I do apologize, Beloved Readers, for my long absence. I have had a medical issue that has required my attention. I'm recovered now, so I'll be back to writing this bit of steamy STEEM-ery, tee-hee! Also, I regret to say this is the only chapter so far that does not have a sex scene in it, but I'll make up for it in the next chapter.
Jewel wasn't sure where Jasmine was leading her until she found herself at the door of what appeared to be the fortress's kitchen. At first she thought, with a touch of despair, that her Master had grown bored with her and exiled her to domestic service, but after a moment's reflection it occurred to her that she had not eaten in the day and two nights since being captured, and that breakfast might not be a bad idea.
“There are strict rules for our diet in the harem,” Jasmine chirped in her mouse-like voice. “Vegetables only, no meat. This keeps us slender and supple.” Her eyes turned toward Jewel, and Jewel nodded her understanding. A girl dressed in a thin gray cotton frock that was infinitely more modest than the harem-silks sported by Arturis's concubines approached the girls silently, and Jasmine intoned quietly “morning allotment for two, please.”
The girl, who Jewel presumed was a scullery-maid, nodded her head quickly and disappeared into the kitchen. A moment later she and another liken-dressed girl appeared carrying trays, which they proffered, heads bowed deferentially, to Jasmine and Jewel. Taking her cue from Jasmine, Jewel accepted hers silently with a slight nod of the head and the two of them walked to a large stone table nearby. Unlike the tables in the warriors' dining hall, which Jewel had noted while following Scarlet through the fortress, there was no tablecloth, though Jewel noted with surprise that the bench was padded with thin silk cushions.
Apparently sensing Jewel's surprise at the luxury, Jasmine whispered “Men of the Gaels don't like for their women to have calluses on parts of us that They enjoy,” followed by a conspiratorial grin. Jewel returned the grin and looked at her tray. Following her gaze, Jasmine explained. “The cup is a special wine blend that prevents us from being kindled with child. If the Master ever honors you by allowing you to bear for Him, he'll allow you to take regular tea instead.”
As Jewel nodded, Jasmine took a jar from one of the trays and opened it, extracting a yellowish-green leaf of some kind of herb. The jar gave off a faintly pungent odor that made Jewel wrinkle her nose. “What's this?” she asked.
“This,” Jasmine added with a cheeky grin as she placed the leaf in Jewel's tea and withdrew another for herself, “helps your breasts grow so your figure is more pleasing for the Master.”
That explains a lot about every woman I've seen here, Jewel thought. “Is there a danger from taking too many?”
Jasmine shrugged. “No, but it tastes foul.”
Jewel nodded. “Give me another, please.”
Jasmine cocked an eyebrow. “That might make your tea rather unpleasant to drink, my sister.”
It was Jewel's turn to shrug, and she made sure her eyes were locked directly onto Jasmine's as she answered with both complete seriousness and (she hoped) complete casual-ness, “if it makes me more pleasing for the Master, that's all that matters.”
After a few seconds, Jasmine gave Jewel a smile which, like everything else about the girl, seemed entirely too sincere when compared to the other concubines Jewel had met. “Too true,” she answered, extracting another leaf for Jewel (and, Jewel noticed, another for her own tea). Lifting her cup with both hands, Jasmine raised the cup toward Jewel and slightly above her eyes. “May the Master be pleased,” she said reverently, head bowed. Jewel mimicked the gesture and the wish, and both women sipped the tea. Jewel forced herself not to gag at the bitter herbal taste, and the sound of Jasmine trying to do likewise brought her a peculiar reassurance.
When Jewel lowered her cup again, she found Jasmine already gazing at her with the same, all-too-trusting smile. “I like you, sister,” the smaller woman said plainly in her squeaky voice. Jewel smiled, unsure what else to say, and Jasmine went on. “I like you, because I can already tell you have something in common with me.”
“Oh,” Jewel asked.
Jasmine nodded. “Unlike some of the Master's women,” this was emphasized by a narrow-eyed glare in a direction that seemed meaningful to Jasmine but held no particular meaning for Jewel (though Jewel already had a fair idea who Jasmine might be speaking of), “you think only of Him and not of yourself, as we all should.” There was a pause before Jasmine regained her smile and she reached a hand out to touch Jewel's hand and squeezed it supportively. “And I'm thankful for that.”
Jewel returned the squeeze of the hand and smiled, but her eyes held a trace of disappointment as she was unable to stifle a sigh.
Apparently having expected a different reaction, Jasmine looked a bit hurt. “What's wrong, sister?”
Jewel considered for a moment how to answer, and then decided frankness was the best. “You love Him, don't you?” Jewel was surprised when Jasmine's face took on a contemplative look (she even had to force herself not to giggle at the way Jasmine even touched a finger to her chin the way a small child does when pondering a riddle). Finally, she answered with a faint shake of her head, “not in the same way you do. For me it's quite different.”
Am I that obvious? Jewel thought for a moment, but she dismissed the question. Jewel's eyebrows raised in an expression that beckoned Jasmine to go on.
“You... well, you love him as a woman loves a man who has ignited her passion,” Jasmine answered calmly. “For me though, it's more like a feeling of... of...” she bit her lip, seeming to search for the right word.
“Adoration,” Jewel offered, but Jasmine shook her head.
