PZA Boy Stories

Pueros

Tamerlane's Boys

Chapters 27-30

Chapter 27
Ambassadors

Ambassadors now feature rather importantly in the continuing saga about Tamerlane and his boys!

(Delhi, India, Summer, 1394)

Tamerlane's permanent ambassador to the his fellow Muslim, Mahmud Tughluq, Sultan of Delhi, had been granted an audience with the bearded, middle aged local potentate, whose eldest son and heir, Ahmed, was also present. The boy's father had recently decided that it was about time that the 7 year-old began to learn matters of state.

Standing next to the enthroned Ahmed was his similarly aged personal slave, Krishnan. The young Hindu had apparently recovered well, at least physically, from his gelding, perpetrated 2 months previously in a tiny cell within the dark, dank bowels of the Sultan's huge palace.

Once more, Tamerlane's ambassador berated, albeit diplomatically, the Sultan for not making enough efforts to convert to Islam his subjects, who were mainly Hindu like Krishnan. The emissary actually castigated without authority, as his master, the feared conqueror, could not care less that Mahmud Tughluq was being negligent in introducing infidels to the true faith.

Since the happy advent of the Christians, Vissarion and Nicolai, into his life and bed, Tamerlane had reconsidered his previous affinity for Islam. Such dedication had, at times, been apparently fanatical and he was once quoted as declaring that that "Plunder in warfare is as lawful as mother's milk to Muslims fighting for their faith!" However, in truth, the conqueror had only exhibited such devotion as an excuse to embark on his exciting and lucrative conquests.

After all, campaigning on behalf of the Islamic God had brought superficially devout Tamerlane acclaim and allies amongst the loyal faithful, as well as forgiveness for his apparent occasional military excesses, such as the towers of 70,000 skulls of fellow Muslims outside Isfahan. His military excursions had also delivered much wealth to his core homeland.

Tamerlane had been born in Kesh [modern Shakhrisabz in Uzbekistan], and his kin emanated from the tradition loving Turkic Chaghatay Khanate, which straddled Transoxonia [roughly modern Uzbekistan and southwest Kazakhstan] and Turkistan [modern Turkmenistan]. The name of the former territory derived from Alexander the Great's conquest, representing the Greek for 'Across the (River) Oxus'.

Chaghatay Khanate was named after one of Genghiz's sons and, despite absolute local power eventually coming to rest in Tamerlane's non-Mongol hands, there was still a Khan in place. However, he was a puppet, allowed by the dreaded conqueror to preside formally over boring state ceremonial back in Samarkand in order to allow the real ruler to go campaigning.

Real power lay with the usually travelling Tamerlane, who formerly accepted no higher title than Emir, which was rarely used either by his subjects or himself. He rather enjoyed instead being termed 'the conqueror', especially when the appellation was prefixed by adjectives such as 'dreaded'.

The local tribes of the Chaghatay Khanate had been slower to convert to Islam than their Mongol cousins and, even after conversion, many remained attached to the non-Muslim customs of their steppe ancestors, including heavy consumption of alcohol from vessels of jade. The latter, prized mineral, mined in the Kunlun Mountains of Tibet, was particularly beloved by Tamerlane and his people.

A certain Spanish ambassador to Tamerlane's court [about whom we shall become well acquainted] wrote that "The man who drinks very freely and can swallow the most wine is considered a hero!" Meanwhile, other, more pious Muslims frequently criticised the local tribes of the Chaghatay Khanate for revering the ordinances of Genghiz Khan more than the Holy Law of Islam. However, naturally none did so personally to the greatly feared conqueror's face.

Tamerlane's despotism had eventually been accepted by his Chaghatay subjects, who were happy at the glory and wealth he gave them and consequently appeared content to agree with the conqueror's historian, Nizam al-Din al-Shami. The latter wrote that "One hundred years of tyranny and oppression by kings is preferable to two days of trouble and popular revolt!" Public compliance had been assisted by consideration of the leader amidst the masses as being a faithful instrument of God, and amongst the more selfish growing, prosperous urban classes, as being a stimulator and protector of lucrative trade and punisher of corruption.

Tamerlane's ambassador to the court of Mahmud Tughluq was, in contrast to his master, a real Muslim fanatic. He was therefore also an unwise choice for his current post because the Sultan of Delhi was content not only to display tolerance towards Hinduism and other local Indian religions but also to incorporate some of their rituals into his own worship.

Mahmud Tughluq's attitude had enraged Tamerlane's ambassador, who responded by constantly petitioning that the Sultan crush the other faiths to allow Islam to reign supreme over the people's beliefs and souls. However, the ruler of Delhi correctly dismissed such demands as personal hatred for other creeds rather than the genuine requests of the man's master, the greatly feared conqueror.

Mahmud Tughluq would undoubtedly have adopted a different policy if he had believed that the ambassador was being truthfully indicative of Tamerlane's desires. Even though the dreaded conqueror was currently apparently consolidating his empire in the west, the Sultan wisely wanted to provide him with no excuse to begin looking at the possibility of extending his influence in the east.

Unfortunately for Mahmud Tughluq and his city, Tamerlane's ambassador was not to be easily dismissed as ineffectual in terms of his personal extreme prejudices. The emissary, infuriated by what he considered to be on-going evil sacrileges perpetrated by his host, began to return vengeful letters to his master. The written communications were gross distortions of the true situation in peaceful, prosperous Delhi, as well as highly slanderous about the Sultan, particularly in respect of the latter's attitude to the conqueror.

Anyone reading the letters would have believed that Mahmud Tughluq was a heretical affront to Islam, who also regularly demeaned and insulted Tamerlane. In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth.

Mahmud Tughluq was a potentate whose benevolent rule revealed all of the good parts of Islamic philosophy and none of the bad, apart perhaps for his disregard, based on cultural tradition, for the importance of the testicles of the non-Muslim male slaves of his inner household. He also not only rightfully deeply feared Tamerlane but also respected him highly, with not a word of disdain of the conqueror ever leaving his lips.

Nevertheless, the letters of Tamerlane's ambassador would besmirch Mahmud Tughluq's reputation back at the conqueror's travelling court. Even Vissarion was hoodwinked and angered by the emissary's false accusations.

Over the next few years, resentment about the Mahmud Tughluq's perfidies would build up slowly until, one day, Tamerlane's fearful temper exploded. That day would prove to be tragically fateful for the Sultan and his beloved Delhi.

(Forests of southern Rus, same time)

Nicolai lay in a little tent, which was efficiently camouflaged amidst thick bushes amongst the dense forest greenery. The 13 year-old prayed to his Christian god that the Mongols, who would undoubtedly return, led by Toqtamish, to the environs, would not detect his hidden presence in the locale.

Nicolai was, of course, well acquainted with Toqtamish, including his huge and obnoxious cock, having endured Mongol captivity and the man's sexual attacks whilst in the southern Caucasus during the previous summer. The brave boy was determined not to repeat such a fate, with his unflinching resolve now illustrated by the knife he held in his hand, ready to strike at his own heart if the enemy discovered his hiding place.

Nicolai's resolve was strengthened by not only an undoubtedly correct perception that Toqtamish would believe that he had unfinished business to conduct with the boy but also by recognition that the Golden Horde in general was renowned for being notoriously ruthless. For example, they had helped to spread the bubonic plague, which originated in the steppes of central Asia, by campaigning across vast areas and by perpetrating barbaric acts when besieging places like Kaffa. The latter was a prosperous Genoese port colony, on the Crimean Peninsula of the Black Sea.

Almost half a century before Nicolai received his grievous wound in Rus, the Mongol host, backed by some forces from Venice, which, at the time, competed with Genoa for dominance of the lucrative trade routes between Europe and the east, laid siege to Kaffa. However, by the following year, the city's besiegers began to die at an alarming rate of the plague, which they had brought with them.

The Mongols and their allies eventually had no choice but to call off their siege, but only after they perpetrated one last act of awful revenge against the defiant Genoese colony. Using the catapults that were designed to throw boulders and fireballs over the walls of fortified cities like Kaffa, the vengeful besiegers literally launched an early grotesque example of germ warfare by hurling the plague-infested corpses of their own dead warriors into the port.

The Genoese quickly dumped the bodies into the sea, but sadly the damage was already done. Due to the squalid conditions forced upon Kaffa by the siege, the city was ripe for the rapid desolation inflicted by the rabid plague.

Worse, four Genoese galleons, crowded with refugees, believed incorrectly to be untainted by the disease and hoping to escape the quick spread of the fatal pestilence in their city, departed from Kaffa for Italy. Unfortunately, they inadvertently took the plague with them to the heart of Europe, where it was to spread and kill millions, devastating whole nations and economies.

Arman had reluctantly accepted Nicolai's suggestion that he leave the badly wounded 13 year-old behind, as the small contingent of Tamerlane's cavalry took the chance of continuing to escort the Muscovite's younger brother, Yaroslav, to his still distant home city. However, the 17 year-old Armenian had not only just left the boy in as comfortable a state as possible, having personally tended and dressed his arrow wound and supplied him with plenty of provisions, but also left someone with him in order to look after his further future needs.

Arman had wanted to leave a cavalryman behind but Nicolai obstinately rejected the proposal. The young Muscovite forcefully told the young Armenian that he should not spare even one warrior, as he sought to accomplish his dangerous mission of returning Yaroslav to Moscow, through vast stretches of hostile territory.

Arman had initially threatened to disregard Nicolai's rejection but his tactic was defeated when the 13 year-old's declared that he would therefore remount his horse and accompany the cavalry unit to Moscow, which everyone recognised would probably prove fatal, given the state of the boy's wound. In the end, the pair of squabbling friends was handed a solution to the problem by Teimuraz, who volunteered to stay with the young Muscovite.

Both Arman and Nicolai refused Teimuraz's offer at first, believing that the job was unsuitable for a mere 11 year-old. However, the boy, who was a Georgian like Vissarion, proved as obstinate as the young Muscovite in his stance.

"I'm not moving from this spot," Teimuraz announced, "even if Nicolai remounts his horse. So, he might as well not do so and stay with me instead!"

As a consequence of these verbal manoeuvrings, Arman and Sibur continued to escort Yaroslav towards Moscow with their full complement of cavalry, having, amidst a tearful and emotional departure, left both Nicolai and Teimuraz behind. The young Armenian and his lover had pledged by their Muslim God that they would return, after successfully completing their mission, to collect both brave Christian boys. Hopefully by then, they also suggested, the young Muscovite would be fully repaired and ready to return to Tamerlane's undoubtedly eagerly waiting arms.

Everyone, of course, nurtured serious, secret, worrying doubts as to whether such a pledge could be redeemed.

(Delhi, India, later same day)

"Take off your trousers and join me in the bath," Ahmed suggested to his best friend and personal slave, Krishnan, after he had permanently dismissed his coterie of black eunuchs, who had normally previously supervised the bathing of the 7 year-old heir to the Sultanate. "It should now be safe to do so," the boy advised, "as I'm not expecting anyone else to come to my quarters for quite a while!"

Krishnan was happy to accept full, future responsibility for Ahmed's bathing, grooming and dressing. He therefore complied contentedly with the suggestion of his friend and master, and soon a pair of naked, pretty boys was frolicking excitedly together in the bath's warm, soapy and perfumed water. However, the sad moment later eventually came when the liquid environment began to cool and the two 7 year-olds decided that it was time actually to wash themselves.

Krishnan and Ahmed sponged each other's comely bodies, the co-operative system being more practical in order reach the awkward bits of their respective delectable forms. As the Muslim Sultan's young heir later arrived at his Hindu's friend's genitalia, both boys smiled conspiratorially.

Krishnan felt his smooth genitals being rubbed by Ahmed's sponge and, as now commonly happened in such intimate circumstances, the young Hindu's small, slender cock rose to match his Muslim friend's already erect, similarly sized penis. "Hmmm," the Sultan's 7 year-old heir then commented, as he then began to cleanse his friend's scrotum, "I'm glad I saved these!"

Ahmed was, of course, referring to Krishnan's balls, still happily residing inside the young Hindu's intact scrotum. "I'm therefore also glad," the young prince remarked, "that the castrator who was about to geld you was susceptible to bribery."

"I still think that he grossly over-charged you," Krishnan observed, rather selflessly, given that he was talking about the salvation of his own boyhood. "Well," Ahmed replied, "you have to consider his circumstances. After accepting my gold, he'd want to retire from his trade and move to live somewhere where he'd never be found, just in case the deception was discovered later. He'd fear being punished and so the money therefore had to set him and his young assistant, who's probably also his catamite, up comfortably for the rest of their lives."

"I suppose you're right," Krishnan conceded, as Ahmed completed his scrotal cleansing and began to sponge his friend's legs, "and let's hope that the deception is never discovered, as I'll then certainly lose my balls!"

"Fortunately," Ahmed reminded his friend, "living permanently with me in my quarters, as my personal slave, means no-one else need ever see you naked." "Unless I sometime need a doctor," Krishnan worried.

"Let's therefore hope," Ahmed retorted, in an unfortunate attempt at sarcastic humour, which was designed to cheer his friend but actually caused the opposite, "that you never fall ill, or your malaise might have fatal consequences for your balls!"

(Forests of southern Rus, 2 days later)

"Shhhh!" Teimuraz quietly commanded of Nicolai, as he returned to the tent in which the wounded boy was still lying, bravely enduring the pain of his wound, which his younger companion competently cleaned and redressed daily. "The Mongols are back," the 11 year-old Georgian then whispered to the 13 year-old Muscovite, "and they're led by Toqtamish. I remember his ugly face from when I saw it last, in the southern Caucasus!"

"What are they doing?" Nicolai asked in similar low tones. "Checking tracks," Teimuraz answered. "Well," the young Muscovite commented, "let's hope that ours have been covered competently, or I'll soon be using my knife!"

Teimuraz had argued fiercely with Nicolai over the last couple of days about the young Muscovite's intention to kill himself, if he was found by the Mongols. However, the 11 year-old had failed to dissuade the brave and resolute 13 year-old from such action.

