Saheris woke to
find Simeta gone, and the amused, curious gaze of Krega the headman upon
him as he stood over the bed. "So you did sleep at length," his voice
boomed annoyingly as the wine of the previous night rattled his temples.
"I take it you found my daughter acceptable to your taste, and acceptably
at the overtness of Krega's comment, and nodded mutely.
"She did not return
to me until quite late in the night, but there was no cause for dissatisfaction?"
"You can call
me headman, Khan. You have given us a great compliment by stopping with
us. Will you stay another day? Your father seems weary, and we would be
honored if you would take our food as tribute, and whatever other pleasures
comfort you in our mean village."
Saheris was mystified
that the headman was addressing him as though he rather than Saher was
their leader. Why was this? It was flattering, but discomfiting… and he
had felt this also with Simeta. No matter how many times he had proclaimed
himself a Khan to those he sought to impress, he never felt the same sense
of strangeness as when these foreigners bowed before him and called him
'king.' Why did they honor him this way, and why did it feel so unfamiliar?
"Of course, headman.
I am sure Saher could use further rest." And barely restraining a moan
of exhaustion, Saheris heaved himself from the ruined bed and reached
for his clothes. The village was already busily afoot, and cooking smells
were emerging from amongst the leather tents. He realized he was ravenously
The day was a
series of minor embarrassments, starting with breakfast, where he was
served at hand by Simeta, and who did not take food until he had drunk
and eaten his fill, while she at all times knelt by his left hand in case
his cup should become empty, leaping up nimbly to fill it when it did.
Both Krega and Saher, who had clearly been through such rituals before
and chose for whatever reason to keep them a mystery to Saheris, drew
some secret amusement from his discomfiture which privately infuriated
Saheris. What further added to his annoyance was the constant return of
his thoughts to the intoxicating excess of the night before, and the fact
that the headman seemed to know what had occurred in his bed. Was nothing
private for these Ugars? Was this part of some elaborate ritual staged
for an obscure aim he did not yet know? Oh, he would have some words for
Saher when they had a moment to themselves.
But that moment
did not seem to present itself. He wondered, as he gazed on the glossy
hair of Simeta, now drawn back demurely beneath its white linen, whether
she had related to her father all that they had done in the borrowed tent,
their conversations, his whispered protestations of his adoration which
came during the height of his intoxication… there had been no blissful
forgetfulness from drink… Saheris's mind had been utterly clear, and he
remembered the twin euphorias of drunkeness and lust that had conjuncted
to produce a hastily composed declaration to Simeta of his love. What
must she think of him, and what had she said to Krega? His face burned
from the memory, and yet, externally, the hospitality of the headman and
his family was impeccable, the girl - as ever, serene and confident under
the eye of her father. And interspersed with his embarrassment and social
discomfort, was the recurrent thought - would she be offered to him again?
Would she come to him at his tent again tonight? And if not, could he
seek her out without breaking some rule of the clan? He ached to ask these
questions, but did not dare, if only to avoid the knowing smiles of those
who, everywhere he looked, knew what he did not; and even more than this,
he despised being discovered ignorant. And until his night with Simeta,
he had not had the opportunity to learn anything of sex beyond his own
urgings and blind desire… sex was much more than this to her, it was,
so to speak, her profession, though amongst the Ugar she was not a whore
- there were no whores in this apparently primitive, but well-ordered
society… she held an honored place, above the other girls who had served
the army escort, who themselves were treated, not as whores, but as villagers
with a special role to provide a sexual hospitality as directed by their
headman or his wife. In Simeta's bed he was a student of pleasure, and
well beyond the hour when he thought he would be spent and exhausted,
there was a new lesson to be learned, and a new pleasure to be found,
until to his surprise, his final climax was dry… and he knew himself to
be literally spent.
His head was bursting,
his testicles ached with a deep throb that meant overexertion… but this
did not blunt his avidness to touch Simeta again, and to be touched… but
in the midst of his reverie he was called by Virgula to the camp where
he was asked to review the equipment of the escort and to evaluate some
of the horses for replacement. After this was attended to, a scout arrived
from Bruda, their next destination on the banks of the minor river Tigas,
a tributary of the great Danube, or Duna as the Ugars called it.
The river towns
they now approached served as lookouts for enemy boats and troop movement
on the south bank. On the far side, that area of Dacia recently claimed
by Ellak, and their ultimate destination when they had moved as far west
as possible on the north bank. The scout reported to Virgula, then dismounted
to take a late meal and rest while his horse was put to pasture. Bruda
remained peaceful, and was prepared for their arrival two days hence.
Then there was some matter of maps, and the settling of provisions for
when the escort would divide in two, the smaller but better-provisioned
party to head north of west with Tethys for the long trip to Ravenna,
the larger with cavalry reinforcements to bring them to the heavily-guarded
crossing at Oscia, then to travel under Ellak's escort along the shores
of the Danube to Tierna, on the rough border between Dacia Saldensii and
Dacia Ripensis. All of this work, mysteriously, had been delegated to
Saheris…. the sought-after form of Saher was not in evidence. As the sun
was westering, Saheris at last lost patience and stalked back into the
village where he summoned a familiar-looking servant and said,
"Where is my father
the Khan, and Krega?"
