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We took her body to the monastery which stood near the cross-roads. The monks had seen the battle and had feared the worst. The Portuguese had a bad reputation for looting, and the monks had prepared to resist. When the Abouna learned of the death of the King’s daughter, he gave orders for an immediate service.
We stood in the body of the chapter house as the monks intoned the Orthodox funeral service; their deep bass voices making the sorrow we felt audible. Ana held Tania, who seemed inconsolable.
Afterwards, the Abouna told us he had sent a messenger to Addis Ababa to tell the Emperor. It seemed, Jacob said, unlikely that the Portuguese would be welcome in the country again. There would be, the Abouna said, a party of men to take the Princess back to her father.
In the flickering candle-light as the chapel darkened, Ana, myself and Tania stood by the open coffin. She looked so beautiful and natural that it was hard to believe her spirit had passed into the next world. Tania kissed her forehead, we did the same, then we left her to be with Miriam one final time.
“What will become of her?” Ana asked.
“If she goes back to the Emperor she will be allocated to a new owner, we can’t have that my darling.”
Ana looked at me.
“But my Rahab, you do know if she comes with us that she and I will want each other?”
“That, my darling,” I smiled, “is another reason I want her to come with us. I am yours, but my vitality is not yours, and she and you will help fulfil your needs when I cannot.”
Ana looked at me, her blue eyes shining with tears.
“You are remarkable my love.”
She kissed me passionately.
Tania emerged from the chapel.
“I will accompany the body back.”
“And what then?” I asked.
“I shall be given away again, but never shall I forget my love.”
“Well,” I said, “Ana and I have been talking, and if you’d like to fulfil the mission to take the Ark to its final resting place, you are welcome to come with us, and thence back to the Grand Serail.”
Tania burst into tears, throwing herself into Ana’s arms.
When she had steadied herself she looked at us.
“Are you sure? Would I not be an unwanted distraction?”
“Tania,” I asked, “are you telling me you don’t have feelings for Ana?”
She looked warily.
“Answer with the truth,” Ana smiled.
“Certainly ones of lust, and maybe more, but, but would I not be in the way of you two?”
“Do you think,” I asked, “that our love is so small that another cannot be included?”
Tania hugged us both.
“I shall come with you then, and together we shall preserve the memory of my love, my Miriam. To be with those who knew her as she really was is, in itself, a boon.”
And thus was the die cast. Ana looked at me as though to make sure I knew what I was assenting to, and smiling, I nodded. Tania needed comforting, she needed loving, she needed to be connected to the future lest the past claim her and made her lose hope. I knew how rare it was to meet women who knew the delights of another woman, and most such had a desire for men too; Ana and Tania could share something I would never share. It was another gift to my darling.
In the early morning light, we said our last farewell to Miriam. It was grim-faced we set off for the coast.
We travelled in silence most of the day. Usually after a battle won there was exhilaration to temper the exhaustion; but this battle had cost us dear; so we mourned in silence except when words could not be avoided.
It was with some alarm that we received word from the advanced scouts that a small party of soldiers çıtır escort had been spotted about five miles ahead. If this was a second detachment it would confirm that the Portuguese had taken the port; the outlook would be grim. Even the irrepressible Ana seemed weary.
I took the spyglass and looked.
“It is the Commander,” I shouted, “I can see our tugra!”
The relief was palpable.
The pennant with my seal upon it was unmistakable.
Kunt told me he had heard there was trouble and he was coming to help us. I fell on his neck with relief, much to his surprise. Ana laughed.
So it was we were safely escorted back to the port. I should have known better than to doubt the Commander, or, to give him his proper title, the General.
He had secured our base there, and established defensive positions. There had been, he told me, a Portuguese vessel which had approached the base, but the cannonades had deterred it. He was sure, he said, that we could get across to the Sinai side and thence to the Monastery of St Catherine. It was typical of him that he did not ask what our mission was, it was enough for him to have his orders and to carry them out. In him was born again the martial spirit of the Ottomans of old.
