Copyright
Thomas Hoover.

The Moghul online

. (page 25 of 52)
Online LibraryThomas HooverThe Moghul → online text (page 25 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


muster nonetheless."

"Then why not call the muster? In another twenty days Ambar's troops
will be encamped at our doorstep. He could well control all lands south
of the Narbada River."

And that, Ghulam Adl smiled to himself, is precisely the plan.

He thought of the arrangement that had been worked out. Jadar was to be
kept in Burhanpur for another three weeks, delayed by any means
possible. By then Malik Ambar would have the city surrounded, all
access cut off. The Imperial troops would be isolated and demoralized.
No troops would be forthcoming from the _mansabdars_. Only promises of
troops. Cut off from Agra and provisions, Jadar would have no choice
but to sign a treaty. The paper had already been prepared. Malik Ambar
would rule the Deccan from his new capital at Ahmadnagar, and Ghulam
Adl would be appointed governor of all provinces north from Ahmadnagar
to the Narbada River. With their combined troops holding the borders,
no Moghul army could ever again challenge the Deccan. Ghulam Adl knew
the _mansabdars_ would support him, because he had offered to cut their
taxes in half. He had neglected to specify for how long.

"I respectfully submit the time for muster is premature, Highness.
Crops are not yet in. The revenues of the _mansabdars'_ _jagir_ estates
will suffer if men are called now." Ghulam Adl shifted uncomfortably.

"They'll have no revenues at all if they don't muster immediately. I'll
confiscate the _jagir_ of any _mansabdar_ who has not mustered his men
and cavalry within seven days." Jadar watched Ghulam Adl's throat
muscles tense, and he asked himself if a _jagir_ granted by the Moghul
could be legally confiscated. Probably not. But the threat would serve
to reveal loyalties, and reveal them quickly.

"But there's no possible way to pay the men now, Highness." Ghulam Adl
easily retained his poise. Hold firm and this aspiring young upstart
will waver and then agree. Give him numbers. First make it sound
hopeless, then show him a way he can still win. "There's not enough
silver in all the Deccan. Let me give you some idea of the problem.
Assume it would require a year's back pay to muster the troops, not
unreasonable since most of the _mansabdars_ are at least two years
behind now. The usual yearly allowance for cavalry here is three
hundred rupees for a Muslim and two hundred and forty for a Hindu. You
will certainly need to raise a minimum of thirty thousand men from the
_mansabdars_. Assuming some loyal troops might possibly muster on notes
of promise, you'd still need almost fifty _lakhs_ of rupees. An
impossible sum. It's clear the _mansabdars_ won't have the revenues to
pay their men until the fall crops are harvested."

"Then I'll confiscate their _jagirs_ now and pay the troops myself. And
deduct the sum from their next revenues."

"That's impossible. The money is nowhere to be found." Ghulam Adl
realized with relief that Jadar was bluffing; the prince could not
possibly raise the money needed. He shifted closer and smiled warmly.
"But listen carefully. If we wait but two months, everything will be
changed. Then it'll be simple to squeeze the revenue from the
_mansabdars_, and we can pay the men ourselves if we need. Until then
we can easily contain the Abyssinian and his rabble. Perhaps we could
raise a few men and horse from the _mansabdars_ now, but frankly I
advise against it. Why trouble them yet? With the troops we have we can
keep Malik Ambar diverted for weeks, months even. Then when the time is
right we sound the call, march south with our combined forces, and
drive him into the southern jungles forever."

But that call will raise no men, Ghulam Adl told himself, not a single
wagon driver. It has been agreed. "We'll wait a few weeks until Ambar
has his supply lines extended. Then we'll begin to harass him. In no
time he'll begin to fall back to Ahmadnagar to wait for winter. And by
that time we'll have our full strength. We'll march in force and crush
him. I'll lead the men personally. You need never leave Burhanpur,
Highness." He took another sip of wine. "Though I daresay its pleasures
must seem rustic for one accustomed to the more luxurious diversions of
Agra."

Jadar examined the commander and a slight, knowing smile played across
his lips. "Let me propose a slight alternative." He began evenly. "I
will lead the army this time, and you will remain here at the fortress.
I called you here today to notify you that as of this moment you are
relieved of your command and confined to the fort." Jadar watched
Ghulam Adl stiffen and his sly grin freeze on his face. "I will
assemble the army myself and march south in ten days."

"This is a weak jest, Highness." Ghulam Adl tried to laugh. "No one
knows the Deccan the way I and my commanders know it. The terrain is
treacherous."

