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The Damascus Road: Part Ten

An ending... and a beginning. Rahab leaves.

I went back to my chamber in a sombre mood.

It was utterly unreasonable of me to be jealous, and I was not even sure that I was; something else was going on.

It was plain that Ayesha and Jess loved each other; what I had seen was not simple lust at work. God knows, I knew enough about that, and I recognised, perhaps all the more so after my encounter with Ana, the difference between the two emotions. I knew with a certainty what was coming - and what I must do.

Jess seemed surprised to see me back, when she came into my chamber.

‘I had not expected you back this soon my darling.’ She blushed.

‘We need to talk.’

‘About what?’

‘I saw you and Ayesha.’

She blushed furiously.

‘Who said we were not monogamous, do remind me?’

‘Stop there Jess, you misunderstand me. Tell me one simple thing. Are you in love with her, and does she love you?’

‘That’s two things, but the answer is yes to both.’

Jess had that stubborn look she adopted when she felt she was going to find herself in an argument.

‘Good.’

She looked at me, with astonishment.

‘What do you mean? What’s the use? I am your slave, there is no future for our love.’

For a moment, I shivered. Having so recently come to the same conclusion about myself and Ana, it felt good to be able to do something for Jess. Yes, I thought, I loved her that much.

I smiled, sadly.

‘Why not? All I need to do is to say that you are hers, and you stay. I have only one question. Are you sure?’

With her face still a study in astonishment, Jess began to stammer her response.

‘Don’t tease.’

I stopped her.

'I am not teasing. I love you. I love you enough to want for you what you want. If you tell me you want to live here with Ayesha, that will be arranged.’

‘But, but Pixie, I am yours, you bought me when you could have had anything.’

‘So, I wanted you, I still want you, but if you have a future here as a free woman, then I am content. We have had a time such as few ever enjoy, and the intensity of what we have shared will remain with me forever. But we know how unstable things at the Seraglio are. If you want a future here, darling, it is my gift to you.’

I felt the tears brimming. I saw the tears come to her eyes too.

Leaning down, she embraced me.

‘Pixie, Pixie, really? You really will?’

As we hugged, and cried, I reassured her that I really would.

We embraced and wept. I felt her warmth. I felt something ebbing, passing, flowing away. My heart ached.

How empty, I thought, the Seraglio would be. Yes, there was my beloved adopted mother, Calliope, the mother of the Sultan, and Svetlana, my Russian love, but there was not, with them, the love there was with Jess. They had other positions. Jess, alone, was mine. Had been mine, I reflected; a tear forming. It was ending.

‘You are sure? I would not leave you if you said, even though I want Ayesha.’

‘I appreciate your honesty. It wins you your freedom and your love.’

We hugged again.

‘Ayesha has invited me to the banquet tonight; may I go?’

‘It will be your first outing as a free woman, darling. I will sign the papers, and all will be as you and Ayesha need.’

Jess looked at me, her eyes wet with tears.

‘I have loved you, Pixie Rahab, and I will always burn a candle for you.’

‘English Jess, I love you still, but I know where your heart lies, and my almost final gift to you is to let it go freely there.’

I kissed her on the lips, reflecting as I did that this might be the last time I did so in any seriousness.

‘Thank you, thank you. Can I tell Ayesha?’

‘Tell her, and give her the blessing I offer you too.’

She looked at me.

‘I don’t know what happened, Pixie, but whatever it was, you are different, and not in a bad way.’

‘Thank you,’ I smiled, ‘I am glad you think so. Now, go, see Ayesha.’

‘I will, but first, let me give you what I came to give you. I have a letter here from an English merchant.’

She handed me a note.

I thanked her, kissed her again, and off she dashed.

That was that. Henceforth the stream flowed in a different direction. I sighed.

I opened the letter.

It was signed: ‘Will.’

I read.

My heart quickened as I did.

He wrote that he had sent three copies of the letter, and hoped one would reach me. His news was exciting. It seemed as though the Russians would not get their alliance with the English, and that the Great Queen wanted to talk with the Sultan. The mission had, Will said, been a success. What remained, he thought, was to see if the Empire would respond positively or whether, as he put it in a typical turn of phrase, it was ‘much ado about nothing.’

It was a question that I would raise with the Sultan later, but for now, it was on with the motley.

The Palace was buzzing.

My servants dressed me.

I put on my best linen drawers, and over them a linen tunic. Over that, I donned a colourful salwar kameez, topped with a cap. If I said so myself, I scrubbed up well.

I sat in the Imperial presence as the leaders of the various factions in the region paid their tribute to the Great King of Kings.

Tall, commanding, impressive, Mehmet seemed, indeed, Othman come again. No one watching the performance would have suspected that the Empire was probably beginning a decline; if anyone could halt it, he was the man.

I was struck by two things: the richness of the region; and the multitude of the religious variations on show. Only here, I reflected, was it possible for so many religions to live together. As long as all obeyed the laws of the Padishah, there was room for all, especially for the People of the Book.

It was a huge, and profitable triumph.

After they had retired, and before the banquet, the Sultan commanded my presence.

‘Rahab, my thanks. You have served the Empire well here. Enjoy the banquet. How would you feel if I told you, you were not coming back to Istanbul just yet?’

I looked as puzzled as I felt.

‘I have had a request from the Queen of the English. Here, read.’

He handed me a formal dispatch on beautiful vellum. The signature was an elaborate one. It contained fraternal greetings to the Great Padishah, and it spoke of wanting an Ottoman mission to London. She had, she went on, heard that the wise Sultan had a female vizier, and she hoped that he might allow her to come to London to talk about an alliance.

I was stunned. This was Will’s work. How else could the Great Queen have heard of my existence?

