by Dave Potter
The night was balmy, and cicadas hummed in the air. A figure walked into the holy sanctuary, unseen, unsure of himself. He knelt down and began to pray, saying the words out loud because he knew that no one was there to hear them save for God Himself:
“I wish I could be with her! She is my sun and my moon! I think of her night and day and I cannot live without her. She is so sweet, so innocent, so beautiful. She is feminine perfection itself. Please God, I pray to you, grant me my wish that she and I can be together forever, close and loving, our bodies pressed against each other, two souls working as one.”
The vertical pillars of smoke rising from the incense burners quivered slightly as if someone, unseen in the shadows, had moved. But the boy never noticed. He was too lost in his romantic yearnings.
It began on a Friday.
It began with a visitor.
She came dressed in a fine burqa covered with exquisite embroidery. Although you could see nothing of the person within, you could tell that she was connected to wealth and power. She came with an entourage of servants and she came bearing a proposal.
Almast, her finest burqa thrown over her in haste, was led down to the main room where the woman was seated. The woman was introduced as Lady Keghush, one of the sisters of the Sultan in the great palace in Vanadzor. The young girl, only having celebrated her sixteenth birthday the month before, was made to stand in front of this great and ornately shrouded figure. “Remove her burqa!” came the voice from within. Nervously, Almast’s mother took off the garment that preserved her daughter’s precious modesty. The lady surveyed what she saw beneath and then motioned that the burqa could be replaced. “It seems the reports of her budding beauty are accurate,” she said, “and I believe that her intellect is astounding too?”
“She was top of her class in the school and passed all the examinations,” said Almast’s father.
“That is important. Should my brother ever select her for breeding, then a sound intellect is crucial. Half-wit offspring are a menace to the kingdom.”
Then, turning to the girl, she said, “I have come to this house with a proposal from the palace. My brother desires a new bedchamber companion and you are the girl that we have selected. It is a position of great honour and luxury. You shall live pampered and beautified and shall worry for nothing and, if he chooses, you may be offered wifehood and the chance to bear royal offspring. What do you say to this, girl?”
Almast looked at the grille of the lady’s burqa, trying to discern something of the woman beneath, but she could see nothing. “I-I-I am honoured, Exalted One, i-i-it is a great honour, but…”
“But there are ru-ru-rumours, Exalted One, rumours of life in the palace and…”
“Almast!” hushed her father, turning to their guest. “Do not listen to her, she is but a child and…”
“Silence! She is no longer a child, her developed body attests to that. And she is sharp and intelligent. Yes, girl, there are rumours. They even reach my ears from time to time. Rumours that the companions of the Sultan are mutilated somehow, am I right?”
“Y-y-y-yes, Exalted One. Their arms are chopped off, that is the rumour. So they may not, p-p-pleasure themselves.”
“You are a brave girl to speak such things to me. It does you credit. But rumours are just that: rumours. However, if you are to accept you should do it with your mind at ease and so I would like you to come with me.”
“Come with you, Exalted One?”
“Yes, come with me. To the palace. See the home that could be yours, and meet a companion to see if she has her arms left on her body. How does that sound to you?”
“Why… yes, Exalted One, it sounds… amazing!”
“Ha! Then we leave now! I have a plane waiting at the airfield that can take us all to Vanadzor. Let us see your future, girl!”
Peering through the grille of her best burqa, Almast could not believe the opulence of the palace that she had been taken to. The marble pillars, the great chandeliers, the sculpted gardens, the floor so clean you could eat your dinner off it and the vast halls. It was more like a dream than reality.
Indeed, the same could be said of her entire life after that conversation in her family home. She had been quickly dressed and then driven in a fabulous limousine with mirrored windows, to the airfield where a small plane was waiting. On board, she gasped when she saw the luxurious chairs and was served fresh fruit juice by her own, personal, burqa-clad maid. Lady Keghush spoke to her casually, as if she were an old friend, referring to the sultan as if he were just an everyday guy while beyond the glass the world shrank as they rose in the sky.
