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Guest of the House of Shahira

A dedicated teacher catches the Sultana's eye.
It has been many years since I first passed through the Obsidian Gate. All has changed since that day. New Gods came with their followers’ swords. They threw down the Sultan and beheaded him. Everything they remade in their image. What was once a temple is now a brothel for the powerful, a place where contempt finds expression in flesh.

It was not always so. In those days of my Goddess, it was a place of joy, of relaxation. It was a place where stature and wealth meant nothing, where titles did not exist, where nothing existed the company you kept and the companionship and pleasure shared in Her name. Our Goddess Shahira was always there though never in the flesh. And though wicked men and Gods have overrun it, I hope that a piece of her still dwells within, waiting for the triumph of Light over Darkness. This manuscript will betray confidences long held. But I fear I will soon leave this world and those of whom I write of have already left. I hope they will forgive me when we share kisses again in one of Shahira's Gardens.

My name is Nikkor bar-Telannin, and I was born in the land of Theos where he War-Lord Vraag God holds sway. Today much of the world has fallen beneath the swords forged upon His anvil. My brother was a warrior and my sister a priestess, but I was less interested in elevating myself than others and thus became a disappointment to a family and nation where soldiers are prized above all. And so it was I came to the land of Peace upon my graduation from the University. Through hard work and fortunate circumstance I was elevated until I ran the city's orphanage. My people had done well, for the harvests had been good and the bazaaris were happy to share the foods that would soon spoil, but remained fresh. A few of my staff and I would go every night to glean, and with better food our children studied better. More freedom inspired our teachers. After a few seasons our students rivaled the products of many private academies. Somehow the Sultan heard of this and I was invited to dine with him at the palace at his own table.

The dinner was sumptuous and extravagant. They served more than I could eat and at the end I asked him if I could take his scraps back to my students. The Sultan smiled and promised that from that day forward, they would have their excess be brought to my schools. I would not have to fetch them.

I thanked him profusely. And then the Sultana asked me why I had not brought my wife. Red faced, I explained that I had never found one.

She reached out to touch my cheek, slowly holding her fingers there. "And have you never known love.”

"I fell in love once. My beloved preferred another."

"She chose poorly."

"Coming from you lady, that is high praise." And it was high praise, and not just because of her title. She was petite, slim yet shapely with long hair the color of stained oak, and deep blue eyes beneath arching eyebrows. Her skin was fair and her smile soft and while she was not the most beautiful woman in this room, she was far from the least. She smiled at me then leaned over to whisper something in the ear of her husband the Sultan. He nodded and turned to share a kiss with her.

Soon thereafter the royal coach returned me to my home and I heard nothing more of this until two nights later, when my assistant and I were about to set out for the bazaar. Four royal guardsmen came in their crimson uniforms to fetch me.

"The Sultan sent us to fetch you, bar-Telannin," announced their sergeant, bowing low.

"I beg your pardon, the bazaar closes soon. I must go and gather food for my orphans, or it will go to waste."

The sergeant nodded. "I will take your place. The Sultan ordered it for he knew you would not come otherwise. But I do not mind. Gleaning for the poor is honorable work. Corporal Adjanian there will lead you where you are wanted." And so I stepped once again into a royal carriage.

"I hope I have not displeased His Majesty."

The Corporal laughed and when he did the loose skin beneath in his chin flapped like laundry hung in a spring breeze. "You couldn't be more wrong, Sir. But you'll see soon enough."

That wasn't the way I saw it. My first Royal audience had proven nerve wracking, though the Sultan and Sultana could not have been more courteous. There is something about standing before one's sovereign that quakes the stomach. But I could hardly refuse.

"I will do my best to honor Their Majesties. But I am dressed for an errand, not an audience."

"Where you’re going clothes won’t mean a thing, if you know what I mean." And then he winked at me as if we were in on some great conspiratorial secret. I pondered his words until as we passed through the barbican, across the drawbridge and under the portcullis into the castle of the Sultan. We dismounted and he led me across the gate and east into the palace, down low barrel-vaulted corridors, and out to the eastern lake.

In the center sat a rectangular building formed of white marble. Its sides were smooth as glass. I saw only one shiny, black door. A narrow footbridge of white marble, wide enough for a carriage led to that door. It was then that I realized this man had come to take me to Shahira's Temple.

