Copyright 2008. All Rights Reserved.
Chapter 35 – Arsaces
In biology, Cestoda is the class of parasitic flatworms, commonly called tapeworms, that live in the digestive tract of vertebrates as adults and often in the bodies of various animals as juveniles. – Wikipedia
“The Oracle has seen it,” Jeet repeated. “Perseus is a murderer. He had his brother killed. The Great God has nothing more for the Oracle concerning this man.”
Seleucus set down the half-eaten loaf of bread in his hand and frowned up from the table at the two teens. He looked from Jeet to the Oracle. “You know this to be true, Oracle?” he asked.
Seleucus’ jaw worked as he considered. “Do you know the circumstances concerning his brother?” he asked them. “Perhaps his brother was like Antiochus. You’ve as much as told me to do away with Antiochus. Perhaps it was necessary for Perseus to have his brother put away.”
Jeet shook his head. “It was before he was king, Great One. His brother had to die because of Perseus’ ambition. If anything, it was Perseus who… ”
“Damn it, Jeet,” Seleucus said, slamming the table with his fist. “Quit answering for Anda. She’s the Oracle. Let her tell me.”
Anda moved closer to Jeet, taking his hand.
Jeet bowed his head. “Please, forgive me, Great One.”
Scowling, Seleucus got up from the table. If he had thought Perseus more evil than other Kings, he wouldn’t have given Laodike to him in marriage. But all kings must do unpleasant things. They often had to put enemies to death. It was sometimes necessary to protect thrones and family. It was expected. Why else are kings feared?
He turned to Anda. “I will not sleep with you tonight. Have sex with none of your eunuchs or serving girls. Instead, go to your god once more. Ask him about Perseus’ future. Ask him on my behalf and my daughter’s. Ask if I am to ally myself with this man.”
Anda glanced at Jeet, and then nodded.
“Have some answer for Perseus, Oracle,” Seleucus said; it was an order. He paced. “Perseus has asked for another performance tonight,” Seleucus said, thinking aloud. “I told him about the magic of the shrine and he has asked to sleep here. I will send my daughters back to the citadel so you can prepare the chamber they were using for Perseus’ use. He knows I will not let him sleep with you, Jeet, but he desires to sleep with shrine eunuchs.” Seleucus gave Jeet a warning scowl before Jeet could object. “Whoever he chooses tonight will please him, just as they have pleased others.”
“I will tell Perseus,” the King continued, “That the Oracle is not yet ready to give him an answer, and that she needs another day.” He turned to Anda. “Tomorrow morning, you will come to me here, before Perseus arises, and you will tell me how your god has answered you, and how you will answer Perseus.”
“Please let the King not be angry,” Jeet said, bowing, “But the Oracle’s visions come only when we sleep together. That is when the god blesses her. I must sleep with her tonight, Great One, if she is to have a vision.”
The King frowned at Jeet’s bowed form. He would miss Jeet in his bed. But the god’s blessings surely did come through this boy. It made sense that even the Oracle received her visions because of him. “If I let you sleep with her,” Seleucus warned, “I want only what your god says to her. I know you don’t like the King of Macedon, but you are to give me the words of your god, and only those words. Add not a word of your own, and take no word away. I want the whole counsel of your god.”
Jeet started to protest that he had never dealt falsely with the king, but he had – he let the King believe that it was Anda who had the visions. He couldn’t tell Seleucus otherwise now; not now that Seleucus had made the Oracle his second eromenos; not now that Seleucus had planned such great things for her.
“We will give you his whole counsel and nothing else,” Jeet promised.
Seleucus, hands on his hips, blew out his breath, thought a moment, and then turned for the door. He stopped on the way out, though. “My night will be troubled without you. If Perseus doesn’t select them, I will bring Aruli and Jin to my bed.”
Jeet and the Oracle nodded.
+ + + + +
Jeet was distracted all day. When the eunuchs bathed, late in the afternoon, he barely spoke. His mind was troubled by the King’s demands, because in the night, Jeet had seen Perseus’ heart.
The Oracle’s eunuchs performed for the Oracle and the two kings that night. They ended the performance with the Dance of the Kurbantes. The oiled bodies of the boys glistened in the torchlight. They were fifteen and sixteen years of age; Rem was almost thirteen. Their bodies were lean and long-muscled. Their faces under their crested helmets were young and beautiful and fierce. Their cocks swung heavily; half-aroused.
The kings drank their wine and watched with heartbeats that raced with the clashing of shields and the echoing of the eunuchs’ “Ha!”
The dance ended with the boys in a line across in front of the kings. In the middle, between Jeet and Tazaar, stood Rem. They stood with swords and shields raised, feet apart, knees bent, muscles tense. Their cocks hung straight down between their parted legs, straight down from bald pubic mounds. Those cocks drew the eyes of the Oracle and her guests.
“Jeet, Oracle,” Seleucus said in a thick voice, “Go to your chamber.”
The Oracle stood from where she sat between the two men. The front of her gown stood out over her semi-erect phallus. Perseus noticed, and watched as she walked around the table and up to Jeet. She threw her arms around his neck and pressed her body to his. Jeet dropped his sword and shield to the floor with a loud clatter, and swept Anda up in his arms. He carried her from the room.
As soon as they had left the hall, Perseus pointed at Rem. “That one,” he said. “His dancing pleased me greatly.”
Rem bowed and laid down his sword and shield. Perseus got to his feet, and Rem walked around the table to the Macedonian king. Perseus wrapped an arm behind Rem’s shoulders and he kissed the boy’s lips. He ran his free hand over the smooth skin of the almost-thirteen-year-old’s belly and chest. When Perseus’ lips left Rem’s, the boy smiled, and then led the King of Macedon from the room.
After several nights with the King, Anda was desperate to be alone with Jeet for whatever reason… in their own bed, just the two of them. As he carried her, she nuzzled his neck, much like Jeet nuzzled Seleucus when he was being carried. Jeet loved the King. She knew that. That wasn’t the problem. She loved Seleucus, herself, in her own way. But there is between fifteen-year-old lovers a partnership of age and discovery, of youthful bodies and high sexuality, of freshness and innocence, of friendship and the pure love of youth. Jeet was her best friend, her lover, her husband. He was a beautiful boy, and there is on this earth, nothing more lovely or desirable. Other than Rem, Jeet was also the only boy she could be completely herself with… girl, boy, neither, both. She could spend herself, please herself with him, anyway she desired, and it would be perfect for them both. He responded to her every mood, and she to his.
As much as Jeet looked forward to being in Antioch, she dreaded it, because for six months it would be rare that she would have Jeet to herself.
They came to her chamber and Jeet set her on her feet. Earlier, she gave instructions to her serving girls and the other servants as to how she wanted her chamber set up. Anda found the chamber as she had instructed – a pallet had been laid out in the middle of the floor. Around it, a dozen lamps burned brightly. Vessels of fine oils had been placed to one side.
There were things that Seleucus would never do for Jeet, at least not as well as Anda. She planned to do them tonight.
She had watched Jeet dance, his body oiled and lithe. She watched him, knowing that she would lie with him later… she watched him, and both male and female passions rose in her blood, a surging desire of both sexes for her androgynous lover. Her phallus grew hard and her labia damp. They were hard and damp now.
She led Jeet by the hand, stood him in the middle of the pallet, and kissed him. In that moment, above all the tempest of desire she felt for her lover, one, pure passion rose highest in Anda’s heart; that of love. She stroked his brow with her fingertips. “Your mind has been troubled, Jeet-hah,” she whispered, and she kissed his cheek. “Let me relax you.”
She removed her clothing and jewelry while Jeet watched. Naked, she took the helmet from his head and set it to one side. She took a cotton cloth and wiped the sweat and oil from his body. Then she lifted her breasts in her hands and stepped close to him, her erection slipping out to the side. When Jeet replaced her hands with his under her breasts, she reached up on either side of his head and loosed the black mane of his hair from its fastenings so that it fell down his back, almost to his small, firm, buttocks. She brushed his lips with hers while he caressed her breasts. His erection rose up underneath her labia.
Anda-Alexander’s eyes dropped to Jeet’s shoulder. With the residue of oil, his skin glistened in the lamplight. Her eyes lingered there, on the skin and muscle. She drew her fingers down the side of his neck and out onto his shoulder. She stepped around him, his hands lingering on her breasts. She circled him, drawing her fingers across his collarbone and around to the back of his shoulders. She lifted his hair to one side and kissed the back of his neck.
