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Chapter 8 -- River Dance

The Korybantes (ancient Greek Κορύβαντες), also called the Kurbantes in Phrygia and Corybants in older English transcription, were the crested dancers who worshipped the Phrygian goddess Cybele with drumming and dancing...

These male dancers in armor [and otherwise naked], kept time to a drum and the rhythmic stamping of their feet. Dance, according to Greek thought, was one of the civilizing activities, like wine-making or music. The dance in armor (the "pyrrhic dance" or pyrriche) was a male coming-of-age initiation ritual linked to a warrior victory celebration. - Wikipedia


Jeet woke in the middle of the night to find the bed empty. He glanced over to the chamber pot. The Oracle wasn't there. He looked around the room, which was faintly illuminated by moonlight. Except for him, the room was empty. Jeet sat up, and then he saw her, out on the balcony.

She had pulled a cloak around her naked body for warmth in the cool night air of early spring, and she was leaning on the low balcony wall. Jeet came up beside her. She glanced at him, and then back out over the river.

"I'm a prisoner, Jeet," she said quietly. "I'm more of a prisoner than you and the others. At least you can get out of this building." She reached a hand from inside the cloak and pointed across the river. "I was looking at those hills in the moonlight, thinking how I will never go there." She laughed, mirthlessly. "I can't even go out to the temple courtyard."

Jeet disappeared from her side and a moment later she heard him talking to the guard who was posted outside the chamber door. He returned wearing the guard's cloak. Reaching from inside it, he laid his hand on hers atop the railing. "I borrowed it," he said when her eyes fell on the cloak. He pulled her hand from the railing. "Come."

"Where?" Anda asked hopefully. "Are we going outside?"

Jeet smiled and held a finger up over his lips. He led her silently down one of the inner stairways to the eunuchs' quarters and past their sleeping, nested forms, and toward the back of the temple and to the secret passageway down to the bath house. The guard that Rufus had begun to post in the passageway was not there. Instead, they found him nude, bathing in the waters of the near-dark bathhouse.

The guard froze when he saw their dark shapes, and then he made a dash for his sword.

"Stop," Jeet called out. "It is just us."

"Who?" the guard called back, pausing on the steps up from the water.

"Jeet," the young eunuch replied. "We are going out."

"Now?" the guard asked, reaching for his clothes. "Jeet, why do you want to go out at this time of night? You attendants are supposed to stay in the shrine at night. It's safer."

"We can't sleep. We're going out for a walk."

"I'm not sure I should let you," the guard said, uncertainly, as he began to pull on his clothes.

Jeet paused, with Anda beside him at the doorway out to the temple grounds. He peered back into the darkness of the bathhouse and at the darker shape of the dressing guard. Jeet could guess now who the guard might be. "Tanaka, let us go, and we will say nothing of your bathing while on duty."

The guard froze as he was fastening on his sword. "Jeet," he said plaintively, "I was sleepy and tired. I only got in the water for a moment to wake myself. I was still watching the doorway."

"Don't worry, Tanaka," Jeet said, pulling the Oracle out the door with him. "We will say nothing."

The Oracle giggled as they walked briskly up to the courtyard from the bathhouse. "He thought I was one of you," she said. "He thought I was another eunuch."

They reached the edge of the courtyard, not far from the front of the shrine, and Jeet paused there. "Oh," the Oracle said, coming close to his side and hugging his arm. "It's pretty."

The half-moon was low in the western sky, but still bathed the complex in its silvery light. Widely spaced out along the walls and around the courtyard were spots of golden light from burning torches. In their glow, Jeet and the Oracle could make out a few guards on top of the walls and at the closed, front gate. There were also torches with guards on the temple and shrine porticos.

Hugging Jeet's arm, the thirteen-year-old Oracle took it all in, including the guards. She glanced at Jeet, questioningly. He smiled, and tugged her along in the shadows of the bathhouses and walks on the river side edge of the courtyard.

As they moved along, Jeet pointed out in quiet whispers, the buildings and features of the complex. They came up under the sacred pine trees close to the temple, and paused when they heard laughter from the direction of the side portico. "It must be prostitutes," Jeet whispered. "When the weather is nice, many simply stay in their booths at night on the porticos. Some have no where else to go."

They moved away from the temple, and Jeet led Anda out onto the courtyard. "Just walk naturally," he encouraged.

He took her up to the great, high altar and the four large braziers which burned low at its corners. The Oracle looked it over, and then they angled across the yard toward the store houses and quarters for servants and slaves. Jeet led her along the walls there, telling her what each building was for. When they reached the barracks of the shrine guard, he led her in a dash behind the barracks and back under the complex walls.

The night, the run, the weight of her swinging phallus, and the air on her naked body beneath the cloak, all exhilarated the Oracle. When they reached the base of the wall, she hugged Jeet and whispered a whoop in his ear.

Jeet grinned at her, and led her past the open ground where the boys practiced acrobatics, and up to the last set of stairs that rose to the top of the wall. When he started to lead her upward, she tugged back, looking nervously up to the top where she knew guards were posted. Jeet pulled her on.

They climbed the long stairway up to the top of the wall, and, at the top, a guard moved forward to challenge them. "Is that you, Akton?" Jeet called out softly.

"Is that Jeet?" Akton replied. Coming close, he recognized Jeet's uncovered head, but stared longer at Jeet's companion whose hair was blond, and like that of a girl, not a eunuch. He glanced at their joined hands and glimpses of bare flesh beneath their cloaks, and he realized who the young girl must be. "Oracle?" he asked softly.

"Akton," Jeet said, pulling Anda closer to him. "We're out for a walk. The high priests won't let the Oracle out during the daytime, and she needed to get outside." Jeet nodded off toward the river. "I was going to take her down the wall to the parapet over the river where Jin, Aruli, and I used to go at midday."

"I'll come with you," Akton said. "That is part of my patrol. We watch the river approaches."

Jeet frowned. "Let us go alone, Akton. We'll keep an eye on the river for you."

