PART I - THE SCENE IS SET

1 1 THE EMIR

 

The Emir of Gondah sat cross-legged on a large cushion, under the shade of a date palm, in the middle of a highly fertile oasis.

He wore a colourful embroidered robe and a large tulip shaped blue turban, as befitted the wealthy and despotic Arab ruler of many Berber tribes - tribes that he and his forbears had subjugated.

His local annual Majlis, or public court, was well under way. It formed a key part of his visit to the area - an event which loomed large in the life of the tribesmen.

He was a rather small, fat faced, cruel looking, bearded man of perhaps fifty. He had an aura of wealth and power and his eyes were penetrating and hard, those of a man who had extended his fief by ruthlessly subduing yet more proud Berber tribes - and who had then successfully kept them subdued through fear.

His local Khalifa, or lieutenant, who was his tax or grain harvest collector, stood proudly at his side. It was the Khalifas who were responsible for enriching the Emir - and this one had done well.

Surrounding the Emir were his stony faced Black Guard, composed of black slaves specially chosen for their strength and loyalty to their Master. They were armed with razor sharp scimitars and simple muskets.

Behind the Emir was a small tent, guarded by his large chief black eunuch, Makumo, together with two younger black eunuchs. All three were dressed in sumptuous red robes and the strange high white cylindrical shaped hats that, together with the black short handled whips tucked into their belts, were the mark of their craft. Makumo himself also proudly carried the thin silver tipped bamboo cane that publicly marked him as a chief black eunuch in charge of a harem.

Their's was a craft that was based on controlling the pleasure that a harem of women can provide for a wealthy man. It was a skilled craft whose practitioners enjoyed a high status and rich rewards - even though technically they, like the women in their charge, might be slaves.

The Emir's chief black eunuch was the only person who could disturb the Emir in his harem. He was the only man with whom the Emir discussed his women and the pleasure that they each provided - or might be forced to provide. He was a man of influence and clearly not someone to be trifled with.

Already there were two pretty young Berber women in the tent, kneeling on the ground, terrified, their necks chained to different tent poles. They were naked except for thin cloak-like shawls that they were nervously clasping to their bodies.

Outside the tent, watching the scene nervously, under the guns of the Black Guard, were members of local Berber tribes, men, women and children, all subjects of the Emir. It was they who tilled the fertile land around this oasis and several surrounding ones.

 

There was a stir as an Amgah, the leader of his tribe, came forward, urging before him a very pretty slender Berber girl. Unlike the women of their Arab conquerors, Berber women were relatively free. They did not go veiled, nor were they confined to a harem. They were well known not only for their independence but also for their beauty, being tall and slim with fine features and a slightly olive complexion.

The Amgah nervously fell to his knees in front of the Emir and prostrated himself three times, his forehead touching the ground. The girl did the same. Then the Amgah reached forward and humbly kissed the hem of the Emir's robe.

"In the name of Allah the Merciful and of his prophet Mohammed, I welcome you, our Mighty Lord, to our humble tribe," he began. "And as a sign of our obedience and subservience, I beg you to accept this gift of the most beautiful of my daughters."

He gestured towards the girl, who was now kneeling up and smiling enticingly. This could be the chance of a lifetime for her. Perhaps to become the favourite concubine of the Emir! Even the mother of one of his sons! And to live in the sheer pampered luxury of his harem!

But still she shivered with fear. She knew that he was a cruel man and would be able to abuse her as much as he wished, and his penetrating look had convinced her that that he would enjoy hurting her, but she had no choice in the matter of her disposal.

The heart of the Amgah was in his mouth as he spoke. Would the Emir judge his daughter to be sufficiently beautiful to be accepted? He was a hard man to please.

The Amgah remembered the story, that had gone the rounds of all the tribes, of another headman who had tried to fob off an ugly duckling of a daughter. The Emir had contemptuously given her to his Black Guards for their pleasure before handing back the now dishonoured girl to her equally dishonoured father - and imposing a huge fine on his tribe.

