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Chapter 9: The Wedding

Placidia Gratia Bellianus did indeed arrive in Dyrrachium, though not in the company of Khan Saher El Maduc, but in the custody of Suwetus and Cliny and a detachment of guards. She had been told by the doctor that the boys were in too delicate a condition for travel and would have to remain at Berayn for a few months. She herself carried a private letter from Saher to her grandfather concerning his discovery of her in Moesia, and was housed at Dyrrachium under discreet house arrest until Suwetus confirmed the payment of a ransom for the return of the Regent of Ravenna’s granddaughter, and the delivery of intelligence regarding the actions of his youngest son, Priscus Septimus, in connection with a plot against the life of Saher.

Treaties were at stake, and in the weeks that followed, messages were carried between Ravenna and Rome, Rome and Dyrrachium, Dyrrachium and Illyricum, Illyricum and Constantinople. It was decided between Attalus and Saher that Arcadius or the regent for his brother Honorius, emperor of the west, would not be brought into the negotiations, unless Attalus could not meet the Khan’s payment and produce his traitor son Septimus No mention was made of any sons. Had Attalus inquired, Saher would have pled ignorance; but in his letter he did not ask. If he were to learn of the boys later, it would be easy for him to assume, based on the Khan’s letter in Placidia’s possession, that the claim of paternity was an invention of his troubled daughter and not taken seriously.

Septimus was not apprehended, and the amount of the tribute was doubled as a penalty against Rome’s commitment to deliver Septimus for a trial in Illyricum, the nearest landholding of Saher to Rome. Attalus paid it; it was a modest sum, after all, considering the severity of the crime, and Saher had assured the safety of the granddaughter when would have been within his rights to execute her.

Sahera sat, elegantly dressed, her jet hair for once groomed in Bithynian style. Despite her rich attire, she sat hunched in her chair, glowering like a rabid dog at bay. Her father stood at the far side of the room, facing her.

"You are returning with me to Maduc today," he said flatly. "You will no longer be permitted at liberty abroad, to enter Illyricum, or Moesia, or even Thrace, but will be confined under house arrest with your family."

"My sons?"

"What about your daughter?" he asked casually.

"There is no daughter! Placidia is the child of one of Priscus’ Gaulish whores."

"Just as his sons are the children of his Bithynian whore," he replied coolly.

She leaped to her feet. "You were mine last night, old man. I could have laid your neck open with one stroke. I could have gutted you like a fish."

"Yes, yes," he said. "you are quite the soldier."

"And you will feel my blade in your throat again one night soon, my Khan," she hissed malevolently. "Mine or that of my son Saherius."

"I see you named him for me. I am flattered." Saher smiled tightly. "Although his Syriac name should be Saher or Saheris. You have named him as a Roman."

"I named him for me!" she shouted.

"It all comes to the same thing," Saher said.

"You will let me have my sons then?" she asked, suddenly wheedling.

"They do not look much alike," Saher commented, ignoring her question. "Heklitis says it is likely they are of different paternity. It is difficult to tell, unless one of them suddenly sprouts Septimus’ great nose, but that does not appear to be likely. They do not both belong to Priscus, do they?"

She smiled slyly. "No, but he doesn’t know that."

"Which one is his? I would guess the elder." Saher remarked, watching her closely. She smiled defiantly back at him, but her face gave him his answer. "And the father of Sahelius Secundus?"

"He is not Sahelius, he is Eosa. The god Ares claims him for his own."

"Placidia called him Sahelius – ah. That is the Roman name you gave Septimus as part of your deception. So who did you bed in Maduc last summer who can now rightfully claim you as his bride?"

Sahera flashed him a hot look, but said nothing.

"I can find out," he warned her.

"It was not in Maduc!"

"You are lying. It will take me an hour to discover. And if you whored the entire garrison at Maduc then I will marry you to each man who had you, and then they make them take turns keeping you under watch, for a week at a stretch until your dotage," he flared at her. "You choose. Perhaps you will get lucky and not all of them will beat you."

