Prisoner of the Seraglio
A Cordelia Delacourt Adventure
Chapter 5 The Harem
Cordelia was awakened by the sound of the camp stirring. She had no idea how long she had slept; she only knew that her stomach growled unmercifully and that she desperately had to empty her bladder. Her arms were still around Liz and as she moved the girl moaned, no longer able to hide her pain in her unconscious state. The sound stopped as soon as she opened her eyes.
Lie still, Liz, Cordelia said softy. Ill see whats happening. She started to move toward the tent flap but it was opened before she reached it. The woman who had served them the day before appeared. Holding open the flap she motioned that both girls should exit. Cordelia immediately returned to Liz and helped the girl to her feet in spite of her protests.
Once outside the woman guided them to a place in the camp where they could attend to the bodily functions and then she led them back to one of the cooking fires where she gave them a breakfast of rice and some sort of meat. Cordelia noted that only part of the camp had been dismantled. A number of camels were being loaded and she guessed that the long desert journey to Timuctou would not include the horses.
It took very little time for the bandits to get ready and when it was time both she and Liz were hoisted aboard a pack camel and placed in wicker panniers that were hung on either side of one of the larger camels. It made Cordelia feel more like baggage than a passenger, but she had to admit it was a most secure perch. In her present condition she would not have felt much like attempting to ride a camel and as for Liz, the girl was so exhausted that it was probably completely out of the question.
The camels began to troop out of the camp, single file. Within a few mounts they were all underway and Cordelia had to accustom herself to the beasts peculiar rolling gait. It was quite unlike being on a horse and after a few moments she felt a sensation very similar to sea-sickness. She took a few deep breaths and fought back the urge to vomit. Liz, however, had no such fortitude. The girl was violently ill, much to the annoyance of the man leading their camel, but the girl paid him no attention, her stomach heaving until it was emptied. Liz then lapsed into a white-faced silence, griping the edge of the pannier as if she intended to throw herself out and emitting the occasional suppressed moan.
Unable to do much else, Cordelia reached across and patted Lizs arm. The girl returned her a wan smile and then closed her eyes and slumped down in the pannier. Cordelia hoped that Liz would sleep. There wasnt really much else to do except look at the scenery and after awhile the unbroken desert landscape lost its appeal.
At first, Cordelia tried to be interested. The first part of the journey was nothing like she had imagined deserts would be. During most of her life the word desert had conjured up images of camels striding across an endless sea of golden sand dunes. She soon saw that most desert was nothing like that, consisting primarily of mile after mile of pebble-strewn ground broken by the occasional boulder. The longer they traveled the less interesting it became.
About the only thing that that agreed with Cordelias concept of a desert was the heat. They had started out early in the morning when it was still quite cool. By midmorning the desert had become very hot, and by early afternoon the landscape had turned into a furnace.
To compound the effects of the heat an unpleasant wind blew steadily across
the barren waste. Cordelia had
never seen desert like this.
Nothing grew, not even the hardiest
shrub. The first part of her
Unable to do anything about the heat and the windblown sand, she hunkered down in her pannier and tried to endure. If her captors could tolerate the conditions, so could she, and of course, she had no choice in the matter. Her main concern was for Liz. The girl had been through a much worse ordeal than she had. She hoped that somehow she would survive the journey.
The caravan stopped about three in the afternoon. By then the heat was at its most intense. The ground chosen was apparently a traditional stopping place as rings of stones had been created to act as windbreaks.
Liz was shaken out of her semi-conscious condition when she was lifted from the pannier. The girl moaned softly, but said nothing until Cordelia knelt beside her. Sorry, Miss Cordelia, but Im right sick, I am, she rasped.
Dont worry, Liz, youre going to be alright, Cordelia answered as she stroked Lizs chestnut hair.
You shouldnt be doing this, Liz muttered. Its not right for a lady to elp the likes of me.
Youre as fine a companion as I could wish, Cordelia answered. Now lie quiet and rest. I want you to get better.
