his army back to Euxis for re-embarkation to Maeotis; while Saheris, and
the Bithynian army returned by way of Amysos, there to disperse their
numbers to the towns where the men were recruited. Many were easterners,
and some were local to Amysos. The army would diminish in size along its
march as its troops returned home until needed in the spring. Within two
days, Saheris, Atthis, and the bulk of the officers from Maduc returned
along the seacoast march to their home.
Little more was
said between Saheris and Atthis; and he deliberately distanced himself
from her. For her part, Atthis had withdrawn into silence, and busied
herself with the transport of those who had difficulty sitting horses,
and she tended those who needed transport by litter to their homes, where
they could recover. There was plenty of tending to do, and helping the
injured who could not walk. Thus they arrived in victory at Amysos.
There was enough
room at the harbormaster's to accommodate Saheris, two of his officers,
and Atthis, who would now be able to assist with Saher's recovery. His
arm was badly injured, and while the wound was beginning to heal, the
bone was badly damaged, and the field splints Heklitis had prepared had
not completely set the compound fracture. He was still in considerable
pain, though moving about the house more freely. He was in defiance of
Heklitis's direct instruction when he burst from the house to greet Saheris
as he marched into the center of the town.
Amysos was in
a festive mood: the sudden and victorious return of its men, drafted rapidly
into a standing army and drilled for a mere month to meet the sudden Alan
threat, had placed the town into a gloom of dread; for it had been many
years since its people had been called upon to defend themselves. It was
a contented and sleepy port, well away from the traffic of empire and
the more serious activity of Bithynia, and Saher had not been here for
some years. Suddenly, it was the focal point of an advancing threat, and
the success of Saher's campaign, despite his injuries, was cause for celebration.
A feast was planned
to congratulate the young Khan on his battle in Cormorin, set to take
place the night after his arrival, and Bellona the harbormaster's wife,
was busily cooking to prepare for it. Saheris went upstairs to greet Saher
and his brother once again, who embraced him long and hard.
"I had no worries
for you, Saheris," he said loudly, checking surreptitiously for evidence
of wounds or change on his brother. "You look like you have grown a half
a cubit!" he remarked, satisfied. "Now I will let our father have at you."
Sahelis made himself sit, all nerves and excitement after seeing his brother
returned a military hero. Saher laughed. "You would think he had won the
battle himself. It is good to see a brother proud. Now, Saheris. We have
much to discuss. First - moving the battle out into the fields there,
How in Hera's name did you remember about the open fields to the east?"
"How could I forget,
Father?" Saheris narrowed his eyes. "My memory of Cormorin is the clearest
of any in my childhood. I will never forget any moment of what occurred
there, or what it was like. And now, I have the greatest reason for clarity.
And good thing. What I do not understand is why you did not think to position
the troops this way."
"I don't know.
It had not occurred to me. That is the best sign I am getting old."
"And how is the
wound? Heklitis has not spoken to me as yet."
"Oh, I think the
arm is nearly useless now, at least for swordplay. I might get my ability
to lift a cup back, and that may be all I can hope for."
"Then I am out
of the battle for good, Saheris. And you are in it none to soon."
A deep frown settled
on the boy's face. "So, what are you saying, Father?"
"I'm saying, that
until Sahelis is blooded and joins you on the front, you are now the Khan."
Saheris turned and stared at his brother. "You know all this?"
"I suggested it.
I do not want our father taking the foolish step of trying to lead another
troop into battle. And you have quite well proven yourself. You knew months
ago in those easy training exercises that Munduk put us through you were
well beyond them. And look how you fared!"
widely. "So, now I am the Khan. I didn't expect this. I thought we were
coming back to see you so that I could be disinherited, to be honest."
For what? Risking your life by sleeping with diseased whores? Stealing
your officer's wives? Getting poisoned by a raving madman? Which of these?"
Saher spoke roughly but with some amusement in his voice."
"Any. All. Sahelis
almost killed me for sleeping with his."
You too? Did Maeotis ruin you both?"
Sahelis is a model youth. He was only helping the girl. It wasn't like
he was corrupting his morals."
"And you? Heklitis
tells me you are a father three times."
sat, stunned. Saher nodded. Once again, a look of knowing silence settled
on his brother.
"Yes, and the
mothers will all be coming to Maduc, because they will all be acknowledged
, with the one who is there now. I am not entirely unhappy that you have
spread your seed so widely, Saheris. For at least there will be children
for me to enjoy, and perhaps, an increase for the first time in the house
"What do you mean,
the one who is there now."
"You do remember
Kara, the woman Arrus had in Maduc?"
"Oh. Her too?"
"You are a fertile
species, Saheris. Not all of these women may be bearing your children,
but it may be easy to tell when they come out."