Anda-Alexander wrapped her arms around Jeet from behind, and sucked the nape of his neck while pressing her erection against his bottom. Jeet closed his eyes and laid his head back against hers.
For several seconds, Anda-Alexander savored Jeet’s body and his scent, now enriched with fresh, clean sweat. Then she stepped back from him and picked up one of the vials of fine oil. She removed the cap and passed it under her nose – almond; it would blend well with his scent. She poured it liberally over her breasts and between them, down onto her belly, loins, and legs. Then, holding the oil, she stepped behind Jeet again, wrapping her free arm around his belly. She pressed herself to him, and used her body to spread scented oil onto his. She poured more inside her right thigh, and used it to oil Jeet’s right hip and the outside of his leg. Next, she did the left.
She stepped in front of Jeet, handed him the oil, and turned her back to him. Jeet poured the oil over her shoulders, spread it down her back, and poured more over her firm bottom. Then he pulled her back to himself with his free hand, and she oiled the front of his body with the back of hers; her well-oiled bottom brushing his cock to the side.
She turned to face him, and pressed her lips to his neck. She oiled his chest and belly with her breasts and stomach. She oiled the inside of his legs with the inside of hers; right leg to right leg first, then left. She took the oil from him, poured some into her hand, and then set the oil down. She faced Jeet and stepped close, so that she could hold their erections together in her hand with the oil. She smoothed the oil up and down their shafts, and kissed Jeet’s lips once again. She kissed as both Anda and Alexander.
There was a cup of date wine on the floor beside the pallet. Anda picked it up, and held it to Jeet’s lips. When some ran to the sides of his mouth as he drank, she licked it off. Then she drank from the cup, and with a hand behind his head, pressed her mouth to his to exchange the flavor.
She set the wine down, and tugged at Jeet’s hand so that he lay down onto his stomach. She sat on his bottom then, and sweeping his long hair from off his back, she massaged the muscles there. She rocked on his bottom as she rubbed his shoulders and the long muscles of his back. She delighted in his form with both her hands and her eyes. She backed down him to massage the small, firm globes of his buttocks. She used her thumbs in the crack between them to separate and squeeze them. With her fingers, she rubbed oil firmly under his perineum. Then she tenderly oiled his empty scrotum by wiping extra oil off her belly with her fingers and then rolling his scrotum between her thumb and those fingers. She massaged down the backs of his thighs, using only her fingertips behind his knees, and then vigorously rubbed each calf between both hands.
She moved back up his legs, straddling them. She held his buttocks open with the heels of her hands and angled her hips to point the tip of her erection down onto his puckered entry. She took her shaft in one hand and pressed her crown against his opening. She felt resistance, and then his oiled sphincter slipped smoothly over her crown. With the end of her shaft buried in him, she leaned forward onto her hands and eased her hips downward until her loins were flat on his buttocks. She lay down on Jeet’s slender body. She stretched her legs down the outsides of his and squeezed them together. She stretched his arms out above them with her hands around his wrists, and she kissed the side of his neck. And then she ground with her hips as Alexander, and savored the feel of Jeet’s mounded bottom under her loins. She murmured her pleasure, and made love to his body with all of hers.
When she had spilled her clear issue inside him, she turned Jeet over onto his back and mounted his cock as Anda, sheathing it with the hot interior of her vagina. She pinned his hands beside his head with her hands, and bent forward, her face over his to watch him. She rode him, and Jeet lifted her on his hips.
Jeet waited until she was sleeping on him, belly-to-belly, her face nuzzled under the side of his. His mind was surprisingly clear as, for the first time since entering the Oracle’s chamber, he turned his thoughts back to the need that night for a vision.
He had already pleaded with his god during the day. Now he pleaded once more before sleep. He wondered if he should slip from beneath Anda to cover his nakedness and be humble before praying. But he had prayed in many different ways to the Great God before, and the thought came to him that being covered by the spouse his god had given him was in no way dishonoring to his god.
He wrapped his arms over Anda’s back and looked up toward the ceiling. “Greatest One,” he prayed in a whisper. “If I have found favor in your eyes, if Anda has found favor in your eyes, if Seleucus the Great King has found favor in your eyes, please hear my request… “
The lamps were still burning when Jeet woke in the night with a rampantly hard erection. He was on his left side and Anda was sleeping on her right, facing him. His right leg was between her legs, all the way; Anda’s labia rested against the top of his thigh, right at the hip. His erection rested along her hipbone. His left arm was under her neck and she had nuzzled under the left side of his face. His right arm rested over her waist. Both her hands were on his chest, just resting there. He shifted his leg, testing; the Oracle was hard, too. It was often the case, that after particularly passionate lovemaking, they were ready for more sex surprisingly soon, even in the night. Erections in the night were not unusual for either of them; neither was nocturnal lovemaking.
Anda was asleep, but when he moved his leg, she ground her labia against it. She was damp and responsive. His cock twitched.
Jeet pulled her closer and stroked the soft skin of her back. He slid his hand down to her small, fleshy bottom and caressed it. His love for her had never waned, never wavered. It had grown deeper, daily, and that often surprised him, because he loved her so much. Even when they slept with Seleucus, and Seleucus held him in the night, he held Anda.
He’d always been glad that she was easy to arouse. His sister, Weela, had always been, as well, back when they were preteens. Most girls seemed to take some degree of warming up. With Anda-Alexander, once she had an erection she was ready. He moved his leg, slightly, gently, rubbing her labia. She moved against him in her sleep. He kissed in front of her ear and pulled her top leg up his side. He backed his hips slightly, and pointed his crown into her warm crevice, finding his way by long-experienced feel. He eased in, and her vagina slid down over his crown and shaft. She murmured and pushed her pelvis forward, meeting him. She kissed his neck, and Jeet knew she was awake.
He caressed her left breast with his right hand and rolled his hips forward, twisting hers back. She slid her hands up his chest and around his neck. He pressed his lips to the nape of her neck and gently sucked. Their hips rocked forward and back.
Jeet rolled onto her and Anda let him settle between her legs. Her arms circled his neck and she licked in his ear with the tip of her tongue. Jeet grabbed under the backs of her shoulders and rested his belly on hers, pressing her erection between them. They ground their pelvises together, and Jeet breathed heavily in her ear.
Anda was his wife; Alexander, his best friend. In sex, she was nearly as likely to roll Jeet to his back and lift his legs, as she was to roll to her back and lift hers. Yet, for all the multifaceted uniqueness of their love, the facets always fit, one to another. Anda moved with him, rubbing her cheek against his.
“I love you, Oracle,” he whispered. “I love you.”
She held him, keeping him lying on her when they finished, wanting him to fall asleep on her as she had on him earlier. He pulled a cushion under his head and nuzzled into her neck. He could feel the dampness of her issue between their bellies. The lamps still burned and Jeet could hear their gentle flickering in the quiet night.
Then he remembered that he had asked for a dream that night. Would it come with him butt-high, naked? After a night of sex? Perhaps Seleucus was right when he said not to have sex that night. Jeet started to rouse himself to move off Anda, because it was important that he dream. But she clung to him, and he didn’t resist. It was pleasant like this.
He thought again about how much he loved her, and rubbed the side of his face against hers. He thought of Rem, and how much he loved his younger shadow. He thought of Seleucus, and the love he shared with the older man. And the eunuchs, and so many friends… so many he loved. A shrine full of treasure, he thought, but no treasure greater than these he loved… he had much treasure.
Laying there, on the Oracle, in her embrace, with a sleepy mind and a full heart, he thought of the Great God who protected him and felt love for the Great God, and he was surprised… did one love a god? Certainly it was dangerous to be loved by a god, to be swept away like Ganymede, ripped from his home… but Judah’s god wasn’t like that, lusting after boys… Jeet’s Great God wasn’t like that… did the Great God… love?
Suddenly, the room was full of light and presence. Had he been asleep? Was he asleep still? Jeet covered Anda’s body to protect her.
+ + + + +
“It wasn’t like my other dreams,” he told Anda, as they lay together at sunrise the next morning. “A messenger came to me.”
