Copyright
Thomas Hoover.

The Moghul online

. (page 27 of 52)
Online LibraryThomas HooverThe Moghul → online text (page 27 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Englishman claims their disputes in Europe are now over, and that the
Portuguese attack on his ships was in violation of a treaty of peace
recently signed. Whether this is actually true no one knows. The
English ships are gone now, but if they come again, who can say what
will happen."

"Will they come again?" Nadir Sharifs eyes told nothing of his
thoughts, but his voice sharpened. "Soon?"

"The Englishman has not said. Perhaps next year. Perhaps before that."
Vasant Rao caught the inflection in Nadir Sharif's voice, and it
triggered a chain of improbable possibilities.

"Goa will never allow them open access to Surat. There must be war on
our seas if the English return." Nadir Sharif paused for a moment and
then continued. "Who do you think will triumph?"

"Ask those who claim the gift of prophecy, Sharif Sahib.

I'm only a soldier."

"That's why I asked you."

"I can only say that if other English are like this man, then they are
a determined race. He seems to seek the new because it is there, yet
perhaps not knowing what he will do with it once it is his."

"What do you mean?"

"The Englishman, Hawksworth. He claims to be here for his king and his
king only. But I sense this is only partly true. He is a man of complex
desires."

"Then why is he here?"

"I think he is here also for himself. He wants something."

"Perhaps it's to make war on the Portuguese?"

"He will not shrink from it. But I think his own coming to India is to
find something. He is searching, for what I cannot say. He is a man of
curious parts. He spoke once of spending time in prison. And he is
devoted to playing a small stringed instrument. He understands the
tongue of the Moghuls, and he questions all he sees. He is beginning to
know India, because he has made it his purpose to know India. If he
stays, he could become very troubling for the Portuguese."

"And will that bring no good to affairs here?" Nadir Sharif paused.
"Will it?"

"I do not follow matters of state, Sharif Sahib."

Nadir Sharif let the silence swell, then in a voice brittle as ice he
spoke.

"Why did the prince meet with him?"

Vasant Rao tried without success to mask his surprise. Lord Krishna,
they know everything in Agra.

"There was a meeting." Vasant Rao hesitated, then decided to maintain
discretion. "But neither spoke of it afterwards."

Nadir Sharif studied him, pondering if it were true. Then he turned to
glance at the _darshan_ balcony as he spoke.

"The Moghul has demanded that the English _feringhi_ be brought to
_durbar_ immediately after he arrives."

"Does that mean today?" Vasant Rao shifted with surprise.

"His Majesty will hear soon enough he has arrived. There

is no choice."

"Then the _feringhi_ must be told to prepare, Sharif Sahib. He has a
chest containing gifts, and the letter."

"I know what he has. Tell him he must bring the gifts to _durbar_. For
his sake I hope they're not trifles. His Majesty is most anxious to see
them."

And the queen is even more anxious to see the letter, Nadir Sharif told
himself. Then he smiled as he realized he would see it first.

It will be an interesting afternoon.

A fanfare of drums sounded faintly from the ramparts of the Red Fort,
and for a moment the morning sun seemed to glow even brighter against
the gleaming panels of the Jasmine Tower. Nadir Sharif turned toward
the _darshan_ balcony. From the shadow of its embroidered satin awning
a figure had suddenly emerged. It was just possible to make out the
man's glistening robe and his elaborate, patterned turban. Then the
heavy jewels of his earrings momentarily caught the morning sunshine
and sent streams of light flashing outward. All the waiting crowd bowed
low, each man touching the back of his right hand to the ground and
then bringing the palm to his forehead as he drew erect. It was the
formal _teslim_ given the Moghul, signifying each man's readiness to
give himself as an offering.

Nadir Sharif scrutinized the scene carefully and drew an almost audible
sigh of relief. Then he turned to Vasant Rao.

"Have you ever seen the Moghul at morning _darshan_? He continued on
distractedly, neglecting to pause for an answer. "You know, it's
actually a custom began by Akman, who worshiped the sun as one of the
gods. But Arangbar appears in order to maintain his own authority. If
he missed _darshan_ for a day, rumors would begin he was dead. Three
days and there would be anarchy."

Suddenly the cheers from the courtyard died abruptly. In the silence
that followed, a single pigeon's cry could be heard from overhead.
Nadir Sharif whirled to see a second figure now standing on the balcony
beside Arangbar.

