Jeet, Chapter 1

By Josh

©2008 Josh. All rights reserved


While in college, I took a couple of film classes. We studied movies, old and new, from all over the planet. I remember being struck by how attitudes and behaviors can vary so differently from one culture to another, and, yet, people seemed so basically the same in their needs and desires.

The first time I saw Fellini's Satyricon, I came away depressed, and damned grateful that I didn't live in Roman times. Even if Roman pansexuality now seems somehow liberated, their individual lives appeared lonely, aimless, and damned precarious from today's perspective. (The actual Satyricon is available online, by the way. An interesting read.)

Sitting as we do, in the West, on this side of the Christian era, it is easy to forget how brutal the world has been, and can be, even today.

But Jeet is not about brutality, though it is about a different time and culture when men often were brutal. The Seleucid Empire - formed in Persia after the conquests of Alexander the Great - is in decline. Rome is rising to the West. There are power struggles in the capital; struggles that play out in the provinces.

Jeet is a story for "mature audiences." By that, I do not mean that this story rises, even to a fraction, of the violence in today's video games. I do mean, though, that Jeet is not for hearts that are too tender. It is a "hard" story in places, beginning with the first chapter. It is a story of power and ambition, of grace and kindness, of good and evil, of sex and love... especially, of love.

Chapter 1 - Kaleh

After the death of Alexander III of Macedonia, better known as Alexander the Great, the world he had conquered was divided into four satraps, and ultimately three empires. One of them, the Seleucid Empire, covered all of Mesopotamia and Persia, and, at the height of its power, was arguably the most powerful of the three. But its glory did not last - Rome grew to power in the West; the Ptolemaic Kingdom remained strong in the South; and to the East, the Maurya dynasty ruled the Indus Valley.

Yet, the Seleucids remained for generations, at the heart of the Hellenistic world. At the heart of the Seleucid Empire, was the city of Kaleh.

There was more than one Kaleh in the empire, but only one Kaleh was located near the headwaters of the Euphrates River. It was known for its high citadel, its great temple of Cybele on the river, and for the Oracle who dwelt there.

Pretending indifference, Praxis the trader, attended by his steward, arose from his seat at the city gates and followed the petty warlord to his gathering of horses and people. Three men pushed the slaves forward... children mostly.

Two or three times a year, the warlord and his people raided villages along the Black Sea, away from the power and law of the dying empire. They collected children and a few women from fishing villages, and brought them to Praxis or some other slave trader to sell for handfuls of silver.

Praxis put on his best scowl and marched down the line of naked children. They were the usual, backwater Persians with dark hair, generally dark eyes, and olive skin. "At least you've kept them healthy this time," Praxis observed. "When you bring them to me this way they are worth more."

He stopped at a young girl who was prettier than the older children; she had a small patch of pubic hair. "Is she still virgin?" Praxis asked. "I'll check to see for myself if you say yes," he warned.

The warlord spat. "Bah!" he said. "Two months we've had these. My sons are not eunuchs." He smiled slyly. "She should be worth extra. She may be carrying a male from my line."

Praxis frowned at the man. "I've told you before; virgins are worth much more." He moved on to the boy who was standing in line after the girl. The boy had a sprinkling of pubic hair and the enlarged genitals of early pubescence, along with good lines and features, and a pleasing body - slender, but strong.

"That one is worth much," the warlord said. "He will be strong, and he's smart."

Praxis studied the boy, slapping his butt and finding it firm, squeezing the boy's arms and legs for tone. He looked in the boy's mouth. He learned that from a horse trader. You can learn a lot, looking in a slave's mouth. "We could neuter this one," Praxis said, thinking aloud. "He would make a good house slave or body slave."

"Or catamite you mean," the warlord said with a laugh. "You city dwellers and your boys!" He spat again.

The boy's eyes had gone wide.

"Did he understand me?" Praxis asked, surprised.

"I told you he was smart," the warlord said. "He already understands many words."

Praxis nodded, thinking that he could sell the boy to the governor, himself. He stepped to the next child. "And this girl?" Praxis asked. "She is ugly and her eyes are weak. Tell me that you have at least left this one a virgin.

Two of the men laughed, and one of them spoke up. "That one, he took for himself," the man said, pointing back to the warlord.

"She isn't ugly," the warlord said with a growl.

Praxis nodded, knowingly. It was easy to become attached to a slave when they were children. Something about this one must have appealed to the old cutthroat. Praxis made a mental note that the warlord would want too much for her.

Praxis reached the end of the line and pulled his steward aside. They conferred in whispers, and then Praxis returned to the warlord. "These are all children, and only one or possibly two females of breeding age. None of them look that healthy." Praxis shrugged. "But you have kept these slaves in better shape than you usually do. Because we are friends, you and me, I will give you one hundred and fifty silver drachmas."

