Calliope explained that there had been a fresh influx of slaves at the market, and that she liked to choose those for the Seraglio; she suggested that I might enjoy the trip, saying it would be a treat.
Since arriving in Istanbul, I had not left the Topkapi Palace. As it was the size of the village I had spent my life in, plus some, that was not quite the hardship it might have seemed. It was also a great deal more agreeable — as long as one accepted that one was in the position of a brood mare. Still, as that was the lot of most women, better to be cosseted than to be worked to death whilst breeding. There was always the fear of what would happen if the Sultan died, but as Mehmet was youngish and fit, that was not something about which to waste energy. But a trip to the Great Bazaar was not to be passed up.
The sights and sounds of the largest and grandest city in Europe were intoxicating, and noisy. The smell was something less pleasant, and a reminder that what had done for the Romans, needed re-engineering for a larger population.
The Grand Bazaar seemed to contain examples of every species of mankind. I was intrigued by the yellow men with slit eyes and pigtails, who were, I was told, the purveyors of silk from far Cathay. There were men who were black as lamp oil, from the lands south of Egypt, and men in silks and turbans from the Empire of the Mughals. They rubbed shoulders with the merchants of Venice and Genoa, who jostled for business with men who looked like me; wandering Jews who made their home in the land of the Padishah.
Compared to the Christians, the Ottomans tolerated my people. Indeed, my own family had fled from the lands of the Spaniards, who had forced conversion on all Jews who wished to remain under their ruler. That had been two generations before, but the Rabbi’s library from which I had taken so much information, had reflected those origins.
I felt for the women on the block at the slave mart. Indeed, had I been one, I should, I think, have died of shame. Paraded naked, their attributes discussed, their bodies mauled by prospective buyers, and offered for sale to the highest bidder, their lot was far worse than mine.
I spotted one young woman who reminded me of myself. She was not as small as me, and her chest was not sincan escort as flat, but she was like me enough to attract my empathy. As Calliope had first pick, whilst she inspected some of the more obvious prospects, I asked the seller about the young woman.
She was, he explained, the victim of the Barbary pirates. She hailed from somewhere he called ‘Londres,’ but which I recognised as London. He asked if I wanted to inspect her? I said I should like to talk with her.
My conversations with Will, the playwright turned diplomat, had helped embolden me with the English tongue, so I chanced speaking it with her. The seller clearly had no knowledge of it, and that would be a help to me to be able to converse freely.
She started as I approached.
‘Do not be afraid, I intend you neither harm nor shame, indeed I would, if I could, save you from both.’
She started at hearing someone speak her tongue.
‘Can you really help me? Who are you? How can a child help me?’
‘I am no child, I am eighteen, and I am here with the mother of the Sultan to find new slaves for our quarters in the Palace.’
‘So you are a slave too’
‘All are slaves of the Padishah. Well is it said that the happy man is one who neither knows the Sultan, nor is known by him. But I am his pet, and I would ask her to purchase you for me.’
She smiled, the sweetest of smiles. I think I would have done at the prospect of being taken off the market by a buyer such as myself.
‘Mama,’ I said, for thus did I address the great Empress Dowager, ‘you know you said I could have a present from your son, am I at liberty to choose it?’
‘Why, my child, of course, what diamond, what fine silks, what rare delicacies do you want? Name them, and they are yours.’
It was tempting. Such objects would have a monetary value, and I was painfully aware of the need to build some financial reserve against possible evil days to come. Such things would have been worth thousands of acres, and money was not really an issue. I knew, from talking to the slave owner that the girl would cost no more than twenty acres. Should I really settle for her when I could shore up my future?
‘Mama, you are generous to your adopted daughter, beyond the generosity çankaya escort of all save the Padishah, but you know I am not a greedy kitten. I would have a companion, a playmate, a girl to help me.
‘And with what would this girl help you? Do you want one of these full-breathed fillies here, with their intoxicating bodies, and would you set me aside for them, at my own expense?’
She was teasing me, but there was a note of sadness in her voice.
‘Mama, how can you even think such a thing? Who could take me from your bed, from your thighs and breasts? Why would I want a Circassian, or even a Greek?’
‘Well, let me think, little one, they are beautiful and young, and you could sell them off for good silver.’
‘Mama, as if your kitten wants such things. No, you see that lady there, yonder, it is she whom I would have.’
She looked at me.
‘But she will cost hardly five akces, and she will have no resale value. I am generous, and would offer you far more.’
‘Highness,’ I said, switching to full flattery mode, ‘I desire only you and Svetlana, but I see in this girl a fellow spirit, can I not have her, please?’
‘My child, of course you may,’
So the deal was done.
The girl smiled when I told her. I insisted that she was clothed at once. I asked her what she was called, and she said Jesse, which I told her was a man’s name among my people. She asked what her role was to be, which floors she was to sweep and by whom she would be commanded. It was my turn to smile.
‘You are my playmate, and it is me who will command you. Jess,’ I said, feeling more comfortable with the contraction, it sounding more womanly, ‘you will be with me in the Seraglio, for I am lonely, and I lack a companion, and unless I judge wrongly, you are not much older than me?’
‘I am not, though I am twenty, and among my people, Jesse is also a man’s name, for I am a Hebrew. But my father made a vow and he stuck to it,’
‘I am also a Jewess,’ I exclaimed with glee.
Calliope was delighted that I was so pleased, and I gave her a huge hug. That night I served her liked never before, and she showed her pleasure to me thrice, calling me her ‘darling pet’ and ‘lover’. I did love her. But I needed someone eryaman escort to be my friend.
Jess was shy, as well she might be.
She had been a passenger on a ship from England to Venice which had been captured by the pirates. Her Lord had been killed in the struggle, and she had been taken for a slave, to be sold at Istanbul as part of a larger job lot. She explained that she was the youngest of seven children, all the rest brothers. She had been taken into the household of the local Lord, and had risen to be a maid of the parlour, or some such. She was used to hard work, and had been on the way to work in his Venetian residence when seized.
Naturally, she asked where she would sleep that night.
I looked at her straight.
She stared at me.
‘Is there no couch for your maid?’
‘You are not my maid, Jess, you are my companion and play-mate.’
She looked uncomprehending.
‘You know what this place is, Jess?’
‘Yes, you are the concubines of the Sultan, and he has each of you as he pleases.’
‘Not me,’ I said, ‘I am a favourite pet, not a lover. My pleasure lies elsewhere.’
I looked at her. She stared back, still not understanding.
‘I take no pleasure from men.’
‘My Lord took my maidenhead, but I cannot say it was an experience I relished, or that subsequent occasions were any more the pleasurable, but we women have to lie on our backs and please menfolk.’
‘What if I were to say we do not? What if I were to say that we, too, can have the pleasure men get?’
‘How can that be, Rahab? I do not understand you.’
‘Will you lie with me as if with a man?’
‘How can that be? Do you have a man’s weapon? Can you fill me as a man can?’
‘There are ways, but I would love you without them.’
‘You speak of love? Between woman! Is that not unnatural?’
‘I shall tell you what, Jess. Lie with me this one night, and if at its end you say it is unnatural, or that you enjoyed it not, then no more will be said of it. You will stay with me, purely as a friend and companion.’
‘I owe you that, at least.’
‘I would not have you owe me anything, save what your feelings offer.’
She looked at me.
‘But you bought me, you may use me as you will.’
‘I would use no one, Jess. I would love you, and have you, in time, love me.’
I kissed her, full on the lips. She slipped into my arms. I held her.
‘To my couch, then, Jess, you are willing?’
‘I am,’ she said.