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The Earth's Turning

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"I have no more patience to chase after this wench, and it's likely I won't leave this town until I die. So when I die, order so that I may be buried inside her pussy!"

-Al-Farazdaq, quoted in The Book of Songs by al-Isfahani

***

Samarkand, some days before Mehregan

***

"Tell me something," Fadl mumbles from bed, stirring from his blissfully sated torpor by the sounds of Zainab washing herself.

"Tell you what?" Zainab asks. She does not look up at him, balanced awkwardly as she is over a washbowl, pulling out the mint-filled wad of cotton she had been using as a pessary.

She proceeds to rinse herself with vinegar, Fadl himself wincing more than she does at how much it must sting her; the mint had felt and smelled unpleasant enough for him. But that's the price they have to pay for him wanting to have her cunny from time to time, not having the kind of contraceptive magic Jaffar and Yassamin do at their disposal. It's not as if Fadl can simply appear in Jaffar's magic crystal, calling for help with prick in hand: "Brother, I wish to fuck! Lend me a spell to keep her belly from swelling!"

"What are you laughing at?" Zainab now asks when Fadl chuckles from bed, he never having finished his first question.

"Only that I should not have asked Jaffar for a magic crystal after all," he says, for Jaffar had indeed given him one to contact him with, a red pendant the size of a chicken's egg: this so that Fadl might always carry it upon his person, Jaffar knowing full well that the time Fadl had needed the Dakini's amulet to transport himself away from battle might not have been his last. "I should've asked him for a womb-sealing spell instead," he groans, his voice straining as he reaches for Zainab with both arms. "Seeing as I can't get enough of you, woman."

With a great sigh of delight, he guides her to lie down on top of himself, the way she knows he loves to be embraced, enveloping him within the sea of her wonderful, soft and heavy flesh. His human pillow, he always calls her; she humours him with a smile, crossing her arms over his chest and tucking her little chin into their plushness, playing with his leg hair with her toes.

"Come, warrior mine. What was it that you wanted me to tell you?"

"Mmm. It's only that you never told me your real name."

"My real name?"

"Yes. Whatever your people called you. When you were a child," he says, the skin on his neck wrinkling as he pulls back his chin to be able to look her in the eye properly.

For to him, 'Zainab' is the strangest of names to call a woman of her kind: even slave girls rarely change their names upon their manumission, often having become well-known and well-loved by those names. And slave girls are rarely given respectable Arabic names, Zainab being among the most respectable of all: such girls are often named after flowers and gems, not the Prophet's wives.

"Do you know, I cannot remember," she says, but Fadl can tell she is not telling him the truth--or at least the whole truth.

"Nonsense," he says. "You cannot have been that young, surely?"

She but searches his eyes. "What does it matter now? I have been called Zainab for as long as I can remember. It is the name I answer to," she says firmly.

He starts, but now knows better than to challenge Zainab when she is giving him that look. Perhaps she truly does not remember. Or then, she is keeping the name from him for some other, more important reason--he knows enough about the Northmen to know how much magic, how much superstition they attach to their names for things, to their runes. Even the merchant Northman keeps talismans engraved with magic runes underneath his shirt; the berserkers go one step further and tattoo blue snakes and ribands of magical words permanently onto their arms. They fear only their women, for they are said to be the ones who possess the greatest of magics; and their women, particularly the shield-maidens Fadl has met on the battlefield, fear nothing. Who knows, then, what sorts of magics this seemingly vain and frivolous woman hides from him, the way she has so bested him in the mettle of love, so vanquished him on the battlefield of the bed?

Once, when Fadl had been a youth, one particularly mad witch-doctor of theirs had been invited to one of his father's symposiums, those famous gatherings to which Yahya had invited the wise men of all faiths and nations to debate philosophy and the nature of the world. This strange Northern fakir, his wild head of hair so pale a yellow you could see the sunlight through it, had leaned over Jaffar and Fadl at the end of his speech, as if the boys had been requesting his personal advice. He had been invited to the gathering to discuss geography, to expound upon his native lands, but now he changed the subject entirely, as if having heard Jaffar voice a silent question. The madman had held the boys in his pale blue gaze and told them that once you knew the true name of a thing, you could control that thing forever, whether it was a person or an animal, or even a force of nature. He had left an indelible impression on the young Jaffar, Jaffar having afterwards told Fadl that this witch had confirmed what he, Jaffar, had known all along; as consequence, Jaffar had resumed his magical pursuits with even greater passion from that day on, whereas Fadl himself had but scoffed at the madman.

But now Fadl knows better, having seen Jaffar use the same rune-magic himself, and does not press the matter: however much he would like to control Zainab's heart, she would never give him the means to do so. As much as it wounds his manhood, he has come to accept that in order to keep her love, he must let her have her freedom, must let her be the one ruling him: who knows what sorts of spells she has woven in secret from the syllables of his name, to wield such tremendous power over him?

But she is right: his asking her such questions is futile. In any case, it is said that gentlemen should not probe women for their secrets, for a woman is entitled to them, them forming a part of her mystique and allure, whatever that might mean. Now, Fadl is no good at being a gentleman, but for Zainab's sake, he is willing to try: in fact, he knows from experience that the less he knows about his women's lives, the happier he is. Therefore, there must be some truth to this mystique malarkey after all--perhaps ignorance is, indeed, bliss.

"I am sorry," Fadl now mumbles.

Zainab bursts into laughter, and however warm she is atop him, there is still an ugly, cold, sharp edge of triumph to her voice. "Look at you," she says and measures him. "You would never have apologised to me before."

For that, he decides to smack her arse with both hands. "Do you miss Fadl the bastard? Is that what you mean to say?" and even if he makes light of it, a part of him is profoundly irritated: is this not what she wants? First, she would have him submit himself to her a slave, and then mock him for being weak? "Come, my lady! Which Fadl is it that you want in your bed? The lion or the lamb?"

"The eagle," she says and kisses his mighty beak.

She slides off him to lie by his side, her fat having made them both sticky with sweat by now; however, she remains pressed close to him, affectionate enough to soothe his wounded pride. "You are not the first of my lovers to wonder about my birth name," she says. "All I can say is that I remember having been called something that sounded like the sea, and battles. If I were to pick a new name, now, I would rather choose something to do with love instead."

"Freyja," Fadl says, recalling the name of the heathen Venus he has so often heard her speak of. "No, that does not suit you either. It sounds like bronze or brass, a sound that carries within itself a sense of ripe brownness; the colour of rye and barley, whereas you," and he lifts her locks with admiring fingers, "are golden wheat."

"What about yourself, then?" she asks, smiling, stroking the long, firm muscles of his arm. "If you were to become Caliph today, what would you choose as your regnal name? Surely you must've thought of one, with your ambition?"

"You got me there," Fadl laughs, a little abashed. "As a matter of fact, I have thought of so many I could never decide on just one! Akbar, perhaps," he murmurs, that having been one of his prime candidates because of its immediate connection with divine might.

"What's Persian for 'horse?'" Zainab asks with a grin, nudging his prick to drive home her meaning.

"Why, you little--!"

"Mmm," Zainab but replies, incapable of more articulation, seeing as she has just filled her mouth with said prick, impressive even in its laxened state.

"Woman!" Fadl groans, throwing his arm over his eyes. "You are insatiable."

"It's why you love me," she mumbles against his glans as she pulls back for breath, curling her plump little hand around the shaft.

It's why I hate you, Fadl thinks, now, rather; he resents nothing more than to be reminded of his limitations, unable to bear the thought of being somehow unable to do whatever it was he had set his mind upon to do. He cannot abide defeat, but now, his body admits it loudly and clearly, even if his mind refuses to do so: despite Zainab's extraordinary skill, his prick remains only half-hard in her hand.

When, as a last resort, she brings her fingers between his buttocks, he finally grabs her by the wrist. "Stop. It's of no use. You have well and truly exhausted me for the moment, I'm afraid."

"And you didn't even sodomise me yet!" Zainab groans, rolls her eyes and throws herself beside him with such a dramatic crash that the entire bed creaks; even the nymphs carved into the bedposts seem to be laughing at Fadl's impotence. "Next time, we'll skip the cunny, if you don't mind. Much less trouble, and much easier for me to get satisfaction."

"You screamed my ear off just now!" Fadl huffs, not removing his arm from his face.

"Women make noises because it feels good, you fool; she might just as well be moaning because she's finding it difficult to come," she now tells him in a matter-of-fact voice he thinks she must have been using when teaching young men the art of love. "A woman's release is all ripples, waves," she now says and makes a wavelike motion with her hand, "the waves of the moans help trigger the waves of orgasm. And it's much harder to come when the cunny isn't allowed to ripple and convulse;" she says with the expertise of a woman who takes pride in pleasuring other women.

When Fadl looks at her askance, she sits up and makes a little beaklike shape of her hand, tapping her fingers rapidly against her thumb as people do when they imitate a duck's beak wagging. "These are the cunny's walls," she says and points to the top and bottom halves of the 'beak.' "When a woman comes, they pulse and squeeze together like this," she says, making rippling movements with her fingers. But then, suddenly, she thrusts another hand's fingers inside of this beak, moving them in and out, showing how these thrusts now prevent the beak's top and bottom halves from squeezing together. "But once you put something inside of her, it interrupts the natural rhythm of the orgasm. It feels good to have something inside, of course, but it's the movements of that something that can ruin or perfect her release: you would have to be thrusting exactly in time with her ripples, so that you would not interrupt the squeezes but thrust inside between them. You would have to be almost telepathic to know when to remain still, letting her cunny squeeze around you--and without that squeeze, there is no orgasm. I've found it's almost impossible to time the thrusts right," and much to Fadl's chagrin, she now gestures using a toy on another woman, "to pull out or stay still as she squeezes, and then thrust back in when she loosens, to set the next set of ripples in motion. She would have to be the one deciding the rhythm."

The audacity of the bitch, telling him how to fuck, like he was some adolescent brat! But she is right: this is exactly the sort of thing Jaffar always goes on about. Leaving spaces between his strokes to let the woman come... but it's easy for him to say, Fadl having experienced the kind of telepathic contact he and Yassamin enjoy first hand.

"Forgive me, then, my lady," he grumbles, "for not being telepathic!"

"Ah, but you don't need telepathy with sodomy, my proud stallion. The cunny is free to ripple out its pleasure as much as it likes, then. That's why I and all my girls have grown to prefer it. I, too, abhor the idea of not being able to sate my woman!" And now, smiling, she places her hand on his chest, wrapping herself around the left half of his body. "Besides, are you telling me you don't prefer the tightness of the arse?"

"I do," he says, now finally removing his hand from his eyes and slipping it between her legs, her mound so magnificently plump it spills out of his hand on either side. He squeezes it possessively, hissing in his delight. "But I love this little--well, not-so-little--cunny too much to give it up entirely. Never have I met its like," he sighs, deriving some satisfaction at least from Zainab now responding to his caress with an eager rut. Greedily, he kisses her moan from her lips and begins to stroke her with intent, squeezing her clitoris between the fat lips, massaging the entirety of that soft mountain of flesh with his palm. "So soft on the outside, like a silk cushion; so plush, so delicious, so fat," he whispers onto her lips, knowing her weakness for dirty talk, her vanity a sexual organ in and of itself.

"Ah!" she cries, holding on to his still-soft prick for dear life, hurting him a little, now, but he doesn't care. If he can't fuck her senseless with his prick the way he wants to, now, he is determined to do so with his hands and his voice at least: therefore, he now adopts his most commanding tone, exacting from her strict obedience.

"Take your hand off my cock," he says, now rubbing her cunny with a rough violence, relishing the way her clitoris hardens beneath his hand. "Wet it in your cunny and push it in your arse. Do it!"

Her only answer to that is surprise; her eyes snap open, she clearly impressed by his taking the reins in this manner. Wide and blue, her eyes stare into his as she does as she is told, seemingly aroused by this change in their usual roles, or perhaps because she is flattered by his effort. After all, is he not serving her even as he commands her? Fadl thinks, even that thought frustrating him a little: now, he is glad they are not telepathic, for he couldn't bear Zainab's smirk were she to realise how completely and utterly he was enslaved to her even now.

But it is now that Zainab struggles a little: her ample hips make it difficult for her to reach her anus with just her fingers, so now she has to lift up her left leg and reach for her arse from behind. But this is exactly the view Fadl had been hoping for: with great relish, he takes her leg and helps hold it up, chuckling in delight as he looks between her thighs.

"Delicious," he purrs again as Zainab scoops up slickness from her cunny--always so quick to wet, always so quick to heat up from genuine lust, always so ready for him--and begins to work two fingers into her arse. "Can you get all of it inside?" he now asks, looking up at her.

"Greedy," she huffs against his cheek, biting her lip as she begins to stretch herself with two fingers, then three. "Don't count on it."

"Let's see, shall we?" he just says and keeps on rubbing her, staring into her eyes in challenge, fucking her with his gaze. Even if his prick cannot take its satisfaction from her, the prick of his spirit--his mind the hardest of erections this very moment, demanding conquest--now pleasures itself with the clenchings of her cunny underneath his hand, the little winces upon her face, the way she puffs with exertion, her hair flying from her face as she takes herself with her hand.

Soon, she is shaking, not only from strain but from the violence of an anal orgasm beginning to rattle her bones, he can tell; she stares at him with her mouth open, her pink tongue trembling, her nostrils wide, unable to form words. She has three fingers inside of her arse, now, hooking so hard her knuckles are white; cruel, he pulls his hand away from her cunny and delivers it a hard slap, two, three, then returns to stroke it with bruising force.

Soon, her eyes close and she screams so loudly he has to turn aside his head, closing his eyes as her spittle flies into them: her entire body jiggles against him as she bellows there, her cunny gushing so that her wetness sprays all over her thighs with his strokes. She howls through her nostrils, her head pressed into the crook of his neck, and still, she keeps on jerking: he daren't remove his hand from her cunny, knowing how tremendously long her release can be; he wishes to milk out and drink each and every drop of it.

Now, there's a thought. Fadl knows Zainab the Harlot is never satisfied with just the one release, whatever the hole she's being fucked in: even from his own sparse experiences from being taken, Fadl knows the second bout of sodomy to always be even more pleasurable, once the first orgasm has truly opened and relaxed the body for deeper entry, exposing new pleasure-spots in the body's depths. Therefore, as Zainab pulls out her trembling hand and lowers her trembling leg, Fadl decides to take charge: as he buries his face in her cunny and replaces her fingers with three of his, she can but howl, her cunny signalling its assent with another little spray.

Besides, earlier tonight, he hadn't got to do nearly enough of this for his liking: he had barely got her sap flowing before she'd jumped on his cock, demanding penetration. Now, he can truly indulge in this perversion, loving as he does to bask in the sinfulness of this act, considered filthier and lower than even passive sodomy: he always feels as if the actual, true deliciousness of a clean, shaven, washed woman's cunny is a secret he had been lied to about, and it makes him feel superior in his sin, an initiate into a mystery other men are not party to. Another perversion only a Barmakid would be brave enough to explore without fear: out of all the men he's known, only Jaffar has dared admit--nay, even boast of--his relishing of it the way Fadl does.

And now, while there's still the tiniest hint of mint and vinegar left upon Zainab's sex from her contraceptive efforts, their taste is negligible: her arousal, always so profuse from anal stimulation, has now drenched her cunny in that sweet, sugary nectar he seeks for his drink.

No, not merely drink: by God, he wishes to swim in this sea of sweetness, wants to bottle it to make of it a potent wine; he wants to drown in it, be buried in it like those ancient kings who were in honey mummified. Here at its source does he now feast, stroking deftly the insides of her guts, seeking those spots that produce more of this sweet sap, more, more.

And as his fingers are longer, he can reach deeper inside of her than she had herself been able to, now seeking that part where the womb presses upon the gut, where the passage tightens upon both women and men; the moment his fingertips brush against it, Zainab stiffens and begins to shiver, her eyes snapping open wide.

"Here, my little wanton?" Fadl drawls, very satisfied with himself indeed.

She puffs through her lips, her eyelashes fluttering against her cheeks. "Be worthy of your name," she groans, Fadl having been named after generosity itself; "or I am going to have to steal it from you," she mutters and makes to bring her hand to her neglected clitoris.

Fadl--never having liked his name in the first place exactly because of what it makes people expect of him, as if the lavish favours expected from a Barmakid were not enough--simply raises his eyebrow and curls his fingertips, curls them until Zainab's cunny trickles into his palm: but his hands are getting tired, so he has mercy upon her and replaces her hand with his mouth. Enough of tricks; let her have her release, he thinks as he takes her clitoris into his mouth and begins to suck upon it rhythmically, in time with his fingers' curling thrusts. Soon enough, she unravels, completely drenching his beard and moustache; so voluminously does she gush this time that it trickles down onto Fadl's neck, and Fadl fancies himself decorated a hero, garlanded a champion by this necklace of her sweetness.

It is only when Zainab takes her hand to his wrist that he pulls out, his jaw and his hand aching from exertion. But it was worth it, absolutely: now she can never say he could not satisfy her.

"Victory!" he cries as he now crashes dramatically beside her in turn; the nymphs at the bedposts now seem to be regarding him with a little more respect, too.

Zainab is still catching her breath, her heavy breasts quivering upon her chest, the rolls of her belly rising and falling with her breathing. Fadl loves watching this, too, the waves of this pink and white sea, the marvellous abundance of her soft, loose, fat flesh jiggling like--

"You're like a dessert," he mumbles, poking at her right breast with a fingertip, marvelling at how deep it sinks into her plushness. "Like a sweet aspic."

Zainab but lets out a laugh, jiggling even more now so that her heavy jewellery tinkles with her movements. "I shall choose to take that as a compliment."

"It is," he says and kisses one flattened pink nipple, now sunken into her breast like a little rosebud gone to sleep. "My father was a magnificent chef, you know. They always had cooking contests at Harun's court, and he--or my mother--won every time. I never got the hang of a good jelly myself. But now I don't need to," he says and beams, pillowing his head upon the plumpness of her arm. "This is much better than boiling hooves for days on end."

She ruffles his hair. "You are a fool. But I'm starting to grow used to that with you Barmakids. Speaking of whom, have you visited your brothers yet?"

"No," Fadl shakes his head. "I came straight to you, as always."

With a delighted groan, Zainab wraps her arms about him. "Good. Because I'm going to keep you here for a while."

And even as Fadl rests in Zainab's soft embrace, he thinks of what Jaffar must be doing right now. Tinkering with those monstrous machines of his? Playing with his children? Or probably fucking his delicious wife's delicious arse, Fadl now grumbles within his mind, with some magical aphrodisiac or another to keep him going for hours. Whereas he has to spend days with Zainab to even get to that part!

***

"Jaffar!"

"Hold it in! You can do it!"

"I can't! I--"

The heavy turquoise sphere falls out of Yassamin's arse and right onto Jaffar's face: he tries to dodge it, but it hits him square on the cheek.

"Woman, you nearly gave me a black eye!" he cries, holding his jaw. "N'd neawly diflofghed a molaw," he mumbles, feeling for his teeth with his tongue.

Yassamin, perched as she is on all fours, tries to look at him, but cannot crane her head enough. "I'm sorry," she says, but she is laughing as she says it, and as that laughter now expels noisy gusts of air from her well-slickened orifices, Jaffar bursts out into laughter, too.

But it was she who had inspired their current experiment in the first place, of seeing how sizeable and how many spheres she could hold inside of herself: another one of Jaffar's complex hybrids of scientific study and erotic play.

For there are times for Yassamin when the need for sodomy so possesses her that it becomes a fever: despite Jaffar reassuring her otherwise, at times she has wondered whether there was, in fact, truth to those tales of sodomites being sufferers of an addictive disease. That there were men--as ever, the medical books, written by male doctors, rarely discussed female bodies and their experiences--with dispositions that made them more susceptible to these cravings. That once such men had experienced passive sodomy, something inside of their bodies would begin to respond to the sensation, awakening in them a need violent, desperate, insatiable.

The usual explanation for this, seemingly accurate in the cases of men as twin-sexed as Jaffar, was that such men carried within themselves physical characteristics that were somehow more feminine than those of other men. And thus, their need to be taken was something that corresponded to the female reproductive organs' natural need to be penetrated, filled in order to procreate. Some would even postulate that were you to treat certain male organs, tissues like female ones, they would begin to behave as if they were female: this would explain, for instance, why Jaffar produced as much sap upon arousal as a woman, certain parts of his innards having become womb-like from a love of passive sodomy.

However, this entire theory falls apart when the body in question is that of a female, and one whose cunny gets a healthy amount of sex at that, a female whose womb is ardently massaged by her male's prick several times a week! Yassamin has already done her share of procreation, too, having brought two children into the world: neither her soul or her body feel a burning desire to bring forth any more. And there is nothing truly masculine to her nature, either, in comparison to women like Halima or Zainab; even at her most Sapphic, she has preferred the receptive role.

"Perhaps you're doubly female in that sense," Jaffar had told her with a gentle smile, when she had rested in his arms after one very thorough bout of sodomy, when it had seemed to her as if she could never get enough of his prick in her guts. "If the male sodomite has a spirit-womb inside of his guts, perhaps you have two wombs instead of one," he had cackled. "One of flesh and one of spirit."

"God forbid!" she had rolled her eyes. "It cannot be that."

"Mmm. I am inclined to think this 'addiction' is simply a result of the act being so pleasurable, once you get used to it," he had said and laced his fingers with hers. "There are so many nerves down there to begin with. But it's only that it's one of those desires that people daren't talk about, or write about, except as an illness. Only the brave few souls such as you and I have ever truly dared experiment with it, study it with a neutral, scientist's approach, freed of its associations of sin."

Yet in her youth, she would've thought it a sin: even during the first few years of their marriage, a major part of the pleasure she'd derived from his taking her like a boy had been the knowledge of their committing an unlawful act. But the older she gets, the more she is inclined to agree with Jaffar's point of view: in that she cannot see anything sinful in what two--or more!--grown people, sound of minds and sound of hearts, do out of pleasure, if it harms none. There is no crime if there is no victim, Jaffar always tells her; and whereas some would wring their hands and say unborn children were the victims of such practices, Yassamin is in no rush to become like those women who are sent to an early grave by too many pregnancies. There are plenty enough babes born each day, too many for the earth to bear, even, it seems; she has seen enough of the slums of Basra and Baghdad to know the disastrousness of fertility left unchecked, undammed.

And is not the very definition of sin an act that breaks the divine harmony, the equilibrium God would want human beings to aspire to? Jaffar, having been preyed upon by older men as a youth, had even speculated that the destruction of Sodom had been because of the way its men had abused its children, not because of acts of genuine love between lovers of whatever sex. And as Yassamin herself had heard from a religious scholar, it was only when men imposed sodomy on unwilling women, to prevent them from having the children they genuinely wanted that it became a harmful act. Why, Jaffar himself had even gone so far as to say that in his reasoning, sodomy would, in fact, be even commendable if it allowed people--whether married couples or grown men--to act out their sexual urges without overburdening women with too many babes.

"But you fear your desire at times," Jaffar had said to her, having read her thoughts. "That you overburden me, an old man; that you are causing damage to your body. When you are doing no such thing," he says, he always having been delighted to watch her play with toys, always having loved pleasuring her with his hand whenever his prick had grown too soft to sate her. "Nay, my love: methinks we should try and fulfill these desires to the utmost, to quell that fever inside your body. Too much heat will go into your head and drive you mad."

"As if it wasn't doing that already!" she'd groaned. "But it's not there all the time, the fever. It's only the autumn that awakens it in me, for some strange reason. Always around Mehregan I become a madwoman! Mad!" she says; perhaps that orgy they'd had the previous year with Fadl and Zainab had been the beginning of a repeating pattern. For on and on, like the repeating curls and coils of arabesques does her desire rise and climb, seeking higher stations just as the engraved vines upon the walls of God's houses seek the heavens, up, up, high, high.

"It's good that you married a madman, then," he had but grinned. "And a scientist. And the scientist now proposes that you throw needless modesty and shame to the four winds, and instead, allow us to try and see where your body's limits lie: I'll wager that once we reach them, the desire itself will finally be fully sated. For what's the use of ten bouts of sodomy, if my prick isn't wide enough, long enough? The itch, if you will, will remain partially unscratched."

"If you keep on talking about my desire as 'an itch,' soon you'll have no prick at all, husband!"

"Yet you know what I mean, my love. I would that we but experimented more boldly, to feed your body with the nervous sensations it's clearly malnourished of. The body requires certain types of stimulation to stay healthy, just as the mind does, and one's needs change with age: perhaps you have but developed a need in you for more stimulation in the lower parts of the spinal nerves, and we are upon the cusp of finding its natural cure. I'll call on Zainab to get for us some more toys," he had said, and launched into a list of everything he wanted to try, so excited that Yassamin had known that from that moment on, there would be no turning back.

And this is where they find themselves: in the middle of one long experiment erotic and medical. Already Jaffar has tried on her different spheres, wands, phalli of each and every kind; he has even studied the effects of various different textures upon the surfaces of her guts--whether a more rippled toy would sate her faster than one as smooth as glass. But they'd found out soon enough that her guts were as human as they ever were, in that they could not be stimulated with rough ridges for too long without rendering her unable to even sit properly, let alone be sodomised again for half a week; any surfaces coarser than human skin would soon become needlessly painful for her as well.

But what had astonished Yassamin--even if she'd observed this before--was that Jaffar, upon finding out that it was one of his plant-gum pricks that suited her the best, was not at all jealous of the toy, the way it sated her better than even his own prick.

"But, my sweet, I am still the one using it upon you!" he had but laughed after she had sprayed his face earlier during today's bout. "Besides, I have tried this one myself. I know how good it feels. Absolutely marvellous," he had sighed and smacked his lips, taken her cunny with his mouth even if it had sent her yelping; "absolutely marvellous."

What she'd also found curious about all this was that even if Jaffar had always approached lovemaking with an engineer's eye, the experimentation itself had now become the main focus of his loving of her, finally surpassing even his own need to sate himself. Perhaps it was his age making him a little mad, a little too focused on the science of things, instead of the most important thing--their love? This, she had wondered about, a little disappointed, even.

And as that sphere--he had started to fill her with the most outrageous things, now, after having given her two or three orgasms with the dildo--falls out, she, too, falls upon the bed, a little sadness mixed into even her laughter.

I can hear what you are thinking, my sweet, Jaffar thinks at her, without blame. Yet I hope you do not think I love you any less, he whispers into her mind, like a cat brushing against her, his eyes filled with a sudden sadness; he had heard that fear in her mind, but now wants her to fight it, wants to prove her and himself wrong.

Come here, she asks him, her face pressed into the pillows; she feels so fragile, now, that she cannot look at him. Please, she asks, feeling guilty for this aching need inside of her, always so aware of his age and his declining stamina.

Yet it is an ache no toy can fill, a desire no mere plant gum or beautifully coloured stone could sate; he knows this, too, and her need spills into the cup of his heart a wine, making him glow inside.

"Oh, my love," he says, his voice soft and breaking from tenderness as he comes to cover her. "As you can see, I am not lacking in anything this very moment," he murmurs with a little wistful smile as he slides his erection between her buttocks, gently seeking permission with his touch. "Except for Love to envelop me, the most perfect love I know of upon this earth," he whispers into her ear as he laces his fingers with hers. "The love of my lady Yassamin. Would you let me?"

"Please," she but says again, hating the way it comes out a whimper; she thinks she will die if he doesn't take her now. "Please, husband," she sighs, biting her lip.

And he slides inside of her guts so easily, now, like silk; she is so open wide, now, so relaxed, that his very first stroke makes lights dance in her eyes. All of her made a prism, he turning her slowly with his thrusts, she reflecting and refracting and scattering the piercing hot white beam of his love. Her teeth chatter, only his weight holding her down--oh, but she loves the way he holds her down, this so much better than any toys now that she can enjoy his full weight atop her body. That she is being loved not by some small object, but the entirety of another human being, and the human being she loves the most in the world at that. The bones of his hips pressed into the softness of her buttocks, that sensation she has never not loved and will continue to love until her dying day; the firm, strong beats of his heart against her back as he lies there, only moving his hips in the shortestmost of strokes while he's inside of her.

She is weighed down by his love, immersed into it, now set free from this terrible weightlessness she has had to suffer with the toys; it is the little, heartbroken noise he makes in her ear as he hears her thoughts that makes her cunny now clench far more violently than the toys had made it do, makes her womb lift with such force that her entire body is now lifted off the bed against his weight. She clutches his hands and tosses herself up into him, now trying to take him with her hips in turn. Her desperation rises fast, swift, quick; words gallop out of her mouth, stumbling over one another as she ruts back against him in her need.

"This is what I need, husband, this, this; this is what I want. Only you can cure this fever--please--"

"Mm-hmm?" he purrs in challenge, now letting go of her hands, lifting her so that she is now balanced on her knees, her face and shoulders against the bed. The bed creaks as he shifts position, too, finding the right one from which to thrust; he has not taken her with his prick like this in a week and now has plenty of energy to spare. For a brief moment, he toys with the idea of teasing her, of stirring her further with dirty words; yet she is past such games, he can tell, so he only brushes this idea against her mind, another caress upon the skin of her self, making her shiver in delight at what he has planned for her the next time they play. He sends to her flashes of flickering tongues, of costumes, of the whip's sweet and sharp sting; of toys of ever-increasing sizes, his entire hand nestled inside of her.

But on and on through all these acts, running through all his perversions runs the blazing core of his love, his love taking her just as he is now taking her with his prick; him making of her pleasure his ornament, them so entwined no one would know where he ends and Yassamin begins.