As Teimuraz now heard the hooves of horses, on the nearby trail through the forest, the 11 year-old silently prayed with extra vigour to his Christian God that he and his companion might escape imminent discovery.

(Forests of southern Rus, 1 day later)

Teimuraz was again very worried but not, this time, because of the ominous sound of horses' hooves nearby. The previous day's fears about being discovered by Toqtamish and his warriors had eventually proved unfounded, as the now much bigger military contingent of the Golden Horde had not lingered close for long. Finding the tracks deliberately left with organised clarity by Arman and his colleagues, in order to lure the returning enemy quickly away from the scene, the Mongols had speedily set off in pursuit of the intruders into Rus. After all, they had no reason to believe that one of Tamerlane's famous boys was secretly camped there with a younger companion.

Teimuraz was instead currently very concerned for Nicolai's health. The 13 year-old Muscovite had lapsed into a coma, whilst his breathing had become almost inaudibly shallow and, judging from the boy's fevered brow, his temperature had reached alarming proportions.

Teimuraz feared that Nicolai was about to die on him. The 11 year-old was so emotionally overcome by this dreadful thought that he could not prevent himself from beginning to cry. The young Georgian's mission to nurse his patient back to health now appeared doomed to imminent failure, which, more selfishly, would also leave him isolated and alone, devoid of human companionship, in the dark, potentially dangerous, dense forests of Rus, in which the howling of wolves could be regularly heard.

Teimuraz's crying subsequently prevented him from detecting the noise he most feared until it was too late. By the time the 11 year-old appreciated that horses were once again on the forest trail nearby, the rider of one of these steeds had heard the boy's sobs and was trying to discover from where they were emanating.

To Teimuraz's immense horror, the leather entrance flaps of the small tent, which he shared with the unconscious Nicolai, were soon parted, revealing a clearly inquisitive, bearded man in unusual dress.

(Forests of southern Rus, 1 day later)

Nicolai's beautiful blue eyes, which were peerless, with the exception of the similar pair possessed by Vissarion, reintroduced themselves to the world of the living again, much to Teimuraz's relief. The 11 year-old Georgian had not been able to speak with the inquisitive, bearded man in unusual dress, as they shared no common language, but had instead managed to communicate with the adult reasonably effectively through gestures.

Teimuraz had thankfully quickly realised that the man not only meant no harm but also offered probably the last chance to save Nicolai's life, after the latter's worrying relapse into coma. The 11 year-old Georgian's opinion was reinforced when the adult, apparently rapidly recognising that he had a very sick boy on his hands, went about the task of trying to remedy his young patient's obvious grievous ills with great confidence and skill.

The bearded man in unusual dress removed the current dressing from Nicolai's chest wound and thoroughly cleaned the area with some strange-smelling liquid, which he obtained from a little glass bottle originally carried in his saddlebag. The adult then applied some ointment, secured from a similar source, and applied fresh, clean bandaging. He subsequently completed his remedial ministrations by gently forcing some medicine down his young, unconscious patient's throat.

The eventual results of the man's delicate, skilful attentions were the gradual normalisation of Nicolai's breathing and temperature, and ultimately the opening of the boy's immaculate, beautiful blue eyes. The young Muscovite's rosy lips also then parted, not only to accept much-needed water to quench his desperate thirst but also to speak.

"Who are you?" Nicolai asked, of the bearded man in unusual dress, in the Turkic dialect he was accustomed to speaking at Tamerlane's court. However, the adult clearly did not recognise what was being said. The young Muscovite therefore repeated his question in own native Russian tongue, which Teimuraz could not understand.

Although the bearded man in unusual dress was obviously a foreigner, Nicolai guessed, as they were currently in Rus, that the adult might at least know something of the local language. The young Muscovite was to prove correct in his speculation.

"My name is Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo," the man now replied in decent Russian, "Chamberlain to King Henry III of Castille, currently returning from an embassy to the court of the Prince of Muscovy." "What are you doing here in the middle of nowhere?" Nicolai, perhaps only naturally, next enquired.

"I'm returning home," Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo replied, "via the port of Azov on the Black Sea to the south, where a ship awaits me to take me into the Mediterranean, via Constantinople, and eventually back to Spain. Who, may I ask, are you two boys and what are you doing here, in such apparent dire straits?"

"He's my friend, Teimuraz," the blonde, blue-eyed, 13 year-old patient rather proudly advised, "and I'm Nicolai, one of Tamerlane's boys!"

Chapter 28
Capitals

This chapter visits some of the major capitals of the Medieval world.

(Samarkand, Transoxonia, Summer, 1394)

Shadi Mulk Aka, Tamerlane's Eldest Queen, or 'Bibi Khanum', had poisoned her husband's boys 2½ years previously, as a lesson to the dreaded conqueror that she was not to be neglected when he was in his capital of Samarkand. Happily for the young males concerned, the formidable woman had later arranged for Vissarion, Arman and Nicolai to receive the antidote in order to terminate their agony, and slow progression towards excruciating death, in return for concessions from her alarmed spouse.

Given such a challenging main wife, it is perhaps understandable that Tamerlane preferred life on campaign rather than in his capital, which nevertheless was being seriously aggrandised, with the help of some of the best contemporary artisans, captured during his conquests. Shadi Mulk Aka was also supposedly involved in the building projects, having been given responsibility by her husband for overseeing the construction of what was planned to be the world's biggest mosque. However, the Queen was less than enthusiastic about the work, despite her devotion to Islam. The Bibi Khanum rather naturally resented the fact that her spouse had vengefully and provocatively declared his intention to dedicate the sacred place to the salvation from death at her jealous hands of Vissarion, Arman and Nicolai, two of who were Christians.

As a result of Shadi Mulk Aka's understandable grievance, work on the construction of the great mosque was exceedingly slow. 2½ years after the commissioning of the building, little more than the foundations had been laid, with the Queen providing her husband with a variety of false reasons for the lack of progress. Not wanting to have any further arguments with his redoubtable wife, Tamerlane ruefully accepted the situation.

In fact, only after Tamerlane withdrew his proposal to dedicate the mosque to three of his catamites and substituted the notion of constructing the building in honour of his main wife did the project gain momentum. Such a decision was still 4 years in the future, by which time the conqueror had decided that there were more appropriate resplendent monuments to rejoice the time that his lovely boys had spent with him in this world.

The time lag, however, proved unfortunate because Shadi Mulk Aka's resentment about the role of the catamites in her husband's life not only consequently continued to fester but also began to seep round the conqueror's extended family. Dangerously for Tamerlane's boys, such animosity towards them began to be shared amongst their master's sons and grandsons, products of his many diplomatic marriages.

Despite his sexual preference for young males, the conqueror's libido and spermatic potency were such that he had never failed in respect of his conjugal duties towards his wives, whenever he bothered to see them, and the continuance of his male line. However, such virile productivity was soon to prove greatly troublesome for Tamerlane and his boys.

(Forests of southern Rus, Summer, same time)

Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo was initially very sceptical about Nicolai's announcement that the 13 year-old was one of Tamerlane's famous boys. Scandalous news of the perversely sinful existence of these young catamites in the life of the dreaded conqueror had spread to both distant Muscovy, where the man had just visited, and even more faraway Castile, where he served the local King, Henry III, in his capital of Toledo. However, he wondered how one of these infamous children could possibly find himself alone, apart from an even younger companion, and seriously wounded amidst the vast and dangerous forests of southern Rus.

The last anyone had heard of the notorious conqueror, he had been subduing uprisings in Persia to consolidate his hold on the troublesome country. The apparently terribly cruel scourge, of both Christians and Muslims alike in the lands he attacked, was therefore thankfully far, far away from the current location of the Spanish diplomat and the boy who claimed to be one of Tamerlane's.

Surely, Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo conjectured, any recent move by Tamerlane north into Rus would be well known by the local people, and therefore by the Spanish diplomat. The populations of the various principalities feared the conqueror even more than they did the Golden Horde. At least the latter, if paid their tribute, guaranteed peace and the conduct of lucrative trade, whereas the former had an appalling reputation for devastating those countries that he invaded.

In fact, local current perception of Tamerlane's attitude to his conquests was outdated. In his early years, when he had been more robber baron than ruler of an empire, the dreaded conqueror had tended to concentrate on looting and pillaging, with his men also enjoying much raping. However, as the territories he controlled expanded substantially and his own maturity in his new role grew, he exhibited increasing discernment in respect of such treatment, allowing brutality only to take place in respect of resistant or rebellious communities. He had adjusted his policy for two main reasons.

First, Tamerlane's forces, which were relatively small in global terms, were incapable of effectively garrisoning all captured lands and also embarking on further conquests. He therefore needed the acquiescent acceptance of the conquered to his suzerainty. He now secured such concord by gentle treatment, if the target communities surrendered meekly to his will, plus the reward of keeping the local administrations of deposed potentates largely in place. However, he maintained his fearsome reputation by contrasting such generosity with the terrible examples presented by the butchery inflicted on recalcitrant peoples.

Second, Tamerlane's developing power and maturity caused him to want to covert himself into, and be seen by posterity as, a great warrior and leader, and builder of a lasting, prosperous empire. He wished to be someone who would emulate, if not surpass, the previous achievements in his part of the world of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. To do so, the conqueror increasingly appreciated that he could not continue to act as a glorified robber but instead had to demonstrate the virtues of a gloriously resolute but fair despot, who presided over stable affluence by crushing opposition and ruling proficiently, especially in respect of protecting trade. He therefore had to be, and be seen to be, someone who presided over an efficient bureaucracy and was morally ethical in respect of his increasing numbers of subjects, whilst also exceedingly hard with enemies, both within and outside his domains.

There was, of course, someone in Tamerlane's life who had, over recent years, accelerated his master's revised attitude. He was now the conqueror's wisest counsellor and also by far the youngest and most beautiful, for his name was Vissarion.

Unfortunately for the peoples of Rus, they had only known Tamerlane at his worst. When the conqueror had wreaked havoc in their lands 3 years previously, he had caused much distressing devastation, and not just in respect of the Golden Horde, against whom he was vengefully campaigning in retaliation for Mongol incursions into Georgia and the kidnapping of Vissarion and Arman.

The campaign had eventually effectively been won by Tamerlane a month after the escape from Mongol captivity by Vissarion and Arman, and the advent into his life of the boys' rescuer, Nicolai. After perpetrating much local vengeance against the Golden Horde, the conqueror, with an army of 100,000, had subsequently rapidly advanced to meet Toqtamish's reduced forces near Samara [modern Kuibyshev] on the River Volga.

The battle had developed into a rout of the Golden Horde's army, although the leader had escaped with some remnants. This good fortune subsequently allowed the devastated Mongols to re-group as best they could and seek revenge, leading directly to Toqtamish's cunning but ultimately unsuccessful plot to use Nicolai to entrap Tamerlane in the southern Caucasus 2 years later.

Tamerlane's withdrawal from Rus after his great victory had caused great jubilation within the local principalities, who had all feared that the dreaded conqueror might now turn more of his awful attention onto them. Rejoicing was particularly joyous in Muscovy, where, in the capital, Moscow, the people somehow contrived to confer responsibility for the apparent miracle on an icon of the Virgin Mary.

In fact, responsibility would have been more righteously applied to the copious plunder that Tamerlane and his army had accumulated and with which they felt compelled to return to their homelands, having accomplished the aim of punishing the Golden Horde. Of course, amongst the conqueror's personal booty from his campaign in Rus was the beautiful young Muscovite, Nicolai.

Nicolai somehow managed to perceive Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo's uncertainty about the announcement regarding the young Muscovite's supposed status. He therefore proceeded to advise the bearded Spaniard, whom he instinctively trusted, not least after the man had nursed him back to improving health, about the reasons for his current, rather unusual circumstances. In the process, the 13 year-old converted the Castilian emissary to full acceptance of him as one of Tamerlane's boys.

Many of Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo's so-called civilised, Christian countrymen would have at least frowned at meeting a catamite, especially one pertaining to the allegedly most bloodthirsty pagan barbarian in the world. However, this particular Spaniard responded to his acceptance of Nicolai's true status with a smile.

Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo had always been interested in different countries and cultures. Such regard had caused him readily and regularly to volunteer to venture abroad on missions for his royal Castilian master, including the latest expedition to Muscovy.

Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo had undertaken the long and potentially dangerous ambassadorial mission to Moscow, in a world full of unknowns and perils and accompanied only by a few loyal and hardy servants, ostensibly to facilitate commerce. The establishment of better supplies of, and trade routes for, valuable furs from Rus and Siberia, which had become very fashionable in Spain, had been his latest prime diplomatic objectives. However, the emissary's real personal motivation had been his appetite for knowledge, travel and adventure.

Consequently, of all the Spaniards that Nicolai could possibly incongruously and almost unbelievably meet in the middle of the dense, dark, dangerous forests of Rus, Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo was undoubtedly the best. The Castilian's interest in other countries and cultures came with a very open-minded and liberal attitude to local customs and practices, including some that were abhorred by many fellow contemporary Christians, at a time when the Inquisition was beginning to gather pace, especially in his homeland.

Although heterosexual, Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo was therefore not in any way disgusted by nursing back to a semblance of health a young catamite, even one pertaining to the notorious Tamerlane. Instead, the emissary's inherent curiosity about the feared conqueror and his people caused the Spaniard to regard his salvation of the very pretty boy's life as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to further his insatiable quest for knowledge about the world and its societies.

(Delhi, India, same time)

Mahmud Tughluq, in his capital of Delhi, had just endured another awkward audience with Tamerlane's ambassador. Although the wording on both sides of the verbal exchange had never strayed from being diplomatic, the mutual underlying antipathy and anger of both men towards each other was barely disguised.

Nevertheless, Prince Ahmed, who had been present with his ever faithful, similarly aged, supposed eunuch, Krishnan, afterwards regarded his father with extreme pride. The 7 year-old believed correctly that Tamerlane's ambassador had departed the scene suitably chastened, having experienced clear defeat and humiliation in the recent argument about the treatment of the local Hindus, Sikhs and members of other indigenous religious creeds.

