what brings you to my door? It's been months now!" Arrus greeted Saheris
outside his dwelling, where he was chopping firewood.
"That arm looks
normal. What are you still retired for?" Saheris sat on an unused sawhorse
and regarded his old friend and teacher.
"Because I earned
it - and because it's time to stay home for a while. And
"I take it you
have spoken with Heklitis today."
"Yes, about Sahera's
sister. That is the somewhat more. Did you know that the Khan had agreed
for me to marry her?"
jumped to his feet.
"This past fall.
When he took her in. I had felt badly that I could not care for her, and
the only way I could was for Saher to settle a retirement on me so that
I could be a proper husband. To this he agreed. After the birth. Which
is why I did not ride with you in Amysos. I would have liked to have seen
you in your first battle, Saheris, and I'm pleased you did so well."
"Why does no one
tell me these things?" he cried.
I would have thought you would be happy, particularly since I would have
looked after the child as well, and relieved you of too early a fatherhood.
And that is a misfortune, I'm sorry. Quite a day for you."
"You don't understand!"
Saheris grew furious then, his face purpling with agitation.
"What? What is
wrong?" Arrus put down his axe and came over to the enraged boy standing
in his yard. "For Hera's sake calm yourself, come inside and I'll get
you some wine." At first, Saheris pulled away from the arm grasping his,
to let him continue until a large glass of wine was placed before him.
"Now, Khan, tell me what has got you so red in the face about my domestic
"Let me ask you,
Arrus. Did you ever, in the years you served Saher, desire my mother?"
Truth to tell, she was always a pleasure to look at, and many was the
night she stuck in my mind. But -- not truly, no. I can't abide a woman
of that kind of temperament. What is this about?"
"But Kara, she
and my mother are quite like."
"Well, they are
like in pure appearance, but
I knew Kara when she was younger, when
I first went to Ankra. Had I been free, and a citizen here, I would have
offered to marry her then. Sweet, quiet, and of course, excellent in the
kitchen. I never thought of her as so like to Sahera - they are opposites
in many ways. I suppose you had to know them both as well as I did to
appreciate how different they were. So I don't think it is strange that
I did not note their resemblance. And Sahera - well, she was very thin,
and quick, and -- well, mannish is what I would call it. So why is that
all so important to you on today of all days?"
had made doubts rise in Saheris's mind, and he hesitated to continue.
"I found them very like. When I first - when I laid eyes on Kara, I thought
she was Sahera. Or -- some part of me did."
"So - why did
you have her then - if she reminded you of
.oh. This is about Cormorin."
not trusting himself to speech.
"You were very
"Does that matter?"
"In your case,
maybe not. So you never knew that she was your mother when she
"So -- what is
it that you are telling me?" Arrus stared at Saheris then, searching his
"I - I don't know."
"Well Kara is
to be my wife, and you will have to get over what ever it is you have
to get over. Because, the one night - that is to be forgiven, but if you
try to take her again, Khan or no Khan, I will put my sword through you."
Arrus spoke quietly, but there was threat in his voice. Saheris wondered
then how many men he may have said this to - and how many more he would
"Arrus - I wouldn't
that is not what I am saying. I don't know what it is I am saying." Saheris
stood, confusion and misery competing within him. "If I had known that
you loved her, I would not --"
"Don't lie to
me, Saheris. I know you too well. What's done is done. I will defend what
is mine, however, and you will have to answer to the Khan if you darken
this door again without my leave. I think enough has been said. Finish
drained the glass, and turned in the doorway. "I hope you are still my
The older man
laughed, a friendly sound. "Of course, of course. If I thought my affections
were usurped by you, it would be different. But there is no harm. Now
run off, I'm sure you have Khan things to do."
Saheris left the
door of his friend's house, and walked slowly back to his own, if anything,
more forlorn and confused than before. It was time for dinner, and yet,
his appetite had fled him.
Heklitis in his room, taking a late nap to catch up on lost sleep from
the morning. "All right, it's after dinner. Where is Atthis?"
"She is tending
to - her patients."
"To Kara you mean."
"And the others.
Eldana is most likely the next to give birth, and she needs some special
attention right now, for she is confined to bed."
"Confined to bed?
happens. In some cases, the child is delicate and if the mother were to
rise and move about, the child would be precipitated out. That is not
what you came here to talk about, however."
"No - no - wait,
is that likely to happen to Ildico?"
"Not likely, but
possible. It happens in some cases with the first birth. We don't expect
"I was worried. I would hate for her to be confined to bed just because
of - me."