"Would you like that, my sweet?" he now purrs in her ear as he leans over and cups her breasts in his hands, rolling his hips in a slow circle. "Perhaps I shall make you write me love letters, like those early days," he says, with a great fondness even as he begins to thrust into her in earnest; "make you give up all--your--dirty--little--wishes," he now stutters as his own blows break up his words. "As tribute from a queen conquered," he snarls, taking her by the hair, sliding another hand to her cunny; "exacting from you what is my due."

It is at that that she screams so hard she hurts her head; the very idea thrills her beyond measure. For even this physical need in her is but a part of her neverending need for him, for him to master her; but a part of her neverending journey towards his feet, where her ultimate satisfaction lies. No one, but no one could ever sate her body and her soul the way he does, and now all of her becomes one happy cry, glad: "Yes!" she shouts into the pillows, tears springing into her eyes as he tears up her head to better hear her; "Yes!" she shouts until the walls echo with her giving up of herself, her bones ringing with her submission, every atom of her flesh singing with her joyous freedom in surrender.

Surrender, surrender; her body pulses, ripples, her arse loosening and then tightening and then loosening again in a tremendous orgasm, far more fulfilling than the ones that had preceded it. And he takes it, takes her in that way he has always taken her, fulfilling her so completely and utterly there is no part of her that is not permeated by Jaffar, surrounded by him, embraced by him. For is there not a sweetness in being crushed, too, as grapes are crushed into wine, resin powdered into incense, like sugar cone is ground against sugar cone above the heads of newlyweds to become a rain of sweetness, of blessing? So completely is she exhausted, wrung dry, that now her cunny spasms without spraying underneath his hand; it is he who now floods them both with his wetness, filling her guts with the wonderful, soothing, blessing milk of his semen.

For it is as milk, as cream, as a soothing elixir that she thinks of it as, now; none of the ointments he has engineered has ever had quite the same effect upon her. Delirious, he laughs into her mind the concept of that second womb once more--that perhaps her guts wish to drink sperm just as much as a womb does, he wonders? he thinks and cackles against her neck, that cackle turning into a great groan as he pushes both of them down onto the bed in a sweaty, trembling and thoroughly sated heap.

"Thank you," she murmurs after finally having regained her voice; she kisses his hand.

Jaffar turns around to take her in his arms, smiling at her, even the wrinkles around his eyes filled to the brim with happiness. "I take it that that sated your fever, for the time being."

"It did," she nods. They both know they won't have time for much experimentation from tomorrow on: for tomorrow, Fadl and Zainab will be arriving for the Mehregan celebrations. "And before you say it," she hastens to add, hearing his thoughts, "I don't think my body could bear another orgy!"

Jaffar raises his eyebrow at her, in an uncanny imitation of Fadl's signature eyebrow quirks. "We'll see," he purrs, smirking like a devil.

She rolls her eyes. "You have got something planned."

"As a matter of fact, I haven't. But you know how these things happen," he says and kisses her forehead. "We will just have to see what the Almighty has planned for us this time. But know that I, too, find family reunions difficult, particularly whenever Fadl is involved. He is always a handful, always--"

"Always a piece of work," she says, her eyes turned inwards as she rests her head against his chest. "I feel as if we are performing some manner of... upbringing, of child-rearing every time he visits us; as if we were to him some kinds of parents, teachers. That's why it always feels like such hard work."

"Precisely. Latifa and Mohammad don't need minding. But Fadl is, in many ways, a child."

"A child of fifty-nine!" Yassamin groans. "But do not think I hate him, even if there is much in him that one--especially a woman--might find worth hating. I do not mean that--"

"I know," he says and kisses her hand. "Like you said, it's only that it's hard work."

"The price I pay for you pampering me so, I suppose," she says, pulling the sheets tighter over them. "You have made it good for me," she murmurs. "Never think I am not grateful, for this same minding and healing you have extended in even greater a measure over me, my foolish girl-self."

"Oh, my sweet," he laugh-groans and hugs her. "Now, that, is a pleasure beyond all pleasures; every single moment of it, every single act of it. I never feel exhausted by my loving of you, rather rejuvenated. But, come. There might be no debaucheries whatsoever expected of us tomorrow; only God knows what tomorrow will bring. And God knows best."

"God knows best," she sighs against his heart, giving up her worrying as it is of no use: taking Jaffar's advice, she rests the matter into the Almighty's hands.

Chapter Text

***

Jaffar's house, a few days later

***

"But I don't want to wear a turban!" Anwar protests as Fadl tries to teach him how to wind one about his head. "I've never had to wear one for Mehregan before!" he cries at his reflection. "I can do it without! Besides, it's too hot. My head will melt. It will turn into a wet blob," Anwar gesticulates, "and pour down my neck into my shirt, like so! Blob, blob, blob!"

"Come, now, my child," Fadl says and holds up the length of white silk in his hands, looking at the sulking Anwar through the mirror in front of which they now stand. Jaffar and the females had excused themselves to dress for the festivities, and Jaffar had left Fadl with Anwar, telling Fadl that perhaps it would help for the child to learn the art of tying a turban from his always well-groomed and fashionable uncle.

Fadl had known full well that this had been but a ruse of Jaffar's, him trying to use Fadl's natural vanity to his advantage, so as to keep both him and Anwar from getting into mischief--as if Fadl were a child himself! But when Fadl had tried to protest, Jaffar had already vanished and left them together in Anwar's room.

So there they stand, the precocious child and the childish man, at an impasse.

Anwar crosses his arms over his chest, his fine, new blue silk tunic already thoroughly wrinkled, even if he has been wearing it for but an hour so far. "I shan't wear the turban. I shan't!"

Fadl sighs. "How old are you?"

"Seven and three quarters," Anwar says proudly, jutting up his little chin, straightening out to his full height.

Fadl lifts up the fabric. "There we are, then. God Himself has said that seven is the perfect age to start teaching one's children how to fast, how to pray, how to dress. How to," and here, he raises a pointed eyebrow, "behave like a good, pious Muslim and not like a filthy unbeliever swine."

"But you're not my father!" Anwar points out, getting more and more agitated. "You're not anyone's father! You're just... Fadl."

"That's enough!" Fadl barks at Anwar.

And now, such a darkness comes over him, the blackness of an oncoming storm, that Anwar jerks back from him as if struck. When Fadl speaks again, his voice is deep and anguished, terrible to hear; his words slow and heavy.

"How would you know?" he asks, his hands clutching the strip of fabric as if he were about to strangle Anwar with it. "How would you know whether I have ever had any children? Hmm?"

Unbeknownst to Fadl, Jaffar now appears behind the curtain of the doorway, yet does not step inside; he but remains there, alert, observing.

Fadl leans closer to Anwar, looming over him with a merciless anger, an anger rising from a pain old and deep. "What if the reason I don't have any children is because those children died, you little fiend? Did you not pause to ask yourself that?"

But it is then that Fadl realises the futility of expecting such logic from a seven-year-old; indeed, it has been too long since the last time he had to reason with a child. He straightens himself out with a groan and a huff. "Of course you didn't. Of course," he mumbles, the silk falling from his hands onto the floor.

"I--I'm sorry, Uncle Fadl," Anwar now says, staring at his feet, trembling from terror. For even underneath his childish impudence, Anwar is a boy tender and sensitive, even overly sensitive, just like his father: it is clear that he has now come to understand the gravity of his error. Even if he does not know why, he can tell he has hurt his uncle, wounded him to the quick; the turban truly must be very important, if Anwar's refusal to wear it can upset Fadl so. Therefore, Anwar now springs into action, scrabbling for the turban fabric, mumbling apologies. "I didn't mean to, U-uncle! I'm so-sorry;" he stammers, his voice now fragile from terror. "I'll--I'll put the turban on," he repeats as he gathers it up with shaking hands, his tears escaping onto it. "I'll put it on, I'll show you; I'll put it on."

"And it is well you should, my son," Jaffar now says from the doorway, his eyes flashing with blue fire; he does not look at Anwar, rather at the startled Fadl. "It is what separates us from the heathens," he says and steps into the room with a tigrine slowness, measuring Fadl with his gaze. "Each time you wind it around your head, you wind the blessings of God about yourself; each layer is a new layer of baraka."

And now, all the hair on Fadl's neck stands on end: these are the exact words Jaffar had said to their little sons the night they had wound on their first turbans; the night of that fateful feast of Harun's, after which Jaffar and Fadl had no longer had any children at all.

Still looking into Fadl's eyes, Jaffar takes up the fabric. "Let me show you, Anwar."

Trembling from his anguish, possessed by a twisted desire to hurt Jaffar, Anwar, someone, anyone, Fadl turns to look at Anwar. "Yes, let him," he snarls. "After all, he was so good at winding it on for your brother!"

And as soon as he has said this, Fadl has left the room.

"I have a brother?" Anwar asks; he looks at Jaffar wide-eyed, completely baffled. His father is often absent-minded, often trails off his subject, and sometimes he doesn't even finish his sentences: perhaps he had just forgotten to tell Anwar. Why, Father looks absent-minded this very moment, just standing there and looking into the distance, clutching the silk in his hands.

Anwar tugs him by the sleeve. "Father, why are you crying?"

***

Zainab's raucous, uninhibited laughter rings from Jaffar's entertaining-chamber, punctuating the music's lively cheer; she has brought over her own band of minstrel-girls, all making the most beautiful of musics with the daf, the tanbur and the ney.

The loveliness of women and of music and the fragrance of the bonfires outside, all of them things of beauty and of light and of hope and of joy: yet all of them now drive spears of anguish through Fadl's aching chest, pinning him to the wall of the corridor outside.

He remains standing there, hiding like a coward behind the curtain covering the doorway; even if the women must have been expecting him for a while, he cannot enter yet. No, no: he is still far too distraught to celebrate.

Why did Jaffar have to do this? Or, rather, why did he, Fadl, have to open his stupid mouth? Was it because Zainab, after Fadl's probing into her past, had been probing into Fadl's past in turn, thus opening doors in his memory that he had--until now--kept firmly closed?

But why, this is ridiculous! The last time he had been here, it had been a time for confessions, too, so is his every visit to Samarkand now going to turn into a spiritual trial by fire, an orgy of emotional torture, a tearing open of past wounds? Oh, but he should've just stayed in Balkh, should have just got himself a fresh new batch of slave girls and forgotten all about that Viking bitch! Forgotten about his brother, so superior to him in all his peace and his love and his happiness, always rubbing it in his face, showing off to him with his beautiful, intelligent, loving wife and his beautiful, intelligent and loving children.

How does he do it? How is Jaffar capable of raising a family after all the Barmakids have gone through, Jaffar having suffered the most, having lost more than even Fadl had done?

For in Harun's day, Fadl himself had only had a lukewarm marriage, whereas Jaffar's had been warm and friendly. Although Jaffar's love for his past wives had not been nearly as passionate or as wondrous as his love for Yassamin--never has Fadl seen a marriage as perfect, as sublime in its depth carnal and spiritual!--he had still loved them dearly. He had had good relations even with his second and third wives, the ones Yahya had practically forced him into marrying when they'd still thought Fatima--whom he'd loved the most of all--was barren. Nevertheless, Jaffar had still been able to choose his wives, and his wives had been able to choose him.

Not so much for Fadl: as the oldest son, and the one whose rampant desires Yahya had been most concerned about--Fadl having got a slave girl pregnant at eleven, resulting in his and Jaffar's removal from the harem at an early age--he had been forced to marry early to avoid any further such "accidents." That, and Yahya had wanted to make sure the future Grand Viziers of the empire would be born to mothers from good families, and above all, women intelligent: therefore, it had not been this simple slave girl--who, luckily for all concerned, had miscarried-- Fadl had been wedded to.

His cousin, Bahar, had been the girl Yahya had chosen for him, and while she had not been unkind or unbeautiful, she and Fadl had both understood the alliance to have been political first and foremost. And while they had been able to stir each other's desires enough to consummate the marriage, they had been so different in their natures that they'd soon drifted apart and sought other lovers. In fact, Fadl had been so disinterested in her that he had not even been jealous of her men; she, too, had left him to his slave girls, and he--uncharacteristically for him--had left her to her poets and her minstrels.

Part of this was because it was a minstrel-girl he himself had fallen in love with, and now, she Fadl had been madly jealous of: Pari had been one of his father's Chinese singing-girls, instilling in him a passion for Chinese women ever after. Pari, oh, sweet Pari, she of the golden skin and the golden tongue--oh, how he had loved her in that first bloom of youth, when he had been but a lad of eighteen! It was she who had borne him his son, yet her strong will and her independence, not to mention her numerous lovers--all privileges enjoyed by the most famous of Baghdad's singing-girls--had been too much for him to bear. What he had allowed Bahar, he could not allow Pari, and in the end, his jealousy and his possessiveness had poisoned her heart.

It had been fair enough: Fadl had, indeed, become mad in his jealousy, a tyrant; he had even asked his father to lock up the Great Harem's doors at night to stop the women from going out. This, in hindsight, had been the greatest mistake the Barmakids ever made. For this imprisonment of all the court's women, slave girl and queen alike, had brought upon the Barmakids the fury of the greatest of those queens: Zubayda, Harun's favourite wife, who had already hated Yahya for years; this insult to her dignity had been the last drop for her, and the rest was bloodstained history.

To think that she and Harun might have done what they did because of Fadl, because of his excess jealousy of a singing-girl--and look at Fadl now! Oh, how Pari would now laugh, seeing how Fadl's now had to allow Zainab those exact same freedoms he'd hated having to allow Pari.

But Pari had ceased laughing, had ceased singing that same fateful day their son had died, she suffocated into a pillow by Zubayda's slave-girls, or so they said; just as they had strangled Bahar with her own plait, or so they said.

And now, a terrible sob crushes Fadl's chest. He slouches onto the floor, burying his face in his knees; he wraps his arms around his legs, around his farcically tight, fop's trousers--he is such a clown!--and he rocks there, so crushed he cannot even weep, sobbing but dry tears in his anguish, in his remembered horror.

But it is then that a soft, cool breath of mint brushes across his skin, and an awkward little hand touches one of his.

"Uncle Fadl?"

It's Salsabil. Wise little Salsabil, always so frightened of him--and deservedly so, he always having been so crude with his bawdy humour around her; it is clear she is now trying very hard to swallow this fear of hers as she takes Fadl's giant hand in both of hers, squeezing it with determination. Those precocious little eyes of hers--as pale and as piercing and as all-seeing as her father's--now gaze deep into Fadl's own, searching him.

"Are you feeling bad about running away again?" she asks, always having known that story of the runaway prince to have been about Fadl himself.

"No," Fadl rasps, then clears his throat to get his voice back. "Not this time. It's something worse than that, far worse," he says and looks at Salsabil's hands, then at her face again. "Tell me, does Anwar know? That it was your father and I in that tale?"

Salsabil shakes her head. "I don't think so. I tried telling him, but he would not listen; he said no one as silly as Father could ever have been a prince, and that no one as..." it's here that she hesitates, but seems to think that now, since she has already walked into the lion's den, she might as well tell the lion the truth. "That no one as smelly as Uncle Fadl could have been a prince either."

Fadl but bursts into laughter, a laughter abrupt and too loud and dry, ringing off the corridor's walls. "When your father and I were princes, we could afford to wear musk and ambergris every day!" he says and makes to ruffle Salsabil's head, but as usual, she pulls back, always so careful not to have her perfectly arranged veil, cap and plaits thrown into disarray.

"Don't! It's a brand new cap. I embroidered it myself, too!"

Fadl looks at the cap, at the crude but charming chips of shell sewn into its front in three great teardrop shapes. "That's quite impressive work for a seven-year-old," he says in genuine delight, but not without a touch of melancholy.

And that awakens in him the desire to see what Salsabil would think about what he has just revealed to Anwar; now that the cat's out of the bag, he might as well.

"Your sisters never lived to that age," he says, stroking her hand with his thumb; he sits there and observes her carefully, taking in her surprise, her widening eyes.

Yet, as always, she is calmer and more contemplative than her brother, much less impulsive, now examining Fadl's words with a scientist's care. "My sisters?"

"Mm-hmm. I was grieving them, you see; them, and your big brother, and my own son. I take it that your father never told you about our children before, and I do not blame him; it is a tale terrible to tell. But I think that tonight, you might both be old enough to hear it."

"Are you sure?" Salsabil asks, uncharacteristically unsure about her own maturity; she and Anwar, the little adults they are, would normally be the first to insist they were old enough for more or less everything. But now, her natural intelligence and discrimination tell her that this is a matter grave, so grave that perhaps only adults would understand it: just as her father always tells her, intelligence alone is not enough to comprehend everything, when one also needs the wisdom and experience only age can bring.

Fadl gets to his feet and dusts himself off, then offers his hand to Salsabil. "I think you'd better take me to your father and ask him."

"But what about Lady Zainab?"

Fadl looks at the curtain and the light shining through its embroideries of birds and vines and lions, taking in the music and the laughter once more. "It was Lady Zainab who asked me about these things in the first place, my child. I could not tell her, but perhaps your father can."

Salsabil looks at the curtain, too, hesitating. "Will it make Mother sad?"

Fadl nods. "I think it might. But methinks he has told her this story already. After all, it's thanks to her that your father is not like me, sitting in the dark and feeling sorry for himself," he says with a wry smile, squeezing Salsabil's hand. "Come," he says to her conspiratorially. "Let's make a great entrance. You introduce me like a prince, and I will introduce you like a princess. What do you say?"

Salsabil flashes him a smile: he has rarely seen her teeth, she being normally so modest; but it is evident that she has inherited her mother's sense for adventure. "Yes, let's!"

Salsabil sweeps aside the curtain and performs an elaborate court bow with a great flourish, her plaits sweeping the floor, then whipping against Fadl's thighs as she twirls around to present him. "In the name of God, the most merciful and most clement, bid welcome to my father's illustrious court the lion of lions, the sun of his age: al-Fadl, son of Yahya, Governor of Khorasan, Amir of Balkh!"

Fadl, in turn, bows and twirls his hands, knocking his wrist on his turban as he goes, his back and his knees creaking but he doesn't care: "In the name of God, the most merciful and most clement, bid welcome to my brother's illustrious court the light of all believers, she the sharpness of whose intelligence bests the finest of Indian swords, the beauty of whose face is like that of the moon emerging from betwixt clouds of musk: Salsabil, daughter of Yassamin, the Great Sagess of Samarkand!"

And it is then that Fadl takes Salsabil on his shoulders and carries her in a mightily squeaking and laughing procession to the platform upon which her family and Zainab sit: all applaud with their hands and their feet, Jaffar and Yassamin welcoming them with great smiles and whoops of glee.

***

They pass the night of Mehregan Eve in great merriment, all in sore need of recreation and rest; Yassamin has arranged for them a rich meal of pomegranate chicken and half a dozen different types of nuts, and Jaffar has brought from the shabestan his best Shiraz. Zainab's girls entertain them with pageantry and song, after which Jaffar hands them generous alms; when the girls have departed to the guest rooms, Zainab turns to Yassamin.

"My lady, it occurs to me that I have never heard you sing," Zainab says, measuring Yassamin with a gentle light of desire in her eyes. "I have heard tales," and she glances at Fadl to denote it is he she has heard these tales from, "that you have the most beautiful of voices, a voice as ravishing as your face."

There is a flash of heat in Yassamin's eyes: evidently, the wine has made her forget her soreness, or has reduced it greatly at least, such is the heat with which she now returns Zainab's gaze. Her cheeks flush, and Jaffar wishes his eyesight were better so that he could see whether her nipples have hardened underneath her whisper-thin undershirt: but she is wearing a jacket of thick velvet atop it, only just covering her nipples from sight.

"What would you have me sing?" Yassamin asks, rising to her feet as gracefully as a young gazelle, her jewellery making the sweetest of musics as she assumes a charming pose in the middle of the platform. It is even a little lascivious, the way she seems to be offering her sex as she stands there, bending her body so that her hips jut out.

There are children present! Jaffar mutters to her telepathically, trying to tell himself he is not jealous of Zainab, to whose eyes Yassamin now offers this display of her cunny, the outline of its mound clearly visible through the thinness of her shalwars.

But it is Fadl who now surprises them, his voice sober, even a little harsh. "Do you know any songs of the Barmakids, my lady?"

All grow silent, as if a bucket of cold water had been thrown over them. Yassamin, completely ignorant of the conversations Fadl has had with the others earlier tonight, flashes him a glare. "This is a celebration of light triumphing over darkness, of evil vanquished," she says with calm dignity, never having forgotten she was once a queen. "Surely it is no time for laments."

"Who said anything about laments?" Fadl asks, quirking his eyebrow as he sips from his bowl of wine. "There were elegies sung of me at least."

"Someone sung elegies about you, Uncle Fadl?" Anwar blurts, his eyes wide, impressed; Fadl chooses to take this as a compliment, even if his first instinct would have been to box the boy on the ear for ever having assumed his uncle unworthy of such.

"Plenty," Jaffar laughs and makes to ruffle Anwar's hair; however, now that Anwar is wearing a turban, Jaffar realises ruffling him has become as impossible as ruffling Salsabil. Therefore, he but pats Anwar on the back instead.

The gesture doesn't pass Fadl by; at the thought of the turban, both men are immediately returned to their conversation from before.

Zainab, however, always as easily bored as a dull housecat, now clears her throat pointedly. "Nevertheless, I would hear my lady Yassamin sing. I am partial to a good love song," she says and throws a cheese-stuffed olive into her mouth, chewing on it as she speaks, "but I must admit I am curious to hear at least one of these elegies supposedly composed in my scrawny sight-hound's honour," she chuckles. "Go on, Samin; I could use a laugh."

"Why, you--!" Fadl fumes.

But it is at that that Yassamin bursts into song, interrupting him with verses she has just recalled.

"Al-Fadl is nothing less
Than a brilliant shooting star
That sets not in battles
When other stars set,"

She now sings in a loud, clear voice with a smile, with such fierce emotion it makes genuine shivers run even down Zainab's back.

"I speak of the munificent one,
The son of Yahya, al-Fadl!
Coins of neither gold or silver
Remain in his possession for long,
Through the lavish generosity
Of his two hands.

Not a single day of his life has elapsed
Since he girded his loins
In the service of the Caliph
Without his people and his lands prospering
From what he bestows to them all in gifts.

How many extreme displays
Of generosity and valour has he shown!
Even for those greedy fellows
Who seek to know
The highest peaks of each
--Uninvited guest and rebel alike--
Why, those knaves become exhausted
Before al-Fadl has even finished showing them
What true heroism and hospitality mean!

Aye, al-Fadl would give gifts
Even if there were no particular occasion
For him to do so,
And neither does he shrink back
When the sharp, slender Indian swords
Are unsheathed upon the battlefield.

Neither the desire for being well-liked--
For he only seeks to be well-liked by God--
Nor undue anger
Impel him into injustice, or tyranny.

O Fadl the Great,
Your liberality has gushed forth in floods,
To the point that no life-giving rain
Nor a sea swelling with giant waves
Could ever equal it!"

Anwar stares at them all, his mouth open: so, his smelly uncle is a prince and a mighty warrior after all.

"Bravo!" Fadl cries and applauds loudly, stomping his feet. "Another, my lady!"

Yassamin smiles and acknowledges Fadl with a bow.

"How can you fear any misfortune in a place
Which the Barmakids have encompassed
With their protection?
And a people led by al-Fadl ibn Yahya,
A group of warriors who hurl themselves
Into the fray without fear
And whom no other group of warriors
Could ever withstand, or equal?

Fadl only has two kinds of days,
One for generosity
And one for valour in battle,
Time a sweet captive between them.

When a mother fears her child will suffer hunger,
She calls him by the name of al-Fadl
And the child will be safe;
The true religion is given new life through you,
For you are indeed its strength and its glory."

But now, enough of Fadl: he is already more intoxicated from this draught of vintage praise than he is from the wine. Therefore, Yassamin turns to Anwar and Salsabil, vibrating her voice with great tenderness, the words flowing out of her mouth through a mother's loving smile:

"Behold a family so great in intelligence
So full of mighty statesmen and geniuses
That even its youngestmost child
Is on the level of an elder
In both wisdom and in might;
When one of the Barmakids
Reaches the age of ten years,
His ambition is to become
A vizier or an amir!"

And now it is Jaffar who applauds, beaming with pride. "Hear, hear!"

"There is one thing I don't understand, however," Zainab says as Yassamin takes her seat once more. "If you are such a great leader, why do you come here to spend Mehregan?" she asks Fadl.

The children look at Zainab askance, so Yassamin rushes to explain. "Uncle Fadl is an amir; he rules a great province with many people living in it. And it is on Mehregan that all amirs, kings, governors collect taxes and receive gifts from their subjects. Were he in his castle right now," Yassamin says and nods at Fadl, "his people would be heaping gold and silks and fruit at his feet."

"And also their complaints," Fadl drawls and crashes back onto his cushions in an exaggerated fashion. "It is also the time of year when a ruler has to listen to all his subjects' woes, turning away none."

Jaffar but chuckles. "Another reason I do not miss being Caliph. Even when Harun reigned, it was us he delegated this task of listening to the subjects' grievances to; he knew little about how the state itself was run."

"Whereas you Barmakids knew all about it," Zainab now nods. "I do not envy you. This would have been--what, thousands of people?"

"Tens of thousands, in Baghdad," Fadl moans from amidst his cushions, his great nose still pointing at the ceiling. "Even in Balkh, it's hundreds, and by the time the last of them have left, the sun will have risen. If it's a quiet year."

"Truly a shooting star, your statesmanship, then," Jaffar smirks as he pours himself more wine. "But mark my words, brother mine: if you lose your kingdom to an invading army while you're holidaying like this, don't come asking me for spells to regain it! Such miracles are beyond me, I am afraid."

Fadl makes a rude gesture at Jaffar, one suggesting cunny-sucking.

"Or when you're off doing that," Jaffar says breezily, glancing mischievously at Zainab over the brim of his bowl.

But she is already tickling Fadl's feet through his thin silk socks, sending him shrieking and yelping until he finally sits up, his turban half unravelled. With a sigh, he decides to take it off entirely, tossing the green silk aside.

Anwar looks from Jaffar to Fadl, then at Jaffar again. "That's it! If he doesn't have to wear one, I shan't wear one either!" he declares and starts to unravel his.

Yassamin rolls her eyes at Jaffar. "This is what you get when you ask him to teach your son manners."

Fadl tosses the green silk into Yassamin's face, sending her sputtering. "But your son is right. It is a hot day. Come, is there any reason in particular why we aren't celebrating in the garden?"

"Unlucky stars," Jaffar mutters and swirls his wine in his bowl, as if scrying it for signs. "Did your court astrologer not warn you?"

"He waffled on about cataclysms, earthquakes," Fadl scoffs, waving his hand dismissively. "But you can never predict these things. And anyone who says so is a damned fool."

Yassamin stills as she now sees the shadows flitting across Jaffar's face; his eyes are dark, his voice quiet, low. "It is the exact same formation as on the night of Harun's feast," Jaffar says softly, still staring into his bowl. "The one Khurshid warned us about. I needn't tell you, brother, that I do not wish to make the same mist--"

"Enough!" Fadl barks and combs his hair back with his fingers, rummaging around in his sash for a leather thong to tie his hair back with, buying himself time with this before he continues. "No more pretending," he says as he fastens his ponytail with a tight knot. "Either we tell the children now, or never."

"Tell the children what?" Yassamin asks, now staring at Fadl sternly.

"What are you talking about?" Zainab asks, now visibly irritated, especially as she is not the centre of everyone's attention.

Jaffar sighs. "Cataclysms, earthquakes. By which he means Harun, and what he did to our family."

Yassamin's eyes widen in fury. "They are not yet old enough!" she cries, glaring at Fadl. "I forbid it!"

"But I want to know," Salsabil says, looking her mother in the eye. "What happened to my sisters."

"Sisters?" Anwar asks. "But he said I had a brother!"

"Two little girls and a little boy," Jaffar says, too loudly, angrily, glowering at Fadl. "Whereas he had a son, the same age as mine. Only seven years old when they died," he says and now, he has to set down his bowl, for his hand is shaking too much; nevertheless, he stains the cushions with the spillage, cursing under his breath as the thick red wine pours down the white silk like blood. "How many gory details would you have me tell them, Fadl?" he asks his brother, hissing. "What level of horror would satisfy you?" he now asks, trembling from rage, Yassamin likewise. "Hmm? Pray, what level of nervous damage would you have me inflict upon my children? Enough to leave them forever scarred, wetting their beds into adulthood? Is that what you would wish to see? Hmm? A pair of children pale and quivering, forever fearful of suffering the same fate?"

"That is not my intention!" Fadl says, punching his cushion with his fist.

"Jaffar--" Yassamin cries, trying to hold him back, but Jaffar persists.

"Can't you see he's jealous?" Jaffar now says to Yassamin with a dry, bitter laugh, then turns back to Fadl. "You told the children to try and wound them, to try and wound Yassamin and me, all because I," and he bounces his hand off his chest, "unlike you, now have a family once more! I always knew you were a man petty, Fadl," he now whispers, his eyes glowing like blue flames; "but not this petty," he shakes his head, "not like this."

And now, Yassamin comes to sit beside Jaffar, wiping with her sleeve the tears he does not even realise he is shedding. She blanches as she can feel, hear, see Jaffar's thoughts: a terrible feeling of suffocation, of four children buried alive in the harem wall, Jaffar screaming and clawing at the already-dried cement, clawing at it until his fingers bleed, and he is screaming and he is screaming--

And it is then that Jaffar slams shut the doors of his mind and pushes Yassamin aside, as if he were himself a substance poisonous, harming her with his touch alone. "Don't," he croaks in a voice broken. "Please."

Zainab but looks at them, not saying anything; yet even she seems to be furious at Fadl, if only because of his having created a scene like this. Perhaps Fadl has not told her about his women and children either, Yassamin thinks; she would not be surprised. For Yassamin does indeed know the full, horrible tale in complete detail--and that is the exact reason why she would not inflict it upon others, let alone her own children before they'd reached a more mature age.

