“This is a nod to Robert E. Howard, though certainly not at his level or in his style. As such, it will be somewhat formulaic and short, at about standard pulp magazine non-serial story. I love Howard’s tales, and his women are often tougher and more practical than they initially appear – and that appeals to me.
Note that the sex is quasi-graphic as really graphic sex wouldn’t work here. Yes, this tale is over the top, but please notice I have managed to resist using the phrase “mighty thews” in the story.”
The polished snow white stone floor was going to kill her.
Jem’s silk slippers, designed for the plush carpets of the main harem quarters just weren’t made for running on the polished stone with a murderous harem guard in pursuit.
Jem slid precariously around the corner, nearly falling, but she righted herself, looking back to see the giant, mute, eunuch several paces back – his calfskin boots weren’t any better than her slippers on the mirror-bright stone. She suppressed a smile – if she could just get to the back stairway, she might make it.
Two more turns and she bolted down the darkened hall for the stairway.
Then her luck ran out - she slammed into something heavy, but yielding. Not yielding enough, though; her feet slipped, slamming her down flat on her back on the cold smooth stone.
She looked up right into the grey face of the Pasha’s First Wife. For a lesser wife, like Jem, even looking Fahrar in the eye was a bad idea; she ruled the harem with an iron fist and a horrifyingly cruel imagination. The last time Jem had offended her = and she was never even told what she was supposed to have done wrong – Fahrar had ordered hot chili pepper paste rubbed into Jem’s privates, her behind and dripped in her eyes. Three days in a row. Three times per day. Her living hell had ended when one of the other girls managed to offend Fahrar.
It seemed someone in the harem was always being punished.
This time, however, Jem just stared into Fahrar’s bulging eyes. She stared back, unblinking and unseeing, with darkened face and protruding blue tongue as her body rocked with the impact. Her long white silk robes dangling to the ground curtaining the rest of the corridor. A red silk noose had cut deeply into her neck all but disappearing into the flesh. She must have come out here to hang herself, since the polished dome ceilings of her quarters wouldn’t have anything to tie the noose to. The always-neatly-appointed woman would have been appalled at the mess her death had made of her appearance. Jem started to scoot back frantically away from the dangling corpse, her skidding feet momentarily tangling with an overturned stool.
Her death loomed.
The morning had started well enough – breakfast had been one of Jem’s favorite meals. Then the girls had been called to the main room. Once they were all there, the chief eunuch had begun arranging them by grade and status. Without warning the huge harem guards had rushed the assembly, drawing their huge swords. That had been the start of a general massacre, the enormous guards wordlessly hacking girls down. Jem had only escaped because one of the girls, Asha, stabbed one of them with a guardsmen’s dagger she’d had hidden in her vest. Asha had been as close to a friend as Jem had in the harem, a rash girl with a fire for life. She had a secret lover among the palace guards, and that knife had been a gift from him. It was a death sentence to take a lover, but some girls couldn’t make do with salatik – cucumbers – all the time. A small group of palace guards had burst in, led by Asha’s lover, and attacked the harem guards; the blizzard of violence had separated Jem from Asha as guards tangled up with each other – and Jem had seen an opening to flee. That had started the chase that was ending here.
A rush of sound behind her signaled that the guard had finally caught up. Nearly twice her height with a curved scimitar as long as she was, the now-enraged guard prepared to cut her down.
Jem knew there was no way out, but tried to futilely scramble, skidding and slipping, under Fahrar’s dangling corpse, to buy herself a few more seconds of life, bracing herself for the impact of the sword.
Something brushed past the corpse from the other side, A tremendous clash of metal sounded and then another. Jem looked back in confusion, finding herself staring at a broad-shouldered mail-clad man standing over the convulsing body of the giant guard.
Pale skin, long brown hair, neatly trimmed beard, and light blue eyes. A coat of silvered mail, a green surcoat with some kind of gold emblem – a crescent moon, maybe – and a long, straight, sword stuck in the breast of the giant fallen guard. He tugged it free with a wrench of his wrist, flashed a crooked grin at her and then turned to the body of the guard, pulling off a gold and gem encrusted bracelet.