"There must be some mistake," I whispered still staring at the tall marble walls, solid and imposing.

My guide simply laughed. "You probably aren't the first person to say that. But there's no mistake. Believe me, if I could just take people here I'd go myself. Now get going. You're expected."

And so I began to walk across the bridge, crossing each of the seven spans until I stood before the Obsidian Gate. The Gate shone like glass. I saw no handles, nor anything else that might mar its smooth surface. I heard a winding noise, and the clinking of chains that must have attached it to the weights needed to counter its bulk. Upon a narrow porch behind it stood a man. He was tall, and wore only a scarlet kilt, cinched by wide leather belt. His skin was smooth and his body rippled with muscle. A silver skullcap identified him, as a guard of the Temple of Shahira.

"I am Zugar, of the House of Shahira. You are welcomed, bar-Telannin. I guard Her house, and guide those new to it. I will help you prepare for tonight, and answer those questions that occur to you, at least until you pass beyond the vestibule." He then turned and walked down a flight of stairs that ended in a landing, an intricately carved door on each side. "Here is where the sexes part, to rejoin again in the halls. Men pass through the left door, women only on the right.”

I followed Zugar inside an octagonal room lined with marble benches. Bas-reliefs of men and women adorned the walls. The subjects were locked in a lovers embrace in the moments that precede total intimacy. Always they were set in nature, where animals wild and tame were near and unafraid. To the far right a door led to stairway downward. An open service window was to the left where a man waited.

Zugar began to disrobe, and I realized I should do the same. He handed his cap and tunic to the attendant, receiving in its stead a small beaded necklace. And I marveled, for he had not been unmanned as I had heard.

He noticed my gaze, and I was embarrassed. "I am no eunuch," he said, " Nor is pleasure forbidden me, except during my hours of duty. But I must drink the Tea of Inconception every day, thus cannot have a family until after I leave these walls."

"What if you met another inside?"

"I already have. You will meet her shortly."

I slid off my cape and my caftan, and handed them to the attendant inside, receiving in my turn another beaded necklace to wear. Once I had received my necklace, Zugar led me down winding stairs into the Bath.

The Bath was a long rectangular room, made with red bricks and dominated by a large pool. A fountain in the shape of a flower filled the pool, but I did not see where it drained. Three stones lay upon the bottom, lightly glowing, products of ancient magic. Frescoes adorned every wall. Most were portraits of women in many phases of life, as madonna and harlot, child and granddaughter, worker and dowager. Some were large, others thin as rails and all things in between. But in their eyes I saw warmth and wisdom, mirth and welcome. And I realized that each woman portrayed had her own unique beauty and grace. Their expressions were warm and friendly. But perhaps because he had seen these things often, Zugar simply walked into the water and began to wash. And as he washed he spoke.

“There are many baths in the House of Shahira. One comes to the Goddess clean in both body and spirit. This bath is to clean your body."

Zugar stepped in the pool, and began to wash. I followed. He warned me not to approach the three stones whose heat could scald. The water itself was slippery, and thicker than ordinary water, more like a woman's juices than water from a spring though at that time I had no knowledge of such things.

As we washed ourselves a slim, effeminate man approached. His deference suggested a boy though I saw wrinkles at the edge of his eyes. He bowed for us, and held out a silver tray. Upon it sat two cups of silver, both slightly steaming. "This is the Blessed Tea," he said. "Drink now, and receive the protection of our Goddess, who gives and withholds fertility." Zugar took his cup and gave the man a shallow bow, and I imitated him as best I could. The attendant smiled briefly at me and then bowed himself before withdrawing. I turned and Zugar had lifted his chalice, his Adam's apple bobbing as he drank.

The Blessed Tea was dark and spicy, and bit bitter like the ale of a good inn. But it was not beer, but a clear green with a hint of curry. I drank it all, despite the bitterness, and though I eventually learned to brew it myself I have never learned to love the flavor. I drained the cup then set the empty chalice near the pool. Zugar motioned me to follow him out of the water and down another passage and into another room. There stood rows of wooden tables covered with thin cotton mats laced with a floral pattern. Two women met us there. They wore long togas slit to the waist and bound over one shoulder by a small broach shaped like a flower. A voluptuous red-haired woman with a wide, friendly face and full milky-soft breasts motioned me to lie down upon one of the tables. She shared a kiss with Zugar, who then turned and returned the way he came.

