Copyright 2008. All Rights Reserved.
Chapter 37 – Flight
Seleucus IV Philopator, ruler of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire, reigned from 187 BC to 175 BC over a realm consisting of Syria (now including Cilicia and Judea), Mesopotamia, Babylonia and Nearer Iran (Media and Persia)… [Seleucus was]assassinated by his minister Heliodorus.
The true heir Demetrius, son of Seleucus, now being retained in Rome as a hostage, the kingdom was seized by the younger brother of Seleucus, Antiochus IV Epiphanes – Wikipedia
Black smoke billowed from the roof and balconies of the shrine as Heliodorus reined in at the statues of Jeet and the Oracle, out at the arc of statue bases. The vast, temple courtyard was packed with onlookers from the city. Many of the people wept openly. Many had torn their clothes in anguish. Others were on the ground, tossing dust over their heads. The commander, who Heliodorus had left responsible for guarding the shrine, hurried over and bowed as Heliodorus dismounted. “Great One.”
“Are they still inside?” Heliodorus asked, his eyes on the shrine. In the early morning sunlight, flames and smoke billowed from all sides of the building, and even as he spoke, a portion of the roof collapsed, sending flames and sparks skyward.
“Yes, Great One,” the commander replied. “We were vigilant all night. Once the servants left for the evening, no one went in or came out. When we first saw the smoke, we tried to enter the building, but the heavy doors were barred shut. By the time we were able to break them in, fire had engulfed the interior. But before the flames forced us back out, we saw the bodies of the eunuchs on the floor.”
“You examined them?”
“The fire was too intense.”
“Were they all there? Was Jeet there? Could you see their faces?”
The commander shook his head. “We could only see two from where we stood, and those two were on their sides with their backs to us. Their skin was already blackened and their hair was singed off. It was impossible to tell which of the shrine eunuchs they were. But we could see the charred tatters of their breechcloths. We could see that they were shrine eunuchs. Then the fire was simply too hot, and we had to back out and let the building burn.”
Heliodorus leaned closed to the man. “Did you start it?”
The man shook his head, emphatically. “No, Great One. They started it themselves.”
Heliodorus studied the man, then looked back at the fire. “I hope you can convince Antiochus of that.”
He watched the fire with grim satisfaction. When the last of the shrine roof fell in, Heliodorus breathed a final sigh of relief. Things would be much simpler now. “Commander,” he said, “keep people back from the shrine after the fire dies down. There was quite a bit of gold, silver, and jewels in there. We’ll need to make sure it is retrieved properly.”
Heliodorus stretched and looked around. The temple courtyard was still packed with people, and the sounds of their mourning ebbed and flowed around him. The sun was well up now. He caught a faint whiff of the morning sacrifice, and his stomach growled. Then he realized that no morning sacrifice was burning, and that he must have caught a whiff of charred flesh from inside the shrine. He was still hungry, though, and called over two soldiers to bring him food.
An hour later, he had eaten, but the shrine still burned. It might be hours before it cooled down enough to venture in. He saw one of the high priests in the crowd. It wasn’t the fat one. Heliodorus looked around for him, and then called the commander over. “Find the fat high priest for me, and bring him here. I want to talk to him, and then I’m going back up to the citadel until the fire has spent itself.”
The man nodded, and called several soldiers to him. He sent them off in various directions looking for Stycus. Thirty minutes later, the man still hadn’t been found. Heliodorus ordered the other high priest to be brought to him. “Where is the fat high priest?” he demanded. “Where is Stycus?”
Eustace shook his head. “No one has seen him, Great One. Not since yesterday afternoon.”
Heliodorus turned to the commander. “Find out what happened to him. Find out if he’s left the temple grounds.”
The man frowned. “The last I saw him, Great One, he was entering the shrine with two temple guards. That was yesterday afternoon, just after we arrived. I didn’t see him leave, but we were all very busy at that time.”
Heliodorus felt his stomach tighten. He grabbed the commander by his breastplate and pulled him face to face. “Are you sure that no one got out of there?” he asked, pointing to the shrine.
“No one, Great One. I swear to it. My men were almost shoulder to shoulder around the building all night.”
Heliodorus let the man go and walked closer to the shrine. It was a shell now, of stone walls surrounding heaped ash and charred and burning wood within. The stones still radiated too much heat to draw closer. He spat, studying the fallen building. He walked its perimeter, examining the exterior of the building carefully, looking for concealed doors. As he came back along the river side, something about the bathhouse, down on the river, drew his attention. Then he realized what. A faint haze of smoke was rising from the open doorway and through the high windows of the bathhouse.
He walked down to it and ventured inside. The air was smoky and harsh, but it took him only a moment to find the interior doorway, a dark opening back into the river bank. He tried to peer inside, but it was unnecessary; the hallway was the source of the smoke.
The commander was waiting for him outside when Heliodorus left the bathhouse. “You fool!” Heliodorus raged. “There is a passageway in there, back into the shrine. They escaped through here.”
The commander looked at the doorway. “But escape to where?” he asked. “If they had come back out into the courtyard, we would have seen them. They would have needed boats to get away on the river.”
Heliodorus slapped the man’s face, hard, violently. “Can you be so stupid?” he exclaimed. “There are boats everywhere on this river!” He stormed back up the bank to the courtyard. The commander followed, red-faced.
Another commander approached with a short, thin, bald man, a beggar, in tow. “Great One,” the commander said, “this man told us that the Oracle keeps a barge on the river, and that the barge has disappeared.”
Heliodorus’ head jerked back toward the river. It was impossible to see far enough down the river into the city to verify if the man was telling the truth. “Find out if it’s really gone,” he told the second commander, “quickly!”
He turned back toward the shrine, eyeing it. The barge was too big to bring right up to the bathhouse; it would have been seen, and they would have had to swim from inside. Instead, they would have used boats to ferry themselves and their belongings out to the barge.
“But Great One,” the first commander said, interrupting Heliodorus’ speculations. “The bodies. We saw the bodies of eunuchs inside.”
“You saw the missing temple guards, stripped and breechclothed like eunuchs,” he replied angrily. He looked up and down the river. Which way? Downstream made better sense for putting distance quickly between them and Kaleh, even if the direction was back toward Antioch. They wouldn’t be able to get upstream very far anyway… but if they wanted to be deceptive, they might try upstream.
