"I want to show you something."
Constantine takes my hand. He leads me out into the large Harem courtyard. The other boys have just begun their morning exercises which sound like laboring grunts of strain. We get away from the grunts just Constantine and me. He holds my hand as we leave. The eunuchs show no concern. For the most part, the country was finally back at peace. The sultan allowed his sons to fight it out for the throne and Prince Daai had come out on top.
Rumors of inconsistencies in peace within the empire have finally died down.
Behind a big tree, Constantine stops me. The courtyard is fresh with flowers here. I haven't been to this side of the courtyard. I figured this was just the place where people would come see all the pretty swan in the courtyard. I hated seeing them, though. The birds were just as much prisoners in this place as I was.
Constantine starts to dig underneath the tree.
"You hid something?" I ask him.
He looks up at me. He has a tenderness that I haven't seen before.
"I wanted to show you something. It's the only thing that I own."
"What are you talking about? You have a ton of gifts from all the suitors."
"I don't care about the gifts. They are just proof that I am a slave. They are meaningless to me. I don't own those things. A slave can't own what his master gives him. This is what I got when I was a free man. This is the only thing I own. This is the only thing that means anything to me."
What he digs out of the ground is a small box. He slowly opens it and reveals a sea shell. It is a neutral ivory color in the shape of a fan. It's almost the size of his hand. He holds it out, looking at it towards the sun as though it was the most important thing in the world.
I mean it only because I see the way he looks at it. It's a normal shell but the meaning behind it was beautiful. Constantine smiles showing me a side of him that he doesn't ever really show.
"I wasn't always a slave. I lived in a kingdom by the ocean. I grew up in royal garbs. My family was independent. Then the Ottomans came and everything changed."
"I'd like to see it one day."
"Where you come from."
He nods. He smiles, "I'll take you."
He nods, "Yes. I promise."
Right now he sounds like a free man instead of a slave. Maybe it's because he has this shell. The boys in the Harem weren't allowed to leave here. Constantine knew more than anyone that this wasn't something that was allowed.
"I wish I had something. A reminder from when I was free. I don't have anything. I own nothing. Even my memories aren't mine. I was created. A weapon to bring down an empire that can't be brought down."
"The Ottomans have a lot of enemies. You never know."
I shake my head. I wasn't the first to be sent to kill the Sultan. I wouldn't be the last. There was a little boy being trained now.
the sultan, there will be
"Nothing is forever. And you are wrong about you not owning anything," he tells me.
"What could I possibly own?" I ask him.
"My heart," he tells me.
His mouth settles around me. He kisses me. There is nothing sexual about it, though. Being that I was surrounded by sex it was nice to be removed from it for a minute. This kiss had an intimacy that was past sex. He holds me with his bare chest up against my bare chest. We breathe each other in. We forget where we are and what we are here for. We lose our breath.
All of a sudden we hear a voice. I turn to see that it's Alexios. He sees us kissing and he must notice that this isn't some sexual practice. It's intimate. I can look into his eyes and tell he is surprised when he sees this.
"What do you want?" I ask him.
I'm confused. It's the middle of the day. The Princes never came to the Harem in the middle of the day. They were usually busy with what ever diplomatic situations they had. Each of the princes had multiple wives they needed to attend to as well.
"It's too early," I state.
"Well he's here and I've been reduced to errand boy," Alexios states crossing his arms, "You need to come with me. Now."
I'm not the one who says it. It's Constantine.
"Excuse me?" Alexios asks, "You're refusing a prince?"
Constantine grabs my hand. It's the thing that slaves don't usually do. He is claiming me for himself right in front of Alexios. The look in his eyes shows it.
"Constantine, I don't think I can refuse," I state.
"You're not refusing. I'm the one who is refusing," Constantine states, "He can't have you."
"Yes," Constantine says.
"And I should tell the prince? That you refuse?" Alexios asks.
sighs in disbelief. I'm in as much disbelief as he is. I knew when
Constantine pulled me away from
Alexios is happy to leave. He turns and almost runs to tell the prince what happened.
I look over at Constantine. He buries his box. He calmly grabs a large branch that has fallen from one of the trees, tests it for solidness and holds it in his hand as a weapon. I can't believe what is happening right now.
"Constantine you can't," I warn him.
There is no warning him, though. He flexes his muscles and holds out a hand towards me, "Stay a few feet away."
"I don't mind meeting with him."