“A messenger? From the Great God?” Anda asked. “You have never dreamed like that, have you?”
Jeet shook his head.
“What did the messenger tell you?” she asked. “Did he say anything we can tell to Perseus or Seleucus?”
Jeet nodded. “Yes, I have things to tell them. But… “
Jeet’s brow furrowed. “The messenger answered only for Perseus, Laodike, and Theia.”
“Theia?” the Oracle asked in surprise.
Jeet nodded. “He would tell me nothing concerning Seleucus, Anda. He said it was not good for a man to see his own future too clearly. He said such a vision might cause a man’s character to falter.” Jeet smiled. “He called me a man, Oracle. And it must be a good thing that he would not tell me of Seleucus. It must mean that our future is indeed bound closely with the King’s.”
+ + + + +
Seleucus accompanied Perseus, as the King of Macedon ascended the steps to the shrine portico. On the top step, a dozen, flat river rocks, each the size of a man’s palm, had been set in a mound.
“Perseus of Macedon,” Jeet said in a loud, clear voice. “The Oracle instructs you to gather up what you will of these rocks.”
Perseus glanced at Seleucus with a frown. Seleucus nodded encouragingly. Perseus turned back to Jeet, and then looked down at the rocks. He selected two, one in each hand, and stood back up. But when Seleucus frowned and cleared his throat, Perseus shifted one of the rocks to his other hand and picked up a third. Then he looked up at Jeet.
“Hear the Oracle,” Jeet said. “The greatness you desire for Greece and for yourself will be opposed by Rome.” He pointed to the rocks in Perseus’ hands. “But you shall have three great victories over the Romans. Thus, the Great God has said to the Oracle.”
“Shall I gather more stones?” Perseus asked.
Jeet shook his head. “You have made your choice, Great One. To conquer Rome would take many victories. You will not conquer them. Use the three victories you have been given, to hold Rome off. They will be great victories. Use them wisely and only if you must. Make peace as you can.” Jeet’s eyes met Perseus’ eyes, and Jeet bowed his head slightly and spoke more directly to Perseus. “It is not for you to die in battle, Great One. You will live many years.”
Perseus studied Jeet for a moment, and then he looked at the Oracle. Her face was as impassive as a mask. Then Perseus nodded. “It is good,” he said.
Jeet raised his voice once more. “There is also an oracle for the princess,” he announced.
Laodike was brought forward.
Jeet bowed his head. “Hear the words of the Oracle, Laodike, daughter of Seleucus Philopator,” he said. “Hear O daughter of kings. You shall yet be wife, and sister, and mother to kings. This shall come to pass.”
Both kings smiled, then. Laodike, surprised and a bit bemused, bowed her head.
+ + + + +
Seleucus was happy that day, and happy that night when he came to find Jeet and the Oracle, already in his chamber. “I tell you again, Oracle,” he said, as the two naked fifteen-year-olds undressed him for his bath, “And you, too, Jeet – that was well-done this morning. Those were good oracles for Perseus and Laodike.”
Jeet stayed behind the King so that Seleucus would not see his troubled face, for Jeet had seen many things ahead for the King of Macedon and his bride.
Anda answered the King. “Before they leave with you for Antioch, Jeet and I must also bless them.”
“Indeed,” Seleucus said. “You must bless them both, and Theia, too, and me as well.”
“Great One,” Jeet said, coming around to Seleucus’ front with a furrowed brow, “There was a third oracle last night; one concerning Theia.”
Seleucus glanced from Jeet to Anda. “There was? Tell me this oracle.”
Anda’s eyes dropped. She glanced nervously at Jeet, then back down. She picked up a bowl of oil and bath salts and stirred them with her finger while moving behind Seleucus to answer him. “You have seen how Theia pursues the company of Tazaar and Cyndur?” Anda asked. “You have seen that she likes them?”
The King frowned slightly. “Yes.”
Anda took some of the salt and oil onto her fingers and rubbed it onto the back of Seleucus’ shoulders. “It is on Cyndur’s heart to marry her, and on her heart to be married to him,” she said, as casually as she could.
“He is a merchant’s son,” Seleucus objected with a frown at Jeet, who had begun washing the King’s chest.
“A rich merchant’s son,” Jeet pointed out. “His father has become very rich because of the trade that the shrine, the temple, the governor, and you have given him.”
“And from the games at Ganymede,” Anda added.
“Cyndur is a gifted athlete,” Jeet pointed out, “And he is smart.”
“And brave,” Anda added. “He is very brave.”
Seleucus’ frown deepened. “What has all this to do with an oracle?”
Anda glanced nervously at Jeet from behind the king. “You tell him, Jeet-hah,” she said. “You know how to say these things better.”
“Say what things?” the King demanded, staring narrowly at Jeet.
Without meeting the King’s gaze, Jeet paused with his hand on Seleucus’ sternum, and stretched up to kiss the King’s cheek, just above his beard. He pressed the side of his forehead there. “Let not the King be angry,” he whispered.
Seleucus said nothing.
Keeping his temple pressed against Seleucus’ cheek, Jeet slid his arms around the King’s neck and pressed his body to the front of Seleucus’ body. “I love you, Great One,” he said quietly.
The King’s countenance softened, and he laid a hand on the boy’s back. “What is it, Jeet? What is the oracle?”
Anda laid her hand on Jeet’s right forearm, where it circled behind the King’s neck, and she gave it an encouraging squeeze.
“I,” Jeet began, then changed. “We… that is, the Oracle, has been seeing a darkness over Antioch in her dreams at night,” Jeet whispered, squeezing Seleucus’ neck more tightly. “You know we fear for you, Great One. I would that we could keep you here, with us, in Kaleh and Phrygia.”
“You know I couldn’t do that, Jeet,” Seleucus said, stroking the boy’s back.
Jeet nodded against Seleucus’ cheek. “I wish we were going back to Antioch with you, so the Oracle and I could protect you better.”
The King smiled and circled both arms around the boy. “And you will, soon. At the end of the summer, I shall bring you both down to me. And then the Oracle will help me discern what danger there is, and root it out.”
Jeet nodded. Pressing his temple hard against Seleucus’ cheek, he hugged the King’s neck tightly. “You must be careful until then,” Jeet whispered. “Keep Antiochus far from you.”
“I will,” Seleucus promised. “Now speak to me of this third oracle, and tell me what it has to do with Theia.”
“Theia is safer here, in Kaleh,” the Oracle answered, leaning close behind the king. “Her best future is with Cyndur and Tazaar. I have seen it.”
Still embracing Jeet, and comforted by the feel of the boy’s naked body against his own, Seleucus spoke softly. “You are sure of this?”
“Yes, Great One,” Anda answered, just as softly. She kissed the oil and salt on the back of Seleucus’ shoulder, and then Jeet’s forearm. “I have seen it,” she said. “Theia will be happy with Cyndur. She shall bear him sons who shall grow to be great men.”
“How many sons?” Seleucus asked with a slight smile.
“I do not know, but there will be daughters as well,” Anda said, pressing his body from behind with her own so that her face rested against Jeet’s forearms and her lips were close behind the King’s ear. “Let her marry Cyndur, Great One. Let her marry him, here in Kaleh. Let her spend the summer with him here.”
Seleucus felt a pang of sadness and rubbed his cheek against the side of Jeet’s head. “You would bereave me of two daughters, and yourselves this summer. It would be a very sad summer, without all of you.”
“Then stay here, O King,” Jeet whispered. “Or take us with you to Antioch when you leave.”
Seleucus considered it. Holding the boy and being held from behind by Anda, he almost gave in, but then he remembered the wise counsel of Heliodorus. “No,” he said. “You must come in the fall with great fanfare of your own, and not have it diminished by the greater presence of Perseus of Macedon. I will bring you down in the fall, like gods from the heavens. The reception Antioch will give you then will be greater than the reception it will give Perseus. You shall be great in the kingdom; both of you. You shall be my right and my left hand. I must prepare Antioch for you to come to me that way. I must prepare your palace and have the foundations laid for your library, musaeum, and academy. Antioch will welcome your coming as the birthing of a new age for our empire; an age of greatness and glory and majesty.”
+ + + + +
Seleucus Philopator left Kaleh that spring, without the daughter he loved most, and without his two beloved eromenoi. He held Jeet and Anda-Alexander close that last morning, and he tarried in bed with them as long as he could.
