The Red Palace

Prince Badar Ali stepped onto his balcony of marble and red sandstone and gazed out over the distant plains he had yearned to see for so many years. As he stood in the place where he had spent idle hours of his youth daydreaming, a background feeling rushed forward and filled him with sudden awareness.

Before the Rana had sent him to study in far-off England, he had not realized how much pleasure he took from knowing the soaring Himalayas were at his back. He felt their comfort now, solid and confident. He let his mind’s eye roam among the majestic snowcaps, the sacred source of the five rivers flowing through the fertile plains of the Punjab spreading far and wide to the horizon. He sent his sacred mountains a prayer for strength and wisdom.

He breathed in. The air, released from the suffocating heat of the day, carried now only the scents of hibiscus and frangipani and jasmine from the palace’s many gardens. The sound of water trickling in his personal fountain a few feet away mingled with the fluttery gust of a sudden flight of a flock of geese overhead, jackals snarling and quarreling in the distance, and parrots and paddy birds and ring-doves calling and cooing as they bedded down in their trees for the night. He watched the dusty purple of dusk shade into the amethyst of twilight then deepen into the indigo of sunset. This was the magical moment before the great arc of the night wheeled its burden of stars slowly above. It was the fraction of an ecstatic second between daylight and nightlight, when a houri ‘ virgin of Paradise’ could slip through the heavenly gauze to dance on the ground and beckon a djinni ‘genie’ to join her.

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