Trader of Fantasies
The tall, cloaked figure that was Iculisma glided through the filthy throngs, Emil, a large green-eyed lynx, padded alongside her. The few pickers of pockets who touched the figure's cloak withdrew their burnt, blistering fingers with sharp cries. Any spies that tried to track her became confused then hungry to the point of death turned to the nearest vender of spit-roasted meat to fill their screaming bellies and forgot their singular task.
Iculisma forged on ignoring the stench of rotting flesh and excrement. She hated the throngs with their loud, jostling thoughts. Here and there she sensed a few delicate musings of joy, love and passion, but they were drowned out by the internalised screams of evil, pain, hatred, despair and lust. To protect her own sanity Iculisma preferred the quiet sanctity of her shack in a swampy precinct on the fringes of the city.
Far away from the gargoyles and grotesques that adorned the inner city precincts, tucked at the end of a narrow laneway was the run-down wooden shack, her oasis, from where she offered her services. No gaudy sign swung above her doorway inviting random passers-by to enter. Her clientele were secretive and jealously guarded the privilege of being permitted to enter her premises. Entry was not guaranteed and new clientele were subject to an interview prior to acceptance.
Emile fed, they sat next to the large circular fireplace that dominated the centre of the room. Iculisma scratched under the cat’s chin as he purred contentedly. She was looking forward to the new client, impatient to see his reaction when he stepped inside her door. She felt him as he approached, stood and moved around in front of the fireplace. Emile yawned widely, closing his eyes as he laid his head on giant paws.
Ramiel did as he had been instructed and entered the humble wooden shack without knocking. Completely unprepared for what greeted his eyes, he gasped and recoiled. Iculisma stood before him, her entire body wreathed in flames. Her dead-straight flaming red hair was tucked behind elven ears and hung below her waist. She stared at him with deep amber eyes then smiled, her full lips parting to reveal gleaming long canines. The moss coloured dress that clung to her shapely form was woven from such fine fabric that it was at once translucent and sparkling. She was an unearthly beauty, the likes of whom Ramiel had never seen.
It was several moments before he noticed the room. The floor was covered with furs with large soft cushions scattered around the fire place. He observed with trepidation that one of the cushions barely contained an enormous tufted-eared cat, curled up and purring with a deep thrum. The only furniture was a small console table that held a tray of glasses, a bottle of whiskey and an ice bucket containing a bottle of Champagne. Three of the four walls were hung with rich tapestries of gold, red, cream and green, each depicting naked figures in varying states of sexual ecstasy.
It was the fourth wall that he had come for. It was lined with books, thousands of them, all bound in soft leathers of red, cream and green. Ramiel fell to his knees at the sight of them, overwhelmed by the magnificent, glorious, decadent, illegality of what was before him. Tears slid down his cheeks.
These were Iculisma's treasure, her secret, and her weapons. Books hidden from the spies. Not books of revolution or rebellion, not these books. These books contained dreams and hopes, the fantasies found on the fine, crisp gold embossed pages were erotic, subversive and challenging to the nature of the city and its rulers. They were at once delicious and dangerous.
“Welcome. I am Iculisma.” Her voice was deep and husky. “You have the payment?”
Ramiel held out his hand to reveal the two silver coins. Iculisma pointed to a small black lacquered box to his left. He lifted the lid and dropped the coins where they joined many others in the red satin interior.
“Before I decide if we will select a book for you I have three questions. I advise you to answer fully and honestly if you truly wish to partake of my collection. Are you ready?”
“Who are you?”
Ramiel blinked and struggled to his feet, he was feeling slightly giddy and swayed as he stood before Iculisma’s terrible beauty.
She waited patiently while he formed his thoughts, all the while gently wandering through his mind for the answers to her real questions.
“My name is...” his voice scratched in a higher octave than usual, he cleared his throat and started again. “M name is Ramiel, I’m one of the assistants to the hangman.” He gasped and put his hand over his mouth, he hadn't meant to say that. No one was meant to know his vocation.
Iculisma nodded, her face impassive, “Why are you here?”
Again Ramiel was shocked at what came out of his own mouth, “I see death all day, every day. I am a dispenser of pain and misery, a killer of men and women. I hate what I do and what I have become.” By now he was physically shaking, unsure if he could stay standing for much longer. He glimpsed over his shoulder at the door just behind him, it wasn't too late to make a run for it.
“What are you seeking?”
He paused, uncertain of what his answer would be until he spoke, “I want someone to pamper, someone to give pleasure to. I want to make someone happy and fulfilled. I want to be the joy in someone's life.”
“Not just sex?” she prompted.
“Yes I want sex, but not just sex...” He paused, his brow furrowed deeply, “I want more. I want someone to love.” He shrugged and hung his head, waiting for her to laugh and send him away.
“Look at me,” she instructed. The fire around her form faded away and Iculisma's smile warmed right through to her remarkable eyes, “I am so pleased that you have found me, Ramiel. Come, sit by the fire while I search for your book.”
She reached out and took his hand, his eyes filled with tears and he let out a half sob. He stumbled forward to a large deep red cushion, pleased that it was suitably far away from the enormous cat.
Emile hadn't moved, there was no need, he continued to purr.
“Whiskey or wine?” Iculisma enquired.
“Whiskey please,” again his reply surprised him, he didn't normally drink, it wasn't safe.
She poured their drinks, preferring a glass of Champagne for herself. Her hand brushed his as she passed him the drink.
The heat of her touch burst through his body, exciting and stirring him in ways he'd never experienced. Hand shaking he sipped the whiskey hoping the smoky amber liquid would settle his nerves.
