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The Damascus Road: part seven

The revelation

Below us, the smoke from the fires I had kindled obscured the view, but I could see above us four archers keeping up a steady fire. I scrambled up the hillside, with the help of my rescuer.

Two thoughts occurred simultaneously. They knew who I was, and they had wanted to save me. For the first time since the assault on the convoy began, I breathed a sigh of relief.

As we paused, the masked archer praised me:

'That was swift thinking, little Vizier, and you have more courage than many a warrior. Most women would have screamed and fainted.'

'I am not most women,' I smiled, in reply to the compliment.

'No more than we are, now swiftly, into the caves here, and we are safe.'

She guided me into the mouth of a cave hidden from view until you were on top of it. A stone was rolled across the entrance. Two lit torches led us through the gloom.

The air was not foul, and the gradient easy.

I had to run to keep up with my rescuers.

Rounding a corner, I could see lights ahead. We came into what seemed to be an underground hall. It was decorated like the Great Hall of a palace, but the walls were lined with icons, and through the great curtains, I could see what looked like an iconostasis. From without came a low, deep-voiced chanting. Instinctively, I crossed myself. She began to loose her turban.

As she unwound the turban she wore, she revealed a face of some beauty. Her skin was darker than mine, but not by much, and her eyes were deep brown; she was beautiful.

'Welcome to the cave of the Bodyguard.'

'Thank you. And thank you, too, for rescuing me.'

'We could not let you fall into the hands of the Assassins; they would have used you to destroy the power of the Sultan.'

'I would,' I said, 'have used this first,' and drew the dagger from my pouch.

'You are, indeed, all they say of you.'

I thanked her again.

She beckoned me to follow her through a curtain.

On the other side was a room for us to rest and eat. The others seemed to have vanished.

She motioned me to sit, and I complied, suddenly feeling exhausted. I was begrimed by the battle, and my clothes, not made for such martial strife, were torn, and stained.

Servants quietly brought us food, and we ate.

'I am Anastasia,' she told me, smiling.

Out of her costume, she wore the white tunic of a Roman patrician, with a purple edge. She ate delicately. Her Greek was exquisite, much better than mine.

'I daresay you are puzzled, little Vizier?'

'I am,' I admitted, 'but I would not trespass on your great hospitality by making unwelcome inquiries.'

'You can be trusted, so I shall tell you what I would ask you not to pass on.'

Nodding, I smiled, and promised that I would treat her words with the care I treated those of the Padishah himself.

As we ate, and drank what seemed to me a fine Falerian wine, she recounted the strangest tale I had ever heard, one well worthy of Homer himself.

She assumed, rightly, that I knew about the last emperor of Constantinople, Constantine XI Palaeologus. I told her that I knew he had been a hero and had fallen with his men when the great city had been taken by Mehmet II in 1453.

'Did you ever hear stories about him?' Anastasia asked.

'Only that an angel turned him into marble, and that he is hidden by the Golden Gate, and will rise again when the Christians throw off the Turks.'

'That is a version of the truth,' Anastasia said, suddenly growing deadly serious.

I looked, and was, interested. My weariness fell away as my interest rose.

'Do you known who Giovanni Giustiniani was?'

'Yes, he was the charismatic Genovese who directed the defence of the city, and who was fatally wounded in the final assault.'

'Correct. Constantine escaped with Giustiniani, and went with him to Chios. He and an elite bodyguard escaped. They made their way by stages to the Holy Land, where the emperor, disguised as a pilgrim, gave thanks for his escape. We are the descendants of that bodyguard, and we guard his tomb, and his rightful heir.You heard the monks chanting prayers for him, just now. When they have gone, well, we shall see.’

I was stunned. All that history told us about the end of the last emperor was untrue. He had escaped, he had an heir. But why would his warriors want to save me? Unable to keep the thought to myself, I asked Anastasia.

'We have to accept that for now, the Ottomans control the Empire, indeed they have even taken the title of Emperor of Rome. But there are worse enemies than them, and the people who attacked you mean to turn the Empire into an Islamic barracks and assault Christian Europe; that we cannot allow. We know you work for the right, and we wish to preserve you. Besides, you are a pretty little thing, and we daughters of Sappho need to stick together,'

She reached out and touched my hand. I squeezed her hand.

