6: The Cure
What Saher had
not known after the coup at Maduc was that his execution of the hated
Vira Al Alcal, his obsession for over two decades, had redeemed him in
the eyes of his western allies at Constantinople, Thrace, and Macedonia
(he now had trade relations with the entire Peninsula and open ports to
the Adriatic from Asia Minor westward); and redeemed him as well with
his army. At the same time, the death of the Alan queen had struck fear
of Saher deep into the ranks of the Alan hosts at Damcar and Troya to
the south. From Maduc, the tale of treason spread without his knowing,
and became a potent psychological weapon against the enemies of Constantinople
and Bithynia. Though his campaign was seriously delayed by his injury,
which he continued to insist was inflicted by Vira, the campaign against
Troya was joined before summer began by the armies of Julian, Saher, and
Rus, a new ally from Lithuania hired as mercenary to contain the Vandal
presence in Asia. Rus was seeking trade through the Hellespont and the
Adriatic to the Mediterranean, and made a quick alliance with Saher and
The Vandal overlords
at Troya almost immediately sued for peace and retreated fifty leagues
into the mountains after being defeated in two short but brutal campaigns
on rough ground. Where the Alans were engaged in battle, the Bithynians
led the charge, and killed every woman in armor, slaying them as readily,
or moreso, than the captains and masters of soldiers. Each woman slain
in battle was burned on a pyre, and her ashes strewn on the land, in defiance
of the Alan burial custom. The Alans fled the field by midsummer, and
retreated as far south as the Jordan river, pressing into Mesopotamia,
leaving Asia minor all but clear to small settlements of Vandals, Visigoths,
and the now-strong eastern alliance; a peace kept by the triumvirate of
Julian, Saher, and Justis, the Roman chieftain named provincial governor
of Thrace in 375.
The Vandals negotiated
directly with Constantinople on their peace terms, to be enforced by a
mixed army of occupation in Asia along their new frontier. Saher main
force was free, but he was not anxious to return to Maduc and face his
daughter once again. He left his army, and traveled alone to Constantinople,
sat through the initial talks with Essu, the leader of the Vandals, and
then went southwest.. Unaccompanied, he assumed western dress, practicing
his less-than-perfect Greek.
He told himself
it was to find a cure for his daughterís derangement; but in truth, he
was seeking a cure for his own.
For once, he took
little comfort in the peace; he had set out to destroy the Alans for what
its daughter had done to him and to his family; he could not forgive this.
By night, he lay awake for long hours, ambivalent images of her hate-filled
eyes battled against the memory of her white flesh and delicate body he
had held in a grip of mad passion so many hundreds of nights. These things
did not make sense to him, that he could love her so fiercely, with the
unbelievable knowledge of her unquenchable loathing for him. She had no
reason to hate him - he had spared her people innumerable times, Bithynia
had never been cruel or oppressive in its campaigns to the south. But
there was no reasoning through this hateful puzzle. It was not a matter
for reason. It drove him again and again to the brink of despair.
She mocked him
in his dreams, which always ended abruptly with the brutal gasp as he
struck her to the heart. After weeks of this mental torment, shoulder
throbbing continually, he made a pact with himself; that for every fantasy
of passion he indulged, he would make a mark upon a stick. For each mark,
he would then cut down one Alan horseman. At first, he was assiduous in
marking the stick; nightly he would lie awake and reach for the memory
of his fantasy love, the Vira of his imaginings. Saher gradually came
to realize, in his solitary wandering, that his undying passion was a
deadly illness, one he could not afford to fall sick from a second time.
He needed a cure. And if cure existed, he would find it at Eleusis, the
famed temple of the Greek physicians.
"What is your
name?" the sullen youth demanded.
"Salchis. Of Annaganthas.
I am here to see the physician Dioges. He is here at Eleusis?" Saher asked
the man for the third time, tiredly.
are from Thrace? Why have you come all the way from Thrace? There are
doctors enough in Annaganthas, or Dyrrachium, you know. Why come all the
way to Eleusis?"
"It is a special
problem," Saher explained. "Please, there are things one does not shout
aloud in the street."
"Very well," he
shrugged, and moved aside to let Saher enter. "You have the sum?"
"Gold. You do
not want Roman money, I assume?"
the youth nodded, thrusting out his hand for the money. "Roman money is
worthless to us. We trade with Palestine, with Africa and Aquitaine, with
Gallia and Brittania, do you think they want any more of Caesarís money?"
he laughed loudly.
"I wouldnít know,"
Saher replied. "How can you know how much to ask if I havenít yet told
anyone what I need?"
the young man replied glibly. "Same price for all, same price for each."
"How can this
"That is the way
we work. If you donít like it, go see someone in Thrace, or Moesia, or
Illyricum. We donít really care if you come here or not."
"That is not a
very good attitude," Saher retorted, openly annoyed at this point.
"Too bad," the
youth replied, undaunted. "Our skills are in great demand, and no one
ever wants to pay. We have grown hard with time and our own hard experience."
"I see, all right
then." Saher placed a small pouch with gold coins in it on the young manís
outstretched palm, and waited while he counted it.
"Good," he said
at length, slipping the pouch somewhere into his garments.
"Now," said Saher,
"may I see Dioges?"
staring at the young man. He smiled sweetly back at him but did not depart
demanded, losing patience with him.
"What can I do
for you?" the youth replied.
"You can - you
are Dioges the physician?"
The youthís smile
"You are hardly
more than Ė how old are you?"
"How old do I
look?" Dioges shot back.
"Oh, I donít know
- two and twenty."
a wicked smile back at Saher and shook his head. "Iím probably the same
age as yourself, Salchis of Annaganthas. Now, what can I do for you? What
is your affliction?"
is love; or rather, lust. Is there some way you can cure this?"
