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Prince Mustapha’s Palace didn’t look like much from the street, merely a large building with high plastered walls pierced only by the gate and a few high windows protected by fretwork lattice. The building was more recently whitewashed than its neighbors and the wooden trim painted brilliant cobalt, but there was nothing to hint it held a modern Seraglio.

A real harem, something that has fascinated the western imagination since the Age of Discovery; stocked with women, servants, and artwork all dedicated to the pleasure of a single powerful man. I had been sent to penetrate this mystery.

The servant who answered the door spoke no English, bowing me through into a reception area. After the blazing sun of the street it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim light and rich colors and patterns. I didn’t see the tall man waiting there until he spoke.

“May I assist you, madam?” His voice was deep, his accent clipped and British. I knew that the prince was Oxford educated, but in spite of a deep tan this man had fair hair and light eyes. He wore the long, loose kurta and shalwar of the area with an air, making the pajama-like garments seem elegant. He moved like a dancer.

“I hope so,” I said. “My name is Russet Thompson. I have an appointment with Sir Adrian Calendar on behalf of Ultima Resorts.”

“I’m Adrian Calendar, Prince Mustapha’s personal secretary,” he said, bowing over my hand. “Pardon my surprise. I must have misread Darius’ note. I was expecting ‘Russell’ Thompson.”

“I’m sorry for any confusion, Sir Adrian.”

“Just Adrian, please,” he said. “Won’t you have a seat?” The room was set up as a divan, long benches strewn with gorgeous carpets and elegant cushions around three sides. The center held low brass tables several hookahs, the serpentine water pipes of the eastern world. Adrian clapped his hands and ordered the servant to bring tea.

“So Darius sent a woman to tour the harem?” he continued. “How very piquant and how very like him. It will be my pleasure to show you the amenities, Miss Thompson. “

“Russet.” I’d wondered a little about that myself. The East is still very definitely a man’s world, even in the more cosmopolitan cities. And since Prince Mustapha maintained a seraglio, I was assuming that he held old fashioned views in spite of his rumored youth.

“Charmed. Tell me, have worked for Darius long?”

“About five years.” The servant brought a brass pot and tiny matching cups, pouring steaming mint tea. We sipped.

“And are you a dominatrix?” Adrian asked. I nearly choked.

“We call them ‘facilitators,'” I corrected. “No, I’m Darius’ chief designer and decorator. I handle the ‘concept’ areas of the resort. Darius is considering a harem theme for the new pavilion at Ultima.”

“Still, rather an unusual job for a young lady.” His smile was bland.

“It’s a challenging job and a profitable one,” I said a little sharply. “Ultima Resort is in the business of fulfilling people’s fantasies in elegant surroundings. And some people might think that being Harem Master is an unusual job, as well. Isn’t that post usually held by a eunuch?”

“Happily for me, the qualifications have changed a bit in modern times,” Adrian replied, setting his cup down. “But you must be impatient to see the Seraglio. Shall we?”

I got to my feet and followed him down a short hall which terminated in a tall, wrought iron gate. “Let’s cut across the harem garden, it’s by far the shortest route.”

Adrian unlocked it and we stepped out into a large center courtyard. The sun was filtered through a lattice of flowing vines around the outer walkways, but the center lay in full sun and was a riot of tropical blossoms and tinkling fountains. The courtyard was spacious enough to host an ornamental pond with a bridge and an island crowned by a fanciful fretwork gazebo. In a bright corner, a young woman sunned herself in the nude, oblivious to the fact that a gardener was misting water over the cobbles a few yards away.

In spite of my crack about eunuchs—which I’d regretted as soon as I’d made it—I was surprised to see an attractive young man near the Prince’s concubines, and Adrian interpreted my expression correctly.

“No, he’s not actually a eunuch, either, my dear,” he said, a slight note of malice in his voice. “The attendants are mostly gay and also accept stringent conditions of employment—ones that seem to accord well with their tastes.” Raising his voice, he called, “Hassan?”

Hassan laid down his hose and walked over. The boy was slender, dark and doe-eyed, clad only in sandals and baggy white trousers that rode low over lean hips. Adrian spoke again and the boy dropped his drawers far enough for me to see a male chastity belt. A metal cage lined with sharp looking teeth confined his penis. It fit loosely around his flaccid member, but an erection would make it quite uncomfortable.