Naturally, Ahmed was not to know at the time that the verbal exchange would be reported in a totally different light to Tamerlane by the fanatical and vengeful ambassador. The boy also did not appreciate that the libel would be one more significant milestone on the road to disaster for his family and people.

Nor did Ahmed realise that his salvation, at least for now, of Krishnan's balls would one day be personally highly significant to the prince, amidst all of the bloody mayhem to come.

(Edirne, Ottoman Empire, same time)

"Will you kill your brothers and their sons when you succeed your father, the 'Thuderbolt'?" Vladimir asked nonchalantly of Mehmed, whilst referring to Bayezid I's nickname ['Yildirim' in Turkish], which had been gained by successfully accomplishing military campaigns with great bravery and speed. The pair of 5 year-olds was currently playing happily with toy soldiers in the prince's resplendent but secluded quarters in the Sultan's large palace, located in the current Ottoman capital of Edirne [ancient Adrianople], in the southeast Balkans.

Constantinople was still over half a century away from being taken by the Ottomans from the Byzantine Emperors. The Slav eunuch, Vladimir, was actually to feature prominently in the defeat of his fellow Christians and the capture of that great city, whilst ensuring, for his Muslim masters, Turkish hegemony over southeast Europe and southwest Asia.

As well as Bayezid I's nickname, Vladimir's question also referred to the not infrequent practice indulged by successors to the Sultanate of massacring their brothers and their siblings' male offspring. It was customary for Ottoman rulers to have several wives and many, sometimes thousands of, concubines, and not just to satisfy their sexual needs, as possessing so many women was supposed to guarantee healthy masculine heirs.

It was considered no impediment to inheritance for the eventual successful nominee for the Sultanate, who was not always the oldest but was rather chosen by his father as being the most able, to be the product of a liaison with a concubine, as opposed to spouse. As a result of such traditions, much conspiratorial manoeuvring invariably took place over the years between those women of the household and harem who possessed sons by their sole permitted lover. The main aim in life of such mothers was to secure the succession for their male offspring, not least because the alternative might be their child's ultimate demise. The constant plotting was certainly aided by the luxurious but closeted environment in which they lived, hidden away from the rest of the world and well guarded by formidable black eunuchs.

Many of the brothers of the winner of this familial contest were naturally, given the palace circumstances, not of the same mother but, even if they had been, this would not have saved them and their sons from execution if the successful successor to the Principate so chose. Such bloody culling was designed to ensure that no internecine family strife was caused by ambitious siblings and their offspring.

Mehmed was only 5 years old but had already been declared 'first son' and heir to Bayezid I, despite the fact that the boy actually had three older brothers, namely Suleyman, Isa and Musa. However, their father had nominated his youngest male child as his successor for two reasons.

First, Bayezid I apparently disliked some of the developing characteristics of the older sons. Second, and probably most importantly for the incumbent Sultan, choosing an infant as his nominated heir hopefully meant that the youngster concerned was, at least for a while, not tempted, perhaps in alliance with important officials and generals who were in someway dissatisfied with their lots, towards facilitating the succession sooner rather than later. Patricidal ambitions of impatient offspring of important rulers were by no means unknown in the contemporary world.

Bayezid I had apparently carefully weighed up the dangers for him and his fourth son of spurning and therefore annoying the older boys against the perils the young trio could pose, to him and his empire, if one had been declared his heir. The Sultan's nomination had been made despite Mehmed's tender age and the impracticality of the arrangement if the current incumbent of the Ottoman throne died early. The latter scenario was not inconceivable in this unhealthy era, when bubonic plague, other nasty pestilences and warfare were common.

Bayezid I was currently 34 years old, having been born in Edirne to his mother, the Sultana Gulcicek Hatun. He had succeeded his father, Murad I Hudavendigar [the 'God-like One'], half a decade previously on the battlefield of the 'Field of Blackbirds', or 'Kosovo Polje'.

The Muslim Murad and his Ottoman forces had won the battle against the Christian Serbs and their King, Lazar, and allies, the Bulgars. The conflict had been one of the most significant and bloodthirsty in history, culminating with the beheading on the battlefield, in front of the victorious Sultan, of the captured Serbian monarch.

Murad, however, did not long outlive his opponent. Whilst some fighting still raged, the Sultan was assassinated in his tent by a poisoned knife held by a Serb knight, Milo Obilic, who was supposedly treacherously offering changed allegiance. Nevertheless, the ultimate outcome of the battle led to the absorption of the bulk of the Balkans into the Ottoman Empire, subjugation that would last for half a millennium.

Murad had been substantially responsible for changing his Osmanli tribe into imperial overlords, amidst the further expansion of his realm into Europe from Anatolia. Although Constantinople had resisted efforts at conquest, the Sultan had nevertheless forced the Byzantine Emperor, who was now ruling over little more than his ancient city, to pay tribute.

Meanwhile, Murad established his own capital on the European mainland at Adrianople [named after the Roman Emperor Hadrian], which he renamed Edirne. He also created important civil and military institutions, which were to last as long as his empire. Amongst the latter were the Janissaries, the renowned corps of bodyguards.

The Janissaries comprised Christians, primarily Slavs and Greeks, forcibly enlisted into training whilst boys between the ages of 7 and 14. The enlistment mechanism was the 'devshirmeth', which was basically the human taxation of subjugated peoples.

The young boy recruits were subsequently subjected to a lengthy and very harsh training regime, conducted under strict discipline in almost monastic conditions in 'acemi oglan' schools. For all practical purposes, the formidable Janissaries belonged to the Sultan. They were taught to consider the corps as their home and family, with the Ottoman ruler their de facto father. They were also expected to remain celibate for life and were encouraged to convert to Islam, which most did. Only those who proved strong enough eventually earned the rank, at the age of about 25, of a true Janissary, who, unlike a free Muslim, was expressly forbidden to wear a beard, only being permitted a moustache.

Despite the unsettling circumstances of the boys' initial recruitment and subsequent harsh training, the severe induction regime worked exceptionally well in respect of producing fearsome soldiers. The Janissaries became renowned for their formidable military capabilities in the Sultan's service.

In return for their loyalty and their fervour, Janissaries gained privileges and benefits. Although they always lived as single men in barracks, they came to enjoy respected social status and high living standards, helped by good pay and exemption from taxes.

As Mehmed conversed with his intimate slave and best friend, Vladimir, the young prince answered, in response to his fellow 5 year-old's question in respect of his male siblings' destinies, "No. I'd let them live. I don't like the idea of ordering the murders of my own brothers!"

"But," Vladimir next asked, "how would you ensure that they didn't kill you?" "Because," Mehmed announced confidently and with remarkable maturity for someone of his tender age, "I'd have the best general the Janissaries have ever known to protect me!"

"Who would that be?" Vladimir naturally enquired.

"You, of course!" Mehmed declared, whilst displaying a sweet smile on his very pretty 5 year-old face.

(Baghdad, Mesopotamia, same time)

Whilst Vissarion and Arman had been busying themselves in their respective homelands during the previous year, plus rescuing Nicolai and Yaroslav from the literal clutches of Toqtamish, Tamerlane had attacked Mesopotamia from Persia. There, the dreaded conqueror had lived up to his name, as he sought to enlarge his empire still further.

After relatively short sieges, followed by some bloody plundering in revenge for the failure of the cities to surrender meekly, Tamerlane had captured Baghdad and Kikrit. The Sultan of the former, Ahmad Jalayir, had been forced to flee his capital and seek refuge with the Mamluks, whose own empire, based in Egypt, encompassed Syria.

Tamerlane was again visiting Baghdad, with his troupe of protective cavalry currently escorting him along a wide thoroughfare, lined with tall flat-roofed buildings, towards the former Sultan's palace, where the conqueror proposed to rest awhile. As was now usual, Rahu, otherwise affectionately known as 'The Little Limpet' because of his devotion to his duties, guarding his master, was riding protectively at the man's side. The soldiers of the army had afforded the 11 year-old Zoroastrian the nickname despite the fact that many had never seen an ocean, let alone the sea creature concerned.

Rahu was armed with his specially downsized knife, sword, spear and bow and arrow. However, it was none of this weaponry that now proved useful to protect his master. Instead, the boy's similarly diminutive and currently rather plain shield was to demonstrate its worth.

To the end of his life, Rahu could not elucidate why or how he, alone amongst all of Tamerlane's bodyguards, felt imminent danger, as the cavalry troupe approached the palace. Nor could he explain his tremendous reaction to the mere sense, as opposed to sight, of the approaching deadly, poison-tipped arrow.

Tamerlane's tidy procession was suddenly interrupted when Rahu unexpectedly rose up in his saddle and elevated his small round shield into the air. To the boy's surprised but relieved master, evidence of the accurate approach of the arrow towards the man's heart first came from the loud thud, heard as the missile hit wood. The conqueror then managed to see the projectile itself, now firmly embedded in the young Zoroastrian's shield, before being completely surrounded by rightfully alarmed adult bodyguards and rushed towards the palace.

The failed assassin was never found and Vissarion successfully counselled Tamerlane not to secure bloody retribution from the people of Baghdad, who had already suffered so terribly a year previously. As well as the peerless sparkling blue eyes that adorned his face, which alone could probably have won the argument with his master, the 17 year-old Georgian had suggested reasonably that the perpetrator could be from anywhere.

In fact, the failed assassin had come from Damascus and did not long outlive his failure, although his due reward did not arise from falling into Tamerlane's hands.

(Edirne, Ottoman Empire, same time)

A year later after the battle of Kosovo [1390], as part of the subsequent peace treaty, Bayezid I had accepted amongst his wives Olivera, who was the sister of the new young King of Serbia, Stefan Lazarevic, son of Lazar. The marriage had been arranged through Stefan's mother, who had assumed the Serbian regency.

Despite being nominal heir to the growing Ottoman Empire, Mehmed rarely saw his father or brothers. The most influential people in the boy's life were instead his mother, Devlet, who was originally from Germiyanogullari, and his similarly aged 5 year-old eunuch, Vladimir. However, the beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed but currently childless Olivera had suddenly taken an interest in the young prince, perhaps naturally given that, one day, he might be the all-powerful Sultan.

Olivera had begun to make regular excursions to Mehmed's luxurious palace quarters, where she chatted amicably with the boy with his mother's permission. Devlet did not consider this particular fellow Sultana to be a rival, given her childlessness.

Olivera also always took the trouble of saying a few words to Mehmed's 5 year-old slave, despite their disparate status. She appeared to possess great sympathy for this particular fellow Slav, who had been castrated to serve in her husband's court. This attitude existed despite the fact that there were many other white eunuchs of similar racial origin within the palace, most of who were engaged as the Sultan's personal advisers, servants and bodyguards.

On this occasion, Olivera's arrival interrupted Mehmed's conversation with Vladimir. The latter 5 year-old, although very happy to be considered a possible future general of renown, had advised, with clear worry on his face, "I hope that you're not going to send me to the Janissary barracks!" Word of the harsh training inflicted on the relevant boy recruits had reached his young ears, and he did not want to share such a regime.

"Of course not," Mehmed answered, "as you can instead share my own military training." The changed expression on Vladimir's previously very concerned, beautiful face then exemplified the young Slav's intense relief that he would not have to undertake years of harsh Janissary training in order to become their general. However, such matters were quickly forgotten by Olivera's arrival, which was unexpected in more ways than one, as she entered the young prince's quarters with her husband.

Bayezid had a round face, light complexion, hazel eyes, fair hair, prominent nose, thick beard and large shoulders. He had spent most of his childhood with his own brothers in the palace of the city of Bursa, which is on the Anatolian mainland, southeast of the Sea of Marmara, on the lower slopes of Mount Uludag, which was once known as Olympos by the ancient Mysians. The Sultan had been educated by the most famous Ottoman scholars of his time and, in his youth, he had been appointed by his father to the governorship of Kutahya province in order to practise ruling.

Mehmed greeted Bayezid formerly, as the rarely seen man was more the Sultan than a father to him. The ruler of the Ottoman world returned the welcome in similar style.

Bayezid then came straight to the purpose of his visit. The Sultan was, after all, a busy man, who could not afford to enjoy quality time with his children.

Pointing to Vladimir, Bayezid commanded of his young son "In future, I want your eunuch to taste all food and drink before you do. I have reason to believe that there might be an attempt to poison you!"

(Baghdad, Mesopotamia, next day)

Rahu had never been so proud in his young life. As the boy and Tamerlane rode side-by-side away from the palace in Baghdad, the streets were now lined by thousands of his master's cavalry. However, the men were not so positioned in order to protect the conqueror from another assassin, as all the nearby buildings, including the rooftops and windows, had been cleared of residents. Instead, the men were present to salute a young hero.

As Tamerlane and one of his rightfully very proud and thrilled boys rode together, the 11 year-old Zoroastrian's lovely ears were assailed by loud, regular shouts from the soldiers they passed of "Hail Rahu!" These laudatory exclamations were uttered whilst the men concerned raised their spears into the air in salute of the young, alert warrior, who had saved the life of their leader, who was hated by many but beloved by his army.

Meanwhile, Rahu sported a new shield, hurriedly but proficiently painted with a depiction of a limpet.

(Damascus, Syria, 2 weeks later)

For his failed effort, Tamerlane's erstwhile assassin had just had his throat cut in Damascus. The deposed Sultan Ahmad of Baghdad had ordered the grisly deed, after hearing that his plan to have the dreaded conqueror killed had floundered on the shield of a nullified 11 year-old boy.

Shortly afterwards, Ahmad fled the Syrian capital for Egypt. Fearful that Tamerlane might either discover or assume his role in the failed assassination, the Sultan now planned to put as much distance as possible between him and the dreaded conqueror.

Ahmad understandably did not fancy taking more than a week to die at Tamerlane's vengeful hands, which, he was sure, would invent some special, agonisingly deadly torments for him to suffer. Consequently, the Sultan was rushing to seek the protection of his Mamluk hosts, in their distant Egyptian capital of Cairo.

(Moscow, Principality of Muscovy, 2 weeks later)

Arman and Sibur rejoined their cavalry, hidden amongst the forests outside of Moscow's walls. Neither had considered it diplomatic to alarm the citizenry of Muscovy's capital that some of Tamerlane's feared warriors were nearby, even if their numbers were so small.