"Unless we take a stand at some point we will always be slaves to the empire. You realize that right. They will never let us go until we are old and they have no use for us any longer. As long as they are attracted to us we will be here."
"But we'll be here together," I remind him, "Isn't that what matters?"
I knew from the moment I chose to kill the Vizier that I had doomed myself to a life in the Harem. The Vizier was the only one who was willing to release me. Now that he was gone I realize that I had no exit.
"You deserve more," Constantine argues.
I wish I had more time to beg him. I don't. Eunuchs start piling into the courtyard. The black slaves of the empire have no doubt been sent by the prince. I count 20. In a minute and with a word the prince is able to summon 20 people to do his bidding. This was the power of the Ottomans. This was just how strong they were.
"Step aside," a eunuch says.
The eunuchs don't hesitate to attack. They swarm down on him like silent bees ready to sting. I watch in amazement and fear. They cover around him and I'm amazed when Constantine holds his own with nothing more than a stick.
He hits one eunuch, dodges another and swings his club as though it was light as a feather. The club slams down one eunuch, two eunuchs, five eunuchs and more. As I watch him evade attacks it becomes increasingly clear that Constantine isn't just a slave and never has been. He has been trained as a warrior. He presses on kicking and clawing in a way that I honestly think that he has a chance to beat all 20.
And that's when it happens.
20 more men come into the courtyard. 20 more eunuchs.
His breath gets heavy. His actions slow down. He's punched in his face and hits the ground. He gets up quickly hitting the man even harder who attacked him. This man does not get up. Several other guards pile on him all at once. I get into the fray grabbing them and throwing them off of him until he is clear. When he's clear I stand by his side.
"Stand back," he tells me.
"STAY OUT OF IT!"
It must be pride, I assume. At least at first, I assume it but then I watch as he just allows the men to jump on him and beat him. There is no fight left in his eyes. Constantine must know that it's helpless. If he beat these men more would come and more would come after that. For some reason, I think he wants to feel the pain. He wants to gain something from the defiance. I'm not sure what it is at that moment but when he hits the floor I can see a smile on his face. Whatever he's gotten from that act of defiance is definitely something he wanted.
I am dragged away by the eunuchs as they continue to punish Constantine. I scream his name several times.
The worst thoughts enter my mind when I am pulled from the courtyard. I wonder if they are going to kill Constantine in that courtyard.
"Take some wine."
don't take the wine. My head moves to the side. I see the other
boys including Polo off to the side. They entertain men in
wine. I'm not much of a drinker either,"
He nods his head. Women appear. These women bring out food and drinks and other perishable substances all presented in pottery jars and bowls. Following them were very small children who seemed under the age to be presented in a harem. They carry with them tunics, scarves, gloves and headdresses. Lastly are the train of men. I count 20 men in all. They bring with them lots of jewelry, including bracelets, buckles, pendants, necklaces, and rings. These were made from gold and precious stones. There also bring out fans to keep me cool as I sit there looking over the gifts. These were no normal fans either. These fans were ones made from ivory with huge ostrich feathers.
The other boys look on in jealousy. I look at the gifts though with not even the slightest bit of interest. He expects me to begin crying from excitement or dig through these boxes with fervor. I do neither one of those things.
"You don't like them?" he says.
"Does it matter what I think?"
Was he trying somehow to buy my attention? He didn't need to do that. I was his slave. He could have me if he wanted anytime he wanted. What was the point of doing all this? Did he think sex would be better if I were more appreciative? I knew you wouldn't.
"You are much more expensive. I've noticed that from the first time I met you. What would you like?"
"A friend of mine was beaten. I would like to know if he's still alive."
"They say he was beaten for trying to disobey my summons."
"And you want him spared?" Constantine asks.
Constantine's smile fades. This angers him in a way.
"You asked me what I want."
loves you..." Prince
He almost spits the accusation at me.
"No. Why do you think that?" I ask.
one would do something as stupid as that unless he was in love,"
"Please don't hurt him," I state.
begging for him?"
"You love him back?"
I get quiet. This conversation isn't going anywhere easy any time soon. I know he wants me to say no. He wants me to deny it. A slave would have denied it. It would have been so easy. I can't do it, though. I swallow my pride look down on the ground and just stare as though the entire earth was just getting smaller and smaller by the moment. I felt like I was floating away.
Then I hear the Prince.
"Hold him...down," the Prince tells me.
The eunuchs grab me. They pull me to the ground.
