The following morning after prayers the concubines gathered in the halls which adjoined their rooms for tutoring. Needle craft, ceramics and painting porcelain pieces delivered from the workshops were among the crafts we could choose to participate in. I delighted in the bowls, vases and plates we were given to decorate with garden scenes and motifs etched in coloured inks. Many of these were modelled on the limited views we had of the grounds and the city outside the palace walls. I remember the banquet room with mother of pearl inlay on the walls and painted landscapes on the ceiling as being one of the most beautiful rooms of the palace which we were sometimes ushered into for art appreciation classes. It was a warm room with a freshness of spirit and the promise of a happy heart which was a thing much longed for amongst the female inhabitants. Though all appeared to be contented submission on the surface there was an underlying feeling that a life of freedom, without the guilded surroundings no matter how beautiful, would be infinitely more pleasurable than the cloistered serenity that had become their everyday existence.
I alone had been privy to the world outside where a woman could travel and marry whomever she pleased. How strange it was to be in this blissful domain of ambience filled with the fragrance of honeysuckle, jasmine and tulip oil. A world so far from my own and yet so familiar. The man I loved and who loved me in my own world was in love with another in this one. That I was playing the role of go between and was perfectly happy to do so seemed natural to me. Even in the knowledge that they had been intimate the night before in the room I now shared with Rana, the other woman, did not seem to faze me. Maybe it was being caught up in the excitement of it all that distanced me from my true self. As Emine I was content with my decision to bring them together. Though this was the first time it would not be the last and together Rana and I planned her deceptions during the hours spent alone in our adjacent rooms.
Meanwhile in the pavillion of the halberdiers Gurel was planning too. He was, however, planning much more than romantic liasons with his beloved. He was planning a revolution which would free her forever from the clutches of the sultan and from all the sultans to follow. She would be his and his alone and they would return to their mountain haven in the Caucasus.This was what he lived for. One day soon Hamid would find himself surrounded by those loyal to the cause but until that day Gurel would have to bide his time and steal only precious moments with Rana in the hidden corners and passages of the palace where they would not be discovered. I would be the one seeking out hidden crevices for their liasons which I would then impart to Gurel by messenger. This was due to the fact that I was not so closely guarded as Rana and beccause I had gained the sultan’s trust.
I had trained my own special pidgeon to deliver hastily written notes to Gurel and he would then send a message back. I would attend to my aviary daily and visit with the birds as it was my responsibility to feed them. The parakeets were often allowed out of their cages as their wings had been clipped and they could not fly. They were content to perch on my shoulder as I did a turn around the gardens or when I conversed with the others in one of the shaded pavillions whilst taking tea. The pidgeons were in a separate cage as they were considered extremely valuable. Especially the satinettes which were completely white. Until served up to the sultan on a silver plate these birds were cultivated and adored by their handlers. My pidgeon, however , was not one of these. He was an interloper from the world outside and had followed us from Topkapi. Unbeknownst to the sultan I had hidden it in the aviary and dyed it’s feathers white with a dye made from ground white herbs stolen from one of our art workshops. I named it ‘Saffron’ because in reality it was sort of a yellowy brown colour. Saffron was incredibly loyal to our cause and was able to remain undetected when flying from coop to guard house to the window ledge of Rana’s chamber in the saray and back again. Clandestine meetings were arranged in moonlit portals beneath bridges connecting small rivulets and streams or in the resting pavillions near the grove very late at night when all were sleeping.
It did not seem to matter that she had been with Hamid beforehand on some of these occasions. There had been ample time to bathe and prepare herself with the sweet scent of rosewater. Each time they were together my heart would cry silent tears . As days turned into weeks and weeks into months the pain became almost unbearable. I longed for him to recognise me, to speak my name, to caress my skin with his gentle loving hands and to break the hold that she had on us both. Maybe that was it. Once this hold was broken we would be transported once more into the world to which we belonged. I concentrated my thoughts on Greylin castle amidst the green dales of Cumberland. How could I win him back? Why did I feel so compelled to bring them together in spite of my own feelings? It was she who had lured me only to steal my husband. How was it possible to break the spell of a gypsy? I knew that I must find a way. Maybe the coming changes would solve my dilemma. The Young Turks were growing in number and revolution would soon beat down the door.
© Renee Dallow ( Hybiscus Bloom ) 1/7/2014