The young Armenian and his lover had instead acted as if they were traders to gain access to Moscow and restore Yaroslav to his family. The members of the latter were naturally happy to have the boy returned to them, although this was tempered by sadness that Nicolai had failed to accompany his younger brother the whole way, plus concern about the 13 year-old's current plight.

As Arman and Sibur rushed to return to the southeast of Rus, they were aware that somewhere between them and the hopefully still safe Nicolai and Teimuraz were undoubtedly large numbers of Mongols, led by Toqtamish. Consequently, in order to try to avoid a confrontation that they would now definitely lose, given their inferior numbers compared to those of the reinforced enemy, the young Armenian and his lover did not retrace their tracks with their cavalry contingent. They instead sought to reach the target destination by way of parallel trails, which they trusted might not be so well guarded by the Golden Horde.

As Arman and Sibur left Muscovy, they left behind a pair of significant balls. The testicular contents of Yaroslav's currently rather small scrotum would someday ejaculate sperm whose later lineage would eventually produce the first Tsar of Russia.

(Ankara, Anatolia, same time)

The future capital of the Turkish Republic was currently a fortified town with castle, located on a hill above the Anatolian plateau at a major trading crossroads, involving one of the royal roads of the ancient Kings of Persia. Politically, the place was presently rather unimportant and was to remain so for another 8 years, until the day when two empires collided in the vicinity.

Amongst those most fatefully affected by that day at Ankara were to be Mehmed and Vladimir.

(Forests of southern Rus, 1 month later)

Arman and Sibur had miraculously not only managed to avoid confrontation with Mongols but also succeeded in returning to the site where they had left Nicolai and Teimuraz. However, their remarkable achievement, attained through the military skills of excellent tracking and evasion rather than luck, initially appeared tragically to have been performed uselessly.

Arman, dampness evident in his lovely brown eyes whilst fearing the worst, had instinctively known before he reached the tent, in which Nicolai and Teimuraz had been left, that the scene had long since been deprived of the presence of live humans.

(Sarai, Khanate of the Golden Horde, 1 year later, Summer, 1395)

Tamerlane was vengefully sacking the Golden Horde's own capital of Sarai. After the events of the previous year in the forests of southern Rus, the conqueror had decided that neither Toqtamish nor the Mongols would ever threaten or harm any of his boys again.

As the conqueror presided over the utter destruction of Sarai, Rahu was, as usual, riding proudly at his master's side, still sporting his shield with the painted limpet. However, the now 12 year-old Zoroastrian was not the only one of Tamerlane's boys present. Vissarion, now 18 years of age but still looking as boyishly beautiful as ever, and Rezan also rode alongside their master, as did Arman and Sibur.

Completing Tamerlane's mounted entourage, much to the man's immense pride and satisfaction, as he watched Sarai burn, were Nicolai and Teimuraz.

(Toledo, Castile, Spain, same time)

Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo had just left his King, Henry III of Castile. The royal chamberlain was again feeling rather aggrieved that his monarch had once more refused him permission to go abroad.

Having successfully completed his mission to Muscovy and returned to the Castilian capital of Toledo, Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo had hoped to persuade his King of the likely benefits of a similar embassy to the court of Tamerlane, who controlled the important silk routes to China. However, the chamberlain's royal master had declared his servant currently too invaluable at court to be granted his wish.

Nevertheless, Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo nurtured hopes that, if he asked persistently, he might sometime be granted authority to embark on his adventure. After all, he was clearly the best candidate for such a mission, having not only already met but also rescued members of Tamerlane's court.

After carefully nursing Nicolai until the boy was ready to travel again, Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo, with the aid of Teimuraz and his own accompanying servants, had transported the young Muscovite to Azof on the Black Sea. Having almost suffered disastrously at Tamerlane's feared hands, for allowing Vissarion and Arman to be kidnapped by a ship's captain from their port a few years previously, the city's Genosese administration was not going to risk similar.

The local authorities therefore assumed responsibility for the luxurious welfare of Nicolai and Teimuraz, whilst Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo sailed for home and until Arman and Sibur came to collect the boys. The latter expectancy was predicted because of the note left behind in his tent by the young Muscovite, explaining his disappearance from the forests of southern Rus.

The last exchange of words between the healed Nicolai and Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo in Azof had been an invitation from the former to the latter, suggesting that the Spaniard sometime visit Tamerlane's court. "I'm sure," the beautiful, smiling 13 year-old had advised, "that my master would be most welcoming to someone to had saved the life of one of his boys!"

As Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo recalled in Toledo Nicolai's words, the royal chamberlain looked forward to taking up the invite someday.

(Tiflis, Georgia, same time)

Tamerlane's reformed attitude towards the homeland of Vissarion had seen, under the influence of the latter, better treatment of the local Christian population and restoration of damaged or destroyed buildings, including the great Sion cathedral of the Georgian capital, Tiflis [modern Tblisi], and many other churches. However, despite such social and infrastructure improvements, local nationalistic and religious hostility towards the Muslim overlords, who continued to seek regular substantial tributes, grew.

Vissarion was soon to experience a great crisis of loyalty when this enmity eventually exploded in popular revolt by his people, the Georgians, against his master, Tamerlane.

(Erevan, Armenia, same time)

The Christian Armenians were as resentful about Muslim suzerainty as their age-old rivals, the people of neighbouring Georgia. The population of their capital, Erevan [modern Yerevan], were particularly aggrieved, despite Tamerlane recently adopting relatively benevolent policies towards them too, in thanks for the presence of Arman into his life.

Arman would also soon experience a great crisis of loyalty, after his fellow Armenians rose in revolt against Tamerlane in tandem with their Georgian neighbours.

(Sarai, Khanate of the Golden Horde, same time)

Watching Tamerlane parade with his catamites round the environs of devastated Sarai was one of his sons. If the conqueror had perceived the hatred towards his boys behind the look in his offspring's eyes, he would certainly have taken immediate action to protect his young entourage.

Unfortunately, Tamerlane did not notice his son's underlying emotion, and this was to prove rather tragic for everyone concerned.

Chapter 29
Sons

There are just a few more chapters of this saga to go. In this one, two of Tamerlane's sons plot the downfall of their father's boys.

(Sultaniyya, Persia, Summer, 1394)

In a palace at Sultaniyya in Persia, 17 year-old Shahrukh, fourth and youngest son of the conqueror, was about to welcome into the world his own healthy male offspring. The baby boy was to be named Ulugbeg and was to become someone who was both very important and very special in the life of one of Tamerlane's boys in particular.

(Serpukhov, Principality of Muscovy, same time)

Another pregnancy was coming to a successful conclusion in Serpukhov, a city south of Moscow. Elyena, daughter of Ol'gered, grand prince of Lithuania, was giving birth to her seventh son, Vasilii.

The father was Vladimir Andryeyevich Khrabrii, [since 1358] appanage prince of Serpukhov and the healthy birth appeared appropriate to celebrate the return, after over a year away, of the fourth son of the household, 9 year-old Yaroslav.

As well as the newly arriving Vasilii, Yaroslav's other home-based brothers comprised the eldest, Semyon, third son, Andrei, and youngest sons, Ivan and Fedor. The missing component of the seven siblings, the second oldest, was, of course, Nicolai, who was alive and well but somewhere faraway with the dreaded Tamerlane.

Yaroslav's father retained a residence in Moscow, where he owed allegiance to the Prince of Muscovy and to where Arman and Sibur had kindly returned his fourth son. The latter had originally been taken hostage over a year previously by the Golden Horde and their scheming leader, Toqtamish. However, because of events that would soon unfold elsewhere, there was subsequently never any danger that the Mongols would ever again attempt to take the boy, or any other of Vladimir Andryeyevich Khrabrii's offspring.

(Khanate of the Golden Horde, 1 year later, Summer, 1395)

After destroying the major settlements of the Golden Horde at Sarai, New Sarai and Astrakhan, and perpetrating much other local devastation, Tamerlane and his boys and victorious army moved to return south, across the Caucasus, into Vissarion's homeland of Georgia. Meanwhile, the utterly vanquished Mongol leader, Toqtamish, who had dared to threaten the dreaded conqueror's catamites, escaped with his life but little else.

Khan Toqtamish was now completely discredited as a leader amongst his own people. He later had cause to wish that he had died fighting Tamerlane, for he was left virtually penniless and alone to roam the vast Asian steppes, a pitiful shadow of his former self. He was to disappear from history in such sad circumstances.

The Golden Horde subsequently managed to continue to enjoy some dominance over the various principalities of Rus for a few more decades. During this period, although the Mongols extracted tribute from these princely states in return for continued peace, they were no longer powerful enough to demand hostages.

Meanwhile, over time, the local princes of Rus would eventually realise that Mongol power in their part of the world had been so permanently and fatally damaged by the dreaded conqueror that they could successfully assert their own independence. Consequently, posterity can know that Tamerlane's boys had played a highly important role in the rise of a nation that was to become known as Russia, which was also to be led by direct descendants of Nicolai's younger brother, Yaroslav.

(Village near Gori, Georgia, 2 months later)

"My middle son has raped his younger sister and made her pregnant," the man declared in apparent anger and shame to the village elder, "and must suffer appropriate punishment for his crime!" The paternal demand for punitive revenge was made in the open in public, with virtually the whole population of the small, very poor Christian agricultural community standing round the seated minor patriarch.

The 'middle son' concerned was a rather handsome brown haired 15 year-old, whose similarly coloured sensuous eyes currently shed many tears. The boy's present clear terror and loud sobbing would probably have prevented any coherent refutation of the paternal charges, if he had been permitted to express it. However, a father's firm word was never queried and the only issue to be decided was the offspring's punishment.

"I can order the boy to be impaled," the village elder announced with conviction, "for perpetrating such incestuous evil." However, the father's anger appeared to abate when he responded "No, no! I'll then be short of a labourer, which I can't afford, after the wicked brat's younger brother ran away 2 years ago."

"Then castration seems the most appropriate penance," the village elder suggested, "particularly after your eldest son has already seen to the continued procreation of your family line!" The minor patriarch was referring to the man's oldest and particularly favoured offspring, who was married with three young children, all boys.

"So be it!" the father cruelly retorted in respect of his middle son, whom he fully knew was innocent of any crime, as it had been the favoured older sibling who had raped his sister. However, the 15 year-old was the one who must suffer, as how otherwise could the young girl's pregnancy be explained without bringing ostracism and worse to the paternal favourite?

(Southern Caucasus, same time)

By his many wives, Tamerlane, whose real name of 'Timur' was appropriately Turkic for 'iron', had four sons and two daughters who lived to adulthood. Despite his sexual preference for boys, the conqueror also possessed several illegitimate children by the occasional female concubines he took to bed over the years to provide his energetic libido with variety. However, the sporadic quest for such diversity was now no longer undertaken, after the advent of Vissarion and later Nicolai, Rezan and Rahu into his life.

Tamerlane's four legitimate sons were, in order of seniority by birth, Jahangir, Umarshaykh, Miranshah and Shahrukh. Unfortunately, the conqueror's eldest and original nominated heir had barely escaped his teens when he had died 2 decades before the present date. However, he had bequeathed to his father a greatly favoured grandson, Muhammad, who was now in his early 20s.

Jahangir's widow, Khanzada, later married Miranshah. She then gave birth to another of Tamerlane's grandsons, Khalil, who was currently a young teenager.

Umarshaykh, the new oldest son, was presently 40 years of age, whilst Miranshah was 29 and Shahrukh was now 18. The elder pair had recently begun to resent the catamites in Tamerlane's life, as they began to spend more time with their father on campaign as opposed to governing provinces.

Umarshaykh and Miranshah disliked the amount of time and attention Tamerlane devoted to his boys as opposed to his sons. They particularly took offence at the increasing influence that Vissarion and Arman enjoyed in respectively administrative and military matters.

Although Tamerlane appeared to consider both Umarshaykh and Miranshah as capable prominent additions to his travelling governmental and army hierarchy, the advice of Vissarion and Arman was frequently preferred to their own. The facts that the youths concerned were only 18 years old, with one a Christian eunuch looking more like 15 and still sharing their father's bed, and were usually correct with their proffered suggestions only aggravated the sons' annoyance.

Umarshaykh and Miranshah tried several ways to persuade Tamerlane to expel his boys from his life. For example, they attempted to play on his fatherly affections in order to secure a more prominent role for themselves in his everyday life. When that and other similar tactics failed to work, they eventually, in desperation, quoted Islam, which condemned homosexuality. The dreaded conqueror responded by immediately flying into one of his terrible rages, from which his older pair of offspring was lucky to escape with their lives.

In fact, to add to the further aggravation of Umarshaykh and Miranshah, it had only been the intervention of Vissarion, alerted to Tamerlane's anger whilst elsewhere in his master's military encampment, that had saved the heads of the sons from being separated from their torsos by their father's scimitar. However, far from exhibiting thankfulness, the aggrieved pair now conspired to eliminate the catamites from their father's life by other, more cowardly and sinister means. However, they failed to recruit their 18 year-old younger brother, Shahrukh, to their evil plotting.

Umarshaykh and Miranshah asked Shahrukh to join them in an attempt to undermine the positions of their father's boys. However, they diplomatically did not detail, for the ears of their youngest brother, the fatally permanent nature of their final solution to the perceived problem, causing him not to appreciate fully the dangers now posed for the young paternal favourites.

Shahrukh refused to become involved in what he considered to be further political manoeuvrings against his father's boys by his older brothers, not recognising that something much more sinister was afoot. In a response that was to have great significance for the future, the 18 year-old had instead firmly told his elder siblings that he was unconcerned about the importance of the catamites in the travelling paternal court.

The handsome 18 year-old even added "In fact, I rather like Tamerlane's boys!"

(Southern Caucasus, same night)

Tamerlane was walking with Vissarion, Nicolai, Rezan and Rahu back to his large, luxurious tent, where their night was to be spent before the canopy was again packed away in readiness for the next day's travel towards Georgia through the southern Caucasus. However, the conqueror, who was now a robust 59 years of age, was not just looking forward to the overnight sex and rest to come.

