Thomas Hoover.

The Moghul online

. (page 28 of 52)
Online LibraryThomas HooverThe Moghul → online text (page 28 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

trumpeted to Arangbar.

When the last elephant had passed, drums were sounded again and a group
of eight men came into the square leading a snarling beast by heavy
chains attached to its iron collar. It was tawny, with a heavy mane and
powerful paws, and it roared out its displeasure as it writhed and
clawed at the chains.

Hawksworth took one look and realized it was a fully-grown male lion.

"That seems to be His Majesty's new toy." Vasant Rao pointed nervously.
"He collects lions as pets. That one must have just been captured."

Arangbar studied the lion with obvious delight. Then he bent down and
stroked one of the cubs by his side, lifting it to better view the new
prize. The assembly watched spellbound for a moment, then burst into

As Hawksworth watched, Arangbar set down the lion cub and spoke with
his _wazir_. Zainul Beg stared into the crowd and then pointed. Moments
later the black cassock of a Jesuit appeared at the railing. With a
start Hawksworth recognized Father Alvarez Sarmento, last seen in the
courtyard of Mukarrab Khan's palace in Surat. The Jesuit listened to
the _wazir's_ instructions and then turned to the crowd. His
announcement was in English.

"His Majesty orders the ambassador from England to come forward."

Vasant Rao touched Hawksworth's arm and reached out to clasp his hand.

"This is your moment, my friend. By the time _durbar_ is through I will
be far from here."

"Why are you leaving?" Hawksworth turned and looked into his eyes,
suddenly realizing that Vasant Rao was the closest thing he had to a
friend in India.

"It's impossible for me to stay longer." Vasant Rao paused, and
Hawksworth sensed his warmth was genuine. Suddenly the Rajput reached
into the sash at his belt and drew out his sheathed _katar_. "You saved
my life once, in the village, and I've never found the words to thank
you. Perhaps this can say it for me. Take it as a token of friendship
from a Rajput. It was given to me by my father, and it has tasted blood
more times than I can count. You're a brave and honest man, and I think
we'll meet again."

Before Hawksworth could speak, Vasant Rao embraced him warmly and
melted into the crowd.

A pathway was clearing through the glaring nobles, and Hawksworth
quickly slipped the katar into his doublet as he leaned over to secure
the chest. When he reached the silver railing, Sarmento was waiting.

"Let me welcome you to Agra, Captain." The Jesuit spoke quietly in
English, his face a hard mask. "I pray God gave you a pleasant

"I thought you were bound for Lahore."

"In time, Captain, in time. But we have an Agra mission as well. Our
flock here grows. It must be tended. And do you remember what we agreed
that night in Surat?"

"Translate for the Inglish ambassador." Arangbar's voice interrupted,
speaking in Persian. "I would know his name."

"He asks your name." Sarmento spoke quietly to Hawksworth in English.
"You must bow when you give it."

"I am Captain-General Brian Hawksworth, ambassador of His Majesty, King
James the First of England." Hawksworth replied in Turkish, trying to
remember the speech he had been told to deliver. A look of delighted
surprise flashed through Arangbar's eyes. Hawksworth bowed and then
continued. "His Majesty, King James, has asked me to convey his
friendship to His Most Noble Majesty, Arangbar, Moghul of India,
together with certain unworthy tokens of his regard." Hawksworth tried
to think quickly of a way to explain the unimpressive gifts King James
had sent. "Those trifles he sends are not intended as gifts deserving
of Your Majesty, for that would be a bounty no single man could
deliver. Instead he has asked me to bring certain common products of
our country, not as gifts, for they are too unworthy, but as samples of
English workmanship that Your Majesty may examine personally the goods
he offers your merchants in trade. These are the first of many, more-
worthy gifts he is now assembling for Your Majesty, to be sent on
future voyages to your land."

"You speak the tongue of the Moghuls, Ambassador. Already your king
does me honor. I welcome you in his name." Arangbar leaned forward to
watch as Hawksworth opened the clasp on the chest.

The first items were samples of English woolens, lace, and brocade,
crafted into doublets. Hawksworth laid these aside and took out a
silver-trimmed brace of pistols, a gold- handled sword, an hourglass in
carved ivory, and finally a gold whistle studded with small diamonds.
The Moghul peered down from his marble throne impassively, and then
called for them to be brought to him.

While he examined each gift briefly, assessing it with a quick glance
and calling for the next, Hawksworth reached into the corner of the box
and withdrew the next present, a three-cornered English hat topped with
a feather. When Arangbar saw the hat his eyes brightened.