Sahera drew back into her seat, eyes downcast. There was that within her that thrived on these contests with Saher, but she rarely bested him; more often she found herself cornered, and the humiliation was almost more than she could bear. And he had defeated her soundly this night.

"All right. You let my sons come to me, and I will tell you the name of Eosa’s father. But not otherwise."

Saher rose to leave the room, and paused at the door to speak over his shoulder. "I like my plan better. The ransom on Placidia and the tribute for Priscus Septimus will pay for a great wedding feast , and build a fine house for my son in law and heirs. I hope he will not be too surprised at fathering twins."

"Twins!" she screamed. "What do you mean, twins?" But her words fell on the empty air. Saher was gone.

________________________________________

 

Saher did not have to question anyone upon his return to Maduc, for almost immediately after he sent word home that his daughter had produced an heir, the father was named in a message that was sent back immediately from the captain of he garrison at Maduc, which reached him at Constantinople on his way home with Sahera. And seated in his hall upon the day of his return was Byriac, the son of his captain Arianus, who rose respectfully when the Khan entered.

"Yes, you have something to tell me?"

"Khan," he began haltingly, this is not an easy thing for me."

"Come in Byriac. Be at home in my house. You are now my heir, and should feel like one of the family." Yet Saher’s words, rather than comforting the reticent youth, appeared to agitate him, and he halted in the doorway to Saher’s study.

"Please," he said, wringing his hands. If you could just, let me take a moment," the boy said, and fumbled at his collar as though short of air.

Saher took his arm and led him into the room, seating him across from the neat writing desk. "Take all the time you like," Saher said gently. Something had so upset Byriac that he could only wait and see if the tale would come out now or not.

"Please," said the boy again. "What I have to say to you, if you repeat it, I may never be able to live in Maduc again. Ever since it happened, I have been unable to sleep or eat as before, and I hoped that joining the army would change it. I also hoped that when your daughter left for Moesia last fall I might see the last of her."

"Byriac," Saher spoke again, this time very patiently. "Nothing you say to me will be repeated to anyone, except my own doctor, who has Sahera in his care. And he holds secrets far greater than yours could possibly be. Secrets of life and death, secrets of poisons and draughts. Please be reassured."

The boy gulped, still uncertain, and gasped as though for air. "This is very difficult. You will not tell my father this?"

"He does not need to know," Saher said with finality. "Only myself, because I am your Khan, and because I am your father now."

Byriac nodded nervously. "Well, it began last summer. Sahera Al Alana is a very beautiful but very dangerous girl, Khan, as you know. To us young men, she is fascinating and desirable, but also fearsome and terrifying. We are always afraid to offend her for your sake, yet she deliberately seeks to offend."

Saher nodded sanguinely. "Go on. These things I know."

"What you do not know is that at the summer moon festival she sought me out and insisted I go with her to the seashore at Euxis. It was some distance from the town, and I told her I could not. Then she said that if I went with her she would let me have her for the entire night, and to do with her anything I wished. She said that I could claim her.

"I have always admired her, Khan. I could not refuse."

"I understand." There came unbidden to Saher’s thoughts his first intoxicating night with Vira, which marked the climax of weeks of sleepless want and endless thoughts of her. Perhaps it was the same with this hapless boy and Sahera.

"But that was not what happened, Khan." Byriac continued. "She did bring me down to the beach at Euxis, and there, drawing me with embraces and talk, she led me into a cave so that we could be alone for our night together. Within it were casks and jars full of potions and liquids bearing foreign names. And within the cave itself was a post lashed with ropes. She undressed herself and came to me as though to embrace me, and then drew a dagger on me and forced me against the post. There, she bound me," the boy began to sob, and then collected himself, red-faced, and sat looking at the floor for several minutes without speaking.

"What did she do?" Saher demanded, alarmed by this bizarre tale. This, he had not suspected. "Did she tell you what she was about?"