Half an hour later, they descended again and, at the capital’s main airport, were met by another limousine which whisked them through the busy streets to the palace.
The palace that she was now standing in, waiting to meet some of the bedchamber companions of the sultan. They arrived, flanked by maidservants, clad in the finest of burqas, walking slowly and regally and bowing slightly as they reached her. Immediately, she felt a little silly. That these exalted ladies could walk up to her was proof enough that the half of the rumours she’d heard were totally unfounded and she felt like a complete idiot. She remembered her cousin Akabi telling her in whispers about women who had their legs chopped off so that they couldn’t run away from the sultan when he wanted to take them. She wished that Akabi were with her now so that she could show her.
“You are Almast I believe,” said the first of the two companions who she was introduced to. The lady was dressed in a deep pink burqa and, from it emerged a hand gloved in black silk. Tentatively, Almast extended her own gloved hand through the slit in the burqa and the two shook. The lady’s hand was warm and soft and most definitely real. The rumours were false!
“Yes, Exalted One.”
“Shh! None of those titles with me. I believe you’re worried about whether to accept the sultan’s proposal. I understand; it’s a big life change and maybe you have a boy whom you’re sweet on…”
“Oh no, nothing like that. I don’t really know any boys and have never been close to one and…”
“Come, come now, sister, you can be truthful with me. After all, we will be like sisters you know. My name is Patil and this here is Shushan.”
Her hand gestured to her left and the other burqa-clad companion stepped forward. She too extended a gloved hand to shake Almast’s.
“Hi there, sister. What Patil says is right. If you accept the proposal, you’ll be joining our little team.”
“Yes, the sultan likes us to be in unofficial teams of three. Our last member recently left the palace and so we’ve been waiting for a new girl to join us. We do so hope you will take up her mantle.”
Shushan had a very melodic voice with a foreign accent. She, like Patil, sounded kind and warm and Almast was put at ease.
“Shh, Shushan, you’re changing the subject! Lean in Almast and tell us the truth: you must have noticed boys before now, surely?”
Beneath her burqa, Almast blushed. It was true that, in the last three or four years, she had started to look at boys in a different way and feel attracted to them in a manner that she didn’t fully understand. “Well, I suppose I have but I am pure and…”
“Oh, we don’t doubt that, sister, we don’t doubt that at all. But there must have been one that you felt drawn towards, dreamt about…?”
“Sister Patil, I lead a secluded and modest life and I don’t…”
“The truth now,” the shrouded figure pressed in a conspiratorial tone.
“Well… I haven’t told anyone this before, but there is a servant boy. I know he likes me because he glances at me all the time and he is rather handsome… but I would never…”
“Shhh, we know that. But we girls can always dream, can’t we? Besides, join our team and you shall dream no longer. The sultan is a strong and experienced man and he will surpass your dreams, let me tell you!”
At these words both ladies giggled and Almast blushed again.
“Please join us Almast, we can’t wait to get to know you better!”
But she had already made her mind up. The moment that Patil’s hand had shaken hers, dispelled the childish concern, she had decided. Their warmth and kindness had only served to solidify her decision. She nodded and they clapped their gloved hands noiselessly, before clasping hers in sisterhood and then retiring back to their private quarters, leaving Almast to contemplate a whole new world.
Two months later, she returned to that sumptuous palace. This time she was clad in a white wedding burqa to signify her virginity and the commitment that she was making to the sultan. Four servants held the long train and this time it was she who proceeded through the great carved wooden doors into the women’s private quarters. There she was taken to the baths, stripped, washed, and prepared. She was shaved and waxed down below and oils were rubbed all over her body. Her hair was shampooed and then dried and then curled and decorated with jewels. Chains were linked between her nose ring and her earrings and little bells clipped onto her pert nipples. then her hands were hennaed and a jewel affixed to her navel before she was led down numberless corridors to the grandest bedchamber that she had ever seen. She was guided to a great bed covered with white silken sheets and left there.
