tagSci-Fi & FantasyWhere Women Worship The Serpent

Where Women Worship The Serpent


Derek stopped dead.

"This city reeks of sorcery," he snorted.

"You've been in the sun too long," exclaimed the young girl who halted at his side. Her breasts bounced once in tandem under the almost invisible halter-top. The nipples pressed against the gauzy fabric, the plumpness of each trembling breast visible at a glance, as if clothed in less than smoke. Her pantaloons were of the same sheer material. For a white woman, the swell of her buttocks was round and high and her freshly denuded pubes as much in evidence as her breasts.

Pedestrians continued flowing around them in the bazaar, dust rising at their feet.

Derek curled his fingers around the haft of his sword. "Do you see those two big oil jars outside the gate in that wall?"

The girl shook her pretty blonde head, exasperated. "You fear a couple of clay pots?"

"I've seen djinns sleep in jars as tall as those, Danai."

"This is civilization not some haunted jungle," she scolded him, her eyes lingering on the wall. "Anyway, there seems to be some sort of celebration going on back there. A party, or fete."

A guardsman in a turban leaned languidly in the heat against one of the jars, listening to Derek and Danai converse. A gnarled hand rested on the pommel of a scimitar thrust into the sand at his feet. He leered at the girl, not unlike every other herdsman and nomad in every other oasis and town.

He called to her: "You're welcome to join the party, milady. But your boy will have to remain outside."

Danai pleaded, "But he's my brother, let him in too. Please."

The man in the turban shook his head. He repeated his offer, addressing her by a lewd and common name. When Derek strode toward him he taunted, "Watch your step, boyo, the djinns haven't been fed yet today."

He jerked the scimitar from the sand and whirled it over his head. Before Derek reached the guardsman an authoritative voice rang out.

"Hold, hold!" The man doing the shouting stepped out from behind one of the oil jars, his immaculate tan robes swirling. "Put down that cleaver now, Al-Aziz. What is the meaning of this?"

"This superstitious heathen tried to attack me, lieutenant."

"Silence!" barked the other man.

While he and the guardsman yelled at one another Danai caught up to Derek, grabbed hold of his left wrist. She knew better than to grab him by his sword arm. After she stopped him she got between him and the men at the gate. A crowd gathered around to enjoy the comedy. The man in the tan robes waved them away. Al-Aziz spat in the dust and went back to lean against one of the huge jars. He muttered under his breath and looked everywhere but at Derek.

The lieutenant in charge bowed deeply out of respect to Danai, bringing his eyes level with her hairless mound. When he finally straightened up he said: "I am Nu'aym and ask you forgive the outburst. What can I do to make amends?"

In a matter of seconds Danai had wheedled an invitation from Nu'aym, who conducted them into the walled compound. Groups of people wandered the grounds and congregated around colorful open pavilions that served drinks. Flat-roofed mud buildings lined the streets of the desert city. Inside the compound stood a palace of cream-colored blue-veined marble. Towers reared onion-shaped domes into the sky. Nu'aym led them down a flagstone walk to a courtyard. Two bulky men with spears guarded a well overlooked by tall palms.

Water is more valuable than gold in the desert.

"Our Sheikh will doubtless be honored with the presence of you and," Nu'aym paused, "you say this is your brother?"

"I am Derek. My sister and I have traveled for many weeks from the hill country."

"Still your tongue, brother, lest our host think we're provincials."

"And would our host be correct?"

She became indignant, hands on her hips, back arched, buttocks clenched, breasts outthrust. "I am not the one clad in breeches."

"The evening air swelters like the kitchens of Hades at feeding time," Derek chided her. "Would you rather see me wrapped in my cloak, sweating like a horse?"

"Before we left the inn I urged you to wear those nice silk trousers I bought you in Pyr-Nekheb."

"But I have no fine boots into which to tuck those silk trousers you bought for me in Pyr-Nekheb." He had moccasins on his feet. "And besides, how could anyone guess you would invite yourself to a party?"

She glared at him like only a sister can. "You could at least have worn a proper shirt."

Derek spread his arms haplessly. He wore an open sleeveless garment that resembled a vest more than a shirt. A dagger and sword hung from his belt. "If truth be told I am not the one who is underdressed."

Nu'aym smiled indulgently, "Please, please, it pains me to see siblings quarrel."

"It pains me to see my sister dressed like a tart," Derek said with a jerk of his head at Danai's brief costume. Except for the slippers on her feet and bangles on her wrists she might as well be naked. "Might I remind you this is civilization, not a bathhouse."

