This is the story of the life of the Lady Janet Mary Leslie from her time in Scotland as the daughter of the Lord of Glenkirk, to her three years in the Duchy of San Lorenzo where her father is ambassador, to her 40 years in a Turkish harem and as the favored wife of the sultan, to her time back in Scotland, where she dies. In THE KADIN [ISBN 0-380-01699-0], her first novel, Bertrice Small describes the life of the Scottish beauty Lady Janet Mary Leslie and the cultures in which she lived. Her epitaph, “Born a Scot, she died a Scot” doesn't nearly tell the whole story.
It is 1490. King James IV of Scotland wants Patrick Leslie, Lord of Glenkirk, to go to the Mediterranean Duchy of San Lorenzo as his ambassador. To convince Patrick Leslie, who does not want to go, and to do honor to Duke Sebastian of San Lorenzo, King James creates Patrick an Earl. He tells Patrick to take with hin his entire household, including his daughter Janet, age10, and his son Adam, age 6 . James mentions that the Duke has a fourteen-year old son and, if things worked out, he would not be sad to see a match between Janet and the Duke's son.
Almost three years later, on December 6th, Janet is bethrothed to Rudolfo, son of Duke Sebastian. She is given many lavish gifts including, from Rudolfo, a black slave named Mamud [said to be a eunuch but not really so]. Mamud wants his freedom so that he can return to his wife and son.
One day, when Janet cannot sleep during the customary siesta, she asks Mamud to take her sailing. On the way home, Mamud steers their sailboat toward a large ship, a slaver. Mamud thinks that, by delivering Janet to the slave ship he will be paid handsomely, and will regain his freedom. While Janet does become a slave, Mamud is not set free; he is tortured to death.
Several weeks later, Janet is standing, naked, on the auction block in Candia. According to the slave merchant she is”...the most important sale of the year.” She is “…a high-born virgin with hair like a golden-red sunrise, skin as smooth and white as polished bone, and eyes the color of the rarest emeralds.” She is purchased by Hadji Bey, the agent of the sultan of Turkey, for thirty thousand gold pieces.
Janet, who is renamed Cyra [flame] is introduced to two other virgins, Firousi and Zuleika, who become her closest friends in captivity. Altogether, Hadji Bey buys six beautiful and accomplished virgins, ostensibly for his master, Sultan Bajazet but, in reality, for Bajazet's son Selim.
The six virgins are taken to Constantinople, to the sultan's court.
Selim is not the heir. His elder brother, Mustafa, who was the heir, died at two years of age, presumably poisoned by one of the sultan's other wives, Besma. It is Besma's son, Ahmed [lazy, ignorant, immoral and profligate], who is the current heir. But Hadji Bey, Kiusem, mother of Mustafa and Selim, and Refet, sister of Kiusem, are contriving to have Selim replace Ahmed in the line of succession.
Sultan Bajazet wants to honor Selim [who is educated, an excellent soldier, a devout Muslim, and industrious and faithful], on his twenty-fifth birthday. Sultan Bajazet has a great feast during which Selim is permitted to choose six maidens from the harem to set up his own household. Hadji Bey has contrived that three of the six would be Cyra, Firousi and Zuleika.
The day after the feast, in a magnificent procession, Selim and his entire household [including the six virgins, Cyra, Firousi, Zuleika, Sarina, Amara, and Iris] leave Constantinople, for the province in Crimea that Selim has been given to govern. The six virgins, under Cyra's influence, promise to be mutually loving and supportive of each other and of their Lord, Selim, so that the household runs smoothly. Together, they convert the Moonlight Serai, to a palace of beauty and comfort.
