Below is a link to The Red Palace. It takes place during 1857 and involves events surround the Sepoy Rebellion against the British East Indian Company.
Prince Badar Ali encounters Elizabeth Wilkins under unusual circumstances and sets in motion a sensual game. To his surprise Elizabeth learns to play it very well. Is it one they both can win?
Here’s the opening scene of 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.
He glanced down into the darkness. The palace wall dropped one hundred feet to meet the scrub at the edge of a thicket in the midst of which wandered a hidden stream. In that half-second he caught the flash of a figure, lithe and surely lovely, flit past the scrub and steal into the thicket. The next second stars spangled the sky, the sickle moon was flung high, and all houris fled, leaving the capricious djinnis to pester or to bless poor earthlings, as they pleased.
What had he just seen? He entertained fanciful possibilities until his education of the last ten years broke through his thoughts like a thundering phalanx of British cavalry. They bore him the terse and sober message: Apply the scientific method.
What had his professor at Cambridge once said? “Man’s natural tendency is to start from a conclusion and work backward to confirm his assumption. But the scientific method drives down the wrong side of the road by starting with the assumption and then making every effort to disconfirm it.” So. Westerners had once believed that meat left outside long enough would spontaneously generate new life in the form of maggots and flies. Then a clever Italian chap tested the idea by placing meat and eggs in both sealed and unsealed containers. When he checked back to compare the two conditions, he saw the sealed containers had not spontaneously generated life. Next was tested the assumption that forgotten piles of dirty rags would turn into mice and, lo and behold, Westerners began to change their perceptions of the world. Armed with their new experimental prowess they set out to harness the rest of the world.
Ask a question; construct a hypothesis resulting in a prediction; test the prediction; draw a conclusion. The scientific method.
The obvious question was: Did houris exist? However, if he predicted Yes, he could never test the hypothesis because if they had the qualities the great religious scholar Bayazid claimed for them, they would never let themselves be caught. So he needed a new question. He stood there long enough in contemplation, his gaze focused on the darkness below, to chance to see the same form flit back the way she had come. Or was what he saw and heard merely the scuttle of a nocturnal animal? Nevertheless, the quick scurry prompted the question: Could a human being – and a female, no less, or perhaps a boy – come and go from such a well-guarded palace, unattended and under cover of night? From this question materialized another: Is The Red Palace well-guarded?
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen