In the dark of the evening, two very dissimilar-looking men could be observed lurking outside the sultan's palace.
"It is very dangerous for you, Master Yusuf, to enter into the palace by night," warned Mahmood. "In this land they throw spies into that accursed fountain!"
"I have the Gem of Invisibility," he reminded his servant. "I need but walk softly to go whither I will. I did not become a wizard by refusing to dare great hazards."
"How shall you find Ali? The palace is huge!"
The sorcerer frowned. "That is a problem which has occurred to me, also."
Yusuf and Mahmood
Just then, a manservant in a fine coat stepped through the great doors of the palace. He looked like one who held some rank and responsibility. Yusuf, inspired, hailed him amiably.
"Good man! They say the noble Prince Ali of Damascus visits the palace tonight. Would you convey to him a gift of mine?"
The servant eyed the stranger circumspectly. "What have I to gain if I do?" he asked.
A greedy thrall, thought Yusuf, but in this he was reassured. A man who takes a bribe does not talk about it afterwards, but God save the conspirator from the conscience of an honest man! he thought. The wizard plucked a small purse out of the folds of his burnoose and held it out. You have this to gain, faithful steward! I trust it is large enough to fit so small a favor."
Yusuf and Mahmood
The servant took it, felt its heft, then smiled. "Thank you, Lord."
"Excellent!" commented the crafty magician as he drew a jeweled dagger from his belt. "Tell Ali that this token comes from one who admires his great kingdom greatly, one who has heard many stories celebrating the benevolence of his pious father."
"What name shall I give?"
"Ah, tell him Abdul of 'Baghdad' sends it!"
The servant gave an unctuous bow and backed away.
"What was that for -- 'Abdul'?" asked Mahmood.
His master drew the oft-referred-to magic gem from his vast pocket, and before the bodyguard's wondering eyes the old man faded away. "I will simply follow the greedy rogue to Ali's chamber," explained a disembodied voice.
"Aye," said Mahmood with a short, soft laugh, "if he does not sell the dagger to some sly street vendor instead!"
"I will slice off his ear with it, if he does! Wait for me, faithful friend. If I do not return by sun-up, go your separate way and speak well of me to your grandchildren!"
That said, the invisible wizard hurried after the servant. The warrior listened to his heavy footfalls and puffing breath receding to silence. Such a one as Yusuf made life interesting, Mahmood appreciated. Nor was he a bad master, and the Egyptian would miss the old alchemist if he saw no more of the man.
A few turns, twists, and a flight of stairs brought the servant to the door of Ali's chamber, which he tapped upon lightly. The transformed prince bade the singing-girl Katya to answer the call.
"A gift from a friend -- one Abdul of Baghdad, young sire," the steward addressed the prince over the maid's head.
Ali arose from her mattress indifferently. "There must be a million Abduls in Baghdad," she grumbled. "He would be some greedy merchant currying favor, I suppose."
She reached out her hand and accepted the blade. The servant couldn't help but notice what fine, tapered fingers this lad from Syria possessed. Then, with a bow, the man withdrew and Katya closed the door. Ali simply tossed the dagger upon her mound of baggage and returned to bed. Katya resumed her place and recommenced her song.
"With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand labour'd it to grow:
And this was all the harvest that I reap'd--
I came like water, and like wind I go."
Ali listened for some while, but poetry was no palliative for her present state of mind. "Enough, girl!" she suddenly pronounced. "Bring me a cup of mineral water!"
Katya compliantly rose. At just that moment the door latch clicked and the portal swung slowly inward, as if moved by a draft. Katya tripped over to it and peered into the empty hall. Seeing nothing there, she shrugged and closed it again. While she was doing so, neither she nor the prince detected Yusuf's stride upon the tiles.
The cunning sorcerer approached the stand upon which Katya had been preparing Ali's drink and carefully unstopped the flask of the Maiden's Ruin potion and poured the magical bane into the cup.
Katya innocently picked up the tainted vessel and carried it to Ali who, without much thought, or even without much thirst, sipped the drink. She at once grimaced with distaste, for in sweet water the potion inevitably produced a stale flavor. Ali spewed the sample back into the cup, only a few drops of it having flowed with her saliva down her throat. "Your water is spoiled by alkali," she mumbled, which discovery added to her sour mood.
In mere moments however, even this tiny bit of the elixir began to evoke a peculiar stirring within the prince.