"At last I can look like a _topiwallah_." He pushed aside the other
gifts and called for the hat. He turned it in his hand for a moment,
then removed his jeweled turban and clapped it on his head with

"The _feringhi_ hat is a puzzling invention, Ambassador Khawksworth."
Arangbar stumbled over the pronunciation of the name as he signaled for
a mirror. "What purpose it serves I have never understood. You, I
observe, do not wear one yourself."

"Hats are not to my taste, may it please Your Majesty." Hawksworth
bowed again and then continued. "His Majesty, King James of England,
also has asked me to deliver a portrait of himself to Your Majesty,
together with letter expressing his desire for friendship between your
land and his." Hawksworth produced a small framed watercolor from the
wooden chest. It was a miniature on vellum, scarcely more than an inch
square, by Isaac Oliver, a celebrated artist from the school of
Nicholas Hilliard, who had been fashionable under Queen Elizabeth.
While Arangbar examined the painting, scrutinizing the workmanship as
might a connoisseur, Hawksworth reached into his doublet and withdrew
the letter. It was passed to Nadir Sharif, who presented it to

The Moghul reluctantly handed the portrait to Allaudin, then inspected
the leather binding of the letter. Finally he broke the red wax seal
and began to study the writing, a quizzical expression spreading over
his face.

"The seal and script are worthy of a king. But it is in a language of

"There are two copies, Your Majesty. One in English, the language of my
king, and one in Spanish, a language something like the Portugals

"Then we will have Father Sarmento translate."

Sarmento moved to the silver railing and took the leatherbound letter
with a distasteful expression. He examined it for a moment and then
began to read it silently, the color slowly draining from his face.

"What message does your king send, Ambassador?"

"His admiration for Your Majesty, whose reputation has reached even
Europe. And his offer of full and open trade between your nation and

"The letter is basely penned, Your Majesty." Sarmento's face was red
with dismay as he turned to Arangbar. "Its style is unworthy of a great

Arangbar examined the Jesuit with a troubled gaze and shifted on his

"May it please Your Majesty, this man is the enemy of England."
Hawksworth pointed at Sarmento. "How can my king's letter be ill-
penned, when he entreats Your Majesty's friendship?"

Arangbar paused a moment and then he smiled broadly. "A reasonable
reply. The Inglish, I see, are a blunt-spoken race." He glanced at
Sarmento. "And we have already seen their seamanship."

"Your words honor my king, Your Majesty." Hawksworth found himself
bowing again and wondering how to respond.

"We would hear more of England. Is it large?"

"Not nearly as large as India, Your Majesty. It is an island, but the
queen of all the islands of the West."

"It is a rocky, barren speck in the great seas of Europe, Your
Majesty," Sarmento interjected himself, straining to hold his
composure. "A breeder of drunken fishermen and pirates. Its king is a
heretic, a sovereign of lawless privateers and an enemy of the Holy

"It is a noble land, Your Majesty, ruled by a free king, not by a
Spanish tyrant or an Italian pope, like the land of the Portugals. Our
cannon are the best in the world, our ships the swiftest, our men the
bravest. No flag but our own has ever flown above our soil. Our ships
have sailed all the seas of the world, from the East to the West. My
king's seamen have explored the seas north of England, searching for a
northeast passage to the Indies, and the Americas, searching for a
northwest passage. Off your own shores we have met the galleons of
Portugal, as Your Majesty must know, and in the West Indies we have
challenged and overcome the carracks of Papist Spain. There brave
English captains named Hawkins and Drake stood off Spaniards ten times
their number. The very name of England strikes fear in the heart of a
Portugal or a Spaniard."

Arangbar toyed with the jeweled whistle as he listened. "Your England
interests us, Ambassador Khawksworth." He paused for a moment and
reviewed the small, dispiriting assemblage of gifts. "We would know
when your king's next voyage will be."

"Very soon, may it please Your Majesty." Hawksworth squirmed, and
noticed Nadir Sharif suddenly edge closer to listen.

"But your king must send out voyages regularly? We have heard of the
English traders in our southern seas. Do you not know when the next
voyage will be, or what gifts your king is preparing? Surely he will
send them this year?"

"May it please Your Majesty" - Hawksworth fumbled with the railing,
trying to gain time - "I . . ."

