The sounds of lamentation increased briefly, then died away. Orkhan did not move, but sat in pitch darkness. Where, after all, should he go? Passionate, brightly-coloured images chased one another about in his head — he had witnessed so many unfamiliar sights, so many curious tableaux, all in the matter of a few hours. Some of the things he had seen he did not even have a name for. Other things were as yet only names. The Rapture was still only a name. At least he had saved himself from that. Eventually his eyelids fluttered and drooped and he slumped back onto the stone floor and slept where he had been sitting. Even while he slept, the viper in his mouth flicked restlessly from side to side.
He was woken by the sounds of rustling, scratching and muttering. He opened his eyes and beheld the daylight streaming in from a lantern in the roof of the pit. He looked into the cage expecting to see Mihrimah, but there, where Mihrimah had stood on the previous evening, was an old woman in a coarse, brown robe. The woman’s head was sunk so low that it hardly rose above her shoulders. On reflection, it was more like a skull than a head, for the thin hair did not cover it, skin stretched over angular bones and the eyes were set deep within the bones. A thin wispy beard sprouted from the woman’s jaw, the jut of which was accentuated by her toothlessness. Orkhan toyed with the notion that he was indeed gazing at Mihrimah, that he had just been asleep for seventy years and that it was to this that the discipline of the Dolorous Gaze had brought him. The woman looked down on him briefly before resuming her work, scattering straw over the floor of the cage.
Then, when she had finished this task, she shuffled out through the door at the back of the cage. There were muffled shouts. Then the door opened again and a panther padded in. The panther was followed by a muscular girl with close-cropped red hair. She was dressed in black leather — skirt, laced bodice and gloves. Her feet were bare and she carried a whip. She did not notice Orkhan, for all her attention was on the panther, which she baited with her whip, lightly flicking at the creature’s nose and muzzle. The panther, like a kitten confronted with a ball of string, snarled, lashed its tail and sought to catch at the thong with its talons. At last the girl tired of this game and cast the whip away. The panther leapt towards her and together they rolled over the straw. Orkhan cried out, but he was ignored, as the girl and the panther tumbled over one another. She was momentarily astride the supple, rippling, velvety back of the beast, before he slipped out from under her and in a moment she was lying under him. Her skirt had ridden up and she was wearing nothing underneath. The creature stood over her, dripping saliva on to her body, seeming to devour her with his stony green eyes, before inclining his head to lash her face with his rough tongue. She reached up to clasp his neck and together they rolled over once more. The panther began to purr as she stroked his stomach.
Suddenly she cried out. She had just noticed that her game with the beast was being observed by Orkhan. She leapt up, as if embarrassed to be discovered at play. She strode over to the bars of the cage, with the panther slinking close beside her. Orkhan, who remained sitting, caught a blast of the creature’s breath, which was both sweet and foul.
‘Who are you?’ said the girl, looking down on Orkhan.
‘My name is Orkhan. I am your Sultan’.
The girl seemed neither surprised nor impressed.
‘I am Roxelana,’ she said, as she fumbled in her bodice, before producing a key at the end of a chain. ‘Roxelana means “the Russian”.’ And she gave the panther a final stroke before picking up her whip, unlocking the cage door and joining Orkhan on the other side. The trapped and abandoned panther gazed balefully up at Orkhan.
‘I call him Babur,’ said Roxelana. She stood close beside Orkhan and gazed down on her former playmate. Her face was smudged and there was a scratch of blood on her shoulders. She smelled of sweat and the panther. Her voice was husky as she had not yet recovered from her exertions and her breasts rose and fell as she struggled to regain her breath. Those breasts seemed to Orkhan to more closely resemble extra muscles than any conventional feature of a woman’s body. Roxelana was, like her panther, a mass of sinew and muscle.
‘Are you one of the concubines of the Harem?’ he asked doubtfully.
She let out a laugh that was half delighted, half scornful,
‘Ha! I could not bear to have anything to do with the Harem women. No, I am one of the animal girls who work in the Imperial Zoo. I would much rather serve animals than the ninnies of the Harem.’
‘There is an Imperial Zoo? Where is it?’
She gave him a curious look,
‘It is here. You are in it. Why else should you be talking to an animal girl and standing in front of a cage containing a panther? This is Babur’s cage.’ And she pointed to a brass plaque attached to the bars at the top of the cage. The inscription in swirls of decorative calligraphy announced that THIS IS THE PANTHER, MARVELLOUS IN HIS BEAUTY, WHOSE BREATH IS SWEET AS THE SPICES OF JAVA.
