Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Susan Kay, ALW, Gaston Leroux, or the Really Useful Group. Please don't sue me.
Author's Notes: This is my first Kay based story, so as you may have guessed, I am rather nervous. It's from the viewpoint of the Shah's gift to Erik: a terrified Harem Virgin. This idea came to me soon after I finished the book. I hope it isn't too bad. It started out as a oneshot, but since it mainly focuses on life in the Persian Court I've extended it just a little bit to two or possibly three chapters.
Well, here goes nothing…
Chapter One: The Harem Virgin
It was a great honour, or so they told me. You're going to be married, they said, married to the greatest magician in the world!
I never wanted that. I never wanted anything. I wanted to go back to a simple life, marry a poor man whom I loved and live the rest of my days in a little hut, one of the many residences of the streets of Persia.
Instead, I was chosen for the harem. My parents told me I was incredibly lucky. Only the most beautiful girls in Persia were chosen for the harem. I once longed to be one of them. They wore lovely silk gowns with gauzy veils, their dark, glossy hair piled on top of their heads in elaborate hairstyles. Well, that's what I heard. They never went out onto the streets with the common people. They never had to get their hands dirty. They only had to please the Shah and his mother, the Khanum. I had thought it would be easy.
Easy? I now scoff at my early ignorance. It was torture! I was taken away from my family and brought to a strange place completely foreign to me, where I was instructed on how to pleasure a man. I was surrounded by girls more mature and experienced than I. If I ever expressed my embarrassment or discontent, they would sneer at me, and mutter behind my back that I was a baby. There was no privacy there, nowhere where I could hide. If I failed to complete a task, I was mercilessly beaten. It was customary, they told me loftily, customary to make sure that the wives and concubines of the Shah were obedient and disciplined and would not disgrace him. I had known that. What I had not known was that discipline was enforced with a whip.
My training started from when I was only a girl of twelve. It lasted three years. At fifteen, I was a slave of the harem, one of the Khanum's ladies, just one of the girls hoping to catch the Shah's attention. I don't think he ever looked at me. I was afraid to parade myself in front of him; afraid that the Khanum would think I was attempting to usurp her. Terrible things happened to the girls who incurred the wrath of the Khanum. She may have been beautiful, but she was merciless, and colder than ice. I watched a fellow concubine dragged out and beaten to death after causing the Khanum a minor displeasure. None of us said anything to reprimand, of course. It would have been suicidal. We nodded and murmured our praise for her actions, like the meek creatures we were. Those words of praise made me feel terribly guilty, as if it somehow I had beaten the girl to death myself. I could not forget her agonized screaming. They gagged her, but she bit right through it. Her twisted face, robbed of all traces of its former beauty, haunted me for the rest of my life.
After they disposed of her battered body, I found myself looking at the Court in a new light. I saw it as it was: a putrid nest of murderers and backstabbers, false friends and hidden enemies. Only two months after I had entered it, the Court that had once seemed so glittering and dazzling to my eyes was revealed to me as nothing but a mess, a shambles.
For a month, the Khanum was bored. Dangerously bored. She ordered us to display our talents to her, to read to her, play games with her, sing to her. The less skilled ones were promptly disposed of. I saw countless horrors in that month, mutilations, killings, all what one woman considered an endless game.
The day she sent for me was one of the most terrifying days of my life. I was in the slave's quarters when the servant came. Ashen-faced, he delivered his message.
"The Khanum desires your immediate presence in her chambers."
I sat where I was, gaping at him. I had never thought the day would come. I was a slave girl, I was barely human, I had nothing to offer. I had never displayed any extraordinary talent for anything. She couldn't want me for anything…unless…
Unless she wanted to kill me. Death was a sport for her and excited her, for short lengths of time, at least. She gazed at the mangled corpses of her victims as if they were fantastic works of art. There was an inhuman bloodlust in her eyes, and an insatiable hungriness for more. She was always looking for fresh blood to spill. And what was easier than killing a slave girl? I was nobody; I didn't even have a soul. I was expected to die to please her.
I cast a glance at the messenger. His head was bowed and he was shaking just as much as I was. Not out of fear of me, of course, but fear of the Khanum. I couldn't really decline to go, of course, but I could still say no, and then be dragged out by force. The messenger would get the blame for my unwillingness to cooperate. Both of us would certainly die. Sitting there, looking at him, I felt a strange bond between us, knowing that if I refused the Khanum, we'd share the same fate.
Trembling only slightly, I got up and bowed to him.
"I thank her Imperial Highness." Much more gently than was necessary, he took my arm and steered me out of the room.
For all its grandeur, I never liked the palace much. The carvings were wonderful, yes, wonderful and completely dead. There was nothing lifelike about those stone figures set into the wall. They looked a little like bodies, sad little lifeless bodies, carved into the stone for the Khanum's pleasure. I personally thought that real human bones might have pleased her even more.