"Your knowledge of the terrain admittedly is excellent. You and your
commanders have retreated the length of the Deccan year after year.
This time I will use my own generals. Abdullah Khan will command the
advance guard, with three thousand horse from our own troops. Abul
Hasan will take the left flank, and Raja Vikramajit the right. I will
personally command the center." Jadar fixed Ghulam Adl squarely. "You
will be confined to the fort, where you'll send no ciphers to Ambar.
Your remaining troops will be divided and put under our command. You
will order it in writing today and I will send the dispatches."

"For your sake I trust this is a jest, Highness. You dare not carry it
out." Ghulam Adl slammed his glass onto the carpet, spilling his wine.
The Rajputs around Jadar stiffened but made no move. "I have the full
support of the Moghul himself. Your current position in Agra is already
talked about here in the south. Do you think we're so far away we hear
nothing? Your return this time, if you are allowed to return, will be
nothing like the grand celebrations three years ago. If I were you, I'd
be marching back now. Leave the Deccan to those who know it."

"You're right about Agra on one point. It is far away. And this
campaign is mine, not the Moghul's."

"You'll never raise the troops, young prince: Only I can induce the
_mansabdars_ to muster."

"I'll muster the men. With full pay."

"You'll muster nothing, Highness. You'll be Ambar's prisoner inside a
month. I can swear it. If you are still alive." Ghulam Adl bowed low
and his hand shot for his sword. By the time it touched the handle the
Rajputs were there. He was circled by drawn blades. Jadar watched
impassively for a moment, and then signaled the guards to escort Ghulam
Adl from the audience room.

"I'll see you dead." He shouted over his shoulder as the men dragged
him toward the door. "Within the month."

Jadar watched Ghulam Adl's turban disappear through the torchlit
opening and down the corridor. His sword remained on the carpet, where
it had been removed by the Rajput guards. Jadar stared at it for a
moment, admiring the silver trim along the handle, and it reminded him
of the silver shipment. And the Englishman.

Vasant Rao blundered badly with the English captain. He should have
found a way to disarm him in advance. Always disarm a _feringhi_. Their
instincts are too erratic. The whole scenario fell apart after he
killed the headman of the dynasty. My Rajput games almost became a war.

But what happened in the village? Did the _feringhi_ work sorcery? Why
was the caravan released so suddenly? The horsemen I had massed in the
valley, in case of an emergency, panicked after the eclipse began. They
became just so many terrified Hindus. Then suddenly the caravan
assembled and left, with Rajputs from the village riding guard,
escorting them all the way back to the river.

And even now Vasant Rao refuses to talk about what really happened. It
seems his honor is too besmirched. He refuses even to eat with the
other men.

Allah the Merciful. Rajputs and their cursed honor.

But I've learned what I need to know about the English _feringhi_. His
nerve is astonishing. How could he dare refuse to attend my morning
durbar audience in the reception room? Should I accept his claim that
he's an ambassador and therefore I should come to him. Should I simply
have him brought before me?

No. I have a better idea. But tomorrow. After the child is born and
I've sent runners to the _mansabdars_ . . .

A member of Mumtaz's guard burst through the doorway, then remembered
himself and salaamed deeply to the prince. Guards around Jadar already
had their swords half drawn.

"Forgive a fool, Highness." He fell to his knees, just in case. "I'm
ordered to report that your son is born. The _dai_ says he's perfectly
formed and has the lungs of a cavalry commander."

Cheers swept the room, and the air blossomed with flying turbans. Jadar
motioned the terrified man closer and he nervously knelt again, this
time directly before Jadar.

"The _dai_ respectfully asks if it would please Your Highness to
witness the cord-cutting ceremony. She suggests a gold knife, instead
of the usual silver."

Jadar barely heard the words, but he did recall that tradition allowed
the midwife to keep the knife.

"She can have her knife of gold, and you are granted a thousand gold
_mohurs_. But the cord will be cut with a string." This ceremony must
be a signal to all India, Jadar told himself, and he tried to recall
exactly the tradition started by Akman for newborn Moghul princes. The
birth cord of all Akman's three sons was cut with a silken string, then
placed in a velvet bag with writings from the Quran, and kept under the
new child's pillow for forty days.

The guard salaamed once more, his face in the carpet, and then scurried
toward the door, praising Allah. As Jadar rose and made his way toward
the corridor, a chant of "Jadar-o-Akbar," "Jadar is Great," rose from
the cheering Rajputs. Every man knew that with an heir, the prince was
at last ready to claim his birthright. And they would fight beside him
for it.