"Forgive me;" Fadl murmurs, unable to now look anyone in the eye. "The child mentioned it, and I lost my temper. Think of it as a dam that burst, or more like a festering boil lanced; either way, it could not have been held back forever." He glances at Jaffar from underneath his brows. "I swear I did not mean deliberate harm."

But it is little Salsabil who now toddles over to Fadl, sits bravely in his lap and takes him by the hand. "You don't have to tell us everything, Uncle."

Fadl sniffs and tilts back his head, blinking his eyes to try and dry the tears that threaten to spill from them. "There isn't much to tell. Only that a brutal king killed our family when we were young. Forty of us; men, women, children. He was a bad man, a very bad man."

"You forget his bad queen," Jaffar spits. "There is a reason why we live in Samarkand, now, and not in Baghdad," he says, wiping his tears with his sleeve. "This bad queen poisoned our mother and father, while the king murdered our children. And his men went for the rest. Only a handful of us survived; Mohammad, Musa and Dunya are only alive now because they were not in Baghdad at the time."

"But why didn't you do anything?" Anwar asks, blinking, his little fists now squeezing his cushion so tight his knuckles are white.

"Oh, but we did," Fadl says, now hugging Salsabil to himself, she even letting him kiss her cap. "We swore upon our mother's deathbed that we would avenge her, and we did. I slew the queen, your father the king," he says, but is careful not to give to the children the gory details: of how he had slipped into the harem and strangled Zubayda with her own plait in turn, just as she deserved; how Jaffar had mixed a slow-acting poison into Harun's drink, making it look like he died of an illness.

"The next day, we installed the bad king's son in his place as regent," Fadl continues, "a feeble-minded weakling, who wasted his life in idle debaucheries. It was your father who was, effectively, Caliph in his stead." Fadl looks up at Jaffar. "But he did it cleverly, and I ran away to Balkh, so that everyone thought that the Barmakids had been vanquished, and that the throne had passed to the bad king's son the natural way. This continued on for some time. The feeble-minded king died young, and his equally feeble-minded son took his place, until finally, sick of ruling from behind the throne, your father cast him out. He drove the foolish prince and his boy-lover into exile in India, and proclaimed himself Caliph."

"You make it all sound so neat and easy," Jaffar laughs sarcastically and glances at Fadl. Perhaps it is fair that he simplifies the tale like this. Why, he doesn't even mention the fact that Jaffar had ousted Ahmad precisely because Ahmad had had designs on Yassamin, and that this had been the last straw for Jaffar. Jaffar would never have become Caliph had it not been for his need to make sure no one stood in his way of gaining Yassamin's heart--perhaps Fadl doesn't even know this; he had already been living in Balkh for decades.

However, before Yassamin, Jaffar had only loved one woman, and it is her memory that now burns acidic in Jaffar's heart, choking his throat from remembered sorrow. "But my brother fails to mention the fact that I had one remaining wife, the one I loved the most: Fatima. She had finally, miraculously, been with child, and it was she and this child I placed all my hopes of a new life upon," he says, "and then God--" he hacks out a sob, "He had to take them from me, too, I--"

But now he is weeping too much to continue speaking, burying his face in his hands instead; the noise he makes is terrible to hear, and Anwar climbs into Zainab's lap for comfort.

"As if you had not been tormented enough," Yassamin says and kisses Jaffar's hands, hugging him tight from behind. She dares not even say "God knows best," so angry is she for Jaffar having had to suffer so; she does not care if this makes her a blasphemer.

"I am sorry," Fadl says, sincere, not even noticing as Salsabil wipes his tears with her veil, the veil she always keeps meticulously clean.

But only Jaffar and Yassamin know the true depth of this 'sorry.' For after Fadl had lost his loved ones, it had been Jaffar he had turned to in his loneliness, seeking to renew their incestuous relationship, the one Jaffar had ended after marrying Fatima. Persistently, violently, Fadl had clung to his brother, attempted to take him by force, even, wounded to the heart by Jaffar's refusal: Jaffar may have had Fatima, but Jaffar had been all Fadl had had left.

After all they'd been through, Jaffar's rejection of his advances had been too much for Fadl to bear, and he had parted in such acrimony, with such vitriol, that he fears no amount of prayer will ever wipe that sin from his record. Those two words--'Good riddance!' he had spat at Fatima's corpse, the words for which Jaffar had almost slain him with the fury of his spell, having set his guts on fire, crushing his shin-bones in his fist, so that he'd had to crawl to safety--

And now, Fadl can no longer stay still. Gently, he moves Salsabil aside and comes to embrace Jaffar from the front, hugging him as tight as Yassamin now hugs him, letting Jaffar weep over his shoulder, and nevermind Fadl's fashionable silk tunic.

And as the brothers weep in her arms, Yassamin can see that day as if it were unfolding before her eyes this very moment: Jaffar, standing furious in his bedchamber in his mourning clothes--the blue he had worn ever since--and Fadl, collapsed upon the floor from the force of Jaffar's spell, with his trousers around his ankles, his soft prick lolling pitifully against his thigh. And after, the last time Jaffar had ever seen Fatima, her dead babe lifted to her breast, then covered by the winding-sheet as they had wrapped it about her face. And Jaffar's subsequent madness, his spending his days by Fatima's graveside without food or drink; his plunging himself into dark magics to bring back at least his wife and his child, his cursing the heavens in his despair. The traitors he'd had executed in order to gain skulls, bones, blood for his unholy rituals, his vain experiments to resurrect the dead; all those times he had nearly slain himself with his own potions and hadn't cared, for if he could not bring back his loved ones, he would have welcomed death so that he might have joined them himself.

But Fadl now feels, sees, knows all these things, too, them radiating from Jaffar's mind into his: so much of this is new to him, so much of it having taken place only after he, the miserable coward, had run away to Balkh, limping. "I had no idea, brother," he whispers into Jaffar's ear, undoing Jaffar's turban as well, covering his thinning hair in kisses. "I never knew how bad it was for you, I never knew, I never knew," he sighs, "I was a fool, a knave, a villain; an unbeliever dog unworthy of the Barmak name. Forgive me," he asks, his words falling rapidly from his lips, he stuttering as he lifts Jaffar's face in his palms. "Please, brother. Please forgive me."

"I already have, you stupid bastard," Jaffar moans with a bitter laugh, strings of phlegm hanging between his lips as he looks at his brother's face. "But, come, brother, does this confession not finally satisfy you?" he says and shakes Fadl by the shoulders.

"It satisfies me," Zainab interrupts, determined to end this wallowing, this misery.

"And how about you, little ones?" Jaffar asks the children.

Anwar is still resting in Zainab's lap, and she is stroking his head; the poor little boy is too shocked even for tears. "It's enough, Father," he murmurs, playing with the thin blue silk of Zainab's shalwars.

"I think you should tell us about the good things," Salsabil says, now, coming to take her father's hand. "What they were like when they were alive."

Fadl but throws back his head and laughs. "Zamzam was just as clever as you," he says. "Perhaps the pagans are right and souls can indeed reincarnate; so similar you are in both temperament and wisdom."

Jaffar but shakes his head wistfully. "Such comparisons are always unfair, however," he says warmly. "You are Salsabil, and that is what matters, now; Anwar is Anwar, not Musa."

"But I want to know," Salsabil persists. "What was my other sister's name?"

"Layla," Jaffar says, smiling wistfully. "With eyes as black as the night."

"How old were they... when...?" Salsabil asks.

"Layla was four and Zamzam was six," Jaffar says. "Zamzam loved books, Layla loved cats."

"And just as your father, Musa loved mysticism and machines," Fadl says.

"Aye," Jaffar says, looking at Fadl again. "And little Ali loved riding horses and running around with swords, just like his father."

But now, Yassamin lets go of Jaffar; her legs and her arms are starting to suffer from pins and needles. "It's long past your bedtime, children," she says. "Uncle Fadl can tell you more about your siblings tomorrow. Can he not?"

Fadl nods. "I shall. Trust that I merely wanted you to know the truth, children."

"I'm... glad," Salsabil says and squeezes Fadl's hand again. "Are you not glad, too, Anwar?"

"Well, I am a little sad," he says, honest to a fault. "I don't feel like sleeping."

"I'll have Zahra mix you a sleeping-drink," Yassamin says and takes both children by the hand. "Milk and saffron. Now, say good night to everyone."

As Yassamin takes the children to their quarters, Zainab lets out a loud sigh. "This is not what I expected from a Mehregan feast," she says, honest to the point of rudeness, but unlike Anwar, she knows it.

"Neither did I," Jaffar says and wipes his face with his turban. "But I suppose it was inevitable," he murmurs, then looks up at Fadl. "On the other hand, now there should be nothing scandalous left in our past for him to dig out like this, no more secrets such as these for him to whip out come next Mehregan." He gives Fadl a firm glare. "Are there, brother?"

Fadl embraces Jaffar apologetically. "I am sure. Trust that this will be the last time. I, too, would prefer merriments."

Zainab quirks her eyebrow. "I would, in fact, prefer it if you made merry with me," she says. "Come, my stallion. Cheer me a little."

At that, Fadl gets up and performs the most elaborate of court bows, pretending to be a slavish little page as he crawls over to Zainab and fills her bowl, sending her ample frame jiggling with laughter. "That's better," she says, her eyes twinkling with genuine warmth, mixed with a little pity as Fadl lies down in her lap, just like Anwar had done. "It is indeed true what they say of the Barmakids: the legends of them are many, but the legends are no match for the truth," she murmurs and strokes his hair. "I knew you had suffered, but never knew how badly. I am sorry."

Jaffar crawls to refill his bowl in turn. "So much for the orgy, then," he mumbles sarcastically, never having truly been in the mood for one in any case.

"We'll have time tomorrow," Fadl says and kisses Zainab's plump little hand, then lays it over his heart.

"Did you hear that, Yassamin?" Jaffar says, making room for her beside himself as she returns.

"I did," she says as she takes a bowl of wine from Jaffar. "And my insides welcome the rest!"

Fadl makes a mock-pout. "We are all getting old."

Zainab, only twenty-five, coughs pointedly. "Some of you at least. What about my desires?"

"I have not forgotten those potency spells he requested," Jaffar grins and pats Fadl's groin. "You can rest easy, madam."

Fadl sighs and throws back his head, pretending to snore.

"Definitely the last round," Yassamin murmurs over the brim of her cup. "We've all had more than enough excitement for the night."

"Quite!" Jaffar quips, empties his bowl and pulls Yassamin onto the cushions beside him, groaning as he hugs her tight.

Chapter Text

The next day

***

"OWW!" Zainab shrieks like a wildcat as her maid accidentally pricks her cheek with a costume pin while attempting to secure her elaborate headdress.

The pin did not, in fact, hurt her all that much, plump as her cheek is; but the grave injury inflicted upon her beauty is another matter entirely. For now, the large mirror of Yassamin's guest bedroom reveals the extent of the damage dealt: there is, indeed, a visible scratch upon the soft cushion of flesh atop Zainab's cheekbone, an ugly red mark now marring the perfect peachlike plushness she is so famous for. The vile thing is bleeding, too, with surprising profuseness, great big drops of blood beading from it. That such a thing would now be tarnishing her beauty, just as she is supposed to go out in front of people's eyes, about to star in Jaffar's pageant as Venus herself!

Appalled, Zainab clutches her cheek and wails in indignation, alarming Mustafa--he never having known the volume and whining pitch at which only the very pampered and the very vain can scream--so much that he now leaps out of the room as fast as his little paws can take him.

But now, Zainab snaps her wail in half with her teeth, her headdresss clattering onto the floor as she swoops a wild-haired fury upon the thief who had so stolen from her beauty's coffers.

"You stupid little bitch!" she shrieks at the cowering slave girl, grabbing her by her plaits and raising her hand to deliver the girl a mighty slap.

"Do you need help with your dress, Zainab?" Yassamin asks from the doorway loudly, pointedly.

As Zainab turns to look at Yassamin with a rustle of fabric, the maid wastes no time: with a whimper, she extricates herself from Zainab's grip and dashes out of the door, just as swiftly as Mustafa had done.

"You little wretch!" Zainab screams after her. "I'm going to sell you to the lowest bidder, to the nastiest, cheapest, most diseased of pimps!"

Yassamin raises her eyebrow and steps into the room, picking up Zainab's headdress. "We will buy her. I've been in need of a new handmaiden." And this is not a lie: in addition to Zahra, she and Jaffar only have two female servants, both of whom have their hands full of work either helping Zahra with the household chores or looking after the children.

"My lady, I knew you liked being whipped, but would you have the little fiend mutilate you like this?!" Zainab cries and points to her cheek. "Look! She's ruined everything," she now moans, her bosom heaving so that it seems as if she might start weeping any moment. "I should've brought Lina."

"Why didn't you?"

Zainab nods her head in the direction of the men's quarters. "Old Eagle-Beak has been making eyes at her; that's why. I decided to remove from him the temptation."

Yassamin looks at the scratch. "I can barely see it," she says placatingly, patting Zainab's arm. "But we do have a cream for this, one that can heal a wound in an instant. It is a godsend when you have two small children running about."

Zainab's eyes fly wide, her thickly smudged eyelashes patting off minute particles of the sparkling blue dust upon her eyelids. "Give it!"

"Zahra!" Yassamin cries out into the corridor.

While they await Zahra's arrival, Yassamin takes in Zainab's costume. Jaffar has been preparing a pageant on the dance of the heavenly bodies--although in fear of their influence, he has decided they are to perform this, too, indoors--all of this but a thinly veiled heathen ritual to placate them, Yassamin suspects. Fadl is to play Mars, as befits him, Jaffar the now-retrograde Mercury; Zainab is dressed as the ever-flighty Venus.

Well, if you can call it a dress. For as, according to the ancients, Venus's natural state is nudity, Zainab has decided to exploit this for all its worth, her costume leaving very little to the imagination. Her ankle-length, silken chemise is so transparent you can see the rosebud-whorls of her nipples through it; her great breasts lift the rich drapes of the gossamer-thin, iridescent fabric off her body. Her already hourglass-like waist is further narrowed by a heavily bejewelled and embroidered golden girdle, so stiff in build that it must have been boned with metal all over its circumference; so tightly does it now cinch her waist. It gives her an unnatural, almost grotesque appearance, as if she were about to snap in half at any moment: so heavy are her top and bottom halves on either side of it.

"It's quite an ensemble," Yassamin says and looks at the headdress in her hand, a crescent-shaped tiara of sparkling blue jewels, with a ludicrously short veil made of the same material as her shift.

"You're holding it upside down," Zainab says and now plucks the tiara from her hands, placing it upon her head so that the crescent points downwards, forming a crest atop her head. "Oh, but this is no good!" she moans, combing her curls with her fingers. "She completely tangled up my hair. Look," she whines.

"Let me," Yassamin says. They are already late, so she decides to use magic to fix Zainab's tousled coiffure: she takes great strands of Zainab's shoulder-length locks into her hands, wrapping them around her fingers, then whispers a heating-spell over them. The wax Zainab has already worked into her hair to dress it softens, and within but moments the curls set beautifully, smoothly as Yassamin pulls out her hand.

"Witch!" Zainab sputters. "Doesn't it hurt?" she asks, seeing as Yassamin has just used her hand as other women use lengths of lead pipe heated over hot coals.

Yassamin shakes her head. "No, but it can sting a little if you maintain the spell for too long. Let me do the rest," she says and now uses both hands to quickly work Zainab's hair into a reasonable state of decency, even if decency is, obviously, relative where Zainab is concerned. "Venus should look a little tousled, methinks," Yassamin says as she releases the last of the curls; "as if she had just stepped out of bed after an amorous tussle with Mars."

Zainab groans and rolls her eyes. "He will muss it eventually, don't you worry."

"There," Yassamin says as she pins the headdress in place, without causing Zainab's cheeks damage this time. "Was there anything else?"

"My face!" Zainab rolls her eyes once more.

Yassamin glances at the door. "Zahra must be busy trying to get the children to sleep."

"Wait!" Zainab cries and rushes to her bags. "I almost forgot," she says and holds up a long, golden cord. "This should go around here," she says and begins to adjust it around her hips as she makes her way back to the mirror. "To frame the most important parts," she says with a grin as she wraps the cord around her hips once, then again so that the ends meet at the front, tying them just so that the knot hangs right underneath her cunny. "There!" she says, but immediately curses under her breath as the cord slips down to her thighs. "Damn this thing to Hel!"

"Let me. Were there any more pins anywhere?"

"In that box over there."

And so, Yassamin kneels in front of Zainab as if she were one of her maids herself, attaching the cord to the shift so that it stays where it should. Now that she is so close to Zainab, she can smell the ointments Zainab has used upon her skin, can even smell the sweetness of her cunny--is the woman always aroused? she sputters in her mind.

The suggestiveness of Yassamin's position has not escaped Zainab, and she cups Yassamin's cheek, purring a little. "Perhaps later, my sweet," she drawls, in a perfect imitation of Jaffar; Yassamin's cunny clenches despite her groaning at Zainab.

But it is then that Zahra finally arrives. "You called, madam?"

Flushed, Yassamin gets to her feet and straightens out her dress--a simply cut, but beautiful kaftan, for she is content to remain in the audience this time. "My Lady Zainab has scratched her cheek."

"Her slave has scratched her cheek!"

"I do apologise. Lady Zainab's slave has scratched her cheek, and she needs to look her best for the pageant. Have you got any of the master's wound-salve on you?"

Zahra looks at Zainab suspiciously, then at Yassamin. "Yes, my lady." For she never leaves her quarters without a little bottle of it somewhere upon her person: she is not wearing her apron this time, but produces the bottle from her sash. "Do you wish for me to apply it?" she asks Yassamin.

"You know best, I suppose," Zainab sighs. "But please, hurry."

Zahra applies but one fingertipful of the ointment onto Zainab's cheek and then retreats, Yassamin signalling with a nod that she can go back to whatever it was she was doing. Zahra hands Yassamin the ointment, just in case, then bows and departs.

Zainab glances at the door after Zahra's gone, probably astounded at Zahra not having bowed and scraped on entering or leaving. "Strange way to run a household. Are you always so free with your slaves?"

"I've told you. Zahra is not a slave, but a free woman. And a friend," Yassamin says gently, but firmly. "And we treat our friends with kindness. But, come, my lady; have a look in the mirror. The ointment is starting to take effect. Does it burn at all?"

"It does," Zainab winces, but then, as if she's just remembered frowning caused wrinkles, she soon forces her face into a mask of stillness. Even then, Yassamin can tell she is disgusted by the green and brown, syrup-like consistency of the ointment, even horrified at watching herself with such a smear on her face.

"But wait for a few more moments. When it's dried, the scratch should be gone."

"How will I know it won't stain my cheek forever?" Zainab cries at Yassamin as she leaves Zainab for the washing alcove, to fetch a bowlful of warm water.

Really! This is worse than tending to a child, Yassamin thinks; if anything, Zainab only reminds her of how intelligent and reasonable Salsabil and Anwar are despite their age. In fact, Zainab reminds her of a pet cat she had once had as a maiden, a cat extremely beautiful but extremely unintelligent to the point where she'd been afraid of mice, yet so unafraid of fire she'd burned her tail several times, from having basked too close to lamps or braziers. Why, sometimes Yassamin had been able to tell Moosh was in the room simply from the smell of singed fur floating into her nostrils from somewhere!

"Don't touch it!" Yassamin tells Zainab as she returns, blowing on the smear. "I could try and heat it with my hand, but I think it's best to let it dry on its own."

"Is this the same ointment Jaffar used on Fadl?"

"Quite possibly?"

"Well, then. He mentioned Jaffar having heated up the poultice, and it did not do him any harm."

"I think it's dry enough in any case," Yassamin says and inspects her cheek, struggling to keep calm--Zainab's restlessness is starting to fray her nerves, and as much as she hates it, the restlessness is starting to infect her as well. The smear is not, in fact, dry enough, but she hopes and prays the ointment will have taken care of the cut already--it had been small enough. Thus, she wets a small washcloth and wipes Zainab's cheek with it gently, whispering a hopeful prayer.

"But that's marvellous!" Zainab exclaims, her mouth hanging open as she inspects her once-more perfectly smooth cheek.

"There is no pain or swelling?"

"None! In fact, I think it's now softer than it was before," Zainab murmurs in awe, stroking her face with both hands. "Younger." It is then that a light of realisation sparks in her eyes and she springs into movement. "Give me that!" she cries and now makes a beeline for the bottle, starting to smear the ointment all over her face, rubbing it particularly hard into her forehead, around her eyes and the corners of her mouth.

"But it's medicine!" Yassamin shouts. "It's for emergencies only!" Shocked, she snatches the bottle from Zainab so that she can't waste all of it in the service of her vanity.

"A threat to one's beauty is always an emergency!" Zainab declares as she rubs the ointment into her skin with her fingers, now uncaring of the mess she's making, or the fact that her entire face is now mud-coloured.

"We are almost half an hour late," Yassamin says. "Either you wash that thing off your face now," she says with the same firmness with which she disciplines her children, "or I will not help you with your dress. They're waiting for us."

"I don't care!"

"Besides, they're men. They're less likely to notice any changes in a woman's appearance."

"Speak for your own husband!" Zainab says and fans her face with her hand, trying to get the ointment to dry as quickly as possible. "Besides, Jaffar is half blind. And you know how vain Fadl is, how particular about looks."

"Yes, about his own looks."

"Heat my face with your hands. Quick!"

Sighing, Yassamin obliges--the sooner they get out of this room, the better. She holds her hands, palms open, fingers together a few inches from Zainab's face and murmurs a heating spell. This time, the ointment dries so quickly that in but a few heartbeats, its surface begins to crack like dry earth; Yassamin lowers her hands and gives Zainab the towel.

It takes another half-hour for Zainab to paint her face anew; by the time the women arrive in the entertaining-chamber, Jaffar is snoozing and Fadl is fuming. Furious, Fadl leaps off the platform and confronts Zainab, the pieces of his Roman-style mock-armour--consisting of but fabric covered in golden paint--nearly falling off him as he stomps over a caricature of a centurion, the studded leather apron-strips over his skirt flapping noisily as he goes.

"What's the meaning of this?" Fadl asks Zainab, thumping his fists on his hips and looming over her, trying in vain to intimidate her with his height.

"Zainab, my love, how beautiful you look tonight!" Zainab sneers at him, thumping her own little fists on her hips so that her numerous bangles rattle loudly; one foot and three inches of height difference mean nothing to a woman who knows herself a goddess. "We are late because I was making myself presentable to you!"

"Mars and Venus indeed," Jaffar mutters as he stretches and yawns. He is himself dressed as Mercury: thankfully, unlike his lewder pagan depictions, he has chosen to wear a pair of shalwars and a long-sleeved tunic underneath his traveller's cloak, and is not displaying his privates the way a herm would. He has sewn a pair of little wings onto his sandals and tucked another pair into his unbound hair; how long it must've taken for him to craft the magnificent brazen caduceus he is now carrying, Yassamin has no idea.

"I am sorry we are late," Yassamin says as Jaffar climbs down from the platform. Trying to wrangle Zainab is like trying to herd cats, she tells him with her mind.

Jaffar but chuckles as he guides Yassamin to the seats that have been prepared for her on the floor. "Here."

Yassamin looks around herself. "Am I the only audience?" she blinks.

Jaffar lowers his voice, even if there is little need for it; he doubts Zainab and Fadl can hear him over their bickering. "I thought it best to send the children to bed early, and to dismiss the servants," he says, sounding a little apologetic for his excessive caution: for it is clear he means the influence of the planets.

"You don't have to apologise to me," Yassamin says; she trusts him in these matters.

Jaffar nods, lost in thought. "Mmm. It is tonight when the worst conjunctions take place. That's why I thought--"

"That, you might have to apologise to God for," Yassamin says and whispers a little prayer. "For feeling as if you needed to appease heathen gods."

"How many times, woman?!" Jaffar now raises his voice. "I've told you--"

"What's that?" Zainab asks as she strolls over to them triumphantly, seemingly having won the argument; Fadl follows in tow, clutching his hands into fists. Why, Yassamin thinks she can even spy a nascent erection of all things rising from between his legs, trouserless as he is, only wearing the skirted tunic and sandals with laces strapped up to his knees. They all know Fadl loves nothing more than a good thrashing from Zainab, but they must not have had sex last night for him to react this violently to her tongue-lashings, Yassamin snickers to herself.

Jaffar puts his fingertips to his forehead and closes his eyes, gesturing at Yassamin with his caduceus. "I have only been trying to tell this obstinate woman, for the hundredth--no, thousandth--time, that the old gods are but names the heathens gave to aspects of the One God," he groans. "It has never not been the same vital energy, never not the same original cause;" he laments and raises his eyes heavenwards, "only the pagans' methods of knowing it and worshipping it have been false."

"Speak for yourself," Zainab murmurs under her breath. Fadl glowers at her, but that does not stop Zainab from making the sign of Thor's hammer over her chest, even if she is trying to mask it as an adjustment of her necklace, the same way Christians mask their crossing themselves. Yassamin has seen Northmen make that gesture before; perhaps Fadl has, too, but Jaffar is too busy preaching to take notice.

"True religion is all about harmony, yes?" he now asks everyone, daring them to disagree. "Well, then. It is said good actions please God, so let us commit some good actions so that He might remove His wrath from us."

"You truly do think the heavenly bodies wrathful?" Zainab asks.

"I do not think, my lady; I am a man of science and of faith, and therefore sure of it--nay, doubly sure of it."

Fadl lets out a loud sigh, obviously not believing a word of it, placing Jaffar's belief in astrology in the same class of foolishness as Zainab's paganism. "If you must. But, come, let us not tarry any longer. I am starting to get hungry."

Zainab casts Fadl a flirtatious glance from the corner of her heavily painted eye; she thinks she knows exactly what kind of hunger he means. "Where do we start?" she asks Jaffar.

"Over here, my lady," Jaffar says and gestures towards the space in front of Yassamin.

All carpets have been removed from the floor, and in their place, Jaffar has drawn a great magic circle with all kinds of complex sigils, not unlike an astrological birth chart. In the middle of this circle sits a smiling figure of the Sun, and all around it fan out the wedges of the different heavenly houses, all marked with the signs of the Zodiac and inscribed with their corresponding numbers, letters and God's Beautiful Names.

It is at the Divine Names that Zainab hesitates; heathen or not, she would not step on a name held holy by everyone else in the room. "Is this wise?" she asks.

"As long as you follow the instructions I gave you," Jaffar says, "there should be benefit rather than harm. You do remember?" he asks as he places his fingertips upon Zainab's back, guiding her to the house of The Scorpion.

"I do," she mumbles.

"How about you, Fadl?"

Fadl steps into the house of Leo, representing Persia itself. "I remember."

"I, however, am at a loss," Yassamin says.

Jaffar takes his place at the centre of the chart. "The Moon is about to be eclipsed by the Earth's shadow in but moments. Venus, Mars and Mercury are all retrograde, forming a disastrous downward-pointing pattern. And as the Moon, the heavenly mirror she is, normally helps deflect negative influences from both the Sun and the stars, is now dimmed, well. We are to perform a dance and some recitations to deflect some of those negative energies ourselves."

"So we are to act as mirrors in the Moon's stead?" Zainab asks.

"Aye," Jaffar nods. "And just as a beautiful woman is pleased and distracted by a mirror held up to her face," he grins at Zainab, "and just as a man is distracted by beauty so much that he forgets himself," he nods at both Fadl and Yassamin, "we are to appease these influences by praising them a little."

Yassamin groans inwardly--this is most definitely pagan, despite all of Jaffar's protestations!--but she knows any objections from her part would now be in vain. "Very well," she but sighs. "Begin."

"Mars!" Jaffar says and bows at Fadl.

And it is Venus Mars now recites his praise to. Yassamin recognises this text as having been taken from one of Jaffar's favourite books: The Nature of Things by Lucretius. It is remarkable that in this work, even the Epicure--who would normally see the deities as not being concerned with humanity--devotes the entire preface of his work to an invocation of Venus, using her image as the personification of that which governs even the atheist: the life force itself, the force of love and of desire, the power of nature and of vegetation, of all that grows and lives and dies.

"O Bountiful Venus, mother of humankind, delight of gods and men, who, beneath the gliding constellations of heaven fillest with life the ship-bearing sea and the fruit-producing earth," Fadl now recites to Zainab, Zainab beaming proudly as she bathes in the power of his commanding voice; "since by thy influence every kind of living creature is conceived, and, springing forth, hails the light of the sun. Thee, O goddess, thee the winds flee; before thee, and thy approach, the clouds of heaven disperse; for thee the variegated earth puts forth her fragrant flowers; on thee the waters of the ocean smile, and the calmed heaven beams with effulgent light."

Thus, Fadl continues, impressing everyone by the way he has memorised the entire preface; but then again, Jaffar of all of them knows that under his warrior exterior, Fadl used to share his great passion for books in his youth. His memory is extraordinary, his orator's skills having been kept in practice by his having to regularly deliver speeches to his subjects.

Zainab, in turn, makes the most of her charms in portraying Love and Nature herself. She lifts up her chin, her breasts held high; she tilts her hips most sweetly, rocking a little in a most seductive way as she dances around the circle according to the words of the poem, in the counterclockwise direction of the heavenly body Jaffar has told her to imitate.

Finally, Fadl comes to the part of the invocation concerning himself; Zainab sits in the house of Leo and Fadl approaches her with amorous intent. It is here that Fadl's voice reaches the apex of its might, its command, Jaffar having told him that this is the very force upon which the deflection of negative, cataclysmic energies depends: loudly, boldly Fadl recites the verses.

