The man stood in the center of the hall, mocked and hated by the creature lounging on the golden throne before him. The Queen watched him as she always did since his punishments began, years ago. Her eyes were narrowed behind her veil, hungry for a sign of weakness though it was usually a study in futility. Not today, however- the mask hid what his body language clearly indicated.
"Well, what do you think of her, Erik?" She asked. Her voice was cool and fluid as her eyes moved between the man and the smaller figure standing before him. The courtesan was young, taken from the Temple of Joys only days before. She wore a thin veil, as did all women, her body concealed in gently layered robes of pale blue cotton.
The man was silent, though the Queen could see the twin flames of amber light behind the mask. His posture was stiff; his thin hands clenched at his sides. He was tense, and, she knew, tempted beyond all reason.
The Queen herself was a beautiful force in her own right. She shared the dark coloring of all the people of Tejar, though it was her dark soul that could so easily captivate friends and ensnare victims. She rose from the ornate throne, her movements liquid. As she stepped closer, her silken robes brushed the floor. Black eyes narrowed above the veil, considering how best to tempt and torment her pet corpse.
"Look upon your prize, my Erik. She is a pure courtesan, yet to have taken her first man," the Queen moved closer and took the girl's hands. "Her hands have been painted for you, Erik, do you see? Symbols to declare her virginity and rare beauty. Is this not enough to convince you?"
Erik made no move and said nothing, as she expected. The Queen released the girl's hands and removed the veil, exposing her face. The Queen cupped the girl's chin and raised her face so that Erik might have a better view of her. At even such a young age, the girl's face was delicate in its beauty; she possessed a gentle, curious expression, high cheekbones were only just beginning to emerge below her green eyes.
He understood then, because she seemed only curious and not afraid, that the girl had no idea of his true face. No rumor, true or false had yet to reach her ears. To her, his mask was strange, but not fearsome.
'You have no fear of me now, little princess, but our viper Queen will ensure that you do in time…I have earned the loathing of the world, and my hellish tortures have only just begun.'
"She is your slave, Erik, why not take her? Her skin is honey, her hair ebony, but her eyes, look at her eyes! Jade eyes, very rare, she is an exotic beauty. I chose her for you and you alone." The Queen felt her patience steadily begin to drain. Erik still remained a statue, silent and unmoving.
The insolence! The damned stubbornness, his unending disrespect! The Queen felt the all too familiar pressure build in her temples. This hideous walking corpse dared to defy her, the Queen of all Tejar, with his indifference! The wretched, hateful bastard, he-
'A new tactic, then, Erik. I knew it would come to this.'
The Queen circled Erik and the courtesan, who was now trembling slightly. The girl knew nothing of Erik's face- surely it was only her nerves that were causing her to shiver. The girl, even through her seductive training, had never been alone with a man- certainly a man had never seen her bare face!
"She belongs to you now, Erik. Once you give her your ring, no harm shall befall her- but I understand. You are the corpse of a man, but a man just the same, and all men must feed their lust with their eyes. Erik, I will feed yours. You must be starving." The Queen moved to the girl then, and tugged at her robes until they fell to the floor, a soft pool of azure blue.
The girl knew that she dared not move to cover herself- the slightest objection could bring punishments ranging from years of slavery to torture or even death. Her life depended on the whim of her mistress.
The Queen smoothed her hands over the girl's body, stroking over her shoulders, across the collarbone, down to her large chest. Royal hands teased the dark breasts awake before Erik's eyes. She heard just the softest of groans from the man behind her; she smiled knowingly. "What do you say now, Erik? Is she to your liking? She is yours, touch her, Erik, touch her…"
The man's hands clenched tightly at his sides- he was holding himself back from the girl. He was desperate, she knew this, but equally determined not to show his one true weakness: his desire for beauty. The Queen moved her hands languorously over the courtesan's waist, resting lightly on her hips. "Your woman, Erik- tell me what you would do to her. Take her slowly? Seduce her with your song, play her body with your hands as an instrument?" The Queen's voice became low and thick as her mind drifted, her lids fell to half-mast as her thoughts continued. "Or would you take her roughly? Ride her as a sheik rides the wild stallion, bruising her body in your passion…?"
