Copyright 2008. All Rights Reserved.


Chapter 36 – Stycus

A psychoactive drug or psychotropic substance is a chemical substance that acts primarily upon the central nervous system where it alters brain function, resulting in temporary changes in perception, mood, consciousness and behavior…

Drug use is a practice that dates to prehistoric times. There is archaeological evidence of the use of psychoactive substances dating back at least 10,000 years, and historical evidence of cultural use over the past 5,000 years. – Wikipedia

Eto, one of the Nubian slaves, was near the shrine doors when one of the doors slowly opened and Letradoisan peeked in. He saw Eto and motioned him nearer. “Where is everybody?” Letradoisan asked in a whisper. Eto saw Obenedes peering over his twin brother’s shoulder from behind.

The Nubian pointed toward the stairway up to the Oracle’s chambers. “The Oracle is taking her midday meal and rest,” he told them.

“Perfect!” Letradoisan said with a grin. He nodded for Obenedes to follow, and the twins ran for the stairs.

They brushed past the guard and burst into the Oracle’s chamber just as she and her eunuchs were finishing their meal. For a moment, the twins saw a room of gaping mouths, and in the next instant, they were surrounded by hugging, teen-age eunuchs.

Obenedes’ first hug was for Cyndur. “Congratulations!” he called out, embracing Cyndur and glancing past him at Theia, who was getting up from the table.

At the same time, Letradoisan gave Tazaar a hug, and whispered at his ear. “You are the talk of Antioch. It is said that Theia has two husbands.” He gave Tazaar an extra squeeze. “I’m happy for you, Tazaar-hah. I know Cyndur loves you, and I’ve heard that Theia adores you.”

“She does,” Theia said, stepping up beside them. Letradoisan stepped back and his eyes met her stern look, as she slipped an arm possessively behind Tazaar’s back. Letradoisan bowed his head with an amused grin. “Princess.”

From beside him, Jin tugged at Letradoisan’s tunic. “What are you two doing with clothes on?” he asked, laughing.

“And what are you two doing here?” Bantu added.

Obenedes answered. “Seleucus let us come with the soldiers who’re going to escort you to Antioch.” he said. He turned to Aruli next in his hugging. Obenedes pulled Aruli into his arms and kissed him happily.

“You waited too long to come to us, so we came to you,” Letradoisan told them. He turned to Jeet, and the two appraised each other for a moment. It had been almost a year since they had been together. Jeet and the Oracle had just turned sixteen. Letradoisan and Obenedes had turned fourteen. They all had grown, but the twins had gained height on the eunuchs.

Grinning, Letradoisan took Jeet by the shoulders. “I’m almost eye-level with you now,” he said, rising to his full height and coming slightly up off his heels. Jeet grinned and looked him up and down. “You’re fatter, too. Is that why you’re wearing a tunic?”

Several laughed, including Letradoisan as he embraced Jeet. Jeet hugged him back, discovering by feel what he had already surmised; Letradoisan’s body was rock hard. The twin had gained muscle. He also had light down for sideburns now, and Jeet felt it against his cheek. Letradoisan hugged him tightly, kissed him, and hugged him again.

Beside Jeet, Obenedes hugged the Oracle. “Seleucus told us to hurry and bring you back,” he said. “He’s even more anxious to see you than we were.”

“Impossible,” Letradoisan said, before kissing Jeet again. His hands slid to Jeet’s bare bottom where he squeezed.

Obenedes saw and pushed his brother away from Jeet. “My turn,” Obenedes chided. He hugged Jeet, and Jeet hugged him back, grinning affectionately.

“We’ve been anxious to see you both, and Seleucus,” Jeet said. “We’re ready to leave for Antioch immediately.”

Still standing beside Jeet, Letradoisan laid a hand on the Abij-hah’s bottom. “Relax. Give us a day or two to rest before we go charging off to Antioch. Let us enjoy being back here. It’s almost like home for us.”

Obenedes stepped back from Jeet, and Letradoisan immediately embraced Jeet again, slipping his arms around Jeet’s neck and pressing the side of his face to Jeet’s. His lips were at Jeet’s ear. “Come aside with me, Jeet-hah,” he whispered. “I rode with an erection, half the distance from Antioch, just thinking of you… of your body, of your beauty, of the times we made love.” He kissed beside Jeet’s ear. “In the pouch at my waist is a rare and very costly salve from distant Carthage. It makes the skin tingle and heightens the sense of touch. I will smooth it on our cocks and on our fingers and skin. You have never felt such pleasure.” He pressed his hips forward. “Feel how hard I am already, Jeet-hah.” He kissed the nape of Jeet’s neck.

Jeet was growing hard as well, and the news that they would leave soon for Antioch put him in the mood to celebrate. He closed his arms around Letradoisan’s body; taller and more solid body than it had been the previous year. He saw Aruli and Jin leading Obenedes to one of the stairways down to the eunuchs' quarters. He glanced at the Oracle. She shook her head, resignedly, and took Rem’s hand to lead him back to her bed. Jeet closed his eyes. He inhaled the twin’s once familiar scent, and pulled aside Letradoisan’s hair to kiss the nape of his neck. He dropped his other hand to Letradoisan’s tunic covered bottom. “We'll go to the King’s chamber.”

They trotted down the stairs, and Letradoisan let Jeet pull ahead so that he could watch Jeet’s butt as he ran. Jeet ran lightly on his feet, easily, like the athlete he was... like the dancer. In only a breechcloth, he appeared naked from behind, except for the white waistband of silk which rode low over his bottom. The joining twist of silk up from between his buttocks gave the twin globes of muscle a slight separation as they dimpled with his trotting. The tail of the breechcloth dangled long like the tail of a pony. The long muscles along Jeet’s spine flexed alternately to the flexing of his butt, and the muscles in his legs carried him effortlessly.

Letradoisan had thought of Jeet on the ride from Antioch. He had visions of Jeet being excited by Letradoisan’s taller, stronger body and his face, more handsome than a year ago. Letradoisan had delighted in his growth over the previous months and had dreamed of Jeet delighting in him as well, with hands and eyes, and of the two of them tumbling passionately into bed. But now he was the one impressed. He thought he had remembered their times together, vividly, and in his dreams at night, it was as if he was with Jeet again. But Jeet was always so much more real than a dream or memory could ever make him… more beautiful, warmer in the affection of his eyes, more exciting in his movements and in the lines of his limbs and torso. It was Letradoisan’s eyes that delighted… in Jeet’s body. At sixteen, Jeet had truly come into a full blooming of his beauty and sexuality.

But Letradoisan had truly bloomed as well. He was longer and taller, and stronger. He felt it afresh, running behind Jeet. He felt it in the length of his legs, the stretch of his belly, and in the easy swinging of his shoulders and long arms. Had Jeet noticed? Had he noticed that Letradoisan’s face was slightly longer and his jaw slightly firmer? Noticed or not, Letradoisan felt it. That he was a handsome youth, pursuing the Abij-hah of legendary beauty, reminded Letradoisan of myths and paintings, and he wished someone could paint them now.