"Women come to
expect all sorts of inconveniences attendant upon having children, Saheris.
They don't think of it as the father's fault."
briefly. "No, I hadn't thought of that. Anyway, to what we were discussing."
"Yes. Now I want
to know why I should tell you about something so personal and so long
"I thought you might. I know that we have not got on well in the past
few months, and that you have had less reason to trust or confide in me
than you have in the past
but still, you may serve me yet for many
years, and each week I take on more of my father's responsibility. Too
much intrigue has passed through this family as a result of my mother's
machinations, and we may never know all that she did while she was alive,
or what her mother did, to poison our lives and those around us." He took
a breath. This was a long speech for him, but he continued doggedly on.
"There is that which has haunted me for most of my life, and which I have
to be unburdened of. I am sure when you have been closeted with your master
you have spoken of me, and of my adventures in Maeotis, and the women
I have taken. I would have hidden this all if I could, but it seems day
by day more obvious that a Khan is not a private person, and his life
cannot be a private one. I learned something when I led in battle, that
I didn't know in Maeotis, and I hope it is this that makes you understand
me better, and know why I have done as I have, why I am as I am. Because
I cannot carry it around inside me any longer without speaking of it.
"I learned in
battle that I am responsible for a great many people, people who have
placed their lives in my care, they depend upon my sureness, my confidence,
and my judgement. It is my judgement that may prove the hardest to develop,
and the most at risk, considering how all has happened in the past year
or two with me. But I was born to lead, I was trained to lead, and I am
good at leading. I want to be able to lead more than an army, though.
I want to be able to lead intelligent and reasoned people, in the nations
I am pledged to, and to have their respect. I want to have your respect.
To do this, I have to understand Sahera, what she was, and what she did.
To look at your face, at the face of Spidios when he scolded me about
Atthis, at the face of my father when he is ashamed of me, I know what
you all have thought. That I am her son, and that I am the same kind of
person that she was, with the same habits, and the same appetites. And
when I consider all that I have done, and thought, and felt - I have to
agree. That means that something must change, and I must understand it
in order to change it."
He paused. Heklitis
opened his mouth, gazed at Saheris for a long moment, then closed it.
Saheris raised a hand to continue.
"That is why I
want to know what happened between you and Sahera. I want to understand
what I did not myself see. I want to know what made her be as she was.
And I want to know why I still have dreams about her that haunt me almost
every night. Do you understand now?"
his eyes briefly, and then looked up again across the table at his Khan.
He was no longer a boy, when he spoke with such maturity and reason -
he had shed this illusion of youthful arrogance and boisterousness, and
became, for a short hour, at least, the king that he would one day be.
"Yes, I think
I do. And I think it is probably fitting for you to come to me for information
about Sahera, as I spent nearly eight years with her as my patient. What
is it you feel you need to learn -- to unburden yourself?"
"Tell me what
she did - to you. How it was you came to lay with her."
bridled, and then calmed himself. "This is clearly important to you, so
I will tell you. And then, I expect you will explain why this was all
"Well then. I
was just sixteen years of age, and had come to Maduc in service to Saher.
I was not two nights under this roof, in this room in fact. I was having
some trouble with sleep, and was in considerable anxiety. I was lonely
for my home - the only home I had known, and Maduc was a very different
place from Eleusis. It was during the night while I lay sleepless that
she came unannounced into the room, and told me that she wished to come
to see me because it pleased her, and I pleased her. I tried to explain
that it was wrong for her to come to my bed, but she was unconcerned.
She was -- aggressive."
"What did she
do, exactly?" Saheris pressed.
"She - she pulled
back my bedclothes, and climbed atop me. I was already unclothed. I did
not push her away. I would have had to dash her to the floor to repel
her by then."
"Did you want
"Want? I didn't
get a chance to think about that. It happened too quickly to determine
whether I wanted anything."
So the - the act was completed?"
"So to speak.
Almost as soon as she felt my climax, she departed. It felt unreal, as
though it was some unwelcome dream."
"And what happened
"What do you mean
"After that night."
"She tried again,
many times. However, that was when I took to locking my doors, and when
she could not get in, she tried wheedling and coaxing. Shortly after that
she departed and went to Moesia, where she stayed for most of the next
two years. It was during this time that she gave birth to you, and later,
"No - I mean to
you. What happened to you, afterward? In your mind, in your dreams. Did
you dream of her?"
