Nights of Silk and Sapphire.
See Part 1 for specific disclaimers
Inaya looked up when she saw the blonde-headed figure of her friend emerging from the inner sanctum of the harem. She watched the expressive emerald eyes meet her own, then hastily glance away. An adorable blush colored Dae’s cheeks and upper chest. Inaya’s smile became a decidedly playful grin as she noticed the still-somewhat tousled hair, the way Dae’s clothes seemed less carefully arranged than they had been this morning, and as the blonde drew closer, the slightly dazed cast to the glinting gems of her eyes.
"Ahhh…" Inaya clapped her hands as she looked up at her friend. "Truly nothing is quite so beautiful as the face of a young woman in those first moments after she has tasted satisfaction!"
Dae glanced about nervously, her blush deepening. "Shhh!" she hissed.
"Why?" Inaya gestured about her at the mostly empty gardens. Those few pleasure-servants who were outside were busy about their own affairs, and paid no mind to Dae’s arrival. "They would not condemn you for taking pleasure. You forget where you are, little one."
Dae looked around again and was relieved to see Inaya was correct – no-one seemed to be watching her. Still, she sat down very quickly beside her friend, feeling as though every single girl in the seraglio knew exactly what she had been doing these last few candlemarks. She fidgeted nervously with the glass beads that dangled about the waist of her trousers, certain her efforts to remove the smell of her passion hadn’t been entirely successful.
Indeed, Inaya did detect the subtle perfume that still clung to the young blonde, but she merely regarded Dae with a mischievous smirk. "So…did you find your experience with Johara and Hayam to be enlightening?"
Dae studied her own hands intently. "I-I suppose so."
"Mmm." Inaya looked her friend up and down, one eyebrow lifted curiously. "I have seen that look in the eyes of many women during my life," she observed after a long period of silence. "You were persuaded to join their pleasure, no?"
Dae shook her head, eyes still downcast.
Inaya’s other eyebrow rose. "It is nothing to be ashamed of, Dae. You are past the age that such things should remain a mystery to you."
Dae swallowed, then managed to meet Inaya’s gaze without looking away. "They wanted me to join them but…I couldn’t do it." Her face was scarlet. "So they…showed me how to do things to myself…"
Inaya’s eyes widened a fraction in understanding. "I see." A pause. "And you…exercised this new wisdom."
Dae nodded, though she knew the question had been less a question than a statement.
"So?" Inaya’s tone was gentle, for she could sense Dae was still uncertain about this new world she had discovered. "Did you find it to your liking?"
Dae’s fingers were twisting knots in the string of beads at her waist, but she nodded. "It was…really good, I guess."
Inaya reached out and petted the young blonde lightly on the shoulder. "And not half so terrible and sinful as you were led to believe in your homeland, no?"
Dae shook her head. She lifted her eyes now with more courage. "Is it…always like that?" she asked in a low whisper.
"Like…so powerful and…" Dae struggled to find an appropriate word to describe how her body had felt. "and…nice." It was woefully inadequate, but her brain was still a bit frazzled.
Inaya cocked her head in amusement at the definite eager gleam in Dae’s eye, seeing the heat still burning there like dormant embers, waiting to be fanned into flames. "You are unpracticed in the arts of pleasure," she said after a moment of consideration. "Skill comes with time and further instruction…and of course, sensations are usually more intense when they are shared with an actual lover. However nice it felt when you touched yourself, it was but a pale shadow of what Zafirah could make you feel."
Emerald eyes widened in awe. "Really?"
Dae considered this, then smiled a silly smile. "I don’t think my heart could handle that."
Inaya laughed delightedly. "Oh child…you would be surprised by what the heart can handle if the body is willing."
Dae giggled, and shifted closer to her friend. "I guess I can understand a bit better now why everyone was so eager to show me that stuff."
"And would be willing to instruct you further in such affairs," Inaya added. "But I think Johara and Hayam are good teachers. Perhaps when you are more comfortable with your own body, you will be able to join them in their passion."
Remembering the way the two lovers had embraced and entwined – and remembering how her body had ached with desire at the sight – Dae felt again a tingle in her lower belly. "They were beautiful together," she whispered almost without conscious thought.
"You found their demonstration pleasing?" Inaya asked interestedly, giving herself a little pat on the back for having guided her innocent friend in this direction.
"Did it…arouse you?"
Dae shrugged. "I guess." Her brows knit suddenly in a stern line, and she frowned. "But why?"
Inaya saw the troubled expression suddenly steal across Dae’s face. "What do you mean, ‘why’?"
Dae looked up at her friend seriously. "I’ve never had such thoughts of being intimate with another woman before in my life," she stated. "I’ve never looked on another woman with desire. Before I came here, such issues never even crossed my mind! But now…"
Dae sighed. "Since I came here…since I met Zafirah…it seems like that’s all I’ve been able to think about. Now, when I look at Zafirah, or when she’s near me, I can feel the way my body reacts to her. Watching Johara and Hayam would have seemed an appalling notion to me just a few months ago! But now…I found it…exciting."
"Desire is not something to be rejected or wrestled down," Inaya argued. "And you do feel desire for the Scion. Why is it so hard for you to accept this?"
"Because I don’t understand why!" Dae said firmly, shaking her head in confusion. Taking a deep breath, still unsettled by her experiences this morning and last night, Dae sighed. "If I’d never been abducted by those slavers…would I still be feeling these things? Or is this just something that’s happening now because I’m living in a harem, with a dozen girls constantly propositioning me?"
Inaya grinned. "Oh, I think there are more than a dozen."
Dae gave her friend a dirty look. "You know what I mean." She turned away, looking at nothing in particular but seeing in her mind that curiously-arousing half-smile Zafirah had worn last night. "Is this something that’s a part of me…or is it just something I’m picking up because of where I am?"
Dae gave the young blonde a frank, curious look. "Does it matter?"
"Yes, of course it matters!"
Blonde brows contracted a moment in puzzlement. "Well, because…" Dae’s hands fluttered about her like two lost birds. "Because it just does, that’s why."
Inaya smiled. "I have a story you should listen too," she said softly after looking at Dae a moment in silence. "Some generations ago, a man came to El’Kasari from the western lands. He was a learned man…a man of great wisdom, who had done great things for his people. He claimed to have made maps of the stars, and to have discovered how their movements changed with the passing of the seasons. Anyway, he came before the Scion at the time and requested permission to study the great spring that forms the Kah-hari oasis. I understand you saw the oasis during your time with the slavers, no?"
Dae nodded. Though most of her ordeal in the desert had faded to a blur, the way a night-terror will vanish almost as soon as one awakens, Dae still remembered clearly the beautiful, lush oasis that had appeared as if by magic in the middle of all that sand and rock. Completely out of place in the harsh Jaharri desert, the oasis was supported by a bountiful spring of fresh water that had flowed since time immemorial, and Dae had heard tales from her handmaidens that it was regarded as a true wonder of the natural world.
"Though there are many springs and oasis in the desert, none are so plentiful nor well-known as the Kah-hari," Inaya continued. "This man said he wished to learn how it was that the water came to flow into the sands…and how it supported life in so barren a land. The Scion was amused by the man’s request, but since the foreigner was respectful and polite, he granted permission and an escort.
"Well, the man went out to the oasis and he spent nearly two years there, struggling to understand the mystery of the spring. When at last he returned to El’Kasari, he was frustrated and weary, for the answers he sought had eluded him utterly. The Scion listened to his bafflement and could not help but laugh.
"’What is so funny?’ the man asked. ‘Why do you laugh? I have invested two years of my life in this matter, and have learned nothing!’
"The Scion shook his head, still smiling. ‘Forgive my humor, friend,’ he said, ‘but I cannot help but find it amusing that a man of such wisdom would come all this way, and struggle for so long, trying to find answers that do not matter, to a question only a fool would ask.’"
Dae stared at her friend warily. "So…what’s your point?"
"My point is, little one, that some answers are unimportant," Inaya explained slowly. "When an answer changes nothing, why even bother to ask the question? That man tried to understand the spring…but would his knowledge have been useful? Would such wisdom cause the desert to erupt into a jungle? No. The Kah-hari spring has flowed since as far back as my people have lived in the desert; it is as consistent and reliable a thing as the waves that break upon the shore. No-one has ever fully understood it…but their ignorance has not caused the spring to stop."
Dae scowled. "That’s pretty hypocritical coming from someone who keeps telling me I shouldn’t let ignorance stop me from learning new things," she observed tritely.
"Perhaps," Inaya admitted. "Or perhaps it is simply that one should learn when an answer is of worth. The lone eagle flying high above the desert who spies the carcass of a sheep lying on the sands does not pause to wonder how that sheep came to stray from his flock. The ‘why’ simply does not matter. It is enough that he will return to his nest that night with a full belly." She shifted on the lawn, regarding the young blonde earnestly. "You are attracted to the Scion, Dae. You feel desire for another woman. And this day you have tasted pleasure…and enjoyed it. Would knowing ‘why’ change anything for you? Would it make these feelings shimmer and fade like a mirage?"
Dae considered this, suddenly understanding what Inaya was getting at. She shook her head. "I guess not."
"Then why ask ‘why’?" The dark girl smiled. "Do not dissect your feelings, little one, for they are better left intact and unspoilt. Let them hold their mystery. Enjoy them for what they give, and do not look for answers to questions that change nothing."
Dae could feel her mind still struggling to adjust to all these new things, but she couldn’t dispute Inaya’s logic – a logic she knew would have been considered barbaric in her homeland, where science and order ruled supreme. "It’s still a lot to get used to," she said softly.
"Do not let your head be burdened by confusing thoughts," Inaya advised, hearing the lost tone in the young girl’s voice. "You have all the time in the world to sort through your feelings…and to accept the leanings of your heart and body. And as strange as all this is for you, you must realize it is every bit as difficult and confusing for Zafirah, as well. She is learning a gentler form of love than to which she is accostomed, just as you are learning a more passionate one. But if you are patient with one another, and allow the roots of your feelings the chance to grow strong, I am confident you will be rewarded."
Dae listened, and smiled at Inaya’s words. "What should I do when she comes here tonight? I mean…I let her kiss me last night – perhaps she’ll expect more from me now."
Inaya’s playful smile returned, her dark eyes laughing merrily. "Zafirah is as frightened of making a wrong step as you are, little one. Talk with her. Let her see you for who you are…without the walls. Show her how you feel: nervous…excited…afraid. She will understand."
"Of course. Though she was born to glory on the battlefield, Zafirah is a gentle and compassionate woman…even though she is often ruled by her more carnal appetites. Her body desires you, yes…but her heart desires you more."
Dae heard a strange, almost reverent tone in Inaya’s voice, and saw the faint shimmer in her large eyes – something akin to adoration. "You love her very much, don’t you?"
Inaya shrugged and smiled. "We all love her, little one," she observed simply. "She makes it impossible to do otherwise. But such love as ours is born in the bedroom, not in the heart…and its pleasures take a different flavor to what she feels for you."
Dae shook her head, confused. "I don’t understand."
"With time, you will," Inaya assured her. The dark-haired girl looked up at the sun high over head and wiped her glistening brow. "For now, however, I fear the heat is growing uncomfortable. Shall we see what we can find to eat inside? I have not had a chance to break bread this morning."
"Sure." Dae’s stomach chose that moment to voice a loud approval of this suggestion, and the young blonde giggled as she stood up. "I think that might be a good idea."
"Mmm." Inaya petted her friend’s pale, smooth belly soothingly. "You must keep up your strength, little one," she advised with a grin. "Afterall, sexual pleasures tax the body a great deal…and I would think you should have need of your strength in the coming days, if you are to more fully explore the world of carnal delights."
Dae flushed, but, with the memory of those stunning sensations still fresh in her mind, she figured it couldn’t hurt to follow Inaya’s suggestion and satisfy her growling stomach as quickly as possible. Dae had already accepted the fact that, as soon as she had the opportunity, she was planning on leading her hands and fingers on another long expedition into the mysterious pleasures her body longed to sample again already.
She was definitely going to need her strength.
Zafirah came to the seraglio just as the sun began to lower itself onto the cradle of the horizon, a time when most of the pleasure-servants liked to play and roam through the gardens as the air cooled. Dae, who had been sketching images of the other girls from beneath the shade of the giant aspen tree, felt an almost palpable shift in the air, and glanced up to find the Scion’s glittering sapphire eyes watching her. The blonde felt instant heat shoot through her loins, but this time the sensation wasn’t so much a stranger to her. She understood it better, and welcomed the honey-sweet burn that crept along her skin like a slow caress. She gave the dark-haired woman a slight smile and went back to her drawing.
Zafirah watched the young blonde as she talked with her pleasure-servants, taking careful note of every line of her posture. She saw the emerald eyes flicker up every now-and-again, and smiled to herself. Dae’s mood wasn’t apprehensive or nervous anymore; the spirit of last night still held strong. Content for the moment just to watch, Zafirah joined a group of girls by the waterfall, accepting their gentle flirtations while keeping half an eye on Dae.
Beneath the aspen, Dae let her fingers continue to trace idle lines on the parchment spread across her lap, but in truth she had lost interest in drawing. She watched Zafirah interact with the harem girls, noting the relaxed energy that surrounded her – the crooked smile and occasional flash of pearl-white teeth when the Scion grinned…the soft, uninhibited touches she exchanged with the flirting pleasure-servants. Dae’s eyes narrowed a fraction as she observed the subtle battle the girls waged for Zafirah’s attentions – a war fought with lingering caresses and intimate suggestions of nightly delights whispered into the Scion’s ear. For the first time, Dae felt something other than curious dread watching the seduction – something like…jealousy? No, that wasn’t it. It was more an envy – envy at the easy way the harem girls flirted with Zafirah. It came so naturally to them, while she was forced to wrestle desperately with every new desire that occurred to her. For a moment the young blonde wished she could behave with such care-free abandon; could flirt and touch and giggle and blush with assumed – rather than actual – innocence, as the others could. For a moment, the urge to get up and join them by the waterfall was so strong, the muscles in her calves and thighs tensed, ready to start walking.
But then, those sapphire eyes glanced up and pinned her with a look of such mixed devotion and utter lust that Dae felt her breath catch painfully in her throat. The look was enough to settle any feelings of envy Dae had. She didn’t need to vie for the Scion’s attention…she had it already.
Smiling, Dae turned her focus back to her drawing, surprised to find her hands had been working during her distraction. A very nice image of Zafirah’s angular, beautiful face had been sketched without her even knowing it, each line perfectly shaded and keeping the correct proportion of the Scion’s features. It was a moment of true insight for Dae. I know her face so well I can draw it with my eyes closed, she realized, marveling at the way her attraction towards Zafirah had grown so powerful without her consent. She was still staring at the picture when a familiar, throaty voice spoke.
"You have much talent."
"Huh?" Dae looked up to find the subject of her art standing a few feet away, one dark eyebrow cocked, her full lips pulled into an amused smile. Those amazing eyes regarded the picture on her lap with interest, and Dae shifted shyly. "Oh…I was just…um. Practicing."
"Mmm." Zafirah gestured to the grass beside the young blonde. "May I sit?"
"Sure." Dae made to roll up her sheaf of parchment-drawn pictures, but Zafirah stopped her.
"Please? May I see?"
Again, Dae shifted shyly. "I-I guess. Some of them aren’t very good, but…"
Zafirah took the drawings from the girl – letting their hands brush together in the exchange – and began to look through them. Dae had drawn everything, it seemed – her homeland, the gardens, the harem girls, even images recalled from her night in the city. But, the Scion noted with pleasure, there were many sketches of her own familiar features among the works…each one drawn with obvious care and attention to detail. She paused at a particularly striking portrait which had captured a seductive, playful expression perfectly. "I am flattered you find me a worthy subject."
Dae shrugged, managing her keep her blush down but still extremely conscious of the way her body was reacting to the Scion’s proximity. "You’re very beautiful," she observed calmly. "Your face is easy to draw."
"I see." Zafirah finished looking through the drawings, then carefully handed them back. "Perhaps one night, I might pose for you," she suggested. "I would be honored if you would draw something especially for me."
Dae swallowed hard, a lump forming in her throat at the intense regard in those deep sapphire orbs watching her. "I-I guess…maybe. I-if you’d like…"
"I would," Zafirah assured in a low voice. "Very much."
"Okay. Tomorrow, maybe?"
"If you like."
Dae nodded, and pretended to go back to watching the harem girls who were busy gathering together a group of musicians to play for them.
Sitting back, Zafirah set herself so she could look at Dae’s profile without being too obvious. The lively sounds of drums mixed with the jangle of finger-cymbals rose from the other side of the lawn, and the Scion watched as a few of the pleasure-servants began to dance. "Will you join them?" she asked her companion hopefully.
Dae glanced back at her, a coy expression on her face. "Would you like me to?"
"Of course, Tahirah…though the sight may add to the burden of my restraint."
Dae grinned. "I think it’s probably worth the risk," she said wryly. "Besides…you could use a little extra practice in that department."
Sapphire eyes darkened to the color of the midnight sky. "Oh Tahirah…I am practiced in the art of restraint far more than you could realize."
Though uncertain what the Scion meant, Dae had no trouble interpreting the heat in Zafirah’s regard, and so figured the reference had been somehow sexual. She cocked her head, considering a moment, then shrugged. "It’s too hot right now. When the sun goes down properly, I’ll join in."
"Then I shall wait with great impatience for the dark," Zafirah said, leaning back again so she could study the young blonde thoughtfully.
