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Chapter 40: Ildico

Saheris mounted his mare, in one bound and was off to the waterfront before any of the rest of the household had awakened. He paced the wharf as they docked, and the little landing boats debarked with their precious passengers and cargo. He was there to greet the first, a small girl of no more than ten years. "I am Saheris El Maduc," he greeted her, formally, and lifted her bodily to the safety of the dry wharf above.

"I am Iliana, the youngest daughter of Munduk," the girl said brightly. She was stunningly pretty, with large blond ringlets, and a pure, pale complexion, and she smiled endearingly at Saheris, as though he was her intended, and she had already fallen in love with him.

Saheris saluted her Ugar fashion. "I am honored." Just as he had straightened up from his bow to the girl, another was handed up, virtually a copy of the first, and just as lovely. The girls were almost exact replicas of their mother, Eldana, who even now stood, imperious, in the bow of the boat, awaiting the landing vessel. Eldana stood at a considerable height, taller than Saher, perhaps even taller than Arrus, and for a brief time, Saheris's attention was arrested. Sahelis had told me about Eldana, and the meeting in the bedchamber with her and Munduk. He had described her as a magnificent blonde beauty, breathtaking to behold, and Sahelis had not exaggerated. The second daughter, Kinlit, awaited his arm, and he helped her up and gave her a second formal salute.

Following the second daughter, came a tall, willowy, and - to Saheris's great surprise, dark-haired, dark-complexioned girl who must be at least eighteen years of age. Her eyes searched the pier, and at once caught sight of him. He had already been told that Ildico had seen him, though he did not know where, or how. He found himself hoping that she was as pleased with him as he with her, but her face gave no indication either way. They lighted on him, and did not flicker away. Ildico, if possible, was, due to her dark hair and olive coloring, the most beautiful of the three, and mature. He could not see much detail of her form beneath the cloak, but she had her mother's height and delicacy of feature, her nose short but not stubby, and Saheris spent long moments enjoying the simple vision of her. She had far more than the requisite number of arms and legs! He breathed in sharply; his bed would not be empty long. She reached a long, manicured hand up from the boat, and he drew her up to the wharf. Standing at a level, she overtopped him by a head, and looked down upon him. Slowly, she smiled. "Greetings, Saheris El Maduc," she said.

"Greetings to you, Ildico," and he kissed her hand. She bowed her head graciously, then moved off toward her sisters. He did not want to let that hand go.

Eldana and her servants followed. When the boat stopped debouching its passengers, Saheris looked around him in some confusion. "Where is Munduk?"

The queen replied. "He is a day or two behind. There was some news from the north that he had to reply to before departing, but decided that it would be unwise for us all to delay. We are not to change our itinerary in any way."

Saheris signalled for horses to be brought for the women, and led them to Zoser's house and their rest. By the time they arrived, the house had stirred. Arrus, newly-arrived from Moesia, and Suwetus stood in the doorway to greet the arrivals and show them to their new homes. Arianus and his wife Brita arrived shortly thereafter, to greet Iliana, who was betrothed to their son Arrhadeus, and Linnaeus, who was a widower, was in attendance to greet and introduce himself to Kinlit who was betrothed to his son Runar. Soon both houses were bustling with the transporting of trunks and movement of furniture, the arrival and departure of horses, and the cooking of food. Saheris lost track of his betrothed, Ildico, among the press of women who crowded in to assist Munduk's family with their belongings, and he strode back, alone, to his study. To his surprise, Sahelis awaited him.

"Is she pretty? Do you think you want her?"

"Do you know what you said about Eldana?"

"Yes…" he frowned.

"Then imagine a girl as tall as Eldana, hair as thick and long as Eldana's, face as delicately wrought. Then, make her dark, brunette, with a perfectly olive complexion."

"You prefer them dark."

"Yes."

"Then - she is what you want. She must be stunning."

"She is. Munduk knew she is, that is why he never let me see her! He knew I would ravish her in a minute."

Sahelis clapped his hands. "Then it will be settled? You are going to go through with it?"

Saheris pushed roughly at his brother's arm. "Of course. If I go another month without a woman I may die. But now that I have seen her, I am completely happy with the arrangement."

"But now what about me? Has Munduk married off all his daughters now, leaving none for me?"

"You're too young. Khan's sons have to be older. The younger siblings get married off to the lesser members of the house. He has a daughter from his Moldovan wife who is almost sixteen. When you are old enough, you can marry her. The Moldovans are dark people too so she would be brunette, like Ildico."

"What is her name?"

"I don't know, Sahelis, we can ask Eldana. I thought you weren't anxious to marry."

