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"Striking several notes together, so they blend to produce a chord."

Mukarrab Khan studied him, uncomprehending, and Hawksworth continued.

"If I had my lute I'd show you how harmony and chords are used in an
English song." Hawksworth thought again of his instrument, and of the
difficulty he'd had protecting it during the voyage. He knew all along
it was foolish to bring it, but he often told himself every man had the
right to one folly.

"Then by all means." The governor's curiosity seemed to arouse him
instantly from the opium. "Would you believe I've never met a
_feringhi_ who could play an instrument, any instrument?"

"But my lute was detained, along with all my belongings, at the customs
house. I was going to retrieve my chest from the Shahbandar when you
intercepted his men."

"Ambassador, please believe I had good reason. But I thought I told you
arrangements have been made." He turned and dictated rapidly to one of
the eunuchs. There was an expressionless bow, and the man left the
room. Moments later he returned through the bronze entry doors,
followed by two dark-skinned servants carrying Hawksworth's chest, one
at each end.

"I ordered your belongings sent from the customs house this afternoon.
You would honor me by staying here as my guest." Mukarrab Khan smiled
warmly. "And now I would hear you play this English instrument."

Hawksworth was momentarily startled, wondering why his safety was
suddenly of such great interest to Mukarrab Khan. But he pushed aside
the question and turned to examine the large brass lock on his chest.
Although it had been newly polished to a high sheen, as had the entire
chest, there was no visible evidence it had been opened. He extracted
the key from his doublet, slipped it into the lock, and turned it
twice. It revolved smoothly, opening with a soft click.

The lute rested precisely where he had left it. Its body was shaped
like a huge pear cut in half lengthwise, with the back a glistening
melon of curved cedar staves and the face a polished cherry. The neck
was broad, and the head, where the strings were wound to their pegs,
angled sharply back. He admired it for a moment, already eager for the
touch of its dark frets. During the voyage it had been wrapped in heavy
cloth, sealed in oilskins, and stored deep in his cabin chest. Not till
landfall at Zanzibar had he dared expose it to the sea air.

Of all English music, he still loved the galliards of Dowland best. He
was only a boy when Dowland's first book of galliards was published,
but he had been made to learn them all by heart, because his exacting
tutor had despised popular ballads and street songs.

Mukarrab Khan called for the instrument and slowly turned it in the
lamplight, its polished cedar shining like a great jewel. He then
passed it to his two musicians, and a brief discussion in Persian
ensued, as brows were wrinkled and grave points adjudicated. After its
appearance was agreed upon, the instrumentalist gingerly plucked a gut
string with the wire plectrum attached to his forefinger and studied
its sound with a distant expression. The torrent of Persian began anew,
as each string was plucked in turn and its particular quality debated.
Then the governor revolved to Hawksworth.

"I congratulate your wisdom, Ambassador, in not hazarding a truly fine
instrument on a sea voyage. It would have been a waste of real
workmanship."

Hawksworth stared at him dumbfounded.

"There's not a finer lute in London." He seized it back. "I had it
specially crafted several years ago by a master, a man once lute-maker
to the queen. It's one of the last he made."

"You must pardon me then, but why no embellishment? No ivory inlay, no
carved decoration? Compare, if you will, Ustad Qasim's sitar. It's a
work of fine art. A full year was spent on its decoration. Note the
head has been carved as the body of a swan, the neck and pegs inlaid
with finest ivory, the face decorated with mother-of-pearl and _lapis
lazuli_. Your lute has absolutely no decoration whatsoever."

"The beauty of an instrument is in its tone."

"Yes, that's a separate point. But perhaps we should hear it played by
one skilled in its use. I must confess we are all curious what can be
done with so simple an instrument." Mukarrab Khan shifted on his
bolster, while the young man next to him toyed with a jewel, not
troubling to disguise his boredom.

Hawksworth tuned the strings quickly and meticulously. Then he settled
himself on the carpet and took a deep breath. His fingers were stiff,
his mind groggy with wine, but he would play a song he knew well. A
galliard Dowland had written when Queen Elizabeth was still alive, in
honor of a Cornwall sea captain named Piper, whom she'd given a letter
of marque to attack the Spanish, but who instead turned an
uncontrollable pirate, pillaging the shipping of any flag convenient.
He'd become an official outlaw but a genuine English folk hero, and
Dowland had honored his memory with a rousing composition - "Piper's
Galliard."

