Catalyst [Part 3]

By M. Greene - mgreene70@yahoo.com
published June 1, 2017
Summary

Nazir and Selim

Istanbul, Ottoman Empire: 1551

The men and women of wealthy households existed almost completely separate from each other. This required not only a huge amount of living space, but an army of servants, so it was considered a sign of high status. On the very rare occasions that rich females appeared in public, they were ringed by eunuch guards and heavily veiled. For most of their time, they lived indoors, concealed behind veils of solid stone. Even at home, they were confined to a hidden, inner suite of rooms, the harem, with perhaps only a single private courtyard open to the air where they might enjoy some sunshine. Children were raised in the harem, the women’s part of the house; girls until marriage, boys until their circumcision at the age of about five.

Selim the Elder had four wives; the maximum allowed by Quranic Law. To possess this number of spouses was necessary for a man of importance such as himself. Over seventy now, he had lived for so long that he had contracted marriages with seven women over the course of his life. His status in society demanded that if one wife died, she was quickly replaced by another. He had outlived three of them so far, including the mother of his only son, Selim the Younger.

Old Selim never allowed his wives to dine with him, preferring to use the main meal of the day as an opportunity to entertain business associates and potential customers. Their alien male presence every evening relegated the women of the house to purdah in their hidden suite at the back of the property. Tonight, he was entertaining two sea-faring associates: Mustafa, one of the Sultan’s senior admirals and Omar, master of a Turkish merchant vessel.

Suleiman, their magnificent Sultan, the best ruler anyone could remember, having subdued Persia and captured North Africa, Greece and the Balkans for the Holy Caliphate, was now fighting a protracted war with the Venetians for control of the Mediterranean. The two powers were squabbling with each other over every scrap of rock in that inner sea: Cyprus, Crete, Malta, Rhodes and the other Aegean Isles. Both nations possessed very large navies, consisting mainly of war galleys, which were powered by human muscle. In the case of the Turks, at least, this meant slaves, many of whom were supplied to the navy by Selim the Elder.

“Ah, my son joins us at last,” Selim the Elder said as he entered the dining chamber.

Their guests nodded to him as he joined them and sat cross-legged on the sumptuous Persian carpets which covered the stone floor. The low table in front of the four men was crowded with silver dishes and platters, all piled full of delicacies. Old Selim used food to impress; it was another bargaining tool. The men ate and drank using only their right hands. To use the left was considered haram, so they generally sat on that hand to remind themselves that it should remain inactive. Behind the four diners, young male slaves scurried to and fro, replenishing drinks, bringing fresh dishes and removing empty ones.

“There is nothing ‘serene’ about that accursed republic,” Admiral Mustapha was saying. He was a dignified old gentleman, only slightly younger than his host, with a grey beard that he had twisted into two separate points. “All Venetians, from the lowest cur to the Doge himself, are grasping and avaricious. They would sell their own mothers if they could do so for a profit…”

“They make Jewish usurers look generous,” Captain Omar agreed. In his thirties, he was of Moroccan origin and much darker skinned than the other three men. “Even their Pope has censured them for their lack of Christian piety.”

Old Selim nodded. “They sacked this very city, long before it fell to our own forces. They came here saying they were going to help the Byzantine Emperor fight a holy crusade against Islam and then betrayed him and stripped Constantinople clean before we could!” He laughed and helped himself to some more chicken baked with milk and almonds.

Selim the Younger watched and tried to listen, saying very little himself. He was still adjusting to the presence of the young kaffir inside him. All the events of the Nubian slave’s life were playing through his mind for the first time, making it hard to concentrate on the conversation.

“You mentioned earlier that you had a new consignment of slaves to show me, Captain Omar,” his father was now saying.

Omar finished chewing a piece of honeyed mutton and nodded. “Indeed, Selim Bey. Just off the coast of Algeria, near Oman, we managed to capture a small cog full of valuable woollen cloth, crewed by Angles.”

“Angles?” His father had never heard the word.

“A people from far in the north, in the sea beyond the land of the Franks,” the Admiral said. “They are said to make very obedient and hard-working slaves.”

“Really? What do they look like?” Selim managed to ask the question despite being preoccupied with reliving the kaffir’s emotional separation that morning from his previous master.

Omar smiled. “They are a very fair people; lighter skinned than even some of your Tartar slaves, Selim Bey. Two of my captives have hair the colour of straw and one has eyes like sapphires.” He turned again to Selim’s father. “You may care to visit my ship to inspect them, your worthiness.”

Old Selim bowed his head. “My son and I will both come to view your Angles tomorrow, Omar Bey.”

