Chapter 5: The Widower

"What did you do with Viraís servants?"

"I questioned them. Most were harmless Galatians or Byzantines, loyal to the whatever ruler of Ankra served as their master. They had no interest in Vira or the Alan campaign in Asia. That was Viraís personal plot. I had to discharge them into exile, as they had been in service to the assassin. It was unfair, but necessary. I am sure none of them were involved, but I then began to take precautions."

"And Sahera?"

"Ah, Sahera. Well. I woke when the bleeding had been staunched and I was given a draught, and was made to eat and drink to restore my blood, and sent for her right away. But how could I explain to her what had actually happened in that room moments before she arrived? How different would it have been had she seen Vira cut the childís head and threaten my life? Would she have stood with her mother or with me? These questions tormented me between fevers, and I lay ill with them.

"Finally, I resolved to allow her to believe that I had struck her mother in a rage of jealousy, since that is what she already believed. It was too horrible to tell her that her mother was a traitor and an enemy to Bithynia; I could not do it. There are some things too cruel for children to know, and she was so young. Had I told her the truth, I would be no better than Vira. I have thought since that I had made a mistake, that she deserved to know the truth even if she did not believe me.

"And did she appear to lose her reason from this time?"

"Perhaps. It seemed somewhat more gradual. It began when I was told she was in the city telling the other children that they were no longer safe as Bithynian citizens, and to follow her in a revolt to free Bithynia from Saher the tyrant. Yet, the other children would taunt her back and maintain that her mother was nothing more than a lunatic and an unwelcome foreigner, a barbarian, and that Sahera was a barbarianís daughter and no citizen of Bithynia. At this point she would draw on them and challenge them at swords or knives; she challenged anyone who defied her; even grown men who crossed her path when she entered her rages. I took to having guards follow her about to disarm her when she drew a challenge. Fortunately, no one was killed, but she did injure several older boys before I confined her to the house.

"Later, I moved her to my summer home in the mountains with her tutors and my old doctor, Dioges. You knew Dioges at Eleusis?"

"Yes, Khan, I studied with him. Anatomy."

Saher nodded. "Now, the tale is told, and you know my great shame, and why I cater to her madnesses as I do. I believe she would not be this way if this horrible fate had not befallen me. I am a coward, and the stupidest man who ever married; for I married my own enemy."

"Either that, or you are the most wronged man," Heklitis persisted. "Did you not say that you were the only man she had seduced who had not been executed?"

"To my knowledge, yes. But it is unlikely that another, especially a chief of soldiers, would ever confess to such an embarrassing victory, even if pressed."

"That is true," Heklitis admitted.

Unconsciously, Saherís fingers went to the side of his neck, where the jagged white line shone faintly, and traced the scar gently as he spoke again.

"I concluded, after long contemplation, as I recovered from Viraís wound, that she and the Alans had wronged this infant in a most obnoxious way. The child was hers, true enough, but it is unlikely that it was mine; more likely it was the child of an Alan chief to whom she was allied. I never discovered; and it was unlikely that any Alan would give, or even sell me, that information. I resolved that this child would remain innocent of his parentsí iniquities, and be spared as well the dubious fate of being named my heir. How could he serve me, take my throne upon my death, knowing that I had killed his mother, perhaps even for his sake? Who would follow a king of such questionable origin? I had succeeded in destroying Viraís plot to make me and Julian withdraw from Asia, but in so doing I destroyed her sonís future. Instead, I sent him far from me, and he was adopted by a family uninvolved in either war or politics. He would be about your age now. About eighteen summers."

"Then he lives."

"Yes, he lives, and he thrives. I am happy for the life he has gained without me... it is better this way."

"Do any know or suspect that you have a son?"

Saher shook his head. "To the contrary," he replied, "it is clear that they do not. Exactly the opposite - they all believe I killed Vira because, since I could not beget another child, she took another husband to give her a son. Those who do not know me, that is." He smiled wanly at the doctor. "Anyone who knows me also knows how much I have always loathed violence; and that I would never have raised a hand to Vira except to defend myself, or another." His fingers, of their own accord, continued to trace the hard line of the scar. He laughed then, hollowly. "Now most Bithynians, and even the wilder peoples to the east, would in my position be grateful if another man had provided a healthy son to his wife, to preserve his reputation for virility, and to maintain the continuity of the succession. But these are strange times, and people are now filled with curious ideas. I believe this the effect of Roman rule on our culture, but I am not sure."

"The sun rises, Khan," Heklitis commented then.

"Yes, what a sad night of memory this has been."


"What is it, Heklitis?"

"Had I been that child, I would be grateful to have been spared by you at such cost."

"Would you?" Saher asked him, regarding the doctor carefully.

"Yes, Khan. I am an orphan, as you know, and often I have wondered what misfortune my parents spared me when they sent me at birth to the temple at Eleusis. It would not have happened if it were not a mercy to me."

"Then, my friend, a mercy has been done at least once in this generation."

"At least once, Khan."

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