The Scion was skilled at reading women – a talent honed after years spent practicing their seduction. It didn’t take her long to realize that something had changed in the girl since last night; something subtle, yet distinct. A part of her wanted to attribute the change to the kiss they had shared, but Zafirah recognized that this was simply the voice of ego. Her lips pursed in consideration, trying to pin-point what this enticing difference was exactly.
Her eyes are open.
The thought occurred of its own volition, and she gnawed at it mentally for a moment. Yes, she thought, her eyes are open. She no longer draws away from my presence, or flinches at my touch. She did not even blush when I looked at her with lust. And there was more. Zafirah could detect a new scent about Dae…something so low and delicate that it seemed less a physical presence than an aura surrounding the girl. The scent of a dawning sexual maturity – an understanding that had not been present last night. Zafirah had wondered if kissing Dae had been too forward, too aggressive…if she might have scared her away. But now she saw that perhaps it had prompted the innocent blonde to seek out new knowledge…to accept her own needs and wants.
Her eyes are open, she thought again. I wonder who is responsible for opening them?
She glanced across the lawn and found Inaya watching her with stealthy interest. The slight smile on the dark harem girl’s face was answer enough for Zafirah. Of course. Zafirah gave Inaya a quick, devilish grin. I shall have to thank her later for this gift of enlightenment.
The two women sat beneath the aspen, exchanging furtive glances and a few words now and again. The dancers moved out onto the lawn as the sun disappeared and torches were lit about the seraglio grounds, the girls swirling and swaying in a display Dae saw was meant to catch Zafirah’s fancy. Those not dancing gathered around Dae and the Scion, clapping along to the beat of the drums, laughing and urging their fellows on. Zafirah watched with an expression that was half amusement, half appreciative desire…but her eyes always returned to Dae. The young blonde giggled at the pleading, hopeful looks being cast her way. Eventually she decided she’d put it off long enough, and rose to join the dancers.
As soon as she stood up, the harem girl’s cheered their instant approval and encouragement. Dae blushed profusely at the attention, but shyly accepted a hand from one of the dancers. When she looked up, she found Johara’s laughing eyes gazing back at her. The slender brunette flashed a wicked grin at the young blonde, then pulled her into the circle of dancers, twirling her about and guiding her first awkward movements with casual grace.
Though the brehani had lowered her inhibitions the last time she tried this, Dae found it easier to pick up the rhythm than she’d expected. Johara helped ease her initial tensions, and she quickly relaxed and just let her body dictate the way she moved in time to the spirited music. Smiling broadly, laughing as she struggled to emulate the fluid motions of the other girls, Dae began to enjoy herself.
And while she danced and laughed, the young blonde watched Zafirah watching her with eyes of blue flame.
A pleasant little shiver thrilled along her spine, but Dae didn’t find the Scion’s attention now to be in any way uncomfortable. In fact, she welcomed it…and began to shed her natural modesty in favor of more provocative movements which suggested new, primal rhythms she didn’t yet fully understand. But Zafirah did, and her attention focused to a deeper intensity. When Johara caught Dae’s eye for a moment, the two exchanged secret, knowing smiles…acknowledging the bond of intimacy that had been forged between them that morning. Johara took an opportunity to run her hands along the young blonde’s rippling belly, leaning close and whispering into Dae’s ear. "Attentive, is she not?"
Dae flashed the Scion a quick grin, nodding.
"She is even moreso in the bedroom," Johara added, letting her hands explore a heartbeat longer before drawing away and returning to Hayam’s side.
Dae felt wild as she whirled about to the tune of exotic music…exhilarated by a sudden sense of absolute freedom and joy. The night air felt cool against her flushed skin, and she was breathless and giddy from the active dance. A fresh breeze blew in from the desert, bringing with it the scent of vast, open places and the distinct perfume of sand and stone. She liked the way Zafirah’s gaze never left her body. She liked knowing she affected the dark woman in this way. An image from her experience with Johara and Hayam that morning blazed suddenly to life in her mind, and she pictured what it might be like to share such delicious intimacies with the powerful, seductive Scion.
Dae danced until she grew too tired, then returned to Zafirah’s side, begging off the pleas of the other girls who tried to pursuade her to continue. "I need a rest," she insisted. "Maybe later."
Zafirah smiled and waved a hand, signaling the musicians to play again. As the dance began once more she let her eyes roam over Dae’s figure, appreciating the way her pale skin shone under a fine layer of sweat. Dae was breathing heavily, her long, golden hair charmingly ruffled. To Zafirah’s eyes, dazzled by pangs of sweet affection, she looked absolutely gorgeous.
"You were magnificent!" she complimented.
Dae giggled and lowered her head modestly. "Thanks. It was fun." She wiped her forehead with her arm, feeling the sweat begin to gather a chill now that she was settled.
"You seemed to enjoy it." Zafirah could smell the musk of Dae’s sweat and it made her dizzy – made her want to rub up against the young blonde…feel the friction between their bodies…breath the same air and let the tension build until it burst! With an effort, she resisted the powerful temptation to reach out and touch that glistening skin, but she shivered slightly at the vivid images that skipped through her mind like a teasing itch, daring her to give in and scratch them.
Dae noticed the shiver. "Are you cold? I could get a cloak from my room, if you are."
"No, child." Zafirah shook her head, her eyes betraying the depth of her want. "In truth I am warmer than I might care to be…and that is something I thought never to feel."
The answer confused Dae a moment and she almost opened her mouth to ask a question. But then she noticed the heat in Zafirah’s gaze; a heat which made her pause, uncertain how to respond. She dropped her eyes and plucked at her trousers with nervous fingers. "Oh."
Zafirah smiled quietly. "I lost much sleep last night," she admitted. "The memory of your lips against mine would not subside…even in my dreams. But I consider it an experience worth the price of such discomfiture."
Dae licked her lips unconsciously, remembering every detail of the kiss all too clearly. "You must have kissed hundreds of women."
"But none like you." Zafirah shifted closer so her low voice could be heard over the music. The other girls, sensing the two wanted some privacy, had turned their attention to matters other than winning their way into the Scion’s bed, giving them some extra space. "None like you."
Dae felt shy, but couldn’t help but feel flattered at the same time. A small part of her mind argued that Zafirah was only saying these things to seduce her into parting with her virtue…but that voice was silenced by the honest sincerity in the dark woman’s piercing eyes. There was no lie in those sapphire gems, no trace of guile or deceit. They were as open as the desert itself…and Dae felt a spark of courage burst from inside her just seeing how Zafirah was willing to lay herself so bare in this way. If she can be honest with me, she thought, how can I be anything less with her?
"The kiss?" She sat up a little straighter. "I didn’t hate it."
Zafirah considered that statement, one eyebrow raised in cautious hope. "Indeed?"
A nod. "In fact…" Dae chewed her lower lip – a gesture which, for some reason, fanned the flames of Zafirah’s lust even higher. "…I kinda liked it."
Now Zafirah couldn’t contain her smile and it tugged at her lips helplessly. "Indeed?"
Dae nodded. "A lot."
"Mmm." Zafirah moved closer again – close enough that Dae could smell the scent of rose perfume mixed with the faintest traces of leather and horse, a scent that seemed enticingly feminine. "Enough that you might wish to experience another?"
"Maybe." Dae stifled a grin as she appeared to give the matter the most serious of deliberation. "If I could find someone willing to give me a second try."
"I think I could be persuaded," Zafirah said with becoming gravity.
Dae giggled and looked away quickly before she could be snared by the Scion’s devastating eyes – she knew if that happened, nothing short of death would stop her from sending her tongue on a mission of conquest into the dark woman’s mouth. "Maybe one day," she said very softly, "you could show me how to do it properly. You know…the way Hayam and Johara kiss."
Something had indeed changed in the innocent blonde, Zafirah thought…and it had been more significant than even she had dared to hope. Still, her feelings for Dae were too strong to allow lust the chance to ruin all. "Are you certain? I do not wish to lead you down a path you have no desire to walk."
"I thought it was something you wanted," Dae remarked, one eyebrow lifted playfully.
"I do…but not if you feel even the most minor of unease." Zafirah reached out and laid her hand on Dae’s thigh – not attempting a seduction, but simply needing a physical connection to the girl. "I still remember all too clearly what you told me when we first spoke of such matters. You said you would never wish to seek pleasure with another woman, no matter how long you stayed here."
"Well…" Dae gingerly set her own hand on top of the Scion’s, feeling the warmth of the older woman’s flesh beneath her touch. She met Zafirah’s gaze again cautiously. "Words spoken in fear or haste are never set in stone. Perhaps they could be…negotiable."
Zafirah looked deep into Dae’s shy emerald eyes, searching. "You have much fear in your eyes," she whispered after a long moment.
Dae blushed and lowered her head. "Maybe I do," she admitted without shame. "But not as much as when I first came here."
"Mmm." Zafirah considered this statement and the message that lay beneath it. "Perhaps, in time, that fear might fade to nothingness."
Dae nodded. "I think it might, yes." She smiled at the dark woman, her whole body tingling as it always seemed to do whenever she found herself in close proximity with the Scion. "Maybe…until then…we could just take things…slowly?"
Zafirah lifted her free hand and ran a single finger along Dae’s lower lip, then up her cheek. She smiled. "I am, if nothing else, a patient woman, Tahirah. Until you are ready, I shall do no more than long for you."
"Well…I don’t think it’d be fair of me to give you nothing but longing," Dae whispered, leaning forward a little. "Patience deserves some reward, afterall."
Zafirah shivered as Dae closed the distance between them and kissed her softly – a kiss of youthful innocence tempered with an edge of excitement. As much as she wanted to deepen their contact, she waited breathlessly as Dae relaxed against her. When she felt the first timid touch of the young girl’s tongue against her lips, Zafirah almost choked with the force of her restraint. The inquisitive wet muscle explored along her lips, then, with more assertiveness that she would have expected from the innocent blonde, swiftly demanded entrance to her mouth. Zafirah complied and allowed Dae to lead the kiss, dueling softly with her own tongue and feeling the wonder in the body held so close to her own.
When they parted, both were breathing heavily. The seraglio had fallen silent, but it took them both a moment to realize that fact, so loud was the beating of their hearts. When they eventually managed to tear their eyes away from one another, puzzled at the lack of music, they found several dozen smiling faces watching them with great amusement. A moment later, a loud cheer went up among the gathered pleasure-servants, many of whom whistled and cried out for more.
Dae blushed an instant crimson and buried her face in the crook of Zafirah’s arm. The Scion merely smiled indulgently at her harem.
"Music!" she commanded, grinning. "Come now, let us not make poor Dae a spectacle. More music! More dance! Play on!"
The musicians did as ordered and several girls began to dance again. The others went back to their conversations, still laughing and smiling at the couple.
Zafirah chuckled. "Come now, little one. They are happy to see you indulge your desire. Do not be embarrassed."
Dae peeked up at her, her face still a brilliant scarlet. "Easy for you to say," she grumped.
Zafirah licked her lips and waggled her eyebrows. "We could give them something more to watch," she suggested half-jokingly, half hopefully. "No? Perhaps another time."
Dae, still quavering from the sensation of having her tongue in Zafirah’s mouth, turned a little so she could relax against the dark woman, her head resting on the soft cushion of her breasts. She pulled those smooth, powerful arms about her waist and happily tangled their fingers together. "Definitely…only next time, maybe we’ll try somewhere a bit more private."
Zafirah let the blonde settle against her, hardly breathing for fear of ruining this dream. She felt those long golden tresses tickle her skin, and breathed the clean scent of the young woman’s hair. "Whatever you desire, my Tahirah," she whispered, leaning forward a few inches so she could press her lips against Dae’s forehead. "Whatever you desire."
* * *
That night, at the same time as Zafirah was saying her final goodnights to Dae – leaving the seraglio after quickly selecting one of her pleasure-servants with whom to satisfy her still-blazing appetites – far out in the deep desert, a group of mounted figures moved across the shiftless sands, riding single file to hide their numbers.
Bahira – a young woman who had served as a scout of the Scion for almost a third of her life – listened to the echoing silence of the desert at night. Her eyes, trained over the years to be ever-watchful, skipped along the expanses of rock and dune, never idle, always attentive. This assignment was important to her. Falak, the leader of the scouts and Bahira’s sometime lover, had entrusted to her the task of keeping watch on the stirrings among the renegade tribes being led by Shakir Al’Jadin. It was a promotion she did not intend Falak to regret.
Glancing over her shoulder, around the raven-fletched arrows that were the trademark of the Scion's elite scouts, Bahira smiled at the line behind her. These were all skilled and able soldiers. They had been her family since she first left behind her nomadic tribe to seek her fortune in the great city of El’Kasari. Nasir, the slender, hard-muscled man riding directly behind her, was her second in command, and had fought beside her many times. She gestured for him to ride at the front with her.
Nasir gave his commander and friend a smile, his eyes remaining watchful – this was, afterall, wild-land…the land of their enemies. "The night seems quiet," he whispered in a low tone, one practiced so the sound would not carry more than a few feet. "Shakir and his dogs would be fools to move about under the light of a full moon."
Bahira nodded, but her face remained serious. "We must be vigilant still. I do not flatter myself to think that our presence here has gone entirely undetected. Shakir knows the Scion will be watching him – it is possible he may try to blind her eyes."
"True enough. Yet we have been here some time now, and they have made no move to attack us."
"Our mission is too important to leave to chance," Bahira reiterated. "The Scion needs to know when Shakir decides to strike."
Nasir was silent for a long while, before he asked gravely, "And what of the thunder? Have you reported it to Falak?"
Bahira frowned. Everything, it seemed, came down to the thunder. Her fellow scouts were edgy and concerned. Through the weeks they had been here, their efforts to watch Shakir’s actual camp had been foiled by geography – the camp was nestled in a wide canyon, surrounded on three sides by towering, sharp-toothed cliffs…impossible to climb, even for the adept scouts. The position afforded Shakir great protection from spies; his men patrolled a wide perimeter, and Bahira had been unable to penetrate their ring of steel. But from watching the supply wagons and the number of guards, she had gained at least an idea of how many troops the renegade Calif commanded, and of their general condition. What was of concern, however, was the thunder.
Most evenings, it cracked across the desert plains – a series of loud, sudden bolts of sound that seemed to herald a coming storm. But of course, the season when the rains would come was still many months away, and the skies remained a clear and brilliant cobalt blue. No lightening ever accompanied the strange, ominous thunder. No rain or clouds ever darkened the horizon. The mystery was disturbing…and it caused Bahira a measure of fear. What strange power did Shakir command, that he would go to such lengths to hide it from the Scion, and that could make such noises as these?
"I have kept Falak appraised of all we have seen and heard," she told Nasir now. "She knows as much – and as little – as do we. We must learn more before the knowledge becomes useful."
Nasir studied his commander a moment, reading the lines of her face carefully. "You are worried though…are you not?"
"I do not like the uncertainty," she admitted honestly, one hand holding the reins of her horse loosely while the other stroked the horn grip of her recurved bow. "Whatever power he has found, Shakir should not be given time enough to master."
"The Scion is no fool," Nasir observed. "Her tactics have been successful time and time again. The spahi cannot maneuver so well in the canyon passes. Let Shakir bring his dogs into the open, where their advantage will be lost."
"Mmm. Perhaps." Bahira sighed. "Still…I do not like the not knowing of all this."
Nasir considered for a time, then shook his head. "Perhaps they will move soon," he suggested hopefully. "They cannot remain overlong in the deep des-"
A sudden sound like the cracking of stout wood shot across the open desert at that moment, silencing Nasir. The horses shied, but having been trained to be calm under battle conditions, they quieted almost immediately. Bahira and the other scouts lifted their bows, arrows nocked in a heartbeat, and their eyes scanned the horizon for their enemy. The sound had been close, and Bahira realized her party was under attack!
"Where are they!?" she demanded, her eyes finding nothing. "Nasir, can you see them?" There was no reply. "Nasir?"
Bahira glanced at her second, and her eyes widened in horrified disbelief. Nasir was staring down at his chest, his hands covering his ribcage, a look of surprise and pain etched on his face. In the light of the full moon, Bahira could see the blood welling out from between his fingers…not crimson, but a rusted black color in the silver light.
Nasir looked up at his commander and friend a final time, then his hands dropped limply to his sides, and he toppled from his horse. Unable to believe this was happening, Bahira saw a gaping hole had been torn from his chest. She took a moment to gather her energies, then turned back to her remaining scouts. She signaled them to form a circle with their backs to one another. Even as they moved to obey, a second booming k-raaack rang out, and another scout fell to the sands. This time, however, Bahira caught sight of movement on the dune-line, and she pointed. "There!"
Five arrows were loosed simultaneously, but the target was gone while they were still in the air. Another rider appeared, his figure silhouetted against the night sky, and Bahira fired again. Her shot fell short; the enemy was out of range, even for the powerful bow.
But apparently, whatever weapon he was armed with was still effective. A third explosion…and a third scout was slain.
Bahira felt a moment of panic grip her. It was only for a second, but it chased up her spine like the cold fingers of death. She didn’t know what she was up against here, but the facts she did understand were clear enough: she and her scouts couldn’t hit the enemy, but the enemy could pick her whole party off at their leisure. Trained to be adaptable, Bahira decided on the only possible plan of action that might save at least some of their lives. Lifting her head, she cried out, "Take them! Ride them down!"