The courtesan shifted in the Queen's hold, lifting her from her fantasies. Erik's mind too had wondered, swimming with visions of entwining bodies and heated flesh. He forced himself to ignore the nude female before him, and looked instead to the older woman behind her. The Queen was fully clothed in her deep crimson silks, the scarf and veil kept her face in eternal hiding- she wore a mask to the world, no different from him.
Her eyes met his, amber and ebony dancing in the candlelight. He could not read her expression, but her eyes told all. Finally, he spoke. "Is it what I would do to her that you wish to hear, my Queen, or what you long for in your own bed? Your desire for the depraved far outreaches my own, mistress. How long has it been since you've had a man? Years, I expect. There is no man in all of Tejar that would take a scorpion to his bed, and I will not be the first."
His voice was cold, biting and hard. The Queen herself shuddered in unease at his tone, and for a moment feared his raging violence. Fear gave way to her own terrible anger and she shoved the courtesan to the side. "I will not have this from you, Erik!"
"No, you will not. I'd rather give it to a viper. Good evening, mistress."
Without waiting to be dismissed, without a backward glance to his Queen, Erik turned from the grand hall, his posture still stiff, his fists still clenched. As he stalked back to his own bedchambers, he heard the Queen's shrieks of loathing anger, promising a terrible revenge.
He thought nothing of it. She had been making that promise for years.
One week later, Erik was summoned back to the grand hall.
When not being tortured by the Queen of all Tejar, Erik made himself useful in a myriad of ways for the royal court. He was an architect, a designer, a magician. Often, he crafted toys for the royal children, drew and painted for the emir and assisted the royal couturier in crafting designs for the women of the harem. If was forbidden for Erik to ever see the harem, of course, but he knew that among the women he was something of a legend- an instrument used to keep peace in the softstone walls.
He had once heard a particularly difficult girl be warned of him by a eunuch guard. "You will behave and obey every whim of the emir, you fool, unless you wish for the Queen to unleash her corpse man upon you!"
"Yes! She raised a man from the dead and enslaved him, he obeys her without question- unlike you!- and if you did not first die of fright, he would ruin your body, is that what you want?"
No, of course not, no woman had seen Erik, but they feared him already. He had accepted his fate of loneliness in the world years before, yet he knew that a part of him would always long for something more. He shook his head to clear the thought away.
'Now is not the time, my latest patient needs to be tended.'
His thin fingers unlatched the twig cage he kept beside his bed. Inside, there was a large rat. It was a creature that repulsed the royals, but Erik held no ill will toward any animal. He more than made up for the ugliness others could find in vermin, and preferred their company to that of men anyway.
The note demanding him to go to the great hall had been pinned to his door, and Erik glanced over it with a roll of his eyes.
"Another summons. There was a time when she would request me only once a week for beatings or to be whipped, now she has moved on to try torturing my mind. Stupid woman, she knows nothing." He muttered to the rat that he held in one hand. The rat's body was in constant motion, always sniffing for food and trying to scurry away.
Various other creatures stirred in their cages all about his bedchamber- lizards and snakes, rodents and birds, all various kind of injured animals that he'd come across and vowed to heal.
Erik kept tight hold of the rat, but tried not to hurt it- the poor creature had suffered enough. Their beloved Queen had grown bored one day and burned the rat's paws. Erik had taken the rat from her and had been nursing its feet for some time already. The rat would soon be ready to leave him- all of the animals were making quick recoveries, all the animals would leave him soon. He turned the rat over in his hand and looked at the tiny paws.
'Yes, I believe I'll release you into the harem in a few days time, my friend. You'll scare the emir's little whores easily enough, but I dare say that if unmasked I'd shock them all into an early grave. But for now, I must leave you and attend to the only other monster in all of Tejar.'
Erik put the rat back into the cage and left his room. The walk to the grand hall of the Queen was fairly long; her hall was settled in the back center of the palace, while his chamber occupied a high room in the North Tower. Erik wasted no time on his walk.