She made a face. "My brother joys in tormenting me."

Nu'aym wrenched his eyes away from the vertical crease in her mound long enough to placate Derek. "The Sheikh will be overcome with her charm. She definitely is the most beautiful woman at our fete."

"She's not a woman, she's a girl masquerading as one."

Danai's eyes flashed daggers at Derek.

Nu'aym clucked his tongue and returned his gaze to the flesh jiggling in the girl's abbreviated clothing. "I must beg to disagree, your sister is the envy of every woman here."

Derek was well aware of the stares Danai caused, from women and men alike. "Our mother would writhe in her grave if she could see her daughter tonight."

"Mother's last wish was for me to marry well. How many suitors would I attract dressed like a milkmaid fresh from the farm?"

Nu'aym laughed, hooded eyes studying the intriguing shape of Danai's exposed labial folds. "Your sister speaks the truth. And, like you yourself said, the sweltering heat discourages too much clothing. But I've misplaced my courtesy. You two must be thirsty after a long day's ride, no?"

He clapped his hands and a slave carrying a tray hurried to him. They took goblets and the slave filled them from a perspiring clay jug. Nu'aym made a toast: "To the great Sheikh Saif al Din."

"Who is he?" Danai asked innocently.

"Why he is the one hosting this sumptuous banquet, lovely one," Nu'aym said. "This delicious vintage and yonder tables of food are furnished by his largesse."

"Saif al Din is the richest man in the East," Derek said between gulps of wine. He gestured with his empty cup and immediately the slave refilled it.

"Dare I say he is the richest man in the known world, Derek," amended Nu'aym. "Many visitors have traveled from afar to attend tonight's fete to show their respect."

"Does he have a wife?" Danai wanted to know.

Nu'aym seemed caught off guard by the question.

"My sister is a shameless gold digger."

She glared at Derek.

"He has many wives," Nu'aym said gently.

"And harems full of concubines," teased Derek.

Danai clutched at the sleeve of Nu'aym's tan robe. "I apologize for my brother's rudeness."

Nu'aym maintained his neutral smile.

Derek's words bristled with irritation, "Are you ashamed of me, Danai?"

"Only your manners. Try to act civilized. It's bad enough how you're dressed."

"You're one to talk the way you're dressed, or rather undressed. I am clad like the simple soldier I am."

"I am not surprised you're a fighting man," said Nu'aym. "May I ask which unit you are attached to?"

"Conrad's Elite First Regiment."

Nu'aym obviously knew the Regiment recently fought insurgents in the East, allies of Saif al Din. Yet Nu'aym gave a deferential nod to Derek. "Impressive credentials, Conrad's mercenaries have seen some thankless campaigns."

A murmur rippled through the passersby around them and cut their conversation short.

Nu'aym turned to Danai. "The Sheikh now joins us."

A large man in a burnoose emerged from the palace. A black agal of woven goat hair secured a ghutra on his head, it billowed around his shoulders when he moved. He carried himself regally, the master of all he surveyed. At his side strolled a tall woman with a dusky complexion and long straight hair the color of ink. From a thin gold chain around her hips hung a rectangle of white cloth in lieu of a loincloth. The silk parted when she walked, Derek made note that her pubic mound was as bare as Danai's. Her breasts were contained by a pair of brass cups, both overflowing with flesh. Jewels sparkled around the woman's neck, above one elbow was a gold armlet shaped like an asp. A black diamond the size of a peach pit glittered at the man's throat. It outshined all the jewelry that adorned the woman on his arm.

He worked his way through the throng, speaking to friends and nodding at acquaintances. His beard parted in a smile when his gaze fell upon Danai. He marched right over to the blonde girl. The woman with olive skin had to lengthen her step to keep up. Derek thought she appeared displeased with the turn of events whereas Danai seemed ecstatic. She almost wilted when the man stepped up to her and inclined his head.

He never took his eyes off Danai's crotch as he spoke out of the side of his mouth: "Nu'aym, I must insist you introduce me to your marvelous young companion."

A sardonic smile curved Derek's lips when he saw that Nu'aym could bow and scrape with the best of them. "Delighted, sire. May I present the lovely Danai?"

The dark-haired woman folded her arms under the golden cups covering her breasts and said archly, "I do not recall her name on any of the invitations, Sheikh."

"She is my guest," Nu'aym hastened to explain.

The frowning woman heard, but the Sheikh had not. Apparently it mattered little to him; Danai was giggling at something he'd said. The Sheikh watched every movement made by her breasts keenly.