Mumtaz lay against a bolster, a fresh scarf tied around her head and a
roller bound about her abdomen, taking a draft of strong, garlic-
scented asafetida gum as Jadar came into the room. He immediately knew
she was well, for this anti-cold precaution was taken only after the
placenta was expelled and the mother's well-being assured. Next to her
side was a box of betel leaves, rolled especially with myrrh to purge
the taste of the asafetida.

"My congratulations, Highness." The _dai_ salaamed awkwardly from the
bedside. "May it please you to know the child is blind of an eye."

Jadar stared at her dumbfounded, then remembered she was a local Hindu
midwife, from Gujarat province, where the birth of a boy is never
spoken of, lest the gods grow jealous of the parents' good fortune and
loose the Evil Eye. Instead, boys were announced by declaring the child
blind in one eye. No precautions against divine jealousy were thought
necessary for a girl child, a financial liability no plausible god
would covet.

The _dai_ returned to washing Mumtaz's breasts, stroking them carefully
with wet blades of grass. Jadar knew this local ritual was believed to
ensure fortune for the child and he did not interrupt. He merely
returned Mumtaz's weak smile and strode to the silver basin resting by
the bedside, where another midwife was washing his new son in a murky
mixture of gram flour and water.

The frightened woman dried off the child, brushed his head with
perfumed oil, and placed him on a thin pillow of quilted calico for
Jadar to see. He was red and wrinkled and his dark eyes were startled.
But he was a prince.

Jadar touched the infant's warm hand as he examined him for
imperfections. There were none.

Someday, my first son, you may rule India as Moghul. If we both live
that long.

"Is he well?" Mumtaz spoke at last, her normally shrill voice now
scarcely above a whisper. "Are you pleased?"

"He'll do for now." Jadar smiled as he examined her tired face. She had
never seemed as beautiful as she did at this moment. He knew there was
no way he could ever show his great love for her, but he knew she
understood. And returned it. "Do these unbelievers know enough to
follow Muslim tradition?"

"Yes. A mullah has been summoned to sound the _azan_, the call to
prayer, in his ear."

"But a male child must first be announced with artillery. So he'll
never be afraid to fight." Jadar wasn't sure how much belief he put in
all these Muslim traditions, but the troops expected it and every
ceremony for this prince had to be observed. Lest superstitions begin
that he was somehow ill-fated. Superstitions are impossible to bury.
"This one is a prince. He will be greeted with cannon. Then I'll
immediately have his horoscope cast - for the Hindu troops - and schedule
his naming ceremony - for the Believers."

"What will you name him?"

"His first name will be Nushirvan. You can pick the others."

"Nushirvan was a haughty Persian king. And it's an ugly name."

"It's the name I've chosen." Jadar smiled wickedly, still mulling over
what name he would eventually pick.

Mumtaz did not argue. She had already selected the name Salaman, the
handsome young man Persian legends said was once created by a wise
magician. Salaman was an ideal lover. Whatever name Jadar chose,
Salaman would be his second name. And the one she would call him all
the coming years in the _zenana_, when he would creep into her bed
after Jadar had departed for his own quarters.

And we'll see what name he answers to seven years hence, on his
circumcision day.

The _dai _was busy spooning a mixture of honey, ghee, and opium into
the child's mouth. Then a drop of milk was pressed from Mumtaz's breast
and rubbed on the breast of the wet nurse. Jadar watched the ritual
with approval. Now for the most important tradition, the one begun by
Akman.

"Is the wrap ready?"

Akman had believed that the first clothes a Moghul prince wore should
be fashioned from an old garment of a Muslim holy man, and he had
requested a garment from the revered Sayyid Ali Shjirazi for his first
son. The custom had become fixed for the royal family.

"It's here. The woman in Surat heard a child was due and had this sent
to me in Agra before we left." She pointed to a folded loincloth, which
had been washed to a perfect white. "It was once worn by that Sufi you
adore, Samad."

"Good. I'm glad it's from Samad. But what woman in Surat do you mean?"

"You know who she is." Mumtaz looked around the crowded room, and
switched from Turki to Persian. "She sent the weekly reports of
Mukarrab Khan's affairs, and handled all the payments to those who
collected information in Surat."