The guard paused, glancing from Jeet to the Oracle. Then he smiled, knowingly. "Of course," he said. "I'll stay back here and make sure that you are not disturbed. But do keep an eye out and call if you see anything I should check out."

Jeet tugged at Anda's hand again. She had been distracted by the nighttime view of the temple complex from the top of the wall. Now Jeet pulled her away from the torchlight and out toward the parapet at the end of the wall. He ran, pulling her along with him. She laughed and then giggled when he shushed her. They came to the end of the wall.

Below them, the foundations of the wall jutted out into the black water of the river. Farther out, the water sparkled in the moonlight. Across from them were the moonlit hills. Anda took a deep breath and twirled in exhilaration, her cloak lifting out from her body.

Anda came to rest against the parapet wall and gazed out over the river. Jeet came up alongside her and found her hand once more. Angling under the small roof of the parapet, the moonlight had found her, making her eyes glitter in the night. "The view isn't much different from your balcony," he observed.

"Oh yes it is!" she said, breathlessly. She waved her hand expansively from left to right. "We can see everything... the city, the temple grounds, the whole length of the river... it's beautiful." She turned to him, grinning. "And we're outside!" She thrust both hands from under her cloak and into his, parting their cloaks and pulling their naked fronts together. "Thank you," she said, clutching him close and pressing her cheek to his.

Jeet reciprocated, slipping his hands under her cloak. He pulled her forward by her sides, kissing her lips. The feel of her body against his caused his cock to rise. He felt her phallus thicken as well. But then, with a smile, the Oracle pulled back from his embrace and turned to look out over the river once more. "This is where you used to come with Jin and Aruli?" she asked.

"Yes," he said, stepping up beside her at the parapet wall.

"Will they mind if you bring me here at night?"

"No," he said. "How could they?"

She glanced at him and then back across the water. "Jeet," she said thoughtfully, "do you miss your family?"

"Only Weela," he told her.

"I only miss my father," Anda said. She turned to him, "What about your father and your mother?" she asked. "Don't you miss them?"

"That was a long time ago," Jeet answered.

The Oracle laid a hand on the back of Jeet's shoulder. "What happened after they killed your family? Where did they take you and Weela?"

Not looking at her, but staring off toward the far hills, Jeet told her about Praxis, and how he brought Jeet and Weela into his bed chamber and his bed.

"But you were only children," Anda protested.

"We were slaves," Jeet corrected.

Anda nodded slightly and stroked his back. "And beautiful, even then, I imagine. Is Weela pretty like you?"

Jeet nodded. "Praxis was going to sell her," he said. "We had only been with him a few weeks, but I'd learned enough Phrygian to understand when he told his steward that Weela was worth a lot of money because she was pretty and she was a virgin." He glanced at the Oracle and then away. "Weela and I talked about it, and I made her... not a virgin." His voice softened. "Weela and I became lovers."

"Lovers?" Anda's brow furrowed and she shook her head. "But you were only what... nine or ten years old?"

Jeet turned to her. "How old are we, Anda? How old do you have to be to love someone?"

Anda nodded slowly and turned away. "You loved her."

Jeet gently pulled Anda backwards into his arms.

"You love her still?" Anda asked quietly.

"Of course."

"I thought... I thought that you and me..." Anda started to say, her voice trailing off.

Jeet tightened his embrace under her breasts and nuzzled into the back of her hair. "I love you, Anda," he whispered. "You know I love you."

"But not the same as Weela. How could it be the same?" she asked quietly. "How can I compare with a girl as beautiful as she must be? A real girl?"

Jeet gently turned the Oracle by her shoulders to face him. "I am the one who cannot compare; not to a real boy," Jeet said. "What can I give you, Anda?"

She touched his cheek with her fingertips. "Everything," she said, smiling gently.

He returned her smile. "You are beautiful, too, Oracle." He pushed the cloak back off her shoulders and it fell to the ground. He dropped his own cloak as well, and stepped closer, running his hands over Anda's slender shoulders. He gazed into her eyes. "You have a strong spirit." He dropped his hands to her breasts. "Your body excites me... your breasts and nipples grow firm under my hands. When your cock grows hard like mine, the lips at your opening grow warm and firm like Weela's ." He pulled the Oracle's body to his own, their thickening cocks angling each other aside.

"Your scent," he whispered, nuzzling into the side of her hair, "comforts me and stirs my heart at the same time. You are my sister now... and my brother, and my lover. The gods meant us for each other, Anda... Alexander."

The Oracle ran her hands gently up Jeet's lean back, and kissed the soft skin at the nape of his neck. "We are mated, Jeet-hah," she whispered in agreement. "The gods have put us together."

Jeet nodded and hugged the young Oracle to himself. Neither her young age, nor his, mattered to him. Her words were true. They were mated.

"Make love to me out here, Jeet," the Oracle whispered, "here in the dark, far above the rest of the world."

She opened her mouth to him; hungrily, eagerly. What passion Jeet's testicles no longer could provide, his heart stirred for him. Jeet lifted their erections between their bellies, and they pressed their middles together while their tongues probed deeply into each other's mouth.

A puff of wind blew through their hair and brought with it the scent of cedar. Farther back, atop the wall, the torch beside Akton fluttered in the breeze.

They rubbed their bodies against each other, and their skin grew warm.

The Oracle took Jeet's hand and moved it to her erection. "Who do you want tonight?" she asked breathlessly. "Alexander or..." She moved his hand lower, to her vulva. "Anda?"

 "Both," Jeet answered, kissing the side of her neck. "Always both."

Anda backed him to the bench along one wall and laid Jeet back onto it. She knelt over him, straddling his hips, and guided Jeet's cock up between her flushed labia and into her opening. A puff of breeze blew her hair, strangely dark in the shadows, out to the side as she settled down onto his lap.

Jeet grabbed the side of her thighs, and lifted his hips under her.

The Oracle leaned forward over him, onto her hands, and looked down into the faint glimmer of his eyes.  She rubbed her erection on his taut, lower abdomen. "Alexander is about to ride your belly like a racing horse," she said, "and Anda is going to sit on the saddle, and enjoy it very much."

