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The Oriental Isle: chapter one

Rahab's mission to London begins

The good thing about the ship from Jaffa to Tilbury was also the bad thing. It was English. The good side was that as the English were the greatest pirates on the high seas, no one was going to attack an English warship. The bad side was that journeying in a ship is like having a stomach sickness for eight weeks, and being in an English one meant not only that, but constant curiosity from the sailors. The Purser, who seemed a gentleman, and therefore out of place among the riff-raff, told me it was a constant trial to the sailors not to have relief for their sexual urges, and that as a consequence, some of them would assume the woman's role and be penetrated in the anus.

I did not have the heart to tell him that in Turkey at least, it was more usual to penetrate women in their vaginas. Neither did I tell him that I was actually rather partial to the English vice, but not with men. Mind you, I could sympathise with their frustration. For eight weeks I was celibate. Had I not suffered from constant sea-sickness, I should have minded, but as it was, I didn't.

What I did mind was the constant attempts of the sailors to get a glimpse of me when I was dressing or undressing. Goodness knows the desperation that led them to want to see what a flat-chested Jewish midget looked like, but it was clearly a pressing need, to judge from the number of times the door opened with someone wanting to know if I 'needed anything.'

My friend Will, whom I hoped to see in London, had said something about male sodomy, so it was clear to me that the English were very keen on that sort of thing. I knew from my former lover and friend, Jess, that her Mistress, had Sapphic tendencies, but I had no idea whether English ladies, in general, shared the taste for the same sex that appeared to be fashionable with their male counterparts; I rather hoped so.

I talked to the Purser about England, practising my English on him. Like most English people I met, he spoke only his own tongue, which always seems to me a sadness; it is a wide world, and I have always found speaking half a dozen languages an aid to life. But each to their own.

I asked him about the Great Queen, but he could tell me little, save that she was reputed to be very beautiful - and was not married. I liked the sound of that. For a mature woman to be unmarried was, in my experience, often a sign of Sapphic tendencies. I had, as a result of my own inclinations, never shared a bed with my husband the Sultan, but was not averse to the idea of doing so with a female sovereign. My experiences with the Sultan's mother, Calliope, were ones I treasured and looked forward to resuming when my mission was over, and I rather liked the idea of being bedded by another monarch.

Such were some of my thoughts when the sea was calm. My thoughts when it was not were too awful, and I would rather not recall them.

I was clear about my mission, which was why I needed to see my friend Will.

My Sultan had to be persuaded that it was a bad idea to ally with the Catholic Monarchs and with Russia. The case for allying with them was being made by the Grand Vizier, who was using the Circassian siren/slut, Irene to press his case. By now she would have had her child, and it was clear that there would be an attempt to make him the heir instead of the son of the Sultana, Roxanna. Were all that to happen, there would be a sweep out of those whose faces did not fit, and I was sure mine would be one of the early casualties. Besides, it was, in my view, the wrong policy.

My friend, the diplomat and writer Will, had been on a mission to Muscovy to persuade the Orthodox Prince to ally with the great Elizabeth, and by the message, I had from him before I left Damascus, with some success. What I needed to do was to secure an alliance with the English for my Sultan. That way we would be secure both against the Russians and against the Catholic Monarchs, both of whom had designs on the Empire of the Ottomans.

Having, by native wit, low cunning, and an ability to amuse the Sultan, risen to be his 'little vizier,' he had entrusted me with this mission, reasoning that a woman would be best able to read the riddle that was Elizabeth of England. I had to say that the idea appealed to me, and not least because I had left behind me in Syria my two loves.

Jess, whom I had bought at the Slave Market in Istanbul and made my lover, and, almost, my Mistress, had stayed behind in Damascus with her new love, Ayesha, and my new, and deep love, Ana, had remained with the Bodyguard which protected the tomb of the Marble Emperor. My heart ached for them both, and I had essayed some poems to assuage my heartache. But I missed them both terribly.