Ali looked oddly at the girl, but could not relate her nubile desirability to the unfamiliar impulses she was suddenly feeling. The prince decided that she wanted to be alone. "I wish to go to sleep," she lied. "You are dismissed!"
This cowled youth had been consistently cold with her, and his whole manner had made Katya uneasy. It was therefore without regret that she did her obeisant leave-taking and exited the chamber. In her haste, the singing-slave did not hear Yusuf's clumsy stride behind her. The sorcerer, hopeful that the potion was working its intended effect upon the prince, decided to linger in the palace until he was absolutely certain that Ali's maidenhead was lost. Only because he was gravely aware of his limitations in respect to the rites of Priapus, old Yusuf decided to refrain from offering himself up for that purpose.
Once Katya was gone, Ali leaned back upon the pillow, trying to ignore the sensations presently bedeviling her. But, try as she might, she was unable to banish them. No matter how hard she tried to force herself to think of something else, she found she could think of nothing but.
Restless, Ali got up and paced back and forth. When she came in front of the mirror, she frowned at the masked image that it cast back. Only now did she realize how ridiculous a cowl worn indoors made her look. She loosened its ties, shrugged it down, and looked at her bare face -- a feat which she had but rarely performed during the last few months.
Her mood now was much different from that in earlier days. How it astonished her to think that this was her own face. The girl in the mirror looked like Ayeesha, and how sublimely beautiful was Ayeesha.
Ali, glancing over her shoulder to make sure that she was alone, dropped the cowled garment and opened the large silver buttons of her shirt, laying her breasts bare to the glass. She looked at them for a long moment, and then could not help but touch them with halting fingers. The contact made her shiver, so sensitive was the flesh. Then, irrationally, she glanced back to reaffirm her privacy, and this allowed her the confidence to undo her sash and drop her black pantaloons. These fell in a silken heap about her ankles; her shirttails hung down to make her a very short skirt.
She frowned as she regarded herself, realizing at long last how lovely these legs were; surely, no dancing girl had ever sported a better pair. Was that a good thing, or was it something to be ashamed of? Why was it so difficult to see the answer? The question was so simple. Of course it was shameful! How could it be otherwise?
So, feeling badly about her body once more, she closed her eyes. What had begun as an act of self-examination had become like a guilty spying upon her own sister.
Ali adjusted her disarray with shaking fingers, and it was well that she did, for suddenly someone called her name from the hall.
"One moment," Ali replied as she struggled to finish her dressing. She had recognized the speaker was Kerboga, the Sudanese who was captain of her guard. When she believed herself presentable, she called, "Enter, Captain!"
The armored African admitted himself. Ali, standing behind the door, realized belatedly that her face was still bare. In all these months she had never let one of her guards look upon her transformed visage, though they had known from the outset about her basic plight. Consequently, the prince did not look the man's way, but instead tried with fingers made clumsy with haste to raise her snarled cowl.
"My prince," addressed the officer, "what shall be your orders for the morrow? I would ask Lord Hassan, but I believe he is -- presently occupied."
Ali thought about the matter of orders, but found that she was far more preoccupied imagining how Hassan was occupied. So she replied: "None."
"I mean, I am not sure. Let me decide at dawn. Come back then."
"As you wish, Your Grace."
Then, as her Captain withdrew, Ali remembered that she had promised the sultan to accompany his hunting party. For this she would require the escort of a few of her men, and so she hurried to the door.
"Captain! Wait! I would --"
She swung the portal open and came face to face with the tall, virile figure of a young man. A shudder, like some chill wind, coursed through her maiden body. As suddenly, it became like a warm flush. Dazed, Ali reeled as if about to fall.
"Ali," blurted Hassan, catching hold of his friend. "Are you all right?"
Ali quickly steadied herself, but she still felt oddly light-headed. Glancing at Hassan again, she felt drawn to him as to a lodestone. Only with the exercise of will did she restrain herself from reaching out to touch him.
"I-I thought you went to your quarters -- and not alone," stammered the prince. She now found herself pushing her cowl down once more.
"The girl is still there," Hassan explained, "but she is not so diverting as I had hoped. It is my fault, not hers. My mind is vexed. That quarrel we had stands in the way of pleasure as much as it does sleep. May I come in?"
"Ah, yes! Please!" The way Ali was yammering caused her friend to wonder whether something had not befallen her since they had last been together.
"Ali, are -- you well?"