He turned to the commander. “If you wish to survive this day,” he told the man, “you will run them down. All of them. I want horsemen up and down both sides of the river.” He looked up at the sky, thinking aloud. “It would take them time to organize their escape, to get out of the shrine with whatever they were going to take, to ferry everything to the barge… ” he turned back to the commander. “How many of them were inside the shrine last night?”
The man frowned in concentration. “The Oracle. The eunuchs, that’s six, no seven eunuchs, the King’s daughter and her husband… ”
“The Oracle’s serving girls,” another guard added. “There were two of them.”
“And Nubian slaves,” another said. “I saw at least two of them, and I know those two didn’t come out.”
Heliodorus glanced at the sky again, considering. “They may have only a few hours on us. But they could have as many as twelve to fourteen… ” He turned back to the commander. “A hundred mounts on each side of the river, and in each direction. When you find them, bring me the eunuchs, put the others to the sword. Go!” He glanced back at the shrine, frustrated. The boy endangered everything. “Wait,” he called after the man. “If the eunuchs resist… if even one of them lifts so much as a dagger against you, bring me their heads; all of them.” He would consider what to say to Antiochus later.
He called over the second commander. “Interview the high priest, Eustace, and the priestesses, and the temple servants. Use whatever force you need to. Get answers. I want to know where the Oracle might be heading.” He looked up toward the citadel. “I’ll be up there,” he said, pointing to the top of the hill. “I have some interviewing of my own to do.”
+ + + + +
The commander bowed. Heliodorus turned angrily from the balustrade. There were only a couple of hours of daylight left. “Still no word from the search parties?” Heliodorus asked.
The commander shook his head.
“What did you find out at the temple?”
The commander came several steps forward. “Nothing definite, Great One. The Abij-hah has many friends in Phrygia. He could hide in a thousand places. We searched two obvious locations which were nearby – the home of the King’s son-in-law, Cyndur, and the home of the family of one of the eunuchs, Aruli. We searched thoroughly, Great One. I used torture on the merchant. He knew nothing helpful. I tortured the youngest son of the eunuch’s family. They would have told me if they knew anything.”
Heliodorus paced. “Send men to the estates of the former governor. Search thoroughly. Use whatever force you need to get his son to talk. The boy may know something. Tell your men to ride into the night. I want to hear back from them early tomorrow.” He leaned on the balustrade, looking out over the city. “If they wanted to flee Phrygia entirely, where would they go?”
“Great One,” the commander said, “many have made pilgrimages here from foreign lands. The Oracle and Abij-hah have made friends of kings and princes to the east. The King’s daughter is in Macedonia; they could flee north. I was told that there were important Romans here last year. They could flee west to the Romans.”
“Or south to the Jews,” Heliodorus thought out loud, “if they moved downriver fast enough.” He slapped the railing. “It’s maddening to have to wait.”
He turned back to the commander. “Search this citadel. They have friends here as well. And search the city. They would be fools to try to hide here, but the people of Kaleh worship them, and we would be fools to not look.”
The commander bowed and left.
“Great One,” a servant asked, coming into the room. “Would you like food?”
Heliodorus glared at the man. If he’d had something at hand to throw, he would have thrown it. The servant retreated hastily.
It was an hour after dark when a soldier from the river search parties returned. “The commander sends his greetings, Great One,” the man said, bowing deeply. “We found the wreckage of the barge on cataracts well south of here. We found it just at dusk. The commander is using torches and all his men to look for bodies or survivors.”
“Was the barge completely destroyed?” Heliodorus asked.
“Fully half of it shattered into pieces. Half remains on an outcropping of the river bank. The commander has men searching diligently on both sides of the river. They are looking for the tracks of survivors, survivors, or for bodies.”
Heliodorus’ jaw worked. Finally, news that could possibly be good. The boy wouldn’t get far on foot, if he did survive. What good fortune that the Oracle and her group hadn’t known about the cataracts. Heliodorus pulled up short. Or had they?
“Did your men watch for tracks up from the river as you rode south?” he asked the soldier.
“We watched, Great One, but it was hard to be thorough while racing to catch up with the barge.”
Heliodorus struck his palm, furious. He took a deep breath, trying to think. Another whole night before they could resume the chase; that is, unless that fool of a commander actually did find bodies or survivors.
He struggled to reason ahead of the boy. They could have gotten off and let the barge go to shatter on the rocks in order to deceive his soldiers into thinking they had wrecked. They could even have gotten off well up river and let the barge float down on its own… no, they couldn’t. The barge might ground on a bank too early. At least a couple of them would have had to stay on the barge until they were sure it would hit the cataracts. There would be tracks up from the river, close to the cataracts… but the men and horses of that fool of a commander had probably trampled any tracks.
He turned back to the soldier. “Return to your commander. Tell him that tonight I ride with five hundred men for Ganymede, the place they held the Phrygian games last year. It will put me closer to the search than here. I’ll use Ganymede as a base of operations. Tell him that I want him there at daylight.”
The soldier bowed, and left.
+ + + + +
Heliodorus paced impatiently in front of the pavilion he had commandeered as his headquarters. He’d spent three full days there and had sent so many men, riding in so many directions, that if the Oracle’s party had left any tracks, they were obliterated long ago.
The boy could have gone anywhere. He could have doubled back. A small party like that could be hiding right under his nose.
Heliodorus glanced up at the setting sun, angrily. Perhaps a god was protecting the boy.
A horseman came over the rise at the entrance to the peninsula, and his horse almost stumbled, coming so quickly down the slope. But it retained its footing and the man galloped directly to the pavilion and dismounted on the run. He knelt before Heliodorus. “We found their trail, great one. They head for Parthia.”
“How far have they gotten?” Heliodorus asked, his brow knitted.
The man was still catching his breath and spoke between intakes. “We were a day from here when we found a village they had been through. The people told us that the Oracle was three days ahead of us, on horses, over twenty of them. There were only six of us in our party, so I returned here, two went to find more help, and the other three continued the pursuit.”
“Three days,” Heliodorus said with a groan. “No, four because of your return. Five by the time we get back there if we leave immediately.” He glanced around. It would be dark soon. He could mount maybe a hundred men. But in that moment, he saw it as hopeless. Even if he could catch up with the boy before he reached Parthia, the Oracle would probably see him coming with her second sight, and lead Jeet away. “Damn! Where’d they get horses?”
