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Chapter 47: Fatherhood

Heklitis was easy to find, at his usual post by Saheris's bedside. Moving quietly, so as not to disturb the youth, Atthis opened the door and placed a soft hand upon her husband's arm. He rose, glanced briefly at his patient who was now sleeping comfortably, and stepped outside.

"It is Serena, the Scythian, she has started her birth pangs," she said in a low voice.

"Then go and attend her, but say nothing of it. I will come when I can."

The birth pangs of the Scythian woman were as lengthy as Kara's were brief. The night passed, and half of the next day before the birth appeared to progress at all, and during the entire time, her pangs were regular but not progressive. Heklitis came to the house before dusk, and stayed long enough to determine that the child would not be born soon; and he returned late to relieve Atthis at the woman's bedside, once he had given Saheris a final draught for his sleep, and spent some time with the Khan, who was once again growing frail, likely from a lack of sleep and the strain of watching over Saheris during his slow recovery. With Saheris's injury, and the now-imminent births, there was more than the two could handle, and Saher had dispatched to Eleusis for another student to serve as a medical assistant for the two overworked physicians.

Upon her return, Atthis went to Saheris's room to check on him, and to her surprise, he was awake and sitting up in bed. When he spied her at the door, he beckoned her. "I was hoping Heklitis would return so he could help walk me out to take a piss, but you would help me, wouldn't you?"

"Of course, Khan," she replied, and came to the bed to help him. "I hardly think you're a danger to me in your present condition." He sat up hesitantly and she leaned over to help him gain his feet. He stood, at first unsteadily, and then straightened gradually.

"So this is what it feels like to be an old man. I shall have to remember this. I still need an arm." He leaned slightly upon her arm with one hand as made his way to the commode in the next room. "I could do this in a pot but Heklitis makes me get up. He's a cruel master."

"I am glad your humor is returning to you, Khan," she remarked politely. She stopped at the doorway as he stepped in, and turned away from the door.

"Yes, but not my memory of last week," he remarked, his voice now muffled by the door. "Here, come back, I'm done now. They tell me it was an oak tree. I'll have to remember how nice and hard oak wood is."

Atthis was taken aback at the thinness and frailty that had settled on Saheris during the week following his injury. It was as though he had grown younger in that time, his skin pallid with a sick transluscence that reminded her of the night they found him burned from pitchblende and feverish with treponema. As she reached her arm out once again to him, he tottered, briefly, then moved with more confidence, and smiled at her wanly.

"Not much of a prize today, am I? It's the back. Makes the legs hard to move." He shuffled forward determinedly, then settled him self gingerly on the edge of the bed. "Just like an old man… bad memory and bad legs."

"I am very sorry, Khan. You still have no memory of that day and what caused the accident?"

Saheris shook his head. "Though Heklitis wants to walk me down the stairs and down to where it happened, he thinks that will lift the cloud."

"It may yet do so," she confirmed.

"What are you doing here, anyway? Where is Heklitis? Gone to bed so quickly?"

She began to reply, and then stopped. "I am sure he will return soon to check on you. Do you need him to come now?"

"No, no. I just got used to seeing him here and he's not. I'm sure he's plenty tired of sitting in this room. I know I am."

Atthis left him then and returned to her room, where she slept until a servant from Arianus came for her. "Heklitis says he believes her time is approaching," said the young woman when Atthis opened the door to her.

"Please wake the Khan Saher and tell him what you have told me," she said, and hurried to dress.

Heklitis and Atthis assisted Serena to deliver a healthy girl several hours later: Saheris's first child. When it had fed and slept, Atthis brought the child to Saher's house and accompanied by the Khan, entered Saheris's room where he lay restless and half-awake.

"Saheris, something to think about besides your pains," the Khan said, and took the child from Atthis, holding it out to him. "A girl, but nonetheless, a healthy brat, and undoubtedly yours."

Saheris struggled to a sitting position and took the tiny parcel from his grandfather. He looked into its face, and was met by a steady, green-eyed gaze. "Undoubtedly," he replied. "So now it happens I am a father." His voice faded to a whisper as he regarded the child. "And this, only the first. I shall have to write to Sahelis now."

___________________________________________________________________

Slowly, Saheris's injuries healed. He was soon able to walk without hesitation, and move his head, though stiffly. The glaring purple area on his neck and back subsided gradually into the yellow and green that signified early healing, and he took to dressing and coming downstairs to meals. And when he was able to mount a horse again Saher helped him into the saddle and they walked to the site of the accident, in Arrus's front yard. At Heklitis's instruction, both Arrus and Kara were there, and came out to stand by the woodpile when they arrived. Heklitis walked over to Kara. "Now please tell me where you saw Saheris when you came out of the house."

