So where did I fit into this picture? How had I become a favourite of the sultan and Rana’s unofficial hand maiden? I had never actually studied my ancestry but remembered talk of family connections in Albania . I learned from Rana’s diary that I had been chosen by the sultan after that day at the slave market to be her personal servant. I was no longer Emma. My name was Emine and I had been sent to the market that day to buy cloth for the dressmakers of the harem ,under guard of course, along with others of my status. What was my status? I had only recently been chosen as a favourite having been a mere concubine just days before. Memories came flooding back of the day I had been taken from my family.
I was all of ten years old at the time and had tried to flee with my mother but we were captured and thrown onto the horses of Ottoman soldiers. My mother had died before we reached Topkapi having tried to escape and been thrown from the horse in the attempt. I had seen her fall and knew that if I struggled the same fate could befall me. The pain I felt at losing my mother was immense but I resolved to do whatever I had to in order to survive. I had decided to endear myself to my captor if that were at all possible and use the skills taught me by my parents to do so. I had never actually been chosen to go with the sultan as he had regarded me more as a daughter than a potential conquest. I was energetic and fiesty with a grand imagination which the sultan found endearing. When he came to visit the harem he would bid me tell him one of my stories or mime the events of the day. The others were very protective of me and also a little afraid of the things I could reveal about them.
Being the daughter of Abdyl Frasheri the Albanian hero responsible for the league of Prizren in the year of 1878 which stipulated the need for an independent Albanian state had made me a fighter. I was born in 1887 one year after my father, who had been captured and imprisoned by the Ottomans, was at last released and reunited with my mother. Ten years later in the year of 1897 there was another uprising led by my father during which the Albanian Nationalist union was dispanded. This is when It was decided to punish the leaders who had fled by scattering their families and that is how I came to be a child of the harem. It was now 1908 and I had just turned 21. The sultan had begun to look at me through new eyes. I was no longer the amusing child he had found such a diversion. I was now a beauty and as such was to be primed for a private audience with the sultan in his chambers.
Before this could happen I had to be taken to the part of the harem reserved for the favourites to undergo the training necessary to make me everything and more in accordance with the sultan’s pleasures. I was taught to move with the sensuous stealth of a young tigress, to smother myself in sweet smelling oils and perfumes after bathing, to drape myself in silks and satins which would reveal the soft curves of my body and sit for hours while my hair was braided and coiled with flowers and diadems. It was part of my training too that I waited on the sultan and on his wives including his mother the dowager sultan. It was she, his mother who had sent me to the markets that day and for this I am eternally grateful. For from that day forward only Rana could fulfill the every desire of the sultan. I was chosen to be her handmaiden, confidante and friend and it was I who knew her for the catalyst she would become.
© Renee Dallow ( Hybiscus Bloom ) 1/10/2014