Jeet smiled. "So will Jeet."

The Oracle smiled back, and then watched Jeet's eyes as she ground down onto him, stretching her vagina with his cock.

Jeet's eyes rolled up as the moist lining inside her slid on the length of his shaft. He felt her bottom bones press into his loins, stretching him far into her, and he felt the root of the Oracle's slender cock press his pubic bone. He moaned and reached up with both hands for her breasts.

"Jeet?" the Oracle asked softly as she moved her hips around on him. "Will your cock get bigger... now that... now that they have cut off your balls?"

"I don't know," he murmured.

"It's alright if you don't," she said, "because I don't think any more would fit."

Jeet opened his eyes and smiled at her. "Maybe you will grow bigger inside if I grow." He reached down between them and wrapped his hand around the Oracle's phallus. "Alexander?" he asked. "I'm ready for you to ride."

The Oracle watched Jeet's eyes as she began to pump her hips. His eyes rolled up and he grabbed the Oracle's rocking butt with both hands, pumping up to meet her. Anda-Alexander leaned far forward to better rub her phallus on Jeet's belly. It felt good to her, inside and out, and she pumped faster. "Jeet," she whispered, her mind swirling with the sensations of their joining. "I love you, too."

"Who loves me?" Jeet murmured, his eyes closed. "Anda or Alexander?"

"Both," the Oracle whispered, bending to kiss his lips. "Always both."

The sky had grown lighter in the East when Akton watched them return slowly from the parapet at the end of the wall. They had their arms behind each other's back and their cloaks hung carelessly open. They were gazing into each other's eyes, and oblivious to him. At the top of the stairs, Jeet stepped in front of the Oracle to lead her by the hand back down the stairway. "Jeet," Akton called out quietly from above them in the growing light. "Any time you want to come up here at night, I'll stand guard for you."

Jeet looked up and smiled gratefully.

+  +  +  +  + 

One night later, Rufus paused in the early morning dark to watch two guards he had posted on the shrine portico. He remained in the shadows, away from the light of any torches. The half-moon had set, and his men had not seen him approach.

The early morning watch was the most difficult watch for men to stay alert and awake. Rufus came to gauge the trustworthiness of his men. It had been a full week since the confrontation between the Oracle and Stycus; he didn't want his men to start relaxing.

As he watched, the guards chatted idly, but they appeared to be alert. They should be farther apart, Rufus observed, but they had posted themselves close to the shrine entrance and that was good.  Rufus stepped from the shadows and moved toward them. Both men immediately spun in his direction, their hands dropping to the hilts of their swords. But recognizing their captain, they relaxed. That was when Rufus saw a shadowy figure pass quickly along the wall behind them and into the shrine.

"Intruder!" Rufus shouted, drawing his sword.

Both guards shrank back, clutching their swords as Rufus dashed past, bellowing "Intruder! Intruder!" By the time it registered in their minds that there really was an intruder, Rufus was already inside.

Grabbing torches, they followed, swords drawn. From inside, they heard a high pitched cry.

Moments later, they found Rufus kneeling astride a prone figure in the very center of the floor of the shrine hall. Rufus held the point of his sword to the intruder's throat as they approached. When the torch light fell on his face, they could all see that the intruder was a youth, not much older than the young eunuchs. The boy's eyes were wide in terror.

"He's not armed," Rufus said, getting up and jerking the boy to his feet. He shoved the boy toward the two guards. "Take him to the barracks so I can interrogate him. Call out the rest of the guard to their posts, and give me one of those torches."

Dutifully, one of the guards passed a torch to Rufus, and the men hauled the boy off between them. The terrified youth had yet to utter a word, and he looked small between the two large men.

Taking his torch, Rufus quickly ascended a stairway to the upper level and proceeded directly to the Oracle's chambers. The guard posted there for the night already had his sword drawn and held a torch in his hand.

"Any sign of any intruders?" Rufus asked in a whisper. "I caught one, but there could be others. The one I caught could have been a diversion."

The guard shook his head.

"Have you looked inside?" Rufus asked.

The guard's eyes went wide and he shook his head.

Rufus frowned at him. "If protecting the Oracle means that you must invade her chambers, then do it, man! Better to have her angry with you than to have something evil befall her or the Abij-hah." He pushed past the guard and into the Oracle's chamber.

In the light of the torches, Rufus saw that Jeet and the Oracle were sleeping. Their two, nude bodies were spooned, Jeet behind the Oracle.

Rufus paused. He was immediately struck by two opposite thoughts. The first was that their slender forms, golden and smooth-skinned in the flickering torchlight, aroused him, sexually. But then his second thought was that they were children; just children. The young Oracle was nestled back in Jeet's arms like a younger sister in her brother's arms. There was a peaceful beauty to their bed.

Rufus looked around the room, checking behind stairway screening walls, and going out onto the balcony. There was no one else. Coming back into the room, he saw that his guard was still staring at Jeet and the Oracle, and Jeet had awakened.

Rufus came up to them quickly. "Jeet," he whispered. "There was an intruder downstairs. We caught him, but we needed to check to make sure that you and the Oracle were safe."

Jeet nodded, brushing hair back from his eyes.

"Go back to sleep," Rufus instructed, and he motioned for the guard to follow him. They descended one of the interior stairways to the eunuch's room below. A small lamp burned up in a corner nook.

In the torch and lamp light, Rufus quickly took in the sleeping forms of Jin, spooned behind Aruli, and Ptolemy sleeping with an arm and a leg over Bantu. Once more, it struck Rufus as to how young these boys were. His sensation was that he was standing among sleeping children.

Slightly apart from the first four lay Tazaar and Cyndur. Tazaar stirred, saw the torches, and grabbing up Cyndur's dagger from where it lay beside their bed, he knelt up between the torches and Cyndur, brandishing the dagger defensively. "Cyndur!" he called out. "Wake up!"