"O Venus, cause the fierce pursuits of war meanwhile to cease, being lulled to rest throughout all seas and lands!" he now cries, "For thou alone canst bless mortals with tranquil peace; since Mars, the lord of arms, who controls the cruel tasks of war, often flings himself upon thy lap--" and it is at this that Fadl does so, posing majestically in Zainab's arms as he gazes up at her face. "Vanquished lies he by the eternal wound of love; and thus, looking up, his graceful neck thrown back--" and here, Fadl makes sure to display with great care his indeed magnificent neck, its beauty having made the entire Barmakid clan famous for theirs, "there, he feasts his eager eyes with love, gazing intently on thee, O goddess; and his breath, as he reclines, hangs upon thy lips."

Zainab caresses Fadl's hair, and Yassamin wonders if he is not trembling with arousal this very moment, so does he quiver in her arms, excited by the performance. But now, Zainab bends lower, almost kissing Fadl, yet allows him to recite the last verses before she does so.

"Bending over him, O goddess, as he reposes, to embrace him with thy sacred person, pour from thy lips sweet converse, entreating unruffled peace, illustrious divinity, for thy people."

Zainab captures Fadl's mouth in a passionate kiss, the room ringing with their sweet moans as they mingle; Jaffar spreads out his arms and walks around the circle in a clockwise direction. He recites a spell of his own, now: with his words, fierce and loud, he is commanding the heavenly bodies into accepting this ritual as tribute. "Behold Venus, made joyous! Behold Mars, appeased! Behold Mercury, now seeking equilibrium instead of chao--"

But it is then that all the window-shutters are blown open by a great gust of wind, all the lanterns blown out by it; the entire room is plunged into the moonless dark.

There is a faint, but clearly palpable rumble in the earth, and Zainab gasps, clutching Fadl tight--at least going by the choking noise he now makes.

As everyone's eyes become adjusted to the starlight, the tremors cease little by little.

"Jaffar!" Yassamin cries and is immediately upon her feet.

"I am here!" Jaffar responds; soon, they find each other in the shadows, clinging to each other tightly.

"We're all going to die!" Zainab wails.

"No, no..." Jaffar murmurs; he blows from his hand a fire-sphere and floats it above their heads, casting a faint light into the room. "We are all unharmed, are we not?"

Fadl springs into motion, clutching for his sword, swearing as he realises he is only wearing a wooden gladius upon his hip. "We may be unharmed, but what must this quake have been like in Balkh?" he now cries in despair, grabbing at his hair with both hands, staring into the darkness. "My God..." he groans; he of all people knows that the closer to India one gets, the worse the earthquakes; in fact, it is said that the Barmakid clan had its origins in Kashmir, but that it was exactly in fear of earthquakes that they had moved deeper into the Persian lands. "My God, my God," he keeps on murmuring, burying his face in his hands; one needn't be telepathic to be able to tell he is now wracked by guilt at not being there with his people.

"Are you sure that was the entire earthquake?" Yassamin asks Jaffar. She has experienced an earthquake in her childhood, and that had been followed by another just hours after.

"We need to find out about Balkh," Jaffar says, plucking the wings out of his hair. "Fadl. Wipe the circle clean immediately while I fetch the crystal. Yassamin, you go check upon Zahra and the children."

"What about me?" Zainab asks, looking miserable in her pile of silks, her lower lip jutting out so that she looks as if she is about to weep.

"You just sit there," Yassamin says as she dashes out of the door, but does not voice the rest of her thought out loud: and keep on doing what you do best; look your prettiest.

***

The children, once roused like this, are both terrified: it's impossible for Yassamin to calm them down, considering how terrified she is herself. She and Zahra and the children all huddle together, exchanging many embraces and sighs and tears; yet, eventually, Zahra shoos Yassamin out of the room, knowing how much she wants to look into the crystal herself. And it is for the best, Yassamin thinks as she rushes back into the entertaining-chamber: Jaffar needs her this moment, too, not only to balance his nerves, but to stop him from being driven mad by Fadl and Zainab.

When Yassamin enters the room, she finds Jaffar has not yet lit the lanterns; he, Fadl and Zainab sit on the floor underneath his fire-sphere, gathered around the crystal. In its glow, Zainab--with her plump cheeks and giant, blue eyes full of worry--looks very much like a child, and briefly Yassamin wonders how on earth she could ever have been so frightened of this woman. Fadl, in turn, looks grave, his eyes now red and his kohl smeared, but it seems he has finished weeping, now numb from worry.

For it is a terrible sight that now greets Yassamin as she takes her seat beside Jaffar: piles of rubble where great mosques and temples had once stood, fires bursting out in various parts of the city--and this is only what they can see by the light of the fires and the torches and lanterns of the distraught inhabitants, the full moon now cruel and distant as it looks upon the devastation. The moment Yassamin sees the dead, gray hand of a child sticking out from a heap of fallen bricks, a little doll lying crushed beside it, she knows she has seen enough: with a soft cry of horror, she turns away and pulls her veil over her face so that she will not have to see anything more, even by accident.

"I should have been there," Fadl murmurs. "For a second time, now, I have been absent during a calamity."

"Do you wish to see the castle?" Jaffar asks, his hand upon the crystal.

"No. But you know I must," he sighs. "Go on, then. Get it over and done with."

Again, they cannot see things very clearly in the moonlight, but it seems God has been merciful in at least one respect: in that the castle still seems habitable, even if one of its great domes--one Fadl had commissioned himself, his pride and joy--has caved in, its great cupola like a broken-toothed mouth yawning at the heavens.

"That's the mosque, and beside it, the festival hall," he murmurs. "I can only hope no one was praying there."

But that is unlikely: there are always men who will spend their nights in prayer, and considering all must have been celebrating Mehregan in Balkh as well, how many people must have been in the hall when it caved in?

Now Fadl buries his face in his hands. "Stupid of me to have said that. I am sorry."

"Don't be," Zainab says, almost angry, now. She looks at Jaffar. "Is there any way for us to know how many died yet?"

Jaffar shakes his head. "I doubt they themselves know."

"Then, we must abed," she says, ever the pragmatist; even if she, too, must know none of them will be able to sleep tonight. "You're torturing him."

"Quiet, woman!" Fadl barks, slapping his fists onto his thighs. "This is the kingdom you refused to become the queen of, so keep your hands out of it."

Zainab fumes at that, even if all know Fadl's harshness to be a result of his distress; yet she is not so stupid as to start arguing with him at a moment like this. Doubtless, she wants to say something sarcastic about how Fadl has failed at kingship himself, but holds her tongue: the crystal is telling him that quite clearly this very moment. Therefore, she but gathers the drapes of her costume tighter about herself and remains silent.

"Would you look at that!" Jaffar says next, but his surprise is tinged with melancholy. "Nawbahar is still standing."

Or at least that's what it looks like: there is light in its every window, and its monks have now formed a human chain to pass on buckets of water to quell the fires in the buildings outside. The temple complex itself is completely untouched: its great banners flutter in the night wind, as if nothing had happened.

"Witchcraft," Fadl hisses.

"Aye," Jaffar says as he observes the sight, two of his fingertips still upon the crystal. "It's what's kept the place standing for so long and you know it."

Suddenly, Fadl turns to glare at Jaffar fiercely. "Could you have prevented this? Because, brother, if you had a spell in your back pocket that could have protected my household," he now cries, grabbing Jaffar by the tunic, "I swear that I'll--!"

"Don't be a fool," Yassamin tells Fadl and grabs him by the arm, forcing him to let go of Jaffar. "What do you think tonight's ritual was all about?"

"Yes, and this is why we only got a little rumble! If you had such magic at your disposal," he says and yanks Yassamin's hand off himself, "why didn't you come and perform the spell in Balkh?!"

"Because you would have scoffed at me, just as you scoffed at your court astrologer, had I tried," Jaffar says calmly, but in his eyes there remains the terrible vastness, the merciless, unyielding blue of the heavens. "Besides, do you for a moment think I would have left my family to attempt anything that foolish, when they themselves were in danger?" he asks. "And thirdly, you could have gone to the Dakini. You could have asked for her to give your house the same protection she gave Nawbahar."

"Twist the knife, then, will you?" Fadl now shouts and springs to his feet. At first, it seems as if he is about to fight Jaffar, but thinks better of it: with a loud cry of rage, he punches the air with his fists and strides out of the room.

Zainab sighs. "If he thinks I'm going to run after him, he can think again."

Jaffar shakes his head. "When he is like that, nothing will shake him out of his fury; absolutely nothing. You had best let him have his walk, then wait for him to come to you."

"Unless he leaves for Balkh the first thing tomorrow morning," Zainab says, bitterly; Fadl had been supposed to spend two whole weeks with her.

"Do you think he will?" Yassamin asks Jaffar.

"I am certain of it," he replies. "He tarried for too long the last time, and I suspect the Dakini has better things to do right now than to create decoys to rule in his stead. His people have never needed him more; even his being here right now might be considered an abdication by some."

"Sometimes I wish he would abdicate," Zainab says and toys with her cord-belt, lost in thought. "I do not mean for my sake," she hastens to add, always quick to assert her independence. "But for his own. He hates ruling, does he not?" she now says, looking at Jaffar. "You yourself have given me the impression that he hated responsibility even when he was a vizier."

"Yes, but he would enjoy the rewards of rulership, of course," Jaffar answers wryly. "I have never regretted my retirement, not a single day of it," he says and lays his hand over Yassamin's, smiling at her. "Thus, I have often suggested he should do the same. But I think he is afraid, deathly afraid of what might happen to him were he left to his own devices. He likes delegating his duties to his viziers, you see, but it is he who is dependent upon them, dependent on an entire kingdom to cater to the vast sea of his needs; completely unlike the way most common men are content having but a wife to take care of them."

"It is true..." Zainab murmurs. "That is why I could never marry him. He needs an entire nation for his mistress, his wife, his cook, his secretary and his slave. It is as if he is cursed somehow, always needing more, never satisfied even if he were given the entire world."

"That is exactly what we have always thought," Yassamin says. "Perhaps this is God's way of telling him he needs to choose."

"How do you mean?" Zainab asks.

"That perhaps this is a true turning-point for him; a divine test," Yassamin tells her, "either he will emerge from this a responsible king, or he will humble himself and retire to lead a more quiet life, far removed from those duties he so hates."

Zainab rolls her eyes heavenwards. "If it is the latter, he had better establish his own household and not expect my house to become his hermitage!"

"The new Lesbos, a hermitage?" Jaffar chuckles a little wistfully and pats Zainab's hand. "No, no. He likes it as the nest of sin it is."

"I do love him, should you doubt it," Zainab now says quietly, casting down her eyes. "It is a strange love we have, to be sure. And I would miss him greatly were he to never visit Samarkand again," she says, her voice choking a little. "Hell, I miss the bastard already! I was looking forward to his arrival, my heart leaping like that of a foolish maiden," she says and now blinks tears from her eyes. "The fool I was. And now he will be taken from me again."

But now, embarrassed of having admitted this, Zainab tinkles and jiggles to her feet. "If you'll excuse me," she says, wiping her nose on her sleeve. "I am exhausted."

"Of course," Jaffar says and slips the crystal back into its pouch, he and Yassamin getting up with her. "We should retire as well."

"Don't tell him I said that," Zainab mumbles as they make their way down the corridor.

"Said what?" Yassamin asks. "The part about the hermitage?"

"The leaping heart part," she says, almost inaudibly.

"I'm afraid it's too late," Yassamin laughs gently and pats her on the back. "For methinks he already knows."

***

As Zainab dismisses her maids and slips into bed, naked as is her wont during full moon nights, she feels like a farce. Some Venus has she been indeed; if anything, she has felt like a spare part all throughout this festival. Why did she even come here? To make a complete fool out of herself? And over another fool, at that?

She calls out to Freyja for her guidance, but just like her Roman counterpart, Love Herself is a flighty mistress and but smiles at Zainab mysteriously when she tries to pray. And as if to mock her, the quiet murmurs of the eunuchs' night prayers now carry into her ears from outside the harem's doors: she wishes she had the faith of the Muslims, their unshakeable trust in God having planned everything in their lives from the outset, of having decreed each of them their fates; fates they must obey without question.

But it is then that there is a faint creak at her door, and the sound of leather apron-strips behind her: she knows this to be Fadl, a man most uncertain of his destiny, despite the faith he at least claims to profess.

And she cannot bear it any longer, one lost child of Fate turning to another for comfort: she turns around to face him.

Fadl stands before her a thief in the night: without a word, he begins to strip, but there is no eroticism, no lust to this act, only a great weariness. In the light of this cruel moon that had wrecked his kingdom by its absence, he seems so fragile, like such a thin and lanky boy despite his age, his height, his satyr's prick. It seems to Zainab that he even shivers a little, even if the night is warm and there is no wind coming in through the window; as the moonlight strikes Fadl's eyes, they become, for a moment, as transparent and as ghostly as his brother's, his skin as pale as the corpses of his subjects. Indeed, it's as if he has taken upon himself their suffering, the way the Christians say their Jesus had taken upon himself the miseries of all men in order to save them; but for Fadl, how much is there now left for him to salvage?

He might as well be kingdomless, yet it is in this moment that he cares for his kingdom the most; the irony does not escape either of them.

"You still have a kingdom," Zainab says, regretting the words as they leave her lips, but she must say them, she must: "right here," she says and points to her heart, her voice trembling.

For just as Fadl has now learned how much he cares for his kingdom, so is Zainab learning to understand how much she cares for him despite her protestations. It is a chalice bitter both of them now have to drink from: that of great care realised perhaps too late.

"Come," she says, and in that moment she feels as if she will fall apart lest he touch her; "please," and her emotion chokes her by the throat. Oh, how she hates saying the next few words, so much so that she spits them out: "I need you so much."

Fadl's smile is at once tender and sad; he shakes his head. "And here I was, about to say the same," he sighs and crawls into bed, its old frame creaking with his weight as he lies down beside her. "I don't like it either. Caring," he says, lifting his hand to her cheek, but not touching it yet, as if he were not certain his touch were welcome. "So, what do we do about it?"

Zainab groans and presses his hand to her cheek. "We let ourselves be carried along by the tide, I suppose," she says. "And just... love," she whispers, stroking his hand, searching his eyes with hers. "I've never tried it. Have you?"

"I tried once, and failed miserably, as you now know," Fadl replies, his voice hoarse from honesty as he again recalls his failure to protect his family. "But I want you to... I mean that..." he swallows. "Even if we were to both fail disastrously in the attempt, know that I would rather do it with you than anyone else," he says, with an awkwardness equal to her own. "Just you, Zainab."

"Fail together?" she laughs, now near-hysterical from both laughter and tears.

"I am trying to tell you I love you, you stupid bitch."

"And here I thought I was trying to tell you I loved you, you stupid bastard," she says and takes his mouth with a kiss.

And so, Venus opens her arms for her wayward Mars: with a great and sad sigh, he sinks into her embrace, as if in her flesh he could escape from the terrors of the world for ever.

Chapter Text

Fadl bargains with God upon his prayer rug, bargains with Zainab in her bed, bargains with Jaffar in the shabestan for the means for him to get back to Balkh as quickly as possible.

Jaffar tells him that he could, indeed, arrange for Fadl a transportation spell, but that at such an astrologically inauspicious time, such a spell might fail in the most awful ways imaginable and unimaginable. However, Jaffar also tells him that he does, indeed, have another solution: he might, for example, construct for Fadl a flying horse. Yet, he would have to build one from scratch, and that would take him three days at least, even with the help of Yassamin and half a dozen djinn.

Still, the journey from Samarkand to Balkh routinely takes at least a week, if not two, even with the fastest of horses: therefore, Fadl has to, however grudgingly, accept this solution--for even this will give him a massive advantage in terms of both time and safety. So many rivers must have flooded due to the earthquake, so many bridges collapsed that the route would be, at least by horse or by camel or by foot, too dangerous for anyone to attempt to traverse right now. He is a lucky man to have for his brother not only a genius but a sorcerer; he swallows his qualms and thanks Jaffar with the tightestmost of embraces, covering him in kisses.

Not only in this is he the luckiest of men, but also in that he has the head of the vastest mining operations in all of Persia for a mistress. For in addition to providing Jaffar with materials the way she usually does, Zainab now reaches into her own coffers to assist Jaffar, to herself buy the extra silver and crystals required for the project: a flying horse is a great and complex creature, requiring far more of these materials than a simple pleasure-doll ever could.

Astonished, Fadl now watches as Zainab has treasures from her own collection mounted onto camels and taken to Jaffar's house to be smelted by giggling, shrieking djinn; humbled, he sits and observes Jaffar and Yassamin honing each hoof, cog and wheel. For it is only the djinn who are truly rewarded for doing all this, in that Jaffar plies them with the delicacies they love the most: his eunuchs now hand to the creatures cups of blood from every animal slaughtered for food at his household, Jaffar himself distilling from wine the strongest of liquors to offer into their mouths of blue flame.

It is only when Yassamin gently tells Fadl that his profuse thanks are starting to distract them that Fadl leaves the shabestan; that, and Jaffar telling him with a grin that he should rather be thanking Zainab, in the manner she must already be expecting of him.

And Jaffar is right: Fadl is of no use in the workshop, and already he has been neglecting Zainab too much during the all-too-brief time they're now allowed together. He has never forgotten her confession of her heart being a kingdom of his; therefore, considering it may be the only kingdom he even has left any longer, he would be the greatest of fools to neglect it. Time and time again, Jaffar and Yassamin, even Zainab have healed Fadl with their love, made him at least slightly less of a complete bastard: therefore, just as it is now time for Fadl to prove himself a worthy ruler, so is this the time for him to prove that these lessons, these surgeries of the spirit have indeed had an effect upon his nature.

"I am sorry," Fadl says to Zainab as they stand together in her courtyard, watching the camel-driver disappear through the gate with the last load of silver required for the flying horse, said load including even some of Zainab's own necklaces this time.

When Zainab starts, about to turn around to, quite possibly, tell him to stop, he takes her by the shoulders and presses himself against her back. "I only mean that I hate the very thought of my perhaps having made you think that you would have to buy my love from me."

Zainab laughs sarcastically. "You should be apologising to my girls, if anyone. Those necklaces were ones I had been meaning to gift unto them, so that they might be made happy when they saw how beautiful they looked while wearing them. So many of my girls come from bad owners, you see--they have only ever known beauty as a tool to keep their masters happy, many of them having been treated as nothing more than pretty dolls."

As you yourself were once treated, Fadl thinks, but there would be no reason for him to state the obvious; therefore, he remains silent.

She clasps his hands over her shoulders and leans back into his embrace, her head barely reaching his chest; again, Fadl is reminded of just how tiny she is even underneath her plumpness, even underneath her queenly pride. She has had to fight hard for that pride, just like all the other former slave girls he has known; yet rarely has he acknowledged just how hard it must have been for such a woman to climb up to a position such as hers. For the first time in his life, he can now see this climb as as a battle, an accomplishment commanding respect, when he'd previously but thought such girls overly proud, pretenders for stations they weren't worthy of, having got where they were simply by spreading their legs.

As if hearing his thoughts, she continues. "How different would the history of the world be, how different our present, were pleasure to come to a woman as easily as it does to a man! How extraordinary would it be were we to feel pleasure instead of pain from having our sexes touched without arousal; how magnificent would life be for all human beings were it possible to gift that arousal to a cunny just by cupping it, the way one can do with a prick!" she scoffs. "These girls have endured years of pain, sometimes decades of it where it hurts the most, and I aim to free them from that pain, Fadl--the jewels, silks and pleasure-toys are a part of it, a medicine for the soul. You would never know how many times I've had to tell some girls that with me, they do not have to fear pain, ever again. No amount of jewels, or pleasure--which they have earned a thousand times--can heal certain wounds. So, you see, the jewels are the least I could do."

"Congratulations," Fadl sighs. "Now you have me made feel even worse." But before she can interrupt him, he continues. "Please, if there's anything I can do to make up for this, tell me."

Zainab laughs. "Now, there's a thought. Using you as a balm, making you serve all my girls with your mouth, to prove to them not all men are beasts..." but she shakes her head. "I doubt it would work, especially with your horse-prick. Besides, most of them only respond to women."

"Congratulations again!" Fadl laughs. "An orgy did not even occur to me."

"You're slipping, Barmakid!" she smirks as she turns around, wrapping her arms around his waist. The wind is blowing her curls every which way, her blue veil nearly detached from her head; he is relieved to see a genuine warmth in her smile. "Whatever happened to my debauched libertine?"

He tucks a long, stray curl behind one of Zainab's ears. "He is offering his perversions at your feet."

Zainab rocks in his arms flirtatiously. "You sound exactly like your brother. I like this change in you, I must admit."

He cups her face in his hands. "Enough of this banter," he says, his eyes flickering back and forth as he searches hers. "I do mean it. If it is in my power to give--whether it be jewels to replace the ones you've lost, or the services of my body in your bedchamber--ask, and I will deliver. Nay, I will double whatever it is that you ask of me."

"I shall hold you to that," she grins and takes a hold of his tunic, tiptoeing up to kiss him; he obliges, bending down a full foot so that she may reach his mouth. Her kiss is long and sweet, passionate; leaving him in no doubt as to there being a very fleshly aspect to the reparations she desires.

"Promise me something," she asks, casting down her eyes, fingering the bottom of his collar.

"Anything."

"It's going to be difficult for you."

"Command me."

"Very well," she says and looks up, her eyes vast and light; to his surprise, she looks very young and vulnerable. "I would that you forgot all about Balkh for the next few days, and but concentrated on what you came here for: love."

"I promise," Fadl says, even if there is hesitance to his voice.

"I want you to understand that I am not asking you this merely for selfish reasons. For your people expect a leader who looks healthy and sound of mind, not a man crushed by worry, even if he might be so in his heart. I was once the wife of a vizier, remember? Now, Kawthar was a complete fool and did not know how to rule; it was only thanks to my counsel and my having taught him about appearances that he managed to keep his position until the day he died. It was I who masked the signs of his debaucheries until the end; I who made him appear strong, manly and healthy even if he was the sickliest, most effeminate of sodomites."

Fadl throws back his head and laughs. "And that's what you're comparing me to?! That's rich; not even the Barmakids have ever sunk that far, my lady!"

"You know what I mean. Even if I have to ask for a tranquillity spell from Jaffar, or stuff you with opium up to your eyeballs--"

"They've tried both already!"

She yanks him closer by his shirt, now, grinning; her breasts heave from desire and her breath brushes his face sweetly. "I will make you forget your worries until the horse is ready. But you have to be a good boy and allow yourself to forget. Well?"

"I promise," Fadl says with the voice of an ardent little boy, chuckling as he kisses her nose.

***

And it is within Zainab's house and within the embrace of her care that it is, indeed, easy for Fadl to forget.

It is thanks to Zainab having been so callous, almost mercenary about their love affair in the past that all the efforts she now makes for Fadl's sake stand out in his eyes, humbling him ever further: she has her kitchen prepare his favourite foods for him, has her girls sing to him their most soothing songs; she orders her bath-eunuchs to give to him their most thorough massages.

Now, in the past, Fadl has indeed been pampered by many an amir who'd sought his aid in war, has been offered great feasts by courtiers looking for promotions, has been courted by greedy courtesans through sensual pleasures before. But this time, it's different: apart from Jaffar and Yassamin, no one has ever set out to please him like this for his own sake, cared so for Fadl the man rather than Fadl the possessor of military power, court influence and great riches.

Now, for the first time outside his own family, someone is seeking to make Fadl, son of Yahya happy without an ulterior motive; now, for the first time in his life, a woman cares for him so much that his unhappiness is her unhappiness also.

And he is not fool enough to not realise how lucky he is in all this: ardently, he thanks God in his prayers, and once he gets off his prayer mat, he vows to thank Zainab even more ardently for her efforts within her bedchamber.

When evening comes and he arrives in said bedchamber, he finds Zainab filling its cat-shaped censers with the best, the richestmost of incenses, perfuming the room with the sweet fragrances of oudh, sandalwood and roses.

As Zainab sits on the bed beside him and starts to shrug her shift off her shoulders, he realises she has had her servants wash and massage them both with the same ointments, so that the scents of their bodies now match.

"But, my lady! You, too, have read that book of poets and singers, then, I take it?" he murmurs as he kisses honey from her shoulder, his nostrils fluttering from musk.

"Which one?" she says as she turns around and undoes his hair.

"The one where a poet said that he loved his wife so passionately because of the way she smelled," he says as he pulls off his own kaftan, "and she rushed to add that this was because he and she smelled the same."

She closes her eyes and nuzzles his face, smiling. "That might indeed have been my intent, yes. Just to get that magnificent beak of yours as close to me as possible," she grins and kisses his nose. "Do you find the fragrance pleasing?"

"I do," he says as she sits astride him; "I like it very much," he murmurs as he lies there beneath her, adoring her heavy breasts as she rises above him, their skin so pale and translucent he can never not think of fine, smooth alabaster pots. He closes his eyes and inhales her, warming her skin with his hands; he really does love this fragrance, now sensing notes of fruit and of jasmine underneath the main ingredient binding them all together. The ingredient his court perfumier has not been able to find anywhere for the past year--"Where do you find ambergris these days?"

"Ah, now, that's a secret," she says and leans down to kiss him, her hair tumbling around his head a cascade, glittering as the evening light twines its golden fingers through it. "How would you have me tonight, my stallion?"

"As you yourself said, it's far easier for a man to experience pleasure just from having his prick cupped," he grins and twiddles his toes. "Therefore, I vote for whatever gives you the most pleasure, my love. God knows I owe it to you. Besides, I doubt that whatever it is, it would leave me unsatisfied."

"Bold words," she says and grinds her already-wetting cunny against his prick. "There have been times when I have dreamt of leaving you unfulfilled, I must admit. But I like this monstrous appendage of yours too much," she sighs.

"I am glad," Fadl but beams, never not taking satisfaction in the fact that he's irresistible even to a cunny-sucker. "But, to business!" he declares, slapping both hands onto Zainab's buttocks and giving them a hearty squeeze. "Come, my lady: what is your ideal love-bout like?"

"It should involve a fair deal of sodomy, I think," she says and grinds against him harder, now dragging her cunny up and down his shaft, trapping it sweetly between her weight and his belly. "But I would have your mouth and your fingers in my cunny first, I think."

"That's all?"

"I'm not finished yet! First your mouth and your fingers in my cunny, then your prick in there, then, sodomy. Each one of those acts until release--if you can manage it."

"My God!"

"You asked! I am but being honest. Come, women do this all the time when they're masturbating or fucking each other," she says, waving a hand tinkling with bangles, perfectly matter-of-fact and without shame. "Usually it's several climaxes per area; I am but taking the natural facts into account, knowing the limitations of male stamina."

"Male stamina?! I'll show you male stamina!" Fadl cries and takes Zainab by the waist, tossing her onto her back with a wrestler's throw. He dives for her cunny and begins to lap at her furiously, sucking and nipping and licking her until she is yelping and laughing and kicking.

"That's more like it!" she cackles, drumming his back with her bare little feet.

But soon, the taps of her feet turn into slow drags; her toe-rings and anklets tinkle sweetly as Fadl shows her what he is made of. Always make love as if it were your last time, wise men say; and who knows, perhaps his flying horse is already finished and tomorrow, he will have to say goodbye to this: his favourite delicacy.

Therefore, with a ravenous moan, he sets out to pleasure himself and Zainab, trying to remember what it was that she liked. With his tongue and his lips, he seeks the very root of her clitoris, finding its shape underneath the hood, a little firmer than all the flesh surrounding it; he remembers that it should be at the very top of the slit, near the pubic bone where most women enjoy pressure. Once he finds the spot where this little organ emerges from beneath the bone, he presses his teeth into it, Zainab's gasp telling him he has hit his mark; at once, he closes his lips tight around her clitoris and sucks.

"Gods!" Zainab cries. Her hips buck off the bed, all of her squirming; she hangs onto the sheets in such a manner that it seems to Fadl as if she has trouble holding still. From those times Yassamin had shared her sensations with him, Fadl now faintly remembers that each one of his sucks had felt to her like a sharp lash, a shock through her body; yet, whereas Yassamin has often told Fadl not to suck her as hard or as violently, Zainab seems to be relishing this violence, to the point where Fadl swears he can feel her cunny clenching against his chin.

"Don't stop!" Zainab hisses, sinking a hand into Fadl's hair as she clutches at the sheets with another; now, the music of her jewellery becomes louder as she begins to toss up her hips, grinding herself against his face. "Gods, you've improved at this--" she now groans and throws back her head, and groans even louder as Fadl chuckles into her sex with a deliberately deep rumble, sending the echoes of it vibrating within the bones of her hips.

Oh, but he adores this, adores the way Zainab stiffens completely as he insinuates two fingers into her cunny: the way her muscles, stronger than those of any woman he has ever known, clutch at his fingers greedily, seeming to suck him in. His prick twitches in delight, and he swears it must have grown an inch from but the thought of those muscles soon sucking and pressing and squeezing and milking it in turn; already he can feel a drop of sap trickling down onto his frenulum, the sensation made all the more delicious by the gust of air now brushing against his prick as Zainab's foot thumps into the mattress.

Oh, but she is heated, so wet she is wrinkling his fingers, her sap trickling down his knuckles as he turns his fingers upwards, reaching for the backs of those same nerves he is now pleasuring from the front. He daren't remove his mouth to ask her if he is doing this right, but merely keeps on listening to her body: when she stills, he knows he is not quite touching the right area, but a little yelp and another full-body tremor tell him he has once again found his mark.