"I am Helga. Zugar is my chosen," she said, toweling my body. "Soon we shall leave this place to begin our lives together."

"If you leave, can you not return?"

“Once our children are born. I would not come before then. He is my chosen and inside all drink the Tea.” Her hands and began to knead the muscles in my back. "Relax, I feel the tension in your muscles. You shouldn't be tense here This is the House of Shahira."

Her fingers were strong yet gentle, and she pulled my muscles, and manipulated my joints. "I trained many years at the Temple," she said, rotating my arm to stretch it. "I can feel much. You work with children, don't you?"

"Yes," I admitted. "You were briefed then."

She laughed again, brief and gently. "How is it that you can do the Goddess' work for so long, yet know so little of Her ways? The skin and body talk to those who would listen. I can feel your love for them, concern over a job that you feel needs doing. One you think you ought to be doing now."

"That much is true."

"You are serious about your work, and that is good. Unfortunately, work can become an excuse to avoid other needs."

"What needs?"

"Intimacy."

I wilted. She had me.

"Why was I invited here?"

"I can only presume that your work brought you to Shahira’s attention. Someone Touched you and found you full of Love, both worthy of and in need of Shahira's blessings. Your love is rich in a agape, but barren in eros. You were summoned to experience the other side of love. And you shall. Anyone with Touch would want to share with you. Including myself."

I turned and looked up at her, her pretty smile and soft swelling breasts. "Are we to be lovers?"

She smiled and slapped me playfully. "Not tonight, I think. I have duty here in the vestibule. But if you come back before Zugar and I exchange vows, well who knows?" And then she continued massaging me. Under the oil and her strong knowing fingers, I began to relax. It occurred to me that she was sincere when she said she would consider me for a lover. To think one so lovely and wholesome might want me made me feel warm for a moment. And then I wondered about Zugar and what he would say.

Somehow Helga knew. "Zugar would not mind, if I had not promised this night to him. He too makes his home inside the Obsidian Gate."

I wondered at that, two people bound to each other yet unconcerned about the other’s fidelity. It was not so in the land I came from. Adulteries among men were tolerated and among court ladies, so long as decorum was maintained. Among the peasants such things were forbidden, unless it was to submit to their betters. If Helga felt my dilemma, she said nothing about it. Instead, she continued to massage my muscles. I admit I felt much more relaxed though there were times when she used surprising force, enough to bring about momentary pain. After my massage the other woman came to my table and introduced herself. Together she and Helga began to brush out my hair. They lathered and shaved my beard, and rubbed me with scents and ointments. I felt pampered and prized that such women would fuss over me. I enjoyed the whole experience despite its decadence I lay lost in my reverie when Helga brought me a purple tunic, cut short and clasped over the left shoulder with a single silver hasp.

"This is what all men wear inside the Obsidian gate. All women are clad as Marva and I. All possessions must be left outside, to be returned upon your exit. There is no wealth or privilege past this door, not even for the Sultan himself. All use only their given name. No titles, or honorifics beyond those given to a common citizen. You may speak freely, but not to give offense. This is the House of Peace. None will stop you if you speak cruelly, but you will never be permitted to return. Remember these things when you pass through this door."

"Is there anything else?" I asked, not anxious to leave this kind and lovely woman.

"Relax. And have fun." And with a playful squeeze to my bottom she steered me though a bronze door and into the Atrium.

The Atrium is the central courtyard of Shahira’s House. This great square is open at the center, and here trees and vines and flowers grow in surprising profusion. The courtyard is lined with balconies, four stories worth, all of stone. The banisters are made of iron, but cleverly wrought with the images of flowers and wild beasts worked into the metal. I found a path through the trees and walked inward, and for a moment the high walls disappeared in a sea of green.

I came upon a pond, to be crossed only by a series of stepping-stones. I heard soft voices and turned to my left. A couple sat gently in the pond, water up to their chests. The man was older and thin, his skin weather beaten, the woman younger and full-bodied, her body and skin soft, her breasts heavy. Their arms were wrapped about each other, as if she were sitting upon him. His hands worked through her wet brown hair, and when she smiled her face lit up and I saw real joy in her eyes. I recognized her, a woman I’d often seen in the lower town, handing out food for the poor. I remembered that she had once brought a child to my door. If she recognized me she said nothing though her smile was warm and welcome. Red faced, I bowed in respect before departing farther down the path that passed through the pond.

