We picked this dispatch as today's "Best."
After years of enjoying the life of a carefree youth in the harem, Berra's lessons were culminating. She had proven herself a very adept student and it was time for her to take on new responsibilities. This was a time of rites of passage for the young women in the harem. Among the two to three hundred women in the harem, duties were divided based on merit, as decided by the Queen Mother. Some women cooked and cleaned, while others played instruments and performed. Some became teachers, or embroidered new clothes. Some were ladies-in-waiting to the sultan's concubines, while others tended to the sultan's children. The luckiest were those who cared for the Queen Mother or the sultan himself...the mysterious ruler, whose great palace and empire this was, but whom Berra had yet to see.
A room with a view - the Queen Mother's Chambers
One day when the group was performing a new dance, they heard the familiar tapping echoing through the halls headed towards the Queen's room. It was the sound of the silver soles of the sultan's royal slippers. The performers stopped immediately and started to run into the back room, for only those that had been granted permission by the Queen Mother could present themselves to the young sultan. All others would have to disappear when they heard the tapping of the silver soles approaching.
Berra gathered her scarves and started to run, but the Queen stopped her. "No dear, you needn't leave. You may stay and continue your dance," said the Queen with a smile on her face.
"How could you have been staring like that?" Berra thought to herself. "Now the sultan thinks you're an eager fool!"
On the contrary, the sultan was mesmerized by the young girl's eyes and asked his mother her name. "I see you've noticed my new dancing princess," his mother laughed in approval. "I knew it wouldn't take long for you to notice our fair Berra from Circassia. But my goodness! It has only been a matter of minutes!"
After that day, the sultan returned every day at the same time to join his mother and watch the young girl dance. "I see you have taken quite a liking to our little Berra, but I am not ready to make her one of your concubines yet, my son. She is still quite new," said the Queen. "We know she is beautiful and graceful, but let's see how fit she really is to be royalty."
"I have enjoyed your dancing for the past few months. Instead of joining your troupe today though, I would like you to move to my quarters and become one of my personal maidens."
One of the Queen's most trusted maidens had been released from the harem that day. She was granted her freedom and was to go on to marry one of the empire's wealthiest nobles, so Berra took over in her place. As days went on, the Queen realized that the new maiden was quite skilled and too intelligent for trivial tasks like brushing her hair and helping her bathe. Instead, she found that the girl had a knack for reading and writing, and had incredibly beautiful handwriting. The Queen had Berra read her stories and poetry. Some days she would dictate letters for Berra to write in her flowery script. Berra enjoyed her new jobs, for she was learning much about stately affairs from the letters, and the stories and poetry let her imagination soar.
The sultan started joining his mother and Berra during their story time in the afternoons, for he enjoyed the soft voice of the young girl, and the chance glances when she looked up from the page. Berra would get timid whenever he entered the room, and it was hard for her to speak loud enough to be heard. All the great halls that the sultan visited in the harem had large fountains built into the walls, to obscure the sounds so that no one could eavesdrop on the ruler's conversations. The fountains that Berra used to admire for their lucid beauty now were now nothing more than an annoyance that made her job harder.
Becoming a concubine is what every girl dreams of from the first day she is brought in to the great harem. It is the ultimate life....or is it?
To be continued...
Check the next update for the exciting conclusion!
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You Be the Judge…
Brian - A Cold Day in the Trenches - Brian Visits Gallipoli
Jasmine - Where are African-Americans Today?
Kavitha - Into the Blue Mosque
Kavitha - Karina of Circassia Part I: From Rags to Riches
Jasmine - Dare to Dream
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