At that moment the woman who had been attending them in the camp appeared. She was carrying a water-skin, which she Cordelia took from her and held to Lizs lips. The woman seemed to understand Lizs condition as she waited until Cordelia was finished and then helped to carry Liz into a newly erected tent. She looked at Cordelia and signaled by putting her fingers to her mouth that she would return with food and then she left.
Cordelia settled onto the sleeping mat in the tent and watched over Liz until the woman returned. Between the two of them they managed to get Liz to eat a little and then completely worn out from her first day of desert travel, Cordelia settled down beside Liz and they both slept.
Mercifully the men in the expedition seemed to realize that Liz was too weak to offer them any sexual refreshment and left her alone. Even Cordelia was spared the humiliation of attending to the bandit leader despite the fact that the man looked in on her and gave her a knowing leer. No doubt he had bragged profusely to his men about how the Englishwoman had entertained him.
Early the next morning the caravan got underway again. Liz seemed a bit better and got stronger as the days passed, in spite of the wearying journey. It went on day after mind-numbing day. The desert seemed endless and the heat was unrelenting. The only breaks in the monotony of the journey occurred when the caravan stopped each night to camp. And then they came to the dunes.
Cordelia stared in astonishment at the vast sea of rolling sand. It was beyond anything she had dreamed of; an immense universe of gigantic dunes stretching to the horizon. They had reached the edge of the dunes at around and camped early, apparently to get ready for the journey into the sand wilderness. For a change, the campsite had a source of water, a small spring that trickled from a crack in a rock outcropping and created a mini-oasis. There was enough water for all the camels to drink and for the riders to splurge a bit on their water intake as well.
The next day they set out and by mid morning were well into the ocean of sand. If Cordelia had thought the dunes impressive before, she was almost overwhelmed as the camels moved between dunes hundreds of feet high and in some cases actually climbed the shifting sand mountains.
The caravan moved at a measured pace, attempting to make good time in an area of the desert that could be deadly as well as astoundingly beautiful. Cordelia found out just how deadly fours days into the dunes.
It began as a brown smudge on the horizon. Cordelia didnt even notice it at first until the wind began to pick up. It resulted in an immediate reaction from her bandit escort. In short order they had everyone off the camels and concealed beneath makeshift shelters. And then the wind began to howl.
The storm swept over them like a wild animal, its claws the stinging sand that ripped at the shelter in an attempt to expose them to its full fury. If it had succeeded they would have all been torn apart by the stinging sand, which struck with such force that if anyone had been exposed to it their skin would have been peeled as if by sandpaper.
The sound was frightening as the wind shrieked over them tearing at their shelter. Cordelia felt as if she was in the mouth of some gigantic beast that screamed at her even as it sought to close its jaws and end her existence.
The worst part was the feeling of complete helplessness. She and Liz along with their captors could do nothing except huddle in fear and hope that the great dunes around them would not shift and entomb them beneath tons of sand.
The storm lasted all day and most of the night, ending just before morning. With the cessation of the wind the bandits attempted to dig their way out of the shelter. It took some time to shift the sand covering the entrance and still longer to dig out the camels and other shelters.
Cordelia noticed that the storm had exacted a price. Several of the camels were gone although all of the bandits somehow seemed to have survived. Without wasting any more time the remaining camels were loaded and the expedition got underway once more.
The remainder of the journey passed without incident. A month after they had set out they reached the outskirts of Timbuctou. The bandits did not immediately enter the town; instead they established camp on near a supply of water and sent one of their number to contact the bey.
The answer was several days in coming and when it did Cordelia got a bit of a shock.
I should have you whipped, Ibrahim DesLaurier growled. Your escape cost me no end of trouble. The bey was most displeased when I was forced to tell him that the English maiden he had paid so much for had been taken by bandits.
You could hardly expect me to resign myself to a life of sexual slavery, Cordelia retorted, unrepentant. Given the chance I will try to escape again.
DesLaurier glowered at her. For an instant he appeared so angry that Cordelia feared he would strike her; instead he spoke to her through clenched teeth. Do you have any idea how much these desert bandits are asking? And it all comes out of my purse as I am the one who was blamed for your escape.
Come, he ordered, taking her arm roughly. Due to you association with the desert scum it is necessary to assure that your virtue is intact.