Prince Parwaz suddenly plucked at Arangbar's arm and pointed into the
crowd. A tall bearded man with a vast turban and two ornate swords at
his side had moved next to the silver railing, near Hawksworth, holding
a petition in his hand.

"He is the man I spoke of yesterday." Parwaz spoke in Turki, and his
words seemed slurred. Hawksworth realized he was tipsy. "I told him to
bring his petition today personally. He's a commander with the rank of
a thousand horse. His stipend is eight thousand rupees a month. He
claims he has served honorably, most recently in the siege of Qandahar,
but that he must resign his _mansab_ and dismiss his men and horse
unless his stipend is increased."

Arangbar examined the man for a moment, then addressed him in Turki.

"What is your name and rank?"

"I am Amanat Mubarik, Your Majesty. I maintain a thousand horse, the
finest Arabian blood in India." The man stood straight and spoke with a
loud, clear voice.

"Is not your stipend the amount prescribed any man who maintains that

"It is, Your Highness. But I am not any man. I am a Pathan, and my
father was Fath Shah. No enemy of Your Majesty has ever seen the back
of my shield. His Highness, Prince Parwaz, saw me defend the royal
encampment five years ago when he moved south of the Narbada. With my
cavalry I held position when all others called for retreat. I challenge
any man here today to do me battle in your presence. With any weapon.
On horseback or on foot. Then you may decide if I am as other men."

The Moghul examined him carefully for a long moment.

"If you are not like other men, then I will let you prove it." Arangbar
pointed beyond the marble porticoes. "Will you fight with the lion?"

The Pathan commander turned and stared blankly into the sunlit square,
where the captured lion was snarling and pawing at its chains.

"A lion is a wild beast, Your Majesty. What trial is it for a man to
contest with a lion?"

"I think it would be the best trial of all." Arangbar's eyes began to

"A beast has no understanding, Majesty." He shifted nervously as he
realized Arangbar was not jesting. "It's not a fit thing for a man to

"You will joust with him." The fancy seemed to flood Arangbar with
pleasure, and he turned abruptly to one of the guards. "Give him a
glove and a truncheon. That should suffice for a man who claims bravery
above all others."

Hawksworth watched in disbelief as the dazed commander was led from the
_Diwan-i-Am_ and into the quadrangle. A murmur of amazement passed
through the crowd.

The square cleared quickly as the lion was brought forward by its
keepers. Still incredulous, the Pathan slowly pulled the heavy glove
onto his left hand, then he took the truncheon, no more than a foot and
a half long, in his right. Guards took his swords and turban and in
moments he and the lion were faced off in the afternoon sunshine.

Hawksworth forced himself to watch as the commander began to spar with
the lion, a young male with powerful claws. He managed to cudgel the
lion several times, with the effect that it became more enraged than
harmed. Then with a roar it sprang, pulling free of its keepers, and
they went down together, rolling in the dust of the square.

The Pathan continued to bravely cudgel the lion, even while its claws
ripped across his face and arms. Hawksworth watched the lion's hard
tail whip for balance as it pawed again and again at the truncheon.
Suddenly the man pulled free of its grasp and, with a wide arcing
swing, brought the truncheon directly across the crown of the lion's
head. Its rear haunches clawed upward spastically and then it pitched
unconscious into the bloody dust, its body still twitching.

A cheer rose from the crowd of onlookers as the Pathan slowly drew
himself erect. Hawksworth realized that the right side of his face had
been completely ripped away by the lion's sharp claws. He made a few
halting steps toward the _Diwan-i-Am_, wheeled dizzily, and collapsed
in a pool of blood. He was dead by the time the guards reached him.

Arangbar had watched in spellbound delight. He clapped his hands and
turned to Parwaz, whose glazed eyes seemed not to have fully
comprehended the spectacle.

"Astounding. I never knew a man could kill a lion with a mere club. He
was braver than he knew. If he has sons, I will allow them to keep half
his estate." Arangbar turned to the guard captain standing by the
curtained entrance. "Tomorrow select ten of your best men and we will
bring more lions. What better test of bravery?"

The uniformed men standing at attention around the perimeter of the
_Diwan-i-Am_ all blanched but their eyes remained fixed straight ahead.
Then Arangbar suddenly remembered Hawksworth.

"Does England have men as brave as ours, Ambassador?"

Hawksworth felt a cold sweat in his palms.

"No man in England would dare challenge one of Your Majesty's lions."

Arangbar laughed loudly. Before he could respond, the _wazir_ was
whispering in his ear. He glanced at the marble screen directly behind
his throne and nodded. Then he turned to Hawksworth.