Ululating war-cries split the night air as the scouts spurred their horses to attack. Arrows were nocked at a gallop as they charged the unknown numbers beyond the dune ridge, all of them determined to close the distance so they might at least fight back effectively.
Leading her fellows on, Bahira was the first to crest the rise…an act of leadership which very nearly cost her life. A line of fifteen or so figures mounted on swift mehari camels were ranged against her, no more than a few dozen paces away. She had barely enough time to sight a target and let loose an arrow before an explosive boom blasted against her, the sound deafening her ears. Flashes and smoke sparked in the darkness, and the acrid stench of sulfur stung Bahira’s nostrils a moment later. Startled by the noise, her horse reared up, and it was all Bahira could do to keep her seat. Behind her, she could hear screams as her brothers and sisters were felled by these mysterious weapons, but she didn’t have time to grieve. Not yet. In a fluid motion practiced since she was five years old, Bahira drew another arrow, nocked and sighted in one move, and let loose. A feral grin spread across her lips as she saw her aim hold true; one of the mounted enemy cried out and clutched uselessly at the shaft embedded in his lung. The surviving scouts shot arrows of their own, and for a moment Bahira thought perhaps they might overcome their enemy yet.
Another clap of strange thunder dismissed this hope, however. Bahira’s eyes squeezed shut at the sound, fully expecting to feel the punch of whatever magic these men were using…fully expecting agony and blood and final darkness. But miraculously, she remained untouched by the deadly hand of the thunder. In the confusion of shouts and screams all around her, Bahira saw more of her party fall…and suddenly realized the fight was as good as won. They could never hope to defeat this ambush. And if none survived, the Scion would remain ignorant of the enormity of this threat.
Retreat, then, was the only option.
Glancing about quickly, expecting at any moment to hear that thunder again, Bahira searched for an escape. Running back into the dunes was useless – she had seen how great a range the thunder could kill from. Scowling, her eyes glinting like chips of steel in the moonlight, Bahira considered a moment, then charged straight towards the edge of the enemy line. Her only hope was to break through, and hope she could loose any pursuit in the rocks that lay beyond the sand.
As she charged at a gallop towards the man, screaming the war-cry that had struck fear into the hearts of bandits for over a hundred years, Bahira saw the man fumbling with the weapon he held. A sudden realization dawned on her: he was trying to reload…just as she would have done with her bow. She grinned fully and pulled another arrow from the quiver at her back. Nocking it, she sighted carefully, letting herself grow accustomed to the rhythm of her horses gait. As she drew closer, she saw panic in the man’s eyes, and loosed the arrow. It buried itself soundlessly in his throat, and he struggled to pull it free even as he toppled from his camel.
Bahira, never slowing her galloping stride, flipped her bow over her shoulder and slipped her right foot from the stirrup. Bracing her thigh muscles, she leaned over precariously in the saddle, feeling the subtle shift as her horse recognized what she was doing and tensed to adjust to the redistribution of her weight. Eyes locked on the strange metal staff the man clutched in his hand, Bahira held herself almost parallel to the ground in a maneuver that foreigners from the east and west had marveled over for years. With her left hand hanging limp, seemingly relaxed, Bahira grabbed up the weapon from the ground as she passed at a full gallop, then swung herself back up into the saddle with a grunt of effort.
Sudden thunder boomed from behind her, and her horse whinnied and bolted. Bahira chanced a quick look back, her heart aching when she saw the rest of her scouts being butchered. She also noticed blood on the rump of her horse, and realized he’d been hit. Offering a calming pat, she twisted in the saddle to examined the wounds. They were deep, and had torn through muscle, but she judged that they would not lame her horse for some time. She said a silent prayer of thanks to the Goddess. El’Kasari was some distance away, and Bahira knew she would never make it on foot.
Slowing her steed to a canter, confident she could loose any pursuit in the rocks, Bahira scowled darkly at the weapon clutched in her hand. She would see that her fellows did not die for nothing; Falak and the Scion needed to know what power Shakir had somehow discovered. Then, she could begin the task of avenging her fallen comrades.
The next day was hot. Of course, most every day in the Jaharri desert was hot, but today the heat lingered long into the afternoon, forcing the pleasure-servants to remain indoors where the marble deflected most of the suns rays. Even when the shadows lengthened into evening, the temperature outside in the seraglio was such that many chose to sleep through until full dark.
Since coming here, Dae had found herself adjusting well to the desert climate. She still tried to stay out of direct sunlight, since her pale skin burned easily, but she was now fairly comfortable living with temperatures that were unheard of in her homeland, even during the summer months. But when she stepped outside today, the heat was like a physical wall, and she winced as sweat beaded almost instantly on her forehead.
"Gods above!" Even breathing seemed difficult in the heavy air! Dae looked about the seraglio, fully expecting to see every plant and blade of grass withered to dust beneath the glare of the sun’s irate gaze. But the garden was still impossibly green and lush, and there were a few other girls about…mostly lounging in the shade of the taller trees or splashing about in the pool beneath the waterfall. For a moment, Dae wondered whether she should just go back to her room and wait for nightfall…but after being inside all day, she wanted to stretch her legs a bit. Plus, she recalled that Zafirah had offered to pose for her tonight…and she wanted to be here when the dark woman arrived.
The thought of being alone with Zafirah caused an instant jolt of eager anticipation to shoot through the young blonde. Last night, Dae knew she had crossed a line. She had accepted that she was attracted to the Scion, and had gone so far as to admit her feelings in a physical way. The kiss she had shared with Zafirah had been exciting and carnal, and Dae had lain awake late into the night, remembering every detail of how it had felt to have her tongue in the dark woman’s mouth, letting the memories guide her hands and fingers across her body until she was quaking under the fury of climax for the second time that day. The thoughts of what might happen when she eventually gave herself to the Scion were as frightening as they were thrilling; Dae found the delayed anticipation slowly building within her…as it had surely been building since she’d first come to El’Kasari.
A voice calling her name broke Dae from her licentious ponderings, and she glanced over to the pool where Nasheta and a few other girls were splashing about in the cooler waters. The blonde girl waved her over. "Come join us little one!" she called. "The water is wonderful!"
Dae hesitated, but wandered over after a moment. Sitting on one of the boulders that broke the waters edge, she eyed the pool uncertainly. "I’d rather just stay here." Dae had only been in the pool once; after realizing how the water made her clothing transparent – and realizing further how appreciative the other girls were of that fact – she had made a point of staying on dry land.
Nasheta pouted up at her. "Please?" she begged, batting wet eyelashes persuasively and managing to look quite forlorn at Dae’s rejection. "The sun is too hot for comfort. Surely you would rather be cool in here with us than remain in the hot air." Her hands caressed the surface of the water. "We promise to play nice…"
Dae heard a distinctly mischievous edge in Nasheta’s tone…and recognized that the girl was trying to draw her into a flirtation. The sea-green eyes that were almost the same shade as her own emerald ones skipped down her figure for half a second, and Dae felt her body respond helplessly to the attention. She wrestled a moment with her modesty…and with the new pleasures she had been experiencing recently adding strength to her internal debate, she actually managed to win quite easily. Afterall, it was hot, and the cool water did look rather inviting.
"Welll…" Dae appeared to give the matter consideration, then she smiled. "I guess it couldn’t hurt."
Nasheta clapped her hands and squealed in delight. "Excellent!"
Dae dipped her hand in the pool, testing the temperature of the water. It was quite pleasant – not too cold, and much nicer than the stifling air. Standing up, she took a deep breath, then jumped into the pool with a big splash. She stayed underwater for a moment, shaking her head to get her hair wet as she sorted through the folds of her outfit, then she found her feet once more and stood up. Her head broke the surface; the water lapped just above her breasts, and she grinned at the other girls.
"This is nice."
Nasheta giggled and splashed her playfully. "You should join us more often. Come…it is even better under the fall."
The two swam over to the waterfall, Dae looking up at the cascade with interest. The water was far shallower here, leaving most of her upper body exposed. From this angle, the spray cast the last rays of the sun into iridescent rainbow arcs, and Dae laughed delightedly. "I bet this is the only place in the whole desert where you can see a proper rainbow," she said.
Nasheta, who was actually more interested in appreciating the way Dae’s harem clothes clung to her every curve in transparent folds, regarded the rainbow curiously. "Such things are common in your land then?"
"Oh yes. Sometimes when there’s a fine rain, you can see giant ones that stretch across whole fields. My handmaidens told me that if I ever found the foot of a rainbow, there’d be a pot of gold waiting there for me."
Nasheta grinned and immediately dove towards the colorful arc. Dae laughed at her antics as she pretended to look confused when the rainbow eluded her efforts to catch it. "I must have run after a hundred of these things as a child," she remembered. "I never stopped trying to catch up to them when they disappeared."
"I think it is a wonderful dream," Nasheta sighed, leaving off her chase. "In the desert, children are taught not to follow such mirages – it is dangerous to believe in their reality." Finding a smooth rock shelf to the side of the fall, she pulled her lithe body from the water and sat on the slick seat. "I was born in the west," she explained. "My village was attacked when I was a little girl, and the bandits carried me across the seas to the far north. I cannot recall much about my homeland, but sometimes I wish I could see it again…see lands that are fat with water and green life."
Dae listened, curious. It hadn’t really struck her that Nasheta had to have been born outside the desert world, though with her blonde hair it seemed obvious now. "How did you come to be living here?" she asked, shifting closer so she could hear better over the noise of the waterfall. "You talk with a desert accent."
"And I speak their language fluently," Nasheta added. "The men who took me traded me to the desert people as soon as I grew old enough to be appealing as a body-slave. Pale hair and green eyes are qualities much prized among the Jaharri nomads. I lived in the deep desert for a year or so before Zafirah saw me. She purchased me for a king’s ransom, and I have been happily in her service for some years now." Nasheta paused and gave Dae a curious look. "I think you are very lucky to have been rescued so quickly from your fate at the hands of those slavers," she said softly. "I doubt that whoever purchased you would have had the same sense of honor as the Scion."
"You’re right," Dae nodded, not liking to think what might have happened to her had her abductors been given a little more time. "I try not to think about it too much."
"As well you should not," Nasheta approved. "Why dwell on such negative thoughts? You live in a beautiful palace, accorded every respect and granted every luxury you could wish for. And," she added with a wink, "you have captured the heart of a very attractive, very passionate woman…who would lavish much pleasure upon your body if given permission to do so."
Dae blushed and looked away, though her smile remained. "I wouldn’t say it was her heart that seems most interested in me," she protested shyly.
"Oh?" Nasheta gave the younger woman a look filled with secret knowledge. "If you truly believed only lust motivated Zafirah’s attentions, would you have kissed her so ardently last night?"
Dae’s silence was answer enough.
"I thought not. You may believe me when I say Zafirah feels much love for you, little one – I have experienced at least a taste of her passion for you, and know better than most how strong her feelings are in this matter."
Dae looked up at Nasheta then, feeling curious but also a little awkward. Afterall, Zafirah had used this woman to vent passions which were aimed at her. Nasheta hadn’t spoken about her night with the Scion…but Dae felt again that stab of wonder lance through her, and the thought that she had tried to keep silent for so long now crept back into her mind; the thought that Nasheta knew exactly what Zafirah wanted to do to her…and that she might be willing to share that information. She moved closer to the other blonde, uncertain how to broach such a delicate issue. Finding a half-submerged seat in the pool, Dae puzzled the matter silently for a moment.
Nasheta watched the younger girl’s thoughtful expression with an amused smile, knowing the questions Dae longed to ask but enjoying the wait. Eventually, however, the look of puzzled awkwardness on the poor girl’s face was too much for her to bear, and she took pity on her companion. "If you wish to talk about what she did to me that night, you need not tear yourself apart trying to find your tongue. Just ask me. I am most willing to entertain your curiosity."
"I-I wasn’t…I mean, that wasn’t what I was…I couldn’t-"
Nasheta held up her hand. "You are curious, Dae, and after last night it is no longer a secret that you feel desire for Zafirah."
"Well, I don’t-"
Sensing an instinctive protest coming, Nasheta cut it off. "Can you look me in the eye and deny that it is no longer a question of ‘if’ you will warm the Scion’s bed…but rather, ‘when’?"
The cool water wasn’t enough to stop the blood rushing to Dae’s face…and other, lower, parts of her body. "I-I guess…maybe."
"You wish to know what she did to me? What things she would do to you when the time comes?"
Dae nodded. "I-I saw the scratches," she admitted softly.
Nasheta grinned. "And the bite marks?"
Dae nodded again. "And your clothes were all…torn…"
"Zafirah was extremely aroused," Nasheta explained gently. "She needed to vent her lust completely. Do not be afraid; I did not mind the little pain…and I am certain she would be more gentle with you than she was with me."
"So…" Dae hesitated. "You liked what she did?"
"Of course. She seemed determined that I should feel as much pleasure as my body could stand…and perhaps more. Such generosity and desire to please are excellent qualities in a lover…although," Nasheta pouted, "she barely let me touch her at all, so intent was her focus on my absolute satisfaction."
"Wh-what did she do to you?" Dae asked, her eyes as wide as those of a child who waits impatiently for a story to be told.
Nasheta leaned forward. "She kissed me. Everywhere. Long and deep." The blonde harem girl spoke softly, in a seductive tone. "And she touched me. At first she was almost frenzied with desire, and I think in her delirium she was caught up completely in her fantasy of ravishing you. But after a time, she calmed somewhat…and became more thorough in her ministrations." Nasheta sighed theatrically. "I fear my memory of exact details is a little unreliable; my body and mind were overwhelmed with sensation. The pleasure was quite extraordinary, and I am certain I passed out a few times during the night."
Dae remembered the state Nasheta had been in when the guards returned her to the seraglio, and the way she had looked during the days after. "You seemed…in pain…when they brought you back."
"I was sore," Nasheta admitted. "Particular – highly sensitive – areas of my body had received more attention than to which they are accustomed. Even pleasure-servants have limits. But a little tenderness and a few days rest are small prices to pay for the gift of such intense bliss as I experienced." Nasheta paused and looked at Dae’s face, trying to gauge her reaction. "I have lain with Zafirah many times, child," she said softly after a moment. "I know her well, and consider her a friend as well as a lover. Believe me when I tell you that she loves you."
Dae looked away, uncomfortable. "How can you tell?"
Nasheta smiled. "I have seen her naked and exposed during a moment of intimacy that she wished to share with you. I heard the love in her voice and I felt it in her touch. Had you been in my place – in the place you were meant to be – you would have no doubts as to the depth of her feelings for you."
"But…" Dae frowned, unable to accept Nasheta’s insistence, "why would she love me? She’s like a queen. She can have anyone she wants."
"And she wants you." Nasheta shook her head and grinned, amused by Dae’s innocence. "Is it so hard to understand? People fall in love all the time…and you are as deserving of such attention as any other. You are beautiful, kind-hearted and warm-natured. Zafirah may be a ruler, but that does not make her any less a human being. Her heart is not as armored to the arrows of love as she might have believed it to be."
"But…she still beds with others," Dae observed. "Even last night, she didn’t sleep alone."
Nasheta considered this, remembering that Dae had been brought up in what was a comparatively puritanical society. "Would you wish for her to stop?" she asked seriously. "For her to give up pleasure?"
Dae shrugged. "I-I don’t know. In my land…"
"We are no longer in your land, little one," Nasheta pointed out gently. "Is it fair for you to set boundaries and borders on her love?"
"Well…she’d probably expect me to be…faithful…to her…" Dae trailed off as Nasheta shook her head.
"You honestly believe Zafirah would be angered if you shared pleasure with another? If so, than you have much to learn of her."
Dae paused to consider this. She remembered her conversation with the Scion regarding love, and realized Nasheta was right. Zafirah didn’t expect fidelity or monogamy from any lover…she believed that pleasure was too pure a thing to be bound by rules.
Nasheta saw the understanding begin to light in Dae’s eyes, and smiled. "I think you will find that if you promised her your heart, Zafirah would be more than satisfied. Perhaps, like Johara and Hayam, she would want to include you in her pleasure-taking…but jealousy is something completely foreign to her nature." Nasheta slipped closer to Dae and ran a single finger along her left shoulder-blade, smiling when the young blonde turned in surprise. Sea-green eyes darkened, and her voice grew huskier. "She would want you to be free to explore all pleasures that present themselves."
"Umm." Dae swallowed hard, suddenly aware of her companion’s proximity and intentions. Nasheta’s eyes roamed over her chest, and Dae froze, completely uncertain as to what she should do. She started to fold her arms across her breasts, but was stopped by a voice in her head – a voice she’d never heard before, but which spoke with a confident and commanding sense of authority. Let her look, the voice said calmly. She likes your body…what harm is there in letting her see you? She’ll probably think of you tonight when she’s all alone, and the memory will excite her. Perhaps she’ll touch herself while thinking of you…or seek pleasure in the arms of another.
Dae’s hands remained at her sides, but her eyes were still wide.
Nasheta smiled and shifted closer still, seeing that Dae wasn’t going to cover herself and accepting that as an invitation to let her eyes linger. "Mmm…so many delectations yet to be sampled," she whispered, almost purring. "So much flesh untasted by lips who would lavish such attentions upon you as cannot be imagined." The tip of a pink tongue flickered out to lick her lips and Nasheta smiled, seeing Dae’s body respond. "Your nipples grow hard, little one…and I doubt they are affected by the cool of the water. Perhaps you find the thought of my mouth pressed against your flesh appealing..?"