The warlord scowled and spat ferociously. "Praxis, you pig fucking, piss drinking, bastard!"

Praxis angrily held up his hand. "Insults will lower what I offer."

"Insults!" roared the warlord. "You insult me by offering such a low price. You know these slaves are easily worth three times the amount you offer."

"You... are crazy," Praxis said, waving his hand dismissively.

"Crazy?" the warlord cried incredulously. "My people faced swords to take these slaves - swords! We have fed them and taken care of them for weeks. And you? You risk nothing. You sell them overnight for many times what you pay us... I know you do. Don't forget, Praxis; you are not the only slave trader I can go to."

Praxis frowned. Each time, they went through this dance. It was time now for Praxis to go back down the line of slaves, as if reconsidering. He did so, and turned when he reached the end. "Two hundred," he said. "But no more. There hasn't been much demand lately for children."

"Bah!" the warlord shouted. "Take them back to the horses," he called to his men.

"Alright!" Praxis shouted. "Stop!" He bit his lip as if struggling with the price. "Two twenty five. And you keep the ugly one." It was indeed more than he intended to pay, but not much more.

The warlord eyed the 'ugly' girl and nodded. "Deal."

"Bring them to my house," the trader said, "and my steward will pay you."

"Wait," the warlord called as Praxis turned to go. "I have something else to show you."

Praxis turned back. This was new. Had the warlord held back something? He was learning too well how to negotiate.

The warlord signaled to his people and, from behind the baggage, two more children were brought forward; a boy and a girl.

They looked alike enough to be brother and sister; maybe even twins. It was impossible to tell which was older. They were perhaps nine or ten years old. Their skin was a deeper olive than the other children and their flawless complexion had an alluring depth to it. Their hair was jet black, but with a sheen, and luxuriously thick. On both the boy and the girl, it hung back off their ears and straight down to the middle of their backs. They were slender, with long limbs and elegantly proportioned young bodies. But it was their faces - their fine, even features and particularly, their remarkable eyes - which were most striking.

Their eyes were large; large and intelligent. They were wide-set and of a rare color - a blue so pale as to be almost silver.

Praxis took the chin of each child in a hand and studied them. Their eyelashes were long and thick; their eyebrows were widely spaced and gracefully arched like the wings of a bird; their noses were straight, their lips full, and their cheekbones high. They were exquisitely beautiful.

Praxis dropped his hands and walked around them. The boy had a long cock which some Greeks didn't like, but which Praxis knew was good on a slave kept for beauty. The same was true of the girl's already slightly rounded hips.

"Their father was a warrior," the warlord said. "He and his two older sons killed seven of my men before we cut them down. I've never seen such fighters in a fishing village, but then, I don't think they were from that village." He spat. "Their mother had a knife - she was like a lioness protecting her cubs. A beautiful woman." He glanced at his men for confirmation and they nodded. "We accidentally killed her, trying to take away the knife." He frowned. "She would have been worth her weight in silver. But then," he gestured toward the two children, "so are her cubs."

Praxis nodded, too distracted to hide his interest. The warlord was right. Such remarkably beautiful children would be worth a lot. "A hundred for each," he said.

The warlord concealed his pleasure. He'd had no idea what the children might be worth. Now he hoped for more. "Children of a warrior and a lioness!" the warlord exclaimed incredulously. "Look at them! Are you blind that you offer me only a hundred each?"

Praxis glanced at him angrily. "One twenty-five each. That is more than they are worth, and you know that."

The warlord shook his head. "The girl is a virgin," he said. "I threatened to kill any man or boy who fucked her. They are both smart... very smart... smarter than that boy who understood your words earlier. They don't look so smart right now, but it's been less than two weeks since we hacked down their parents and brothers in front of them. I've watched them and I know what they are worth, Praxis. I want three hundred for her and two hundred for the boy."

Praxis swallowed hard. He had to have them. Reluctantly he nodded.

"Bring them to my room," Praxis told the steward. "They will sleep with me tonight."

Such valuable children needed to be protected from thieves or even from others in the household who might be jealous of them or want to have sex with the girl... and greatly diminish her value.

With this girl, Praxis wouldn't even trust his steward, a man in his late twenties. The steward had married one of Praxis' female slaves and they had children, but Praxis suspected the man fucked other slaves.

"And bring a bath," Praxis added. "I will wash them myself."

Praxis was sitting beside the open window of his sleeping chamber, watching the sunset across the river, when he heard the steward behind him. He turned. The children were still naked but their hands were unbound. "They have been fed?" Praxis asked.

The steward nodded.

"Fine. Light a couple of lamps and then leave us," Praxis said, his eyes dropping to the children. He waved them forward. The boy took his sister's hand and they came to stand before him. Their faces were expressionless.

