with the family of Saher, and her now betrothed husband, Heklitis, to
Maduc. The winter had well advanced, and snows impeded them on the passes.
It was a slow, cold journey, and the army that accompanied them gratefully
disbanded as they neared their homes in the seacoast towns. The largest
divisions, however, were bound for Maduc and the surrounding area, and
it was a large force that moved south along the round bounding the Via
Egnatia back to Saher's capital. They waited their return until Saher
could sit a horse, and as the days passed, he grew stronger, almost as
though the presence of his grandsons had physically strengthened him.
They greeted Spidios
in Maduc, who, accompanied by Heklitis and Atthis, closeted himself with
the Khan for a serious discussion. Though Saher knew that once again,
the topic was Saheris, he could not have been prepared for what Spidios
told him that night.
"First I should
say, Khan, that upon our last examination, there is every sign that Saheris
responded to the treatments we gave him in his confinement, and that he
has recovered completely. I am sure that is a reassurance to you. It has
been now two months since he was interned, and we can only hope he took
the lesson to heart concerning the frequenting of prostitutes."
frowning. "I am not sure he has changed all that much, but he has had
other occupation to concern him, and I have given him a great load of
new responsibility. I have abdicated my leadership to him, at least in
was surprised, and his usually smooth, inscrutable face registered it.
"This may be premature."
"It was necessary,
I'm afraid. My health has been ruined by my latest injury, and I cannot
take the field again. This marks a definite end to my military leadership,
and I must surrender it to my heir. Saheris has proven himself ready in
the field, and has driven the Alans back."
"Yes, I am aware of this, but not of a change of leadership. There is
more you must learn of Saheris, and it would have been far better had
you done so before you made this decision."
"What more has
he done that would convince me of his unsuitability? It is not as though
I have many choices. To supplant him with his younger, more reticent brother
could not even be done for two years, since the younger has more to learn
both of military strategy and ruthlessness, and is not of an age where
he can lead. I could not put him on the field now. Besides, it would bode
very ill for this nation if I were to pass Saheris over for leadership.
He would never recover from that. I could not do that."
"Perhaps you should
listen to what I have to say, first," Spidios put up a hand, to stay any
further arguments by the Khan. "The three of us have examined Saheris
in some great detail, prior to his treatment. In addition to the evidence
of burns from the poison he was administered, and the early lesions of
treponema, we discovered something far more unusual, which was to some
extent corroborated additionally by Atthis, who had more intimate contact
with him during his apprehension. You may have noted his very slight stature."
"Yes. His mother
was not tall."
"He is noticeably
shorter than his brother who is nearly two years his junior."
"Yes, and what
about that is so unusual?"
"It is not only
this, but the structure of his body, his ribs, and his femoral bones.
The lack of facial and very little axillary hair. It is possible that
Saheris may grow no taller than he is today, and he may never show a beard."
"I believe this
boy is a hermaphrodite."
Saher took to
his feet, wobbled, and then sat again. "What!"
"I know that this
would not be welcome news to you, Khan. One of our concerns was that he
would not be fertile or able to father children. Apparently, that is not
an issue, for he is not only capable of the sex act but also fertile,
as we found in Maeotis. A larger concern is whether he shows signs of
the development of breasts, in which case he would be perceived by his
subjects as a female, and unworthy to lead them. We may be able to perform
a surgery to remove the milk glands if they develop, but only if we intervene
at the appropriate time. Have you noticed any evidence of this?" During
Spidios' speech, Saher's face grew darker, with something akin to embarrassment
At length, he
replied to the question.
"No. And had you
not brought this to my attention, I would not have noted any such thing
or any unusualness in Saheris. He is in every respect a male, to my eyes."
"He may be spared
this difficulty, then."
"Does he know,
did you tell him any of this?" Spidios shook his head.
"No, that is something
we have not yet determined to do. Unless there is a compelling reason
to tell him, it is probably wiser not to. For example, if a surgery were
to become a necessity."
"But - Heklitis,
have you taken a good look at Saheris of late?" Saher asked.
"No, I have not."
"We should do
so, but at gross external appearance, no breasts have yet appeared." Spidios
was silent for a long moment. "It could be worse, he could be a flagrant
mixture of male and female, and thus complicate your plans for his future
immeasurably. Instead, you have a provably fertile male child who suffers
only in lack of stature and beard. I believe too that his outsized sexual
appetite may have something to do with an unusual arrangement of the sex
organs, or the existence of female internal parts."