‘But last night there was no panther,’ said Orkhan who was wondering if he was going mad. ‘Last night I saw a woman who said she was called Mihrimah stand behind those bars and start to undress herself in front of me.’
‘Ah! So it was Mihrimah? That girl thinks that the sun shines out of her arse, that moonlight issues from her cunt and she believes that she is the mother of cosmic mysteries, that her body is an orchard, a sea, a desert, a fountain, a mirror, a mystic robe and, at the end of it all, a bloody Prayer-Cushion for man to kneel on as he prays before the Holy of Holies. She’s mad, quite mad… She also thinks that she can walk into the Zoo and do what she likes, take over its cages, turn out the animals, give orders to the staff. The insolence of those courtesans and dancing girls takes my breath away. The reality is that Mihrimah and the rest of the concubines are good for nothing, except fucking — and doing embroidery. But they lie about in the Harem and thoughts of sex rot away their soft insides and eat up their little brains. All that Prayer-Cushion rubbish that they preach… it’s only the product of not enough proper sex. Cooped up in their cramped dormitories, they pleasure one another and fantasise about men, but all they ever see is eunuchs.’ She paused to calm herself and get her breath back, before continuing, ‘But we are all prisoners here, women, eunuchs and animals. Of course, the main zoo is over at the Hippodrome. This is only a little zoo within the Harem for the pleasure of the Sultan’s concubines. We have wild boars, gazelles, porcupines, a buffalo, a small herd of giraffes… Two of the giraffes are homosexual and they use their necks to court one another.’
She placed her gloved hand in his. Her eyes sparkled.
‘Come and see the homosexual giraffes.’
She led him up out of the pit and down a roofed and cobbled street that twisted between cages and storerooms. They came to a low doorway over which was written, THESE ARE THE SULTAN’S HUNTERS WHO SIT ON THE GLOVES OF LADIES AND WAIT TO BRING DEATH FROM THE SKIES. Roxelana ducked in and Orkhan followed her through the imperial mews. Hawks in plumed leather helmets stirred restlessly on their perches. Roxelana explained that this was a short cut. Then they emerged out through another low door into the high-roofed and airy giraffe stable. HERE ARE THE HAPPY OFFSPRING OF THE MATING OF CAMELS AND LEOPARDS WHO ARE CALLED GIRAFFES
‘Everywhere in the Harem is so cramped,’ said Roxelana. ‘Apart from the hammam, I think this is the biggest building there is.’
A giraffe lazily sought to entwine his neck round that of his neighbour. Hands on hips, Roxelana stood gazing up at the animals in rapt delight. Orkhan followed her gaze. The creatures did not resemble the giraffes in the bestiary which he used to study in the Cage. They were strange, but then everything was so strange to him, and surely Roxelana was the strangest creature in her zoo. She slapped the flank of one of the languid giraffes, seeking to urge it on in its seduction, then turned to Orkhan and smiled. He was certain that he had never seen such strong white teeth or such brilliant eyes before. Suddenly he realised that he was desperate for her — desperate to feed off her energy and drink from her overflowing life.
‘Aren’t they wonderful?’ she said, pointing at the animals who had begun to nuzzle one another.
‘Never mind the giraffes,’ he said. ‘What about me?’
He yanked at her arm and pulled her down on to a heap of straw. She pulled up her skirt, ready for him.
‘Now, quickly. If you want me, it must be now, before the jinns come.’
Those were the last words that it was possible to make sense of, as she started to moan noisily. She gestured to him to make haste as he struggled out of his robe. Even in the dung-scented air of the giraffe stable, he could smell Roxelana. Her skin, caked as it was with dried sweat and saliva, stank. Also, it seemed that she had used rancid butter to give her helmet of red hair more of a sheen. The insides of her thighs were moist and smelt of cat. Like Anadil, she was clean-shaven between the legs. Driven by the cravings of the viper, he tried to thrust his head down there, but she was impatient.
‘Not like that. I want something bigger than your tongue inside me.’ She wrestled under him and pulled him up and grabbed at his cock. She reminded Orkhan of his brother princes with whom he used to wrestle. Powerfully aroused, he entered her masterfully. However, the sensation of mastery hardly lasted more than a moment, for she so fiercely bucked and thrashed under him. Her eyes rolled and her teeth were gritted. Finally, she made such a great heave that he was unable to stay inside her. He withdrew and lay beside her and waited for her frenzy to abate.
‘I am accursed!’ she wailed. ‘Forgive me, master, yet it is not my fault.’ Now she was weeping. ‘It is the fault of the jinns. Whenever I even think about sex, the jinns enter my body and possess it. It is the jinns who make me do such frightful things.’
