The Mystic Poet

Submitted into Contest #55 in response to: Write a story about a meeting of a secret society.... view prompt



Manijeh Khorshidi


The sun has set. The cold wind of late November brushes against the existence. The cobblestone alley echos the fast footsteps of two dark shadows, one in front and the other one step behind. That night has a tale to tell. A mystery to harbor. The year is 1851.

It started sometime before on a day when the King had a festivity in the Palace. We see the servants are all visible and running around. The attendants busy with different tasks and chores are running around in the Palace. The lamb legs head to the royal kitchen. The fresh fruits and sweets fill the crystal dishes. Roses in abundance cover the rooms. Then, velvet cushions added to the seats, and finally, the embroidered panels with golden trims exhibited. There is going to be a festival in the Palace at night.

Are they here yet? The headmaster asks. ‘They are on their way,’ the footman affirms. A group of skilled musicians had the honor to play for the King that night. Besides the skill, they had to be courageous too. Amazingly, these two virtue had to go hand in hand if you wanted to perform for his Royal Highness. It was the matter of your head. In the case of his Highness' dislike of the performance, the beheading was the result. In the mid-nineteen century in that far land, this was an accepted method of facing the consequence of your action. But the reward of being liked by the King was a lure, of course. Either the gold coins in your hand or your severed head toppled on the ground.

Then, there were the chosen poets and storytellers who were heading to the Palace that night. In the women's quarter in the Palace, there was excitement about one particular one. The most famed and controversial one. The one whose notability had spread all over the country. Some knew her only through what they had heard about her bewitching beauty. Others appreciated her liberal thoughts, but they were fearful of acknowledging that. Some were after her extinction, and some were ready to give their lives for her. Who was this mystical figure? The guards were going to conduct her from her prison to the Palace that night. Amusement for his Highness includes the performance of the exceptionally gifted prisoners too. And the woman poet, a prisoner, is one of those.

The hour has arrived. The Royal family enter the grand chamber. According to the ranks of the family, they sit in different places around the Queen- mother. The wives of the King, the sisters of His Royal Highness, and others, are all seated. Their embroidered dresses cover the soft cushions. The colorful trousers and short chemise with jackets are the fashion of the day. Their hands with the colored nail with Hannah play with their gold necklaces ornamented with rubies and sapphire.

There is a lonely chair next to the rows of the Princesses sitting on the floor. Soon it will be occupied by the wife of the English attache who visited the Queen-mother once more. She has shown interest in learning about the culture of the land. This festivity is an opportunity for the Royal family to boast about their love for literature to the Western woman. The poet will recite her poetry for them. Never mind that she is a prisoner.

The music from the King’s quarter plays by the musicians who finally have arrived reaches the women’s quarter. One of the youngest princesses moves her body and puts her hands up to the music. With a look of dismay from the Queen-mother, the hands come down. Others indulge in the delicacies of dried fruits filled with nuts and sugar coconut.

The cobblestone alley still echoes the light footsteps of the evading shadows. The royal carriage stands distant from the destination to elude any passersby of the identity of the walker. Out of breath, they reach the wooden door ornamented with large metal knobs. The sapphire blue tiles arranged in an arched form on top of the door are a sign of wealth and distinction. The thick and high walls surrounded the houses. Thus, the door is not only for entrance but separated the two worlds of inside and outside. Women's world remained behind the door. The outside world belonged to men. The neighborhood with tall trees of oaks and maples is charming. The knock on the door wakens the warden who opens the door with the oil lamp in hand. The light betrays the identity of the visitors. The Princess, followed by the attendant, enters the house with a rush.

With no spoken words, they tiptoe into a spacious verdant yard. Their steps fade in the wind blowing through the branches of the old trees, and the splashing running water in the pool. Her Highness did wish to keep the visit a secret for her safety and the safety of her host. The servants of the household have to be kept unaware of her visit. It would prevent their gossip from reaching the Court of the King. The warden looking around with alarm leads them to the bottom of narrow uncovered steps on the south side of the house, and quickly turns away and disappears.