None of this could be discussed with anyone on the ship, not even the delightful Purser, but I was able, by practice, to understand and speak the tongue excellently by the time, one cool, misty, late summer morning that we sailed into Tilbury docks.

I was shivering on the deck. It was summer, it was supposed to be warm, and yet it was cool, damp, and dull; not, I hoped, an omen for my mission and its success.

I was glad of my salvar, I thought trousers might be good in such a climate, and my silk shirt and kaftan all kept the worse of the cold out. As I would be on show, I also wore my kabasti, a diadem, embellished with an oval stone, which was worn on official occasions. I wore a thin veil. I could see the ensemble had worked by the reaction of the crew, who bowed to me. I distributed some largesse among them, which won me a round of applause, and a lot of help in terms of unloading my trunks onto the carriage of the English Queen.

The Chamberlain who met me was a Lord, but I met so many that I recall not his name. A young man, of handsome mien, he sought to charm me as he welcomed me to his country. He, it transpired, would travel in a second coach, as it was thought that the little vizier should travel by herself. It was with some surprise then that, on entering my coach, I found it already occupied. My surprise turned to delight when I saw who it was. It was my friend Will, the player and diplomat.

'Will,' I squeaked.

'My lady Rahab, how wonderful to see you. I do not want that popinjay here, he is one of Burleigh's men, and we do not want him overhearing our conversation.'

Will explained as we travelled, that Lord Burleigh was a great man in the kingdom, but that the master of the Queen's spy service was a man called Sir Francis Walsingham, and it was to him Will reported. It was clear that Burleigh and Walsingham were rivals for the Queen's favour, and I stored that piece of information away for future use.

It was a joy to see Will, who told me all about his mission to Muscovy. I told him about my adventures in Damascus, or at least what I wanted him and his masters to know. Then as we rattled along a road that appeared not to have been repaired since the Romans who had built it had left England, Will and I talked of poetry and plays. He had written, he told me, the story of Othello, and it had been well-received at Court. He thanked me for the raw material on which it was based.

Oh, I did like Will. He was witty, charming, and well-read. If I could ever have loved a man, it would have been him. His company made the weary miles pass with ease, and just after noon, we came to Whitehall Palace.

As the door was opened, Will made himself scarce, and it was as though he had not been there.

The Royal Chamberlain formally welcomed me on behalf of the Queen, and I was shown to my quarters, and the Ladies in Waiting assigned to help me. I was invited to rest before being received by the Queen in the late afternoon before the official banquet to welcome me. I was grateful for the chance to rest.

'My lady, I am Lady Emma Somerset and have been assigned to you for the duration of your mission here. Is there anything I can do for you? Would you like some food?'

Lady Emma was taller than me, but then as I am four foot ten, most people are. She had the magnificent blonde hair some of the English have, and she was extremely pretty. The fashion of the English was for low-cut gowns, and it had to be said that it suited her.

'My lady Emma, a little food would be good, but what I would adore would be a bath.'

'You are fortunate, Ma'am, here in the Palace we have one of the new bathrooms, and I can get it ready for you while you eat.'

What a curious people the English were, I thought. Still, at least there was a bathroom.

The cold meats and bread brought for a late lunch were passable, but oh my, I missed my usual diet and longed for coffee.

Lady Emma returned and, with two maids, led me to the bathroom.

The Bathroom had deep window-seats with cupboards beneath and a ceiling decorated with gold battens on a white background. The bath was made of wood and was attached to the wall. It was supplied by two taps, one for cold water and one for hot. Lady Emma explained that directly behind the bathroom, in another small room, was a charcoal- fired stove, fed from a cistern on the second floor which was filled by a channel from the underground spring.

This was a far cry from the luxury of the Sultan's palaces, but in truth, I was glad of anything after the ship, where it had been difficult to keep clean.

'Do you want one of the maids to help you, Ma'am, or would you prefer me to assist?'