Upon entering the hall, he knew that some terrible punishment would be visited upon him that night. The Queen rested on her throne, her eyes glaring, as contemptible as ever. They were not alone. Along the walls stood eunuch guards with servants of the Queen, and all around them were the women of the royal harem. His heart began to hammer in his chest.
Erik had never been presented with beauty in such droves before- colorfully veiled faces on all sides peered at him curiously. His helpless eyes drank the women in; the golden light from the sconces in the walls above them gilded their skin and sparked their jewelry. Emerald anklets, ruby earrings, sapphire necklaces- all accent pieces to Erik's mind. Trinkets and baubles, nothing more.
It was the women themselves, their olive skin and kohl-rimmed eyes, the dark tresses tumbling over bare shoulders. Every woman was different; all of them were of varying heights and body shapes, all of them adorned with gems. Colorful silk costumes they wore, all of them in unique designs to better please the emir. It was a strange thing, so see his designs worn by the most desirable women in all of Tejar, all of them presented before him at once.
Erik's pulse raced and his stomach churned even as his blood sang with longing. He wanted a woman, had longed for and dreamed of a woman to call his own, but he'd sooner cut his own hand than knowingly defile any of them. He forced his eyes to the Queen. She was smiling at him, the smile of a tiger. Erik swallowed.
"I'm glad that you've come, Erik. Please, come and stand before me. We have things to talk about." Erik moved away from the doorway and came to stand before the throne. The Queen extended her hand, something she'd never done before, and allowed Erik not only to touch his bare hand to hers, but also to touch the lips of his mask to the large onyx ring that rested on her first finger.
His eyes narrowed behind the mask. 'What does she want from me?'
"How may I be of service, my mistress?"
A eunuch guard approached them, offering wine. The Queen took the bottle and two glasses. Erik watched carefully as she poured for them both. He made sure that she sipped first before he tasted the red for himself. It was good, but sweeter than he expected.
The Queen reclined back on her throne and leveled her gaze at him. "Erik, last week you and I parted on ugly terms," her use of the word was deliberate, Erik knew this. "But I hope to make amends. After all, before this you were a loyal servant to my son and I. There was an order given, months ago, to find a reward for the entertainment you've provided me these last few years- the least you could do, after you robbed me of…" she paused then, and a show of true, genuine pain crossed her face, but only for only a moment.
She touched her temple and took a deep breath. When she reopened her eyes, her hatred for him was renewed completely. "Never mind the past, we must look upon the present and the future."
Erik nodded and continued to sip the wine; already he could feel it warming his blood. He had been listening to the words of his mistress Queen, but his eyes had wandered to the exposed legs of one of the courtesans, to the silk draped breasts of the next…he felt his blood heat and his body tense in arousal, but he attempted to put it from his mind.
Erik's eyes lazily moved back to the Queen. "You mentioned a reward."
"Yes, of course, all in due time. It took my scouts weeks to find just the right thing to present you with, no easy task, I assure you! I had one particular vision in mind, but you will get your just rewards once I have you complete a task for me."
Erik tried to concentrate on the Queen, yet his eyes roamed the room to gaze upon the lush bodies surrounding them. The royal musicians had been playing a distant drum beat, slow and primal. Incense in the air tickled his senses. A light sweat broke upon his brow beneath the mask, though he found it difficult to focus on anything other than his ripening body. Surges of lust blossomed within him, a red fog closed over his mind.
"A…task…?" he asked, his voice faltering under the pressure of his straining loins.
The Queen's eyes narrowed. "Yes, Erik, such a simple task, and one I think a corpse like you might even find pleasurable. You see, there was a girl, new to the ways of the harem, but she disappointed me beyond all belief, and I need you to discipline her, Erik."
A soft moan escaped from the man, and the Queen's wicked smile grew ever more terrible. She took in the glazed, lusting eyes behind the mask; her eyes wandered lower, to the obvious arousal below his waist. She turned to the eunuch who had presented the bottle and handed it back to him. "Thank you. I see that it's working. Bring her forward."