A full chord, followed by a run of crisp notes, cut the close air. The
theme was somber, a plaintive query in a minor mode followed by a
melodic but defiant reply. Just the answer Piper would have given to
the charges, Hawksworth thought.

The servants had all gathered to listen, and the eunuchs had stopped
gossiping. Then Hawksworth glanced toward the musicians, who had
shifted themselves onto the carpet to watch. Both the sitarist and his
drummer still eyed the instrument skeptically, no hint of appreciation
in their look.

Hawksworth had expected it.

Wait till they hear this.

He crouched over the lute and attacked the strings with all four
fingers, producing a dense toccata, with three melodic lines advancing
at once, two in the treble and one in the base. His hand flew over the
frets until it seemed every fingertip commanded a string, each
embellishing a theme another had begun. Then he brought the galliard to
a rousing crescendo with a flourish that spanned two entire octaves.

A polite silence seemed to grip the room. Mukarrab Khan sipped
thoughtfully from his cup for a moment, his jeweled rings refracting
the lamplight, then summoned a eunuch and whispered briefly in his ear.
As the eunuch passed the order to a hovering servant, Mukarrab Khan
turned to Hawksworth.

"Your English music is interesting, Ambassador, if somewhat simple." He
cleared his throat as an excuse to pause. "But frankly I must tell you
it touched only my mind. Not my heart. Although I heard it, I did not
feel it. Do you understand the difference? I sensed nothing of its
rasa, the emotion and desire one should taste at a moment like this,
the merging of sound and spirit. Your English music seems to stand
aloof, unapproachable." Mukarrab Khan searched for words. "It inhabits
its own world admirably, but it did not enter mine."

Servants suddenly appeared bearing two silver trays, on which were
crystal cups of green, frothy liquid. As the servant placed
Hawksworth's tray on the patterned carpet, he bowed, beaming. Mukarrab
Khan ignored his own tray and instead summoned the sitarist, Bahram
Qasim, to whisper brief instructions in his ear. Then the governor
turned to Hawksworth.

"Perhaps I can show you what I mean. This may be difficult for you, so
first I would urge you try a cup of _bhang_. It has the remarkable
effect of opening one's heart."

Hawksworth tested the beverage warily. Its underlying bitterness had
been obscured with sweet yogurt and potent spices. It was actually very
palatable. He drank again, this time thirstily.

"What did you call this? _Bhang?"

_"Yes, it's made from the leaves of hemp. Unlike wine, which only dulls
the spirit, _bhang _hones the senses. Now I've arranged a demonstration
for you."

He signaled the sitarist, and Bahram Qasim began the unmistakable theme
of "Piper's Galliard." The song was drawn out slowly, languorously, as
each individual note was introduced, lovingly explored for its own pure
sound, and then framed with microtone embellishment and a sensual
vibrato. The clear, simple notes of the lute were transmuted into an
almost orchestral richness by an undertone of harmonic density from the
sitar's sympathetic strings, the second row of wires beneath those
being plucked, tuned to match the notes of the song and respond without
being touched. Dowland's harmonies were absent, but now the entire room
resonated with a single majestic chord underlying each note. Gradually
the sitarist accelerated the tempo, while also beginning to insert his
own melodic variations over the original notes of the theme.

Hawksworth took another sip of _bhang _and suddenly noticed the notes
seemed to be weaving a tapestry in his mind, evolving an elaborate
pattern that enveloped the room with shapes as colored as the
geometries of the Persian carpet.

Next the drummer casually introduced a rhythmic underpinning, his lithe
fingers touring easily over and around the taut drumheads as he
dissected, then restructured the simple meter of Dowland's music. He
seemed to regard the original meter as merely a frame, a skeleton on
which the real artistry had yet to be applied. He knowingly subdivided
Dowland's meter into minuscule elements of time, and with these devised
elaborate new interlockings of sound and silence. Yet each new
structure always _Resolve_d to its perfect culmination at the close of
a musical phrase. Then as he punctuated his transient edifice with a
thud of the larger drum - much as an artist might sign a painting with an
elaborate flourish - he would catch Hawksworth's incredulous gaze and
wink, his eyes twinkling in triumph.