He has surrounded the enemy with a pincer movement, he now chuckles to himself, very glad indeed that Zainab cannot hear his thoughts right now; as his fingertips reach that soft tissue just behind her pubic bone, she begins to sob. Well, he can only hope that this is the good sort of sobbing! Now, he proceeds to milk her mercilessly, curling his fingetips against this softness and sucking her clitoris as it swells in his mouth, now twice the size it had been when he'd started; oddly, he is reminded of the times he'd had to serve older men as a lad, the way they'd bucked against his mouth as he'd been fingering them and sucking them.

For it is not at all ladylike to respond with such passion, with such ardour, not for Persian girls at least: yet this boldness is, in fact, exactly what he loves about Zainab, her unabashed harlotry making the acts of love most wonderfully simple and honest in a way his pragmatic warrior's nature can appreciate. Now, he does not have to guess at what his woman is feeling, does not have to try and navigate his way through the labyrinth of her pleasure by trying to understand some arcane insinuations, does not have to be surrounded by walls of silence engendered by needless shame, always ending up feeling as if he's never truly reached his woman's core.

But never so with this woman, never so with his Zainab the Harlot: with loud noises, with fierce tosses and clenches and sprays of her cunny, she responds. And in doing so, not only does she expose her core, but with a great eagerness, she pulls him into the hot, molten honey of it, he sinking into her nectar, drowning in it with the gladdestmost of sighs. Yes, even if she is suffocating him with her thighs, even if she is clawing at his scalp, even if she is shrieking his ears off, he adores her: for this, this satisfying of a woman so particular and so knowledgeable about pleasure, this woman most men would find impossible to sate is for him a true triumph, a conquest truly worthy of a man. He bathes in this baptism of glory that is her cunny gushing over his beard and his neck and his cheeks, wetting him entirely; he bellows deep in delight into her hips to set another series of orgasmic waves into motion within her body, another wonderful undulation of the sea of her flesh.

It is with a great and desperate cry that she yanks herself off him, throwing her leg over his head and curling up on her side on the bed, still shaking; from this position, she flops onto her belly, moaning loudly.

Letting out a mighty groan himself, Fadl lays his head on her enormous arse, hugging it happily, kissing it, sighing in satisfaction. "Victory."

"You said that the last time," Zainab mumbles, but there is no true accusation to her voice. "What am I, a piece of land to be conquered?" she laughs.

"Yes!" Fadl cries and slaps her arse, squeezing it and shaking it with his hand. "A land of the most wonderful, most fertile of valleys."

"I should hope not!" Zainab says, her eyes flying wide.

"That reminds me," Fadl mumbles as he kisses his way up her back, wrapping an arm around her. "I have a gift for you."

"Oh?" Zainab creaks open an eye. "You have a strange way of putting a woman in the right mood. Gifts should be exchanged before the act of love, I thought," she mumbles, but thankfully sounds sated enough to not be truly irritated.

"Ah, but you see," Fadl says and now rummages around the room for his bag, "it concerns the act of love. It concerns it very much indeed," he says and takes out two little folded pices of paper. "Here we are," he says and climbs back into bed with them, his erection bobbing merrily as he sits cross-legged beside Zainab.

Immediately, she takes him by the prick, yet peeks at the sheets of paper as he unfolds both. "Love spells?" she murmurs as she takes in the complex diagrams drawn onto them, one in blue and one in red. "Did Jaffar give these to you?"

"Right the first time," Fadl says and hands to her the blue one. "This is the womb-sealing spell--he and Yassamin swear by it."

Zainab lets go of Fadl's prick and snatches the piece of paper from him, staring at it in amazement. "Are you serious? It actually exists?!" she blinks, looking at Fadl, then at the little sheet again. "But this is marvellous!"

"Isn't it? No more mint or vinegar!" Fadl grins, rolling his hips so that his cock nods in agreement.

"What's yours, then?"

"Well," Fadl says and turns the piece of paper around, not quite sure from where he should begin to read it: there are several different columns of text on the little sheet, each running in a different direction so that the columns form a cross of sorts. "It only says here that it will help a man last longer; although I forget what Jaffar said about the exact mechanism. I think he said this allows a man multiple bouts in one night, lessening the fatigue he feels after release."

He winces, at least hoping that that's what the lines about plant resurrection and rising sap mean: his balls twitch in dread at the idea of just one long, endless erection without release. He'd tried that particular trick once, as a young man, with disastrous results: he'd asked Jaffar to concoct a love potion for him, but after he'd had his fill of half a dozen girls, his prick had refused to go down, leaving him in agony. He'd come this close to losing his prick forever, only a plunge into a bucketful of ice and some swift blood-stopping spells from Jaffar having rescued his manhood from a certain death: but what if Jaffar has just given him the same thing now, only in verbal form?

But Jaffar wants him and Zainab to be happy, does he not? Fadl thinks, turning the sheet around again, and spying--to his great relief--words about multiple handfuls of seeds sown: therefore, he chooses to trust that this spell is what he hopes it is. Besides, Jaffar has thirty more years of experience under his belt, now, so surely--

But now, Fadl's study of the spell is interrupted by a loud yelp from Zainab: she stares at her vulva, blinking.

"It works, I take it?" Fadl laughs.

"It feels like it," Zainab mumbles, and going by the way her belly's rolls now quiver and dip, she is flexing her internal muscles. "Like the neck of my womb has somehow... tightened. This had better not make things too painful," she grumbles. "You always give my poor womb such a hammering to begin with."

Women always say that, so Fadl holds his tongue and takes it as but a compliment; usually it just means they prefer to be taken from behind, which happens to be his favourite position in any case. "I'll be as careful as a goldsmith," he grins; "and give it only a very delicate hammering."

"How does yours work, then?"

"We're about to find out," he says and closes his eyes. Already he has memorised the entire spell and begins to murmur it with intent; he accompanies each of its four verses with a specific caress on the body part it's meant to affect. The first verse, he whispers with a caress from the root of his prick to its tip; the second with a downwards stroke along the shaft, and the last two with a cup of a testicle each.

He opens his eyes and gives his cock a stroke. "It doesn't feel any different," he says and raises his eyebrow. "Now. Where would you like to sta--"

But Zainab has started already: she pushes Fadl down onto his back, mounts him and starts to guide his prick inside of herself. "At last!" she cries, but even then, she struggles with his formidable length and girth; biting her lip, she adjusts her cunny's folds as she lowers herself onto his cock with slow, riding motions.

Fadl wants to tell her to slow down so that she won't hurt herself, but as soon as the tip of his prick has slipped inside of her, he loses all reason. There is but the amazing, amazing squeeze of her rippled flesh; whether some of those squeezes are from her discomfort, Fadl's prick does not care. He whimpers through his nose as the wonderful, wet and tight heat envelops his prick, as if he were being dipped over and over into warm honey; his cock hardens further, pulse by pulse as it responds to being so swallowed. Oh, but it's marvellous, marvellous, and he luxuriates in this, his eyes closed, his hands lax upon the sheets as he but lets Zainab take him; perhaps he is making undignified noises, choking noises, mewling noises as she truly begins to ride him, but he doesn't care about that either. He is surging into her, rising into the heavens even as he is being pressed into the bed by her weight, and it's bliss.

"Let's see, then," Zainab purrs, now rolling her hips with true intent. "Ready for a ride, my stallion?"

And now, Fadl knows to open his eyes: his harlot commands a worship of her beauty, and gladly, he gives it to her. With a happy sigh, he loves her with his hands, his eyes, his breath: he traces his fingertips along the curves of her breasts, adoring the way the scents of her sweat and her sap now entwine with those of her perfumes, dancing and folding into each other just as she now dances atop him, enfolding him into her flesh.

And there, there: her ordinarily flat nipples have begun to crinkle with arousal, now, a phenomenon Fadl always marvels at; it's like watching two little rosebuds emerging into the sunlight of a lover's caress. And oh, how he wishes to be her sun, always, always; he gives to her of the warmth and of the wetness of his mouth as he sucks both nipples out, squeezing her breasts firmly with his hands.

And oh, but the way her cunny spasms at that, at his every squeeze! Ardently, he sucks and nips at her nipples more, more, to get her to massage his prick so; soon, he and Zainab become as a clockwork beast themselves, each reacting to the other's caresses until they buck into each other wildly. Zainab wails upon him, panting, undulating heavy upon him as she is ravished by his mouth; she laments into his ear as she balances upon one hand, another stroking her cunny as he so takes her with his hands and his lips and his teeth. She arches so violently, now, that Fadl but takes this as his cue to continue--he daren't stop, now, so he begins to slap at her breasts, biting them harder, twisting them in his hands brutally, shocking even himself with the way he now ravages their beauty.

"Don't stop!" Zainab pants, stutters as Fadl pauses for a while, her hair flying everywhere as she rides him harder, faster, so hard that now her cunny makes slapping wet sounds upon his balls. Oh, but she is deliciously wet all over, her sap smearing his entire pudendum with its sticky sweetness, its intoxicating scent finally overpowering even those of her perfumes.

Therefore, Fadl continues, and soon enough, Zainab tumbles into release atop him: her body collapses onto his, her softness crashing into his hardness, her wrist bruising his belly as she takes both her knuckles and his prick. And it's now, as she lets out a series of long, rhythmical ululations that he can--only just--feel those cunny-ripples she had been talking about earlier. Now that it is she deciding the rhythm, he can feel her cunny, her womb spasming those moments she stays still, his prick only halfway inside of her; the moment those ripples grow a little lighter, she rams her full weight upon his cock with a low howl, trickling onto his belly. On and on she continues, using him as he were but her toy--but the fact that a woman who so loves her toys has now chosen him over artificial playmates makes Fadl absolutely ecstatic, he laughing into her breasts even as he gives to them his last bites, his last playful growls, earning further sweet flutters and shudders from her flesh.

But he gives her no time to catch her breath: it is about time she let him come as well, and he is most keen to test the strength of Jaffar's spell. Therefore, while she is still quivering atop him, Fadl again tosses her onto her back and now begins to take her with all the energy she's allowed him to save up thus far.

"Now, for my share!" he grins and spreads her legs wide, wide as she gasps breathless underneath him, she so exhausted she can barely even smile; now it's his turn to enjoy her, and he fixes his eyes on the wonderful sight of his prick sinking inside of her cunny.

"Then, take it," Zainab rasps at him, her voice thick and heavy in her throat; now, her smile widens as she notices what he is looking at. "Take my cunny, take it," she whispers, without even taking her hand to it yet the way she usually does, so as not to impede his view.

"Oh, I will," he groans, shuddering in delight as he can now fully see exactly how deep he is sinking inside of her, at the gleaming, sticky redness of his cock and the flushed, dark pink of her folds such a wonderful contrast to the creamy paleness of her skin. He whimpers through his nose as he can not only feel how she ripples around him, but how her fluids now paint him, too. On and on she devours the length of his thrusts, all those inches he hurts other women with; yet her cunny, his wonderful Zainab's wonderful cunny not only accepts them but relishes them.

For it is only when a woman has truly desired him that he has ever been able to bury himself this deep inside of a cunny; he cries out, his forehead knocking against hers as he curls on top of her, seeking to bury himself in her entire, entire, entire. Just one more inch and he's there--almost--and now, he can feel the weight of her womb above his cock, Zainab even adjusting her position to take him in as deep as possible, possessed by the same greed as he. And at that, her effort, another shudder goes through his being; already the sap is rising in him, sparks of ecstasy tingling in his limbs so that he knows he will soon be tumbling over the brink. All of his limbs seem to have their power, their blood sucked from them into his torso, and from there, they all surge into his hips, his balls now lifting high, high; he wipes sweaty hair from his forehead with hers, unable to stop moving now even if he wanted to.

"Stroke yourself," he murmurs, knowing he must be hurting her, now; yet the fat lips of her cunny are just brushing his pudendum, the petals of it unfolding like hot wet silk and velvet about his shaft and he is almost there--

But now it is Zainab who lets out a groan of frustration, pressing her hips lower into the mattress, and Fadl can feel her internal muscles, her womb moving as she takes deep breaths, vibrates her flesh with her groans, eager to take him deeper. She takes her hand to her cunny and begins to rub it, and at that, the first squeeze with which her cunny reacts to her clitoris being touched, Fadl is blinded; but now, their sexes are fully joined, smooth-shaven skin kissing smooth-shaven skin and he's there. He is within her to the very root of his cock, to the root of her cunny, prick beneath womb and he is complete.

No woman has ever been able to take him so: no one, no one.

"Oh my God," he keens through his teeth. Sweat and spittle drip from his face onto Zainab's necklace, adding their own pearls, crystals to the garlands of sapphires about her throat; he laughs in disbelief, and as that sets off yet another chain of squeezes from her cunny, he is lost. Zainab's other hand slips to his buttocks, but she needn't do anything to help him, now; he can barely feel her squeezing his arse as he shoots himself into her in a series of great blasts, one, two, three. He barely moves inside of her at all at first, only enough to keep up friction; yet, soon, his prick needs more and he pulls back, ramming inside of her so hard she howls, but she is open for him, open, open, all honey flowing, flesh singing, swallowing him in her heat.

Her body judders as he thrusts into her, yet she howls so deep in her throat that she must be coming, too, she must be; so tightly does she now convulse around him--merciful God, she has never squeezed his shaft this low, this deep! As he throws himself into her, onto her, howling into her shoulder, her howls mix into his, her sap seeping into his skin, them bathing each other in slippery sweat; her cunny pulses so forcefully it is as if she were drinking from him, her very body relishing the way he now pours himself into her, casting the very life-blood in his marrow into her flames a pagan sacrifice.

It is with a pitiful howl that he collapses upon her, and she but laughs, so out of breath he can only feel its rumbles against his chest, so little air is there left in her lungs as she breathes against his ear.

"Freyr incarnate," she murmurs.

"Mhh?" he whimpers, still not looking at her, still shaking too much to lift himself up.

"Our Priapus," she murmurs. "That was a compliment. That was--"

"Amazing!" he sighs, drawing in and letting out a deep breath, shuddering his last atop her, sure that another little drop of sperm still spurts out of his prick as he does so.

"I mean it. I've never come like that before, so filled," she says, her voice distant, dreaming. "It must be the spell," she murmurs. "For the first time in my life, I was not afraid of your sperm... I've never let go like that with a man, never given myself so fully, bodily," she whispers, with frankness that astounds Fadl as she now plays with the drying sweat upon his back. "It's never felt this wonderful before."

Another thing Fadl had never truly thought of that much; so often has she lectured him on how a woman needs to be in the right mood for sex to not hurt, but how nigh-unbanishable is this particular demon, that of an unwanted babe, shadowing all of women's joys? Previously he'd but thought all women always wanted children, and that he'd been the brute whenever he had insisted upon contraception.

"It's unfair of Nature, monstrously unfair," he murmurs, now finally shifting enough to look at her face, sinking his hand into her curls.

She laces her fingers with his. "But not any longer," she says and kisses his nose. "I wonder how long this spell lasts," she now frowns.

"I'm glad you mentioned that, actually," Fadl winces. "I almost forgot to tell you. Yassamin told me it fades whenever she does not think of it for a long while; she said that it is usually only in sleep that its power is undone. And she also said that it does not remove the power from a man's seed to impregnate, so apparently you still need to perform a cleansing spell, or rinse yourself before going to sleep."

Zainab chuckles and squeezes around his prick. "It's good that I don't feel like sleeping, then. Nor do you, by the feel of it."

"Mmm," he says and wriggles his hips playfully, making her yelp in delight as his prick rubs back and forth against her womb. "I suppose this thing won't go down unless I stop thinking of it," he says and glances down at himself.

Zainab bursts into laughter. "By gods! Then it'll stay up forever!"

Chapter Text

It is then that Fadl slips out of Zainab with a groan, and moves to sit on the side of the bed. "A drink, first," he says and clambers for the pitcher on the bedside table, sitting in a bucketful of snow.

"It's just milk," Zainab murmurs as she turns to her side, purring happily. "I did not wish for our senses to be dulled by wine tonight."

But Fadl is so happy he does not mind; he hums a cheerful tune as he fills his glass. But as he does so, he notices there is something missing--namely, the most common flavouring of all milken drinks. "No mint!"

"Well, can you blame me?"

"No, I can't," Fadl chuckles as he sips from his glass. "Here's to never having to suffer mint-prick ever again!" he cries, slams his glass down on the tray with great delight and wipes his moustache with the back of his hand.

But as soon as he turns around, she is upon him like some sexual ghoul: the moment his feet are upon the bed again, she takes his still-firm prick into her mouth.

"Mmmm," she groans, smiling around his prick in delight.

"Careful!" he cries and has to put his hand to her head. "It's still a little tender."

She releases him with a soft smack. "I'm sorry. I didn't realise the tenderness could last that long."

"Nevermind," he says and kisses her sweetly, passionately. "But I've just thought of something that might help," he says as he lies back on the bed, tucking several pillows behind his back to make himself comfortable.

"I'm all ears," Zainab purrs, dragging her hand up his belly.

"And all insatiable cunny," he says and tickles her slit, making her yelp. "But I've always wondered..."

"Yes?" she asks, her eyes glittering with curiosity as she lies down beside him, leaning on her elbow.

Well. Here, he pauses, slowed down by an unusual sense of... almost abashment, it feels like. Besides, the question is a little jealous of him, but Zainab already knows he is jealous of her girls, so he might as well be honest. "How do they prepare you, the girls?"

"Depends on what you mean," she says flirtatiously, rocking her hips.

"You know what I mean. For sodomy."

Zainab laughs, her laughter rich and tinkling and husky; now, the courtesan in her strolls to the fore, as she does whenever she can boast of matters such as these. "I can give you a little... demonstration, as it were. Seeing as I take it that that's what you were after."

"Yes," Fadl says, and he hates how boyish, how high his voice comes out, but he is as excited as a schoolboy.

In fact, the day Jaffar had acquired his first magic crystal--he had been thirteen, Fadl fourteen--the first thing the brothers had used it to spy upon had been the Great Harem's baths. Therefore, ever since, the secrets of women's beautification, the rituals they undertook to enchant themselves and their men have carried for Fadl a delightful aura of magic; so much so that the art of beauty had, to him, become to possess an aphrodisiac quality in and of itself. Perfumes, coloured powders, the scent of fresh henna, rich ointments--that glorious day Jaffar had adorned himself with all of these, dressing himself with Dunya's silks and jewels, he had driven Fadl absolutely mad with desire. Jaffar had posed for him, danced for him like he'd seen slave girls do; as a result, Fadl had ended up taking him all night in the wildest positions imaginable, right there in their sister's guest bedroom. They'd had to cover each other's mouths with their hands so as not to awaken Dunya, puffing and panting and snarling in each other's faces as they'd rutted there a pair of frenzied beasts.

And now, he wishes to find out Zainab's feminine secrets; before, she had been reluctant to let him see her without her face-paint, her hair undressed. But earlier this week, he had insisted upon watching her toilette, fascinated by all the accoutrements of her beauty. The wondrous plays of colour, light and shadow she and her girls could create with powdered minerals and greasy kohl upon her eyelids; the high coiffures they could construct of her locks with heated irons, pins and waxes; the new softnesses, firmnesses and hues given unto her skin via various pastes of turmeric, sandalwood, rose petals, lead and clay.

But this is the one area of preparation he has not yet been witness to: therefore, he is desperately curious, Zainab laughing at the way he now stares at her in expectation.

"But a moment," Zainab says and gives him a lingering kiss.

She returns to the bed with a little leathern plug and bottle of oil. "I shan't repeat the enema, if you don't mind. But I can show to you how we stretch each other."

"I have no objections," Fadl says, smiling and shaking his head; his right hand now rests against his prick, the backs of his fingers set against it lightly, in no hurry to stroke it just yet. With his left hand's index finger, he now beckons to her playfully. "Closer."

As if to show him what 'closer' truly means, Zainab now straddles his entire body so that she is on all fours over him, her mighty arse and plump cunny but inches from his face. "Close enough for you, my lord and master?"

Fadl closes his eyes and inhales the wonderful sweetness of her cunny in abandon. "Marvellous," he sighs in delight, adoring its not at all diminished flush.

But it is the raised pink bud of her anus that now becomes the centre of their attention--and pleasure. The very moment Zainab dips an oiled, plump little fingertip inside of it, Fadl hisses, his prick twitching against his hand; when Zainab pulls her finger out and sucks on it to taste herself, he moans. To think that the Byzantine perversion she had so scorned before has now become to her such a delight that she should begin the very play with it!

But then, Fadl has other things to think about as Zainab decides to tarry, to tease him a little. "I have to make sure the friction from your hips won't ruin my skin, you understand," she purrs as she slaps oil onto both her hands and begins to massage it into her buttocks, making them gleam for him, shaking them a little, even. Those massive, spherical mounds now quivering before his eyes, their fat rippling and dappled as if from the touch of a lover's fingertips: soon, he is breathing heavily, his prick straining for her. With Herculean effort, he somehow manages to keep from touching himself: nevertheless, his cock rises proudly towards her body, with a heavy string of sap stretching between its tip and his quivering belly.

Zainab peeks over her shoulder, grinning mischievously. "Why is the poor fellow weeping so? Is it perhaps because he is in need of warm shelter?"

Fadl hisses at that, shifting so that his prick slaps against his belly once more. "What shelter, my lady? He's already tried the furrowed mound, but it was a little too damp for his liking, as far as dwellings go," he grins. "He would prefer a place with slightly tighter walls. Something a little more snug. Perhaps a cave between those two great hills that now gleam so deliciously in the evening sun."

"Indeed?" she now asks, and with great ease, she slips two fingers inside of her arse and hisses in delight herself. "I think there might indeed be such a cave here somewhere... ah! Here," she moans as she tugs upon her muscles, again swaying her arse for him, laughing as she delights in the play. "But its entrance is well-guarded. I am afraid that heroic effort, and perhaps a little magic, are required for entry."

"What sort of magic, my lady?" Fadl asks, playing with the glittering strings of his own sap; just as Zainab turns to look at him again, he dips his fingers into his mouth, now making her moan in jealousy in turn. "'Open sesame?'"

She but groans and bursts into hopeless laughter at that. "Idiot," she says and blows curls from her face. "But I can't say I haven't used that exact same phrase when slipping inside my girls."

"What do they say when they slip inside of you?" Fadl chuckles, now finally starting to stroke his prick in earnest.

"Mmmmmm!" Zainab intones, making exaggerated noises of delight, smacking her mouth. "Usually it's something like that," she laughs, neither of them able to keep a straight face any longer.

Fadl bites his lip so as not to fall into complete hysterics; he nods at the plug beside the oil bottle. "Come. Back to the digging business, my little miner. How do you use that thing?"

"Ah, but you see," Zainab says and begins to oil the plug. "Usually it is not I, but Lina," she says, seeming a little jealous at the way Fadl's balls now lift visibly at the mention of her name. "She takes it like this..." Zainab says and begins to slowly dip the plug into her arse, with rocking movements. She gets two thirds of the way in before the plug seems to come up against resistance, making her let out a frustrated noise in her throat. "And that's where the magic comes in."

"I am all ears."

"I wish you were all hands," Zainab sighs through her teeth, her hand slipping on the plug. "Come. Stroke my cunny a little. It's what I do at this juncture," she explains as Fadl begins to do as she says--he's glad to have a distraction from his prick right now, as he is afraid of coming again, that's how heated she has already made him.

"Is that better?" he asks with a mischievous grin, loving how slippery her cunny is once more, the sweet scent of it absolutely maddening to him right now; oh, but he yearns to taste her.

"That's it..." Zainab huffs; she is starting to pant a little. "I will not be able to hold it open for you with the other hand otherwise, you see."

"I most definitely do not mind," Fadl says and gives her cunny a long lick for good measure, making her yelp and clench so that the plug is pushed out almost completely.

"Fadl!"

"You were about to drip on me!" he but chuckles and smacks her arse, then returns his hand to her cunny. "Show me the magic."

And it is the magic of concentration and controlled breathing she had meant, it seems, since now she stops speaking completely. The only noises in the room are her soft pants and the slippery, wet sounds of Fadl's hand on her cunny--oh, but she is dripping into his palm!--as she holds herself open and dips the plug in and out, in and out of her arse.

Fadl's prick aches at the sight: now, the muscles of Zainab's arse have unfolded and curl around the toy as she twists it, dips it, pushes it in and pulls it out once more. Always, always this is like watching a flower's unfurling for him, whether it's the arse of a woman or a boy: but it is absolutely more beautiful to him when it is a woman, when he can gaze upon the twin flowers of a cunny and its fat, plush petals side by side with the smaller chrysanthemum-bud of the arse.

But now it is no chrysanthemum, Zainab's arse, not any more: for now, she interrupts Fadl's floral reverie by pulling out the plug--and she gapes open wide. For a brief instant, Fadl can see all the way inside of her, can see the heaving walls of her guts, and he cannot resist the temptation any longer: with a ravenous moan, he buries his tongue inside of her arse, curling the tip of it to snatch a taste of her insides. The metal, the salt, the sweetness, the slipperiness of the oil--oh, but his cock pulses out a drop of sap and he--

But immediately, she lets out a high yelp and the muscles spasm together once more, pushing him out by force. "Fadl!"

But Fadl isn't listening, his heat now impelling him into movement; he is furious of her body denying him thus. "Enough!" he groans, smacking her buttocks with both hands; cruel, he pushes two fingers of his right hand inside of her arse to tug it open, to regain what he's lost. Uncaring of Zainab's howls, he now proceeds to fuck her with his fingers, swirling them and tugging them to coat them in her foam, each fleck of it gathering upon his fingers another jolt of heat to his cock; moaning, he sucks this foam off his fingers greedily, feverish, a madman.

"Please!" Zainab wails, her cunny clenching against his other hand.

But still, Fadl continues, stroking her cunny with one hand as he fingers her arse with the other. "You are ready for me now, are you not?" he rasps as he struggles onto his knees, twisting his fingers inside of her, all of him trembling, his cock swaying heavy against his belly, aching. "Tell me."

Zainab but crosses her arms upon the bed and buries her face in them, lifting her arse like a cat in heat. "Fuck me," she spits, wailing as Fadl keeps on taking her with his fingers, her massively swollen cunny trickling into his hand. "Fuck me, you teasing bastard!"

"Where?" Fadl teases still, out of some strange perversion of his own; he tugs his fingers out until Zainab howls again, plunging them in and then tugging them out again in hooking motions until she is screaming loudly.

"In my arse, you fool!" she shrieks, kicking with her feet until her anklets jangle, until her arse and her thighs and her belly jiggle wildly. "Fuck m--"

But it is then that Fadl pours the rest of the oil inside of her arse in a long stream: as she cries out at the coldness of it and spurts it out, wetting his belly, he knows he has waited long enough. She cannot say a word as he begins to push inside of her, and he is sadistically glad to have shut her up, deriving a twisted satisfaction from the fact that he has submitted her completely to his prick. He knows full well how uncomfortable, how difficult the first entry is, his balls tightening in delight as her arse tightens around the head of his cock, fighting him still; all of her becomes as still as a statue as he begins to mercilessly force his way inside. A conquest, a conquest--

But it is then that Zainab lets out a low, animal groan and takes her hand to her cunny; now it is she who forces herself down onto his prick, pushing herself onto it in a sitting motion, clearly giving herself pain but uncaring. She is so heated, so mad from her need that for a moment there, they move in opposite directions, struggling to find a common rhythm; for a while, Fadl stills and lets her do the pushing, taking her by the hips and only focusing on not falling over as she takes him with her full weight. That even in this position, she could swallow him with this mass of her flesh! Oh, but he throws back his head and groans into the canopies as the silken, tighter, hotter heat of the arse now begins to devour him into its depths.

Perhaps he is indeed a statue of Priapus, a herm she now uses for her bizarre heathen ritual, he thinks, but he does not mind this at all: again, even his religion is taken from him as her wondrous pagan flesh consumes him whole. As much as he loves her cunny, it is her arse that gives to him the most fantastic pleasure of all: now, there is no womb to stop his prick, and while the guts lack the rippled walls of the cunny, the tightness of the gates of her body more than make up for it as they now massage his length. And the heat, the heat! It is hellfire he bathes in, the happiest of sinners as the hotness of her body licks him like tongues of flame across his prick; her noises ring in his ears like the shrieks of demons, the heat of her cunny molten against his sack as he is finally fully sheathed.

Zainab's voice is now but a string of ululations, and he has mercy on her: he covers her, his thighs on either side of her hips and begins to truly fuck her, fuck her far harder than she could fuck him, until those ululations snap into but short little broken cries. Oh, but he loves this animal position, loves how easy it is for him to thrust, here; only her smallness requires that he curl over her and that he spread his legs rather wide, but it is no trouble at all. Now, he can take her with the sweetest, the longestmost of thrusts, longer than he ever could lying down; she loves them, too, and has told him this often enough.

They fall into a measured, passionate but steady rut, exchanging hot kisses over her shoulder; gladly, he rests his head beside hers when he becomes so light-headed from the wonderfulness of it all that he thinks he might faint.

He tells her this, but at that, she but lets out a strangled laugh: "I am barely alive myself," she mumbles; "light... dizzy..." and her lips are purpling, her eyes rolling back from what he can see, and for a moment, he truly worries, worries that he is hurting her. Or perhaps he is pressing too violently upon those spinal nerves that can, indeed, make one faint during sodomy; that had happened to him once as a boy, one of the first times he was taken by a man.

"Shall I stop?" he says, even if he is not sure if he could.

"Don't you dare!" she mumbles. "But let me lie down."

He is loath to leave this position he so loves, but it's fair enough: even he is not perverse enough to make love to a woman unconscious.

So there they lie, the tall, thin man atop the soft, plump woman, and even if he weighs less than she, he still worries he weighs too heavily upon her. "Am I crushing you?"