Praxis leaned back in his chair. "What are your names?" he asked.

The children stared blankly.

"What are your names?" he repeated. He patted his chest. "My name is Praxis. What is yours?" He looked from the boy to the girl.

They said nothing.

He patted his chest again. "Praxis." He patted the boy's chest and raised his eyebrows inquiringly.

"Jeet," the boy said in a high, pure voice.

The man turned to the girl and patted her chest. "Weela," she said.

Praxis nodded approvingly. "Jeet and Weela," he repeated.

One cannot be a slave trader and have a kind heart, but Praxis liked these two. He would be in no hurry to sell them. He would wait until he had a really good offer. "You will be my personal slaves for now," he said. "You will learn our language and you will attend to my needs. Tonight I will bathe you and you will learn to bathe me."

He stood and walked out to the balcony where his servants had filled a wide, wooden bath with several inches of water. The balcony was screened from the sides and below, and Praxis often bathed out here. He was not a modest man, as most men in his time were not modest. But he was a private man. That is why he had never married; he didn't want to share his life with a woman. There were always slaves for his physical pleasure and comforts. Twice, that he knew of, slaves had borne him sons, the younger of which he had kept in his household. The boy was sixteen now, and Praxis would probably free him, officially adopting him... someday. Praxis was close to forty, and life grew increasingly uncertain after that age.

He motioned for the children to come to him, and pointed into the bath. They stared at him.

Praxis frowned and pointed emphatically into the wooden tub. The boy and girl stepped into it. Removing his outer cloak, Praxis grabbed up a linen rag, and moistened it with his private mixture of bath salts and oil from a vessel. He began with the boy, scrubbing briskly over his back and shoulders before more gently cleaning the boys face. He was gentler there, not because of the boy's feelings, but to protect the boy's valuable complexion.

He cleaned the boy thoroughly, including his butt crack, his scrotum, and his penis, pulling back the foreskin to make sure the boy was completely washed. The boy stared forward, his body rigid, but his penis betrayed him, growing erect under Praxis' manipulations. The man smiled. It would serve his purpose for the boy to associate pleasure with the man. And he smiled for a second reason; the boy's erection was quite long.

Praxis did the girl next, particularly taking his time between her legs, hoping to stimulate her as well. The boy watched with narrowed eyes.

Praxis, ladling water, rinsed them both. Then he removed his tunic and stepped naked into the tub; his penis thick and partly erect. The boy started to step from the tub, but Praxis stopped him with a firm hand on the boy's shoulder. He reached for the rag he had used on them and handed it to the boy. He handed a second to the girl and then knelt in the water between them. He nodded at the rags, and the children began cleaning him.

They were reluctant to clean his cock and balls, but grabbing them by their wrists, he cleaned himself with their hands. His penis grew erect.

It was time to start bending the children's will to his own. Praxis was an expert at that. He had done it countless times before - taking a captive, bending their will to his, and then building their attachment to him. He was never sure how he did it; he simply knew that within a matter of weeks, sometimes days, most captive slaves became devoted to him. The trick, of course, was to build their attachment to him without him becoming attached to them in the process. He had always been successful at that as well. Praxis wasn't a cruel man; he simply kept himself detached.

He stood and, taking the children's hands, he placed them on his erection and scrotum. He would teach them how to pleasure him, with their hands first. In days to come, he would teach them other ways to please him. But he would be patient. Breaking in slaves was a skill that required patience, to be done properly.

The boy struggled, pulling his hand away. The man let go of the girl and used both hands on the boy; one behind the neck to apply pain without causing damage. The man's eyes locked on the boy's, and he applied pain until he saw the boy's defiance yield. He placed the boy's hand on his now more flaccid cock, and, once more the boy pulled his hand back. Praxis patiently, determinedly, reapplied pain. The trick was to bend the boy's spirit without breaking it.

Afterward, Praxis dried the children's bodies. They were silent; their eyes downcast. He had them dry his own body next, and he had them spread fine, scented oil over his skin. He did the same for them and was especially liberal applying oil into the crevices of their perfectly formed little butts. Not tonight, but soon, he would teach them much greater submission.

Submission first, but always with pleasure. He would teach them pleasure.

It was two months later that Jeet overheard Praxis tell his steward, "The boy, I may keep, but while the girl is still a virgin she is far too valuable for me to hang on to." Praxis glanced at Jeet, who was sweeping his master's sleeping chamber. "I have enjoyed my little bed mates," Praxis said. "Too bad I must sell the girl."

The steward nodded, eyeing the boy. "The boy may understand you," the servant cautioned in a whisper.

The boy turned his back to them as he swept. Praxis shrugged. "If so, it is just as well that he understands the reality of things."