Meanwhile, the sitarist structured Dowland's spirited theme to the
drummer's frame, adding microtones Dowland had never imagined, and
matching the ornate tempo of the drum as they blended together to
become a single racing heartbeat.

Hawksworth realized suddenly that he was no longer merely hearing the
music, that instead he seemed to be absorbing it.

How curious . . .

The music soared on to a final crescendo, a simultaneous

climax of sitar and drum, and then the English song seemed to dissolve
slowly into the incense around them. After only a moment's pause, the
musicians immediately took up a sensuous late evening raga.

Hawksworth looked about and noticed for the first time that the lamps
in the room had been lowered, settling a semi- darkness about the
musicians and the moving figures around him. He felt for his glass of
_bhang_ and saw that it was dry, and that another had been placed
beside it. He drank again to clear his mind.

What's going on? Damned if I'll stay here. My God, it's impossible to
think. I'm tired. No, not tired. It's just . . . just that my mind is .
. . like I'd swilled a cask of ale. But I'm still in perfect control.
And where's Mukarrab Khan? Now there are screens where he was sitting.
Covered with peacocks that strut obscenely from one screen to the
other. And the eunuchs are all watching. Bastards. I'll take back my
sword. Jesus, where is it? I've never felt so adrift. But I'm not
staying. I'll take the chest and damn his eunuchs. And his guards. He
can't hold me here. Not even on charges. There are no charges. I'm
leaving. I'll find the men . . .

He pulled himself defiantly to his feet. And collapsed.




CHAPTER EIGHT


The dream was more vivid than reality, intensely colored and
astir with vague forms that drifted through his mind's ken, appearing
then fading. The room seemed airless, a musk-filled cell of gilded blue
panels and gold brocade. Guarded faces hovered around and above, their
eyes intense yet unseeing, distant as stained-glass masks of cathedral
sinner and saint.

A fingertip brushed his cheek, and with its touch the room gloried in a
powerful fragrance of saffron. Then a hand, floating unattached, gently
removed his doublet; another slid away his mud-smeared breeches.

He was naked.

He looked down as though from afar at the texture of chest and thigh,
and he wondered dimly if they were his own. Then other hands . . . and
suddenly he was immersed in a sea whose shores were white marble, whose
surface sheened with oil of the rose. Translucent petals drifted
randomly atop the crests. Hands toured his frame, discovering every
tightened nerve, while powdered sandalwood enveloped his hair and beard
until he seemed lost in a fragrant forest.

As suddenly as the sea had come it drew away, but now there were
steaming wraps tingling with astringent orange and clove, and he
drifted through a land of aloe balm and amber.

The room dissolved into semi-darkness, until at last only a single face
remained, a woman with eyes round and moist and coldly dark. Her lips
were the deep red of betel, while her hair was coal and braided in a
skein of jeweled tresses. A faceted stone sparkled on her left nostril,
and heavy gold rings swung gently from each ear. Henna-red nipples
pressed erect against her diaphanous blouse, and between her breasts
clung a garland of pearls. The heavy bracelets on her wrists and her
upper arms glistened gold in the flickering candlelight.

As he studied her eyes, they seemed locked into his own, and betrayed
no notice of his body. He sent his voice through the dream's carpeted
chambers, but his words were swallowed in dark air that drew out their
sound and washed it to thin silence. In a final, awkward futility he
struggled to free himself from the velvet bolster.

But gently she pressed him back.

"What would you have, my love? Sweet _bhang _from my hand?"

A cup found his lips, and before he knew he had taken more of the
incendiary green confection. Its warmth grew slowly into a pale light
that shimmered off the gilded panels and then coalesced into the
rainbow now pivoting pendulum-like above him, a glistening fan of
peacock feathers swayed by a faceless, amber-skinned woman.

His gaze returned to the eyes, and again he searched for sound. Then
came a voice he recognized as his own.

"Who are you?"

"You may call me Kali. Others do. It's a name you would not understand.
But can you understand that love is surrender?" The words coiled about
his head, coruscating and empty of meaning. He shook them away and
watched as she brushed a strand of hair from his face. With that simple
motion, her nipples traced twin heliotrope arcs across the gossamer
screen of her blouse. He examined her in disbelief, unable to find
words.

"When my lover lies silent, I do as I choose."

Deftly she uncoiled the white silk sash from around her waist and in a
single practiced motion bound it over his eyes. The room vanished. In
the dream's sudden night he grew intensely aware of touch and smell.