"In a way," Byriac replied, slowly coming back to himself "She mocked me, and told me she would rather be mounted by a Brahma bull than by me. That was humiliating enough, but I could have withstood the mockery, if only to allow time to work my hands free from their bonds. She is very good with knots," he added.

"Yes, she learned that from me," Saher remarked dryly. "Go on, go on."

"Then, she said her only interest in me lay in drawing my seed and mixing it with some potion to make her conceive. And that is what she did." The boy put his hands over his face, and then slowly drew them away. "It was not as though I could prevent her. She had attacked and subdued me, and with the art of a whore she forced the seed from me with her hands, and put it in a warmed jar."

"Do you know if she had ever done this before that day? Did she say who had taught this to her?"

The boy shook his head. "She left e bound and naked in the cave, and before my eyes she took the potion of seed, poured it into a narrow flask, and placed this into her womb. After some time she rose and removed it empty, and washed herself before me, as though to flaunt herself and humiliate me further."

"Before she released me, she told me that I would be too ashamed to ever tell anyone what she had done to me. And for all of these months, until your letter announced she had given birth, she was correct. But I believed that you needed to know about this, as unkind as it is toward the princess.

The Khan nodded sadly. "She has done far worse, Byriac," and bared his left shoulder to the arm, revealing the scar which cut deep into his sternum, as well as the new wound on his throat.

The boy’s miserable countenance gave way to shock. "Sahera did that?"

"That is a secret I wish you to keep, as I keep yours, Byriac," Saher said, straightening his clothing once again. "Be grateful she did not lay you open from neck to groin, for she is ruthless, and nothing will stay her wrath." The boy’s face turned white as Saher spoke.

"Knowing this," he continued, would you marry her at my request, and care for her as one would a wild beast with an unquenchable madness?"

Byriac gulped. "If you wish it, Khan."

Saher shook his head. "No. No. What I wish is for you to enact a marriage ceremony for the benefit of my new enemies at Ravenna, and if it pleases you, you may then bind my daughter hand and foot on your wedding night, and have the pleasure of her that she offered and then denied you. Perhaps this can in some way regain for you the manhood she has stolen." Byriac stood up then, speechless. "And if you choose, I would wish for you to adopt my grandsons and provide them a home, at least for a time. I myself will bear the burden of Sahera, for no one else could. In exchange for these things, I will adopt you as my son and grant you a home and lands to the east of Maduc along the Euxine coast. And if you still wish to, you may go and join my army, although I would prefer you did not."

Byriac, whom Sahera had selected for his light skin and vague resemblance to the Roman Priscus Septimus Bellianus, did not act on Saher’s offer to bind and ravish Sahera – such an act, while tempting to his private fantasy, seemed cruel. He did not want to have a woman against her will who did not want him for himself, if only to satisfy a desire for vengeance. The Khan’s offer was enough of a restorative for his wounded pride.

The wedding was a large and elegant feast, and few commented on the sulking bride, and a lengthy report was made to Arcadius to be conveyed to the Western empire that two heirs had been named, a regent Byriac, and his son Saheris, who assumed the adoptive name of Saheris El Maduc, heir of the throne of Bithynia and provincial governor of Moesia, Illyricum, Galatia and Cappadocia by the will of Theodosius the Great in 395.

Byriac joined a campaign during his first year in the army, against the Avars, who were attempting to recapture Ankra and Gordion and the territory of Armenia, and was killed in one stroke by an Avar sword. The following spring, Saher adopted Saheris and Sahelis, and brought them south with him to Illyricum as the floods rose on the Illyrian rivers. Saheris had learned to talk, and Saher spoke with him in three tongues: Latin, Greek, and Syriac, the language of Asia. Saher decided after two months with his grandsons in Illyricum, to retire from military service to Theodosius. He did not know what political outcome that might bring, although it was most likely not severe - Saher would have to defend his own borders, but be relieved of the duty of expanding Roman territories to the south and preserving Thrace’s northern boundary against the Ostrogoth hordes.

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