The stirring of Letradoisan’s loins and heart for Jeet were far from simple. In Letradoisan’s previous time at Kaleh, Jeet had become one of two firm anchors in the twin’s life; anchors that Letradoisan kept a spiritual grip on when he and Obenedes returned to the politics and shallow relationships of Antioch. That Jeet had many friends and lovers didn’t matter to Letradoisan. Jeet loved him, and they were friends. They would always be friends, because Jeet would always be faithful.

They reached the King’s quarters, and Jeet turned, catching Letradoisan in his arms. They paused there for a moment, belly to belly, catching their breath, grinning at each other. Then Letradoisan grasped Jeet by shoulders. “By the gods, I have missed you!” he said before pressing his mouth to Jeet’s. He kissed him hungrily, opening his mouth, pressing his tongue between Jeet’s lips. The reality of Jeet’s taste… the feel of his body… the breath from his nostrils on Letradoisan’s face – Letradoisan tightened his embrace and murmured his pleasure.

The blond fourteen-year-old dropped a hand to the back of Jeet’s waist, just above the curve of his butt. He loosened Jeet’s breechcloth and dove with his fingers into the crevice between Jeet’s firm buttocks to force out the warm, damp silk twisted there. He closed his hand over one firm, rounded globe; his hand was bigger now and it cupped Jeet’s buttock well. Jeet’s skin there felt as soft and smooth as he remembered. Letradoisan felt his tunic being tugged up in back and Jeet’s hands on his own butt, squeezing.

They stepped apart. Letradoisan loosed his belt and pulled off his tunic. Jeet dropped his breechcloth. Letradoisan grabbed the small, wooden box of Carthaginian salve from his pouch and held it in his hand as they stepped back, belly-to-belly, together. He threw his arms around Jeet’s neck and their mouths met once more. He ground the underside of his cock against Jeet’s taut belly and felt a drop of precum ooze out the end. He felt Jeet’s erection press out to his own hipbone, leaving a cool track of precum on Letradoisan’s skin. No longer a boy, Letradoisan was a youth, and he made love as a youth. He wanted to show Jeet that; to be male with him. He felt Jeet’s hands at his bottom, clutching, pulling his buttocks apart. He felt air in his crevice, on his sphincter. He went up on his toes, yielding his hips to Jeet’s pull, while thrusting his tongue deeply into Jeet’s mouth.

Jeet pressed a finger into Letradoisan’s crack, and Letradoisan felt Jeet’s fingertip against his sphincter. With others, Letradoisan was almost always the one to do the penetrating, but not with Jeet. He not only didn’t mind that; he wanted it… with Jeet, he wanted it. Still on his toes, Letradoisan pulled his mouth from Jeet’s and pressed it to Jeet’s ear. “I don’t think my cock can get any harder,” he whispered, breathlessly. “I know we’re friends, Jeet, but damn, you excite me!”

Jeet sucked the nape of Letradoisan’s neck and his fingertip slipped inside Letradoisan’s sphincter. “Yes!” Letradoisan whispered.

Jeet grabbed the blond twin up with a hand under each buttock, showing that he, too, had gained strength that year. Letradoisan wrapped his legs around Jeet’s hips and let Jeet carry him to the bed. Jeet laid him back onto it, and Letradoisan let the box of salve drop from his hand to the side on the bed so that he could rest his hands on Jeet’s shoulders. He pulled his knees up and apart, and then watched between their bodies as Jeet raised himself on one arm and spit into his hand.

Letradoisan raised his butt to meet Jeet’s hand and felt the wet saliva against his sphincter. He murmured comfortably and closed his eyes. He felt Jeet shift over him and then felt the blunt end of Jeet’s crown intrude between his butt cheeks and press at his opening. All his attention went there as Jeet’s cock opened him, and made a long slide in – Letradoisan could feel the shaft sliding past the skin inside his buttocks. And then Jeet’s loins pressed his bottom, and Jeet’s body settled down onto him. Letradoisan felt Jeet’s pubic bone, a hardness, press under the base of his own shaft, and Jeet’s taut belly pressed down on the upturned length of Letradoisan’s cock. Jeet slipped his forearms under the back of Letradoisan’s shoulders and grabbed them from behind.

Letradoisan opened his eyes, and Jeet’s eyes were right over his. Jeet lowered his face, and Letradoisan felt Jeet’s breath and then his firm lips on the twin’s own. Letradoisan slid his arms under the back of Jeet’s hair and his neck. They worked the kiss as Jeet eased his hips forward and back. Then they pressed the sides of their faces together and tightened up into a love knot.

They came within seconds of each other, and Jeet slowed. But when he started to pull out, Letradoisan dug his heels in under Jeet’s butt and clamped down with his sphincter, holding him in.

Jeet tensed. “Oh,” he murmured.

“Stay hard,” Letradoisan whispered, kissing in front of Jeet’s ear.” We’ll use the ointment next.”

Jeet nodded and covered the twin’s mouth with his own. He slowly eased his cock in and out a few more strokes, keeping it hard. He tucked Letradoisan’s knees under his arms and rolled the two of them onto their sides, keeping the length of his cock inside the blond twin. Their faces were a few inches apart now, and Jeet smiled at him. “You feel good,” he said. “Your body feels good. I like you being taller and stronger.”

Letradoisan ran his hand over Jeet’s shoulder. The muscles there were tight and firm, even in repose. “You are taller and stronger as well,” he said, then smiled. “And more beautiful.” He squeezed Jeet’s bicep. “I could worship your body,” he said, sincerely. “We are in a shrine. I will worship your body.”

“Adonis worship Attis?” Jeet asked with a grin.

Letradoisan traced the hollow above Jeet’s collar bone with a fingertip. “You are even more Attis than when we first met.”

“And you are more Adonis.”

Letradoisan smiled slightly and traced his finger along the line of Jeet’s jaw. “Adonis has come on a pilgrimage,” he said, “To worship young Attis. He will spread his ointment from Olympus over the body of Attis, to prepare him to be worshipped, and then Adonis shall sacrifice himself on Attis’ firm staff.”

Jeet chuckled. “I think he just did.”

Letradoisan slowly shook his head. “That was only the ritual preparation. With the salve, I shall impale myself on you.” He glanced across the room and saw what he was looking for, a golden wash basin. “Does that basin have fresh water?”

Jeet nodded. “You know we always keep the rooms ready. Spring water was put in there this morning and scented with jasmine.”

“Then I shall wash you there, before I use the salve on you.”

Letradoisan let Jeet extract his still-erect cock, and they rose off the bed. Grabbing up the salve with one hand, and Jeet by his erection with the other, Letradoisan led them to the wash basin stand where he set down the salve and picked up a cloth. He tugged Jeet’s cock over the basin, wet the cloth, and used it to rinse Jeet’s member. “The worship begins,” Letradoisan whispered, and smiled. He pressed Jeet’s erection up against Jeet’s belly and spanned it with his hand, measuring against his memory. Though Letradoisan had the large hands of a growing youth, Jeet’s cock was a full span from Letradoisan’s thumb, just beneath Jeet’s crown, down to the tip of Letradoisan’s little finger, almost at the skin of Jeet’s flat scrotum. Letradoisan closed his hand around the shaft, measuring its thickness. “If you had your balls, Jeet-hah, this would be too big.”

