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Thomas Hoover.

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of Mirza Nuruddin. "We'll unload the bullock carts just across the
river from the port here, and we'll only need a bark to ferry goods
across the harbor."

"As you wish. I'll arrange to have one at your disposal." The
Shahbandar drew pensively on the hookah, ejecting coils of smoke into
the already dense air of the chamber, and examined Hawksworth. Then he
continued. "I understand your frigates are some five hundred tons each.
Full unlading will require at least three weeks, perhaps four. Is that
a reasonable estimate?"

"We'll arrange the scheduling. Why do you ask?"

"Merely for information, Captain." Again the Shahbandar flashed his
empty smile. Then he bowed as lightly as protocol would admit and
called for a tray of rolled betel leaves, signifying the meeting was
ended. As Hawksworth took one, he marveled that he had so quickly
acquired a taste for their strange alkaline sweetness. Then he looked
again at Mirza Nuruddin's impassive eyes.

Damn him. Does he know what the Portugals were planning? And was he
hoping we'd be caught unlading in the shallows at the river mouth? He
knows I've just spoiled their plans.

As he had passed back through the customs shed headed toward the
_maidan_ and sunshine, Hawksworth could feel the hostile stares. And he
knew the reason.

The new English visitors had already made an unforgettable impression
on the town of Surat. The merchants George Elkington and Humphrey
Spencer had been given accommodations by a Portuguese-speaking Muslim,
whom Spencer had immediately outraged by demanding they be served pork.
The other men had been temporarily lodged in a vacant house owned by an
indigo broker. After the hard-drinking English seamen had disrupted
orderly proceedings in three separate brothels, and been banned in turn
by each, the Shahbandar had ordered five _nautch_ girls sent to them at
the house. But with fewer women than men, a fight inevitably had
ensued, with thorough demolition of the plaster walls and shutters.

Worst of all, bosun's mate John Garway had gone on a drunken spree in
the streets and, in a flourish of exuberance, severed the tail of a
bullock calf - an animal sacred to the Hindus - with his seaman's knife. A
riot in the Hindu quarter had erupted soon after, forcing Mukarrab Khan
to remove the English seamen outside the town walls, in tents erected
by the "tank," the city reservoir.

Yes, Hawksworth sighed, it'll be a long time before India forgets her
first taste of the English.

The barge bobbed lightly as two Indian porters, knee-deep in the mud,
hoisted the first roll of woolen cloth onto the planking. This begins
the final leg of the India voyage, Hawksworth thought to himself. And
this has been the easiest part of all.

Almost too easy.

Pox on it, believe in your luck for a change. The voyage will post a
fortune in pepper. Lancaster was knighted for little more than bringing
home his vessels. He reached Java, but he found no trade. He'd have
sailed home a pauper if he hadn't ambushed a rich Portuguese galleon in
the harbor at Sumatra.

How many weeks to a knighthood? Three? Four? No, we'll make it in less.
We'll man every watch. Woolens aland, cotton out. I'll have the
frigates laded, stores on board - we can buy cattle and sheep from
villages up the coast - and all repairs completed in two weeks. I'll have
both frigates in open seas inside a fortnight, where not a Portugal
bottom afloat can touch us.

And if permission for the trip to Agra comes, I'll be out of Surat too.

If I live that long.

He reached into his belt and drew out a long Portuguese stiletto. An
elaborate cross was etched into the blade, and

the handle was silver, with a ram's head at the butt. The ram's eyes
were two small rubies. He had been carrying it for two days, and he
reflected again on what had happened, still puzzling.

He had returned to the observatory the next morning after he had met
Shirin, and this time he brought his lute. But she did not come. That
morning, or the morning after, or the morning after. Finally he
swallowed his disappointment and concluded he would not see her again.
Then it was he had gone to work cleaning away the moss and accumulated
mud from the stone instruments. Parts of some seemed to be missing, and
he had searched the hut for these without success. All he had found was
a hand-held astrolabe, an instrument used to take the altitude of the
sun. But he also found tables, piles of handwritten tables, that seemed
to hold the key to the use of the instruments. His hopes had soared. It
seemed possible, just possible, that buried somewhere in the hut was
the key to the greatest mystery of all time - how to determine longitude
at sea.