Derek hooked his thumbs in his swordbelt and announced loudly enough for all to hear. "And I am her brother and guardian. Derek is my name."

Sheikh Saif al Din glanced up to acknowledge him. "Your sister is simply splendid. Will the two of you join Mayyada and me at the head of our table?"

Danai could not conceal her glee but Derek kept his face blank. He realized that the Sheikh had not only issued his invitation to them without conferring with his consort, but he also expected others in his entourage to defer to places of lesser importance at the table. No one made any objections, including Mayyada. Derek saw that except a tightened jawline she kept her face as blank as his.

He hesitated, felt the air in the courtyard thicken with tension.

Feeling no compunction Danai answered gaily, "It would be rude to decline."

Derek shrugged.

"So be it!" roared the Sheikh. He hugged the blonde girl fondly, gripping both cheeks of her bottom in his hands.

Guests began gathering around a long low table. Rugs covered the ground. Cushions and pillows served as chairs. Nobody seated themselves until both Mayyada and Saif al Din sat cross legged on fat cushions. Danai wiggled onto a pillow at Saif's right. Only after Derek settled in place at Mayyada's left did anyone else make a move to be seated. Slave girls began to fill wine cups and heap food on square silver plates.

The Sheikh told Danai, "Fareeq is my captain, Nu'aym my first lieutenant. They do not mind vacating their customary places in honor of you and your brother." Saif al Din neither made apologies nor asked permission. He commanded. Others obeyed.

Fareeq, a tough hawk-faced man as large as Saif, sat closest to Derek, scowling. He wanted Derek to know the scowl was meant for him. Derek met his gaze evenly until Fareeq started occupying himself with his dinner. A smiling Nu'aym took the place opposite Fareeq, as close to the nubile Danai as he dared.

The Sheikh asked Danai, "What brings you and your brother to our humble kingdom of Djhedet?"

Derek stopped listening because Mayyada spoke to him. "You two don't look like brother and sister," she observed.

He grinned lop-sidedly. "I inherited the modesty in the family but Danai got all the looks."

Mayyada leaned near enough to press against him. Her perfume and the oils worked into her flawless skin made his head swim with delight. She whispered, her breath hot in his ear, "You are being modest, your sister didn't get all the looks."

Next to them the Sheikh sat oblivious. Danai had engaged his full attention. Her blandishments, so routine to Derek, must have enchanted the old lecher, or else she massaged his penis under the table out of casual sight. Mayyada traced a playful finger along the ridged muscles of Derek's arm while attempting to enchant him with conversational pleasantries of her own. Or was she retaliating in protest against Saif's preoccupation with Danai? He ignored her friendly hand. Seated a few meters away he noted that Nu'aym looked quite pleased with himself. And why not? After all he had delivered a lamb to the slaughter. The Sheikh might reward him later, unless Mayyada had him beheaded first. Derek avoided other eyes that may have been regarding him with jealousy or outright hatred; like Fareeq.

Nothing like a little political intrigue around the banquet table to aid the digestion, he reflected grimly.

As dusk turned to darkness men lighted torches positioned around the grounds. The firelight illuminated a scene of ancient splendor. Servants cleared away tableware to make room for new dishes and more courses of the feast. Dozens of liters of wine were consumed. A cool night wind rattled the stiff palms. Laughter was frequent.

Musicians played and slave girls danced.

Mimes capered and jugglers tossed tenpins.

Voices raised and inhibitions lowered.

The Sheikh leaned so close to Danai by the end of the meal he must have at least one finger immersed in the wet crevice between her legs. Mayyada placed a hand high on Derek's thigh under the table. She smoothed it up across his lap palm down before sending the palm inside his breeches. He became the recipient when she began to administer a penile massage of her own. She smiled more widely at him as she groped him lovingly. Derek started to think maybe it best to make excuses for Danai and himself and decamp before violence reared its inevitable head. Could he get out of there without getting his throat cut?

As the banquet wore on the old Sheikh became more aware of the attention his inamorata paid Derek. Her wandering fingers and squeezing hand took their leave of his pants. She clasped both hands in sight on the tabletop. Up till then he felt Mayyada might be his sole ally in the whole compound. Even Nu'aym could not be trusted; like Saif al Din, he obviously wanted the opportunity to plunder Danai. And what about her? By the look on her face Derek knew she was quite aroused and she hadn't met his eye in an hour. Was she leading them both down a twisted path to doom?

Mayyada chased those thoughts from his mind when she stood suddenly, hurled her empty goblet into the night. The guests at the long table cheered. A drunken gleam etched her features.