‘I am disposed to spare you for this great mission, my little Vizier, much as I shall miss you, she asks for you, and I suspect that your way with women may serve me better than a male ambassador would.’

I was still stunned.

I told the Sultan of Will’s note.

'That settles it. You will go when we return to Istanbul. I shall send a despatch ahead. A ship will be prepared, and you will go with powers to conclude an alliance, if one is to be had. You know my mind, and I trust you.'

I was flabbergasted.

As I sat at the banquet that evening, my mind was in a whirl.

Looking across, I saw a radiant Jess, sitting, hugging an equally happy Ayesha. Princess Damila was in high good humour. They raised their glasses to toast me. Rabbi Joshua seemed happy, whilst Helena, who was talking with the Princess, seemed in her element.  Bashir, secure as the new Governor, was smiling benignly. The Sultan was on top form.

'Now, all of you, hear me.'

All stopped.

'I want to say a word of gratitude to all who have helped bring this peaceful resolution, to Amir Bashir, to Princess Damila, and to those of the Al-Shabab's who have rallied to my cause. But a special mention goes to my little Vizier, Rahab, who was lost and is found. A toast to her!'

And so it was that a little slave girl found herself toasted by the Pashishah himself,

I blushed.

As the array broke up, the Princess came over to me.

'Is it true that you are allowing Jess to be with Ayesha?'

I admitted it was. She hugged me.

'You are kindness itself. I know how much you love her. It is an act of love.'

She kissed me on each cheek.

Ayesha was next, profuse in thanks, kissing my cheeks too.

Jess hugged me.

'We need to talk,' I said, 'I am to go to London, I need briefing.'

Her eyes opened.

'No, really?'

'Would you want to come?'

'No,' she said, 'my home is where Ayesha is; but thank you, darling.'

So, there it was.

Would I, I reflected, see any of them again? We had been so close, but now?

Bashir and Helena also thanked me.

I went back to my Chamber, a mix of emotions. I felt a sense of emptiness. I was glad not to be going back to Istanbul. It would have been so lonely, even with Calliope and Svetlana. The best service I could render them was to work to prevent the Circassian plan for an alliance with the Catholic emperor; that was my work now. I had served my religion and my God. But it felt a lonely place all of a sudden.

My servants helped divest me of most of my clothing. I sat in my drawers and linen shift, wondering what the next months would bring?

I heard a rustling noise. I started. Surely not, no, not another incursion into the harem? I grabbed my knife under the cushion. I was ready.

'You will not need that, my Rahab.'

I melted. It was Ana, speaking from the shadows.

'But, but I thought you could not leave?'

'Not until the main force returned, but it did so this morning, and I wanted to see you.'

I rose, flinging myself at her.

We fell together, our bodies entwining as we hit my bed. Her mouth on mine, mine responding to her urgent, passionate kisses. Her hands darted under my shift, caressing my chest, making my nipples ache. As she did that, I fumbled with her clothing, undoing her pants, pulling at her top. Stopping a moment, she divested herself of her garments, which allowed me to reciprocate. I clawed at her, desperate for her warmth.

'My tiger, Rahab, so you are pleased to see me?'

'Pleased hardly begins to express it. I am yours, utterly.'

We kissed more. We were one that night.

oOo

Though I write this at a distance of ten years, and wonder why I do, as I have no idea who, if anyone, will read it and the poems I will bury with it, the memory of that night is burned deep into my soul.

We loved with no reservations. It was as though we knew this might be all we had, and into it, we poured what others had a lifetime to distil. What words can adequately convey the deep dive we made into each other, all barriers down?

My skilled tongue and fingers drank in her juices as though they were her very essence. I buried myself into her wet sex as though trying to enter her womb. She commanded my aching body and made it bend to her will, which was identical to mine. We needed no words, except those of love; we knew by instinct what the other wanted, and we gave ourselves, each to the other in superabundance.

Had I been counting the climaxes, I should have lost count; but all that mattered was that we were giving ourselves, freely, each to the other. As I recall it now, a decade on, I feel aroused. Ana, my Ana, oh, how I loved you!

But the morning light came, penetrating the chamber. We had loved the whole night. Every moment of it had been lived with an intensity which is granted to few. Yet, with the first rays of the sun's early dawning, there came the moment we had dreaded.

Leaning next to me, on her elbow, Ana kissed me.

'It is time for me to go, Rahab.'

'I know, but I am with you, even to the end of all things.'

'I know, and it is the same with me.'

We kissed.

I told her of my mission, suggesting that as the Great Queen was not a Catholic, she, Ana, should write to her, telling her of her support.

So it was that the penultimate act was one of State. I put the letter carefully with my cache of documents.

'You could have stayed dead, Rahab.'

I smiled, sadly.

'But then I should not have been Rahab, I should have been Pixie, and dwindled into one you could not love.'

She knew of my nickname. She nodded her agreement.

'We are both in His service, and we go where we are sent, even if we do not know the way. I love you. You are MY Rahab, my wife in this world and the next.'

I broke down and wept. Not all tears are bad.

She wept too.

And so it was that in the chill of the early dawn, Anastasia and I parted.

I turned to my toilet, getting myself ready.

For the next three days, I spent hours with Jess, not in love, but in learning all I could of her country. She left with me a letter for her Lady, on the chance I should see her.

Our parting was such sweet sorrow. She was going to a new life and love. I was leaving both behind.

The Sultan gave me my orders. 

So it was, that on a sunny summer's morning, two days later I boarded the ship for London. I stood on the deck. I was alone, utterly bereft of comfort. I wept. Then I pulled myself together. Bracing myself, I looked as the harbour disappeared, and with it, my old life. On what I did next, the fate of Empires would depend. An odd fate for a little Jewess. But He had told me He would be with me, that must, in spite of others, do.

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