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Chapter 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 Julian.

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.

"Salchis. You 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?"

"Thatís right," 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?"

"Doesnít matter," the young man replied glibly. "Same price for all, same price for each."

"How can this be?"

"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?"

"Surely."

Saher waited, staring at the young man. He smiled sweetly back at him but did not depart the room.

"Well?" Saher demanded, losing patience with him.

"What can I do for you?" the youth replied.

"You can - you are Dioges the physician?"

The youthís smile broadened.

"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."

Dioges flashed 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?"

"My 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 between outbursts.

"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.

"Please, sit. 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."

Saher sighed, 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 has grown."

"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."

"No."

"And you want some sort of cure for lust of this woman?"

Saher nodded.

"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 to speak.

"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 thinking.

"From this I conclude that you are the king whom this enemy has seduced?"

Saher did not reply.

"I understand. 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.

"Good," Saher 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."

"Surely," Dioges 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.

Diogesí assistant 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?" Axogoras asked.

"He would prefer to be married for love."

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