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The Gift of Red Silk
By Colleen Messina

1     Sabrina crept silently along the palace walls, trying to seem nonchalant. If she failed in her quest, the emperor could condemn her to death or deport her to the desert. Sabrina peered through the window at the moon which hung in the sky with singular beauty like an opalescent pearl. Normally she would enjoy watching the nebulous clouds dance by the moon, but tonight she was too nervous to think of anything except that her fate depended on the goodwill of a dwarf.
2     It was an honor to live in the women's quarters of the great Mogul emperor at the height of his glory. Was Sabrina crazy to leave? Sabrina could attest to the luxurious lifestyle, but sweeter by far to her heart was the forgotten taste of freedom. She was an extraordinary visionary considering that she had lived for five years as a slave, and she didn't mind leaving behind silks and comfort if it meant seeing her family again. Freedom and family meant everything to her.
3     Sabrina planned to make her daring escape during a magnificent wedding ceremony. The emperor was marrying his ninth bride, who came from a faraway northern territory. Everyone looked splendid. The future wife was wearing beautiful robes emblazoned with patterns of peacocks which she had embroidered herself during the many months of her engagement to the emperor. Jeweled, costumed armies of musicians and dancers accompanied the procession, and the royal family wore robes of spun gold. Wild, ragged crowds tried to catch the golden coins tossed to them in honor of the celebration. A wrinkled Indian drummer beat a single, deep tone on an ancient drum to announce the marriage.
4     Sabrina was sorry she was missing the display of exotic animals that always preceded the emperor's weddings. He always demanded that cages of animals accompany the wedding procession as an additional reminder that he ruled everything in his kingdom. Sabrina remembered sleek black panthers and glossy tigers pacing back and forth in gilded cages. Some members of the wedding party sat astride friendly elephants decorated with silk sheets and tassels. Shiny-skinned black slaves with flared nostrils and gold nose rings guarded the royal party as red and gold parrots squawked nearby.

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