'Is the labourer worthy of her hire?' She laughed, as she flirted.

She was so lovely, tall, elegant, her long reddish hair now loose; she looked good enough to eat. I leaned in.

Our lips met. She pulled me to her. The kiss held. Our lips pressed, opening at last, as her tongue found its way to mine. As she entered my mouth, I felt a surge of desire. My last sexual encounter with Jess had seen her deny me satisfaction; I was all the more eager as a result of that.

She was taller, stronger and more assertive than I was, but she was tender, drawing me to her, caressing me as I stroked her luscious, thick hair. I felt her power, but I felt something deeper, a need to love, and to be loved. My heart opened to her.

'I want you, Rahab.'

'Take me, Anastasia,' was my reply.

She did, with a tenderness and power I had never felt before.

Lifting my top from me, she kissed my tiny breasts, making my nipples hard and achy.

I responded in kind, lifting her tunic, exposing her small, but perfect breasts. My hands roamed over them, cupping them, playing tenderly with her hardening nipples. I could not resist. My mouth closed on her left nipple, sucking urgently, before moving to the right and doing the same. My hand slid between her thighs. Her mound was smooth, and my finger darted between her moist lips, running along its length, and making her moan.

She pushed me back, removing my harem pants as she did so. She slid a leg between my thighs, moving until her sex touched mine, our wetness combining into one great mess. As she rubbed, I felt her bud against mine; I groaned. She rubbed my nipples, then squeezed them; I responded in kind.

The more she rubbed, the wetter we both got. I began to gasp as I sucked her nipples. She was beginning a low moan. I felt my climax coming, and, to judge from her eyes, as I looked up, hers was not far behind. That we were both clearly on the edge excited us both. When we climaxed we did so in a huge wet joining of our juices, our sweaty bodies at one, lost in mutual pleasure. We fell back on the couch.

She pulled me to her. I snuggled up to her, feeling safe, warm and secure.

’You are so beautiful, Rahphab, that was so special.’ She looked at me, her great dark eyes full of tenderness.

’It was the same for me, darling Ana. You arouse in me feelings I cannot name.’

She pulled me to her. I felt warm, loved, and safe. No harm could reach me here.

We slept. Through a night troubled with memories of burning me, she was there. Light came, there were sounds

'Would you care to bathe?'

As my brain sought to grip where I was, there was a moment when I did not know whether or not I was dreaming; the coffee smell convinced me I was waking.

Anastasia was up and dressed. She handed me a robe. The cave was an extraordinary affair, with its own warm pool. The water felt wonderful on my skin, and I washed away the stains of the previous day.

The servants attended me, and brought me soft towels to dry myself, and a fresh tunic, which, when on, just about covered by backside. Anastasia explained it was a child's tunic, but that any of their tunics would have swamped me; it had to do. She hugged me, telling me she loved me; I, too, spoke of love to her. I blushed. I had never felt this before

‘I should like to show you the heart of our Fastness, my darling one. But of it you must not speak. I also have to warn you that I cannot guarantee that it will be safe. Those who enter will find a judgment.’

On my agreeing, she took me down a narrow passage, lined with candles and icons. It led into a chamber. There, in the centre, was a marble effigy of emperor Constantine XI; he was, indeed, the 'Marble King' of legend. I stood a while, saying a prayer for his soul. I felt something, someone there. Then a voice sounded in my ear.

'You are the servant of the Living God, and you will be led where you need to be. Do not be afraid. I am with you.'

I turned, but there was no one there.

'Was that you?' I asked Anastasia.

She just shook her head: ‘It is Him.’.

'Fear not, Rahab, all shall pass away, but I will endure and conquer.'

Again, I looked, again no one.

‘You are weighed in the balance, and you are not found wanting. Endure all for me.’

I felt a warm glow. Suddenly I knew. I was on hallowed ground.

I had seen Christians do it, so I crossed myself.

Saying a final prayer, I held Anastasia's hand. She looked at me, I looked up at her.

’He spoke to you, didn’t he.’ 

I nodded.

’You are one of us now.’

Again, I nodded. She held me so close I could hear her heart beat. 

Suddenly, the silence was torn apart by the claimant sound of a trumpet.

’We are under attack,’ Anastasia exclaimed, to arms, to arms!’

 

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