_feringhi_ opinion they weren't of a very high order."
"Those were _nautch_ girls, common whores. They degrade and debase the
classical dance of India for the purpose of enticing customers. Kamala
is nothing like them. She's a great artist. For her the dance, and
lovemaking, are a kind of worship of the Hindu gods. I don't entirely
understand it, but I could sense her power the one time I saw her
dance. When I saw her I began to believe what people say, that she
embodies the female principle, the divine female principle that defines
India for the Hindu people. Believe me when I tell you she's very
different from anyone here in Surat. She knows things that no one else
knows. People say they're explained in a very old book she has."
"How can there possibly be any more to know?" Hawksworth thought of the
hundreds of pleasure tricks Kali had taught him, delights unknown in
Europe. "What's left to put in this other book?"
"Her book is one I've never actually seen. I've only heard about it.
It's a sacred text of the Hindus', an ancient sutra, in which the union
of man and woman are shown to be a way of finding your own divine
natures, the God within you both. I'm told it's called the Kama Sutra,
the Scripture of Love and Pleasure."
Hawksworth found himself beginning to be overwhelmed. "Maybe we'd
better start with this book. What exactly does it say?"
"The Ananga-Ranga explains that each order of woman must be aroused,
must be awakened to her pleasure, in a different way. At different
times of day, with different caresses, different kinds of kisses and
scratches and bites, different words, different embraces during union.
It says if you learn to know women well, you will understand how to
give and receive the greatest enjoyment with each."
"Is it really so complicated?"
"Now you're starting to sound like some Muslim men I know, who lock
their women away and make love to boys, claiming women are insatiable.
With desires ten times stronger than those of a man. But they're
actually afraid of a woman, so they believe she's to be enjoyed quickly
and as little as possible. They care nothing for her own pleasure. But
a woman must be aroused to enjoy union to its fullest. That's why this
book is so important. I happen to think you are one who cares about a
Hawksworth stroked her smooth leg mischievously, then took the book and
gently laid it aside. "Tell me what it says about a Conch Woman. What
have I been doing that's right and wrong?"
"The book says that the Conch Woman prefers union with a man in the
third _pahar_ of the night."
"When is that?"
"Time is counted in India by _pahar_. The day and the night are each
divided into four _pahars_. The first _pahar _of the night would be
between six and nine in the evening by _feringhi _time. The third
_pahar _would be your hours between midnight and three in the morning.
Is that not the very time I come to your couch?"
"It also says that on certain days of the moon, which it tells, the
Conch Woman particularly enjoys having her body pressed with the nails
of the man. Some days roughly, some days gently. And on certain days
the embrace must be forceful, on certain days gentle. There are many
special ways to touch and embrace a Conch Woman, and they are explained
here. Also there are certain ways of kissing her, of biting her, of
scratching her. For example, you may kiss her upper lip, or her lower
lip, or you may kiss her with your tongue only."
"And how am I supposed to be able to kiss you with my tongue only?"
Hawksworth cast a skeptical glance at the book.
"It's very easy." She smiled at him slyly. "Perhaps it's easier if I
She took his lower lip gently with the tips of her fingers, passed her
tongue over it slowly and languorously, and then suddenly nipped it
playfully. He started in surprise.
"There. You see there are many ways to please a woman, to kiss her, to
bite her, to scratch her. When you have become a true lover of women,
my strong _feringhi_, you will know them all."
Hawksworth shifted uncomfortably. "What next?"
"The book also tells of the bodies of women. Foolish men often do not
know these things, my love, but I think you are beginning to learn. It
tells that in the upper cleft of the _yoni _there's a small organ it
likens to a plantain-shoot sprouting from the ground. This is the seat
of pleasure in a woman, and when it is excited, her_ kama salila _flows
"When the woman is ready, you may both enjoy the act of union to its
fullest. And there are many, many ways this may be done. The book tells
of thirty-two. It is the great wisdom of Kalyana Mai that a woman must
have variety in her love couch. If she does not find this with one man,
she will seek others. It is the same with men, I think."
Hawksworth nodded noncommittally, not wishing to appear overly
"Finally, he tells the importance of a woman reaching her moment of
enjoyment. If she does not, she will be unsatisfied and may seek
pleasure elsewhere. In India, a woman is taught to signify this moment
by the _sitkrita_, the drawing in of breath between the closed teeth.