"I think it was - no it was on the other side of the walkway. He was just there - the horse was just standing, and he was still mounted." She pointed beyond the walk to toward the road. Heklitis took the reins and walked the mare back to the place she had indicated.

"Now, what happened?"

Kara thought for several moments. "I came out of the house then, and saw him there, and I walked out…. I am not sure how far. The horse came toward me, or he spurred her into the yard here, toward the woodpile. There was more wood here."

"What did he say?"

"Nothing… that was what was so curious… I came out to him," she walked forward at Heklitis's motion, "and greeted him, and took the bridle and tied her here." She followed the motions slowly, taking the mare's bridle as she had done previously. "Then I tied her here. Then… I think he got down."

"Saheris, do you recall this?" Saheris all this time sat quietly, a pensive expression on his face.

"What? No. I don't remember coming here."

Saher helped Saheris down from the horse, and he stood, still curiously calm.

"Now what happened?" Heklitis asked.

"I - asked him what brought him here, and said that Arrus was not here. Then - he said that he must speak with Arrus. I invited him to come inside and he said he could not. Then it was as though he had seen something behind me, and he said something… I could not hear."

"Do you remember anything of what he said?"

"He said that I would not take him again… I thought he seemed angry, or fearful. I don't know what he meant, or why he feared. That was when he jumped upon the horse again and spurred her - and she shied there, and threw him against that tree." They turned, as a group - and directly before them was a wide oak, wider than the door of Saher's house. For a long moment, no one spoke.

"Saheris?" Saher spoke, breaking the silence. Saheris turned to him, his face blank.

"What, father? There is nothing. If I was here that day, I do not remember." Saheris clambered awkwardly back upon his horse, and the disappointed group moved away, back toward town. As they left, Arrus put a protective arm around his new wife, but said nothing.

It was the following night that Saheris found himself restlessly awake, and knocked on his wife's door once again. She opened it to him, and helped him to the bed, then to undress. "It has been too long, I can't stand it any longer," he said.

"Are you well enough? You are still limping," she exclaimed, fussing over the injuries still visible.

He pushed her hand away from his bruises. "I get enough of that from Heklitis. I need you for somewhat else…" he began to kiss her then, and she responded eagerly to his kisses and his urgent movement against her.

"Yes it seems you did miss me…" she murmured. In the darkness, there was no indication that there was anything wrong with Saheris physically, but she was acutely conscious that his entire back had been wracked with welts, and she hesitated to embrace him there, but grasped his elbows instead. His passion was furious, even desperate… Ildico listened with anxiety to his ragged breath catching in his chest as he labored above her… and she spoke "darling, love, gently now…" but he was not checked by her words. His hands bore down on her shoulders and squeezed to the point of pain as his climax built, and came from him like a lightning bolt striking earth. His final thrust was a jagged paroxysm which left him suddenly empty, and he sank down into her arms.

As before, her seeking hands found his face wet, this time with sweat and tears mingled. "Oh my dear," she said. "There is something wrong, isn't there…. What is wrong, Saheris?"

His breathing, labored before, slowed but remained ragged. "Saheris? Oh my love…" she patted his face, but he did not respond. Sitting up, she reached for a flint and lighted the lamp on the bedstead. Holding it aloft, she peered down into the sweaty face. His mouth was slightly open, his eyes were wide, but he did not blink nor look at her. "Saheris, speak to me… oh, what is wrong?" She reached hastily for her robe and ran to the door, crying out into the hallway… "someone come and help, the Khan is ill! Heklitis please come!"

She had not long to wait before Heklitis, clothed for sleep, as well as Atthis, came upstairs and went to the bed. "What happened?" Heklitis asked, reaching for Saheris's hand, checking the speed of his pulse, then his forehead.

"We were… he came in a short time ago, to lay with me, but when he was done, he just lay down there and… he just - stopped…"

"After he climaxed then?" She nodded, mutely.

"Did he say anything? I mean, before."

"He said he had need of me. It was like the last night, the night he came to me before the accident, when he wept…"

"He was weeping? Tonight?"

"Yes, he seemed to be. His face is wet with tears. And his breathing was strange." Almost as though the suggestion had reminded her, Ildico herself began to cry, and Atthis put an arm around her.

"It will be fine, there is nothing wrong."

"Are you sure?" she asked in a small voice.

"His head has had a hard blow. Exertion may have caused this. Though his eyes are open he may have lost consciousness." They both observed as Heklitis drew a pin and touched it to Saheris's thigh, first lightly, and then more intently. He did not flinch.

"Let us get him back to his bed, Atthis." Between them, they lifted the senseless Saheris under either arm, and carried him back to his sickbed. "I think there are some exertions he had best do without a bit longer," Heklitis remarked when they had settled him once again. "I will watch and see if he wakes again naturally, you might as well go back to bed."

