Sweet Kiss -Part 2-
A slow hour passed in which Ishaq could cry no more and exhaustion meant his shaking had ceased. Now he sat in one corner of the fire lit room, hugging his knees to his chest. As he looked into the flames, the heat warming his tired body, his mind wandered to the stories his mother had told him, now understanding the fear that had lingered in her eyes when she had told them.
“I would go there!” Ishaq had exclaimed proudly, his child-self having more courage than sense.
“No you wouldn’t.” His cousin had taunted. Ishaq was about to answer back when his mother stopped them both.
“Neither of you will ever go there, and you should be thankful for it.” His mother had said sternly. She put down the bundle of clothing she’d been carrying that had been destined for the wash and knelt down next to them on the floor. “That place is cursed.” She’d almost hissed the words.
“Why?” Ishaq had asked with a small frown. His mother had smiled at him sweetly and ran her soft fingers through his hair.
“Long ago, the land that borders our own suffered from a terrible drought. Disease and famine spread over their villages like an invisible army they could not fight.” His mother began and both he and his cousin sat cross legged and eager before her as she continued. “One day a woman came and promised to end their torment. But, as with all bargains with the devil, there was a price to pay. The villagers accepted blindly-”
“They were fools!” His cousin said to which he gained a frown from his aunt.
“They were desperate, they no longer wished to see their children and families suffer.” Her face softened again. “But it was indeed foolish. The woman did as promised and once again made the land fertile and crops flourished. Disease became nothing but a fable to them as she cured them all. For a while she was praised, even revered. She was known as the Empress.”
“The Empress…” Ishaq repeated in a whisper having heard this title said many times in the village with tones of fear and sadness.
“It was not long before the villagers had to pay the price for their boons. She enslaved many of their people, forcing them to build her a palace of such magnitude it would rival the heavens. When it was complete she demanded a grown son from each family to fill her harem.” He saw his mother swallow hard and force herself to continue. “The people did not comply and she sent her guards to force them to obey. Eventually the sons were taken and never seen again, though it is said that those sons from a hundred years past still decorate her harem.”
“Why did she want them?” He asked with childish innocence.
His mother hesitated seeming unwilling to answer. “She wants their blood, their very souls. It is how she lives and how she has lived for so long as she still rules that land even today.”
“Is it true that the men are still taken from that land?” His cousin asked in excited horror.
“This is no trivial matter!” She scolded though from obvious fear rather than anger. “Every year the villages are to offer one son after his twenty-first birthday, only the most handsome and strong will satisfy her.” This was said with disdain, as though some foul taste was brought on by the statement. “This is why we never cross the border, why there is no trade with that land. And you should be eternally grateful you shall never suffer their fate and meet that Demon-Empress.”
A hollow smile creased Ishaq’s lips. Was he considered handsome enough to please this, ‘Demon-Empress‘? What creature must she be to demand such a sacrifice? As he made to stand he felt the object that the son had pushed into his belt. Reaching behind him he pulled it out and held it towards the light. His eyes widened to see a white ash, wooden stake in his grasp. There were tales that the Empress could be killed by driving a stake through her heart, but many doubted if there was even a heart to pierce. He didn’t have long to let his mind linger on it as the door opened followed by a group of girls all holding a small package in their arms. Quickly he let the stake drop and pushed it into the shadow with his foot.
The packages’ uses became obvious as the girls began to bathe and clean him. After soaking in the warm water he was dried off in towels so thick they felt like feathers against his skin. When dry one of the girls walked to the packages and pulled out an engraved jar. She lifted the lid and dipped her fingers inside and when she pulled them out they glittered and gleamed gold. He had heard of powered gold dust being used to highlight the skin but never seen it. The girls set to work covering his dark skin in the gold and when they were through he felt like one of the gold statues at the temple and he realised if he remained naked he still would have been wearing the most expensive adornment in his life.