"I see," Saher
said, now also quiet. "And his brother does not know any of this
They shook their
himself together. "Heklitis, I think that you should try to keep as close
an eye on him as you can. There is no telling what might occur if Saheris
begins to - develop; he might react badly. If this is discovered and he
is told it is some sort of tumors that can be removed, a reaction to the
poisoning or the other illness -- perhaps the shock will be lessened.
And let us hope it does not happen. What do you think the chance is, Spidios?"
of hermaphrodites is not great, for most of those children who are born
this way have such extreme deformation of the genitals that they are put
to death at birth as offenses to various heathen gods. For Saheris to
have gained the age of fifteen and not shown breast development goes in
his favor. But to have gained the age of fifteen and only this height,
it is likely he will not grow taller."
"All right then,
then I think our immediate plan is sufficient. Is there anything else?"
"Yes. I think
you would do well to marry him quickly, because it is unlikely his sexual
appetite will lessen with age."
"That is already
in hand. Even now Munduk prepares to come to Maduc with his eldest daughter,
who will be betrothed to Saheris. If he accepts her, that is. I cannot
see that he will not accept her. I am told she has the requisite beauty
to intrigue him."
"Then that is
all I wished to say to you, Khan, if I may see my two students in private
They gained the
outer chamber, away from Saher, whom they left in his dim study. "Now
I do require explanation from you," Spidios said to Atthis as they closed
the outer door. "I am told that there was some intrigue with the Khan's
heir after his remove from Maeotis."
me on the ship, and with more intent, upon our arrival in Amysos. Heklitis
intervened in time."
"And that is all?" She lowered her head. "No, that is not all."
"No, he persisted
further, when I accompanied the army to the field. "However, I managed
to repulse him."
"Did you encourage
"I was not as forceful at refusing him as I might have. This may have
encouraged him to try again. But he did not gain his end."
to Heklitis. "You have nothing to say about this?"
his mouth. "I have told her my feelings. He was very determined. But I
believe her if she says that she turned him down. Saheris is difficult
"I believe the
problem is at an end. He has not approached me since our departure from
Amysos, nor do I think he will again. And we would like you to perform
our marriage if you approve and when it is convenient."
"I for one, do
not believe this matter is at an end. And I will have to deal with it
in my own way. However, I would say you are adults, and have gotten through
the difficulty. At least, I hope so. I do not like this ability this family
has to seduce anyone it sets eyes upon, that is most unsettling. I thought
you were more continent than this, Atthis."
She raised her
eyes to meet his. "I thought so, too."
It was agreed,
now that Maeotis had received the proper care for its outbreak of treponema,
and that six more physicians from Eleusis were recalled from other appointments
to perform the treatments and isolate the infected, that Spidios was now
at liberty to remain in Maduc to complete some of the higher education
of the two heirs, and to keep a close eye on Saheris. He did not entirely
trust the reassurances of his students that Saheris had desisted from
his adventures, so he decided to make an additional examination of him,
in his capacity as tutor.
They had been
two weeks at Maduc, and the weather had become gloomy, rainy, and cold.
The house of Saher was busy at all hours, for everyone stayed indoors;
Sahelis content with his books and studies, Heklitis and Atthis in their
new found intimacy, and their daily duties of tending to the Khan, and
the pregnant mothers, who had been adopted into and housed by Arianus
and his wife. Saheris had not visited the women since his return, at Saher's
express instruction; as far as he was concerned, Saheris had plenty of
work to do in learning the administration of the government in Maduc,
the minutiae of supply and treasury, and many hours each day were consumed
with teaching the impatient youth the duties that now fell to him. More
and more, Saheris was compelled to do Saher's daily work, and to compose
correspondence and orders with Suwetus. He was used, however, to doing
his own writing, and so would draft his own letters in Syriac, and then
turn them over to Saher and Suwetus for correctness and form, then to
be translated into Greek or Latin. He had just concluded one set of correspondence,
when Spidios requested his presence. Saher dismissed him. "You have done
a soldier's duty for a day, boy, now there are other things of importance
Saheris, who had
been looking forward to a refreshing gallop to stretch his limbs, was
unhappy to see Spidios. "Now what, old man, more arcane lessons about
the shape of things? How much tutoring do I truly need, after all? I am
the Khan, I am a busy man now."
a restraining hand on the boy's arm. "You had best heed, Khan, as you
had agreed to do in your dungeon in Maeotis. Such a detainment can easily
be re-arranged, and at any moment, if I am displeased with you. Now I
suggest we have a brief talk, and see whether there is anything with which
I am displeased."
A brief moment
of fear gripped Saheris, in which he recalled his interrogation, and the
strange answers he gave. Would Spidios again drug him, and haul him away
from Maduc, where he would be confined, at the mercy of the Eleusinians?
