Chapter 36: Blooded

They were awakened early by Heklitis. The physician seemed in no better mood than the previous day; if anything, he was even angrier. "Get out of bed, and quickly," he snapped at Saheris, and threw a fresh tunic at him which he had taken from the unpacked baggage. "We have word from the army, Saher is wounded and ill."

"What!" Saheris bounded from the bed, and stood naked, heedless, before Heklitis. "What happened to him?"

"He took a shattering blow to the arm. That is all I know. They have given him draughts, but I am needed there. We must go, and you have been ordered to report to Munduk. You will lead today."

"At last…" he breathed, accepting the clothes from Heklitis. "At last! Is my father going to be all right?"

"I don't know. But one thing I wish not to burden him with is your outrageous behavior of last night. Can we agree on that?"

Saheris smiled. "Don't be mad at me. I am sure she likes you better, it is just that she cannot refuse me. You see that, don't you?"

"I don't want to discuss it. I said I don't want it brought to Saher. He has larger problems. Do you understand? Do you understand that he could be fatally ill now? Does nothing strike your conscience?"

Saheris sobered, stung by his remark. "Of course it does! But I cannot make him better by being in a foul mood! All I can do is kill those who have injured him, and I will. I will rout them completely, and this victory will be mine!" he pulled his pants on, then, and his riding boots. "Sahelis!" he cried, running from the room. "Battle! I am going to battle!"

Sahelis emerged, fully dressed and armed, rubbing a hand over his eyes. "Yes, I know. And I am going to see Saher, he is wounded at Munduk's camp, which is a half hour's ride. I will see you then, after the battle." Sahelis put his arms around his brother's shoulders, and embraced him forcefully. "Don't die today, I love you too much to weep for your death."

His words came as a slight shock to Saheris, and suddenly the truth struck him with force: he was going into battle. And he may be injured or die, just as his uncles had been injured, and all of them had died. Just as Saher had been injured. A small finger of fear touched his neck, briefly, and he shook the thought from him. I am not afraid, I am merely inexperienced. This fear will pass when I see my enemy.

The guard party that had arrived with first light reformed itself into two: the first brought Saheris and Atthis and the Scythians, who were now relegated to protecting the woman, rather than restraining Saheris. The second party consisted of two swordsmen, Heklitis and Sahelis, who would ride directly to Saher. With a brief salute, Saheris turned his horse, and took off at a full gallop. After some minutes, he reined in and circled back to the others, who were following at a canter. "Can't you hurry?"

"No, Khan," the leader said. "Saher's orders to us were due caution. The woods are going to get too thick for even this pace soon enough. Haste will not help us. You are still under our command until you are presented to Munduk, so please comply."

"Comply! I am leading today! At least pick up the pace for as long as we can go." Sighing with exasperation, the four in the messenger party put spurs to their horses, and spanked Atthis' mount once, and they set off at a gallop for the few miles they could travel at that breakneck speed. They made record time to the camp, which was in full alarm and awaiting him.

Munduk strode up to him immediately. "Khan!" he greeted him, as Saheris jumped down from his horse. "Saher engaged the advance troops yesterday, but it was a skirmish party of about five hundred, though a bold one." Munduk nodded politely to Atthis as she dismounted, silently. "You - therapeuta, yes? There are plenty of wounded still for you to tend, if you will." She nodded, and followed where he pointed to a crowded tent where soldiers poured in and out, and youth brought bandages and pails. "It is a gruesome scene, Khan, but we have plenty of numbers to deal with them. But this wretched rain!" he looked up, and his face was pelted once again with a spate of icy drops that cascaded down from the trees almost as though he had commanded them. "The going is treacherous in the mud."

"Can't we draw them into the open?" Saheris queried, as they strode toward the building Munduk had shared with Saher the previous night.

"Open? There is no 'open' Saheris. Look!" He spread a crudely-drawn map across the table in the gloomy room, which was little more than a lean-to. The map showed dots for settlements, and heavy cross-hatches which marked dense forest. Where they stood was comparatively clear, but only for a hundred yards in each direction, and fortified here and there with palisade of stripped trees.