“More than that. It's more like... like...” Just as Jewel was about to drop the issue and change the subject, Jasmine added a final word in a hushed voice. “Worship.” In the silence, she gave Jewel the same timid smile Jewel had seen the previous day when Scarlet brought her to the seraglio. “I worship him” she reaffirmed a bit more assuredly.
Jewel blinked, surprised by the candor of such a statement. As she looked into the deep, shimmering dark orbs of Jasmine's wide eyes, a realization came to her. “He saved your life, didn't he?” she asked as she sipped more of her tea, forcing herself not to wince from the bitter taste of the herb.
Jasmine visibly shuddered. “What our Master saved me from, dear sister, was not death.” Jewel wasn't sure if the girl was going to go on at first, but after another long sip of her tea (and Jewel noted with admiration that she did not even react to the bitterness), she did. Her eyes, as she spoke, stayed downcast, seemingly focused inexorably on her tea.
“I was born in the Western steppes, where the Central Plains and the White Empire both claim lordship but lack the power to enforce it. At least, most of the time. But one day, when I was ten, a band of border guards from the White Empire rode south, into my People's camp. They slaughtered most of the clan and carried me away as a gift for their Emperor. The Emperor, though, decided I was too young for him. So, he gave me as a gift to his child.”
Jewel nodded. “So when you were ten, you became a concubine of the White Empire's prince?”
“No,” Jasmine said, taking another long sip. After she finally swallowed, she said in an embarassed voice, “not their prince. Their princess.”
It took Jewel a moment to catch on. “The... the princess?”
“The White Emperor's daughter, Natasha, was in her years of first bloom,” Jasmine affirmed, “and she dreamed of love not with men, but with women.”
Unsure of what to say, Jewel took another sip of her tea as Jasmine went on.
“And Natasha was cruel as well, sister. She took delight in my suffering. And as a woman, she knew how to make me suffer in ways most Men could not... It went on this way for more than seven years.” As she continued, Jasmine's eyes took on a trace of their more familiar shine. “And then one day, the Master and His men rode into the capitol city.” Jewel's eyes widened. Master raided the capitol city of the White Empire?! “But... but that's got to be thousands of li-”
“Twelve thousand, two-hundred sixty-six, if you still use the same li as the last emperor did,” Jasmine interrupted. “And more fortified than any city in the world. But the Prince of the Gaels pierced the walls like they were paper. To shorten the story, he stormed the Red Palace, killed more than half of the guards, beheaded the White Emperor, and took His pick from among the women of the palace.” She sighed wistfully before going on. “And gods be praised, I was one of the ones He took.” Her eyes betrayed a flicker of disappointment as she added “well, depending how you define 'take,' that is.”
She's going to think I'm quite slow if I keep asking what she means, Jewel thought, but her curiosity was too great. “What do you mean by that?”
Jasmine's answer was delivered with a casual shrug. “Our Master has never taken my maidenhood away.”
Jewel gasped, causing her to choke on a too-large sip of her tea. “Never?” She finally asked in between gasping, coughing breaths.
The incredulous look Jasmine gave was as close to insulting as Jewel could imagine. “Look at me, sister,” she said a bit crossly.
“You seem lovely enough,” Jewel tried to reassure her. “And the Master obviously favors you, judging from...” her voice trailed off as she realized Jasmine was chuckling.
“Yes, the Master favors me,” Jasmine admitted. “More than many of His concubines, in some ways. But look at me. I'm tiny. My head is the height of His lowest ribs. If our Master opened my petals, He would probably hurt me, badly. He knows this, and though it would be His right to enjoy a captive girl in any way He chooses, He doesn't find pleasure in causing harm to me...
...Which is yet another reason I'm grateful to Him.”
Jewel shook her head slowly. “You must have longed for Him, badly.”
Jasmine stirred her tea with her fingertips. “I crave every chance to please Him, yes.”
“No,” Jewel said, shaking her head more insistently. “I mean, you had to have been... well... it must have felt... I mean, watching Him ride into the palace, slay the Emperor with His own sword and carry you away?”
“Well,” Jasmine added, leaning across the table and glancing around. “It wasn't technically our Master who carried me away.”
“No, Master was too busy killing the throne room guards and the Emperor. It was one of His soldiers who carried me away, and then offered me as tribute in honor of the Master's victory.”
“I see,” Jewel said, not sure what else to say. After a long moment, another thought struck her. “Wait a minute, sister. What became of this woman-loving princess, this... did you say her name was Natasha?”
Jasmine's eyes darkened a bit at the mention of her former mistress, and she nodded. “Yes, that was her name.”
“Was,” Jewel asked, noting the emphasis. “So, she was killed?”
Jasmine shook her head. “No, killing women is not the Gaels' way if there is any way to avoid it. Natasha was her name, until our Master captured her and gave her a new one.” The smaller girl made sure her eyes were locked with Jewel's eyes before she confirmed what Jewel already knew. “Because of her flaming red hair, our Master gave her the name 'Scarlet.' “
Chapter 1 -The Capture of Mei
Chapter 2 - The Submission of Mei
Chapter 3 - Scarlet and Jasmine
Chapter 4 - Arturis With His Harem
Chapter 5 - The Master's Bedchamber Again
Chapter 6 - Serving with Jasmine