Cyndur's dagger glinted in Tazaar's hand as he extended it toward the invading torchlight. His disheveled hair and defensive posture gave the naked boy a wild look. Rufus smiled. He had not been as impressed with Tazaar before as he had been with Jeet, but now he felt an instant liking for the brave boy. "Tazaar, it is me, Rufus," he whispered.

Behind Tazaar, Cyndur finally stirred and then, grasping that someone strange was in the room, he was on his feet, stepping between Tazaar and the torches.

"It is me, Rufus, captain of the guard," Rufus repeated in louder, more authoritative voice. "There was an intruder in the shrine. We are checking to make sure that everyone is safe." He glanced at sixteen-year-old Cyndur's well-developed, nude body, and he decided that it was good that this strong youth slept in the shrine. He would have to procure a sword for Cyndur.

With apologies, Rufus and the guard exited. Rufus sent the guard back to his station outside the Oracle's chamber while he continued his own rounds through the rest of the shrine.

In the faint light of the single lamp, Cyndur bent to take the dagger from Tazaar's hand and returned it to its spot beside the bed. Then he knelt in front of Tazaar and stroked back the younger boy's mussed hair. Cyndur smiled. "My lover is a tiger." He pulled Tazaar into his embrace, clutching the younger boy tightly in his arms. Their bellies pressed and the young athlete's cock began to rise between their legs.

Rufus finished his rounds of the shrine. He wanted to be thorough and he was in no hurry. The longer the intruder had to wait for Rufus to begin questioning him, the more frightened that intruder was likely to become.

Finally, Rufus went next door to the guard barracks. The youth they had captured cowered in the corner of the common mess room. Three large guards kept him cornered. "Strip him," Rufus ordered, "and hold him down on the table so we can question him."

The youth cried out when the guards grabbed him, and he briefly struggled as they pulled off his clothing. One of the men struck him across the face, and the boy cried out again. Another guard struck him and the boy's struggling slowed.

The men pinned the naked boy onto his back atop the table, and Rufus came close, holding a curved dagger for the boy to see. The boy's eyes went wide... and then he fainted. Rufus gestured at one of the guards. "Throw some water on him."

Cyndur rubbed the side of his face against Tazaar's smooth cheek. Someday his father would insist that Cyndur take a wife and father children, but no woman could possibly compare with Tazaar. He nuzzled into the nape of Tazaar's neck. No woman would have Tazaar's scent; part boy, part youth. No woman would have Tazaar's lean body or long limbs. No woman would have skin any softer or beauty as rare. No woman could match the way Tazaar excited and comforted him, at the same time. No woman could move under him like Tazaar. No woman's heart and spirit would be the match for his own the way Tazaar's were. He squeezed Tazaar even more tightly in his arms.

"Tazaar-hah," he whispered. "Someday I will take you from here. I will keep you with me. I will always keep you with me." His cock grew stiff, lifting itself up between Tazaar's smooth legs, and he felt the young eunuch's cock respond.

Tazaar's arms closed around Cyndur's shoulders and the younger boy clung to him. Cyndur laid Tazaar back onto the bed, moving over him, covering Tazaar's mouth with his own. They kissed, and their bodies moved together.

"Fierce Tazaar," Cyndur whispered and smiled, remembering the sight of his lover with the dagger. He gazed down into Tazaar's eyes. "Love me Tazaar, as fiercely as you would defend me." He brushed his lips on Tazaar's.

Tazaar's lips parted, and running his fingers into Cyndur's hair, he pulled the older boy's mouth down to his own.

Tazaar ground his stiff cock up against Cyndur's and thrust his tongue up into Cyndur's mouth. Cyndur ground back and they rolled on the bed, moving against each other, wrestling.

Tazaar knew Cyndur's moods and how to respond to them. He knew when Cyndur wanted him to be aggressive and when he wanted him to be gentle, receptive.

Cyndur knew Tazaar as well. He knew the things that gave his younger lover pleasure, and now he backed kissing and mouthing down Tazaar's chest and belly.  Grasping Tazaar's legs, he spread them out to the sides and buried his mouth under Tazaar's cock.

Cyndur mourned the loss of Tazaar's balls as much as Tazaar. He missed the sharp edge of passion that Tazaar would never have. He missed the scent and feel that Tazaar's balls would have had. He missed the pleasure they would have given him and the depth of manhood they would eventually have given Tazaar. But he said nothing about those things, and he never would. His balls would serve for both of them, and his passion would drive them both.

Cyndur felt that passion now as he grabbed Tazaar firmly by the hips and swallowed Tazaar's long cock as deeply as he could. Good Greek boys didn't suck other boys' cocks. But Cyndur liked sucking Tazaar's. He liked it a lot. It pleased Cyndur that Tazaar clutched the hair at the sides of his head and writhed under him. It pleased him that he could drive Tazaar's pleasure.

Cyndur skillfully worked his tongue and mouth. He would excite Tazaar to the very edge, and then move up over him, enter him, and writhe together with him until he made his boy cry out in ecstasy.

After Rufus and the guard left their chamber, Jeet had pressed in behind Anda's body and held her protectively. He listened to the voices downstairs as Rufus inspected the eunuchs' chamber. And then the voices faded.

Jeet lay in the dark, alert to every shadow, every sound. He decided that he would need to find a knife or a sword... something to have at hand to protect the Oracle if ever there were another intruder. There was a sound... in the corner. He listened, holding his breath, trying to quiet the pounding of his heart so that he could hear better. It was a mouse. Slowly, he let out his breath.

He rolled to his back, keeping an arm under Anda's neck. He needed to breathe. He needed to relax. Out in the darkness, he could hear the quiet sounds of the river. Jeet lay quietly for a long time and eventually drifted into a fitful sleep.

He dreamed. There was a youth, a boy his age. The boy was running, terrified. Men were after him. He was running for his home, for his mother.

Anda woke. The hills beyond the river were barely visible in the first pale light of dawn. Jeet was behind her, jerking and twisting in his sleep. She rolled toward him. "Jeet," she said, shaking him. "Jeet... are you having a bad dream?"

Jeet grew still, and then sat up. "I must find Rufus," he said.