Hawksworth had often pondered the difficulties of navigation in the
deep ocean, where only the sun and stars were guides. They were the
primary determent to England's new ambition to explore the globe, for
English navigators were still far less experienced than those of the
Spanish and Portuguese.

The problem seemed overwhelming. Since the great earth was curved, no
line on its surface was straight, and once at sea there was absolutely
no way to determine exactly where you were, which way you were going,
or how fast.

The least uncertain measurement was probably latitude, a ship's
location north or south of the equator. In the northern hemisphere the
height of the polestar was a reasonably accurate determinant of
latitude, although it was a full three degrees distant from the
northernmost point in the sky. Another measure of latitude was the
height of the sun at midday, corrected for the specific day of the
year. The problem lay in how to measure either of these elevations
accurately.

A hundred years before, the Portuguese had come across an ingenious
Arab device for telling the elevation of the sun. It consisted of a
board with a knotted length of string run through the middle. If a
mariner held the board vertically and sighted the horizon at one end
and some object in the sky at the other, the length of the string
between the board and his eye could be used to calculate the elevation
of the object. In a short time a version appeared in Europe - with a
second board replacing the string - called the cross-staff.

However, since locating both the horizon and a star was almost
impossible at any time except dawn or dusk, this device worked best for
sighting the sun - save that it required staring into the disc of the sun
to find its exact center. Also, the cross-staff could not be used when
the sun was high in the sky, which was the case in equatorial waters.
Another version of the cross-staff was the astrolabe, a round brass
dial etched with degree markings and provided with a movable sight that
permitted taking the elevation of the sun by its shadow. But even with
the astrolabe there was the problem of catching the sun precisely at
midday. And on a rolling ship the error in reading it could easily be
four degrees.

For longitude, a ship's location east or west on the globe, there were
no fixed references at all; but as a mariner traveled east or west, the
sun would come up somewhat earlier or later each day, and precisely how
much earlier or later could be used to compute how far he had gone.
Therefore, calculating longitude depended solely on keeping time
extremely accurately - something completely impossible. The best
timekeeping device available was the hourglass or "sandglass," invented
somewhere in the western Mediterranean in the eleventh or twelfth
century. Sandglass makers never achieved real accuracy or consistency,
and careful mariners always used several at once, hoping to average out
variations. But on a long voyage seamen soon totally lost track of
absolute time.

Since they were unable to determine a ship's location from the skies,
mariners also tried to compute it from a vessel's speed and direction.
Speed was estimated by throwing a log

with a knotted rope attached overboard and timing the rate at which the
knots in the rope played out - using a sandglass. Margins of error in
computing speed were usually substantial. Direction, too, was never
known completely accurately. A compass pointed to magnetic north, not
true north, and the difference between these seemed to vary
unaccountably at different locations on the globe. Some thought it had
to do with the lodestone used to magnetize the needle, and others, like
the Grand Pilot of the king of Spain, maintained seamen were merely
lying to cover their own errors.

For it all, however, longitude was the most vital unknown. Many
attempts had been made to find a way to fix longitude, but nothing ever
worked. Seamen found the only real solution to the problem was
"latitude sailing," a time-consuming and expensive procedure whereby a
captain would sail north or south to the approximate latitude of his
destination and then sail due east or west, rather than trying to sail
on the diagonal. King Philip III of Spain had offered a fortune to the
first man who discovered how to tell longitude at sea.

Hawksworth spent days poring through the piles of tables, many of which
were strewn about the floor of the room and damaged from mildew and
rot. Next he carefully copied the symbols off the walls of the circular
building and matched these with those on several of the charts. Were
these the names of the major stars, or constellations of the zodiac, or
. . . what? The number was twenty-eight.

And then it came to him: they were the daily stations of the moon.

As he continued to sift through the documents, he realized that the
scholar who wrote them had predicted eclipses of the moon for many
years in advance. Then he found a book, obviously old, with charts that
seemed to provide geometric corrections for the distortion caused by
the atmosphere when sighting stars near the horizon, something that
always had been troublesome for navigators.

He also found other writings. New. Some appeared to be verses, and
others, tables of names and numbers. Sums of

money were written next to some of the names. But none of it meant
anything without the Persian, which he could not read. And Shirin had
never returned to the observatory, at least not when he was there.