+ + + + +
Heliodorus was sitting alone on the citadel veranda when Letradoisan and Obenedes were led into the room. The servant left, leaving the three of them alone.
Heliodorus glanced up at them, and then away, to the west. “I’ve called back the search parties,” he said. “Your friends have gone to Parthia.”
The twins glanced at each other.
“I’m leaving,” Heliodorus said, slowly getting up from the chair. “I would have been better off to let everyone believe that Jeet died in the shrine fire. Now Antiochus knows, or soon will, that Jeet escaped.” He glanced sadly at the twins. “He’ll be furious, and I would be the target of that fury.”
Heliodorus walked to the edge of the veranda. “I’m letting Hector go free. Phrygia needs a governor, and Hector loves Kaleh. Antiochus is shrewd. I imagine he’ll keep Hector here. I’m going to Bactria. Eucratides is there, and I believe he does well.” He glanced again at the twins. “If you return to Antioch, stay well out of Antiochus’ way. He will be angry, and I will be gone. You have been out of his favor for a long, long time, and I don’t know what he might do to you.”
+ + + + +
Two days later, the twins found Hector on the same veranda. There were workmen with him, and the high priest, Eustace, and the eunuch, Ono. Hector waved them on over.
“You are leaving then?” he asked.
The twins bowed their heads. “Yes, Governor.”
Hector stepped away from the others and came to the twins, laying an arm over each of their shoulders. “Tell Jeet that his sister and her husband are well and send their love, as do my wife and I. Tell him,” he said, glancing back at the workmen, priest, and eunuch, “tell him that we are rebuilding the shrine and all of Kaleh hopes that he and the Oracle can come home soon. Tell him that Eustace did not want to be Most High Priest. Tell Jeet that his friend, Ono, is the new Most High Priest, and that he took one of my own soldiers, whom he met at Ganymede, to be his new captain of the temple guards. Ono picked a good man, and I know he’ll look after Ono. And tell Jeet… tell him that all of Kaleh is in mourning until his and the Oracle’s return.” He hugged the twins’ shoulders. “Tell him he is greatly loved.”
The twins nodded, and each kissed Hector on a cheek.
“Oh,” Hector added, “tell old Rufus and his wife that his sons and their families hope he will return soon as well.”
The boys nodded.
“Do you travel alone?” Hector asked.
“Three of the younger shrine guards go with us,” Letradoisan told him. “And the youngest of Aruli’s brothers.”
Hector nodded and patted them each on the back. “May the god who protects Jeet, protect you as well.”
+ + + + +
“Parthians ahead,” the general told Antiochus. “Up in the pass. Our scouts say hundreds, maybe thousands.”
Antiochus reigned in. They had technically crossed into Parthian territory two hours earlier, and he had been prepared since the day before. He waved the messenger forward. “Ride up into the pass. Take my message to the Parthians. Hand the scroll to their leader, but let the men around him hear you. Tell them that Phrygia has come. The army and I will return only after they release Jeet to us.”
The messenger rode off. “Make camp here, general,” Antiochus told him. “We’ll wait.”
The messenger returned as Antiochus was sitting outside his tent. The man dismounted and bowed to the Regent. He handed Antiochus a parchment.
Tochet, commander of the Parthian army, to Antiochus, Regent of the Seleucids. Withdraw.
Antiochus tore the parchment.
He brooded, then sent another message. “Release the Abij-hah. Ten thousand of his Phrygian brothers have pledged to redeem him.”
That evening a Parthian messenger returned. He spoke loudly from the edge of the camp for all to hear. “The Abij-hah has come to Parthia for refuge and we have granted it. He bids his Phrygian brothers, whom he loves, to depart in peace and honor the memory of Seleucus. Do not honor his usurper.” He repeated his message at the edge of the camp until Antiochus dispatched men with swords after him, and then he departed.
He came back the next day with the same message, but could proclaim it only once before Antiochus’ men chased him away.
The third day, a Parthian soldier rode into camp with another parchment.
Mithridates, minister and brother to Phraates, King of Parthia. In the passes above you, I have twice the number of soldiers as you have. The Abij-hah will not be returned to you. He has sought refuge in our land, and has found favor with our king. By his hand and his god, the life of our youngest brother was spared. We have made him our friend and brother, and we grant him sanctuary in Parthia. Withdraw.
Antiochus tossed the parchment aside and looked the soldier directly in the eye. “Ask your master if he is willing to go to war over a eunuch slave. Ask him how many Parthian lives he is willing to trade.”
Three hours later, the soldier returned with a parchment…
We will fight for the life of a friend of Parthia. We will fight when arrogant men invade our land. Come for the Abij-hah if you are ready for war. How many Phrygian lives will you trade for the lust of one man?
“But it is madness,” protested Antiochus’ generals and the counselors who traveled with him.
“If there was a chance that we could take them,” one general said, “I wouldn’t care what pretext we have to invade, but we did not come expecting war, Antiochus. You said it would be a show of force. You said Jeet would return when he saw that Phrygia came for him. None of us knew he would resist, and that Parthia would fight to keep the boy. The Phrygians among our men are ready to go home. They are close to rebellion after hearing the words of the Parthian messenger. Are you really ready for us all to die over a boy?”
Angrily, Antiochus walked to the doorway of his tent and gazed up into the hills. He was not a stupid man. To pursue this too far could cost him everything. But to turn away? The boy had been an obsession for two years. Jeet’s face and body… their sex together… all were burned in his memory.
Not for the first time, he considered the boy’s sister, the one married to Hector’s son. He could hold her hostage. He could demand Jeet return for her safety. Not for the first time, he rejected the idea. Phrygia was too close to the edge. Hector was popular in Phrygia; he was too important. It would be a disastrous move.
“Send another messenger,” he said. “Ask the Parthians how much gold they want for the boy. Tell them to set their price.”
The message came back the next morning.
“Let it rest for now,” Antiochus’ advisors told him. “There’s always the future. We will send spies. We can watch for an opportunity to reclaim the boy.”
Antiochus looked one last time up into the hills of Parthia. He looked at them a long time. When he turned his back on them, it was for good.
171, BCE. Over four years later…
In hooded cloaks, the eighteen-year-old twins waited in the dark outside the villa. It had taken them two days to learn where the boy was being kept. Few knew.