A rainbow of fish swam beside me, bright as spring flowers, golden brilliant red and blue. I had never seen fish so brilliantly colored, almost as if some artist had splashed them with brilliant dyes. Occasionally the path led me across small ‘islands’, each green with vegetation and offering place to sit with another. I saw two men playing chess, still fully clad. Ahead the path forked. I chose the right branch, and within a few steps found myself at the edge of the Atrium, below the balconies. I spotted a set of double doors to my left and decided to explore there.

I entered a hallway that was wide and low with wooden bracing skillfully stained to accent the white stucco. There were doors to the right and left but wooden double doors ahead. Unable to decide, I walked through them, and entered another garden.

Here I saw many plants I had never seen before, tall trees with wide leaves like fan blades, and long growing vines. It was very warm in here, and humid. I stopped next to a rock and stood. Butterflies flew about swirling and alighting. I extended my index finger, and one chose to alight, a new experience for me.

"He likes you," called a feminine voice from my left. I turned and saw a woman, older than I, her short dark hair speckled with gray. She was tall and very slim, her body almost boyish. Her face bore a series of small pockmarks, but her smile was wide and lit up her entire face.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Scholars call them myacopia, but the common name is Cyranos. Notice the blue and yellow spots upon the black wings. The Room of Butterflies has always been my favorite. And I felt her fingers upon my back, gently Touching.

"A virgin!" she cooed, eyes wide. "How is that possible at your age? Who was your Docent?"

“I am not sure what sort of docent you mean?” My cheeks burned with embarrassment.

She touched me again, this time stroking my cheek. "Poor man. You should have come to us years ago. And you carry your torches far too long! Alas you did not grow up here, for we could have guided you through a proper debut. Better late then never though."

My cheeks burned with anger at being shamed so, and she drew back, afraid. And then I felt embarrassment, for frightening her. Speaking truly may wound, but it merits no anger. She saw this and her eyes softened for she touched me again, squeezing my arm.

"Forgive me," she said. "I am old enough to know that some truths are best left unsaid. I did not wish to shame you."

I smiled back at her. "It is the truth."

"Honesty often requires more courage than war. I am Bakkala."

"My name is bar-Telannin but my friends often call me Tel."

"Welcome Tel to the Room of Butterflies. Look overhead."

I looked and saw how the sky was open, yet shielded with glass panes. I shuddered at the expense, and yet understood that without them these butterflies could not live here. I felt her hand in mine, and when I looked her in the eye she said, "Walk with me." And so I did.

Hand in hand we strode through the room. It was long and butterflies flew about us, sometimes alighting. "You entered from the East," she explained, and this room is to the South." There are many rooms in Shahira's House. But if you are hungry go to the bottom floor and head to the West. The kitchens are there. It is where I have my duty."

"You are a cook?"

"And a bottle washer, and janitor. We don't have the Castle staff in here you know. Sometimes I choose the Pillow."

"The Pillow?"

"I enjoy the pleasures of love too. Though I prefer women to men."

"Why?"

"Why do you love women?"

I stopped for a moment, not sure what to say. How could I explain an ache so deep and primal? "Because you are wonderful."

"There you are! Most of my sisters feel the same about men, they talk about your strength and hardness just as you dream of our femininity. Do not question such things. It is the way of Life."

"I have always asked questions even if I only ask myself."

"Some answers must wait until we stand before our Goddess. Why waste a perfectly good day? Mortal questions are trivial compared to a garden in bloom and the soft wings of the butterfly."

"I suppose you are right. I never dreamed of standing in a place like this."

"How did you picture this place?"

"Something like a brothel, I suppose. A lot of dissolute women laying around in wait."

"Shahira's detractors are quick to call her a whore. Perhaps they see Love only as they practice it. Personally, I think Love is too great not to share. "

"There is less coupling than I thought."

"And more, I expect. This is a place of repose, but active repose," she added with a wink.

I heard a rustling and a woman stepped out from the branches. Her hair was straight and gray, and tied back in a ponytail. Her hips were wide, her long breasts swaying beneath her toga. "This is Amy, my dearest in the world," said Bakkala. "We planned to meet here." And Amy smiled at me and kissed me gently. And strangely enough, I felt myself swelling at just the touch of her lips.

"He likes me,” announced Amy with a giggle.

