The Past Tense Of Youth: Preparing the favourite

The dresserArriving at the palace that day in two carriages was nothing short of spectacular.  The guards, Eunuchs and janissaries flanking us front,back and alongside created the image of grandeur generally reserved only for the valide sultan. Way at the back  behind Rana’s carriage,I could have sworn I caught a glimpse of Gurel riding his white horse, moving ever closer to the window, trying to gain her attention.  This  procession was all for Rana the new favourite of favourites.  There would be no escape now.  She had been bought on the sultan’s command and would be taken straight to the apartment of the valide sultan to be prepared for presentation.  I had found myself in the same predicament only days before.  I had been escorted to the concubines quarters on leaving the room in which I had awoken by a black eunuch and had quickly been surrounded by other young women in various states of undress.  “Emine” ,one of them had called me , “You must prepare quickly …. the sultan has called for you” . They descended the staircase on mass and were heading straight toward me.  The eunuch seemed to have disappeared into thin air.  “Emine what are you doing down here?  Oh well no time now … he’ll be here any moment”

There was such excitement in their voices.  For someone to be promoted from concubine to favourite  appeared to be quite an honour in their eyes.  “What do you wear today Emine”?… a young girl leaning over the bannister of the staircase had asked me in a sweet sing song voice.  “Suddenly you have removed the tapers and revealed your shape”    The women began to form a circle and drew me into it.  A man entered through a side entrance and although I was bade to keep my eyes closed I could not help peeking which was not easy as we all had our backs to him. He was medium in stature with long black hair and a beard. He wore long red robes  lined with fur and silk brocade over a golden kaftan with a jewelled collar.   His turban bore a a gold aigrette ornamented with a ruby in a cluster of diamonds.  Osman_hamdi_bey_mihrapI gathered this must be he.  The great one who would soon welcolme me as favourite.  I felt the touch of his hand on my face and then heard the footsteps fade. We had all opened our eyes at the moment we heard the door shut and the others began to congratulate me.  I was then led through an arched doorway  to an elaborately tiled bath house where  the women bathed with me and then annointed my naked body in scents and perfumes before draping me in a long colourful bathrobe.  The eunuch returned for me and led me down a long corridor and through a courtyard to a small room on the other side.  I gathered  this was a dressing room as it was furnished only with a small sofa covered in satin cushions for comfortable viewing and a few screens for quick changes.

He opened a chest full of clothes in front of one of the screens and chose three robes for me to try.  Once I had done this and made my choice another  trunk full of costume jewellery, bustiers, and long pieces of fabric was presented with the idea being that I should drape myself in whatever I wanted.  He motioned for me to choose a long piece of white silk chiffon and wear it as one would a wedding veil covering my face in the process.  osman-hamdi-bey The groundsWhen all this was done and I was duly tranformed I was taken to  the salon of the valide sultan.   The Mother of the sultan remained seated in front of a very large window draped with heavy gold brocade curtains.

The door to the salon was opened by a girl younger than I dressed in similar attire probably from the same trunk.  The eunuch ushered me into the room and followed close behind.  I was, of course terrified, having been thrown into this strange world of the harem which had been dissolved before I was even born.  When she spoke it was with an air of superiority in a low sugar coated tone with a smile meant to simultaneously charm and disarm her audient.  She rose from her sofa and walked toward me in her rustling taffeta gown adorned with mother of pearl and took my hand in hers.  After she had surveyed me from top to bottom she addressed me thus … ”  Emine I do believe you are almost ready.  You will remain in your quarters and continue as a servant for two days more after which you will be sent for and then my dear your training shall commence. It has been a long time coming.  Go now” …  I turned and went back through the courtyard where the eunuch waited for me.  How would I survive this?

Would I ever be able to return to my world?  I knew that I would have to play my part and try to belong to this place and somehow, some way I would find my way back .   In the meantime I would follow the signs that I knew would lead to my destiny.

© Renee Dallow ( Hybiscus Bloom ) 16/1/2014 


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