Adrian thanked the boy, who smiled shyly, pulled up his trousers, and went back beşiktaş escort to sprinkling the paving. The sunbathing girl never even looked up.

“In case you were wondering, the belt is open in the back,” Adrian said, pulling my attention back. ‘But I believe it makes urination interesting.”

“I can see that it would,” I murmured, hoping I wasn’t blushing. I’d seen such equipment at the resort, of course. I’ve even designed some, but I’ve never encountered it in real life, particularly as displayed by a supercilious Brit. Damn Darius, anyway, for getting me into this! And, naturally, I couldn’t help wondering if the same conditions applied to Adrian…

My guide led the way around part of the courtyard and in through a larger gate, one which stood open. Inside was a vast sitting room furnished in the eastern style with large cushions of velvet and richly patterned silk strewn across thick carpet. The carpets were lustrous silk, laid over each other haphazardly and many layers deep in places. Scattered among the cushions were various amusements; books, cards, items of clothing and even jewelry.

I glanced down at an open book. It contained a thin trickle of elegant Arabic script and colored engravings of the sort coyly called ‘curious’ in rare book catalogs. I couldn’t read it, but needed no translation. Very elegant and possibly a genuine antique, the visible plate showed a ménage a trois between two Hindu gentlemen of the Mogul period and a lady wearing jewels and little else.

Adrian motioned me on and I followed, or tried to. I’d dressed modestly—long sleeves and long skirt—as befit a visitor to a largely Muslim country, but had foolishly worn high strappy sandals, thinking they’d be cool. The uneven layer of carpets caught the narrow heel of my sandal and I nearly turned an ankle.

“Perhaps you’d better dispense with your shoes, delightful as they are,” Adrian suggested. “The floors are quite clean and we rarely wear anything but slippers indoors.”

It seemed a somewhat improper suggestion, though highly practical. And it was quite true that Adrian wore soft leather slippers of the Persian style. I hesitated, and then under his watchful gaze, I toed my shoes off.

“Allow me,” he murmured gallantly, scooping up my shoes. He continued the tour with my spike-heeled sandals dangling negligently. Though still covered from neck to ankles, I felt oddly exposed as I stepped from the silky rugs onto the cool terrazzo in my bare feet.

One long wall was hung with gauzy curtains. Adrian drew one back, revealing a large alcove containing an enormous feather bed, covered and draped in satins and fine linen. Numerous pillows were heaped at the head of the bed, and a carved ivory dildo lay abandoned amidst the tangled silks. It was double-ended and quite large. I stared.

“So sorry. His Highness is quite virile, but the girls do amuse themselves sometimes,” Adrian said, very close to my ear. “And each other, of course.”

I flinched, but he’d already stepped away and was continuing the tour. “Each girl has her own private chamber, and seven of the chambers are occupied at present. The Prince has a suite of rooms here in the seraglio, as well as his State Apartments in the Palace. Sorry it’s so dim, but his Highness likes the authentic touch. There are electric lights for the cleaning staff, but for the most part the harem is lit with candles and torches.”

I’d noticed the candles, of course. Huge twisted freestanding candleholders almost as tall as I, as well as wall brackets holding pure wax candles as thick as my calf. The wrought iron was in strong contrast to the polished marble and luxurious textiles. There were also oil lamps, small ones on the inlaid tables that looked for all the world like Aladdin’s lamp and large multi-wicked lamps that swung from long ceiling chains.

“Private rooms, but not private baths?” I asked lightly. Private rooms only if you considered a silk curtain privacy, I thought. Still, it would make a wonderful design for an orgy room—a large area for the uninhibited and alcoves for the shy. Lit from within, the alcoves would show moving shadows of the lovers inside while doing nothing to muffle their cries. Lovely. Darius would adore it.

“No private baths in the harem, but the hammam is one of our jewels. We’re quite proud of it,” Adrian said. “The actual, er, facilities are quite basic, but the baths are very special. Are you familiar with eastern plumbing, or lack thereof, Russet?”

“Do you mean squat toilets?” I asked, trying for a blasé tone. “I’m staying in a western hotel, thank goodness, but this isn’t my first trip to the Orient.” Squat toilets can be quite elegant, but in their simplest form are merely a hole in the floor.

“Very good for the alimentary canal, they tell me,” Adrian said. “Lines everything up for proper elimination. Good, then you won’t be offended if we take a short-cut through the beşyol escort loo.”