There are many different ways a woman may do this, but you will know,
"Enough of the book." He took it and replaced it in the box. "Somehow I
think I've already had a lot of its lessons."
"That was merely my duty to you. To be a new woman for you each night.
And I think you've learned well." She took the box and settled it
beside the couch. Then she laughed lightly. "But you still have a few
things to learn. Tonight, for our last time together, I will show you
the most erotic embrace I know." She examined him with her half-closed
eyes, and drew one last burst of smoke from the hookah. Then she
carefully positioned the large velvet bolster in the center of the
couch. "Are you capable of it?"
"Very well. But I must be deeply aroused to enjoy this fully. Come and
let me show you all the places you must bite."
The sun was directly overhead when Vasant Rao reined his iron-gray
stallion to a halt at the Abidjan Gate. Behind him, beyond the grove of
mango and tamarind trees, lay the stone reservoir of Surat. It was
almost a mile in circumference, and he had chosen its far bank as
campground for his Rajput guard. Accommodations in Surat were
nonexistent during the season, and although he could have cleared a
guest house with a single name, Prince Jadar, he had chosen to remain
Through the dark bamboo slats of the gate he could now see the
Englishman riding toward him, holding his Arabian mare at an easy pace.
Vasant Rao studied the gait carefully. He had learned he could always
judge the character of a man by observing that man's handling of a
mount. He casually stroked his moustache and judged Brian Hawksworth.
The Englishman is unpracticed, yet there's an unmistakable sense of
command about him. Not unlike the control the prince holds over a
horse. He handles the mare almost without her knowing it, forcing
discipline onto her natural gait. Perhaps our treacherous friend Mirza
Nuruddin was right. Perhaps the Englishman will suit our requirements.
Vasant Rao remembered that Jadar had been insistent on the point.
"The English captain must be a man of character and nerve, or he must
never reach Burhanpur. You need only be seen providing his guard as you
depart Surat. If he's weak, like a Christian, he will not serve our
The times ahead will be difficult enough, Vasant Rao told himself,
without having to worry about the Englishman. The prince has been
trapped in the south, and now there's news Inayat Latif and his troops
are being recalled to Agra from Bengal. The queen will soon have at her
right hand the most able general in the Moghul's army.
Vasant Rao turned his eyes from the Englishman to look again at his own
Rajput guard, and his pride in them restored his spirit. Only Rajputs
would have the courage to one day face the numerically superior troops
of Inayat Latif.
The origin of the warrior clans who called themselves Rajputs, "sons of
kings," was lost in legend. They had appeared mysteriously in western
India over half a millennium before the arrival of the Moghuls, and
they had royalty, and honor, in their blood. They had always demanded
to be known as Kshatriya, the ancient Hindu warrior caste.
The men, and women, of the warrior Kshatriya clans lived and died by
the sword, and maintained a timeless tradition of personal honor.
Theirs was a profession of arms, and they lived by rules of conduct
unvaried since India's epic age. A member of the warrior caste must
never turn his back in battle, must never strike with concealed
weapons. No warrior could strike a foe who was fleeing, who asked for
mercy, whose own sword was broken, who slept, who had lost his armor,
who was merely an onlooker, who was facing another foe. Surrender was
unthinkable. A Rajput defeated in battle need not return home, since
his wife would turn him out in dishonor for not having given his life.
But if a Rajput perished with a sword in his hand, the highest honor,
his wife would proudly follow him in death, joining his body on the
funeral pyre. And many times, in centuries past, Rajput women
themselves had taken up swords to defend the honor of their clain.
When they had no external foes, the Rajput clans warred among
themselves, since they knew no other life. For convenience, each clan
decreed its immediate neighboring clans its enemies, and an elaborate
code was devised to justify war over even the smallest slight. Their
martial skills were never allowed to gather rust, even if the cost was
perpetual slaughter of each other.