Hakim, one of their Slavic bodyguards, entered the room at that moment and, bending down, softly whispered something in his father’s ear. The old man gave his son an angry glance, set down his goblet and rose to his feet. “You will excuse me, gentlemen, but there is a small matter I must attend to immediately. Please continue your meal; I will return shortly.”

Once he had gone, Selim was forced to play the part of host and, with some difficulty, succeeded in pushing the kaffir’s memories and his own worries about his father’s discovery of the missing slave, to the back of his mind. “How many of these fair-skinned ones did you manage to capture, Omar Bey?”

“Unfortunately only six,” Omar said. “They fought like lions to prevent us from boarding their ship, so most were killed in the skirmish and many of those that we did manage to subdue were so badly injured that they died during our homeward voyage.” He sighed. “I wish I could say that I had preserved more.”

“They sound too fierce to make good galley slaves,” the Admiral remarked. “We need sheep to pull the oars, not lions!” He laughed at his own joke and took another sip of wine. Although alcohol was strictly haram, for some reason, this was one prohibition that wealthier Turks generally ignored.

Selim’s father did not return for over half an hour, by which time their guests were ready to take their leave.

“Good night, Mustafa Bey,” the old man said, “it has been most delightful to see you, again. Likewise yourself, Omar Bey. Until tomorrow, then… Good night and may Allah bless you both…”

The heavy entrance doors boomed together and were barred by a slave against nocturnal intruders.

Ignoring the presence of their slaves, Old Selim stormed straight up to his son and shook his fist right under his nose. “Idiot! Imbecile! Catamite!” He was shouting and flecks of spittle sprayed liberally over Selim’s shocked face.

“What?” The old man looked so angry that Selim thought he might strike him.

“You let the kaffir I bought today escape! The cage stands empty and his shackles have been unlocked!”

Selim looked down at the ground. There was nothing he could really say to defend himself. His father would never believe that the slave could have escaped without either his aid, incompetence, or both.

“A whole bag of silver I paid for him!”

“Father… I am sorry…”

Old Selim snorted. “Sorry… Crazed with unnatural lust, you released your paramour from his bonds and then allowed him to escape! Why, in God’s name? Have you fallen in love with the creature or something?”

“Of course not, Father!”

Old Selim swore a blasphemous oath. “I cannot fathom how he could have got out of the compound. All of the slaves between his cage and the exit swear that they did not see a sign of him.” He prodded his son’s chest with a bony finger. “You must have assisted him. There is no other way he could have escaped.”

Selim gasped and shook his head. “How could you even think that, Father?”

“I may be old, but I am not stupid!” He tore at his own tunic. “This is what comes of my allowing you to consort with men. You are perverted and disgusting! You have become so corrupted that indulging your filthy vice has become more important to you than your own family and our business…”

“No, Father!”

The old man began pacing around their spacious entrance hall. “Well it stops now, do you hear me? You will marry within the month. There are several possible candidates. I will begin negotiations tomorrow, as soon as we have visited Captain Omar in the docks.”

“Father, I am not ready to marry yet…”

“Enough!” Old Selim held up both of his hands. “Not another word! I have decided you will marry immediately and I will not change my mind. Your days of perversion are over. Go to your bed chamber and stay there until morning. Go on, now! Go! The very sight of you sickens me…”

Are you… We… Are we really going to marry?

Selim frowned. The thought sickened him. He had never found women’s bodies attractive and just thinking of their breasts and vaginas was enough to make his penis shrink. It is inevitable, kaffir. I had hoped to postpone the day as long as possible, but… He sighed deeply. I know my father well enough to realise that he is adamant. He’s a stubborn old mule…

You shouldn’t call me that, Selim…

What?

Kaffir… It’s very rude and offensive…

Selim shrugged. It’s what you are…

It’s what you are now too… At least partly…

Selim had no real idea what had happened to him during his congress with the slave. He sensed that Nazir did not comprehend it either. They were still separate people, with their own personalities, but, somehow, they shared the same body. All their memories and knowledge were open to each other as well, too. He knew that Nazir could read his thoughts, which were always in Turkish, although the kaffir himself always replied in his own Arabic tongue. Selim also now knew that Nazir had been educated by his old master in Hebrew, Latin and Ancient Greek. One of Selim’s old tutors had spent many hours attempting to teach him Classical Greek, but he had been too stupid and lazy to comprehend it. Now, however, he knew that, if necessary, he could…

Selim stripped naked and crossed over to his mirror to look at himself. Ironically, it was of Venetian manufacture, part of a captured cargo and had cost his father a great deal of money. About two feet long and a foot wide, it was oval in shape, framed in silver and screwed to the wall near his bed. It was actually the most expensive thing he owned; a piece of glass this large was a great rarity and only the Venetians had the secret of making it.