"What are you doing?" I ask, "What are you doing!"
The prince releases his penis. It's fully hard. It is dripping with precum. His people hold me down and begin ripping my clothes off. I struggle at that moment. The prince gets closer. I stop struggling. There was no point.
I forget where I am when he takes me.
I float away.
Those are the last words I remember as I lose myself.
"Hush..." Constantine's voice is weak.
Manuel helps me to the room. He knows what happens. He looks at Constantine when he does. Manuel has this look on his face. It's this look that tells me he feels bad for me.
"Thanks, Manuel," I tell him.
I nod so that he can leave before Constantine catches onto his sad face. I don't want Constantine to know what happened. Constantine tries to get up to see me but he can't. He's much too weak. He is covered in bruises and scars. His eye is completely swollen shut. Someone stops him from moving too far. I'm surprised when I see it's Polo.
"You can't move. You're in too bad of a shape," Polo tells Constantine, "Hush tell him to sit."
"Constantine listen to him."
helps Constantine back to the bed. Constantine's eyes just keep staring
at me, though. He is more concerned with me than himself. Seeing
what they did to him though I realize just how sick
Polo looks over at me, "Do you need help Hush?"
"I'm fine Polo. Thank you."
"I'll go bring fresh rags for Constantine," Polo states.
With that Polo leaves the room. Constantine watches as he leaves.
"He's a good friend," Constantine tells me, "He helped me the whole time you were gone. He said it was because you were his best friend and you'd want him to take care of me."
I smile at the thought.
"I told you Polo was good," I tell him.
Constantine sighs, "It's just hard to trust."
"I understand," I state.
lean over pressing up against the wall as we talk. I take a deep
breath. I may have disappeared in my mind when
"What's wrong with you?" Constantine asks.
I shake my head.
I don't answer. The idea of rape in a Harem isn't really something that I considered. We were slaves. We belonged to the sultan and his people. I was property. The fact that I still felt so violated was crazy. I don't want to lie to Constantine but I don't want to upset him either. He can read through my expression. I watch him get up and punch a wall with an already strained body.
Constantine paces angrily. I can't stop him even though I try.
"I'll kill him," he states.
"Then we'll escape."
"There is no way out," I state.
"Yes, there is," a voice argues.
I turn to the door. Polo and Alexios of all people have shown up at the door. Alexios overheard what Constantine said. I feel afraid at that moment. Alexios couldn't be trusted.
"I told him you were busy," Polo states, "He didn't listen."
"No...Alexios you said there was a way out," Constantine states, "What is it?"
sultan is coming tonight finally. I believe that's why
"Why?" I ask.
I'm confused. Why was Alexios telling us this?"
"There is an exit. If you would like. It's in the courtyard past the stone statue. It leads to the Vizier's old quarters."
"If you knew about a way out, why not escape?" Constantine asks.
"Because he's lying," Polo adds.
Alexios isn't someone to be trusted. I knew that for a fact but for some reason I also knew he wasn't telling a lie right now.
"He's telling the truth. The reason he never used it is because those halls are crawling with guards. You'd be punished if you got caught."
Constantine looks over at me surprised.
"You knew about it as well Hush?"
"The Vizier told me. But it's useless. The guards will be too heavy."
"Not tonight. Not when the sultan is here. Every guard will be summoned to protect him. Every last one. It'll be perfect to escape," Alexios states.
My mouth gets dry.
Constantine looks over at me.
"The water... I can take you to the water," Constantine states.
My heart races at the idea. It's a good plan. It may be one of the only times we would have to do it. I nod at that moment.
I didn't have time to think about it.
It was now...or never.
It is a full moon when the Sultan of the Ottoman empire finally shows his face in the Harem.
He is precisely who I thought he would be. His face is the color of old ore. He sits like a wired eagle perched up over everyone else. There is a symphony playing as he walks. His robe swallows him up. He sits on his pedestal not too far from his heir Daai. They are laughing about something and I notice nothing but old rotten teeth. Alexios dances for him. I watch halfway disgusted when Alexios pulls out the sultan's crooked, limp dick and begins to suck it. I almost want to throw up when I see what happens next. The sultan loses control of his bladder and begins to piss in Alexios face. Most men would be outraged but when you suck the sultan's dick you have no choice but to be bathed in it and smile as though you enjoyed it.
"I'm going to be sick," Polo tells me.
The guards are so tight that I don't even bother to get close. In fact, I make it my business to stay away. The night is moving fast. I turn to see Constantine. He would give me the signal when it was time to leave this place once and for all.