"What's wrong?" Anda asked as Jeet rose and put on his breechcloth.

"Someone tried to sneak into the shrine last night," Jeet said. "I think he is in danger." He headed for the door.

"Who's in danger? Rufus?" asked Anda in alarm.

Jeet returned to her and knelt beside her. "I told you about my dreams, remember?"

Anda nodded.

"I dreamed about the boy who tried to sneak in. He's in danger."

Anda frowned. "Well he should be!"

Jeet shook his head and rose to his feet. "I'll explain later, Oracle," he promised, and then ran from the room.

Jeet found Rufus out in front of the shrine guard barracks, stretching in the growing light of dawn. The man looked tired.

"Rufus, where is the boy who tried to sneak into the shrine?" Jeet asked, rushing to him.

Rufus waved him away. "Leave him to us, Jeet."

"Let him go, Rufus. He didn't mean to hurt anybody."

Rufus shrugged. "I've already decided that the boy is harmless." He glanced at Jeet. "But how did you decide that?"

Jeet started to answer, then paused. What could he say? How could he explain his dreams to Rufus? "The Oracle told me," he said. "The Oracle had a dream, and she said that the boy is harmless."

Rufus frowned. The previous Oracle had no special dreams. She enjoyed no special favor from the gods. Did this one? "What kind of dream?" Rufus asked, skeptically.

"A dream, Rufus," Jeet said, struggling for words. "A message... from the gods... that the boy who tried to break in was no danger to us."

Rufus' eyes dropped to the ground, and he chuckled. "No indeed. The boy is no danger. He is just stupid."

Two guards emerged from the barracks with the boy firmly grasped between them. The boy's clothing was askew and Jeet could see a bare, boney hip and skinny thigh. The boy's face was bruised, haggard, and pale. When the youth saw Jeet, he went even paler and tried to pull away from the guards. "I'm sorry," he murmured. "I'm sorry."

Jeet realized with a start that he recognized the boy. He had seen him around the temple.

"You'll be even sorrier if you ever show up here again," Rufus said. "I promise you that." With a jerk of his head, he motioned the guards on, and they dragged the boy toward the main gate.

"Stupid boy," Rufus said, shaking his head. "He has been listening to all the rumors about you and the Oracle and the other eunuchs, and he's completely consumed by them. He's been hanging around here, catching glimpses of you and the others whenever he could. You are gods to him."

Rufus glanced after the boy and the guards as they approached the gate. "He got it into his head that all of you in the shrine did nothing but copulate all the time. He intended to sneak in and watch, and maybe touch some of you in the dark when you couldn't see who it was. His dream was that he would lay down among you in the dark and be accidentally included in all the sex. His ultimate dream was that in the light of the next morning, you would all welcome him into the shrine."

Jeet watched as the guards tossed the boy out through the gates, and then he turned back to Rufus. "How could he think that?"

Rufus shook his head. "Stupidity! This whole city buzzes with stories about all of you." He glanced at Jeet and had to resist laying a hand on the boy's shoulder as he would have done when speaking to his own sons. Rufus reminded himself that Jeet was the Abij-hah. So, instead, he smiled in what he hoped was a fatherly way, and went on. "Most of the people out there live simple, mundane lives, Jeet. Most have never ventured farther than the city gates or slightly beyond. The Oracle, you eunuchs... all of you are larger than life to them."

Jeet glanced toward the gate and the returning guards.

"You know these things to be true," Rufus said.

Jeet nodded and turned again to Rufus. "Did you hurt him? The boy..." he asked.

Rufus guffawed. "We frightened him, mostly. My men wanted to break him in half after the boy got so frightened that he pissed on himself and our dinner table. The little turd was scared as hell. And that is good." Rufus' eyes met Jeet's. "We don't need any more like him around here. It won't hurt for word to spread about what happened."

But Rufus was wrong about the word that was spread. By afternoon there were several versions of the story about the intruder at the shrine, and none were accurate. The intruder was an assassin in most versions. In some, the Oracle had a premonition that he was coming. Some versions had the intruder dying at Jeet's hand; some at Tazaar's. The boy who sneaked in evidently said nothing to anyone about what really happened, out of shame. And so, various versions of the story spread.

And yet, Rufus decided that those bogus versions of the events, as incorrect as they were, were not bad, because in each, the intruder was captured or killed.

+  +  +  +  + 

More and more onlookers came to the acrobatic practices of the six young eunuchs. More people came to the temple in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Oracle's eunuchs.

"You need to forget Tazaar for now, Stycus," Jarus told him as they stood looking over the courtyard from the temple, a week after the intruder was captured. "Quit thinking with those balls of yours and realize that this whole thing is working out far better than our expectations. The temple is alive with people coming because of the new oracle and her attendants."

"More people haven't meant any more money in the coffers," Stycus pointed out sourly.

"Of course it has," Jarus corrected. "But it's only the beginning. Word of these boys is spreading."

"They should perform for the city," Eustace said.

The other two priests turned to look at him, and a smile spread over Jarus' face. "That is brilliant!" he said. "We will have them dance, do their acrobatics, and sing." He glanced around the temple complex. "We could build a platform down in front of the shrine barracks and fill the courtyard with people."

"There would be more room if we build a platform farther up river where people could sit up the river bank to watch," Eustace pointed out.

"That wouldn't bring them into the temple," Jarus said with a frown.

"Set up braziers and coffers," Stycus suggested.

Jarus smiled, pleased that Stycus seemed to be warming up to possibilities. "We could look at the performance as an investment for later," he said, "build the boys' mystique and reputation."

Stycus stared off beyond the far temple wall as if looking upriver. "We could have one performance out along the river. Let the people see the pretty boys; few will see them very closely. And then, after that, have performances once or twice a week in the courtyard where they can be seen more closely. We could demand an offering from any who wish to watch." He glanced at Jarus. "That would bring in the money you keep talking about, and the eunuchs can still perform privately for important visitors."

