They were led,
mostly in silence, to a sturdy building made of wood. All of the buildings
in Tierna, it seemed, were wood and of permanent construction, unlike
the flimsy tents and yurts of their previous accommodation. They had traveled
from nomad lands to river garrisons, to find themselves suddenly at a
permanent settlement, which had recently been expanded. This was Ellaks
new capital, tested by battle against the forces of Theodosius the Younger
and held now for several years. The land to the south, beyond the great
river, remained in dispute, but markets had been opened at Oscia and further
west on this uneasy frontier, and the land here, at least had now become
settled. Farms were under cultivation on the northern side of the town,
and oxen labored before ploughs pulling blades through the dense earth.
No headman greeted
them outside the door, but Saheris and his grandfather were conducted
within by a taciturn warrior armed with an impressive sword that bumped
at his knee when he strode forward. When they were within, a warm candlelight
greeted them in the meeting hall, and a spare, thin man, nearly as old
in appearance as Saher himself, rose and came to greet them, alone.
Saher raised his
hand in a native salute and grasped the elbow of the old man. "Ellak,
so many years have passed, you are starting to look like me!" To
Saheriss surprise, Saher greeted the Goth in Scythian.
"My old friend
Saher. And this is the young Saheris. Well met, King Saheris!" Ellak
grasped Saheris by his left arm and squeezed the elbow firmly. "At
least Gisel can stop fretting that her husband will be an ugly barbarian
from Maeotis, then," Ellak squinted slightly as though to gauge a
reaction from Saher, and peered at him briefly. "You know about this,
I should think."
you had tried to promise her to Ruash and she found him ugly?" Saher
laughed briefly. "I always thought there was more to this story."
was, but that is all I said to Munduk. Shall we sit? Are you hungry?"
Once again, Saheris found himself observing yet another variation of formal
greetings with a political ally, but in this case, Ellak was the king
of the entire territory they had traversed since crossing the borders
of Moldova into Dacia. And the other difference was his distraction by
the promise of a story of why Gisel had come to be betrothed to Saheris
rather than to Ruash; for it could not be true that Ruash was an ugly
barbarian, any more than he was. Ruash was well liked by his men, and
attracted his own share of attention from women when they had trained
together in Maeotis. Yet he did wonder still why Ruash had not married,
though he was many years older than Saheris and his brother.
As they broke
bread over the meal, this time it was not the wife of Ellak but soldiers
who served them, who at all times were armed with swords and leather armor,
Ellak once again opened the subject of Gisel and Ruash, and the treaty
that had not been made with Munduk.
"So let me
see, where were we? We have a treaty of alliance now, it is fair for you
to know all, and how I come to have offered my daughter to you in preference
Saher nodded sagely.
"As you know, Munduk has placed Saheris in his kingdom as his heir
"As I do
in offering my only daughter and Dacia Ripensis to Saheris. One day when
all the old men are gone you will be the king of a large territory, Saheris.
If you can hold it that is the key."
Saheris said nothing,
and felt uneasy at these revelations. After a short pause, Ellak continued,
taking a deep draught from his wine. "Yes, well, as you know Ruash
has been fortifying the Dacian frontier to the east, and I have had both
him and Uldin to help with the raids on Moesia these summers past. Much
to the dismay of our new Emperor, but he is pressed too hard by the Persians
on his east and by his uncle in the west for troops to hold Africa. This
land is ripe for plucking, as long as we do not pluck too hard that we
kill the goose. I believe that if you are willing to do as Ruash had done
these summers past in supplying a force to keep the border secure and
help with our raids, we can both keep the markets open and obtain more
territories south of the Duna which are good agriculturally. There is
no need for our Roman neighbors to know we work in concert I could
appeal to him through our Gothic treaties for land to expand under pressure
of Scythia. Or Moldova for that matter. It is known to Constantinople
that Ruash perhaps conducts his own raids for his own purpose and not
to advance my aims."
has been an understanding, no?" Saher asked.
between us. But it was agreed to appear that we were not of any
closer alliance. We might have done, were it not for one peculiarity."
He knows I desired an heir for Dacia."
"I do not
understand," Saheris broke in. "Ruash "
prefer women. And would not agree to accommodate the terms of the treaty."
in the midst of a bite of meat, made a choking sound. "You dont
say," he said, chuckling.
on, matter of fact. "I trust that is not a problem with Saheris.
