Gurel would take on many disguises over the course of time. Many months passed in the glow of golden moments stolen from the the sultan and his entourage . Sometimes the moments were many and could be stretched into hours but at other times they were fleeting and passed so quickly that he and Rana barely had time to brush their lips together in the kiss of a gentle breeze. Often he would disguise himself as one of the servant girls. At one time he even served the valide sultan without her even being remotely suspicious. If she had seen the moustache it would have been a dead give away but as he wore a long scarf draped from his left shoulder and clipped just beneath his right ear covering his mouth and nose only the eyes were exposed. Because those eyes were so light it was easy to mistake him for a foreigner. Even I was fooled by his disguises sometimes and it was a source of great amusement for all three of us that we were able to get away with such daring escapades. He did not seem to feel my pain and seemed blissfully unaware of the despair which dwelt just beneath my smile. If any of us were found out it would be certain death and if the charade were discovered and Gurel executed I could not go on with my life neither in their world nor in mine.
Then one night as he passed me in the corridor on his way back to the guards he grabbed my hand and looked down into my eyes. He stared at me for a long period of time still with my hand in his and leaned across to whisper in my ear. “Why do you do this for us little one? What is in this for you? You risk your life every day for the honour of a love that is not even yours”. I looked down at the tiled floor shining in the blue light of dawn which peered in at us through the lattice. ” Or is it”? he cooed and lifted my chin to meet his gaze. At that moment I knew he recognised me as being more than just friend and confidante. I wanted him to declare it then and there but there were approaching footsteps and he pulled me back into the shadows behind the arched doorway.
Sultan Hamid and his mother were in deep conversation. They were followed by his first wife and two of his daughters, one of whom , was carrying a baby boy dressed in a green velvet coat with fur trim. I surmised this must be the next sultan in waiting. All seemed pale except for the rosy cheeks of the infant. A sense of fear permeated the air. The valide sultan linked arms with her son “All will be clear in the morning. We are not without the means of defence. We have changed the guards just in time. Really you worry yourself for nothing “. Hamid furrowed his thickened brows. ” Mother the Ottoman parlaiment has just been suspended replaced by a general assembly and you tell me to be calm? Even my own officers are turning against me. This…. self proclaimed … ‘Army Of Liberty’ …. is bent on destroying everything I’ve worked for. I cannot … I will not let this happen’! he bellowed. ” You are scaring your daughters”. You want your grandchild to grow ip to be afraid of every obstacle that crosses his path” ? Sultan Hamid calmed himself and stroked his beard. ” Mother go to bed ….and you too my dears” He kissed them all one by one ” I will be in presently” he soothed as he pinched the baby’s cheek. The sultan continued along the darkened corridor towards Rana’s room as his family moved off through the courtyard toward their residence in the Sale Kiosk.
” Go to her”. Gurel bade me. ” Make some excuse to enter the room”. He placed his hands on my shoulders. ” What of you? How will you go back now”? I asked. ” The guards have been changed”. My heart was pounding in my breast and I hoped against hope that he would forget all and be with me only on that night. He kissed me full on the mouth with a sense of harried urgency. ” I thank you with all my soul” he smiled and then turned toward the outer court. ” Come tomorrow we all will be free”. He motioned a farewell with a graceful salam and was gone. What did he mean by that I wondered? Was he referring to the now very strained relationship between the three of us? Was he alluding to the march on the palace which was gathering momentum and would very soon be upon us or was he preparing me for the return twenty seven years into the future. Back to 1936 , back to Greylin, back to all with which I had been familiar. My concern was not for the demise of the Ottoman Empire, for Rana’s subjugation ,or lack of to the sultan, nor for a gypsy troth sworn in blood before I was even born. My concern was only that his love for me and mine for him be remembered on leaving this strange exotic Paradise where nothing was as it seemed.
I made my way along the corridor with great trepidation to Rana’s suite and knocked softly on the blue door to her chamber. Jamahl, my black eunuch, had followed me from somewhere in the shadows. He appeared out of nowhere right behind me and grabbed my hand. He laughed with that good humoured yet slightly menacing way of his. ” There you are little one. His excellency was wondering what had happened to you. I think he was in the mood for a menage a trois this night”. He knocked on the door and announced that he had indeed found me. ” I am sorry to have to do this for you and I are friends are we not”? I smiled and snatched my hand from his clutch on entering.
Hamid was seated on the edge of the bed in his robe and slippers ” Did you think I would not find you Emine? What were you doing wondering the corridors alone? You have a secret lover perhaps? He glared at me for what seemed like an eternity while I looked past him at Rana praying for any answer she could give. ” I sent her for smelling salts” Rana offered. “Not at this time of the morning … Try again… maybe you were anxious to complete some needlework and sent her to the sewing room to fetch it hmmm” ? Rana looked relieved to have her excuse provided.” Yes that is it. I couldn’t sleep and the sewing calms my nerves”. The sultan laughed long and hard at this. I laughed too.
” You expect me to believe that you , my captivating gypsy butterfly, have the patience for embroidered tapestry? No …. Try again …..Maybe you are sewing a message into a new handkerchief hmmm? A secret message for a secret lover? Or is it perhaps a message for the army corps who are at this very moment conspiring against me”? I sat beside Hamid and put my hand on his. “Could be Rana and I have the same mystery lover hmmm”? Rana stared at me and her eyes were sharp as glass. I winked back at her. ” You know that is not possible”. Hamid replied as he got up from the bed and began pacing the room.” That is why I have decided to move the both of you back to Topkapi so we can make what is not possible absolutely impossible. Also for your own safety. Whatever happens tomorrow I will know that you are out of harms way. Jemahl will escort you and I shall send two of my caliphs along with my daughters and grandchildren shortly . In the meantime I plan to find this impossible mystery lover and have him executed before daylight “.
Jemahl came toward us grabbing me first and then Rana with arms as strong as tree trunks. We kicked and screamed but to no avail and Hamid avoided eye contact. Once outside Jemahl woke the other eunuchs positioned in front of the harem gates and sent them to the quarters of the military guard, no doubt, in search of Gurel. Two of them returned from the barracks with rope which they used to tie our hands behind our backs. Two carriages were brought round from the coach house and we were bundled in accompanied by Jemahl and one of the eunuchs who had bound our hands. Yet again Topkapi would be our home only this time we would find it almost deserted.The palace had not been occupied for the past year except for those who looked after the grounds and the general upkeep. We were locked up in the concubines quarters in rooms not quite so sumptuous as those we had been used to. There were guards patrolling the courtyards and outside the gates waiting for the chance to protect the titled lands of the sultan. It didn’t seem to matter to either of us that our freedom to wonder the grounds had been curtailed as our thoughts were concentrated on the man we both loved. Would he escape the sultan? Would he survive the revolution and would he save us from our confines? Any chance of a return to my own world seemed suddenly beyond reach even in my dreams.
© Renee Dallow ( Hybiscus Bloom ) 24/7/2014