* * * *
Even exaggerated with wine-soaked bravado, none of the tales of the Seraglio of Neeb matched up to the reality. It truly was a temple to the worship of sensual pleasures. The rooms beyond were more sumptuous than even the King’s own chambers. Nanok saw pools of crystal-clear water with fragrant flower petals sprinkled on the surface. Mountains of soft silk cushions were piled upon lush, exotic furs. And the girls . . .
Nanok had never before seen such a collection of comely beauties. If willing wenches were as plentiful as apples on the ground then these maidens must be the sweetest, most succulent fruits of the Gods’ own orchard. Nanok saw sapphire-eyed willowy blondes from Fe’berg; flame-haired temptresses from wild Zeminolia; olive-skinned beauties from the islands of Oran; a dark-skinned Buronthian with her black hair twined together in long braids; girls from every corner of the map he’d travelled to and some from regions he’d only heard of in campfire tales. Their supple bodies were naked save for swathes of fine silk around their shapely hips. All were adorned with delicate golden chains and glittering precious stones. A king’s treasure in metal, stone and flesh, was Nanok’s thought.
This temple even had its own idol. At the far end of the long room, with its legs astride a walkway between two pools, stood an enormous statue of the same horned devil woman Nanok had seen on both the chains of office and capstone above the entrance. Clouds of incense wafted around the statue’s legs.
All civilised men made a worship of hedonism and pleasure, in Nanok’s opinion. At least in Neeb they were honest about it.
The girls remained queerly composed. Nanok would have expected some to flee screaming at the arrival of ten bloodstained and battle-weary men, and wouldn’t have begrudged them. He’d sacked his fair share of cities. He knew full well men with their blood up from battle, even the most noble, often committed terrible atrocities in the moments following a city’s fall. These girls seemed so unafraid Nanok wondered if they might be ensorcelled or lost in dreams of the lotus. The same enchantment seemed to have spread to Nanok’s men. Rather than charging in like lusty sailors finding port after a long voyage, they were stricken with a kind of awe. They entered quietly and respectfully, more like men on their way to worship at a temple than men looking to spend coin and seed at a bordello.
Two veiled maidens—one dusky, the other as pale as a snowfield—approached Nanok and bowed.
“Esqeta told us King Lyoncar is dead and we are to serve you as we served him,” the dusky maiden said.
“We are yours as we were his,” the pale-skinned girl said.
“What is your wish, King Nanok?” the dusky-skinned girl asked.
Nanok smiled. “I have some battle-weary dogs in need of the light touch of a woman’s hand to pick up their flesh and spirits.”
As with the veiled Esqeta, if the women balked at the presence of the sweaty, bloodstained soldiers, they hid it well. They seemed well-versed in that peculiar civilised art of quelling the fires of the heart that Nanok so often found infuriating when dealing with the sophisticated elites. The slippery sons of snakes never let on what they were really thinking. By Dhom, the battle had been hard enough as it was. He was in no mood for thawing the loins of frosty dancing wenches.
He didn’t have to worry. The two veiled maidens led him to a soft pile of silk cushions. Both ran soft hands over the iron-hard muscles of his biceps and thighs while cooing like lovebirds. Nanok grinned. As usual, the daughters of civilisation were only too eager to let in the wolf prowling outside their gates.
Nanok lay back on soft cushions. It was a welcome change from cold earth and hard pallets. Around him the atmosphere grew more raucous as his men stripped off their armour and cavorted with the harem girls. Music—an exotic caterwauling of unearthly pipes, cat-screech strings and beating drums—played in the background. Plentiful food and fine wines were brought in—a coronation feast befitting a new king. And by Dhom, why shouldn’t he enjoy it. He’d earned it through blood and steel, as was the right of all men.
“Ha ha,” Vroo guffawed. “These wenches have been starved of real men for too long. The sagging sceptre of a fat old king is no substitute for the sword of a virile fighting man.” He took a bite out of a large leg of ham and rubbed his face between the breasts of the voluptuous maiden lying next to him.
Over on a plush divan Dranitreb was attempting to woo his maiden like a yellow-bellied Kosskootan—a kiss to her hand, a kiss to her wrist, a kiss to her arm, a kiss to—
“You’re supposed to make love to her, lad, not send her to sleep,” Nanok called out. “Forgive the pup,” he said to Dranitreb’s partner. “He became a man only today.”
Dranitreb blushed. Understanding flashed in the girl’s eye. With one quick motion she had Dranitreb on his back and was astride him. Nanok smiled. The Zeminolians were renowned horse riders. The young pup was likely to find himself broken in like a stallion if he didn’t watch himself.
The corded steel of Nanok’s neck and shoulders softened as he relaxed on the cushions. The battle was won; time to enjoy the spoils. The pale-skinned maiden brought a platter of sweet grapes and fed them to him while her companion caressed his muscles with first her hands and then her lips.
Scented smoke was filling the room like a fog. He watched it spill out of the nipples and sex of the giant idol and roll across the floor like mists across the northern lakes of Abyleen. Nanok snorted, trying to clear his nostrils of the cloying perfume. The scent was pleasant, but too thick. It overpowered his senses and left him feeling diminished in the way a blindfold over his eyes would take away his sight.
A fiery ache blossomed in his body and surged down to his loins. Sensing his arousal, the dusky maiden took off his loincloth and Nanok’s cock rose with the mists. The air must be drugged. Nanok had heard of such things. Plenty of peddlers in the flesh pits of Po-Teat promised all kinds of unguents, potions and scents to help a man’s rod stay straight and true. Undoubtedly King Lyoncar had required a little something of that magic to help him fully appreciate his treasures. Nanok thought it feeble. If a man had a willing wench beside him, he needed no help.
A gong sounded. The music paused.
“Lady Esqeta will now dance for your pleasure,” the dusky-skinned maiden whispered in his ear, close enough for him to feel the soft pressure of her full lips.
Nanok’s interest pricked up. He was curious to see what the mistress of the seraglio was hiding beneath her robes. A great cloud of smoke billowed from between the legs of the giant idol. Like the breath of a dragon, Nanok thought with a small sliver of disquiet. Two slender girls—golden-skinned beauties from far-off Kallahia, waved fans as they fluttered before the cloud like exotic butterflies. The smoke faded and revealed Lady Esqeta.
* * * *
This was the last story to finish for the collection. Originally it was a simple prospect - take musclebound-but-dim stereotypical barbarian and have a succubus turn the tables on them. Then I reread all of Howard's stories and remembered his Conan, the archetypal and Ur-barbarian, is far more clever and cunning than the fantasy stereotypes that followed.
There's a little black joke at Howard's expense buried in the story. It wasn't deliberate, just a combination of words that could be taken to mean something else. I only noticed it was there when I was editing. I thought about editing it out, but that would mean acknowledging I have something other than a lump of black coal for a heart, which patently isn't true. Apologies anyway, Mr Howard, you stupid daft bugger for killing yourself so young. His genius is available to read here, and well worth checking out to see how good the early pulp masters were.
My humble effort, A Succubus for Freedom, is available now as an ebook from here, here, here, and even B&N here, although no one seems to go there anymore.
For the people waiting for a print version, I do have the full coverflat artwork now and I'm just waiting for the print manuscript to go through. I'll post here with details as soon as the print version of the book is available to buy. Sorry for the delay on that.
I'm not sure which fantasy stereotype is up next for "vs. Succubus". I have Rogue and Samurai (with a guest appearance from another of my characters) pencilled in. Any others you'd like to see?