The way Lady Emma said those words caught my attention. I was not attuned to the nuances of English speech, but I knew a flirtation when I heard one; that language was universal.

'I should be honoured if you wished to assist me, Lady Emma.' I smiled. She smiled back.

The bath was filled with rose-scented hot water and looked inviting.

'Your English is very good, my lady, if I may say so. Here, let me help with that robe,'

She helped me out of the kaftan, and then my silk shirt. As she did so, her hands brushed against my nipples. I shivered.

Kneeling, she helped me out of my trousers. As she knelt, I got a wonderful view of her breasts, which were lush, like watermelons. Another shiver passed through me. Putting my fingers in the waistband on my drawers, I pulled them down, standing, naked, in front of Lady Emma.

'If I might, Ma'am, you are a delight, why, you seem but a young girl, and yet I have heard ....'

At that she stopped, realising she had spoken out of turn. But I was not letting it go.

Stepping into the bath, and sitting, sighing, in the hot, rose-scented water, I asked what she had heard.

'I hardly like to say Ma'am, but it is to the effect that you do not like men, but prefer women.'

She blushed so prettily.

'I am old enough, Lady Emma, and what you have heard is true. I am a virgin.'

'But, Ma'am, we hear such stories of the harem and of the appetites of the Sultan!'

Again, she blushed but clearly found the topic an exciting one.

I longed for the soft soaps of Istanbul, but the English soap was serviceable, and Lady Emma soaped my back, shoulders, and breasts, paying particular attention to my nipples, which stiffened at her touch. It had been too long, and I moaned a trifle.

'What you hear is no doubt exaggerated, but it is true that he is handsome and brave, and, according to some of my fellow wives, hung like a horse and fucks like a rabbit.'

I had chosen my words to shock and excite her. They succeeded.

'Oh Ma'am, really?'

So I told her about what he had done to Alexandra and to Svetlana, and how he had me use my tongue to prepare them for him.

'Oh, Ma'am, that is so naughty. But I wish it had been me you had been preparing.'

She rubbed my tummy, and then, reaching down cupped my sex.

Moaning, I warned her:

'Lady Emma, it seems to me that perhaps I need to help you a trifle.'

'How?' She asked me.

There was a knock at the door. One of the maids entered.

'Sorry to disturb you, your ladyship, but the Queen has arrived, and so we must move rather sooner than we had thought.'

Lady Emma looked disappointed,

'Well,' I said, 'there will be world enough for that, and time, so this coyness, my lady, is no crime.'

The lines were ones I had learned from Will, and seemed apposite; whether they were his or another's, I never discovered.

But our dalliance ended there, for a while, although, as she toweled me dry, she succeeded in making me damp between my legs.

The maids had brought my best outfit, my red silk salwar kameez, studded with diamonds, and my best kabasti.

'You look like a Princess, my lady,' Emma gushed.

I liked that, and I liked her.

So, leading the way, we went to the Great Hall.

'Her Highness, the Lady Rahab, the ambassador of the Sultan of the Ottoman,' the herald announced.

I walked, slowly, towards the throne. As I approached, I caught my first glimpse of her, Elizabeth, the Great Queen of the English.

Her auburn hair was almost red, and I was struck by her dark eyes, and her almost swarthy complexion, her nose was as hooked as mine, and her lips were not full; indeed they were rather narrow. As she gestured with her hands, welcoming me, I was struck by their elegance. Her fingers were slender and comely, her hands graceful and shapely. I would almost have said she was not beautiful, but there was something in her eyes, and about her face, which said she was, and to that I took heed.

'Your Majesty,' I said, bowing low, 'I bring greetings from the Great Padishah.'

'You are, my lady, most welcome, and now, sit with me a while, and let us talk of things of interest. That is the prettiest outfit I have seen, how I wish it was our fashion. Now sit, and let us talk a while.'

 

 

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