"So, what is our strategy then?" Saheris asked. Munduk took out another map and unrolled it, setting various used drinking mugs on its edges to hold it down. "Here is our camp." He pointed out where they had raised a palisade with the logs from the clearing, and dug trenches which were now filled with drying underbrush that could be set afire if necessary, to fend off a charge mounted by stealth. "This keeps them pretty much at bay when we are camped. My own camp is two miles to the west, and fortified similarly. The Alani are…. " he tapped his map - "entrenched against this hill. Beyond that rise, the hill overlooks the settlement of Cormorin."

"Cormorin…I have been there. How far is this, from here, to that settlement?"

"About fifteen miles, most of a day's march on foot. The road there is well north of where they are camped."

"It is more lightly wooded there. And there are fields. We could draw them into a proper battle there."

"How do you know?" Munduk asked, his face growing thoughtful.

"I was there, I told you. When my - when I was a child."

"Ha!" he cried. "You are yet a child, Saheris, for all your pretentions to manhood. It will be frightening to take the field with you the first time, I pray to the Scythian Hera that you are not felled in the first sally, for Saher will surely die of grief."

"Listen, Munduk. Am I not here to lead today? My father has fallen, and who else will lead his men? Listen. Let us move my army east, to Cormorin. The Alans will doubtless follow, since they are here on the offensive. You can move your men there --" he pointed, "up against the back of their hill, and when they rush to meet me, you can rush them from the rear. You said the battle yesterday was costly. We have to get out of these woods."

"You are sure there are fields there…" Munduk hesitated.

Saheris lost his patience then, and his face purpled. "I ran through them myself! Curse you, Munduk, are you going to go along with this, or are we going to have another bloodbath in the forest when they choose to attack? We have cavalry! That is the only way to defeat them, on open ground."

Munduk smirked. "This is a good idea. Why didn't Saher think of this?"

"I don't know. Perhaps he has his own reason for not returning to Cormorin. I have my own reason for wanting to. In fact… I need to ride ahead. We should leave immediately."

Immediately proved to be more than an hour before the troops were assembled to move. Over four thousand strong, Saher's men were evenly numbered between light cavalry with composite bows, and infantry with leather shields and swords. Munduk ordered a review of the ranks, and Saheris was reintroduced to the old leaders he recognized from his childhood: Arianus, his brother's father in law (the father of Byriac), Mithras, a huge dark-skinned Bithynian cavalryman, Laius, his archery-tutor and leader of the horse archers, his cousin Haner, who led the sword-bearing infantry, and Linneaus, a Roman traitor who had joined Saher's army after the death of Theodosius, another infantry captain. He placed Arianus in charge of the all of the divisions of infantry, Mithras took charge of cavalry, and he rode with Saher's personal guard on a fast canter, along the wooded trail that marked the decaying edge of the now-abandoned Via Egnatia, which he remembered all too well, toward the abandoned Roman garrison of Cormorin. His destination was a now-abandonedcrumbling house on the edge of the garrison's lands where he had billeted, and where he had been taken captive by Sahera, seven years before. His sword awaited him.

Saheris set a breakneck pace through the woods, and was followed at lagging distance by the hurrying guards and the spare horses which he had requested for his ride. His own mount was foaming before they cleared the underbrush, from dodging branches and vaulting streams and fallen trees, and he leaped off the exhausted animal almost before those following him had a chance to slacken their pace. "Give me that grey one," he pointed. "No need to kill the one who is winded, leave him tethered. They will come upon him soon enough." He vaulted to the grey who was brought forward, only slightly winded from the slacker pace of his followers, and struck its flank violently. "Don't try to keep up, meet me at the main garrison. I have to make an errand."

Within minutes, the straining vanguard, with the one remaining extra horse, were left behind in the silent woods, the crashing sound of Saheris's reckless advance through the underbrush now too far ahead from them to hear. He Then he was gone.


It was as though seven years had not passed, as he made his way through the low-hanging trees, down an overgrown trail to the house where he had billeted so long ago. An image leapt out at him from the past: his mother, though unknown to him then, dressed in the baggy, oversized tunic of her lover Bellianus, its fine edging torn by brambles, smeared with grease from her hasty meals taken in flight, the severed leather of the belt she had used to tie him - and a severe ache came to both his wrists as the memory of his bondage returned to his senses. He dismounted and made his way to the front of the building, whose windows yawned open and empty. It had once been a fine dwelling, but with enemy movements in the area, all of the populace had withdrawn into the better fortified Roman buildings that had once been an imperial garrison, and presently swelled with over two hundred guards sent from Saher's standing army at Euxis. The eastern borders were now on military alert from threats from the south.