Dae’s breathing grew suddenly shallow; her pupils dilated and she felt tell-tale heat flush through her loins. Under Nasheta’s ravening gaze, she felt positively naked.
Nasheta ran a hand up her own body, conscious of others watching her seduction attempt. She doubted Dae would succumb to her, but it was definitely worth a try. "I could teach you things that would be of great use when you decide you are ready to be with Zafirah," she coaxed, shifting her body closer to the younger blonde until she could feel the heat between them. "I could show you pleasure without even risking your virtue." Nasheta gazed longingly at Dae’s breasts. "Shall we make a game of it? See if I can make you come just from suckling your breasts...?"
"No!" Dae dragged herself out of a erotic daze, stopping Nasheta just as she was about to descend. "Um…th-thank you but…I-I don’t…think I’m quite ready for that. It’s a lovely offer, really, but I just…I can’t-"
Nasheta smiled and shrugged, backing off a little. "You are afraid to feel pleasure?"
"No, it’s not that, I just…" Dae trailed off, unable to find the words to explain her continued resistance. She knew that if Nasheta’s lips had touched her aching flesh, all would have been lost. She would have allowed the other woman to do whatever she pleased. As it was, her blood was still roaring through her veins in a tide of lust; when she went to bed later, Dae knew she would have to satisfy the ache between her legs with her own fingers.
"I can see the desire is in you," Nasheta said gently. "Why do you fight it? Because of Zafirah? She would be pleased to know that you are exploring the pleasures of the flesh."
"It’s not Zafirah, it’s me," Dae said. "I just…" She shrugged helplessly.
Nasheta nodded. "I understand. You do not feel ready." She reached out and laid a hand on the younger woman’s thigh. "May I offer some advice?"
"I-if you like."
"Listen to your body. You have no idea the power you hold, Dae."
Nasheta smiled. "The power of innocent beauty; a body that men and women would do anything to possess. It is a gift – a powerful gift – you should not shy from using." She squeezed gently with her hand before withdrawing.
Dae smiled, still confused, but arched an eyebrow at Nasheta’s hand. "That was just an excuse to touch some skin, wasn’t it."
"Well…" Nasheta grinned. "Perhaps a little. But think about what I said, okay?"
Dae nodded. "I will."
"Good." Nasheta clapped her hands, her whole demeanor changing in an instant from intriguingly seductive to childishly playful. "Come! Let us dive from the top of the fall." She began climbing the rocky cascade, finding easy handholds all the way.
Shivering despite the hot air, having just a little trouble dispelling the interesting tingling sensations that still raced over her skin, Dae hesitated only a moment before she followed.
* * *
Zafirah was striding purposefully towards the harem grounds when Falak caught up to her. The scout hesitated when she saw the expression of anticipation on the Scion’s face, reluctant to spoil Zafirah’s good mood after her recent tensions. But her mission was too important to wait.
Zafirah glanced at her, smiling, but didn’t slow down. "Yes Falak?"
"I have received urgent news; your attention is required."
"Not tonight, my friend. I have a prior commitment to Dae. Your news can wait until the morning-"
"With all respect, my Scion," Falak bowed slightly as she walked, "it cannot wait. Indeed, events have grown more dire than we thought; every moment now is precious."
Hearing the note of unease in Falak’s tone, Zafirah stopped and gave her full attention to the scout. She read the serious, grim expression on the dark-skinned woman’s face, and reluctantly put thoughts of Dae aside. "You have received word from the scouts watching Shakir?"
Falak nodded. "Though not from the scouts themselves, Scion." She paused, then stated simply, "They were ambushed and slaughtered last night; only one survived."
"Ambushed?" Zafirah’s jaw dropped in surprise. Her scouts were fierce and stealthy warriors; their skills were legendary. "How? Was it Shakir?"
"It appears the Calif was behind the attack, yes."
"The scout who survived wandered into the camp of the Herak. Her horse had fallen from wounds sustained in her escape, but she carried one of the weapons retrieved from the enemy. The Herak sent a swift-rider immediately to bring us news of her safety. He told me the device is unlike anything we have ever seen. It killed from a great distance, and with tremendous accuracy."
"Where is the surviving scout now?" Zafirah asked.
"She is still being cared for by the Herak." Falak watched Zafirah process this information quickly, her strategic mind quickly working through to the obvious conclusion. Still, the dark-skinned scout finished her Scion’s train of thought for her. "We must leave at once."
Zafirah considered a moment longer, wishing there were another way. But this news meant Shakir posed a greater threat than anticipated, and she needed to move fast before he attacked her people. No matter how enticing the prospect of a night alone with Dae might have been, Zafirah knew the lives under her protection came first. She nodded. "Have Simhana saddled and an escort drawn from the barracks," she ordered quickly, her attitude shifting to that of a commander. "If we ride through the night and into the morning we can reach the Herak before the sun forces us to stop." It would mean a hard pace; the Herak lived near the deep-desert far to the south. "What of the swift-rider who brought us this news?"
"He is resting. His horse is near exhaustion, but should recover with proper care."
Zafirah nodded, satisfied. "Make certain he does not leave El’Kasari before he is fully recovered. Draw provisions from the stores and equip another scouting party. Once we have learned more of this threat, I may need eyes in the deep desert once more."
Falak saluted smartly. "At once, Scion. We will be ready to leave before sundown."
"Excellent." The scout turned to leave. "Falak?"
Zafirah’s hard expression softened. "The survivor? Was it…?"
Falak smiled very slightly and nodded. "Bahira."
"I am pleased for you," Zafirah said softly. "I have seen how close the two of you have become."
"Thank you." Falak’s eyes dropped. "In truth…I cannot help but feel ashamed of my relief," she admitted. "Ashamed that I am glad others died instead of her."
Zafirah nodded, understanding that feeling very well. Though she and Falak had shared pleasure with one another, she knew the bond her chief scout shared with Bahira ran deeper than the flesh. "Do not let such clouds darken the gift of her survival. It would anger the Goddess to see her mercy so ill-received."
Falak nodded, then waved her hand at Zafirah. "Go. I suspect there is a young woman who will be much disappointed to hear she will not be enjoying your company this night. The least you can do is offer a proper apology."
Zafirah grinned. "I will join you at the stables when I am done."
Falak nodded. "Take whatever time you need."
The Scion nodded her thanks, then continued on to the harem grounds, the spring in her steps now noticeably subdued.
Entering the seraglio, Zafirah couldn’t help but smile when she saw Dae. The young blonde was laying on her back on a rock beside the waterfall, sunning herself. She had obviously been swimming recently; her clothes and hair were soaked. The brief harem outfit she wore was plastered to her body, almost transparent with moisture. Zafirah swallowed when Dae saw her and propped herself up on her elbows with a grin; she just knew the image of that lithe, ripe body was going to haunt her at every opportunity during the coming days.
Damn you Shakir, she cursed silently. You have no idea what your pathetic little rebellion is costing me!
"Ahlan," the young blonde greeted properly as Zafirah approached, demonstrating her recent efforts to learn the desert language. "Was it unusually hot today, or should I adjust my scale again?"
"No, it…it was quite a hot day." Just keep your eyes from wandering lower and perhaps you will escape the harem without ravishing her in front of everyone. But the temptation to take advantage of this rare opportunity proved too great for the Scion to resist; her eyes flicked rapidly down to take in the beauty of Dae’s breasts through the sheer silk fabric.
Dae did not miss the look, nor the almost inaudible groan that escaped Zafirah. She lifted one eyebrow coyly but made no move to cover herself, rather enjoying the look of twisted desire and restraint on the dark woman’s face. "So…what did you have in mind for us tonight?" she asked innocently.
"Huh?" Sapphire eyes snapped into focus suddenly.
"Tonight? Remember, you offered to pose for me. Or have you forgotten the invitation so quickly?" Dae was now thoroughly enjoying the effect she was having on the usually calm and confident Scion.
"No, I…I was just-" Zafirah’s gaze slipped helplessly back to the glory of Dae’s body. For a moment, she forgot completely about Falak and the threat of Shakir, all thoughts driven far from her mind by the image before her – an image she had longed to behold for many months now. When she managed to tear her eyes away and focus once more on Dae’s face, Zafirah saw the playful glint in the young girl’s emerald gaze and realized the display had been far from innocent. Dae was quite deliberately tempting her. Zafirah closed her eyes and asked for strength from the Goddess. Why did this have to happen, tonight of all nights!?
"You were just…what?" Dae grinned.
Zafirah sighed and claimed the spot next to Dae, making certain her eyes didn’t wander anywhere near the captivating blonde. "This is not fair," she said after a moment spent collecting her scattered thoughts.
"What’s not fair?"
"There has been trouble among the southern tribes," Zafirah explained simply. "Renegade tribes have banded together and have attacked my scouts. I must leave tonight so as to evaluate the threat they pose."
"Oh." Dae’s playful expression vanished immediately, replaced by one of concern. "Are you… I mean, will you be okay? Will it be very dangerous?"
Dae’s concern brought a warm feeling to Zafirah’s heart. "The risk should not be great," she assured the young woman. "I will have a strong escort and have no intention of riding to battle before I understand my enemy. But I fear I must delay our appointment together until I return."
"How long will it take?"
Zafirah shrugged. "I cannot know for certain, but…I should not think more than a few days. We shall be riding to the camp of the Herak to talk with the scout who survived the attack; it will afford me the opportunity to visit with my mother. The ride out there will be fast and hard." The Scion gave her companion a wry smile. "Believe me when I say I would much prefer to entertain your company tonight than that of my horse, but…"
Dae held up hand. "No, that’s okay. I understand. You have to take care of your people."
"I hope you are not offended."
"Why would I be offended?" Dae smiled softly and reached out a hand to touch the dark woman on the shoulder; her hands seemed eager for any contact they could get. "We can spend some time together when you get back. I’m not going anywhere."
Zafirah nodded, accepting the contact eagerly. She would have liked to return the familial touch, but knew that if her hands were given such leniency they would most certainly misbehave. She glanced quickly at Dae’s nearly naked body, then back to the garden. "I begin to feel as though I am cursed by Inshal," she remarked with a half-smile. "The thing I most desire in all the world is dangled before my eyes, but each time I think it is within my grasp, something rises to snatch it away."
"Oh?" Dae leaned a little closer to the other woman, liking the scent of incense that surrounded the Scion. "I thought you were doing pretty good, all things considered. Especially after last night." She looked down at her wet clothes and giggled. "I mean, I’m sitting here in see-through clothes just to give you something to look forward too. I think that should be evidence enough that your seduction is coming along quite nicely."
Zafirah couldn’t help herself and chuckled. "You shall drive me to madness with such teasing, little Tahirah." She caught the younger woman’s hand in her own and brought it to her lips, placing a delicate kiss on the palm. "I shall return as soon and as swiftly as I am able."
Dae tilted her head girlishly. "Promise?"
"Of course." Zafirah smirked. "I would never keep a beautiful woman waiting for pleasure."
"Psh!" Dae flushed. "Get going then. The sooner you leave, the sooner you’ll be able to get back."
Zafirah reluctantly stood. Her sapphire eyes were soft and filled with deep affection as she gazed at Dae. "Maasalama, aziza," she whispered. "I shall miss you every moment we are parted." Then, the Scion turned and walked from the seraglio quickly, before she decided to put her personal needs before the welfare of her people.
Dae watched the dark woman leave, her eyes wide with surprise at those parting words. She remembered the word aziza, having heard it from the lips of Johara and Hayam often enough during her time in the harem. But she had never expected to hear it from Zafirah; a woman who professed passion and lust, but never true love. A slow, sweet burning sensation clutched at her heart, and she felt unexpected tears prick slightly at the corners of her eyes as she realized Nasheta had perhaps been correct.
Zafirah had called her ‘beloved.’
* * *
"You allowed her to escape?"
The soldier paled at the cold, lethal edge in the voice asking the question. His fingers plucked nervously at the reins of his camel and he felt his throat begin to close up in fear. "W-we could not- I mean…sh-she was too fast for us. They charged straight into our lines; there was nothing we could do-"
A single raised hand silenced the man. Shakir Al’Jadin regarded the others standing before him with uncaring, malevolent eyes. "A single scouting party…and you managed to loose five men in the battle." An ominous pause. "And one weapon."
Several dozen eyes hastily looked away, unable to meet the terrible scorn in Shakir’s gaze. They knew the Calif didn’t care much about the lose of his men; what stirred his rage was the lose of the thunder-bow.
One of the braver members of the party spoke up. "Effendi, it is true one of the scouts escaped…but her horse was wounded. I myself fired into the beast, and my aim was true. El’Kasari is far from here; she will surely perish in the desert without her stead."
Shakir considered this, then scowled and shook his head. "And what if she is able to make it as far as the camp of the Herak? They will take her in and report at once to the Scion. Our greatest advantage right now is the element of surprise; the Whore knows nothing of the thunder-bows, and so will be unprepared to counter them. And what have you done?" Shakir’s face was dark with rage. "YOU HAVE GIVEN HER ONE OF THE WEAPONS!!"
The soldiers flinched at the verbal lashing, but they all remained silent, knowing their words would only further enrage the Calif.
"No wonder El’Kasari has stood for so long, with fools and idiots like yourselves attacking it! We have been offered a chance to strike back at the people who have kept us cowed for so long, and your incompetence is bringing us to ruin!"
The first soldier stared straight ahead, his back stiff. "I apologize for allowing the scout to escape," he offered calmly.
Shakir regarded the man coldly, then, without a word, he pulled a scimitar from the scabbard at his back and slashed out with the speed of a striking asp. The soldier barely had time to recognize the flash of steel before white-hot pain blinded him. His head fell to the sands; a few seconds later, his body joined it, toppling from the camel and landing with a dull thud. The Calif glanced at the body contemptuously. "Apology accepted." His cold eyes shot to the other soldiers, who were staring at him in fear. "The rest of you take note; when I issue the order ‘No survivors’, I mean exactly that. Let us have no more mishaps like this one, or I shall save the Scion the trouble of killing you by doing it myself." So saying, Shakir turned his mount away and headed back to the rest of his men.
The soldiers watched him leave, then their attention back to their fallen comrade. They felt little pity for him…only a relief that they had not shared his fate.
At least for today.
The deep frown on Zafirah’s face was hidden by the folds of her haik, but those around the Scion had no trouble reading her mood from the cold storm raging behind her flashing eyes. The tall woman stood in the tent of Jestart, the leader of the Herak tribe, studying the object laying on the ground at her feet.
They had arrived nearer to mid-day than Zafirah might have liked, only pushing on through the rising heat because no shelter could be found on the stark sands. Once they reached the camp of the Herak they had seen immediately to their weary horses, made the proper, traditional exchange of greetings and welcome with their hosts, and then asked to be shown to the tent where Bahira lay, recovering from exposure and exhaustion. The scout had offered her report to the Scion and Falak, concisely retelling the events of the ambush and how she had escaped when the other members of her party had fallen. Zafirah listened without interrupting, and when Bahira finished she commended her for her efforts. Now, darkness was falling, and Zafirah had been led by Jestart to his tent where she could see with her own eyes the instrument of death which had killed her scouts so effectively.
The weapon was long and slender, comprised of wood and steel. Zafirah considered it a while in silence, puzzled by its seemingly harmless appearance but respectful of the air of power it projected. When she reached out a hand to touch it, Jestart drew in a sharp breath.
"Be careful, Scion," he cautioned. "We are uncertain of how this device works exactly."
Zafirah nodded, but picked the weapon up anyway. It was heavy, and she hefted it cautiously. "Bahira said she believed it worked much like a bow," she mused aloud. "It fires some kind of thunder which strikes the target dead from any range." The steel pipe that comprised most of the weapon’s length seemed to gleam an ugly, menacing grey in the light of the shamedan. Zafirah drew back her haik with one hand and sniffed curiously; the weapon stank of sulfur and hell-fire. Sapphire eyes narrowed. "How did Shakir come by such a weapon?"
"More importantly," Falak put in, "how many more of these does he have?"
"Bahira guessed his main camp comprised no more than a hundred men, judging by the supplies he was receiving from the other tribes of his alliance. We must ensure he does not add to that number, or his threat will be far greater." Zafirah puzzled with the weapon a few moments, then pulled the wooden part of it back into her shoulder. With her hands supporting its length, she lifted it to eye-level, nodding when she saw how it was sighted. "If we learn how it works," she said softly, "we may be able to learn how to defeat it. Jestart?"
"Have this weapon shown about the camp. It seems harmless now, but if any of your people can deduce its method we may stand a better chance against Shakir when he moves."
"As you wish, Scion."
Zafirah regarded the elder leader fondly. "I regret that I must also request you move the camp closer to El’Kasari. I know this is not something you wish to do, but I will not allow you to be slaughtered when the Calif of the Deharn attacks."
As she expected, Jestart scowled, but nodded. "If you command it, Scion, it will be done."
"Thank you." Zafirah carefully placed the strange weapon back on the tent floor. "With your permission, my spahi and I will remain here until Bahira is well enough to travel. We will take this devil-weapon with us to El’Kasari, so the council may deliberate and study it. Falak? Send the scouts we brought out into the desert. Do not attempt to draw near Shakir’s camp; I only wish to know when he begins his advance."
"As you wish, Scion."
"For now…" Zafirah sighed, feeling her body ache. "There is little more we can do besides get some rest and prepare for tomorrow."