What had he done that would cause such an event to recur? His mind raced
then, as the small Greek accompanied him, his hard hand on his arm, to
a private room on the second storey.
They were alone.
Saheris took a comfortable seat, and faced his interlocutor. "Now, what
is it you want to say to me?"
"I wish to ask
you about your actions with respect to your teachers. One of the obligations
you have as our student is to behave at all times with absolute respect
toward those who are your seniors, and who are more knowledgeable than
you are. Have you done this?"
"Do not equivocate.
I am not interested in your fabrications."
"I had an interest
in one of my tutors, the physician Atthis, yes. She thought my attentions
rape. Mere days after your release." Saheris blushed hotly.
"She said this!"
"She was not alone
when this event occurred, neither of the times she was assaulted. Therefore,
it is not an allegation. It is a fact. I must tell you, for your own well
being, what such an act will provoke if undertaken again."
"What - you will
have me killed?" Saheris cried.
"No, but in its
own way, possibly, something worse. Eleusis supplies the trained physicians
to most of the nations outside the direct pale of the Empire, and to many
within it. There are very few skilled teachers, healers, or midwives that
are not from our doors. Any further incident of abuse to one of our healers
by you will result in a complete recall of all of those who serve Bithynia,
and its allies, and the recall will be a permanent one."
"Even - Heklitis?
You would make Heklitis return to Eleusis?"
He nodded. "Yes.
And all of those who are now in service to Munduk in Maeotis, settling
the town you did so much to disturb with your sexual escapades. The lesson
you must learn is self-restraint. The consequences of a lack of self-restraint
can be far-reaching. I do not believe that either Atthis or Heklitis,
or the young Tethys, or any of the therapeuti laboring in your garrisons
or cities wish to be taken from their positions of service, but this will
happen, and at a moment's notice, if any further inappropriateness is
observed. This would mean that there would be no one to attend your father
the Khan in his illness, and no one to midwive your women as they give
birth to your children. The consequence is quite great. Now, what do you
say to this?"
tightly. "There should be no reason to take that action, Spidios. And
I would very much like to maintain my position with you."
briefly. "Now we shall see how sincere you are in that. This week I am
performing a ceremony of marriage for Heklitis and Atthis, and they will
have my guarantee that she will be treated with nothing but complete respect
by you as her employer. And that she can look forward to a long and fruitful
service in Maduc with no fear of further molestation."
"Yes. Do you understand?"
but his hands in his lap had clenched. Spidios rose to leave. "Then I
have little more to say. There is still some light if you intend to ride
today. I will leave you to it."
until the sound of footsteps faded in the passage beyond, then returned
to Saher's study, where he took a new sheet of paper and a fresh charcoal;
and began to write a letter to Munduk, requesting his earliest possible
arrival with Ildico. Suddenly, the notion of marriage had become decidedly
Atthis and Heklitis
made their way hurriedly home through the muddy lane from Arianus' house,
which was several streets away from the great house of Saher. A biting,
salty wind was blowing from the Euxine, and the sky was steely grey. "Tell
me, Heklitis, what will become of these women, once they have given birth
to Saheris's children? They were idle wives in Maeotis, and suddenly here,
they are like widows, pregnant, guilty only of assenting for a night of
pleasure with an impetuous child."
"He is not just
any impetuous child, my dear," Heklitis replied, his tone sardonic. "They
are members of Saher's family now, and adopted into the home of his leaders,
his clan. They are part of the Unari now, and their children will be acknowledged
as secondary heirs, if male, to the leadership of the nation. If Saheris
has no children from a marriage, then the eldest of these will become
his heir. But all would be recognized as his, and have the chance to serve
as officers within the clan."
"Well, that is
good, at any rate. Their husbands simply relinquished them?"
"Oh, there was
no difficulty with that. All of them had their dowry paid, and of course,
the husbands kept what children there were already born from the marriage.
There were no hearts broken in this case. Being cuckolded by Saheris El
Maduc was not something they wished to live with or be known for, and
it was a fear neater way of disposing of their wife than the usual method
"The usual method?"
breathed. "Yes, I imagine they feel quite lucky." They had reached the
door, and shook out their cloaks upon entering. To their surprise, Saheris
waited for them, his hands on his hips. "May I have a word?"
"With whom?" Heklitis
replied. He found himself still uncomfortable with Saheris, despite the
reassurances given by both Spidios and Saher that he need not be concerned
for his position in Maduc.
"Both, if you
please. In my father's study."
quizzical looks, and followed him to the dim, cluttered room. Saheris
took his father's seat behind the desk, and put his hands, palm down,
before him. The two seated themselves, wordlessly.
