One day the cruel, vain Caliph of Ishfahan spies a magical bird in a courtyard garden. He summons Sofia, one of his servant girls, to go there with a gilded cage and capture the bird for him. But when she sees the wondrous bird she tells her to fly away to safety. The Caliph is enraged and orders Sofia to be put into an iron cage, and for his imperial guard to abuse her for forty days and forty nights. But what will befall when her forty day ordeal is complete and she is summoned to the Caliph to be executed? (M/F)
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Sofia had good reason to be full of apprehension at this task, and the supposed reward the powerful and vain Caliph was offering. She foresaw how her body would be his to use how her life would be spent in his harem amongst the petty rivalries and jealousies of his courtesans. She still harboured hatred at the trauma she had experienced of having her mother raped and executed in front of her very eyes.
But what could she do? The Caliph’s power was absolute, and there was nothing she could say to contradict him. She had witnessed the terrifying punishments the Caliph meted out to those who defied him.
“My will is yours to command, O master,” she replied, but her heart was filled with a simmering resentment.
Sofia set off through the streets of Ishfahan with the golden cage, covered in a silk cloth, in her hand. She reached the walls of the courtyard garden where the Caliph had directed her and clambered over the wall, lowering herself down into the secret garden. She descended into a cool and tranquil place shaded by the four walls of the courtyard.
She was not prepared for the sight that befell her there. The Caliph had told her of the wondrous beauty of the bird he wanted captured, but the creature before her was magnificent beyond her wildest imaginings.
Her tail feathers—and Sofia felt certain the bird was female—were a stunning cerulean, her breast a bright lime green, and her body a glowing fuchsia. As she watched entranced, the bird gradually transformed herself to shades of dusky salmon, burnt sienna, and violet. Sofia was overwhelmed with great joy at the sight, then with feelings of quiet meditation and, finally, as the colours changed to charcoal, indigo, and magenta to emotions of foreboding and fear.
The bird fixed her tiny obsidian eyes onto Sofia’s. They pierced into her very soul. They hypnotised her, luring her into a reverie that was both euphoric and joyous and dark and threatening all at the same time. Sofia felt her heart torn asunder as she became captivated by the spell of the wondrous bird.
How could she allow the Caliph to imprison such a beautiful creature? His selfish nature would keep the bird as his possession, hidden in a secret place where only he would see her until eventually her golden lustre would diminish, and she would expire, a prisoner in Harim-al-Rashid’s gilded cage.