A Tale to Dream: A Night in an Afghan Seraglio
Colonel John Savage had been commissioned in the King's own 9th Gorkha rifles.
Time had flown and in a moment he realized that two decades had passed in the army and now he was 41. He hadn’t married and many girls gave him sidelong glances and his mother also once asked him, “ look John why don’t you get married?”
This was the time when he had come on a holiday to his parent's estate in Mussoorie. He gave a noncommittal answer and left the next day to join duty in the Northwest Frontier.
It was 1930 and the frontier was in a state of ferment. The local Pathan leader Wazir Khan had called for a jihad against the infidels, the British.
He was sitting in his office when he got a call from the divisional commander. “hello John,” the divisional commander said, “we are in a spot of bother and I want you to take your battalion to the hills and capture the fortress there.”
“Yes. The local Jihad leader Wazir Khan is holed up in this small fortress and we must capture this fortress. If we do it the back of the jihad will be broken and the Afghans will see reason.”
Colonel John left the next day from Peshawar with his battalion in two military trucks. The trucks with his men on board negotiated the dusty half paved roads and headed towards the mountains. After a day’s drive, they had reached the foothills and set up camp at the base of the mountains. Colonel John Savage could make out the fortress perched on a cliff. A look told him it would be difficult to assault the fortress and hence he would have to think of another way.
John was familiar with the entire area having served their 20 years back as a subaltern. That time it was his first posting and he had just arrived from Sandhurst.
John looked at the small fortress of the hill and began to make a plan to capture it. He was aware that a frontal assault would be disastrous and could cost him a few men. He was a man who loathed getting his men killed just to obtain a quick victory. He decided that he would have to think of another way and maybe he would have to lead from the front.
He called his Adjutant Captain William Slim and both of them pored over a large map of the area where the fortress was located.
“Captain,” he said, “I have a plan”
“What is it, Sir?”
“I will go with one man and scale the fortress from the sheer cliff at the back and enter inside. I will get the door of the fortress opened and that is the time you will make the assault with the Gorkhas and enter the fortress.”
“Sure sir, but it is dangerous and suppose the enemy captures you?”
The Colonel smiled grimly, “my friend the time has not yet come for any man to capture Colonel John Savage. I am pretty sure I will be a success.”
Seeing the doubts on the face of the captain, Savage put his hand on the back of William and said, “ do what I say and get me one other soldier who will accompany me. I will tell you who it will be. Please ask Havildar Ishwar Singh to immediately come here. He is a man who has been in many an operation with me and he will accompany me when we scale the cliff at the back of the fortress.”
“When do you plan to start your operation, sir?”
“Right now, just pass the word to Ishwar Singh, to come immediately. At the same time, I want absolute secrecy, and not a bird must know about this operation.”
The Colonel got up from his chair, an indication to Captain William that the interview was over and all he had to do was to contact Ishwar Singh. He also planned to get about a hundred soldiers ready for an early assault on the fortress. He was convinced that Colonel Savage was going to do the impossible; he was going to enter the fortress and get the gates opened and that would be the time when the Gurkhas would assault the fortress and enter inside and fight, kill, and capture all and sundry.
In the middle of the night, Havildar Ishwar Singh entered the tent of Colonel Savage. He was a fearless Sikh warrior who had been with the colonel for more than a decade and had accompanied him even to the campaign in Mesopotamia.
He entered inside and saluted the Colonel, " Sir I have come and I await your orders"
The Hawaldar already had some inkling about what was expected and what was going to happen. John Savage looked at Havildar Ishwar Singh and said, "havildar they have given me a job, and now you and I are going to risk our lives in a matter of great importance. We have to facilitate the capture of the fortress on top of the hill."
"How are we going to do it, sir?"
"We are going to scale the sheer cliff at the back of the fortress and this we will do right now. We will scale the wall and I am more than sure that nobody will have an inkling or even an iota of an idea that we are going to scale the cliff. We aim to scale the cliff, climb into the fortress and open the main gate and I have already instructed Captain Williams to be ready with 100 soldiers to enter the fortress and capture it after the gate is opened by us."
Havildar Ishwar Singh had not an iota of doubt that John Savage, his OC will be successful. He was confident that he would be a party along with the Colonel to capture the fortress. All he said was, "when do we start sir?"