"I am told, that
you two intend to marry."
"Yes, that is
true, Khan," Heklitis said.
"I have something
I wish to say." He stood, then, and took several paces behind the desk
before sitting once again, this time with some deliberateness. They waited
in silence. "I wish to say, first of all, that I am a king. Or, I should
say, I am now a king. Responsibility after responsibility have been given
to me over the course of the past few weeks, and it rests heavily. The
responsibility of a king is to treat well all those who serve him. Both
of you are very important members of this household, no less the one than
the other, though my father relies upon my me very heavily, Heklitis,
I myself rely heavily upon Atthis for the additional care of the children
who will soon be born." He took a breath. "I have acted very badly toward
both of you, after my release in Maeotis. I cannot explain, other than
I was piqued by the trick played upon me, and had determined that you
wished to have a liaison with me, Atthis. But that is not true. In this,
I have caused you considerable pain - both of you, pain. But I do not
want either of you to feel uncomfortable with me. I want you to be happy
here, and I want your marriage to one another to be happy. I too have
glad news; I have sent a letter to Maeotis, and have requested the earliest
possible arrangement for my marriage to Ildico. This will ally myself
with Munduk, and I trust will make both of you more comfortable with me."
Saheris searched the eyes of his elders, then, and let his breath out
slowly, then opened his mouth once again, as though unsure he should continue.
"I want you to know, in the presence of your betrothed husband, Atthis
I never thought that you encouraged me, or made any promise or enticement
to me. You are simply a very beautiful woman, and I could not stop myself
from wanting you. I hope that clears up any doubts."
then. "And - now?"
"And now, I will
have a wife, and a kingdom to occupy me." Saheris then grinned. "I do
want us to be friends again Heklitis, as we once were. I know you once
had an affection for me, and I hope it will return, at the very least
for the sake of my father."
"Of course," he
said, embarrassed. Heklitis was very moved at the unexpected speech by
the young Khan. He had not thought him capable of that level of maturity
or poise. He grasped the hand of his intended with some great emotion.
"I am sure that we will be quite comfortable here, and that all is forgiven."
said. "I do not think you are a bad man, Khan, and yes, all is forgiven."
Saheris smiled widely then, and rose. "Then let us celebrate your marriage
then, and my own. Perhaps we can raise Saher from his nap and get him
to attend us at dinner."
Reply to Saheris's
letter came within the week. Munduk would be aboard ship within ten days
with his daughter and his wife, Eldana, as well as two of his younger
daughters, who he had promised to the sons of Linnaeus and Haner, the
officers he fought with at Cormorin. Their sons had just come of age,
and while the girls were still quite young (ten and twelve years) it was
not too early for a betrothal and remove to Maduc, since they would be,
at least temporarily, part of the household of their elder sister. For
a period of months, then, Eldana would attend her daughters until their
marriages. By then, it was hoped that Ildico would be confined and would
give birth before Eldana returned to her home in the north. They also
learned that Eldana herself was pregnant, and was planning to give birth
while at Maduc.
All of this inflow
of guests would require additional room, and so Saher opened the adjoining
house, which had belonged to his brother Zoser before he acceded to the
throne of Bithynia. It was not as spacious as the ancestral house, but
it was just as sturdy and comfortable, and a troop of relatives descended
upon it to make it a suitable guest house for Munduk and his family upon
The season notwithstanding,
an early date was set for Saheris's marriage, and he had since abandoned
any pretense that he would make a decision on Ildico after her arrival.
His mind was made up: as long as the girl had four good limbs and hair
on her head, he would find her acceptable. Now that he was Khan, he could
no longer entertain the childish notions that women could be plucked from
crowds at will for his pleasure. Every action of his had some grave consequence,
and he chafed against the threats Spidios had made to him. He thought
of their conversation frequently, sometimes nightly, and he dwelt upon
it once again the night before Munduk's ship was due to arrive from Scythia.
However, shortly the image of the disapproving face of Spidios gave way
to the flushed face and enticing form of Atthis as she knelt, poised above
him, in his room in Munduk's house. The memory was embellished, each time
he grasped this fantasy, and it aroused him as fully as once his forbidden
fantasies of Sahera had done. He could feel her thick hair brush his chest
as she straddled him, the feel of her hard nipples between his fingers,
and within moments, he was once again aroused from the vision of the beautiful
Greek. "Heklitis, I hope you never know how much I dream of your woman
in my arms," he said aloud, and let the fantasy wake him completely. "Let
my wife arrive quickly," he prayed, as he placed a shaking hand on his
rigid flesh to relieve the tension of his lust.
The ship arrived
at first light.
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