitfully for some minutes, his head moving restlessly from side to side, eyes tightly closed. At length, Spidios put a cool hand on Saheris's feverish arm, and Saheris looked up, attempting to focus upon the face looking down upon him.

"Do you know who I am?"

"You are the voice," he replied, whispering.

"I would like to know some things, will you tell them to me?"

"Yes," he replied. "If I know." Good - he was now compliant.

"I want you to think very carefully, Saheris. I want you to tell me whether you had ever seen Stiven before you came to Maeotis this winter."

"Stiven?"

"The wizard. The necromancer. The man who gave you the vest."

"The vest…. He gave me a vest…. he gave me many things."

"What else did he give you?"

"He gave me sugars."

"Sugars? Where did he give these to you?"

"He gave them to my mother, and she gave them to me. She said, 'these are from your father, eat them, they taste good,"

"Where did he give these sugars to your mother?"

"In - in the big house, the dark house in the woods. The house…. near the river."

"And who is your mother?"

"Sahera… Sahera Al Alana. She is the most beautiful woman in the world. He - he said so."

"Did he give you other things?"

"He gave her a horse, and a sword, no, they were for me, he said, but she took them. She said I could not have a horse and a sword, but he told her they had to be for me, because they were for his son."

"And this was Stiven who gave your mother the sugars, and the horse, and the sword."

"Yes… yes it was him."

"And how do you know it was him?"

"It was him…. He always had this … this smell…. I smelled it when he touched me that time in Munduk's hall, when he gave me the vest… that is how I knew…he said I was his son."

"But you are not his son."

"No…" Saheris shook his fevered head… "no, that was untrue… I am the son of Priscus Bellianus… my father -- my grandfather Saher told me that."

"That is the truth. This other is a lie."

Saheris sighed, deeply. "Yes." As though relieved of a terrible burden, he collapsed and fell into a deep slumber.

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Spidios joined his students in the garrison, where the draughts applied to Stiven had long reached their full effect. Heklitis turned to him as he entered. "We have learned little, master."

"Is he still susceptible?" Spidios inquired, leaning toward the semi-conscious figure on its pallet. He pulled a flaccid eyelid upward and peered at the dilation of the pupil. "Seems to be. Perhaps more pointed inquiry can yield better result. Stiven, do you know who I am?"

The old man squinted at the face before him. "You - you are, you look like the young Theodosius."

"How perceptive. I am not, though I am of his nation. My name is Spidios, I am a therapeutus, and here to discover the answers to some questions, perhaps you know them."

"I? What could I tell you?" the drunkenness of the draught still affected him deeply, and his speech slurred with each word.

"I wish to know what you can tell me of your association with Sahera Al Alana some sixteen years past."

"Sahera Al - " the old man frowned, as though puzzled. "The black-haired barbarian bitch."

"Yes," Spidios smiled. "Tell me, did you father a child on this woman at that time?"

"Father - father…. Yes, that was the plan."

"Tell me about this plan."

"The plan…. To make a prophecy of a great warrior, that was prophesied at Delphi and other places, it was merely the matter to point to the right one, or father the right one…" he began to mumble.

"And she fell in with your plan, then?"

"No - it was all her plan, she just needed a necromancer to issue the prophecy, but I would not do it, no… I would not do it… lest she named my own seed. That was how it came to be. And that was who I named to the King of Scythia, that Munduk…. He has locked me in his dungeon…" the old man's face creased with pain and anguish then, and he put his hands against the tumors on his chest…." It is cold and frigid here, I need warmth…"

"I am sure there will be warmth, soon," Spidios signalled with his hand then, and Atthis departed to gather some firewood for the grate. "I will have a fire started here, will that do?"

Stiven nodded, enthusiastic now. He plucked at his bedclothing, and shivered.

"Now let us talk of the boy."

"The boy - that was not him! It could not be him!"

"It could not be whom?"

"Mine…. That one, she named to me, must be the bastard of one of her Roman generals…. It could not be mine… I could see that right away… he had to go…" he mumbled further, uintelligibly, "he had to go."

"Go where…"

"Don’t be obtuse!" the old man cried, his voice now clear and shrill. "Put to death!"