He gently washed Jeet’s cock and used salts and oil beside the basin to cleanse it. Then while Jeet’s erection was still wet, Letradoisan turned Jeet from the wash basin and knelt in front of him. He slid his hands up the outsides of Jeet’s legs, from the flare of his knotted calves, up the flat sides of his thighs. The skin was smooth and taut. The aspect for Letradoisan was like looking up at a statue; a statue of a smiling, perfect boy… with an erection… and it struck him that all statues of boys should be smiling and have erections, only no statue sculpted by a man could come close to what he saw as he looked up at Jeet.

Letradoisan opened the small box of ointment. “I have heard that this is made,” he said, “from a rare sea creature that lives only off an island near Carthage. Only the Carthaginians know how to make it, and I was told that the creature is harder and harder to find. The salve is very expensive.” He glanced up at Jeet and grinned as he spread a small amount on his fingers. “This small box cost me a hundred and fifty silver drachmas.”

“Surely not,” Jeet said, shaking his head.

Letradoisan nodded. “Truly.” He set down the box and spread the salve onto the fingers of his second hand. He shuddered. “You’ll feel it right away,” he said. “An older… ‘friend’… introduced me to it. It was only the one time, but I knew I would want to use it again, with you.” He drew the tips of his fingers lightly up the inside of Jeet’s calves. He pressed them more firmly up the insides of Jeet’s thighs. Jeet gasped. His eyes closed. He swayed on his feet.

Letradoisan spread his palms over the fronts of Jeet’s quadriceps, admiring the muscles and their seams which deepened, because Jeet tensed. A shudder ran through Jeet’s body. He grasped the sides of Letradoisan’s blond head to steady himself, and closed his eyes again. “Oh,” he muttered in a shaky voice.

Letradoisan spread slightly more salve onto his right palm and fingers. Then he raised his palm up under Jeet’s empty scrotum and slipped the tips of his fingers between Jeet’s parted legs and onto the eunuch’s thickened perineum. With the heel of the same hand, he pressed up Jeet’s erection. Besides heightening the sense of touch, the salve increased the acuity of all the senses, and Letradoisan began to feel it. He studied Jeet’s cock, seeing it as though he’d never seen it before. The skin of the glans was absolutely smooth and glistening. The slit in the end was slightly parted; and it was pink and moist inside. Jeet’s shaft was slightly flattened, thicker to the sides… like a snake, a beautiful, hard snake, Letradoisan thought, as he closed his mouth over the snake’s head.

Letradoisan tasted salt and oil, and just the faintest aftertaste of his own insides. He probed the slit with his tongue for Jeet’s precum and tasted it, along with remnants of Jeet’s earlier issue. He took the snake of warm, hard flesh far into his throat, sliding his tongue on its underside while rubbing his fingertips up against Jeet’s perineum and his palm on Jeet’s scrotum. Jeet went rigid with a gasp, and for a moment, he didn’t breathe. His body started to tremble. Swallowing, Letradoisan slid Jeet’s length up and back on his tongue, slowly… up and back with swallows… until he finally needed a breath.

He sat back on his haunches and looked up at Jeet’s body. He closed his right hand around Jeet’s erection and smoothed salve onto it. Jeet’s hands had stayed locked out in front of him, as if he was still clutching the sides of Letradoisan’s head. His mouth hung open in a silent gasp, and his rigid body trembled as Letradoisan spread the salve over his erection. Letradoisan stayed away from the crown, though… for now.

He looked up at Jeet, thinking that Jeet looked like some great demigod, frozen as he reached out to clutch a slipping world. The twin lowered his hand, and Jeet finally took a breath, wobbling on his feet.

Jeet opened his eyes and steadied himself. “By the gods!” he muttered. One thigh quivered. He looked down at Letradoisan, their eyes met, and Jeet’s dilated instantly and widely, as boy’s eyes do when they behold someone strikingly fair. He closed his mouth and took a slow breath through his nostrils. “Your eyes are so clear,” he whispered to Letradoisan.

Letradoisan spread another, small amount of salve onto his fingers and rubbed them up high, in between Jeet’s thighs. Jeet went up on his toes, eyes closing, mouth dropping open. Letradoisan drew his fingers through the creases between Jeet’s legs. He ran his hands lightly over Jeet’s hip joints, where Jeet’s well-muscled thighs tapered to tight hips. He did it, not because Jeet was sensitive there, but to pleasure his own eyes and hands.

He laid a palm on Jeet’s flat belly and placed his middle finger in the deep seam up the center. He looked at the knots of flat muscles on either side, so visible, even when Jeet was relaxed, but they tensed now. With his palm, he moved Jeet’s well-oiled skin up and down over the corrugated muscles. He tickled his fingers over Jeet’s belly and watched the muscles clench into hard knots under the skin. He pushed his fingers up Jeet’s upper stomach and traced the twin sinews of muscle that met under Jeet’s sternum. Letradoisan rose on his knees and kissed there, just under Jeet’s sternum, and felt the salve tickle his lips. Jeet grabbed the sides of Letradoisan’s head, clutching the twin’s golden hair tightly in his fingers as a shudder ran through his body.

Letradoisan ran his hands over Jeet’s ribs, feeling the hard ridge of each bone, and the sinews, and the muscles, and the tactile reality of Jeet’s perfection. He pressed the side of his face to Jeet’s upturned erection, and he looked up where Jeet’s hard snake of an erection seemed to be looking up. He fanned his palms over the firm little mounds of Jeet’s high pectoral muscles and pressed them. He rubbed his cheek against Jeet’s cock and studied the amazing landscape of Jeet’s belly and chest.

His eyes followed the contours of Jeet’s pectoral muscles. He placed his fingertips on Jeet’s dark nipples, and pressed them. He rubbed salve onto them with his palms, and then traced circles on Jeet’s small areolas with his fingers.

A moan began deep in Jeet’s throat and climbed rapidly to a cry as he let go of Letradoisan’s hair and grabbed Letradoisan’s hands with his own, stopping the twin’s fingers. His eyes were tightly shut, as if in pain, and his jaw worked as he held Letradoisan’s hands, pressed to his chest.

The blond twin pulled his right hand away, and picked up the salve. He rose to his feet, and pulling free his other hand, he gathered more salve onto his fingers. Jeet swayed slightly on his feet and opened his eyes, dreamily. Letradoisan placed his fingers onto the nape of Jeet’s neck, and Jeet’s eyes rolled up. His head tossed back, mouth open, and the muscles on the sides of his neck bowed up like those of a man with balls, like a stag in rut.

They were beautiful muscles, and Letradoisan ran his fingers over them. Jeet blindly clutched for Letradoisan’s sides, while Letradoisan traced Jeet’s neck muscles up and down. He ran his fingers over the back of Jeet’s neck and beneath his hair, and Jeet bowed his head onto Letradoisan’s shoulder, and shuddered.

