By this point, I was unsure as to whether my boldness with Asra was borne of comfort or insanity. Her stories had all pointed to a familiarity with death that leavened her beauty and, I will admit it, her sensuality. That too, added to her appeal, how she carried herself with a brazen disregard for my sensibilities.
She narrowed her eyes, noting my discomfort and sat back in her chair.
‘What is troubling you?’
My studies had consumed me, so my experience of pleasure and flesh had all been sourced in the holy rituals of marriage as it had been preached to me since childhood. Without checking my words, I knew that she had spoken frankly of intimacies with women. Casual ones. Such a thing was, if found to have occurred between men, was considered being as zinna.
‘You are frank about your… affairs of the flesh, Asra.’
‘Are you hungry?’
I nodded, and she called for a servant to bring us food. When he left, she pressed her palms together.
‘I shall talk about things that do not involve my prowess with spear, scimitar or poison. If I digress, or shock you, then please let me know and I shall allow you to catch up or compose yourself as you need to.’
I dipped my quill into the inkpot and hoped that I had not caused her offence.
It has been pointed out to me that my actions and predilections bring shame to my father. Let me assure you that, despite appearances, my father is more thoughtful and considered than his role might allow.
In my travels, I have met with many of the great powers. Some of them, you know of through my stories thus far, but there are others.
On the plains to the west, there are tribes who base their lives around the husbandry of a mighty beast, similar to our cattle, known as a taurusa. They live off its milk, blood and meat, use its fur to make their homes and clothes and carve weapons from its bones. I escorted a scribe, much like yourself, as my father believes that in time, they will come to power and he has always possessed a gift to see such opportunities before they bear fruit.
They recognise that sex is fluid and they refer to those who find delight in the same sex as being berache. They are treated as equals in the running of the tribe’s affairs. It was a pleasant and gratifying discovery when I was told this and that night, I was disrobed and laid atop a pile of skins and given a form of hospitality I would smile about for weeks afterwards. Lithe, supple maidens with skins the colour of tilled earth and pink, wriggling tongues.
My own heart hears a similar call. I take lovers from amongst men and women.
Does this embarrass you?
Are you sure? I follow the will of Allah as you do, and I have known the struggles of what is good versus what I know to be true in my heart.
I have studied the Quran with my father and on my own, I have not found anything there that says that who I am is fahisha. If anyone would see stones cast at me, then it is something in their heart, not the mind or heart of Allah. I might commit acts that some would see as fusuq, but my father and my god see things differently.
My brother, well, you know what happened to him.
He is beyond such judgements.
If it is not my preference, then the zealot might choose the argument of my casual approach. Each time I set out, it might be my last. Even though I would be with Allah, it would mean leaving the pleasures of the flesh behind.
I believe in Heaven but I know that it is found in the senses and the flesh. Consider the delight taken in dance, the taste of water when you are thirsty, food when you are hungry. Do you know such aches in your loins?
I do, and when I find someone whose spirit and flesh might offer an abatement of that, I would be foolish to deny myself such pleasure. Righteousness may help you sleep at night, but a lover who offers me pleasure is a more immediate reward. We live in these bodies only once, and I intend to make the best use of it whilst I am able to do so. The Quran does not prohibit exploration of the flesh, Allah punishes that which is taken by force and without consent as He did in the city of Lut.
I might be casual but I am not careless, and when the opportunity arises, I am considerate and kindly. I will risk censure for the pleasures to be found to cradle another’s face, to look into eyes luminous with want and to press my lips against flesh perfumed and made warm with desire.
Men are harder, hairier and it can be more aggressive although it is not been my experience that women are incapable of such force in the pursuit of passion and release. There is the clash, the urgency of passion. I welcome a man’s strength, the sensation of being made full and pinned beneath it, writhing in exquisite torment until such time as I am insensible and gasping with being made to surrender to his divine fury.
In turn, I take pride in opening a man up to the pleasures of his own flesh, to allow him space for his own tenderness and delight. My mouth has a knowledge as honeyed as any courtesan and there is something about having a man who might kill me with his bare hands, gasping and made languid with a careful press of my lips or the tip of my tongue against a particular spot.
There was one lover. A bold traveller, with a poet’s words and a lover’s lips. His hands were rough, and afterwards, I walked like I were crippled. With delight and surprise that he managed to get one of them inside me. The pressure became almost unbearable, but he worked with a healer’s patience and he had the most beautiful eyes. Brown, you would say at first but as we worked together, and the afternoon waned into evening then night, they took on the colours of the world around them, turning the gold of freshly harvested honey or wine as he used me for our mutual pleasure. I laid there, soaked in oils and shuddering like a newborn foal, panting with ecstasy and he leaned forward, smiled with the skill shown in the quiet acceptance of his innate will to dominate.
He whispered to me that I was his vessel that he would fuck the divine light into my soul. I laughed and then he did something with his fingers that I swear made me see the heavens as though I were at Allah’s side.
Ah, how I miss him.
Sorry, I digress. Where were we?
Women are softer. They are priestesses of a lost memory, a physicality, a tenderness of being held and touched, a perfume of the soul that once breathed, can never be forgotten.
There was a maid at an inn. Ripe like summer fruit, shy and yet she had this glint in her eye, a quiet playfulness of spirit that showed promise. Set against that was a clumsy innocence, a well scrubbed decency and a full fleshy body with skin like cream dusted with cinnamon. I happened to be there to kill a man as it happened, but I managed that and still lured her into my room. She left the inn in my company and took up blades, travelled alongside me.
Forgive me, if I do not speak of her for a while.
All my lovers hold a special place in my memory.
Some of them live in my heart.
There are two who have never left it.
I had seen her turn cold, I had seen her take delight in a demonstration of her skill in dealing out death or resolving a situation without recourse to it. For most of this recollection, I had seen her flush with pleasure and I swore that I knew what she meant by the perfume of the aroused flesh, the aroused soul and how it should be seized upon if offered.
I had not seen her express what she had when she spoke of the two lovers, rough poet and soft maid alike.
I had seen the Lady Asra grieve.
I returned the quill to the inkpot, and the three of us were quite drained.