"What'll be the subject of your tale tonight?" Tamerlane asked of the now 18 year-old Vissarion, who still looked no more than 15. The conqueror was referring to the delightful post-coitus stories the young Georgian regularly told to entertain the man and his other boys before they all finally succumbed to sleep.

The still immensely boyishly beautiful Vissarion raised his peerless blue eyes towards the stars in the cloudless night sky and answered "I'm going to tell you why that constellation is named in some parts of this world after a boy called Antinous!" Tamerlane followed the gorgeous young Georgian's now outstretched arm to where the 18 year-old's delicate forefinger pointed. However, the conqueror's first thought then did not concern the topic of the tale to come but how worthy it would be for the wondrous narrator also to be given a place of honour in the heavens one day.

Tamerlane eventually managed to move on from this thought to enquiring "Who was Antinous?" "He was," Vissarion replied, "the boy lover of the great Roman Emperor, Hadrian!" The young Georgian, who had been interested in the stars for as long as he could remember, did not add that he himself had just heard of this particular young hero. He had done so by reading one of the many books the conqueror continually requisitioned for the highly intelligent and ever inquisitive 18 year-old blond, blue-eyed bibliophile.

Tamerlane immediately smiled on hearing his beloved Vissarion's revelation, as the appropriateness of the tale to come, from the sweet, rosy, eloquent lips of the conqueror's 18 year-old lover, was obvious.

(Edirne, Ottoman Empire, same time)

Meanwhile, in the city originally named after the Roman Emperor to whom Vissarion was referring in the faraway southern Caucasus, Edirne [ancient Adrianople], the grandson of the Ottoman Sultan who had changed the municipal appellation was eating with his personal slave. Both boys were now 6 year-olds and had reached this stage after Vladimir had so far thankfully failed to encounter any poison in Mehmed's food and drink.

Naturally, both Mehmed and Vladimir had been alarmed at Bayezid I's announcement that his fourth son and nominated heir might be subjected to attempted assassination by poison. The young Slav eunuch was actually even more concerned than his young Ottoman master, as it appeared that, if any such appalling endeavour was undertaken, it would be him, as designated food-taster, and not the prince who would suffer the consequences of swallowing toxin.

The shocked Mehmed subsequently exhibited characteristic fellowship and selflessness by initially being unwilling to risk the loss of his best friend to poison and bravely refusing to allow Vladimir to act as his food-taster. In fact, only the young Slav's suggestion that Bayezid I would undoubtedly have him horribly executed, if he failed in his duty and allowed his young master to die from absorbed toxin, eventually encouraged the prince to change his determined stance.

Bayezid I did not advise Mehmed of the source or background of his warning. However, in conjunction with the equally bright mind of his young slave, the prince quickly worked out that prospective assassins could only comprise his three older brothers, who were presumably jealous of his status as heir to the Sultanate. The oldest pair of siblings, Suleyman and Isa, were already teenagers who had been given important civil and military functions to perform appropriate to their status.

Although Mehmed rarely met Suleyman and Isa, he and Vladimir, after making appropriate discreet enquiries, now had no doubt that these eldest brothers were highly ambitious, and possessed similarly aspiring sycophantic supporters, some within the palace. As the young Slav subsequently devotedly tasted his princely master's food and drink, both boys fully appreciated that the latest fare could indeed prove to be the last to be consumed by the infant eunuch.

(Southern Caucasus, next evening)

There were three main reasons why Shahrukh rather liked Tamerlane's boys.

First, unlike his older brothers, Shahrukh was selflessly more concerned about his father's welfare and happiness than his own position in imperial affairs. Tamerlane's boys clearly and dutifully looked after such paternal wellbeing.

Second, after witnessing the birth of his own son, Ulugbeg, in Sultaniyya, Persia, Shahrukh had rejoined his father's army, during its devastation of the Khanate of the Golden Horde. There, Tamerlane had given the responsibility, of taking his inexperienced youngest son under their instructional and protective wing, to the highly able Arman and Sibur, who were charged with safely furthering the youth's skills in warfare. The 18 year-old had quickly formed a particular affinity towards the similarly aged and very pleasant young Armenian.

Third, Shahrukh had taken Ulugbeg with him to show the delighted Tamerlane his new bouncing baby grandson. He was unaccompanied by the boy's mother, who much preferred the luxuries of the palace in Sultaniyya to travelling uncomfortably through potentially hostile lands, even if her preference meant temporary separation from her newborn child. The latter's maternal needs were therefore provided by a retinue of wet nurses.

Unfortunately for peaceful nights, and presumably because of his separation from his mother or change of luxurious quiescent regime to one involving the disruption and discomforts of travel, or a mixture of both, the wet nurses and Shahrukh encountered great difficulty in enticing Ulugbeg to sleep. The baby was regularly heard crying in the tent of the conqueror's youngest son through many of the hours of darkness, until one evening one of Tamerlane's boys arrived to deliver a message to the 18 year-old from his father.

18 year-old Vissarion had sought and obtained permission from the similarly aged Shahrukh, who was currently at his wit's end because of Ulugbeg's incessant nightly crying, to look at the now almost 1 year-old baby. The appearance above of kindly, peerlessly beautiful blue eyes, sparkling gorgeously in the tent lamplight, immediately seemed miraculously to soothe the child.

Vissarion now sought and obtained permission from the amazed Shahrukh, who was rejoicing in the sudden, unexpected quiet, to pick up Ulugbeg. The baby was soon in the young Georgian's lithe, caring arms, with the child apparently still entranced by the 18 year-old eunuch's sensuous blue eyes.

Further permission was sought and obtained to allow Vissarion to leave Shahrukh's tent, still gently and carefully cradling Ulugbeg. The young Georgian then slowly walked round the vicinity on this warm summer night, whispering to the baby about the glittering stars in the cloudless night sky above. The child immediately seemed to share the 18 year-old's infatuation with the spectacular stellar display, whilst pointing upwards and cooing.

Shortly afterwards, however, an astounded Shahrukh watched amazed as Vissarion returned Ulugbeg to his cot inside his young father's tent. The baby was soundly asleep and remained so until well after dawn.

Ever since that remarkable happening, Vissarion had returned daily to Shahrukh's tent to perform the now usual routine that invariably produced the same miraculous result. This entailed a sound overnight's sleep not only for the baby but also for his immensely grateful young father.

This particular night was to be no different, although the later dawn would mark the beginning of a day of great tragedy.

(Delhi, India, next evening)

Ahmed and Krishnan were naked and enjoying their nightly bath, as usual alone so that no-one could discover that the latter supposed eunuch still possessed his balls. However, on this occasion, the pair of pretty 8 year-olds was disturbed by the unexpected arrival of the Muslim Sultan of Delhi, Mahmud Tughluq.

Ahmed and Krishnan, who had both been standing in the bath in order to wash each other as usual, immediately nervously sank onto their pert, curvaceous bottoms, with the hope that the soapy water would hide the fact that the latter was not a eunuch. "Hello, father," the young Muslim then said in welcome to the Sultan, "what brings you here?" Meanwhile, the young Hindu covered his genitalia with his sponge, pretending to be cleaning the small, smooth sexual organs concerned in a further effort to disguise their intact nature.

"I came personally," Mahmud Tughluq advised, "to confirm that I'm leaving Delhi in the morning to visit other parts of my realm." Ahmed had been aware that his father had been planning such an expedition, designed to keep provincial administrators alert, but had not known precisely when the Sultan would depart.

Unlike Bayezid I in faraway Edirne, Mahmud Tughluq actually loved his sons, especially his eldest, Ahmed. Consequently, the Delhi Sultan, in contrast to the Ottoman version, always liked to express appropriate, personal farewells to his young offspring before leaving his capital. Unfortunately, he now became distracted by the sight of the naked eunuch, who was apparently attending to the bathing of his 8 year-old heir.

"While I'm here," Mahmud Tughluq announced to Ahmed, "I'd like to examine the castration performed on your eunuch, which I've not yet seen, to check that it's up to the usual standards." The Sultan then turned to the immensely alarmed Krishnan and ordered "Stand up, boy, so that I can inspect your gelded genitalia!"

(Southern Caucasus, same time)

Tamerlane's army was once more encamped for the night, although darkness had not yet descended. After the success of his tale about Antinous, Vissarion's highly intelligent mind was partly engaged, as he went about discharging some other duties on behalf of his master, on determining the story that would precede later slumber. However, the young Georgian's mental deliberations were interrupted when he received a verbal message from one of Umarshaykh's servants.

"My Lord wishes to see you privately," the servant advised Vissarion, before providing the young Georgian with details of the secret secluded venue and instructions not to tell anyone, not even Tamerlane, about the impending meeting. The 18 year-old was intrigued to receive such an unusual invitation but not worried, as he rather innocently assumed that the conqueror's oldest living son might be trying to establish better relationships with him.

The setting sun was low in the sky when Vissarion followed the well described directions to the lonely forest clearing that represented the setting for his meeting alone with Umarshaykh, who was already waiting for him. The young Georgian bowed politely before Tamerlane's oldest living son and declared "Lord, I have obeyed your summons. How can I be of service to you?" However, the bearded 40 year-old, who was dressed in fully armed military attire and appeared very tense, did not immediately answer the clean-shaven 18 year-old eunuch, who was contrastingly only equipped with a little bejewelled dagger for protection. The latter had been given to him by the conqueror, in thanks and remembrance for the time that he had, almost at the expense of his own life, saved his master from the poisoned knife of an assassin.

Umarshaykh instead asked Vissarion "Did you come alone, without telling anyone about our meeting?" The young Georgian was actually insulted at the question, which queried his ability to respond dutifully to the instructions of his master's senior son. Nevertheless, the 18 year-old displayed none of his inherent annoyance when he replied "Lord, I have obeyed your summons as you commanded."

"Good!" Umarshaykh declared, noticeably relaxing. As the 40 year-old and 18 year-old then walked slowly up and down the clearing, whilst they pursued their secret conversation, the former went on to advise the latter about the reason for their furtive meeting.

"I've invited you," Umarshaykh announced, "to a meeting in such unusual circumstances because there is an enduring major problem in the relationship between my father and his sons. If this difficulty persists, it will undoubtedly bode ill for everything Tamerlane has achieved!"

Vissarion was naturally alarmed at this revelation and enquired "What is this problem, as we must do everything in our power to eradicate it?" After asking this question, the beautiful young Georgian noticed that Umarshaykh was no longer walking beside him. The 18 year-old therefore turned round to see where the 40 year-old had gone.

Vissarion now saw Umarshaykh immediately behind him, with large, unsheathed, deadly scimitar in his hand. The 40 year-old then noticed the young Georgian's peerless blue eyes look into his own, exhibiting clear, amazed perplexity.

In return, Umarshaykh displayed a broad, satisfied grin when he answered Vissarion's earlier question.

"The problem that must be eradicated, boy," Umarshaykh announced, "is you!"

(Delhi, India, same time)

Krishnan froze in immense dread on hearing Mahmud Tughluq's command. Ahmed also immediately became intensely fearful and not just for his best friend's balls. For a slave to disobey the order of a Sultan, as the young Hindu was currently doing, could result in much more than castration.

Severance of head from body was the more usual penance for such disobedience.

(Southern Caucasus, same time)

Vissarion, despite his shock at hearing Umarshaykh's announcement and the display, for a now clearly obvious reason, of the deadly scimitar in the man's hand, retained an almost surreal calmness. The beautiful young Georgian did not try to beg for his life, resist by withdrawing his own small bejewelled knife from its scabbard or run away. The 18 year-old instead addressed the 40 year-old, who proposed imminently to murder him.

"I never intended to be a problem in your relationship with your father," Vissarion declared with amazing serenity, "but, if I am, for the welfare of the great Tamerlane and his empire, it is perhaps right that you should eradicate me." The young Georgian then knelt, with lithe arms at his sides, and bowed his head, exposing his sublime neck for the blow from Umarshaykh's extremely sharp scimitar that would undoubtedly decapitate him with just one hard, accurate strike.

Umarshaykh had been as equally shocked at Vissarion's remarkable action as the young Georgian had been in response to the man's clear intent. However, even though Tamerlane's oldest living son also then acquired some respect for the obvious selfless bravery and wisdom of the young eunuch, he had no intention of allowing such considerations to deflect him from his purpose, or his sword from severing a beautiful, 18 year-old head from gorgeous, young shoulders.

Umarshaykh therefore stood alongside the kneeling Vissarion and raised his scimitar high into the air in readiness to strike the fatal blow. The 40 year-old then grinned, as he held his deadly weapon aloft, believing that his own eyes were seeing the first cowardly breakdown in his imminent victim's bravado, for dripping onto the grass under the 18 year-old's bowed head were some tears.

In fact, Vissarion was not now tearful for himself but rather for Tamerlane, as he knew how much his beloved master would miss him. However, the courageous and insightful young Georgian also believed that, given the circumstances and Umarshaykh's clear hatred, his sacrifice would be better in the long-term for the conqueror, his sons and his empire.

Umarshaykh now harshly grasped Vissarion's long, silky, straight blonde hair to expose the young Georgian's slim neck even more prominently for the imminent deathblow.

(Delhi, India, same time)

Fortunately for Krishnan, Ahmed's quickness of mind happily came to the rescue of his best friend's balls.

"Father," Ahmed advised, whilst displaying a disarming smile that perhaps only Vissarion in the world could better, "apart from me, my eunuch's rather shy of showing anyone what's been perpetrated on his privates. Can't you forgo your inspection and give me a farewell hug instead?"

To reinforce his point, the naked Ahmed immediately leapt to his feet and out of the bath and, without waiting for confirmation of his request or drying his lovely form, ran to embrace his delighted father. Subsequently, Mahmud Tughluq, rich garments now damp, forgot even the presence of the supposed eunuch in his oldest son's palatial quarters, let alone his desire to inspect the proficiency of the boy's gelding, until long after he had departed from the scene. The Sultan had simply been too engrossed in once more enjoying his young heir's truthful expressions of love for him.