It took long minutes of fumbling through one overgrown juniper bush to another, but at last his fingers closed on a rotting length of cloth, still bound tightly around a rigid object. He drew it out, and tore away the aging, rotted fabric, now riddled with wormholes and rents. It still glittered, dulled only by the thinnest possible sheen of visible rust, its oiled edge still keen. This sword must be very fine metal, he thought, not to have accumulated more than a patina of rust. He withdrew a cloth and rottenstone to polish it, and the rust yielded to the polish. He stood in the ruined yard of the empty house, and polished the sword until it was perfect to his eye, and smooth to his touch. He then sheathed it, removing his own, and packed his original sword on the back of his horse, who by now regained its wind.

"Now, I am ready," he said to the listening trees.

Mithras was an hour behind with the cavalry, and Arianus arrived with the infantry less than three hours later, as night was closing in upon them. "We have just enough time to raise the barest palisade with the wood we brought," he told Saheris. "Munduk has camped above, and has sent a message to give word that he is settled there."

"All good," Saheris replied. "Now, this needs to be brought him." He produced a map he had drawn. " The cavalry are already set up here, this is the last of these three clearings. Start moving the men now. Behind us will lie a deep brook, and between us and the approach of the enemy will be two other clearings interspersed with copses. I want a division of footsoldiers in the woods, and at each clearing, and I want to set a patrol between Cormorin and where we lay camp. We can establish communications between the garrison and Munduk's camp along this road, and runners can take cover in the underbrush if they steer clear of the Via."

Arianus accepted Saheris's rapid instructions with raised eyebrows. "You have been busy, Khan. And you seem to know the area very well."

"Yes yes, I know it well. What news of my father? Is he recovered?"

Arianus shook hs head. "Heklitis is attending him, that is all I know. And, you should also know, the woman Atthis insisted she follow. She is not under my command, I did not refuse her."

Saheris laughed, which is not what Arianus expected. "Ah, I see. She is acting as my physician, do not be concerned. And she can come to me, there is no need to keep her if she wishes to see me." A wide smile crossed Saheris's face. An unexpected pleasure, this.

Struck by an idea, he then strode to the area in which the medical supplies were assembled, and they prepared to move into the clearing he had designated. Atthis was there, directing the repacking of the supply carts to move them forward from the garrison to their destination. He placed a hand upon her shoulder, and she turned, startled.

"Oh! Khan."

"Greetings again, therapeuta," he smirked. "Come to witness my first battle?"

"I have come because the army has come. And I will be needed. Particularly so, if you are injured."

"That is not going to happen," he stated happily.

"How do you know?"

"Because," he said, leaning down and taking her chin into his hand, "then I will not be able to make love to you afterwards."

Her face flushed crimson, and she pulled away from his hand, and cast a surreptitious look in either direction, to see if anyone else had heard. Linneaus had been standing nearby, but his head was averted, and now he was talking to one of his men. No - perhaps no one had heard.

"You are so easily embarrassed, Lady Atthis. Do not be, it is a great honor to be favored by a king."

She raised her chin and looked at him evenly. "You truly think that."

"Of course!" he said brightly. "Now, there are things to do. Tonight will be very busy. I will see you tomorrow." He left her abruptly. Again, color darkened her face; and to her chagrin, she found her pulse racing.


Saheris was awake before dawn, and per the general orders of the army, his officers came to him before taking breakfast. They had assembled tents, and mercifully, the rain that had lingered over the woods to their west had moved off, leaving a moody cloudiness that was less cold. The ground was now dry. All to the good, he thought. The men crowded into the small space that was his tent, and he once again laid out the map of their chosen battleground before him, where the troop dispositions had been made.

"I have prepared for them an ambush. The archers will be hidden along these copses and in the trees, safe from attack, off the ground if you think it will help them to hit their targets with greater surprise. Once they are under attack, the Alani will either push forward, or retreat. If they move forward they will meet our cavalry in the last clearing. If they retreat, Munduk can harry them from behind and take them as they turn.

Mithras spoke, his voice booming. "Khan, all of this supposes that these Alani are going to pursue you to this place."

"Of course they will pursue me."