"We are called away, Ambassador. I'm told I must take my afternoon
rest. This is the time of day I retire to the _zenana_ for one
_pahar_." He winked and gestured toward the marble screen. "Her Majesty
rules our time. But I want to speak more with you today about this
island of England. And about your king's schedule for trade. You will
attend me in the Diwan-i-Khas this evening."

"As Your Majesty pleases."

As Arangbar rose his eye caught the painting. He picked it up and
scrutinized it, then turned to Hawksworth.

"Is this a fair example of Inglish painting?"

"It came from the school of a celebrated artist, Your Majesty. His
Majesty, King James, sat to have it painted especially for you."
Hawksworth sensed that Arangbar had taken more interest in the painting
than in any of the other gifts, except perhaps the hat. "The painters
of England are the finest in the world."

The Moghul stirred slightly and then summoned a small, wiry man with
heavy brows from the first row of courtiers. He briskly moved to the
front and salaamed to Arangbar. The Moghul passed the painting to him
and together they studied it, conversing quietly in Persian. Then
Arangbar turned to Hawksworth.

"We have a school of artists here in the palace, Ambassador
Khawksworth. This man, who directs the school, says this portrait's
background is too dark, the eyes lifeless. And it is neither three-
quarter nor full face, as is our proven convention. Consequently it
gives no sense of your king's depth of character." Arangbar smiled. "He
also says the portraits he and his men execute are far more difficult.
They catch the soul of the man, not merely his physical likeness."

"May it please Your Majesty, I cannot accept what he says."

Arangbar translated to the artist, who replied quickly in Persian,
casting a quick, contemptuous glance at Hawksworth.

"He declares he could easily duplicate this simple portrait of your
king, in a likeness so exact you could not tell his copy from the

"Such a thing is not possible, Your Majesty. No man in the world could
execute this exact painting, save the man who first put in on paper."

Arangbar again translated for his painter, who replied animatedly.

"My Chief Painter says he and his workshop could easily

produce four copies of this, any one of which would pass for the

"May it please Your Majesty, I say it is impossible. European painting
is a centuries' old tradition, requiring years of apprenticeship and

The men around Hawksworth had begun to shift uncomfortably. The Moghul
was never contradicted. Yet he seemed to relish the dispute.

"Then we'll set a wager. What will you wager me, Ambassador, that I can
make this one painting of your king into five?"

"I know not what to lay with so great a prince, nor does it befit me to
name a sum to Your Majesty." Hawksworth shifted uneasily, unsure of the
protocol of betting with kings.

"Then if you'll not wager with me, wager with my painter."

"Begging Your Majesty's pardon, your painter is no more suited to wager
with an ambassador than I am to wager with Your Majesty."

"Then wager with my prime minister." He turned to Nadir Sharif. "What
will you lay?"

"Five thousand gold mohurs, Majesty."

Hawksworth swallowed hard, realizing the amount was almost ten thousand
pounds English sterling, more money than he had ever seen.

"Money is not an honorable bet among those who speak for great princes,
Your Majesty." Hawksworth glanced about wildly, then an idea came. "But
perhaps I could wager your prime minister a horse, a fine Arabian

"Done." Arangbar beamed. "I'll have the paintings tonight."

The painter stared at Arangbar in dismay.

"It's not possible, Majesty. There's not time."

"You'll find a way. Or you'll owe Nadir Sharif a horse."

Arangbar passed the painting back to the painter and whirled with a
flourish to leave. Around Hawksworth the nobles all bowed to the

Hawksworth turned quickly to scan the back of the crowd, but Vasant Rao
had disappeared. Then guards surrounded him and before he knew what was
happening he was swept past Sarmento, whose eyes still glowed with
hatred, toward a marble doorway at the corner of the _Diwan-i-Am_.


"Ambassador Hawksworth, His Majesty has asked me to ensure you
are wanting in nothing while you wait." Nadir Sharif was standing on
the wide marble balcony when Hawksworth emerged from the stairs that
led upward from the _Diwan-i-Am_ to the interior courtyard of the
palace. He salaamed with practiced dignity even as his darting eyes
assessed Hawksworth in a quick sweep. "As prime minister for His
Majesty it is my duty, indeed my pleasure, to attend your comfort and
acquaint you with our protocol."

"I thank you on behalf of His Majesty, King James." Hawksworth
awkwardly tried to salaam in return, careful not to bend as low as the
prime minister.

