“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.”
He glanced both ways down the hallway, shrugged and followed her as she walked into the First Wife’s quarters. Fahrar’s expansive, plush quarters were quite different than Jem’s tiny room. A sitting room with settees and small tables adjoined a large bedchamber.
The Westernor raised his eyebrow as Jem headed straight for the oversize bed, but didn’t say anything. Instead of getting on the bed, Jem walked to the side and crouched, searching until she pulled out a small chest. She paused for second.
It was too late to have second thoughts, so she lifted the weighty chest to the bed and used the key she’d pulled from Fahrar’s body.
“The First Wife’s treasure.”
He stared into the open chest with a hint of disbelief. A Sultan’s ransom in gems glittered there; rubies, diamonds, sapphires, and a dozen other kinds of gems, all perfect. Fahrar had “confiscated” countless gems from the girls of the harem over the years on the flimsiest excuses, adding them to the hoard gathered by the previous First Wife who had oddly broken her neck in a fall. Jem wondered how many generations of First Wives had accrued this treasure. The gems had mostly been given as gifts by the Pasha to harem girls as gifts on holidays. Jem’s own contributions had been a few small pearls and a sea green zircon. The warrior strode over to stand by her. He started to say something, then stopped.
Jem looked him dead in the eye. “I’d never make it out of the city alone, with or without the jewels. I’ve got nowhere else to go anyway. All I can offer is this. And me.”
She untied her fragile blue skirt and the matching top, dropping them to the floor, exposing herself to him. She stood there while he carefully closed the lid of the trunk and put it on the floor. He looked her petite frame over slowly walking around her to look at her from all angles, his gaze lingering. She knew what he was looking at – she’d seen herself often enough in mirrors; she was short, with coffee colored skin, large dark brown eyes, long, dark, almost-black hair, and a compact, but well-rounded figure. Her breasts were certainly not the huge melons of some of the girls – more tangerine sized, but she had nice hips and a full butt. He looked her over one final time, with a hint of amusement, then walked back to the door to the apartment and wordlessly wedged the door shut with a dagger inserted firmly in the jamb.
It took him a little longer to disrobe, as he had to lift the heavy mail shirt off, but shortly he was picking her up as if she weighed nothing and placing her on the bed.
Her only experience with a man had been with the perfumed, effeminate, Pasha.
The warrior was nothing like him. He smelled of metal, leather, sweat and smoke. His hard muscles felt like stone, and his easy strength when he lifted her was almost terrifying. She braced herself as she hadn’t thought to grab the oil that she had always used with the Pasha.
Then he kissed her. She’d never been kissed by a man – the Pasha firmly believed women’s mouths were made for other duties, although he seemed to enjoy making his lesser wives, such as Jem and Ascha, kiss each other. The warrior kissed her forcefully while she was wrapped in his arms. He tasted of roast meat and strong wine. When he broke the kiss and moved his mouth to her neck just below her ear, she felt herself start trembling.
And Jem suddenly realized she wasn’t going to need any oil.
When his rough calloused hands found her breasts, she arched her back a little to force them harder into his palms, her nipples as hard as the gems in the cask. In a flash, what had started as a bribe turned into driving desire. He pushed her further back on the bed and mounted her with one thrust. His rod was far harder than the Pasha or any salatik she’d ever tried and she reveled in it. He held her there, impaled, for a moment and looked down into her eyes, an amused smile on his face.
“You’re an eager one, aren’t you?”
She couldn’t even answer as he began long, slow thrusts into her. Jem buried her face deep into his chest and breathed in his scent. Completely unexpected, the aching need in her exploded; she couldn’t think straight – she heard herself crying out incoherently, lost completely in a wave of intense feeling.
As she came out of it, she realized she was laughing almost uncontrollably with her arms wrapped tightly around him; she could feel her juices running down her body.
He smiled bemusedly “I thought you were just trying to get me to take you out of here, but that felt like you needed it.”
Not waiting for her to reply, he began to thrust into her again. She felt herself meeting his thrusts with no conscious decision to do so – arching her back to grind against him, trying to force his hardness even deeper into her. He seemed to be seeking something in her eyes, gauging her reaction to every movement. It took a moment, but she realized he was trying to give her pleasure, the first to ever do so – the first to ever care – and just knowing that drove her over the edge again. And this time, when she came, she could feel his climax in her which made it even more intense.
More prepared this time, she could actually feel her body’s response – the intense waves of excitement, the sudden gush of her juices. The overpowering feeling of joy burst out of her in full throated laughter.
They relaxed, locked together; he lifted up a little to look into her eyes.
He seemed to be searching for something special.
Until distant muffled shouts disturbed them.
He pushed up off of her, pausing for a moment to give her a surprisingly gentle kiss. She felt a moment of loss as he pulled out of her.
“Don’t clean up and for God’s sake, don’t get dressed. I’ve been through a couple of these – I’ll carry you out while you pretend to be unconscious. My battle brothers will leave us alone, but If you look... “fresh”, we could have problems with some of the local auxiliaries we’ve picked up on our march – they don’t know me and might think you’re worth a fight. If you can find some dirt, rub a bunch of it all over you.”
Jem nodded. Dirt was impossible to find in the palace, but the First Wife’s make-up included kohl and other cosmetics that mimicked grime well enough. While she was putting it on, the warrior poured the gems into a number of leather sacks, then dumped them into a silk curtain he’d pulled down. He threw her clothes and slipper in, then paused.
“Get some of her clothes and throw them over here, I need to make this look more full or someone will wonder what would be so valuable for me to leave with so early in the looting. Try to pick some you could wear, this is probably all you’ll have for a while.”
In the end, they had a good size bundle together.
The trip through the burning city was a journey through hell itself. Jem let herself hang over his shoulder limply, and could only listen to snatches of conversation in Westernor, and see glimpses of men burning, looting and dragging screaming, crying, mostly naked, women. A pall of smoke hung over the entire scene – it was almost as dark as night, even though Jem was certain that the noon meal had just a passed a couple hours ago.