Cyra is the first to be called to Selim's bed. For several months, until she becomes pregnant, she is the only one of the six to be called. Cyra and Selim are close in every way. Selim realizes that he has never before had a true friend. Finally, Cyra delivers a son, Suleiman; her status changes to kadin – the mother of a son, and in fact, to bas kadin, the mother of the first son. Because of the treachery surrounding his brother's death, Selim wants to protect Cyra and his unborn child. He buys three special slaves for Cyra: her own bodyguard; her own food-taster; and a female slave, named Marian, who was born on the border between England and Scotland and who speaks English.
The other virgins are called in turn to Selim's bed and the little family grows.
It is now 1501. There are eight children, six boys ranging in age from seven to two and two-year old twin girls. Sadly, two of the mothers have died, Amara from a fever and Iris in giving birth to a still-born son.
Selim's brother, Ahmed [the heir], still not married, and still profligate, comes to visit. He is astounded by, and obviously jealous of, the love, comfort, order and discipline he finds in his brother's household. Although Selim reassures Ahmed that he is not interested in being sultan, Ahmed is unconvinced.
In May 1510 Selim visits Constantinople with his Tartars, leaving only a small force to protect the Moonlight Serai. Two of Cyra's sons and Zuleika's son Abdullah, ride into the hills to hunt. They see a huge force of soldiers preparing to attack the Moonlight Serai. They alert the family, who hide in a cave, and Kasim, Cyra's 13-year-old son, rides to Constantinople to warn his father and grandfather. Although the family survives in the cave, the house, gardens and grounds are destroyed. It is Besma's doing.
After Kasim alerts his father, Selim, and the sultan, Bajazet, the three return to the Moonlight Serai with a large force to review the damage and guard the household.
On returning to Constantinople, Bajazet strangles Besma. Ahmed flees the palace in terror. The emotional horror of the events are too much for Bajazet; he suffers seizures of both heart and brain. Some days later he dies and Selim is Sultan.
Selim is a popular sultan, known as a strong soldier [gaining much territory] and as a fair and honest [although strict], judge.
In 1520 Selim is close to death from gastrtointestinal cancer. All of of his sons, except for Suleiman, the heir, and Karim, the youngest, have died in battle or of plague. The tradition states that there can be only one heir, so Karim's life is in danger. Cyra arranges for him to be smuggled out of Turkey to be raised by her family in Scotland.
Suleiman, Cyra's first son, is sultan after Selim. Although Suleiman is a fine sultan, he doesn't have control of his two kadins. They are violently jealous of each other and of Cyra. According to tradition, Suleiman has Cyra elevated to the status of sultan valideh, the traditional title of the widow of the former sultan and the mother of the reigning sultan. He has renamed her Hafise, the wise one. The sultan valideh has mower power in the kingdom than anyone other than the sultan. The jealousy of the two kadins erupts into physical fights and the first, Gulbehar, the Bas Kadin, is sent with her son to Magnesia, where he can learn to govern. The second kadin, Khurrem, is so jealous of sultan valideh Hafise that she tries, twice, to have her poisoned. Instead of having her punished, Cyra/Hafise, arranges to return to her family in Scotland. She has Suleiman set up a hefty bank account for her and takes with her the female slave, Marian, that Selim bought for her when she was first pregnant with Suleiman, and Marian's daughter, Ruth.
It is 1533. Cyra/Hafise is, once again, Lady Janet Mary Leslie. She is very rich and still magnificently beautiful. She lives happily near her family: her brother Adam, now the Earl of Glenkirk; her son Karim, now known as Charles Adam Leslie; and her grandchildren. She builds a large house on Leslie grounds where she lives with Charles's family. Although she refuses to remarry, she takes as her lover the handsome, rich and virile Colin Hay, Master of Grayhaven, who has wanted her since 1490. She is a happy woman.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked this story because it showed that, with honor, courage, hard work and integrity one can change difficult experiences into happy ones.
Best scene in story:
In my favorite scene the brother of the sultan validate [Janet Leslie] comes to Turkey to find his sister and is stunned to realize that she is the mother of the current sultan.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Janet is kind, compassionate but also strict and just.