I’ve decided to change my free short fiction to Friday.
The women, swathed in silk and sitting on low ottomans, passed little cakes and whispered to each other. Their heads bent, their mouths painted, they looked like living flowers. She tried to stay away from the gossip of her subordinates, but this tidbit they were passing around to each other couldn’t be ignored.
It was freedom: freedom from the swathing, the men, the religion. It was freedom from restrictions.
Lady Sirah Abduman sat amongst her living flowers. One of her ladies, Afaf, had disappeared and her husband had a new wife placed in his harem. “But”, one of the women twittered, “there is a way to regain his affections.”
The women looked slyly at each other. Lady Sirah tried to question them. They refused to explain.
Lady Sirah had looked into the new mirror, gifted by her husband. She had seen the small wrinkles collect around the eyes, and the small white hairs in her sleek darkness. It would not be long before her husband decided that another younger woman should take her place. The only thing saving her now was that she had birthed the heir. The whispers of her women only intensified her worries.
As though she could read the thoughts in Lady Sirah’s head, Hessa took her hands and looked deep into her eyes. “There is a seller of new skins,” she whispered. “He only comes on that pagan holiday – Halloween.” She looked sadly at Lady Sirah. “He will give you back your youth.” Hessa dropped her hands.
It took many days to find this seller of new skins. She sent slaves to look for him, but they only came back with rumors that he was in one small town or another. And then it was said that he couldn’t get permission to set up his tent in the city. When she asked about this merchant, her husband told her that the world was a dangerous place. They lay on the bed, his hand stroking her skin.
Later Lady Sirah’s slaves found the marketplace where the seller had set up. She covered and veiled herself, until she was ready to meet this seller. She was escorted by her slaves for safety. It would not get back to her husband. These slaves could lose their lives if he found out their destination.
Once they reached the marketplace, she sent one of her slaves to find the tent and then, she was helped to the tent. One of the slaves kept his body in front of her so that no one would see her enter. The taboo made her hands slick with sweat. No man, but her husband, should see her face.
The merchant was a young man with dark silken hair. He sat legs crossed on a cushion. Before they began their bartering, his wife helped Lady Sirah sit on a cushion across from the merchant. Eventually they settled on a few gold pieces of her dowry jewelry.
Then it was time to go to the back and start the procedure. It would make her young and more desirable to her husband. Her heart began to beat heavily, and she gasped in excitement. Soon she would be young again. Soon she would — her thoughts stopped as she was led into the back. The place looked like an alchemical nest of bottles, rugs, dust, and tubing. And in front of her was her husband. He was smiling.
His laughter, the bell tones she loved so much, rang out. Lady Sirah chilled with fear. Before she could scream, before her slaves could help her, she was gagged and bound. Her husband bent over her in pride. “I am so proud of your bartering skills. You saved me many golds.”
“Let us begin,” he said to the merchant.
The merchant put on a leather apron and offered one to Lady Sirah’s husband. He nodded his head no. They first took off her silks until she was naked under their eyes. Her husband could feel her screams as they took the next step and peeled off her skin. It had to be done carefully, and she must stay alive through this procedure or the spell wouldn’t work. Whenever she went unconscious, her husband would wake her up with smelling salts.
To Lady Sirah, this procedure lasted for hours. But to her husband it was only moments. How long does it take a person to die by being skinned? When her skin was hanging off the bottoms of her feet, Lady Sirah sighed. Quickly, her husband put his lips to her mouth and took her last breath into himself. He could feel his skin grow smoother and his blacker. The lines and creases fell away from his face.
The two men washed the blood off their clothes and bodies. The night sky glowed from the moon. The spell was complete. The husband was young and virile again. In twenty years, the seller of new skins would be back on Halloween and once again Lord Abduman would deliver another wife.
The seller of new skins gains golds and new life.
Published in Ghostly Glimmers in 2012.