"Wonderfully so," Zainab mumbles and takes her hands to her cunny. "Keep going--oh--that's it--that's the stroke--"

And it is only now that he spies her reflection in a small mirror at the other end of the room: her face is like those of the heavenly nymphs he had seen dancing up the walls of Indian temples once, the ones forever entwined in loving embraces with their celestial partners. Her eyes are closed in bliss, her mouth curled in a smile most serene; she is not moving at all, letting Fadl's thrusts do the grinding of her clitoris against her hands instead.

And it is easy for him to pleasure them both thus, easy for him indeed: tenderly, he kisses her shoulders and feels, listens to her body as it unfolds in ecstasies. Even underneath her eyelids, he can see her eyes are rolling back in her head, fluttering; he can hear her teeth chattering, feel her cunny spraying his sack--how much sap does the woman have left in her body?!--and now, little ripples travel all through her body as she squeezes, clenches, spasms underneath him.

It is a quiet orgasm, the quietest of orgasms after all her screaming and raging; he wants to share it with her, wants to glide into this sweetness with her, so he now lets himself surge into her body to taste of it himself. He feels so light, so light as he lets himself fall, his pleasure flashing up and out of his body like a great pair of wings unfolding; he feels weightless, lifted as he is into the heavens by her wonderful, blessed body. She is for him the blue vault of Heaven, she the softness of clouds; her hair the rays of the sun--and he has to let go, now, because his legs are starting to cramp. Therefore, he but undulates on top of her, now, turning his head at the last moment so as not to puncture her eardrum with the low groan he has to let out, a great groan from the very depths of his belly, his hips. For just like Zainab herself had done, he now moans for his pleasure, moans loudly, spins on and on the vibrations of his orgasm with the vibrations of his voice; each pulse of sperm he now uses to lift himself higher, higher, soaring as high and as long as he can, fancying that he is carried by his brother's magic in this.

He is exhausted by the time his balls are empty, his entire body empty of all its vital spirits, he feels--but what better a vessel to pour them into than the woman he loves, knowing she will keep him safe within her love?

Yes, safe, he thinks as he now hugs her tightly to himself, so tightly, tight, tight; he pulls her into a spooning position, letting his prick slip out of her, releasing the virility spell so that he may drift into a complete peace, at ease.

He wonders what she would think if she could see into his mind, now; all of a sudden, he is taken over by a huge melancholy, and he wants to weep.

But she knows him too well and turns around, now, embracing him tight. "I am not going anywhere," she says and hugs him against her breasts, cradling his head like a mother gathers a babe upon her breast.

"But I am," Fadl sighs. "Going away."

"And you will return, my wayward prince," she says, covering his head in kisses.

"No," he says and lifts his head, gazing at his reflection in her eyes: it is an old man that now looks back at him from their mirrors. "I will never leave you."

"But you must go! Your people need you."

"Aye," Fadl says. "But I would you came with me. I do not wish to waste one more day of my life without you, Zainab," he now whispers, hating the fact that he is now even saying this, but he must. "Not any longer. I want you to come with me. Please."

"That I should come with you," she murmurs, weighing those heavy words upon her tongue; yet it is obvious she has considered it. "But what as, Fadl? A concubine?" she asks, shaking her head. "Even if we wed, I could never live the life of a queen, veiled and shut up in the harem, scorned by your nobles. You know this as well as I do, my love: I am safest, happiest here, where I can be my own woman, rule over my own realm."

"Then it is decided. I shall leave my kingdom and stay here with you."

"Fadl!" Zainab cries, now sitting up. "You'll do no such thing. We are not building that horse for--"

"A coward?" Fadl now says, springing up himself, his eyes gleaming. "Jaffar always tells me I should retire; that I should choose love before war. I am sixty this winter, my love; it's a miracle I have survived this long without being assassinated," he laughs bitterly. "I should do as he did and choose a happy old age, in a quiet house in the country, spend the rest of my days with the woman I love."

"But I am not Yassamin," Zainab says, regarding him with tears in her eyes. "You must know that. We would hate each other were we to pretend we were something we are not."

And now, Fadl takes her by the hands, kissing them both. "I am not asking you to change," he says, "even if you know how much it pains me. But I would rather have a happy Zainab, with her girls--" he nods, "as my mistress than an unhappy Zainab, with no girls, as my wife. I will buy a house here, a house of my own, and only visit you now and then. So that we can have the passion of an unlawful love, and avoid the staleness of a lawful love," he says with a melancholy smile.

"You do mean it," Zainab murmurs, staring at him. "You're a madman. All of you Barmakids are madmen!"

"Correct," Fadl nods, and there is indeed a flame of madness to his eyes, now; to his mouth the grin of a lunatic.

Yet still, Zainab shakes her head. "I suggest--no, insist that you do one thing first."

"And that is?"

"You go to Balkh," she says, stopping him with a finger upon his lips before he can interrupt her. "And you rebuild it before you leave. Only after you have restored it to its former glory shall you tell your people you will retire; only once your work there has been done can you abdicate in good conscience. I will hear no objections to this. If you are to leave that city, you are to leave it as a happy memory in your people's minds, a legend--that of a great king, Fadl the Great. Not that of a coward who ran away when his people needed him the most," she says, her eyes blazing with equal fervour.

He blinks at her, truly astonished. He would never have expected such noble demands of her, but she seems serious, deadly serious. What has come over the frivolous, vain, greedy Zainab that she should now demand such heroics of him? Why, she has been miserable at the thought of not being able to spend her hoped-for two weeks with him, and now she is suggesting that he remain in Balkh for--what? A year or more? Or however long it will take to rebuild the city?

But he knows what this is all for. She wants him to do this for his own good; that much is obvious. But at such a price... is this truly how much she loves him? For it can only be her love that's now pushing her into suggesting such a sacrifice for them both; almost as if this sacrifice were a cleansing, bright white flame that'd burn away both their sins, too, burn away the people they have been. Such an enormous sacrifice of her own heart and of her pleasure, too, and only for Fadl's own honour! Never could he have imagined that it would be a pagan so taking charge of the development of his soul: hell, he does not even know what her people think of souls, or the betterment thereof.

But what he does know is just how seriously the Northmen take the concepts of honour, valour and kingship. And would he, a Muslim, the Fadl they sung elegies of, now show cowardice and weakness in the face of such a challenge, proving himself less noble than the heathens? Never, he thinks, shaking his head; never, ever.

Again, he blinks at her, amazed, as if a gazelle fawn emerging into the sunlight for the first time; for here in Zainab's bed lies a new Fadl not knowing where he stands, who he even is yet.

"Is that your condition, my lady?" he murmurs.

"That is my condition," she says, measuring him with her cool, fearless Hyperborean eyes.

"Well, then. I have one of mine."

"What is it?" she asks, immediately suspicious.

"Only that you tell me your real name."

"What?!" she sputters.

He smiles and nods slowly. "Tell me your real name, my lady. Then, I shall fulfill your wish."

She takes her hands from his and buries her face in her palms, groaning. "I don't believe this."

"It is a treasure worth a kingdom, then, I see," Fadl smiles. "Come, my little berserker. What is it?"

She leans towards him and lifts his hair from his temple, and for a brief moment, he thinks she is going to kiss him. But instead, she now presses her lips to his ear, and intones a chain of strange syllables: sounds dragging, then rising, then lilting, ending with a trill; sounds of the sea and of great battles, of brave maidens upon long ships, their spears held high.

"Seeh-i-ladt," Fadl whispers as she withdraws; now, there are tears glittering in his eyes.

"You are absolutely butchering the pronunciation," she says, laughing a little hysterically, with tears in her eyes, too. "Seahildr," she whispers. "There. Is that truly a name worth a kingdom?"

He laughs through his tears and throws his arms around her, hugging her tight. "It is worthy of all the kingdoms that have ever flourished upon this earth, my love; all the kingdoms that ever have been and all kingdoms yet to come."

Chapter Text

The day the clockwork horse is ready for flight is an unusually hot one for the month of Mehr: the cypresses flanking the forecourt of Jaffar's house offer little shade from the heat of the noonday sun, and even the cool blues and greens of the house, ordinarily so soothing, now fail to cool Fadl's nerves. Dressed in his heavy travel robes and a voluminous turban--with its tails drawn half over his face in Bedouin fashion--Fadl sweats and fidgets nervously, clenching and unclenching his gloved fists.

The presence of Zainab, standing beside him in sombre black mantle and veil--for again, she is travelling incognita--does not make him any less restless, her anguish at their parting palpable as they wait for Jaffar to arrive.

"What's keeping him?" Fadl grumbles.

Zainab pats her own horse, soothing it now that Fadl's barking has unsettled it. "There he is."

And indeed, Fadl can now see Jaffar walking the horse through the courtyard, with Yassamin and the children in tow. As engineer and horse emerge from underneath the shadows of the arched gateway, the first thing Fadl notices about the horse is how ordinary it looks: it is a far cry from Jaffar's bejewelled, richly ornamented and sculpted creations. The horse doesn't look particularly elegant, nor is it black or white or some other unusual colour; it is a fairly heavily-built, placid-looking bay mare, the sort you would expect to see carrying an ordinary traveller.

This must be intentional, of course, so that the horse would not arouse suspicion--but as soon as Fadl has thought that, Zainab's horse starts, more frightened than it was before, even rolling its eyes a little; Zainab has her hands full trying to control the terrified beast, to stop it from rearing.

"I see not everyone is fooled," Jaffar says, frowning as he takes in the situation; he waves his hand, seemingly sending soothing magic at Zainab's horse. At once, it stands still; nevertheless, it keeps on staring and puffs its nostrils a little as Zainab pets it and whispers endearments to it.

Jaffar measures Zainab's horse, then looks at his own; decisively, he hands its reins to Yassamin. "You hold her, my love, while I write down a spell."

"A spell for what?" Fadl asks, unable to hide his irritation at this delay.

Jaffar looks at Fadl in the exact same way he'd looked at the panicking horse. "Salsabil, have you got a pen and paper?" he then asks, patting at his sash.

"But a moment, Father!" Salsabil says, proud to be of service as she digs around in her satchel, one she always carries with herself; soon enough, she has produced a pen-box, a bottle of ink, a wooden writing tablet and a considerable pile of paper.

"Good girl," Jaffar says with a smile and hands back to her all but one sheet; immediately, he sits down and starts to draw complex diagrams and sigils upon it. "This is what we call a glamour, brother mine," he now mumbles to Fadl, not looking up from his drawing. "To cast over the horse. There is, in fact, a glamour over her right now," he says as he scribbles down the rest of the spell. "But I forgot about enspelling other animals," he murmurs, "seeing as you'll want to keep her in a stable with other horses at times, without attracting undue attention. Here," he says and hands the piece of paper to Fadl. "Recite that whenever you need to convince other animals."

Fadl tucks the paper into his pocket without looking at it, raising his eyebrow at Jaffar instead. "And how about actually flying the creature?" he asks, impatient as he shifts his weight from one foot to another.

"I will show you in a moment," Yassamin says, smiling at Fadl's surprise; he'd expected Jaffar to be the expert. "But goodbyes first. Wish Uncle Fadl a safe journey, children."

In a flash, both children cling to Fadl's legs and cry out profuse well-wishes and blessings; Anwar squeezes Fadl so tight he thinks the boy's going to break his leg.

Salsabil, however, is gentler, looking up at her uncle curiously. "Father told me that this time, you were going to run away honourably," she says. "How do you do that?"

"Is that how he put it?" Fadl laughs, touched, not a little wistful. "I guess you could call it that."

"Tell us!" Anwar says. "I want to know, too, if I ever have to run away."

"Didn't your mother and father tell you?" Fadl asks, looking at Yassamin and Jaffar.

"No," Salsabil says. "Father said you'd explain."

And going by Jaffar and Yassamin's expressions, Fadl can tell that they have deliberately left the more precise explanation to Fadl, perhaps because of those ritualistic reasons Jaffar always preaches to him about: that whenever things--whether they be one's words or actions--are given solemnity and ritual, raised above ordinary, everyday words and actions, they become more powerful. So that now, as Fadl declares his intent, he does so publicly, not just in the privacy of the shabestan or Zainab's bedchamber: his words will become a promise made to children, and will thus bind him to his intent even more tightly.

"Well, then," he says, sighing, ruffling Anwar's head. "Uncle Fadl has been a king for a long, long time. And he has grown old and tired; he wishes to stop being a king, and wishes to start a peaceful life in the country, just like your mother and father. But that tremor you felt last week did terrible things to his kingdom, broke down many houses, mosques, libraries, temples, hospitals; he has to go and rebuild all of them, has to go and console his people and help them become well again before he can retire. They would think he was a bad king if he did not do that first. So he has to go and set many things right before he can return to Samarkand."

"Samarkand?" Salsabil blinks. "Do you mean you'll come and live with us?" she asks, and Fadl thinks she may be even a little horrified.

"No," Fadl laughs and glances over his shoulder at Zainab. "Lady Zainab has found a lovely, yellow house for him on the other side of the city, with great orchards and fountains." And it hurts his heart to think of it: he should not even entertain the possibility of retiring there just yet, just in case the dream of his resting underneath the orange trees--with Zainab in his arms--will come to naught. "God willing," he whispers in earnest prayer, casting down his eyes; "God willing."

"In the name of God, the most merciful, the most clement," Jaffar says, loudly, as if to will this vision into becoming reality. "Fadl will return to us soon, and live here in great happiness until the end of his days."

"God is great," Yassamin whispers, to add her own will to this declaration, a spell in and of itself; as she comes to take Fadl's hand in hers, her eyes are shining from tears. "May he bless you and keep you, brother-in-law," she says and kisses Fadl's cheek.

But it is then that a great, terrible wail pierces the air: Zainab casts off her veil and jumps into Fadl's arms, the children and Yassamin staggering back as she hugs Fadl by the neck, her little feet kicking in the air. "Be safe, my love," she moans, all of her frame jiggling with her sobs as she hangs off him like a ripe fruit from a tree. "Don't you dare get into trouble!"

"I promise to only ever get into trouble with you from now on, my love," Fadl says and hugs her just as tight, sniffing back tears; with a groan, he lifts Zainab's legs around his waist and plants a kiss onto her lips. "I promise."

"I love you, you stupid bastard," she says, pouting, curling her toes against his back as she hangs there, her slippers having fallen off with her squirming.

"And I love you, too," Fadl says huskily, hugging her one more time before he has to let her down. "So very much, my heathen bitch."

The children look at each other askance, Yassamin rolling her eyes as she tries to cover their ears from Fadl and Zainab's rough language.

Finally, Yassamin clears her throat loudly. "The horse."

"Mmm," Fadl groans, giving Zainab one last tight squeeze, committing the soft heaviness of her flesh and the scent of her perfume to memory; he wishes and wills to remember this mixture of roses and ambergris all throughout his journey, desert winds be damned.

Finally, he lets go of Zainab with a sigh. "Right. What do I do?"

Yassamin hands him the reins. "The horse is controlled by the mind. Just think of what you want it to do, then phrase this as a command, and it will obey. When it's used as an ordinary horse--and we do recommend that you do so whenever you near habitation--it behaves like one; you may use your reins, spurs and whip to guide it the normal way. As to the flight, we have made it so that you don't have to worry about the mechanism itself; only that you must control ascent, descent and speed by yourself, with your willpower, and never lose focus."

"I think I can do that," Fadl says, braces himself and mounts. The horse does feel like an ordinary one indeed, except that it lacks a horse's noises, scent and warmth. Fadl doesn't quite know whether to be repulsed or fascinated by the real-seeming play of muscle underneath the horse's skin, made of a real horse's hide. "Is that all?"

"That is all," Jaffar says and comes to squeeze him by the hand. "If you need us, brother, for anything at all, use the crystal."

"I shall," Fadl says and squeezes back; he is glad of the idea of needing to focus, because right now, he feels as if he would fall apart from worry otherwise. "Wish me luck."

"I already am," Jaffar murmurs, smiling at him gently; it's as if Jaffar were now pouring his own strength, his will, his magic into Fadl through his eyes, too, all of these pooling warmly in his belly as faith. "Godspeed, brother mine."

Zainab says something husky in her own language, and Fadl chooses to take that as a blessing, too: for the last time, he takes in her sight. "I'm sure I'll be returning sooner than you think, my little wench, so make the most of it," he grins and gives her a rogueish wink. "Don't you forget about me."

"As if I ever could!" she laughs through her tears. "And I'll hold you to that. See you soon, my stallion."

And it is at that that Anwar lets out a little squeak of terror. For now, Fadl has merely entertained the thought of how a horse might lift off the ground, and already, it has done so: as if climbing a flight of stairs, it now begins to ascend to the skies.

Once Fadl has recovered from his surprise, he gives his loved ones one last wave. "Until we meet again!" he cries.

Soon enough, he's galloped into the skies; Zainab and the children all stare at his retreating shape with their eyes wide, their mouths open. They remain there, quiet, watching him until he has completely disappeared from sight.

At last, Zainab sighs and pins her veil back over her face. "He had better return in one piece," she mumbles as she climbs back onto her own horse and as Yassamin ushers the children back indoors.

"I am sure of it," Jaffar says and pats her horse's flank. "He's too persistent a bastard not to."

"You're right," Zainab laughs, then nods at Yassamin as she returns. "My lady. Until we meet again."

"Until we meet again," Yassamin says. "Godspeed."

For a long while, Yassamin and Jaffar stand there, holding hands as they watch Zainab's retreating form; neither says a word, lost in thought.

***

Once Zainab has gone, Jaffar smacks Yassamin on the arse, yearning himself a mighty yelp.

"How's the anal fever?" he asks once her lament has died down.

She but glares at him. "There is no fever; only pain," she growls from between her teeth. "Take it out. I mean it. It hurts."

And going by her voice, she is in true pain indeed; now, Jaffar knows not to jest about it. The turquoise sphere lodged inside of her arse this very moment is quite hefty indeed, the size of a large chicken's egg; she has been wearing it for almost an hour, ever since they'd stepped out of the house.

Jaffar decides to peek into her mind to see how she feels, but even a brief glimpse into her experience shocks him: there is far less pleasure there than he had been expecting to find, despite her cunny having reacted to the pressure of the sphere by swelling and wetting a little.

He looks around himself to see whether there are any servants watching, but he cannot be sure: therefore, he snaps his fingers and the sphere materialises inside of his sash.

Immediately, Yassamin lurches against him with a moan. "Oh, my God."

"That bad?" he asks, now truly concerned.

"Yes," Yassamin mumbles, shading her eyes with her hand. "I've got to lie down."

"I really am sorry," Jaffar says, kissing her head as he offers her his arm. "I did not expect for it to be that painful."

"It's all right. I was the fool who thought she could take it," Yassamin says as they make their way to the harem, "but the mood was not right after all." She had thought they would be relieved of their distress and their woes once Fadl had left, but when he had announced his plans earlier this morning, it had made both her and Jaffar worry even more. "I wasn't quite expecting him to..."

Jaffar sighs. "I know."

"Do you think he'll do it?"

"Abdicate?" Jaffar raises his eyebrow.

"Yes."

Jaffar slows down his steps as they come to the stairs leading to the love-chamber on the second floor; he does not speak until they reach the gallery upstairs. "Do you know, I really think he might. I will read additional prayers for his sake to make it happen, and I suggest you do the same thing. I couldn't bear the thought of him falling victim to some plot upon the cusp of his..." but now, his voice trails off; he is not quite sure of what it is, exactly, that awaits Fadl upon his retirement.

"His happiness and his freedom," Yassamin says with determination, squeezing his arm. "It's the best thing we ever did."

"To think that his life may only just be beginning," Jaffar murmurs and looks over his shoulder at the great green fields of grass outside the house and beyond it; he thinks he can spy Zainab on the horizon still. "How are you feeling, my love?"

"Better," Yassamin says, squeezing his hand as they both stand there, looking out onto the Sogdian valley. "But I would you sheltered me from the sun with the shadow of your body, husband," she says playfully; "I feel a little light-headed still."

He tickles her for that, tickles her until she jumps and yelps. "I see the fever is returning, too!" he declares as she but giggles after a slap on the rump. "Into the bedchamber with you, wench," he commands in his best Fadl voice, snapping his words harshly, despite them soon deteriorating into laughter.

"With pleasure, my dallying stallion," Yassamin sings back, imitating Zainab's lolling, bouncing Hyperborean lilt.

"Yes, madam!" And now, as Jaffar makes a beak of his hand, pulls out his prick and begins to mock-gallop after her with his family jewels flopping to and fro, she falls into hysterics.

They are breathless by the time they reach the bedchamber; now, Jaffar cannot swing his prick around in as amusing a fashion as before, it having hardened too much from sheer excitement.

"Oh, but I love you, my madwoman!" he growls and takes mock-bites of her breasts, tumbling with her onto the bed in a flurry of silks, velvets and high-pitched shrieks.

She kicks off her slippers with such force one of them makes a clanging noise as it hits the clockwork crane. As Jaffar looks over his shoulder, about to go and inspect the crane for damage, Yassamin yanks him by the tunic. "Enough of clockwork!" she cries. "Either you make love to me now, or sleep in the shabestan with the damned things."

He but unfolds her undershirt, tucking it into her jacket so that it lifts out her breasts for him to marvel. "Mmm. You're lucky I could never replicate our Lord's most exquisite work of art: you," he murmurs as he nuzzles both soft, white breasts; for a moment, he rests his head over her chest, listening for her heartbeat. "And a mechanical heart could never sing so sweetly," he sighs in delight.

"Do you know, I think you are right. It does, indeed, feel like the fever is returning," Yassamin smirks.

"Are you sure?" he asks, mock-surprised, swiftly undoing her shalwars, groaning happily as he can now press his erection against the softness of her belly instead of the coarse embroideries of her silks. "Do you think you need a physician?"

Yassamin pretends to consider, looking up and biting her lip. "Perhaps. And an exorcist, just to make sure."

"Then it's your lucky day," Jaffar declares as he throws away the rest of his own clothes, "for I--AAH!" he yelps, for now, the sphere he'd tucked into his belt falls onto his toes. "The damned, blasted, miserable little thing!" he huffs as he kicks the sphere into the nearest corner.

But in his fury, he forgets he has just hurt his toes, so now, the impact of the kick ends up giving him agony: wailing, he hops towards the bed on one foot and crashes next to Yassamin.

"I have married a fool," Yassamin groans and rolls her eyes.

"It is well that you did, in that he cheerfully puts up with his wife's insults in such a manner!" he declares and attacks her with tickles and bites and growls, until they both fall into hysterics once more.

He pulls off the rest of their clothes, throwing them this way and that: he even tosses Yassamin's jacket over the face of the clockwork crane. "So that he can't make you jealous," Jaffar says as he turns to her. "But now, back to business!" he cries and slaps Yassamin on the cunny with the entirety of his palm, and as she yelps and closes her legs around his hand, he keeps it there. "Now. Tell me. What have you been thinking of, my sweet?"

Immediately, she knows what he means by this. It's another new game he had thought up just before Fadl's arrival: a mental journal he had told Yassamin to keep, of all her amorous thoughts during the time they had eschewed sex in favour of working on the horse.

At first, he had requested of her love letters, like the ones she had written him during the early days of their courtship. But knowing her excellent memory, and the advantages spoken words and telepathic thought-exchanges had over written words when it came to arousing the senses, well. They'd both agreed this would be more exciting--and the profoundly liberating effect of all those times he has urged her to voice her desires, the wonderful freedom she has felt every time he has not only accepted but relished the things a lady of breeding should not even think about, let alone speak of--had made her eager to try.

Thus, all thoughts, pleasurable or painful, good or bad, she has now marked down in her memory's journals as an astrologer marks the movements of the stars in his almanac: the rosy dawns of her desire's stirrings, the burning solar heat of her yearning reaching its zenith, the continuing waxing of her lustfulness with her womb growing heavier as her cycle moves towards its end. The tears of exhaustion that had punctuated the heat of her longing with their showers; the pain she had felt when out of stubborn duty, she had still kept on stretching the muscles of her arse nightly, as a gardener turns the earth in anticipation of seeds to be sown.

"Soon, soon," she now murmurs to Jaffar, nuzzling his face as they lie there, her cunny fluttering against his hand; "that is the song she has been singing, in her hope of this moment," she murmurs against his lips.

"Ah!" He but chuckles in tender surprise. "You have never called it a 'she' before," he says, she always having groaned whenever he had been referring to his prick as a 'he.'

"I am but being poetic," she sighs onto his lips; "I do not intend to make it a hab--oh--"

"Mmm," he but purrs, curling out his tongue to taste her sighs. "I think I shall hear what she has to say, first," he purrs, discovering how slippery she is already.

But he cannot pleasure her when she is squeezing his hand like this; they tussle there for a little while, duelling with their eyes, she mock-chaste with the way she now holds on to his hand with her thighs. She bites her lip and rocks against him, her breathing quickening; the teasing flash in her eyes sends a jolt of heat to his prick. Once again, she desires conquest, wants him to take charge of her?

Very well; then, he shall give it to her. "Spread your legs," he commands, his voice thick and creaking from his heat; he nips at her lips lightly, relishing the way she quivers against him from her need.

And oh, the surrender, oh, the abandon with which she now yields to him, never taking her eyes from his: it is his turn to quiver from his own power as he returns her desirous glance, imprisoning her gaze with his. With his hand, with his eyes he thus captures her in the sweet bonds of his mastery over her body, chains wrought by the skill of his touch: lightly, he keeps on stroking her cunny with but the softestmost, the most maddening of touches; again, his prick leaps at the way her breathing snaps and her pupils dilate.

He kisses the honey from her breath--sweet nougat, she has been eating--but he craves a nectar thicker, sweeter still. Therefore, holding her gaze with his all the while, he brings his fingers, now thickly glazed from her cunny's sugar to his mouth: he sucks them clean slowly, savouring the taste, his eyes slitted from devilish delight.

"Jaffar--!" she all but convulses in his embrace; this is what she gets for so teasing him, she thinks. Oh, but her cunny is now aching, hurting from being left without his touch; saliva swirls into her mouth at the thought of her own taste.

"Hmm?" he asks, casually, bringing his hand to her cunny once more. Smacking his lips with relish, he lifts glittering strings of her sap from her cunny into the sunlight, she jerking each time he returns his fingertips to her thickly swollen folds. "What is it, my poor child?" he croons, with the most obnoxious of pitying coos. "Is it that you want a taste of your little cunny? Hmm?"

"Please," she murmurs, and lifts up into a kiss, but he pulls back with a chuckle deep, wicked. Instead of kissing her, he now scoops up great, sticky fingerfuls of her sap onto his lips, painting his mouth with them as a harlot paints her lips with syrup: only when the cruel, scarlet curve of his lips is glistening thickly from her honey does he lean closer to her, closer.

And like a harlot, he offers to her his mouth, yields its glossy sweetness for her tongue's taking: with a great and deep groan, she sucks her taste from his lips, whimpering as he slips his hand to her cunny once more, trapping her swollen clitoris between his fingertips. She howls into his mouth as he captures her tongue in turn, sucking upon it as he begins to squeeze, to press, to rub her clitoris; her hips lift off the bed and her legs shake as she arches into his caress, needing more, more, more. On and on he continues until she is sobbing, until her sap flows down so abundant that it makes her anus glisten, too; her cunny pulses inside and outside so violently, now, that he can feel it against his fingertips.

"Husband, please!" she whimpers, pulling her mouth off his with a smack, panting.

"Tell me," he growls, licking at her mouth, using his tongue to draw out of it a sticky string of saliva and sap; when she moans at the sight, he snaps it into his mouth with a flick of his tongue. "Tell me how you wanted me to take you," he snarls, now slipping his thigh between her legs, bracing his hand on it, taking her the way women take other women. "Tell me!" he continues, now starting to truly thrust, to rut roughly against her.

She throws her arms around his neck and wails into his ear, the wail breaking into a sob as he slips two fingers inside of her, offering her the ball of his thumb to grind her clitoris into; so violently does he now curl his fingers inside of her that immediately, her cunny makes wet noises, the oil she'd prepared herself with spurting out of her arse, too.

"Over the work table," she rasps, gritting her teeth as she pulls back, staring into his eyes as she begins to take him in turn, beating her hips against his hand; "and nevermind the damned, cursed dolls!" she says and takes his mouth with hers. "By God, I wanted you to throw me on top of that slab and fuck me until it hurt," she moans and claws at his hair, "then, that you would turn me around and take my arse, with just engine-grease to ease the way!"

"That can be arranged!" he cries, yanking out his hand and slapping her on the arse.

"I cannot wait--please--" Yassamin groans and takes him by the prick, guiding him inside of her cunny, capturing him with her legs. "God, God, God; I've wanted this for days, days, days."

He but lets out a bellow like that of a bull: he has waited too long himself, and begins to ravish her without finesse, slamming his body into hers with all the pent-up energy and desire that's been teeming inside of him for days. All of that restless, crawling, nervous energy now rises up his limbs, purified, perfected into the white-and-red heat of love's rut: howling in delight, he lets go and slams this power into her body over and over. "Show me, show me, show me," he mewls as he holds up her legs, staring down at the little split peach of her cunny, its shocking tininess swallowing his raw, brutal, Priapic redness. "Let me see what you thought, Yassamin. Let me see."

And she shows it to him, her fantasy: herself, spread out upon the slab like this, with cogs and wheels and hammers and bottles falling, crashing down onto the floor as he takes her upon it, their bodies smeared from black grease. Like animals, them fucking over the table so hard they're both bruised, her head hanging over the table's edge; the silent, dead automaton staring at them on the table beside it.

"Yassamin, you little minx!" he laughs in surprised delight. "I never knew, I never knew," he chokes as he but keeps on taking her, now rushing towards the peak together with her; somewhere in the back of his mind, he feels a little guilty for not having noticed her heat while they'd been working.