A Westernor soldier of some type.
So that’s what had triggered the massacre of the harem. The Westernors who had besieged the city must have finally breached the palace walls. Rather than let the Pasha’s girls be sullied by the foreign despoilers, the First Wife must have ordered them all executed, then taken her own life.
The Pasha’s navy had been taking Westernor kingdom ships for several years with little in the way of consequences, but when they butchered passengers aboard a diplomatic packet, they slaughtered royal family members from six Westernor kingdoms.
Enraged, especially when the Pasha sneered at their demands for an explanation, the Westernor kingdoms formed a campaign to crush the Pasha. Their heavily armored soldiers initially struggled in the heat of the Southlands, but they soon adapted, and their crushing war machine forged south along the coast, destroying all in its path.
The Pasha’s hordes of light horsemen proved no match for the army of heavy cavalry and armored infantry forged in the continual wars of the Westernor Kingdoms. At first, there was still no real fear: the palace was in Akira, the main port city of the kingdom, its deep harbor well protected from attack from sea. Nobody had believed the Westernors were willing or able to march their army down the rocky coast, but they had, keeping their army supplied by sea.
Then the Westernor army was at Akira’s gates and the siege started.
Unhappily for the Pasha, the Westernors were much practiced at taking cities, and one by one, the outlying works fell. A month previous, the relief expedition from the Pasha’s brother arrived, only to be slaughtered in battle with the lethal Westernors. The brother’s mutilated body had been launched over the walls into the city, stripped, mutilated and shorn of hair – a grave insult.
Just a few days after that, during a stormy night, the Pasha, his children, his personal guards and a few favorite wives simply disappeared. Jem had heard rumors of a fast sloop leaving under the cover of the storm.
Of all the Pasha’s favorites, only the the dark, wizened Magus with his unsettling gaze and twisted body, had stayed behind. Jem avoided him at all costs – serving girls and even lesser wives had gone missing after being seen near him even in the best of times. He was rumored to spirit them away to his caves under the palace for unspeakable rituals.
The end became inevitable, as was the unrestrained sack of the city when it came. Cities that fell to siege could expect no quarter. The First Wife must have tried to prevent the despoiling of the harem by barbarian soldiers with her execution orders.
But while the prospect of being violated by hordes of barbarian soldiers certainly terrified any girl, Jem would have preferred to make her own choices, take her own chances.
And she was facing one now. She could see past Fahrar’s corpse down the corridor – a bit of smoke curling along the ceiling and the sounds of screams and shouting came up through the broken door at that end. She wasn’t sure what was happening there, but it sounded rather more ... active ... than she was seeking.
Turning back she noted the Westernor was prying gems from the corselet of the guard and stuffing them into a small belt pouch. He caught her looking and sent her another crooked smile and wink with a raised eyebrow. Despite how obviously dangerous he was and the insanity of the situation Jem had to suppress a giggle. He appeared to be as much a mischievous child on a lark as a warrior. Still, maybe he was her way out of what was rapidly turning into a disaster.
She wasn’t sure this would work, but if the Westernors were in the palace, it was too late for other options. She stood up and yanked a dangling chain from the First Wife’s corpse, then walked toward him, hand out in supplication.
“Come with me.” She knew there was no way he’d understand Parsai, but maybe he’d follow her anyway.
He looked puzzled for a second, glanced around then answered – in Parsai!
He had a gruff accent – rather more like a lion speaking rather than a man, but he was understandable.
She was shocked and it showed.
He grinned again “What? I’m a barbarian, so you think I would be unable to learn your language, even though we’ve been marching through your God-forsaken desert for 20 months?”
Right then, Jem decided he was perfect. She felt a genuine smile of her own bloom.
“I have a bargain to offer, but not out here.”
.... There is more of this story ...