The Sultan's Favorite

by

Anne Burnside

Note: This is an excerpt of the book (try before you buy) which is now published and on Amazon or my home page.

Huge stone walls began to take shape under the direction of the sultan's architect. No one dared to question him even if his ideas were sometimes hard to create. He wore a mask that covered most of his face with only his mouth and chin exposed. This only added to the rumor that perhaps the sultan made a deal with a demon in exchange for the power to rule. The architect's face was known to be deformed, as some had already seen the horrific sight. But the sultan did not care where the man came from or what he looked like. What the sultan did know was after endless searching, the man now in charge of building his newest palace was the most gifted architect he had ever seen.

"Watch it!" hissed the masked man as a large stone swung awkwardly in the ropes that held it. He stood on the top of the largest wall, and he fit the stone perfectly into place as if it were always meant to be there. The slaves sighed in relief. They knew first hand what he would do if they made a mistake. His rage spilled out frequently over the tiniest detail.

"Erik!"

The masked man glared down to see the captain of the royal guard looking up at him from far below.

"I am busy!" snapped Erik as he began motioning to the slaves for the next stone to be put into place.

"The sultan demands to see you."

Erik ignored him.

"ERIK!"

"Oh good God, the man can wait for a few minutes! He is the one wanting the impossible to be completed in such a short timeframe."

"Now!"

Erik cursed loudly in response, causing the slaves around him to cringe. He turned his icy stare on them. "Make one mistake while I am gone, and I will place the next stone on top of you!" He took a graceful leap onto the scaffolding and climbed down. He stood before the captain. "Where is he?"

"He is in the court of his first wife."

Muttering to himself, Erik climbed on his horse and made the journey to the smaller palace not far away. He shook his head as he arrived and dismounted. This particular palace was already larger than most he had seen in this lifetime. Building a new one twice the size was an enormous feat.

But after the only woman he loved rejected him, Erik threw himself into work to dull the pain. He returned to his talent in architecture, creating beautiful works of elaborate designs. Once he left Paris, Erik found it surprisingly easy to be hired by many wealthy employers who were eager to put his unique designs on display. True, the mask on his face made some hesitate, but they quickly learned to overlook such a thing when they saw his talent. Erik demanded no public recognition for his architectural skills, and thus he kept out of sight from civilized society. All he requested was that no questions about his past were ever to be asked.

After several years of working on a number of structures, he was approached by a man claiming to be a servant for a sultan. Although Erik now had more than enough wealth, he was intrigued to see what challenges he could yet master. And if a messenger had been sent, it could only mean this new potential employer was highly eager to persuade him for some reason.

Erik soon found himself before the sultan of the Ottoman Turks. This ruler was still fairly young, yet old enough to have wisdom beyond his years. The Ottoman Empire had begun to weaken, but under his guidance, this sultan was already strengthening his forces and determined to expand his domain. To assure his future, he immediately made a pact with one of his neighboring Christian enemies and took the ruler's daughter as his first wife. Soon after, the sultan agreed to take a second wife, a princess from the Bulgarian people. Her dowry would be paid in support of his growing city. To demonstrate his increased power, the sultan demanded a new palace be built, one that would be seen for miles by his enemies, making a statement that the Ottoman Empire remained strongly intact.

Erik entered the first wife's court. Slaves greeted him and quickly fled to find their mistress. Her name was Iris, and she promptly came to acknowledge him. She had hazel eyes with ivory skin, and her black hair fell lavishly below her waist. Her face was now glowing as she was several months into her first pregnancy. Unlike some of the other women, Iris always greeted Erik warmly.

"Erik, it is good to see you. What brings you today? Do you have some additional thoughts about my new court?"

"No, mistress; your husband sent for me."

"Oh? I am afraid my lord is not here. But I am quite certain he went to visit Lala."

Erik all but rolled his eyes, as he detested the sultan's second wife. And from what he could gather, the sultan was also not very fond of her. The ruler only went to her one night out of the seven as required by tribal law.

He thanked Iris politely and cursed under his breath as he went to Lala's court. Even in a lavish palace, her court struck Erik as ridiculously ornate. The walls and ceiling were adorned with real gold moldings. The draperies were deep red with chairs of matching velvet brocade. There was even a throne-like chair with carved arms detailed in matching gold.

Erik was not surprised to receive a cold greeting from Lala's eunuch, who immediately frowned upon seeing him.

"The sultan has requested my presence," said Erik shortly before giving the eunuch a chance to even speak.

"He is not here."

Anger boiled through Erik's blood. "Where the hell is he then?"

The eunuch shrugged and simply gave him a mocking smile.