Jestart nodded. "We have prepared a tent for you, Scion. You are welcome to join our fire and even-meal. Your visit has stirred up much excitement among my people; I know many will be disappointed if they are not given a chance to meet you."
Zafirah smiled, seeing the twinkle in the older man’s eyes and understanding the hidden message in his words. Zafirah’s skills in the bedroom were as legendary as her beauty, and doubtless many young women of the nomad tribe were eager to test the truth of her talents. "I would be much honored to join your meal, cousin…but fear I must rest a little first. The ride through the night has taxed me overmuch, and my company will be of little worth until I regain some strength."
"Of course." Jestart grinned and bowed. "My people will show you to your tent then. Join us when you are rested."
Sometime later, Zafirah was jerked from a light but restorative slumber by the sound of rustling cloth and footsteps outside her tent. The Scion moved as swift and silent as a desert asp, her right hand straying to the hilt of a dagger that lay near her pallet. The figure silhouetted against the light from outside pulled apart the flaps of the tent door and stepped inside. Zafirah’s eyes went from cold slits to warm regard as she made out the familiar features of her visitor.
"Rashida," she greeted with a slight smile, tossing the knife away. "I wondered when you would come see me."
The woman stepped closer, lighting one of the oil-lamps that sat carefully on a small table near the center of the tent. "’Rashida’, is it? How very formal." Her tone was amused. "You may be Scion now, Zafirah, but you will always be my little girl."
Zafirah sat up, crossing her legs beneath her. "’Mother’, then." She grinned, opening her arms. "Have you an embrace for your child?"
"Always." Rashida accepted the hug fondly, ruffling her daughter’s hair when they parted. "My, it seems you grow taller and more beautiful each time I see you," she said with gentle pride, running her eyes over Zafirah’s frame. "A pity it takes the call to battle to bring you out here for a visit."
Zafirah looked away, properly shamed. "I know. And you have every right to think me a terrible daughter for not visiting more often, but…"
"But the city is your home, Zafirah…and you are Scion." Rashida smiled a quiet, slightly sad smile. "I understand."
Zafirah nodded, grateful for her mother’s acceptance, before she studied the elder woman more carefully. In her youth, Rashida had been a woman of great beauty, and the extra years and hard life she lived had done nothing more than add grace and dignity to her features. She had the same long, midnight-black hair and startling blue eyes as her daughter, and was tall and willowy of frame. Zafirah noticed a new depth to the lines that creased the skin about her eyes and lips, and a few more strands of grey in the dark tresses than she remembered, but she was pleased her mother still seemed strong and healthy. The Herak were a tough and willful tribe; they seemed almost to enjoy the punishing way the desert treated them, where every day was a challenge to be overcome. It was that strength and pride which had first drawn Zafirah’s father to Rashida…and it had not been diluted with time. "You look good," she complemented.
"Thank you." Rashida cupped her daughter’s cheek with a callused hand and gazed into her eyes shrewdly. "You have changed somewhat. You seem not so abrasive as the last time I saw you."
"I was younger then; the extra year has made much difference."
"So I see." Rashida gestured to the door. "I had expected to see you at the dinner. Jestart told me you were resting, which surprised me. I thought by now you would be prowling about the camp, searching for some young maiden to warm you through the night."
Zafirah waggled her eyebrows at her mother’s teasing tone. "The night is young."
Rashida laughed lightly, then studied her child carefully. She shook her head. "Something has indeed changed in you Zafirah," she whispered. "Your eyes are not the blazing furnaces they were a year ago; their heat has taken on a softer quality." There was a long pause, then the older woman smiled. "Tell me about her."
Zafirah rolled her eyes and groaned. "Who told you?"
"Ah…I might have known. So my chief scout reports to you now, does she?"
"No." Rashida settled herself on a rug beside the coal-burner and assumed a knowing, wise air. "She simply respects that there are certain things a mother deserves to know about her child. So…tell me. Who is she, this woman who has captured your attention so?"
Zafirah snorted. "I suspect Falak has told you all you could wish to know about her."
"She explained a few things, yes…but I would like to hear about her from your lips, little one."
The Scion considered, then shrugged and sat opposite her mother. "Her name is Dae," she started in a low, almost shy tone. "But I call her Tahirah…and I think she has grown to like it."
"And does she deserve such a name?"
"Oh yes, moreso than I might desire. She swore when we met that she would never bed with me, and has only recently decided that her words were spoken in haste. She was captured by slavers in the eastern lands, and I rescued her and took her into the harem. While she has settled in well, it has taken some time for her to accept the way of passion in the desert."
"She is beautiful?"
The soft, adoring expression on Zafirah’s face answered that question better than words could. "More beautiful than the sparkle of a thousand stars," the dark woman whispered. "Her hair is as golden as a flow of honey, and her eyes shine like wet emeralds. The vision of her in my mind has led me to many sleepless nights…but it has been worth the frustration." Zafirah was quiet under her mother’s regard for a time, before she admitted sheepishly, "It is difficult for me, but…I am learning to temper my passions with patience."
"I hope she appreciates that."
Zafirah nodded, remembering very clearly the feel of Dae’s body in her arms as she had held her the other night. "She is coming to understand such matters better."
Rashida smiled. In truth, she had never expected to see this side of her daughter – had never expected such a side existed. Zafirah had been a confident seductress since she was barely past her eighteenth year, but had stoutly claimed that she could never give her heart to another completely. Now, it appeared that boast had been proven wrong. "You love her?"
Zafirah shrugged and offered a nervous little half-smile. "It is difficult to believe, is it not? But she has made herself a place in my heart…even though I am certain she did not intend to. And I cannot help but love her."
"She must be very special," Rashida decided. "Perhaps you will bring her to visit me some day? I would very much like to meet the woman who could tame your wandering eye!"
Zafirah laughed. "My eye is as free to wander as it was a year ago, mother…but my heart has been claimed beyond repudiation."
Rashida considered this, then shook her head. "You always were too easily ruled by your lusts, Zafirah. I hope this girl will not be hurt because of your appetites."
"I have never sought to conceal my nature from her," Zafirah said stoutly, "nor my opinions on the concept of monogamy. She has only ever seen me for who I am…and I hope she will respect me enough not to want to change me to better suit her own ideals."
"Mmm." Rashida kept her own opinions to herself. She had only ever loved one man in her life, and even though he was dead, she remained true to him. But she knew better than to debate this issue with her strong-willed daughter; it was an argument neither would win. "Are you hungry?" she asked instead. "There is food and music to be found near the fire. You can tell me more about this young woman while we eat."
Zafirah was feeling hungry after the long ride, having had little time to find food in the last day. She nodded. "Certainly." Standing, she offered her mother her hand. Rashida accepted, letting her daughter help her up, then they headed off together towards the sound of laughter and drums in comfortable, familiar silence.
* * *
Dae had heard the phrase ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ many times in her life, but she was gaining a new appreciation of it now.
The young blonde had not expected to miss Zafirah, and was surprised to find herself constantly flicking glances towards the entrance to the palace proper, always expecting – hoping – to see the familiar tall, dark-haired figure standing there watching her intently. She had grown so accustomed to Zafirah’s visits that life seemed strange without her. She found herself longing for the dark Scion’s return, wanting to indulge in more touches and kisses with the older woman…wanting an opportunity to explore the new dimensions to their connection.
A large part of Dae’s longing no doubt stemmed from her growing acceptance of herself and her body as a sexual entity. The young blonde spent more and more time indulging herself in physical pleasure, and as she became more familiar with her own body, her touches became bolder and more confident. Through long hours of practice, Dae found she could bring herself to climax very quickly, with just a few knowing caresses…or, alternatively, she could prolong the ecstasy seemingly indefinitely, teasing herself until the sheets of her bed were stained with sweat and her own juices, and the edges of her mind seemed to burn with the need to experience fulfillment. As she grew more knowledgeable and assured, Dae began wanting something more – she wanted to test these new skills on Zafirah…and perhaps learn a more refined level of expertise from the older, more experienced, woman.
Of course, there were plenty of others in the harem who would have been more than happy to offer their assistance to the charming young blonde…and they made certain she was aware of their willingness. As the days went by, Dae noticed the behavior of the other pleasure-servants begin to change. It seemed that, while they had respected her resistance to their advances before, now that she had expressed an interest and willingness to the Scion, Dae was once again fair game. Nasheta had been the first to proposition the young blonde that day in the pool…but the others weren’t shy in following her example, and set about expressing their own interest during Zafirah’s absence.
At first, Dae thought the renewed attention was a result of her kiss with the Scion…but Inaya was quick to enlighten her.
"Little stays secret in a harem for long," the dark-haired temptress had explained one day with an amused, seductive smile. "I doubt Johara and Hayam were able to keep their little ‘educational session’ with you to themselves. And also," she added, just to see the young blonde blush, "you have been less than quiet in your room when you are practicing your new talents."
Of course, Dae’s embarrassed reaction to this news was everything Inaya had been hoping for.
At first, Dae quietly and shyly rejected the advances of the other girls…but over time, something in her began to change. Inaya, watching interestedly to see how her friend would handle herself, was surprised when the young blonde actually began to encourage the flirtations. Dae would often frolic in the pool with the others, making no effort whatsoever to maintain her modesty. In the evenings and at night she would join in the dancing, her technique improving quickly as she started using ever more daring and sexual movements. She would accept long, sensuous massages from the other pleasure-servants, who quickly made a game of seeing who could draw the most erotic-sounding moans from the delectable little blonde. Dae seemed to revel in the way her body drew the attention of all those around her, enjoying the lustful stares cast her way. Whenever someone approached her with an invitation of more intimate pleasures, Dae would giggle and blush charmingly, and would offer a polite but flattered rejection even as she allowed enticing, suggestive touches to linger over her flesh. Inaya noticed the young girl had developed a new kind of smile…devilish yet innocent, which seemed for some reason to be incredibly erotic. There was a new sparkle of mischief in her emerald eyes…and a new maturity to her movements and actions. Inaya was not the only one to recognize the change for what it was…
Dae was getting her first taste of sexual power…and it seemed she found the flavor very much to her liking!
Dae knew she was teasing the other girls, but the game was fun for her now. She knew no-one would force her to do anything she didn’t want to do, and this feeling of security made her bold. That little voice in the back of her mind – the one which had encouraged her not to cover up when she’d been swimming with Nasheta – grew stronger and louder as time passed. Although at times she was tempted to accept some of the invitations made by the other girls, Dae continued to hold back. Their flirtations were light-hearted and enjoyable; they excited her, yes…but not in the same way as Zafirah could. The Scion was magnetic and intense. When Dae lay on her bed each night, her hands running over slick, heated skin with lustful purpose, the image that always filled her senses was that of sapphire eyes and a crooked, seductive smile. And when she closed her eyes to go to sleep, her body warm and drowsy with satiation, she remembered the gentle expression of adoration and love on Zafirah’s face before she’d left…and that single word, aziza, would cause a sweet ache to clutch at her heart. It was that memory more than anything else that stopped Dae from accepting the invitations made by her many admirers. Imagining what Zafirah might do to her – or what she might be allowed to do to Zafirah – had become Dae’s new favorite way to pass the time. She couldn’t wait for the dark woman to return from her mission, eager to demonstrate her new, more confident attitude.
Dae was lying beside the pool, letting the sun dry her clothes after a cooling swim, when a shadow fell across her. Sleepy eyelids parted to find Inaya standing over her, one eyebrow raised and a slight smile tugging at her full lips.
"Salaam aleikum, Dae." Dark eyes roved downwards, pausing quite deliberately to admire the way Dae’s breasts strained against the fabric of her gauzy top, before returning to her face. "May I join you?"
Dae grinned lazily and nodded. "Sure. You should take a swim; the water’s great." Now that she was more comfortable with her body and the attention she attracted, Dae found the pool offered a wonderful respite from the desert heat.
"Perhaps later." Inaya settled herself beside the blonde, who had closed her eyes once more. Given the opportunity, Inaya absorbed the vision of Dae’s beauty happily, admiring the way the sun sparkled off the beads of water trapped on the young woman’s smooth, flat belly. "I have spoken with the guards," she offered. "They told me Zafirah is expected to return to El’Kasari within a day…two at most."
Dae smiled, but didn’t bother opening her eyes. She sighed. "I hope everything went okay for her."
"You have missed her, I think."
"Mmm…maybe I have." One emerald eye peeked at Inaya brazenly. "I’m sure I can think of a few ways to welcome her home."
Inaya laughed. "Such bold words from such an innocent mouth," she mocked playfully. "I have seen the changes in you these last few days, little one; do not be too proud of your teasing games. You are but a babe in swaddling clothes compared to Zafirah when it comes to seduction."
"I know." Dae’s grin was unrepentant. "But I drove her to distraction before without even trying to; imagine what I could do if I put some effort into it."
Inaya shook her head; she was pleased Dae was accepting her own desires at last…but a part of her wished she could be there when the still-naïve girl got her first taste of real pleasure. In fact…a part of her wished to be responsible for providing that taste. "You still have much to learn, little one," she said in a husky tone.
Dipping a hand into the pool, Inaya wet her fingers then held them out above Dae’s body, letting the water drip onto her stomach. The blonde chuckled, her abdominal muscles contracting in unconscious response. Inaya repeated her actions, this time letting the water drip a little higher. When Dae felt the subtly-arousing sensation of droplets falling onto her breasts a moment later, she opened both eyes fully and raised an eyebrow at her friend.
"Are you trying to get me wet?" she asked in a low burr, fully aware her question had two layers.
Inaya’s eyes were smoky but amused; she was no stranger to the game of seduction herself. "Is it working?"
"Perhaps." Dae’s heart began to beat just a little bit faster as Inaya returned her hand to the pool. This time, the dark-haired girl ran her dripping fingers lightly over the skin of Dae’s thigh. The young blonde couldn’t help it; she hitched in a sudden sharp breath at the erotic sensation of Inaya’s touch.
"It feels nice?" Inaya asked very quietly.
Dae smiled and nodded. "Very."
"Mmm." Inaya licked her lips slowly as her touch crept higher, feeling the shiver that ran through her friends body. "I wonder what else you might enjoy…"
Dae held perfectly still as Inaya continued to touch her…knowing she should stop the inappropriate caresses, but wanting the pleasure to continue. "You know," she managed after a moment, "this isn’t the way friends are supposed to touch each other."
"Oh?" Inaya hadn’t missed the tremble of desire in Dae’s voice. "Did you learn that in your homeland?"
"Mmm…no doubt from the same people who denied you knowledge of the pleasures you now exercise freely – and quite vocally – each night in your bedchamber, hmm?" Inaya smiled at the confliction in Dae’s eyes. "Am I not desirable?" she asked with a slight pout.
Dae shivered. "I-it’s not that-"
"I certainly find you extremely attractive."
Inaya pressed a wet finger against Dae’s lips, silencing her. "You are still trying to place boundaries on that which is limitless, my friend." Her voice was so soft it was almost ethereal….but Dae’s body responded to its tone helplessly. "Pleasure and love are two different things; one feeds from the flesh, the other from the heart and soul. Do not confuse one with the other."
"But…we’re friends," Dae observed.
"And friendship is based upon trust, respect, and affection," Inaya agreed, "Qualities which can be deepened and strengthened through a sharing of intimacy and pleasure." Long, delicate fingers traced down over Dae’s collar-bone, toying with her cleavage. "You could share many things with me, Dae; fantasies, dreams…your deepest desires. Is it so wrong that a friend should want you to feel pleasure?"
"Well…" Dae considered, finding it hard to argue with those deep, dark eyes gazing at her temptingly. Though she had grown accustomed to the others looking at her that way, it still seemed disconcerting when Inaya did it. "I guess not, but…"
"If you would allow me, there are many things I could show you."
Dae almost moaned as a sudden image of herself and Inaya kissing and fondling one another sprang to life in her mind. Still, she rallied against the desire to simply give in to this seduction. "Others have made the same offer."
"And been rejected." Inaya cocked her head to the side. "Will you reject me also?"
The look on the desert girl’s face was almost too much for Dae to withstand, but she managed somehow. "For today…yes."
"For today?" Inaya’s disappointment was suddenly lit with hope. "And what of tomorrow?"
Dae shrugged. "I don’t know. But…anything is possible."
Inaya smiled and returned her hand to her side. "I can accept that."
There was silence for a while as the two friends sat, each lost in thoughts that were mostly licentious in nature. Then Inaya glanced at Dae curiously.
"Is this what you have told all the others who have propositioned you?"
Dae lay back on the warm rock, eyes closed, grinning ear to ear. "Does it matter?"
Inaya considered a moment, then shook her head. "I suppose not."
"Then don’t bother asking the question."
The two exchanged amused looks, then burst into a fit of laughter.
Rumors of unrest among the renegade tribes wasted little time making their way through the city of El’Kasari; Zafirah’s extended journey south gave them credence, as did the apparent tension among the spahi. Still, while such rumors might have driven a foreign city into a flurry of siege preparations and panic, the citizens of El’Kasari continued about their daily business without concern. They trusted their Scion implicitly; she had never failed them in protecting the Peace, and the army was stronger and more disciplined than it had been in decades. And if war did come, the people were ready to take up arms to defend their lives and their city.
Despite their calm, the people met Zafirah’s return with at least some measure of relief, feeling better having their Scion back among them. The tall, impressive woman smiled and touched hands with those who gathered in the streets to welcome her home, careful to keep any trace of concern from her face. She was the very embodiment of strength and utter confidence; calm, beautiful, and self-assured. The people saw her and knew that whatever threat was manifesting in the deep-desert, it could never hope to avail against the might of their Scion.
