Kismet Ch. 02byLoquaciousLady©
A hearty thanks to RedHairedandFriendly for the editing, the advice, and the opportunity to work with some real stars. I hope you enjoy my offering on this. Feedback is always welcome.
The sun rose, etching the sky with washed out purples, pinks, oranges, reds, and yellows. Afsoon's eyes opened groggily and she felt the soft feather mattress enveloping her. For a moment she struggled frantically, disoriented and unable to tell where she was or why. Her thrashing only awoke a hundred pains in her body and soon enough the memories of the past few weeks came flooding back. As they did so, tears prickled her bottle green eyes.
Last night had been terrible. Afsoon had despaired of her life in the end but at last Risay had tired of playing with her and the guards had escorted her forcibly back to the entrance of the harem. Malay was waiting there for her and helped her to the small cell that would be Afsoon's home. Another girl had brought a basin of warm water and rags. The two of them cleaned her and dressed her wounds carefully as she sobbed piteously. Through the night Malay stayed by her bed, caring for her and soothing her back into sleep when the pain or terror awoke her with a scream.
Now it appeared Malay had finally gone to take her own rest and Afsoon was alone. A breakfast tray stood beside the bed and Afsoon turned to it gratefully. Drizzling the yogurt and honey over the figs, quince, pomegranate and dates, she ate languidly while mulling over the events that had brought her to this point. Her adopted father, Lord Byran, was dead. Her mother, Hera, had fled with Afsoon to Azerbaidistan, the land of her true father, Azlan. Hera was now a prisoner of Sultan's wife, Mada, and Afsoon was sold as common chattel on the auction block to the vile General Risay. A flicker of hope kindled in her heart, though, as Afsoon thought of Azlan, her father. If only he knew of her and of what Mada had done, Afsoon would be freed and take her rightful place in Sultan's home and Mada would pay. Until she could find a way to let him know of her plight or otherwise escape, she must simply endure.
Afsoon looked up as a shadow blocked out the bright sun streaming in her open doorway. The girl from the previous night stood just outside the threshold, peering in cautiously. Afsoon eyed her, pushing away the breakfast tray, and said quietly, "Please enter and sit with me." The raven-haired girl glided into the room as if atop a current of gentle air. Gracefully she perched beside Afsoon on the feather bed and looked at her measuringly with lipid brown eyes.
"I was coming to wake you. It is well that you rose on your own. It is not good to fall into the oblivion of slumber for release from your sorrows," the girl murmured.
"I shall remember that. But now that I am awake, please stay with me a while."
"You are frightened. Do not be. I am Delbar. Malay asked me to look after you while she sleeps. Day is just beginning and it will be evening before Master calls for a woman again. We have our days to ourselves here mostly. There are chores but you will not be asked to help with those yet, not until you are settled in better. The first day after... That is always the hardest on the new girls. I will try to make it easier for you." Delbar rose and carried the tray to the door, setting it just outside, and then returned. "Lay back. Let me tend your wounds."
Afsoon tentatively settled back and allowed Delbar to minister to her. The girl's hands were soft and gentle. After the wounds had been re-examined and dressed with fresh cloth, the gentle hands began to stroke and knead into sore muscles. Afsoon groaned a few times but Delbar shushed her tenderly and continued to work. Slowly Afsoon felt herself slipping into a state of deep lethargy. As Delbar massaged, she crooned a lullaby in a sweet, clear voice. "Heart-ravisher," Afsoon thought hazily, "That's what Delbar means. It's a fitting name."
Just as she was on the verge of slipping into unconsciousness again, Delbar stopped her delicate caresses and Afsoon returned almost instantly to a state of clarity. "That will help to ease your aches for a time. If they get too much to bear I will work them away again. Now it is time to properly see your new home."
The last words filled Afsoon with dread and anger. This would never be her home. This place was nothing more than a torture chamber and she would be freed from it. But she must bide her time, wait until Azlan had returned to ensure her safety and more importantly, Hera's safety.
Delbar helped Afsoon to her feet and led her out into the harem. Afsoon's own chambers opened directly off the courtyard. Perhaps this might mean a greater chance of escape, she mused. Her heart fell as she spotted four of the huge guards with their black rose insignia hovering near the only gates out. Other than the guards, there were perhaps a dozen or more women in the courtyard this morning. One was drawing water from a well, others tending plots of lush garden.
Benches were scattered here and there for lounging or resting in the sun but none were in use so early. Morning was a time of work in the desert, Hera had often told Afsoon. Better to be productive earlier in the day before the heat began to rise. Afternoon was spent doing as little as possible, retreating from the sun's over-bright rays. The interesting stories of her childhood had begun to take on great significance for Afsoon. This was to be her life now. Even when she got free of this terrible place, the ways of the desert people must still become her own.
"There are chambers on two sides of the courtyard, all housing slaves like us," Delbar chirped. "The lowest or newest women are housed out here. If you find favor in Master Risay's eyes you will be moved to chambers inside." With that, the woman conducted Afsoon to the doors of the great hall through which Afsoon had passed the day before.
Again Afsoon took in the beauty of the hall, filled with exquisite art and treasures. This time, Delbar pointed out some of the more notable pieces. "This tapestry was woven by Malay herself. She would let no other handle the shuttle. And this was imported from Thasily. That statue came from a very famous sculptor in Bythanius." They stopped and Delbar pointed to a pair of halls running perpendicular to the great hall. "Those lead to most of the other women's chambers. Be good and you will be here soon. It is cooler in these walls."
