"So it would. But he would need more information on English trading
intentions than you have divulged so far."
"That will come in time, when I know more about the 'agent.'"
"Naturally." Nadir Sharif cleared his throat. "But enough
of affairs. Permit me to toast your arrival. When your request for a
safe-conduct pass arrived from Surat, we all wondered if a _feringhi
_new to India could successfully travel our bandit-infested roads, even
with the Moghul's pass." He took a delicate sip of the beverage. "I
trust your journey was without mishap."
"For the most part."
"A diplomatic answer. But you seem to have survived all parts well
enough. Did you take the Burhanpur road?"
"Ah, then perhaps you passed Prince Jadar. I understand he was there
recently." Nadir Sharif smiled disarmingly. "I always welcome news of
him. You may know he's married to my first daughter, Mumtaz. I hear she
just presented him with his first son."
"He was in Burhanpur when I arrived. But I was only there for three
"Not a very interesting city, I'm told. But they say the Deccan itself
is quite beautiful in harvest. I envy you your trip. I, alas, rarely
can escape Agra, except when His Majesty goes to Kashmir in the heat of
summer." Nadir Sharif signaled the eunuch to refill Hawksworth's cup.
The _sarangi _player had been joined by a drummer, who took up a slow,
even rhythm. "Did I understand you to say you met the prince while you
Hawksworth hesitated and studied Nadir Sharif, not remembering he had
mentioned meeting Jadar. "Actually I did see him briefly once. He was
in the fortress, where I stayed."
"Ah yes, the fortress. That was wise of you, considering the situation
now. I'm pleased he invited you to join him."
"As it happened, I traveled from Surat with men from his guard. Their
destination was the fortress."
"His guards? Then you were most fortunate indeed." Nadir Sharif seemed
to listen absently to the melody for a moment. "I'm always a bit stupid
about military campaigns. What would men from his guards be doing in
Hawksworth heard an inner alarm suddenly sound. "I think they were
there to accompany a convoy."
"A convoy? From Surat? Odd. But then I rarely understand these things.
What was it bringing?" Nadir Sharif chuckled congenially. "Barrels of
Persian wine for the prince, I would venture to guess?"
"I understand it was lead for shot."
Nadir Sharif gave Hawksworth a quick, troubled glance. "I see. Yes,
lead would require a guard. But Prince Jadar's Rajputs virtually scorn
to use muskets, so I assume it was rather a small number of carts."
Hawksworth straightened his doublet, shifting the location of Vasant
Rao's katar. "I don't recall the precise number."
"Naturally. I'm confused by numbers myself. Probably something like
twenty, I suppose. Certainly, I would presume, no more than fifty?"
"I didn't count the exact number."
"Too many to count? I see." Nadir Sharif seemed to be only half
attentive to the conversation, as he swung his head from side to side
in appreciation of the accelerating tempo of the drummer. "Doubtless it
was some of the very lead I'm told you brought for trade."
"It wasn't English."
"Ah, then I suppose it was Portuguese. I assume you must have noticed."
"Not actually." Hawksworth paused. "It wasn't really my concern."
"Yes, quite so." Nadir Sharif walked again to the gallery and stood
silent, still swinging his head absently to the time of the music. The
pieces of the puzzle had already dropped into place.
So that's how Jadar did it. And only one man in Surat could have
provided the prince the silver he needed, that contemptible son of a
moneylender Mirza Nuruddin. He's uncontrollable. But even if the prince
survives the Deccan, what can he do? The Imperial army . . .
Allah, it's obvious! There's only one way he can ever march north with
enough men to meet Janahara's army. By the Merciful Prophet, he's mad!
Nadir Sharif coughed lightly and turned back toward the
room. "Ambassador Hawksworth, would you care for some wine? You need
not be squeamish, His Majesty has always admired men who drink. I would
join you, but regrettably I cannot. While His Majesty retires, the rest
of us must labor on."
"A glass would be welcome."
"A glass, Ambassador? Did you say 'a glass'?" Nadir Sharif laughed.