Almast could not believe her turn of fate, and she had never experienced such happiness.
The smell of incense wafted through the air and a soft breeze caressed her cheek. Almast squirmed on the silken sheets and smiled inwardly. She’d enjoyed an extremely long and vivid dream inspired by her night of lovemaking with the Sultan and then her walk through the opulent surroundings of the palace, being waited on hand and foot. In her dreams she had lounged by tinkling fountains, ate dates and sweetmeats while a rabab played in the background and birds sang. It was glorious, and it felt like she had been asleep for days, not hours. Yet now, lying here in the height of luxury, had that dream not come true?
Or had it descended into a nightmare?
She sensed that something was wrong even before she opened her eyes. She’d tried to stretch her legs, and nothing had happened. Then she’d stretched her arms and, again, no reaction. Had she lain on them in a strange way during the night, causing them to deaden? She opened her eyes and looked down.
And then she screamed.
Because they weren’t there!
The screams brought the maidservants running. They bathed her head with a damp towel and bade her to calm down. But how could she calm down? She tried to move, to sit up, to do anything, but she could not! It all resulted in naught but squirms and twists without purchase against the silken sheets. She had no legs to move and no arms either. They had been there, and now they were not. She screamed, and she shook, and the maidservants held her and quieted her.
Finally, though, her tears ran dry and her energy dissipated and she was calm enough to learn what had been done to her and why.
A mirror was brought out and she was placed in front of it, lifted up like a… thing. Staring back at her with wet cheeks was a largely naked female torso. Where the legs should have been, there was nothing, not even a pair of stumps. A maid explained to her that her old legs had been removed completely, the bones taken out of the sockets and the shape of her bottom – which the Sultan had found to be most alluring – maintained through the use of implants. Similarly, her arms had also been removed at the sockets and the shoulders rounded. Skin was grafted over all four wounds so expertly that the scars were almost completely unseen – and totally so after a quick dusting of powder. All this Almast comprehended on a factual level, but what she did not understand was why.
“It has always been so, Exalted One,” explained the maid, “or at least, it has been so for many years. In the time of the Sultan’s grandfather there was a terrible murder in the palace. The fact is that our Sultan’s grandfather should never have been Sultan at all, instead his elder brother was due to inherit. But one of the bedchamber companions of the then Sultan wished for her son to take the kingdom and so, during a session of particularly vigorous lovemaking, she murdered the sultan and then left the room to alert her son to take power. By chance, she was seen sneaking through the corridors by a loyal guard and the coup stopped. As the next nearest relative, the sultan’s brother took the throne and, as soon as he did, he announced measures to ensure that he kept it. The murdering bedchamber companion and her family were all killed themselves, but that was not all.
The sultan’s grandfather was, as our beloved ruler is, a lover of many women. He loved to indulge in the bedroom, but knew that this could be the death of him, as it had been his brother. He also knew that this attempted coup was only the latest of many that had bedevilled the royal house over the past century and more, most of them originating from the bedchamber. So, it was that he decreed that all future bedchamber companions – and full wives – be rendered unable to commit treason by having their limbs removed. The sultan’s reasoning was extremely wise: a limbless female cannot wield a knife or poison, nor move about the palace unaided to plot and whisper, yet she retains all the parts of her – her breasts, bottom, face and intimate holes – that please a man. Plus, should he choose to grace her with a child, she can bear and give birth. Limbless, as you and all the bedchamber companions – or, as you are now to be referred to having undergone the honour of amputation, pillow companions – you can exist to pleasure him yet not threaten him.”
“What? The other companions are also limbless?” asked Almast, thinking of the burqa-clad companion whom she had met on her visit to the palace who stood tall and shook her hand.
“Indeed, they are, Exalted One. After breakfast and toileting, I shall introduce them to you.”