The servants gather around the sultan with ostrich feathers. I notice the swarm of strange men that I have not seen or don't really recognize in the room.
"It's almost time," I state.
The final guards are still entering the room. You would think it was an army. I'd seen nothing like it. All to protect this vile sick old man. He's still peeing on Alexios and Alexios is still acting as though he enjoys it. I watch as Manuel and a few other boys join in in an attempt to please the sultan. It's amazing the lengths people would go to make him smile just a little.
"I'm going to miss you, friend," Polo tells me.
"I may not be going anywhere. Alexios could be setting me up."
"I doubt it."
"What makes you say that?"
"Alexios wants nothing more than to see you gone," Polo explains, "Before you take the sultan's attention away from him. He wants you and Constantine gone. Or dead..."
"Come with us."
"It's just...too dangerous," Polo responds, "You have Daai to possibly protect you if you get caught. If I get caught...I'm dead."
Polo had a point. I knew he wouldn't risk his life to leave. Still, I wanted him to go. I wanted him to experience freedom. The look on his face says he gave up on that a long time ago.
"I'll come back for you...once I know a safe way out," I promise Polo.
Polo smiles, "I figured you would. I'll be waiting...giving Alexios a run for his money."
I smile back, "I hope you do."
I hug Polo as tight as I can. Just at that moment I turn and see Constantine standing at my side.
Constantine gives me a nod. I look over at Polo one last time as Constantine pulls me away. The last of the guards are filing into the room. Constantine grabs me by my arm. I notice as we walk in a look in people's eyes. It's just a look of strangers. Distant strangers but they have this twitch. People who have been far removed from life.
We walk past these strangers. I notice many of them are wearing dark robes. They look like they are up to something. I'm not sure what...but it's something bad.
"Hurry up. We need to get to the courtyard."
We pass more guards and more strangers. The look on their faces. I turn to see who they are looking at. They are dressed and nobles but they move light on their feet. You can barely hear their footsteps. They all look at one thing and one thing only. They only look at the sultan.
"Constantine something's wrong," I tell him.
"The people who sent me."
"What about them?"
"They are here."
Constantine grabs my hand, "Come on! NOW!"
We break out into a run across the room towards the courtyard hoping no one notices. Just as we begin to get close though I see a face. It's a familiar face. It's one of the eunuchs.
They reach out and grab me!
Constantine looks like he is ready to fight but luckily I hold him back before he throws his fist.
"What is it?" I ask.
"The sultan would like to meet you," the eunuch states.
"I have to use the bathroom."
"The bathroom's the other way," The eunuch says.
"That bathroom is closed," Manuel states out of nowhere, "I was going to lead them to a place to go in the courtyard. It'll only be a second."
I exhale realizing Manuel comes out of nowhere to save Constantine and I. The eunuch seems suspicious but nods none-the-less. With that, we begin to get escorted out into the courtyard by Manuel. As we get to the middle of the courtyard I can't help but smile.
"Thank you so much, Manuel," I state.
Manuel doesn't respond.
The night is quiet. Constantine and I are standing there. That's when I hear something. Footsteps. I'm shocked when I see who comes out.
"Have you missed me, Osman?" the familiar voice asks.
Osman. He was using my birth name.
I turn. It's Loras. He's limping. His skin is still a pale gray. He needs to be helped. But Loras is alive. He's fucking alive right now.
I look over at Manuel, "Sorry."
"Loras...Loras I can explain," I state.
Loras isn't alone. He has these strange people with him. Assassins. The same assassins that were in his room.
"This was supposed to be our grand moment to share together. We would get rid of the sultan and his sons. Together! Now I'll have to get that done alone," Loras responds, "You would have ruled with me. I don't get it. You would have been my Vizier. Why would you betray me? We would have RULED TOGETHER!"
"Ruled?" Constantine asks.
Loras laughs, "He doesn't know does he?"
Loras would try to kill me and Constantine for my betrayal. He had somehow survived my poison and was here, now, of all days. Seeing those people in there lets me know he was going to make his move against the sultan tonight. Constantine looks over at me.
"Remember that story you told me?" I ask Constantine, "Of the sultan and his past wife?"
"Well...it's true," I state, "Except one part. The sultan's past wife had a child. That child was Loras. Loras is a bastard of the Empire."
And if the sultan and Daai died today, he was next in line to rule.
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