Jadar nodded almost imperceptibly. "That one. Of course I remember her.
Her reports were always more reliable than the Shahbandar's. I find I
can never trust any number that thief gives me. I always have to ask
myself what he would wish it to be, and then adjust. But what happened
to her? I learned a month ago that Mukarrab Khan was being sent to Goa.
I think a certain woman of power in Agra finally realized I was
learning everything that went on at the port before she was, and
thought Mukarrab Khan had betrayed her."

"The Surat woman didn't go to Goa with Mukarrab Khan. She made him
divorce her. It was a scandal." Mumtaz smiled mysteriously. "You should
come to the women's quarters more often, and learn the news."

"But what happened to her?"

"There's a rumor in Surat that the Shahbandar, Mirza Nuruddin, is
hiding her in the women's quarters of his estate house. But actually
she left for Agra the next day, by the northern road. I'm very worried
what may happen to her there."

"How do you know all this? It sounds like bazaar gossip."

"It's all true enough. She sent a pigeon, to the fortress here. The
message was waiting when we arrived."

"It's good she's out of Surat. With Mukarrab Khan gone, she's no longer
any help there. But I've always wanted to thank her somehow. She's one
of the best. And our only woman. I don't think anyone ever guessed what
she really did."

"I will thank her for you. Her message was a request. Something only I
could arrange. A favor for a favor."

"And what was that?"

"Just something between women, my love. Nothing to do with armies and
wars." Mumtaz shifted on the bolster and took a perfumed pan. "Allah,
I'm tired."

Jadar studied her face again, marveling as always how it seemed to
attest to her spirit.

"Then rest. I hope the cannon won't disturb you."

"It should have been another girl. Then there'd be no cannon."

"And no heir." Jadar turned to leave and Mumtaz eased herself back on
the bolster. Then she lifted herself again and called Jadar.

"Who is escorting the English _feringhi_ to Agra?"

"Unfortunately it's Vasant Rao. And just when I need him. But he
demanded to do it personally."

"I'm glad." Mumtaz smiled weakly. "Have him see one of my servants
before they leave."

"Why should I bother him with that?"

"To humor me." She paused. "Is this _feringhi_ handsome?"

"Why do you ask?"

"A woman's curiosity."

"I haven't seen him yet. I do suspect he's quick. Perhaps too quick.
But I'll find out more tomorrow. And then I'll decide what I have to
do." Jadar paused at the doorway, while the dai pulled aside the
curtains that had been newly hung. "Sleep. And watch over my new
prince. He's our first victory in the Deccan. I pray to Allah he's not
our last."

He turned and was gone. Minutes later the cannon salutes began.



Hawksworth began to count the stone stairs after the third
twisting turn of the descending corridor, and his eyes searched through
the smoke and flickering torchlight for some order in the arched
doorways that opened out on each level as they went farther and farther
down. Ail object struck him across the face and his hand plunged for
his sword, before he remembered he had left it in his quarters, on
Jadar's command. Then he heard the high-pitched shriek of a bat and saw
it flutter into the shadows. The torchbearers were ten Rajputs of
Jadar's personal guard, armed with the usual swords and half-pikes.
None spoke as their footsteps clattered through the musty subterranean
air.

Hawksworth felt the dankness against the beads of sweat forming on his
skin. As the old memory of a dark prison welled up, he suddenly
realized he was terrified.

Why did I agree to meet him here? This is not "the lower level of the
fortress." This is a dungeon. But he can't detain me, not with a safe
conduct pass from the Moghul.

Still, he might try. If he wants to keep me out of Agra while he's away
on campaign. And he may. I already smell this campaign is doomed.

It was the evening of Hawksworth's third day in the Burhanpur fortress.
When the convoy arrived at the village of Bahadurpur, three _kos_ west
of Burhanpur, they had been met by Jadar's personal guards and escorted
through the city and into the walled compound of the fortress. He had
been given spacious, carpeted quarters, always guarded, and had seen no
one, not even Vasant Rao. Communications with Jadar had been by
courier, and finally they had agreed on a neutral meeting place. Jadar
had suggested a location in the palace where they would have privacy,
yet be outside his official quarters. Since they would meet as
officials of state, Jadar had insisted on no weapons.

No visible weapons, Hawksworth told himself, glad he wore boots.

The corridor narrowed slightly, then ended abruptly at a heavy wooden
door. Iron braces were patterned over the face of the door and in its
center was a small window, secured with heavy bars. Armed Rajputs stood
on either side and as Hawksworth's party approached they snapped about,
hands at their swords. Then the leader of Hawksworth's guards spoke
through the smoke-filled air, his voice echoing off the stone walls.