Back to the Palace on that night, the Western guest arrives. She bows to the Queen-mother and sits on the only chair. The princesses giggle and stare at her. Everything about her is strange to the ladies of the Court. Through the translator, who is another western woman with poor command of the native language, the attache's wife conveys her respect to the Queen-mother. She perceives the princesses to be oblivious of the chaos in the country. Indulgent in eating and laughing, are they aware of the riot of famine outside the Palace the week before? She thinks to herself. Only one of the Princesses is quiet and reflective. Later that night, the Western woman writes to a friend, 'I could not wait to get out of that boring gathering. But I wanted,' she continues 'to see the famed poet, the beautiful imprisoned one.

When they captured the poet, they kept her in the house of the Mayor. Her confinement in an astir room separate from the main house did not hamper her enthusiasm for writing. But her imprisonment was the end of an era of hope and unfulfilled dreams for women. It signalized the return of dark reality, the subjugation of her sex. Her poetry passed around secretly. Her revolutionary ideas about women and humanity had trembled the foundation of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. But her magnetism and her beauty had attracted followers up to the Court of the King. Indeed the King, captured by the beauty of the poet, asked her to marry him. A royal proposal and a promise of freedom if she recants her ideas of the liberation of women. If only leaves her mystical love for the spiritual Beloved. If only denounces the independence of the soul to search for transcendence.

At the bottom of the steps on that cold night, the royal Princess hears a soft voice. 'You may come up, my friend.' Looking up, she sees the imprisoned one's face that is lighted by the candle in her hand. The Princess turns to her devoted servant and tells her to take shelter under the steps. She gave her long wool shawl to stay warm. Then, she climbs up the unsafe ladder that connected the ground to the room. Her hand touches the poet, who helps her to make it safely to the top of the moving ladder. 'I was expecting you,' the poet tells the Princess. How could she have known? The visit happened at a spur of the moment when the Princess could leave the Palace without attracting attention to herself.

From this close, the poet looks even younger. After the night of the festivity at the Palace when she met and heard the mystic poet, she could not contain herself to read her poetry. It had to be in secret. Despite the warning against any connection with the poet, she decided to become her student. And here she was. The Princess loved poetry. She had tried to write poems herself. But the poetry of this woman was divine. It had stirred her soul. She wanted to live and breathe with those words. A secret bond, an irresistible force, pulled her heart to the abode of the poet. Paper in hand, she is kneeling on the carpet. Still-bound, she is waiting for the mystic poet to immerse her in the ocean of words containing the pearls of wisdom.

At the hour of predawn, the quivering light of the lamp recited its lack of oil. The Princess had never felt such serenity and safety ever in her life. How could a prisoner have so much power? She thinks. The student discovered life's secret on that night. The poisoned one had given her the gift of discernment. The mystery of inner freedom, the freedom of consciousness, had been revealed to her. Her poetry disclosed the secrets to a life filled with illumined moments. No wonder that many had memorized them, and out of fear, they had demolished the written words. The secret meeting had to come to an end. 'The Princess should not be seeing to depart the abode of the prisoner,' The poet gently reminds the Princess. Oblivious of time and place dazed and transformed, the royal Princess in her royal carriage is heading to the Palace.

Years have passed since the night of the party in the Royal Palace. Soon after the meeting in the upper room of the Mayor's house, the execution of the Prisoner came to reality. She was thirty-five years old. The Royal proposal of marriage had not left her door. She had not stopped writing poetry with words of hope and courage. After her death, the gloom spread in the land as the spark of hope extinguished.

The attache's wife returned to her country and wrote her memoir of a strange land with a lioness who happened to be a poet. The Princess wrote poetry inspired by what she had learned from the poet in their secret meeting. The tears of many women have wetted the scattered papers of the poet. Many of her poems are lost the same as the place of her body.

Today, the secret admirers of the mystic poet have transmuted to open societies of studying the life of the woman who started it all, the movement of the women in the East. She is known as the Pure One.

August 21, 2020 02:21

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