“I’m sure Darius expects me to see as much as the Prince is willing to allow,” I said firmly.

“Excellent.” He led me through a curtained doorway into a long room containing both a row of the standard eastern toilets—though these holes were cut into veined black marble and had floor mounted flush pedals—as well as some very western bidets and a long mirrored vanity. There was also a large stall shower fitted with jets from every conceivable angle and another feature which I assumed was also a shower.

This was a large shallow bowel let into the floor near one wall. Not deep enough even for a sitz bath, it had an open drain in the center and a sort of fountain to one side. The fountain was a black marble post with a small spigot that poured a narrow jet of water with just enough force to make it arc into the bowl. The gentle splashing would certainly encourage a shy bladder, I thought.

And I’d need the encouragement, though this communal arrangement didn’t seem to discourage Asian as much as it did Americans. Still, this design had possibilities for the voyeur and exhibitionist contingents. And overall, it was striking. The wall directly behind the toilets held a mosaic of scantily clad dancing girls serving at a banquet that made my fingers itch for a camera.

“Did Darius discuss photography with His Highness? I can make sketches, of course, but I’d love to take some photos as well.”

“I don’t know, but I’m certain we can work something out.”

We passed through another curtained doorway at the far end of the room into a space that literally took my breath away. A high domed ceiling pierced at the top with elegant arabesques let shafts of light down to glitter on the water of an enormous pool. It was tiled in deep azure with lines of intricate pattern around the rim and in the center of the rectangular shape. Little wisps of vapor rose from the surface.

“Do you have the full set of pools?’ I asked, already making notes. A room like this would cost the earth, but it would be more than worth it.

“Yes, just like the great hammams and the jolly old Romans,” Adrian said. “The round pool at the far end is the caldarium, the hot bath. This is the tepidarium, the warm bath, and the last one is the frigidarium, the cold plunge. We have a full steam bath as well.”

Benches for lounging and massage ringed the pools, and the air was redolent of scented oil; sandalwood, jasmine, and musk. A large brass tripod held a brazier filled with coals and a thick plume of incense rose to swirl though the shafts of light. A gentle lapping sound from water seemed only a part of the scene until I realized that two young women occupied the pool. I’d been so taken by the architecture that I’d completely overlooked the occupants.

One was Middle Eastern, with long black hair that swirled around in the water like a dark cloud. Latte colored skin and dark slanted eyes made a lovely contrast to the sparkling water around her. The other was much darker—African, I thought—though Egypt has many citizens of African descent. Her tight curls were cut very close to her scalp, admirably setting off a long slender neck and delicate bone structure. Both swam to the side of pool and stared up at us, breasts buoyant in the water.

“Allow me to introduce Akee and Atla, two of the ladies of the harem,” Adrian said, giving a slight bow toward the duo in the pool.

I couldn’t very well shake hands so I settled for a cordial nod. “How do you do?”

The Egyptian-looking woman murmured something and swam languidly away. The black woman looked me up and down and addressed a sly comment to Adrian in what sounded like a dialect of French.

“Ah, ah!” Adrian chided. “Speak English and watch your mouth, Akee. You don’t know who may be listening. This lady is a guest of your master. Apologize.”

Akee pouted a full lower lip. “Sorree, Mem.”

Apparently that wasn’t enough for Adrian. He spoke to her sharply and she hesitated then held up her hands, wrists crossed. Adrian bent and grasped them, pulling her from the water in one easy movement. He must be much stronger than he looks, I thought.

The crossed wrists turned her as she came up and she ended sitting on the lip of the pool. From there she rose to her feet, revealing herself to be quite tall, several inches taller than I. She bowed to me and extended a wet, pink-palmed hand.

“Pardonne-moi, sil vous plais,” she said, eyes downcast.

At a loss, I took her hand and said, “Of course.”

She bowed again and stalked away like a cheetah. Though slim almost to the point of thinness, she had a lovely body. Her breasts were small but high and almost impossibly pointed, and she had the high round, rump of an athlete. Drops of water glistened on her dusky skin.

“What was that about?” I asked, surreptitiously wiping a wet hand on beykent escort my skirt.

“Insolence, my dear, for which I apologize,” Adrian said ruefully. “She asked if you were a new amah—a charwoman.”