She buried her head in the straw and continued to weep. Then, as her sobbing subsided, she raised her tear-stained face to Orkhan and said,
‘I need to be purified. You can purify me. You can whip the jinns out of me. Please, I need to have the jinns driven out of me. They cannot bear the pain, but I, Roxelana, can bear anything. If you flog me, O Sultan, I promise you that you will then be able to enjoy my body as is your right.’
Now she was in a new fever of impatience. She stepped out of her black skirt and with trembling hands set to unlacing her bodice. The bodice fell to the ground and, as she turned away from him, Orkhan saw that her broad shoulders were already covered with a light tracery of scars. Then she turned to him again and presented him with the whip.
‘Flog me now,’ she implored. ‘I am begging you for it. I need it.’ And she turned away and bent to present her back for chastisement.
Orkhan struck at her a couple of times, but she was not satisfied.
‘Harder. It must be harder. You have to draw my blood, for the jinns are in my blood. You have to let them out.’
Her broad bottom seemed made for whipping and he struck at it again and again. Ugly red weals began to break up its milky smoothness. For the first time since his release from the Cage, Orkhan felt himself to be truly a sultan and, as he continued to lash out at Roxelana, he began to fantasise about how he would deal with Anadil and the other ladies of the Harem. He worked a little way up her back before pausing for breath.
Then she said,
‘You must be able to do better than this. Harem girls have whipped me harder than you have. Come on, I really want to feel it — your touch of mastery.’
Her words had the effect she desired. Orkhan struck out at her in a frenzy. Now she was crying and calling out to him, but his rage was such that it was some time before he could hear that she was begging him to desist. He stopped and she turned to kneel in front of him and kiss the whip.
‘Thank you, master. Now you may do with me what you wish,’ and she lay back once more on the straw. This time it was different. The devils having departed, she docilely lay back and allowed herself to be penetrated. She embraced him tenderly as he moved inside her.
She sighed as he came within her,
‘Thank you master,’ she said again and kissed him hungrily. ‘It has always been hard for me, for the jinns that come into my body will not allow me to acknowledge the supremacy of a man. Now at last I am at peace.’
And Orkhan observed that her eyes were dulled, sated. Yet, it now occurred to him that, with her back such a bloody mess, she must have been moving on a bed of agony as she gave herself to him.
‘Did I hurt you?’ he asked foolishly.
‘Of course you did — a little, but women are used to pain. They are better capable of bearing it than men,’ and she smiled patronisingly at him.
‘I do not believe that. Everyone knows that men are stronger, tougher and better able to bear pain.’
‘With respect, O master, perhaps men think they know that, but I do not. Women are born equipped to face far more pain than men, for nature has prepared them in advance to suffer the travails of childbirth. And every month I experience such pain that you cannot imagine. Your whipping was a little nothing by comparison.’ The brightness was back in her eyes again and she looked at him mischievously. ‘You could never stand such a whipping as the one I received from your hands.’
‘You are being absurd, Roxelana. I should certainly be much better able to endure it than you were.’
‘Then let us try it, shall we?’
Orkhan hesitated. Why, after all, should he submit to being whipped by one of his animal girls?
Seeing him hesitate, she urged him on,
‘Come on my lord! It is only a game, like my game with the panther. Such sports make us feel more alive, for, though we may walk through life as if we walked in a dream, the flick of the whip can wake us up. Turn and turn about,’ she insisted. ‘You will enjoy it. Trust me.’ And she gave him a brilliant smile.
Tempted by the challenge, seduced by her smile, he agreed. Then she led him to a corner of the stables, and pointed to a pair of manacles which were attached by chains to the wall.
‘Put these on,’ she said.
Once again, he balked. Now she was angry and stamped her foot.
‘You have to wear these. Otherwise it is not fair. It will not be a real challenge, if you can cry off at any moment, or turn round and snatch the whip from me and start beating me again. You have to trust me. You have to trust me, as I trusted you. Believe me, you will find that half your delight comes from trusting the lady with the whip. Trust me, it will only be a gentle whipping — like a series of butterfly kisses on your body.’
Orkhan offered his wrists to the manacles.
‘We sometimes put an unruly monkey in these,’ she explained, as she snapped them shut.
‘Now its my turn!’ she cried and the whip sang in the air.
Orkhan was unable to stop his body wincing as the thong made its first incision in his flesh. She was more skilled with the whip than he had been and the blows fell fast and accurately.
He heard her cry out,
‘Oh my beloved, I swear to you that I am only marking your body because I desire it. My whip is making a map to guide my loving kisses.’
