Authors: Madelene Martin
While some research went into this story, this work of fiction is not intended to be historically accurate, and artistic license has been taken.
All main characters featured in the story are aged eighteen or over, whether or not this is implicitly stated.
This story is for adults only and contains graphic sexual content.
ahira climbed the stairs out of the steaming hot bath and stepped into her high sandals. She waited as the young servant girl began slathering her with the oily, scented soap, her small hands nimble and practiced. Despite Zahira's general nervousness, it was impossible not to relax somewhat after the luxurious bathing ritual. As the girl worked the soap into her skin, massaging her flesh and soothing her muscles, Zahira daydreamed.
The day had arrived. Tonight she would be presented to the Master of the house, and he would take her as his concubine. After years of schooling in dance, singing and music – as well as all the other household arts - Zahira had finished her education. For the first time she had been able to attend the yearly ceremony, where all the women of the harem were brought before the Master.
Zahira had a fine voice, and so she'd had a chance to sing for him, and his matron mother. But in the end, it hadn't been her talents that had captured his attention. She was a dainty girl, with soft skin, hazel eyes and glossy black hair. She wasn't very tall, but she had a soft body with curved hips and full breasts. She was also the most recent of the harem to come of age, and the Master liked his concubines young and fertile.
Many of his concubines had not been called to his chambers in a long while. The gossip in the harem was that he could no longer service his women - but of course he could never allow anyone to know that. So he continued choosing girls that he liked for the exalted position, adding to their numbers every year or so.
A more tantalizing rumor was that he might be looking for a fourth wife.
Like many of the lower ranked women of the harem, Zahira had been a slave since childhood. She had been purchased by the head eunuch, who had a good eye for beauty. Since then, she'd lived a secure and relatively pampered life among the women of the household. Like all of them, she hoped to be noticed by the Master of the house.
She didn't know which of the rumors she believed. But her goal remained the same. If he took her as concubine and she gave him a son, he might make her his wife.
The servant finished rubbing the soap from Zahira's skin and began to pour tepid water over her body. She shivered slightly as the cool air caressed her wet skin, her nipples hardening and goose bumps rising on her forearms.
She was dried and powdered, perfumed, and dressed in a rich robe of embroidered silk. Another servant applied kohl to her eyes. Her hair was laboriously dried, and she sat for an hour while the two dressers braided it in an intricate style. They gave her a jeweled headdress and a shawl. She was to go before the Master unveiled, since they were to be intimate.
She was allowed to look in a hand mirror. Zahira had seldom seen herself dressed this richly, and felt almost as though she were looking at a stranger. She felt numb more than nervous now, staring at her reflection impassively, turning her head this way and that.
She was, of course, a virgin, though she had heard much about what happened between a man and woman in the bedroom. The harem women were never shy about discussing it, and she had been told exactly what she could do to please the Master, if he was not forthcoming with directions. But for this night, she still felt woefully unprepared. What did she have in common with this old man that she was to go to?
She had seen him only once, and for only a fleeting glimpse. He'd been handsome in his day, the older women always said - but now he was growing frail. His face was lined and his hair entirely gray. Most of his children were older than Zahira was. But he was the only avenue through which to gain more status, wealth and one day - possibly - freedom. A wife - or even a concubine - could be freed by their Master, if he favored her enough.
In the last year or so, she had spent a lot of time being frustrated. Her body was ripe, and she yearned for physical intimacy. She liked to read the titillating books that the women passed around. She daydreamed of the embrace of the handsome men from the stories and artworks. She thought about it touching herself at night when everyone else was asleep. She would sneak out onto the balconies and looked out over the city when teams of workers went by, admiring the strong muscles of their shirtless chests and shoulders.
It was strange to think that in contrast to those strong, virile men, she was hoping for a life of devotion to a man who might live for only a few more years. And yet - it was what she
Suitably dressed and prepared, all there was to do was wait. She sat on a cushioned couch and waited to be called.
Hours later, everyone else was settling into sleep – spread out on the floor on cushions, furs silks and bedrolls. Zahira leaned against the couch and tried to stay awake. She wanted so badly to lay down, but couldn't risk disturbing her hair. She listened to the soft snoring of the women and the whispers of the few who hadn't yet gone to sleep.
There were noises in the rest of the house – more than the usual background hum. She thought that perhaps the Master had visitors and that was the reason he hadn't yet called on her. As she listened though, Zahira heard more thumps, and then – loud smashing noises.
Alarmed, she sat bold upright, clutching her shawl to her chest. She strained to listen, wondering what was going on. Suddenly, a male scream rang out.
Now the girls were stirring on their mattresses. The ones who were awake were sitting up and murmuring confusedly among themselves.
More screams, and they were coming closer.
Zahira jumped up. “Get up! Get up, something is happening!” She called out, stooping to shake the nearest woman by the shoulder.
There were thieves or attackers in the house. She could hear the eunuch guards stationed outside the harem milling about, yelling to each other. It wasn't the first time this had happened, of course – it was a wealthy house and like any noble family, they had their enemies. But the guards were strong and battle-proven. They would take care of it as they always did, she was sure.
She helped gather the children and youngest girls together and assisted the servants in herding them into the bathing rooms, pushing furniture in front of the doors, while women awoke and scampered to clothe themselves decently and cover their faces.
The sounds of battle were right outside - so close they could hear the slash of steel and male grunts and shouts. Now the women cowered and huddled together at the back of the room. A couple of them took up whatever makeshift weapons they could find – from candlesticks and letter openers to wooden clogs. Others began to cry and moan.