Commands came in an alien tongue, and he felt his breast and thighs
brushed lightly by a new, pungent fragrance.

"We have cloaked you in petals of spikenard, to banish the sight of
your unshaven body. A _feringhi _knows so little of what pleases a
woman."

He felt a light brush across his parted lips, and then her eyelashes,
stiffened dark with antimony, trilled a path downward over his skin, to
his nipples. The hardened lashes stroked each nipple in turn with rapid
flutters, until the skin tightened almost to bursting. An excruciating
sensitivity burned through him, but still the lashes fluttered,
determinedly, almost unendurably, until his aroused tips touched the
aching portals of pain. Then he sensed a tongue circle each nipple in
turn, searching out the one most ripe.

He felt her kneel above him, surrounding him with open thighs that
clasped his chest. The room fell expectantly silent. Then, as an
unknown syllable sounded somewhere above him, he felt the nipple of his
right breast seized in the lock of a warm, moist grasp. The surrounding
thighs rocked gently at first, but slowly increased their rhythm in
time with the sound of breath. Suddenly he felt her body twist lightly
and another tip, hardened as that on his chest, began to trace the
nipple's swollen point. Her thighs were smooth and moist as she pressed
in with spiraling, ever more rapid intensity. He found himself deeply
conscious of her rhythms and the hard cadence of breath. He reached for
the strength to rip the silk from his eyes, to end the dream's
tantalizing dark. But strength was not there. Or time.

Before he could stir, he sensed the hardened tip shudder. Again a grasp
took his nipple and worked it with measured spasms, until the room's
austere silence was cut by her sharp intake of breath, timed to match a
single insistent contraction that seemed to envelope the whole of his
breast. He felt her seize his hands in her own, and although he could
see nothing, in his mind there grew a vision of her eyes at that
moment. Then there came a sound, partially stifled in her throat, but
not before it had found the gilded walls and returned, annealed to a
glassy relic of release.

He felt her slowly withdraw, but then her mouth took his breast, till
it had drawn away the musk. At last, perhaps to signify repletion, she
lightly brushed his lips with the tip of her tongue.

"You have pleased me." Her voice was quiet now, almost a whisper. "Now
we will please each other."

A hand worked at his loins, methodically applying a viscous, harshly
scented oil.

"Would you could see with my eyes. The _lingam _of the fabled Shiva was
never garlanded such as this, or anointed so lovingly."

Then her voice turned harsh as she spoke short staccato commands in an
unknown tongue. Bangles sounded and silk rustled as the room emptied.
Now he caught a new scent, the harsh smell he remembered from the box
the governor had offered.

"I will tell you my secret." She whispered close to his ear. "There is
no more exciting way to experience the ecstasy of love than with
_affion_, the essence of the poppy. But I have a way to receive it no
one else knows. It is like the burst of a lightning stroke. Its power
envelopes the senses."

He felt her smooth a thick paste along the sides of his phallus, and
sensed a tingle as she clasped it carefully with both hands. Again she
moved above him, but curiously there was no touch of her body. Only the
presence of her scent.

A tight ring seemed to circle his flesh, and he felt the weight of her
rounded buttocks slide down onto his thighs.

He startled upward in shock and disbelief. Never will I . . .

"You must lie still, my love. In your surrender, only I may have my
will."

She began at once to move above his thighs, and again muted sounds
struggled stillborn in her throat. With deliberate regularity her
rhythm mounted, while an overwhelming sensation spread upward through
his body. Slowly he felt his new _Resolve_ slipping from him.

The convulsions started in his lower thighs, as muscles tightened
involuntarily. And then the precipice grew near and he was at its edge
and he was falling. He felt the surge, as though drawn out by the twist
of her buttocks. Then again and again, each spasm matched by her own as
she worked to envelop him completely. He was scarcely aware of her
nails fixed in his breasts. At that instant he seemed to drift apart
from his body and observe mutely as it was consumed by its own
sensations. Until numbness washed over him, stilling his sense.

As he lay in exhaustion his mind sorted through her words, and in the
dream's darkness he vowed to take her again. The next time, it's you
who'll surrender, woman called Kali. To my will. And you'll find out
the meaning of surrender.

