Icarus paced languidly, speaking aloud to his scribes, dictating a letter. His sandy hair is cut short, stark against tan skin. His shirt is full-sleeved and billowy, and he waves a peacock-feathered fan thoughtfully as he paces across the marble hall. His scimitar hangs at his side, the gold hilt gleaming in the light streaming through the open windows. The gold and garnet amulet, symbol of the royal family, hangs low on his chest. "It is with utmost regret that I must decline your generous offer for the girl Serefalia, as she has sufficiently earned her freedom, and is happily betrothed to the Lord Malik in the Fospheria province."

Icarus ran the feathers over his jaw thoughtfully. His mind wandered. What would it be like to have a wife, rather than a harem? Intelligent conversation as opposed to the niceties of Exotics. Icarus sighed quietly, ruffling the feathers of his fan. Serafalia was the last of his Exotics, and even she was marrying. Icarus was alone again.

A short, scrawny boy with messy brown hair about the age of thirteen bows low to Icarus. "Pardon me, Master, but Lord Salek is here to see you."

Icarus turned his head to the boy. "Does he have a… shipment with him?" The boy nodded, his cheeks pink. Likely that he had never seen a naked woman before. "Very well. Thank you, Pili. I will visit with him shortly." Pili bowed low once more, and then scampered from the room. Icarus turned to his scribes. "Excuse me."

The regal man put his headdress on and swept out of the room. Icarus made his way to his throne room to greet the Exotics trader, completely inured to his people pausing and bowing. Servants opened the doors to the back of the Throne Room, and he gave them a brief smile as he went in to take his place. Once he was situated, with a glass of chilled red wine in hand, he gestured to Pili. "Allow Lord Salek entry. I am ready to see him now."

Lord Salek was a hardened man, with a deep tan and dark, coarse hair. He sauntered through the doors wearing fine, bold robes, and custom leather boots. A heavy purse jangled at his belt opposite a saber with a jeweled hilt. "Your Majesty!" He gave a low, exaggerated bow to his best customer. "You are looking quite well this day."

"And you, Lord Salek, look as extravagant as ever," Icarus replied coolly, in no mood for Salek's conversational frivolities. "I will never understand your passion for those heavy clothes." Salek smiled nervously and turned around to hiss angrily at his employees who had followed him inside. Icarus's lip curled in disgust. Salek had always been a loathsome, greedy, cruel man. The shirtless, bulky men exited and came back with a dozen nude women, plus one. Their hands were bound with soft leather cords, and although they did not look up, they were all tittering excitedly. Icarus heard the soft jangle of chains and searched through the cluster for the one in irons. His searching found a pair of green eyes before the loud slap of a leather strap caused her to yelp and return her gaze to the floor.

"Why is she in irons?" Icarus inquired, still looking at the mop of lank, dirty brown hair.

Salek scoffed, ready to dismiss the girl, but Salek caught the King's cold expression and stammered. "Majesty, she is a simple farmer's daughter," nervous laughter punctuated his explanation. "She was meant for a brothel in the next city…" Icarus scoffed, cutting him off.

"Line them up. Including her," He snapped at the merchant, standing. He held out his goblet for a refill before descending the stairs to the lineup of girls. He paced in front of them. Most of them were lithe young women with clean, braided hair. There were pale blondes from northern civilizations with short, rounded ears and clear blue eyes; black-haired beauties with wide hips, dark eyes and slight tans from the east; a few sweet freckled redheads with pointier ears from the northwest forests and deep cerulean irises; and one or two brunettes from local areas. The one at the end of the line was the girl in irons. Lank brown hair, a deep tan, longer pointed ears and the only girl from the group with emerald eyes. She was also the most voluptuous and muscular. Icarus put his hand beneath her chin and tilted her head up. "You may look at me."

The look was pleading. Icarus furrowed his brows. Her lips were dry and cracked. "When was the last time she has had any water?" Icarus swirled the wine in his goblet, thinking. The girl's eyes darted to the cup. Icarus stopped his swirling and shook his head. "No, girl. Spirits will surely make it worse." Although her green eyes were pleading, Icarus stood firm. "Salek! My question still needs answering."

Salek stammered. "I-I'm sure we gave her some this morning…" Icarus ran his hand over the farm girl's sweaty brow. Dirt came off on his hand. She was slightly paler than she seemed. He looked at his soiled hand.