There was no time to lose and the Colonel and his Sergeant immediately set course for the cliff on the backside of the fortress. Both of them reached the bottom of the hill and began to climb up the tortuous cliff. The main obstacle was the last 100 feet which were a sheer blank rock with not a toehold.
John Savage and Ishwar Singh made slow but steady progress and within an hour they had reached the last hundred feet which were the sheer rock and Ishwar Singh asked, " Sir how are we going to climb this?"
The Colonel replied softly, "my friend, fortune favors the brave. Now just watch and pray to the great guru that I succeed." Precariously perched as he was Ishwar Singh watched John Savage take out a small silken with a lasso at its end. He threw it up and lo and behold the rope fixed itself to one of the spires of the fortress. There was no time to test and the Colonel immediately began to climb up.
"Ishwar Singh," he said, "just wait for a few minutes when I reach the top I will pull you up in the meanwhile don’t lose your hold because that will mean your falling into the river below and nobody will be able to save you, not even your guru."
The colonel now began the climb up the tortuous cliff. He pulled his massive frame with strong hands and in a few minutes had reached the top. Ishwar Singh could see that his officer commanding was at the top of the wall. In the meantime, he held onto the toe hold and waited. A soft voice wafted down to him, '"come up."
Ishwar Singh caught the rope and Colonel Savage began to pull him up to the ramparts. In another few minutes, he had reached the top of the wall of the fortress. He looked at the Colonel and then looked down and saw that they had successfully climbed the cliff. It was a moonless night and a cold wind blew. In a few moments, both men were on the top of the fortress and shook hands. Colonel Savage looked below and was aware that in case one of them had slipped it would have been sure death.
He had a fair idea of the fortress and was also aware that the back of this area was not properly guarded as the Emir was sure that no human being man or animal could climb up the sheer cliff. Unknown to him there was one man who had also climbed Mount Kanchenjunga, the second-highest peak in the world. It was Colonel Savage.
"Come with me," Colonel Savage said, "but remember no bullet is to be fired and if you have to use a weapon it is only the dagger."
"Sir, there is nobody here"
"I expected it, that is why I have chosen to come up this cliff."
Both the men began to slowly walk along the ramparts and then climbed down a flight of steps and entered the rooms of the fortress. Not a man was in sight as all of them were policing the front gate and the fortress walls around it.
Colonel Savage and Ishwar Singh now entered the rooms. John Savage knew that somewhere nearby was the Zenana was the Nawab’s wives resided. There was an exotic perfume emanating and this was the clue that Colonel Savage was looking forward to. He silently along with Ishwar Singh began to move forward.
They paused in front of a heavily draped curtain. From behind the curtain, a girl was playing the harp. It was an Arabic tune and John Savage knew that this was an apartment that had the wives and concubines of the Emir.
Just then there was a sound and Savage looked back. He saw an Abyssinian slave. He was a muscular man but he was a eunuch who had been castrated and made a guard of the harem. He saw John Savage and rushed towards him.
The slave had not seen Ishwar Singh in the shadows and this was a big mistake. As he rushed forward Ishwar Singh just held out his dagger and it buried itself deep in the stomach of the advancing Abyssinian slave.
He gave a gurgling sound and collapsed on the floor. Colonel Savage saw all this and smiled grimly. "Good show," he said, "you keep a watch here I will enter the chamber."
He parted the curtain and stepped inside. He was witness to a scene which appeared to him to be a page from the Arabian nights. A beautiful girl scantily dressed relaxed on a couch while another maid played the harp and a second was massaging the hair of the lady on the couch. It was obvious she was the principal mistress of this harem.
The beautiful girl lying on the bed and the two other girls attending to her were taken aback when they saw John Savage standing there. He was dressed in a salwar kameez and his face was covered and the girls did not know who he was.
"Who are you," the princess asked softly," no man is allowed here and how have you come?"
The other girl said, "there was this Abyssinian warrior outside but where is he?".
The words did not shock the girls and the princess told John Savage, "take off your scarf that covers your face I want to see who you are."
John Savage removed the scarf from his face and stood before the princess She was immediately struck by his handsome demeanor and whispered softly, " you are an English man?"
"What do you do?"
"I am a colonel of the British Indian Army and I have come on a mission here."
"Are you going to rescue us?"
"Then why have you come?"
