Know, oh Queen, that, with the ascension of Zarela to the throne, a period of darkness descended upon the land. Unlike her mother, who prized learning, Zarela worshipped the flesh. Philosophers, teachers, any who supported free thought, were arrested on the flimsiest of reasons, if any reason at all were given. These were put to the harshest of labors. Many collapsed under the harsh treatment. Those who did were quickly taken away, never to be seen again.
Queen Zarela herself led in the frequent revels that now filled the city. A woman of extraordinary beauty, she took great delight in displaying herself to her hapless subjects. By royal decree, refined ladies of the court were forced to appear wearing clothing even the most brazen harlot would consider too revealing. And both men and women of the realm lived under the constant threat of being chosen to sate the Queen’s lust. For the Queen was insatiable, and any who failed to satisfy her soon found themselves sent into slavery in distant lands.
Of the end of Zarela’s reign, little is known. There are, however, stories and rumors. The most popular, told by a high noble of the desert city of Jhekara, is recounted here.
Queen Zarela stood proudly before the throne, her body covered, and yet not concealed, by the clothing she wore. A narrow belt of sheer material surrounded her narrow waist. To the belt was attached a short strip of equally sheer material, which descended to just below the juncture of her thighs. It was a pretense at modesty, nothing more, as was the narrow strip of sheer cloth wrapped across her chest, covering her nipples yet leaving no doubt as to their appearance.
In stark contrast, the woman who knelt before the throne was simply naked. Arms bound behind her, she gazed up at the Queen, muffled sounds emerging from her packed mouth.
Ignoring those sounds, the Queen addressed the assembled court. “By order of the crown,” she declared, “this woman, known as Maren, has been found guilty of treason. As punishment, she is to be sent immediately to the markets of Thola, there to be given into slavery for the remainder of her days.” The Queen glared at the assemble court, as if daring anyone to protest her decision. When none did, she smiled coldly.
“Leave us,” she commanded. “I would have a moment with this woman before her sentence is carried out.” Quickly, the room emptied, even the guards departing.
“Well, Maren,” the queen murmured, stepping down and removing the gag from the bound woman’s mouth, “I hope you’ll learn to enjoy your new life.”
“Zarela, please,” cried the woman, “don’t do this! I’m your friend!”
Zarela nodded. “Yes,” she conceded, “you were my friend. You were also my lover. Unfortunately, I find myself growing tired of you. It is time for me to find a new toy to play with. But don’t worry. I’m sure that beautiful body will be put to good use by whoever buys you.”
Still smiling that cold smile, Zarela jammed the gag back into Maren’s mouth, then called for the guards to take her away. Already, she was considering who would take the woman’s place in her bed.
“Yes, Acten, what is it now?”
“We have just received word, my Queen. The caravan transporting the traitor Maren to Thola has been attacked. One of our patrols discovered the site, and sent back a report.”
“And what did they find?”
“Very little, my Queen. There was enough to identify the caravan, but little else. And very few bodies, mostly soldiers. One body, however, did not belong to the caravan. And it wore the mark of Jhekara.”
Zarela rose from her throne and began pacing, ignoring Acten’s eyes upon her. With the heat of summer descended upon the city, the Queen had taken to holding court while completely nude.
“Desert people?” The Queen grew thoughtful for a moment, then smiled. “Perhaps this is better than what I originally had in mind. Those desert savages should teach pretty Maren things even I never dreamed of.” Turning, she waved Acten away. “Be gone. You have delivered your news. Now I wish to contemplate Maren’s new fate.” Briefly, the Queen’s hand dropped to touch the juncture of her thighs. “Send Jassa to me immediately. I feel the need for attention.”
“Your wine, my Queen.”
Zarela accepted the goblet absently, her attention directed toward the slave more than the drink. Must be a new one, she thought, eyeing his deeply tanned skin, admiring the way the muscles of his arms flexed with each move. She quickly drained the goblet, simply so she could enjoy the sight of him refilling it.
“What is that?” Zarela pointed toward a rather large pouch hanging from the slave’s belt.
“Your pardon, my Queen,” the man replied. “It is for a task I have yet to complete.”
Zarela nodded, noticing as she did that, with each nod, it seemed to take just a bit more effort to raise her head. She reached for her goblet, but her arm seemed incredibly heavy, soon dropping to land limply on the arm of her chair. Soon, no movement at all was possible, and the Queen sat slumped in her chair, chin resting atop her breasts.
“Very good,” she heard the man say. Stepping forward, he lifted the inert Queen from her chair, laying her on the floor. The stones were cold, but even shivers were beyond her body’s capabilities. Only her eyes moved, watching as the man reached into his pouch and removed a leather belt.
