Forbidden Lessons

by Jade Astor

When a life of teaching poetry breaks your heart…

Haerek Chadan, Distinguished Poetry Master of the Royal Harem School, has spent most of his life training and preparing the members of the royal harem to entertain the lords and princes of the realm. Despite his loneliness, he is able to find pleasure in his work and avoid the temptation of the many beautiful young men who move in and out of his classroom on a daily basis. It’s just as well, since dallying with a royal concubine would mean at best severe punishment and at worst execution.

Everything changes when he is asked to prepare his most talented student, Azno, to become the consort of a prominent general who will drag the young man away to a distant province. Knowing he will never see Azno again pressures Chadan to confront the riskiest decision of his life. Will he allow Azno to leave the harem and Chadan’s life, forever? Or will he dare to claim the man he loves and risk the probable death prescribed by royal law?

This is the fourth book in the Tales of the Thasali Harem series, but each book can stand alone. This gay erotic science fiction story includes graphic sex and is intended for adults only.

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Haerek Chadan, Distinguished Poetry Master of the Royal Harem School, was rapidly losing his patience. Never had a simple late-afternoon rehearsal seemed to drag on so long without the slightest hint of progress. It seemed as though they had been standing in their assigned places for days instead of hours. He slapped the palm of his hand down on the lectern, producing a startlingly loud noise.

“Ithu! Toaz! This is the third time you have interrupted the rehearsal. I must insist that the two of you stop laughing and concentrate.”

The two young men hung their heads, but Chadan could see the tugging at the corners of their mouths as they struggled not to smile.

“We’re sorry, Master Chadan,” Ithu said with mock chagrin.

Toaz, the more dominant personality of the two, spoke more forcefully. “It’s not our fault, Master. We’ve been at this so long it’s starting to sound silly.”


“I cannot argue with you there,” Chadan said sternly. “That is why we must take care that the final product will be nothing of the sort. I would not care to imagine the consequences if such a careless performance were to fall upon the ears of the royal family. I trust that will not be the case, however.”

The two of them, along with several other members of the chorus assembled before him, hung their heads. Ithu, properly chastened this time, played with the novitiate wristband that marked him as a probationary harem member. All the young men in this particular group wore them. They knew full well that their behavior during the upcoming royal concert would factor into their chances of being permanently retained in the harem and swapping the metal wristband for a tattoo marking their status.

Despite their desire to please and Chadan’s years of experience teaching in the harem, trying to get his students to recite a classic poem in the Old Tongue was looking more hopeless by the hour. In some ways, he sympathized with their struggle. The pronunciation was difficult, the words were unfamiliar, and the tonal requirements dictated that the poem be chanted in a way that was close enough to singing that it challenged those without innate sense of musical rhythm. Worse, Mekko’s lessons hadn’t helped much. The Music Master was more interested in drooling over the young men than teaching them the finer points of music.

Not that Chadan could entirely blame him for that. As might be expected, the harem men had been specially chosen to grace the beds of princes and high-ranking royal councilors, so they were all extraordinarily beautiful and mostly intelligent and well-spoken, too. It took a personal will as strong as the palace gates not to succumb to an attraction for any of them. Luckily, his own devotion to his duties as Poetry Master consumed all his attention and allowed him to manage his emotions. Any other direction would remain a road best left untraveled. He sighed as his students continued complaining about the task before them.

“We’ll never learn to pronounce these words properly, never mind chant them,” Ithu wailed. “There’s a reason it’s called the Old Language, surely, Master. It means everyone who knew how to speak it is dead. Normal people should not have to bother themselves with it, surely.”

A reluctant murmur of agreement moved around the group. Chadan was about to chastise them and remind them that they were no more “normal” than their forebears, whatever the evolution of their common language. Before he could do so, Toaz again spoke over them, loud and surprisingly bold for an initiate.

“Anyhow, where is Azno? When he is here, we all do better. Or at least Master Chadan shouts at us much less.”

He turned a brilliant smile on Chadan, who felt sweat prickle at the back of his neck. He could only guess what Toaz was implying, but even to hint at something so utterly at odds with harem rules struck him momentarily speechless.

“Toaz, you idiot. Haven’t you been paying attention?” Another member of the chorus, Dreghip, waved his delicate, braceleted hand. “He had a royal summons. He left for the prince’s private audience room nearly two sandglasses ago.” He flashed a grin in Chadan’s direction. “We are all waiting to see what that was about. Do you think one of the princes has chosen him as a concubine?”

“Impossible. He hasn’t received his tattoo yet,” Ithu protested.

“Now who’s being an idiot?” Toaz shot back. “The royals can do anything like they like. That’s the point of being a royal, isn’t it?”

Chadan waved a hand to cut them off. He knew of the royal summons, as a note had arrived from Prince Baboye himself just after the morning meal requesting Azno’s presence. That had rankled Chadan, and not just because of the missed rehearsal. But he thought it best not to dwell on the matter.

“Never mind that. I see you are wholly unable to focus on the task at hand. Therefore, we will all take a short break. Gather yourselves and be prepared to demonstrate your mastery of both the poem and its intonations when we reconvene.”

Half-laughing, half-moaning, the initiates leapt from the dais and scattered around the room, where they continued to talk in small groups. He heard a few more giggles from Ithu.

Remaining at the podium, Chadan pretended to scan the flat sheets of parchment that contained the text of the poem and his notes concerning the performance. He hid a small grin of his own as he watched the initiates chatter, pinch, and poke one another. Their playfulness was infectious and difficult to resist.

Maybe he was being too hard on them. They were struggling with the poem, certainly, but improving. Fortunately, they had plenty of time before the actual concert. It was easy to forget that, even though they were of age and in training to become royal consorts, they had been sheltered and coddled in ways he, at just past thirty sun cycles, could hardly imagine. His short and neatly trimmed beard was intended to make him look even older, but he realized it wasn’t entirely successful in that regard. Though they were respectful enough, the initiates still viewed him as a friend rather than as a master with the authority and gravitas of his older colleagues.

Of course, the rehearsal would have gone far better if his star pupil, Azno, had been present. Rarely had he seen such poetic talent in the harem. Not only did his voice soar above the others, blending the rich notes of the chant, but his obvious skill tended to inspire the others to try harder.

He was also very soothing to the eyes, which was why Chadan had positioned him in the exact center of the chorus, where the royals and their guests could watch and admire him. Chadan would be watching him, too, from his place at the front of the dais—though his interest would be purely professional, of course. It would have been both unseemly and fruitless to think of Azno as anything but another member of the chorus, albeit the best one he had seen in the entirety of his career. Chadan couldn’t prevent a scowl from creeping over his face, though he struggled to conceal it from the initiates. Where was Azno this afternoon? The royals thought nothing of pulling him from the rehearsal and upending Chadan’s lesson plan. What could they have wanted with an initiate, anyhow? Azno had not completed his sex training yet—surely, they would not send him to warm someone’s bed already? Then again, as Toaz had pointed out, the royals could act as they pleased. Usually, they did.

As if on cue, the gilt double doors crashed open and Azno raced in, breathing hard. Chadan’s gaze focused on the flowing blue-green robe he wore, the fabric woven with shimmering silvery threads. No initiate would own such a garment unless it had been a royal gift.


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