Before he left, he gave instructions to the governor, his friend, Hector, for the house he wanted built for Cyndur and Theia. It would be a wedding gift to them both. It would sit on a high spot in the city, and would be a home, fitting for the daughter of the king.
Theia hung on his neck and wept outside the gates of Kaleh, just before Seleucus departed. If she had known that it would be the last time she saw him, she would have wept all the more.
Old Judah wept as well. “You must return with the King,” Jeet had told him. “You must protect him until we come.”
Judah had accepted that, willingly enough. He had sons and grandsons in Antioch and beyond Antioch, in Jerusalem. It would be good to see to them, and see to their prosperity and welfare before his final days.
The old man hugged each of the eunuchs for a long time, and prayed to his god over each of them, blessing them and weeping for them. He did so for the Oracle as well. But the one he wept over most, and held the closest, was Jeet. “Why do I feel that these old eyes may never see you again?” he asked the boy in a whisper.
“I know not, old man,” Jeet answered, holding his tutor tightly. “For it is in my heart to be in Antioch soon, and the Great God has shown us nothing concerning me and you.” He squeezed Judah in his arms. “Take care of the King, Judah. Keep him safe with your counsel and your watchful eye, until we come.”
Judah nodded and kissed the boy’s soft cheek.
That day, Cyndur and his bride, Theia, took the quarters at the shrine which Perseus had used, and that the King’s daughters had used before him. Tazaar placed his own belongings in with them and the three made their first home there, sleeping together as they had from the first night of their marriage.
That the three were happy was obvious to all, even as, in the next few days, Tazaar resumed his duties at the shrine and Cyndur resumed his duties at both the shrine and with his father. Theia attached herself to the Oracle, and the two became friends.
+ + + + +
Immediately to the east of Phrygia and the Empire of the Seleucids, lay Parthia, another child of Alexander of Macedonia’s conquests; another Greek daughter, another Hellenistic state. Newly come to the throne was Phraates, son of Phriapatius. In the same summer that Perseus of Macedon came to Antioch, Phraates sent two of his brothers, nineteen-year-old Mithridates and fourteen-year-old Arsaces to see the Great Oracle of Kaleh. Arsaces was Phraates’ favorite brother, and he was dying of a wasting disease.
They came with five hundred horses and four hundred guards and servants, and they covered the shrine steps with as much treasure from the East as Prekendra had done, and more gold and silver. When the two youths came forward to meet the Oracle, Arsaces came on the arm of his brother, and when Jeet saw the feebleness of the younger boy, he descended the steps before the brothers could attempt to climb them. The Oracle and the other eunuchs came down after him.
The brothers bowed. “Great Oracle, Beloved Ones,” the older one said, addressing them correctly, in Greek. “We bring greetings and gifts from our brother, Phraates, King of Parthia. I am Mithridates, and this is my brother, Arsaces. He has been ill for some time, and we have come so that you will heal him.”
Mithridates was a handsome youth, with a good body and intelligent eyes. Arsaces had a more delicate beauty, even as sallow and feeble as he was. Both had black hair and the same blue eyes. The two brothers were a contrast to Jeet and the eunuchs, whose lean bodies, in their pure white breechcloths, glittered in the sun with gold and silver and health. Though the princes wore magnificent robes, both were pale and, at least to Jeet’s discerning eye, both brothers appeared sickly.
Jeet stepped up to Mithridates, who was his same height, and looked him in the eye. Then he placed a thumb over each eyelid and lifted them. The Oracle and other eunuchs crowded closely. He pulled on Mithridates’ jaw and opened his mouth, peering in.
Mithridates’ head pulled back. “I am not the one who is sick, Beloved One.”
Jeet’s eyes met his without comment, and he moved over to Arsaces, who was a head shorter, and Jeet repeated the examination. Then he swept the younger boy up in his arms, one under the boy’s legs, one under his back. “Come,” he said to Mithridates. Then to Rem, he said, “Send for the physicians; all the physicians.”
Everyone followed, except for Ptolemy and Bantu who stayed behind with Jarus, the high priest, to catalog the gifts and direct their placement within the shrine and temple.
Jeet ascended the steps. Though Arsaces was only a year younger than Jeet, he was much smaller, and Jeet was strong. He carried the young prince easily. Mithridates followed, and strangely, the strength of the young eunuch was comforting. Compared to the timid physicians of his brother’s court, who had no idea what ailed Arsaces, Jeet’s competent air gave Mithridates hope.
Jeet carried Arsaces to the King’s quarters, opposite the Oracle’s in the shrine, and above the chamber belonging to the three newlyweds. Mithridates, the remaining eunuchs, and the Oracle, all followed Jeet into the room. There, Jeet stood Arsaces beside the bed and undressed him. He glanced at Jin. “Undress Mithridates,” he instructed.
Mithridates frowned. “I told you, I am not the one who is sick.”
Jeet ignored him, and Mithridates did not protest as the other eunuchs undressed him. They stood the brothers side by side and looked them over. Physicians arrived, those of the shrine, and other physicians who had come to study in Kaleh. The room filled with many men, all examining the two princes of Parthia and querying them as to the symptoms of the young prince’s disease.
Jeet pulled Mithridates aside. “You have not had the loss of appetite, diarrhea, and nausea, nor the other symptoms of your brother?” Jeet asked.
“No. I’ve been telling you. I am healthy,” Mithridates replied, annoyed.
Arsaces grew unsteady, and Jeet went to him, laying the nude boy out on the bed. He sat beside the young prince, and once more, studied him carefully.
Finally there came a Sungan physician – a bald, little man who was nearly fifty years old. He examined the young prince in detail, nodding to himself as he looked at the odd coloring inside the boy’s arms and legs. “You know what it is?” Jeet asked.
The man nodded. “I believe so, Abij-hah. Has the boy had a bowel movement since he has been here?”
For the first time, Arsaces spoke. “I could now. I need to now.”
Jeet quickly helped him up from the bed. “Examine Mithridates as well,” Jeet instructed the physician as he assisted the boy toward a chamber pot. Rem helped from the other side. “The rest of you look the other way,” Jeet instructed.
After the boy had finished and Jeet and Rem had cleansed him, the Sungan physician stepped over to the chamber pot. He peered intently inside it for some time, tilting it, then taking it out onto the balcony for better light. Then he came back inside, set the pot back down, and motioned for Jeet.
The physician, Jeet, the eunuchs, Oracle, and remaining physicians all left the room, leaving only Rem with the princely brothers. Rem watched as Mithridates took a seat beside Arsaces on the bed and took his younger brother’s hand. Rem’s eyes met those of the younger brother’s, and Rem tried to smile encouragingly.
After a few minutes, the others all returned. For the first time, Jeet bowed to the two brothers, who remained sitting and lying naked on the bed. “Great Princes,” he said, “We believe we know what afflicts you.” He pointed to the Sungan Physician. “This man has seen it before. It is an animal, a type of worm that lives inside your intestines.”
Mithridates frowned, doubtful.
The Sungan physician, who spoke in a sing-song accent, much like Prekendra had done, stepped forward and bowed. “This animal is very clever, Great One,” the physician said. “He hides. He doesn’t want you to know he is there. You don’t know it. But sometimes,” he said, motioning toward the younger prince, “Someone’s body knows the creature is there and fights him. The young prince’s body knows the creature is inside him. It fights, and the fight is taking the life out of him.”
Mithridates frowned. “How do you get it out? How do you remove the creature?” he asked.
The little bald man frowned deeply and shook his head. “There is only one way, Great One. To heal you both, we must kill the worm inside you.”
Mithridates looked sternly at Jeet. “You really believe that I, also, have this animal inside me?”
Mithridates turned to the physician. “You believe this as well?”
The physician bowed his head. “If the Abij-hah believes it, Great One, then I believe it. We have seen before, that the Abij-hah sees more than most men.”
Mithridates considered that, and studied the physician more narrowly. “How do we do like you said? How do we kill these creatures?” he asked.
The physician’s face grew grave. “We, too, must be exceedingly clever,” he said. “We must be clever so that, in killing the worm, we do not kill you in the process.”
Mithridates’ frown deepened, and he looked directly at Jeet. “It is said that you are great in the kingdom of the Seleucids, Abij-hah.”