It was a dark-haired woman. He could not tell if she wore a veil, but
her tiara of jewels glistened in the early sun. The color drained from
Nadir Sharif's face as he watched.

So the rumor was true. For the first time in history, she has appeared
beside him at _darshan_, to be worshiped equally.

Vasant Rao found himself staring in astonishment.

Queen Janahara. This is truly the beginning of the end for the prince.
He will never see Agra again. Unless he's at the head of an army, or in
chains.

"What does it mean?" Vasant Rao could think of nothing else to say.

"Times and fashions change. Perhaps it's a whim of His Majesty." Nadir
Sharif did not turn his gaze from the balcony. He did not want Vasant
Rao to see his eyes.

"Escort the _feringhi_ to _durbar_ today. He's not safe here alone."

"As you wish, Sharif Sahib." Vasant Rao paused and studied the back of
Nadir Sharifs turban. "Do you have a message for the prince when I
return?"

"Official channels will serve for any message I have to give the
prince." The prime minister whirled with uncharacteristic abruptness.
"That will be all. You would be wise to be out of Agra when the sun
rises tomorrow."

As Vasant Rao made his way past the waiting eunuchs, Nadir Sharif
turned once more to examine the _darshan_ balcony. He watched in
growing dismay as the courtiers on the platform began salaams to Queen
Janahara, who now stood boldly at the forefront of the canopied marble
portico.

Then he recalled the dispatch from Mumtaz.



A line of mounted Imperial guards cleared a pathway through the narrow
street, now a midday throng of bullock carts, dark-skinned porters,
ambling cattle, and black-veiled women balancing heavy brass pots atop
their heads. Along both sides of the street tan awnings shielded lines
of quick- eyed, bearded merchants, who squatted on their porches
beckoning all to inspect their unprecedented bargains in cloth, reeds,
betel leaves. Vendors sizzled flat bread in charcoal-fired round pans
and dropped balls of brown dough into dark pots of smoking oil,
seasoning the dusty air with piquant spice. Above the clatter of their
horses' hooves came a cacophony of street Hindi, squeaking cart wheels,
children's discordant piping.

Between the open shops were ornate doorways, framed in delicate
plasterwork scallops, leading upward to overhead balconies supported by
red sandstone brackets. Behind the latticework screens that fronted
these balconies - some carved rosewood, some filigreed marble - Hawksworth
could see clusters of idle women chewing betel and fanning themselves
as they leaned forward to inspect the procession below.

Hawksworth studied the helmeted guards around him, whose ornate shields
bore the Moghurs personal seal, and reflected on his introduction to
Agra. His caravan from the south had arrived at the city's outskirts
the evening before, after the sun's light had died away, and as he
requested, Vasant Rao had found a traditional guest house for them. It
was near the center of town, inconspicuous, and its primary amenities
were a rainproof thatch roof and a stone floor. Tomorrow, the Rajput
had told him, he must find a house befitting an ambassador.

The guards accompanying them into Agra had not even dismounted, had
turned back immediately for the south, and only Vasant Rao stayed to
share the evening meal. They had dined quickly on fried bread and
lentils and afterward the Rajput had retrieved his saddle from the
stable and, pillowing it under his helmet, immediately fallen asleep,
curved sword in hand. Hawksworth had lain awake listening to the night
sounds of Agra, wondering what his next move should be. Sleep finally
overtook him just before dawn broke.

He awoke to discover Vasant Rao already gone. But the Rajput had
mysteriously returned in time to share a breakfast of more fried bread
and spiced curds. After eating, Vasant Rao had announced that Arangbar
expected him in _durbar_ that afternoon. The rest of the morning had
been spent hastily procuring bearers for his chest of gifts and
cleaning the mildewed doublet and hose he had been instructed by the
Company to wear. Just after noon, a contingent of the Moghul's personal
guard had arrived

unexpectedly with orders to escort them through the center of Agra,
directly to the Moghul's private entrance to the Red Fort.

Their horses emerged abruptly from the narrow, jostling street and
Hawksworth realized they had entered a wide, sunlit plaza opening
outward from the fort's south gate. The close, acrid smells of the town
were immediately scourged by the searing midday heat. Hawksworth reined
in his horse and stared at the fort, incredulous at its immensity.

