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Chapter 46: The Ghost

Saheris did not sleep that night. As was her recent habit, Ildico had taken to sleeping in her own room, and only when invited or upon request, did Saheris join her in her bed at night. This disturbed him slightly, because it seemed he did not have the freedom of her as he had when they shared their nights together constantly. But, he reminded himself, she was pregnant, and he was close enough to her during the early days of pregnancy to know that she suffered in ways he did not wish to witness at close hand. One incident of uncontrolled vomiting over his naked body early one morning was enough to convince him that it was not personal dislike, but pregnancy that drove her from him; and he could not truly blame her for her distance. But tonight, he did not wish to ask permission, and slipped into his wife's room before day broke.

"Sweetness," he whispered, placing a hand upon her shoulder… and she stirred.

"Saheris?"

"Yes, it's me. I can't sleep. I'm troubled. I need you."

"Oh…" she moaned, still half asleep, then drifted off again. He moved aside the bedclothes and slipped in to the bed next to her, sliding his arms around her middle.

"Please, Ildico, wake… I need you." His hands sought for and grasped her now larger, visibly swelling breasts. "Yes, this is what I need…" She turned toward him in the bed, a half-smile on her groggy face.

"Now? Have you slept?" He shook his head, now intent on his caresses, to which she was beginning to respond. "What is wrong, dearest?" she placed her hand alongside his cheek, and touched tears that soaked his face. She straightened up, now alarmed. "You're weeping… what has happened?"

He buried his face in the hollow of her neck and moved over her. "Not now, I just need you, please…"

She withdrew her curious hand and embraced him. "If you are sure…" and fell silent as they fell into the familiar rhythm of sex, and he said nothing further.

As he sank down by her side, her curious hands once again sought his face in a gentle caress, and once again felt the hot splash of tears. "What is it?" she whispered, and to her slight surprise, he replied.

"I do not want my brother to die." A sob broke from him then, and he threw an arm across his eyes.

"Your brother? Sahelis? What happened to him?"

"I have done a terribly stupid thing. And now his life is in danger. It should have been me. It should be me. " At this, he turned his back to her in the bed, and began to sob in earnest. All she could do was attempt to comfort him with her touch, but he neither replied nor responded. Eventually, the morning nausea she had endured for the previous three weeks once again caught up with her, and she withdrew from him, and went out of the room, to retch in private where she would not disturb his grief.

To his own surprise, Saheris did at last sleep, but woke again with surprising suddenness when Ildico returned from her morning bath. He sat bolt upright in the bed, disoriented. "How did I get here?" he said hoarsely. He looked genuinely confused.

"You walked in through the door, husband," she replied equably. "Early this morning before cock-crow. Do you not remember? You said you had need of me…" she let her voice trail and smiled a slight provocative smile.

"Oh." He did not respond to her expression; he seemed disoriented, his face creased from the wrinkled bedclothes he had slept upon. "Yes… I think I remember that. I have to go." He rose, naked, and made for the door.

"Where are you going? You won't go far without clothes. Let me help you."

He waved her away. "No - I have to go." He left the room then, and sought his own chamber, where he found clothes to don, and made his way downstairs. The household was just stirring. He left, and went directly to the stables to his mare, as though stepping out for his morning ride, but there was something forced and driven in his manner. He mounted, and without conscious intent, signalled the horse forward.

Saheris looked up when his mare halted in a familiar-looking yard, and his stirrup fetched up against a chopping block he recognized.

"Khan," said a mild voice with some surprise. "Welcome to our home… I was not expecting you. Arrus is not here."

Saheris looked down in some bewilderment into the eyes of Kara. "What are you doing here?" he asked, stupidly, turning in the saddle.

"I live here," she replied. "After my recovery, the Khan your father agreed to release me to Arrus's care. Did he not tell you?" She approached the mare then and took the rein, tying it to the hitching post next to the woodpile, and moving aside to allow him to dismount. He jumped off the horse, and looked around him as though lost.

"No… he must have forgotten," he replied absently.

"Come in," she invited. Saheris looked at her. Her smile was open, genuine, and guileless. He recalled then Arrus's words regarding darkening his door.

"No - no, I should not. I need to talk to Arrus." He stood stock still, watching her. As a rodent watches an asp, he thought suddenly.

"You do not need to leave because he is not here," she chided. "He trusts me, and I am sure he trusts you. He respects you greatly, Khan." Saheris shook his head, as though to clear it. "Come inside and I will bring you something to drink."

Again he shook his head, unwilling to move forward, equally unwilling to remount his horse and be gone from there. His ears began to ring suddenly, with a drumming sensation that felt like a physical battering inside his skull. The woman standing before him seemed to get nearer, somehow, without stepping forward, and the light of the morning sun seemed suddenly to dim, as though behind a storm cloud.

"Yes, much too young to be any good to a woman. You’ve never had a woman, then?"

"What did you say?" he asked, shaking his head to clear it.

"Well, since we have arrived, I suppose I could loose you now. But if you try to run... well, you know what I would have to do."