You are making up for it right now, she answers, now being slammed into too hard to even speak; she takes her hand to her cunny. But keep on doing that--just that--

"None of that!" he exclaims, with that mock-pitying voice of his again: he wants to own this first release of hers completely. Therefore, he swats off her hand and takes his own to her cunny instead: no magic tricks, no spell-triggers with runes this time, not even a single magical bond will he now wield to make his precious, beloved wife come. It is a matter of honour for him, to prove to both himself and her that he can still do this with no aids magical, herbal or mechanical: to give to his wife the utmost satisfaction as just himself, not as Jaffar the sorcerer but as Jaffar the man.

After all, he has the magics of his touch, of his eyes, of his words at his disposal: again, he takes her with his gaze, pins her to the bed with it, now slowing down his strokes, lengthening them. And she is so open underneath him, so open that her sensations are bleeding into his body, giving him gooseflesh with the way they now sweetly caress his nerves: he feels the rippling flutters of her cunny around his prick the way she feels them, as if he were being taken in turn. But now, the most wonderful sensation of all, making his heart ache: for now, it feels to her as if it were his prick pushing these waves into her and drawing them out of her, he completely controlling the rhythms of her pleasure with his body's undulations.

And she unfolds underneath him a flower, so open, so raw, so pulsing, the whiteness of her limbs a star of petals around the red and pink, slick and heated core of nectar now enclosing him, welcoming his love. Like the Buddhists speak of the jewel in the lotus--oh--this is what she now thinks at him, even this quick rut to them an experience mystical.

My little witch, he murmurs into her even as her tremors rise and pull him into the swirling spiral of her release. A maelstrom of honey, of sap, of nectar, she now swallows him and for a delirious moment, he thinks of those flesh-eating plants he had once seen in the tropics: how perverse to think such things about your wife's cunny! he now giggles to himself as he falls into her, pulse upon pulse upon pulse.

"You have been in the sunlight too long," she moans into his ear as he collapses on top of her, she laughing hysterically even in her breathlessness, the last ripples of her orgasm still rhythmically squeezing around his prick. "Don't you dare ever call my cunny a flesh-eating plant ever again!"

"You started it with the jewel in the lotus business," he mumbles. Symbolic or not, what was he to think?

"I have never even seen such plants, never even heard of them in all my life!" And that was the strangest thing: he had given to her the vividmost of his memories of such a plant, he having witnessed it in his travels in the Far East, and she had experienced it as if a memory of her own. The afterimage of the strange, leathery, cuplike plant with its pitcher full of sticky poison still burns behind her eyelids: she shudders in disgust. "Another woman would ask for a divorce," she mumbles, but the sheer ridiculousness of the vision but brings tears of laughter into her eyes, making her jerk from her chuckles so that he slips out of her.

He but groans in delight and hugs her tight. "Take it as a compliment. From a fool. He cannot think of better ones, especially not when he is taking this tight little thing," and he nudges her cunny with his thigh, "after days of abstinence!"

She caresses his jaw with the backs of her fingers. "It was heavenly," she sighs, glad despite his ridiculousness.

"Mmm," he says and kisses her cheek. "I think I will be able to provide the sodomy, too, but only after a little rest. And I'm not dipping my wick into engine-grease, by the way. Even I draw a line somewhere."

She laughs into his shoulder. "I shan't insist on it. I promise."

Chapter Text

"How has your poor little bottom been, then?" Jaffar asks, bringing a gentle hand to Yassamin's hip, brushing the curve of her buttock with his fingertips.

She brings a finger to his lips. "Before you say it, you should not feel guilty about my soreness; you are not to blame, but I. I wanted it, wanted you so much that I..." her eyes search his, and her mouth curls into a most wonderful smile at her realisation. "I suppose I was testing myself, challenging myself, driving myself past the stations I'd previously reached. The way you always do, like a general does when he is training young recruits. Just as he wants to make great heroes out of his soldiers, giving them ardurous tasks so that they'll be capable of great feats of strength upon the battlefield later, so have you sought to train me into Love's champion," she says, sinking her fingers into his sweaty hair. "What I mean, my love, is that all those years ago, you awoke the spirit of a warrior in me when it came to love-sport. Back when you first asked me to write those letters, back when you challenged me with your perversions, near-taunted me to match yours with mine, so that you would have an opponent worth wrestling with! I distinctly remember my evenings being like the eves of battle as I prepared to enter the bedchamber, approaching its door with my head held high, so as not to show any fear whatsoever: I swore to myself that despite being but a maiden, in so many ways still a virgin, I would rather die than give you a chance to laugh at me."

"My God!" he chuckles, his eyes sparkling with pride and gladness; it's a look that makes her stomach somersault even after all these years. "I must say I am impressed; I truly am," he says, taking her hand from his hair and kissing it, then bringing it to his heart. "This explains quite a few things," he grins and narrows his eyes. "The jade fellow in particular."

And it is now that they drift into a contemplation of one another, their minds so completely joined that the experience of one blends into the other's, her thoughts and his all but waves upon the same sea of a shared consciousness. The moment he swirls the memory of their jade friend into her mind, she grins and squeezes his hand; gladly, she bathes in his happy memories of that event. The way she had taken the jade phallus as a challenge and masturbated with it without shame--but most of all, the audacious way she had turned the toy upon him in the end, vanquishing Jaffar the sodomite with his own perversions the moment she had learned of them. That had been a major turning point in their marriage, even more so than that night of Yassamin the pageboy in Jaffar's tent: in exposing the true extent of his desires, his male-female nature to her, he had entrusted to her his greatest secret, something most ordinary women would recoil from in horror.

Yet Yassamin had not only understood this nature of his, but had loved him for it, cherished him all the more for it; this was something he could never have expected from a wife, no matter how loving. He had expected from a woman scorn, yes; perhaps pity, perhaps--at best--the kind of grudging toleration he had seen from other sodomites' wives. Yet his Yassamin had given to him nothing of the sort, but had embraced these qualities of his with a passion ardent: his twin-sexedness, his femininity, his capacity for experiencing true love and desire for both women and men had awakened within her but a fascination and an excitement altogether genuine. And later, these had blossomed into not only an admiration but an adoration, a joyous celebration--outright worship!--of the wondrous being with whom she enjoyed conjugal bliss: Jaffar her husband who was also her wife.

She, in turn, cannot even imagine the shame and the tragedy that could have ensued had she been left to discover her desire for women on her own: would she not have hated herself, driven herself to madness had she not had Jaffar to confide in about such matters? She dreads to think what would have happened had she not had him, already well-versed in the art of loving one's own sex, guiding her and encouraging her with his wisdom and his knowledge, knowledge scientific, spiritual and practical.

Yet his greatest gift to her had been that of his tolerance, his heroic taming of that beast that turns the gentlest of men into tyrants: that of jealousy. For always, always there have been women who have had no choice but to tolerate their men's adventures with boys, but never has this been thus when the roles have been reversed: never has Yassamin heard of a man who, upon discovering his woman in the arms of another, had not beaten, divorced, even executed her on the spot. Yet even in this, Jaffar had sought the help of his more patient, compassionate, feminine side to slay a beast characteristically masculine. Fully conscious of the hypocrisy that would have ruined him had he let jealousy rear its ugly head, he had deliberately set out to not just play the patient wife to her she-sodomite, but he had offered Yassamin's youthful love the same enthusiastic, loving support she had given to his own desires. Just as she had done with him, he had drunk from the sweet, intoxicating cup of her love with her, bursting into bloom together with her, thus sharing the joy and the thrill of her love's new springtime with radiant delight.

To think of it! Here lies a man who, upon learning of her love for Gol, had but hugged Yassamin tight, full of pride at her having arrived at the same level of expansive love he had himself dwelt at for decades, a love that knew no boundaries. Leanings, tastes, perversions, love affairs that could have torn another marriage apart had but multiplied their love for one another, had made them love each other better, had helped them understand each other better once they'd seen their relationship and each other's personalities through other lovers' eyes. Oh, Jaffar might think himself lucky in having found a woman such as her for a wife, but she has been even luckier: if a woman of her kind is rare indeed, a man of his kind is even rarer, nigh nonexistent.

God is great indeed: theirs has been a perfect match, as perfect as the union of two human beings can be; she may have arrived into his life a little late, but even this has served a purpose of its own. For it had been her youth that had awakened his soul from its dark slumber, lifted it out of its sea of bitterness, turning it into a fresh, clear and clean wellspring once more. All of this had been thanks to him having had to take upon himself the role of a teacher, he himself learning life itself, love itself, desire itself anew in her company; indeed, it had been thanks to Yassamin of Basra that Jaffar, son of Yahya had been reborn.

And as they'd grown older, and as she had grown in the knowledge of her own desires, so had she grown together with him like two trees entwined: their souls had merged into that perfect, harmonious, hermaphroditic human being the alchemists speak of, the twin halves of one soul once again made a sphere whole; the way it had been in Heaven before God had split it into a Jaffar and a Yassamin and sent them down to Earth to play.

Indeed, after these early revelations, there had been no more great secrets between them, the trust between husband and wife absolutely complete: always, always they could trust that whatever strange caprices one might have had, whatever extraordinary qualities they possessed within their souls, these qualities the other would not only accept but embrace.

But still, Jaffar wonders. "In those early days... did you ever have to feel that you were driving yourself much too hard?" he asks. "I have always wondered about this. That I was debauching you, and not in a good way; that I was somehow causing you damage by going too fast, faster than your body or your soul could take."

She but shakes her head. "It was all real, the passion. It always has been. I never did what I did simply because I thought my husband expected it of me: I am afraid that I would have been a disastrous match for a man whose will and whose passions were not in harmony with mine," she grins back at him, curling her legs against her belly. "You were lucky in that you chose to 'train' a born..." but here, her voice dies and she casts down her eyes.

"Harlot," he says when she cannot, warmly, tenderly, with all the love and respect and awe and delight he takes in calling her by that name. "My beloved harlot," he murmurs against her lips, and now, follows each consecutive epithet with a passionate kiss, "my dearest whore, my most cherished slut," he grins.

She pulls back, flushed; in his eyes, joy dances, and so does her heart now leap, her joy dancing with his. Yet in the face of his cheerful liberty, she hates herself a little for having faltered--that she should still find herself shying away from a word dirty in sober speech, when she had just been screaming 'fuck me!' in the heat of passion! "I'm sorry," she mumbles. "It seems you have a lifetime's harlot-training ahead of you still, my general."

He lifts her chin and smiles. "Pudency is not prudery, my sweet: knowing when to be modest is but proof of your queendom, a sign of your innate goodness and wisdom. Now, there are two kinds of libertinism in this world, my child: one of them a kind of death and thus, a sin; another, a celebration of life itself and thus, a virtue."

She frowns at this. "A virtue?" she asks, even if she thinks she knows what he means, by all the spiritual insights they have gained from their joinings. Yet, it is clear he wishes to expound on this: his lecturer's voice is coming to the fore even when he is half-hard against her belly! Therefore, she lets him.

"Aye," he continues. "Now, in a free woman, harlotry is to be celebrated when it is the conscious choice of a lady of intelligence and of understanding. The choice of a courtesan to earn herself a living, for example, or the choice of a woman who was married against her will to remain true to the one her heart truly loves. But when it is but the result of a lack of understanding, an unforced, mindless yielding not motivated by love or money or duty--namely, that of a woman who has no self-worth--what is there to celebrate in such a creature?" he says, having often thought of this in regards to her stubborn shame. "She is worth pity, because she sins out of ignorance, only to please men: but a lady who knows her worth and sins out of her own desire, following her own passions, aiming to pleasure herself first and foremost, is worthy of respect. There is a difference between the fallen woman who is a victim of men, or of ignorance, and she is the only kind of harlot who would benefit from being saved: yet, I would never dream of 'saving' a hetaira who debated with the philosophers on their own level, or a singing-girl who knew what she wanted and took it! This, my love, is what I mean."

"Yet it is not the same for men," she says, her eyes blazing from fury. "I would not not be so careless, my love, as to pretend I knew whether a woman was forced into pleasing a man or whether she yielded out of stupidity. Women do not, at times, even themselves know who or what they are truly opening their legs for, their own pleasure or their men's! They would simply think it was the done thing, my love: it is not stupidity, but that which is expected of us. It was only thanks to your urgings that the young Yassamin learned to think of herself as an amorous being, with desires of her own, having always been told that her desire would only truly awaken once she was wed, and that she would have to make sure she shaped it and channeled it to match her husband's."

He mutters an oath. "Every time I see a so-called 'love' manual suggesting that, I contemplate burning it. One, I threw across the room in rage and later, wiped my arse with," he says and clasps her hands. "The men who want women with no minds of their own, women who but parrot what they say--hell, let them marry their own mirrors instead! Anyone who believes in those books, believes he can find true love by erasing a woman's self, is a damned fool." He smiles wryly. "Look at me. I thought I could bend your mind towards loving me, thought I could awaken in you the lustfulness of a heathen love-goddess, and the next thing I knew, I had my hands full of a Babylonian demoness!" he says and nuzzles her face. "You have well and truly taught me a lesson, my love; you are living proof of all such books being but foul lies."

"What women tell their daughters is worse than anything you could read in a book," she sighs and presses her forehead against his. "If you only knew how frightened I was that first time I had to deny you," she says, shuddering at the memory. When her first menses after the wedding had arrived and she had thought she had failed him, not having become pregnant already, and worrying he would think her foul and dirty; that, and she'd feared upsetting him by denying him her bed, even if she was in too much pain to even leave her apartments that day, let alone have sex.

"But I do remember," he whispers, kissing her nose. "Poor girl, you were terrified."

"You must know it is not stupidity, but fear that guides each woman's 'yes' and 'no,'" she whispers. "Terror. All my maidenhood, I was told that I would be a failure as a wife if my desires were different from my husband's: so thoroughly are women goaded into living for others and not themselves. Why, in this town, only Zainab and her girls understand the concept of a woman's desire existing as a thing in its own right, regardless of men, and they've only come to realise this because they prefer women," she spits, never having been able to have deep conversations with the local women at the bath-house--at least on the topics of love and desire--for fear of being branded a heathen libertine, one of Zainab's kind.

And now her rage rises once more, her eyes as drawn daggers as she spews out the hatred and the loathing she feels for this way in which she has been suffocated because of her sex. But what hurts her the most is the realisation of how, despite his twin-sexedness, his femininity and his female sympathies, Jaffar's experience is so completely different from hers because he has always been treated as a male: he means well, and she loves him for this, but it still twists a knife into her heart to hear him speak so breezily of stupidities, of choices, when a woman's experience of such matters is entirely different. Therefore, she must continue, must purse the poison out, so that he can see why she is so angry--rather at the world than him, for having pulled such veils over his eyes, over his very soul only thanks to what lies between his legs.

"So easily can you philosophise about choices, husband, which can only mean one thing: that you have been given a choice, or at least have been given it more often than women have. I can imagine that even as a youth, you must have had an older man sometimes leave you alone after you have rejected him. Yes?"

"Yes," Jaffar mumbles, casting down his eyes--only rarely has he been forced, and even then, ironically, the one taking him by force had usually been Fadl. The older men had not wanted to step in between what they'd thought were brotherly rows, when the truth of the matter had been that Fadl had been sexually jealous of his brother: Jaffar must, indeed, admit that his fantasies of courtesanship are largely based on his having played the willful catamite to older patrons who'd plied him with books and knowledge and gifts, men he'd had warm relations with, and whom Fadl had hated for that very reason. And the men he'd rejected could always go elsewhere to pursue satisfaction--oh, but he knows exactly what Yassamin is going to say next, and already the female part of his soul cowers in pain from empathy.

"But think: where would that man have gone next, to sate himself?" she, indeed, continues. "To a slave girl, of course, whose objections he would not have needed heed, if she even dared voice them, for fear of losing her head!" she huffs, now flushed from rage. "And a dutiful wife would not have fared much better; he could punish her by beating her or divorcing her, so she would have had to yield even if it gave her pain. Now, tell me, my love, is this truly stupidity and a lack of self-respect, or mere self-preservation? Whereas even the most brutal of men rarely has to suffer even scorn, even if he violated women and children in seeking his pleasure, with no love involved in his actions whatsoever!" she bewails, her voice raising to an uncharacteristic shout; rarely has Jaffar seen her this incensed. "Whereas a woman can get stoned to death even for a chaste love, should she have the misfortune of falling in love with the wrong person. 'Obey your own desire,' you say, but what kind of a choice is that, husband, if--for one with a cunny--it nearly always leads to her ruin?"

"I am sorry," Jaffar mumbles once more, thoroughly ashamed of his short-sightedness; he hugs her tight, shocked himself from seeing her so distraught. "And here I thought I was being a free-thinker," he laughs bitterly and looks up, blinking tears from his eyes. "Wishful-thinker, perhaps. You have every right to be angry with me," he says and rests her hand on his heart. "Although I think you know what I mean in my heart--and that I hate this confinement of women as much as you do; hell, I would have for us a world full of cheerful harlots and sodomites! Perhaps it is fanciful of me, but I would have for us a world in which all, regardless of sex, could love freely, out of their own free will, guided by a true love and care."

She sighs and kisses him softly. "I know. And I am grateful. But it is exactly because of our little island of freedom being so different from the rest of the world that I am..." she tarries. "I am not angry at you. I am angry for all those who are still imprisoned, my love: all those still confined by the stupidity of this world and its mores, as if I were a bird flying past the window of a castle who sees her sister in a cage, and hears her crying out for help," she now whispers, her eyes filling with tears. "And I hate that it is only you and a small handful of other men--you few men similar to women in your souls, so that you know how we feel--who realise how monstrous, how barbaric it is to keep us in cages, and who have given up their positions as prison wardens. Whereas you--" and now, a terrible sob breaks in her chest. "Whereas you have been a falconer, teaching me how to f--how to--fly--" but now, her voice is swallowed by her tears.

"I am here, my little falcon; I am here," he says and kisses away her tears, whispering to her gently; "never would I cage you, ever. In doing so, I would cage myself. You and I were born to be free, my child," he whispers; "let us thank God for having given us the wisdom and the means to remain that way."

"God," she moans and hugs him tight. "I'm sorry for snapping at you, sorry for pouring all of this--this poison upon you. Sometimes, when I think of it all--it's just too much. We have to count our blessings indeed."

"It's all right," he says and squeezes her hand. "Because you are absolutely right, and I could not agree with you more. It pays too well to be a prison warden. And that's why, in regards to the health of men's souls, the world is worse, I think," he says, searching her eyes; their sorrow and their fury ignite equal flames of loathing in his. "The excess shame inflicted upon women keeps most women from harming others with their desires, I find, but when such shame is not instilled into boys and men, well. Simply because the world has made it easier for men to sin without consequence--in at least this life, if not the life to come--even intelligent men become lower than animals in seeking to fulfill their pleasures. When aroused, the prick is louder than the brain and cares not for the heart or the soul, or the pain felt by the cunny or the arse it is ravaging. We already spoke of the kinds of men I mean: the men who abuse women because they cannot conceive of them as more than toys; the very men who buy our dolls."

Yassamin shudders, having seen some of the lecherous governors and viziers, even kings, herself. "Quite. At least they will not harm living beings once they have the dolls to abuse," she mumbles, wiping away the rest of her tears with the corner of a blanket; "that's how I think of it, at least."

"Aye, that is how I see it, too. But I meant to say one more thing," he murmurs, now cupping her cheek, taking her eyes with his, firm and tender, determined to once again banish whatever remains of cowardice within her. "You and I have both seen such terrible cruelty, such thoughtlessness, such stupidity from so many people when it comes to love. By God, I am not sure whether it even deserves to be called love, whatever it is those sorry women and beastly men practice not only in their bedchambers, but what's worse, in their holy of holies: their very souls, their very selves. But this is what I am trying to get at, my love: that it is thanks to these fools that men--and dare I say God, even--have decreed so many laws regarding sex, at times condemning even love itself as sin. These are the fools thanks to whom you have been told over and over that it is shameful for a woman to seek her own pleasure; these are the fools thanks to whom I have been told it is wrong for a man to lie underneath a man. And all of this because people do not know how to love right, know how to respect others or themselves, even remember common sense when pursuing their fleshly affairs: I cannot understand why it should be so difficult to exercise the arts of love and pleasure morally, responsibly and respectfully without harm to anyone. But there you have it."

She raises her eyebrow and grins. "I have, in fact, heard that declaration of free love before; yet, one can never hear it too many times," she sighs and wraps her arms around him, gifting him with a deep kiss, determined to now pursue pleasure itself instead of but theorising about it. "You should take over the pulpit on a Friday sometime, you know. Deliver this as a sermon."

He rolls his eyes. "If only people would not take it as an excuse to behave like fools!" he groans. "It has been tried. Qalandars here, Tantics in India--all have failed; they've all descended into the same dull, animal debaucheries, ending up hurting themselves and others, while still somehow claiming it has been a spiritual experience. Only the chosen few, like you and I, have managed to temper our--" and now, he yelps, Yassamin nudging his sack with her knee.

"Were any of these sects governed by women, I wonder?" she asks with a grin and wraps a leg around Jaffar's waist, now rutting against him. "Perhaps therein lies the key."

"It does," he says, ruffling her hair. "Look at how you're governing me. Tempering my desires with a gentle hand."

"I seek not to temper right now," she says, "rather inflame," to burn away these tears, to burn away this sadness, to burn away the stupidity of the world with the power of desire, as you yourself so often put it, she thinks at him and kisses her way down his belly.

And oh, but the noise when she takes his prick into her mouth: his soft meaow is never not music to her ears, always such a strange and unusual sound from such a tall and imposing man, arousing in its pitch to her ears even after all these years. Just as the feel of a prick--even if she has possessed one!--is never not to her a wonder, flesh so firm and hard and heavy it's capable of entering another's body; yet surrounded by skin tender, silken, not unlike the soft petals of a woman's sex. For a long while, she savours the miracle of his flesh in her mouth, the pulse of his veins against her tongue, adoring the way his fingers tremble in her hair, the way his breathing quickens, the way he lengthens and fills in her mouth.

"Yassamin," he murmurs. "I would not hurt you. Please--please let me--"

She pulls back for breath, her hair tangled around his erection as it slaps back onto his stomach; smiling, she makes no move to untangle him, loving the way his hips twitch at this sweet imprisonment. "Yes?"

"Come here," he says, gesturing to her. "Let me try a healing spell."

"I'm fine," she says, but sits on top of him nevertheless, straddling his chest. "There was only a little twinge when you took me."

"Still," he says and brings his hand between her buttocks, inspecting her as a physician rather than a lover. He closes his eyes and breathes deep, deep as he brushes his fingertips against her anus: he whispers a rune and sends out a psychic echo into her flesh, looking for damage. It's not the first time he has done something like this to her: nevertheless, the tingle now turns into a flash of pain and she falls forwards with a gasp, her arms now on either side of his head.

"There," he groans quietly, still not opening his eyes, it seems.

For it is there, a soreness upon the back wall of her rectum, high above the sphincter muscles themselves: that explains why he had not hurt her all that much while taking her cunny, the area still some distance from it when he had been taking her from the front. But it is uncomfortable, now, when he runs but a psychic touch across it, far softer than a caress he would ordinarily give her with his fingers. But when he makes to ask her why she had not told him, he is interrupted by her own thoughts: her genuine surprise at how much this touch hurts, now, and how she had most definitely not been lying to him. Had he now taken her arse as roughly as he had taken her cunny, he could have seriously damaged her.

"I'm sor--"

"No apologising, my sweet," he tells her, and begins to pour the warmth of his healing magic into her guts. She lets out a surprised gasp as her insides are suddenly flooded by a gentle, pulsing heat: it's not a little erotic, and she finds her cunny clenching reflexively at the stimulation. Jaffar, in turn, laughs a little, a giggle high in his throat as he feels this, so deeply entwined with her that he can feel this pulse in his own guts, a sweet brush against his prostate.

He opens his eyes and tries to look up at her, her head well above his and pressed into his pillow. "Say when," he says.

"How on earth would I know?" she pants, and now, he stirs the energy by swirling it inside of her like warm tea in a glass, ostensibly to inspect any places he must have missed: yet this feels so wonderful against the back of her womb that she lets out a whimper against the top of his head.

"I take it that that's enough, then, as far as medical need is concerned," Jaffar laughs. "But I think I shall keep on doing this for a while, just to make sure," he purrs, now turning the energy into a slightly firmer shape, an energy-prick of sorts to sodomise her with. But only a narrow one, for now: a transparent, golden, shimmering shaft the width of two of his fingers, softly coaxing her muscles into relaxing around itself.

But lying here staring at her belly won't do, oh, no: he wants to see the body parts in question, wants to see the effects of his magic upon them. Therefore, he slips out from underneath her and kneels behind her upon the bed, ignoring her whimpers as he begins to rock the energy in and out of her as he would a toy prick, adoring the way her arse starts to unfold for him.

"Oh, God, oh, God, oh--" Yassamin groans into her pillow; for now, Jaffar's strokes are sending splash after splash of heat deep into her womb, seeping into her flesh as if warm liquid; it's unlike any caress she has ever felt before. Wave upon wave of warmth flows into her guts and her sex, sending her cunny tightening so that she finds her hips lifting, her back arching into the invisible touch.

"But, my sweet, you are gaping!" Jaffar cries in mock-shock, even if it's thanks to his efforts that she is now doing so, a transparent golden shimmer holding her anus open for him in the most beautiful of perfectly round holes. "My, my!" he croons.

"You bastard," she moans, but pushes her arse up defiantly, like a cat in heat--yet not a female merely offering, but demanding to be mated with. She hugs her pillow and leans back into his magic's touch, desperate for more. "Don't you dare stop."

And it does feel amazing, he never truly having used anything like this on her before: the shadow-pricks, the pards had never felt as hot as this; all of their toys have felt harder than this. It is the strangest of sensations, to be so taken by something that's there and yet isn't there, something completely weightless now coaxing her body into opening its gates, sliding in and out of her with an unearthly fluidity. Is this like that time she had herself taken Jaffar with a psychic, golden prick, when she had woven one out of their energies and slipped one inside of him when he had been taking her? This must be his belated retaliation for that time, she realises, a little revenge as he is not even touching her cunny yet, despite him knowing how utterly torturous it feels for a woman to be penetrated so without being rubbed from the front.

Of course, once she tries to touch herself, he but locks her wrists in place with a few carefully chosen spells. She swallows the cry of rage she was about to let out, not wanting to give him the satisfaction. "Do you want me to beg?" she hacks out instead, her words half-muffled by the pillow.

"It would please me greatly, yes," he says, slipping two fingers inside of her arse, hissing in relish as he can now roll them inside of her with perfect ease. The silken softness of the surfaces of her guts, the astonishing, feverish heat that always greets him here is never not to him a shock of arousal: he shivers so that his nipples crinkle with it. In fact, he is now so aroused that she can feel it, his sensations roiling out of him, hovering against her consciousness as the air ripples with summer's heat: there, a pulse in his prick, sending a rich spurt of sap rolling down his frenulum, entwining around the shaft as it bobs against his belly.

But as soon as he notices she can feel him, he severs the connection once more, teasing her by withholding that which he always shares with her, that which she has begun to take for granted. "Do you know, this reminds me of that delightful night we spent with the delightful Theo," he says conversationally, as if they were but chatting over a bowl of wine. "Now, I know the perversion you think of first, the moment I mention him," he says casually, full of cruel relish as he licks the taste of her arse off his fingers, determined not to share the Byzantine pleasure with her either, even if he knows it makes her mouth water. "But I was thinking of another."

"Which one?" she huffs, humouring him, trying to think of, oh, the herb garden, holy verses, plaiting Salsabil's hair; anything to divert her mind from her womb and her cunny, now so packed with blood she fears they will soon explode. Yes, explode: she can feel each and every pulse of blood in her sex, now, drumming and throbbing; her mind runs berserk with delirious visions of her cunny bursting in his face like an overripe fruit.

He winces. "That's disgusting."

"Revenge for the flesh-eating plant!" she grumbles. "Please, husband," she says, mock-patiently. "Whatever perversion was it that you were talking about?"

"Oh, only that time he and I played you like this," he purrs and swirls his fingers inside of her arse once more, dragging his fingertips against the wall of her cunny from behind, his prick dancing to the tune of her whimpers. "Remember?" he coos, as if she could ever forget. "Such sweet music we made with you, just like this, until the strings of nectar from this little peach of yours--" and he gives her cunny the lightest of taps, making her jerk, "touched the sheets."

"Very well, but don't you dare cheat this time!"

At that, he slurps up the bead of sap that had already been dangling from her folds. "You were saying?"

This time, she roars in rage so loudly all the servants must hear it, but she doesn't care. She tries to kick him, triumphant as she manages to glance her toes off his sticky cock, but soon enough, he has locked her ankles against the bed, too.

"My, my!" he chuckles. "This is like trying to conquer a proud maiden. You're just making me harder, you realise."

She doesn't dignify him with an answer, only remains quiet. At first, he worries, thinking she is truly angry with him; however, a little peek inside of her mind tells him she has merely set her mind on the game already, the little warrior she is, determined to focus on his caresses so as to achieve that wetness which he seeks. But more than that, she wants pleasure, pleasure for herself: she closes her eyes and breathes, concentrating her mind upon her sex, and nevermind his teasing.

He clasps her buttocks and gifts the small of her back with a tender kiss. "You do so want your taking, as always," he sighs happily. "Never will I cease to marvel at this; at just how much you want it," he says and now begins to curl his fingers softly inside of her arse, his fingers and the golden heat, each and every curl striking sparks from her womb.