They were facing two concentric walls of polished red sandstone, the
outer easily forty feet high and the inner at least seventy. Both were
obviously thick, with battlements loop-holed for musketry and crowned
by rampart-ways. A wide wooden drawbridge leading to the entrance
spanned a thirty-foot, water-filled moat that followed the outer wall
in both directions as far as the eye could see.

It had to be the largest, most powerfully built fortress Hawksworth had
ever seen. No story he had heard, no imagined grandeur, had prepared
him for this first view. The sight was at once awesome and chilling.

No wonder the Moghul frightens all of India. It's impregnable. The
outer blocks of the walls seem to be linked by massive iron rings and
the round towers spaced along them have slots designed for heavy
ordnance. With two thick walls, which probably also have a moat
between, it would be impossible to storm. And cannon would be almost
useless.

Vasant Rao monitored Hawksworth's reaction, and his dark eyes betrayed
his pride. "Do you understand now why the Moghul is held in such
regard? No king in the world could have a palace as grand as this. Did
you know that the distance around the walls is over one _kos_. What
would that be? Around two of your English miles?"

Hawksworth nodded assent as their guards led them directly across the
wide drawbridge and through a passageway. The outer edge of the
drawbridge was connected by heavy chains to rollers at the top of the
entryway. The two rollers worked in a stone channel cut upward into the
steep walls of the passage and were held in place by iron bars inserted
into the channel. The bridge would lift automatically by simple removal
of the iron bars. Around them now was a small, heavily defended
barbican and ahead, between the outer and inner wall, was a gateway set
in a towering portal almost eighty feet high that was faced with
gleaming blue enamel tiles.

"How many gates like this are there?"

"The Red Fort actually has four gates, one on the river and one on each
of the other sides. This is the southern gate, which the Moghul
recently renamed the Amar Singh Gate" - Vasant Rao lowered his voice -
"after a defiant Rajput who he murdered. I have never seen it before,
but it is even more beautiful than the public Delhi Gate, on the north,
which is inlaid marble. The Red Fort is truly astonishing. Tell me,
Captain, is there anything in your England to compare?"

"Nothing." Hawksworth seached for his voice. "Why is it so large?"

"This is the place where India is governed. And the Moghul does not
live alone. He has to house over a thousand women, an army to protect
him and his treasury, and more servants than man can count." The Rajput
seemed momentarily puzzled by the question. Then he continued with a
sly smile. "The fort was built by the Moghul's father, the great Akman.
People say it required over eight years to complete. He also built
another complete city in the desert a few _kos_ west of here, but later
he abandoned it and moved back to Agra. Surely your English king
governs from a palace."

"His Majesty, King James, has a palace at Hampton Court." Hawksworth
paused. "But England is governed by laws made in Parliament, which has
its own place to meet."

"It sounds like you have a very weak king. Captain Hawksworth, if he
cannot rule." Vasant Rao glanced nervously at the guards. "You would do
well not to tell that to Arangbar. In India there is only one law, the
word of the Moghul."

As they entered the portico of the Amar Singh Gate, Hawksworth glanced
behind him, relieved to see that their porters still followed, one at
each side of his sea chest. Vasant Rao had cautioned him not to deliver
all the gifts at once, since Arangbar would expect a new gift each time
they met. King James's letter he carried personally, carefully secreted
inside his doublet.

Inside the archway of the gate were sets of thick wooden doors, opened
back against the sides. These inner doors bristled with long iron
spikes, and as Hawksworth puzzled over them, Vasant Rao caught his
questioning look.

"Those spikes embedded in the doors are to prevent war elephants from
battering them in with their foreheads. It's common in a fortress." He
smiled. "But then I keep forgetting your England probably has no
elephants."

Ahead, at the terminus of the archway, the path was blocked by a heavy
chain and armed sentries. The guards reined in their horses and began
to dismount, while their leader passed brusque orders to Vasant Rao.

"We ride no farther," Vasant Rao translated as he swung from the
saddle. "He says no one except the Moghul himself, his sons, or his
women is allowed to ride through the Amar Singh Gate. It's strictly
enforced."

Hawksworth paused one last time, feeling about him the weight of the
thick walls and the ornate tower rising above them, a great blue jewel
in the afternoon sun. For a moment he had the curious sensation of
entering a giant tomb. He took a deep breath and slowly dismounted,
feeling suddenly conspicuous in his formal silk hose and ruffled
doubtlet.