Letradoisan stepped close, and their bellies pressed together. Behind Jeet’s back, Letradoisan gathered another small amount of salve onto his fingers and hand, and then slid his hand down Jeet’s spine, along the hard muscles on either side. Jeet arched back from their middles. Letradoisan smoothed his hand over Jeet’s left buttock and felt the mound twitch. He switched the salve to his right hand and gathered some onto the fingers and palm of his left hand. He used that hand to smooth down Jeet’s back again, and over his right buttock. He pressed his lips to Jeet’s neck while he caressed the incredibly soft skin of Jeet’s bottom, and the firm muscle beneath. He pressed a finger into the crevice between Jeet’s buttocks, found Jeet’s opening, and pressed his finger there. He felt Jeet’s teeth on the nape of his own neck, as Jeet stifled a gasp. He drew his finger up Jeet’s crack and Jeet whimpered, wrapping a leg high up behind Letradoisan’s legs, almost as if about to climb him.

Letradoisan pulled back his hand and leaned back from Jeet’s mouth. When Jeet lifted his head, Letradoisan drew his finger across Jeet’s lips. Jeet’s eyes closed and he shuddered. Letradoisan replaced his finger with his lips on Jeet’s. They opened their mouths to each other and their bodies melted together in a warm swell of flesh-on-flesh sensations… bellies, legs, arms. The salve on Jeet’s skin rubbed between them and they moved gently, feeling it… belly against belly… chest against chest… leg against leg.

Jeet took the box from Letradoisan. He spread salve onto his fingers and reached down between them to draw those fingers up the insides of Letradoisan’s legs. He fingered salve onto Letradoisan’s nipples and ran his hand over Letradoisan’s throat; following fingers with lips. He sucked on the inside of Letradoisan’s neck and dropped his hand to the twin’s shaft. He closed his hand around it and wiped salve up and down it. Letradoisan shuddered in his arms. “Wait,” the twin whispered, and Jeet paused.

Letradoisan took the box and put a small amount of salve in his palm, then some in Jeet’s. “For the crowns of our cocks… very gently,” he whispered, and then, pushing back Jeet’s foreskin, he closed his hand over the end of Jeet’s cock.

Jeet did the same to him, and the two moaned, whimpered, and then whimpered loudly before pulling their hands away. They kissed again, keeping their middles together, clutching butts and waists. Jeet massaged Letradoisan’s buttocks and drew his fingers up the crevice between them. Letradoisan moaned pleasantly.

Jeet turned Letradoisan around and bent him over. He spread salve up the backs of Letradoisan’s legs and up between them onto Letradoisan’s perineum. Letradoisan, hands on his knees, caught his breath and his whole body tightened. Jeet rubbed salve over Letradoisan’s butt, the small of his back, and up his spine. Jeet pressed his cock up between Letradoisan’s butt cheeks, and for a moment, it seemed to rise like a tower over the fine, golden hair that fanned up the base of Letradoisan’s spine. Jeet had a vision of his cock, like a boy springing up from water, spraying flecks of gold over a surface of tan skin. He tickled his fingers over those fine, golden hairs, and felt a low, hard, aching hunger rise up from under his shaft. He rubbed his hand over Letradoisan’s side, over the muscles of his back, over his shoulders. “Oh damn, Letradoisan,” Jeet whispered, “Your body is magnificent… the muscles, the lines… ” He pressed his fingers on the tight muscles, examining the perfection and shape of each one, while he eased his cock up and down between Letradoisan’s well-formed buttocks. “Adonis,” he whispered.

“Wait till you put your cock in me,” Letradoisan said in a strained voice. “We are both going to go crazy.”

Jeet bent forward over Letradoisan, folding his body over his hard back to put down the salve. Then he rose up again and pulled his hips back. He pointed his shaft into Letradoisan’s crack, feeling the skin between Letradoisan’s buttocks with his crown. His jaw clenched. He pressed his crown against Letradoisan’s entrance and could feel every crease in the twin’s sphincter. He pushed in very, very slowly and felt Letradoisan’s tightness spread over his crown like the slide of lips, slowly opening to moist warmth and pleasure.

To Letradoisan, who was bent over, Jeet’s cock felt like a great, wide beam of white light and ecstatic pleasure. Waves of sexual fire shot down his legs and up through his insides and over his back as Jeet made an endless slide in. Letradoisan whimpered. He shuddered. He cried out.

Jeet held Letradoisan’s hips, looking at where his loins flattened the globes of Letradoisan’s bottom, and felt their joining keenly, from the press of his legs to the back of Letradoisan’s, to the exquisite stretching back of the skin on his shaft, buried inside the twin’s tight entrance. He pulled back and pushed in, and saw a bow of red color instantly rise and burst over their joining. At the same time, pleasure surged up his shaft, turned to fire, and shot up like a fountain through his loins. He pulled back and pushed in again, with the same effect, and they both moaned loudly. Jeet gasped for breath. He bent over Letradoisan, wrapping his arms under him. He kissed high up Letradoisan’s spine. He pulled him upright; both of them upright.

Letradoisan groaned as the upright angle caused Jeet’s erection to press against his prostate. He leaned back against Jeet while the taller eunuch’s hands swept up and down his taut belly and chest, and then closed over his erection.

They moved together in a long, rolling, haze of ecstasy… mindless, timeless. At the edge, dangerously close to a climax, Jeet pulled out and stepped in front of Letradoisan. Leaning far forward to rest his hands on the wall, he offered his backside to the twin. Letradoisan looked down on Jeet’s long-tapering back to his mounded bottom. He spread his hands up over Jeet’s spine and brought them back along his flanks, down to his narrow hips. “The gods themselves envy what I am about to do,” he whispered. He pointed his cock into Jeet’s crack and drove in with a thrust of his pelvis. They both cried out. A long, viscous stream of precum and expressed semen dropped from the end of Jeet’s cock.

Letradoisan bent over Jeet and grabbed the backs of his shoulders. He slammed in hard again and they both gasped. And again… pumping first from only his hips. The pitch of their whimpers began to rise. Letradoisan’s hips pumped faster and faster. Faster and faster, Jeet butted back to meet him, until their bodies were slapping hard and fast and loudly, and they were grunting and whimpering and crying out with every impact. Letradoisan grabbed at Jeet’s hipbones, rising and falling on his toes.

He howled, “Ayeeee!” when he came. “Ayeeee! Ayeeee!” As if giving birth through his penis to each pulse of his ejaculation.

They stood, panting. Then Jeet turned them around and plunged into Letradoisan’s rectum with a cock that felt as long as he was tall. He came inside Letradoisan, crying out as loudly as the twin had, with each, clenching, exquisite squirt that gathered at the root between his legs and shot up the length of his cock like fire.

Letradoisan came again – a long, shuddering, agonizing, secondary climax – while Jeet was still inside him, recovering, and the spasms of Letradoisan’s sphincter as he came caused Jeet’s teeth to grind, and he clung desperately onto the back of the twin.

