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Thomas Hoover.

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his legs and crotch.

"What's the purpose of that razor?"

"We have orders to shave you, Sahib, in our manner." The turbaned man
who had greeted him that morning bowed slightly as he signaled the
barber to begin. "You are to be shaved completely, as is our custom."

"Trim my beard if you like. But no more. Damn you if you'll shave me
like some catamite." Hawksworth started to rise from his stool, but the
barber was already over him, the blade flying across his face with a
menacing deftness.

"It has been ordered, Sahib." The turbaned man bowed again, and without
pausing for a reply produced a short, curved metal device and began to
probe Hawksworth's ears, his face intent in concentration as he
carefully extracted an enormous ball of gray mud and encrusted sea
salt. He scraped the other ear with the same deft twist. Then he
flipped the same instrument and began to trim Hawksworth's ragged
fingernails.

Hawksworth turned to the mirror to discover that his beard had already
disappeared, leaving him clean-faced.

At least I'll be in fashion back home, he thought, if I ever get back.
Beards are passing from style.

But what's he doing now? By heaven, no . . .

The razor swept cleanly across Hawksworth's chest, leaving a swath of
soft skin in its wake. It came down again, barely missing a nipple as
he moved to rise.

"You must be still, Sahib. You will harm yourself."

"I told you I'll not have it." Hawksworth pushed the razor away.

"But it is our custom." The man seemed to plead. "Khan Sahib ordered
that you be groomed as an honored guest."

"Well, damn your customs. Enough."

There was a moment of silence. Then the turbaned man bowed, his face
despondent.

"As the Sahib desires."

He signaled the barber to rub a light coat of saffron-scented oil on
Hawksworth's face and then to begin trimming Hawksworth's hair with the
pair of silver scissors he had brought. The barber quickly snipped away
the growth of the voyage, leaving the hair moderately cropped, in the
Moghul fashion.

Hawksworth examined the mirror again.

Damn if I wouldn't make a proper Cheapside dandy. Right in style. And I
hate being in style.

Then the turbaned man produced a heavy lead comb and began to work it
repeatedly through Hawksworth's hair. Hawksworth watched the mirror in
confusion.

What's he doing? It's already been combed. And it's so short there's no
point anyway.

Then he noticed the slight traces of gray around the sides beginning to
darken, taking on the color of the lead.

"Please open your mouth." The turbaned man stood above him holding a
dark piece of wood, frayed at the end and crooked. "And I will scrape
your teeth with _nim_ root."

"But that's insane. Teeth are cleaned with a piece of cloth and a
toothpick. Or rubbed with a bit of sugar and salt ash . . ."

The man was scrubbing away at Hawksworth's mouth - tongue, gums, teeth -
using a dentifrice that tasted like burnt almond shells. Next he
offered a mint-flavored mouth rinse to remove the debris.

The turbaned man then inspected Hawksworth critically from several
sides, finally venturing to speak.

"If I may suggest, a bit of _collyrium_, castor oil darkened with
lampblack, would render your eyes much more striking." Without waiting
for confirmation, he applied a few quick strokes to Hawksworth's
eyelids, much as an artist might touch up a canvas.

Then one of the eunuchs stepped forward and supplied a silver tray to
the turbaned servants. On it were folded garments: a tight-fitting pair
of blue trousers, a patterned shirt, and a knee-length coat of thin,
peach-colored muslin. They dressed Hawksworth quickly, and then secured
a patterned sash about his waist. Waiting on the floor were leather
slippers, low-quartered with a curved toe and a bent-down back.

"What have you done with my doublet and breeches? And my boots?"

"They are being cleaned today, Sahib. You may have them again when you
wish. But you may prefer to wear our garments while our guest." The
turbaned man bowed again, then he moved away and held a long mirror for
Hawksworth to examine himself.

"Have we pleased you, Sahib?"

Hawksworth scarcely recognized himself. He had been transformed from a
rank but honest seaman into a Moghul noble - youthful, smooth-skinned,
smelling of spice. The soreness was banished from his limbs, and even
his wound had all but disappeared. His hair was clean and completely
dark, and his skin glowed. And his new clothes were more elaborate than
anything he had ever worn.

"Now if you will please follow us to the garden. Khan Sahib has
suggested you begin your day with some _tari _wine."