"What would you have to do?" he asked, his voice growing plaintive.

"Khan, what is wrong?" she moved toward him as though he were about to fall.

"No!" he cried. He turned, and crashed into the withers of the horse at his side. She jostled against the impact, and pushed back against him. "Stay back! You will not take me again!" His voice rose to a piercing shriek, and he grasped awkwardly at the reins of his mare, just barely catching them as he leaned forward to mount. He clapped a hand against the horse's rump, and urged her into a leaping run, narrowly missing the woodpile. She balked then, and shied by the fence that marked the boundary of Arrus's small landholding. Saheris flew over her head and landed in an untidy heap against the base of a tree. When Kara got to him, he was unconscious.

__________________________________________________________________

When Saheris opened his eyes, he saw Heklitis, head bowed over a book. The physician caught the movement of his patient and turned toward him.

"Khan," he said quietly. "Try not to move suddenly. Your neck is injured."

"Not this again," Saheris moaned. "Not again." As he spoke, a sharp pang stabbed him in the side, and he gasped.

"And your ribs. You were thrown by your horse. What we don't know is whether your brain is harmed. What is my name?"

"Heklitis, curse you."

"You remember that. What day is it?"

"It is - Thursday."

Heklitis shook his head. "No, it is Saturday. You have been unconscious through the day and night. Saher is beside himself. Which reminds me I must call him and tell him you are awake. All of Maduc is in a state of alarm over you." He rose then. "Try not to move at all. I will return immediately with the Khan."

"Heklitis, wait. He can wait a little while longer," Saheris pleaded.

Heklitis sat, and reached a hand to place on Saheris's forehead. "Good. No fever. I have already told him he should not worry, it is a typical concussion. But you were unconscious for a long time."

"But I was not - I was not unconscious."

"Of course you were. You were insensible, and unresponsive to words, and touch, and pain. I have been here myself all this time."

Saheris shook his head, and was rewarded with stabbing pain that crawled up his spine into the back of his head.

"I told you not to move."

"I was not unconscious. Heklitis - I was there. In Cormorin. All over again. I saw her - Sahera - all over again. It all happened again!"

Heklitis frowned deeply. "What do you mean it all happened again?"

"Just like before! The woods, the fire, the - her belt…" he pulled his arms from beneath the coverlet and held them out - the…" and faltered. "They're not…."

"No." Heklitis put his hand on Saheris's arm. "It is time to wake up. You are injured, but it is important for you to waken fully. Please answer me as quickly as you can. Who is the emperor of the East?"

"Let me speak, Heklitis… I have no lapse of memory…"

"Answer me or I will go to the Khan now."

"Arcadius. No - he has died this last year and then some. Theodosius the Younger. Honorius is emperor of the West. Alaric is the king of the Visigoths, Sahelis is in Ravenna. My horse's name is Ironwood… don't be a nuisance. I have to tell you."

"All right then," Heklitis relented, observing Saheris's every motion for impairment or brain trauma. "Tell me then."

"It was so real, as though I had been transported back there, and into her hands once again. I woke and was marched into the wood."

"What about your horse? How did your horse get there?"

"My - "

"Ironwood. Remember her?"

"My… she wasn't there."

Heklitis nodded. "But she was. She threw you across a yard into an oak tree and nearly broke your neck."

"That didn't happen."

"You were not alone when it occurred." Saheris stared at the physician in utter bafflement, suddenly silenced. "Saheris, it may seem very confusing to you just now, but as soon as you are able to rise, and I know you can walk without a splint on your leg, it will be necessary to retrace your path to where you were hurt, so that you can regain your memory."

"There is nothing wrong with my memory - we already went through that."

"When was the last time you saw Ildico?"

"Ildico? Yesterday, - I mean, Thursday, at dinner with the Khan." Heklitis shook his head.

"It is time for me to bring the Khan upstairs to see you now. I cannot delay further."

"But Heklitis!" Again, the physician shook his head.

"You have suffered a bruise on the brain. It may cause you some loss of memory, but hopefully nothing of an important or permanent nature. Now it is time to reassure the Khan." Saheris sank back in the bed. Only now, as Heklitis departed him, did the extent of the pain in his body hit him, and he began shivering. By the time Heklitis returned with the Khan, he thought of nothing except how horribly familiar it all was; that he had lived through this all before.

Heklitis entered the Saher's study. "Khan, Saheris is awake. But his memory has in some minor way been damaged. He will probably recover without any problem, but he may not remember the last day or so. Has anything of importance transpired since evening meal on Thursday that may have disturbed him, or explain his presence at Arrus's house early the following morn?"

"I should say there was, Heklitis. Look at this; but quickly, I wish to see the boy." He passed Heklitis the letter from Bellianus. "Worse luck, the two plotted together to deceive Bellianus if Sahelis had come upon him while in Ravenna. This was no mistake, but purposeful. I woke him during the night and berated him with it!"

Heklitis took the letter, and before he began to read, said "there is no reason to keep from seeing or speaking with him, but try to keep him from rising. I have not yet determined how badly his neck may be injured. The bruises are spectacular. And you should know that upon awakening, he remembered nothing past dinner Thursday evening."