Two more eunuchs appeared, entering the hall through a side door. Between them, they dragged a smaller figure, each of them gripping an arm while the feet trailed on the floor behind them. The girl in question.
The Queen finally moved, she stepped down from her throne and looked down on Erik, the once great magician, now reduced to a true corpse puppet.
'My puppet, my puppet, let me pull your strings!'
"Put her down before him," she said to the guards. They did as they were told. The girl's body had been covered from head to toe; only the faint dips and curves beneath the silk robes betrayed the female form. Erik felt his mind regress as his body took over.
'The wine,' he realized in his last moments of clarity, 'She drugged the wine! You idiot, you downed the whole glass, while she barely tasted it! What new horror has she in store?'
The Queen stepped closer to him and raised herself onto the balls of her delicate feet. When she spoke, it was a whisper that only he could hear as he stood dumbly, trapped by his own lust and longing. "How does it feel, Erik? Yes, I know you can hear me, I know that you are at least somewhat aware in the mind, even as your body is only aware of sensation," a tiny movement of her hand, and she touched his straining member through the material of his suit. "You are so unique, aren't you?"
"I know you will try to forget this, but a night such as this will live forever in your memory. When we last spoke, Erik, I asked you a question: how will you take the young courtesan? Now we will know!"
The Queen moved away from him then, and raised her voice to speak to the entire room, eunuchs, servants and courtesans. "Many of you thought him a simple legend before, but now let the truth be known. Behold, the walking corpse of Tejar!" She lunged at Erik and tore the mask from his face.
For a moment there was terrified silence. Trapped within his own mind, Erik wished greatly for death to claim him.
'Why must you be so cruel? You humiliate me endlessly for your pleasure, who is the true monster here?'
The harem girls screamed, several of them turned away in disgust. A few tried to run from the room as the eunuch guards attempted to calm the women, though several of the men had gone pale and looked as if they were about to be ill themselves.'I hate you all, every last one of you! Damn you, mistress, I'll kill you myself for this…'
The Queen stood before him, her smile gleeful as a small child's. It was horrifying to him then, to know that such a vile woman had once been able to produce a wonderful, beautiful child as the Little Sultana. But then came the thought of his own mother, who must have once been happy, at least before he was born.
The harem girls were still upset, many of them crying now, screaming echoes in the hall. He would take their screams into his nightmares for years to come, he knew this.
"You truly are a corpse, Erik. It's been years since I've seen your true face, I'd almost forgotten just how unbelievably hideous you are. I could not have done better in finding you a mate, although, there is only one way to be sure!"
The Queen bent down then, and pulled the robes from the girl. Erik's mind raged, cursing God, the Queen and his own disgusting state of full arousal at the sight of the naked girl. The courtesan, the one he'd rejected the week before lay before him; she was nude as she had been that day, and dead.'Dead!'
Dead by a slash across her slender throat. His eyes took in the sight of her pale, sunken flesh. Her eyes were blank, staring straight up to the ceiling high above them. Green eyes. The girl's skin was drained of blood; her once glorious hair was left in stringy vines around her face. The body was sprawled on the floor, spread-eagle, mocking him, allowing him to see such feminine secrets that he'd never seen before in true life.'Oh, God, not you girl. You poor fool, poor fool, no, no, Queen please don't make me do this to her!'
The Queen snapped an order to the eunuch guards, who moved towards Erik. They tore the clothes from his body and once he himself was naked, they shoved him atop the little courtesan's body. What happened next, Erik fought desperately to block from his memory. His body was beyond the control of his mind.
The stench of the girl's corpse, the desperate release his body found within her cold depths, the Queen's pleasured moans, the disgusted crying of the harem women…he had never before known such abomination!
It was quick. Once Erik had reached climax, the fog began to gradually clear from his mind, and little by little, Erik gained more control of his body. Still within the dead courtesan, he rested on his elbows in a sick mockery of true lovers. He gazed down in the girl. Death's face stared back at him, accusing him of her fate.
From far away, he heard the Queen dismiss the harem and servants. He lifted his head to watch as she followed her servants from the hall. She was set to be the last one to leave the room, and once she reached the doorway, she stopped and turned to look back at him.