After midnight, they carefully entered the side of the house where they suspected the boy might be. Stepping inside, they let their eyes adjust to the dark. They would have preferred waiting until the next full moon, but Jeet was insistent. There was no time. The Oracle had seen it. Antiochus was preparing for war to the south and would not leave the boy alive in Antioch while he was gone. The boy would be dead if they waited. So they had only the light of a quarter moon.
Letradoisan stepped forward first. Obenedes followed, silently. The boy was in the second room they peered into. Carefully, they approached his bed. Obenedes gently lifted the five-year-old and the top sheets of his bedding together, not waking him. Silently, they hurried out into the night.
Rufus was waiting with the horses at the place agreed. The boy stirred, and his eyes opened wide.
Obenedes put back his hood and gave the boy a gentle smile, which he hoped the boy would see in the dim moonlight. “Antiochus,” he whispered, “my name is Obenedes. I was a friend of your father, the King. We’re here to take you to your sister.”
The boy’s eyes stayed wide. Obenedes felt badly that the boy was petrified with fear, but it was better than his crying out. They quickly mounted, and rode away as quietly as possible.
+ + + + +
“Your nephew, the boy Antiochus, is dead,” the man told Antiochus IV Epiphanes, nervously. Sweat streamed from his brow, and his body was trembling. “We found him in the well behind the villa.”
Antiochus studied the man. He obviously expected to be punished for the boy’s death; the man had no idea how well it served Antiochus. The boy had outlived his usefulness. “What did you do with the body?”
The man swallowed. “We buried him in the woods. No one knows.”
Antiochus nodded and considered. He could let word spread of the accident, but no one would believe he hadn’t caused the boy’s death. No, all along, he planned the boy’s death to be secret. Enough time had passed, most people had forgotten about the boy. A little more time, and he wouldn’t be remembered at all. “Do not be troubled,” Antiochus told the man. “Say nothing about this to anyone.”
+ + + + +
Five-year-old Antiochus walked between the tall twins as they entered the large hall. There were many people inside. The twins took him toward the far end where several people were arrayed on raised steps. A young man and a young woman were seated on chairs like thrones. To either side were other young men. All these men were odd looking. They wore only breechcloths, necklaces and jewelry. Their bodies were slim and smooth, and their hair was very long. They were beardless, but their faces were beautiful in aspect. Were these his father’s friends? Was the young man who stood from his seat and was coming toward him now, the Abij-hah Obenedes told him about?
The young man reached Antiochus and knelt in front of him. His eyes were pale as silver and his face was more beautiful and gentle than any the boy had ever seen. The others gathered around. “I am Jeet,” the young man said in a surprisingly high, but strong voice. He had a good smile.
There was a commotion and people moved apart to let a young woman through. She dropped to her knees beside Jeet and her eyes were full of tears. “Antiochus,” she sobbed, taking him into her arms. “I am your sister, Theia.”
Antiochus sat in Jeet’s lap on the top step, in front of the twin seats of the Oracle and Abij-hah. They had all been introduced to him, but Antiochus could only remember a few of their names. They all stood close around now, watching.
The boy looked up at Jeet. The young man smiled at him. There were tears in the corners of Jeet’s eyes. He put his arm around Antiochus’ shoulders. “Antiochus,” he said. “Your father was father to me. I will be a father to you. From this day, for love of your father, I take you as my son. I will give you my counsel as you grow. I will help you find your place in this world and give you an inheritance for it. I will help you become a good man, like your father. And I will love you for all your days as your father would have loved you.”
Jeet wrapped both arms around the boy. “May the good god who protects me, know you by name and protect you in this land. May he prosper you and give you the long life that was stolen from your father. May he give you a good and wise heart. May he bless you with many people to love and a heart to love them. May he make you a leader of men and the respected father of many sons, and may he make you and me worthy stewards of your father’s great legacy.”
Antiochus felt wetness on top of his head and pulled back in Jeet’s arms to look up at him. Tears had run down Jeet’s face. His countenance was sad and benevolent, and the boy looked up at him wonderingly. He touched Jeet’s wet cheek with his fingers. He looked around, at the strange room, and the strange people. He looked at his sister, who was watching him with tears rolling down her cheeks as well. He looked at the blond twins who had brought him. The twins were smiling at him. Antiochus smiled back.
Jeet kissed the top of Antiochus’ head and the boy looked up at him, and then smiled at Jeet, too.
+ + + + +
Jeet and Mithridates stood up from bending over the model of the new palace. Rem came forward with their two glasses of wine. He smiled at Jeet, because Jeet had been wise to suggest building the new palace. Twenty-four-year-old Mithridates had warmed to the project and was finally moving past his grief over the loss of his brother, Phraates. Mithridates was king now. He needed to be moving on.
The two young men took the wine and stood looking down at the model in the light of the many torches that ringed the large chamber. “I heard the twins returned today,” Mithridates remarked. He glanced at Jeet. “I heard they were able to save Seleucus’ son.”
Jeet looked up from the model, and nodded. “He’s a quiet boy, but he’s very bright.”
“He mustn’t grow up with only eunuchs,” Mithridates said with a frown. “He must be tutored with my own children. From what you have told me of his father, the boy could grow up to be valuable to me.”
Jeet bowed his head. “You are gracious, Mithridates. Tonight he sleeps with his sister’s family, in the bed of his younger nephew.”
“Ah, yes,” Mithridates said, nodding. He grinned. “Cyndur will make sure the boy grows to be a man.”
Jeet and Rem exchanged quick glances. Mithridates noticed. “Jeet,” he said, coming forward to lay a hand on Jeet’s shoulder. “I did not mean that you would not raise him to be a man. I know you will raise him to be a great man. I… ” He looked away, searching for words. “I spoke foolishly.”
“We are different, O King,” Jeet said with a sad smile. “We know that. But Anda and I will raise Antiochus carefully. We have redeemed him, for love of his father, and we will love him.”
Mithridates smiled apologetically and gave Jeet’s bicep a squeeze.
“And he will grow up knowing athletics, and math, and poetry, and history, and the arts,” Rem said, speaking up.
Mithridates turned to him, and Rem smiled. “The boy will have six erastoi besides Jeet, Great One,” Rem told him.