He gazed at his reflection. He did not seem any different. The same long, thick, straight hair, as black as ebony. The same olive complexion, narrow nose, green eyes and luxuriant beard and moustache. He held up his right hand and studied it. He began to wonder. Would it be possible? He concentrated very hard for a moment.

Yes! First his hand turned silver, swiftly followed by the rest of his body. He looked into the mirror again and regarded himself again. His features had vanished, leaving only the vague outline of a human form. His silver skin itself reflected everything and, he could see multiple versions of himself in the Venetian mirror, stretching away into infinity.

Abruptly, the silver mirrored skin turned to the darkest shade of brown. Nazir stared back at himself in Selim’s looking glass.

It is too dangerous to take your form, kaffir; not in here. What if a slave or my father should enter?

Nazir nodded. He was right of course. Reluctantly, he allowed Selim to take back control.

Selim lay down on his bed and propped his head against the silken pillows. He began to play with his penis, thinking of earlier, down in the cellar, when the kaffir had sucked so well upon it…

That feels nice…

Selim smiled. At least we have something in common, kaffir. What kind of men do you like? Let me see… Various fantasies of the young black slave flashed through his mind. He grinned. It seems you do not really care, so long as it is a man…

I suppose…

Together, they pleasured their shared manhood towards a satisfying climax.

Captain Omar met them early the next morning and took them to his warehouse, just across the dock from his ship. “They are in here,” he said, unlocking one of the sturdy cell doors.

Hakim, their tall Tartar bodyguard, entered first, brandishing his scimitar. Once he said it was safe, they all followed him into the small dungeon.

Standing in a corner of the dim, smelly, straw-strewn cell were six men with the palest skins Selim had ever seen. Their complexions were much lighter than even Hakim’s, who looked swarthy in comparison with them. The Angles were dressed in the ragged remains of the clothes in which they had been captured. They looked dirty, dishevelled and very frightened. Two of the men had light blond hair, three of them brown, and one carrot red. Four of them had grey eyes, the ginger one’s eyes were green, but the most handsome of them, one of the blond men, had eyes the same colour as cornflowers. Although filthy and dressed in rags, his features were ravishingly beautiful and he had a shapely, tight body to match. He looked about the same age as Selim and Nazir. Catching his startlingly blue eyes, Selim felt his dick begin to stir within his robe.

Old Selim, true to his word of the previous night, and, perhaps, sensing his son’s admiration of them, forbade his son to touch any of the Angles’ bodies. Alone, the old man felt their muscles and poked and prodded at them until he was satisfied that they were all fit to be galley slaves. He turned to Omar. “I will take the lot of them,” he announced, finally. “I brought ropes and shackles with me, so we will take them back to my compound now, if that is alright with you…”

That evening, Selim’s father told him that he must eat dinner alone in his room. He was also not allowed to leave the estate, or to go down to the slave pens in the cellar. His father had ordered the house slaves to inform him if he was seen breaking any of these rules.

Selim fumed and protested. “This is totally and utterly humiliating, Father! You can’t treat me like this!”

“I feel that it is somewhat less of a humiliation for our family than having the servants watch you rutting with other men like a bitch in heat…”

Selim supressed an oath. “And why can I not eat downstairs with you, tonight?”

“I am entertaining several important dignitaries,” Old Selim explained. “All old friends from prosperous families. He grinned, revealing his terrible, rotting, black teeth. “One of them will, in all likelihood, be your future father-in-law…”

We could run away…

Selim shook his head. No, you stupid kaffir. We would be destitute.

So you are going to go through with this marriage?

The slave’s thought in his head made Selim feel angry again. He made a fist and punched one of his silk pillows. It was always inevitable that I would have to marry at some point. I have to continue the family line. It is my duty…

I think we should run away.

Selim’s heart skipped a beat. He knew that, as the first to touch the magical stone, or whatever it was, the kaffir slave could, if he wanted, assume control of him at any moment. If he did, they would be dead. No, kaffir; it’s far too dangerous. It would be completely suicidal. At the very least you will get us consigned to the galleys for the rest of our shared life.

What then?