 

The Emir looked down at the kneeling girl. The gift from a tribal leader of a daughter for his harem was quite normal. This one had an attractive and lively look about her that amused him. He gestured to Makumo, who came ponderously forward. There were gasps from the watching crowd, particularly the women, as they recognised the Keeper of the Emir's Women, his jet black skin contrasting with his tall white hat. He put down his silver tipped cane. His small red-shot eyes gleamed as, reaching down and holding the girl's hands behind her back, he pulled her up off her knees and deftly pulled open the front of her robe, baring her breasts and belly to the sight of the Emir.

The girl's father remained kneeling at the Emir's feet, his head to the ground. This was, he knew, the moment of truth. Would he and his tribe be honoured or disgraced?

Whilst the Emir was looking nonchalantly at the girl's firm full breasts, Makumo was also feeling her body, running his hand over her breasts and body, and down between her legs, smelling her breath, examining her teeth, the flawlessness of her complexion, and the soft texture of her long black hair. But he was also testing the responsiveness of her nipples and beauty bud.

He turned to the Emir.

"Your Highness, I could train this one well," he reported. "She could be made to give you great pleasure."

The Emir nodded, and gestured to the large black figure standing behind him. The blacksmith was naked to the waist and his muscular torso was oiled and gleaming.

There gasps from the watchers as he stepped forward again. This time Makumo handed him a shiny brass collar on which some Arabic writing and numerals had been engraved. There was a ring on the front of the collar and another at the back.

As the crowd watched breathlessly, he pushed the girl down onto her knees and, pulling the collar open, fastened it round her slender neck. His muscular arms swelled as he strained to close it again so that two flanged rings at the ends of the collar were overlapping.

Then he pulled a lead pellet out of pocket and slipped it into the rings. Again the muscles on his arms bulged as with his huge pliers he flattened the lead pellet so that it held the rings closed and yet could not be removed. Moments later he fastened manacles, linked by a short length of shiny chain, to her wrists.

The crowd gasped yet again as they saw that the girl had been fitted with the Emir's symbolic emblems of female subservience, as worn by all his concubines: the brass collar beautifully engraved with his crest and the girl's harem number, and the manacles.

"I thank you for your gift," the Emir said to the still kneeling Amgah. "It will serve to remind of your obedience and devotion - and that of your entire tribe."

Overwhelmed with relief, the Amgah again kissed the hem of the Emir's robe and withdrew, walking backwards with his head still bowed as Makumo lead the girl into the tent.

The girl was now the Emir's property, to do with as he wished.

 

There was a sudden chinking of chains, and the Black Guards led forward another Amgah. He was in chains and followed by his attractive wife and two pretty teenage daughters, also in chains. Being Berbers all three of the women were unveiled. They looked terrified.

"His tribe tried to avoid giving up half their grain harvest," reported the Khalifa to the frowning Emir, as the chained man and his women fell to their knees in front of him. "I recommend Your Excellency to make an example of them."

"Indeed, I shall certainly not tolerate such disobedience!" said the Emir angrily. The apparently insatiable demand for grain and fresh vegetables from the warring fleets and armies of Europe would keep him rich - provided his Berbers subjects were forced to produce them at no cost to him!

He looked the trembling women up and down. "I sentence you all to hard labour until ten Haratin offspring have been produced as compensation," he announced.

"Ten!" gasped the mother in dismay. "Not ten!"

"Eleven then!" said the Emir, waving them away contemptuously. "Eleven between three. It is a light sentence. Have a care I do not increase it further."

A huge blacksmith followed the women into the tent, the huge pair of pliers in his hand. Soon the horrified crowd outside heard the ringing of blows of his hammer onto his anvil. They shivered as they realised that he was heating and shaping the collars, this time made of simple black iron, for this was what the Emir's Haratin breeding women all had to wear.

The Emir smiled cruelly as he heard the blows on the anvil. He smiled even more cruelly at the thought that riveting the iron collars round the women's necks was not all that the blacksmith would be doing. In preparation of what would shortly follow, certain other instruments would even now be being heated up in the blacksmith's brazier.

Suddenly there came a scream from the tent. It was a woman's scream. There were murmurs from the crowd. But the Emir raised his hand for silence, smiling in the knowledge his orders were being carried out. The cowed crowd of Berbers fell silent. Half a minute later came another scream - this time that of a girl, and after half a minute another.

