She let the slave girl brush out her hair so it lay like a shimmering black veil down her back and blinked as the over-strong perfumed oils caught in her nostrils. The king was ageing and his sense of smell fading. Alas, little else of his senses did so.
She took the walk from her cloistered seraglio to his bedchamber with the same heavy sense of foreboding that she carried with her every night. She did not need the sly, pitying looks from the other women – each waiting her turn for the same honour. But as long as she still lived, they were safe.
She reached the doors of the bedchamber and the two armoured men who guarded them stepped aside and pushed them open so she could go in – alone. The sound of the huge doors as they closed behind her was soft compared to the thumping of her heart. She must please her lord and master.
As always she began with a dance. Her accompaniment, the tiny finger cymbals she wore. She moved her body in the swaying motions of the dance and wove her way to finish standing beside the canopied bed, it’s cloth of gold coverlet cast casually aside.
By day the king at least looked regal, clad in fine robes and with a jewelled crown lightly set on his greying hair. But naked he looked simply ugly and she shuddered at the thought of his hands touching her. He hated women as much as he desired them.
Now he looked at her with hungry, expectant eyes and she made herself climb onto the bed to lie beside him, fighting the revulsion and fear, forcing a smile on to her face. Tonight would be worse than usual because she had not managed to prepare herself fully.
“Where did we get to?” he asked, his voice low with anticipation.
She drew a quick breath.
“My Lord I – ”
“No excuses – you know what I want.” This time there was a bite of anger and the dark brooding look the courtiers knew so well to fear.
She swallowed and made herself begin.
“Well, the djinn was about to kill the fisherman when…”
With half her mind she told the tale, the other half rapidly inventing another for when this one was finished, her life depending on it. But how long she could keep inventing these cliffhanger stories to please a madman, Scheherazade did not know.