"How do you know?" Linneaus spoke next. "This is all speculation. They could simply turn and march west to Amysos now, with its now depleted garrison, and take the town and its port."

He shook his head. "No. Amysos was never their goal. See, this is what has happened so far. They have come to engage us, not to gain territory. Their goal is to weaken our army when we are supposed to be wintering, so that we will be unable to meet them in spring on their own borders at Cilicia. Isn't that their plan?"

Murmurs. None of Saher's officers, nor Saher himself, had offered that as an explanation for the curious and unprecedented winter campaign. "They are obviously low in numbers and mean to decimate us when we are weak. But Munduk has not yet brought his two thousand forward, and engaged them, and they think we will not use them, or that they are uncommitted to battle."

"That sounds plausible," Haner joined in. "However, nothing is proved."

"Then let us do this. Let us wait the day. We can always move camp and meet them south if they do not come to us here. We have lost little, and at least it is drier, more comfortable, and easier to guard. The ground is good, and there is grazing area."

They all agreed; but Saheris remained steadfast in his resolve that the Alani would pursue. By the time they had joined a midday meal, the messenger he had awaited, arrived. "They are seven miles to the south and moving! They are pursuing!"

Saheris smiled happily and clapped the runner on the back. "That is no surprise." He fell to with a renewed appetite. "It will not be long now."

By evening, the Alan scouts had begun reconnoitering the woods, and Haner had ordered his archers into the trees. The goal was to allow the scouts their reconnaissance, and report that the Bithynian cavalry were encamped against a brook in an open field, with a palisade protecting their rear. The infantry were all hidden, dispersed in the several copses that lay between Cormorin and Saheris's camp. Munduk lay four miles southwest, in a lightly wooded area on a hillside, where his scouts could watch the roads going in and out of the settlement, as well as the garrison. Unlike the terrain near Amysos, there was some visibility here, interspersed with hills. Munduk was satisfied that Saheris had taken a good initiative and chosen a better territory on which to stand. And his instinct was correct, the Alans would follow him to the battleground. His orders were to march on seeing the main force pass the garrison and move forward toward Saheris.

By nightfall, the scouts had retreated, and Saheris mounted a guard, placing the entire army at the ready. He did not truly expect an ambush by night - it was a superstition with the southern tribes that the moon's eye cast misfortune upon them. But there was no telling how religious this enemy was, and whether they might think that a cloud covering would protect them from the evil influence of the moon. No attack came by night; and yet, Saheris did not sleep. He knew that he would be blooded on the morrow; and the thought electrified him. Regardless of how many times he performed the exercise Spidios had given him, he did not relax, and did not sleep. He was wound as tightly as a bowstring, and waited only for the arrival of his enemy to pluck it.


Horses galloped from the far side of the clearing directly toward him, and already Arianus's cavalry were mounting. Dawn had just barely come, and there was sound in the woods beyond.

"They come!" shouted the oncoming messenger as he approached.

"How many, and how armed?" he shouted back.

"There are more than two thousand, close to three, all mounted."

Three thousand cavalry? He was outnumbered in horse. Momentarily, the thought made him giddy. Had he boxed them into a trap from which they would not be able to retreat? He knew, and had ridden, the land behind the palisade. What was their path of retreat if the cavalry could not set them to flight? He had to move the main body of the cavalry into position while the Alans were occupied. He shouted orders then, gave the order of battle to his leaders. They were to assemble in one center body and two wings facing at angles. This left the rear guarded by the thick copse of the wood behind them, and the fortification of the palisade. Behind was the camp. Saheris mounted his horse and rode forward. It was time to address them.

"My brothers," he said. "uncles and cousins, this is the first time I lead you. But just as your officers have all been thoroughly trained by Munduk and blooded in our borderlands, so I have been trained, and have excelled. There is no reason to fear; I have his strong hand behind me, and even now he advances to drive them to us. They have more horse, but we have the advantage of having picked our ground, and there will be no breaking of our line. No matter what they do, or how much force they bring upon one segment, do not let them break through! Hold fast, and know that a thousand horse will soon be trampling on their heels, and cutting deep into their hindquarters. This will be our day. Once they are disrupted, dismount and draw sword. Then we know we will defeat them. This we need, and this we will deliver to our Khan, Saher, before the sun sets." He saluted them, then, arm extended from his shoulder, and back across his chest. As a body, the calvary returned the gesture, and the formed up double ranks, and front line and a rear, and the flanks formed according to his order of battle.