Dioges burst out
laughing, and sat down at a bench, while Saherís face grew dark.
"Would you like
to be castrated like a eunuch, is that what you are asking?" he gasped
"Well, no, I donít
wish to be emasculated, unless of course that proves necessary. But if
there is some means, some art that can kill the passion of the body...
is castration the only way to do it?" Saher hesitated. It all sounded
so silly when spoken aloud.
Sit. Tell me more," Dioges said, suddenly effusive and hospitable. "I
have never had a healthy young man come to me and ask to be castrated
before. I would like to know what may have caused this unique situation."
unsure of whether this peculiar youth was mocking him or not. How could
he explain and still say as little as possible?
"I have been tormented
by dreams and visions of a woman I have loved, but I can no longer have
her. I have not married another to take her place, for the pain of her
loss blinds me to the beauty of others."
Dioges waved the
explanation away with his hand. "Of course youíll find another woman.
You are a beautiful man. Women come, women go. They do not love as men
do Ė they are shallow and fickle, and it is only bearing children that
makes them faithful in time."
Saher shook his
head. "No, childbirth did not have that effect on her. Though beautiful,
she is also cruel, and the more cruel she became, the more my passion
"Then this is
a somewhat larger problem. And what of whores? Have you gone to whores
to quench this passion?"
Saher shook his
head a second time. "No, that is not our custom, and it is not my habit.
I would not do something like that."
"You could try."
"And you want
some sort of cure for lust of this woman?"
"Do you have to
see her each day? Is she in your service or something of that nature?"
"No." He sighed.
"She is an enemy of my king."
"Oooh. Oh. I see.
Well." Dioges put his chin on his hand, took a deep breath, and began
"First off, an
adult man, I assume you are potent, yes? All right, an adult man cannot
be made passionless by castration. It is too late - that can only be done
in youth, as the Babylonians do to create male whores for their perverse
pleasures and to guard their women. They castrate them as boys, and never
do they become true men or feel lust as men do. The most castration can
do once you have fully grown is to make you unable to beget children,
and may cause other problems with the appetite, the skin, sleeping, lack
of will, difficulty with water and so on. Very messy, and not recommended.
We consider it mutilation here in Greece, and would not do it unless it
was to save your life; castration rarely saves the life of anyone except
a senator with a greedy heir!" he laughed another loud laugh, but more
briefly this time, and then grew serious again as he regarded Saher.
Saher spoke carefully.
"Is there another way to make a man barren?"
"Well, yes, in
fact there are two ways. One was invented by my master Spidios , which
is a minor procedure, and I have done it for men who wish not to beget
any greedy heirs and yet still enjoy their women - ha! Judean merchants
abroad, and Roman senators with unfaithful wives and too many bastard
sons. I have earned much with this technique."
"How well does
it work?" Saher asked.
"As far as we
know, it is foolproof Ė and that is in the case of over 200 men. We have
a way of checking for the potency of seed, you see. There is a discernible
element in it that turns a color in a certain potion. It is this seed
that begets the child. Without that, no pregnancy, no matter what woman
you lie with."
"You said there
were two ways."
"Yes, but the
second involves the cooperation of a woman, which can be hard to obtain
without much wine or a sleeping draught, and unlike the first method,
which is a surgery, must be performed each time you lie with her."
"This first method,
then, what do you do?"
"Well, first off,
we give you a draught and you sleep through it."
"And what if I
do not wish to sleep through it?"
"Then it will
be painful, but not for a long time. If you are a good soldier, you could
endure it. We make a cut in the sac to the side of the testicles, and
sever the vein that draws the seed from within the body. Then we sear
the ends of each vein so that they will not heal back together. Then it
is a simple matter of sewing the sac back together. It is simple, yet
elegant." Dioges smiled broadly once again.
"And this will
ensure that no woman will bear children by me?"
"Yes. That is
a guarantee. If your wife presents you with a child, you may freely accuse
her of adultery." He grinned. "And if that is your true goal, it may cure
your lust problem at the same time - for what woman would seek to seduce
a man who will not give her a child?""
"Only a woman
who does not want him for his kingdom," Saher replied bitterly, without
"From this I conclude
that you are the king whom this enemy has seduced?"
Saher did not
I do not need t know, I am simply curious."
"Do not be curious
if you wish to keep that gold!" Saher said darkly.
"All right!" Dioges
grew annoyed then. "So do you wish to try to cure yourself of seductresses
in this way?"
"Only if your
discretion is as good as your medical reputation."
"No one will learn
from Eleusis that you have received our care, if that is what you ask.
Otherwise, how could we hope to maintain our excellent reputation with
traveling Judean merchants and Roman senators with unfaithful wives, and
beleagured Moesian kings?" he winked.
said decisively, ignoring the comment. "Then do it, without a draught.
And tell me of this other technique; I may need to teach it to my sons
someday, so they can elude the trap this woman laid for me."
said, and called for his assistant.
At Diogesí recommendation,
Saher stayed at their temple overnight, and within the city for a week
and did not travel following the surgery. It was no more painful than
being hamstrung by a spear, or having oneís foot crushed by a stallion.
Or being cut halfway to the breastbone by oneís daughter. Saher recovered
from this latest insult to his body as well, and was almost buoyant in
spirits as he turned north and east to Maduc by way of Constantinople.
Axogoras looked up from his notes in the surgery on the sterilization
of Salchis of Annaganthas. "This says he is from Thrace. He is a long
way from Thrace."
"He is not from
Thrace," Dioges said.
"You knew that
and you treated him anyway?"
"Surely. I know
who he is. He is Maduc, the king of Bithynia. He came here so no one in
his own country would know. He had the best reason of all for wanting
his testicles cut."
"What is the reason?"
"He would prefer
to be married for love."
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