"I’m not. I just want to have the choice."

"I am sure Munduk has a lot of daughters available."

As promised, Munduk was two days behind by ship, and by the time of his arrival, his family were ensconced in Zoser's house. The wedding was due to be held in Saher's house on the day of Vesta, two days from the time of his arrival, and, a nervous sailor himself, Munduk spent the first day after his arrival in bed, recovering from a lack of food and sleep. Saheris was secretly pleased that he was not the only man who could not abide ships. Heklitis, too, could not hold food on board ship, and that alleviated much of Saheris's embarrassment and reticence about sailing.

They dined together the night before the ceremony, in Saher's hall, which had been transformed into a feast hall for the wedding. Extra furnishings had been removed to make room for more tables and guests, and the hanging lamps had been lifted to provide for more standing room in the main vestibule. This was the first opportunity for Saheris to speak to Ildico since their meeting on the pier.

"What do you think of Maduc so far, Lady?" he inquired politely.

"It is much less cold than Maeotis, and far fairer than Rukath," she said carefully. "And I have always loved the seacoast. The smell is invigorating." She glanced sidelong at Saheris, as though waiting for him to speak, and then continued. "Do you know, that we of Scythia consider Pontus to be the most beautiful area of this entire region? Except of course for the mountains of Moldova. But they are only beautiful to the sight, it is frigidly cold there for much of this season, and wretched to travel through. Scythia is not much better."

"My daughter, please," Munduk said, his voice only half-joking while he sipped his soup. "Please do not portray to the Khan that our realms are hostile and inhospitable, or he will never consent to rule them or even set foot in them!"

She lowered her eyes. "I am sorry, Father, but I wished to let Saheris know, truthfully, that his realm is a beautiful one, and far superior in our own eyes, to the land in which we dwell."

Munduk laughed explosively. "I can do nothing with her. You have no fear that she will attempt to flee Maduc, in any case, Saheris."

"I never doubted it," he replied, soberly. But he was intrigued at the pains Ildico appeared to be taking to please him. Had her father told her that Saheris had not yet made up his mind to marry? He had been told, previously, that Ildico found him attractive - did she fear that there were other competitors for him, and that she might lose an opportunity to marry if she did not please him? It certainly seemed that way. Besides this niggling worry in the back of Saheris's mind, he paid careful attention to Ildico, and to her younger sisters, who prattled ceaselessly about the sea and the ships, which they had never seen prior to their first trip to Maeotis. They had never been across the Euxine, before, and their eyes were bright with the pleasure of new experience. Saheris enjoyed it all, and the benevolent eye of Eldana over them all, watchful and approving.

When the dinner ended, the girls assembled to provide them with some singing entertainment. They sang a curious tune which was an anthem for dead warriors learned from the ancient kingdom of Kvenland, to the north of Pannonia. They then sang another tune to which they danced, solemnly, arm in arm. The movements were subtle and complex, and no matter how he tried, Saheris could not discern the pattern their feet followed. At Munduk's loud applause, they were dismissed, and filed off to return to their rooms next door in Zoser's house. Eldana accompanied them.

Only the men, and the brothers, were left at the table then. "What say you, young Khan?" said Munduk in his usual blunt manner. "Will you have her?"

Saheris blushed. "I would be very pleased to have her."

"Then she is yours on the morrow. And the destiny of our nations will be solidified. However, there is some news I must impart to all of you which affects us all. This is what delayed me in Maeotis."

"What misfortune befalls us now, Munduk?" Saher asked, his voice now tired. "There is not some new levy or troop request from our new eastern emperor?"

"The child Theodosius? No, somewhat more fateful, my ally. His uncle in the west has proposed a hostage exchange."

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Saheris closeted himself with his brother and Saher late. "Surely," he argued, "he cannot be proposing that one of us be sent to Ravenna."

Saher put a hand over his eyes. "This was not done during the reign of the old Theodosius except among the minor nobles. My cousins both spent two years in Rome, but never did they ask for a direct heir to be sent. In this case, they have asked for Munduk's heir."

Saheris spoke, "but - that would be me!"

"Yes, I know," he said quietly. "But we cannot let that happen. I cannot rule here any longer, my health is too poor. And you cannot be spared, even for a season, to be holed up in some palace in Ravenna, while they send some insolent patrician's son to snoop for secrets in Scythia. No, there is something else afoot here, something we do not know about."

"So what will happen?" Sahelis asked.

"For the moment, nothing. But I have a very odd suspicion, which brings me back to the Roman soldier in Amysos. I think it's time we find out who our foreigner is, and why he was dogging us to the battle with the Alans at the time he was. There is too much of coincidence in this for Honorius to suddenly make a demand of this kind, and without argument, it will be difficult to refuse or defer him."