I will think of something, kaffir. I just need time and space to think, so please stop chattering away in my head…

Our head, you mean…

Whatever…

The young women Selim’s father selected as the most promising possible wives for him emerged gradually over the next few days. Although their fathers were all rich, prosperous and highly respectable, none of the girls were at all pleasing to Selim. Strangely, although the daughters of noble families were totally cloistered and unseen by the outside world, pretty accurate descriptions of them were circulated amongst most people in the city. Slaves and servants talked incessantly about their masters and mistresses, so intimate details about them always leaked out. Old Selim’s first choice, Khadija, was said to be as fat as a house, with a face like a hippopotamus and more partial to women than men. Aliya, his father’s second favourite, was thin and scrawny, with huge buck teeth. She allegedly enjoyed being fucked by those of her black eunuch slaves who could still maintain an erection. From all accounts, this was most of them. Finally, old Selim’s third option was Safia, who, it was rumoured, was both tubercular and a mental defective. When Selim protested to his father that he had chosen a grotesque collection of women as his potential brides, the old man banged on about how their fathers were all noble men who were great friends of his. Selim felt like saying that he wished he was marrying one of the fathers instead…

Five of their Angles were quickly sold on to Admiral Mustafa to serve as galley slaves. The sixth, the pretty blond one that young Selim had so admired, was judged too handsome to be wasted on such hard labour, and was being groomed for service in the palace guard as a white eunuch. Old Selim knew that this particular slave was special enough to net him an enormous price, so made arrangements for his future circumcision and castration by one of the best doctors in the city. Meanwhile, he was washed, oiled and dressed in decent clothes to wait on them in the house. The pale young man only spoke his own barbaric tongue, and, before he could be presented to the palace, it was important that he quickly learnt the rudiments of Arabic and Turkish. He could then, at least, understand his new religion and obey simple commands. Old Selim knew that it would enhance his sale price even more and the palace officials would expect nothing less. However, it would take a few months…

Meanwhile, Selim continued to be kept under a strict curfew. The slave pens in the cellars were forbidden to him, he could not see any of his old friends, attend the baths, or even leave the house once darkness had fallen. Chafing under these restrictions, Selim became bitter and morose. He was beginning to develop a profound hatred of his arrogant and controlling old father.

One afternoon, one of the house slaves appeared in the doorway of Selim’s bedroom to say that a visitor was waiting to see him downstairs. His father had gone out to attend the circumcision ceremony of one of his closest friend’s grandsons. Selim put down the old Greek scroll from his father’s library that he had been reading. Since acquiring Nazir’s knowledge of that language, he had recently developed an enthusiasm for Classical Mythology and was keen to re-educate himself.

He got to his feet and adjusted his clothing. “Tell our guest that I will attend him presently,” he informed the slave.

The visitor was old Isaac ben Moses, the apothecary from the Jewish quarter; Nazir’s old master.

Selim called for tea to be served to them and then sat down opposite the old Jew on a low divan. “How can I be of assistance, Sir?”

Isaac looked both embarrassed and uncomfortable. He sat on the edge of his seat wringing his hands. “A week or so ago I sold a young slave of mine to your father,” he began.

“Yes?”

“I… I was just wondering what had become of him.” The old man said. “I believe there was some talk of him serving in the galleys…”

Advised by Nazir, Selim said little, but merely nodded his head. “Yes…”

Isaac became even more agitated. “Oh dear… I feel that it is a terribly harsh life for one as refined and intelligent as he…”

“Really?”

“Yes! He is one of the cleverest young men I have ever met. He is fluent in several languages and a very proficient apothecary and alchemist to boot.” He leaned forward and clutched at Selim’s arm. “To be honest, Bey, I really regret selling him…”

“Then why did you do so?” Selim was not sure whether it was he or Nazir who had formulated the question.

The old apothecary looked wretched. “I lost my temper… I thought he had stolen something very valuable to me, you see…”

Selim smiled. “If the slave was a thief then you are well rid of him, surely?”

Isaac squirmed in his seat. “That’s just it, Bey. I am not so sure now that he did steal from me. I have thought about it very deeply these past days. He had never, not once, in twelve years, stolen anything before.” He spread out his hands. “He was a good boy. I never needed to reprimand him about anything…” Tears began to well up in the old man’s eyes. “In many ways he was like a son to me…” He looked totally miserable.

“So why, exactly, have you come to see me?”

“I was wondering whether if it would be possible to buy him back.” Isaac produced a handkerchief from inside his robes and wiped his eyes with it. “If you have indeed sold him on, I would be prepared to offer a substantial fee for his return.”

Selim leaned forward and patted Isaac’s knee. “I am sorry to have to tell you this, my friend, but your ex-slave escaped the very evening you sold him to us. He is a renegade. We have not seen him since that night…”

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