Here, atop an irysk-fur rug mottled a pleasing indigo and cream, was strewn a sultan’s ransom of pillows hand-stitched by the otherwise-violent desert tribeswomen of the distant South; each pillow encrusted with semiprecious gems and thread of silver and gold, yet soft to the touch as the skin of the aptly-named courtesan Velvet, who hailed from that region and reclined upon those very cushions when she was not otherwise occupied entertaining her gentleman visitors. It was said that every available inch of Velvet’s dusky body—saving only the harder tissues of her nails and teeth—was so smooth, so supple, so yielding that even the harshest scars inflicted on a man in battle would melt painlessly away upon contact with her, leaving only skin as unblemished as Velvet’s own, and a spirit similarly healed from the rigors and weariness that all too often shadowed a soldier’s career.
There, in the opposite corner, hung a profusion of rare story-silks created by the spider-people of Eastern Chiensai, who spend half of their lives suspended from ropes in mid-air so that they may use all four of their double-jointed limbs to craft those gossamer-fine, intricate tapestries of weave and wonder. In the House of Bliss, these finished silks were twined about pillars painstakingly carved from whole whalebones, also with scenes from stories of the Oriental demesnes. The courtesan named Lithe was often to be found perched elegantly atop these pillars, or entwined among the sumptuous silks of her homeland. Her porcelain skin and refined features were as delicate as the masterpieces that surrounded her; yet her limbs were every bit as honed as those of the spider-people, and capable of all manner of acrobatic contortion within the more clandestine chambers of the House—including the famed Cerulean Room, where expensively-maintained Cant rendered the earth’s pull so weak as to be negligible, so that guests with a taste for adventure might be freed from the weight of their burdens in an ambiance of literal weightlessness. Lithe’s companionship was often requested in tandem with a reservation for use of the Cerulean Room; and it was said that the experience was itself a tale well worthy of chronicle in any story-silk or scrimshaw.
And of course there were the more commonplace beauties—fair of skin, blond or brown or red of hair—though not a one of them could truly be dismissed as merely commonplace. Golden-tressed Aria, for instance, tended to sing rather than shout her pleasure, in notes of such surpassing sweetness and purity that she was of necessity designated a room all her own, in which the mirror and window glass had been especially prepared so as to withstand the reverberant onslaught of her passions. And the higher and louder the note, it was knowledgably reported, the higher, as it were, a man found himself rising to the occasion.
But the center of the reception chamber was devoted to Sorrow, so named because the depthless solemnity in her eyes belied their appetizing color of burnt sugar, as the charcoal-dark of her hair formed a cloak of nigh-impenetrable mystery over skin of delectable honey, kissed with cream. She alone in that entire room was wholly, perennially naked, for Madame Astranzia claimed that the fountain of perfumed water in which Sorrow basked was necessary to counteract the emanating heat that had been steeped into her very pores by the tropical sun of the island territories from which she hailed. She was accounted by all and sundry to be as dangerous as she was alluring—surpassing even the awe and dread tendered to her crueler colleague, Cicatrix of storm-scoured Odanis—for it was held that any man, having once been consumed in the fires of Sorrow’s fervid embrace, would thereafter yearn and burn for her touch till the end of his days, though he should be detailed to the farthest northern reaches of the Empire, where even the mightiest glaciers would prove incapable of quenching the flame of desire from his scorched and shattered soul.
One such unfortunate was a certain Nicolas, a bladearm of some repute from the 47th detachment of the Western brigades.
(to be continued next Tuesday)
This story was originally published in Dean Alfar's Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology, on sale now at Comic Quest and better bookstores.Check out the rest of the posse!