Mithridates smiled. He knew Rem didn’t mean it that way, but the reference to erastoi carried sexual connotations. Standing with the nearly naked eunuchs made the connection inescapable. He glanced down the bodies of seventeen-year-old Rem and twenty-year-old Jeet, and shook his head. “Will you eunuchs ever start wearing clothes?”
“Are you complaining about our bodies again, Great One?” asked Jeet, with a twinkle in his eye.
Mithridates laughed, and pulled Jeet’s tall, slender body to his own, patting Jeet’s back. “Only that they remain beautiful, you silly eunuch.” He gave Rem a wink. Though not the extraordinary beauty the other eunuchs were, Rem was an attractive young man… boy… eunuch. Keeping his eyes on Rem, Mithridates released Jeet from his embrace. “Tomorrow night is the last night of the week,” he observed. “No doubt Arsaces will be visiting the Oracle’s eunuchs.”
“No doubt,” Rem confirmed with a smile.
“And he will keep you occupied… no doubt?” Mithridates asked.
Rem nodded, still smiling. “No doubt.”
Mithridates returned his gaze to Jeet. “Have any of the eunuchs spoken for you for tomorrow night, Jeet-hah?”
“Aruli has,” Jeet answered. “But I can give him another night if you require me to do something.”
Mithridates shook his head and slipped an arm over Jeet’s shoulders. “I require you to get some rest. I’ll tell you what I have in mind. We’ll set up tents, up on the river. I will leave my wives and you will leave your… ” He glanced at Rem with a slight grin. “… duties, and we’ll spend the afternoon and night, just relaxing. You work too hard Jeet-hah. I worry for you.” He gave Jeet’s shoulders a squeeze. “I like Aruli. Bring him for your tent, and we’ll take a couple of servants to take care of us.”
Jeet smiled. “Bring Etonides, the servant who fishes so well. I would like fresh fish.”
“You would like to fish,” Mithridates corrected. “I know you enjoy that.” He kissed Jeet’s cheek. “I will send servants for you before noon.” Then he popped Jeet’s bare bottom with a grin. “We both have earned a rest, have we not?”
“Yes, Great One,” Jeet answered. The two eunuchs bowed and held their bows until the King had left the chamber.
They stood and Jeet gave Rem a tired smile. Rem gathered up Jeet’s cloak and threw it over the Abij-hah’s shoulders, and then put on his own. Jeet put his arm over Rem’s shoulder and they walked from the chamber. On the way out, Jeet bid a good night to the two guards at the door, by name.
Rem slipped his arm under the back of Jeet’s cloak and rested it behind Jeet’s waist as they walked. The sound of their sandals on the stone floor echoed in the hallway.
Silently, they walked out into the night, crossing the palace complex toward the large, square, two-tiered building dedicated to the Oracle and her academy. “You have been sad today, Jeet-hah,” Rem observed.
Jeet nodded. He crooked his arm affectionately around Rem’s neck; there was no hiding his moods from Rem.
“Remembering Seleucus?” Rem asked.
“Yes,” Jeet admitted.
Rem pulled their hips together as they walked. Jeet called it his curse, ‘remembering things that might have been’. There had been less of that curse, less of Jeet’s sad moments these last two years. Rem was sorry to see them return.
“I’m also worried,” Jeet said, “about all our friends in Phrygia, going off to war for Antiochus.”
“At least they war against Egypt,” Rem said. “It would be sad if they warred against Parthia.”
Jeet nodded. He glanced up at the full moon. What would the moon look down on in another year, he wondered. In another ten? “For now, they war to the south,” Jeet said. “But I fear the time may come when we will have to be very clever to keep the two lands we love from warring against each other.”
Rem squeezed the side of Jeet’s waist as they walked. “If such cleverness is needed, you shall have it, Jeet-hah.”
Jeet grinned at him. “You believe I can do all things,” he said, accusingly.
Rem shrugged under Jeet’s arm. “I believe you can do many things.”
They passed the Oracle’s receiving hall and crossed the inner courtyard. “Has Maracee returned to the bed of Obenedes now that he is back?” Jeet asked.
“Yes,” Rem answered. “At least until the baby comes.”
“And she is sure that it is Obenedes’ and not Letradoisan’s?”
“She is sure,” Rem answered.
Jeet stepped in front to climb the stairway to the sleeping chambers. Governor, Rem’s dog, ran down the stairs to greet them, tail wagging. The two eunuchs paused a moment, petting the dog, then continued up the steps. It was a warm night and all the various portals of the upper chambers were thrown open. They came into the Oracle’s chamber. Jeet paused beside the Oracle’s great bed. Anda was spooned behind Notama, their naked bodies a soft white against the darker bedding.
Rem removed Jeet’s cloak, and then Jeet’s breechcloth. He removed Jeet’s medallion necklace and his golden armbands. Then he let down Jeet’s hair. It was often braided, but tonight it hung long and loose and smooth. Rem combed his fingers through it, laying it down Jeet’s back. He kissed the back of Jeet’s shoulder, and Jeet turned, undressing Rem in turn.
Jeet knelt first onto the bed, and bent to kiss the temples of Notama and Anda. “I love you, Notama,” he whispered to the girl. “I love you, Oracle,” he whispered to Anda. Anda stirred and smiled without opening her eyes.
Rem took his turn, kissing each and whispering his love while Jeet stepped out onto the balcony. They might join the girls later. Rem did know all of Jeet’s moods, including this one. He followed Jeet to the balcony.
He was almost Jeet’s height now, and when he embraced Jeet from behind, wrapping his arms around Jeet’s middle, the curve of Jeet’s bottom fit the front of Rem’s loins. He hugged Jeet, and kissed the side of his neck.
They stood for a while in bright moonlight that angled in under the building roof. A soft breeze blew from the northwest. Rem’s cock began a rise up against the back of Jeet’s legs. He dropped a hand to Jeet’s cock, and was pleased to find it had already thickened. He lifted its weight on his palm and caressed it, while with his other hand, he swept the smooth skin of Jeet’s tight belly and chest. He nuzzled behind Jeet’s ear.
As Jeet’s cock grew rigid, Rem stroked it and sucked on the side of Jeet’s neck. Jeet laid his head back alongside Rem’s and sighed, comfortably. Rem shifted his hips, letting his cock spring up from under Jeet’s butt and pressed it there. A moment later, Jeet led him by the hand to one of the balcony couches, into shade from the moon.