That night, as every night, the brother and sister pleasured Praxis. Afterward, the man fell asleep between them while stroking their long hair. When the man grew quiet, Jeet carefully extricated himself from under Praxis' arm. He crawled over beside his sister. Earlier, Jeet had explained what they must do, and now Weela's hand reached between his legs. She fondled him and he grew hard. Then she lay onto her back like she and Jeet did for the man, only Jeet entered her vagina instead of her rectum.

Weela bit her lip at the initial, burning pain, but it quickly passed and they began to move together.

Jeet pressed his cheek against hers, and they held each other tightly as they pumped their pelvises and discovered pleasures they hadn't expected.

Jeet intended to let Praxis know what they had done, the next day. The man would beat him, but Praxis wouldn't think that Weela was so valuable that she had to be sold.

But Jeet did not tell Praxis the next day. Instead, once the man was asleep that night, Jeet moved over beside Weela, his penis already long and hard.

It wasn't until a week later that Praxis awoke to their motions and opened his eyes to find the two of them rutting in moonlight from the balcony, like small animals... in his very own bed! The sight of their small, pumping bodies instantly aroused both his cock and his anger. He threw Jeet off Weela and off the bedding in one motion. "You will pay for this with your hide!" he growled at the boy angrily. Then he looked down at Weela, whose long, slender legs were still spread.

He almost moved up over her himself. If she was no longer a virgin, why deny himself the pleasure any longer? But he considered it. Though the boy's erection was long, it was thin. Perhaps some of the girl's hymen remained. Tomorrow, he would check in the daylight to see.

He glared over at the boy who simply stared back. "You have no idea what you've done!" Praxis shouted. "You're supposed to be smart, but this was stupid, stupid, stupid!" He thought about beating the boy, right then. But the sight of the beautiful boy in the moonlight, his thin erection still pointing up his belly, mollified Praxis. For an instant, Praxis considered taking out his revenge by hard-fucking the boy's butt, but just as quickly decided against it. He didn't want the boy to associate sex with Praxis with anything other than submission and pleasure.

"You will sleep out there tonight," Praxis said, pointing out toward the balcony. "I will deal with you in the morning." He glanced down at the girl. "And with you."

He laid back down, pulling the girl's body to his own, primarily to keep her from moving to the balcony or to keep her brother from moving back to join her. He barely closed his eyes, when he remembered the conversation with his steward in front of Jeet; the conversation about having to sell Weela while she was still a virgin.

Praxis's eyes flew open and he sat up. He looked out toward the balcony. The boy was sitting with his back to the balcony railing, his eyes staring emotionless back at Praxis. "You little devil," Praxis whispered to himself.

Praxis checked the next day. The girl's hymen was gone.

The man knew how to beat a slave without leaving permanent marks. He beat the boy. He told the steward why, but no one else, and he warned the children to say nothing. "If others find out that you are no longer a virgin," Praxis warned the girl, "they will be tempted to fuck you themselves; do you understand?"

The girl nodded.

That night, Praxis made Jeet sit to one side while Praxis stimulated the girl with his mouth and his hands. She resisted at first, but Praxis knew her now; he knew what she liked. Before long, he had her writhing under his ministrations. And then he moved up on her, angling his erection down between her legs. She was tight... and hot. Her vagina slid down over his cock like a warm, tight mouth.

His eyes closed and he sighed. The boy had done him a favor. Praxis would have never forgiven himself if he let the girl go without tasting her this way. He began to move his hips and the aroused girl under him moved her hips to meet his thrusts.

Praxis glanced at the boy. Jeet stared back angrily, but the erection pointing up from his lap betrayed him. Praxis gruffly motioned the boy over and made him kneel beside his and the girl's heads. "You started this," Praxis said, meeting the boy's glare with his own. Then Praxis took the boy's erection into his mouth and began to suck. He would make the boy a party to this pleasure and compromise the boy's resentment.

Praxis gave himself over to the task, sucking the boy's cock with enthusiasm. Before long the boy rested his hands on the man's head and began to pump into Praxis' mouth.

Praxis moved his hips slowly. The girl was tight, and he did not want to damage her. She might not be a virgin anymore, but she was still valuable.

When Praxis' son reached eighteen years of age, Praxis freed him from being a slave and made him an heir. Within a day, the boy was complaining to Praxis's steward about his father's chamber slaves.

"Your father is wealthy enough," the steward explained. "If he wants to keep two more valuable slaves for himself, he can afford it."

"He's had them three years," the boy complained. "For as long as I can remember, he has said that it is foolish to become attached to slaves, but he's been attached to those two from the moment they entered this house. He doesn't just fuck the two of them. He pampers them."

"He hasn't fucked the girl for several months now. He's afraid she will start menstruating and he might make her pregnant." The steward paused and leaned closer. "Your father still pretends he might sell them."