They collapsed onto the bed in bliss and a fog. They fell together, kissing, caressing, rubbing bodies, and eventually, they each came again.

Jeet woke with a groan. The room was dark. What woke him? His head rolled to the side. Rem had come in with a lamp. Seeing that Jeet was awake, Rem set the lamp on a stand and sat down on the bed beside Jeet’s hip. He laid a hand on the Abij-hah’s belly and gave it a light rub. “Are you hungry?”

Jeet groaned and grabbed Rem’s hand. “My skin’s a little sensitive.” He looked around the room. “How late is it?” he asked, trying to clear his head.

Rem shrugged. “A couple of hours after sunset,” he said. His brow furrowed. “Your skin is really dark… and splotchy.” He glanced at the twin, whose back was to them. “Letradoisan’s is red and splotchy, too,” he said. Rem lifted his hand from Jeet’s belly and studied his palm with a queer look. He glanced at Jeet, who had closed his eyes again and was resting the back of his hand on his forehead. “I saved you two some food,” Rem told him. He rubbed his one hand with his other and his head cocked to one side in surprise. He frowned.

“It’s a special salve that Letradoisan brought,” Jeet told him, one eye open.

“There’s some left,” Letradoisan mumbled, rolling to face them on the bed. He glanced at Jeet and smiled. “You can use it with Rem and the Oracle. Maybe they’ll like me better afterward.”

“What does it do?” Rem asked.

“It makes your skin sensitive,” Letradoisan told him.

“Not just your skin,” Jeet corrected. “Everything is more sensitive – smell, sight… orgasms. I think it must be like the potions which the Sunga physicians talk about making from the mushrooms that grow along their rivers.” He smiled and patted Rem’s thigh. “It’s incredible, Rem, and I will like using it with you.” He rolled his head toward Letradoisan. “When we get to Antioch, I want to buy some.”

Letradoisan propped his head up on an elbow and cocked his knee over Jeet’s thighs. “It may be hard to find, but we’ll buy all there is.” He wriggled his eyebrows.

Jeet chuckled and turned to Rem. He took Rem’s hand and kissed his knuckles. “Thanks for saving food.”

Rem leaned forward and smoothed hair from Jeet’s temple. “Want me to bring it?”

Jeet nodded and kissed Rem’s hand again before the younger boy left. He rolled up to face Letradoisan and they entwined legs. “After this afternoon,” Jeet said, “I’m not sure I’ll be ready for us to leave tomorrow for Antioch. I may need to sleep a few days.”

Letradoisan grinned and gave Jeet’s shoulder a squeeze with his hand. “It’ll be good to let the soldiers who came with us have a rest. We pushed them hard getting here, and I know we’ll push them hard going back.”

Jeet smiled. “Yeah.”

“But don’t worry; they are good soldiers. They will travel well,” Letradoisan said. “They’ll wind up having to wait on us. You’ll see. They’re elite troops that Heliodorus picked himself – two hundred and fifty of them. Seleucus didn’t want to take any chances with you and the Oracle on the road.”

Jeet’s brow knitted. “Heliodorus picked the soldiers?”

“Yeah,” Letradoisan said, giving Jeet’s shoulder a light rub. “He’s ready for you to come, too. He’s reconciled to it. In fact, my uncle expects to get along quite well with you and the Oracle.”

“Isn’t he still friends with Antiochus?” Jeet asked, his brow still furrowed.

Letradoisan shrugged. “Maybe, but he’s also the King’s minister, and nobody sees Antiochus much these days.”

Jeet chewed his lip thoughtfully. Rem returned to the room with food. Bantu and Ptolemy followed him in with more lamps, and smiles.

+ + + + +

The next morning, a handful of the soldiers who had accompanied the twins to Kaleh, toured the temple and shrine. Jeet kept an eye on them as he juggled directing final preparations for the trip to Antioch with his other duties. The soldiers were friendly, and Jeet decided that his unease the night before had been unfounded.

That afternoon, as he was blessing children, he looked up at one point to find several other soldiers, whom he didn’t recognize. These were older, harder looking types. They were watching him, and when he looked up, several turned their eyes away. That was unlike the usual onlookers.

Afterward, Jeet pulled Rufus to one side on the portico. “What do you think of the soldiers who accompanied the twins here from Antioch?” Jeet asked him.

Rufus smiled. “Many are battle-hardened veterans,” he answered. “Along with the other guards we’re taking, we should have no trouble on the road to Antioch.”

Jeet looked him in the eye. “What about character? Are they trustworthy?”

Rufus cocked his head, studying the Abij-hah. “They’re the King’s soldiers,” he answered cautiously.

Jeet’s jaw worked as he looked over the temple courtyard, noting the presence of the soldiers, here and there. “Make sure none of them stay the night inside the complex,” Jeet said. “And increase the guard on the shrine.”

He started to turn, but Rufus grabbed his arm. “Abij-hah, if you don’t trust these men, here in Kaleh, can we trust them on the road to Antioch?”

Jeet’s eyes met his again, and he nodded. “I have been wondering that myself, Rufus. We will have to make plans.”


Gasping for breath, Jeet woke, sitting upright.

Anda sat up beside him on one side and Rem on the other. Alarmed, they laid their hands on his back and thighs. “A dream?” Rem asked, his loose hair hanging down the left side of his neck and onto his chest.

Jeet didn’t answer but sat staring straight ahead. The room was dim with the first light of dawn. Anda glanced across at Rem. They exchanged concerned looks. Anda rubbed Jeet’s back. Rem caressed his leg.

Jeet closed his eyes tightly, and slowed his breathing. When he opened his eyes, they were damp. He looked at Rem, and then at Anda, and he leaned into her. She closed her arms around him.

Rem wrapped an arm around Jeet’s waist from behind. “What is it, Jeet?” he asked in a whisper.

“Seleucus,” Jeet said. “I fear for Seleucus.” He swallowed, as if it was painful to do so.

“What did you see?” Anda asked.

Jeet took a slow, deep breath. “I saw the darkness over Antioch again,” he said in a quiet voice. “But this time, it poured down onto Antioch like a great flood.”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that harm has come to Seleucus,” Rem offered hopefully.

“As I watched,” Jeet continued, as though not hearing, “The darkness washed through the streets of Antioch and rose to the top of the city walls as if trapped in a great bowl. Then it came roaring out of the city gates… straight for me.”

+ + + + +

“Why haven’t they left yet?” Stycus asked. He and Jarus were dining on Stycus’ balcony. It was twilight, and Jarus had been watching two servants set lit torches into wall brackets for the priests.

“Because,” Jarus said, turning back to Stycus, “for five straight nights, the Oracle has had a vision that there would be harm for them on the road to Antioch.”

“Oh?” asked Stycus, sitting up with interest. “Tell me about the vision.”

Jarus gave Stycus the details of the dreams that Jeet had been having that week, ascribing them to the Oracle. “The Oracle is convinced,” he concluded, “That something evil is headed for them from Antioch.”