Word went out that very afternoon about the upcoming, river performance. The eunuchs' acrobatic practices were immediately closed to onlookers to build excitement. The eunuchs themselves took that a step farther, closing their dance practices in the shrine to all but two musicians. They called in Benwal and Nester to work with them on new routines, and they called in Rallot to help with costumes.

Jarus and the other high priests congratulated themselves on having had a good idea. Not only was the entire city growing excited, but also, the young eunuchs were in a much more cooperative state of mind. When the Oracle insisted that a litter be prepared for her so that she could watch the performance as well, the priests readily agreed.

A platform was built farther up the river, braziers were set up, and anticipation built in the city. Exactly one week before the Oracle was to grant her first audience, the attendants to the Oracle of Kaleh held a public performance for the people of Kaleh.

+  +  +  +  + 

The performance began at midmorning. People had come in from the countryside, and thousands lined the river bank. The best places close to the platform were reserved for the elite of the city, and, with pomp and gaiety, they arrived shortly before the performance was to begin.

Smoke rose vertically from the braziers. Banners behind the platform hung limply in the slowly warming morning air. Calls and cries from the crowd echoed on the still morning air as servants from the temple passed among them, selling pieces of sacrificed meat and small loaves of temple bread.

The long, ceremonial horns at the temple sounded to announce that the eunuchs were on their way, and the crowd cheered. Soon, led by musicians and flanked by Rufus and guards from both the temple and shrine, the young eunuchs came single file up the river path. Their hair was pulled back high into long tails, and they each wore a cloak of sheer, white silk. As they passed, people could make out their slender forms through the fabric.

Immediately behind them, temple servants carried the Oracle's litter. As on the day she entered the city, she was screened by silk curtains.  Onlookers peering in saw only a reclining form.

The crowd cheered as the young eunuchs came up onto the platform and the Oracle's litter was placed on the platform as well, at the rear left corner. The high priests standing to the side of the platform exchanged glances; the Oracle's presence on the platform was unexpected. It made sense though, as the best place for her to watch the performance from behind her litter curtains, and there was little to do about it as the young eunuchs spread across the platform in an evenly spaced line. Heads nodded and fingers pointed from all over the crowd as people identified the white-cloaked boys by name for each other.

Jarus climbed the platform, and with a strong voice trained by years of temple service, he addressed the crowd. "Citizens of Kaleh, friends, guests... we present for your entertainment and appreciation, the Oracle of Kaleh's own Kurbantes -- the six famous `Attendants to the Oracle'."

The crowd cheered.

Moving down the line of boys, Jarus called out their names one by one, listening carefully to the crowd to see who might receive the loudest cheers. He was not surprised when Tazaar and Jeet did.

Once he left the platform, the boys stood silently, waiting. Slowly, the crowd quieted. A drum began to beat, and several in the crowd cheered, but quickly grew quiet as the drum continued in a steady rhythm. Then on the still morning air, Aruli's voice rose pure and clear.

It was Aruli's song; the one he had taught them all. The others joined him, then left him solo, then joined him again. In the still morning air, even those higher up the river bank could hear the clear, high voices of the eunuchs and the haunting melody they sang.

When they ended, the crowd was absolutely still.

The lead drummer counted silently to himself, one... two... three.... four... five; then he launched a rapid, staccato beat. The boy's pulled off their capes with a flourish and threw them aside; revealing slender, lightly-muscled bodies, nude except for golden armbands and short, tasseled breechcloths which scarcely came up from between their legs and ended in short, brush-like fringes that dangled low from their crotches. The crowd exploded into cheers, many of them calling out the name of their favorite eunuch.

The boys stood with their hands at their sides, their long tails of hair hanging down to their backs, and they tried to hear the music over the cheers of the crowd. Eventually, the crowd grew quiet as their eyes traveled over the boys' bodies.

Bantu signaled with a short call. They counted out three beats, and launched into a vigorous acrobatic session, complete with new tricks, which included three of the young eunuchs lifting partners up into handstands, and later, Tazaar and Ptolemy launching Jeet, then Aruli, into flips that ended on Bantu's shoulders.

Their acrobatics and the cheering lasted for almost half an hour. The boys finished with paired handspring runs and then waves at the audience, their chests heaving and their bodies wet with sweat.

They left the platform, dried themselves, and drank water brought to them by Rem and other servants. They put their cloaks back on, and under them, they switched out breechcloths.

The crowd cheered when the young eunuchs returned to the platform and paired up, but quickly quieted as the drummers began beating a low rhythm. Finding that Aruli danced best with his lover Jin, and Ptolemy with his lover Bantu, Benwal had paired them up that way, which left Tazaar paired with Jeet -- the two most popular of the young eunuchs.  On the platform, Tazaar and Jeet took the center; Jeet behind Tazaar, Jin behind Aruli, and Bantu behind Ptolemy.

Dancing at the Cybele had always been heavily sexual. That was how Benwal had been taught, and how he choreographed dance for the young eunuchs. Bantu cued them, and after counting off three beats, the boys in back, pulled the silk cloaks off the boys in front, revealing ivory armbands and long, thin breechcloths of white silk that ended in strings of black beads.

Tossing the cloaks behind them, the pairs reversed position; the boys from behind coming forward. Their partners stripped off their cloaks in turn and tossed them behind as well. Then the boys in back wrapped their left arms across the chests of the boys in front, and with their right hands, reached down between their partner's legs. The boys in front, covered their partner's hands with their own, and leaning back, swayed, sensuously in rhythm with the boy behind.

Strictly speaking, there was no music. Thinking that only drums would carry to the whole crowd, Benwal planned the dance entirely to drumbeats.

The high priests watched approvingly from the side of the platform. Stycus discreetly adjusted the growing erection under his robes. He was addicted to young eunuchs -- not simply young boys -- but young eunuchs. If castrated at just the right age and disciplined in diet and not allowed to be lazy, and if fucked hard and often, they developed pliant spirits and submissive mannerisms that were a delightful blend of boy and girl. He watched them now, their undulating, slender bodies moving into pairs, triads, and tableaus. Though some had been eunuchs for only a few weeks, in the graceful movements of their long arms, the easy sway of their bodies, and the gentle interaction of their combining, Stycus discerned the characteristics of boy eunuchs that so excited him.