You wouldnt dare, Cordelia gasped.
Dont worry DesLaurier sneered. No man may look upon the body of the beys intended. You will be inspected by one of the harems female attendants.
He escorted her from the courtyard of the beys
palace. Cordelia, who had often
seen the splendid residences of the British monarchy, was not
impressed. The building was a
whitewashed mud brick structure of unimposing appearance, being no more than
three stories high. She supposed,
however, that the term palace was
relative. The building was by
far the most impressive structure in the collection of modest mud brick
structures that made up most of
Timbuctou. The fabled desert
city was little more than a forgotten backwater in the middle of the
The inside of the palace continued the theme of mediocrity. Where Cordelia had pictured marble floors and exquisite architecture she found instead narrow interior corridors and the ubiquitous whitewashed walls. She did note, however, that the winding maze of corridors inside the building would be rather difficult to escape.
DesLaurier led her and Liz through the labyrinth and up two flights of stairs. The upper floors were more open, with corridors that overlooked the courtyard. It was here that DesLaurier left them, turning them over to two gigantic black Africans armed with swords.
Goodbye, Miss Delacourt, DesLaurier said. I doubt that we will ever meet again. I wish I could say that our association had been pleasant, but it wasnt. I hope for your sake that you do not anger the bey the way you angered me. He finished by bowing, and then he was gone, leaving Liz and Cordelia alone with their new escort.
The two huge men were dressed in flowing white robes. Cordelia couldnt help wondering if they were eunuchs. It certainly seemed likely and it tied in with the fantastic tales she had heard of desert princes and their harems. Neither man said a word. Instead they opened a door and motioned the two girls forward.
The two men did not follow them into the room. Instead they closed the door behind them leaving Cordelia and Liz alone. Cordelia's eyes widened in surprise. After the drabness of the rest of the building she was most surprised by the room she found herself in. The bare white walls and rough earthen floors were replaced by rich carpets and magnificently tiled walls. The room was not large and was unfurnished, appearing to be some sort of antechamber or waiting room. After a few minutes Cordelia made herself comfortable by sitting on the rug. Liz, however, remained standing, a nervous expression in her face.
They waited for a half hour and then a door on the far side of the room opened. Several older women in traditional desert robes entered. They said nothing but stood looking at the two of them for a full minute before moving toward them. One of the women took Liz by the arm and indicated that the girl was to accompany her. Cordelia nodded. Go with her, Liz. Ill be alright. I will see you later.
Liz hesitated and then shrugged. Alright, miss, but if theres trouble, make sure you call.
Cordelia had spent the remainder of the month-long trek to Timbuctou picking up as much of the language of her captors as she could. None of the men would speak with her, but the women would and she understood enough of the language to comprehend what one of the women said. Remove your robe.
Cordelia had expected the command and knew that it would do no good to resist. Although she was confronted by only two women, she did not want to get into an argument with them, knowing that they would simply call for reinforcements. Besides, she knew what they were going to do.
The examination this time was a bit more thorough. Cordelia stepped out of her robe and the two women carefully inspected every inch of her body as if checking to see if she was worthy of being a member of the beys harem. They nodded with approval as their eyes took in her young high breasts and firm buttocks, but frowned when they noted her pubic region. One of them shook her head and then bent so she could study the region more closely.
Cordelia blushed and then almost jumped out of her skin as the woman touched her public mound. Hold still, the woman snapped. Her tone threatened punishment, but Cordelia could not help gasping as the woman inserted a finger between the lips of her vulva.
The sensation was distinctly uncomfortable. It was the first time that fingers other than her own had ever touched her there, but she put up with it for as long as it took. Good, the woman said finally. The bey will be pleased. Now you come with us.
Cordelia picked up her robe, but the second woman took it from her. You wont be needing this, she said. We have other clothing for you.
Cordelia followed the two women, resisting the urge to conceal her breasts and loins. She knew that such an action would simply draw more attention to her nudity if anyone was watching.