Hawksworth followed the men through the shuttered doorway into the open
courtyard. The morning sun now illuminated the tops of a large grove of
palm trees that circled an open cistern. He quickly surveyed the
buildings, hoping to gain his bearings.

So I've been quartered in one of the side buildings, off the main
palace. But there are many, many rooms. Who's living here?

A group of servants stood waiting at the base of one of the palms. When
they saw Hawksworth, they mobilized to action. One young man among
them, wearing a white wrap around his lower torso, immediately secured
his belt and began to shimmy up the leaning palm. When he reached the
top he locked his legs around the trunk and carefully detached an
earthen pot that hung beneath an incision in the bark of the tree.
Balancing the pot in one hand, he stretched and nimbly pulled off a
number of leaves from the tree and then lowered himself carrying his
load. The moment his feet touched ground he raced toward the veranda
and delivered the pot and leaves to a waiting eunuch.

Hawksworth watched as the eunuchs first inspected the items and then
ordered them prepared. The leaves were washed thoroughly with water
from the cistern and then folded into natural cups. The liquor from the
pot was strained through muslin into a crystal decanter and the earthen
receptacle discarded. Then one of the turbaned servants poured a large
portion of the liquor from the decanter into a palm-leaf cup and
offered it to Hawksworth.

"It's _tari _wine, Sahib. One of the pleasures of early morning in
India." His matter-of-fact manner could not entirely hide his pride.
"Palm wine makes itself overnight. It does not last out the day. When
the sun shines the trees only give off vinegar."

Hawksworth gingerly sipped the newly fermented palm sap and was
pleasantly surprised by its light flavor, totally unlike ale, or even
Canary wine. After the third cup, the world around began to acquire a
light sparkle of its own, and he realized the sap was more potent than
it seemed.

"Not a bad way to start the day. What do you call it?"

"It comes from the _tari _palm, and some _topiwallahs _call it Toddy.'"

"Toddy, it's called? It's more than passable grog."

"Thank you, Sahib. Drink too much and you will spend the day with your
head in a buzz." The servant giggled. "So now perhaps you should eat."

He consulted briefly with the eunuchs, who nodded and signaled toward
the veranda. Moments later a tray appeared, piled high with honey-
covered breads and glass dishes of sweet curds. Some hard cheese also
had found its way onto the tray, and Hawksworth wondered if this was to
placate his European taste. He sipped more of the Toddy and munched the
bread and curds.

Then he saw the women.

There were five. They seemed clustered in a group as they entered the
courtyard, but then he realized it was an aristocratic lady surrounded
by four maids. They did not know he was there, for none covered her
face. As he watched them they seemed preoccupied in an increasingly
animated exchange. Then the aristocratic woman stepped determinedly
ahead, turned, and curtly gave instructions whose seriousness was
clear, even if her words were foreign. Her voice was not strident, but
its authority was unmistakable.

The other women paused, then slowly, one by one, they seemed to
acknowledge her orders and they bowed. The lady whirled and continued
on her way, while the other four women turned toward the direction they
had come. Then, as though the resolution of the argument had suddenly
made them aware of their surroundings, they all seemed to see
Hawksworth at once. All five women froze.

Hawksworth smiled and tried to remember the bow he had seen performed
to him so often. But he could not remove his eyes from the first woman,
who was more striking than any he had ever before seen. Her skin was
fair, with a warm hint of olive, and her high cheekbones stood in
stunning relief as they glanced away the golden light of dawn. Her nose
was thin and sculptured, while her lips would have been full, had they
not been drawn tight in response to some unspecified inner
determination. Yet her eyes seemed untouched by what had just
transpired. They were clear and receptive, even warm, and Hawksworth
asked himself at that moment if this bespoke innocence, or guile.

In dress and adornment she scarcely differed from her maids. All had
long black hair, brushed to gleaming and protected from the morning air
with a transparent gossamer scarf edged in gold embroidery. At first
glance there seemed little to distinguish among the tight strands of
pearls each wore at the neck, or the jeweled bands on their wrists and
upper arms. Each wore a tight silk halter for a blouse, and to
Hawksworth's assessing eyes the maids all seemed to have abundant
breasts swelling their halters to overflowing, some - perhaps all - with
breasts more generous than the lady herself. Then he noted in amazement
that the women actually wore a form of tapered silk trouser, a tight-
legged pajama similar to that worn by aristocratic men.