Jeet bowed his head.
“If my brother and I die in your keeping, it would bring war on your kingdom. You realize that.”
Jeet nodded. “I have considered that, Great One, but it is not in my heart to send your brother home to die.”
Mithridates’ jaw worked. He glanced at this brother. He glanced back at Jeet. “There is no other way?”
“I know of no other,” the physician said. “Perhaps the animal in you is more benign than the one in your younger brother. It has not troubled you as it has him. Perhaps in your case, we can wait… “
Jeet didn’t let him finish. “No,” he said. “Mithridates must also be healed.”
Mithridates’ brow furrowed again. “Why are you adamant about this?” he asked.
Jeet met his gaze. “Because while you were yet on the road here, the Oracle saw you coming. We are to heal you as well, Mithridates, for you have great things to do.”
+ + + + +
To my king and lord of our land, Seleucus, greetings from Jeet, who loves you. I write to tell you that our peace with Parthia stands on a fine edge. It is now almost a week since the princes of Parthia arrived and I dispatched the first letter telling you of the treatment necessary for their healing. In that time, the health of the young prince has declined sharply. The poison may kill him before it kills the creature inside him. The physician from the Sungans examines the young princes’ stools daily. The first of those, after the medicine began, convinced Mithridates that he, too, had been afflicted. The younger prince now passes very little stool, and I fear for him, though I pray to the Great God continually on his behalf.
+ + + + +
For the entire week, either Jeet or Rem had stayed in constant attendance on the princes, along with the physician from the Sungans. The physician was adamant about many things, including the disposal of the princes’ waste and the cleanliness that all of them must exercise around the two patients. “There are pieces of the worm in the stool,” the physician told them, “Pieces that may be too small to see. If you get them on your hands and then touch your food with them or anything that may come into your mouth, those pieces may take hold in your own body, and that must not happen.”
On the sixth day, the physician stopped the administration of the poison to the two princes, but by then, Arsaces was barely alive. That night, after they bathed Arsaces’ body and laid him on a clean pallet, Jeet and Rem lay down beside him on either side, naked as was he, to keep the young prince warm with their bodies, for even though it was summer, his limbs were cold.
Mithridates watched from the bed, too ill to do much more than notice the tender care the young eunuchs showed his brother. As Mithridates fell asleep, Rem and Jeet were laying quietly with Arsaces; quietly, except for the whispered prayers of Jeet to the god who protected him.
Rem woke in the night when Jeet pulled the young prince’s body away from him. At first, he thought Arsaces had quit breathing. Jeet was on his side, clutching the young prince’s chest up to his own. Jeet’s face was twisted in desperate prayer. He was whispering, and Rem struggled to hear the words. But then, suddenly, the young prince’s body shuddered and he took a sharp breath.
Jeet held him still, but his praying stopped. There were tears in the corners of Jeet’s tightly closed eyes, and Rem wondered… had Arsaces indeed stopped breathing? Jeet held the young prince close, his eyes tightly shut in concentration, as if willing each breath into the prince’s young body.
Rem edged closer, thinking he should warm the prince’s body from behind once more with his own. He was surprised to feel warmth when he pressed his loins and legs to Arsaces’ backside. Jeet’s eyes opened and met Rem’s.
“He will live now,” Jeet whispered. “He will live.”
A chill ran up Rem’s spine and he felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. He knew… he thought he knew… in his heart… Jeet had just battled death and won. Hadn’t he? Rem laid a hand on Jeet’s arm. There was a dread chill in the room, and he needed to hold on to Jeet.
Jeet gently laid the prince back down and the two eunuchs draped his body with their own. Jeet reached across, resting his hand on Rem’s side. Rem laid his hand on Jeet’s bicep. Jeet smiled at him. “Thank you for always being with me,” he whispered.
Rem nodded and swallowed and gently squeezed Jeet’s arm.
+ + + + +
Mithridates woke and looked around the room. The sun was well up and the room was bright with daylight. He glanced over at the pallet on which Arsaces was sleeping. His brother was alone and unattended for the first time since the day they arrived. He looked more closely. Arsaces lay sleeping on his side, facing away from Mithridates. The bed coverings had fallen to Arsaces’ waist, and it seemed to Mithridates that there was just a tinge of healthy color to his brother’s bare back. Mithridates sat up and looked around.
The young eunuch, Rem, was sitting only a few feet away, petting the blond dog that always followed him about. “Good morning, Great One,” the boy said.
Mithridates rubbed his eyes.
“Are you feeling better?” Rem asked.
Mithridates nodded. “Yes, I am.” He glanced down at Arsaces on the floor. “How is my brother?” he asked.
“Much better,” Rem answered. “He will live.”
“Is he healed, then?” Mithridates asked.
“Yes, Great One,” Rem answered. “You both are, but the Sungan physician says you must stay for a month, and then have the treatment again to be sure.”
Rem got up from his seat and came over to Mithridates’ bed. “He says you will be stronger then, and the treatment will be shorter, Great One. You will like it here for a month. The Abij-hah will see to that.”
“It will take a month before I feel well again; and then you will try again to kill me?” Mithridates mumbled.
Rem grinned. “You will feel better sooner than that, Great One. Shall I bring you food? Would you like to be bathed?”
Mithridates nodded. “Some bread. Something bland to eat,” he said. “Then it would be good to bathe.”
+ + + + +
A week later, Mithridates woke slowly to the sound of boys’ voices. One was his brother’s, the other Rem’s. He dreamed the three of them were walking down a sunny hillside, the two boys ahead of him, talking and laughing about jewelry and hair. Arsaces was happy and healthy for the first time since he’d been a small boy, and Mithridates was happy listening to his voice and watching the bounce in Arsaces’ step. Mithridates opened his eyes and turned his head toward Arsaces’ pallet.
Arsaces was sitting cross-legged in a linen breechcloth like the shrine eunuchs wore. Kneeling behind him sat Rem, who, though a year younger than fourteen-year-old Arsaces, was as tall and more muscular than the young prince. Rem was combing out Arsaces’ hair. Around Arsaces’ neck was a collar necklace of gold which Mithridates recognized as one Rem had worn. Arsaces was happy and laughing. There was color in Arsaces’ cheeks. He saw that Mithridates’ eyes were open and smiled happily at him.
Mithridates returned the smile and sat up.
“You are getting lazy, my brother,” Arsaces chided. “It has been daylight for an hour.”
Mithridates chuckled. He almost complained, because Arsaces and Rem had kept him up late. They had kept him awake, but not because they were talking too loudly. Far from it. They had been very quiet. Earlier in the evening, Arsaces had watched the eunuchs dance, with great interest; his face flush with health, and the first, real sexual desire of his young life. It was the first time he had been healthy enough for it. Then, when Rem undressed him, and laid him down on his pallet, Arsaces clung to Rem’s hand. The eunuch stayed with him and put out the lamp.
In the dark, Mithridates listened to their soft voices, catching only words... “You like that?” “Yes.” “That?” Mithridates heard the sounds of kisses, of the movements of the boys’ bodies, and then he could make out Rem’s shape sliding down Arsaces’ belly, followed by the sounds of sucking and quiet murmurs from Arsaces. He woke later to another sound – that of flesh on flesh. He peered in the darkness and frowned, because Arsaces was on his back with his legs up and Rem was on him, his butt pumping between Arsaces’ legs. But then he heard them laugh, and he saw how intimately Rem’s body rested on Arsaces’. He saw them kiss, and heard a pleasant moan. He would coach his brother later to not let servants do such things to him. But not last night, not while Arsaces seemed happy, and not while he was aroused.
In the darkness, Mithridates had closed his hand around his own erection and came almost immediately. He had always liked girls much more than boys, but he had been without a girl for some time, and in all the activity of the shrine, there was always an undercurrent of sexuality. The eunuchs were... unsettlingly beautiful. Their dancing was overtly and excitingly sexual.
He brought his mind back to the present, and to his grinning brother. Mithridates waved his hand dismissively, with a smile. “You’ve never gotten up this early in your life, Arsaces!”
Arsaces grinned. “I wanted to be at the eunuchs’ first lesson this morning. I have an idea for a poem which I wish to tell to their tutor.”