"Who's ready for some real entertainment?" she cried.

Voices shouted encouragement.

Saif al Din had his hands on the table now too, merrily pounded it with his fist. Danai gazed up adoringly at him, both of her hands out of sight. "We have a circus parading around us, Mayyada, what else could you possibly have in mind?" grunted Saif.

"Your friend's brother informs me he is on leave from Conrad's Regiment."

Derek interpreted her answer to be pregnant with inference and innuendo. He heard some jeering, not unanimous, but interspersed among the audience, enough to make him wary. Saif al Din touched a hand to the huge diamond at his throat. He regarded Derek with a frown lurking amid his whiskers.

The omnipresent smile of Nu'aym widened even more.

Undisguised hatred colored Fareeq's features.

Derek lurched to his feet. He hoisted his cup high, feigning drunkenness. For an hour he'd been surreptitiously watering the ground with wine.

"I would propose a toast, milady, but you've thrown away your glass."

His comment elicited a small titter of amusement from the table. Mayyada looked him up and down, speechless, wondering.

Was that newfound respect in her eyes?

Derek bawled, "I too would like fresh entertainment. All this eating and drinking has almost put me to sleep." He upended his goblet, spilling more down his chest than down his throat and flung it carelessly away from him like Mayyada had done.

Except for Fareeq, everyone howled at his foolishness. The Sheikh seemed particularly amused with his antics. Danai gawked at him like he'd lost his mind. He winked at her in reassurance.

The Sheikh spoke up, wine slurring his words. "Don't keep me wondering, what kind of entertainment have you got in mind?"

Mayyada answered, "I want to see one of Conrad's finest pit his sword against one of your finest."

Bounding to his feet Fareeq drew his scimitar, "As senior officer in your ranks, Sheikh, I am eager to volunteer."

"What say you, Derek?" Saif asked.

Derek yawned theatrically. "Such a disappointment to cross swords with that old man. A grandfather like him certainly cannot be the finest swordsman in your camp?"

Desultory hoots and whistles issued from the crowd but Fareeq refused to be baited. Having worked his way up the chain of command in the Sheikh's fierce band of men he would not only be skilled, but extremely dangerous.

Nor was he above playing to the audience. "Sheikh, would this youngster not be better suited squaring off against a scrubwoman holding a broom handle?"

"Enough banter," yelled a warrior from the far end of the table, "are you going to fight, or just talk?"

A chant fuelled by wine echoed across the dunes: "Fight! Fight! Fight!"

Hands to herself, Danai said to the Sheikh amidst the uproar: "What if Derek kills that man? This rabble will have his head on a stick."

"Your brother encouraged this match, girl," Saif impatiently growled.

Derek said quietly to him, "I'll endure the consequences of my folly but allow me one favor."

"And that is?"

"Get my sister out of here. Somewhere out of sight. To your private quarters, if you wish, just anywhere but here."

He could discern the Sheikh liked the idea, but had to pretend not to, if for nothing else but Mayyada's sake. "But why, Derek?"

"She is too young to watch this bloodshed."

Danai sat shaking her head, pale with horror.

"But I am curious as to the outcome, and certainly your sister has concerns for her brother's welfare."

"She has yet to meet the man who can stand against my sword. Everyone here knows this game of warriors will end with a death. You've seen blood spilled a thousand times, Sheikh, Danai has not. I ask for you to take her away."

Hesitation flickered in Saif's eyes, lechery too.

Mayyada smirked as the gears of decision churned in his head. "Go ahead, Sheikh, take her up to your chamber. I shall relate all the details come morning."

The chanting ceased, every ear strained to overhear the talk at the head of the table.

Saif looked first at Mayyada, then Derek. Danai trembled. He got to his feet and extended a hand to help her rise. At once she bolted over to Derek, embraced him.

"Do you have to do this?" she pouted.

He nodded.

She wept in his arms. "I love you."

He smoothed her hair, "I love you too. Be brave, little sister, no matter what happens."

"I don't want to leave you. Can we not just go back to the inn?"

Mayyada interjected cruelly, "It's too late for that."

"I'm afraid she's right." Derek gave Danai one final squeeze, holding her at arms' length. "Go now with the Sheikh."

All eyes had watched the touching tableau, watched as Danai and the Sheikh left the courtyard to ascend a stairway to the highest tower of the palace. When they reached the last stair she saw the courtyard below, a smear of color, torchlight and darkness. Inside the apartment at the top of the stairs murals and frescoes covered the walls, a constant theme repeated, a girl on her knees and a man standing with his erection in her mouth.

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