"Princess my purpose is different but having seen you I am captivated by your beauty I have not seen a more beautiful girl than you and you say that you want to be rescued why."
"I have been captured by the Emir and I want to go back to my homeland in Kashmir."
"I will help you"
"We will also help you, for what you have come but before that, you have to do a service for me and my handmaidens."
"What is the service?"
"First, you tell us what exactly you are going to do"
"I am here princess to get the front gate of the fortress opened because there are hundred of my soldiers waiting for my signal and they will enter this fortress and capture it. I assure you, that you and your handmaidens will be given protection and taken to where ever you want to go but what is the service you want from me.?"
The Princess now got up and looked at Colonel savage square in the face. "Look, Sir, we will help you open the gate of the castle but you will have to make me and my handmaidens happy. You have still two hours of time left if you are man enough to accept then come forward and kiss me."
The look on the face of the girl told everything, that the Emir was old and he rarely came into the Zenana. The princess all along guarded by the Abyssinian was looking for love.
"There is no time to lose Colonel," the princess said as she loosened the cord that held her gown. The gown slid down and John Savage was witnessing the beauty of the girl. She had small breasts and an ornamental belly button with flared hips and sculpted legs. The two handmaidens undressed likewise.
He stepped forward and gathered the beautiful muse in his arms. He kissed her eyes, her lips, and felt himself in a state of readiness. The princess I told him there was two hours’ time and if he did not carry out their wishes they would lay raise an alarm and his entire plan would fail.
He decided to make the most of the situation and at that time he remembered that as a bachelor he had read a book of a British sailor shipwrecked on the Moroccan coast. He was rescued and taken into the Seraglio of the Bey. It was seven nights of bliss and love.
There was a difference, however. In the case of the British sailor he had nothing to do other than making love to the ladies of the harem but here he John Savage had to do this because a condition has been made and he had, in any case, to get the fortress door opened for his soldiers to enter inside.
He moved forward and paid his homage to her lips and followed it up similarly with the handmaidens. The next hour and a half were spent in real transports of joy and love.
John Savage did everything to the best of his ability and the soft moans of the three women conveyed to him the intense satisfaction and the pent-up desire of months that had exploded now.
In the end, he said softly, " I have done my part of the bargain now let me go to open the fortress door. I assure you that once my men are inside we will ensure that you and your girls go back to Kashmir."
With the last parting kiss, he got up and came out of the room. He saw Ishwar Singh and motioned him to come inside. The Princess now said, "follow me."
She led the way through a back passage including a small underground tunnel that opened at the massive wheel which worked the door.
The princess kissed him and said, "go ahead and do what you have to do."
There was one guard on duty and he was surprised. Before we could re-act the Colonel had used his dagger to good effect and the man gave a small cry and collapsed dead.
In the dead of the night, Savage and Ishwar Singh turned the flywheel and the door began to open. Seeing the door opening an alarm sounded and a few soldiers came running towards the gate. But it was too late and Captain Williamson with this man was already there.
"Gurkhas," he shouted, " in the name of the king enter and capture the fortress."
It was a very short fight with very little bloodshed and soon the Gurkhas had captured the fortress
Colonel Savage was relaxing in the tent. The battle has been won and he sent a message to the commander in chief that the Emir was in their custody and was ready to negotiate for peace
He went out of his tent straight to the tent of Ishwar Singh and asked him, " have you arranged for the girls to go to Kashmir."
" Yes sir, but.."
" What is it?"
" We could not locate the princess I do not know where she is. But the other two girls are being escorted to Kashmir"
Savage scratched his chin and wondered where the princess could have vanished. He had a round of the camp and passed instructions to pack up and go back to Peshawar. He walked back to his tent and entered quickly inside. He was shocked to see the princess sitting on his bed. His heart beats quickened and he wondered what she was doing here.
Before he could open his mouth the Princess looked at him straight in the eye and said, "I do not wish to go back to Srinagar as I do not know anyone there now and I have decided that if you will accept me as your wife I will gladly go with you to the end of the world. I would like to be your woman and bear your children."
Did the Colonel accept her as his wife and did the Amir come back for revenge. I think I will keep that for the next part of the story but mostly the Colonel gathered the princess in his arms. He was thinking he would send a telegram to his mother that he had finally chosen a bride.