Saheris had written his speech while he lay sleepless the previous night. He knew that he could not go forth to battle without something official being said about his leadership, and his hopes for the army. As the calvary stamped forward to the midpoint of their clearing, the line extended very nearly to the trees before it turned to the flanks. Now we will see whether I am right.

The Alans crashed through the forest into the first open clearing, and were hit, mysteriously, by arrows pelting them from behind and above. Their leaders, at first confused at the mysterious attack, urged them not to turn back at their attackers, but forward, and as they gained the farthest edge, were once again rained on by arrows. Most of these were ineffective at this range, but slowed their advance and made many of the horses rear up when their shoulders and hindquarters were hit. Dozens were thrown from their horses, but their attack formation did not disorganize. Not yet. As they entered the second copse, they were set upon not only by archers pelting them from trees, but from pitch-burning torches thrown down on the backs of the horses, which sent them screaming and bolting. As their advance slowed even further, the infantry division of Mithras charged their left flank and engaged them, drawing the flank away from the main body. They pulled the Alan cavalrymen off their mounts, and spooked the horses who then charged back toward the main army, causing a general alarm among the advancing center. The line began to waver. Mithras' men, having drawn the flank away, retreated, and were pursued. They took to the trees then, and to their bows, where they inflicted heavy casualties among those who were foolhardy enough to pursue. Most of the Alans were armed with spears, which were ineffective against the composite bows of the Bithynians, and only one Bithynian fell for every fifty Alans, in the second copse. The rest climbed to safety; and the only casualties they suffered were those who had not managed to reach the heights before a spear from a mounted cavalryman caught them.

By the time the Alans broke into the third clearing, their left flank was a shambles, and their leader, a thickset warrior in a fur cloak and closely-fitting hood, armed with a magnificent wooden shield studded with bronze, rode hard with his crack troops to cover the hole that now gaped in their left flank. Arianus anticipated Saheris's order and charged the left to open the gap further and engage them, and Saheris brought up his right so that his line would be unbroken. The main battle had begun.

Just as the armies clashed, the remainder of Haner's hidden infantry struck the Alans' intact right flank from the rear, and half the front line of the Alan cavalry turned to respond. This opened a sudden second gap, and there were not enough horse to close it. It was then that Saheris saw his advantage. He shouted and signalled, and took his own calvary forward, leaving his right flank to close the ranks behind him. He then drove his three hundred straight into the hole in the Alan right flank, and set about him, screaming, with Sahera's sword. His first blow severed an Alan head from its shoulders with a sickening thud, and he stared for a moment in amazement before the blood from the decapitated body splashed his face with sudden warmth. He screamed in blood lust, and lunged toward the next horseman, who fled him in terror. His guard on either side (those who had failed to pace him in his first ride to Cormorin) leapt forward on their horse, their faces distorted with their own battle lust, and they struck furiously into the center of the Alani army. Saheris's senses were fully engaged in seeking his target, reining his horse, raising the weapon, and striking, signalling to the corps on his right, and then moving forward. He was slightly amazed when his next movement led him to the far verge of the clearing. They had driven the Alans all the way back into the woods, and into the waiting spears of Munduk's fresh troops.

Bodies lay everywhere, and the air was full of moans. He turned, and gradually became aware that his leather armor was soaked with blood, his hair was matted with blood, his sword was caked in it, and his horse was spattered with gore, everywhere he looked. He had not been touched, and everywhere around him, was carnage. Behind him, his troops were forming up once again in an orderly line, and Arianus had taken his own guard to pursue and reconnoiter the fleeing host of the Alans. The infantry were filing out of the woods in an orderly fashion, retrieving arrows, and gathering the spears of the fallen Alani.

He looked to the right and left of him, but saw no Bithynian dead. They were all Alans. He pulled the reins, and moved back toward his assembling line.

"I think we have won," he said, and a roar rose up from his troops, which all looked nearly as bloody and gore-spattered as he did. Almost as one, the Bithynians dismounted, and threw their swords in the air.

