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
whispered, placing a hand upon her shoulder
and she stirred.
"Yes, it's me.
I can't sleep. I'm troubled. I need you."
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
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
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
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
"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
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
much too young to be any good to a woman. Youve never had a woman,
"What did you
say?" he asked, shaking his head to clear it.
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?"
that. What day is it?"
"It is - Thursday."
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
He can wait a little while longer," Saheris pleaded.
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."
his head, and was rewarded with stabbing pain that crawled up his spine
into the back of his head.
"I told you not
"I was not unconscious.
Heklitis - I was there. In Cormorin. All over again. I saw her - Sahera
- all over again. It all happened again!"
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
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,
I have no lapse of memory
"Answer me or
I will go to the Khan now."
- 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 - "
"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?"
- 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."
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.
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!"
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
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?"
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?
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
"There he is,"
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
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
"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
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
. 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
"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."
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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