"Perhaps I can begin by acquainting you with the palace." He gestured
toward the open courtyard, where workmen thronged installing marble
fountains, and the rest of the encircling second-story balcony. "The
stalls below us are where the wives of merchants sometimes come to
offer finery to the women of the _zenana_. Now they are being readied
for His Majesty's birthday celebration. And there, across the way" - he
pointed to a massive silk canopy covering a pavilion opposite the
square, on the riverside of the palace - "is the _Diwan-i-Khas_, where
His Majesty holds his evening gatherings. To the left are His Majesty's
baths and on the right, projecting out over the river, is the Jasmine
Tower of Queen Janahara. Now please follow me. His Majesty has honored
you by inviting you to wait for him in the _Diwan-i- Khas_. The only
other _feringhis _ever to see it are the Jesuits he sometimes invites
here to debate with the mullahs."

Around them the marble porticoes had been carved in relief, a profusion
of flowers and vines, creating a monochromatic garden in stone. The
floors were patterned marble and the walls decorated with hanging
tapestries. As they entered the _Diwan-i-Khas, _Hawksworth noticed its
floor was covered with a vast Persian carpet, over which had been
scattered bolsters and pillows for lounging. On the side nearest the
interior square was a foot-high platform in white marble and on the
opposite side, facing a gallery overlooking the arena below and the
Jamuna River beyond, was a similar platform in black marble. Both were
padded with rich carpets.

"His Majesty uses the white throne in evenings, and the black in the
afternoons, when he sometimes comes here to watch elephant fights in
the square below. The doorway there leads to Her Majesty's apartments."

"Where is His Majesty now?"

"He has retired to the _zenana _for one _pahar_, three hours, where he
dines on roasted meats, some wine, and passes the time agreeably. Each
afternoon Her Majesty selects a woman for him." Moghul smiled.
"Naturally it's never the same one. Her Majesty is always first in his
heart, but she never allows his wanton affections to wander. Afterward
he comes here for his evening gathering." Nadir Sharif walked to the
gallery and looked down on the river. Far below, on the opposite bank,
a caravan of heavily loaded camels passed silently. "By the way, His
Majesty has asked me to inquire if you have a lodging yet, Ambassador."

"I have references for brokers, and tomorrow I'll begin to look."

"And personal servants?"

"I'd hoped they'd be provided with the house."

"His Majesty may wish to arrange lodgings for you." Nadir Sharif turned
back toward Hawksworth and paused for a moment before continuing. "In
Agra ambassadors must acquire their lodgings and servants with care.
There is, regrettably, a certain amount of intrigue in our city.
Trustworthy and efficient servants are not always the easiest thing to
find. Perhaps I should raise the matter of your lodging and servants
with His Majesty."

"There's no reason to trouble His Majesty. I'll contact the

brokers tomorrow." Hawksworth's tone was level but firm, suspecting
that any servants picked for him would be spies. And if they turned out
to be "trustworthy and efficient" rather than lazy and begrudging,
there would be no doubt.

"The matter rests with His Majesty." Nadir Sharif watched as a eunuch
entered bearing a tray with glasses of _sharbat_. A _sarangi _player
followed him and settled in the corner, striking up a mournful-sounding
tune on an instrument that looked like a bloated violin and sounded, to
Hawksworth, like a distressed cat.

"Have you engaged an agent yet, Ambassador?" Nadir Sharif directed the
tray toward Hawksworth.

"What do you mean?"

"If your king wishes to trade large quantities of commodity, he will
certainly require an agent here in Agra. To ensure that documents and
approvals are handled efficiently." Nadir Sharif sighed. "Officials
here naturally prefer to work with someone who understands their . . .
requirements. An agent will be essential, if your king expects to trade
heavily." Nadir Sharif paused. "I presume that is his intention,
assuming His Majesty approves the _firman_?"

Hawksworth examined Nadir Sharif for a moment, assuming he was offering
to be the agent for King James. Or was he merely hoping to elicit trade
information to pass on to the Portuguese.

"I'll engage an agent when the time seems proper. For now I have no
_firman_." Then a light suddenly dawned somewhere in Hawksworth's
brain. "But I suppose I'll need an 'agent' for that as well?"

"It could prove useful. His Majesty can be distressingly absentminded."

"And what would be this agent's fee?"

"It depends on the difficulty involved." Nadir Sharif's face remained

"I would say it also depends on whether he's successful."

Online LibraryThomas HooverThe Moghul → online text (page 28 of 52)