“Does she know when it might get here?” Stycus asked, showing a concern that surprised Jarus.

“She thinks it’s imminent,” Jarus said, pleased that, for once, Stycus was taking the visions of the Oracle seriously. “I have no idea what it might be, but I’ve alerted the Governor. He has taken the warning seriously enough that he’s sending his son and family to his private estates, north of here.”

Jarus emptied his wine cup and licked wine from his lips. “I told the Governor that I thought he might be overreacting, but he told me that his daughter-in-law, Jeet’s sister, had also had unsettling dreams, and that he’d never known the Oracle to be wrong.”

Stycus digested the information, then glanced at Jarus. “Is your cup empty?” he asked. “I have some new date wine that I believe you will like.”

+ + + + +

Jeet sat up.

“The dream again?” Anda asked, without bothering to sit up.

Rem sat up beside Jeet and rubbed his back, sleepily. He laid his head on Jeet’s shoulder and yawned. The sun was only just rising.

“No,” Jeet whispered. “Listen.”

Rem lifted his head. Anda sat up. They heard it, a high, inhuman sound. Like the howl of a dog, but not. High… like a eunuch?

“Where’s it coming from?” Rem asked.

Jeet shook his head, getting up. “I don’t know. Somewhere outside the shrine.” He grabbed up a breechcloth. Rem stood, too, and grabbed his. Anda watched as they fastened them on for each other.

“Be careful, Jeet,” Anda said. “Take Rufus or guards with you.

Jeet nodded and headed for the door with Rem on his heels.

The inside of the shrine was quiet, though guards had pulled open the front doors and were out on the portico, standing with the outside guards. All were looking out across the courtyard toward the temple. “What is it?” Jeet asked, coming among them.

“The eunuch, Ono,” one of them answered. “They fetched him from the room with sick children, and he headed for the temple. That was him, making that noise,” one guard said, pointing across the courtyard.

“He was mourning,” another guard said. “One of the servants heard them tell Ono that Jarus was dead.”

Jeet felt his blood grow cold. He stood, irresolutely, for a moment, then started toward the temple. Rem followed.

“Abij-hah!” Rufus called, angling toward them from the shrine guard barracks. He was girding on his sword.

Jeet didn’t stop, and Rufus hurried to catch up. “Be careful, Jeet,” Rufus warned. “If it is true, there is nothing you can do for Jarus now.”

Jeet turned to face him and there were tears on his cheeks. “I wasn’t thinking of Jarus,” he said. “Ono is in pain.”

They hurried on, across the courtyard, into the quarters of the priests, and to Jarus’ quarters. There were several people there; Eustace, servants, guards. Jarus lay motionless on his bed. Ono was draped over him, sobbing loudly. Jeet went to him, and sat beside him. He laid his head and hand on Ono’s back. The room watched quietly.

Rufus came up beside the bed on the other side, studying Jarus, who appeared to be only sleeping. He lifted Jarus hand, turning it this way and that. The body was cold enough that Jarus had been dead for some time.

Jeet glanced up at him, and Rufus shook his head slightly. He had no idea what killed the high priest.

Ono sat up and embraced Jeet. Jeet held him as the older eunuch wept loudly on his shoulder.

Grief is handled differently in different cultures, and by different people. Already, priestesses in the temple and in their quarters added their wailing and sobs to Ono’s. Soon, their grieving would be shared by many others at the temple and in the city. Jarus would hear their anguish from the afterlife, and know that he had been dear to his people. For some, it was a duty, but Ono’s loud wails rose from a broken heart.

Jeet wept. He grieved for Jarus, but mainly he grieved for Ono.

Jeet and Rem stayed with Ono and other temple servants to prepare the priest’s body for burial. They placed him in the temple, where priestesses, temple servants, guards, important men from the city, and others could look upon the high priest one last time, and do him homage. Rem and Jeet stayed beside Ono, close to the bier. At the end of the day, when it was time to take Jarus’ body to his tomb, Stycus approached them.

“You have no business here,” he told Jeet, looking him directly in the eye. “The burial of the most high priest is for priests and priestesses. Return to your shrine.”

Jeet rose to his feet with a sharp look for the short priest.

“I can have you escorted out,” the priest said.

“I will return to the shrine,” Jeet said, “After Jarus is in his tomb. I will not leave Ono alone.”

“Shall I call the temple guards?” Stycus asked.

“Call who you wish,” Jeet answered. “I will not leave Ono’s side.”

Stycus grew red in his face. He tried to stare Jeet down… for a moment, but then turned away. “Stay out of our way then, or I will have you thrown out.”

Jeet and the shrine eunuchs attended Ono that night. They prepared the bed for him in the chamber which had been used by kings and princes. Jeet and Rem lay down with him, one on either side. Exhausted and comforted in the arms of his friends, Ono slept.

Jeet did not, however. Even after Rem fell asleep, Jeet lay stroking Ono’s hair and thinking about his own dark dreams and the dread he felt in his heart for Seleucus and himself. When he dozed, he woke, after only moments, with a small cry. It woke Rem, but fortunately not Ono.

Rem rose from the other side of Ono and came around to Jeet’s side of the bed. The eunuchs had laid down naked, and now Rem pressed his naked body to the back of Jeet’s. He wrapped his arm under Jeet’s head and stroked Jeet’s hair, just like Jeet had been stroking Ono’s. He kissed the side of Jeet’s head, and held him, and Jeet fell asleep.

+ + + + +

“Abij-hah,” Rufus said, coming to him the next day as Jeet watched Ono with the sick children. “Please come aside with me.”

Jeet followed the captain of the guard outside; Rem came along. Soldiers were filing into the courtyard, hundreds of them. “What’s this?” Jeet asked.

“I don’t know,” Rufus answered.

Jeet led Rufus and Rem back to the shrine. They had just ascended to the portico when Heliodorus, in armor, rode through the gate. He came directly to the shrine, flanked by two mounted soldiers. “Those are high commanders with Heliodorus,” Rufus said, under his breath.

Heliodorus reigned in his horse at the base of the steps, but he did not dismount. Jeet came to the front of the portico, followed by Rem and Rufus and the others who had come out of the shrine to see what was happening.

“Welcome, Great One,” Jeet said with an incline of his head.

“Abij-hah,” Heliodorus acknowledged from atop his horse with a similar incline of his head. He pointed at his nephews who were standing behind Jeet. “Letradoisan, Obenedes, gather your things. You’re coming to the citadel with me.”

The twins glanced at each other.

“Now!” Heliodorus yelled.

The twins frowned at him, but turned to go back into the shrine. “We’ll be back as soon as we can,” Letradoisan said to Jeet.

Heliodorus turned to the commander on his left. “Get my nephews two horses and take them up to the citadel as soon as they come out.”

The man nodded, and wheeled away on his horse.

Heliodorus turned back to Jeet. “Abij-hah,” he said, “I expected to meet you on the road to Antioch. I am surprised to find you here.” He frowned, sadly. “I fear I bring you sad news.”

