From the journal of Ellen Lambert:
Persia - Blood Love
Penelope responded to her new life with zeal and a healthy appetite for love and blood. I couldn’t be more pleased with the transformation, using my own version of the ritual, a bonding of my blood and body with hers, and the drinking of the elixir. Instead of death, Penelope fell into a deep sleep and awoke as a woman who would live and love with me forever.
We stayed on the isle of Seriphos as long as possible, but the growing unrest of the islanders over those unexplained deaths, our need for new blood, and the growing threat from the Romans, prompted us to leave Greece entirely and migrate to Persia.
Persia consisted of vast lands along Asia Minor, and governed by royalty, in our time by King Cambyses who favored the rule of tyranny rather than deal with the various representatives of restless democracies. Since I and my household had no interest in politics, we found Persian society most agreeable. Penelope offered her services as a governess to the children of the royal house, and I served as her guardian and companion, my name now Esmela. As a young woman of moral upbringing and modesty as dictated by Muslim doctrine, Penelope could not go out in public unless I accompanied her, and then we were required to wear veils over our heads and around our faces, revealing only our eyes. Actually, this practice proved advantageous for us since we could come and go at night dressed in male garb and headdresses to conceal our identities and purpose.
We settled in a modest house near the royal grounds, and Penelope began her employment as a governess to five children of the royal house, three who belonged to the king’s first wife of his harem, Queen Fairusha, and two by his second wife, Queen Soraya.
We became good friends with the second queen, Soraya, a lovely and gracious woman who taught Penelope and me the decorum and rituals of Islamic royal life. All in all, King Cambyses had four wives, and a dozen harem women he kept as lovers. The members of the harem were actually no more than sex slaves, unable to leave the palace since the king had paid handsomely for each one. Hygienic rituals consisted of shaving all a woman’s body hair except for her head, and then painting her genitals, ankles and wrists with henna dye. To Muslim men, this look proved sexually arousing, although I and Penelope were spared from undergoing this process. We did participate in the ritual baths taken in generous and luxurious inset tubs of marble and gilt fixtures and with a choice of scented oils. Six female slaves served as bath attendants, their duty to bathe and groom the harem women and any female guests of the house. My favored activity included lying back in the warm, scented water and watching my love groomed by an attendant who didn’t stint on the details. When Penelope rose from the tub, the attendant wrapped in her in a soft towel and had her repose on a satin settee to have her skin massaged with additional oil and her hair combed. Just the simple act of the brush running slowly through her silken red tresses made my heart beat faster with adoration. Penelope could very well be the incarnation of a goddess, an alluring and sensuous goddess with a lithe and slender figure, and flesh like alabaster.
In our bed chamber, we shared a big bed ringed with filmy red drapes and relaxed in the warm desert breezes that wafted through the open window-doors. In many ways, this environment reminded me of my old home in Egypt, although that life had become just a distant dream. How much time had passed since my transformation I did not know or cared to count the years. I only wished to live for the moment with Penelope.
Several years passed, and my household dwindled to just Tira, or Tirafa as we now called her by her given name. I had sent Lakshmi home to her people since I could not afford to have her wonder about our resistance to age. And we stayed in our paradise for only ten years, before people began to wonder the same. By now, the royal children had grown, and the queens had retired from active palace life. A new successor claimed the throne and then another as political intrigue abounded.
We moved to a new cities where we could live quietly and obscurely, Penelope now a “widow” and I her companion. There had been men over the years who wanted to marry either me or Penelope, but we managed to ward off these suitors, the more insistent taken care of discreetly with money or the revelation that we were victims of a terrible curse that would continue to inflict future generations with a terrible debilitating disease. Our suitors, superstitious by nature and culture, quickly abandoned us. No matter. We neither cared for nor wanted men in our lives.
It seemed barely a few years had passed since Tirafa had joined me on our journey, but now she wished to join her husband in death. “I’ve lived far too long already,” she told me with a air. “I must go to Olajuwan now. I will miss you and Penelope, but my time has come. Do what you must. I am not afraid.”
I had promised to kill her when the time came, and now it had come. I had to fulfill my vow and grant her wish. As I possessed the knowledge of the elixir of immortality, I also possessed the knowledge to mix other potions with varied results, including death. I chose an herbal poison that would put Tira to sleep, never to awaken. She would pass then to that other plane of existence where she would join her beloved husband who had been a slave of Pharaoh as Tirafa had been a slave of the royal house until I took her away with me.
When she had taken the potion and gone to sleep, I placed my dear servant and friend upon an altar made just for her with animal skins in deference to her former Nubian birthplace. I kept her there for several days with oil lamps burning to light her way to the next world. Then I arranged for a discreet cremation. Before she took the poison, Tira had given me her ivory and animal teeth necklace, a gift I would cherish forever as I did her ashes placed lovingly in a pewter urn that traveled with me and Penelope wherever we went.
Servants would come and go in my life, but none would ever be as special as Tirafa the Nubian, my Tira. Death...I had cheated it, given eternal life and then taken it back. With a pang of dread, I wondered if Penelope would really be with me for all time. What if she died, not by my hand but from some hidden defect in the elixir and ritual, or perhaps by revenge for my defiance of the gods who claimed exclusive rights for immortality? How would I feel? How would I live without my love?
Unfortunately, those questions would be answered all too soon.