"Are you angry
"No, I suppose
not. I did not expect you to behave so outrageously, but in time perhaps
it will be to the good. But it brings me to the subject most important
after your taking over leading my army."
wincing slightly from pain as his arm settled. He repositioned himself
with some discomfort. "Yes. Munduk would like to offer you his daughter
Ildico in marriage."
"Sex usually comes
after marriage, Saheris. So in your case marriage is slightly tardy."
"But - I haven't
"She has seen
you, however, and is quite keen on the idea. She finds you quite handsome."
"Does she know
"That you have
already become a father? Yes. Though there will be a considerable expectation
that you will provide her with the same privilege, and father legitimate
heirs on her."
"Do I get to meet
her and decide first?"
Saher made a small
shrug with his free shoulder. "If you like. Munduk will be returning with
her when he settles the army, and winter with us in Maduc. Now that the
urgent campaign has been successfully concluded he will leave his officers
in charge of the final training. Consolidating his alliance with me and
you is his foremost concern now. This is what we discussed when he came
to me during your - er, confinement. You are completely cured then?"
"I think I am.
That is why they let me free."
"Good," he nodded.
And in that brief
conversation, Saheris's immediate future was suddenly planned; the return
to Maduc, and a marriage in the spring. After his audience with the Khan,
Sahelis drew him aside. "I have something I must discuss with you. You
must make things right with Heklitis. He is very, very angry with you."
"He spoke with
you about this?"
"No. That is how
I know he is angry. He has not mentioned your name at all, and did not
attend us upstairs. These are very bad signs. You have offended him terribly,
from what you did on the boat."
on his brother, his expression suddenly fierce. "Then I will offend him
even further with what has happened since."
turned white. "You didn't - you didn't!"
He nodded. "I
would have. But she would not let me."
"Now what will
he do, I wonder."
"Maybe he can
do what he should have done. Atthis loves him, not me. He should have
had her since. I just wanted her for a night, or two. Just for pleasure.
Just like all the rest of it. Sahelis, I didn't intend to have children!
Now look! Why can't love just be for pleasure?"
you the cure for children, you just didn't use it. I used it!"
"Yes, with one
little Armenian whore. So what makes me so different?"
"Maybe you are
trying to prove you are the best at everything, and that all the women
want you. You aren't content knowing it, you have to have someone else
to see it."
"Well it would
seem I am the best at making children
" his voice grew plaintive.
"I am scared. Scared to marry. Scared to be a father, Sahelis."
"A little late
for that, isn't it? You weren't scared to have all of those women. And
look what you have been through? You survived Stiven, you won a battle,
you have had dozens of women -- all the rest is easier than that."
"True," he shrugged.
"Perhaps that is true. But battle is not hard. It is just applying what
we learned over and over again. Keeping a gap closed, moving the men together,
planning the battleground, choosing where to fight and the order of battle.
How many times did we do that?"
"Yes, so it wasn't
hard. I think marrying a girl will be hard."
"You mean, having
one woman will be hard."
again. "I know you think I'm a beast, for bedding all of those girls.
But I wanted them. They were delicious. I would do it all again, twice.
More. But I would take the cure and not make them pregnant, next time."
"Maybe you will,
and maybe you won't."
"Let us go see
what they are making us for my feast!" Saheris announced, and the boys
raced to the kitchen of the harbormaster's wife.
Saher looked up
at the young physician tiredly, but his tone was hard. "You can't return
to Eleusis. I need you, and there is one child due in the spring, and
three more at the end of the summer."
"But, Khan, this
is very difficult for me."
blustered. "What is so blasted difficult for you, Heklitis? Do not be
difficult or obtuse with me, we have been through too much together!"
and worked his hands together hard. Then he forced himself to look Saher
in the eye. The Khan stared back, unblinking.
"Khan, this is
"I had no doubt
it was about Saheris. He is a difficult boy to serve, and it is hard to
approve of the way he lives, the risks he takes, and his offenses to common
"Yes, there is
"There is more?
I don't wish to drag it from you, Heklitis. I am feeling rather weak of
"I am sorry, Khan,
it is just that this is a delicate matter. There was an incident, on the
told me about it. He sought to take your fellow therapeuta by force."
though she has not told me, he was eventually successful. He came into
her room when we were billeted here before Cormorin, and I interrupted
them. He nearly took her by force!"
"And so what of
this leads you to -- ah. This is someone you have had intentions toward
but have not acted."
"Yes, Khan. And
"Has spoiled your
chance? Saheris is marrying Munduk's daughter. He is not marrying a therapeuta.
So he may have succeeded, but he is not going to keep her, whether or
not he wants to. He may taste of many fruits, but the ones that grows
are going to be of use to Bithynia."
his head. "That may be so, but does little to assuage my own feelings
of offense, Khan."
"Oh, get over
your petulances. Here was my son, called suddenly to lead, what was he
to do? He is still only a boy and insecure of himself. His way of making
himself secure is in the arms of a female, even if partly unwilling."
rose. "You speak as though these things can just be set aside!"