They were reorganizing the slave quarters after selling off the latest batch. The steward resumed his work. "Your father may pamper them, but they are still just chamber slaves. They wash his body. They clean his butt after he craps. They empty and clean his chamber pot. They clean his bedding and his clothes. They clean his quarters. Their bodies are his whenever he wants. And he keeps them prisoners inside this compound because he's afraid that if he takes them out where they will be seen, someone will want to buy them"

The boy considered that, and a smile spread across his face. "I could let it be known around town that my father has them. I could tell people what they are like."

"Are you afraid those two will displace you in your father's favor?" the steward asked.

"Perhaps," the young man said with a frown. "But what about you? Jeet won't be a boy much longer. And he is clever. He might make a good steward, don't you think?"

The steward declined to answer directly, continuing to work a moment before responding. "Jeet and Weela aren't ever going to be worth more than they are now," the steward observed.

The boy nodded. "The next time my father is sitting down at the gates, perhaps I will take Jeet and Weela with me to the market."

Praxis closed his eyes and relaxed as the two children rubbed his chest, belly, and legs with sweet balm. He had an erection, but they worked around it, teasing him. They enjoyed their sex as much as he did; Praxis made sure of that. Weela was on his right side. He stroked the soft skin of her back with his fingertips. Praxis never felt more like a rich, spoiled aristocrat than at moments like these.

Jeet bent over, and lifting Praxis erection, closed his mouth over it. Praxis sighed contentedly. He and the boy still had their little contests of wills during their sex, but they had truly come to enjoy each other.

Perhaps tonight he would let the boy enter the girl and he would enter the boy. They had been doing that lately, and they all liked it.

Praxis glanced down at the boy. Jeet was on the verge of adolescence. His cock and balls had already thickened and grown. Any day, pubic hair would spring up quickly the way it did at that age. He wondered if the boy had begun shooting semen. Perhaps he would suck the boy off tonight and see. Though any ejaculate at Jeet's age would be mostly clear liquid, it wouldn't do for the boy to impregnate his sister.

The two children had sex with each other more often than when Praxis was with them. He knew that. And both brother and sister could come two or three times in a row, which was one reason Praxis assumed that Jeet's orgasms were still dry. The nature of the boy's orgasms would change when he began to shoot sperm, but until then, he and his sister had the resilience of preteens.

All that Praxis asked was that they were ready for him when he wanted. He got more than their obedience, though. From time to time, the children showed him genuine affection and their communal bed had become a retreat for Praxis; a delight every evening.

Praxis, eyes still closed, smiled. He had never expected to be happy. The children might not be content as he was, but they were not unhappy. He was sure of that. They knew that they had it good with him. Things could be worse for them. Much worse.

Weela bent to close her mouth over Praxis' left nipple. He murmured his approval. With his training, they had become good lovers. They could be worth much.

But then Praxis frowned the way he always did when the thought of possibly selling them crossed his mind. The children were precious to him.

Two nights later, Praxis woke to a murmur from the boy. The boy and his sister were sleeping like they did almost every night; in each other's arms. Praxis let them sleep that way, usually with him wrapped up behind one or the other. Tonight, Praxis was spooned behind the boy.

Jeet often slept with an arm and a leg over his sister, but tonight he was clutching her to himself in his sleep and whimpering. Praxis did as he always did when the boy dreamed like this; he cradled the boy's body with his own and stroked his arm.

"They're going to try to take Weela from us," Jeet said in the morning. "I dreamed it. You must not let them."

"It was just a dream," Praxis assured him, and yet the man was troubled. "In your dream, who tried to take her away?"

Jeet shook his head. "I don't know. Men in fine clothes."

"Get to work," Praxis told him. "It was only a dream."

"It's the governor himself," the steward said quietly, but urgently when he found Praxis out in his garden.

"What does he want?" Praxis asked with a frown.

"Slaves, I'm sure," the steward answered.

The governor, with others, was waiting in Praxis' courtyard. Praxis' heart caught in his throat when he saw that his son had led out Jeet and Weela to serve the group water. All the eyes in the governor's party were watching the children, who were dressed as Praxis himself preferred; in simple white tunics which showed off their olive skin and flowing black hair. Swallowing hard, Praxis came forward.

The governor, a tall man, saw him. "Praxis, you scoundrel. You've been holding back on us. Just who were you planning on selling these two to? You know I pay top dollar for good slaves."

Praxis suppressed a frown. The governor only bought slaves after hard bargaining. "I have had no slaves worthy to bring you, sire" Praxis said, bowing deferentially.

The governor laughed. "Just how worthy do they have to be, Praxis? These two are beautiful. Perhaps you want them for yourself?" The governor smiled, but there was flint in his eyes. He pulled Praxis to the side with an arm behind his back. "My oldest boy, Jason, is thirteen now, and has his first short hairs." He nodded back toward a richly-dressed boy with long, braided hair. The boy's eyes were on Weela; only on Weela.

