Kismet Ch. 10byvoluptuary_manque©
Click! The white rook dropped into position.
"Checkmate in three. And husband, that opening gambit was pathetic!"
Mahmood Al-Bezier, Director of the Royal Secret Service, cringed under his senior wife's scorn. It was annoying enough that she regularly beat him at chess (and was the only person in the kingdom who could) but to have done so almost contemptuously this evening was the crowning ignominy to an exhausting day.
"And don't think we didn't notice that you simply toyed with dinner tonight, our husband," Nadira, the second wife was starting up on her favorite complaint, "What you ate this meal would not keep the smallest bird alive!"
Mahmood sagged. "I'm tired. With the sultan away on campaign, having to arrange his daughter's escape and to cover up the 'accidental' death of the Prussian First Secretary on top of my usual duties—this day has left me drained. I'm not the young warrior I once was, after all."
Zaafira, his senior wife, sniffed. "Not to mention that you hardly slept. You kept me awake half the night with your tossing and turning."
That Mahmood Al-Bezier actually slept with his wives in turn instead of simply summoning them when he wanted them would have come as a great surprise to those who knew him only as the most feared man in Azerbaidistan. If you had suggested such a thing to any of his subordinates or that he was a fond and indulgent father you would have been dismissed out of hand as a complete idiot. The Al-Bezier? Loving and kindly? And who put hashish in your hookah, this day? But Mahmood had not always been rich and powerful and still kept to many of the habits of his youth.
"It is the curse of genius," Hediya, the youngest wife nodded knowingly and crossed her arms over her very pregnant belly. "Our husband spends too much time worrying about the welfare of the realm and not enough time enjoying life."
"Up, our husband!" Zaafira had the command voice of a regimental sergeant major, "It's off to the hamam for a good bath and I shall send word to Ibrahim that he is to give you his very best massage. Go!"
"And I," Nadira muttered under her breath with a leer, "will make very sure that he sleeps well."
"Shall I help? You know how much for fun it is when there are three of us in your bed."
"Not this night, Hediya our little pomegranate. He is tired enough as is. Trying to play with two at once will be quite beyond him, I fear. Once the sultan is back our husband can relax. Then you and I will entertain him together."
"And each other, of course."
His bath over and feeling much more relaxed and at ease, Mahmood entered the darkened chamber of his second wife's quarters. There was a single lamp lit near the bed and it threw flickering shadows in the slight draft. The light cast a warm glow over Nadira's naked body, lying on one side facing him.
"Ah, husband, are you feeling better?"
"I am, pearl among women, but I think that tonight sleep is in order."
"I know, Mahmood, and that's what I'm going to ensure. Come, lie next to me. You need not move; I will take care of you."
As he complied, Nadira rose to her knees and sat back on her heels. As the man disrobed and lie on the couch next to her knees the woman took a flask of scented oil and poured a drop or two into her palm. Rubbing her hands together, she warmed it and then began to stroke his soft member, paying particular attention to the underside of the helmet. Despite his exhaustion, the Director quickly responded to his wife's ministrations growing long and firm. Nadira smiled to herself. She would bring him to climax, clean him up and then curl up around him. Tonight he would sleep soundly. Tomorrow, let the enemies of Azerbaidistan beware!
The following morning a much rested and revitalized Director received the morning briefing from his second-in-command.
"Director, the Sultan reports that he has completed liberating the Georgians from the Russian Empire. With the cities of Poti and Batumi now firmly in our control his dream of free access to the rest of the world by sea has been realized. The Sultan also reports that the High Mullah's declaration of religious freedom to the Orthodox Christians and Jews as Peoples of the Book was very well received and that the people seem pleased to be free of the Russian yoke.
On the subject of Hera, reports indicate that she is settling well into 'Abbas' household. No threats seem to be aimed at them. It would seem the queen has no idea of the woman's whereabouts.
Afsoon has successfully escaped with her lover. They encountered a patrol of the Black Squadron that was surrounded, and the women attacked the bandits with abandon. If there was any doubt that she is the Sultan's daughter, her natural sense of tactics and combative valiance should lie that to rest. The unit commander sent you a package he believes you will find—intriguing.
And a final note, our agent in the British Embassy in Persia reports that he has received information that the Crown has acquired something called a Babbage Engine and is also pursuing development of an 'air ship'. This seems hard to believe, but . . . ."
"It is not! Tell our agent that I will have a full report of everything he has heard, read, or seen of what the British are doing. Though the Christians are People of the Book and safe within the Prophet's realm, that doesn't mean we should give them free reign to conquer the world. If they are embarking on voyages through the air, we will not be far behind, إن شاء الله!"
After lunch the Director and the Grand Vizier sat with grim visages contemplating a large jar of alcohol. Inside the jar floated a severed head and hand, a hand with a black rose tattooed on its wrist.
"Esteemed Director, Risay was so bold as to allow a unit of his brigands the freedom to attack a patrol of the Black Squadrons? The man grows more reckless by the day. How much longer do you intend to let this impudence continue?"
"My Lord Vizier, these things take time. Despite the man's machinations he poses no real threat to the crown. So long as Malay is still within the harim, we will continue to get news of his foolish daydreams. Eventually the queen will decide that her lover is a liability. Then she will denounce him as a traitor to the sultan and beg her husband's forgiveness. She will portray herself as a weak woman seduced and ravished by a black-hearted villain. The sultan will forgive her (because he wants to keep the alliance with her brother, the Kazak King) and condemn the General to an appropriately slow and painful death. No, we need not worry about General Risay. What we must ever concern ourselves with is that which we have yet to identify."
