March 4, 2000
Berra was surprised to be chosen as one of the sultan's concubines. "Come on, you must have seen it coming! You've been a favorite of the queen's since the first day you arrived!" her friends laughed, as they helped Berra pack her things to move to the more lavish quarters of the concubines. She was sad to leave behind her old room, and the girls with whom she had been living. They had become like her own sisters.
"Oh don't be sad Berra! You're so silly!" said her dear friend Kosem. "You will find new sisters amongst the other concubines and forget all about us!"
The concubines' quarters indeed were more lavish, but the large tiled rooms and open marble hallways housed a coldness that had little to do with the temperature. The other concubines greeted Berra kindly, but something didn't seem quite right. For some reason Berra didn't feel very welcome, and she almost felt resented by these women whom she had just met. All the concubines were extremely beautiful, but it seemed their smiles hid a darker truth. The women sat together and helped each other do their hair and bathe, but none of them really seemed comfortable around each other. It was as if they were always on guard. None of the women seemed to have a bond like the one that Berra had had with her other friends in the harem.
The sultan took an immediate liking to Berra. Unlike the other concubines who had much pride for their status, Berra remained shy and soft-spoken. The more they spent time together, the more drawn he was to her. Berra was called to the sultan's private quarters quite a bit, and this unfortunately estranged her even more from the other concubines, who were jealous of all the attention the new girl received. Unlike the other concubines, the sultan respected Berra's intelligence and would consult her on matters of the empire that weighed heavily on his mind.
By the end of the year, Berra was pregnant with her first child. Both the Queen and the sultan were elated and prayed for it to be a son. Berra was moved into one of the four private apartments that had once been reserved for the sultan's 4 kadins, or wives, but were now reserved for the favorite concubines. The star that had watched over Berra her entire life did not leave her now, and in the fall of that year, she was graced with a baby boy.
The Queen immediately came to visit Berra and see to it that the young girl was taken care of properly. She was thrilled when she saw the cute little boy lying on his mother's bosom. Berra was beaming brighter than ever before as she gazed down at her newborn son. "Ahhhhh my dear child, you have the glow of a proud mother," said the Queen, brushing Berra's hair with her fingers. "The harem is a wonderful place, as you well know, but raising a son here is no easy task. In fact, I wouldn't wish it upon any mother. But I know you will rise to the occasion and be a wonderful mother for your beautiful baby boy. Be careful about whom you allow to come close to your precious little one and he will grow up to greatness."
The queen's words confused Berra. The harem had been a wonderful place for her to grow up, she imagined it to be every mother's dream to raise her children there. The best education possible, music and the arts, tons of friends to play and sing with...
As soon as word got out that Berra had given birth, all her old friends from the harem came to visit her. "Kosem, it is so good to see you and all the rest, and to show you my handsome baby boy," sighed Berra smiling. "But why haven't my own fellow concubines come to see me and make sure I am okay?"
"Oh Berra, you are still as sweet and naive as ever!" said Kosem. "Don't you know that they are envious of you? Every concubine here is vying to become the next Queen Mother, and you are now that much closer to it, having just given birth to a beautiful boy! They have always resented your favor by the sultan and the Queen, but now they resent you and your son. Be careful my dear, not all are your friends."
As time went on she realized what all the warnings had been about. The sultan loved their son very much, and it seemed obvious he would be the next in line to become sultan. For that reason, the sultan called extra eunuchs to guard the boy and his mother. Whereas Berra grew up in a world with many close friends-attending classes, swimming and playing music together, sharing meals, laughing and singing-her son grew up alone. He was given the finest robes, private lessons from literary and linguist masters, and decadent meals fit for a king. He lived in his own apartment, the legendary Veliaht Dairesi. It was a lavish apartment built with every last extravagance imaginable, including fountains in the stain-glassed windows and high leather domed ceilings. But aside from his teachers, the harem girls sent to tend to him, the eunuchs that guarded him, the Queen Mother, the sultan, and Berra, the little boy received no visitors and had no friends. Thus, despite its opulence, the Veliaht Dairesi was known as the kafes, or cage.
"Why must it be like this, my love?" Berra asked the Sultan one night. "He should be with other boys his age. He is learning a great deal, but nothing as important as true friendship."
"I am sorry, but it must be this way, my dear," sighed the Sultan. "Life in the harem is wonderful for the girls, but it is a different reality for the little boys. If he were to play with my other sons, the children of the other concubines, someone may try to hurt him. Your son is the crown prince, he will be the next to rule after me, in shah Allah. What if a jealous boy tries to stop him, or even worse a jealous mother? He will have anything he wants one day, including friends. It is a lonely youth, but it has its rewards."
Berra visited her son in his kafes every day. He was a sweet boy and always looked forward to his time with his mother.
"My poor son, I am sorry that you must stay caged up in this room...but one day this entire empire will be your playground. You will have many friends and visit many exotic places. You will be an even greater ruler than that sultan of last century they call the Magnificent. My son, the Magnificent, for now just enjoy the indulgences of life in the harem. You will be visited by beautiful harem girls and instructed by the best of the eunuchs...but don't worry, I know that is not enough for my son. I will bring you books...books from across the empire and beyond. Let your imagination soar, as mine once did, and you will find all the satisfaction of the world right here in this very room."
And so, as the empire went through great changes on the outside, life in the harem continued as it has been for centuries upon centuries. Battles will be fought and lands will be gained and lost, but as always the ultimate power can be found where the women are. For it is here in the harem, in the legendary halls of decadence and debauchery, that the once quiet girl from a small mountain village will raise the man who will soon become the most powerful ruler of the greatest empire on earth.
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