The Nuri slave girls danced like cats in heat. Muscled thighs rubbed wet nether lips, and pebbled nipples brushed frantically against each other. Sharp notes from the drum master’s talking drum, struck in tune with their gyrations, accompanied by a chorus of half-dressed instrumentalists. They blew on flutes, slapped palms against shekere beads and plucked on metallic tines. The music was adequate. The drumming acceptable. And the slave girls quite pleasing. Watching the teasing of their oiled bodies, trained for this type of display, stoked at all my voyeuristic tendencies. My nipples stirred to life underneath my velvet dress. I leaned my head to the side and watched the entertainment. Their hips swung in alternation, one girl pushed forward, stroking herself against the other, and her partner retaliated.

Theirs was a special type of torture.

Their eyes were partially closed, and their lips slightly parted. They let out soft pants of arousal.

All around them, nobles lounged idly. Some had pleasure slaves of their own seeing to their needs. A cursory glance revealed bald slave scalps held in place over erect phalluses and between shapely thighs. I moved my hand slightly and my slave rushed to place a bowl of cubed mangoes within my grasp. The slave boy was new. He was all slim grace, with a sculpted chest and arms slightly bulging with muscles. His cock stood tall and proud. He, like everyone else in my court, seemed to be enjoying the dancing slaves.

I let my fingers toy absently with the yellow cubes in the golden bowl proffered. The slave boy’s eyes rose to mine. His lips parted and a red tongue darted out, sliding leisurely over his plump lower lip, leaving a trail of moisture in its wake. For a fleeting second, I wondered how that tongue would feel travelling up my thighs and lapping up the wetness starting to form between my legs. Then the moment passed and I plucked a cube from the bowl. I fed the slave, a small cube first. He closed his eyes and chewed slowly as if he was savoring every bit. Then his eyes opened, he stared up at me and blinked. I trailed the back of my fingers over his long lashes and fed him another cube. This time he sucked on my fingers as I pulled them out of his mouth.

I smiled and took my focus back to the dancing girls.

They were gifts from the Eze of Nuri, beautiful girls with honey brown skin, rounded curves and full breasts. They had the light skin and short, curly, hair of the Nuri people, much different from my people, the Isan, with our darker skin and longer kinky hair. Nuri slaves were allowed to keep their hair. They did not need to sheer their curls to show their servitude, the brand on their skin did that for them. These dancing girls were branded on their finely shaped buttocks.

The barbarity never failed to shock me. It was not that they had slaves, the Isan had slaves too, it was that their bonds of slavery were permanent. A brand like the Nuris fashioned could not be removed. A Nuri slave would always be known as one who’d been owned. In Isan, our slaves made a choice. They cut their hair when they wished to be enslaved and let it grow out when they desired freedom. Some did it simply because they felt it best suited their natures. They liked to be kept, they were told by the Oracle that service was their calling and they exalted in it. Some did it for a period of time for moneys earned, some in reparation for crimes committed, and some to gain political favor. But slaves could reenter society as free and have no permanent signs to show what they’d been. It was the civilized way of handling such business.

The thud of sandaled feet tore my attention from the dancing girls. I turned slowly to stare at the marbled steps that led up to the dais. Only my family would dare climb without first seeking permission. Tiwo smirked at me from a face that bore an eerie resemblance to mine. His long hair was braided like mine, but only two of his braids were woven with gems. He wore royal beads around his waist, neck, wrists and ankles. He was dressed in the Isan custom, with a velvet wrapper tied around his waist and his chest left bare.

The guards bowed to him as he walked by.

He ignored them with the cool air of an aristocrat placed far above their station.

He strolled up to me, bent, and whispered into my ear, “say whatever you want about the Nuri, their girls have nice tits.” Then he kissed me on my cheek and stood, waiting. Moments later, palace servants in khakis rushed up the dais, carrying a short leather couch. They placed the couch on the ground and descended the stage walking backwards, with their heads bowed.

No one walked with their back to me.

No one but my arrogant twin brother.

He turned his back on me, flaunting our customs with a casual disregard that drew gasps of outrage from my personal guard. They glared at him, but Tiwo was indifferent. I just shook my head. My gaze turned to the rest of the court. Tiwo’s presence had drawn attention away from the ardent labors of the Nuri dancers. Now the nobles frowned their censure at Tiwo, and by extension, me. It was a mark against me that I allowed him to disrespect me. What they couldn’t understand was that I didn’t care.

“Pretty boy,” Tiwo commented, his gaze was on the dancing girls not the ‘pretty’ slave boy who’d frozen up at Tiwo’s words. “Mangoes, boy.” He snapped his finger. The slave didn’t move. Tiwo’s lips tightened. He stared at me over the kneeling boy’s head. “Where did you get him?”

I passed a cursory glance over the finely scraped scalp. “A gift from our mother.”

Tiwo scuffed. “Who did she fuck this time?”

“Tiwo,” I scolded.

“What? You know she only sends you gifts when she’s in trouble.” Tiwo’s gaze turned to the boy who still knelt stiffly. He hadn’t moved since Tiwo made his comment. Tiwo stretched out his hand slowly. I watched him out of the corner of my eye as he ran his knuckles across the side of the boy’s face.

The slave’s jaw clenched.

“Ah, I see,” Tiwo pulled his hand back, “my apologies.” His lips quirked in a mocking smile. “Will you feed me anyway?” The slave didn’t move. “No?” Tiwo shrugged. He bent forward and scooped out a handful of mango cubes. Then he draped himself back over the couch, his right arm tossed over the back and his left leg thrown over the armrest.