Jeet felt a stab to the heart, but struggled to maintain his composure. “Seleucus?” he asked.

Heliodorus nodded. “Seleucus is dead. Antiochus has assumed regency for the King’s infant son.”

Theia cried out from the rear of the portico and there was a sudden commotion, but Jeet kept his eyes on Heliodorus, and attempted to keep his composure. Rem came to stand beside him, and laid a hand, silently, on Jeet’s back.

“I cannot spare the soldiers right now,” Heliodorus said. “But in a day or two, after I have settled things here and taken over as the new governor, I will send you to Antiochus.”

Jeet said nothing for a moment; then, “All of us? Will you be sending all of us to Antioch as Seleucus planned?”

A slight smile showed at the corners of Heliodorus mouth. He shook his head, as if sadly. “No, Abij-hah. Things will be too unsettled at the capital for a while. I will send only you for now. Antiochus will require your presence for… his comfort… while he deals with the duties of state.”

Jeet said nothing, but Rem’s hand dropped from Jeet’s back to the rear of his loincloth. Rem grasped it, as if he would hold on to Jeet by it.

“My guards will replace your shrine guards,” Heliodorus said, “Immediately. We want no harm to come to you before your departure.” He grinned, briefly. Then he turned to the commander seated on a horse to his right. and spoke so that Jeet would not hear. “Remember what I told you. Surround the shrine completely,” he said. “Let no one in or out except for servants to bring them food. The boy is worshipped here, in Phrygia. He would be extremely dangerous if he got away from us.”

The commander glanced up at Jeet on the portico, then around, and then leaned close to Heliodorus from his horse so as not to be overheard. “Do you remain sure that you do not want us to kill the boy?”

Heliodorus frowned and shook his head. “If any one of the shrine eunuchs lifts a sword against you, and enough witnesses see it, then yes, kill them all. If they move to kill themselves, and there are witnesses, then let them. But it is too big a risk to kill the boy unless we can be absolutely sure that Antiochus will believe that it was out of our hands.” He glanced up at the portico. “Make sure all the shrine guards leave the temple grounds, immediately.”

“And the temple guards?” the commander asked.

“Find the fat priest,” Heliodorus said. “He’ll tell you which temple guards would be loyal to the Abij-hah. Get rid of them. Use the fat priest to help you secure this place.”

He glanced up at Jeet and motioned for Jeet to come down to him. He would no longer address the boy as an equal.

Jeet hesitated a moment, then telling Rem to stay on the portico, he descended the steps and stood closer to the former king’s minister, but back far enough to retreat hastily, if he needed.

Heliodorus walked his horse forward a step to where he looked almost directly down at the boy. He would be happy for Jeet to resist. He would be more than happy for the boy to mount an armed resistance… and die. He thought to provoke him. “It looks like, boy,” Heliodorus said quietly, “… it looks like you’ve just been castrated for the second time in your life.”

Jeet felt shock, and a wave of sadness and revulsion – the kind that good people feel when they encounter evil in one they have treated well. He saw cruelty in Heliodorus’ eye, and triumph. Jeet’s head began to spin and his legs felt weak. But he fought it, backing to the steps.

With a final grin, Heliodorus wheeled his horse. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” he told the commanders. “As the new governor of Phrygia.”

+ + + + +

After Stycus turned over to the commander the last of the temple guards he thought might be loyal to the boy, he took two temple guards, whom he did trust, and crossed the compound to the shrine. A thick cordon of soldiers now surrounded the building, but it occurred to Stycus that Heliodorus’ men knew nothing about the secret passageway to the bathhouse. He saw no guards covering it. He’d tell the commander about it.

But on the portico, the commander was still busy, making assignments. When he waved Stycus and his two temple guards on through, the high priest decided that he’d tell the commander about the passageway later. He had waited a hell of a long time for this day and he would postpone his moment of triumph no longer. Stycus hurried into the shrine to find the boy.

The priest and his guards came upon the eunuchs with the Oracle, in her chambers. Rufus was with them and Stycus turned on him. “What are you doing here?” the priest demanded. “The shrine guards have been ordered to leave the compound.”

“I was about to leave, holy one,” Rufus replied angrily. “What are you doing here? The shrine is forbidden to you.”

“No longer,” Stycus replied, smugly. “Seleucus is dead, and so is Jarus. I am Most High Priest now and the shrine is coming back to where it belongs, under the control of the Most High Priest.” He turned to Jeet and smiled when he saw that the boy had been crying. “And as for you,” the high priest said with a triumphant voice, “I would have you killed, but what’s in store for you is far better than killing. Killing would be over too quickly. Instead you will be Antiochus’ whore, and when he is done with you, Heliodorus promised me that he’ll put you into the worst hell hole of a boy brothel he can find… or worse.”

Jeet, standing between the Oracle and Rufus, took a step forward. His eyes bored into the priest’s, and it shook Stycus. He wanted a cowering Jeet, a regretful Jeet, a terrified Jeet. Instead, the boy almost seemed taller. He stood erect, arms at his side. His visage was angry and unafraid, and because of his beauty… unsettling. “What happened to Jarus?” Jeet asked in a low, menacing voice.

Stycus smiled, nervously. Then, steeling his nerve because the boy could do nothing – Antiochus ruled now – Stycus grinned, and let the boy see his satisfaction.

Jeet took three steps toward Stycus. The hands of the temple guards dropped to their swords and Jeet stopped two paces from the high priest. “Why don’t you kill me, Stycus?” Jeet asked. “Why don’t you kill me now?”

Behind him, the Oracle gasped, and Rufus came forward to stand beside Jeet, nearer the guards, his own hand on the hilt of his sword.

Jeet continued. “You dare not,” Jeet said, “Antiochus would give you the miserable death you deserve if any harm came to me, is it not so?”

The priest’s face darkened. “Your turn will come,” he answered angrily.

Jeet glanced at the guards. “And these men dare not harm me, or Antiochus would have them executed, them and their families, is it not so?”

Stycus’ frown deepened. “They aren’t here to kill you. They’re here to protect me.”

“From whom?” Jeet asked. “If they dare not lift a hand against me, how will they protect you from me?”

Jeet saw the hesitation in the guards’ eyes that he had wanted, and he also saw a sudden alarm in Stycus’ eyes, but too late. In an instant, Jeet pulled the dagger which Rufus carried at his side and crossed the two paces to the high priest. In the next instant, even as Stycus started to raise his hands in defense, Jeet drove the dagger up under Stycus’ solar plexus. There were cries from the girls and eunuchs behind him. “Murderer,” Jeet hissed, face to face with the high priest. He twisted the knife.

There was a long moment then, when there was still life in Stycus’ eyes. An infinitely long moment as Jeet watched the transition in them from surprise to realization, and then, at the very end, rage. Then nothing.

In an instant, Rufus’ sword was in his hand and he drove for one of the two temple guards. The man dodged too late and fell at almost the same instant that Stycus hit the floor. The second guard’s sword was out and in his hand before Rufus could turn fully on him, but in that moment, Jeet stayed the guard’s forearm with his hand for the brief second Rufus needed to wheel and thrust. The second guard fell.