"Why do you ask?"
"You are perspiring, though the night breeze is a cool one."
"I am very w-well," she stammered, "and -- and am glad that you came by. You need not apologize -- really. The quarrel was my fault entirely."
"I would not say that. I --"
"Can you stay long enough to share a cup?" she interrupted with a crooked smile.
Hassan shook his head. "I need to rest if we are going lion-hunting tomorrow morning. I only wanted to put the argument behind us."
Ali bit her lip, and perplexity was writ large upon her face. "I don't know that I will go hunting tomorrow."
"I've lost my taste for lion-hunting of a sudden, Hassan. Perhaps we should simply ride out into the plains tomorrow morning."
"The sultan would scarcely like to do that!"
"I mean we two would go alone."
"Just ride?" he asked, puzzled. "We have ridden a thousand miles already."
Ali shrugged. "Our eyes were closed. We have hardly once taken time to appreciate the simple beauties of the desert. And when did we ever stand shoulder to shoulder to watch the sun rise?"
The image she conjured, for some reason which he didn't fathom, made Hassan very ill-at-ease. "Well, if you'd like to," he began hesitantly. "I -- I am glad that you are being more reasonable about this hunting business. There will be time enough for roughhousing and dangerous sport later, when you are a man again. But, hunting or no, if we are going to rise before dawn, we will both need our sleep."
He backed away, wanting to be gone, but trying not to display a needless haste. What put him even more on edge was the fact that he was entirely unable to explain even to himself why he had the overriding need to depart so soon. "Goodnight -- my friend."
For some reason, the last thing the prince wanted was for Hassan to leave her. "Wait, there's no need of haste --"
She ran clumsily for a flask of wine behind her and the toe of her boot caught the leg of an incense-burner. Hassan's arms shout out instantly and again caught her before she fell.
"You must be as tired as I," the warrior said with a nervous grin. "You are falling all over yourself. Get some rest, Ali, and I will see you in the morning!"
He exited swiftly, not looking back. Frustrated, Ali flopped belly-first upon the bed and beat at it with her fists. After a few minutes of futile demonstration, she closed her eyes. For some reason, the appearance of Hassan had made her objectless cravings feel twice as strong. She had behaved very foolishly, very flightily around Hassan, but why? And this yearning -- what did she yearn for? To her dismay, all her cravings suddenly seemed to focus upon the image of Hassan. She realized that she wanted to follow him back to his room? Why? She had no answers to give. She covered her head with her pillow and longed for sleep, on the chance that she could rise in the morning clear-headed.
"Prince Ali --?!" Katya cried, scurrying back into the bed chamber. "What is it? Why do you cry out so?"
Ali awoke with a start. Dully, she realized that she had been crying out in a dream -- and crying out in her sleep, also. And this cry had brought Katya running.
But bleary and still half-asleep, Ali was trying to remember a dream which was rapidly fading and leaving behind mere rags of random images. There had been a man from the desert, she recalled. He had seized her, carried her away, stripped the male clothing from her body --
Belatedly Ali realized that the singing-girl was staring at her face -- seeing her without her disguise. The prince threw a corner of the sheet over her face.
It was too late. "Sire," the maid said with an incredulous gasp, "-- you are no prince. You are -- you are a maiden dressed up as a man! Why?"
Ali knew she that was caught and at the moment lacked the heart for weaving any cunning lie to explain the circumstances. "I will tell you," she murmured reluctantly, "but I beg you tell no one else. My secret is a disgrace to my family."
Katya regarded the maid doubtfully. The girl might have refused to hear what might be a dangerous secret, but by nature she was of a curious bent.
"If you need a friend, my -- my princess, I will be one," she offered coaxingly, somehow touched by the misery then so evident in the imposter's expression.
Ali told the story, briefly but truthfully, ending it with, "So the sorcerers who serve my father told me to come to Marshan and bathe in its fountain. It is supposed to wash away the curse. From what I have learned since my arrival, that would seem to be true."
To Katya, this confession sounded plausible and a little sad.
"Why have you not gone to the fountain already, my prince?"
Ali shook her head dolefully. "I did not want to go unless I could go in secret. But for some reason, the going does not seem as important as it once did."
"Why is that?" Katya asked concernedly.
"It is strange. I think it has something to do with my friend Hassan."
Katya squeaked in inspiration. "It happens sometimes to those who are washed by the fountain!"