As the man dropped to kneel beside her, Zarela eyed the belt in his hand. She saw what looked like a smallish leather bag stitched onto the inner side of the belt. From the way the bag bulged, it seemed to have been stuffed with something. The man slipped the bag between the Queen’s loosely parted lips. Rolling her onto her stomach, he buckled the belt securely at the back of her head.
Next from the bag came three straps. Placing the Queen’s arms behind her, forearm to forearm, he wrapped the three straps around her lower arms, one at each wrist, the third in the center. These, too, were buckled securely.
As the Queen watched, the man now drew four broad straps from the pouch. Each strap, she saw, had a sturdy ring attached to its center. Carefully, the man positioned the straps, wrapping them around Zarela’s limp body. Three straps, at ankles, just above the knees, and at the tops of her thighs, held her legs bound securely together. The fourth strap was wrapped just below her breasts.
The man reached into the pouch once more before discarding it. This time, he held up two thick bolts, finely threaded. Zarela’s eyes widened. Such fine threads meant long, hard work on the part of a craftsman. For that reason, such things were extremely expensive and only rarely seen.
Nodding, the man slipped one arm beneath the Queen’s legs, drawing up until her knees pressed against her chest. Rolling her eyes downward, Zarela could see that the rings on her knee and chest straps now overlapped. The man pushed a bolt through the rings, threading the nut into place and tightening it with a small tool.
Seemingly satisfied, the man rolled Zarela onto her side, drawing her feet up until her heels pressed into her ass. Unable to see what he was doing, she somehow knew the second bolt now joined another set of rings.
As the man stepped back, Zarela could feel strength returning to her body. She struggled briefly against her bonds, muffled protests leaking out around the bag filling her mouth. At this, the man smiled.
“Movement returns,” he said softly. “Rest assured, the drug has no lasting effects. And, as you were kind enough to already be unclothed, my preparations are complete. We now need only place you in your new, temporary home.”
Rising, the man stooped and lifted Zarela from the floor. The Queen struggled in his grasp, but could only manage the slightest of movements, so thoroughly had she been bound. Ignoring her feeble resistance, the man carried her into another room, where a large urn lay on its side. Placing the bound Queen inside, the man quickly sealed the urn closed, taking care to ensure that the carefully cut air holes remained unobstructed. Finally, after much straining, he managed to turn the urn upright.
Lying helpless within her dark prison, Zarela strained against her bonds, but they held her securely. The straps, too thick and too tightly buckled, proved impervious to her most desperate struggles. Soon, exhausted, she stopped trying.
She had no idea how long she lay in that darkness, but eventually, Zarela heard voices. She tried calling out, but the bag filling her mouth turned her screams into muffled grunts that even she had trouble hearing. Her bonds holding her too immobile to even bang on the sides of the urn, she could only lay in helpless silence as she listened to the voices.
“Is the Queen this desperate?” she heard one voice ask. “Is she so bad that she’ll even drink this swill she forces on us?”
“Just help me with this.” Zarela felt the urn rock, followed by the sensation of being lifted. Next came a short drop, the urn landing with a thud on some surface, which almost immediately began rocking slightly. At first puzzled, Zarela soon realized she had been loaded onto one of the small two-wheel carts used to move heavy items around the palace.
“I’m glad this is the last one,” she heard the first voice declare. “I swear, this one’s even heavier than all the others.”
“Even the Queen herself couldn’t drink this much wine quickly,” the second voice replied. “There’s probably enough sediment from that cheap wine caked to the inside that I wouldn’t want to clean it.”
After several endless minutes, Zarela felt herself lifted again. Once more she thudded onto a solid surface. Moments later, the rocking began again, more pronounced this time. She had, she realized, been loaded onto a wagon. A wagon, she realized, which was carrying her away from her only hope of rescue. Again, she screamed and struggled, only to lapse, defeated.
After another long, interminable ride, the wagon stopped. Zarela felt herself lifted, then lowered. The urn tipped, spilling her onto the curved surface of the side. The top came off, letting a weak light pierce the darkness. With the light came hands, which drew her from the urn.
The hands, she saw, belonged to the same dark man who had originally bound her. Again without apparent effort, he carried her into a tent and placed her on the floor. Then, without a word, he turned and left, brushing past someone else at the tent’s flap.
At the sight of the new arrival, Zarela’s eyes widened, muffled grunts erupting from her gagged mouth. Slender fingers unbuckled the belt around her head, then gently eased the leather bag from her mouth. After a moment, Zarela was able to work up enough moisture in her mouth to speak.