"Who would blame him?"

"And I know why he desires you as well. Alas for you, kind man, that our plans do not include another." Amy slipped from my arms and into Bakkala's. Their kiss was tender, but I could see the hunger in their eyes and touch. I watched and became hard. Yet, I felt like an intruder, so I turned to go.

Soft fingers touched my shoulder. It was Bakkala. She kissed my cheek, and I felt other fingers squeezing my manhood. "Don't worry, you'll find someone to use that on." And then they both slipped away between the branches.

I found a rock to sit upon, water dripped upon it, from an outcropping that appeared utterly natural. And in the background I heard the cooing and sighs of two women in love. Finally I stood and continued onward. Finally I spotted an iron staircase spiraling upward. And so I climbed up above the butterflies and onto another porch. There was a sliding door, and I went through it, choosing the second room.

In this room was a library, long and narrow with tall bookshelves. A slim man with a goatee and pigeon chest greeted me with a handshake. He took my arm, and I sensed that he too enjoyed the power of Touch.

"Such a shame," he muttered and led me back among the shelves. At first he pointed out books on children and education, other stacks of history and science and finally to a series of volumes, large and small, think and then, all bound in fine cloth. "To your left are the books on sexual practice. You will get many ideas with these let me tell you, many ideas. But you don't need those right now. It is on this shelf that your reading should begin."

He reached up and handed me a slim volume, titled Women. "You have no confidence, but the real problem is that women remain strangers to you. You like them; but your fear and your desire walls them off from you. Men and women were not meant to be strangers. Take this and read."

"But how am I to return the book after I have read it? I have never been here before, and may never be invited again."

"This book was written by Shahira herself. When you no longer need it or become unworthy the book will return itself."

I tucked the book into my tunic and went outward into the hallway. I came across another atrium, lined with porches as before. I stood upon the edge and looked downward, for here I heard the unmistakable cries of pleasure. A young woman lay bent over an ottoman, her bottom in the air, breasts swaying as her partner took her from behind. His penis was immense and glistened with juices and the muscles in his bottom contracted and released as he drove himself into her. Her breasts pulsed with every thrust, and her hips rolled. She urged him onward with soft moans and dirty commands. Again I felt my own erection swelling.

I hand never before seen two people making love. Part of me wanted to leave, as if I did not belong there. But my groin tingled, and I could not move.

The woman looked up. She saw me standing upon the balcony, watching. As our eyes met I could see she did not look away but licked her lips. She rolled her hips as if in invitation and cast her glance backward. My eyes followed.

And there sat three more men, their eyes fixed upon the two lovers. Their tunics bulged from arousal and one man had parted his and slowly stroked his long thin cock while he joked with his neighbor. Next to him sat the Sultan himself, clad exactly as I, without crown or scepter. His eyes never left her, not even for an instant.

The woman looked up at me again, and pointed her head back at them, inviting me to join them in waiting. I dithered for a time, watching her smile in pleasure. I was hard, more aroused than any times since the one night Alma permitted my kisses. But I was afraid as well, and not simply because the Sultan waited in line. I realized that I was selfish, that I wanted someone to myself. I was a virgin and did not wish to give myself away as part of a caravan.

And yet I stayed and watched, my fingertips grazing over my tingling prick. And the woman seemed to enjoy my gaze, several times turning her blue eyes to mine. Each time I returned her gaze for I could not look away from her mirth filled eyes even as her body quivered. And then she looked only at her lover. He drove himself into her with renewed fury. Sweat dripped from his brow to hers. And then I heard him cry out in ecstasy. Her own cries mingled with his. The pair held each other for a time, kissing softly, until he withdrew and took his place upon the couch.

The woman seemed disappointed and began rolling her hips, showing her bottom to entice the men. And me. And I could not look away from her pink slit, shiny with moisture. I felt my desire growing but held back again until another man rose to take his place behind her. It was the Sultan himself who pulled aside his robe, revealing a thick, uncircumcised organ. He rubbed it slowly up and down her sex as she cooed gently in enticement before sliding it home.

My penis throbbed like a bar of iron, and I slipped my fingertips over the tip. Again I saw the woman looking up at me, smiling. She mouthed some words of desire, but fear overcame me and I fled down the hallway.