They continued on a way with her guide pointing out more interesting works and telling the history of this or that object. Another set of perpendicular halls was reached. "Here are the last six slave chambers. The woman steered Afsoon to the right. "These are larger, more nicely furnished. This is mine at the end." She opened the ornately carved wooden door to allow her charge a peek inside. "I will invite you in later, but for now a glance will do as there is still much to see and I want to get to the baths before everybody else."
Afsoon goggled at the alabaster bed frame and rich rosy granite bench. Hundreds of cushions were scattered around wrapped in the finest of cloths. A highly polished mirror hung above a small wooden table that looked to be cypress. Glass bottles of every description littered the vanity. The door was pulled closed again and Delbar turned her guest around to the open doors behind them. "The music room. Do you play? If we don't have your instrument, you have only to ask and Master Risay will get it for you. Some of the girls even perform for Master's guests."
"I'll just bet they do," Afsoon thought disgustedly. Aloud she answered, "Harp, lute, and lyre. I used to accompany Mother when she sang..." She broke off, her voice cracking and the tears prickling her eyes again. Delbar pulled the girl close and murmured soothing words in her ear, comforting her with ease.
"It will be well, dear girl. I know things are hard for you. It takes some time to adjust but soon you won't mourn anymore. I take it you were daughter of a chieftain before you were taken? It is a better life here than most of you conquered girls ever lived before. Master Risay gives us so much, even if the price we must pay for it is sometimes great."
It was a start to realize that this comforting woman still knew nothing of Afsoon or how she came to be here. She wasn't currying favor with the daughter of Azlan, only mothering a little lost sparrow. Somehow this disarmed Afsoon completely and she dissolved into sobs. Delbar led her gently into her rooms and pulled her down onto a floor cushion. Hugging her tight, she soothed Afsoon until all her tears were spent.
Finally she began to quiet. "I am sorry. I did not mean to frighten you," the woman stated.
"Oh no, it was not you," Afsoon responded, suddenly concerned with protecting Delbar's feelings, "It is all -- a little much. Will you show me more?" The girl was reluctant to reveal too much.
The two women rose and Delbar guided her back into the smaller hall, moving toward the great hall again. Past the music room doors was another set of double doors. "The library," she gestured, "You may request any books you like." They moved across the great hall and down the connecting small hallway. There were again three doors on one side leading into bedchambers and two sets across the way. Delbar nodded to the first set, "The offices. Master Risay's mother runs the household and some of the girls do work for her keeping ledgers and such. And this," she said, indicating the other set of doors, "Is the Mistress's rooms. It is to her that most requests must go. I am sure you will meet her soon. She usually meets with the new girls their first day but Malay said Master gave special orders about you yesterday. So maybe today."
Pointing to the bedchamber on the far end of the row, Delbar announced, "That is Malay's room. She is Master's favorite. She sleeps now for she stayed all night to look after you. That is rare. You must have impressed her. Or maybe it is just more of Master's special orders. I am favored because I am wise and kind and make the new girls feel welcome. I stay out of the internal affairs of the household, though. Sometimes it is wisest to be neutral so giving no side reason to hate you. That is how I survive here. There are many ways to grow in stature within a Master's household. You will find your own way in time."
Leading her back to the great hall, they advanced farther into the mammoth building to a final set of cross hallways. Again leading right first, Delbar showed her charge the cold room, pantry, and workroom. The workroom was large and filled with women making all manner of things from butter and cheese to facial creams and perfumes. Also down this hall were the kitchens and dining hall where the girl was informed she would take evening meals if she were not requested to dine with the Master. A set of double doors at the end of this hall flanked by more guards was the entrance into the house proper through which Afsoon had passed the night before.
Retreating back down the hall, she was shown the sewing room where still more women were busy working looms to make cloth while others embroidered tapestries and still more created garments in all fashions. A small nod indicated that farther down were servants' quarters and the quarters of those burly guards, eunuchs, who were tasked with guarding the harem. "Only Master and the eunuchs are allowed into the harem. No other men. This is our home and Master sees to it that we will never be violated here."
"Sees to it that his property will never be violated," thought Afsoon with disgust and loathing. Finally they returned to the great hall and a short walk led to the baths.
The large pool was steaming, as it had been the night before. Delbar explained that heat was conducted through pipes to keep it a nice temperature. A smaller pool in the far corner was kept filled with cool water, which was sometimes bracing during the heat of the day and also, Delbar said, would tighten and firm the skin after a warm bath. A series of small chambers that could house at most two or three people were rooms of various temperatures, which according to Delbar performed various functions on the skin and body. Afsoon was shown the dry heat room, the moist heat room, and the cold room. She was instructed to always wear sandals in these rooms because even the floors were heated and chilled.
Finally Delbar urged her new ward to disrobe and slip into the bath. "It will help with your sore muscles," the mentor explained. With servants looking on, Afsoon again slipped into the fragrant pool. Her chaperone followed and in spite of her discomfort the girl accepted it this time with more grace.
After the much less eventful bath, Delbar released her pupil to explore on her own and meet some of the chatty, giggling girls who were by now drifting away from their morning tasks and expressing curiosity about the latest inhabitant of their world.