Vasant Rao passed the reins of his horse to a waiting servant and drew
alongside, his eyes intent. "Does it seem strange to you that the
Moghul would name one of the four gates to the Red Fort after a
Rajput?" He stroked the curl of his moustache, and lowered his voice.
"It's a story you should hear. It's not meant as an honor."

"What do you mean?"

"It's intended to be a warning to all Rajputs of what happens when he
is defied. There was, several years ago, a Rajput adventurer named Amar
Singh. He sought to rise to position in Arangbar's court - he eventually
did rise to the rank of a thousand horse - and along the way he asked and
received the help of an old courtier who had influence. Only later did
the Rajput find out that this man expected his younger daughter in
payment." Vasant Rao smile wryly. "They say she was incredibly
beautiful. Well, Amar Singh was a true Rajput, and he was outraged.
Naturally he refused. So the courtier who had helped him decided to
have revenge, and he went to Arangbar and told him about a certain
beautiful Rajput girl who would make an excellent addition to the
_zenana_. The Moghul immediately sent some of his personal guards to
Amar Singh's house to take the girl. When Amar Singh realized why the
guards had come, he called for the girl and stabbed her to death before
their eyes. Then he took horse and rode to the Red Fort, even riding
through this gate. He rode into the audience hall and demanded that
Arangbar appear and explain. Such things, Captain, are simply not done
in Agra. The moment he dismounted he was cut to pieces by a dozen of
Arangbar's guards. Then the Moghul decided to name this gate after him,
to remind all Rajputs of his fate. But he need not have bothered. No
Rajput will ever forget."

Leaving the servants with their horses, they proceeded on foot up a
wide, inclined path that led through an enclosed square. Around the
sides of the square were porticoes and galleries, where horsemen with
swords and pikes waited.

"Those men are on their _chauki_, their seventh-day watch." Vasant Rao
pointed to the porticoes. "Every soldier in Agra must stand watch once
every seven days. Either here or in the large square inside, where
we're going. It's the Moghul's law."

They passed through another large gate and suddenly a half dozen
turbaned guards, in leather armor and wearing long curved swords, drew
alongside, as though expecting them. Now with a double escort they
began the ascent of a long walkway, perhaps twenty paces wide, situated
between two high brick walls. Hawksworth's leather shoes padded against
the square paving stones, which had been striated to permit easy
footing for the Moghurs horses and elephants. As they reached the end,
they emerged into another large court, comprising the southeast corner
of the fort.

Ahead was yet a fourth gate. As they passed through, Hawksworth
realized it was protected by more mounted

horsemen in the recessed lower porticoes, and archers in elevated
galleries. They walked past the wide wooden doors and into a vast
milling square. It was several hundred feet on the side and ringed with
arcades where still more mounted horsemen waited. A wide roadway
divided the square.

"This is the quadrangle. I only saw it once before, but then I entered
from the public side." Vasant Rao indicated an identical gate, directly
opposite. "Over there."

The guards directed them toward a large multicolored silk canopy
fanning out from the tall buildings on their right. The area beneath
the canopy was cordoned off from the square by a red velvet railing,
and porters with cudgels stood around the perimeter. Vasant Rao seemed
increasingly nervous as their escorts led them forward, past the guards
at the entry to the canopy. Hawksworth noticed that the air beneath the
canopy was heavy with incense - ambergris and aloe - burning in gold and
silver censers hanging from poles.

"The arcade ahead is the _Diwan-i-Am_, the Hall of Public Audience,
where the Moghul holds his daily _durbar_." Vasant Rao pointed toward
the steps that led upward to a large open pavilion at the far end of
the canopy. It was several stories high and over a hundred feet on each
side. The roof was borne by marble arches supported by rows of white
columns. "No man with rank under five hundred horse is allowed to enter
inside the railing. I think that's why we have a special escort."

Above the crowd, at the far end of the hall, was a raised platform of
white marble, standing about three feet from the floor and covered by
its own tapestried canopy. The platform was surrounded by a silver
railing, and several turbaned men holding rolls of documents were now
struggling to gain a position at the rail. All around them the crowd
buzzed with anticipation.

Behind and above the platform, in a marble gallery set in the wall,
rested an immense throne carved from black marble. At its four corners
were life-sized statues of rearing lions, each spangled with jewels,
which supported in their silver paws a canopy of pure gold. The walls
on either side of the throne were latticework marble screens, through
which the _zenana_ women could watch.

"I've never seen the throne this close before. It's famous." Vasant Rao
paused. "And there are some in Agra who would sell their brother to
have it."