"I want him to have his own slave girl; a virgin to break in and learn with," the governor said. "That girl would be perfect."

"But governor, certainly I can find you a better girl..."

The governor stopped him with an upraised hand. "He likes that girl. I like her, too. When my son is through with her, she might please me."

Praxis thought quickly. Keeping Weela for himself might be out of the question now. The governor obviously wanted her. Would he want her if he knew she wasn't a virgin? It would certainly be dangerous to claim that Weela was one. But she would be worth much, much less if he admitted that he had fucked her for almost two years. The governor would probably still insist on taking her, but pay almost nothing. Praxis had to be very careful now. The trader swallowed and leaned close, confidentially. "The girl is not a virgin, sire."

The governor frowned angrily, as if there had been an attempt to deceive him. "Sire," Praxis said, quickly, "I only recently discovered this myself. It was the boy, her brother."

The governor's countenance darkened as he eyed Jeet.

"Sire," Praxis went on quickly, "he only did it because he didn't want me to sell his sister, and he thought I would be unable to if she was no longer a virgin." Praxis leaned closer. "Sire, he is but a boy. He has no... no, short hairs yet. He has no semen. I'm sure that his small cock was barely able to breech her. The girl is almost a virgin. No man has had her yet."

The governor's look softened perceptively. "The boy did that?" he asked, watching Jeet.

"Yes, sire."

The governor chewed his lip. "I couldn't take them both, then. Not if that happened between them."

Praxis shook his head. "Certainly not, sire."

The governor returned his gaze to the girl. "Let me talk to my son," he said. "I will see if he still wants her."

The governor strode over to his son and pulled him aside. Praxis motioned his steward over. He quickly briefed the steward as to his conversation with the governor. "It will be suspicious if I talk to Weela directly now," Praxis said. "But tell her that she must never breathe a word of anything differently than what I told the governor or all our lives could be in danger. Be sure she understands that."

The steward nodded. And because his fate was tied to his master's, he immediately pulled the girl aside. "The governor is going to buy you," he said.

Weela glanced quickly at Jeet.

"Girl," the steward urgently said, "this will be good for you. You will be in the household of the governor himself, and you will belong to his heir. That boy; the good looking one."

Weela glanced at the boy, but then back to her brother. There was panic in her eyes.

"Weela," the steward said, "you must listen to me. I have some important things to tell you."

The governor stepped back to Praxis. "What can I say? The boy is smitten with her. I will pay you generously for her Praxis. I will give you two hundred pieces of silver."

Praxis' eyes flashed angrily at the governor. The governor returned a hard gaze.

"Governor," Praxis said. "I did not try to deceive you. I have been honest with you. I am honest with you still; even though she is not a virgin, she is easily worth twice that amount. You know it."

Weela had stepped over beside her brother and the two were whispering animatedly together. The governor's son went over to them, pushed Jeet away, and took the girl's hand. Weela and Jeet kept silent, but their eyes flashed at the boy.

"Quit bargaining, father," the governor's son called back to him. "I want her. Just pay what he's asking."

The governor frowned and turned to Praxis. "I won't argue with you any longer, Praxis. I will give you three hundred pieces of silver, and you will be more careful next time to protect your property."

Praxis bowed, defeated. "You are more than fair, sire," he said softly.

The boy, Jeet, stood at the doorway, weeping, long after his sister and the governor's procession disappeared down the street. Praxis left him there. He was dealing with his own sadness.

There was no life in the boy that night. He lay on his side, and Praxis moved in behind him, to comfort him. The boy started to pull away, but Praxis pulled the boy's body back to his own and ran an arm under the boy's head to support it. He felt dampness from the boy's eyes.

"You must toughen yourself, Jeet," he softly said. "Life is hard. You must get used to that. Weela will be fine. She'll be well taken care of in the governor's house, and she will be close enough to us for you to hear how she is doing."

"You sold her," the boy said accusingly.

"Jeet," Praxis said, soothingly, "I had no choice. The governor was going to take her regardless of what I did or didn't do."

Jeet said nothing. Nor did he the next day, or the next night. Praxis made love to him, but the boy was lifeless and the bed seemed empty. It had been a mistake, Praxis decided, to continue letting the boy have sex with his sister. They had grown too close.

You old hypocrite, he told himself. You grew too close.

Three days later, the Oracle at the great temple died unexpectedly.

The Oracle's life-long attendants, led by the Abij-hah, or literally Beloved Eunuch, prepared the body for burial and carried it to a hillside tomb which had been quickly prepared. It was tradition for the Oracle to be buried high on a hill because the seer's grave needed a far horizon.