Though they were divided among themselves, the Rajput clans had for
centuries defended their lands from the Muslim invaders of India. Only
with the coming of the great Moghul genius Akman was there a Muslim
ruler with the wisdom to understand the Rajputs could be more valuable
as allies than as foes. He abandoned attempts to subdue them, instead
making them partners in his empire. He married Rajput princesses; and
he used Rajput fighting prowess to extend Moghul control south and west
The men with Vasant Rao were the elite of the dominant Chauhan clan,
and all claimed descent from royal blood. They held strong loyalties,
powerful beliefs, and absolutely no fear of what lay beyond death. They
also were men from the northwest mountains of India, who had never
before seen Surat, never before seen the sea, never before seen a
But Vasant Rao had seen _feringhi_, when he had stood by the side of
Prince Jadar in Agra, when Jesuit fathers had been called to dispute
with Muslim mullahs before Arangbar. He had seen their tight, assured
faces, and heard their narrow, intolerant views. Could this _feringhi
_be any different?
Already he had witnessed the Englishman's nerve, and it had reminded
him, curiously, of Jadar. The Englishman had refused to come to their
camp, claiming this demeaned his office of ambassador. And Vasant Rao,
representative of Prince Jadar, had refused to meet the Englishman
inside Surat. Finally it was agreed that they would meet at the wall of
the city, at the Abidjan Gate.
"Nimaste, Ambassador Hawksworth. His Highness, Prince Jadar, conveys
his most respectful greetings to you and to the English king." Vasant
Rao's Turki had been excellent since his boyhood, and he tried to
remember the phrases Mirza Nuruddin had coached. Then he watched
through the bamboo poles of the gate as Hawksworth performed a lordly
salaam from horseback.
The gate opened.
"I am pleased to offer my good offices to you and your king," Vasant
Rao continued, "in the name of His Highness, the prince. It is his
pleasure, and my honor, to provide you escort for your journey east to
Burhanpur. From there His Highness will arrange a further escort for
the trip north to Agra."
"His Majesty, King James, is honored by His Highness' concern."
Hawksworth examined the waiting Rajputs, his apprehension mounting.
Their eyes were expressionless beneath their leather helmets, but their
horses pawed impatiently. He found himself wondering if Mirza Nuruddin
had contrived to provide more "help," and yet another surprise. "But my
route is not yet decided. Although I'm grateful for His Highness'
offer, I'm not certain traveling east on the Burhanpur road is best.
His Excellency, Mukarrab Khan, has offered to provide an escort if I
take the Udaipur road, north past Cambay and then east."
Vasant Rao examined Hawksworth, choosing his words carefully. "We have
orders to remain here for three days, Captain, and then to return to
Burhanpur. It would be considered appropriate by the prince, who has
full authority to administer this province, if we rode escort for you."
Hawksworth shifted in the saddle.
This isn't an offer. It's an ultimatum.
"Is His Highness aware I have with me a large sea chest? It will
require a cart, which I plan to hire. Perhaps the delay this will
impose would inconvenience you and your men, since you surely prefer to
"On the contrary, Captain. We will have with us a small convoy of
supplies, lead for molding shot. We will travel at a pace that best
suits us all. Your chest presents no difficulty."
But there will be many difficulties, he told himself. And he thought
again about Mirza Nuruddin and the terms he had demanded. Twenty
percent interest on the loan, and only a hundred and eighty days to
repay both the new silver coin and the interest.
But why, Vasant Rao asked himself again, did the Shahbandar agree to
the plan at all? Is this Mirza Nuruddin's final wager? That Jadar will
"Will three days be sufficient for your preparations, Captain
"It will. If I decide to use the Burhanpur road." Hawksworth wondered
how long he could taunt the Raput.
"Perhaps I should tell you something about travel in India, Ambassador.
There are, as you say, two possible routes between Surat and Agra. Both
present certain risks. The northern route, through Udaipur and
Rajputana, is at first appearance faster, since the roads are drier and
the rivers there have already subsided from the monsoon. But it is not
a part of India where travelers are always welcomed by the local Rajput
clans. You may well find yourself in the middle of a local war, or the
reluctant guest of a petty raja who judges you worth a ransom.
"On the other hand, if you travel east, through Burhanpur, you may find
that some rivers are still heavy from the monsoon, at least for another
month. But the clans there are loyal to Prince Jadar, and only near
Chopda, halfway to Burhanpur, will you encounter any local brigands.