I blushed, conscious of my dowdy clothing. But while this city was not one of those where a woman in western dress might expect to get stoned, or even accosted, Darius had been specific about maintaining a low profile on the streets. Still, I felt at a disadvantage in such elegant surroundings, though I’d yet to encounter a woman wearing any clothing at all.

Adrian smiled. “Ignore her. Akee is His Highness’ current favorite. I’m afraid her status is inclined to make her a bit cheeky at times. I reminded her that her bum cheeks can be made to answer for her cattiness.”

“Corporal punishment?”

“But of course. Weren’t you aware that His Highness was one of the Resort’s patrons? He has a number of interests in common with Darius. But harem discipline isn’t strictly my bailiwick. I’m only a sort of uber-supervisor. Our Harem Mistress is Miryam. You’ll want to meet her, of course?”

“Of course,” I replied through suddenly dry lips. Ultima Resort caters to everything from genial wife-swapping to outright orgies, but there’s no denying that Darius’ personal tastes run to bondage and dominance. A lot of serious money comes from that source, as well. Suddenly this didn’t seem as harmless as my upcoming tour of Gion, the geisha district. I suspected this assignment was designed, at least in part, to make me uncomfortable. A sly dig at my reputation as office “Ice Maiden.’ I’d be damned if squeamishness would stop me. Besides the money riding on it, I didn’t want to give he bastards the satisfaction—either of them.

“Lead on, McDuff,” I said.

“And damned be he who first says, ‘Hold, enough!'” Adrian agreed. We circled the warm pool and stopped before the first real door I’d seen since entering the harem proper. Quite door, too—made of stout wooden planks bound with heavy hinges and boasting a massive lock, the sort that takes a six inch key. Adrian didn’t have anything of that sort on his person, but the door wasn’t locked. He hesitated, door partly open, blocking my view.

“Oh hullo, Miryam!” he said. “Are we interrupting?”

I couldn’t hear the reply, but Adrian turned back to me. “A little matter of routine harem discipline. Nothing too serious, but it might be instructive. Nothing like the opportunity to see the Playroom in use, is there?”

With that, he opened the door wide and made a mocking bow, gesturing ‘after you.’

I stepped through cautiously and found myself in a more intimate space than the halls we’d inspected, but still on a fairly grand scale. Unlike the public spaces, the walls were rough white plaster, and enough candles and torches burned to illuminate it thoroughly. There were racks and rings and whips on the walls, but this time the occupants rather than the room commanded my whole attention.

Directly in my line of sight, a standing woman was bent over from the waist, her arms held by two attendants garbed like the gardener I’d encountered. Her feet were flat on the floor and her buttocks already bore several welts.

I couldn’t see the victim’s face but the woman holding the quirt was tall with a mass of dark curling hair and the profile of a hawk. Her skin was dark but her eyes were a strong light grey bracketed by fine lines, though she couldn’t have been older than thirty. She wore ballooning harem pants of a fabric neither opaque nor sheer, but just gauzy enough to show glimpses of muscular leg. Her breasts were concealed by a short vest secured by about three inches of chains. The embroidered vest was so short that when she took a deep breath, it lifted enough to reveal the lower curves of her bosom. She looked at me from beneath dark, level brows before addressing Sir Adrian.

Adrian responded in a flow of sonorous Arabic during which I recognized my name and she replied. She gave me a severe smile and a brief bow, after which she delivered a final swat to her subject. The girl cried out and the attendants released her arms, allowing her to straighten and rub her bottom with both hands. One of the men immediately forced her to her knees.

“I’ve already introduced you to Miryam. She’s a Tekke, one of the nomadic tribes of the Russian steppes. She was originally one of the girls, but she took to harem life and stayed on as a member of the staff. She understands some English, though she’s shy about using it. We’re a polyglot lot here—most of the staff and girls speak French or English as well as a little Arabic,” Adrian explained. “Do you speak French?”

“A little,” I replied. The girl kneeling on the floor let loose a burst of gutter French, of which I understood less than one word in ten. Quick as a snake, Miryam flicked her across the face with her quirt.

“Schoolgirl French, I’m afraid,” I qualified, trying not to wince.

“Just as well, under the circumstance,” Adrian said. “The maiden with the nasty mouth is Solange.”

Solange clutched her face and glared. She was of a type I would call quintessentially French: streaky medium blonde hair over dark brows and a pouting mouth somewhere between crude and sexy. She was chunky but not fat; close coupled, with generous breasts and solid hips.

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