I lifted his chin. He wanted me to kiss him again, and I did, taking my time with it, wishing it didn’t make me feel so much his slave suddenly. I ran my tongue down along the inside of his tower lip.
"Get Tristan," I said. "Bring him here. And, if you speak another word in protest, I’ll let Tristan whip you also."
If he didn’t see through that little ploy, he was not only beautiful but brainless.
After he rang the bell, he went to the door and waited. Without opening it, he gave the order. And he stood with his arms folded and head bowed, looking lost, as if he needed some fine, strong Prince to fight the dragons of his passion and rescue him from destruction. How touching. I sat on the bed, devouring him with my eyes. I loved the curve of his cheekbones, the fine line of his jaw, the way that he passed through the attitudes of man, boy, woman, and angel with varying gestures and little changes in his expression.
A knock on the door startled him. Again he spoke. He listened. Then he unbolted the door and beckoned, and Tristan came in on his knees, eyes down demurely. Lexius bolted the door behind him.
"Now I have two slaves," I said, sitting up. "Or you have two Masters, Lexius. It’s difficult to judge the situation one way or the other."
Tristan looked up at me, saw me naked on the bed, and then glanced in perfect bewilderment at Lexius. "Come here, come sit with me. I want to talk to you," I said to Tristan. "And you, Lexius, kneel here as you were before and be quiet."
That summed it up, I thought. Tristan took a moment to absorb it, however. He took in the naked body of our Master, and then he looked at me. He rose and came over to the bed, and sat down beside me.
"Kiss me," I said. I put my hand up to guide his face. Nice kiss, more robust but less intense than the kisses of Lexius, who was kneeling right behind Tristan. "Now turn and kiss our forlorn Master there," I said.
Tristan obeyed, slipping his arm around Lexius, and Lexius gave himself to the kiss a little too completely to suit me. And maybe to spite me.
When Tristan turned back, his eyes questioned me directly.
I ignored the question.
"Tell me what happened after I was dismissed. Did you continue to please the Sultan?"
"Yes," Tristan answered. "It was rather like a dream–being chosen, lying with him finally. There was something so tender in him. He isn’t our Master really. He’s our Sovereign. There’s quite a difference."
"True," I said, smiling.
He wanted to say more, but again he glanced at Lexius.
"Let him alone," I said. "He’s my slave, and he awaits my will, and I’ll let you have him in a moment. But talk to me first. Are you content, or are you still grieving for your old Master in the village?"
"Not grieving anymore," he said, then he broke off. "Laurent, I was sorry that I had to win over you–"
"Don’t be foolish, Tristan. It was what we were made to do, and I lost because I couldn’t win. It’s as simple as that." He looked again at Lexius.
"Why are you tormenting him, Laurent?" he asked, his tone slightly accusatory.
"I’m glad you’re content," I said. "I couldn’t tell. But what if the Sultan never asks for you again?"
"That doesn’t matter, really," he answered. "Unless, of course, it matters to Lexius. But Lexius won’t ask the impossible of us. We’ve been noticed, that’s what Lexius wanted."
"And you’ll be just as happy?" I asked.
Tristan thought for a moment before he answered.
"There’s something very different here," he said, finally. "The atmosphere is charged with a different sense of things. I’m not lost as I was so long ago at the castle when I served a timid Master who didn’t know how to discipline me. And I am not condemned in shame to the village where I need my Master, Nicolas to retrieve me from chaos and shape my suffering for me. I am a part of a finer, more sacrosanct order." He studied me. "Do you see my meaning?"
I nodded and gestured for him to continue. It was clear he had more to say, and his expression let me know that he was telling the truth. The misery I’d seen in his face all the time we were at sea was truly gone now.
"The palace is engulfing," he said, "as the village was. In fact, it is infinitely more so. But we are not bad slaves here. We are merely part of an immense world in which our suffering is offered up to our Lord and his Court whether or not he ever deigns to acknowledge it. I find something sublime in this. It is as if I have advanced to another stage of understanding." Again, I nodded. I remembered my feelings in the garden when the Sultan had picked me from the ranks. But this was only part of the many things I could and did feel about this place and what had happened to us. In this room, with Lexius, something different was occurring.
"I began to understand it," Tristan said, "when we were first taken from the ship and carried through the streets to be viewed by the common people. And it came fully clear to me when I was blindfolded and bound in the garden. In this place we are nothing but our bodies, nothing but the pleasure we give, nothing but our capacity for evincing feeling. All else is gone, and it is quite impossible to think of something as personal as whippings on the Public Turntable of the village or the constant education in passivity and submissiveness we knew at the castle."
"True," I said. "But without your old Master, Nicolas, without his love as you described, isn’t there a terrible loneliness–" "No," he said candidly. "Since we are nothing here, we are all connected to each other. In the village and the castle, we were divided by shame, by individual humiliations and punishments. Here we are joined in the indifference of the Master. And we are all cared for in that indifference and used rather well, I think. It is like the designs on the walls here. There are no pictures of men and women, as you find in Europe. There are only flowers, spirals, repetitive designs that suggest a continuum. And we are part of that continuum. To be noticed by the Sultan for a night, to be valued now and then–that is all we can and should hope for. It is as if he paused in the corridor and he touched the mosaic on the wall. He touched the design as the sun hits it. But it is a design like all the other designs, and, when he moves on, it lapses back into the overall pattern."
"You’re such a philosopher, Tristan," I whispered. "You overawe me."
"Don’t you feel the same? That there is a great order of things here that is in itself rather exciting?"
"Yes, I can feel this," I said.
His face clouded. "Then why do you upset the order, Laurent?" He asked. He looked at Lexius. "Why have you done this to Lexius?"