The peaceful life of sisters Naira and Margarid is shattered when their Armenian village is raided and their family slaughtered. Sold into slavery, the sisters are separated. Naira eventually ends up in the harem of the mighty Sultan Abdul Selim, ruler of the vast Ottoman Empire. Here, even the slightest hint of disobedience is punished with utmost severity, as the sadistic head eunuch assures her. And indeed the torments that await a disobedient slave in the Sultan’s harem are manifold. But with her sister in mortal danger, Naira is willing to face even death and worse to regain her freedom and save Margarid’s life.
Warning: There is quite a bit of violence and cruelty in this story, so sensitive readers should tread carefully.
Read an excerpt.
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Some background information:
- Seraglio is a novelette of 10800 words. As far as I know, this novelette is a digital premiere and has never been published anywhere else.
- That said, I actually did write Seraglio as a commission for Man’s Story 2, a magazine of spicy pulp fiction in the style of the men’s adventure mags of the 1960s to which I occasionally sold stories some years ago. I was even paid for the story, though I don’t think it was ever published, not unless my contributor’s copy got lost in the mail.
- The background of this story is that the editors of Man’s Story 2 sent me copy of a pseudo-factual article about harems in the Ottoman Empire from a men’s adventure magazines of the 1960s and asked me if I could turn that into a story. I said I could and Seraglio is the result.
- I call the article pseudo-factual, because actual facts were very rare in that sort of magazine. Most of the time, the writers were using a few basic facts and made up a story full of blood and guts and sex and naked flesh around them, regardless whether they were writing fiction or non-fiction.
- That said, I’m no longer quite sure which elements came from the pseudo-factual article and which were my own contribution. The girl suspended over the vat of boiling oil most definitely was from the article, since that was the image shown in the accompanying illustration. The Kislar Agha and the impotent Sultan came from the original article, too, and I’m pretty sure that the silent ones were from the article as well, simply because my reaction upon rereading the story was, “Whoa, where the hell did that come from?”
- I was never really happy with the original story and so the current version has been extensively revised. I toned down some of the more sadistic bits (all of my Man’s Story 2 stories are violent, but this one really laid it on thick) and completely changed the ending, which was “slit your wrists” bleak in the original story. The original ending is included as an extra in the e-book edition, by the way, so you can judge for yourself.
- Naira also has a lot more agency in the revised edition, while she was completely passive in the original and just endured everything that was thrown at her. Margarid, meanwhile, was little more than a prop in the original with less than ten words of dialogue and no agency at all.
- The original title of the novelette was Seraglio of a Thousand Torments. I shortened it, because again it was laying on the nastiness a bit too thick for my taste.
- Naira was called Shoushan in the original version, probably because my knowledge of Armenian names was extremely limited. However, the mysterious heroine of The Other Side of the Curtain is already called Shoushan and two Shoushans are one too many, so the protagonist and POV character of Seraglio was named Naira which supposedly means “from Armenia” in Armenian. Margarid means “pearl” in Armenian, by the way.
- The head eunuch gets his sadistic streak from Osmin, the comically villainous steward from what is probably my all-time favourite opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Abduction from the Seraglio) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Osmin is a buffoon, but a nasty one, as his famous aria “Ach, wie will ich triumphieren” (Oh, how shall I triumph), in which he gleefully details the torture and execution that will face the heroes of the opera, demonstrates. As a teenager, I was known for scaring the neighbours by singing that aria out loud while riding home on my bike after school.
- My beloved Entführung aus dem Serail also gave the novelette its title. What is more, the most glorious Sultan Abdul Selim is named for Mozart’s Bassa Selim, though unlike Abdul Bassa is actually a civilized and noble fellow.
- The cover is a painting by Adrien Henri Tanoux, a French 19th century who specialized in Orientalist images of scantily clad odalisques. Indeed, the two women are bare breasted in the original painting, but I covered up their breasts via the magic of Photoshop, so the cover wouldn’t violate any decency guidelines. Of course, the breasts are just painted, but they are bare breasts nonetheless and you never know what will set off some of the more sensitive guardians of public decency.