Atthis left Heklitis watching the eerie spectacle of the seemingly-wakeful yet unconscious youth, who continued to stare unblinkingly ahead. Heklitis grew drowsy and nodded off, and when he woke again and opened his eyes, Saheris had closed his eyes and from his breathing, appeared to be sleeping normally. He rose and went to the bed.

"Saheris, Saheris, wake up." He opened his eyes.

"What is it, Heklitis?" He sat up in bed, and looked around him with some curiosity. "Is something wrong?"

"What is the last thing you remember, Saheris?" Heklitis responded, once again placing a hand upon his forehead and checking his pulse.

"You giving me that draught before bed, and falling asleep watching you read that interminable book you always read."

"Nothing more?"

"There is nothing more," he snapped.

"Yes there is." Heklitis pulled back the coverlet, exposing Saheris naked to the air. "You may notice you have recently had sex."

"How? What is this?"

"Your wife will be glad to confirm it for you if your own sense of smell does not. After you collapsed, Ildico called for help, and Atthis and I carried you naked back to your bed, where you eventually went back to sleep."

"But - how could that happen?" Saheris's face became genuinely frightened, then.

"At least you are making love with your own wife," Heklitis attempted the joke, but the look of tragic loss on Saheris's face made him regret it instantly.

"Heklitis, what is happening to me?" He cried, and put his face in his hands.

"Saheris, it is important that you do not exert yourself. Sometimes the swelling on the brain lasts for many days, even weeks. The exertion of intercourse is enough to induce a swoon, so you should refrain somewhat longer. But now I need you to concentrate. When you had taken your draught and were watching me read, try to remember, what were you thinking then?"

Saheris frowned. "Thinking…ha… I was thinking that I would not last another night without a woman… so - that is it? I went to her room and then the exertion made me swoon again?"

Heklitis nodded. "Probably so. Can you think of any reason why you would be weeping?"

"Weeping? I don't weep from sex."

"You were weeping. What would cause you to weep, Saheris?" Heklitis stood very still, waiting for the answer.

"What do you mean, cause me to weep."

"Of anything that might happen to you - or to someone else - what would cause you to weep?"

"Only if Sahelis or Saher… Sahelis… were to…"

"Were to what?"

"To…"

"Saheris. Wake up." Heklitis patted his face, and Saheris's eyes came back to focus and stared at him.

"Sahelis…" he mumbled, then cried out. "What happened to Sahelis?" A look of sheer alarm crossed his features, and he scrambled from the bed.

"What do you think happened to Sahelis?" Once again Saheris stared stupidly at Heklitis.

"Did something happen to him?" he sat down again.

"There was a letter. The Khan tried to tell you about the letter. Do you remember a letter from Bellianus?"

He nodded, slowly. "I remember the Khan had a letter, and he woke me because he was very angry. Suwetus woke me, and the Khan gave me a letter in Latin, from my father. Sahelis and I had decided to lie to him, and he would pose as the son. And now - he is in danger of his life… and it should be me."

"Do you remember going to Ildico afterwards?"

Saheris shook his head. "No - not afterwards. I came here, afterwards. I wrote a letter. To my father, to go by messenger, the same messenger who brought his letter here. The letter is under those books." He pointed. Heklitis picked up the disregarded Tetrabiblios Spidios had given him and lifted a letter, written in Greek in Saheris's hand. "After I wrote the letter, I could not sleep, so I went to Ildico, and had her. Then I became distressed, that was when I wept… I wanted to tell her about my brother, but I feared… after that I went out to find Arrus, to get the letter translated, but he was not there. That is when I saw the ghost."

"Ghost?"

"The ghost of Sahera. She was going to stop me from sending the letter, she threatened to take me away again, as before…so I rode away…and the horse shied. That is what I remember."

"But you know it was not the ghost of Sahera," Heklitis said quietly.

"It seemed to me it was her…" he replied, his words tentative, as though waking from a dream.

"It was Kara standing in the yard. You had not slept, you were under a great strain."

"Yes. I feared for Sahelis. Heklitis, there is something I need to tell you."

"Another secret, Saheris?"

"In a way. There is another dream I have had for many years, since the death of Sahera, perhaps before. I have dreamed about the death of Sahelis. With him apart from me, and now in that hostile kingdom, the dreams have returned. Before the accident, I mean."

"You have had a violent life to date, Saheris. Dreams are a way of reflecting that. It does not mean Sahelis is in danger."

"But he is - now. And I cannot do nothing."

"There is nothing for you to do."

"There has to be something for me to do. I have to think of something. I have to get out of this blasted sickbed, and think of something to do."

Heklitis had no ready answer to Saheris's frustration; but it was clear from the angry determination now written on his face that the boy's crisis had passed with the amnesia, and that his recovery would proceed unhindered.

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