"And why is she so dirty, and the others are so clean?" Salek stammered again, but Icarus held his hand up to silence him. "You abused this girl. She is so dehydrated, she would have been dead in three days," Icarus glared at the trader. "Unbind these girls," a heavy purse exchanged hands. "This is the negotiated amount. " Icarus ordered the man standing to the right of his chair to escort the women to the bathing chambers. The green-eyed one hesitated. Salek reached out for her, but Icarus pulled her into his body, pressing her dirty face into his clean white shirt. "You may go, Salek."

"But the virgin!"

"Virgin?" Icarus looked from the farm girl to Salek. He scowled darkly. "Give me the key, and leave." Icarus held out his hand and gave Salek a stern look. "I could fine you for what you did to this girl, but I am choosing to be courteous and take her instead. You may leave, or be arrested for violation of your Exotics trader's license." Salek's eyes widened, and he stood up straight. His pointed ears flushed a deep red.

"Lord Icarus, I must protest!"

The head of state drew his scimitar quicker than Salek could see. "You will not address me so informally, Salek. With the laws that you have broken, and the treatment of those in your temporary care, I hardly think that you are in a position to do much more than grovel and beg for forgiveness from the state." Icarus sneered at the Lord, his eyes glinting. After a moment, Icarus relaxed and sheathed his sword. He unlocked the shackles and allowed them to drop to the cool marble floor. "I was going to overlook your indiscretions with your only punishment being the loss of this beautiful commodity, but seeing as you are protesting, I will rethink my position." The Master ran his long fingers over the farm girl's wrists gently, feeling the raw skin. "You owe the state 100 gold pieces for the misconduct you have displayed in front of your regent, and another 200 for the endangerment of a person in your charge, from you and each of your men." Icarus ascended the stairs and turned to face Salek, the farm girl still tucked under his arm. "Do you protest still?"

Salek's reddened face lowered. "No, Majesty."

"Then go. Guards should be awaiting you outside of the door."

Icarus turned as soon as they left and put his hand on the girl's lower back, bending down to her eye level. "What is your name, girl?"

"Aailiyah," Her voice was quiet and raspy, and she refused to meet his eyes. Icarus frowned as he saw a few tears leave streaks over her blush-reddened cheeks.

Aailiyah was pulled closer into the King. "You're safe now, Aailiyah. Don't you worry."

Icarus took Aailiyah to the bathing hall, where the other girls were in various stages of beautification. Icarus did not enter, but instead handed Aailiyah off to the woman in charge. "Please make sure she gets plenty to drink. She won't be any good to me dead." Although his words were harsh, the delivery was gentle. Aailiyah looked back at him. There was dirt on him from where her body had been pressed to his. He left, and she was taken inside and pushed into a steaming bath. Three attendants scrubbed her body free of its filthy veneer of dirt and sweat and sand. They had to take her through two other tubs to make sure she was clean enough.

After the bathing came a full host of other rituals. They trimmed her hair, plucked her brows and shaved every bit of unwanted hair from her body, including those in rather hard-to-reach areas. Once Aailiyah was clean and bare and rinsed, they pat her down and rubbed scented oils over her body to give it a healthy shine. They clothed her in white translucent extravagance and led her to the harem commons, where the other girls were lounging and laughing in various colored clothing.

The large room was somewhat circular, and had sixteen mahogany doors, not counting the double doors she had just come through. Were they all bedrooms? Why would he need so many? The doors shut behind her, and Aailiyah walked further into the room shyly. The floor was littered with mahogany tables and large cushions for seats. There were chests of jewelery scattered throughout the room, and a long table next to the double doors littered in platters of sweetmeats and fruits. The farm girl took a seat away from the others, on a large, blue plush cushion that had little gold stars embroidered onto it. A serving maid brought her a tray of sweet fruits and meat pies and a silver goblet of chilled water. Aailiyah ate her fill and drank until she was fit to burst. The fine meal filled her belly and made her drowsy.

The girls were led to beautiful rooms with canopied beds, one for each, so that if the King came to call, none of the others would be disturbed. Her furniture had all been made of the deep red cherry wood, and had white and gold sheets. Flowers were embroidered on the duvet that lay folded at the foot of her bed. After being assured that his Majesty would not come to call that night, Aailiyah fell onto her bed and into sweet, sweet sleep.