They lay down on their sides, facing each other, and entwined their legs, pressing their erections between them. They each propped their head on an elbow and smiled. Rem laid his hand on Jeet’s side and drew it down to the narrow of Jeet’s waist. Jeet brushed back a wisp of Rem’s hair. “You are such a beautiful seventeen-year-old,” Jeet said softly.
Rem smiled. “I am beautiful to you because you love me.”
Jeet shook his head slightly and smiled. “You are beautiful, and I love you.” His smile gentled and his pale eyes suddenly glistened, watering in the reflected moonlight. “I love you so much.”
Rem slipped his hand up Jeet’s back, leaning in to kiss him. They opened their mouths to each other. Rem rolled to his back, pulling Jeet with him. With their mouths locked together, Jeet moved over Rem, his hips settling between Rem’s legs. They wrapped each other up in their arms, working their kiss, grinding their loins, feeling the brush of their bellies as they breathed and moved. Rem rubbed the insides of his legs on the smooth outsides of Jeet’s. His right hand dropped to Jeet’s bottom and his left swept up and down Jeet’s spine.
They paused for a breath and Jeet looked down at Rem, smiling.
“I love when you look at me like that,” Rem whispered. “Because you look happy.”
Jeet’s eyes roamed back and forth between Rem’s, with a sudden surge of love and hunger. He covered Rem’s mouth again with his own and hugged Rem tightly in his arms. They moaned together. Rem pawed at Jeet’s buttocks, pulling and stretching them. He probed Jeet’s opening with his finger, and Jeet moaned again.
Jeet pushed up on an arm, shifting weight down their bodies to their bellies and pressed cocks. On a table beside the couch was a bowl of scented oil. He dipped his fingers in it, and then reached back behind his butt. Rem removed his hand from there, and Jeet smoothed the oil from his fingertips into his crack.
They shifted legs, Rem’s to the insides, Jeet’s to the outsides. Jeet reached and got more oil onto his fingertips, then he pushed up, and backed down to straddle Rem’s thighs. He lifted Rem’s cock with his non-oiled hand, and bent to gently kiss the crown. Rem had managed to grow his cock well for a eunuch. Jeet kissed it with great affection. Then he spread oil from the fingers of his other hand, over the crown.
He rose on his knees, scooting forward over Rem’s cock. Then he held it up behind him and backed onto it, holding its thickness in his hand as he wiggled Rem’s crown into the crack between his own buttocks. He watched Rem’s face as he pushed his hips back and felt the blunt crown open him.
Rem’s hands clutched Jeet’s thighs, and, heavy-lidded, he smiled his pleasure up at Jeet. Jeet sat slowly down into Rem’s lap, his torso rising upright to center his weight there. He rocked his hips once, twice.
Rem’s eyes drooped, and he murmured, “Oh, yes.” He looked up at Jeet, who smiled and then let his head fall back, his long, black hair cascading backward.
Jeet rocked his hips forward and back. The muscles of his thighs and belly flexed. Rem ran his palms over them, admiring, appreciating, loving.
Jeet glanced down at Rem with pleasure-heavy eyes. Rem held his right hand up, palm outward. Jeet placed his left palm on it and they interlaced their fingers, holding their hands as Jeet rode and Rem bucked. They joined their other hands. Jeet threw his head back again and rode harder. He rocked forcefully, pressing his loins forward to rub the underside of his cock and cock root on Rem’s tight belly.
The night was quiet except for the gentle breeze, the sounds of their oiled joining, and the rhythmic rustling of the couch cushions. Jeet pulled his knees forward to grind down harder on Rem’s pubic bone with his perineum. Rem pulled his heels up against his butt and lifted Jeet on his hips, arching slightly up off his back with planted feet. He let go of Jeet’s hands and grabbed him by the waist. Jeet dropped his hands behind him, onto Rem’s knees, and they ground on in deep pleasure.
Jeet’s rocking grew faster until he suddenly bent forward, grabbing his cock with both hands. He pumped his cock into them and semen shot up onto Rem’s chest and under his neck. Rem bucked hard, whimpered, then lifted Jeet high on his hips… one moment, two. Jeet could feel the pulsing of Rem’s cock inside him. Another buck, and another long hold, and then a slow subsiding.
Jeet bent down over Rem and kissed him slowly over the face, and then on the lips. Rem straightened his legs out, and Jeet slid his legs back along the outside of Rem’s. Rem’s cock slipped out as Jeet lay down onto him, and nuzzled into Rem’s neck. He licked in the hollow under Rem’s ear and ground their still-hard cocks between their bellies.
He covered Rem’s mouth with his own, and kissed with that mixture of deep affection and sexual excitement unique to the two of them. What began simply as affection often ended in excitement.
Rem stroked Jeet’s back. Obviously, Jeet wanted to go again. It had been a long, full day for them both, and though Rem was tired, he knew that Jeet sometimes became over-tired, and if there was much on his mind, Jeet would plunge into sex until exhausted enough to sleep. Rem smiled slightly because Jeet knew he could always do that with Rem. Rem smiled because Jeet always knew how to keep Rem excited for it.
Jeet sucked on Rem’s neck. He reached down with his left hand between Rem’s legs and shifted slightly so that his own cock rubbed on the soft skin inside Rem’s left thigh. He pressed his fingertips onto Rem’s perineum, his fingers onto the soft skin of Rem’s empty scrotum, and his palm onto Rem’s upturned erection. If Rem’s cock hadn’t just been inside of Jeet, Jeet would have sucked on it, but this was good. This was fine. Jeet knew the things that gave Rem pleasure.
Rem ground up with his hips, because it felt good, and it let Jeet know he was ready again. Once more, Jeet reached for the oil, and Rem held his right knee up and out while Jeet applied the oil to Rem’s bottom.
They shifted, Rem opening both legs, and Jeet entered him without lifting from their embrace. Then Rem wrapped his legs around Jeet, and the two probed hungrily into each other’s mouths with their tongues. Though Rem was taller than when they made their first love knots, they both had retained the flexibility that always made for a good fit between them. They tightened into a love knot now.