Mithridates cocked an eyebrow. “You go to their classes, and stay with Rem all day, and now you wear the breechcloth and jewelry of a shrine eunuch. Take care, little brother, that you don’t become too much like them. Someday you may wish to have sons.”
Arsaces’ smile faded, and he looked his brother in the eye. “I will live to have sons now, Mithridates,” he said. Then he smiled. “I will live to be a very ripe, old age and I shall have a multitude of children.” He glanced back over his shoulder, smiling, at Rem. “Rem will help me practice for planting my seed.”
Rem shot Mithridates an embarrassed glance and looked away.
“Then let Rem practice the girl’s part,” Mithridates said with a meaningful look at his brother.
Arsaces smiled slyly. “He already has... this morning.” Then his brow furrowed. “You should sleep with the Abij-hah, Mithridates. It is said that sleeping with him makes your seed very potent, and that many people have paid much money to sleep with him. Rem says that you wouldn’t need to pay because we have given great treasure to the shrine. I am right, aren’t I Rem?”
Rem bowed his head toward Mithridates. “The Abij-hah is not required to sleep with supplicants to the shrine. None of the eunuchs are, by order of the King. But he would come to your bed if you asked, Great One. You have given much to the shrine and the Abij-hah likes you.”
“And you like him,” Arsaces hastened to add. “You spend as much time with him as I do with Rem.”
“We are friends, Arsaces,” Mithridates said, getting up from the bed. “He is smart and he knows many things.” Mithridates wrapped on a loincloth. “Now if only you had a young virgin for me, Rem... ” he winked at the two boys.
Rem laughed. “This is the temple of Cybele,” he said. “There are no virgins here.” Then he paused. “Oh, there could be.” He glanced up at Mithridates. “Sometimes, the priestesses keep a young girl for themselves – a girl who has not known a man. One, who was such a girl, now belongs to the Oracle. She is Notama, and you could not have her, but it is possible the priestesses have another girl. I shall ask.”
Mithridates quickly pulled on his tunic; this talk was about to arouse him. “If there is such a girl, and if she is as pretty as the Oracle’s serving girl, then tell the priestesses I shall give them gifts to compensate them for her.” He glanced down at Arsaces. “Perhaps we should find such a girl for Arsaces as well.”
Arsaces shrugged as Rem bound up the prince’s hair with two, golden clasps. “Maybe,” he said. “But not yet.” Then he smiled, looking down as Rem finished. “I may sleep with all the eunuchs first, for each one imparts a gift to his lovers. Tazaar grants physical prowess, just as Jeet grants fertility. And Ptolemy grants wealth, Bantu grants happiness... ” He glanced back at Rem. “What does Aruli grant?”
Rem rose to his feet and offered a hand up to the young prince. “It is said that Aruli gives health, and Jin gives a peaceful spirit,” he said, with a bow of his head to the older prince.
Mithridates frowned again. “You have sat at table with all of them these last few days, Arsaces. You have seen that they are only eunuchs, and not gods. Let Rem bring you a girl.”
Arsaces stood for a moment, returning his brother’s frown. “They are not like anyone else we have ever met, Mithridates, and you know that; especially the Abij-hah.” He glanced at Rem. “I am going to tell Mithridates.”
Arsaces turned back to his brother. “Jeet asked me to tell no one, but Rem was there, the last night I was sick, so he already knows. You should know. I quit breathing that night, Mithridates. I died. I know that, myself, because I remember looking down on this room that night, and seeing my body, as if from a great height. And then the Abij-hah brought me back. He is not like other men, Mithridates.”
Arsaces took Rem’s hand and headed for the door. Mithridates stood, stunned.
Arsaces paused at the door, and left Rem there, returning to his brother. “We will be here only another month, Mithridates.” He peered into his older brother’s eyes, earnestly. “I feel good; I feel so very good for the first time in my life, and not just in my body. These boys, these eunuchs, are happy and free and I feel happy and free with them. I want to be with them. I want to visit their beds they way they visit each other’s. I want to sleep with the Abij-hah and grow stronger in my body.” His expression grew firm; that of a prince. “Let me be happy.”
Mithridates bit his lip. He had the passing thought that Phraates would not be happy to have his favorite brother returned, no longer an invalid, but now a eunuch in spirit. However, looking at Arsaces, so alive and healthy – a beautiful boy who had never felt well enough to enjoy being a beautiful boy – Mithridates wondered if his concern wasn’t as much for himself as for Arsaces. There was a magical quality to this place and these people. His own spirit had been wooed. It could be difficult when the time came to return home.
Arsaces grasped his older brother’s bicep and squeezed. “The Oracle has promised to take us out on her barge tomorrow, Mithridates. Let us be happy while we are here.”
Mithridates smiled with a sigh, and pulled his younger brother into his arms. “Be happy, Arsaces,” he said. “You have waited a long time to be happy.”
Arsaces, Rem, and Rem’s dog were all waiting at the door to their chamber that night. Mithridates came from an enjoyable conversation with the Oracle and Abij-hah, which had run late after dinner. The two waiting boys were smiling. “The priestesses sent a gift, my brother,” Arsaces said, happily. He took Rem’s hand. “We are sleeping in other quarters tonight.” With a wink, he led Rem away, down the hallway.
Mithridates entered the chamber. In the center of the room stood a young, slender girl, draped and hooded in white cotton. As he stood there, she pulled the hood back to reveal dark, brown hair, fastened with silver combs. Her head was bowed, but he could see that she was no more than twelve or thirteen years old. He came to her and lifted her chin. She looked up at him with dazzling, green eyes. Her complexion was white and her lips red. She smiled, nervously, and looked down.
“There is nothing,” he said, his hand still under her chin, “In all the treasures I have brought from my kingdom, to properly compensate the priestesses for this.”
The girl smiled again, and without looking up, she dropped the clothing from her body.
Mithridates declined to go with the Oracle on her barge the next day, and he was unconcerned when the Oracle, her eunuchs, and his brother did not return for three days.
+ + + + +
Rather than wait for food to be brought to him, Mithridates let Helena sleep, and made his way down to the shrine hall. There was always food out in the morning. Though the eunuchs were usually up early and ate with the Oracle in her chamber, they sometimes ate with the servants and tutors who took their food from tables set out in the shrine hall. Mithridates looked for Jeet, but he wasn’t there yet.
Arsaces was right; Mithridates had been dogging Jeet’s steps. He had overcome his initial awe of the young eunuch; and then overcame it again after Arsaces told him about coming back from the dead. It was easy to be overwhelmed by the Abij-hah. The fifteen-year-old boy was unsettlingly beautiful. Because of Jeet’s black hair and smoky complexion, his almost-silver eyes were profoundly striking. They weren’t simply beautiful eyes; they were disturbingly intelligent and confident. Whenever those eyes met Mithridates’ eyes, Mithridates could believe he was in the presence of a boy-god. And yet, Jeet had an open, good nature, and his smile could disarm. He smiled at Mithridates frequently.
Mithridates was intrigued with Jeet on many levels. He began to watch Jeet as someone to learn from. He listened to questions Jeet raised and the observations he made during the eunuch’s lessons. He observed the quiet authority with which Jeet directed the activities of the shrine, and he noticed how frequently Jeet deferred questions and authority to the other eunuchs while remaining in charge. He watched Jeet bless children, and followed Jeet as he visited the sick little ones, and he saw how beloved Jeet was of the people. Mithridates joined in, as much as he could, when the eunuchs worked out, or practiced their dancing, and he discovered that Jeet’s and the other eunuchs’ athleticism far surpassed anything he or Arsaces were capable of. He watched with interest when Jeet conferred with the Most High Priest or with the governor and his son, and he saw those men defer to the youth. Mithridates was impressed with the spectacle of the Oracle’s audiences and with the competency with which Jeet conducted them. Listening to the wisdom of Jeet and the Oracle in those audiences, it was easy to be awed again... until the next time Jeet smiled, or hugged the shoulders of a brother eunuch, and in some other little way, proved himself a mortal boy once again.
But Jeet was also a sexual being, and Jeet’s androgyny bothered Mithridates from time to time. He found that a simple brush of Jeet’s body could stir him. And when the eunuchs danced, Mithridates felt exhilaration; exhilaration at great athletic performance, at the beauty of the fifteen and sixteen-year-olds’ faces and bodies, and at the overt, raw sexuality of their performance.
