|Lavina, Canto 2: Isabel and the Harem (Part 1 of 2)|
by Julian X  /  poetry  /  21 Sep 2007
Not a month had passed before
another girl was brought violently
by the guards into the harem,
and they threw her to the ground with such force
that the others rushed to see if she’d been hurt.
She resented their interference then,
and marveled at the place,
not as a country girl who had never seen
such opulence, such vaulted ceilings,
but as one who simply didn’t know it there.
At nineteen, she was older than almost all of them,
but she had a beauty, and her skin
looked so smooth and unblemished
that the others felt envy of it.
Her hair was long and black,
and it flowed with a healthy sheen,
but her face had not the grace of most others there.
She refused to wear their uniform of silk,
to dress as one of them, and the eunuchs
beat her for this. They stripped her,
and as they dressed her, she cried
as if she’d been through nothing so horrible in all her life.
Indeed, she protested that she was a princess,
and though all could say the same, she alone
seemed to mean it. The others helped her up afterwards,
inspected her many bruises, and tried to calm her tears.
But when they asked her name, she at first refused,
then said it was Isabel. “We’re all named Isabel,”
the others told her wisely, “but what’s your real name?”
She stared at them as if she thought them crazy
or herself dreaming – or else dead
and in some bizarre purgatory. She asserted
that Isabel was, indeed, her real name.
Eventually, of course, they shared stories.
At the others’ stories, her eyes grew wide
in disbelief, and afterwards she fell into deep sadness,
and for some time was unable to speak
or to respond to the others’ inquiries.
At length, she began, and the others gathered around.
“I too married Guyesp,” this Isabel began,
“not a month before, but our wedding was held
in the biggest church in Triemte, and King Borheya
himself had been in attendance. It was, of course,
an arranged marriage, cementing the allegiance
between Borheya and my father, King Hironamti.
This… place, this house,” she said, pointing up
at the vaults, “this is part of Guyesp’s palace,
and we lived here these last three weeks
as husband and wife. Little did I know then!
Even then that little bastard was harboring all of you
in this very same palace, my married home,
secreted far away from my chambers.
He kept me all but under lock and key,
that hateful husband: I was never allowed
to roam freely in his dictatorial little palace!
He must have been enjoying you all this time,
while he was coming, once in a while,
when it pleased him, to our marriage bed.
No nightly coupling newlyweds were we!
Oh, it was clear enough he detested me –
or at least felt me a bother, but that did not surprise:
it was a marriage neither would have made
but for my father, his will and who he is,
and I told myself – stupid me! – it would improve,
that we would grow to love each other, that...”
And here she broke off, pausing to weep
before continuing. “I told myself we would at least
grow not to hate each other, but all this time...
I cannot believe this. I am a princess;
I am the daughter of Nicholas Hironamti.
This cannot be done to me! Surely, yes,
they will come looking for me. Surely.”
The girls combined to put together the dates
and realized – to Isabel’s dismay – that
Guyesp had been traveling the countryside,
adding women through fraud to his stable,
in the months leading up to his arranged marriage to Isabel.
The fact that she had been his
two hundredth and forty-first wife or so
particularly angered the princess by birth.
The girls wondered at how he had renamed them,
and created several theories:
first, that news of the royal marriage would circulate
and, in little towns all across the countryside,
families would hear only of Isabel
and think nothing amiss;
second, that Guyesp simply hated
Isabel, or his father’s arrangement,
so much that he had disgraced her name
with his story of an ancestral Isabel’s violence
(though Isabel herself knew of no such legend)
and had taken Isabel’s virginity by proxy,
raped and demeaned her
hundreds of times, in hundreds of ways.
In any case, the girls took hope that now,
with a royal among them, help would come.
Princess Isabel did not adjust well to harem life,
and at first talked back to the guards –
for which she was not only beaten savagely,
but for which twenty others were beaten almost as hard.
Isabel would be beaten for the slightest infraction –
even a nasty look at a eunuch
or a muffled word thought perhaps against her husband
would be enough – and each time twenty girls
were chosen to share the princess’s punishment.
The other girls quickly pressured Isabel
not to talk back, policing her
even when the guards could not hear,
saying “That’s the kind of talk
that gets us all beaten!” as they hit her.
Once, in her earliest days in the harem, Isabel
had cried out while being struck,
“You all have it good! You peasant girls
living here under my roof with my money,
eating my food! If you hadn’t given your
virtue to my husband, it would have been
some dumb peasant boy, and you’d all be eating
slop and cleaning his tiny sty of a house
by now. But me: I’m a princess born.
I’m the one humiliated; I’m the one laid low.”
Most of the girls didn’t like this, and rest assured
that on this occasion, Isabel
was beaten hard enough by the other girls,
in response to her self-pity,
that she walked for some time with a limp.
But Lavina felt sorrow for the princess,
and considered Isabel’s fall as hard as her own.
She often helped the princess with minor chores
or discouraged the others from too much cruelty.
But Lavina could only do so much
without herself becoming a target.
All pretense of royalty had been lost
as the other girls took the guards’ place,
hitting and beating Isabel, disciplining her,
treating her as their inferior.
For their part, the eunuchs encouraged this:
whereas they would break up any fights
or arbitrate any dispute between the others,
with Isabel no attack went corrected.
After even her tiniest infraction had ceased,
the eunuchs began demanding
that Isabel perform tasks, clean the harem
and humiliate herself on a moment’s notice.
They would force her to lick excrement,
and any failure would still result in her
and twenty others being beaten.
The same group response followed,
and soon the other girls treated Isabel
not as an inferior but as a slave.
Many thought it funny simply to trip her
or to drop things to have her retrieve them,
then knock them off again and again.
They mockingly called her “princess”
and ordered her to lick their feet:
if she hesitated, the others would beat her
exactly as the guards had shown them.
And so was Isabel humbled.
Guyesp, observing daily from his balcony,
approved and said to himself
that she who thought herself his first wife
was actually his last, and so is treated by the others.
As time passed in the harem, liberation
became slowly less and less discussed. Instead,
girls played in the garden and lounged,
eating grapes or honeydew
or sautéed meats. Instead,
they compared make-up tricks
with the many products they’d been given
from all over the kingdom. Instead,
girls sucked the sweet nectar of rare foreign fruits
from each other’s genitals, had orgies,
and paired off into more and more couples.
The girls were breaking each other’s hearts now:
it had only been a matter of time. And so, instead
of speculating about liberation, they gossiped
about who was in love with whom. They recounted
past loves, such as they were:
while most were stolen by the prince
while they were young and virginal, some
had been fucked by neighbors, by friends, or even
by their fathers or brothers; a few many, many times.
But more than anything, they loved to share
nothing better than the intimate details
of their sex with each other and, even more,
with their princely husband: their time with him
was their only time away from the harem,
not only their only time filled by a man
but not by the others, not by all,
or at least no more than one, or occasionally two,
other girls. Besides, they had little else
to do but talk to idle away the hours,
save playful sex, garden games, and diverse cuisine.
If asked, all except those few who had absolutely hated
their parents or their upbringing
would still say that they expected or hoped to be rescued –
but the fervency of that hope grew dimmer and dimmer.
They had learned to obey and wanted almost nothing:
it was a life of leisure, even if one confined.
And so too did they distract themselves with Isabel,
who could be made to perform cunnilingus
or analingus or any act on command – and sometimes
was kept up all the night, passed from bed to bed
in whichever of the four rooms of sixty
had claimed her for the night.
subscribe to site or just to poetry