Unlike the male style, however, each woman's body was enveloped by a
long transparent skirt, suspended from a

band that circled her torso just beneath her breasts. And whereas men
all wore a long scarf tied about the waist of their cloaks and hanging
down the front, the women all had a long pleated panel tucked directly
into the front waistband of their trousers and reaching almost to the
ground. He could not help noticing that it clung sensually to their
thighs as they walked, while its gold-embroidered hem tinkled against
the gold bracelets each woman wore at her ankles. Their shoes were red
Turkish leather, with gold decorations sewn across the top and a
pointed toe that curved upward.

The only difference between the lady and her maids seemed to be in the
rich fabric of her lightly clinging trousers. Then, too, there was
slightly more gold thread in her long transparent skirt, and among the
pearls at her neck nestled an unmistakable blue sapphire as large as a
walnut.

But her primary distinction was not merely the classic lines of her
face or the perfect curve of her waist and thighs, but rather something
in her bearing, in her assured but unmannered carriage. Her real beauty
lay in her breeding.

All five women stared at Hawksworth in momentary surprise and shock.
Then each maid automatically seized her transparent scarf and pulled it
across her lower face. The woman also moved instinctively to do the
same, but then she seemed to consciously stop herself and with an
obvious attempt at restraint she walked on, barefaced, past the
courtyard and into the garden beyond. Alone.

Hawksworth watched her form disappear among the clipped hedges and
elaborate marble pavilions of the garden. He noticed a curious
sensation in his chest as she passed from view, and he suddenly found
himself wanting very much to follow her. When he finally turned and
looked back, the other women had already vanished.

Only then did he realize that all the servants had been watching him.
The one nearest nodded in the direction of the garden and smiled
knowingly.

"Perhaps it will not surprise you, Sahib, to learn that she was once
the favorite of the Moghul himself. And now she is in Surat. Amazing."

"But why's she here?" Hawksworth glanced back at the

garden once more to assure himself she was indeed lost to its recesses.

"She is Shirin, the first wife of Khan Sahib." He moved closer to
Hawksworth, so that his lowered voice would not reach the eunuchs. "She
was removed from the Moghul's _zenana _and married to Khan Sahib last
year by Queen Janahara, just before Her Majesty had him appointed the
governor of Surat. Some believe she appointed him here to remove Shirin
from Agra, because she feared her." The servant's voice became a
whisper. "We all know she has refused His Excellency the legal rights
of a husband."

The silence of the court was cut by the unmistakable voice of Mukarrab
Khan, sounding in anger as he gave some command from within the palace.
There followed a chorus of women's wails.

Hawksworth turned to the servant, but the man read his inquiring
glance.

"He has ordered the women whipped for disobeying his order to accompany
Shirin at all times, even when she walks in the garden."

Then the door opened again, and Mukarrab Khan strode into the morning
sunshine.

"Captain Hawksworth, _salaam_. I trust Allah gave you rest."

"I slept so well I find difficulty remembering all we said last night."
Hawksworth watched him carefully. Will he honor his threat to deliver
us to the Viceroy, for a trial at Goa?

"It was an amusing evening. Hardly a time for weighty diplomatic
exchange. And did you enjoy my little present?"

Hawksworth pondered his question for a moment, and the drugged dream of
the night before suddenly became real.

"You mean the woman? She was very . . . unusual, very different from
the women of England."

"Yes, I daresay. She was one of my final gifts from . . . Agra. I often
have her entertain my guests. If you like, you may keep her while you
stay with me. I already hear she fancies you. The serving women call
her Kali, after a goddess from their infidel pantheon. I think that
one's their deity of destruction."

"Why did they give her that name?"

"Perhaps she'll tell you herself sometime." Mukarrab Khan gestured for
a servant to bring his cloak. "I hope you'll forgive me, but I regret I
must abandon you for a time. Among my least pleasant duties is a
monthly journey to Cambay, our northern port in this province. It
always requires almost a week, but I have no choice. Their Shahbandar
would rob the Moghul's treasury itself if he were not watched. But I
think you'll enjoy yourself in my absence."

"I would enjoy it more if I could be with my men."

"And forgo the endless intrigues my Kali undoubtedly plans for you?" He
monitored Hawksworth's unsettled expression. "Or perhaps it's a boy
you'd prefer. Very well, if you wish you may even have . . ."