The women took her through several other rooms. These were clearly some sort of living quarters, the floors being covered in thick rugs and the walls beautifully tiled or covered with tapestries. Here and there piles of cushions indicated that the rooms were frequently occupied. Finally they entered a room with a high ceiling. In it was a large pool with several young women both in the water and lying around the edge. As Cordelia entered several of them jumped up and came toward her.
Oh is this the new girl? one of them asked. Cordelia noticed that the girls tone contained a hint of jealously. She remarked that the girl was a little taller than the rest, and her skin a little lighter in colour.
One of her escorts nodded. The bey will see her tomorrow. She is to be properly prepared. Akilah, you are in charge. Make sure that you do not fail.
The girl that the older woman instructed was the girl who had first spoken. Cordelia noticed that the girl was none too pleased at being given the order, but she did not argue, instead inclining her head in assent.
As soon as the woman had left, Akilah approached Cordelia. First you must be bathed, she said, wrinkling her nose. You stink. Then we will work on the rest of you.
Several of the young women approached. Cordelia noted that almost without exception they were wearing almost nothing, especially those who emerged from the pool, water running from their lithe young bodies. Forming a sort of honour guard on either side of her they took her arms and pulled her toward the pool. Cordelia did not resist. It would have done little good in any case. She could hardly have fought off the combined strength of over a dozen young women and she realized that the girls who surrounded her were likely to be her companions for some time to come.
Do you talk? Akilah asked as she helped Cordelia into the water. Or do you speak only your own barbarian tongue?
I understand a little, Cordelia answered. I have only been learning the language for a few weeks.
Hmmpph, snorted the girl. That seems obvious. You accent is abominable.
Ill try to do better, Cordelia answered, a little surprised at the girls rudeness. I just need more practice.
One of the other girls laughed. Just ignore Akilah, she said. Shes just jealous of your white skin. She was the beys favourite and is afraid you will take her place.
Cordelia noted that all of the girls had skin-tones that were darker than hers, ranging from a dusky complexion to those who were quite dark. Akilahs skin was the lightest with the girl who had spoken being a close second.
My name is Rabab, the girl said, and I will be happy to help you learn more of our language.
Thank you, Cordelia said, glad to have made a friend. She introduced herself, at the same time wondering where Liz was and hoping that the girl wasnt being treated too badly.
The girls helping her with her bath were very thorough, scrubbing every inch of her body with sponges and soaping her hair several times before finally rinsing her off. Then they did something that Cordelia should have realized was coming, but which still took her by surprise.
What is that for? she asked, her voice rising in alarm as Akilah brandished a razor. It was really a stupid question. One of the distinguishing characteristics of every girl in the pool was a complete absence of pubic hair. Cordelia, with her English attitude, had simply chosen to ignore it.
Youre not going to touch me there, she exclaimed, attempting to escape from the clutches of the young women that surrounded her.
Hold still, barbarian, Akilah said. I dont want to cut you.
Dont struggle, Rabab added. The bey will not accept you unless you are clean.
Akilah brandished the razor dangerously causing Cordelia to flinch away. The girl grinned evilly. This is just for now. Later we will arrange for something more permanent.
Permanent? wondered Cordelia. She didnt like the idea of that. It sounded painful. In the meantime there was the matter of submitting to the razor.
No, she said to Akila. Not you. Rabab. I will only allow it if Rabab does it.
Akilah frowned, but shrugged her shapely shoulders and handed the razor to Rabab.
Dont worry, Rabab said, I will be very careful. The bey would be most angry if I cut you.
Cordelia did not reply, but simply lay still while Rabab skillfully removed her body hair. When she was finished the girl smiled in satisfaction. There, she said. Now you are presentable. Now it is time to dress you. The bey will no doubt want to see you before he sends for you.
How can you submit to this? Cordelia asked, horrified at the implications of Rababs words. The girls matter-of-fact chatter could not hide the fact that in a few hours Cordelia would be forced to surrender her virtue to a man she had never even met. It was little more than institutionalized rape.
Rabab stared at her open-mouthed. What do you mean? she asked. We do not submit. We offer ourselves. It is the greatest of honours to serve the bey.
Cordelia shook her head. It was useless to discuss her fears with the members of the harem. Their values were completely different from hers.