Mithridates got past the awe, but he found it more difficult to get past an occasional arousal. And yet, best were the evenings when they simply talked around the Oracle’s table, sometimes joined by the governor’s son, with or without his wife; or when they sat on the shrine steps, just Mithridates and Jeet. It was in those moments that Jeet and Mithridates became friends.
+ + + + +
Tazaar was reluctant. Though the young prince was a pretty boy, Tazaar hadn’t been away from his bed with Cyndur and Theia since the day of the wedding, and that had only been a couple of months.
“I have known that these things might happen,” Theia told him. “I was going to say ‘no’ when they came up, but this could be different. Arsaces is a prince of the Parthians. I am the King’s daughter, Tazaar. I understand that this could be important.” She pressed her body to his and her forehead to his neck. “I would sooner let Cyndur sleep with the other eunuchs, as he had been accustomed to do, than let you sleep away from my bed.”
Tazaar held her, thinking that he, too, occasionally missed sleeping with the other eunuchs as he was accustomed to do. But he loved Cyndur, and Theia, and he didn’t want to diminish their three-way relationship in any way. So he did not ask for such things, and he had been reluctant to accede to the prince’s request.
“Sleep with him,” Theia whispered. “And I shall sleep with Cyndur, alone. Then when you return, I shall let Cyndur sleep among the eunuchs, and you and I will sleep alone to make up for my night without you.”
Tazaar tightened his embrace of her. “I would like that; to be alone,” he said, sincerely. He liked sex with Theia, and he liked being loved by her. He was coming to love her more, every day. Tazaar rocked her in his arms.
“I have wondered about something,” Tazaar said, because he was given to asking questions when they came to him. “You are constantly with the Oracle, but she is male as well as female. Do you ever... ”
“No,” interrupted Theia, hugging him more tightly.
“You answered that quickly,” Tazaar observed.
She spread the fingers of her hand on his back and pressed the firm muscles there. “I love you and Cyndur,” Theia said. “Anda and I talked about it once. With me, she likes being a girl, and we enjoy our friendship that way.”
Tazaar nodded. Girls could be different about sex, and he liked that in Theia.
“I am your wife, Tazaar,” she said. “I understand that you are different from a normal husband. I understand about you and the other eunuchs, and even the Oracle, because she told me – you think of her as a boy. But for me, I am content being your wife, and Cyndur’s.”
+ + + + +
Bantu volunteered to help Ptolemy sort out the smaller statuary of the shrine – part of a reorganization of all the shrine treasures now that Mithridates and Arsaces had added to them so greatly. He and Ptolemy were working in the shrine hall with Oot, when Rem and Arsaces passed through with their arms resting over each other’s shoulders. Governor, the dog, followed. A moment later, Mithridates and Jeet passed through the shrine hall laughing together. Shortly after that, the Oracle and Theia passed through together on their way out the front doors.
The new friendships amused Bantu, as small things often did. He elbowed Ptolemy, who had his back to him. “Do we need to go find ourselves some new friends?” he asked with a grin.
Ptolemy answered without turning around. “You had enough new friends at Ganymede to last a long time.”
Bantu chuckled, and turning, bent his body over Ptolemy’s from behind. He hugged the taller boy’s belly and kissed high up his back. “I like it when you get just a little possessive.”
Ptolemy stood up and turned inside Bantu’s arms. He laid his arms over Bantu’s shoulders and looked his lover sternly in the eye.
“A little possessive?” Ptolemy growled, frowning. “I’m a lot possessive, you asshole!”
Bantu laughed delightedly.
Ptolemy stepped forward so that his belly and loins pressed Bantu’s and their noses touched. “Who do you belong to?”
Bantu wrapped his arms behind Ptolemy’s waist and grinned even wider.
Ptolemy’s frown deepened. “Quit smiling like that,” he protested. “You know I have no defense against it.” There was a twinkle in his eye as he wrapped his arms behind Bantu’s red head, and kissed him.
Bantu clutched Ptolemy’s bare buttocks and kneaded them as they opened their mouths to each other.
“Bantu-hah,” Ptolemy whispered.
“We haven’t made love in the middle of the afternoon in a while,” Ptolemy whispered, and then he laughed as he felt the back of his breechcloth loosen. “Wait till we get out of the middle of the shrine hall floor, you crazy redhead!”
“Oot, watch everything,” Bantu called out as he prepared to hoist Ptolemy onto his shoulders. Both of them glanced at Oot. The front of the Nubian’s loincloth was lifting with a rising erection.
“Oh, hell,” Bantu murmured. “Oot, too?”
“Oot, too,” Ptolemy agreed.
A big, white-tooth grin spread over the Nubian’s face.
Bantu pulled from Ptolemy’s embrace of his neck, and bending, drove his shoulder into Ptolemy’s gut and lifted him onto his shoulder. “Go get a guard to watch this stuff, Oot, and then come to our quarters,” Bantu told him with a wink. Then he dashed for the side of the shrine hall with Ptolemy’s bare ass high over his shoulder.
A few minutes later, Oot walked into the eunuchs’ quarters, to be tackled onto a pallet by two, laughing, naked eunuchs. The three rolled together, Oot’s deeper laughter joining the eunuchs’. They had his loincloth off in an instant.
They got Oot onto his back and Bantu dove for Oot’s middle, grabbing the Nubian’s thick erection with one hand and his loose balls with the other. He skinned it back and gave the shaft a lick. Ptolemy scooted up onto Oot’s chest and moved his hips forward so that his cock hovered over Oot’s face.
Laughing, Oot turned his face this way and that as if avoiding Ptolemy’s cock, but then howled when Bantu engulfed his own erection. When he did, Ptolemy touched his crown to Oot’s lips, and the Nubian swallowed it, with a twinkle in his eye for Ptolemy.
Ptolemy fell forward onto his hands and pumped his hips, watching his white shaft move in and out of the dark Nubian’s mouth. Behind him, Bantu hummed happily on Oot’s shaft in his mouth.
Bantu ran his fingertips up and down the inside of Oot’s thighs, because Oot was unusually sensitive there. He and the Nubian had adventured together enough to know that. Bantu also knew Oot’s naked beauty, intimately, from the backside. He liked to ride Oot from behind, banging the firm globes of the Nubian’s butt while running his hands up Oot’s thick back muscles which were so hard that Bantu always thought they should sound like wood when he tapped them. Oot liked the redhead, and when Bantu rode him, he writhed hard under him, like a galloping camel. The eunuch always laughed and hooted, and they had done it more than once.
But today, Bantu was in a different mood and didn’t want to disturb Ptolemy, so he lifted Oot’s slender, black legs with a hand under the back of each thigh. Oot pulled his knees up behind Ptolemy’s back to let Bantu lick down over his balls and onto his thick, black perineum.
When Bantu had a good amount of saliva in his mouth, he drooled it onto Oot’s perineum and into the crevice of Oot’s bottom. Then he knelt up and rubbed his crown in the saliva. He pressed in, and Oot’s sphincter accepted him with a pleasant tightness. Bantu liked the next part; watching his pale shaft slide in between Oot’s firm, dark buttocks. He lifted Oot’s legs onto his shoulders and hugged the muscular thighs with his forearms. He pressed forward then, and ground his loins against Oot’s bottom. Bantu’s eyes closed in pleasure.
Ptolemy pulled out and reversed his body over Oot’s so that he could suck Oot’s shaft while Oot sucked his. Bantu reached down and stroked the long hair of his lover. “Don’t make him come, Ptoly,” Bantu whispered. “I’m going to ride his cock. Oot and I have a camel race to win.”
The three of them lay side by side, looking up at the ceiling, Oot, then Bantu, then Ptolemy. Oot and Ptolemy had their arms crossed behind Bantu’s head. Bantu had a leg over each of theirs and a hand on a hipbone of each. “We should get back out there,” Ptolemy said, “And work on the statues.”
“We could do that tomorrow,” Bantu said.
“I could get Eto to help, too.” Oot said, referring to the shrine’s other Nubian servant.
The three of them chuckled. “Camel races,” Bantu said.
