She started well before sunrise without warning the others and was taken by a sentry less than an hour later. As expected the officer in charge of the Republican Guard contingent was an intelligent man who had been briefed as to the importance of her safety. He passed her message to his commander before hosting a modest breakfast and excellent coffee. The helicopter arrived soon after.
She expected a long ride northeast to Tehran – instead they flew directly towards the Sun for fifty minutes then turned due south for a further five. The pale rocky terrain yielded to greener land around a large lake where they circled twice – bringing troops from the small cement buildings beside a landing strip of not more than 300 metres. They landed without further ceremony and taxied quickly towards the one hangar where Colonel Kavoosi stood alone. He helped her down and took her into the cool interior of the building. “I am Colonel Sayed Mandana Kavoosi,” he declared. You are to come with me.”
An American style SUV with black widows whisked them away from the airstrip, along a straight road until they reached a checkpoint where the road ended. They disembarked, walked around the sentry box to a footpath that took them to a small door in a stone wall the size of which she could only guess at as the woodland was quite dense at that point. On the other side of the door the footpath continued and the trees gave way to shrubbery and then to flowers, and to grass around a single story building with a high roof that extended well over the sides of the building. She followed up the few steps that let into the entrance hall where a bearded man in a white turban rose to greet them. He ignored Kavoosi, smiled at Meira, and handed her to walk before him. They continued for fifty or more metres through open areas with corridors leading in all direction before the white turban stopped, and indicated that she should continue. A few steps more and there he was – The Supreme Leader of Iran sat on a small sofa beside low table reading the papers before him. He looked up on her arrival, waved her to sit on adjacent seat, and smiled. She smiled back.
The most striking thing about him, she decided, was his eyes. Everything else was ordinary. His beard hid much of his face but she could see his skin was old, his veins near the surface, his nails a little speckled, and elbows a might bony. There was nothing special about his clothing except, perhaps, that is was immaculately clean and well pressed. “Thank you, Lord Ayatollah, for allowing this visit.”
“I am please that you came. Your mother and myself are old friends. The chance to meet her daughter has long eluded me.” He stopped there but continued to smile. A minute passed before he asked, “How long will you be studying the ancient structure in Qasr-e-qand?”
“As long as you will permit Lord. There is much to learn.”
“Will you learn as much as your mother has learned?”
“That is my hope Lord.”
“She has many years in her life – she knows many things and has great wisdom.”
Meira didn’t rush to reply. She waited. Another minute must have passed before he said, “Will you learn how to live as long as your mother Meira?”
There it is. She saw it immediately, although, to be fair, she had been forewarn by her experience with John Conway. “I hope, Lord Ayatollah, that will be among the many things to be learned in Qasr-e-qand.”
“Then you may stay as long as you continue to learn.”
“You are most kind Lord Ayatollah.”
“It is my hope that you will help me to understand much of what you learn.” They smiled at each other until it was clear the audience was over.