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The wedding ceremony was relatively straightforward. Elaborate clothes were provided for Saheris and Ildico, and wine, and Saher presided over a prayer of fertility for the couple. He then unfurled a length of linen which he then wound around the clasped arms of the couple, and tied it at the hands. This was the symbol of marriage between the nations of Scythia and Bithynia. Munduk made a brief speech about their alliance, and about the happiness he anticipated would arise from the marriage.

The younger sisters tossed flowers at them, and wine was served. As the guests fell to for their feast, Munduk brought a white cloth and placed it upon the tied arms of the couple. "This must be accomplished before you join the feast." The cloth, Saheris had been told, was to be placed on the bed to absorb the blood of their first intercourse. Munduk led them to the room that was to serve as the marriage chamber, and closed the door behind them.

They spent the first minutes untying themselves from the length of linen, and as Saheris unraveled his wife's shoulder, he leaned forward and kissed her cheek. "You are very lovely, " he said in a soft voice. "May I unravel you further?" She murmured in response, and began to untie the clasps of the elaborate gown that covered her. Soon, white linen had spilled across the floor and Ildico stood nude before him. "Ah," he exhaled, and loosened his own cloak and let it fall to the floor, then pulled the bedcovering back and placed the linen cloth upon it.

"I believe we are ready." He slipped his arm across her shoulder, and walked her the few steps toward the bed, and lifted her onto the mattress. He kissed her, and the girl beneath him pressed her mouth hard against his, and he opened his mouth, exploring her mouth with his tongue. Her mouth tasted sweet, as though she had just eaten some poignant fruit. The sensation, and the taste, aroused him immediately. Saheris leaned back onto his knees and put his hands on her dark breasts, squeezing the nipples to hardness between his fingertips. Ildico moaned, arching her back toward him. He played with her breasts then, holding them in his hand and massaging upward to tweak the nipple gently, and then start again. She moved against his hands, arching her back to push upward, and grasped his arms with her hands, urging him to continue. He put his mouth on a nipple then, and began to suck, while manipulating the other with his free hand. Ildico had begun to moan in his ear. It was nearly time, but he was reluctant to stop - it was her breasts he wanted, that impertinent nipple against his mouth… he sucked hard upon it, pinching the other more roughly, and was rewarded with a low sound, and a strong surge of the body beneath him. Her hands wandered downward until they found what they sought, and she seized his rigid sex in her hand, grasping it hard.

"Please," she whispered. He needed little more encouragement than this, and he pushed her knees apart, and guided himself gently into her. There was a sudden resistance, an uncomfortable tightness. He thrust then, and there was a loud gasp from the girl, and he withdrew. Bright drops fell against the linen and across the surrounding sheet.

"Are you all right? Does it hurt?" he asked, concerned, his passion suddenly flagging with the prospect of pain. Her arms reached for him once again and pulled him down.

"Yes, yes, it was just a moment. Come to me, come to me." With the breaking of her virginity, Ildico's passion was unleashed, and Saheris thrust himself again between her thighs. The low sounds soon became loud gasps, and the pressure he felt from within her seemed to intensify to an intolerable tightness, as the pressure increased he thrust harder, until suddenly released and a wave of spasms engulfed him - color flushed her face from her chest to her hairline, and a look crossed her face - and her expression went completely still for a brief moment, and a strangled moan escaped her. She had climaxed at the same moment he had, and the decreasing wave of spasming within her pressed him out. He sat up.

There was blood on the linen, and blood on his thighs, and more blood beading on the small hairs of the small mound of her sex. They were breathing heavily, hoarse, unable to speak. Finally, Saheris took a deep breath, smiled, and said "that was wonderful. Wonderful." To his profound relief, his pent-up rage with Atthis had fled him, and he felt completely satisfied. "Yes," she breathed, and pulled his head down again to kiss him.

The couple quickly reassembled themselves, though not quite as neatly, dabbing themselves with the bedclothes in order to dress once again. Saheris retrieved the white linen from the bed, and took his wife's arm. They walked in some dignity back down the hallway to Saher's main hall, and upon arriving, held the bloodstained cloth up in the air. There was a loud cheer, and wine glasses were raised and clashed together. Then, they joined the wedding feast.

They lingered at the feast only as long as custom demanded, and then, to the accompaniment of loud comments and encouragement, Saheris took his bride back to bed. This time, they were less hurried, and there was no bleeding or discomfort. They made love long into the night, until they exhausted one another. At length, they slept.

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