This time it would be slow; a long, eunuch ride. The ride itself was more than pleasurable as they rubbed faces, shared kisses, and shared tongues in the warm night. They moved together, breathing over each others face, and then in each other’s ears when they pressed cheek to cheek. Rem’s hands swept Jeet’s lean sides and hard back and clutched at Jeet’s firm bottom as their passion rose and fell, and their skin grew damp with sweat. They took their pleasure in each other and pleasured each other. They whispered of love in each other’s ears.
As much as Jeet loved Anda, Rem never felt that Jeet loved him less. When Jeet and Rem were alone like this, neither held back, and it was as if all the love in the world, all the love the world could ever hold, lay in the press of their bellies and chests and lips, and in every tender caress. Such had their affection grown. They were lovers for life. Lovers with Anda.
She had given them all their freedom once they arrived in Parthia, Jeet and Rem as well. But they had all sworn their oaths once more. Freedom was not what any of them wanted. That night, when Jeet and Rem made love to her, Anda wept with the intensity of it, and they all three made love with abandon and full hearts. They had declined freedom that day, and found much more.
They loved Notama, too, as devoted to Anda as Rem was to Jeet. Because the four of them slept together, their couplings were varied, but their affections were not. Maracee joined them from time to time, but only because it was her privilege. They enjoyed sex with her, but it wasn’t the same.
Rem’s mind wandered; memories and thoughts floated past in the night like fallen leaves on a moon-lit stream. Jeet’s loins began to make a harder slapping sound, and Rem’s pelvis rose to meet him. Rem’s lean-muscled legs had come apart, dangling, knees bent, out to the sides, jiggling with their rhythm. Jeet knew where and how to angle his impact to satisfy them both in deep, common places. Rem clutched Jeet’s sides, rubbing his sex up against him. Jeet’s elbows were under the backs of Rem’s shoulders and his hands were in Rem’s hair, clutching, as Jeet pressed the side of his face intimately to Rem’s.
For Rem, this was the best… Jeet on top of him, between his legs, belly-to-belly, moving inside him and on him… moving together. Jeet was inside him. They were one. And when Jeet folded over Rem, when the scar above Jeet’s pubis pressed Rem’s empty scrotum… that was the most intimate, most private coupling of all.
Rem’s blood grew loud in his ears. They panted as if on a run. Jeet covered Rem’s mouth with his own, again, hungrily, plunging his tongue in with a whimper of rising ecstasy. Rem broke the kiss, gasping, because he was coming, too. He grabbed Jeet’s sides and bucked into a long climax.
Jeet clutched Rem’s hair, whimpering, driving harder and faster, driving Rem’s orgasm on. And then his own orgasm hit, and they signaled their arrival at the top together, with soft cries and gasps and clutchings.
They slowed, and then stopped, and simply lay there, cheek to cheek, Rem’s legs out to the sides. The soft breeze flowed over their hot, damp skin. Jeet swiveled his hips, savoring their joining… and then again. He nuzzled beside Rem’s face… soft cheek on soft cheek.
Slowly Rem lowered his legs, sliding them down the outsides of Jeet’s. At the same time, Jeet pulled from inside Rem, and laid his cock up beside the seventeen-year-old’s. Jeet wrapped his arms over Rem’s head and nuzzled in beside his face, relaxing completely onto Rem with a soft, satisfied moan.
Rem stroked the smooth, taut skin of Jeet’s back, contented at the weight of Jeet’s body resting on his own. He glanced out at the starry sky and the aura of the moon showing at the edge of the roof. And he considered once more, with wonder and contentment, that Jeet, who was desired by kings and princes, belonged to him, a slave; to him and Anda. But then, no king or prince could love Jeet more or take care of him with so full a heart as Rem and Anda.
The younger eunuch wrapped his arms over Jeet’s back and brushed the side of his face against Jeet’s. Nothing would separate him from Jeet; not in this life, or the life to come.
+ + + + +
Jeet woke when she slid onto the couch next to him and pulled a light covering over them. She was naked and pressed her body to the back of his. Jeet could feel her breasts as well as her erection.
“Too early, Rem,” Jeet murmured.
Anda slapped his butt, and Jeet laughed. He rolled over to face her, and pulled her into his arms. Closing his eyes, he nuzzled under the side of her face.
“Rem got up a long time ago,” Anda said. “I’ve let you sleep because it’s the last day of the week.”
Jeet reached down between them and closed his hand around her phallus. “Couldn’t wait any longer, though,” he observed.
She spanked his bottom again. “Rem said you’re going to the river with the King,” Anda said. She stroked his back, and spoke softly into his ear. “I don’t know how long he’ll keep you there, and I wanted to make love before you go.”
Jeet pulled his face back from under the side of hers and smiled. Then he saw that Notama was standing beside the bed with a cup. She smiled and handed it to him. Jeet took it and drank. The cup held tart juice to cleanse his mouth for the morning. He drank and handed her back the cup. Notama took it, and bowed, leaving.
Anda rolled Jeet onto his back and reached between his legs. She gazed down at him and fondled him.
Jeet smiled up at her and stroked her golden hair back off her shoulder. “I can’t think of a better way to start a new day,” he said.
She smiled. Jeet always started a new day exactly the same way; the moment he awoke, he whispered two words to the Great God Who protected him… “Thank you.”
“Have you already whispered your thank you?” she asked.
Jeet shook his head slowly. “I need to whisper one more.” He pulled her ear down to his lips. “Thank you,” he whispered. “I love you, wife.”
Anda smiled and kissed in front of his ear. “I love you... best of husbands.”
+ + + + +
Tazaar watched his three-year-old son play with little Antiochus. The small boy smiled happily at his five-year-old uncle, and Tazaar grinned. He loved his son’s smile.
He remembered the boy’s birth; how Theia insisted that she deliver the baby into Tazaar’s hands and no other. She and Cyndur agreed; the firstborn son of their union would be Tazaar’s son. “He will be your son,” Theia insisted. “He shall be born into your lap and he will belong to you as a son of your own loins. You shall name him, and raise him, and make him into the man you want him to be; a man like yourself.”
Tazaar smiled on his son now, and called. “Come, Alexander. It is time to return to our quarters.”
Alexander looked up, saw Tazaar, and jumped to his feet. The three-year-old came running and threw himself into Tazaar’s hands. Tazaar caught him, tossed the boy high up, and caught him low, to Alexander’s delighted squeals.