The girl pointed
to the headman's yurt, and Saheris walked in, having no means to knock.
"It is customary
to call from without, young Khan," said the headman without turning, "but
I will consider your loud demand for my whereabouts as much the same."
Saher was seated on the far side of the low room, and oil lamps were burning
in the darkened interior.
"Khan," said Saheris,
his annoyance audibly cutting, "there is aught I must speak to you about,"
reverting to his own language.
"Go ahead, son…"
said Saher pleasantly.
meaningfully at the headman and back at Saher, and did not reply. "Oh
- you mean privately! I hope you will forgive Saheris's poor manners.
He is an impetuous youth." Saher rose somewhat stiffly and took Saheris's
arm. "I hope this is a worthwhile interruption, child," he murmured. "You
come in at a most unfortunate moment."
at his grandfather. "Well of course it is!" They were now outside of the
yurt, and Saheris continued to walk.
"This is as far
as I go. A night in a good bed has ruined me for getting on a horse, and
I will be cursed if I'm going to go all the way to the creek-bed for you."
"Very well," Saheris
said, exasperated. "Why could you not have told me what customs to expect
when we came to this village?"
repeated, appearing not to understand.
"The girls! The…
bed servants, the meals… her father came to wake me in the morning to
ask if the sex was satisfactory!"
"I am sure he asked his daughter much the same question. These are simple
people, Saheris. Consider it foreign state-approved wantonness."
"A few simple
words would have relieved much embarrassment!" he burst out, not in the
least mollified by Saher's indifference. "And you!"
"You think I lay
with a girl of that age! Indeed not, child. But even so small and slight,
they can be quite handy for relieving the spasms from an old man's back.
I hope you don't think less of me for taking what pleasure I can from
the pleasure girls of the Ugar." He grinned at Saheris. "Oh stop pouting.
You are a king among villagers here. Enjoy your stature, you may have
to get used to it. It will get worse in Ellak's lands. Besides, it would
seem you are quite well liked, despite your moody disposition. They are
not used to light skin and handsomeness, and you are deemed handsome to
the young here. They are wagering amongst themselves as to who else may
get to serve you."
"Who else? Why
would I want someone else? Simeta said that she…"
"Well, that is
just the official hospitality. Just don't exhaust yourself excessively
before we ride again."
"Then she will
- they will- let Simeta come to me again?"
"I'm not sure
they could keep her from you."
"But what about…
when we leave?"
"What - you want
her too? How many wives do you think you can bed at a time, Saheris? Ellak
might not be pleased."
"But could I not…"
"Could you not
what? You can take her for a wife, surely… Krega would be beside himself
with joy. But then you would become responsible for the village, since
your status outranks them all, including his first through thirdborn sons.
But there could be some misunderstanding if that were to happen before
the wedding in Tierna. Ellak has proposed an alliance based upon your
match with Gisel as second wife, so that his kingdom will be second in
strength to Munduk as our allies. Though, as a concubine, I still think
Krega would be pleased at your preference. After all, she is still pledged
to you as a tribute, if only temporarily. Whenever she gives birth, if
she does, the child will be pledged to you."
"Cannot I be told
these things beforehand, father?" Saheris wailed.
said, now indignant. "There are too many nations, too many customs, and
too many variations to count, and the only way you can learn them is to
experience them. I will not always be here to be a guiding hand to you,
and it is fortunate enough I ride with you at all, as brittle as my bones
become. I am not entirely certain that I will be able to go all the way
to Zermizirga as Rugila expects, particularly if the Roman garrisons are
being provisioned now. I am not young, Saheris, and there is too much
for you to learn to get it all from my knee. Learn for yourself, and make
your own mistake. You are Khan now, in very fact, and king's regent for
Munduk with all of the peoples north of the river here. So act as one,
and stop whining like a stripling at me. Isn't there work to do?"
"Is this true,
you could turn back?" Saheris whispered, aghast.
"Or I could die
of a chill. One day, Saheris, I will leave you. Isn't it better that I
leave you while you still have time to glower and fret at breakfast, rather
than in some less seemly way? I'm going back in, these heights are too
chill in this evening air."
malevolently after the retreating back of his grandfather until he was
lost to sight, and stomped back down to the creek to look once again at
the lame horses. A dull fury burned in him.
As had happened
the night before at their arrival, the dinner was served to each of the
party by their respective girls, Saher by the light-eyed niece of Krega
whom he claimed he had only retained for therapeutic reasons, Virgula
and eight of his picked men by the girls who had been granted them, and
Saheris with the radiant Simeta once again kneeling at his side. In the
gloom of the darkening sky, they cooked before an open fire and Saheris
felt a certain privacy and intimacy with Simeta by him, as though if he
were to squint, he could imagine himself an Ugar monarch, camping with
his men and servants on this yawning plain, surrounded by the distant
stamping of tethered horses. The sweetened wine once again had struck
him a blow of clear-headed intoxication, and soon, the camp was clearing
as the men retired. He rose with Krega and Saher, who said "on the morrow,
we shall ride. I believe before then, Saheris has some request to make
of you, Headman?"