"So you poisoned him, with the metal."

The old man's cackle raised the hairs on Heklitis's neck and arms; it was a laughter of pure malice. "Yes, and had those Greeks - " his eyes suddenly flickered and focused once again on Spidios' intent and serious face, "you! It was you who found me out!" He cackled again, hideously.

Spidios nodded. "And an admirable job of assassination you did, too."

"I got him, didn't I? Munduk said I got him, and he lies dead."

"There are many boys who lay dead due to you," Spidios replied evenly. "What was the cause of so many of these children being put to death?"

"Oh, those!" he laughed again, the same obscene laugh. "Appeasements. There are always appeasements to be made, and of course, when they did not perform, or did not please… sometimes I would get careless, and then it was time for an appeasement…" his voice wandered again, and his eyes closed. The spate of words ceased suddenly, and he coughed. "Oh it is cold…. Did you say you were starting a fire?"

"Yes," Spidios soothed. "It is in the grate, and will soon warm you."

The look of naked anger on Heklitis' face was impossible to disguise. Spidios rose, and took him by the arm, speaking to him aside. "It is important to maintain a resoluteness and friendliness with a patient under a drug compulsion, regardless of how repugnant his admissions. It is a skill to be developed in time. Doubtless you have yet to acquire it."

"Doubtless," Heklitis spat. "I need to excuse myself,"

"That is fine, I think we have what we have sought, in any case." Spidios nodded to Atthis, and she accompanied Heklitis outside, and placed a restraining hand on his arm.

He turned to her, his eyes glistening with anguish. "Atthis, I do not believe I have ever felt this way previously, but right now, had I been alone with that creature, I would have killed him with my hands."

"He is already fatally ill… his end will follow shortly."

"That consoles me very little," he said, speaking through his teeth. "Those children… and Saheris, in his hands, part of this sinister plot with Sahera! It is abominable!"

"Yes, it is." She placed her head against his arm, as much to console as to restrain, and she felt the tensing of the arm muscle under her cheek. "Be at peace, Heklitis, come, walk with me." Reluctantly, he went away from the building with her, and they left the horror of the Stiven's confession in the garrison, behind them.

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Saheris's confinement lasted a full month, and as he recovered from the draughts of henbane he was given, he was able to glean little from what occurred without the dark room, although in time he was given books, which he was told to read, and candles so that he could have light to read by, and was instructed by Spidios to write about his understanding of what he read. The books were in Koine, a language Saheris was versed in, and he had no trouble following them, though they had little or nothing to do with his previous instruction by Munduk. Each time he attempted to query Spidios or Tethys on the duration of his confinement, or of what transpired without, he was answered with silence. This enraged him, but did little good; for every time he exploded in rage, his candles, books, and papers were withdrawn rapidly, and he was left in silence and darkness for many hours. He learned to contain his rage. He did not know how long he would be interned, and was compelled each day, three times, to down large masses of paste made almost entirely of oil and garlic, which he detested.

But he could not argue that he was being ill-treated, for he was well fed, and during that first week, his previous condition of fever and sleeplessness had abated, leaving him more energetic than he had felt in the previous month. Routinely, the young physician would ask him to unclothe and he would inspect his body, particularly his armpits and genitals, with great thoroughness, which made Saheris profoundly uncomfortable, being touched by another man.

However, on the thirty-first day, his door was opened, and Sahelis entered the room, ran to him, and embraced him forcefully. They stayed like this for some minutes, and his brother forced questions upon him,

"What did they do to you? How do you feel? Are you well again?"

Saheris had other things on his mind. "Where are my guards? Where is Spidios?"

"They told me to come to you and to bring you out. You are cured, or so they say."

"Cured? What was I ill with?"

"With the poison that Stiven gave you, and with the disease you got from the whores: treponema pallidum."

"Are they letting me out now?" Saheris stood, squinting toward the light.

"Yes!" Sahelis cried joyfully. "I have missed you so badly!"

"Now, what is supposed to happen?"

"We are going to Amysos! We are sailing to Pontus, tomorrow!"

Saheris stared. "What is at Amysos?"

"Saher. We are going to see our father again."

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