Theirs, however, is an honorable profession, and they are always
willing to accept bribes in return for safe passage. We ordinarily do
not kill them, though we easily could, since petty robbery - they view it
as a toll - is their livelihood and their tradition. They are weak and
they make weak demands. Such is not true of the rajas in Rajputana. The
choice is yours, but if you value your goods, and your life, you will
join us as we make our way east to Burhanpur."
Hawksworth studied the bearded Rajput guards as Vasant Rao spoke.
I'm either a captive of the prince or of Mukarrab Khan, regardless of
what I do. Which one wants me dead more?
"My frigate sails tomorrow. I can leave the following day."
"Good, it's agreed then. Our convoy will leave in three days. It will
be my pleasure to travel with you, Captain Hawksworth. Your reputation
has already reached His Highness. We will meet you here at the
beginning of the second _pahar_. I believe that's your hour of nine in
the morning." He smiled with a warmth that was almost genuine. "You
should consider yourself fortunate. Few _feringhi_ have ever traveled
inland. You will find the interior far different from Surat. Until
He bowed lightly and snapped a command to the waiting horsemen. In
moments they were lost among the trees.
"This evening must be a time of farewell for us both, Captain
Hawksworth. You know, the Hindus believe life and death are an endless
cycle that dooms them to repeat their miserable existence over and over
again. I myself prefer to think that this one life is itself cyclical,
ever renewing. What was new, exciting, yesterday is today tedious and
tiresome. So tomorrow brings us both rebirth. For you it is Agra, for
me Goa. But I expect to see Surat again, as no doubt do you. Who knows
when our paths will cross once more?" Mukarrab Khan watched as a eunuch
shoved wide the door leading onto the torchlit garden. "You have been a
most gracious visitor, tolerating with exemplary forbearance my
unworthy hospitality. Tonight perhaps you will endure one last evening
of my company, even if I have little else left to offer."
The courtyard was a confused jumble of packing cases and household
goods. Servants were everywhere, wrapping and crating rolled carpets,
bolsters, furniture, vases, and women's clothing. Elephants stood near
the back of the courtyard, howdahs on their backs, waiting to be
loaded. Goods would be transferred to barks for the trip downriver to
the bar, where they would be loaded aboard a waiting Portuguese
"My dining hall has been dismantled, its carpet rolled. We have no
choice but to dine this evening in the open air, like soldiers on the
Hawksworth was no longer hearing Mukarrab Khan. He was staring past
him, through the smoke, not quite believing what he saw. But it was all
too real. Standing in the corner of the courtyard were two Europeans in
black cassocks. Portuguese Jesuits.
Mukarrab Khan noticed Hawksworth's diplomatic smile suddenly freeze on
his face, and turned to follow his gaze.
"Ah, I must introduce you. You do understand the Portuguese language,
"I should have thought so. I personally find it abominable and refuse
to study it. But both the fathers here have studied Persian in Goa, and
I think one of them knows a bit of Turki, from his time in Agra."
"What are they doing here?" Hawksworth tried to maintain his composure.
"They returned to Surat just today from Goa, where they've been these
past few weeks. I understand they're en route to the Jesuit mission in
Lahore, a city in the Punjab, well to the north of Agra. They
specifically asked to meet you." He laughed. "They're carrying no
cannon, Captain, and I assumed you had no objection."
"You assumed wrong. I have nothing to say to a Jesuit."
"You'll meet Jesuits enough in Agra, Captain, at the Moghul's court.
Consider this evening a foretaste." Mukarrab Khan tried to smile
politely, but there was a strained look in his eyes and he fingered his
jeweled ring uncomfortably. "You would favor me by speaking to them."
The two Europeans were now moving toward them, working their way
through the swarm of servants and crates in the courtyard. The ruby-
studded crucifixes they wore against their black cassocks seemed to
shoot red sparks into the evening air. Mukarrab Khan urged Hawksworth
"May I have the pleasure to present Ambassador Brian Hawksworth, who
represents His Majesty, King James of England, and is also, I believe,
an official of England's East India Company.
"And to you, Ambassador, I have the honor to introduce Father Alvarez
Sarmento, Superior for the Society of Jesus' mission in Lahore, and
Father Francisco da Silva."
Hawksworth nodded lightly and examined them. Although Sarmento was
aged, his face remained strong and purposeful, with hard cheeks and
eyes that might burn through marble. The younger priest could not have
been more different. His ruddy neck bulged from the tight collar of his
cassock, and his eyes shifted uncomfortably behind his puffed cheeks.