Until two days ago.

At the observatory that morning the sky had been a perfect ice blue,
the garden and orchard still, the air dry and exhilarating. No workmen
were splashing in the moat beyond the wall that day. Only the buzz of
gnats intruded on the silence. He had brought a bottle of dry Persian
wine to make the work go faster, finding he was growing accustomed to
its taste. And he had brought his lute, as always, in hope Shirin would
come again.

He was in the stone hut, cleaning and sorting pages of manuscript, when
she appeared silently in the doorway. He looked up and felt a sudden
rush in his chest.

"Have you uncovered all of Jamshid Beg's secrets?" Her voice was
lilting, but with a trace of unease. "I've found out that was our
famous astronomer's name. He was originally from Samarkand."

"I think I'm beginning to understand some of the tables." Hawksworth
kept his tone matter-of-fact. "He should have been a navigator. He
could have been a fellow at Trinity House."

"What is that?"

"It's a guild in England. Where navigators are trained."

She laughed. "I think he preferred a world made only of numbers." Her
laugh was gone as quickly as it had come, and she moved toward him with
a vaguely troubled look. "What have you found?"

"A lot of things. Take a look at this drawing." Hawksworth tried to
remain nonchalant as he moved the lamp back to the table from where he
had placed it on the floor. "He identified what we call parallax, the
slight circular motion of the moon throughout the day caused by the
fact it's not sighted from the center of the earth, but from a spot on
its surface that moves as the earth rotates. Now if he could measure
that accurately enough with these instruments . . ."

Shirin waved her hand and laughed again. "If you

understand all this, why not just take the papers back to the palace
and work with them there?" She was in the room now, her olive cheeks
exquisitely shadowed by the partially open door, where flickering
shadows played lightly through the brilliant sunshine. "Today I'd
rather hear you play your English instrument."

"With pleasure. I've been trying to learn an Indian raga." He kept his
voice even and moved himself deftly between Shirin and the doorway,
blocking her exit. "But it sounds wrong on the lute. When I get to Agra
I'm thinking I'll have a sitar made . . ."

He reached as though for the lute, then swung his hand upward and
clapped it over Shirin's mouth. Before she could move he shoved her
against the wall beside the door and stretched with his other hand to
seize the heavy brass astrolabe that rested on a stand by the table. He
caught a look of pure terror in her eyes, and for a moment he thought
she might scream. He pressed her harder against the wall to seal her
mouth, and as the shaft of light from the doorway dimmed momentarily he
stepped forward and swung the brass astrolabe upward.

There was a soft sound of impact, followed by a choked groan and the
clatter of metal against the wooden door. He drew back the astrolabe,
now with a trace of blood along its sharp edge and the remains of a
tooth wedged between its discs. Then he looked out to see a dark-
skinned Indian man in a loincloth rolling himself across the top of the
garden wall. A faint splash followed, as he dropped into the moat.

When Hawksworth released Shirin and placed the astrolabe back on its
stand, he caught the glint of sunshine off a stiletto lying in the
doorway. He bent down to retrieve it and suddenly she was next to him,
holding his arm and staring at the place where the man had scaled the
wall.

"He was a Sudra, a low caste." She looked at the stiletto in
Hawksworth's hand, and her voice turned to scorn. "It's Portuguese.
Only the Portuguese would hire someone like that, instead of a Rajput."
Then she laughed nervously. "If they'd hired a Rajput, someone would be
dead now. Hire a Sudra and you get a Sudra's work."

"Who was it?"

"Who knows? The horse bazaar is full of men who would kill for ten
rupees." She pointed toward the wall. "Do you see that piece of cloth?
There on the old spike. I think it's a piece of his _dhoti_. Would you
get it for me?"

After Hawksworth had retrieved the shred of cotton loincloth, brown
from a hundred washings in the river, she had taken it from him without
a word.

"What will you do with it?"

"Don't." She touched a finger to his lips. "These are things it's best
not to ask." Then she tucked the brown scrap into the silken sash at
her waist and moved toward the door. "And it would be better if you
forgot about today."

Hawksworth watched her for a second, then seized her arm and turned her
facing him. "I may not know what's going on. But, by Jesus, I'll know
before you leave. And you can start by telling me why you come here."