I am sure I did. I thought about this incident a great deal, because it
was proscribed by my order, and I might have been dismissed by Saher had
he found out. I was more gravely concerned later, when I discovered that
a child of the appropriate age had been borne by her. By that time, I
had resolved to stay with Saher and to do my best to help in the raising
of his children, since I felt most particularly responsible for you."
his head. "This is actually not all that helpful. Did you - have you,
carried within you a desire for her, born of that one night you spent
A look of distaste
passed over Heklitis's face. "Desire? No. I quickly learned of her disposition
and appetites, and was repulsed by the thought that I could have been
weak enough to be seduced by her upon first acquaintance. I was ashamed
of my own weakness."
"Well, that at
least is something. Now, I should explain what this is all about. For
you should know, first, that I did not first meet Sahera in Cormorin when
she took me. It was somewhat earlier than that
"Euxis! When did
you see her in Euxis?"
"That is the beginning
of the tale I have not told, not even to my brother. And which I would
prefer you not tell the Khan. I don't want to make him any more doubtful
of my fitness as Khan; but I cannot live with such a burden of secrets
and dreams, and as one who has been touched by her, and my own doctor,
you are the most suitable person in whom to confide. Not even Sahelis
knows of these things. Do I have your confidence -- uncle?"
wryly. "Yes. And unless it affects him today, I don't see any reason to
trouble Saher with a story of Sahera, since she is part of the painful
hoped, after that fateful morning, when my firstborn died, that relating
to Heklitis the story of the cave, and of the abduction, and Sahera's
torments of me in Cormorin, that I would have exorcised her spirit from
my flesh, and I would grow calm and whole from the release of the secret
from me. But in very fact, the retelling of the story to Heklitis made
it all seem far more real and present to my mind, as though I had put
into more substantial fabric the tenuous images of my fantasy. And his
questions to me, and his comparison of her behavior toward me with the
other things he knew of Sahera, did not elucidate my situation for me.
He had few insights as to how I could overcome the obsession with her,
only that it was necessary and desirable to do so, and that it was his
belief that my sexual predilections did seem to arise from this selfsame,
repetitive dream which had haunted me for so many years. I was discouraged,
and frustrated; but now, more determined than ever to be the master of
myself and not a slave to the inward fear that twisted inside me like
a coiling serpent. All I lacked was a means.
Heklitis was quiet
for a long time after Saheris finished his tale. "Reflecting upon my own
secret, I do not find it remarkable that you would keep such events to
yourself, Saheris. But it is interesting that you choose this time to
confide them to me. I must ask why it comes to you now to confess yourself
"I thought I explained
that. Because I believe it affects my leadership; my accession. And my
role as a husband and father. How can I truly love a woman if I am tormented
internally? How can I responsibly care for children, make decisions in
battle, if there is this dream haunting me?"
to all of us, Saheris. It is best not to make too much of them. You were
intrigued too early in life by witnessing a horrible scene involving sex
and murder, and your own abduction and torture. The fact that it was your
own mother who instigated all of these events is wounding, terribly wounding.
But you are a strong person - strong enough to have thrived despite them.
Strong enough to help Saher and to succeed him. I have faith in you, and
more faith as a result of seeing how sincerely you are striving to overcome
these wounds. There will be many misfortunes in the future - the death
of loved ones, perhaps the death of children, wives, certainly the death
of Saher and others whom you count on and love. I have overcome some of
them, and perhaps it was easier for me since I have no memory of Vira,
but I did survive, and good can come of these things."
"But what of this
unnatural passion, Heklitis? That is what troubles me so much now. That
is what caused me to run wild in Maeotis, and to try to rape Atthis. I
regret these things - I am not often remorseful, but today, I am remorseful.
What of this?"
a hand. "What is unnatural passion, Saheris? When Sahera came to me in
the night, I did not know that she was my sister. Had I known, it would
have been an easy thing for me to cast her out of my bed. How much differently
would you have regarded Sahera in that cave, or on that night she took
you, had you known she was the mother who bore you?"
"I - I don't know.
It would have been different."
"You said yourself
that when the Khan told you who the woman was that it caused you to faint.
I remember your swoon that day. It did make a difference. But you could
not have known. And not knowing, your experience was utterly different.
Just as your experience with Kara was different, not knowing. It may cause
a lingering tendency to be more attentive to the regard of women older
. But what is that? You don't need to worry about the propriety
of age differences, not really. As long as you can observe the strictures
against taking a woman who is already given in marriage, and those against
"These are mere
practical things, Heklitis," Saheris replied quickly, dissatisfied. "You
are saying practical things."
"It is at base,
a practical issue, Saheris. Don't make it mysterious. It may feel large
and ponderous, but after all, it is only how you behave that truly matters."