+ + + + +
Mithridates sat shoulder to shoulder with Jeet on the top step of the bathhouse, their feet in the water, cooling. Mithridates’ arms rested on his knees, and he was looking out through the colonnade at glimpses of the river, silver-blue under the twilit sky. Jeet was playing his harp. A torch they had brought with them burned from a holder. ‘To talk quietly,’ Mithridates had said when he asked Jeet to come. It was the night before Mithridates and Arsaces were to begin the second round of treatments. In a few days, the two would leave for home.
“I want to take her with me,” Mithridates said
“Helena, the girl the priestesses gave you?” Jeet asked. “She is yours to take. You paid well for her.”
“She is worth much more than I gave,” Mithridates said.
Jeet laughed, and setting the harp aside, he put his arm over Mithridates’ shoulders. “I know,” Jeet said. “You’ve said that before.”
Mithridates glanced at him and smiled. Their faces were close, and Mithridates’ smile faded. “I wish I could take you, Jeet; all of you here at the shrine, but especially you. You are rare, Jeet-hah, very rare.” He looked down between his legs and flicked water with the fingertips of his right hand. “Someday, I hope to be minister to my brother, the way you will be minister to Seleucus. I have decided that when I get back home, I will try to be for my brother, all of the things you are going to be for your king.” He sighed. “To be honest, though, my brother would do better to offer Seleucus all the gold in Parthia to bring you and this shrine to us.”
Jeet laughed and squeezed his friend’s shoulders. “First, Seleucus would not take all the gold in Parthia, not because I am so rare as you say, but because he thinks I am, and he loves me. And second, you will serve your brother far better than me or anyone else. You are as smart as I am, and you know your brother and your people. But,” Jeet said, his voice dropping to a whisper and giving Mithridates’ shoulders a squeeze, “What if Seleucus and your brother become friends the way we are friends? What if we – you and me – make close allies of our kings and our two lands?”
Mithridates glanced at Jeet and smiled. “Two great kingdoms. Perhaps so. Perhaps someday, Seleucus would let you come to Hecatompylus and build for us the kind of academy, musaeum, and library he plans for Antioch. Our two countries could become partners in many great things... trade, knowledge, military might.” His brow furrowed. “Have there ever been two such allies?”
Jeet shrugged and smiled. “There have never been two friends such as us, in the positions we shall be in.”
Mithridates glanced at Jeet again. Jeet’s profile was so… beautiful, so very close. “I have been thinking of our friendship, Jeet-hah,” he said.
Jeet looked at him, waiting.
Mithridates peered into Jeet’s eyes. “Do you really love everyone, or do you only let them think you do?” he asked.
Jeet laughed. He gave Mithridates’ shoulders a squeeze again, and leaned close. “I don’t like everybody,” he whispered. And then his countenance grew dark. “The King has enemies; so do I.” Jeet pulled his arm back from over Mithridates’ shoulders and returned it to rest on his knees, along with his other arm, the way Mithridates’ arms rested on his knees.
Mithridates put his arm over Jeet’s shoulders, and leaned close to Jeet. “Do you like me as much as you seem to?” he asked.
Jeet grinned without looking at him, and nodded. “Yes. I do.” Then he did glance at him. “We are alike in many ways, you and me. We have the same heart to serve our kings and our people.”
Sitting with his arm over the fifteen-year-old’s shoulders, Mithridates swallowed, and felt his pulse quicken. For the better part of a month, he’d been constantly beside Jeet. It felt as though they had been friends all their lives. They threw their arms over each other’s shoulders easily and often, or held each other’s hands as Mithridates had seen other pairs of friends do – a king’s son had few such friends of his own, at least in Mithridates’ case. But then, Mithridates had never known a boy like Jeet, who was such a match for his own mind and spirit.
But from the first day, his love for Jeet was mixed, for despite the presence of Helena in his bed every night, Mithridates found it difficult to sit next to Jeet and not notice the fine hairs at the edges of his temples, or the alluring hollow under Jeet’s ear, or the perfection of his quadriceps as they flexed so easily with the smallest movement of his leg. To have such strong and intimate affection for a boy who was so beautiful, must include such feelings.
For just a moment, with his arm around Jeet’s shoulders, it was on Mithridates heart to ask Jeet to sleep with him. And yet, as he tried to form the words, he rejected them. His affection for Jeet was profound, but it was the affection of one friend for another. He rejected using Jeet, sexually. What an immense shame that would be, he thought, to harm or diminish his one and only, excellent friendship. The moment passed, and Mithridates felt it pass away like the shadow of a cloud. He would not ask Jeet to sleep with him. Instead, he squeezed Jeet’s shoulder with the happy affection of one friend for another, and got to his feet.
“Let’s get into the water, and cool off, Jeet-hah,” Mithridates proposed, “And form our plans to make friends of our two countries.”
+ + + + +
On the afternoon before their departure, as their servants made ready for their return to Parthia, Arsaces stood beside the river, close to the south temple wall, with his brother, Mithridates, and he wept bitterly.
“You're taking Helena back with us,” he said, accusingly between sobs. “It’s cruel to not let me take Rem.”
“He’s not ours to take,” Mithridates pointed out, again.
“Buy him,” Arsaces said. “Buy him from the Oracle.” He sniffled loudly, and wiped his eyes with the heels of his hands.
“She wouldn’t sell him, Arsaces. Besides, he really belongs to Jeet, and Jeet certainly wouldn’t sell him.”
“He would. He would if you asked him.”
The high afternoon sun glistened on Arsaces’ wet cheeks, and looking at him, Mithridates felt compassion for his younger brother. He reached for Arsaces’ shoulder, to comfort him, but Arsaces stepped back. Mithridates sighed regretfully. “Jeet would not sell Rem, even if I asked. You know it. He would not sell Rem, any more than I would sell you to someone.”
“Then let me stay.”
“What?” Mithridates asked with a surprised laugh. “We must return home.”
Arsaces shook his head violently. “What good is it to make me well and happy and then take it all away? It would have been better not to have come here at all!”
“Arsaces,” Mithridates said sternly. “You are fourteen-years-old. Act the man. Do you think that I am happy to leave Jeet? He is no less a friend to me than Rem is to you.”
“It’s not the same and you know it. Not nearly the same. Rem and I are lovers.”
Mithridates paused a moment, and looked away. “One does not have to go to bed with a friend to love him deeply,” he said. He turned back to Arsaces. “I have never had a friend like Jeet. You know that. Simply because I don’t show my tears, does not mean I do not have them… here.” He patted his chest with his hand. He glanced toward the shrine. “I, too, have fallen in love with this place.”
“Then let us stay,” Arsaces said. But then, he knew they couldn’t. More tears came, but quietly.
Mithridates smiled sadly and stepped forward. This time, Arsaces did not step back. Mithridates embraced his younger brother, pulling Arsaces’ head onto his chest. “But I have already thought of a plan to talk Phraates into letting us return next summer.”
Arsaces looked up at his brother. “You have?”
Mithridates nodded. “We will both be sad to leave, Arsaces, but we can purpose to come back. We should purpose to come back. It is on the Abij-hah’s heart and on mine, that our two lands should be allies, and there is work for us to do, to bring that about.”
Arsaces placed his head back on Mithridates’ chest and wrapped his arms around him. He had forgotten that he was brother to the king and that there were more important things to consider. He was glad he was brother to Mithridates.
+ + + + +
To my King, whom I miss with all my heart, Seleucus, greetings from Jeet, who loves you. The Parthian princes departed day before yesterday. They are both fully healed, though they are taking the Sungan physicians with them to cleanse their palace. They were sad to leave. The younger prince made himself brother to Rem, dressing as Rem dressed, doing as Rem did. He spent every night with Rem. Even when he slept with one of the other eunuchs – which he did a lot – he kept Rem with him. Once they left, Rem took me to bed. We slept together and spent all of the next day together. It is good to have Rem back at my side. I know you have not always understood – I am not sure that I do, but I feel unsettled when Rem is not beside me or close by. I also feel unsettled being so far from you. I know you will be sorry to see Laodike leave with King Perseus, but I am anxious to come to you. The Oracle has dreams. I worry for you…
Seleucus, King, to Jeet, who I miss with all my heart. Perseus and Laodike left for Macedon almost a week ago. I am almost ready to send for you. The workmen are finishing the last preparations. Within two weeks, I shall send a troop of soldiers to escort you. Do not come until they arrive. I want you safe. I want you here. Soon. Very soon.
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