"I'm more interested in the safety of our merchants and seamen. And our
cargo. I haven't seen the men since yesterday, at the customs house."

"They're all quite well. I've lodged them with a port official who
speaks Portuguese, which your Chief Merchant also seems to understand.
I'm told, by the way, he's a thoroughly unpleasant specimen."

"When can I see them?"

"Why any time you choose. You have only to speak to one of the eunuchs.
But why trouble yourself today? Spend it here and rest. Perhaps enjoy
the grounds and the garden. Tomorrow is time enough to re-enter the
wearisome halls of commerce."

Hawksworth decided that the time had come to raise the critical
question. "And what about the Portugals? And their false charges?"

"I think that tiresome matter can be _Resolve_d with time. I've sent
notice to the court in Agra, officially, that you wish to travel there.
When the reply is received, matters can be settled. In the meantime, I
must insist you stay here in the palace. It's a matter of your
position. And frankly, your safety. The Portuguese do not always employ
upright means to achieve their ends." He tightened his traveling cloak.
"Don't worry yourself unduly. Just try to make the most of my humble
hospitality. The palace grounds are at your disposal. Perhaps you'll
find something in all this to engage your curiosity." Mukarrab Khan
brushed away a fly from his cloak. "There's the garden. And if you're
bored by that, then you might wish to examine the Persian observatory
constructed by my predecessor. You're a seaman and, I presume, a
navigator. Perhaps you can fathom how it all works. I've never been
able to make anything out of it. Ask the servants to show you. Or just
have some _tari_ wine on the veranda and enjoy the view."

He bowed with official decorum and was gone, his entourage of guards in
tow.

Hawksworth turned to see the servants waiting politely. The turbaned
man, whose high forehead and noble visage were even more striking now
in the direct sunshine, was dictating in a low voice to the others,
discreetly translating Mukarrab Khan's orders into Hindi, the language
that seemed common to all the servants.

"The palace and its grounds are at your disposal, Sahib." The servant
with the large white turban stood waiting. "Our pleasure is to serve
you."

"I'd like to be alone for a while. To think about . . . to enjoy the
beauty of the garden."

"Of course. Sahib. Perhaps I could have the honor of being your guide."

"I think I'd prefer to see it alone."

The servant's dismay was transparent, but he merely bowed and
immediately seemed to dissolve into the marble porticoes of the
veranda, as did all the others.

Hawksworth watched in amazement. They really do follow orders. Now if I
can start to figure out this place. I don't need guides. All I need are
my eyes. And luck.

The garden spread out before him. Unlike the closely clipped geometry
of the courtyard he had seen the night before, this was less formal and
more natural, with a long waterway receding into the horizon. The pond
was flanked by parallel arbors along each side, shading wide, paved
walkways. He noticed there were no flowers, the main focus in an
English garden, only gravel walks and the marble-tiled watercourse. The
sense was one of sublime control.

Several dark-skinned gardeners in loincloths were wading knee-deep in
the shallow reservoir, adjusting the flow from bubbling fountains that
spewed from its surface at geometrically regular spacings, while others
were intently pruning - in what seemed a superfluous, almost compulsive
act - the already immaculate hedges.

As Hawksworth walked past, self-consciously trying to absorb a sense of
place, the gardeners appraised him mutely with quick, flicking sweeps
of their eyes. But none made any move to acknowledge his presence.

The sun burned through the almost limitless sky, whose blue was
polished to a ceramic glaze, and the air was clean and perfumed with
nectar. The garden lay about him like a mosaic of naturalism perfected.
Through the conspicuous hand of man, nature had been coerced, or
charmed, to exquisite refinement.

The gravel pathway ended abruptly as he reached the pond's far shore,
terminated by a row of marble flagstones. Beyond lay geometrical arbors
of fruit-laden trees - mangoes, apples, pears, lemons, and even oranges.
Hawksworth tightened his new robe about his waist and entered one of
the orchard's many pathways, marveling.

I've found the Garden of Eden.

The rows of trees spread out in perfect regularity, squared as
carefully as the columns of the palace verandas and organized by
species of fruit. As he explored the man-made forest, he began to find
its regularity satisfying and curiously calming. Then in the distance,
over the treetops, a high stone wall came into view, and from beyond
could be heard the splashes of men laboring in the moat. He realized he
had reached the farthest extent of the palace grounds.