"What happens?" asked Ali, glancing up at the singing-girl.
Ali and Katya.
Ali and Katya.
"You have fallen in love with the handsome lord!"
Katya's suggestion took Ali aback. She tried to frown reprovingly, but her features managed to form only a cast of guilt.
The servant jabbered on excitedly: "You have been a woman for many weeks, Prince Ali, and it has changed your heart."
"It cannot be!"
"It can! You have traveled so long in the company of the charming Lord Hassan that now you love him. Say it is true!"
Ali was absolutely staggered by the suggestion. "Love? I have always loved him as a friend, comrade, brother --"
Katya smiled. "But now your heart tells you that there is yet another way to love him -- the best way of all. Think, Prince Ali, this passion may be the will of Allah. But be warned - if you go to Lord Hassan and do all that your heart dictates, you may not be able to take your accustomed form again."
Ali let herself fall back across the bed. Now indeed she was beginning to understand the end to which her impulses seemed determined to drive her. "What should I do?"
The girl sat beside Ali and gave her a hug. "It is hard being a woman in love. But I am sure he loves you, too. How could he not?" She touched Ali's cheek. "You are so lovely."
"He can't. I am not lovely! I am unnatural! I am loathsome!"
"Loathsome, sweet princess? Not in Marshan. You are beauty incarnate, even in those silly garments. Surely Lord Hassan believes so, too."
"You called me a princess!" Ali noted incredulously.
The servant girl returned a sympathetic glance. "If you go to Lord Hassan, you will truly become a princess. Look in the mirror, Master. What do you see? Has Allah not brought you to this land in order to place a terrible choice before you?"
"All choices are Allah's," Ali reminded her dejectedly. "Who can know the will of the All-Wise?"
"Before you do something foolish, dear Master, would it not be wise to discover the truth? If you are by nature a woman who yearns to love a man, is that not proof of what course Allah has set before you?"
"Only a man can take a throne!"
Katya pressed Ali's hands betwixt her own. "Will a throne make you happy? Will it make Allah any the happier for you? They say the only throne a woman needs is the bed of her true love, the only scepter she can use is his mighty sword of passion. And the only subjects she requires are the children which her consummation quickens within her womb. Does not your heart persuade you that these are your needs also, Princess?
Ali cast her glance toward ceiling. Hassan? Passion? Children? This conversation was going much too swiftly for her to follow.
"I know why you are afraid," Katya pronounced wisely. "All your life you have been a boy, and even after you assumed a woman's shape, you continued to live as one. How can you hope to understand the inner cries you are now hearing?"
"Women are inferior to men! The lives they live are deplorable!"
"My life is not deplorable, and perhaps deep in your heart you, too, would like to live a life like mine. Would it not be sweet to put away your pride and kneel at the foot of a man, your forehead resting humbly upon his knee, and knowing in your soul that you are less than he is, that you exist for him to command?"
"No! I would not!" said Ali with a wild shake of her head.
"I know whereof I speak, O Prince. Are all kings happy? Are all slaves sad?"
"I know nothing of slaves," Ali replied with a moment's reflection, "but I know that my father the emir is often far from happy."
Katya kissed her in sympathy. "What Allah intends must come to pass. In your heart of hearts, you may truly be a mighty king, and, if so, God shall guide you unerringly to a manly throne. Or you may instead be only a lissome maiden who longs for love. If the latter be true, He will lead you along that path instead."
"This confusion of mind is like torture!"
"Allah desires that we learn and grow wise. Let us use this night to discover your true nature, O Prince. Then you will know whether you should go to the fountain, or instead go to the bed of Lord Hassan."
"Me with Hassan? Never!" Her face felt hot as she tried to reconcile her intellect with her emotions.
"I will call my good friend Danya!" suggested Katya pertly. "She is more clever than I. Also, she was born a man, just like you were. She will understand your sad dilemma, as I may never hope to. May I fetch her?"
"I don't want anyone else to know!"
"One more person to commiserate cannot hurt you. This is Marshan; we live with these matters every day," the singing-girl wheedled, her voice sweet and pleading.
"Perhaps," Ali conceded reluctantly.
Ali had given her halting consent and Katya dashed off, but now she felt a waxing alarm. Just exactly what had she agreed to subject herself to?