The servant guided me to the door of the harem, where two eunuchs seized my arms. He bowed to them respectfully and went on his way. I turned my head to gaze after him despairingly. I had saved him from an untimely and painful death, but what of myself? I took in every detail of the outside world, thinking to implant it in my memory forever. I had no hope of ever getting out of the building alive.
The harem looked even more like a palace to me as the eunuchs half led half dragged me to the Khanum's chambers. It was obvious that they did not enjoy touching me.
"I wonder why the Khanum wishes to see such a meek little creature. There's nothing of interest in her at all."
"Another one for the executioner, eh?" They both laughed as if I were not there. At that moment, it seemed to me that I was dead already. My legs ceased to obey me and I collapsed on them, much to their irritation. The first swore at me, the second dealt me a stinging slap across the cheek.
"You little whore!" he spat, "You must show more respect to your superiors! At least the Khanum will be able to dispense of you in whatever way she pleases! I only regret that I will not be able to witness the tortures!" Through tears, I murmured my apologies. Seeming reconciled, they continued to shove me along the corridor.
Before this, I had not had the opportunity to visit the Khanum's private quarters. I had only ever served the concubines and the wives, being of too little importance to serve the Shah's mother. She occasionally ordered the presence of the slave girls at the various 'entertainments' she organised, nothing more. I wasn't aware that she even knew I existed.
The eunuchs delivered me to the door and knocked. From inside, a female voice answered.
"Have you brought the girl?"
"Yes, your Imperial Highness."
"Good. I see you have served me well. Bring her in." The door swung opened and I was pushed inside. Without even looking up, I cast myself down at the Khanum's feet, knocking my forehead on the ground.
"A thousand blessings upon your Imperial Highness." A dreadful silence followed my words. I could hear my heart thumping loudly in my chest and willed it to be stiller.
"Ah…another parrot girl," the Khanum responded in a bored voice. The women around her tittered nervously. "Well, you may get up, I suppose." Fearfully, I raised myself, still keeping my eyes carefully fixed on the marble floor.
"Thank you, mistress." An intricately embroidered slipper flew across the room and struck my forehead. I hardly felt it. All I could do was stand trembling, completely at her mercy, counting down the seconds to my ultimate demise.
"Impertinent little slave! Do you not know that I wish to see your face, stupid girl?" the Khanum snapped at me, "Raise your head!" Slowly, I raised my head to look at her.
"My apologies, mistress." I should have been more terrified than I was, but I could not detect any real fury in her voice. However, I knew that was nothing to be relieved about. She could still kill me easily, out of pure spite or malevolence.
Whenever I saw her, my first impression was always that she did not look like a mother. Time had slipped past without leaving any trace of its going on those perfect features. Her skin was still as smooth, her dark eyes still as bright and her hair still as thick and lustrous as that of the most beautiful of the concubines half her age. Birth had done nothing to tarnish that goddess-like image, nor had motherhood been able to soften the cold cruelty that lay behind it. I could see the malice in her cold eyes as she watched me grovel.
"A…reasonably good-looking girl…" she said grudgingly after studying my features carefully. Her eyes travelled down from my face, closely examining my body. My only thought at the time was that these were not the actions of a woman who was about to kill me. I had a chance of survival. I bowed to her again and stammered my thanks. Seeming suddenly more alert, she sat up in her throne. "My son has not yet selected you for the harem?" she demanded.
"No, mistress." She became visibly more relaxed and I felt my own tension lessening.
"Ah, I see. A harem virgin, are you? Well, don't just stand there. Come here, girl. Oh, hurry up!" she snapped with unexpected impatience. I scurried to her side dutifully.
Hours later, when the sun was dipping below the horizon, she finally permitted me to leave her. As I stumbled out of her chambers backwards, as was the custom, my throat was aching and the muscles in my ankles were screaming at me in protest. Ten times she made me perform that same dance, the one dance that I had repeatedly tried and failed to master. She enjoyed my pain as she had enjoyed the deaths of so many others. If I had been as brilliant a dancer as some of the other girls, I most certainly would have died at her hands. I breathed sigh of relief as I re entered the slave's quarters I thought never to see again. My fellow slaves were shocked to see me again and they didn't bother to hide it.
"Allah be praised, she did not kill you!" I gazed at them without really seeing them, unable to speak. They were not the only ones having trouble believing it.
Author's Notes: I don't usually include notes at the end of the story but since I consider quite an unusual story…
Let's make something quite clear. THIS IS NOT AN E/OW STORY. I'll be throwing in Erik in the next chapter, but he will (thankfully) remain a bachelor (and a very eligible one, in my opinion) for the rest of this fanfiction. This is not an E/C story either. We shall not be following Erik on his journey to Paris. Sorry if I disappointed anyone.
Now that's over and done with…
I hope you enjoyed this first chapter, at least. I will try very, very, very hard to extend the chapter length. For some reason, it just refuses to lengthen out. It has to stay so damn short! This chapter is four measly pages on Word and it's getting really frustrating.
Many thanks to anyone who's planning to click on the little review button at the bottom of the page.