"You'll need more than a glass if you drink with His Majesty. I'll send
the servants." He bowed again at the doorway of the vestibule. "I'll
rejoin you when I can. In the meantime, summon the eunuchs if you
He turned and was gone. In what seemed only moments, two turbaned
servants appeared, smiling as they placed a large chalice of wine on
the carpet next to Hawksworth's bolster.
"It's all too incredible." Queen Janahara slumped onto a velvet divan
and distractedly took a rolled betel leaf from the silver tray offered
by a hovering eunuch. Behind her a female _zenana _slave fanned a plume
of peacock feathers against the afternoon heat. As she spoke she
brushed back her gold-threaded scarf, revealing gleaming dark hair - the
few gray strands had been perfectly dyed - pulled back tightly against
her head and secured with a golden band. Her only jewels were in a
necklace, diamonds with a massive blue sapphire that complemented her
dark eyes. She was nearing fifty, but still possessed of a beauty that
had, with the years, evolved to magnificent dignity. Her face was
statuesque and her Persian was both elegant and mellifluous. "He's
still marching south. I think he actually enjoys living in the field,
surrounded by mud and Rajputs. How much longer can he continue?"
"Be assured this time the prince will bring his own undoing." Nadir
Sharif accepted a betel leaf from the tray, a gesture, and absently
rolled it between his thumb and finger. He wondered nervously why she
had summoned him to the Jasmine Tower the minute he left the English
_feringhi_. He normally enjoyed meeting her there, amid the marble
screens, where they could recline on the carpeted terrace and admire
the broad Jamuna. As her brother and prime minister, it was not
unseemly for him to visit her in her quarters. "The campaign in the
Deccan will change everything, Your Majesty. It cannot end as did the
last one, with Malik Ambar surrendering out of fright. The Abyssinian
surely suspects by now that Jadar is isolated."
Queen Janahara was no longer listening. Her thoughts were seething over
the two surprises of the day. The first was Nadir Sharif's absence from
her historic appearance at the _darshan _balcony. She had already been
informed of his absence by four separate eunuchs. All assumed it was
Nadir Sharif. My own brother. Can he be wavering? Or merely bargaining?
Why? Has something happened with Jadar? The march south should have
been the end of him. The _mansabdars _and their troops south of the
Narbada were in shambles. But somehow Jadar has managed to recall
enough cavalry to continue his campaign. What is he planning?
That question called to mind the second problem of the day.
She knew, as Arangbar did not, that the Englishman had already met with
Jadar. Why had Jadar contrived such a meeting? The prince must know
that both she and Nadir Sharif had full support of the Viceroy of Goa.
Did he also know that the Viceroy had even offered secretly to help arm
the Deccanis against him, an arrangement she was now negotiating?
What of the English _feringhi_, his letter, his meeting with Jadar? She
had studied him carefully through her screen when he appeared at the
afternoon _durbar _and she had ordered a Persian translation of his
letter prepared immediately. And what she read was disturbing. The
English king had, it was true, asked merely for a trading _firman_. But
who knew what sea power waited behind the English appearance at Surat?
She knew Jadar despised Christians, but he would not scruple to use
them one against the other. Where would it lead, if Jadar could enlist
English sea power in the struggle that loomed ahead, and somehow
neutralize the influence of the Portuguese? Maddeningly, the Moghul
seemed amused by the Englishman, by his rude manner.
"Why did His Majesty invite the _feringhi _to the _Diwan-i- Khas
"My esteemed sister, you were at today's durbar. You know His Majesty's
whims far better than I. Perhaps he was fascinated by finding a
_feringhi _who speaks his barbarous Turki. For His Majesty the new
_feringhi _cannot be anything more than merely a new toy, like a new
dog or horse. He will amuse himself with the _feringhi_, dangle
promises before him, and wait to see if more gifts are forthcoming. You
know he is the same with all ambassadors."