They did not see the look of disquiet in the deep sapphire eyes, nor the tension that stiffened the dark woman’s shoulders. They didn’t notice the grim, stern expressions on the faces of those riding escort for the Scion, or the worried glances they cast towards the unassuming cloth-wrapped bundle tied to Simhana’s saddle. When the soldiers disappeared back behind the walls of the palace barracks, the people of El’Kasari returned to their own business happily, safe and secure in the knowledge that their beloved leader was back in their midst once more.
Striding through the hallways of the palace, Zafirah issued orders to the guards who fell into step beside her. "Assemble the council at once. Request the priests to send a representative to attend our meeting. We must learn more of Shakir’s new army and the power it wields before we can counter it."
"Some of the council members are asleep, Scion-" began one of the guards hesitantly.
Zafirah’s eyes blazed. "Wake them up."
The guard gulped, nodding. "A-at once, Scion." He hurried off on his mission.
Zafirah watched him leave, her bad mood only slightly mollified by being back in the familiar halls of her home. She wanted nothing more than to go immediately to the seraglio and see Dae, but knew that she couldn’t let her other duties wait. Her trip south had made the dark woman realize just how deep her affection and need for the young blonde had become; though she had taken pleasure with a few women from among the nomad tribe, Zafirah found their efforts only managed to appease her body…they could do little to settle her heart or mind. All the Scion wanted to do right now was take the gentle, innocent young girl in her arms and kiss her till she understood how much she was loved. The knowledge that she was going to have to wait an indeterminate length of time before she could see Dae only served to make Zafirah that much more irritable.
Continuing down the massive corridor, Zafirah glanced at herself quickly, noting the damp sweat-stains that darkened her vest and trousers. Her nose wrinkled. "I shall join the council as soon as I have had opportunity to change into something dry."
As expected, the meeting was little more than a waste of time. Zafirah informed the representatives of the various allied tribes of the danger mounting in the south, displaying the strange, alien weapon as evidence of their threat. Bahira, recovered from the exposure she’d suffered, recounted again the story of the ambush and requested Zafirah’s permission to be among the first to ride against Shakir’s forces. Recognizing the need for revenge in the young woman’s eyes, Zafirah granted the request. The council members and the priests of Inshal all studied the weapon curiously, spending over an hour trying to deduce how it operated. In the end, they finally concluded that the device was beyond their wisdom; Zafirah was unsurprised. After another hour or so of heated debate, the council agreed that Shakir clearly intended to attack in short order, and that he and his allies should be stopped before they could cause any significant harm to the Scion Peace. Those tribes who were near to El’Kasari would be called on to defend the Peace, offering their own warriors to complement the formidable elite spahi. Falak’s scouts would report as soon as the renegade Calif left the sanctuary of the cliffs and encroached into the open; as soon as he was exposed, Zafirah intended to test his forces for herself.
By the time all these matters had been discussed and decided, the hour had grown late. Zafirah escaped as soon as the last member of the council left the chamber, heading as quick as she could in the direction of her harem.
When she arrived, the tall woman found few of her pleasure-servants still awake. The air was chill and bitter. Zafirah scanned the gardens hastily, searching for and failing to find the face she most wanted to see. Sighing dejectedly, she was just about to leave when a soft voice from the shadows stopped her.
"She is sleeping."
Zafirah turned back to find Inaya standing nearby, the slender girl holding an unconsciously provocative pose. Dark eyes regarded her steadily, glittering as brightly as the stud in her navel. "She stayed awake late tonight, hoping you would visit, but eventually succumbed to her weariness. Come…I doubt she would mind if you were to look in on her." Inaya gestured towards the sleeping chambers, pleased when Zafirah followed her silently.
They stopped outside the entrance to Dae’s room. Inaya studied Zafirah’s face carefully as the taller woman gazed at the slumbering girl; the gentle expression of utter adoration there couldn’t help but touch her heart.
Zafirah sighed quietly, gazing for several long moments at Dae’s peaceful repose, just soaking in the sense of calm and peace that looking at the young blonde stirred in her. "I cannot believe how much I missed her presence these last few days," she whispered almost to herself.
Inaya smiled gently. "You may be pleased to know that the feeling was mutual."
Sapphire eyes shifted, surprised. "Sh-she missed me?"
Inaya nodded. "I think she had not realized how much she enjoyed your company until it was gone. And I think you will find her eager to make up for the time you have been apart." She paused, her smile turning into a wicked grin. "She has changed much in your absence; grown more aware of herself as a woman…and as a creature deserving of pleasure."
Zafirah turned back to regard the slumbering figure. "She is so beautiful."
"Mmm. And you are not the only person to appreciate that fact. Since the kiss she shared with you, Dae has become quite popular among the other girls."
"Of course." A dark brow lifted curiously. "Has she…succumbed to their advances?"
"Would you be jealous if I told you she had?" Inaya returned with equal interest.
Zafirah considered, then shook her head. "Envious, perhaps…though that is saying little. I am envious of the very clothes she wears, that they are able to touch her skin while I cannot. But it would make me happy to know she is experiencing pleasure and enjoyment."
Inaya nodded, having expected the answer. "Well…while she has learned to enjoy the attention, Dae has refused all offers made to her…even my own." A slightly wry smile tugged at one corner of Inaya’s mouth. "She has not admitted it, but I believe she wants to save herself so that you may be the first to touch her intimately."
That statement sent a shiver across Zafirah’s skin and caused heat to flush through her lower regions. She watched as Dae shifted in her sleep, the young blonde whimpering softly and smiling as though at a pleasant dream. I wonder if she dreams of me, the dark woman mused, the thought warming her heart. "I shall see she is rewarded for her devotion," she whispered. "Tomorrow…I shall spend as much time with her as I can." As she watched the sleeping girl, Zafirah felt light hands begin to trace the contours of her back. Inaya leaned against her, and she smiled as those hands wandered to her hips.
"Perhaps tonight," a husky voice suggested, "you might allow me the honor of welcoming you home properly, my Scion…?"
Zafirah chuckled, her body tired but still responsive. She turned around and looked down into deep, dark eyes filled with hungry promise. "It has been a long day, Inaya. I am weary from travel."
Inaya pouted, her expression seductively tragic. "I could ease your muscles…relax you."
"I doubt what you have in mind would be relaxing," Zafirah grinned.
"But fun." The slender girl pressed herself against the tall Scion, making certain her prey was aware of every curve and hollow of her body. Her eager hands wrapped themselves about a willing waist, knowing fingers beginning to tease the sensitive area at the base of Zafirah’s spine. "You could thank me for assisting with Dae’s…’education’…"
Zafirah’s ears perked up immediately. "Wh-what are you talking about?"
Inaya grinned fully, pearl-white teeth flashing in the dim light. She tugged at the taller woman’s clothing. "Come to bed and I shall tell you," she husked seductively, feeling Zafirah’s resistance weakening. "Pleasure me well, and I will describe in great detail the sounds your beloved makes each night while she explores herself excitedly…practicing skills she hopes to use on your body someday."
Zafirah groaned and allowed herself to be pulled along behind the slender temptress. I can rest in the morning, she decided, her fatigue quickly overcome with lust. The two left Dae to her dreams, retiring to the Scion’s bed-chamber to ‘relax’.
After a morning spent training with the men and women of her army – dedicating extra time to the martial drills due to the imminent possibility of battle – Zafirah made her way quickly to the harem, eager to spend time with Dae. The young blonde greeted her with a kiss which, while brief, hinted at something far more carnal and hungry. When Dae asked about her trip and the rumors she’d heard of danger rising, Zafirah hushed her immediately.
"I do not wish to think of such matters here," the Scion whispered into a delicate ear. "Let the world outside disappear, I beg you…just let me enjoy your company while I am able."
Dae had agreed readily, realizing that Zafirah needed respite from the responsibilities of her position. Smiling, she pulled the taller woman in the direction of the pool. Zafirah relished the affectionate, slightly possessive way the young blonde wrapped an arm about her waist, noticing but not questioning the warning glares Dae cast her fellow pleasure-servants. It was clear the girl wanted some time alone with her…and Zafirah felt a surge of pleasure race through her.
The two women spent all morning splashing about in the water and diving from the waterfall. Zafirah willingly shed her regal stoicism and played enthusiastically with her pleasure-servants…though she found it almost impossible to keep her hands off the young blonde, who seemed to be flaunting her wet, nearly-naked body about in a decidedly tempting fashion. Zafirah saw that Dae had indeed changed somewhat, just as Inaya had told her last night. And with the memory of what Inaya had whispered to her while she feasted hungrily upon her slick, honeyed flesh still burning in her mind, Zafirah found her body in a high state of arousal just being so near to the young blonde. A few times the urge to grab Dae and crush her up against the edge of the pool where she could ravish her senseless became so strong the Scion was forced to turn away from the younger woman, clenching her hands into fists and struggling to keep her breathing deep and even. Tonight, she counciled her raging lust firmly. Tonight, when you are alone with her, you may play. Not before.
Dae, very much aware of how she was affecting Zafirah, displayed at least a little mercy to the enamoured woman; she resisted the temptation to strip off her clothing completely, and she managed to keep her eager hands from touching the dark woman. From the look on Zafirah’s face, Dae knew she would only be able to push her teasing so far before she would find herself laid out on a rock and devoured in front of the entire harem…who, she considered with a little shiver of delight and a quick lapse into fantasy, probably wouldn’t be willing to remain spectators for long. And while the prospect of being devoured by two dozen extremely talented lovers held a certain level of appeal, Dae was determined to explore the world of erotic delights slowly…one step at a time. Splashing and laughing about in the waters, keeping one eye fixed on Zafirah at all times, Dae let herself just enjoy having the Scion back after her trip away. Tonight, she promised herself. I’d wager anything she’ll invite me to draw her tonight…and we’ll see what happens once we’re alone together.
When the sun was high and the temperature started to grow stiflingly hot, Dae and most of the other girls retired for a nap. Zafirah was sorry to part with the young blonde, but knew she had many duties that required her attention. Before leaving the seraglio, however, she pulled Dae into a fierce embrace and kissed her thoroughly and passionately, swallowing the little moans and squeaks of pleasure that escaped the younger woman. When they parted, the dark Scion bent to whisper breathlessly into Dae’s ear.
"Come visit me tonight in my bed-chamber after even-meal. And bring your drawing materials."
Dae nodded, the smile on her face complementing the twinkle in her eyes. "I look forward to it, Scion."
Zafirah watched the blonde walk away, admiring the feminine curves of her body that were accentuated by the wet, clinging harem-clothes. When Dae was out of sight, she grinned and turned to leave herself…already wondering how best to engage the next stage of the innocent girl’s seduction.
Dae ate sparingly that evening, her stomach tied into knots with excitement and trepidation over what might happen when she was alone with Zafirah. Nervous, but conscious of the subtle pull of arousal that had settled over her body, Dae left the seraglio with an escort of two of the harem guards. The other girls whistled and offered a few extremely suggestive pieces of advice as she departed, laughing delightedly at her colorful blush and clapping their enthusiastic encouragement. Dae clutched her pieces of parchment and sticks of sharpened lead to her chest, her mind filled with images of what she had been shown by Johara and Hayam, her senses remembering the scents and pleasures of what she had experienced of her own body.
Reaching their destination, Dae entered Zafirah’s bed-chamber hesitantly as the two guards left her alone to return to their duties, both women offering her reassuring smiles before they disappeared. Looking around as she stepped into the chamber, the young blonde suddenly realized for the first time just how beautiful and comfortable Zafirah’s room was. The air was filled with mixed perfumes of incense and oils, and numerous ornate shamedan bathed everything in a friendly light. There were several arched windows opening onto a terrace outside, and a coastal breeze served to cool the desert heat. What few pieces of art that decorated the room all portrayed the female figure in some fashion; Dae’s attention was caught by an iron sculpture of two women locked into a passionate coupling. Stepping closer, she decided the artist had been working from life experience; the details of the piece were too intimate and explicit to suggest anything else. The enormous bed no longer struck her as a fearful thing; rather, it seemed to hold a sense of mysterious promise…and Dae wondered if she would be appreciating the touch of those cool silk sheets and pillows against her naked skin later tonight.
"Welcome, aziza," whispered a familiar voice.
Dae turned, and her jaw nearly hit the floor when she saw Zafirah standing in the corner of the room. The dark-haired woman was wearing a midnight-blue robe, her long hair hanging loose and wild about her shoulders. The robe was only loosely tied at Zafirah’s waist, exposing her cleavage and the inner curve of each breast, as well as everything else down to her navel. Dae couldn’t help herself – she just stood there, mouth agape, staring in awe at the woman before her. The skin she could see was deeply tanned and muscular…and her fingers itched to pull that robe away completely to allow her the pleasure of seeing more.
Zafirah grinned, pleased to see her efforts had been appreciated. She had deliberated all afternoon on how she should greet Dae’s arrival, eventually rejecting the part of her that suggested she just throw the girl on the bed, tear her clothes away, and see how loudly she could make her scream in ecstasy. While less spectacular, the sheer robe certainly seemed to get Dae’s attention quite nicely, and Zafirah let the young blonde stare at her for several minutes before she cleared her throat loudly. Dae shuddered and seemed to pull herself from a trance. Zafirah grinned seductively and raised an eyebrow. "See anything you like?"
Dae blushed instantly and began fumbling with her drawing materials. "I-I-I…Y-You’re very nice – I mean…beautiful…"
Zafirah stepped out of the corner, her hips swaying. "Thank you." She gestured to the parchment. "So…are you are ready to draw me?"
"Draw?" Dae stared stupidly for a moment, then shook her head to clear away a momentary daze of lust. "Oh yes…draw. Of course, yes, um…where…I mean, how would you like me to..?"
"I thought I might pose on the bed," Zafirah suggested, her voice low and throaty. She indicated a plush, velvet-lined chair she had positioned earlier. "You may sit here if you like."
"Okay." Dae sat quickly and arranged a sheet of parchment across her lap, folding one leg underneath the other to support the paper.
"I do not know much about artistic matters," Zafirah apologized as she stepped up to the bed. "Will the light be sufficient for you? I could light more candles if you require greater illumination."
"No, this…this should be fine, thank you."
"Excellent." The Scion untied the slender sash that held her robe closed and tugged it loose. The silky material immediately fell away from her shoulders, and she tossed it aside before arranging herself on the sheets of her bed.
Dae stared helplessly at Zafirah’s naked body, revealed in all its splendor in the flattering candle-light. "Wh-what are you doing?" she managed to gasp. My God…She’s magnificent! So much skin…
Zafirah smiled a feline smile. "I hoped you might draw me nude," she explained simply. "Why? Does this disturb you?"
"Well, no, not disturb, but I…I just thought you wanted me to draw you…dressed."
"Mmm." Zafirah considered a moment, her head cocked to the side in contemplation. "If you insist upon clothing, I will comply of course. However, I believe the female body is so perfectly suited for conversion into art…and that to cover the full effect of its beauty is akin to the watering of wine – it saps the sweetness. But, if you prefer…"
"No!" Dae held up a hand just as Zafirah began to reach for the robe again. "This is…just fine. It just took me by surprise, that’s all."
"Oh." The Scion settled back down, laying on her side with one leg slightly raised, relaxing back against a pile of cushions with one arm draped across her belly while the other supported her head. She smiled as Dae openly ran her eyes up and down her body, feeling tingles of arousal itch across her skin. "Will this be satisfactory?" she asked.
"Um…" Dae struggled to keep her mind on the task at hand, even as her libido insisted on pointing out the finer aspects of her study. She’s so firm; her breasts, her muscles, her skin…everything about her is perfect. And she would let you do anything to her that you like! ANYTHING! Think how smooth she’d feel under your fingers. Or better yet, your tongue… The young blonde blushed furiously as that last thought occurred just as her eyes drifted to the elegantly-shaved arrow of soft, dark curls that pointed between Zafirah’s legs. She shivered and ordered herself to stay focused here. "C-could you pull your hair over your shoulder a little? And maybe bend your left knee more. Yeah…that’s good. Are you comfortable?"
"Eminently," Zafirah purred.
"Good, because you’ll have to hold still while I do this." Dae set all thoughts of lust firmly to one side for the moment and studied the figure lying before her critically. She analyzed the way the light played over Zafirah’s body…the angles of her limbs and the lines of her form. Holding a stick of sharpened lead loosely in her right hand, Dae began to sketch out the first basic outline of her drawing, a look of concentration stealing across her face.
Zafirah smiled at the expression on the young woman’s face, finding it extremely endearing. She shifted on the bed to settle herself better. "I have never been drawn before," she commented after a few minutes of silence. "Will it bother you if I talk while you work?"
Dae shook her head. "No, that’s fine. Just try to stay still."
"Of course." Zafirah watched the way Dae’s hand guided her pencil. "Have you ever drawn a woman naked before?"
Dae smiled as she worked. "Sort of. Husn fell asleep one evening after she’d been swimming and I sketched her. Her clothes were so transparent she might as well have been naked."
"And why did you choose to draw her at such a moment? Did you find her image pleasing?"
Dae shrugged non-commitedly. "She’s very beautiful. All the girls in the harem are…which I guess says something about your taste in women." She offered Zafirah a quick grin. "Mostly I just draw people when I think they’re going to stay still long enough for me to do a good job of them."
"Ahh, I see. So the sight of her did not…arouse you then?"