Has Saheris not already
that is not a problem with me!" Saheris spat. He found himself deeply
disturbed by Ellaks revelation. The Goth betrayed a slow smile behind
his wine cup.
not. But why are you angry? I was not truly implying you were not a normal
and I thought surely had you been in Maeotis
with embarrassment. "This was not mentioned. That is Ruash
never revealed any such things to me, or to anyone else that I knew of."
"I see. Not
unusual.," Ellak made a dismissing motion, then fastened an eye on
Saheris and began to speak once again. This time, however, he spoke a
spate of Gothic that sounded like a vague cursing, full of harsh sounds.
There was a brief pause, then Saher replied in the same tongue, his face
and tone of voice indicating a negative reply.
you do not have our tongue. Do you wish an interpreter then, young Saheris,
for your meeting with your bride?" Saheris exchanged quick looks
with Saher, who nodded slightly.
not in the treaty, Ellak. I am sure he will pick up the language adequately
to make his way in your kingdom and fulfill his duty," Saher said
The Goth king
nodded, dropping his eyes. "I was hoping the girl would have some
chance to speak with him. But that will not be possible I see. How unfortunate."
his head. "What do you propose to do?" he asked Ellak.
in our tongue, perhaps, at least so that you can talk with the girl the
slightest bit. Gisel is very young, and to be married to a man who knows
not a word of her language it could be very trying
he smiled briefly.
long for these lessons?" Saher interrupted.
"A few days,
perhaps. Of course, we will proceed with introductions
stood and signaled for his guard to bring more wine. While they had been
talking, Ellak had been drinking steadily. Saheriss cup still stood
mostly full, a reflection of his new caution in matters of drinking in
foreign lands. The day was still bright, but preparations were being made
for a meal.
it would be the right thing to do," replied Saheris.
now, will you dine? This is our main hall, new-built from when we made
Tierna a permanent settlement. I have my own house beyond, but this is
where formal meetings and meals will occur, including the wedding. Food
will be fixed shortly, I can have Guthred show you to some rooms?"
and the two road-weary Bithynians exited with the taciturn guard.
his mind still full of curious guttural words that were meant to communicate
to his new bride, Gisel, the meaningful Gothic phrases that would seal
his alliance and get him through his wedding and compulsory sexual rite.
Dawn had not yet arrived. Around him were the trappings of Gothic royalty,
utterly different than those of Maduc, or even of Maeotis
trophies of stag and bear, swords and axes bedecked the walls, paneled
with dark wood of the Dacian forest. A silver paring knife lay on the
table near the bed, with the remnants of a casual meal of fruit and the
plentiful cheeses the Goths imported from the west.
It was his wedding
Unlike the Bithynians,
the Goths prepared a rather spare ceremony, and this, with religious rites
to be performed in the morning, and a meal at midday. Guthred, Ellaks
youngest brother and retainer, had gone through the ceremony with Saheris,
with Saher acting as interpreter, but their goal was to expose Saheris
to as much Gothic speech as possible. His language skills were not keen,
but his pronunciation was adequate. It all seemed like much too much trouble
to go through, and he daydreamed repeatedly of his sleepless night with
Simeta while the Goths spat what sounded like continuous streams of curses
at one another in friendly tones. At last he raised his head, when the
silence in the room lengthened.
Guthred was saying. That meant him. It was time to begin the wedding ceremony.
Gisel was not
a slight girl, despite Munduks initial description. She overtopped
Saheris by a half a cubit, with gold, almost reddish hair almost as thick
in its braid as his wrist. He felt like a boy beside her, and his discomfort
was palpable. He had not felt this uncomfortable since he had come into
the presence of Munduks wife Eldana, whom he had first mistaken
for a Gepidae. She was quiet, almost sluggish, and did not look directly
at Saheris, even when his eyes met hers in passing. It was clear that
she was painfully shy, and this transformed Saheriss discomfort
to open anxiety. Too soon, the ritual of fertility and flower throwing
had ended, the cakes were eaten, and the couple was led off to the wedding
meal, which Saheris had no heart to eat, but for the sake of his bride,
and the sharp-eyed Ellak, he politely broke off little pieces of meat,
deceptively thick slices of bread, and a hearty glass of wine. Only this
latter did he consume with any taste, since drunkenness was his mission
of the moment. For he might be able to accomplish inebriated what he certainly
could not with his stomach quivering as it was, and the brutish sound
of the wedding party conversing seated at the royal table around him,
a hearty number of twenty or more rawboned Goths with red, wine-bright
faces, made him feel small and foreign. Even Saher, in age, seemed to
shrink in the presence of these warriors. Being among them would take
getting used to.