Breakfast and toileting were unnerving processes for Almast. Since early childhood, she had done these simple tasks by herself. Now just the thought of using a utensil was beyond her, and she was totally reliant on others to do everything for her. The maid seated her on a sofa and then spoon-fed food into her mouth like one would do with a baby or toddler, cleaning her mouth afterwards. To make things worse, at one point, after wiggling a little to get comfortable, without thighs to steady herself she toppled over easily, frighteningly, and lay there face down until the maid set her dish down and picked her up. It was humiliating.
Not as humiliating as going to the toilet though. After eating her breakfast, she was carried across to, not the bathroom, but instead a large porcelain bowl, and then told to discharge her wastes into it. Wishing to curl up with embarrassment at having to do something so intimate so publicly, she shook her head and squirmed in the firm hands of her carer. The maid sternly replied, “Exalted One, you must! You will not get another toileting opportunity for several hours!” At this point, overwhelmed by her helplessness, Almast burst into tears. The maid put her down on the cold floor, knelt before her and dabbed her eyes dry. “Crying won’t help, Exalted One. What has been done has been done, and you must learn to live with it. It may seem hard now, but you will get used to it I know, and life here can be pleasant. So please, stop crying and do your toilet.” Almast tried and tried, with all her might, to will her limbs to lift her up and out of this hell, but nothing happened. Eventually her tears dried, and she was held over the bowl again, this time her pee trickled out in a yellow stream while she closed her eyes in shame. When it abated, the maid dabbed her dry with a tissue and another maid took the bowl away. She was then powdered down there, and her outfit put on.
Her outfit was rather similar to a one-piece swimming suit except that it had no arm and leg holes and, instead, there were tassels where her limbs had once protruded. Almast wondered at the purpose of these (beyond the obvious decoration), but soon found out. As the suit was made of a very slippery dark green silken material, decorated with fine embroidery, the maid used the tassels to hold her charge and gain purchase when she lifted her.
Once dressed and her hair plaited into a becoming French braid, she was carried by the maidservant down several corridors to a large, airy room with a fountain in the centre and several songbirds in cages. It was like one of the rooms in her dreams except for the fact that, seated in specially-made wooden devices that cradled their bottoms, held their womanly hips tightly, were eleven girls. All were exquisitely beautiful and, like her, all were entirely limbless.
They were her fellow pillows.
When she entered they all stopped their conversations, looked up and smiled. “Welcome!” said one; “Hello!” said another. The maidservant carefully placed Almast down on the one empty seat in the circle of girls and announced, “Pillows of our esteemed Sultan Vosgan III, please welcome Almast, the newest member of your exalted sorority.”
When she was settled, hips and bum secured with a belt, each of the girls introduced herself in turn. There was Pavagan, Arpenig, Aldzig, Talar, Yeraskh, Zarmuhi, Erepuni, Vosgi, Lalag, Nazenig, and then finally Shushan and Patil. “But of course, we’ve already met,” said Patil, “although, naturally, we couldn’t look at each other’s faces then.”
“Yes, and thank you,” replied Almast, quite overwhelmed by all these new faces attached to limbless torsos who seemed to be quite at ease with their strange situation.
“I suppose we should offer you a bit of an apology,” added Shushan, “since we never warned you about the honour of reduction. I know when I joined and woke up finding myself totally limbless, it was a terrible shock. I cried for days and even now I’ve not totally adjusted. However, we would have been punished terribly if we had, and even had we have warned you, what difference would it have made? Our Exalted Sultan chose you and that was that; even if you’d have refused, they would have taken you anyhow. At least this way we could be warm with you so that when you woke up limbless, you at least knew you had sisters who care.”
At these words Almast, so overwhelmed by the events of recent days and the warmth of these fellow pillow girls, burst into tears of both joy and despair. The other pillows comforted her with words and kind expressions since they were but short paces away but could not move and touch her.
When she had recovered, they talked and explained more.