Hawksworth wondered absently how long his bloat - too much capon and port
wine - would last if Mackintosh had him on the third watch for a month.
"You are a celebrated man, Captain Hawksworth." Father Sarmento spoke
in flawless Turki, but his voice was like ice. "There is much talk of
you in Goa. The new Viceroy himself requested that we meet you, and
convey a message."
"His last message was to order an unlawful attack on my merchantmen. I
think he still remembers my reply. Is he now offering to abide by the
treaty your Spanish king signed with King James?"
"That treaty has no force in Asia, Captain. His Excellency has asked us
to inform you that your mission to Agra will not succeed. Our fathers
have already informed the Moghul that England is a lawless nation
living outside the grace of the Church. Perhaps you are unaware of the
esteem he now holds for our Agra mission. We have a church there now,
and through it we have led many carnal-minded Moors to God. We have
refuted the Islamic mullahs in His Majesty's very presence, and shown
him the falsity of their Prophet and his laws. Indeed, it is only
because of the esteem we have earned that he now sends an ambassador to
the Portuguese Viceroy."
Before Hawksworth could respond, Father Sarmento suddenly reached out
and touched his arm imploringly. "Captain, let me speak now not for the
Viceroy, but for the Holy Church." Hawksworth realized with a shock
that he was speaking English. "Do you understand the importance of
God's work in this sea of damned souls? For decades we have toiled in
this vineyard, teaching the Grace of God and His Holy Church, and now
at last our prayers are near to answer. When Arangbar became Moghul,
our Third Mission had already been here for ten long, fruitless years.
We strove to teach the Grace of God to his father, Akman, but his
damnation was he could never accept a single True Church. He would
harken to a heathen fakir as readily as to a disciple of God. At first
Arangbar seemed like him, save his failing was not ecumenicity. It was
indifference, and suspicion. Now, after years of ignominy, we have
secured his trust. And with that trust will soon come his soul."
Sarmento paused to cross himself. "When at last a Christian holds the
throne of India, there will be rejoicing at the Throne of Heaven. You
may choose to live outside the Mystery of the Most Holy Sacrament, my
son, but surely you would not wish to undo God's great work. I implore
you not to go before the Moghul now, not to sow unrest in his believing
mind with stories of the quarrels and hatreds of Europe. England was
once in the bosom of the Holy Church, until your heretic King Henry;
and England had returned again, before your last, heretic queen led you
once more to damnation. Know the Church always stands with open heart
to receive you, or any apostate Lutheran, who wishes to repent and save
his immortal soul."
"I see now why Jesuits are made diplomats. Is your concern the loss of
the Moghul's soul, or the loss of his trade revenues in Goa?"
Hawksworth deliberately answered in Turki. "Tell your pope to stop
trying to meddle in England's politics, and tell your Viceroy to honor
our treaty and there'll be no 'quarrels' between us here."
"Will you believe my word, sworn before God, that I have told His
Excellency that very thing? That this new war could destroy our years
of work and prayer." Sarmento still spoke in English. "But he is a man
with a personal vendetta toward the English. It is our great tragedy.
The Viceroy of Goa, His Excellency, Miguel Vaijantes, is a man
nourished by hatred. May God forgive him."
Hawksworth stood speechless as Father Sarmento crossed himself.
"What did you say his name was?"
"Miguel Vaijantes. He was in Goa as a young captain, and now he has
returned as Viceroy. We must endure him for three more years. The
Antichrist himself could not have made our cup more bitter, could not
have given us a greater test of our Christian love. Do you understand
now why I beg you in God's name to halt this war between us?"
Hawksworth felt suddenly numb. He stumbled past the aged priest and
blindly stared into the torchlit courtyard, trying to remember
precisely what Roger Symmes had said that day so many years ago in the
offices of the Levant Company. One of the few things he had never
forgotten from Symmes's monologue of hallucinations and dreams was the
name Miguel Vaijantes.
Hawksworth slowly turned to face Father Sarmento and switched to
"I will promise you this, Father. If I reach Agra, I will
never speak of popery unless asked. It honestly doesn't interest me.
I'm here on a mission, not a crusade. And in return I would ask one
favor of you. I would like you to send a message to Miguel Vaijantes.