“Maren! Thank all the Gods you’re here! I’ve been abducted! Get me out of this!”
Smiling, Maren rose to stand straight. Dressed in baggy trousers and a loose vest over a long tunic, she looked quite different from when the Queen had last seen her. Her skin, never pale, had darkened considerably, as if she had spent much time under a hot sun.
“Out?” Her smile widened. “My dear Zarela, do you have any idea how much effort it took to get you into your current situation?”
Zarela was stunned. “You? But how? Why?”
Maren’s face hardened. “I loved you,” she said, her voice harsh. “Even knowing what you were, I loved you. And you betrayed me into a life of slavery.” Maren’s voice became mocking. “Because you were tired of me.”
“If you get me out of here,” Zarela said, “I will reward you. Anything you want.”
Maren shook her head. “I already have what I want.”
“But I’m Queen,” Zarela shouted. “I command you to release me!”
“You were Queen,” Maren retorted, moving to sit on a low divan. Taking up a glass, she sipped, then gazed at the bound Queen over the rim.
“When you sent me into slavery,” she said softly, “friends of mine within the palace got word out. Riders from Jhekara reached us long before we got to the border. They freed me, along with the other prospective slaves, and took us back to their city. You see, I am not unknown to the people of Jhekara.”
Her gaze sharpened. “All those slaves,” she said. “The thinkers, the teachers, the artists and poets. All the ones who collapsed under your harshness. What happened to them?”
“They died,” Zarela replied, shrugging as best her bonds would allow.
“Not so,” she was told. “I secretly smuggled them out of their cells, with the help of friends whose names you don’t need to know. They were quietly taken to Jhekara, where they were freed. Many of them now hold positions of high honor in that city.”
“City?” Zarela’s voice filled with scorn. “A desert hovel, and you deem it a city?”
“It is a city,” Maren replied. “A big, bustling, beautiful city. And a center for learning as well, thanks in no small part to you.” Maren smiled ironically. “Some of the freed slaves chose to go elsewhere, but many stayed. Enough that Jhekara is now renowned throughout the south as a place of wisdom and enlightenment.
“I, myself,” she went on, “have risen to a place of high esteem. The Emir himself seeks my advice, and heeds my words. It was only due to his help that you lay before me now.”
Zarela struggled briefly, then slumped. “And what of me? What of my throne?”
Maren smiled. “Your sister, Saphira, will take the throne,” she said. “As for you, I have many ideas for your future. I’m sure I will enjoy exploring those ideas nearly as much as you won’t.” Her smile widened, at the same time turning cold.
Saphira? Dropping the bucket she carried, Zarela rushed toward the front of the villa as fast as her hobbles would allow.
“Saphira?” Bursting into the entryway, Zarela stopped short, frozen by the coldness of the gazes directed toward her.
“Maren?” Turning away from the naked form before her, Saphira glanced at her hostess. “Are your slaves no better trained than this?”
Maren directed a hard glare toward the door. “My apologies, dear friend. This one has proven quite willful, even after all this time. She will be properly punished for addressing you in so familiar a manner, I promise.”
Stunned, Zarela let her eyes drop. “Please forgive me,” she begged, fearful of the unnamed punishment. “When I heard my sister’s name, I didn’t think. Please don’t punish me.”
“Sister?” Saphira’s voice was cold. “I had a sister once. Her name was Zarela. She died when she killed our mother to gain the throne. What remained was best disposed of.”
Zarela’s eyes widened. How had she known?
“I believe you have duties?” Nodding silently, Zarela turned away. Behind her, she heard Maren’s voice, speaking brightly.
“Now, the Emir has agreed to speak with you. He is most eager to open diplomatic and trade relations. And he has asked me to see to your every need. I will assign a suitable slave to tend you. Not that one, of course. She is only useful for manual labor. And, of course, her nightly duties in my own chambers.” Maren’s laughter faded as Zarela, former queen, shuffled slowly away.
And thus, my Queen, ended the reign of Zarela, according to this legend. On her ascension, Saphira freed all those enslaved by her sister, beginning the city’s return to the greatness it had once known. In time, it grew to rival the great city of Jhekara as a center of art and learning. Saphira ruled for many years, and her passing was mourned by all of her subjects. Of Zarela, there is no further word. It is assumed that she lived out her days as slave of the woman Maren, who went on to become the first female Emir ever to sit the throne of Jhekara. Of this much, we have proof, from the many treaties and letters signed by both Maren and Queen Saphira. This, then, is the legend of Zarela.
But, as my Queen knows, legends are notoriously unreliable.
You can also leave feedback & comments for this story on the Plaza Forum