She stared back at him for a moment, meeting his eyes. There was
something in them he had never seen before, almost admiration. Then she
caught herself and drew back, dropping into a chair. "Very well.
Perhaps you do deserve to know." She slipped the translucent scarf from
her hair and tossed it across the table. "Why don't you open the wine
you brought? I'll not tell you everything, because you shouldn't want
me to, but I'll tell you what's important for you."

Hawksworth remembered how he had slowly poured the wine for her, his
hand still trembling.

"Have you ever heard of Samad?" she had begun, taking a small sip.

"I think he's the poet Mukarrab Khan quoted once. He called him a Sufi
rascal."

"Is that what he said? Good. That only confirms once again what I think
of His Excellency." She laughed with contempt. "Samad is a great poet.
He's perhaps the last great Persian writer, in the tradition of Omar
Khayyam. He has favored me by allowing me to be one of his disciples."

"So you come here to write poems?"

"When I feel something I want to say."

"But I've also found lists of names here, and numbers."

"I told you I can't tell you everything." Shirin's look darkened
momentarily as she drank again lightly from the cup, then settled it on
the table. He found himself watching her face, drawn to her by
something he could not fully understand. "But I can tell you this.
There's someone in India who will one day rid us of the infidel
Portuguese. Do you know of Prince Jadar?"

"He's the son of the Moghul. I'm guessing he'll probably succeed one
day."

"He should. If he's not betrayed. Things are very unsettled in Agra. He
has many enemies there." She paused. "He has enemies here."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"Then you should. Because what happens in Agra will affect everyone.
Even you."

"But what does Agra politics have to do with me? The knife was
Portuguese."

"To understand what's happening, you should first know about Akman, the
one we remember now as the Great Moghul. He was the father of Arangbar,
the Moghul now. I was only a small girl when Akman died, but I still
remember my sadness, my feeling the universe would collapse. We
worshiped him almost. It's not talked about now, but the truth is Akman
didn't really want Arangbar to succeed him, nobody did. But he had no
choice. In fact, when Akman died, Arangbar's eldest son started a
rebellion to deny him the throne, but that son's troops betrayed him,
and after they surrendered Arangbar blinded him in punishment. Khusrav,
his own son. Although Prince Jadar was still only a young boy then, we
all thought after that he would be Moghul himself one day. But that was
before the Persians came to power in Agra."

"But aren't you Persian yourself?"

"I was born in India, but yes, I have the great fortune to be of
Persian blood. There are many Persians in India. You know, Persians
still intimidate the Moghuls. Ours is a magnificent culture, an ancient
culture, and Persians never let the Moghuls forget it." Shirin had
dabbed at her brow and rose to peer out the door of the observatory
building, as though by instinct. "Did you know that the first Moghul
came to India less than a hundred years ago, actually after the
Portuguese? He was named Babur, a distant descendant of the Mongol
warrior Genghis Khan, and he was from Central Asia. Babur was the
grandfather of Akman. They say he had wanted to invade Persia but that
the ruling dynasty, the Safavis, was too strong. So he invaded India
instead, and the Moghuls have been trying to make it into Persia ever
since. That's why Persians can always find work in India. They teach
their language at court, and give lessons in fashion, and in painting
and garden design. Samad came here from Persia, and now he's the
national poet."

"What do these Persians have to do with whatever's happening in Agra?
Are you, or your family, somehow involved too?"

"My father was Shayhk Mirak." She hesitated a moment, as though
expecting a response. Then she continued evenly, "Of course, you'd not
know of him. He was a court painter. He came to India when Akman was
Moghul and took a position under the Persian Mir Sayyid Ali, who
directed the painting studio Akman founded. You know, I've always found
it amusing that Akman had to use Persian artists to create the Moghul
school of Indian painting. Anyway, my father was very skilled at Moghul
portraits, which everybody now says were invented by Akman. And when
Akman died, Arangbar named my father to head the school. It lasted
until she was brought to Agra."

"Who?"

"The queen, the one called Janahara."

"But why was your father sent away?"

"Because I was sent away."

Hawksworth thought he sensed a kind of nervous intensity quivering
behind Shirin's voice. It's your story, he told himself, that I'd
really like to hear. But he said nothing, and the silence swelled.
Finally she spoke again.