"Krishna plays his flute."

A voice came from the sentries at the door.

"And longing _gopis_ burn."

Again Hawksworth's guard.

"With a maid's desire."

Immediately the sentries slid back the ancient iron bolt that spanned
the face of the door. Then came the rasping

scrape of another bolt on the inside being released. When he heard the
sound, Hawksworth felt a surge of fear and stared around wildly at the
faces of the guards. They all stood menacingly, with a regal bearing
and expressionless faces. Each man had his hand loosely on his sword.

The door creaked slowly inward, and Hawksworth realized it was almost a
foot thick and probably weighed tons. The guards motioned him forward
and stood stiffly waiting for him to move. He calculated his chances
one more time, and with a shrug, walked through.

The room was enormous, with a high vaulted stone ceiling and a back
wall lost in its smoky recesses. Rows of oil lamps trailed down the
walls on either side of the door. The walls themselves were heavy gray
blocks of cut stone, carefully smoothed until they fit seamlessly
together without mortar. He asked himself how air reached the room,
then he traced the lamp smoke upward and noticed it disappeared through
ornate carvings that decorated the high roof of the chamber.

A heavy slam echoed off the walls and he turned to see the door had
been sealed. As his eyes adjusted to the lamplight he searched the
chamber. All he could see were long, neat rows of bundles, lining the
length of the stone floor. With a shock he realized they were the
bundles from the caravan. Otherwise the room seemed empty.

At that moment he caught a flicker of movement, a tall figure at the
far end of the chamber, passing shadowlike among the bundles, an
apparition. Then a voice sounded through the dense air.

"At last we meet." The stone walls threw back an eerie echo. "Is the
place to your liking?"

"I prefer sunlight." Hawksworth felt the cool of the room envelop his
skin. "Where I can see who I'm talking to."

"You are speaking to Prince Shapur Firdawsi Jadar, third son of the
Moghul. It's customary to salaam, Captain- General Hawksworth."

"I speak for His Majesty, King James the First of England. The sons of
kings normally bow before him."

"When I meet him, perhaps I will bow." Jadar emerged from among the
bundles. He had an elegant short beard and seemed much younger,
somehow, than Hawksworth had expected. "I'm surprised to see you alive,
Captain. How is it you still live while so many of my Rajputs died?"

"I live by my wits, not by my caste."

Jadar roared with genuine delight.

"Spoken like a Moghul." Then he sobered. "You'd be wise never to say
that to a Rajput, however. I often wonder how an army of Moghul troops
would fare against a division of Hindu unbelievers. I pray to Allah I
never find out." Jadar suddenly slipped a dagger from his waist and
held it loosely, fingering the blade. "_Feringhi_ Christians would be
another matter entirely, however. Did you come unarmed, Captain, as we
agreed?"

"I did." Hawksworth stared at the knife in dismay.

"Come, Captain, please don't ask me to believe you'd be such a fool."
Jadar slipped the dagger into his other hand with a quick twist and
tossed it atop one of the bundles. "But this meeting must be held in
trust. I ask that you leave your weapon beside mine."

Hawksworth hesitated, then slowly reached into his boot and withdrew a
small stiletto, the Portuguese knife left at the observatory. As he
dropped it beside Jadar's weapon, he noticed the prince's knife was
missing half its handle.

Jadar smiled. "You know, Captain, if I killed you here, now, there
would be no witness to the deed, save your Christian God."

"Do you plan to try?"

"I do not 'try' to do anything, Captain." Jadar opened his hand to
reveal that a dagger remained. It was the other side of his original
knife, which had been two blades fitted to appear as one. "What I do,
Captain, is merely a matter of what I decide to do. Right now I have
serious misgivings about your intentions in India."

Jadar's blade glinted in the lamplight as he moved toward Hawksworth.

"Is this your greeting for any who refuse to salaam?"

Hawksworth took a step backward toward the door, feinted toward his
boot, and rose with a cocked pistol leveled directly at Jadar. "What
game is this?"

The prince exploded with laughter, and before Hawksworth caught the
quick motion of his arm, the knife thudded deeply into the wooden door
behind him.

"Well done, Captain. Very well done." Jadar beamed in appreciation.
"You are, as I suspected, truly without the smallest shred of Rajput
honor. Put away your pistol. I think we can talk. And by the way, there
are twenty matchlocks trained on you right now." He waved toward the



Online LibraryThomas HooverThe Moghul → online text (page 25 of 52)