Tazaar lifted the little boy to eye level, and Alexander grinned delightedly. He giggled when Tazaar brushed faces with him, and then set Alexander on his hip. Alexander, dressed in a breechcloth like his father, clutched Tazaar’s bare side, and Tazaar cupped the boy’s bare bottom with his hand. “Did you have fun today, Alexander?” Tazaar asked as he turned for their quarters.
“Yes, Papa. We played Oracle and Abij-hah.”
“You did, huh? And who did you pretend to be?”
“Papa,” little Alexander said, leaning back with a frown. “I was you.”
Tazaar grinned. “And what did you do as me?”
“Acrobatics. I did acrobatics.”
“You did, huh?” Tazaar said, chuckling. Acrobatics for Alexander meant rolling around on the ground. “Did you practice your numbers?”
Alexander looked up at Tazaar with a big grin; he knew what was coming. “Uh-huh.”
“Alright,” Tazaar said, holding up his free hand as a fist. “How many fingers?”
Alexander giggled and began to squirm. “No fingers.”
Tazaar pointed his index finger. “How many now?”
“One,” Alexander said, giggling. He clutched at Tazaar’s belly and back and tried to lean behind Tazaar, but Tazaar held him to his side with his arm.
Tazaar freed a second finger from under his thumb. “How many fingers now?”
“Two,” Alexander called out, squirming and burying his face in Tazaar’s ribs.
Tazaar freed another finger. “How many now?”
Alexander peeked with one eye. “Three,” he said, squirming even more.
He peeked again. “Four,” Alexander squealed.
“And now?” Tazaar asked, spreading the thumb and fingers of his free hand wide.
Alexander giggled so hard he could barely say it. “Five.”
“Ah-hah!” Tazaar cried out, digging into Alexander’s little ribs with his fingers.
The boy squealed, trying to climb up Tazaar’s side, and then he laughed with that throaty, gurgling laugh that happy little boys make when being tickled.
+ + + + +
The tour bus pulled to a stop. The mixed group of mainly German tourists piled out, and once assembled, followed the tour guide as he led them down onto the wide, open area along the river. “There used to be a great temple to Cybele here,” the guide said, pointing to one end of the open area, “and a smaller temple to Attis, here. That statue there, is Attis.” He pointed to a weathered statue of a youth with a boy clinging to him from behind. “We know it’s Attis,” he said with a sly grin, “because of his long hair and his lack of testicles. You’ll notice though, that he had a very proud pleasure rod. You can see where it laid up the statue’s belly. Someone, long ago, broke it off, but you can see where it was. That other statue is of Cybele.”
The guide turned and pointed up toward the hills. “A citadel sat atop
that hill there, and all around was the great city of Kaleh.”
He led them across the broad, flat area. There were ruined foundations and stray columns scattered for a hundred meters in every direction back from the river. “Over the years, they have hauled away most of the stones that were here to use in new buildings,” the guide explained. “But there were magnificent buildings back then, and great walls. It was a grand place in its day.”
He turned at the river, to face them. “Kaleh and this whole region were part of Phrygia, and Phrygia at that time, was part of the Seleucid Empire. The magnificence of this temple complex reached its zenith during the reign of Antiochus the Fourth, who nearly extended his empire into Egypt. The high priest at the time was man by the name of Ono. No one can read Phrygian these days, but we know about Ono from Greek documents. We know from them that the Phrygian word for high priest was ‘Abij-hah’. That’s what they called Ono.” He grinned, then. “Those old high priests led quite a life.”
He lowered his voice and leaned closer toward the group of tourists. “You must not think of these old temples like you would think of a church or mosque today. Far from it; especially a temple to Cybele.” He pointed toward where the temple once stood. “At a temple like that one, there might be dozens or even hundreds of prostitutes. It was part of their worship. They believed back then that by having sex with a priestess or a prostitute, a man joined his body sexually to the goddess herself, for her blessing. Since there was also a temple to Attis here, there were probably also boy prostitutes, and since the whole empire was heavily under the influence of the Greeks at that time, the boy prostitutes may have been as busy as the girls.” He grinned at one of the couples; two men he knew were gay. Then he continued. “Depending on the season, they had great orgiastic celebrations where men, and sometimes women, from the city would dress themselves as the goddess and come here for a night of abandon and sex.”
He continued along the river. “Follow me and I will show you the foundations to the great wall that enclosed the compound, and I will tell you of a particularly strange part of Cybele’s worship; the cult of Attis.”
In the year 175 BCE, Heliodorus, the minister of the Seleucid King, Seleucus IV Philopator, rose up and killed his master. Antiochus IV Epiphanes (the Shining One), brother of Seleucus, assumed regency for his infant nephew, also named Antiochus. Heliodorus escaped to Greco-Bactria.
Four years later, in 171 BCE, Eucratides, cousin to Seleucus and Antiochus, led a rebellion to become king of Greco-Bactria. Heliodorus may have been allied with him at that time. Eucratides would eventually become the greatest of the Greco-Bactrian kings.
171 BCE also saw the beginning of the Third Macedonian War between Perseus of Macedon and Rome. Though Perseus saw initial success, Rome was ultimately the victor, taking Perseus as a prisoner to Rome, and making Macedonia a Roman province. Perseus’ wife, Laodike, was given by the Romans as wife to her brother Demetrius I Soter.
That was also the year that Mithridates I ascended to the throne of Parthia. He succeeded his brother Phraates I. Mithridates would rule Parthia for thirty-three years and would make Parthia into a major political power, expanding her borders dramatically. Parthia would eventually grow to control all the east-west trade routes through the middle east, and it became the eastern arch enemy of Rome for generations.
Antiochus IV of Seleucia nearly conquered Egypt, but was ultimately stopped by pressure from the Romans. His callous disregard of Jewish sensitivities, and the desecration of the temple in Jerusalem by his forces, brought on a rebellion in Judea. He died before he could put it down, and the Jews gained their freedom from the Seleucids. They rededicated their temple, and that event is celebrated to this day with Hanukkah.
Antiochus IV died after ruling the Seleucid Empire for only nine years. His son was named king in his place, but was defeated by Demetrius, the son of Seleucus, who was able to reclaim the throne of his father.
Two of Demetrius’ sons would rule as kings, and two of his grandsons. One of his sons was eventually married to the daughter of Mithridates I of Parthia.
In Hindi and Urdu, the word Jeet means “victory”. Derivation unknown.
– From Wikipedia and various other sources
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