Before Ali had completely analyzed the conversation, Katya stole back into the room carrying a basket. This contained, as far as the prince could see, garments. The young woman who followed her, Danya presumably, was the same belly dancer who had entertained before the sultan -- Ben Jakhar the bandit. Ali shrunk inwardly. What sort of love-lorn advisor could one like her make?
Danya did obeisance, then beheld the transformed prince with a wondering gaze. Ali glanced away captiously. She did not want to be looked at, which was the reason why she had gone disguised.
"Your clothes tell me you are Prince Ali indeed," said the dancing girl, "but nothing else would declare you so. This is not unusual in Marshan, but are you, truly, a maid of the fountain, or does Katya mislead me in mischief?"
"This is a mistake," Ali stated nervously. "I should not --"
But Katya scurried up just then and took her hand. "You are frightened, Princess. That is natural. But think of the dashing Lord Hassan. Would it not be sweet to be crushed in his arms, your face covered by his kisses?" She bent to pluck a garment from the basket. "--See, I have brought these things from the harem for you to wear."
Ali startled. "Me? Wear these?" She would die of mortification!
"This morning you arose a boy, Prince Ali," teased Danya merrily. "Would it not be interesting to go to bed this night as a harem girl-- even if it is for only this one night of your life?"
Those words should have panicked Ali, but they resonated strangely with those indefinable feelings that she was experiencing.
"Have you bathed, Princess?" Danya asked.
Ali frowned. "Before the feast."
She nodded. "That will do, as we have little time. We must hurry, O Prince; there is much to do before Lord Hassan grows too tired to receive a lady."
"Wait! I barely spoke of the matter with Katya. I fear she has assumed too much," Ali protested. "I cannot do this! I dare not. I would destroy our friendship if I appeared before Hassan in these foolish woman-things."
"That is why you are fortunate Katya sought me out, Prince Ali," Danya replied with confidence. "I have the perfect plan to overcome such a small difficulty. Lord Hassan will never know it is you. He shall be blindfolded and believe that you are another person. If all goes well, you may stay with him, if not, you may leave and he will never be the wiser."
Ali looked askance at the belly dancer.
Danya explained her idea in full and Ali, though incredulous, at least realized some respect for her devious turn of mind.
"Let us do her face first," suggested Katya.
Danya nodded eagerly and guided Ali to a chair. "Sit, my princess -- I mean, my prince. I shall make you a lord's delight."
"I haven't agreed to any of this," Ali declared.
"When you see what you look like, you will agree to all things," Katya assured her.
Danya worked quickly and with great skill, outlining Ali's eyes with night-black kohl, applying powder and rouge to her cheeks. The prince's lips she painted a soft red, and then arranged her black hair into glossy flows. To complete the effect, the Damascene's nails, both of hands and feet, were manicured -- albeit simply due to their need for haste. At last, these, too, were painted to match Ali's lips.
Even Katya had not expected such a miracle to emerge from Danya's cosmetic art and she clapped delightedly when her sister of the chain had completed her delicate chore.
"Take a look in the mirror, Princess Ali," urged the singing-girl.
Doubtfully, Ali squirmed about and faced up to her reflected image. She gasped. It was no face she would ever have recognized, not even as Ayeesha's. Ayeesha was a princess; this was the face of a concubine or belly dancer.
"I cannot do this!" she muttered, seeking to rise.
Katya gently pressed her back down. "Do not fear, Princess. Your face is lovely!" She glanced over her shoulder. "What is next, Danya?"
"Her male attire must not leave this room with her. "My prince, may I assist you in disrobing?" Danya asked.
Danya took the absence of refusal for assent and, trembling with excitement, set about her task. She was realizing one of her fantasies -- that of stripping a raw fountain girl and putting her in the raiment of a female slave. Surely Allah was being kind to her this night.
The dancing girl accordingly undid the hooks of the royal heir's shirt, then drew it off. Ali could not help but cover her breasts with her hands when her torso was laid bare. Danya next took away the prince's shoes and pantaloons, rendering her naked.
Katya's constant coaxing persuaded Ali to remain seated in place while Danya applied fragrant powder to her bosom with a soft patch of fleece -- an application which felt unbearably ticklish upon her breasts and nipples. Yet the sensation was not at all unpleasant, even if the intimacy of the procedure heated her cheeks.
Katya now bent down close and again kissed the prince. "You seem to be so shy as a girl. Were you also shy as a man?"
"No!" Ali exclaimed indignantly. "I killed a score of boars with my spear. I've killed warriors in battle!"