The Oracle's attendants, including the Abij-hah, were then put to the sword and buried with the body so that the Oracle would have her servants in the life to come.

The city grew quiet for thirty days of morning, and Praxis hoped that the governor's house would forget about his boy, Jeet. They would all be busy now, looking for a new Oracle. By law and tradition, the Oracle had to be a hermaphrodite like the Cybele-associated demon-god, Agdistis; just as in the same way, the Abij-hah had to be a eunuch like Cybele's eunuch-son, Attis. Fortunately, Praxis thought to himself, hermaphrodites were not easy to come by.

"I hear you have already found your new Oracle," the governor said to Jarus, The Most High Priest, who with other guests, was seated at the governor's table. They were eating on a high terrace of the governor's palace. Below them lay the Euphrates River and the entire city which lay along its near bank from the temple on the left, to the agora, to the riverside gymnasium, to the great North Gate on the right.

"Yes," the high priest, a bald man in his early fifties, responded. "We have a new Oracle. We knew of her before, of course. It was a simple matter of making arrangements. The family is Greek." Several heads nodded around the table. The ruling elite of the Seleucid Empire were all Greek. "The father works for the emperor at Ali."

"And the parents were willing to part with their child?" the governor's wife asked in surprise. "I understand a poor family having to sell children, but not a family with money."

"The father is alone. His wife died in childbirth," the high priest explained. "He has other sons and daughters, and what is he to do with a child who is a hermaphrodite? He couldn't very well marry her off, could he?" The priest paused. "A poor family might have been better though. This child was a favorite of her father and may be spoiled. That is a concern. The last thing we need is another demanding Oracle."

The governor chuckled. "Your last Oracle and her grand eunuch ran your temple."

"Grand eunuch... you mean the Abij-hah?" asked another guest, a general.

"Bah!" Jarus said with a frown. "That eunuch was beloved by no one but himself. He enjoyed the power he had, running the shrine and controlling access to the Oracle. He grew fat, lazy, and pampered."

The general smirked. "All his power didn't keep him from being buried with the Oracle," he observed with a chuckle.

"A slave is still a slave, no matter how good he is at manipulation and intrigue," Jarus said. He took a deep breath and smiled. "Bless the traditions. Now we can start fresh."

"With another demanding Oracle?" the governor asked dryly.

Jarus shook his head. "She is very young and we should be able to train her properly. She is only twelve years old - the youngest new Oracle in a hundred years. We will choose for her, attendants that are as young as she is. Since we will have them from such a young age, we will train them to be what we want them to be."

"Why have an Oracle at all if they are so much trouble?" the governor's wife asked. "Tradition?"

The governor laughed out loud. "Gold and silver, my dear wife. People pay to hear from the Oracle. Rich people pay a lot."

The governor's wife thought that over. "You still would not need to have an Abij-hah."

"Oh yes we would," the high priest said. "The Oracle needs attendants and someone has to be steward at the shrine. It might as well be a eunuch we can control and don't mind burying with the Oracle when she dies. Besides," he said, leaning back, "eunuchs have other uses. When I was young, one of the Oracle's servants was an exceptionally beautiful youth. There were some who traveled to the shrine simply to see him, and the rumor was, that for a little gold, he could be purchased for the night. Now something like that could add to the temple coffers."

"There you are!" the governor exclaimed. "Buy only beautiful young eunuchs for the Oracle and you could have a real trade going."

The high priest chewed a bite of food, thoughtfully. "That isn't a bad idea. The Oracle has six attendants. We could get six beautiful young boys, boys that people would travel to see."

"Why not get a dozen... or more?" the general asked.

The high priest shook his head. "No. Six is the tradition. For one thing the shrine and the Oracle don't require more, and slaves are costly to buy and maintain - we already have more than enough temple prostitutes and priestesses whoring for us... but six beautiful boys," Jarus said thoughtfully. Then he shrugged. "Not more than six, certainly. The Oracle's attendants serve for life. These six will get old eventually, and the last thing the temple of Cybele needs are more, old eunuchs. We don't need six of them, much less a dozen."

"Change them out," the general suggested. "Change the attendants out when they get old."

"It's not the tradition," the high priest objected.

"Don't talk to priests about changing traditions, general," the governor said with an amused grin. "They are the protectors of traditions. Start changing too many temple traditions and someone could lose power, or worse - their job."

From below, the temple gongs sounded for the evening sacrifice. They all paused to listen as the clear tones rose on the late afternoon air. "Traditions can be beautiful in and of themselves," the high priest pointed out. "Traditions have made this city what it is."

Several heads nodded around the table.

"I know who you should start with," the governor said, smiling and leaning toward The Most High Priest. "I know the first boy you should buy. He's with Praxis, the slave trader."