"To understand the trouble now, you must understand about the queen.
Her story is almost amazing, and already legends are growing around
her. It's said she was born the day her father, Zainul Beg, left Persia
as an adventurer bound for India. He ordered her abandoned in the sun
to die, but after the caravan traveled on his wife lamented for the
baby so much he decided to return for her. Although the sun was
intense, they found her still alive. It's said a cobra was shading her
with his hood." Shirin turned to Hawksworth, her dark eyes seeming to
snap. "Can you believe such a story?"

"No. It sounds like a fable."

"Neither can I. But half the people in India do. Her father finally
reached Lahore, the city in India where Akman was staying, and managed
to enter his service. Like any Persian he did very well, and before
long Akman gave him a _mansab _rank of three hundred _zat_. His wife
and daughter were allowed to come and go among the palace women. Then,
when she was seventeen, this little Persian girl of the cobra began her
plan. She repeatedly threw herself across the path of the Moghul's son
Arangbar, whom she rightly guessed would be next in line for the
throne. He was no match for her, and now people say she won his heart
before he knew it himself. My own belief is she cast a spell on him."

"And he married her?"

"Of course not. Akman was no fool. He knew she was a schemer, and when
he saw what she was doing he immediately had her married to a Persian
general named Sher Afgan, whom he then appointed governor of Bengal, a
province in the distant east of India. Akman died a few years after
that, still thinking he had saved Arangbar from her, but he hadn't
counted on the spell."

"So how did she get back to Agra, and become queen?"

"That part I know very well." Shirin laughed bitterly. "I was there.
You see, Arangbar never forgot his Persian cobra girl, even after he
became Moghul himself. And he found a way to get her back. One day he
announced he was receiving reports of unrest in Bengal, where Sher
Afgan was still governor, and he summoned the governor to Agra to
explain. When no answer came, he sent troops. Nobody knows what
happened, but the story was given out that Sher Afgan drew a sword on
Arangbar's men. Perhaps he did. They say he was impulsive. But the
Imperial troops cut him down. Then Arangbar ordered Sher Afgan's
Persian wife and her little daughter, Layla, back to Agra and put them
under the protection of his mother, the dowager queen. Then, just as
we'd all predicted, he married her. At first he was going to put her in
the _zenana_, the harem, but she refused. She demanded to be made his
queen, an equal. And that's what he did. Except now she's actually
more. She's the real ruler of India."

"And you were in the harem, the _zenana_, then?" Hawksworth decided to
gamble on the story he had heard.

Shirin stared at him, trying to hide what seemed to be surprise. "You
know." For a moment he thought she might reach out and touch his hand,
but then she drew back into herself. "Yes, I was still in the _zenana_
then, but not for long. The first thing Janahara did was find out which
women Arangbar favored, and she then had us all married off to
governors of provinces far from Agra. You know a Muslim man is allowed
four wives, so there's always room for one more. Mukarrab Khan got me."

"She seems very clever."

"You haven't heard even half her story yet. Next she arranged to have
her brother, Nadir Sharif, appointed prime minister, and her father,
Zainul Beg, made chief adviser to Arangbar. So now she and her family
control the Moghul and everyone around him." Shirin paused. "Not quite
everyone. Yet. Not Prince Jadar."

"But he'll be the next Moghul. When that happens, what becomes of her?"

"He _should _be the next Moghul. And if he is, her power will be gone.
That's why she wants to destroy him now."

"But how can she, if he's the rightful heir?" Hawksworth found himself
suddenly dismayed by the specter of Agra in turmoil.

"No one knows. But she'll think of a way. And then she'll find someone
she can control to be the next Moghul."''

'But why do you care so much who succeeds Arangbar?"

"One reason I care is because of Samad." Her eyes suddenly saddened.

"Now I really don't understand. He's a poet. Why should

it matter to him?"

"Because the queen would like to see him dead. He has too much
influence. You must understand that the queen and her family are
Shi'ites, a Persian sect of Islam. They believe all men should bow to
some dogmatic mullah, whom they call an _imam_. But this was never in
the teachings given to the Prophet."

A curse on all religions, Hawksworth had thought. Am I caught in the



Online LibraryThomas HooverThe Moghul → online text (page 16 of 52)