I walked the corridors until my erection subsided. But my mind was a raging turmoil. The woman on the cushions had been beautiful, even more so than Alma, my former obsession. She had been willing, where Alma was distant. And slowly I realized that the idea of going where the other men had been excited me, that the sheer carnality of it made me tingle. And that disturbed me because it did not fit my self-delusion.

And so I walked the corridors of the Temple alone, thinking and debating. I realized that I was in a place of pleasure; there was no offense if I enjoyed myself. And yet I still felt divorced from this as I walked.

And finally I came upon a cafe. A trio played there, clad as I. The horn player blew sad and sultry, and the bassist played a slow groove. I decided to sit, and join their entranced audience. And so I scanned the room in search of an empty table.

"Bar-Telannin!"

I turned and saw the Sultana herself, seated at a small table, a wine goblet and bottle set before her. I began to bow but she stopped me. "My name is Sela and only Sela. Will you sit with me?"

Speechless I took a chair next to her. Someone dropped off another glass and the Sultana filled it. Together we listened until the musicians rose to take their break.

"Are you enjoying yourself?"

I nodded, unable to do anything more. And she seemed to understand, and said nothing, but smiled at me and gently sipped her wine. "I enjoyed the last song," she said, "though it sometimes seems melancholy. But a bit of sadness can be sweet as long as it is not real sadness, don't you think?"

I found my voice. "I guess such music reminds us of special moments."

"Perhaps it does." And she sat quietly for a time, her head swaying to the music. And I found myself noticing how her toga hugged her breasts, small and perfect.

I shook my head, reminding myself this was the Sultana and I should not think such things. But she did not let me think too long.

"It's a bit overwhelming, isn't it Tel?"

"I beg your pardon."

"This place. Especially on your first visit when you have not been trained in the Way of Love. I remember mine very well."

"What did you do? Forget that, I have no right to ask that."

She chuckled for a second. "That's alright, I'll tell you. The first time I came to just to worship I did nothing. I couldn't even talk much, just like you. But I touched myself later when I was alone while thinking of the things I had seen."

I gulped, "You . . ."

"Masturbate? Of course I do! Are you telling me you don't?"

"No,” I admitted with a wry smile. “I sometimes think I do it too often.

"There is no such thing as too often! But I felt so intimidated I don't think I let anyone love me until my third visit. And they let me alone because at the first Touch they knew I needed the time."

"Oh."

"All things in time, Tel. No one should be hurried, and no one will hurry you. I know. Eventually I became a librarian here. How do you think I met the Sultan?"

"I would have expected a state dinner with Lords and Ladies on parade."

"That's how they do it where you were raised. Not here. Have you been to the Library."

"I stumbled into it earlier. The librarian gave me a book to read."

"Really? Let me see."

I handed her the volume, and savored the smooth touch of her fingers as she took it from me. She gave me a wry smile after paging through it and handed it back. "Yes, I think this is perfect for you. Jeth always had a sure Touch. Take it with you when you go. It will return when you no longer need it."

"He told me that but I don't really understand how that's possible."

"Don't you believe in magic?"

"Of course, I mean who doesn't in the age of Gods . . ."

"Tel, you're babbling."

"I suppose I am, your Majesty.

"Sela, Tel. Just Sela. Think of me as just a librarian. For I will always be just that."

"I have a hard time thinking of you in that role. I keep thinking of court dinners and entourages."

"Why not a librarian? A person must do something, and I enjoy books. Sometimes I wish I still held that post. I don't like formality much, and formality is at the core of life at Court. I accept the trappings for my husband's sake. Jerom really is a good man, and a fine husband."

"The Sultan's name is Jerom?"

"You didn't know that?"

"Well, I don't keep up much with court life."

"Good for you. I suppose your job consumes you. It takes a workaholic to do an average job there."

"It should not be like that."

"Every job that matters requires commitment. Just remember the old line about ‘All work and no play'."

"I suppose that's why I'm here. To play."

She smiled at me, and leaned back again, an act which pulled her toga tight over her breasts. I could not help but look, for they seemed so perfect and free beneath the fabric.

"You know I enjoy it when you look at me like that."

"You do?"

"Of course I do! Your eyes tell me that I’m pretty."

Pretty was quite inadequate a description for the Sultana. Sela. And I told her so.

She smiled back at me. "Speak like that and you will have many lovers!"

I laughed for a second and then said softly. "I do not want many lovers."