Kunt had commandeered the best rooms at the inn for us. He had set aside the main chamber for Ana and myself, but of course, that raised the problem of what to do with Tania, which we solved by inviting her to stay with us.
Ana and I would usually undress each other lovingly, and prepare our love play, but we had to think of Tania. Would she, so soon after the death of her lover, be ready to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh? If not, it would have been crass of us to have behaved as we usually would have.
Ana, as ever, read the situation best.
“Tania, unless you think that a period of chaste mourning for the Princess is what you need, in which case we shall observe it this night too, you are welcome to share with us.”
It was put with the tact and delicacy which Ana brought to everything except her prowess in battle.
Tania’s eyes teared up.
“I cannot think that my love would wish me to mark her death by rejecting the very love that defined who we are, so Ana, Rahab, if you will, I want to feel life in its fullness, I want to reject the dark and the gloom.”
Ana smiled, and pulling her to her, kissed Tania full on the lips. Watching them connect sent little pulses through me, and whatever was happening to them, I felt myself grow wet.
Ana helped Tania remove her dress, revealing her full breasts, their ebony hue tempered only by the pinkness of her thick nipples, which were already engorged. Tania’s kiss lingered, and I could see her tongue caressing Ana’s lips; their mouths connected, tongues entwining. Tania’s hands began to fondle Ana’s breasts, and as her nipples swelled, Ana moaned so erotically that I began to feel aroused.
As they began to explore each other, they fell together on the bed, a tangle of arms and legs, before they restored order, with Tania, then Ana, struggling to gain the mastery. Tania’s hands explored the delights of Ana’s firm breasts, pulling at her nipples before taking them into her mouth and sucking them hungrily. Ana lay back, taking Tania’s energy and falling with it onto the bed.
Tania rolled on top of her, helping Ana out of her underclothing and nibbling her nipples. Ana gripped Tania’s hair, pulling her into her breasts, squashing her face into them. Tania’s hands swiftly descended to Ana’s mound, parting her thighs and pressing her cunt, making them both groan.
They made escort demetevler such an erotic tableau that I was mesmerised by their beauty, as before. They had all I lacked by way of feminine pulchritude, and more. To observe them was to observe Venus and Diana make love, but with the vivid contrast between their skin tones; for once it really was black and white.
To watch Ana lie back and enjoy herself was itself a joy. When we made love I was so involved that I could not see the whole picture; to do so now was a gift. Knowing her so well, I could see she was bringing Tania into a situation in which she could feel that life-affirming sensation which is so often at the heart of good sex. As she bucked and moaned, Tania got more excited, until they slide together, their wet, open sexes rubbing; Ana looked at me; I nodded.
It was not that I was not invited to the feast, it was more that it was such a delight to observe that I was unwilling to dissipate their passion; three into two always leaves a fraction over.
To watch Ana’s strong and shapely thighs open to receive between them the ebony of Tania’s head, with her lips on Ana’s, and to see my lover receiving pleasure, was to know that I loved her beyond any fleshly measure. As she pulled Tania’s head into her wetness, they both gasped, and I could see Ana’s pleasure in her beautiful face. She glanced at me, solicitous for my welfare, but seeing me smiled and nod, she abandoned herself to pleasure.
Tania assuaged her sorrow in affirming life’s vigour with the most beautiful woman I have ever known, and that lay not simply in her physical appearance, which was like some state sculpted by the best of the Greek sculptors, but in her inner being. Ana was brave, loving and above all, thoughtful. It was typical that even in the throes of passion, she should have been concerned about my reaction.
The sharpness of the black on the white made what was intensely erotic equally aesthetic. They had ceased their Amazonian struggle for supremacy and had thrown themselves into the heat of passion. As Tania’s hands massaged Ana’s breasts, her tongue licked her clit and she pulled her in. Ana’s orgasm overwhelmed them both, and Tania, swiftly rubbing herself as she felt Ana stiffen, came at the same time.
As they began to enter the calm after the storm, I smiled at Ana and quietly left; they needed their time.
Downstairs I encountered Commander Kunt, who seemed surprised to see me. But, discreet as ever, he simply enquired after my health. I told him that I was still fatigued, but that sleep eluded me. He asked me about Jacob and his men, and I told him what I knew.