The terrified crowd knew only too well that the screams had announced that the now well heated branding irons had now been applied by the blacksmith to naked female flesh. The wife and two teenage daughters of the disgraced Amgah now bore their future breeding numbers, discreetly branded for ever onto their left buttocks - just as the brood mares in his stables had their numbers discreetly branded onto their nearside hindquarters.

It was well known that the Emir insisted on accurate breeding records being kept and that therefore all his dams, both two legged and four legged ones, were branded with their individual breeding numbers.

Just as mothers of recalcitrant children all over the world quieten them by threatening them with a local devil or a witch, so Berber women would threaten their disobedient little daughters with the Emir's much feared Haratin breeding farm.

And yet, ironically, such was the natural pride and rebellious nature of his oppressed Berber subjects, and their resentment of his rapacious rule, that his Khalifas never failed to produce a stream of women and girls to be sentenced to replace vacancies in the pens of his dreaded Haratin breeding farm. Each would be sentenced to produce a certain number of Haratin and would not be released until she had completed her task.

Even then, as a way of continuously impressing fear of the Emir on the woman's tribe, she would still have to wear the dreaded iron collar and the disc showing her breeding number - and would have to show at the Emir's annual Majlis that it was still in place.

 

Haratin, of course, had formed the main labour force of North Africa for many years. Traditionally they were the natural progeny of black slave women, brought across the Sahara from their natural homelands, and sired by their Arab Master himself or his Arab servants.

But the Emir had gone further!

He had effectively turned the traditional method of breeding Haratin on its head. He had found that he could obtain a much superior crop by using strong giant Dinka black sires rather than Arab ones - and then using these black sires to cover fair skinned Berber dams rather than black women.

The resulting progeny were stronger, more intelligent and, in the case of females, much more comely than Haratin bred in the old traditional haphazard way. His black eunuch overseers had been concerned lest the slender narrow-hipped Berber women might have difficulty delivering the progeny of their giant Dinka sires, but in fact thanks to the small heads of the Dinkas few problems had arisen.

 

A chained young man was brought forward by Black Guards. With him was a young woman of striking beauty - also chained. Both were thrown to the Emir's feet.

"To avoid paying their taxes," reported the Khalifa, "this couple planned, once they had gathered in their harvest, to sell it secretly to their neighbours and then run away with all the proceeds to another part of the country - out of your jurisdiction."

A look of anger crossed the Emir's face.

Then the Khalifa smiled slyly, for he knew the Emir's tastes.

"They are a newly married couple, and reputed to be much in love."

The Emir's frown changed to a smile. This news would make their punishment all the more piquant. It was always interesting to have a pretty woman in his harem who was pining for her husband - and yet who was also forced, by fear of the black eunuchs' canes, to serve the Emir.

"Makumo!" he called out. "Prepare this young woman for examination."

There was a gasp from the crowd as she was taken away into the tent. The Emir turned to his Khalifa and congratulated him on his thoroughness. The Khalifa blushed with pleasure. Perhaps the Emir would later send him one of the women from the harem, as a special token of his pleasure. It was a normal gesture for a ruler to make to a henchman who had performed his duty well and whom he wished to bind closer to him.

It was also one that the Khalifa would much appreciate, for one of the Emir's concubines, bearing the Emir's crest tattooed on her belly as a sign that she had been trained to give pleasure by the Emir's experienced black eunuchs, would indeed make a much prized new wife. He had only two at present.

 

A few minutes later, leaving the young husband still grovelling on the ground, the Emir rose and entered the tent.

He saw that the first Amgah's daughter was now chained by the neck to the tent pole for women intended for his harem, her manacled hands coyly trying to hide her nakedness. The equally naked wife and daughters of the second Amgah were chained to the tent pole for women destined for either Haratin or vegetable production.

The women gasped and one of the young black eunuchs raised his cane warningly and barked an order. They all fell to their knees and prostrated themselves in front of the man who was now their Master.

But the Emir only had eyes for the beautiful young wife who was standing there still in her chains - but now also naked and sobbing with shame in her newly fastened brass collar. A grinning Makumo held her by a light chain fastened to the ring at the back of this new collar. Her robes lay around her on the ground.