Curiously, after Ahmed and Krishnan had again been left alone together, the latter exhibited little satisfaction in respect of his narrow escape. Instead, the young Hindu asked of the young prince "What would have happened to you if your father had discovered that we'd deceived him?"

"I don't think my father would have done anything to me," Ahmed answered truthfully and perceptively, "and he might even have saved your balls if I asked him to do so nicely!" However, this reply did not satisfy Krishnan.

Although Krishnan appreciated that Mahmud Tughluq would not physically harm his oldest son, he worried that, for perpetrating a deception on his father, the man might nominate one of his younger male offspring as the new heir to the Sultanate. The young Hindu therefore fatefully began to wonder whether the salvation of his balls was worth risking his best friend's inheritance.

After all, what worth were a young slave's testicles compared to a young prince's future kingdom?

(Southern Caucasus, next day)

Tamerlane's senior council disbanded after sadly providing their distraught leader with their best advice. The death would be publicised officially as a tragic hunting accident, which, to history, it was to become. Meanwhile, some place of appropriate, resplendent entombment in the deceased's homeland would be found to accommodate the body for eternity.

(Village near Gori, Georgia, several days later)

The middle son, whose balls now appeared doomed, was called Todo, in line with an ancient tradition that insisted that the names of all males within the family began with the letter 'T'. However, such customs were currently far from his distraught mind, as the handsome 15 year-old contemplated the imminence of the act that would prevent him from having offspring of his own.

Todo had spent the last week securely locked in a small windowless village outhouse, which doubled as the local prison for short-term inmates. Long-term prisoners were not a feature of this small, poor community, not least because the people could not afford to feed such unproductive miscreants. Those accused and convicted of wrongdoing were normally subjected to quick punishment, usually of a corporal nature, such as whipping, or exile or execution. In such circumstances, the 15 year-old's imminent penance was rare, as castration for heinous rape had not been performed in the locale in living memory.

Nevertheless, one of the villagers was expert at gelding male horses and cattle and so volunteered to perpetrate the same on the supposedly criminally incestuous boy, after the latter had spent a week, alone and naked in his tiny prison. Such an intervening period between harsh judgement and cruel sentence was required to ensure that the young condemned rapist's attractive, smooth body was purged after consumption of appropriate purgative.

The nominated adult castrator, aided by other men, eventually came to wash the naked boy forcibly with cold water, ignoring in the process the entreaties of the 15 year-old's suddenly audible voice, which pleaded both his innocence and for mercy. However, the villagers were not interested in Todo's screams that it had been his older brother who had raped his sister. After all, they themselves would probably have uttered such lies if they had been in the same desperate situation.

The cleaned and still naked Todo was eventually dragged from his tiny prison outside, to where not only the rest of the villagers eagerly awaited him but also a specially prepared, sturdy, wooden table, freshly fitted with unyielding leather straps at each corner. Despite the boy's weakened state, resulting from the recent purging and starving of his handsome, smooth body, four strong men were nevertheless required to bind the struggling 15 year-old face-up and immovably spreadeagled to the sinister furniture.

Todo subsequently felt his smooth scrotum being encased around the base with thin leather cord, which was then constricted tightly to cut off the blood supply to his doomed testicles. The overall effect of this genital bondage was to encourage the boy's twin all sacs to bulge immediately and darken gradually, whilst their new prominence positively invited attention. Meanwhile, the 15 year-old's slender uncut cock began to grow and rise to the vertical so that its long, eventually throbbing shape cast a shadow under the overhead sun over his sole display of body hair, which comprised a small, neat, dark tuft on his pubes.

The spectators comprised the whole population of the small rural community, men and women, boys and girls, naturally including Todo's evil widowed father and oldest brother, as well as the latter's three young infant sons and the sister the 15 year-old was supposed to have raped and made pregnant. The village elder, who had judged and sentenced the boy to his sad fate, was also present, as was the local priest to offer prayers before one of his human flock was gelded, just as many male horses and cattle in other flocks in the vicinity had been.

Giggles emerged from the crowd, as many, particularly the women and children, observed Todo's fine display of doomed masculine virility. The chuckles reached a crescendo after the nominated castrator, now holding a sharp knife in his hand, eventually grasped hold of the boy's rampant cock. The man did so in order to hold the vibrating erection out of the harm's way, whilst he made his fateful incision into the 15 year-old's now purple and painful scrotum.

No effort had been made to gag Todo to prevent him from screaming or biting harmfully his lips and tongue. The spectators therefore heard loud renewed pleas of innocence and for mercy, as well as more incoherent yelps, whilst the castrator began his delicate and, for the young victim, agonising task of gelding the boy.

Even though the castrator had never worked on a human male previously, he soon completed his cut down the middle of Todo's scrotum and, to the intense interest of the watching crowd, exposed the first of the boy's off-white testicles and associated spermatic cord. He then presented his blade to the thin membrane in readiness to convert his poor young victim into a half-eunuch before then proceeding to turn him into a full gelding. However, he had to wait awhile to perpetrate the initial deed because his aim became distracted by a shuddering of the 15 year-old's attractive, lithe body and the expulsion of a profusion of white, creamy sperm from the now engorged cock the man was trying to control with his unoccupied hand.

Todo's cum flew through the air in a wide arc before falling to decorate the boy's naked belly, chest, neck and face. The 15 year-old was rewarded for this further humiliating display of male virility by loud sarcastic cheers from the spectators, with young feminine voices most prominent amongst the noisy cacophony.

(Gori, Georgia, same time)

The still deeply grieving Tamerlane and his boys and army, slowed down by much booty, had crossed the Caucasus and were now advancing towards the Georgian capital of Tiflis [modern Tblisi]. The immensely long military convoy was passing through the town of Gori, which was much later to become infamous as the birthplace of another despot who controlled a vast empire, Stalin, although it was about the local birth of someone else that the current ruler was interested.

Gori is upriver of Tiflis, along the Kura, alongside whose northern banks the ancient road to the capital meandered. Most of the local population appeared to be invisible, as they fearfully hid themselves and their possessions away from the dreaded Tamerlane's soldiers, even though the conqueror permitted only peaceful foraging in the environs, having forbidden, on pain of death, pillaging and raping, out of respect for Vissarion's homeland.

As usual, Rahu was riding protectively aside Tamerlane, who commented to the now 12 year-old "I believe, Little Limpet, that Teimuraz was born in a village near here." "Yes, Lord," the young Zoroastrian replied, "and I believe that Arman is going with his young groom to view the settlement and see whether any of the boy's family still live there!"

(Village near Gori, Georgia, same time)

"What do you think you're doing to my brother?" a voice asked from behind the castrator. The man and the villagers had been too engrossed in the deed and spectacle of Todo's gelding to notice until too late the encroachment into their village of a small contingent of cavalry from the dreaded Tamerlane's greatly feared army.

The castrator turned to spy a 12 year-old, richly dressed and immaculately presented boy mounted on an excellent steed. Despite the time gap since the young Georgian had last been present in the village, and the utter transformation in his appearance from his previous ragamuffin status, the man, and most of the other villagers, immediately recognised the young returnee.

The shocked would-be castrator hesitated to reply to the question of the arriving boy, who was flanked by three of Tamerlane's warriors, with the rest of the small band of redoubtable cavalry located immediately behind the young quartet. The clearly angry 12 year-old therefore felt obliged to repeat his query.

"What do you think you're doing to my brother?" Teimuraz enquired, whilst, at his side, Arman, Sibur and Shahrukh also waited for the answer.

(Village near Gori, Georgia, next day)

Teimuraz left his home village forever. The 12 year-old took his 15 year-old brother with him. The cut down Todo's otherwise still intact and now bandaged scrotum had been expertly stitched by Tamerlane's best physician.

Teimuraz was also accompanied by a heavily pregnant sister and three infant nephews, who were the young sons of his oldest brother. Alas, the latter and the boy's father could not also join Tamerlane's travelling entourage.

Teimuraz had run away from his hated, cruel widower father and oldest brother a couple of years previously, ending up a street urchin in Tiflis, from which sad existence he had happily been rescued by Arman. Todo and his sister, despite suffering similarly at the sadistic hands of the parent and eldest sibling, including subjection of the girl by the pair to frequent incestuous rape, had chosen not to follow the then 10 year-old.

Arman had only recently coaxed revelation of this background out of his young groom, Teimuraz, and so, whilst in the vicinity, the young Armenian had encouraged the boy to recognise that the time was ripe to rescue his suffering siblings. They had arrived just in time to save Todo's manhood.

As Teimuraz and Todo left their home village for the last time, they unsympathetically passed their father and oldest brother, who were both naked and fatally impaled on sturdy stakes.

(Tiflis, Georgia, 1 week later)

The recovering Todo had been offered the opportunity to become a groom in Tamerlane's army, just like his younger brother. However, the proffered position was of greater status to that currently occupied by the 12 year-old.

Teimuraz was unfazed by this sudden superior promotion of Todo, as he was more than content to remain in Arman's service and bed. The 12 year-old was instead very happy to see his pleasant 15 year-old brother become groom to Prince Shahrukh.

So protectively attached did Todo eventually become to Prince Shahrukh that the 15 year-old was ultimately awarded the nickname of 'The Large Limpet', in recognition of the similar role he played to Tamerlane's Rahu.

(Samarkand, Transoxiana, 3 months later)

Tamerlane had just returned from the formal entombment of the dead body in his capital of Samarkand. In order to relieve his grief, the conqueror then went to see his youngest grandson. He found the baby sleeping contentedly in his cot, whilst a protective youth sat adjacent, still holding the child's tiny hand.

"I suppose you've showed and talked about the stars again to Ulugbeg," Tamerlane commented.

"Of course," Vissarion replied, whilst displaying his inevitable, completely disarming smile.

(Southern Caucasus, 3½ months earlier)

It had not been Vissarion's smile that had disarmed Umarshaykh 3½ months earlier but rather the arrow that had fatally pierced the man's heart. What was perhaps most remarkable about the shot was not its instant deadly accuracy in the dying sunlight but the identity of the archer, for Tamerlane himself had killed his oldest living son.

"Why?" a tearful Vissarion subsequently asked of Tamerlane.

(Samarkand, Transoxiana, 3½ months later)

Shahrukh had actually unknowingly been as much a saviour of Vissarion as his father. Without fully recognising the dangers that existed for Tamerlane' boys, especially Vissarion, at his older brothers' aggrieved hands, the 18 year-old Prince had taken the precaution of expressing disquiet to the conqueror about his siblings' current attitude.

A worried Tamerlane had then posted some of his best soldiers to maintain a secret and discreet protective watch on his boys. One of these, who was soon to be seriously enriched, had furtively overheard the message conveyed by Umarshaykh's servant, inviting the young Georgian to an unusual rendezvous.

As the reported invitation was so out of the ordinary, Tamerlane decided to track himself Vissarion's entry into the Caucasian forest. Here, he witnessed the young Georgian's encounter with Umarshaykh and became so enraged by what he heard and saw that he deemed intervention by fatal arrow rather than loud voice was appropriate.

Tamerlane naturally later regretted his deadly fury that saw his oldest living son slain. However, the conqueror was never to regret saving the life of his beloved Vissarion.

The conqueror's action would eventually prove historically very significant, especially for the future of his empire. His new oldest son, Miranshah, who had agreed to Umarshaykh's plan to dispose of Vissarion, before attempting similar in respect of Arman, was now too cowed to attempt on his own, without Shahrukh's support, any action in respect of Tamerlane's boys.

Miranshah was also not the only one to perceive the true status in the conqueror's empire of one of these boys in particular. After what had happened to Umarshaykh, virtually everyone recognised that the beautiful and unassuming 18 year-old Georgian was truly now the second most important person in Tamerlane's domains.

Miranshah's ultimate destiny, like that of the young Ottoman, Mehmed, and his slave eunuch, Vladimir, would instead now be decided not by conspiracy but in a field near Ankara. Meanwhile, the friendship between Shahrukh and Arman would blossom but, even more importantly for the future, the lifelong relationship between Vissarion and Ulugbeg would go from strength to strength, as Tamerlane's youngest grandson similarly grew.

(Southern Caucasus, 3½ months earlier)

"Why?" a tearful Vissarion had asked of Tamerlane in the Caucasian forest clearing, whilst still kneeling, albeit now next to Umarshaykh's dead body.

"Because," Tamerlane answered firmly and truthfully, whilst glancing at his deceased offspring, "you are more son to me than those born of my own seed!"

Chapter 30
Revolutions

Some revolutions are encountered.

(Samarkand, Transoxiana, Autumn, 1395)

Having returned again to Samarkand laden with booty from the Mongols of Rus and the body of Umarshaykh, Tamerlane decided to winter in his capital. The conqueror particularly wanted to spend time overseeing the continued aggrandisement of the city, which now possessed a splendid new tomb housing the deceased form of the ruler's second son.

Tamerlane was no longer concerned about the antipathy of Shadi Mulk Aka, his Eldest Queen, or 'Bibi Khanum', to his boys, as he and she had reached an agreement about how he would act in respect of his female consorts when in Samarkand. The conqueror knew that, as long as he abided by the bargain, the formidable but honourable woman would stick to her side of the deal and not seek to harm her husband's catamites again, after poisoning them almost 4 years previously.

Tamerlane also perceptively appreciated that, after the incident in the Caucasian forest, in which he had shown clear preference for one of his boys above his oldest living son, nobody else would dare to try to injure his catamites. Although the fatal incident had officially been described as a tragic hunting accident, correct rumours abounded about what really happened. One of the consequences for Vissarion, which he found acutely embarrassing, was the sycophantic respect the young Georgian subsequently acquired from ambitious people on the periphery of his master's court or petitioners, many of whom began to call the 18 year-old "Young Lord" when addressing him.

Those who truly knew Vissarion, and were not jealous of the young Georgian's immense abilities and influence, not only recognised his worth, despite his tender age, as an imperial advisor and administrator. They also realised that the 18 year-old's inherent modesty disliked such fawning and associated labelling, and that it was therefore best just to be straight with him and address him by his name and not by any artificial title.