She realises he isn't sharing what he sees with her this time either, encouraging her to savour but the physical sensations, he studying her responses with a keen curiosity. But even if he does not open his eye-view to her, she, as always, lays herself bare to him, surrenders all her senses to him utterly with an anguished yearning: all her sensations, pleasant and unpleasant does she now yield unto him as gifts, rich tributes laid at the feet of a king. All the little shocks and sparks he now sends along her nerves with the presses of his fingertips, all the waves and ripples of pleasure he now gifts unto her with his curls and drags does she now gift back unto him in turn; all her discomforts and delights, all her joys and her panics, all her despairs and her elations does she now surrender unto him entire. Oh, but she wants him to roll up all her pleasures like silks, wear them unto himself like rich raiments, embroidered with her pain's gold and silver sting; for him to so embrace all her sensations and emotions, all the different Yassamins she is until they melt into the darkness of his body, finding their end in him, extinguished in his night.

Quivering, she prostrates there helpless, need in the shape of a girl-child, pouring all of her hope and her want and her craving into those sole two fingers now taking her: for those fingertips are now touching her very life's blood, the pulse of the great vein that runs straight from the guts into the heart. The nerves that run from here up her spine into her limbs and all the way up to her brain, making her eyes flash with blinding, white light at his slightest touch; blood and spark and sap and love, love she now surges up his arm and into his body in turn, calling to him with her very being.

"My sweet, my sweet." She can barely hear him speak the words of choked, rasping tenderness; he turns his fingertips to caress the back of her womb, that innermost of sanctums, that place where her greatestmost joy and pleasure dwell. As he curls his fingers against it, the white flashes turn into a conflagration, all of her flesh afire; now, her teeth chatter, her limbs jerk so that she staggers, would fall were it not for his magic holding her up.

But now, that touch turns her so light, as white as sunlight itself, sunlight sparkling through the latticed windows upon her skin; light, a woman of light held up by her master's fingertips, she hanging there pierced by his pleasure. From somewhere far away, she hears herself sob as he begins to truly milk her with his fingers, hears his gasp as she does not drip but sprays her thighs, violent, voluminous. Light, light sparkling upon the rivulets she can now see running down her thighs as she cranes to look between her legs; light, light glimmering upon the long, thick strings of sap dangling from the tip of his cock and now, touching the sheets.

He laughs, his words slow, soft, entranced. "It seems I got there before you, my child," he says, jerking from how sensitive his cock is as he now spreads that wetness all over it with his free hand, making himself glisten, gleam.

"Please," she slurs, feeling the wet spot upon the sheet spreading to her knees. "Please, take me."

"One last safety measure," he says and takes out his fingers, unable to resist one last suck upon them, shivering in delight; her cunny clenches from her frustration as she seethes there in her jealousy.

But before she can tell him he'd better let her taste herself later, she is pulled out of her trance by the strange sensation of her arse still being held open by his magic, as if splayed by some invisible medical instrument. She is open, but completely empty as she gapes there, now; her muscles try to purse shut at the foreign, nauseating sensation of air caressing the bared surfaces of her innards.

But this strangeness is soon followed by a far more shocking sensation: that of some kind of liquid dripping inside of her.

"Jaffar!" she yelps and turns her head as much as she can, to see what on earth it is that he's doing.

"Do you want me to warm it up some more?" he asks innocently, with a little blue bottle in his hand. She recognises the bottle immediately: it holds a herbal oil he ordinarily uses after rough bouts of lovemaking to heal welts and friction burns, containing a dash of the same healing salve Zahra always keeps in her pocket. "I only want to make sure I won't hurt you again, you see," he says.

That he should use a medicinal oil as lubricant, to kill two birds with one stone! Why, the audacity, the sheer ridiculousness--but that's her Jaffar through and through, isn't it? Therefore, she can but huff in laughter into her pillow. "Go ahead. But hurry."

He whispers a heating rune and soon enough, he is pouring the warm, liquid contents of the entire bottle straight into her arse. She arches her back and moans at this, at this thin line of heat now sliding inside of her swiftly, easily: she is at once aroused and horrified as she realises he is using the magic he'd opened her with to now propel the liquid deeper into her guts, far deeper than he normally would. Ever the engineer, he's now turning this combination of magic and oil into an improvised enema of sorts: there would be absolutely no need for him to oil her this deep for the purposes of mere sodomy, so he is doing this out of sheer curiosity--that, and simple perverse delight.

"Jaffar!" she groans, infuriated. For as delicious as this perversion is, in theory--for him to watch--she does not want for him to spoil this all by making her stomach cramp. He's ruined it, he's ruined everything--

"Come, my love," he asks, rubbing the small of her back. "How does it feel?"

She wants to snap at him, but it is now that she realises there is, in fact, no discomfort, no nausea at all. Instead, she is overcome by an astonishing weightlessness, her own body feeling lighter, if anything, thanks to this enema of liquid heat: for now, to her surprise, she is completely free of the exhausting heaviness and stomach-churning usually brought on by the weight of an ordinary enema. She keeps expecting for the nausea to arrive any moment, now, as the heat travels up her guts, curling there; yet the discomfort never arrives, and instead of a dark and dull heaviness, there's only a white, wonderful heat: only a rippling, bright wave of pleasure licking up her guts, her spine, her ribs. The marvellous, iridescent whiteness shoots up her viscera and into her flesh, so irradiating her body that any moment, now, she expects for angels' wings to flash out of her back, that's how wonderful it feels: now, she can but moan and shiver, shiver, shiver.

And he is listening to her, chuckling behind her smugly as he keeps on pouring and pouring; she gasps and clutches at the sheets, light-headed as the warm fluid caresses her guts with its--oh, but now she is assaulted by visions of djinn-tongues licking up her innards, lapping at the back of her womb with relish, and she is going mad, mad. She sobs and she sobs, rocking back against the empty air, the air now feeling much cooler on her cunny and her arse thanks to the warmth of the oil: goosebumps break out all over her skin as she whimpers there.

But now, the bottle clicks onto the bedside table. Finally, Jaffar shares with her the delicious vision spreading out before his eyes: her arse, gaping open wide, filled to the brim with golden, sloshing oil; his hands leaving great, golden smears upon the white mounds of her buttocks, the way her fat ripples between his fingers as he clutches at her flesh with his hands.

But he wants more, more, wants to make this arse into a feast before he takes it all: now, he begins to slap and claw the oil into her buttocks with great relish, leaving red welts in his wake. Yassamin shivers as the oil tingles in the welts, healing them immediately; Jaffar, in turn, bursts out laughing as he realises he is now competing with the oil, creating new patterns with his hands only to have them instantly swallowed up by the golden glow.

Yet this but fans the flames of his cruel caprice. He attacks her with a newfound excitement, clawing at her, slapping at her more and more violently, then decides to chase his scratches with bites: an animal, he huffs and he snorts there as she wails underneath his assault, loving being so ravaged, devoured. His mouth full of her flesh, he puffs through his nostrils as he beats her gleaming buttocks, grabbing at them roughly, shaking them, biting her so hard she shrieks; her cunny leaps at this, dripping, clenching over and over at each sweet flash of pain he gifts her with.

On and on he mauls her thus, adoring the glittering play of light upon her oiled flesh as he makes it jiggle for him, dance for him, his slaps ringing loudly in the room; hissing, he now lifts to his knees, she groaning in delight as he begins to rut his cock up and down between her cunny's lips. Finally, finally he is touching her cunny; she is clenching and clenching against his cock, rutting back against him with equal fervour.

"Please, husband," she moans, her womb lifting, so tightly does her cunny now squeeze in its need; "please."

"Push it out," he snarls, slapping her arse, and now her anus purses shut tightly, painfully as he releases the spell that'd been holding it open. "Go on, go on, go on," he pants as he fucks her slit there, the head of his cock swollen and purpling, his words rapid, frantic; "push it out, push it out over my cock, shit it out, my sweet--!"

But she is doing so already, keening, letting go of the oil as she lets go of all shame: in wild, maenad delight, she now purses out the oil in a perfect, glittering arc, first splashing golden onto his belly, then trickling golden onto his cock.

Yet Jaffar is the one shaking, now, he the one staggering, wailing in his need; he clutches at his balls brutally so as not to come there and then. He bites his lip until he draws blood, shivering as Yassamin sprays the last of the oil onto his cock, the oil splattering everywhere, slickening their skin as they rub together, smeared with its golden heat.

Finally, finally, with a desperate upward clamber he mounts her, his bloodied mouth dragging a red stripe up her spine; he sheathes himself in her arse in one thrust, she stiffening in shock, her entire body locking up from the impact on her internal organs. It's too much, too fast, too wonderful, too terrible: she tumbles and falls, somersaults into unconsciousness.

But soon, she is pulled out of the blackness and into his arms once more: into the arms of a still-panting, snarling animal. He returns her to her senses a slithering beast atop her; hissing, he spreads the oil all over her body, sliding his hands up her stomach. With a growl, he traps her breasts within the cages of his long, bony fingers, squeezing their tender flesh cruelly with his claws.

"You're so delicious, delicious, delicious," he lisps as he fucks her there, as fast and as rough as dogs upon the street; "Such a perfect little golden tail, tail, tail," he mewls, his balls slapping wetly, noisily against the fullness of her cunny.

His cock is so enormous inside of her after all this waiting, within all her swelling that she cannot speak for being so overwhelmed; all she can do is but kneel there, ululating as he slaps and slams and pounds himself into her, droplets of oil flying from her body onto the sheets, sap bursting from her cunny with each one of his blows. She has been waiting for him for so long, so full and so ready to burst that the very moment he brings his hand to her cunny, she is lost: only a few hard, rough strokes upon her clitoris, and she is coming so violently she almost throws him off herself as she tosses and rears there. Yet he but keeps on rubbing, the pressure of his hand made inhumanly strong by magic, he sending little sparks and waves of heat through her cunny with every stroke; his laughter, his wicked laughter sending further ripples cascading through her torso, her every limb.

She spasms between the weight of his body, the pressure of his prick, the cruelty of his hand; she knows that now that he doesn't have to pace his strokes the same way he would when taking her cunny, he revels in having her come around him while he is completely free to take her just as he pleases. And this is what she loves about this form of sex, too, she thinks, even if she is barely conscious: that the release comes so easily, one orgasmic wave swallowing another as Jaffar ravishes her with the exact rhythm, depth and force of stroke that pleases him best.

Soon, he is ululating against her ear, his breath blowing her hair from her temple; the slaps of his balls grow more rapid in rhythm, louder and he slams into her so hard her knees and elbows burn against the sheets. And all the while, she is so open, so open, all of her a red hot channel of flesh, her arse but an open ring, an O for him to fill, a cavern, a hole; she burns around him, blazing high around him, eager to have him pour himself into her, to fill her to the overflowing with his sperm, just as he had filled her to the overflowing with his oil. Now, he is so close, the sap rising in him as his thrusts become shorter and shorter; she can feel the binding-spells being undone as he tumbles towards release, and immediately, she takes advantage of this.

She brings her hand to her cunny and rubs it furiously, determined to come at the same time as he: yet it's hard for her to even stroke herself, so blinded is she by the lightning-shocks of his strokes. Is this how it feels to be a storm cloud, she thinks in her whirling madness, to be so pierced, struck, ravished and ravished by lightning over and over, she raining down upon her thighs once more in ecstasy?

But then she can think no more as he slams her down into the mattress, she hurting her cunny as she falls upon her knuckles, yet on and on, she keeps on taking her hand; he stiffens and trembles on top of her as if in seizure as he finds his release within her. Now, he is helpless, vulnerable, at her mercies: yet it is the mercy of her body that she now offers him, pushing herself into another orgasm for him to plunge himself into, his lightning into her sea. Yes, a sea, she no longer but mist or rain or cloud but an ocean deep and wide, deep: so great are the waves that now rise in her and fall in her, gravity and space losing meaning as she swirls and rises and falls and crashes into release around him. She rises into him, he falls into her, plunging up and soaring down as they spin and whirl together, together, together; finally, the peak of this upside-down hurricane collapses in on itself, turning inside out, pulling them down into complete blackness.

It is upon the unpleasant waves of muscular cramps that both are now washed upon the shore of wakefulness a pair of castaways: groaning, he falls from her, his still-hard cock slapping against his belly.

Yet some demon in her, with trembling limbs, now crawls to him and sucks him into her mouth despite his protestations, so deep that she chokes upon his length, the foam of her guts curling thick upon her lips. She needs this taste, slurping its salty richness from his cock, licking it from her lips like cream; her cunny, too, is still aching, now hanging heavy like that of a mare in heat, she thinks in her delirium; still, something inside of her seethes and teems and squirms from a desperate need as of yet unfulfilled.

She pulls back and spits a cleansing spell upon his cock, he but staring at her in astonishment as she turns around and guides him inside of her cunny, now wrapping his limbs about herself in a spooning position.

Very well, then, some mad demon in him responds to her, gathering her close, thrusting into her even if he is exhausted; take your pleasure of me, then; you and your poor, neglected little cunny, he purrs into her mind, all of him boneless and soft but for the hardness of his cock.

She suffocates the apology a part of her had been meaning to make, her body's need louder than anything else, right now: there is still too much blood packed into the walls of her cunny, and she shows this to him, shows to him the anguish of it, not unlike that of a prick that has not yet had its fill. As intense as it always is, as soul-searing as it always is, sodomy can never fully dissolve that ache; only repeated, hard, deep takings of the cunny itself, thorough poundings of the womb can release the trapped blood that now weighs heavy within her hips.

And it is maddening, now, maddening, because he is too tired to thrust and she is too tired to ride: she sobs into her arm because this position is nowhere near deep enough, nowhere near hard enough to release her sex from its--well, it is as if a prison, the hard and heavy blood turning the muscles of her cunny and her womb into an iron lock that can only be opened with one special key.

"I'm sorry," Jaffar murmurs, kissing her shoulder; yet, with his willpower alone, he keeps himself hard, determined to serve her, knowing this ache himself from his own experiments in a female body. The first time he had taken the aphrodisiac form of opium as a woman, the ache had been so unbearable that he'd had to turn to Sarosh in the end to pound it out of him.

She clutches at his hip, groaning into her arm, not looking at him. "I don't want him. I don't want toys. I just want you," she hisses, her cunny squeezing helplessly around his shaft, even that squeeze now painful as she is not getting enough friction of movement. "It hurts, my love, it hurts;" she gasps, "I don't know what's gone into me."

"Turn onto your back, and I'll take you."

"No! You'll have a heart attack!"

But now, his voice is firm, hard, brooking no argument. "Turn onto your back and spread your legs. That's an order!" he cries, slapping her arse.

When she turns around, he glows blue. At first, she thinks it but the blueness of the sky, the blueness of his eyes, her own light-headedness following anal orgasm; yet now, it's clear he has summoned some form of djinn-energy to support his body, to give him new strength, a faint blue glow shimmering over his skin. Are these actual, real djinn now sheathing him, him wearing them like a suit of armour, or is this simply him channeling same energy he and Yassamin use to power their dolls?

"The latter," he says, and his voice sounds distant: as he covers her and his body swallows her underneath its shadow, she feels very young, very small.

His cock feels bigger, too, as he enters her cunny, but it must be an illusion, must: he hits the root of her womb at first, hurting her, she apologetically lifting her legs and holding them up to allow him inside of her better, as if she were but a meek slave girl now serving him instead.

"That's better," he says and takes her mouth with a kiss; now, he takes up her legs himself, bending her in half, beginning to rock himself inside of her. "How does that feel, my sweet?"

"W--" but he thrusts so hard her words break, at first; "Wonderful--oh--"

But they both know they must act quickly, so the time for talking is over: immediately, he settles into a determined, rhythmical slide and she begins to rub at herself, the hood of her clitoris already sore from friction. But the little pain helps, in fact, helps the pleasure of his thrusts to spread out into the entirety of her pelvis, her lower belly. Already he is striking waves from her womb, waves much milder than those of sodomy's nervous overload, yet she can feel the blood surging from her womb into the rest of her body, into her legs, into her thighs quivering from exhaustion: he grins as he can see he has found just the right rhythm, and that's the last she sees of him before she closes her eyes, breathes deep and lets herself be swept away.

And as she surrenders unto the sensation, the most astonishing feeling takes over her body: she, too, is now lifted by the blue light, guided by the blue light, now understanding the mechanism by which it helps Jaffar do this. So much of her weight is taken from her, so much of the strain from her muscles, as if an adult guiding a babe's hands and limbs, teaching the child to walk: it is the strangest of things to feel during sex. Yet the weight of Jaffar's body as it moves into her still feels the same, the pressure and the friction of his cock and her hand still feel the same; she is not sure how this is even physically possible, seemingly against all the laws of Nature, but of course, that just makes him chuckle in delight on top of her.

"Make sure you don't begin to levitate," he laughs, groaning himself in glee as he grinds his hips with far deeper a roll than his state of exhaustion should allow.

But she can barely hear him, now, already teetering upon the edge: she does, indeed, feel as if she were lifted off the bed by her pleasure alone; every time she lifts her hips up to meet his thrusts it feels as if they want to stay up, to be carried by him, held up by the air. And finally, finally her hips begin to unfold, unfurl in pleasure, in their true and final release: that of the hard and heavy walls of her sex, of her womb now melting into scarlet softness around his loving strokes.

The sweet, swirling red waves of pleasure rise faster, faster, sharper, higher, rushing her fast towards the peak: all of them converge within her centre, once more pushed up and up by the movements of his prick inside of her. Once the first release-wave arrives, sending the blood rushing out from her womb and into her torso, her limbs, the top of her head, her scream is intermingled with laughter: so easily, so smoothly does he now lift wave upon wave out of her womb, as if her sex had never felt like a heavy, iron lock in the first place. No, no: her blood is as light as air, her cunny and her womb as soft as feathers; all of her now soft summer clouds, far from the dark and heavy storm-clouds of their earlier joining.

And he, too, is not at all like the sharp and hard and violent lightning-strike any longer, rather a smiling young Apollo than an old, ravishing Zeus. All his thrusts blend together until his prick is unto her like a constant beam of the brightest sunlight, gently flooding through her being as if a door had been thrown open into a dark room, all of it suddenly bathed in the most brilliant light. There is no prison here, no darkness, no heaviness, no blood left trapped here whatsoever: her blood has become like unto the ichor of the Olympians, iridescent and sparkling nectar and ambrosia flowing through her veins. Jaffar, Jaffar flowing through her veins, Jaffar surging against her womb, anointing it with the warm, loving sweetness of his sperm. She can barely feel his ejaculation, now so weak after such long bouts of lovemaking, so it is the rush of his life-energy that she now feels far more intensely, his flooding of her soul, rather than the little spurts themselves that now bathe her womb.

But his face, oh, his face! The love upon his face renders him golden, too, golden like the ancients described Mithra's face, surrounded by a halo of blue: now, she understands why his ancestors had likened their own Apollo's radiance to friendship and love. So happy does his smile make her that she is drunk upon it, dizzy as she dances a speck of dust in his love's sunbeam.

And it is then that he cannot hold the spell any longer, undone in magic as he is undone in the flesh: still grinning, he collapses on top of her, both of them groaning in utter satisfaction, the blue shimmer blown out like a flame the moment their bodies crash into the mattress.

She blinks, realising how heavy her body feels, now, how deep she has sunk into the bed. I... I think we did levitate there for a while, as a matter of fact. Did you feel it, too?

Mmm, he responds; how one can but murmur telepathically, she has no idea.

She squeezes around his prick. "Husband?"

He nudges her womb. "Mmm."

That's... that's fair enough, I suppose, she laughs into his mind; I suppose we can attempt proper levitation during sex some other time.

But now, she is so utterly exhausted she cannot even think any longer; she falls asleep with him still half on top of her, amidst tangled sheets, both of them smeared all over with oil. Like two children collapsed after a day of long play, they lie there peacefully, softly snuffling against each other; the sun smiles upon them as it begins its journey towards the West.

***

Six months later

***

The wind blows the tails of Fadl's turban about his head like great green leaves as he stands atop his castle, taller than all the men of his court now gathered there. Beneath him spread out dozens of azure cupolas, bluer than the sky itself; looming majestic in the lap of the city lie the nine golden domes of Nawbahar and its bright red banners streaming in the wind.

And taller than all of these, the onion-shaped, green dome of the delicate, slim minaret to Fadl's left--that of his newly restored castle, the old tower now replaced by a mosque vastly more robust than the one that had stood in its place earlier.

Its last green tile is laid in place as Fadl and all his courtiers watch; the viziers, as usual, exchange scheming glances, but Fadl could not care less.

Only the Dakini, serene as ever, stands beside Fadl in her red and saffron robes, her ancient eyes observing even this mighty and rare occasion as if it were nothing new to her. Fadl is sure she is as old as the Simurgh by now, and just like the Simurgh, she must already have seen the birth and destruction of the world five times over.

Fadl leans a little to the side and whispers to her from the corner of his mouth. "You needn't bother with the whole 'remember thou art mortal' business. I remember."

A little smile plays at the deep grooves around the Dakini's mouth. You would not have said that but a few years ago, my son, she tells him telepathically, he starting a little, not used to being addressed so by anyone except for Jaffar and Yassamin. You are learning.

It's why I'm leaving, he thinks, not saying this out loud since the courtiers do not know this yet, and because he is sure the Dakini can read his mind nevertheless.

For he has spent the past six months doing only two things: rebuilding the city and sorting out his matters, both worldly and spiritual. The damaged buildings had been restored in no time at all, thanks to the ancient knowledge--knowledge both architectural and magical--still housed within Nawbahar's libraries from the days when the Barmakids had still served as its high priests. The Dakini, too, had lubricated matters a little with her spells: the gravity-defying magic that'd allowed Jaffar's horse to fly had been indispensable when it had come to moving tonnes of bricks around in a short period of time.

And this new mosque, built by Fadl--not only as a show of his might but as a genuine token of gratitude to God for having been so merciful to him--is the final touch, the emerald breast-jewel of this majestic new city that is Balkh reborn.

Now, his work here is complete, and his stomach lurches the way it does for any man about to take a step into the abyss.

The builders climb down from the tower, take down the ladders and clear out their tools: the last green tile glimmers a darker green than the ones surrounding it, one final prayer swirling upon it in letters of gold. The beautifully wrought calligraphies thank God for the blessings and the protection He has showered over the city of Balkh, and the channel through which these blessings have flowed: al-Fadl, son of Yahya, of the Barmakids.

The chamberlain nods to the muezzin, who hurries up the spiral staircase to deliver the call to prayer. It is Friday, just after noon, and the entire city has gathered for this, the most important of the week's prayers.

“God is great!" the muezzin calls out in a beautiful, melodious voice, the walls of the minaret's balcony sloping out so that his voice is amplified, heard clearly in the city below. "I bear witness there is no God but God; I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God."

As is the custom, the muezzin invokes the name of the ruler after the creed: yet, this time, it's a name none have heard before.

"Oh, illustrious Akbar, son of Yahya, champion of the believers! May God extend His blessings upon him!"

Half the viziers' eyes fly wide in astonishment: others smile in acknowledgement, finding the title more than apt; the most shocked looks come from some of the religious judges, considering the word is the exact same one used to describe God's greatness.

But now that the prayers are about to start, it would be blasphemy to interrupt them for gossip; choosing this moment to introduce Fadl's new title had been a stroke of genius on part of the ministers who had bestowed it upon him.

"Hasten towards prayer, hasten towards well-being, the time for prayer has come," the muezzin continues, reciting the creed once more.

On the rooftop, the Muslims arrange themselves into rows for prayer, while others remain seated on the sides, Fadl having commanded everyone to attend regardless of faith. As is customary for the ruler, Fadl is the one leading the Friday prayers: never has he prayed more sincerely, more fervently for God's protection and for Him to guide him on the right path.

The sermon is delivered by an old Sufi shaykh, one Fadl has been taught by in private for the past six months; he delivers a heart-stirring, eloquent speech upon the topic of kindness and of mercy. But the reason Fadl had chosen him is because he is a family man, not an ascetic, a man applying extraordinary spiritual principles to a life most ordinary: he speaks of a living spirituality as he tends to his farm and cares for his wife and his children, every day. He talks of mercy not as some lofty, abstract, distant theological concept, something only God can bestow, but of human beings as the channels of His mercy: of all the ways through which one can become a tool of this mercy through tempering one's thoughts, words and actions with a loving kindness.

Umar, the greediest of the viziers, sighs heavily underneath his robes: he doesn't believe a word of it, while the Dakini but smiles, recognising these words and concepts as not dissimilar to the Buddha's compassion towards all sentient beings. Fadl feels as if a schoolboy betwixt her and the shaykh, hoping he has started to prove himself in their eyes, that he has shown to them he has done his homework: he tries not to fiddle with the tassels of his sash, nervous about the announcement he is about to make after the closing prayers.

But the announcement itself--that of his retirement--passes him by as if in a trance: if, later, you would ask him what it was exactly that he'd said during it, he would not be able to tell you. It is as if that spirit of mercy now runs through him, too, as he gives up his kingdom in front of his people, humbling himself, telling them he is going away for the betterment of his soul: after, he does not even remember whether there had been any smirks or scoffs from his ministers, so irrelevant had their opinions been to him in that moment.

Once Fadl is finished, the chamberlain strikes a gong and raises a cheer for Fadl the Great: his subjects burst out not only into cheers, but tears, the odd cry of disbelief mixed into the chaotic din of thousands of voices.

Yet there is great celebration on the streets as Fadl orders money and gifts to be distributed among his people, as tokens of his gratitude for their good citizenship: great, heaving, hot pots of food are distributed throughout the city, beggars and princes sitting at the same tables dining on exotic fruits in their new, silken garments. Pardons are granted and prisoners freed, all girls and women given jewellery, pots of perfumes and kohl: Fadl travels through his city on horseback, saying goodbye to everyone personally, the people showering him in colourful petals like a hero returning home from war.

In the evening, as he goes to his harem, its women--even those he had endowed with mighty parting-gifts and splendid dowries--lament and stain their sleeves with kohl as they wipe their tears, telling him they will miss him, covering him in kisses.

Lulu, always the bawdiest--and thus, his favourite--brings over a bottle of wine and calls for a toast. "For the continued health of the horse-prick!" she cries.

That night, the women feast upon the wine by licking it off his body, each of them demanding a farewell ravishment from him to remember him by: Fadl is extremely glad of Jaffar's potency spell that night, unable to walk for a week after. He makes a note to bring at least some of his girls over to Samarkand, Jaffar and Yassamin both laughing heartily as he mumbles this at them in his crystal, his beard still sticky and wet from cunny-sap.

Two weeks after Nowruz, his sixtieth birthday come and gone, Fadl once again takes to the skies: as he does so, his eyes sting from hot tears running to his temples, yet not all are from the wind of the ascent, the curling feeling in his stomach not just a result of the altitude he now hastens towards Samarkand at. He is so close, so close to his freedom, and he cannot believe his luck: he mumbles prayers into the horse's mane, promises to give thrice the amount of alms each year from now until his dying day--well, from whatever is left of his fortune, the majority of which he is still taking with himself, just as Jaffar and Yassamin had done with theirs.

And there, there: a yellow speck amidst a sea of green, dotted by thin blue lines and squares. He urges his horse to descend, approaching the earth so fast he dizzies, his ears deafened from the pressure as if he were diving into the depths of the sea; yet, he doesn't care. This is his home, his home, his home.

Eager, he jumps from his horse, staggering like a sailor who's spent months at sea; his heart pounds as he leads his horse to the gate and from there, into the courtyard of the house.

Yet the only sound in the entire building comes from the water in the fountains, and somewhere in the distance, he can hear the clucking of chickens. There are no servants to take his horse, and his own staff have not arrived yet, seeing as they are travelling here by horse and camel.

He takes his horse to the stables and returns to the courtyard, looking around himself; the blossoms have started to fall from the orange trees, sprinkling the neat squares of grass with little white petals. The well-trimmed lawn, the chickens and the fodder left in the stables tell him the house cannot be abandoned. Yet, he wonders why the petals have not been harvested yet, especially as their oil is a most valuable tonic: the fresh, bright, sharp scent fills his nostrils and invigorates him, awakens his senses as if a sip of strong coffee.

He washes his hands in a fountain, drinks from another, removes his turban and rinses his hair with the fresh, cool water. It's a most beautiful day and it's so peaceful here, so he might as well take advantage of the calm to take in his new home before it will forever be taken over by the hustle and bustle of people living in it. Therefore, he wets his turban-cloth, wrings it and places it over his face as he lies underneath the greatest of the orange trees, letting the coolness of the water and the fragrance of the flowers wash over him, cleansing him of the fatigue of his journey.

There is a little rustle behind him, the sound of a cloak dragging across the grass: from long experience of listening for enemies, he can tell the short footsteps that now approach him belong to someone very small, yet someone considerably heavier than a child. He tries not to smile, knowing exactly who it is, pretending to be asleep: his prick twitches sweetly in his trousers as a warm weight settles over his thighs and his groin, and silken hair brushes his hand. He wants to prolong the moment for as long as possible; therefore, he bites the inside of his lip and stays quiet.

Finally, Zainab pulls the wet cloth off his face and tosses it aside.

"Good morning, my stallion," she says, resting with her head in his lap.

Zainab, in his arms, exactly as he had imagined, his most sentimental, romantic dreams come true: his heart skips a beat as her plump cheeks lift in the most dazzling of smiles.

"Good morning, my love," he says, his voice husky from emotion as he brushes a little white petal from her cheek. His eyes fill with tears, his hand trembling as he cups her head with his palm, she now the most precious thing to him in the world; he caresses her hair like the spun gold it is, weighing it in his hand. This is now his gold, the blue of her eyes his jewels, her body his throne and his bed: a tear, two now fall onto the generous expanse of bosom revealed by her jacket.

"It seems I have a new kingdom," he says, as innocent and as excited as a child.

"Welcome home, then, my wayward prince," she smiles at him and pulls him into a kiss, the petals raining down over them a shower of white; "welcome home, my love; welcome home."

***

END

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