But his thoughts were lost among the gilded panels as she pulled the
silk from his eyes and quietly whispered something he did not
understand. In that instant he thought he saw where a tear had stained
a path across one cheek. She looked at him longingly, then touched his
lips with her own for a long moment before slipping quietly into the
dark.

The dream dissolved in sleep. And she was gone. . . .



Hawksworth was suddenly awake. The chill of early dawn penetrated his
face and hands, and his hair sparkled with light jewels of dew. His
leather couch was moist and glistening, while the pale sky above was
blocked by a tapestried canopy. Only in the east, above the white
railing of the rooftop, could he see the glitter of a waning Venus, her
brief reign soon to dissolve in the red wash of early sun. He looked
about his white brick enclosure and saw only a light wooden door
leading into a second-floor apartment.

He had no sooner drawn himself up to inhale the flower- scented dawn
than two smiling men were standing over him, bowing. Both wore turbans,
pastel-colored jackets, and a white wrap about their lower torso.
Squinting into their eyes, Hawksworth remembered them from the evening
before. They had brought the basin of water in which he had first
washed.

As he pulled the embroidered coverlet closer about him he noticed a
strange numbness in his body. And his mind ached as he tried to
remember what precisely had happened.

There was a game on horseback with the governor, and then a banquet,
with an argument in which Mukarrab Khan threatened to betray us to the
Portugals, a curious evening of music. And then dreams . . .

Pulling himself up off the couch, he started unsteadily across the hard
flat tile of the roof. Immediately a servant was beside him, producing
a heavy silk wrap and swathing it around his shoulders and waist. Then
the man bowed again and spoke in accented Turki.

"May Allah prosper you today, Sahib. May your fortunes answer the
prayers of the poor." The man's expression softened to match his own
compliment. "Should it please the Sahib, his morning bath is waiting."

Without thinking, without even hearing the words, he allowed himself to
be led through the doorway into the second-floor apartment. There, in
the center of the room, was his chest, its lock intact. He examined it
with a quick glance, then followed the servants down a set of stone
stairs to the ground-floor veranda - where a steaming marble tub waited.

Good Jesus, not again! How can I make them understand? Bathing weakens
a man.

He started to turn, but suddenly two eunuchs appeared out of nowhere
and were guiding him up the two marble steps to a stone platform, where
they seated him on a filigreed wooden stool. Silently the servants
stripped away his light wrap and began to knead his body and his hair
with a fragrant powder, a blend of wood bark and some astringent fruit.
The scent was mild, pleasant, and as their hands traveled over him he
felt the pores of his skin open to divulge their residual rankness.

This is better, he thought. Cleaning without water. With only some sort
of powder. I feel refreshed already.

His muscles loosened as the men vigorously worked the mixture into his
skin and then carefully cleansed it away with bulky cotton towels. Next
they turned to his hair, combing and massaging more of the powder
through it strand by strand. At last they signaled for him to rise and
enter the tub. Its surface glistened with a perfumed oil, and the
rising steam smelled faintly of clove. Before he could protest, the
eunuchs guided him down the marble steps.

As he settled into the steam again he was surrounded by waiting
servants, who sprinkled more oil over the water and massaged the
emulsion into his hair and skin.

I'm being bathed in oil, he smiled, marveling. It's absurd, yet here it
seems perfectly right.

The men worked devotedly, as though he were an inanimate utensil whose
purity was their lifelong obligation. His body now glistened with a
reddish tint of the oil, matching the early glow of the sun that
penetrated the half- shuttered windows. As they motioned for him to
leave the bath, he discovered to his amazement that he would have been
perfectly content to stay. Forever. But again hands were there, guiding
him, this time toward a low wooden bench covered with thick woven
tapestries.

What now? What else can they do? I'm cleaner than the day I was born.
What more . . .

He was prostrate on the couch. A rough haircloth worked against his
legs and torso, sending the blood surging. At the same time, a piece of
porous sandstone in the practiced hands of another servant stripped
away the loosened calluses and scales from his boot-roughened feet. A
third man massaged still more perfumed oil, hinting of aloe and orange,
into his back and along his sides and shoulders. His body had become an
invigorated, pliant reed.

They motioned for him to sit up and, as he watched, one of the men
produced a mirror and razor. Next he opened a bottle of fragrant liquid
and began to apply it to Hawksworth's beard and chest. And then also to



Online LibraryThomas HooverThe Moghul → online text (page 12 of 52)