"Not at the time. A sleeping woman doesn’t really offer much appeal to me."
Zafirah chuckled, seeing her line of questioning was going to be defeated. "And what about now?" she asked in a low voice. "Do you find me…pleasing?"
Dae smiled, no longer such a stranger to questions intended to seduce her. "You don’t need me to tell you you’re attractive, Zafirah. I’ve heard some of the poets who write about your beauty. They’re not shy about offering praise where praise is due."
Zafirah pouted. "I know what others think. I am interested in your opinion. Be honest, Tahirah…does the sight of me like this have no affect on you at all?"
Dae didn’t stop her careful drawing, but she did let her eyes linger over Zafirah’s more intimate attributes. "Honestly? I think you look positively ravishing. And I think you’ve seduced enough women in your life that you could hazard a guess as to how you’re affecting me." She waggled her eyebrows at the dark woman, pleased to note her blunt reply take Zafirah by surprise. She decided to press her advantage. "Were you planning on personally testing my level of excitement later on?"
Zafirah stared at the younger woman in astonishment, wondering if her ears were working correctly. Seeing the amusement glittering in Dae’s eyes, however, she couldn’t help but chuckle. "You have grown bolder during my absence, little one," she conceded. "Do not think the change has gone unnoticed. I saw the way you were teasing me this morning. Do you realize how close I came to taking you right there in the pool?"
"I think I have a fairly good idea," Dae smiled. "I didn’t think you’d mind the show…and I liked the way you were responding to me."
"Oh, my body needs little incentive to respond to your presence, aziza, I assure you. Like right now, for instance…" Zafirah sighed and allowed her left hand to shift subtly down her body, using her fingertips to caress her skin lightly. "I can feel your eyes on my body like a kiss of flame. Just being with you like this…naked…exposed…I cannot help but feel aroused."
Dae had paused in her work to allow herself a moment just to look at Zafirah, and she suddenly noticed how stiff the dark woman’s nipples had become…how her breathing had grown somewhat shallower. It took the young blonde a moment to realize that Zafirah’s left hand had ventured lower, and she gasped when she saw those long, slender fingers begin to stroke over glistening, intimate flesh. "Wh-what are you doing?"
Zafirah smiled, her eyes smoky with pleasure as she fed off her own lust. "What does it look like I am doing?"
"I know what it looks like you’re doing, but…" Dae trailed off. She couldn’t…could she?
Zafirah didn’t hesitate to clear away any doubts. "I would very much enjoy letting you watch me," she purred. "It has been a long time since I last pleasured myself; your company would make it much more thrilling."
Dae sat very still for a few seconds, considering. When am I going to get used to this? she wondered vexedly. Afterall, it wasn’t the first time someone had made her this offer. In fact, it wouldn’t even be the first time she’d seen this act; the image of what Johara had done to herself was still vivid in Dae’s mind. But with Zafirah, things like this always seemed to take on a whole new depth and intensity…seemed a thousand times more erotic and spell-binding. Watching those long fingers playing over tanned, toned flesh, Dae knew she didn’t have the willpower to turn the offer down. "I-I can’t really draw you if you’re moving…" It was about the best protest she could come up with.
Zafirah’s grin was purely wicked. "Draw the parts of me that are still," she instructed, enjoying her game. "If you stop what you are doing…so will I." As she expected, Dae immediately returned to her work, obviously struggling to divide her attention equally between her drawing and the far more compelling display being played out on the bed. "And when you finish…so will I."
Zafirah stroked herself languidly, not hurrying her pleasure but letting it build slowly under the gaze of wide, emerald eyes. She moaned softly in contentment. "Talk to me."
Dae glanced at her, her hand continuing to shade in the Zafirah’s muscles on the parchment. "Wh-what do you want me to say?"
"Anything. I like the sound of your voice…I like the way it feels against me." Zafirah bent her left leg a little more, allowing for better access to her center. "Perhaps you could tell me about what you did while I was away," she suggested. "I am greatly interested in hearing more about your new" – a dark brow lifted knowingly – "activities…"
It took Dae only a moment to figure out what Zafirah was referring to. She groaned and rolled her eyes, but couldn’t stop the shy, charmingly embarrassed smile that stole across her face. "I guess nothing stays private in a harem, huh. Maybe I should learn to be more quiet." She giggled, but decided there was little point in being self-conscious about her pre-bed-time ritual…not while she was sitting across from the most spectacularly gorgeous woman in the universe while she gave a very personal demonstration of ‘self-love.’ "How did you find out about that?"
"Uh huh…predictably enough."
"So…" Zafirah gazed at the young blonde steadily. "Tell me about it."
A light blush colored Dae’s cheeks. She shrugged awkwardly, feeling as though those blazing sapphires could see right through her clothes, her flesh…all the way down to her soul. She felt naked under their regard. "What’s to tell? Johara and Hayam showed me how to do it…and it feels nice."
"How often do you indulge?"
"I dunno. Every night, I guess…and most mornings."
Zafirah struggled not to writhe as she let her touch grow firmer. Her voice dropped several octaves. "What do you do?"
Dae fixed her eyes firmly on her picture, taking a moment to accurately portray the details of Zafirah’s face and using the time to compose herself. "You don’t look like you need any lessons on the subject," she observed wryly.
"No, but…I would like to hear you describe how you touch yourself. In detail."
Dae glanced up and noticed that Zafirah was now stroking herself with shorter, more purposeful motions. A slow, sexy smile spread across her lips as she realized how she was affecting the dark-haired woman…and the power she held in this little game. She sat up straighter in her seat. "You want me to describe how I make myself come?" she asked, lowering the tone of her voice to what she hoped was something seductive.
Emerald eyes narrowed. "Will it make you wet…hearing how I slide my fingers down over the lips of my sex and let them dance in all that velvet heat?"
Zafirah’s attentions were getting faster. "Gods, yessss!"
"How I like to go quicker and pinch my clitoris when I feel the first ripples of climax begin to wash through me…and how I scream out your name while my juices drip down my hand…"
"I’ve stopped drawing." Dae flashed an evil grin. "Aren’t you supposed to stop too?"
"What?" Zafirah paused breathlessly, seeing suddenly that the tables had been turned. "Wh-what are you...?"
"You said you’d stop if I did, so…" Dae held up her lazy pencil, enjoying the thrill of knowing she was in control. She could see from Zafirah’s expression that the dark woman would adhere to the rules she’d set for this little display. "Slow down. I’m not close to being done yet…which means neither are you."
Zafirah struggled to rein in her lust, feeling fires burning all over her body at the confident, playful expression on Dae’s face. It hadn’t occurred to her that the young and supposedly innocent girl would take the initiative like this…but as soon as the Scion managed to drag herself out of a haze of arousal, she realized she didn’t want to discourage this development. Her fingers returned to swollen, slick folds, but remained still. "Alright," she gasped. "Please…continue."
Dae considered the request carefully a moment, watching Zafirah rest her fingertips against her excitement in expectation. A brilliant shiver of pure desire rushed through her body with the realization that she was in command here; she would dictate the terms of Zafirah’s pleasure and eventual climax. Emerald eyes darkened salaciously. Dae had tasted a sample of sexual power in the harem…but this was so much stronger! She felt exhilarated and terrified at that same time…but no fear on earth was going to stop her from testing this new pleasure. She inclined her head slightly and touched the tip of her pencil to the parchment on her lap.
"Slowly," she ordered. "Or I’ll stop again and make you wait all night for release."
Zafirah nodded obediently and resumed her caresses at a much more controlled pace.
Though more accustomed to taking an assertive role in the bedroom, Zafirah was certainly no stranger to playing the submissive. There were few methods of sex she had not tested during the many years of her reign, and there were fewer she had not found enjoyable on at least some level. Seeing the look of excitement in Dae’s eyes as the blonde settled into her new position of authority, Zafirah felt herself grow even wetter. This was the perfect way to introduce Dae to more intimate pleasures; it gave her control and a sense of security, knowing that nothing would happen without her approval.
And besides, the dark woman thought as she saw a wicked gleam bloom in Dae’s emerald eyes, there were few things as stimulating as the sight of an innocent girl taking up the reins of sexual power for the first time.
"Does it fell nice?"
"Huh?" Zafirah’s attention, lust-dulled and fuzzy, focused quickly. "What did you say?"
Dae just smiled as she continued drawing. "I asked if it felt nice?"
"Mmmm…yesss." Zafirah’s fingers were coated with her arousal and slid smoothly along the petals of her swollen sex. "After your performance this morning, I am in urgent need of release." She moved two fingers lower and started to curl them inwards, but Dae’s voice stopped her.
"No." The blonde shook her head. "Don’t go inside. Just stroke yourself slowly. I liked that."
Zafirah whimpered, wanting deeper contact, but reluctantly obeyed Dae’s command. "Is this how you touch yourself? Slowly…without penetration?"
Dae shrugged, splitting her focus between her art and her subject. "I’m still a virgin," she pointed out. "I can’t touch myself like that yet. But it feels nice anyway. And no, I don’t always go slowly." A wicked grin spread across her face as she saw her words excite Zafirah. "Sometimes I like to do it quickly…and I keep going until I get too dizzy and strained that I have to rest."
Zafirah’s eyes squeezed shut, images of Dae pleasuring herself dancing across the insides of her lids. "Gods!" The muscles in her neck strained with the need to move. Her hips were desperate to pick up a rhythm against her fingers, but she fought to hold them still.
"You’re speeding up again," Dae warned, thoroughly enamoured with her new power. "And keep your eyes open; I want you to see me watching you while you do this."
Sapphire eyes appeared once more, dark with lust. They raked over Dae’s figure hungrily, focusing on the swell of her breasts. Zafirah licked her lips. "It is difficult to control myself with you so close to me," she admitted breathlessly. "You are so beautiful."
Dae smiled a pleased smile. "Thank you." There was a long pause while she concentrated on sketching in the shadows of Zafirah’s stomach muscles. When emerald eyes returned to those watching sapphires, there was a playful question there. "Do you really find me so pleasing?"
"Moreso than the other girls?"
Zafirah’s movements slowed as she considered the question seriously. "There are many forms of beauty, Tahirah…but I think I can say with honesty that yours appeals to me the greatest of all I have seen. There is something in you that stirs my heart as well as my loins."
Dae cocked her head to the side, her smile impish. "And would it excite you to see more of me?"
Zafirah’s breathing actually stopped entirely at the query so innocently posed. Her fingers came to a brief halt, then resumed their attentions with greater intensity. "Yes!" she nodded, her expression instantly pleading. "Please…let me look upon you!"
"Mmm…I’m not sure. How do I know you’ll behave yourself?"
"I promise," Zafirah offered quickly. "I shall do nothing more than look. Please, my Tahirah!"
The sly look in Dae’s eyes seemed incredibly sexy to the eager Scion at that moment. The seemingly innocent girl affected to consider the matter as she worked. "I don’t know that I can trust you-"
"You can! Please!"
"Wellll…" Dae chewed her lower lip thoughtfully, the tip of a pink tongue emerging briefly and doing nothing to cool Zafirah’s ardor. "I suppose I could show you a little more of me…but I think I need some incentive first."
"Incentive?" Zafirah didn’t like the look of mischief in those sparkling eyes one bit. "What would you have of me?"
"I don’t really know." In truth, a thousand and one fantasies skipped through Dae’s mind at once. She knew she didn’t have the courage to give most of them voice…but there were certainly a lot of things she was interested in exploring with Zafirah that might be applied to the current situation. "Perhaps you could taste yourself," she suggested after sifting through her mind for possibilities. "I thought that was very erotic when Johara did it."
"I think I would like to hear more of what my pleasure-servants have been showing you," Zafirah husked. Still, the request was a simple enough one to fulfill, and the dark woman made certain her fingers were thoroughly soaked before she brought them to her lips. Maintaining eye contact with the attentive blonde, Zafirah ran her tongue slowly up each digit in turn, moaning at the familiar flavor of her arousal and enjoying the way Dae licked her lips unconsciously in reaction. She took her time, wanting to give a good show so as she might earn her reward. The prospect of seeing Dae without the restrictions of clothing was making her dizzy with want.
When her task was completed, Zafirah returned her fingers lazily to their assignment between her legs. She lifted an eyebrow at Dae hopefully. "Is there anything else you wish to see?"
Dae, who was feeling decidedly flushed from the dark woman’s display, struggled to respond. "I…can’t think of anything right now." A statement that held more truth than she might have liked; her mind had gone completely blank and the only thought left in her head was God, I wish I were her tongue!
Zafirah smiled, pleased with herself. She teased her fingers up the sensitive skin of her left thigh, then down again to where her heat was greatest. Sapphire eyes filled with anticipation. "So…May I see more?"
"Oh yes…more would be nice…" Dae murmured, not entirely parted with her fantasies.
The Scion grinned fully and waved a hand at Dae to get her attention. "Tahirah?" When glassy emerald eyes managed to focus, Zafirah gazed hungrily at Dae’s top. "Please?"
"Oh…Right. Sorry." Dae giggled a little nervously, but set her parchment and lead sticks to the side before reaching for the laces that held the cloth together over her breasts. Seeing the impatient expression on Zafirah’s face, she decided to take her time; each lace was slowly pulled free, revealing just a little more pale skin. Zafirah whimpered at the torture, wanting to hurry the girl along with a helping hand but not daring to move lest her reward be revoked. When eventually the bejeweled cloth was shrugged off, Dae watched the expression on the older woman’s face carefully as those sapphire gems consumed the sight of her bare breasts. She felt her nipples pebble and grow hard under Zafirah’s gaze, and the fine hairs along her arms prickled.
Zafirah stared for long minutes, her self-pleasuring pausing as she drank in Dae’s beauty, committing every detail of that perfect body to memory.
Dae smiled a smile that was half shy, half brazen. "You like?"
"You are magnificent!" Zafirah breathed in awe. Though the Scion had seen countless women topless, somehow the sight of Dae seemed like a new experience for her. It wasn’t something she could define…but it felt like she was appreciating the beauty of the female form for the first time. "Divine perfection…"
Dae blushed and dropped her head. "I think that might be going a little too far, but thank you." She gathered her drawing materials up again and resumed her work.
Zafirah’s expression fell. "Wait, what…what about..?" She gestured to the filmy harem trousers Dae still wore.
Dae grinned. "Not tonight."
A warning finger stopped the Scion’s protest cold. "You promised you’d behave. We’re taking this slowly, remember. Afterall, I’m still an innocent, naïve young maiden; my virtue won’t be surrendered so easily." Dae’s words were playful yet promising.
Zafirah settled back into her pose grudgingly. Just enjoy what she is willing to share with you and do not press for more than she is ready to give, she told herself sternly. "Very well. Though I would argue in the case of your naivete – I think you know very well what you are doing to me, little one."
"True…but from the look of things I’d say you had little to complain about." Dae glanced pointedly to where Zafirah’s fingers were actively satisfying her body’s need. After a long, lingering stare, the young blonde focused back on her drawing, feeling almost frighteningly at ease being half-naked in Zafirah’s presence.
"I would very much like to see the rest of you, Tahirah." Zafirah stroked herself while gazing longingly at Dae’s full breasts, imagining how they might feel and taste. "Tell me – are you proud of your beauty?"
"What do you mean?"
"Does your beauty please you? You posses exquisite form and features, Tahirah…beauty that others would admire and covert. Do you consider such rare grace and splendor to be a blessing…or a bane?
Dae shrugged, never having considered such a question before. She had always known – or at least suspected – she was unusually attractive; it wasn’t something she had ever paid much mind too. "I guess I like the way I look. It hasn’t ever really mattered much to me before, but…since I met you…" She trailed off with a shy smile.
"Your beauty is what brought you to my harem-"
Dae regarded her naked breasts wryly, then the dark woman. "Yeah…I’d guessed as much."
"But something deeper than your beauty stirs my passion for you," the Scion finished. Dae didn’t respond, but Zafirah could see her words had had an affect. She smiled. "Do you like watching me while I do this? Does it arouse you to see how deeply you affect me?"
Dae refused to raise her eyes, instead concentrating on her artwork. "It does. I think a person would have to be dead not to be affected by…what you’re doing."
"Mmm." Zafirah could feel her need reaching a critical level. "How far are you from completion?"
"Not far. Why?" Dae grinned. "Feeling anxious?"
"I will not last long with you teasing me like this."
"Then perhaps we should stop for a few minutes." Dae lifted her pencil threateningly. "Do you need some time to compose yourself?"
The dark woman growled, but stilled her fingers obediently. "Don’t stop. Please…I want to finish."
Dae took pity on the Scion and continued…but she hoped this wouldn’t be the last time Zafirah would let her be in control. "Alright then. I’ll tell you when you can come."
Zafirah breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you." As she caressed herself, she studied Dae curiously, noting the signs of arousal in the young blonde. "When you leave here and return to the harem…what will you do?"
Dae smiled, having no trouble guessing what Zafirah hoped to hear. Still, she decided to play dumb. "I don’t know. I guess I might take a swim if it’s not too cold and then go to sleep."
"Sleep?" Zafirah pouted. "Will your body not require…satisfaction? A release of tensions from what I have shared with you?"
Dae shook her head with a little chuckle. "And what? I guess I’ll do pretty much the same thing you’re doing now…only without quite so much patience!"
Dark brows lifted in expectant interest. "You will think of me as you pleasure yourself?"
"I usually do," Dae admitted.
"Will you be vocal?"