The Imperial guards suddenly saluted, fists against their leather
shields, turned and marched down the steps of the _Diwan-i-Am_ and back
into the square. Vasant Rao watched them disappear into the crowd and
then he shook the left sleeve of his riding cloak and a naked _katar_,
the deadly "tiger knife" all Rajputs carried, dropped into his hand.
Its handle was a gold-plated grip between two prongs, designed to be
held in the fist and thrust directly forward. Without a word he slipped
it into a sheath secured in the sash of his belt.

Hawksworth pretended not to notice and instead turned to examine the
crowd. Next to them an assembly of Persian diplomats, wearing heavy
robes and jewel-encrusted turbans, eyed Hawksworth's plain doublet and
hose with open contempt. The air was thick was sweat and incense and
the sparkle of gold and jewels.

Uniformed servants sounded a drum roll on two large brass kettles at
the back of the throne and the velvet curtains behind the throne
parted. Two guards with gold-handled swords entered briskly and stood
at attention, one on either side of the parted curtains.

Hawksworth felt his pulse surge as the next figure entered through the
curtains.

He was of middle height, with a small moustache and glistening diamond
earrings. He wore a tight patterned turban, a blue robe secured by a
gold brocade sash, jeweled rings on both hands, and a massive string of
pearls. A golden-handled sword and dagger were at his waist, and two
feline cubs frisked by his side. Hawksworth studied them in confusion,
and after a moment realized they must be baby lions, an animal famous
in English folklore but never actually seen firsthand by anyone in
England.

At that instant a din of kettledrums erupted from galleries at the
sides of the square. Almost as one those waiting called out a salaam,
bent forward, and touched the back of their right hand to the ground
and then to their forehead as they drew erect. The _durbar_ of the
Moghul had begun.

"You did not perform the _teslim_." Vasant Rao turned to Hawksworth
with dismay in his voice. "He may have taken note of it. That was
unwise, my friend."

"An ambassador for a king doesn't prostrate himself."

"You're new to India. That may be taken as an excuse. The other
ambassadors here know better."

As they watched, three other men slowly emerged from behind the throne
and took their places on the marble platform, standing beside the
Moghul. They all wore jeweled turbans and each had a sash of gold cloth
about the waist. Hawksworth turned to Vasant Rao in time to see a look
of hatred flash through his eyes.

"Who are they?"

"The two younger men are his sons. I saw them once before in Agra. It's
traditional that his sons join him at the _durbar_ when they are here.
The younger one is Allaudin. He will be married next month to Queen
Janahara's daughter. The other one is his drunken brother Parwaz. The
older man is Zainul Beg, the Moghurs _wazir_, his chief counsel. He's
the father of Nadir Sharif, the prime minister, and he's also the
father of Queen Janahara."

Hawksworth watched as yet another man emerged through the curtain,
walked casually past the throne, and was helped onto the marble
platform directly in front. He turned to the silver rail, where a dozen
petitions were immediately thrust up to him.

Vasant Rao nudged Hawksworth and pointed. "And that's Nadir Sharif, the
prime minister. Remember him well. No one reaches the Moghul without
his consent."

The prime minister paused to study the faces below, and then reached
out for a petition. He unrolled it, scanned it quickly, and turned to
Arangbar, passing it upward with a comment only those by the throne
could hear. The business of the day was underway.

Arangbar listened with obvious boredom as one petition after another
was set before him. He held counsel with his sons and with the _wazir_,
and frequently he would turn to the marble screen off the right side of
the throne and discuss a petition with someone waiting behind it.

Below the platform several ambassadors shuffled, trying to mask their
impatience. Hawksworth suddenly realized that the jewel-encrusted boxes
they held, many of beaten gold, contained presents for the Moghul. He
looked at his own leatherbound wooden chest, shabby by comparison, and
his heart began to sink.

After a short while, the Moghul seemed to lose patience with the
petitions and, ignoring the waiting nobles, abruptly signaled for a
review of the day's elephant troops. Moments later, a line of war
elephants entered through the public gate and began to march single-
file across the back of the square. Their tusks were wreathed with gold
bands and they wore coverings of embroidered cloth which were strung
with tinkling bells and tassels of Tibetan yak hair. As each reached a
spot directly in front of the _Diwan-i-Am_ it stopped, kneeled, and



Online LibraryThomas HooverThe Moghul → online text (page 27 of 52)