One thing Saheris had neglected to prepare, was a victory celebration. With some embarrassment, he asked Linneaus and his cousin Haner to reconnoiter with Munduk's army to join them at their camp, and to approach the town with news of the victory and a request for wine. There was not nearly enough for them, but there was enough for a symbolic gesture, a gulp by each of his men, and plenty enough for Munduk and his best officers to get completely drunk. Saheris, like his grandfather, had no stomach for wine. In the midst of their carouse by the campfire, Saheris rose. "I hate to leave you like this, but there is something a man must do when he wins his first victory."

Munduk peered at him. "Carve a monument to yourself? I did some of the work cutting down their rear guard you know."

Saheris held up a hand. "You are my ally, Munduk, but no longer my custodian. Today I am a king in my own right, and have a right to keep my own counsel."

Munduk grunted. "I haven't been told otherwise, begone then."

Saheris made his way quickly through the camp to a tent where fifty or more lay wounded, mostly with broken bones and open cuts made by spear thrusts. She sat at the far end of the tent, washing her hands, her hair pulled back by a clean white cloth. "I see I am just in time."

"In time? Don't you ever rest?"

"It is victory, Atthis. The leader does not retire early on the night of victory. Nor shall I." He drew her to him, ignoring the bandages she clutched her hands. She dropped them. He put his mouth against her chest, and breathed, holding her to him with some force. He felt he had grown in stature, and the singing of his blood from the battle had not yet ceased; it had mellowed into a strong lust, which was provoked even further by the smell and feel of the women he held.

She struggled against him. "Not - not in front of people…"

"They are wounded, they don't mind…" he murmured into her breasts. "Come on then," he pulled her like a poppit across the tent, and raised a hand to the white-dressed attendant who stood there. "You can spare her for a while, she is tired, and needs to rest."

"Yes Khan," the woman squeaked, and hurried to pick up the bandages where Atthis had dropped them.

She tried to protest when they gained the outside air. "Look, Khan --"

"Call me Saheris, it is more intimate." He kissed her, making it impossible for her to speak. She gasped, and tried push him off.

"You don't really want to argue now, do you? I told you we could make love after I had my victory. Now, I have had my victory."


"Saheris, call me Saheris." He once again pulled her by the arm, and she was forced to follow. He stopped then, and released her. "Tell me that you do not want this. Tell me and you can go back to your moaning wounded."

"I -"

"Go ahead, tell me your heart is not racing and your loins are not wet with anticipation of me."


"Once again, I am right." He put his mouth on her own again, and put one hand hard upon her breast, and squeezed it. She struggled. "I love those. You have the most beautiful breasts, I have to have them. Come on."

She pulled away at last, her face growing dark with rage. "You cannot just take whatever you like, when you like, Khan."

"And why not? I know that you want this too, so why pretend?" He took a step once again toward her, and she drew back.

"Do not insist, Khan," she said darkly.

"Or what --?" He once again reached for her, this time in earnest, his hands closing hard upon her shoulders. It was then she shrieked, her voice carrying to the far end of the camp. There was the sound of running feet.

"Or I will have to do something that will undermine your authority. Please keep your hands off me." Saheris stepped away from her then, and stalked away.


Atthis awoke from a half-sitting position in the camp hospital. The sound of weak moans had stirred her again to wakefulness. She had been dreaming, and in that dream, she was in the bed of Saheris El Maduc. The dream had aroused her deeply, and this stirred in her a deep feeling of confusion and shame.

What was her excuse? That he was handsome? That she was taken in by the stories about his great destiny and was intrigued? That she had fallen in love with him because he had been her patient and she had saved him from grave illness and possibly death? None of these explanations were either true or suitable. The fact was that when he told her he wanted her, she wanted him. It was no more complicated than that. And it was all she could do to resist the unconquerable force of his will. It was inevitable, like the crash of a tide against a cliff; and she yearned to feel the force of it against her. There was no secret flame he had stoked in her, nor did he match some long-cherished fantasy that she had to be taken as a spoil of war by some barbarian warrior. She had always been serious and practical, and if her fantasies had run anywhere, they had lingered very close by, with her dark-haired, quiet friend Heklitis.

Though he had never shown any interest in her then - or since, and did not even appear to acknowlege her femininity... perhaps that was what drew her to him. A complete indifference that frustrated her.

Back To Index

Copyright 2004 Threshold Publishing Company • All Rights Reserved
Copyright www.zebratta.com All Rights Reserved