The Persian Boats: A Love Story

by Christina Dalcher

Faridoon, the same eunuch who caught the traveler inside the harem with Leila’s unveiled beauty writhing beneath him, drags the second boat on top of the first and bolts them together with iron fasteners. “You are strong and well-fed,” Faridoon says. “You may last several days. You may last half a moon or more.”

The eunuch’s face is a black oval against the Sun, but Darius hears the smile in his speech, a smile that says the gelded man will enjoy the days to come.

Darius will not.

He has heard of the twinned boats, and now he is inside them, stripped bare, neck-to-manhood shaded from summer sunlight, eyes squeezed to slits because his head, like his limbs, protrude and dangle from the cutouts in the wooden planks. His black hair wicks water from the stagnant oxbow lake.

And then there is stroking.

The eunuch talks as he works. “Finest honey in the land for thee, Darius.”

Stickiness kisses his arms and legs and face. A brush (squirrel-tail, Darius thinks) tickles its way along skin the way Leila’s tongue tickled in the secret of night.

“Does it taste as sweet as my lady’s mouth?” Faridoon asks, giggling, as the first fly alights on Darius’ honey-coated lips. The eunuch swats it away. “Not yet, little fly. Not yet.”

And then there is pouring. And mixing. And opening.

Darius’ jaw clamps against the thick concoction of milk and honey, only to open again when a sharp blade touches his eyelids.

And then there is swallowing.

This is the first day of eighteen.

*

Darius once had a boat of his own, a sleek and shiny vessel that skimmed the waves of the gulf and brought treasure to his king. He had women in his boat—fair women and dark women and freckled women who cleaned and cooked for him by day, who sucked and opened themselves by night. When he grew tired of one, he traded her for another. When he first saw Leila, he imagined sliding the veils off her body and taking her, king be damned. What were kings but inattentive whoremongers, all of them? And Artaxerxes one of the worst. No, Darius would love Leila, in his own way for a night, while her husband occupied himself with a dozen other wives.

King Artaxerxes would never discover the deed.

*

A eunuch is a curious creature. Human, but not man, not in the way a king is a man. Impotent and omnipotent. Unlovable, but able to love. On the second day, Faridoon visits the teeming pond, adjusts the boats such that Darius’ head again faces the sun. The man’s exposed flesh is black with flies. Maggots squirm in their hatching sites around ears and eyes and nostrils. A crude odor from within the boats—the inevitable effect of regular feeding—forces Faridoon to tie a kerchief over his smile as he paints thick honey over hands and feet and face. He could leave Darius now, shorten the time between delirium and death. He could do this; it would be a mercy.

But there is Leila. His lovely Leila, befouled and cast aside by the falsely loyal pirate. Faridoon calls for more milk and more honey from the larder.

And then there is more feeding.

*

Darius’ ship hosted not a single rat, not one, because Darius would not abide the vermin. Darius’ head, burnt to leather by the sun, and swollen from the sting of bees, now hosts two rats. They are fat and filthy as they move over him and gnaw a path into the darkness between the boats.

And then there is crawling. And slithering. And burrowing. And biting. Inside the boat is a mass of orifices—wet, warm and toothsome.

This is the seventh day.

*

On the eighteenth day, Faridoon untethers the boats and watches them drift toward the main river, carrying what is left of Darius away. He performs his ablutions in a clean pool before returning to the harem, where he sits with his Leila, massaging henna and oil into her black hair.

And when he thinks of the rats and the flies and the maggots inside the boats, there is smiling.

Christina Dalcher writes stuff, some of which gets published. In her spare time, she fries doughnuts for her best friends.
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