“Be quiet!” One of the wiser servants admonished in a hiss, and the women were startled into silence. Zahira thought it was unlikely that whoever was attacking didn't know what was in here. From the approaching sounds, it seemed as though they were making a concerted effort to reach the harem.
Suddenly the doors burst open. For a moment she could see nothing, but then a large brutish man pushed his way in. Zahira could see the body of one of the eunuchs laying on the ground, sprawled unnaturally. Her mouth fell open in horror.
The man turned to yell to his companions and more of them swarmed through the doors. They were Northmen, armed with axes and swords, and dressed in linen and leather. Some of them were covered in blood. They all ranged from large to huge, and Zahira had never seen men with such blonde hair and pale skin outside of paintings and books. For a moment she was paralyzed with fear and amazement. Then the man in front turned gestured, and his companions lunged forward.
The few women that fought were quickly subdued. Women scattered and ran, and the men roared laughter and cried out in a strange language. When one of them grabbed hold of a young concubine, and laughingly began tearing her clothes, Zahira suddenly broke from her trance.
She launched herself shrieking at the bent back of the brute, throwing her scarf over his head to blind him as she hung on to his shoulders. When he roared and threw her off, struggling his way out of the cloth, she started punching and clawing him in the face. She got in a couple of good hits before he could push her off, and she saw his nose was bleeding even as she sprawled backwards on the floor.
Dizzily she tried to get up, as the man advanced on her. He had a huge red beard and his nose was crooked and dripping blood. His face was a grimace of rage and hatred. Dread suddenly filled the girl and she suddenly realized what was probably about to happen.
The red-bearded man reached down and grabbed her by the foot, and she screamed piercingly, twisting and kicking out as he roughly dragged her over the cold marble.
Suddenly, another, blonde man came up behind him and hit him in the head with the butt of an axe. The brute crumpled and the smaller man kicked him away with a heavy boot. Then he peered down at Zahira, cocking his head to the side as though thinking hard.
She held her hands up in a helpless warding gesture as this new man reached for her.
He grabbed her roughly and she kicked and screamed, but surprisingly he didn't tear at her clothes or hold her down. Instead, he lifted her as easily as if she was a sack of rice, and threw her over his shoulder. He shouted something then, making a broad gesture at the room. Several of the men picked themselves up, abandoning the women and started to leave. One or two carried women with them.
Then to her surprise, her captor swatted her hard on the behind. “Be quiet!” He said, and she realized he'd spoken in her language. She snapped her mouth shut, afraid of what might happen if she continued to cry out, closing her eyes to the violence around her.
Tears rolled and fell down her face as the man carried her off, jolting her roughly.
She was kept alone amongst barrels and chests in the tiny cargo space of a boat for what must have been several days. She could hear nothing but the creak and groan of the ship and occasional thumps from above, and passed most of the time sleeping.
An adolescent boy opened the hatch twice a day and tossed her food and skins of water. The girl would cower, holding the thin, damp blanket to shield her face. He never spoke to her, and she waited until he disappeared before scrambling to eat the bread and cheese he threw.
After seemingly endless days – she had a visitor.
She couldn't see well, but as he approached she could tell it was her abductor himself. She crouched on the floor shielding her face and hoping he would go away. Or at least that he would be quick doing whatever he was going to do.
He stomped closer, and stood over her. After a moment when nothing happened, she opened her eyes to peer at him over the cloth.
“What is your name?” He asked simply. He had a deep, commanding voice and spoke her language with a heavy accent. She could understand him well enough, but was too frightened to answer right away.
“Your name, girl!” He hissed, bending over her.
Now she could see him better in the dim light. Up close, he was strangely attractive. He was about as opposite to the men at home as you could imagine – large, lean and muscular, with long, wheat-colored hair loosely tied back. Strands of hair had fallen free and hung over his face. His jaw was lined with stubble. He looked angry, but there was also curiosity there.
“Z -Zahira,” she stuttered, cowering.
“You are one of Al-Masad's wives?”
She blinked, stunned. Suddenly she realized what must have happened. They had abducted her because they'd mistaken her for someone they could ransom. Perhaps because she was dressed in such rich clothing.
For a moment she thought of deceiving him. But then she realized that eventually, he would find out she was worth nothing. And then it might go worse for her.
“No – I... I am no one.” She admitted.
He raised his eyebrows, and a look of disbelief crossed his face. He abruptly rose, and began to pace. He muttered a curse in his language, and finally kicked hard at the bottom of a huge barrel. The girl cowered against the wall as his anger ran its course. Finally, he rounded on her, fuming. He looked her over, and finally searched her eyes with his.
“Why do you cover your face?” He asked abruptly, his features still a mask of anger. He reached out to grab hold of her blanket and take it from her.
“Please, I-” Zahira tried to hold on, but he yanked it away from her, throwing it on the ground. Tears formed in her eyes as her face was uncovered. She felt exposed, naked, as the big man crouched before her and looked at her.
The girl tried to avert her eyes, shivering under his gaze. She wondered if he was going to sell her at the slave markets now that he knew she wouldn't command a ransom. Or if he would simply throw her to his men and let them use her.
He reached out and put his hand under her chin, and forced her head up roughly. Zahira finally looked at him, her lip quivering and her eyes wet. He turned her face this way and that. She thought perhaps he was appraising the gold earrings and jewels that she wore in each ear, tallying up what of her belongings he could sell.