of the meal passed in a blur, and the Goths, seeing Saheriss intent,
pressed more and more of the sweet wine on to him until the heady feeling
of intoxication hit him like a blow. And hands moved around him, and candles
were lighted, and the evening fell in a suddenly darkened room where the
red-haired Goth girl waited quietly, motionless, upon a snow white coverlet.
His eyes locked upon hers, and he reached within the dimness of his roaring
brain for a phrase he had practiced a hundred or more times in Gothic.
"Come here beside me," and patted the place next to where he
sat. He attempted a smile, which he knew must be crooked. She rose, her
pale face still with trepidation, and mumbled in reply as she approached
Despite her size,
he barely felt her sit on the pallet next to him. He reached for the clasp
on her gown and pushed it gently aside, and put his lips against her neck,
breathing. If only the smell of a female were all it took to arouse him,
if only she would refrain from speaking! His thoughts raced, and for the
first time ever he could not imagine making love to a girl he had just
sat beside, and in some place very far from him, he realized there was
a limit to his passion, it was in the sheer bulk and blondness of these
strange people, their repulsive tongue. And when he raised his head he
saw the glistening of bright tears standing in Gisels eyes, brimming
onto her blushing cheeks, and her shoulders heaved as she began to weep.
He put a hand around her shoulder and spoke, this time in Greek, "shhhh,
its all right, do not be afraid
. Everything will be all right,"
and she clung to him in grief as she would not in passion. He murmured
into her hair, and stroked her cheek, and presently, had the notion to
unravel the knot that was the braid that cascaded down her back, until
the red-gold hair lay like a curtain around her shoulders, and he buried
his face in its sensuousness and breathed. The sobs had ceased, and it
took little to induce her to lie on the bed, where he lay beside her,
stroking the luxurious mane of hair. She was like an exotic horse, exquisitely
groomed, and so he stroked her hair as he would his mare, soothing her
with the nonsense sounds a soldier uses with his horse when she is shaken
from battle, for his life depends upon her trust, her temper, her strength.
If only it were
for when he roused himself from the hypnotic rhythm of
his hand upon her hair and raised upon an elbow, he realized that the
terrified girl had not only relaxed, but gone to sleep. He dared not alarm
her with a sudden motion, so he spoke, softly, in her tongue, and said
her name, and the pellucid blue eyes opened and she stared into his eyes,
perhaps for the first time. The panic he saw written there was unmistakable.
he stumbled over the phrase he knew he would need,
"we must do this, for your father," and she nodded, silently,
and slipped the gown from her shoulders obediently, trembling from head
to foot, and lay back down, motionless.
Eyes, I do not
know what the word is for eyes, he thought to himself as he removed his
clothes. Just close your eyes, he thought to himself, and knelt over her
supine form. She closed her eyes. It was much easier then, first to stop
the trembling, and then stroke her body, at first soothingly and then
with more intent, all of his attention focused now upon what he had learned
with all the women he had lain with in Maeotis, and his petulant wife
Ildico, of the moods of a womans body, the appetites that could
be aroused with the proper attention, for there was always a pattern
For each one, some slight difference, but in all a certain commonality
which matched his own preference, her breasts. For some indefinite period
past his own moment of arousal he caressed them, and then took each now-hard
nipple in his mouth and sucked until he felt the movement that he knew
must come, her hands upon his head with the slightest urging motion, and
that was his signal. There was no reason for haste. At length he raised
his head and whispered, in broken Gothic, do you want me now?
and she did not reply, she did not have to, for her body replied unambiguously.
And the feast had long disbanded by the time Saheris staggered slightly
from the wedding chamber with the stained cloth of his alliance with the
Goths. A sweeter victory from such a pitched battle had never before been
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