"You'll be wanting some privacy to say goodbye to your only lover, Erik, but don't take too long, the maggots may awaken within her flesh before you are finished." With that last statement, she left the hall and all of a sudden, Erik was left alone with the girl's corpse.
His senses regained, Erik struggled off of the girl, withdrawing himself quickly, sickened as his cold seed leaked from the girl as he did so. He backed away from her and put a hand to his mouth.'Good God, what have I done?'
Poor, terrified Erik lurched as he pulled on his clothes. He turned away from the corpse as he dressed- his tormented imagination plaguing him. In his mind's eye, the girl had turned her head to stare at him, pointing at him with furious, accusing fingers.
'The girl knows that I could have protected her, she knows it even in death! All I had to do was give her my ring, and she would have been safe, she knows this! It was you, Erik, you did this! The girl is dead, her life destroyed completely thanks to your pride!'
Pride, yes. Erik was a proud man, though he had very little to show for his life. No family, certainly no friend to speak of- he was alone, and had innocent blood on his hands, but he had once taken comfort in the thought that he was beyond the normal urges of a man.
His stomach twisted in disgust and self-loathing. 'I am nothing now- a defiler of virgin corpses! Why can she not kill me and be done with it? I welcome you, Death, take me now!'
The nausea became far too great, and Erik staggered out of the hall. He became violently ill into one of the oversized vases that lined the long corridors. The corpse remained where it was- he'd half expected her to rise up and chase him through the palace. Erik would have welcomed it, for it was his own arrogant hubris that had killed her. The corpse did not move. Erik moved away from the hall.
'This wasn't how it was meant to be! ' He raged. 'Love, intimacy, no, no! Pleasure, a corpse! All of them, just watching, I'll kill that bitch with my bare hands, I will, I will!'
Erik was blind with red rage and sick humiliation. He hated the Queen, nearly as much as he hated himself. The palace housed several rooms dedicated to bathing; Erik kicked in the door to the one nearest to his room in the high North Tower, and locked himself inside.
All he wanted in the world was to feel clean again. Erik stripped himself naked and set up a bath. Scalding water enveloped him as he slipped below the surface of a large porcelain tub. The huge basin could have easily allowed room for ten men, but Erik needed all the water and scented soap within reach.
He scrubbed his vile body raw, soaping every patch of skin until he burned. He did not stop until he'd covered himself in full bottles of soaping oil, nearly scrubbing the skin clean off his bones. He scrubbed his skin, nails and hair- he didn't care about the pain he inflicted upon himself, he just wanted the scent of the girl cleansed from his memory.'Get her off of me; get her off and away and gone!'
Two hours later, Erik finally emerged from the bathing pool. His skin was sore and his muscles ached. He was exhausted and still repulsed by what had happened in the Queen's hall, but he took a margin of comfort once he found that the girl's scent was gone from his body. He had been able to block most of the memories of the actual sex act, but he knew that he would always remember that face…that truly dead face with its accusing eyes and the silly, petty shame he'd felt in admitting that, even when compared to a real cadaver, the girl's poor dead soul would still emerge the victor in a competition of beauty.
He dressed quickly, urgent to return to his chambers high in the tower, away from the hall and the terrible Queen. He needed to draw, to paint, to compose some piece of music, to check on his animals, anything! He wished himself to be a scorpion, free to crawl into a dark hole and hide from the world forever…
'Get a hold of yourself, Erik! It did not happen. Remain calm, regain yourself, go on about life, for very soon the Queen will be the corpse on the floor of the hall, and you will have forever escaped this monstrous place!'
He comforted himself with the thought that the miserable bitch had not broken him. Erik was deeply disturbed by what the Queen had forced him to do, but he would not give in to her. Erik remained as he was, while very soon the Queen would be nothing more than a bloodied corpse slumped upon her gaudy throne.'Yes- not broken, but the Queen will be, yes, yes…my lasso will snap her neck…'
Erik stepped over the threshold of his doorway and started. His reward was resting in his bed. Tears filled his eyes and he felt his throat constrict. "No…"