Erik's patience snapped, and he grabbed the eunuch by the throat. Almost raising him off his feet, he now looked steadily into the man's eyes. The eunuch clawed at Erik's hands in an effort to try to breathe. But Erik only tightened his grip.

"You will put him down now!" shrieked a female voice.

Erik turned his head to see Lala now standing before him. Her dark eyes flashed with anger, and she took a step forward.

"Now! Or I will call the guards!"

Erik gave a sarcastic bow with his head. "Of course, mistress." He dropped the eunuch, who crumpled on the floor, gasping heavily.

"What do you want?" she asked angrily.

Erik studied her for a moment. She was short with a rounded face. Although she was still a young woman, her beauty was already fading. Lala had gained more than a few pounds; her black hair was dull and flat. No doubt these were symptoms from the lack of the sultan's attention, yet she only had herself to blame. The woman was extremely jealous of the sultan's first wife. Lala was outraged she was not the only wife as dictated by her Christianity. Iris was also from a Christian background, but she accepted her fate and tried to love her husband as was expected of a wife.

"Where is he? I have little patience left, I warn you," said Erik harshly.

Lala smirked. "I have no idea what you are talking about."

The eunuch was struggling to sit up, and Erik brought his foot down on the man's neck.

"Stop it!" she shrieked.

"I am certain your husband would thank me if he knew what secrets you hold with this man," replied Erik calmly as the eunuch tried to get free.

"I have no secrets with this man! And he is not a man. He is a eunuch."

"Oh please, mistress," he said harshly, "you well know not all eunuchs are impotent. And as I recall, this one came from the slave market who did not become a eunuch until he was already a young man. The mortality rate is much lower if not all is removed."

"The sultan left here a while ago. Now get out!"

"Where?"

"His harem," she said in a low voice.

Erik knew it was insulting for her to admit the sultan sought other women after visiting her court. He lifted his foot while the eunuch gasped. To Erik's satisfaction, the eunuch vomited.

Lala stared at him coldly. "I am sure you will tell my husband of this false secret as an excuse for him to beat me!"

"I am certain the sultan would like such an excuse. But unless it has some direct impact to me, I do not involve myself in such affairs." He looked down at the eunuch. "I only use it to my advantage when I have the need."

Erik left Lala cradling her eunuch and made his way to the harem. The girls of the harem greatly annoyed him as their only purpose in life was to please the sultan. It was not uncommon for fights to break out among them; Erik witnessed any girl highly favored by the sultan was a target. A scarred face was a sure way to have such a favorite dismissed.

But before he reached the harem, another eunuch approached to tell him the sultan had taken one of the girls to his private quarters. Erik frowned, changed direction yet again, and headed for the sultan's bed. He looked at his watch and cursed again as he approached the court. Unlike other lands where the sexual act was extremely private, here it was not uncommon for the sultan to take what he wanted wherever he wanted.

At least the sultan had the decency to take the girl to his bed this time.

But that did not mean Erik would be able to simply wait in another room until the sultan was finished. If the ruler sent for someone, the guest must wait in the same room while the sultan fulfilled his needs. It was considered an insult not to immediately appear before him for any reason. At first, Erik was somewhat disgusted these lands allowed such a thing. But now, after being with the sultan for quite some time, Erik was used to such behavior. He witnessed on more than a few occasions the sultan's lust in taking a girl right in front of him.

Fortunately when Erik entered the bed chamber, the sultan was finished and was pulling on a gold striped robe. Still naked in the bed, the girl gasped as Erik appeared. Erik knew there were countless rumors among the harem about what was underneath his mask. Some thought he was a real demon called upon to serve the ruler.

The sultan shot her a glare. "Leave us," he commanded.

She frantically left the bed and ran past Erik.

The sultan finished tying his sash and put his arms behind his back as he looked at Erik. "I was beginning to wonder if you received my call."

Erik tried to hold back his anger as he looked at the man. He admitted this particular ruler was meant to have power. He was tall with a full dark head of hair. He had extremely broad shoulders and a large chest. His arms and legs were firm with muscle. Yes, the sultan exhibited youth, beauty, and vitality.

Erik hated him for those qualities alone.

"And I was beginning to wonder if I would ever find you," said Erik in a low tone.

The sultan chuckled. "It is not my fault you cannot keep up with me."

"Why do you require my presence?" snapped Erik.

"Such anger in you," said the sultan as his eyes darkened.

"You are the one who gave such an impossible deadline."

"Ah, but you love the challenge."