But he was clothed, if only a little. A clean, white linen wrap was tied around his waist, a sash of red velvet knotted around it to hold it up. Next, one of the girls moved towards him and placed a collar of gold around his shoulders. It was heavy and cold, making him shiver. As one final flourish the girls doused him in a heavy scent of musk and vanilla before making their exit. When he was alone he wished he could have enjoyed the feeling of the richness of the experience. To be bathed and dressed and scented was only enjoyed by the upper classes of the palaces far from his reach. But it was impossible to think of the luxury when he knew it could not be long now.
In haste he rushed to the corner where he had pushed the stake and retrieved it, stuffing it into his belt so as it was hidden. Just as he finished the door swung open and one of the soul-less men gestured for him to follow. A shudder ran down Ishaq’s spine and it took all his strength to get his feet to move.
Ishaq had been blindfolded and then led down a series of long corridors, his only lead being the hand of the man from the harem on his shoulder. Finally they came to a stop and the guiding had slid from his shoulder leaving him alone.
For a long time Ishaq just stood still, unsure of what to do. Eventually he reached behind him and undid the blindfold letting it fall to the ground. As soon as he could see again it was as though all his senses were also unmasked. The heavy fragrance of incense wafted over him and he almost expected the room to be crammed full with spice-scented lilies with how strong it was. Two pillars dominated the room, their surfaces’ carved with designs of hieroglyphs Ishaq had never seen before. Their was no sound in the room, in fact it was beyond silent, as though every sound had been sucked out leaving nothing but a heavy weight in his ears.
Ishaq’s full view of the room had been blocked by one of the stone pillars that had reached right to the top of the high ceiling above. He stepped out around to look to the middle of the room and froze.
Ishaq had been prepared to face a monster not the beauty that was before him. The Empress was led upon a mass of silk and velvet cushions. Incense and candles were lit either side of her, the smoke was rising into the air and each stream of mist swirled until it met in the air above her as though framing her like a living picture.
The woman rose onto her elbows to look at Ishaq. Her eyes were the striking blue of the sea not the red he had imagined. Her hair was as black as raven’s feathers, her skin as pale as porcelain. Long legs accentuated her hour glass figure that was only hinted at beneath her shimmering, purple silk dress.
“Come closer.” She purred, and Ishaq could not help but look to her small, crimson red lips as she spoke. He did as commanded almost without realising until he was stood before the mountain of pillows. With the ease of a cat she crawled down until she knelt on the cushions and was eye level with him. Her breath was colder than a winter storm and Ishaq was suddenly reminded who she was. Beneath her tempting beauty and inviting aura lay a demon after his very soul.
As the Empress gave him an inspecting gaze, Ishaq let his fingers curl around the stake in his belt. He swallowed hard as her hands snaked over his shoulders and lingered upon his jaw as though cradling his face to kiss it. She pulled away and Ishaq felt almost disappointment but ignored the feeling.
“Very acceptable.” She spoke finally after her evaluation. Then she turned away. Now was his chance! Gripping the stake he pulled it from its hiding place and stabbed it down towards her. The Empress twisted around on the cushions her piercing gaze meeting his.
His hand stopped.
The tip of the sharp stake hovered above her chest. She didn’t look at the weapon and only brushed her fingers against his cheek.
“Do you wish to kill me, my sweet?” She breathed and an almost mocking smile made her eyes glimmer. “Then do as you wish.” She brushed the curls of hair that had swirled against her collar bone to behind her shoulder revealing the open, vulnerable china-like skin of her chest.
Ishaq kept his eyes on hers, unable to tear them away. Her radiance, her beauty, her being enveloped him and he felt almost a sense of love come from her. There was a small thought in the back of his mind that warned him that this temptation was a trap. The thought was quickly crushed as her hands curled over his shoulders to bring him closer.
The stake rolled from his grasp, hitting the floor noiselessly and lying useless now far from his reach. The Empress twisted Ishaq so as he led amongst the soft, hugging feeling of the cushions. All he wanted in that moment was to see her smile, to know that her happiness was of his doing. He led silently and contentedly as she kissed his lips, her own touch like the fluttering of a moth’s wings. The kisses trailed until finally her lips lingered longingly against his throat.
Her sweet kiss was as sharp as needles, hot as molten gold but as pure as ecstasy.