The next step in her preparation consisted of clothing and
jewellery. The girls led her
from the pool to another room in the
palace. There Cordelia found
the two older women who had ordered the girls to bath
her. The woman who seemed to
be in charge peremptorily dismissed the other girls and sat Cordelia
down. Although different from
what she was used to in
I am Farizah, said the woman who had spoken before. I rule the harem for the bey. You will do as I say from now on. Do you understand?
Cordelia nodded. There was no point in disputing the womans authority. She was completely within the power of the bey and his servants.
Good, the woman continued. Hazar and I will dress you for the bey. He will see you before sending for you, although you will not be aware of it. He likes to look at the new girls before he sends for them.
While she spoke Hazar had been arranging jewellery on a small table. Farizah looked at it and nodded her approval. That will do nicely, she aid. She picked up the first piece and began to place it on Cordelias body.
She started with Cordelias ears, using a tiny needle to punch a hole in her earlobes and then hanging golden pendants from each lobe. It was a painful process, but Cordelia was too frightened and dispirited to resist. The enormity of her predicament overwhelmed her and she sat completely cowed and mortified while the women dressed and decorated her.
It was a time-consuming process, taking several hours. At the end of it Cordelia was dressed in sheer silk pantaloons and a filmy top that hid almost nothing of her body. Her ears smarted from double piercings and were hung with heavy gold earrings. Gold ropes and chains were draped about her neck and a heavier gold chain girdled her waist. Her fingernails and toenails had been painted red and her eyelids had been darkened with kohl. Her mouth was brightly painted with the reddest lip rouge imaginable.
Farizah nodded in approval. I think the bey will like what he sees; she held a mirror in front of Cordelia for the girl to judge for herself.
Cordelia gasped. She had not expected the exotic and exquisitely beautiful young woman who peered back at her from the mirror. With the exception of her auburn hair and startling green eyes she could have passed for the harem beauty of her imagination. But there was another aspect of the gorgeous beauty in the mirror and that was the raw sexuality she exuded. Her diaphanous costume concealed very little of her alluring body.
All her life Cordelia had known that she was pretty, but she had never thought of herself as sexually desirable. But there was no denying that Farizah and Hazar had transformed her from a proper English maiden into an enchantress, from the silver bells on her ankles to her rouge-tinted nipples. She moved her head and saw the sparkle of hundreds of tiny diamonds that were bound into her elaborately coiffed hair.
That cant be me, she thought in astonishment. Its some Arabian princess.
Farizah smiled. Now it is time for you to go to your quarters.
Cordelias quarters turned out to be a large room furnished with low tables, large vases containing greenery, and dozens of cushions. It also contained all the girls she had met at the pool. Rabab was the first one to greet her.
You are beautiful, she gushed. The bey will be most pleased.
The remark reminded Cordelia of her intended fate and a stab of fear dampened the pleasure she had received at her reception.
The other girls crowded around and inspected her. All of them except Akilah commented favourably on her appearance. Cordelia wondered when the bey would inspect her and then noticed that one wall of the harem was an elaborate latticework and suddenly realized that it would be possible for someone to view the harem through the hundreds of tiny holes without being observed. It was no doubt possible that the bey was observing her even now. Self-consciously she allowed the other girls to escort her into the centre of the room and sit her down on the cushions. She felt very much like a prize filly on display at a horse show.
Female servants glided into the room and presented her with food and drink. After the ordeal of her preparation Cordelia realized that she was famished and the food offered her was much better than anything she had eaten for the last month and a half. As she ate and drank, she found her mind turning once again to Liz. She hoped with all her heart that the slum-raised girl who had befriended her was safe and well. There was no telling what might have been done to her.
Cordelia suddenly felt overwhelmingly tired and found herself struggling to keep her eyes open. It had been a long and trying day.
Farizah, who had remained with her, shooed the other girls away. Let her sleep now, she said. In a few hours she will need to be very wide awake.
Cordelias eyes popped open to see Farizah watching her with amusement. Do not worry, the older woman said soothingly. I remember my first time too. You will do very well.
Cordelia swallowed. Suddenly she was wide awake. She remained that way until the bey sent for her.