The slave’s jaw ticked. I tended to think of all male slaves as boys and females as girls. It just made it easier, and the ones I enjoyed seemed to like it that way. This ‘boy’ was at least four years older than Tiwo and I, old enough to know better than to openly disrespect a royal. Tiwo was like me, he found pleasure in both sexes as I did, and he was not ashamed of it. I was not perverse enough to share slaves with my brother, but I could not stand them being rude to him.

I flicked my fingers at the slave boy in clear signs of dismissal. His lips tightened and he glared at Tiwo. Then he fixed me with a doe-eyed stare.

“Do I not please you, revered?” he asked. His voice was like saccharine, sweet in a way that was sickening.

Tiwo tsk-ed. “My sister does not like to be disobeyed. You should leave before she punishes you.”

The slave drew up and rounded on Tiwo. He opened his mouth, but I cut him off. “Leave,” I snapped, “and make sure I never see you again.”

He jumped to his feet and hurried away, walking sideways.

Tiwo stared at his muscled backside and whistled. “Mother spoils you with the best gifts.”

Not really. It was just like her to send me a slave that was outwardly pleasing but whose character repulsed me. Besides, I preferred to play with slaves in pairs, like the Nuri dancing girls. Now those two were a matched set. They were so close to the brink, it was obvious in the frenzied way they stroked themselves with their thighs.

“Please put them out of their misery, Tan.”

“Softy,” I teased.

“I look at their fine derrieres and I am instantly aware of the brand that was used on them. Don’t you wonder how they came to be enslaved? Were they stolen from lives they loved and branded? Were they trained to torture themselves with their own sexual frustrations at the end of a whip?”

I turned to glare at my twin. “I could have done without those images in my head.”

He shrugged. It was easy to underestimate Tiwo, when he’d so thoroughly perfected the act of a spoilt, debauched, noble. But underneath that pretense lived a mind as sharp as my sword and a tongue as skilled.

I clapped my hands together. One strike of my palms and the music stopped. The Nuri slaves showed the extent of their training. As soon as the music ended, the hall filled with music of a different sort. The girls groaned. They alternated, high notes followed low ones. Then they bent backwards, their chests lost contact, and they arched, bringing those breasts and their standing nips to a mouth-watering focus.

All the nobles leaned forward, their attentions fixated on the girls who now stroked upwards and downwards, along each other’s thighs, in perfect synchronicity. Then their cries stopped alternating and mingled together instead, in a perfect blend that led up to a mind-blowing crescendo when they erupted in an orgasmic wail. Their chests rose and fell, and they bent even further back, and hung with their legs spread wide, exposing their juices.

“Wow,” Tiwo breathed out.

I stood and picked up my goblet of Nuri chapman.

The hall fell silent.

I turned to the high table on the right side of the room. The Nuri designation sat there. They were headed by an Oza, the highest rank of the Nuri peerage. The Oza that led this designation was the fraternal uncle of the Eze of Nuri. The Oza had served as Umeze, regent to the current Eze after his parents died. He’d been too young then to ascend to the throne. If rumors could be believed, the Oza had raised the Eze as a son.

“We are pleased by this gift,” I said, lifting my goblet, “and look forward to many more years of prosperous trade with the Nuri.”

The Oza stood and bowed to me. “The Nuri are grateful, revered.”

I took a sip of the chapman and let the alcoholic beverage burn down my throat. The liquor in it was light, a Nuri slight to my gender? I ignored the suspicion, sat, and beckoned the slave girls closer.

“You want them,” I said.

Tiwo’s hungry gaze turned to me. “They are yours,” he said.

I had been briefly aroused by their performance, a twitching of my nipples, a little dampness, but I shook my head. The perks of royalty had since left me too well sated. I was not so enamored with them that I would take them for myself when my brother wanted them more. Besides, Tiwo’s words still echoed in my head. If they’d been Isan slaves, I would know they were willing, Nuri slaves…who knew what they thought, or what they’d been sent to spy out in Isan court.

“I see no need to slight the Nuri, so I will excuse myself and take the girls with me. Wait a few minutes and then go to your rooms. They’ll be waiting there for you.”

Tiwo smiled at me. “They are yours, Tan, truly, I can find willing company easy enough.”

“I do not want them.” There was something about this visit from the Oza that did not sit well with me. The news coming from the Nuri-Bono borders these days were troubling. Stories of noble Bono children stolen by Nuri slavers and branded. The Bono people prided purity of the flesh too high to accept a slave as descendant of a noble line. Those children, once branded, were forever lost. There were whispers of a war brewing between our neighbors. The Bono bordered us on the East and the Nuri on the West. Their lands rounded the River Nulin and met at the rivers end, making them neighbors as well. In the event of a war between their nations, ours would be forced to pick sides.

The Isan and the Bono people were tightly bound. My father’s mother was Bono, my mother was currently remarried to a Bono, and chances were that I would marry the youngest Bono prince. If war broke out between the Nuri and the Bono, the Isan would side with Bono. I did not want two Nuri slaves, no matter how delectable, in my bed in the event that happened.

“Ah,” Tiwo said. At times it was as if we shared one mind. His eyes narrowed on the naked slaves who knelt at the foot of the dais. “Have no fear sister, I will take one for the great Isan nation, and suffer myself to coax their true nature out of them.” His devouring gaze scoured over their flesh. I scoffed, suffer indeed.

If it was anyone else, I would feel the need to remind them that the Nuri slaves belonged to me now, which made them Isan slaves, subject to our laws and our deference to the calling that bound them. But it was Tiwo, and my brother and I were of one mind when it came to servitude.

I stood. “Yes, I am sure fucking beautiful women will be a real hardship for you,” I teased dryly. Then I walked off the dais and left the hall, the Nuri slaves crawling silently in my wake.

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