“They are warriors with whom I should be proud to work,” he told me.
“That is as well,” I replied, “as I fear there will be more work for us in future.”
“It is my work, Highness, but I am told by the men that you played a notable part in your victory over the Europeans. Until I met you and Ana I had not thought of women in this way, but, if I may say, it is an honour to serve you.”
My breath was taken away.
In all the time I had known the Commander, this was the longest non-utilitarian conversation I had ever had with him, and I found, to my surprise, that his good opinion of me mattered to me. I had seen him in many a crisis, and his courage and resource had never failed.
“You know, Highness,” he said, looking very seriously at me, “that my men and I are loyal to you and not some Sultan we shall never meet?”
“That,” I said softly, “would be to some like a declaration of treason.”
“But not to you my Viceroy, escort dikmen you have earned it, and it is not so much a tribute as proper payment. I could wish the Empire were governed with such wisdom.”
I could not help myself, I hugged him; he blushed.
“Commander, that is one of the nicest tributes any ruler could receive. Together we shall, by God’s Grace, preserve our Empire.”
Reflecting later, I found it interesting that not once had the Commander mentioned Islam or Christianity. What he valued was courage and integrity; would that in this world they were sufficient.
Jacob, who had been walking along the quay, joined us.
It was interesting to see the two warriors together. Had I ever had an inclination towards men, then these two would have brought it to the fore; but I didn’t.
They asked me what my plan was, and I reflected on the irony of it being the smallest and the weakest of the trio on the terrace to whom the others looked for guidance. I explained that if we could get across the Red Sea, we would proceed to St Catherine’s and there deposit the Ark for safety. What I did not mention was the hope that there I would receive the healing of which I was in such need. I could feel my strength ebbing; only that will which had brought me so far kept me going; but there was a limit to that, and I could feel myself approaching it. It was why I had let Ana and Tania enjoy each other; my energy just about stretched to keeping going.
Beyond that, I explained, there were two options. One was to return home the way we had come, and the other was to venture into the deserts to deal with the Islamic puritans who were causing our Empire so much trouble. The difficulty was, I explained, that I lacked both troops and intelligence about the puritans and their bases. An army could, I said, get lost in the desert.
“An army could, cousin, but a small group of men skilled in concealment and living off the land might do better.”
That, I told Jacob, gave me an option which I should value. As I left for my quarters, I saw the two warriors in close colloquy; brothers in arms. They gave me a warm feeling inside.
Weary in body, I returned to the antechamber.
In the main room, Ana and Tania lay naked, sprawled across each other, the sweat of their recent encounter still creating a sheen where the moonlight struck the lovers.
How would it be, I mused, when I was no more? I knew Ana would miss me, and that mattered. For the rest, well for the rest, I had been promised strength until my task was done, and it might be that this was the last part of it, and so the ebbing of strength which I felt was natural.
Outside I could see the moonlight glimmering on the water, and hear the lapping on the waves against the harbour. High in the clear night sky the stars twinkled, and suddenly, a yellow light dissected the navy blue darkness, writ vividly like a scar. Where the star fell to earth, I could not see. It was an omen, but whether for good or ill, only the morrow would tell.
Wrapping myself in my shawl, I composed myself for sleep, but it would not come. Images haunted my wakefulness. The sky began to lighten, day lagged not far behind, I thought. As I rose to see the lovers sleeping, my eyes caught a shadow, or maybe the shadow of one, and I moved, quietly, to my own window, which looked out onto the courtyard. There, crawling up the wall stealthily, was a figure.
As it reached the terrace, a rope was lowered, and another figure began to climb, there was a third at the foot of the rope. There was no time to lose.
I always kept a dagger under my pillow, and seizing it, and grabbing its twin from my discarded belt, I took aim. I caught the figure on the terrace in the chest, and he fell, letting the rope slip, and with it went the climber. Deciding swiftly, I threw at the shadowy presence on the ground, and he, too fell.
“To arms!” I cried, “we are under attack!”
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