The crowd was largely silent; most of them, except for the youngest children, were like Stycus -- aroused to one degree or another.

The young eunuchs had rejected some of the courser erotic moves Benwal suggested, and the result was a smoothly sensual dance; but one that was still intensely erotic as the bodies of the virtually naked boys pressed and moved together.

The dance ended with them in pairs once again, but belly to belly this time, and at Benwal's insistence, they ended the dance with a kiss between partners. At first there were a few calls and whistles, but then the riverbank exploded once more in cheers which rolled down from the crowd above and echoed off the opposite riverbank.

The six boys retreated to the back of the platform, and Jarus prepared to go up on the platform to announce the end of the performance. But the boys were not leaving. Was there more?

Shrine servants passed up crested helmets, shields, and swords. Rem had Jeet's, but the ten-year-old had the helmet on and was wiggling his butt while dancing in a circle. "Rem!" Jeet hissed, extending his hand down from the platform.

Grinning the boy passed up the helmet, then shield and sword. Jeet frowned, and Rem laughed. Bantu and Aruli were also laughing... nervously.

While the young eunuchs put the gear on, Jarus and the two other high priests exchanged smiles. The boys were going to do the dance of the Kurbantes. "Do you think they'll do it naked?" Eustace asked.

"It's always done, nude," Stycus said, watching Jeet settle his helmet.

"They're eunuchs," Jarus murmured. "They hate being seen naked." He frowned. Jeet and Tazaar had moved to the Oracle's litter.

Jeet fastened on his helmet. The idea had begun as a lark, but it would also be a statement... as to their maleness. Tazaar laid a hand on Jeet's back. "Are you ready?" he asked, his eyes meeting Jeet's.

Jeet nodded.

It had been largely forgotten at the back of the platform. But now there was a collective gasp from the crowd as the two boys pulled back the sheer curtains, and the Oracle stepped out.

She wore the gold and silver mask that the priests had ordered crafted for her.

"How did she get hold of that?" Jarus asked out loud.

The mask's appearance was modeled after the face of the goddess on her statue at the temple. In addition, they had cleverly braided the Oracle's golden hair in the fashion of that statue as well. They had taken care to dress her as the goddess, and the effect wasn't wasted. A hush fell over the crowd as her two attendants brought her forward to the center of the platform and the other eunuchs lined up on either side. In Phrygian lore, Cybele was originally both male and female -- a hermaphrodite... just like the young Oracle.

Stycus stepped up beside Jarus with a deep frown. "What are they doing, Jarus?" he asked.

"I don't know any more than you," Jarus answered angrily.

Jeet nodded at the drummer, and the same slow beat that served the boy's earlier dance began once again. This time, however, they danced a dance of true Kurbantes, banging swords and shields and stomping to the beat of the drums.

The Oracle danced among them, and as she came back to Jeet and Tazaar, the two boys stripped her outer clothing away. The Oracle stood dressed similarly to them. Her arm bands were gold, and she had a golden necklace. She wore a breechcloth as long and narrow as theirs, but hers was golden. Like theirs, it barely came above her phallus in front and hung from the top of her butt crack in back.

For a brief moment, she stood upright between the boys, her small breasts proudly bare. A small boy among the elite of the city who were sitting at the front, looked at his mom and asked loudly, "Is that the goddess?"

The word `goddess' repeated in murmurs and whispers up through the crowd. "Like the goddess." "Like the goddess."

And then they were moving once more on the platform, and the Oracle moved among them. As they banged their swords and shields and stomped their feet, the Oracle moved from boy to boy, removing their breechcloths. One by one, the breechcloths fell to the platform to cheers from the crowd, and the boys danced nude as true Kurbantes. Without balls for their long cocks to drape over, their flaccid members hung straight down like those of ponies, and they swung limply, but obviously as they moved.

"They aren't going to take off the Oracle's?" Eustace asked breathlessly. It was a question echoed up through the crowd.

The moves of the dancers became sensual once more, this time, with the Oracle's participation. First Tazaar and then Jeet stepped behind the Oracle and covered her breasts with their hands while she rubbed her butt in their laps. Many, many cocks hardened in the crowd, and many women felt a flush over their throats and their faces, along with dampness between their legs.

Jarus felt a flush as well... of anger. This was unauthorized and totally unacceptable. Stycus glanced at him with a mixture of anger and amusement. Eustace looked totally entranced. Jarus fumed.

In the crowd, one person watching the movements of their lithe bodies murmured, "Children of Cybele."

"Children of Cybele," passed from person to person. "Children of Cybele, come out to play," added another, and that too passed around the crowd. Heads nodded. It was as if those on the stage were children of some god.

The dance movements became the same sensual movement from when the boys danced alone before, only now with the Oracle mixing into their pairs and tableaus. And then at the end, Jeet pressed the Oracle's body from behind and Tazaar from the front. They reached between them and pulled off the Oracle's breechcloth, tossing it aside. But they kept her body pressed between theirs so that the crowd could only see their naked sides. The other four boys pressed in from behind, two on either side, so that seven, young, nude bodies pressed in a line. The drumbeats accelerated and then stopped with one final, loud beat, and all six of the Oracle's eunuchs fell back and dropped to their knees around her. She turned and faced the audience, head bowed and arms down at her side, splendidly alone and naked.

The crowd was absolutely silent.

Someone up front -- someone among the elites, cried out softly, "Oh, shit!" Someone else cried "Goddess!" and another "Cybele!" and others, "Oracle!" Instantly the call was taken up by others, not as a chant, but by individuals all over the crowd calling out to the Oracle.

The drums began again, and the young eunuchs jumped to their feet. They retrieved the Oracle's clothing and quickly dressed her, returning her to her litter. Then they pulled back on their own breechcloths. Servants retrieved the helmets and armor, and returned the silk cloaks to the eunuchs. Putting their cloaks back on, and, to the continuing beat of the drums, the eunuchs followed the Oracle's litter down from the platform.