As he neared the wall, the orchard gave way to an abandoned clearing in
whose center stood a moss-covered marble stairway projecting upward
into space, leading nowhere. The original polish on its steps was now
buried in layers of dust and overgrowth.

Was there once a villa here? But where's the . . . ?

Then he saw the rest. Curving upward on either side of the stairway was
a moss-covered band of marble over two feet wide and almost twenty feet
in length, concave, etched, and numbered.

It's some sort of sundial. But it's enormous.

He turned and realized he was standing next to yet another stone
instrument, a round plaque in red and white marble, like the dial of a
water clock, on which Persian symbols for the zodiac had been
inscribed. And beyond that was the remains of a circular building,
perforated with dozens of doorways, with a tall pillar in the middle.
Next to it was a shallow marble well, half a hemisphere sunk into the
ground, with precise gradations etched all across the bottom.

Hawksworth walked in among the marble instruments, his astonishment
growing. They were all etched to a precision he had never before seen
in stone.

This observatory is incredible. The sundial is obvious, even if the
purpose of the stairway over its center isn't. But what's the round
vertical plaque? Or that round building there, and the curious marble
well? Could those be some sort of Persian astrolabe, like navigators
use to estimate latitude by fixing the elevation of the sun or stars?

What are they all for? Some to fix stars? Others to predict eclipses?
But there has to be more. These are for observation. Which means there
have to be charts. Or computations? Or something.

It's said the Persians once mastered a level of mathematics and
astronomy far beyond anything known in Europe. Is this some forgotten
outpost of that time? Just waiting to be rediscovered?

He turned and examined the instruments again, finding himself wondering
for an instant if they could somehow be hoisted aboard the _Discovery_
and returned to England.

And if the observatory's still here, perhaps the charts are here
somewhere too.

His excitement mounted as he searched the rest of the clearing. Then he
saw what he wanted.

It has to be there.

Abutting the stone wall was a small hut of rough-hewn stone, with
slatted windows and a weathered wooden door that was wedged ajar, its
base permanently encrusted in the dried mud of the rainy season. The
wall behind was so weathered that the metal spikes along its top had
actually rusted away.

This whole place must have been deserted for years. What a waste.

As he approached the weathered stone hut, he tried to dampen his own
hopes.

How can there be anything left? Who knows how long it's been abandoned?
And even if there are calculations - or maybe even books! - they're most
likely written in Persian. Or Arabic.

He took hold of the rotting door, which left a layer of decaying wood
on his hand, and wrenched it open wider, kicking a path for its base
through the crusted mud. Then he slipped sideways through the opening.

A stifled, startled cry cut the dense air of the hut, and an oil lamp
glowing in the black was smothered in a single movement. Then came a
woman's voice.

"You're not allowed here. Servants are forbidden beyond the orchard."
She had begun in Persian, then repeated herself in Hindi.

"Who are you?" Hawksworth, startled by the unknown languages, began in
English and then switched to Turkish. "I thought . . ."

"The English _feringhi_." The voice suddenly found control, and its
Turki was flawless. "You were in the courtyard this morning." She
advanced slowly toward the shaft of light from the doorway. "What are
you doing here? Khan Sahib could have you killed if the eunuchs
discover you."

He watched as her face emerged from the shadows. Then his heart
skipped.

It was Shirin.

"The govern . . . Khan Sahib told me about this observatory. He said I
. . ."

"Stars do not shine in the day, nor the sun in this room. What are you
doing in here?"

"I thought there might be charts, or a library." Hawksworth heard his
own voice echo against the raw stone walls of the room. He studied her
face in the half light, realizing with a shock that she was even more
striking now than in the sunshine of the garden.

"Did he also tell you to plunder all you find in the palace grounds?"

"He said I might find the observatory curious, as a navigator. He was
right. But there must be some charts. I thought this room might . . ."

"There are some old papers here. Perhaps he thought this place would
keep you occupied. Or test you one more time."

"What do you mean?"

She answered with a hard laugh, then circled Hawksworth and examined
him in the glancing morning light. Her dark hair was backlighted now
from the sun streaming through the doorway, her gauze head scarf
glistening like spun gold.

"Yes, you're a _feringhi_. Just like all the rest." Her eyes flashed.



Online LibraryThomas HooverThe Moghul → online text (page 13 of 52)