"I see. That from the blow to the head?" Heklitis nodded.

Saher did not wait for Heklitis to finish reading, but went straight to Saheris. "So, what is this, lying abed at such an hour?"

"I needed my rest, father," he joked weakly.

"Let me look at you then." Saher peered carefully at Saheris, moving the blanket aside to get a look at his bruises. Heklitis had not exaggerated - his neck was near-black, and the discoloration extended to his mid back. "Looks like you hit that tree pretty hard. You don't remember that, though, do you?"

Saheris shook his head, more gently this time. "Where is Heklitis? I am in pain, I need something for the pain."

"He is reading a letter from Ravenna. Did I tell you I had received a letter from Ravenna?"

"Sahelis wrote?" he asked. Saher narrowed his eyes. "You can read his letter to me, perhaps. I don't like him being there, Father."

"No, it was not Sahelis. It was Bellianus." Saher suddenly became very anxious. Had Saheris forgotten all of the day and night, as Heklitis said?

Saheris struggled to sit up and sank back with a moan. "Bellianus? He is in Ravenna? Why does he write to you?"

Then he had forgotten; and completely. At this moment, Heklitis entered the room, the letter in his hand. Saher took it from him. "Saheris, I should explain that late Thursday night I had you waked to discuss this very letter with you."

"You had not!" Saheris was indignant. "What does it say?"

"It says that …Saheris?" The boy's eyes had fluttered closed once again. Heklitis went to the bedside and placed a hand on Saheris's forehead.

"He is unconscious once again, Khan. Probably from pain. When next he wakes I will give him some belladonna, and that will help him."

"Are you sure he will wake again?" Saher's voice was strained with anxiety.

"Of course. However much we would like him to recover, this is going to take some time. Now, about this letter…"

The door once again opened, and the two men turned to face Arrus, who was flushed with anger. "Where is he?" He halted when he saw Saheris unconscious on the bed.

"There he is," replied Heklitis.

"Not now…" cautioned Saher in a low voice. "He has been badly injured and has once again lost consciousness."

"Kara says he came early in the morning. What was he doing at my house when I was not about?"

Heklitis put a hand on Arrus's arm. "That we do not know, but whatever it was, he has no memory, and can be no help to you right now."

"If he put a hand on Kara…"

"You had better go before you say something you should not," Saher warned, his eyes blazing with a sudden anger.

"But Khan --" Saher waved him away in agitation. Arrus left the room and pounded down the stairs.

I woke many times after the fog of forgetfulness had fallen on me; and some of these times Heklitis was there to give me a drink laced with a strong smell - an herb that was supposed to staunch the pain in my head and back. Between these feverish wakenings were eerie dreams that folded the past and present together into an incomprehensible confusion. I lay in this delirium for days, punctuated with brief periods of wakefulness when Heklitis helped me to rise to relieve myself, or to take a turn in the room to keep from growing weak. If anything, I was more gravely injured then than I had been in childhood, and from it, a kind of sickness descended on me, that was made up as much of dreams as of memory. Many times in my swoon I heard the voice of Sahera, speaking of things that were utterly unfamiliar, and other times, the clear memory of words she had spoken on the night she took me to her mean camp in the woods. I remembered, too, the cave, and the broad back of Bellianus as he leaned over to embrace her in the candlelight, and her moans of pleasure while they lay together… the cruel gleam of her sword as she drew it… and then these images would fade into the low sound of voices rumbling nearby me, those of Heklitis and Saher more than any other, but once or twice, the lower tone of Munduk asking a brief question of the Khan. Most frequently, I could not discern the words within the voices, except for the occasional mention of my brother. From time to time, the cool, soft hands of Ildico on my brow, her lips upon my cheek. When I heard Sahelis's name I strained to catch the phrase they spoke…. for something was amiss with my brother, something I had to know, but could not remember.

Kara waited quietly in the kitchen of the modest house she now shared with her lover, now her husband, Arrus, when he returned. She rose to greet him. "How is the Khan?"

"He is poorly. He was unconscious when I got there, and Saher bid me go. This is infuriating!"

"Arrus, all will be well, I am sure. He would be dead if his neck or back had been broken, I am sure he will recover."

"Yes, but what I don't know is why? Why did he come here in the first place?"

"But I told you - he said he came to see you. And he made as though to leave, and then became enraged at something and leapt on his horse - and that is when she threw him."

"There is more to it than that -- there must be!" She put her arms around him then, and tried vainly to comfort him.

"But there was not. It was not to find me that he came, of that I am sure. Be calm. He was likely seeking your counsel on something that troubled him. It will all be made clear when he is better."

Arrus's rough manner softened at her words. He knew Kara well enough to know that she would not deceive him if Saheris had made some advance upon her; so he did not ask this question. This was one of the agreements they had made upon deciding to marry: that he would take her at her word when she gave it, and that she would be open with him if she received any advances. And this had not been a problem for Arrus -- until his visit from Saheris.

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