But I haven't had time/chance/inspiration to go back to the stories I had planned for it, or even finish the one I did. Poor Menagerie remains unfinished, and there's a story I finished years ago that I've never actually published because I wanted to write the other two that go with it first (The Prince's Harem, about Shah's youngest son. I wrote the story for the guard, not for the slave or the thief).
There was another idea I always wanted to play with in this verse, but the exact story never came to me. One of the things you hear frequently and often about fantasy is that what the author knows vastly exceeds what makes it on the page.
And I know a lot about Tavamara, including it's not-so-pleasant history. For this new story I went back back several generations, to a king abusing his power and a harem master caught in the middle of the mess.
If you've never read Sandstorm or The King's Harem, no worries. This one stands just fine on its own.
Onward to rough snippet. This story will begin running as an LT3 serial in August.
Demir removed Nur's clothes from the cabinet and put them in the large basket already half full of items that would be offered up to the rest of the harem, and after that donated to charity. His jewelry went into a special, beautifully carved chest with other precious items to be returned to Nur's family along with fifty gold pieces. Blood money.
His mouth tightened, but he said nothing. What was there to say? To whom would he say it? Everyone already knew and either were too scared to act, or did not care—rather, preferred circumstances precisely as they were.
Finished with the clothes, Demir went through Nur's shoes and added all but two pairs to the basket. The remaining two would go straight on to charity.
All that remained were the few decorative items that had added a bit of uniqueness to the otherwise lifeless cell. King Kagan wanted his concubines to look beautiful at all times, but did not care how they lived.
Did not care that they lived at all, once he was done amusing himself. How had such a sacred practice turned so ugly? Demir had asked himself the same question a thousand times and more, but he still had no answer.
Finished packing up Nur's belongings, he motioned for the servants who had accompanied him to carry out the baskets—one for sharing, one for charity, one for throwing out. He carried the chest himself, setting it on the hall floor briefly to lock the door and hang a cluster of black silk flowers. They would stay there for six months, or until he was forced to take them down to make room for someone new.
Retrieving the chest, he motioned for the servants to follow him as he wended his way through the maze of rooms generally called the 'gilded stable'. Certainly it felt more like a stable than the Jeweled Garden that was its proper name.
When they reached the entry hall, he gestured for two of the guards on duty to escort the servants. Stowing the chest in his office and locking the door with one of the many keys hanging from a gold chain around his waist, he took stock of the hall.
Ten of the twelve usual guards, stone-faced, posture tense instead of simply at attention. They were dressed all in black, but with red sashes across their chests that marked them as serving the royal harems.
Three concubines were huddled together in one of the inset circular benches along one side of the room, a guard standing in front of them. They cried quietly together, and he recognized them as those who had lived immediately beside and across from Nur.
It would not do for the wrong person to wander into the stable and see them crying. Demir caught the eye of the guard standing protectively in front of them. "Take them to the garden for a little while, have the wine in my room fetched. If they still are too distressed to return to their rooms, they can sleep in mine tonight."
"Yes, Lord Demir," the guard replied, and bowed before turning and attending to the concubines.
Demir slipped into his office, put the chest on one of the shelves to the right of his desk, then settled behind it and looked over his work. He picked up the schedule for the evening, frowned when he saw someone had left a note.
Merciful divine preserve him, he was going to kill his Majesty. The man had demanded dancers for Festival of Winter Stars. For three months he had done nothing but harangue Demir endlessly about the dancing. Now he was demanding dueling instead? With singing to follow. Gods grant him patience.
Standing again, Demir returned to the stables and began rapping on the appropriate doors. "In the practice hall, now!"
Twenty-four concubines in all followed him. Fifteen were dancers, meant to perform in three groups at certain intervals throughout the long, elaborate banquet. They had been practicing the Starlight Dances for months. Demir half-hoped they rioted. Unfortunately, like him, they were long used to the cruel, mercurial king.
When they were all assembled, Demir stood on the small dais against the wall, looking out over his concubines, chest aching with the recent loss of Nur and the dread of which one the king would kill next. They were beautiful, all of them: hair well-tended, draped in jewels and delicate fabrics.
Each one snatched from his life because the king took a fancy and wanted another flower for his garden. Too many killed because they angered the king.
"His Majesty has sent me a note ordering that instead of the dance, we are to prepare a duel. Dancers, be certain you are ready anyway. I have no doubt he will change his mind again at the last moment. Duelists, practice the routines we used for the summer festivities, add whatever variations you are comfortable with. Where are my singers?"
"Here, Majesty," called a familiar voice from the back, belonging to a tall, beautiful woman with hair that nearly reached the floor, swayed heavily with jeweled beads and tiny bells at the end.
Normally it would be improper in the extreme for a woman concubine to mingle with the men, but since the death of the queen all the women had been dismissed save for twenty whom the king ordered retained because he favored their singing. So they remained sequestered in the few rooms remaining for the women; the rest of their space had been taken over by the ever-increasing number of men that the king snatched up like a child grabbing candy from a tray.
And no one could do anything because there was no heir. The crown prince had gone to war, against all laws, five years ago and had not been heard from in nearly four. Prince Altan had been exiled by the king eight years ago, and his daughter, Zehra, had birthed a child out of wedlock and fled the country to avoid execution.
Demir still remembered how she had trembled in his arms before boarding the ship he'd bribed to take her away. He prayed every day that she was safe wherever she had chosen to make her new home.
If only Ihsan or Altan would return; either of them had to be better than King Kagan. The chances were slim, however: Altan had been exiled at age fifteen. If alive, he would twenty-three. Crown Prince Ihsan would be only recently turned twenty-six.
Demir dismissed the concubines to begin their practice and slipped away again—and wanted to quit the whole miserable, wretched day when he saw Steward Bulut waiting for him in the entrance hall. His garish robes looked unseemly even against the myriad colors of the tiles that made up the intricate patterns on the floors and walls and lounging nooks of the harem entrance hall.
The robes were bright red, drew out the yellow in his skin in a way that made it look unhealthy. They were heavily embroidered in gold and green and orange, the wide cuffs of his outer robe decorated with beadwork and gold tassels. He wore enough rings on his fingers to rival the concubines.
And he was looking at Demir the same way he always did: like he was only waiting for the day he could convince the king to put Demir in his bed. "Good day, Steward. How can I help you?"
"I came to be certain you were aware of his Majesty's desired changes for the banquet tonight?
"Yes, Steward," Demir replied. "The duelists are preparing now, and the rest have been ready all along. We are prepared for tonight."
Bulut nodded. "Good. Walk with me, I want to speak with you about another matter."
"As you wish, Steward." Demir shook out the heavy skirt tied around his waist, checking for the knives secreted within its folds. He then followed Bulut out of the relative safety of the harem hall, strolling with through the rest of the palace.