Jeet and Rufus stood looking at each other, blood dripping from their blades.

“All Phrygia will rise up with you, Jeet-hah,” Rufus said. “Heliodorus has only two or three thousand troops. We will rally the city against them. We will rally the entire countryside.”

Jeet slowly shook his head. “At what cost, Rufus? And for what purpose? Am I a man to be king myself? What sons would I have to pass on a kingdom to? I would only build a heritage for a stranger. And what of all the boys and young men who became our brothers at Ganymede? Shall I plunge them and their families into needless war and death?” Jeet shook his head and cast down the dagger from his hand.

“What alternative do you have?” Rufus asked. “Will you go to Antiochus?”

Jeet shook his head again and glanced at the Oracle. “I have promised to never leave the Oracle, in this life or the next. I will not go to Antiochus.”

“And we have sworn to do whatever we must to stay together,” Tazaar said, stepping forward. “In this life or the next,” he added, with eyes locked on Jeet’s.

The others moved closer, several casting their eyes on the bodies of the priest and guards.

“Then what will you do?” Rufus asked. “You cannot fight them alone. You would perish. Even if your great god led you by the hand, escape for all of you together at one time would be impossible. And where would you go?”

Anda had come up beside Jeet. She glanced down at the bodies, and then slipped her arms around Jeet’s chest and buried her face in his neck. He took her into his arms and held her, rocking her gently.

Rufus glanced around at the eunuchs. They were all watching Jeet and the Oracle. Rem and Aruli were weeping. Rufus laid his hand on Jeet’s back. “Abij-hah, I know you are still grieving for Jarus and the King, but you must decide.”

“We cannot stay here,” the Oracle said, holding Jeet more tightly. “Antiochus would take you. I will not let you leave me. Not in this life, nor in the next.”

+ + + + +

Heliodorus took a sip of wine and leaned back in his chair. He looked up at the former governor of Phrygia, who now stood on the other side of the table, flanked by two of Heliodorus’ soldiers. “I think it best that you stay here for a while, Hector,” Heliodorus told him. “In a week or two, when things settle down, I may let you join your family.” He gave the former governor a stern, meaningful look. “If things don’t settle down quickly, I can make no guarantees for you, or your family.”

Hector said nothing.

Heliodorus pushed back from the table and walked out toward the balcony which overlooked the city. He motioned for the guards to bring the former governor along.

“Look down there, Hector,” Heliodorus said when he reached the balustrade. “Your beloved Kaleh is at peace for now. We’ll get the boy away from the Oracle and out of Phrygia, and your city will remain peaceful.” He turned and leaned against the railing, eyeing the former governor. “It will be over that quickly, Hector. Jeet is too dangerous to leave here, even if Antiochus didn’t burn with lust for the boy. Once Jeet is gone, there will be no danger that he’ll stir the province to rebellion, and we will all relax.” His eyes met Hector’s. “Will you accept that?”

Hector looked away, down over the city. “I have no heart to stir war. If you knew Jeet better, you would know that he would not either.”

Heliodorus frowned and looked out over the city as well. “You forget, I saw him at Ganymede.”

Hector shook his head. “You saw him with Seleucus.” He glanced at Heliodorus. “How did Seleucus die?”

Heliodorus didn’t answer, but continued to gaze down on the city.

“I heard from one of your own men,” Hector said, “that it was by your hand.”

“Seleucus’ ambitions were insane,” Heliodorus said, not turning to meet Hector’s gaze. “Between the tribute Rome demands and his grandiose building programs, he would have impoverished the kingdom.” Now he did glance at Hector. “He even considered making war on Parthia and Bactria. Did you know that? His aspirations to restore the kingdom could have brought disaster on us all. Parthia is far too strong, and Bactria, too distant.”

“You were his counselor,” Hector countered. “You could have dissuaded him.”

Heliodorus snorted and turned away again. His eyes dropped to the shrine, down on the river. “The boy was going to be his counselor. It was because of the boy that Seleucus even considered such folly.”

Hector’s gaze dropped to the shrine as well. “Jeet stirred the King to great dreams,” Hector acknowledged, his voice sounding distant. “He has stirred others to great dreams.” Hector glanced at Heliodorus. “Tread carefully, Heliodorus. There is a god protecting that boy.”

Heliodorus jaw worked as he thought to himself that might be the most compelling reason to kill the boy. He turned back to Hector. “Unless you have a god protecting you, Hector, consider carefully your conduct in these next days. Neither Antiochus nor I will tolerate an enemy in Phrygia; not even if he promises to sit quietly at home on his estate. You will not leave here until I’m convinced that Antiochus will have your support.” He motioned, and the guards started to lead Hector away.

“Oh,” Heliodorus called after him, “She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m sending Theia back with the boy. Antiochus will take her to wife. It will strengthen his position as regent.”

“Theia has a husband,” Hector pointed out.

“Yes, yes,” Heliodorus said, tiredly. “Two husbands – a eunuch and a merchant’s son. Ridiculous, of course. That’s why I mention it to you. I want Cyndur’s father brought here. He’s a merchant and, I’m sure, a practical man. It should be easy to convince him to keep his son out of the way so Cyndur doesn’t get himself killed. Tell my men how to locate the father.”

He motioned to the guards again, and they led Hector away.

Heliodorus looked down on Kaleh. The sun had dropped low. Sunlight glistened on the river. Not a bad place for exile until any passions over Seleucus’ death had calmed and Antiochus had firmly established his rule. Antiochus was shrewd enough to do without Heliodorus’ counsel for a while. That Seleucus left a baby boy was convenient. By claiming to be his regent, Antiochus could rule the country, and keep Seleucus’ eldest, Demetrius, in Rome. For not the first time, it struck Heliodorus as ironic that Seleucus named his youngest son, Antiochus, after his brother.

Heliodorus’ eyes traveled over the city. Smoke rose from homes preparing their evening meals. The voices of children playing echoed off the houses nearby. He took a contented breath, and thought to himself that if Antiochus failed to consolidate his power, Phrygia would be a very fine province to take for his own.

A moment later, a guard escorted Heliodorus’ two nephews into the room. The new governor of Phrygia glanced back at them. “You’re staying here with me for a while,” he told them.

“Why?” Letradoisan demanded.

Heliodorus turned to face them, and leaned back against the balustrade railing. “Because it is dangerous in Antioch for you right now. Antiochus does not count you among his friends.”

“Then we will stay at the shrine,” Letradoisan told him.

“You will not,” Heliodorus answered, in a voice that would brook no disagreement. “Not until Jeet is gone and things settle down. Resign yourselves to it. Now go. I’ll call for you if I need you.”

+ + + + +

“Great One,” a captain of the guards called, coming into the room followed by two soldiers with torches.

Heliodorus sat up and glanced out the window to the east. The sky had already paled with the approach of dawn. “What is it?” he asked.

The captain bowed. “The shrine, Great One,” he said. “It is in flames.”

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