Then suddenly the blows increased yet further in ferocity and she seemed to be talking to herself in a foreign language, in which guttural words mingled with groans and hisses. It was not long before Orkhan, half swooning, slumped against the floor. Then she was upon him, pressing herself against his back and licking his blood.
‘You are mad,’ he groaned.
‘So I am,’ she replied. ‘My jinns have come back and they want your blood. Oh my beloved master, forgive me, but I cannot hold back from this.’ And she resumed kissing and licking at his wounds.
At last she raised her face from his body and gave a deep sigh. When she next spoke, her voice was calm and gentle,
‘Now the kiss of the whip has taught you a little about the strange delight of suffering. Even so, you still have no idea about the pain of being a woman. In order to really make love to a woman, you will have to learn what it feels like to be one and to be made love to as a woman.’ She ran a hand over his hair.
‘Don’t go away, will you?’
And she was gone, leaving Orkhan chained on the floor of the giraffe stable.
When she returned, she nudged him with her foot and used it to turn him as far over as his chains would allow. Looking up at Roxelana, he first noticed that her mouth was rimmed with blood. Then he saw a large, greased and gleaming red thing attached by an intricate array of straps to the lower part of her belly and he moaned in dread.
‘This dildo,’ she said, pointing to the thing ‘consists of a unicorn’s horn sheathed in red Cordovan leather. It is only used for the deflowering of virgins.’
Then she briefly caressed his mouth with her foot, before kicking and turning him again, so that he was lying face down on the straw. She prodded him again with her foot.
‘I want you kneeling.’
‘When I am free you will pay for this.’
But, she struck at him with the butt of the whip and he did as he was told.
‘How will I pay for it?’ Roxelana demanded sarcastically. ‘Have me flogged, will you?’
As she spoke, she knelt over his bottom and spat on her hands before using the spittle to moisten the passage of her instrument in advance. Then she mounted him and rammed the dildo in, or rather, she attempted to, but Orkhan was very tight.
So she began to whisper hotly in his ear, begging him to relax and calling him her ‘handsome darling’ and her ‘plaything’. But all the while she continued to thrust with the horn between her legs. It felt like a great fist which, in beating its way upwards, was seeking to cleave Orkhan from bottom to top. It was as if he was being impaled on the shaft of the animal girl. It was as if he was carrying the woman inside him. It was as if he was being possessed by a dark demon who would not be denied entrance.
There was a final shudder as she at last succeeded in driving the horn into him. Pleasure and pain, exquisitely compounded, surged within him, overwhelming his will, so that he suffered orgasm.
Roxelana stroked his head. He could feel her breasts pressing against his back. He was in agony, and yet he longed for nothing more than to be able to turn to embrace his violator.
‘Now, my Sultan, a door has been opened for the Holy Rapture,’ she whispered, and giving the dildo a final twist, she continued ‘It is possible that you are now ready to yield to the total extinction which is perfect love.’
She might have said more, but at that moment they heard the sound of women’s voices outside the stables. Roxelana thereupon swiftly unstrapped herself from the dildo’s harness and slipped away. Orkhan briefly fainted.
When he came to, he saw that Perizade was kneeling beside him and drawing gently on the harness of the dildo to extract it.
‘Yeeugh, it’s all bloody!’ she exclaimed ‘One of the animal girls has been sporting with you. Anadil is waiting outside, but she must not see you like this. Most of the concubines and their servants have been hunting for you. At first we feared that you might have tried to flee the Harem, but then we thought that you would not and could not leave the Harem, because you are already addicted to what is between our legs. Finally we realised that you must still be in the zoo and that one of the animal girls must have spirited you away for her pleasure.’
She rolled Orkhan over carefully. He tried to speak, but could not. He tried to stand, but slumped forward with his head on Perizade’s heavy breasts. She laid him back on the straw. Her heavy breasts swung low over his face.
‘You see, you cannot escape me. I am your destiny.’
‘Perizade, please help me,’ he gasped in his chains.
‘I think that I know what will revive you. Your viper must be thirsty, isn’t it?’ she asked solicitously, and, without waiting for an answer, she drew up her skirt and straddled him, lowering her plump fleshy thighs on to his face. Once more the thirsty viper slithered its way in to slake its thirst in the Tavern of the Perfume-Makers.
Then she rose from his face and cast about to find the key for the manacles and his robe. When Orkhan was dressed and on his feet, she took his hand.
‘We will not say exactly what happened — even to Anadil. It would never do for the imperial concubines to hear of this. But you need to be cleaned up. It is time for the hammam.’