Erik frowned at the ruler's choice of words. The sultan was a man who knew all about challenges. He was one of two brothers. As the younger brother, he had little hope of becoming sultan, or even living for that matter. It was well known if one brother became sultan in this land, any other living brothers along with their families were killed. There could be only one sultan and not even family ties were worth the risk of creating an internal conflict to rule.

As such, when the sultan was young, he trained in the royal army and fought many battles. Knowing his eventual fate would mean death when his older brother became ruler, he drove himself hard on the battleground having nothing to lose. As he did not want to risk any child of his being murdered as was his fate, he had no interest in women or a family.

But that all changed when his brother and father were killed on a hunting trip. After they were assassinated by enemies, the younger brother found himself suddenly thrust into power when his father died. However, because of his experience in war and politics, this sultan was proving to be a worthy opponent to anyone. The only experience he lacked was women. Now with two wives and a harem, he was certainly making up for that lost period of time.

Erik narrowed his eyes. "You are wasting my time."

The sultan had an amused look on his face. "You make life quite interesting to me sometimes, Erik. You are one among very few who talk to me in such a manner."

"I talk to you as another human."

"Yes, I know. I doubt any other ruler would tolerate it as much as I."

Erik continued to stare at the man with hatred in his eyes. "I bow to no one. Now tell me why it was so important to see me when I could have been building the eastern wall of the new palace."

The sultan calmly walked over to a nearby chair and sat down. "I am to take a third wife."

Oh, good God, as if the man needs another, thought Erik.

The sultan smiled as if he read Erik's mind. "As such, I will need another court built for her."

Erik shook his head. "It is too late to redesign. You will have to think of another way. There are many spacious apartments within the new palace. Some of those areas will be as large as the private courts you have now."

"No wife of mine will stay in apartments; perhaps temporarily until her new court is built, but that would be the only exception."

"Why do you even need a third wife?" asked Erik in an exasperated tone.

The sultan sighed. "The ruler of Constantinople was killed in battle. He was a close friend of mine, even though we both knew eventually I would continue my quest for additional land and take his city. But we remained friends at least until that day would come. I protected his city, and in return he joined forces with me in quite a few battles.

"The last attack from one of our enemies was fierce. He knew we would lose many of our forces. He took me aside before the battle and, to my surprise, he produced a treaty to give me his city should he die. But there was one condition. Karim was always a ruler who held the deep respect of his city, and he knew they would follow his wishes even after his death. The condition was that I marry his wife so she would be provided for after he died. In return, he would order his people to accept me as their new ruler and not fight against us."

Erik tried to keep silent. The treatment of women in these lands was barbaric to him. They were not allowed to choose whom they would marry, had no education, and were even forbidden to read.

The sultan suddenly held a thoughtful look. "When he presented me with the contract, I had never met his wife. I was thanking him for being a gracious host in providing me with a very skillful girl from his harem to warm my bed the previous evening."

Erik gritted his teeth.

"I was shocked to learn that Karim never experienced the harem girl's talents. In fact, he no longer used his harem for his own pleasure. He devoted himself only to his wife." The sultan shook his head in amazement. "Only one wife!"

"It can happen," replied Erik with a bitter tone as he thought of the only woman he ever loved.

The sultan laughed. "Oh, come now. Man was created to have variety; otherwise his life would become rather bland."

"What is your point?" snapped Erik impatiently.

"No point really," he replied, "except I now need a new court. She will arrive tomorrow for the marriage contract to be signed. I will spend a few nights with her and then take my leave to visit the city for inspection. Some things, such as their religious beliefs, will have to be changed, of course."

"Of course," muttered Erik in annoyance.

The sultan stood. "You will meet with her while I am gone. I will give her notice that she is to work with you on designing her new court just as my other wives did."

Erik frowned. He remembered all too well how Lala tried to give him direction. The results were disastrous, with Erik almost hitting her. Hopefully this new wife would have a similar demeanor to Iris.

Erik cursed. "You ask for the impossible."

The sultan stood and narrowed his eyes. "I am surprised, as you are hailed as the world's greatest architect. If you are saying you cannot accomplish this small task then perhaps I should call another to partner with you."

"Or replace me," said Erik in a low tone.

"That is your decision. But please let me know so I can stay on schedule with building the new palace."

Erik grew tense. Despite his hatred of this man, he had started an enormous project. The perfectionist in him screamed to see it finished. No other architect would touch and destroy what he already worked so hard to create.

The sultan walked past him to the door. Erik did not turn around but curled his hands into fists. "What is her name?"

He heard the sultan stop in his footsteps.

"Alexandria."

Erik grimaced. "I will speak with her."

"So be it," replied the sultan. He walked out of the room into the corridor, leaving Erik to seethe in fury at the situation.