Meanwhile, the 14 year-old sister of Teimuraz and Todo gave birth to a son, who was to grow to be as boyishly pretty as his uncles and thankfully to exhibit none of the awful characteristics of his incestuous father or grandfather. The child was called Tedor, in order to maintain the family tradition of beginning all male names with a 'T'.

Tedor's young mother was found a place at court, as one of the females charged with looking after 1 year-old Ulugbeg, only offspring of Tamerlane's youngest son, Shahrukh. The wife of the latter showed no interest in childrearing, and so the baby prince was effectively to be brought up by his nurses, although they currently invariably needed Vissarion's nightly help to encourage the child to sleep.

With the acquiescence of the Bibi Khanum, Vissarion came discreetly every night and followed previous practice by picking up a well-insulated Ulugbeg and carrying him outside to look at the night sky, even in the midst of winter rain or snow falls. However, in Samarkand, a palace balcony represented the external environment.

If clouds blocked sight of the moon and stars, Vissarion's sparkling blue eyes and assuring whispers still inevitably quickly soothed Ulugbeg into slumber. Others tried the trick but nobody except the young Georgian was ever successful.

Within a couple of years, after Ulugbeg had learnt to walk and grown to understand the words spoken by Vissarion, the child would be content to stroll under the night sky, holding the young Georgian's hand, before being returned inside and tucked into bed by him. A short story from the vast library of such enchanting tales stored in the eunuch's head would then despatch the boy for the night into the wonderful world of dreams. By now, Tedor would be sleeping happily alongside the prince, with the infant pair revelling in each other's company.

Tedor was being reared alongside Ulugbeg, who became his older playmate and ultimately brother in all but name. Their close companionship, like that between Vissarion, the stars and the prince, was to become lifelong.

(Delhi, India, same time)

"While I'm here," Mahmud Tughluq advised his son, Ahmed, whom the Sultan was visiting after his return from visiting the provinces, "I'll now inspect the standard of your slave's castration." The Muslim ruler of Delhi then turned to the richly garbed Hindu, Krishnan, and ordered the boy to drop his silk trousers.

Although ashamed, Krishnan no longer tried to hide his private parts from the Sultan's gaze and obeyed immediately. Meanwhile, Ahmed did not this time intervene to try to prevent his father satisfying curiosity.

"Hmmm," Mahmud Tughluq commented in surprise but without suspicion, as he lifted Krishnan's little flaccid cock to scrutinise the empty scrotum underneath, "the scar looks almost new, not over a year old!"

(Samarkand, Transoxiana, same time)

Tamerlane's agreement with his Bibi Khanum entailed respecting his female consorts' rights to enjoy their husband's company whilst he was in Samarkand, and for him not to embarrass them by parading round the capital with his boys, thereby advertising to everyone his preferences. Naturally, some of the time that the conqueror had to spend with the women was to be spent in satisfying their conjugal rights. Not only did the younger Queens want to make most of the rare opportunity to indulge in heterosexual sex but also some entertained the hope that they might yet produce another son for the man, thereby strengthening their own positions within the court.

In order to satisfy the agreement, Tamerlane's boys were mainly housed in a palatial residence on the outskirts of Samarkand, vacated for the purpose by one of the conqueror's sycophantic nobles. Here, they were required to maintain very low profiles whilst in the vicinity of the city. Even Rahu was expected to be invisible. Although 'The Little Limpet' was still allowed to form part of his master's bodyguard, he did so not at the side of the conqueror but watchfully hiding amidst the man's large retinue of adult guards.

Meanwhile, Nicolai and Rezan were temporarily redundant and therefore forced to spend more time with their tutors, as so-called more respectable servants took their place to look after Tamerlane's menial needs. The boys' only consolation for a reluctant return to full-time education was hearing their master grumble, during a sadly rare visit to see them, that their adult replacements were "Incompetent, nowhere near as efficient as you two!"

Vissarion managed to keep busy with affairs of state, with an array of messengers going backwards and forwards to his residence from Tamerlane, who was located in the conqueror's palace. The communications carried invariably involved news of imperial happenings and policy advice sought from, and subsequently invariably proffered expertly by, the young Georgian.

Vissarion obviously appreciated that such a system did not encourage efficiency within the imperial government. However, the significant compensation was that keeping discreetly at a distance from Tamerlane whilst in Samarkand provided his master with a degree of domestic harmony, if such can ever be achieved when a man possesses many wives.

Vissarion was even the soul of discretion when making his visits to the palace to ensure Ulugbeg's nightly slumber. The young Georgian always resisted the great temptation to call in on Tamerlane, who anyway was probably with one of his queens.

Meanwhile, Arman was less encumbered by the diplomatic goings-on in Samarkand. With his lover, Sibur, attendant, Teimuraz, princely friend, Shahrukh, and the latter's new groom, Todo, he was engaged on military manoeuvres on the steppes of Transoxiana before the usual local heavy snowfall meant that the army finally reverted to somewhat somnolent winter encampment.

Then, one day, a messenger brought Vissarion the alarming news that revolutions against Tamerlane's suzerainty had broken out in both his own homeland, Georgia, and that of Arman, Armenia. The exiled Sultan of Baghdad, Ahmad Jalayir, had also returned to retake his city. A number of the conqueror's garrisons had been massacred in the process.

A few tears now came to Vissarion's sensuous blue eyes, as he realised that he would now have to choose between his own people and remaining one of Tamerlane's boys.

(Delhi, India, 1 month previously)

"I don't like doing it unless the boy's first been purged and starved for at least a week," the man advised. "We don't have time," the naked 8 year-old retorted, "you have to do it now. If I'm prepared to take the risk, then so should you be!"

"Well," the man responded ruefully, whilst still amazed that he was being ordered to do the deed, "don't blame me if anything goes wrong." "I won't!" the nude Krishnan replied, as he lay face-up on the straw bed. The young Hindu, unknowing to Ahmed, had contacted the castrator who, in return for a huge bribe offered by the Sultan's son, had agreed not to geld him a year before. The reprieved boy knew to where the man had secretly retired and now blackmailed him with the threat of exposure of his duplicity and whereabouts if the adult did not carry out what he had failed to do earlier.

The castrator's now 13 year-old assistant and catamite firmly tied Krishnan's lovely naked form, face-up and spreadeagled, to the straw bed. The efficiency of the impending gelding of the selflessly brave young Hindu was not to be disturbed by subsequent movements of his anguished body, as his boyhood was cut away.

"Are you sure?" the castrator then asked of Krishnan, as he presented his specially sharpened knife to the young Hindu's small but delightfully proportioned smooth scrotum, earlier also proficiently bound round the base with thin leather cord by the 13 year-old assistant. "Yes!" the 8 year-old somehow managed to croak in answer.

"So be it!" the castrator commented rather sadly, after he ordered his assistant to gag Krishnan and subsequently began to make his neat incision down the centre of the young Hindu's smooth scrotum. The latter was now dark in colour because the leather tourniquet was performing its job well.

The castrator felt Krishnan's body, in undoubted agony and shame, try to wriggle beneath him. Having by now exposed the first of the boy's testicles, the man therefore took the opportunity, before cutting the associated spermatic cord, to ask his young customer again whether he was still to proceed.

The gag, introduced to Krishnan's sweet mouth to prevent the boy from biting his lips or tongue, caused the young Hindu to nod to convey his answer. The movement of the 8 year-old's lovely but now tearful head was positive.

Consequently, the castrator severed the spermatic cord and extracted the first of Krishnan's testes. Soon afterwards, the man had accomplished his belated commission to convert the boy into a eunuch and had stitched and bandaged the resultant genital wound.

Krishnan had not wanted to jeopardise Ahmed's position with his father, which he incorrectly believed might happen if the Sultan discovered that his son had deceived him over the young personal slave's castration. In fact, given Mahmud Tughluq's character, he would undoubtedly just have laughed off the little revolution against his original wishes as a very enterprising and caring escapade by his offspring, whilst taking no further action against the young Hindu servant's boyhood.

Sadly, Krishnan's misjudgement of the Sultan, much to Ahmed's subsequent distress, needlessly cost the brave and selfless young Hindu his balls, lost in the same cell in which he should have already been transformed into a eunuch a year previously. The young Hindu's similarly aged 8 year-old, Muslim master only later heard about the deed when the perpetrator's 13 year-old assistant delivered a message advising of the fait accompli. The man himself had been too afraid to convey the news himself.

Ahmed subsequently organised other competent, Hindu slaves, whom he trusted to keep silent about the matter for the sake of their compatriot, to nurse Krishnan through his convalescence. The latter was successfully completed, despite the lack of preparatory purging and starving prior to castration, by the time of the Sultan's return to Delhi.

Ahmed naturally forgave his courageous but foolish slave. The boys then simply carried on as before with their lives, although the young prince's admiration of Krishnan's bravery was always tempered by concern about the young Hindu's judgement, until one fateful and dreadful day, still 3 years into the future, engulfed them both.

(Samarkand, Transoxiana, 1 month later)

Tamerlane's initial reaction to the revolutions in Georgia and Armenia, and the retaking of Baghdad by the previous Sultan, was remarkably mild. He simply calmly called a council of chief advisors, who met at Vissarion's residence so that the domestic harmony at the conqueror's palace was maintained, with certain boys still not passing in daylight through its ornate gates. However, another probable reason for the choice of venue was the opportunity afforded for Nicolai and Rezan to resume, albeit only temporarily, their highly efficient servicing of their master's menial needs.

After the meeting had convened, Tamerlane asked for opinions as to what should now be done. Various advisors supported the same ideas, namely that, once weather permitted, punitive military expeditions should be launched against Georgia, Armenia and Baghdad. All eyes, including those of the conqueror, eventually focused on the still immensely boyishly beautiful Vissarion, who was the last to offer his counsel.

(Edirne, Ottoman Empire, same time)

Mehmed was weeping profusely, with his 6 year-old mind experiencing grief never previously endured. Vladimir was very ill, almost fatally so if Bayezid I's court physicians were to be believed. However, the young Ottoman prince was prevented from seeing or trying to comfort his slave and best friend.

The doctors, although they believed that Vladimir had been grievously poisoned, because he had taken ill immediately after tasting some of Mehmed's food, did not want to take any chances that the young Slav was suffering instead from a contagious disease.

(Samarkand, Transoxiana, same time)

The generally happily gregarious Vissarion looked unnaturally very glum, as he prepared to offer his master his advice, which almost everyone expected, in relation to his homeland, to be contrary to the previously expressed popular view round the council table. Only one person anticipated otherwise and Tamerlane was not to be disappointed.

"I have always," Vissarion now advised with unflinching conviction, "supported our Great Lord when he has sought due terrible retribution from those who have betrayed his trust, as such deeds are necessary to prevent strife elsewhere and the possible disintegration of the empire. The citizens of Baghdad have invited further trouble by killing our soldiers and restoring their Sultan. However, the Georgians and Armenians have been even more perfidious, given our Great Lord's recent largesse in respect of their renewed self-governance and restoration of religious institutions. I am particularly ashamed at the actions of my own people, who have risen under the leadership of the supposed son of the former king, whom I have no doubt is an impostor. I too feel betrayed, given my role in persuading our Great Lord that generosity should subdue local dissent."

"I therefore fully support," Vissarion firmly announced, "punitive military expeditions against Baghdad, Armenia and........" The young eunuch then paused briefly before even more angrily and loudly declaring "Georgia!"

Tamerlane smiled, for he had never doubted where Vissarion's loyalty would lie, just as he similarly and correctly never distrusted that of the Armenian, Arman. The conqueror knew that the young Georgian was not someone who would be dishonest about such an issue by pretending to be supportive in order not to displease. He appreciated instead that the brave and forthright 18 year-old would have aired other views if he had held any, regardless of the consequences.

Tamerlane now sought counsel in respect of the military operations. The conqueror then eventually surprised everyone by announcing his proposed troop dispositions for the beginning of the campaigning season in spring of the following year.

Tamerlane's new oldest son, 30 year-old Muranshah, would lead the expedition against Baghdad, whilst Shahrukh, only 18, would command the forces against Armenia and Georgia, assisted by good generals and, probably even more importantly, Arman and Sibur, as military advisors, and Vissarion, as political counsel. Meanwhile, the conqueror would remain in Samarkand, which was an unprecedented stance for the energetic, eager campaigner to take.

Only the wise young Georgian perceived Tamerlane's reasonings for unprecedentedly remaining in his capital, whilst his army went back to war. The conqueror wanted literally to blood his remaining two sons in sole command positions. However, more importantly, whilst the homelands of Vissarion and Arman were ruthlessly attacked, he wanted to keep his own furious anger at events there out of the vengeful recipe.

Tamerlane believed that by remaining in Samarkand, whilst awful revenge was extracted against Georgia and Armenia, he would be doing his beloved Vissarion and Arman a favour. The conqueror recognised that his own presence would probably lead to excessive retribution, whilst the young command team he had chosen instead would be more clinical, only subjugating the lands and people to duly proportionate terrors.

(Samarkand, Transoxiana, later same day)

With one exception, all of Tamerlane's council, including the conqueror himself, had departed from the borrowed palatial residence Vissarion shared with Nicolai and Rezan on the outskirts of Samarkand, well out of the way of annoying any touchy queens. The one exemption was Arman, whose lover, Sibur, was still with the army on the Transoxianan steppes.

On leaving with his father, Shahrukh had collected the waiting grooms, Todo and, with Arman's permission, Teimuraz. The latter pair, having been with their respective masters on military manoeuvres, was now to make, in the pleasant company of Tamerlane's youngest son, their first visit to see the many splendours of Samarkand.

In Samarkand, Shahrukh would also ensure that his groom and that of Arman could visit their sister and baby Tedor, as well as their other three infant nephews. The latter, sons of the hated and now deceased eldest brother of Teimuraz and Todo, had been adopted by one of Tamerlane's older and therefore now redundant palace concubines, who had been barren but always wanted children. She was to prove a worthy surrogate for the useless mother left behind in the boys' home village, near Gori in Georgia.