Then Makumo gripped the young woman by the hair, and pulled her head back, so that the Emir could get a better look at her slim tautly bent back body.

The Emir looked her up and down carefully. He felt a surge through his loins. Her only blemish, in his eyes, was the hair that, in accordance with Berber custom, hid her beauty lips. But, he knew, that was something that his black eunuchs would soon remove.

Yes, he thought, she will do very well, and having her husband locked up down below in one of the dungeons of his Kasbah, his castellated castle, would make his enjoyment of the woman all the greater.

He would order his black eunuchs to parade the woman every time he selected her for his pleasure. She would be marched up and down in front of the bars of the dungeon so that the husband could see his wife. As they looked at each other, both would know that the wife was about to be made to satisfy the Emir against whom the husband had tried to rebel. Both would also know that if she failed to please the Emir, then both would be beaten in front of him, and in front of each other, by his black eunuchs.

His revenge would indeed be sweet!

Perhaps after he had enjoyed her several times, he would have her put to his Black Guards in the presence of her husband.

The Emir's revenge would then be even greater as she was paraded with a nicely swollen belly. By allowing the story to leak out discreetly back to the tribesmen, his reputation as an overlord with whom it was dangerous to tangle would be even further enhanced!

 

The Emir put his hand to one of her breasts, feeling its firmness and the responsiveness of the nipple.

Alternatively, he could not help thinking, this leading tribal couple might make a suitable subject for his system of Enforced Inheritance whereby the young wife of a rebellious tribal leader was taken into his harem and the husband locked up as usual in a dungeon. He then used the wife to breed a son of his own who would, when grown up, take the leadership of the tribe from his disgraced step-father.

The Emir nodded his approval and returned to the Majlis, ordering his Black Guards to drag the chained young man away and put him into the travelling iron cage reserved for male prisoners. A second iron cage, this time shrouded with a canvas cover, was for women intended for his harem, whilst the women destined to be mothers of his prize Haratin would be crammed into a third one.

The sight of these cages, each drawn by a team of mules, was itself enough to instil fear into the Berber subjects of the Emir.

 

Tribesmen were now bringing him petitions and outlining disputes for him to settle.

But the Emir's mind kept slipping away to thoughts of the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all good Moslems were called upon to make at least once in their lifetime. He was planning to go next year, before he became too old.

He would, of course, take several chosen slave girls of outstanding beauty to sell on the journey so as to keep him in funds - they would serve as a useful form of currency for the journey.

However he was also concerned about the stories of men being struck down with water-borne diseases during the crowded Haj. He had therefore, decided to take his own supply milk with him - milk from selected concubines whom he would previously have had covered by his Black Guards. Besides, they would sell even better, if in milk.

Makumo was always urging him to try out the some of the European slave girls now being brought back to the North African slave markets in increasing numbers by the Barbary corsairs. With so many attractive Berber women in his harem, he had not hitherto been particularly interested. But the Haj made it all seem rather different. Certainly European women would be ideal as currency for they would, of course, sell particularly well.

And he had heard that their milk was singularly sweet tasting.

Yes, he decided, he would send Makumo to the coast with sufficient funds to bring back some white women for his harem. After he had used them for his pleasure he would see about having them put into an interesting condition ready for the Haj. In any case, he enjoyed having a few women in this state in his harem - it was indeed the natural state for a girl and one that brought out her beauty. He could never understand what he had heard about Christians - that they regarded women in such a state with distaste for sexual purposes.

 

He glanced at his Black Guards. Could they be trusted to put down the slightest sign of revolt? Or, in his absence, might they be persuaded or bribed to rally to the side of a would-be usurper?

He remembered how he had heard that the effectiveness and discipline of the Turkish Janissaries of his friend, the Pasha of Marsa, had been transformed by their new Agha - an Inglez, he had heard, now in the pay of the Sultan.

Why not write to the Pasha and ask him to send a detachment of his Janissaries to keep the peace whilst he was away on the Haj? A tribal revolt would certainly not suit the Turks - it might even give the French an excuse to intervene.

Yes, he would suggest to the Pasha that the Inglez Agha should come and visit him so that arrangements could be settled.