"I somehow did
not expect all practical advisement. I thought perhaps you would be shocked
and bewildered. Aren't you shocked and bewildered?"
wearily. "Saheris, I know you think I am a weak and emotional person,
and perhaps in my personal life, it would seem I am, but I endured your
mother day after day for many a long year. There is very little about
Sahera that would surprise me, and at the time of your abduction, I had
examined you and found that there had been a sexual act upon you of some
kind. It reassures me that it was as you say and not far more egregious,
as I had long thought. So - with the exception of the events in the cave,
and the comments you told me about what she revealed to you, there is
little new for me to be shocked and bewildered by. Many times she had
kept me from sleep with her long tales of her heritage as a prince of
Byblos, and the fantastic imaginings of her fictional destiny. The result
of an overactive romantic imagination, and too many wild Alan folk tales
told by her mother, and her own isolation from those around her. It was
not easy to be such an intelligent and misguided girl, and the military
training Saher provided her, out of all good intention, fed her own illusions
of herself as a warrior. Yes - she was strong, but there was nothing of
a warrior in her. And I can tell you from the long nights I had to ponder
what had caused me to lapse with her - it was her mere boldness, and no
great mystique or magic. She was, though exceedingly handsome, not exceptional
except in aggressiveness and drive, and perhaps imagination. There is
little merit to considering her a larger than life seductress or evil
force. It was only because her mother had trained her to be this way,
and that her mother had married Saher as a political and military act,
that caused subsequent actions to take on far more weight, certainly in
your life, than they would have seemed to otherwise."
to hear you talk of her, I can squint and almost see what you see. But
not quite. Not quite."
"If there is anything
more you think I can tell you of Sahera to disabuse you of her mystery,
I would be glad to do so. For - trust me, I was, myself, thoroughly disabused
long before her death."
greatly weary from the shocks of the day. "I have taken enough of your
day, Heklitis. I think this has done me some good - though not as much
as I had hoped. I will talk to you again when I think it is necessary."
"Thank you, Saheris,
for your confidence."
as Saheris left him, and fired the lamp in the dim room. When he was sure
that Saheris was away from his door, he left, and went in search of Saher.
"Khan, I have
just had a remarkable conversation with Saheris."
"Indeed - since
when does he confide in you? Has he recovered from his designs on your
betrothed then? Have you forgiven him?" Saher was sitting late in his
study, propped up with a pillow under his weak arm.
"Yes, I think
that problem has passed. I am sure it has, after today. There is something
which, though he asked for confidence, may prove of importance in understanding
why Bellianus persists in remaining in Pontus. And why Sahera sought Saheris
and took him."
"Oh? This may
indeed interest me."
"He told me of
an incident that had long puzzled us - you remember the cave in Euxis
that was discovered when Bellianus was abroad there, and before Sahera
took the boy?"
"Yes yes, I'm
old but I have not lost my wits. Go on."
was using that cave, and in fact, Saheris had discovered it as well, and
was hidden in it when she had an assignation with Bellianus at the time
we were billeted there."
Saher sat up,
his interest now fully arrested. "Saheris in the cave! Curse the child!
We could have caught them both had he told us!"
"Yes, I know,
Khan. But the important thing is what occurred there. Sahera had lured
Bellianus to the cave in Euxis, and Saheris witnessed the purpose of her
assignation. It was to murder him."
"What? What did
the boy see?"
"He saw the two
engaged in passion, and while Bellianus was distracted, she drew her sword
on him and threatened him. Saheris intervened, and saved the Roman, who
then drove Sahera off. Bellianus then saw Saheris back safely to our billet
and was off."
"Then this explains
why she later came at speed to abscond with Saheris - to revenge herself
upon him for thwarting her."
"So she did intend
to kill him, perhaps not immediately - at least, not until she had lured
me and killed me first."
"And what possesses
him to reveal all of this to you now?" Saher asked, rubbing his eyebrows
to dispel his drowsiness.
"The sudden revelation
of a living sister of Sahera. He tells me he was drawn to the one due
to the similarity to the other."
"Oh. Then this
wasn't entirely accidental with Kara."
"Well - what shall
we do with this old intelligence of Bellianus?"
"I suggest, Khan,
that you seek him out and rescind the death order against him. Let it
be known that facts have come to light that change his status with Bithynia,
and try to arrange for some direct contact with him. I doubt any of his
actions were belligerent or intentioned harm against you or Saheris; or
if they were, it was through misinformation."
"That may be an
intelligent approach. Particularly since I cannot see Saheris letting
the fact of his paternity go without acting upon it at some time. And
since Bellianus may never be very far away."
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