Chapter 36: Marked
Marked, a insidious euphemism for branding..
Branding of slaves and animals was commonly used for establishing ownership and for punishment. In Harem Girl two slave girls are given ownership marks by this cruel method, by their sheik master. It is obviously not the first time for him, he is quite skilled in the practice although hesitant to do it to Sapphira. However, traditional values prevail over compassion and they are branded in a ceremony watched by all the harem girls.
An excerpt from the chapter MARKED
....... “Why are we to be branded?” asked Topaz. “I have been a good girl since coming here. I have made no mischief and always do as he tells me. I have no thoughts in my head about running away.”
“It is not that, Topaz. Slaves, both good and bad, are marked; it has been that way for thousands of years. It is done to remind you of who you belong to, your position in the household, and should thieves steal you or should you escape, and are found, you can be returned to your rightful owner and dealt with.”
“Perhaps he will put his mark on my ankle. I have seen slave marks there,” she said, sounding optimistic.
We reported to Yasmeen at the prescribed hour. Yasmeen told me that she had earlier planned to discuss with Ali where best to mark us—breasts, buttocks, and thighs were all places where I had seen girls carry their mark but Ali was abrupt and not inclined to discuss anything.
“I have decided where, Mustafa has my instructions,” he had answered.
Why this secrecy we did not know, for Ali's mark of crossed Damascus swords plainly resided on the buttock or high on the inner thigh of those girls who came into his possession unmarked, girls he himself had branded: Paeonia, Nadya, Briar Rose, Zahra, Noszahra and Black Pearl. All others had arrived marked as slaves in places chosen by their previous master or slaver.
“Ali has granted you two measures of an elixir, an oriental concoction of opium, honey and kava that he brought back from Al-Ta'if especially for you,” Yasmeen said. “How fortunate you are; when the Grand Vizier branded me he gave me nothing to dull my pain.”
Feeling dizzy from the effect of the elixir, I lay down on my back watching black dots swim before my eyes, which now and again joined together into a wall of darkness. I became lackadaisical and self-assured, and not afraid. After all, my weakened mind reasoned, the other girls had been marked and they made no faltering mention of it.
Loose cotton gowns draped over our shoulders kept the chill away as we were led like lambs past a silent huddle of his other girls and women who had been summoned to witness the ceremony. We both needed help to walk the short distance to the erga—we were weak at the knees from the numbing effect of the elixir and from fear that had managed to break through the dreamlike shield raised by the kava.
Ali was standing calmly between two narrow wooden tables, their ends pushed close to the curved wall of the erga like spokes of a wheel. Gentle light from two oil lamps placed nearby cast a warm glow about the place and illuminated the carved list of harem rules. Burning charcoal ominously sparked and glowed red in a small wrought iron brazier set to one side.
Our witnesses filed in and formed a line, their backs to the cold stone wall, while Yasmeen folded heavy kilim rugs into thick pads and laid them over the hard tabletops. We lay facedown on them with our heads towards the wall, staring ahead at black iron rings set in the stone.
Mustafa came to my side, grinned slightly and said “Turn over onto you back. We have something different in mind for you.”
He took Yasmeen aside, whispered in here ear, and handed my readying over to her. She placed a pillow under my head providing some comfort and enabling me to see my outstretched body and the black iron ring mounted on the wall behind my head. Raising my head, she gave me a second dose of elixir, much larger than the first one, eased my arms back towards the ring and tied my wrists to it. Two leather girth straps buckled tightly around me, one across my hips and the other across my thighs, immobilized and flattened me against the kilim, forcing my pubis upwards into exposed prominence. A cord tied around my ankles completed my restraint.
Mustafa intruded for a moment to tug free my gown from under the thigh strap, leaving it bunched up about my waist, and give me another of his insidious grins.
Prone and somewhat faint of mind I was drawn to the magnified ghost-like shadows of Ali, Mustafa, and Yasmeen floating silently over the walls and ceiling as they went about preparing for this barbaric ordeal.
Mustafa loomed towards me, a branding iron in hand. For a brief moment, I thought he intended to brand me there and then, but the iron was cold, it had not seen fire.
“The mark will not be even and clear unless I make the iron conform to the curve of your mons,” he explained. He coated the iron with burnt umber, the same umber that Ali had bought from Ahmad in Al-Ta'if—he had planned ahead for this!—and Mustafa lightly touched the cold metal to my pubis. Instinctively, I tried to pull away, without effect, and the iron left a dark umber print revealing where it had and had not touched my skin. With finger and thumb, he bent and curved the fine silver tip until, on the third print, the umber left a uniform mark. A drop of palm oil on a finger smeared the umber print into a dark brown spot to show clearly the place where the iron fitted. A short strip of cloth tied around the wooden handle claimed the iron as mine.
Yasmeen explained. “The burnt umber will be taken into your skin by the branding iron to emphasize and darken the mark—make it prettier—and I have tightly bound you, not because of any protest you may show, but because movement will spoil the mark. There is only one chance for a clear imprint.” Perhaps as further consolation Yasmeen told me, “The tip will not be red hot, as it is when branding for punishment, but just hot enough to mark.”
“A small comfort,” I thought, nevertheless, I welcomed and appreciated it at that time.
They made Topaz ready in the same way except she lay on her front, her outstretched arms tied tautly to a ring set low in the wall, her gown bunched on her back and shoulders. Highlighted by the soft light that spilled from the lamps, her firm buttocks bulging from the tight leather saddle straps, gave grim meaning to the phrase “presenting the peach”.
Mustafa bent and fitted her branding iron just as he had done with mine and smudged out the burnt umber.
Ali picked up my iron. I gave him a nervous unsure smile. I expected him to immerse it and stir it about in the red-hot coals. Instead, he held it just above the glowing bed of charcoal, carefully twirling it for what seemed to be several long minutes. Now and then he tested its heat on a green palm leaf, closely examining the proof mark it left scorched into the leaf. When satisfied that he had good measure of its heat, he nodded, and Talil, standing somewhere in the shadows, recited the first four of the eight rules of the harem. Ali turned to me, hesitated slightly, and then pressed the hot silver to the darkened spot on my raised pubis.
A gush of hissing smoke burst forth as my moist skin quenched the heat from the silver, and my scream of agony from the bite of the hot metal shattered the quiet intensity of the moment. A puff of white smoke drifted slowly upwards towards the rafters. Mustafa grinned and nodded with satisfaction.
As quickly as it came the excruciating pain receded, becoming almost bearable, although Ali still held the iron to me to ‘set the mark'. Satisfied, he pulled it away and Yasmeen quickly dripped oil over the brand to smother and hold back the burn.
The rising puff of smoke hit the rafters, burst apart, and slowly spilled out to the walls as silence reclaimed the room, a silence interrupted only by the frightened sobbing of Topaz. Mustapha turned to her, callously flipped her loose gown over her head to muffle her sounds and......
Next chapter in the book
Mustafa’s bell summoned us to the bath for our late afternoon bathing, the last one of the day, and we scurried forth and went about our ritual, soaping ourselves down while standing in the side bath, rinsing off before entering the main one outside.
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