The Sultana, or rather Sela, gently placed her hand on mine and asked if I would walk with her. I could not refuse.

She led me down a winding staircase and past a still swimming pool pointing out pieces of art along the way. And I listened, because she knew her subject, and perhaps because I was a bit enchanted. It is hard not to feel something when you walk with someone so passionate and beautiful, even when the feeling is dangerous. Yet it thrilled me to spend time with her, particularly when Alma had seemed so contemptuous of my attentions. "You said you enjoyed my eyes upon you."

"I do." She led me through a door, and then I recognized the veranda, and realized we were in the same porch where I saw her husband mount that lovely blonde. I cleared my throat hoping to steer he away. But she looked down, and so did I. For the blonde lay back upon the cushions and the sultan knelt between her legs licking her in long slow strokes. Occasionally tiny drops of semen slid from her, but that did not deter him in the least.

The Sultana purred gently and felt her hip press against mine. "My husband is such a mink. I wonder how much of that is his?"

Of course I had no idea what to say. I saw not a hint of jealousy in her eyes. In fact, she watched with a smile, and I saw her nipples grow beneath her dress. Once, she looked at me and winked. Then Sela slowly peeled back the side of her skirt revealing her thigh and a bit of her pubic hair. Upon her skin I saw tracks of dried semen. "This did not come from my husband," she whispered, her voice throaty. "I too like to play."

Flabbergasted, I said nothing. My cock spoke for me, swiftly swelling to its full height, making a visible bulge in my robe. And she smiled at my little tent. And the Sultana lifted my robe, exposing me. She wrapped her hand around the shaft, and slowly pumped me. I stood silent, unable to move, unable to fathom anything but the slow pumping of her hand.

"Milady . . ."

"Hush, Tel. There is a time for talking and a time for feeling."

Her hand moved slowly, sliding up and down my organ, fingertips tracing me. She leaned gently over the banister to look downward, and I could see the blonde below us watching, even while she writhed to the Sultan's penetrating tongue. For a moment their eyes met, and the blonde nodded in agreement with an unspoken proposition. And then Sela moved closer to me, her lips brushing mine, then opening in hunger.

I found the will to move, to wrap my arms around her slim waist and pull her close, to feel her slender body against mine, her firm breasts against my chest, and press my lips against her soft, gentle lips.

When our kiss broke I felt her head upon my shoulder, her hands in my hair, gently stroking. And for my part I ran my fingers along the length of her back, massaging. "I wondered how long it would take to get you to move," she whispered before her tongue found my ear, tracing every fold. And I stopped again to feel, just to feel.

"Would you like to go somewhere a little more private, Tel?"

I could only nod, but I took my fingers beneath her chin to kiss her once again. I felt her tongue slide into my mouth, gently teasing, and mine chased hers back, and on tiptoes she sucked on it. And then my lady stepped back, released my organ, and my hand in hers we walked the corridors of the Temple.

Where the halls had once seemed nearly empty, now they seemed full, and I felt the admiring glances of both men and women as we walked through the halls. I saw Amy and Bakkala sharing a cuddle and a cup of tea. Bakkala winked as we passed. And then Sela, my Sultana, led me through a beaded curtain into another room.

It was shaped like an oval, the floors of gray marble, a gilded tracery screen. The ceiling was guilt and red, with lamps of an unknown material. Overhead hung a large domed skylight. And there was another garden, bricked boxes holding roses and rhododendron, fuscia and lilac. And at the center stood a lone bed, canopied with scarlet clothes, inlaid with golden threads. It was made, yet already turned down, as if waiting for this moment.

Sela turned a great wheel in the wall, and the lamps flame shrank, until the whole room lay barely illuminated in a golden glow. And then she came to me, wrapping her arms around me, her gossamer kiss a searing brand.

She wriggled away and slipped behind me. I felt her hands at my waistband, my tunic falling away, landing at my feet. I felt one hand cupping my balls, rolling and squeezing while the other fisted my cock. I could feel her breathing, deep and hoarse in my ear.

"Has anyone ever told you what a beautiful cock you have?"

"No, Milady."

"Well, it's high time someone said so.” She squeezed it again and her teeth bit into my shoulder, sharp and painful. I cried out, not in pain, but in joy, feeling truly alive.