"You spoke of the woman Malay in the harim. What of the other?"
"Delbar? She purchased her freedom from the General. Actually, she left a bag of gold and a note in his sleeping quarters and escaped into the night."
"Director, the price of her freedom was all the gold you paid her. What is she to do now?"
"My dear Vizier, one does not throw away a spoon simply because the soup course is finished. She remains on the palace payroll. I do not have any assignment for her as yet but I certainly intend to have her close at hand should her particular talents be required."
The Grand Vizier sighed. He had, once or twice, seen the woman Delbar in the background when official duties took him to Risay's palace. She reminded him of his late wife. Unusual among high-ranking men in Azerbaidistan, Mohamar had only taken one wife and when she died he grieved for months.
The Director saw the man's facial expression and mentally shook his head. Pleasure slaves or concubines would never fill the hole in his friend's heart. Discard Delbar? No, he still had one more very important assignment for her, one that would likely last the rest of her life.
Mada's eyes blazed and her face was white with fury. Almost incoherent with rage she finally spit out, "Risay, you fool! You let the Al-Bezier establish a spy in your household? How could you be so careless? That devil is likely playing you like a fish on a hook."
The general's eyes narrowed. If any other woman had dared speak to him so insolently he would have had her beaten to within an inch of her life but this was the queen of the realm. If he struck her the sultan would know and the retribution would be ghastly. He dared not even make her disappear for if she was not on the sultan's bed when he returned, and he was due to return very soon, the Al-Bezier would scour the city with his 'clerks' and somehow would find out that the last man to see her was himself.
"Relax, Greatest of Jewels, the man is dead, shot when Hera's daughter escaped. He cannot expose us now."
"Oh? And if the eunuch Ahmed were not the agent? Who in your household escaped with them? Tell me that there was no one else involved!"
Cold hit Risay's stomach like a winter storm. Who else in your household escaped with them? There was that note on his bed table and the bag of gold. Delbar! A woman? How could that be? But now that the facts were laid out there could be no doubt. How many years had she silently gone about her business, an ever-present silent figure in the background perfectly positioned to know everything said or written? His face paled.
"Flee! My husband will do no than beat me as he will not risk having my brother invade from the north. But you? Risay, he will have you torn apart by lions or cut apart joint by joint over days or weeks. Fill the seams of your garments with your finest jewels and escape to Istanbul. The Ottoman Emperor will gladly take you in and give you a command. Perhaps you and the Sultan will meet on the field of battle. Should you defeat him, I will be waiting for you. But if you lose, at least it will be a cleaner death than what you can expect here. I will return to the palace and have our tunnel sealed up to delay your pursuit but that will only be good for days at best. Quickly, go!"
Her robes swirled as she turned on her heel and rushed out through the curtains that concealed the tunnel running under the streets from Risay's mansion to the Royal Palace. Beneath the ground she ran as if djinn were after her and as she ran she wondered if djinn might not be preferred to the Director's clerks.
The next day, in another wing of the palace, Mahmood casually advanced a pawn and sat back. Zaafira swooped her rook down onto it and then froze. She pulled the rook back into its original position, looked over the board for a few silent moments and then knocked over her king.
"Mahmood, my love, you are a devil! How did that discovered attack escape me? Well played, our husband, very well played. You are obviously your old self again."
The other two wives applauded politely and then looked up as a servant entered the room, bowed deeply and handed a slip of paper to the Director. The man raised an eyebrow. Interruptions were rare once he returned to his family quarters because he emphatically insisted they be. No one but the Grand Vizier, the Sultan himself or (on very rare occasions) his second-in-command would dare. Something very important was afoot.
Mahmood unfolded the note. As he read, his face darkened into a fierce scowl and then into a cunning smile. "So, events move more swiftly than I estimated. Thank-you, Ali, you did well to bring this at once. My loves, I must return to my official duties but fear not. I will return to your embraces tomorrow evening."
When he arrived at the concealed headquarters of the Secret Service, Ahmed was waiting for him. Beckoning silently he led the Director down several flights of stairs and into a seldom used storage room. There a decorative wooden screen was pushed over to reveal a large patch of fresh plaster.
The Director smirked. "So, her majesty has tired of her plaything! When did you learn of this, Ahmed?"
Ahmed bowed. "As soon as she gave the order to seal up the passage, one of her guards took the opportunity to tell the clerk Pervaiz who came to me personally with the news. So swiftly did her workmen lay brick and plaster that the job was complete by the time I got here. Evidently her majesty is seriously perturbed. She has withdrawn back into the women's quarters and locked herself in her rooms."
"Has she now?" Mahmood chuckled. "Well, we will leave the Sultan to deal with his miscreant doe. The question is what about Risay? Is he fuming in his mansion or . . . ?"
"I sent a patrol of clerks to find out, Director. They should be back any moment."
"Very good, Ahmed. You did well. We will go back and await their report. If there is no resistance, we must presume he has fled. Where would he go . . . ?"
Risay, lately a general in the Azerbaidistan army and now a fugitive for his life alternately cursed his luck and congratulated himself on his foresight. His stable was renowned as the finest in the land and now he could put it to good use. By sunset tomorrow he would be over the border into the Ottoman Empire, safe from pursuit. There he would take the fortune in jewels from the hems of his garments, secure suitable living quarters, and then begin the process of returning. The Caliph would be only too glad to assist him. The Sultan Azlan was a thorn in Istanbul's side and now that he had fully conquered Georgia, Topkapi Palace would be a hornet's nest of unrest and intrigue. Risay grinned humorlessly in the dark as he rode. This was less a retreat than a strategic withdrawal. The game was far from over.