"You really like those details, don’t you?"
"Your voice arouses me…as does the thought of you touching yourself."
"Maybe I should just show you so you don’t have to wonder anymore." The words were out of her mouth before she could censor them. A blush raced across Dae’s face almost as fast as an expression of excited approval spread across Zafirah’s "I-I didn’t mean that-"
"I would love to watch you! Please? We could do it together…feed off the other’s image! It would be wonderful!"
"I would promise not to touch you! I would not even speak if you do not wish it!"
Dae opened her mouth to explain, but couldn’t find the right words that would make Zafirah understand. "I just…I can’t, that’s all. Not yet."
Zafirah’s face fell, but she recognized that Dae’s defenses would rise if she pushed the matter further. "Very well, aziza," she said softly. "I will respect your wishes."
Silence descended for long minutes, broken only by the low scratching of Dae’s pencil on parchment and the irregular, hard breathes of Zafirah. Eventually, the young blonde checked a shy glance at the dark Scion. "Zafirah?"
"Yes, little one?"
A very slight smile. "I do like the idea."
Zafirah’s expression didn’t change, but her eyes softened. "When you are ready to share such intimacies with me," she whispered, "do not be too afraid to let me know it. I wish only for your pleasure."
"And I appreciate that." Dae paused, then added very quietly, "I really would like to let you watch me. The thought of it…is extremely arousing." Without really thinking what she was doing, Dae’s free hand went to her left breast and began to trail lightly over the sensitive flesh. "Johara and Hayam showed me how two women make love. I want to share those things with you."
"Mmm…Inaya told me of your ‘education’."
Dae scowled without any malice. "That girl’s tongue wags too easily."
And with great talent! Zafirah added silently, watching avidly as Dae caressed herself. "Do not be too hard on her. I extracted the information from her last night…along with many cries of passion. You would be surprised how effective pleasure can be for interrogation."
Seeing how fixed Zafirah’s focus had become, Dae suddenly realized what she was doing and halted her touches. She cocked an eyebrow at the dark woman’s disappointed groan. "You like my breasts?"
Zafirah nodded. "Very much."
"Mmm." Dae’s fingers circled the hard nub of her nipple, shivering at how sensitive she had become. "I like yours, too."
By now, Zafirah’s entire body glistened under a film of sweat and she was trembling with the force of her need. "No more teasing, I beg of you! Finish your picture."
Dae realized the dark woman wouldn’t last much longer…and if pushed, her self-control would snap easily. Abandoning her breast, she began adding the final touches to her artwork. "You can go inside now," she allowed, seeing Zafirah’s body trying to find a rhythm. "Don’t touch your clitoris until I tell you to."
Zafirah released a heavenly sigh as she slid two fingers into her core, feeling her inner muscles clench welcomingly about the questing digits. She thrust in and out slowly, eyes locked on Dae’s upper body. The scent of sweat and sex filled her senses with their familiar perfume, and she could feel herself dripping down her hand.
Dae finished shading the last section of her picture and, after a moment spent contemplating her creation, calmly set the parchment and pencils aside. Folding her hands in her lap, she gazed at Zafirah expectantly. "Alright…let me see you come."
The request itself, coupled with the expression on the young girl’s face, was more than enough to throw Zafirah over the precipice of pleasure. Her body fell back against the pillows behind her as her legs splayed open fully. The muscles in her neck strained as her hand moved furiously against her sex. With a primal, joyous roar, Zafirah felt the waves of ecstasy roll through her with blinding force. When she felt them begin to ebb, the dark woman split two fingers along the shaft of her clitoris and squeezed gently while massaging with firm strokes. Almost instantly, the practiced, knowing ministrations sent the thrill of orgasm crashing through her again. Zafirah could feel her body pumping out fluids as she maintained her climax for several long, agonizingly sweet moments, only stopping when she hadn’t strength enough to continue. Collapsing, exhausted, she dragged air into her lungs in desperate gasps.
Dae knew she was soaked with arousal as she watched Zafirah succumb to climax. It was a struggle just to keep her breathing steady as she stared at the dark woman writhing on the bed before her, wanting desperately to join her and aid in her pleasure but lacking sufficient courage to do so. She squirmed a little in her seat, squeezing her legs together and enjoying the sensation of tense excitement that built in her center.
After several moments, sapphire eyes opened and Zafirah sat up, smiling shakily at the wide-eyed blonde. Dae returned the smile. "You’re loud," she remarked.
Zafirah laughed. "So, I hear, are you."
"Yeah well…" Dae blushed prettily, the color spreading all the way down her chest. "It’s hard not to get carried away."
"Indeed." Zafirah took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "So…may I see your picture?"
"Of course." Dae reached over and picked up the parchment, collecting her top at the same time. Standing on somewhat weak legs, she handed the sketch to Zafirah before slipping the top back on, giggling at the disappointed groan as she covered her breasts.
Zafirah studied the drawing, smiling. Dae had done a good job; while the art didn’t portray what the Scion had actually been doing, it managed to capture her expression of fierce desire perfectly, along with the sexual tension that galvanized her body. The lighting gave a wonderful contrast over her muscular form, and Zafirah was flattered by the attention Dae had paid to every detail. "Your talent humbles me," she whispered.
Dae lowered her head modestly. "I’m glad you like it."
"You captured the moment well…though I think a few activities went unrecorded." Zafirah’s eyes sparkled playfully.
The young blonde laughed. "Yeah well…I didn’t quite feel comfortable drawing you exactly as you were."
"Mmm." Zafirah studied the picture for a few moments longer. "May I keep this?"
"Of course. I drew it for you."
"Thank you. I shall treasure it always."
"Welcome." Dae turned away from the longing in Zafirah’s gaze, moving back a few paces to put some distance between them. The dark woman was dripping with animal sensuality at that moment, resplendent after her climax and smelling of sex and sweat. It was an intoxicating combination, and Dae knew it wouldn’t take much for her to let lust consume her senses.
Recognizing the effect she was having on the blonde girl, Zafirah grabbed her discarded robe and donned it. "The night is yet young. Perhaps we could go for a walk through the palace?"
"Um…I’d like that but…not tonight." Dae blushed, embarrassed. "I think I have some urgent needs that require immediate attention."
"Ah." Zafirah grinned unrepentantly. "I am pleased to have caused you such condition."
"I’ll bet you are." Dae turned away from the dark woman. Not really wanting to leave just yet, she wandered about the room curiously, recognizing aspects of Zafirah’s nature everywhere. She paused in surprise at a table where a familiar object rested atop a velvet cloth. "Oh wow! You have a rifle. I thought your people only used bows."
Zafirah glanced up sharply. When she saw what Dae was looking at, her eyes narrowed. "Rife-El?"
"Yeah." Dae reached out and ran a finger along the wooden stock of the weapon, smiling. "I guess you must trade with the western lands for them, right? This one doesn’t look as fancy as the ones my people make."
The Scion strode over quickly and picked up the weapon. "You…you know what this is?"
"Of course." Dae studied the taller woman wonderingly, seeing a tension in her that dispelled the languor of the previous hour. "Y-you don’t though, do you?"
Zafirah shook her head.
"Then…why do you have it?"
"Renegade tribes attacked a scouting party in the southern desert. They were armed with these weapons; only one of my scouts escaped the massacre. Their army will ride against my people probably within the week, and we know nothing of their weaknesses." Sapphire eyes blazed fiercely and Zafirah grabbed Dae by the shoulder. "This is a weapon of your land?"
"I-I guess so."
"Do you know how it works? Can you show me?"
Zafirah’s grip on her was powerful, but Dae realized it was strength born of desperation, not anger towards her. "I don’t know…maybe. My father had a rifle he used during the spring hunt. I saw him with it a few times but…"
Seeing the young blonde wince, Zafirah released her immediately. "You must tell me all you know."
"Okay…well…it’s called a rifle for starters. It fires these small balls of lead that we call bullets."
"How far away can it kill from?"
Dae shrugged. "I don’t know…probably about twice as far as a bow. And my father said it was more accurate and powerful, too."
"So we have learned. How does it do this? Magic?"
Dae giggled a little and shook her head. "No, of course not. You pour this powder down into this tube – the barrel – and tap it firmly with a long stick. Then the bullet goes in, and when you pull this thing here like this…" She curled a finger about the trigger and gave a sharp tug. A small handle snapped back then immediately forward. Zafirah flinched as it struck a spark against a small piece of flint hidden at the base of the steel barrel. "That makes the powder explode, which fires the little bullet out here."
Zafirah nodded in understanding. "This powder? What is it?"
"We just call it black-powder. I know it has coal-dust in it, because my father had a big bin of it out in the barn. I don’t know what else though."
Zafirah sniffed at the weapon distastefully. "It reeks of sulfur – the rock that burns. But what else?"
Dae shrugged helplessly. "I wish I could help you more."
"Mmm." The Scion considered a long moment in silence, then asked, "Do you know any weaknesses of the weapon? How my people may defeat it?"
Dae thought about it. "Wellll…my father said the black-powder wouldn’t work if it got wet. I remember how disappointed he was when he had to cancel a hunt because it was raining too hard." Considering her words, she smiled ruefully. "I doubt that’s much help to you though, is it?"
"No…not much. Can we not shield ourselves from its fire?"
Dae shook her head. "Bullets can go through all but the heaviest armor. You’d only weigh yourself down."
"Then what else?"
"Hmm." The blonde closed her eyes and tried to remember everything she’d ever heard about rifles and guns. At last, she snapped her fingers. "They take time to reload…much longer than a bow. Once fired, they’re useless for a time afterwards."
"I guess it depends how well-trained the person reloading it is. But certainly long enough to attack them…unless their army has another line of soldiers waiting to cover the others."
Zafirah hummed as she absorbed this information hungrily. "Anything else?"
Dae shrugged, wishing she knew more. "I’m sorry. I suppose if they were carrying around barrels of the black powder with them, like in a wagon or on camels, you could blow them up with arrows soaked with oil. That’d do a lot of damage, I know for sure. My father showed me what can happen with black-powder so I wouldn’t be tempted to play with it." Dae shuddered at the memory of that spectacular explosion that had forever stilled her curiosity about guns. "It’s very dangerous if it catches on fire."
Zafirah’s mind was already working through this new information and considering how it might be applied to a working strategy against Shakir. "Would you tell all this to my council?" she asked hopefully. "Anything at all you can tell us would be useful."
"Of course…whatever I can do to help." Dae paused, observing the way Zafirah was regarding the rifle with caution and some fear. "This is why you went south, isn’t it? Because your people were attacked with these?"
Zafirah nodded. "I must ride against the renegades as soon as they are exposed and cannot retreat."
A chill shiver ran up Dae spine. "Y-you? Personally? Don’t you have an army to fight for you?"
"I am their commander, Tahirah. It is a leaders place to lead, not to stay behind out of danger."
That wasn’t the way most leaders in Dae’s homeland saw things…but she admired Zafirah’s courage. "I’ll do what I can to help you."
"I would be most grateful…as would my soldiers." Zafirah leaned down a placed a gentle kiss on Dae’s forehead. "Tomorrow, I will assemble the council so you may share your knowledge."
"Okay." Dae smiled a goofy smile, still in a high state of arousal from Zafirah’s display. "I…guess I should get some sleep then, huh?"
"Do you require an escort back to the harem?"
"No, I can manage." Dae laughed a little sheepishly. "The way I’m feeling right now, I’d probably end up inviting the guards back to my room with me!"
Zafirah grinned. "Perhaps I should escort you personally then-"
"Don’t tempt me." A pause. "…Anymore than you already have, I mean."
Zafirah chuckled and patted the smaller woman affectionately. "Then I shall bid you a pleasant night, aziza…and leave you to your dreams." She winked lecherously. "Do not exhaust yourself satisfying your needs, or you will be of no use as an advisor tomorrow."
Dae took her time wandering back to the harem, enjoying the beauty of the palace at night. A few guards gave her curious glances, knowing from her attire she was a pleasure-servant but not questioning her presence outside the seraglio. A few smiled at her politely and asked if they might be of assistance, but Dae assured them she was fine, and was returning to her quarters for the evening. They accepted her words readily enough, and wished her a pleasant night.
If Dae had hoped to find the other harem girls asleep, she was to be disappointed. As soon as she stepped back into the seraglio gardens she was met by at least a dozen of her fellow pleasure-servants, all of whom were eager to hear how her night with Zafirah had gone. Blushing, Dae refused to go into any detail…which, quite naturally, led the girls to take up a guessing game of what delights the Scion might have shown her. Their graphic descriptions made the young blonde blush even more, and she pleaded fatigue in order to escape. The girls laughed and let her go; they were all familiar with how a night spent in Zafirah’s company could leave one in need of rest.
Stripping off her clothes, Dae crawled onto her sleeping pallet and extinguished the light. Closing her eyes, she let herself remember every detail of what she had shared with Zafirah that evening…every word spoken, every word she had wanted to speak. Fantasies of how she might have boldly ordered the dark woman to stop her ministrations so she might see to her pleasure personally raced through Dae’s mind as she let her arousal build. She didn’t have the patience to drag this out, however, so her self-pleasuring was quick, almost frantic, and blisteringly intense. Only after three climaxes was Dae’s body satisfied, and she took a moment to clean the sweat and juices from her body before closing her eyes once more and breathing a sigh of contentment.
The dreams that came and stole her away were vivid and erotic, alive with images of tanned skin and intense sapphire eyes. Dae smiled in her sleep and murmured a single word filled with promise and warmth: "Aziza…"
* * *
"This is folly in extreme, Effendi. We should wait!"
Shakir glanced from the ranks of his soldiers who were mobilizing to march and glared at Brak mutely. Where others would have flinched at the feel of those burning steel eyes upon them, the grizzled elder remained unmoving; he had seen zealotry enough times in his life that its force no longer impressed him. He glared right back at the Calif of the Deharn and repeated his protest. "You would set a hundred men against the Scion’s legions? I had thought you were smarter than this!"
Shakir studied Brak a long moment in silence, then turned back to look at his troops. They were disciplined and well-organized, if not particularly numerous. "Staying here is no longer an option, Brak" he said softly, his voice clear and certain. "Our outriders have reported the Herak have broken their camp and are moving closer to the city. The Scion Whore is alerted to danger; we must strike swiftly against the weaker tribes and cut them down before they can join her army and ride against us. If we do not, our enemy will crush us beneath sheer weight of numbers."
"But what of the extra weapons you promised?" Brak insisted angrily. "We should have five times our current number by now!"
Shakir’s face was devoid of expression. "It is possible the trader has betrayed our pact," he admitted calmly. "If that is so, there is little we can do for the time being. We must complement the weapons with other warriors armed with spear, sword, and bow. We can still do damage to the Scion’s forces."
"But no more than the stinging of a scorpion to bother a jackal," Brak snorted. "And when we are defeated, the vengeance of El’Kasari will be terrible. My people will suffer much for your failed promises of glory and retribution, Shakir."
This time when Shakir pinned him with angry eyes, Brak couldn’t help but feel a slight tremble of fear. There was something in those piercing eyes that spoke of deeper and more disturbing things than zealotry.
There was the beginnings of madness…blind and furious.
"And so will you return to your camp in the desert?" the Calif asked in a sibilant, slightly mocking tone. "Will you run now, Brak, when battle calls you and your men? What will you tell your sons and daughters in the years to come when they ask why they must grovel in the sands while El’Kasari sits on the coast in defiance, fat and complacent? That you were too cowardly to seek a better life for them? That your fear of the enemy drove you back without even having lifted a blade against them?"
Brak’s face flushed red with rage. "Bite your tongue, whelp!" he roared, knuckles white as he clutched the horn of saddle. He would have been happier to wrap his fingers about the Calif’s neck. "My people do not run from battle! We will fight, and fight well!"
Shakir smiled thinly. "And the time to fight is now. We march north and east, to smite the smaller tribes before the Scion can unite them under the banner of El’Kasari and retaliate."
Brak scowled darkly, still not liking this hasty plan. "The Scion is no fool. Her scouts will know when we leave the cliffs."
"And when she comes to face us, we will be ready."
Shakir held up his thunder-bow proudly. "These will level the field of battle. The Whore is a good fighter…but her skills will not avail her against our forces. She will ride at the head of her army, as she has always done in the past. We will pass the word through our people – a dozen of my tribes finest horses will go to the one whose shot brings down the great Scion!" His grin was terrible in its malice. "When she has fallen…her army will crumble into chaos and we will tear them into pieces as they struggle to find order. Leaderless, their might will break easily."
Brak considered this, grunting when he realized Shakir might not be far from accurate in his assessment. The spahi were only as good as their leader; cut off the head, and the serpent dies. If Zafirah were killed in battle – killed quickly and visibly – moral would fail and confusion would be rampant. It wouldn’t be easy…but perhaps they could do more damage to the Peace than he had initially believed.
"Then let us ride," he allowed grudgingly. "North, gathering what men we can from the tribes of this alliance, and then to the enemy."
Shakir nodded, smiling without humor as he surveyed his army proudly. His eyes shone exultantly…their gleam showing only a hint of the madness that was swiftly consuming his mind with a blank and senseless hatred.
Chador: An article of women’s clothing.
Haik: A desert head-dress, consisting of a length of cloth wrapped about the head and face.
Salaam aleikum: A polite greeting of respect.
Seraglio: ‘The forbidden’; the place designated to the harem.
Spahi: Desert cavalry troops.
Continued in Part 4 (Conclusion).
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