Iculisma moved to the wall of books, her hand gently stroked one spine then another. In truth, she could have selected any of the books on her wall. They all contained blank pages. It was the reader that wrote the story. Her role was to pull the story they most desired from their minds and help them to see it written on the pages of the book she selected for them. Iculisma's books never left the sanctity of her room.
Her hand settled on a small volume with a red cover. She usually chose a red cover for the gentler men, it was a provocative colour hinting of arousal and the forbidden. She held the book in her hands weighing it for a moment before nodding and turning to Ramiel.
“This is your story Ramiel, you can read it yourself or, if you prefer, I can read it to you?” Iculisma sank into the cushion next to his.
He stared at the book with unabashed eagerness, his hand reaching out of its own accord, “I...I...I can read it myself thank you.”
Her hot fingers again grazed his as she placed the book in his palm. He almost moaned aloud as the heat shot through him. Gazing at the gold embossed title Deathly Desire, he traced a finger over the raised letters on the soft leather cover. Closing his eyes he lifted it to his nose, inhaled its aroma and sighed with pleasure. Even before having read a single word, this was the most erotic experience of his life.
Iculisma watched him as she sipped her Champagne. She could feel his emotions and physical responses. If she allowed herself, she could be drawn in. However, that was not her purpose today. Leaning forward she opened the cover of the book for him. He started to read the story she had drawn from his mind.
The hero is a lonely figure, surrounded by violence and devoid of affection. He happens upon a wretched prostitute who, having been ejected from her brothel as no longer sufficiently rentable, has been forced to work the streets. The woman, Alora, has been badly beaten by her last customer and can barely stand, yet continues to hawk for business, such is her desperation. For reasons he cannot explain to himself the hero takes the woman home to his rooms over the local butchery. He bathes and feeds her, sharing his meagre rations.
Ramiel read voraciously. He nodded with understanding at the hero's misery and almost wept at the descriptions of Alora's injuries. Pausing only to sip on the whiskey, he enjoyed the warmth as it spread to his limbs. Ramiel sank deeper into the cushion before being swept back into the tale.
Alora is suspicious of the hero's motives, thinking that he wants to own her and sell her for his own profit. Once nursed back to health she is torn between her natural distrust for men and a growing affection for him. She lewdly offers herself to him and when he refuses, she is confused and angry.
Ramiel was bewildered that the hero rejected her offer. The detailed and vivid description of her naked advances aroused him or maybe it was his proximity to Iculisma, her translucent dress and the heady muskiness of her perfume. He wiped beads of sweat from his top lip and once again lost himself in the story.
Thinking he finds her disgusting, Alora leaves the haven of the hero's rooms above the butchery and returns to the predictable violence and degradation of the streets. The hero mourns her departure, for he has fallen deeply in love, yet lacks the eloquence to express himself to her. His life of violence and death has not equipped him for love.
Tears trailed down Ramiel's cheeks, he swiped at them in embarrassment. Iculisma poured herself another glass of champagne and topped up his whiskey. Emile swatted his short tail, flicked an ear and continued to purr, the thrumming intensified as the story reached its climax.
The distraught hero searches the streets night after night. He finally finds her down a dark alley he almost missed, but is it too late? She is cowering on the ground, standing over her is the same client who beat her so badly before, this time he has a murderous look in his eye. Just in time the hero steps in. The client recognising him, slinks away into the darkness in fear. Sweeping Alora into his arms, the hero strides back to his rooms. He undresses her slowly and expresses his love in ways Alora had never imagined possible. She repays his ardent affections with her own. No words of love are required.
As he closed the book Ramiel's head swam. His hair felt damp with sweat, his lips swollen and bruised as though it was him who had been kissing Alora in places he'd only imagined possible. No longer sure if he was the reader or the hero, Ramiel felt the absence of her warm body entwined with his. His breathing ragged, just short of sobbing, he drained the glass of whiskey.
Slowly Ramiel returned to himself and Iculisma's room, where he reverently placed the book on the hearth.
Iculisma's smile was soft and tender, “Was that the story you wished to read?”
Incapable of talking, Ramiel simply blinked and nodded.
“I am so pleased.” Iculisma stood and stretched. “You are welcome to another whiskey before you leave, maybe next time you come to see me, you will bring a friend.”
Before Ramiel had a chance to reply that he had no friends, Iculisma had disappeared behind one of the tapestries, leaving him alone with Emile. No longer purring, Emile regarded him with large green eyes, tufted ears alert and tail flicking. With one last long gaze at the wall of books Ramiel gathered himself together and let himself out.
Iculisma stood perfectly still in the shadows wrapped in her hooded cloak. She was alone, Emile preferring to hunt frogs on such a damp evening. Danger and death hung in the air like old friends. Almos, a rapist who fantasised of killing while in the act, stood over a cowering figure. He had yet to act on his fantasy, but sensed this was his opportunity. Iculisma could feel Ramiel as he approached the partially obscured entrance to the alley. She sensed him pause and even without her influence he turned and looked.
Almos glared at the man that strode toward him. Pulling his weapon as he turned to face the intruder his eyes widened in sudden shock. Behind the intruder stood a towering woman wrapped in flames, her flaming hair threw sparks as it weaved and shimmered around her head. He could feel her fire inside his head and as she shrieked his name Almos turned and fled.
Blind and deaf to the spectre behind him, Ramiel knelt down and gently pulled back the hair that draped across the cowering girl's face.
“Alora!” he gasped in surprise.
She blinked back at him, “Ramiel?”
Humming happily to herself as she pulled her cape back around her shoulders Iculisma decided she'd stop by the Kraken Arms for a glass of cider on her way home. She deserved it. After all, it wasn't every day she managed to introduce her clients to each other so elegantly.