Others around the table turned to listen. "Praxis had two of them; a brother and a sister," the governor said, "about the age of your Oracle. He was hiding them like misers hide gold, but I heard about them and bought the girl for my son, Jason." The governor grinned. "My son has barely let her out of his bed since we bought her for him."

The governor glanced around. "You," he called out to a servant, "go fetch Weela."

The servant hurriedly left.

"The boy was as beautiful as the girl," the governor said. "Damn if he wasn't more beautiful."

"Why didn't you buy him as well?" The general asked.

The governor shook his head. "I had my reasons."

"Our son is infatuated with the girl," said the governor's wife. "She's quite lovely."

"She's only twelve?" the high priest asked. "How beautiful can a twelve year old be?"

"Wait till you see," the governor said. "Ah, here she is." He extended a hand. "Come here, Weela."

The girl, accompanied by the governor's son, entered the room. She came forward, and Jason, as if not wanting her out of reach, followed closely. Weela came to the governor, who with an arm behind her waist turned her to face the table.

There were murmurs of approval. "Those eyes," one of the women said, noticing what they all had immediately noticed, "they're almost silver... and so large... such big eyes."

"And her hair," the governor's wife said. "Look at her hair. It's so thick. I love brushing it."

"You brush a slave's hair?" the general's wife asked in surprise.

"It pleases me," the governor's wife said.

The governor smiled and gave Weela's waist a squeeze. "My son isn't the only one smitten with this girl."

The girl glanced at him and the governor thought, not for the first time, that the girl's beauty lay as much in what was behind her eyes as in the eyes themselves. They were shrewd for a child so young. They saw, they observed, they understood. Yet in them, the governor had yet to see fear.

Jeet was restless in his sleep again. Praxis pulled the boy close. "Jeet-hah," he whispered, "what are you dreaming?"

But the boy didn't answer.

Praxis held the boy to himself, and he thought that if ever he loved anyone in his life, it was this boy.

"Two of the high priests of Cybele are here," the steward said, greeting Praxis on his return from the city gates the next afternoon. "They asked to see Jeet."

Praxis felt the bottom of his stomach fall away as he headed into his courtyard.

The priests and their retinue stood in a circle around Jeet. They parted for Praxis. Two of the three high priests from the temple of Cybele stood on either side of Jeet. They had removed his clothing and one of them was examining the boy's long hair.

The Most High Priest, Jarus, smiled at the trader. "Praxis, we wish to buy this boy."

Praxis frowned. "Holy One, I have other slaves, more fit for temple service."

"Nonsense," the priest said, waving away Praxis' objection. "This boy is perfect for what we need."

The other high priest, a ferret-faced, chubby man by the name of Stycus, who Praxis knew more by reputation, stepped forward. "We have found the new Oracle and now we need to find her attendants."

"But the Oracle is attended to by eunuchs. The boy is not a eunuch," objected Praxis.

"That is easily remedied," Stycus replied.

"No," Praxis said, and regretted the loudness of his voice. He lowered it. "A slave with his looks and coloring, he should be bred. His offspring would be worth much."

"The temple is not in the slave breeding business," Stycus replied.

"But the boy has spirit," Praxis pleaded. "Don't take that from him."

"Nonsense," Jarus said. "Who needs spirit in a slave? We must have this boy, Praxis. It is that simple."

Praxis glanced sadly at Jeet, whose large eyes were on him. Their eyes met, and when Jeet saw what was in Praxis' eyes, he looked away.

"How much, Praxis?" Jarus asked.

"A thousand silver drachmas," Praxis murmured softly, not taking his eyes from the boy. If they killed him for asking such an outrageous price, he almost wouldn't mind. Even a thousand silver drachmas were poor compensation for parting with the boy.

"You're out of your mind," Stycus hissed. "Perhaps we should just take the boy to satisfy your temple tax. When was the last time you paid the temple tax, Praxis?"

Praxis' eyes flashed at Stycus.

"No," Jarus said, laying his hand on Stycus' arm. "No, think about it. You already spent three hundred pieces of silver for the Egyptian boy. Word will get around that the Oracle's eunuchs cost a king's ransom. People will come to see that." Jarus glanced back at Jeet. "I've never seen a boy like this one. If the Oracle has an eye for beauty at all, she will almost certainly choose him as the new Abij-hah. It will please her that we paid such a price for him. The two will be legend, instantly... the new Oracle, and her Abij-hah, who was worth a thousand silver drachmas."

"But Jarus," Stycus began to object.

Jarus waved his objections aside. "We will take the boy, Praxis. Our servants will return before dark with your asking price."

"Holy one," Praxis said, detaining the high priest as the others were leaving. Praxis had wrestled with whether to tell the high priest; now he chewed his lip as he decided how to tell him. "The boy," Praxis said, "he has second sight."

"Oh?" the high priest asked with interest.

"He dreams," Praxis said.

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