"Do you … do you feel love for me?" he asked softly, but his eyes were brilliant and clear as they looked up at me.
I was about to answer, of course, that I did, when my voice caught in my throat. I was looking down at him, and I opened my mouth to speak but nothing came. Then I heard myself answer:
"Yes, I do feel love for you."
And something passed between us, something silent, something locking us together. And this time when I kissed him I claimed him utterly. I shut out Tristan. I shut out the palace. I shut out our distant Lord the Sultan.
And when I drew back I was puzzled. I was the one who was frightened.
Tristan’s face was calm and wistful.
A long moment passed.
"It’s such an irony," Lexius said under his breath.
"No, it isn’t really. There are Lords in the Queen’s Court who give themselves over to slavery. It happens….
"No, I didn’t mean that, that I should be so easily mastered," he answered. "The irony is that it should be you and that the Sultan should find both of you so pleasing. He’s ordered you for the games in his garden tomorrow. You’ll fetch the ball and bring it back to his feet. He’ll pit you against each other in many games for his amusement and the amusement of his men. He’s never chosen my slaves for that before. And he chooses you, and you choose me for this. That is the irony." I shook my head. "Again, not really." I laughed softly. Tristan and I exchanged glances.
"We should rest now for the games, shouldn’t we, Master?" Tristan asked.
"Yes," Lexius said. He sat up. He kissed us both again. "Please the Sultan and try not to be too cruel to me." He stood up and he put on his robe, and wound the girdle around it. I got his slippers for him and put them on his feet. He stood waiting for me to finish and then he gave his comb to me. I combed his hair, moving around him as I did it, and the feeling of possessing him, of owning him, transmuted itself into an awesome pride.
"You’re mine," I whispered.
"Yes, that’s true," he said. "And now you and Tristan will be bound to the crosses in the garden to sleep."
I winced. My face must have colored. But Tristan only smiled, glancing down bashfully.
"But don’t worry about the sunlight," Lexius said. "The blindfold will keep it out. And you can listen to the song of the birds in peace."
The shock diffused.
"Is this your revenge?" I asked.
"No," he said simply, looking at me. "The Sultan’s order. And he’ll be awake soon. He may walk out into the garden."
"Then I can tell you the truth," I said, despite the catch in my throat. "I love those crosses!"
"Then why did you provoke me yesterday when I tried to mount you? Seems to me you would have done anything to avoid it."
I shrugged. "I wasn’t tired then. I’m tired now. The crosses are good for resting."
But my face was still coloring intolerably.
"It makes you quake with fear, and you know it," he said. His voice was icy now, full of command. All the trembling and diffidence gone.
"True," I said. I gave him back his comb. "I suppose that’s why I love it."
My courage had begun to fail me a little as we approached the door to the garden. The sharp shift from Master to slave left me giddy and full of a strange new ache that I could not clearly define or contain within myself: As we moved on our hands and knees down the corridor, I felt a profound vulnerability, an overwhelming need to cling to Lexius, to seek shelter in his arms, if only for a moment.
But it would have been folly to ask for this. He was the Lord and Master again, and, whatever the confusion in his soul, it was now locked against me. Yet he dragged his feet in his own graceful way.
And when we reached the archway, he paused, his eyes moving over the little paradise of trees and flowers, over the slaves already tethered as we would soon be tethered.
"Any second," I thought, "he will call for the grooms. It will be done."
But Lexius merely stood motionless. And then I realized that both he and Tristan were looking down the path at four heavily robed Lords who approached us rapidly, their white linen headdresses pulled up to hide their faces as if they were out in the windblown sand rather than in this sheltered garden of the palace.
They looked like a hundred other such Lords, it seemed to me, save for the fact that they carried with them two rolled-up carpets, as if they were truly heading for a camp in the desert.
"Strange," I thought. "Why don’t they have the servants carry these rugs for them?"
On and on they came until suddenly Tristan said "No!" so loudly that Lexius and I were both startled.
"What is it?" Lexius demanded.
But then we all knew. And we were forced back into the corridor and completely surrounded.
BEAUTY: INTO THE ARMS OF FATE
IT WAS near to morning. Beauty could feel the fresh air coming through the grill over the window even before she saw the light. It was the sound of knocking that roused her.
Inanna lay still in her arms. And the knocking, unanswered, went on and on as Beauty sat up in the bed, staring at the bolted doors. She held her breath until the knocking stopped. Then she roused Inanna.
Immediately, Inanna was alarmed. She looked about herself in confusion, eyes blinking uncomfortably in the morning sun. Then she stared at Beauty, and her alarm turned to terror.
Beauty wasn’t unprepared for this moment. She knew what she had to do–slip out of Inanna’s bedroom and somehow get back to the grooms without getting Inanna into trouble. Fighting the desire to embrace and kiss Inanna, she climbed off the bed and went to the door and listened. Then she turned to Inanna and made a gesture of farewell, blowing a kiss to Inanna, who burst into silent tears immediately.
Inanna came fast across the room and threw her arms around Beauty, and for a long moment they kissed again, the long luxurious kisses Beauty so loved. Inanna’s tender, hot little sex was pressed against Beauty’s legs, her br**sts shivering against Beauty. When she bowed her head, her hair falling down to veil her face, Beauty lifted her chin and opened her mouth again, drinking the sweetness from it. Inanna was like a bird in a cage in Beauty’s arms, her violet eyes magnified by their tears, her lips moist and beautifully reddened it seemed by her crying.
"Lovely, ripe creature," Beauty whispered, feeling of Inanna’s plump little arms, pressing her thumb against Inanna’s rounded chin as Inanna’s mouth quivered hungrily. But there was no time now for lovemaking.
Beauty made the gesture for Inanna to be quiet and still, and she listened at the door again.