Arman, despite his youth and lack of seniority compared with Tamerlane's generals, had been, at Vissarion's wise suggestion, a new recruit to their master's council, although not out of nepotism. The young Armenian had demonstrated on a number of occasions that he was able to introduce the peerless strategic and tactical guile that he brought to chess to the conqueror's campaigns.

Like Umarshaykh and Miranshah, Tamerlane's generals had naturally resented the appearance of a mere 18 year-old Armenian onto the council, someone who not only regularly countered their military views but also was usually proved correct. The disrespect of the senior officers, all of whom originated, like the conqueror, from Chaghatay tribes, for the young foreigner was compounded by the fact that he had resolutely remained clean shaven.

The previous universal adult male fashion in Tamerlane's army, followed by all, including the conqueror, was for beards or, at least, moustaches. To the generals, anything less suggested effeminacy.

Despite official Muslim proscriptions, the practice of homosexuality was common in the conqueror's army, as not all of the warriors liked to keep wives or other women amongst the large volume of camp followers who invariably followed the conqueror's primarily mounted forces. As the satisfaction of lusts by raping subdued native populations was not always possible or permitted, finding male sexual partners, amongst fellow soldiers or by recruiting young personal grooms, was therefore frequently alternatively indulged. This scenario was one of the reasons why Tamerlane's possession of a coterie of beautiful boys to look after him during his travels, both inside and outside of bed, was accepted by most without demur.

The practice of homosexuality was not related to effeminacy but being a clean-shaven male adult in Chaghatay society was so deemed. However, Arman emanated from a different branch of Islam, where the possession of facial hair was not regarded as an essential display of masculinity.

Arman had shaved his growing body for as long as had been necessary in order to continue to be attractive to Tamerlane. However, when both finally accepted that the young Armenian was fighting a losing battle because of his irrevocable advance into adulthood, and he had transferred to the tent of Sibur, who liked young men as opposed to boys, he devoted the daily attention of the razor only to his face.

Arman did so because he recognised that Sibur had a preference for him without beard or moustache, although the older officer had never actually stated this because he did not want his lover to embarrass himself in front of his peers by remaining clean shaven. However, the young Georgian was unfazed by Chaghatay attitudes and was happy brazenly to use his razor every day to counter current custom.

In the event, Arman began a fashion revolution, for an increasing number of the younger, more audaciously modern warriors started to follow his practice, to the further annoyance of the tradition-minded, especially the generals. However, the latter discovered that they could not reverse the gathering trend when Tamerlane himself refused to condemn the taste, because he secretly rather enjoyed, what he considered to be, the improved aestheticism provided by the shaved faces of handsome young men.

Consequently, Arman became even more unpopular amongst the conqueror's generals. However, after previous examples of what might happen to someone who tried to harm one of Tamerlane's boys, nobody dared to plot against the young Armenian.

Arman was technically no longer one of Tamerlane's boys. However, everyone recognised that their leader not only still retained great respect for the young Armenian but also immense affection for the 18 year-old, to the extent of probably still being deeply in love with him, albeit not now sexually. The position of the clever and courageous, young and shaved cavalry officer in the conqueror's army and travelling court was therefore unassailable, unless anyone fancied risking an awful, lingering death.

After fussing over Tamerlane's every need during the council, and being rewarded with lingering hugs and kisses before their master eventually and very reluctantly returned to his palace and his queens, Nicolai and Rezan now diplomatically left Arman alone with Vissarion, who were currently standing opposite each other. The 14 year-old Muscovite and 12 year-old Persian knew enough about the relationship between the two 18 year-olds ostensibly to find for themselves an alternative venue in their residence for the foreseeable future. Having recognised the telltale signs, the younger pair politely excused themselves and walked from the room, managing to restrain their outburst of giggling until out of earshot.

"I haven't seen you for a while," Vissarion commented to Arman, once they were alone and with a hint of annoyance in his voice. "You know that I've been busy with military manoeuvres," the young Armenian answered, with some noticeable concern in his own verbal tones, as he hoped that his prolonged absence had not truly upset his oldest and still best friend.

"Are you sure that you haven't been too busy with Sibur or Teimuraz to bother about me?" Vissarion then asked sulkily and accusingly. Arman now really was worried that he had upset the beautiful young Georgian and began to stutter nervously "I....I....promise....I....I've only....been busy....with....military...." However, that was to be the extent of the young Armenian's explanation, as the usual, completely disarming smile reappeared on the gorgeous face opposite him, whilst he now saw clear mischief in the sparkling blue eyes.

"You naughty Georgian," the grinning Arman now exclaimed loudly as he rushed towards and then embraced Vissarion, "you're going to pay for your tease!" "And how are you going to extract payment from me?" the young Georgian eventually managed to enquire, once his rosy lips emerged for air after a long bout of passionate kissing with and bodily groping by his fellow 18 year-old.

"Well," the eager Arman answered, "we'll begin by removing these!" The young Armenian then proceeded, rather clumsily because of the excited intensity of his long unrequited passionate needs, to deprive Vissarion of the young Georgian's rich clothing.

(Edirne, Ottoman Empire, same time)

Sultana Olivera checked the unconscious Vladimir before dismissing her husband's physicians with the command "Leave the boy to me!" The doctors politely objected but were nevertheless ultimately ejected from the young eunuch's bedchamber, which was next to the much bigger and more ornate version occupied by Mehmed.

"Idiots!" Olivera then commented to her own handmaiden, who had accompanied her on her visit to Mehmed's quarters. "They're checking for poison when it's quite clear what the poor fevered boy is suffering from," the Sultana further remarked.

Olivera then ordered her handmaiden to organise bowls of both hot and cold water, with many clean flannels and towels, plus some of the Sultana's own personal medications. "And," she finally instructed, "let Mehmed in too. The prince will fret himself to death by not knowing what's happening and, anyway, he'll be much happier doing something to help me cure his slave. The disease is only contagious by way of consuming infected food or drink!"

(Samarkand, Transoxiana, same time)

Nicolai and Rezan furtively watched Arman make artful love to Vissarion through an internal latticed shutter on the wall of the latter's bedroom. The young pair of fascinated observers somehow did so without resuming their giggling.

Despite being considerately practised and usually culminating in the pleasant tickling of his prostate, Vissarion had rarely secured great pleasure through Tamerlane's lovemaking. For the young Georgian eunuch, being the subject of sodomy by, or performing fellatio on, the conqueror was more a duty to him than a passion, even though he truly loved the man. However, Arman's invariably more skilful attentions inevitably brought immense joy.

Arman would always first pay great, lengthy and delicate attention, with fingers, lips and tongue, to Vissarion's erogenous zones, which the young Armenian knew intimately by now. Consequently, the young Georgian was invariably subsequently more than ready, and in fact often desperate, for the caring invasion of his rectum by his best friend's inevitably rampant, throbbing, long, slender cock.

Vissarion's sublime body would be tingling in rapture, as a consequence of Arman's manual and oral actions. However, he would now experience sexual pleasure of such intensity, as his lover's penis gently penetrated him and began to thrust slowly in and out of his innards, that he never regretted his own inability to perpetrate the same on the young Armenian. Given the acute ecstasy always gained, as a result of his best friend's skills, the young Georgian realised that possession of balls was not essential for sexual joy.

Vissarion's groans of delight would generally reach a crescendo in line with those of Arman, with both 18 year-olds climaxing simultaneously, as the young Armenian's copious, gushing ejaculate filled the young Georgian's rectum, deliciously delighting his prostate in the process. The timing and quality of today's mutually delectable pair of orgasms was no different to those usually achieved.

After Arman gently collapsed onto the naked back of Vissarion, with his slowly softening cock still embedded inside his eunuch lover, and had managed to regain some breath, he shouted, for the benefit of the supposedly secret young watchers, "I hope you both enjoyed the spectacle!" Both the young Armenian and Georgian had detected the presence of Nicolai and Rezan earlier but were content to let the younger boys remain to enjoy the show.

The lovely visages of Nicolai and Rezan immediately blushed but, as they subsequently ran away, they resumed their giggling. As they escaped the scene of their detection, the 14 year-old Muscovite eunuch also noticed the clear bulge in the 12 year-old Persian's silk trousers.

"I suppose," Nicolai remarked to Rezan, "that you now want to have your evil way with me in the same manner that Arman's just enjoyed Vissarion?" Unsurprisingly in the circumstances, with his need clearly evident from the bulge in his trousers, the 12 year-old Persian answered "Yes, please!"

The beautiful, blond, blue-eyed Nicolai was delighted to hear his similarly impressively lovely, brown haired and eyed, younger friend's reply. Soon afterwards, clothes were shed in the 14 year-old Muscovite's bedroom, whilst two gorgeous boys kissed and played with each other's sublime bodies, before bringing their own passions to the inevitable climax.

Afterwards Nicolai happily and truthfully advised Rezan that, despite his younger age and smaller cock compared to Arman and Tamerlane, both of whom had often enjoyed the 14 year-old Muscovite, the young Persian was swiftly becoming as expert a sexual partner for a eunuch as anyone. The 12 year-old's lovely face subsequently beamed with pride.

(Janissary Barracks, Edirne, Ottoman Empire, same time)

Beautiful dark haired and eyed Kiril came from a proud and noble Bulgar family. Nevertheless, the boy's grieving parents had been compelled to give up their fourth son as part of the Ottoman devshirmeth. The 7 year-old had been compulsorily enlisted into training to become one of the feared Janissaries, which would represent a complete and unwanted revolution in the child's lifestyle.

Kiril now found himself faraway from home, amongst a group of other young frightened Bulgars, aged between 7 and 10, who were about to be inducted into their 'acemi oglan' school. "Strip naked!" the fearsome, moustached Janissary instructor, who now confronted the new recruits in the spartan establishment's courtyard, commanded loudly and authoritatively of the boys.

Despite the fact that heavy, cold rain fell down from the dark sky above and a chill wind blew through the courtyard, none of the terrified, shivering boys failed to comply with the dreaded Janissary's vociferous order.

(Samarkand, Transoxiana, same time)

As the shadows in their room began to lengthen, the still naked Vissarion and Arman indulged in pillow talk. On this occasion, they chatted about the apparently miraculous empathy they still had for each other, which somehow enabled their minds to recognise their friend's emotional peaks, even when out-of-sight of each other.

Once, 3 years before, outside Kashan in Persia, such empathy had revealed to Arman that Vissarion was still alive, even after being pronounced dead by Tamerlane's doctors. The young Armenian's mind had not detected life but, equally importantly in the circumstances, had instead failed to discern his friend's death, proving to him that the Georgian's soul had not yet parted his body.

Most recently in the Caucasus, Arman's mind suddenly became aware that his best friend was in mortal danger and he somehow knew precisely where. The young Armenian arrived alone in the relevant forest clearing, almost breathless from his running, to discover the distraught and tearful Tamerlane hugging an equally emotional Vissarion, whilst standing adjacent to Umarshaykh's dead body.

"I think that it's about time you came to my rescue," Arman smilingly remarked, as he and Vissarion came to the end of their reflections. "I'll only oblige," the young Georgian replied, whilst grasping and quickly reinvigorating his friend's flaccid cock, "if this entertains me again!"

(Janissary Barracks, Edirne, Ottoman Empire, same time)

The Janissary walked slowly along the line of young, cold, wet, frightened and shivering recruits, inspecting their diminutive, naked frames. The man held a wicked-looking leather horsewhip in his hands, which he forced against the quaking bodies of the boys to turn them slowly around in order to gain an appraisal of their nude forms from all angles. He also used the implement to raise the invariably little cocks of the youngsters to check the cleanliness of the juvenile genitalia, although some of the penises concerned were already incongruously erect.

The Janissary occasionally felt obliged to hit the odd new recruit hard with his horsewhip, if any proved reluctant or too stupid to obey the unspoken instruction behind his prods. The man only deigned to use his fingers on the boy's flesh when he knelt and separated their buttocks to gain an insight into the cleanliness and innocence of their young anuses.

The Janissary finally directed the boys to large tubs, fed by drainpipes from the school roof and full to the brim with recent rainwater, and instructed the young Bulgars how they were to wash themselves, after they had climbed inside the freezing contents. Meanwhile, heavy, cold raindrops continued to fall and the chill wind still blew onto the young, shivering, petrified nudes.

(Edirne, Ottoman Empire, 1 month later)

Both Mehmed and the fully recovered Vladimir now viewed Olivera in a new light. After saving the young Slav slave with her care and medications from the mysterious disease, which she called typhoid, the boys regarded the Sultana as not only a kind woman but also a guardian angel.

(Samarkand, Transoxiana, same time)

Shadi Mulk Aka, Tamerlane's Eldest Queen, or 'Bibi Khanum', greeted Vissarion in her palace quarters when the young Georgian arrived in her formidable presence in response to her summons. "Don't eat or drink anything whilst you're with her", the concerned conqueror had advised, after his favourite boy had advised him about the sudden and completely unexpected invitation.

"Please," Shadi Mulk Akas now smilingly requested of Vissarion, "accept my hospitality. Join me in consuming some fruit juice and sweetmeats as we talk." The young Georgian fully appreciated that the Queen's summons either represented a complete revolution in her attitude towards him or something much more sinister. However, despite the 18 year-old's natural concerns, he knew that following Tamerlane's advice would be highly insulting to the Bibi Khanum.

Vissarion therefore declined to refuse to follow the dictates of Muslim hospitality and began to consume some of the proffered fare, hoping to still be alive when Tamerlane's redoubtable Eldest Queen finally came round to explaining her mysterious summons.

(Janissary Barracks, Edirne, Ottoman Empire, same time)

Kiril was once again naked in the school courtyard. However, on this occasion, his sleek limbs were not free. The 7 year-old was instead bound to a sturdy wooden stake, with his ankles fastened together and his hands tied so far above him that only the toes of his feet touched the paved ground.

The courtyard was full of Janissary instructors and their cowed pupils, all observing the bound Kiril as the first, harsh lash of the horsewhip struck the nude boy's pretty, curvaceous bottom.

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