"And why not!
Look -- if you wish to marry the girl, then marry her, there will be plenty
enough to do to look after however many children are going to be born
soon, and I am fast approaching my dotage and will need you even more
- another therapeuta in the household will be welcome. But I cannot spare
you, and do not wish to have some inexperienced child to break in! I have
spent the last 18 years getting comfortable with you, Heklitis, you are
not going to abandon me now. Forgive her for her indiscretion, and I will
do my part to make sure Saheris minds his own bed, or he will hear from
me directly. A fling in the field is one thing, and if he intends otherwise,
I will make it worthwhile for him to think differently. Is that satisfactory?"
"It will have
to be, Khan. I must go to her and talk go her about this."
"Yes, and why
don't you tell her you love her while you are at it!" he grumbled. "Three
and thirty, and a boy for all that," he grumbled.
on the chamber Atthis had taken upon her return. She had been exhausted,
from her rough encounter with Saheris, from the medical duties, and from
the march, and had retired early to sleep, so as to be awake for the feast
that was to take place at sundown. A long minute passed, and he raised
his hand to knock again, when the door opened. Her hair was in disarray,
and her clothes hastily arranged - she had just dressed to answer it.
"You were expecting
someone else?" he said, and the look of fear and anguish on her face in
reply made him regret his words immediately. "I am sorry. May I speak
"Of course, come
into the room, and sank into a chair. Atthis took a place at the end of
the bed. "At last, a real bed," she remarked. "Field conditions are not
what I am used to."
"Atthis, I just
came from the Khan. I asked him to release me so I could return to Eleusis."
"You did what?
You can't be serious."
"I was serious.
He refused. So I cannot go, even though I still want to. He told me to
work out my problem in a different way, and I think perhaps he is right."
"What is this
"You do not need
to feign ignorance, Atthis. What I saw that night is burned into my mind.
And I am not so ignorant to think he did not gain his end with you."
She raised her
chin. "So there is no need for me to say anything then, simply to listen."
"Perhaps so, yes.
You do not deny anything."
"Must I deny it?
I had to fend him off with my fists, Heklitis!"
"Then you did
not accept him."
"No. He did try.
And - I did refuse. And he tried again - but I refused. But there is something
you should consider. Had it occurred to you that I have no reason to consider
myself anything but free? And if I choose to accept a man in my bed -
or boy, in this case, then it is my choice? I had no reason to refuse.
I did so anyway."
"I see that. But
- "he looked up and looked at her then, for a long moment. "I did not
realize until I saw Saheris in your bed, what I myself felt. That - I
"Oh?" she said,
her voice betraying emotion. Heklitis stood.
"Was this, with
Saheris, did you care for him?"
"Care for him?
I was merely flattered by him! Had another man broken into my room and
assaulted me, I might also have responded to him!"
"So what is your
"No, I would say
not. Flattered, impressed, and that is all. Saheris pursues women for
pleasure. And he wanted me mainly because of what happened in Maeotis,
and he wanted to be the one in the position of power. But you do not want
to talk of him. Why don't you say what you have come here to say, Heklitis?"
He paced, flustered.
"I - I have been so angry about this
She rose, and
went to him. "I realized something this week."
He looked down
into her face, his expression pained and pleading. "What was it?"
"I learned that
there was a man I wanted. If I asked Saher would he let me stay in Maduc
so that I can be with you?" She put her arms around his. "You are so very
reticent. Why don't you at last tell me?"
His eyes filled
with tears. "After this long time
. I thought you knew that I loved
you. And when Spidios sent you to Saheris
I was outraged. How could
you let him
She did not draw
away. "I did not let him. Please believe that. I refused him, perhaps
too slowly, but I did."
And he kissed
her, his entire body shaking with the pent-up passion of years. During
the long separation he had endured from her, the hundreds of letters they
had exchanged, he had never once told her how he felt. He thought, mistakenly,
that it had been obvious, but his naivete had remained fixed at the point
he had been seduced by Sahera, and had not dared to venture beyond this,
even when he had been reacquainted with Atthis in Maeotis. He had never
thought to make a declaration of his feelings.
"Come to me, now,"
she drew him toward the bed. "It does not have to be now, just, be with
me." She settled herself on the bed, and pulled his head onto her shoulder,
caressing him gently, like a patient in great pain. "You must know - it
is not Saheris I want. It is you."
He wept. And she
caressed him in his weeping, wiping her own eyes from time to time. They
lay in each other's arms for some time, in the quiet, until at length,
Heklitis spoke again.
"Saher will take
you, if you come to Maduc. If you do, will you be my wife?"
"Yes, I have waited
for a long time to hear you ask me that." They were quiet with one another
for some time. Gradually, their caresses grew more intent. It was nearly
time for the beginning of the feast, when they emerged, dissheveled, but
at peace, content with one another.
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