"It is well you are not shy," the former Ben Jakhar put in, uninterested in hearing of another man's deeds of valor. "A slave girl is not permitted modesty."
Ali glanced up sourly. "I am no slave!"
"Certainly not, but you must impersonate one tonight, and must do so well enough as to not make Lord Hassan suspicious. Is that not what you want? Would you rather send Katya and me away?"
"Oh, do not, my prince!" Katya pleaded. "Though you may become an emir, you may be forever sad and lonely for wondering whether you might have been happier otherwise. At least taste both cups of wine set before you and compare the bouquet."
Ali frowned, not in anger, but under the stress of an intense inner conflict.
"You are beautiful, mistress," Danya assured her as she dabbed rosewater over Ali's ticklish flesh with a bit of fleece. "How can you doubt that Lord Hassan will love you?"
"But I do not want him to love me. I mean, I am sure that he could not love me. What I feel for him is -- I mean --"
"If you love him, dear princess, you shall be able to make him love you," Katya promised.
"This wing of the palace is not private enough to do what must be done," Danya confided to Ali. "We may be looked in upon by servants or by your own guards. I know of a place much more private than this one, and at this hour there shall be no one about."
"The slave-training room."
Ali leaped to her feet. "Are you having sport with me?!"
"Not at all." Without more explanation, Danya took one of the remaining items out of the basket -- an item that Ali beheld in consternation. It was a slave collar, a narrow black leather band studden with blue-white rhinestones.
"Only slaves may go about the palace unnoted at this time of the evening," Danya assured the prince. "Let me place this about your neck -- as a disguise only."
"No!" snarled Ali. "It is demeaning!"
"If you say 'no,' sire," Danya said with lowered head, "we know not how to serve you. If the prince has no more need of us, Katya, we unworthy ones must beg to take our leave."
"What is it that you wish to accomplish?" the prince inquired, almost as reluctant to abort this process as to continue it.
"We must show you how to behave as the sort of woman that a noble lord most usually desires," Danya explained with apparent earnestness.
"And if I do not like your manner of instruction?"
"Then you may return here immediately. Unless --"
"Unless you give us orders not to permit your release until a certain length of time has passed."
"Why should I do that?"
"Because it takes great courage to stand up to rigors of a slave girl's training. Unless you are under some self-imposed restraint, you may not have the fortitude to continue it for more than a few minutes."
"I am soldier-trained! I am monarch-trained."
"And I was a bandit, a strong fighter in my own right. Yet I have learned that to be a slave girl one requires great courage and an unbending strength of purpose."
"I fear nothing, least of all what two house slaves could do, unless your purpose is to cut me with knives, burn me with irons, or put out my eyes or tongue."
"Do you think we are mad, O Prince? We wish you no harm. But it is well-attested that a disobedient girl never does learn. And such an uncouth one could not deceive Lord Hassan, not even blindfolded."
Ali was no fool. Perhaps Katya was as naive as she appeared, but this Danya was different; there was an evident toughness and cleverness to her mettle. That she would savor having a prince of the blood under her switch Ali did not doubt. But this, strangely enough, did not daunt the heir of Damascus overmuch. To her way of thinking, the mortification of this woman-flesh which held her prisoner might have been exactly what she needed. If left to her own devices, Ali was not at all certain that she could long resist going to Hassan and, once there, saying or doing something foolish.
If these rascally slave girls only succeeded in showing her how intolerable was a woman's life, that would be all to the good. Purged of her foolery, she could go to the fountain in the morning and no one would ever have to know that she had been tempted to do otherwise.
"No one will see us?" Ali queried doubtfully.
"No one!" Danya promised her. She stepped behind the prince with the collar in her hands. "May I, Your Grace?" The prince again said nothing, and so she boldly cinctured the circlet snugly about Ali's neck. The prince reached up to touch its bejeweled surface, then regarded herself in the mirror, blinking in disbelief. Naked, painted, collared, she looked like a girl on a public slave block. Psychologically, the effect put her at a disadvantage, making her feel strangely vulnerable, a little lest apt to assert herself.
Katya now picked some clothing from the basket, and Ali could see that it was a simple, mostly-red harem costume -- an embroidered girdle, a skirt of veils, and a midriff-baring halter.
"The night travels on fleet wings," the dancing-slave cautioned her companions. "The princess must not be cheated of her chance to experience a way that she has never known before."