“Your life here will be simple yet, if you allow it to be, pleasant,” said Pavagan who was the oldest, longest-serving and therefore the leader of the pillow girls. “Forget the limbs that you once had, for they have gone and can never be returned. Forget the independence that you once enjoyed; it cannot be regained. Instead, accept that you are totally dependent on servants for everything and revel in that dependence. Do not be embarrassed when they feed you or service your toileting needs. They exist to serve you; glory in the fact that you have that honour.
You however, exist solely to serve Our Exalted Sultan. He is your sun and your moon and your only care is to make him happy. You are no longer a human being but instead something higher, more honoured: you are his pillow, or, to be more precise, one of his twelve pillows who keep him comfortable, warm and happy in the bedchamber.”
“I am not a human being?”
“No. Human beings have arms and legs; you have neither. Pillows on the other hand are soft in all the right places and warm and comforting. They exist to be held, to be hugged and to be used.”
“And trust me Almast, a pretty pillow like you will be used a lot, though not always as you wish to be!” chipped in Lalag.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’ve already experienced the joys of the bedchamber we know; the fulfillment and joy that can be gained from having his Divine Member inserted in your love channel. Well, it’ll be going in your other holes soon, don’t you worry.”
“Shhh, Lalag, you’ll worry her!”
“She needs to know.”
“Maybe so, but there are other things that are more important. Like which team you’ll be in. Our sisterhood is divided into four teams of three. You’re with Shushan and Patil here. The teams take it in turns to comfort and pleasure Our Exalted Sultan in the bedchamber, rotating continually, although on some nights he chooses to take a particular pillow alone, or spend a night with one of his wives.”
“He has wives?!”
“Of course, four of them. They exist to bear his children. You don’t need to worry about them since we never see them and they never see us. They live veiled and silent in a different part of the palace.”
Almast was really enjoying this conversation, finally having some of her questions answered, but in the middle of Pavagan explaining about the wives and teams, twelves burqa-clad servants entered, each picking up a pillow girl and taking her off. When they saw their maids arriving, the pillows all bade goodbye to one another and then put on a regal expression as if that was what is expected when being served by a maid. Observing her new, diminished sisters, Almast tried to ape their behaviour. Remembering what she had been told about revelling in her dependence, she simply let the maid do what she wanted with her. She was taken to the toilet where she evacuated her bowels, letting the servant wipe her clean, before she was then bathed and towelled dry. Special aromatic oils were then rubbed into her skin, before she was carried to her bed in the next room. Almast was surprised that this was a king-sized resting place, something she considered totally unnecessary due to her new, truncated size. It was only weeks later that she realised that the bed had to be huge in case the sultan had an urge to join her in it on a whim.
Before being laid on the silken sheets, she was dressed in a strange sleeping garment. It was in white silk and covered her totally, including her head. Once zipped inside, she was blind, lost in world of white. It was disconcerting. Lying like this, helpless and blind, unable even to turn on her side as she had once preferred in a previous life, she eventually drifted off to sleep.
The following morning, after breakfast, toileting and dressing, Almast was carried back into her bedroom. Standing alone, stock-still, was something which had not been there before and quite shocked her, making her twist and shake in the firm, silent hands of her servant. It was shaped similar to a man, except that above its fit legs and bottom, the torso had been somehow bent so that it leaned forward and then straightened up again, creating a space behind it upon which sat a saddle, resting above its hips and behind. Due to this dramatic spine curvature, the thing was about half a metre shorter than a usual human, but what was more disconcerting was that the head, like the rest of the body, every inch, was completely covered with some sort of suit. This seemed to be made of a tight, dark fabric material, but embroidered with fine gold and silver thread. It was beautiful, but it erased any trace of humanity that this queer creature may have possessed. It did not move initially at their arrival, which unsettled Almast further.
“What is that?” she asked, before adding, “Is it human?”
“It was once, Exalted One. Now it is your carrier.”