Jarus had intended to announce at the end that there would be regular performances in the future at the temple. But now, angry beyond words, he and the other high priests simply watched as the Oracle's procession formed up to head back to the temple.

Suddenly the crowd surged forward. People -- mostly boys and young men -- ran down from the riverbank en masse. Many were calling out "Oracle! Oracle!" Others, as they got closer, called out the individual names of the eunuchs. Rufus and the guards rushed forward to meet them, but they were overwhelmed as youths broke through, surrounding the young eunuchs and the Oracle's litter.

Calling "Oracle! Oracle!" the mob jostled her litter bearers, wanting to get a closer glimpse of her and to seek her blessing. Others surrounded the eunuchs, wanting to see them closely and to touch them.

Several things happened at once. Anda screamed from inside the litter, "Jeet! Jeet!" Jeet tried to turn toward her and his cloak tore off in people's hands. Suddenly, youths were clutching at all of the eunuchs garments, wanting a eunuch's cloak or arm band or even a piece of his breechcloth. Rufus drew his sword. "Draw swords! Draw swords!" he bellowed. Holding his sword high, he charged toward the eunuchs and the Oracle's litter. "Signal the temple," he called to one of the guards who carried a short trumpet.

Rufus could barely hear the trumpet as he and his soldiers pressed toward the boys, brandishing their swords. Each of the young eunuchs was surrounded and pressed from all sides. "Oracle! Oracle!" Jeet called, struggling toward her litter. The press of the crowd pushed them all closer and closer to the river's edge.

Jeet saw Rufus. "Rufus," he called out, "none of us can swim!"

Rufus glanced at the river and their nearness to it, and he started pounding heads with the hilt of his sword. "Get back! Get back!" he yelled. The crowd farther up the riverbank saw the brandished swords and the onrush slowed. Rufus and the guards pulled youths off the young eunuchs and drove them away with their swords and shields.

Jeet made it to the Oracle's litter. He had been completely stripped, except for his sandals, and he was bleeding from a cut behind his ear. The curtains of the litter had been torn away, and one of her bearers had been pushed away; the litter was leaning. Anda still wore her mask and only the mystique and aura of the Oracle had kept the crowd from overturning the litter. Jeet planted himself in front of the litter; between Anda and the bulk of the crowd. He planted his feet wide and spread his long arms across the front of the litter as if to hold the crowd back and the litter up. Incongruously, a small boy who had been nearly trampled by the crowd, now took refuge at Jeet's feet.

Around the litter, the mobbing youths paused. The blood of his warrior parents had risen in Jeet's veins, and the preternatural beauty of his face had been transformed to a fierce visage of anger and defense. His almost-silver eyes had narrowed and his jaw was set. Someone had pulled off the binding in his hair and it hung thickly over his shoulders where it mixed with red blood from under his ear.  His long arms, spread protectively, were almost like wings. The naked muscles of his slender body were tightened so that every seam stood out, especially in his long legs. His belly and chest heaved. He was wet with sweat and his body glistened in the midday sun. His long cock hung straight down like a young stallion's. The child at his feet clutched his leg, and behind him, the Oracle hung onto his shoulders and buried her face behind his neck.

Youths and boys closest to the litter grew quiet. One of them murmured, "Attis." Two of them at the front of the crowd dropped to their knees. Others immediately did the same. In a widening half-circle around the litter, the crowd fell back and dropped to their knees and bowed their heads.

The other eunuchs, now freed, rushed forward. Tazaar, Ptolemy, and Bantu were all as naked as Jeet. Jin and Aruli had only tatters of their breechcloths left. Tazaar and Jin had bloody scratches where their armbands had been pulled off. They all had scrapes and bruises.

Tazaar immediately stepped up under the litter support pole where the bearer had been pushed away. He wasn't as tall as the other bearers, but he did his best to lift the pole. The other eunuchs joined him, doing the same, as Jeet held his stance against the crowd.

Rufus and the guards moved forward to surround them. Additional guards from the temple arrived on the run, clearing the way. The high priests, watching from beside the platform, finally stirred themselves and hurried to catch up as the guards rushed the eunuchs and the Oracle's litter back toward the temple.

+  +  +  +  + 

"It wasn't our fault, holy one," insisted Jeet as he comforted the Oracle in his arms and Tazaar dabbed blood from under his ear with a cloth. "Those people didn't act that way because the Oracle danced with us."

Jarus, flanked by the other high priests, stood angrily, just inside the shrine doors. The Oracle and the young eunuchs had barely arrived when the high priests caught up with them. The boys, still naked and tattered, were examining each other's wounds.

"They all liked the Oracle," Tazaar pointed out. "And we were careful for her to wear her mask the way you wanted her to do in public. And we had her dance with all of us so that people wouldn't know Jeet is Abij-hah."

Jarus glared at Tazaar, and the boy quieted and looked away. "The Oracle does not dance!" Jarus roared. He wheeled on Jeet. "The Oracle's job is not to please the rabble! She is here for the rich and powerful. One rich man may contribute more in one day than hundreds of those people in that mob will in a year! And do you know why rich men will pay? Because the Oracle is almost a goddess... mysterious... unknown. What everyone saw out there today was a thirteen-year-old girl dancing naked with half a dozen naked boys. You all shattered the illusion of who the Oracle is supposed to be!"

"But holy one," Jeet protested, "they were in awe of her. I heard them saying she was just like the goddess... exactly like you wanted."

Jarus pointed a long finger at Jeet "Enough, boy. Be quiet! You are not the Abij-hah yet, and you," he pointed at Anda, "are not yet the Oracle. You have not granted your first audience. It is not too late to send you back home, and for us to take these boys into the service of the high priests' chambers. We can find a new Oracle and new attendants." He leaned forward over his pointing finger. "If you still have any hope of being the Oracle, it will only be if you promise to obey." He glared at Jeet and the others as well. "All of you!"

He turned, and the other two priests followed. Jarus turned back at the door. "But the decision may already be out of your hands," he said with one final, angry glare. "We have to decide whether we want to keep you."

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