Khan. There is some further gift I can offer you?"
then spoke, remembering the rebuke of the Khan from earlier. "Yes, Headman.
I wish to… I would like to take.. to marry, your daughter Simeta."
There was a brief
gasp, which seemed to come from the slight form at his side. But the headman
was grinning widely. "This is always to be hoped for, certainly… I am
grateful she has pleased you so well. But let us talk of this when you
have returned from Tierna. There are obligations there to be fulfilled."
"But… I do not wish to leave without her."
Krega shook his
head good-naturedly. "That cannot be helped. Ellak must not be seen to
be offended in his proposal, by me or by you. Enjoy her company another
night, and have something to look forward to upon your return. Or - if
not, then we can send her to you." Krega thumped Saheris on the shoulder,
and gave his youngest daughter a fond embrace. "Imagine the honor, the
third wife of the Khan of Bithynia, heir of Munduk of Scythia!"
her eyes demurely. "I am greatly honored," she murmured.
"Then run along!"
Krega boomed, and put a heavy hand between Saheris's shoulders and pushed.
"The night wastes."
When they were
alone, Simeta once again began the ritualized gesture of disrobing, but
Saheris caught her hands. "I did not think it would surprise you, after
last night, what I said… I hope you approve…" he put his arms around her
shoulders and drew her to him, suddenly fearful that he had misspoken,
that she did not want him.
is there to approve?" she murmured. "You have honored me beyond all hope.."
she raised her face, and he pressed his mouth on hers, in an urgent appetite
for her taste once again.
"Then you agree?"
"Yes, of course
I agree, Khan."
"Call me Saheris.
Simeta, Simeta…" he repeated her name as though it were the name of a
me take your cloak, Saheris, and this tunic…" and then fell together into
each other's arms.
The day dawned
far too early for Saheris, who once again ached with the languor produced
by a night of excess in both wine and sex. He was at pains to explain
to himself the intoxication he felt with Simeta: was it her tiny but muscular
body, the glossy thick hair that fell about her like a garment, the quick,
avid enthusiasm of her sexual appetite? By contrast, Ildico seemed faint
and retiring, and the girls and women he knew in Maeotis seemed passive
and unimaginative. But, as he muzzily pondered the mystery of his obsession,
it was not purely an issue of beauty, for surely Ildico was as beautiful
and sweet-tempered as Simeta. It just seemed that, at least in his arms,
Simeta seemed far more alive, more vibrant, and more alluring. He hardly
knew her, except for the hours he had spent exploring the pleasure he
could gain from her body, the overwhelming desire he felt to touch her
and feel himself inside of her vibrant loins again… his reverie drew him
into a dream state that caused him to lose track of the time and place
as they found the road west to their next billet; and for long hours,
he said nothing.
At length, he
found the familiar face of Tethys as he paced him on his own small mount.
"Oh - hello Tethys."
Your father asked me to come up to examine you. Are you unwell?"
"Unwell? Not at
all, Tethys. Why?"
"You appear quite
pale, Khan. How is your sleep?"
the sound hollow in his ears. "Sleep, what a nice idea."
"You have not
slept then," Tethys concluded.
"Not as much as
an hour, Tethys. Too much 'hospitality.'
"Ah… then you
are exhausted from lovemaking. I would recommend you take added water,
and I could prepare a draught for you as well. Some extra meat at your
meal would also help."
"Thank you, Tethys.
I will take some more water… since you are here, let me ask you something."
"What is it, Khan?"
Tethys replied helpfully.
"What do you think
it is that makes a girl desirable?"
Tethys did not
immediately reply, but a blush came over his features. "I think it is
different for everyone, Khan…for some it is beauty, and others…their temperament…"
"Ha, so you have
felt it yourself? I can tell by the look on you. Who is it - that girl
you are with? Numis?"
his eyes away briefly and then met the gaze of his Khan. "In fact it is,
Khan. She is desirable to me. And I am to her."
Pressing his point,
Saheris replied quickly, "and what is it that makes her - moreso, than
other girls you have seen or met?"
"I think - that
would be her temperament, Khan. Or some would call it, the soul."
"The soul," Saheris
murmured. Temperament. He strongly doubted that it was something in the
temperament or soul of Simeta that had drawn him in so utterly. Rather,
it seemed as if it was something in her scent, her eyes, or the taste
of her mouth… soon he became insensible once again to the movement of
the horses around him, and the company of Tethys keeping pace with his
mount. When he at last regained his senses, they had drawn rein to camp,
and the sun had fled behind the mountains at their backs. Almost as soon
as they had set up the tents and served a cold meal, Saheris retired and
was fast asleep. The glossy-haired lover he had thought about all through
the day remained, however, and pursued him into his dreams, where he once
again slaked his lust to exhaustion in her arms
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