She slipped beside me, and led me to the bed by my cock. "Lay back," she whispered and as I lay back she stood above me and undid the clasp upon he right shoulder. Her shimmering toga caught once upon her breasts, then fluttered to the ground around her feet. Her breasts were small and high, nipples tiny circles of brown. Her pubic mound was thick and hairy, her womanly lips almost obscured. Of course I took my cock into my hands and began to pump.

"I like that. I love watching a man touch himself. Would you to watch me touch myself?"

I could only nod, but she smiled. Her eyes never left mine, but her hands rose to cup her pointed breasts, long thumbnail scraping across her nipples, then rolling a finger up to squeeze with surprising passion. She moved up upon the bed to straddle me, and slowly lowered her body down upon mine, skin against skin until our lips met again. The kiss was long and tender, open mouthed and I could feel her chest heaving, her nipples rubbing against my skin. Her thighs wrapped around mine, and I could feel her wetness, slick and cool against me.

I pushed my thigh against her, wanting to feel more, knowing that there was at least one sure way to know of a woman's arousal. My hands slid under her breasts and she slid with them, moving her right nipple over my mouth. It was both hard and soft, and tasted with a hint of salt, but I sucked more hungrily than a bawling babe, biting down at her call, harder when she asked for it. My lady called out instructions in fierce, dirty commands. My cock tingled and I fought to rub it against her. Her wetness called out to me, and I thought for a moment I could almost feel my organ pleading.

At that moment then her left breast found my mouth and my Sultana fed it to me with both hands, her mouth open and wet, head thown back, his swaying. And right then I could feel the muscles of her belly pulsing as I sucked her, and my fingers tracing the line of her crack. She wiggled as I grazed her anus and gave out a little cry. Then she reached down with one hand to guide my fingers to her wet sex. Her lips resisted for a moment, then parted and I was inside. She gasped as I entered, and leaned forward to nibble at my shoulder. Her hips moved around me as I explored this warm, unfamiliar ground. Her fingers covered mine and she moved my fingers upward, until I felt her bud beneath my fingertips. "Touch me here, she breathed," and whimpered softly when I found the right tenderness. "Put your finger inside me," she commanded. I obeyed, moving my fingers like a piston. With every thrust she gave a tiny sigh, as if each parting moment filled her with sadness.

And then she grasped my wrist and withdrew it. My finger glistened with her cream and she lifted it to my lips. "Taste me," she whispered, and then covered my lips and wet finger with hers. Our tongues met around my moistened finger. We shared her flavor, salty and musky yet sweet. I wondered how much of the flavor belonged to her previous lover, but decided I didn't care. At that moment nothing mattered but her, the weight of her upon me, the feel of her nipples against my chest and the taste of her upon my finger. My cock throbbed and my hips thrust involuntarily, craving some part of her to rub against.

I think she knew this, for she leaned back upon her knees, but erect above me. Her long, cool fingers surrounded my cock, and she slid backward until she was above it, and then lowered herself until she barely touched. She threw her head back, and rubbed the head of my cock against her sex, wetting me, and teasing me with her sweet slickness.

"Please." I heard a voice calling out before I realized it was mine. "Please." She smiled and held herself just above me until she had mercy and lowered herself upon me.

Forgive me if things run together now, but in moments like those time stops, events stop and nothing matters but the two of you together, the rhythm of your hips, as you both try to drive yourself deeper together. I remember that she set the pace, slow and languorous. I remember her head tossed back as she rode me, and her hair bouncing. I remember that she never once stopped smiling.

But most of all I remember the thrusts, long and slow, deep and rich, squeezed deep inside a velvet cocoon. Time seemed to drag on, yet too soon it was over, my whole groin aflame and then I was spurting, shooting deep inside her, screaming out my pleasure.

She collapsed atop me, breathless, my shaft still inside her. I turned my face to hers and kissed her gently, all lip, and held her as the sweat congealed upon our bodies.

Finally, I grew soft and slipped from my lady. She rolled off me and laid back, our fingers still softly touching. As we lay together, softly kissing, eyes dewy with joy I felt something, a new mouth taking me inside, gently sucking me clean. I looked down and saw the blonde woman from before, her body spattered with dried semen. Softly she washed me in her warm mouth.

And as I looked to the left I saw the Sultan crawling between his wife's legs. Slowly he extended his tongue to lick, tasting me between her legs. And I held her hand as she enjoyed one final climax before sleep closed over us all.

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