"This one I think is different. Did you see him refuse to _teslim_? I
think His Majesty is already awed by him. I fear for India if the
English ever gain influence here. Do you really believe the English
king wants nothing more than trade?" Janahara found herself searching
for the key to Nadir Sharifs thoughts. "What do you suppose would
happen if these English defy the Portuguese and one day decide to
blockade Surat? To allow trade only to those who have supported them at
court." She paused as she studied him. "Could there be some here
already who are fearful enough to pretend friendship to the
"Who could know these things?" Nadir Sharif walked to the white marble
railing and gazed along the side of the fort, where the Jamuna lapped
gently against the thick red walls. He remembered his pigeons, and then
he remembered the morning _darshan_ and Janahara's unprecedented
The Englishman is hardly a problem, my dear sister. He is already
tamed. You are the problem now. You and your newfound power. But if you
fear this harmless _feringhi_ more than you fear me, then I have at
last found a way to manage you as well. At long last.
"Tonight I will drink with the English _feringhi_, and then we may
learn something useful. A man lounging with a wine cup in his hands
says things he would never utter standing at _durbar_. I think His
Majesty may also be wondering about the intentions of his king."
Janahara chewed silently on the betel leaf and eyed him, knowing he had
met that morning with the Rajput who brought the English _feringhi _to
Agra and wondering why. Whatever the reason, she told herself, Nadir
Sharif would never be so foolish as to side with Jadar. Not so long as
the prince was isolated and weak. Nadir Sharif did not gamble.
"The _feringhi _must be watched closely. Find a way. We need to know
what he is doing, what he is thinking. Do you understand?"
"To hear is to obey." Nadir Sharif bowed lightly.
"And you will be at _darshan _tomorrow morning. Even if you were not
"Naturally had I but known, Majesty . . ."
"Father made you prime minister. You can be just as easily removed."
"Your Majesty." Nadir Sharif bowed, and with an unseen flick sent the
rolled betel leaf spinning past the railing, toward the dark waters of
the Jamuna below.
Hawksworth sipped from the new cup of wine, his third, and watched the
musicians begin to retune. Around him the members of Arangbar's inner
circle were assembling in the _Diwan-i-Khas_. This must be evening
dress in Agra, he marveled: silk turbans studded with rubies and
sapphires, diamond earrings, swords trimmed in gold and silver, pearl
necklaces, cloaks of rich brocade, velvet slippers. The faces around
him all betrayed the indolent eyes and pasty cheeks of men long
indulged in rich food, hard spirits, sensuality.
It was, he now realized, the fairyland that Symmes had described that
freezing day so long ago in the offices of the Levant Company. What man
not a Papist monk could resist the worldly seductions of the Moghul's
Then he remembered the brave Pathan who had been torn apart by a lion
that very afternoon, while all Arangbar's nobles watched unprotesting.
On the signal of a eunuch standing by the doorway the
drummer suddenly pounded out a loud, rhythmic fanfare, and then the
sitarist took up a martial motif. The brocade drapery hanging inside a
marble archway at the back of the room was drawn aside by a guard and a
moment later Arangbar swept into the room. The courtiers all bowed in
the _teslim_, rising with their hands on their forehead.
Arangbar had changed to evening dress. He wore a dark velvet turban
encrusted with jewels, tight-fitting patterned trousers beneath a
transparent muslin skirt, and a gold brocade cinch at his waist. He
clapped his hands in delight when he saw Hawksworth holding a wine cup.
"The ambassador has already tasted our Persian wine. How do you find
it, Ambassador . . . Khaw . . . ?" He stumbled over the name. "Wait.
The first thing we must do is rename you. Henceforth we will call you
'Inglish.' Now, have we pronounced that properly?"
"Perfectly, Your Majesty. And, so please Your Majesty, the wine is
excellent, though perhaps not as sweet as the wines of Europe."
"Every _feringhi _says the same, Inglish. But we will civilize you. And
also teach you something about painting." He seized a glass of wine
from a waiting eunuch and then shouted to Nadir Sharif, who had entered
moments before from the back. "Where are my five paintings?"
"I'm told they will be ready before Your Majesty retires. The painters
are still hard at work, so please Your Majesty."
"It does not please me, but then I have no wager." He roared with
amusement. "Your stables will be reduced by a prize stallion come
morning if the paintings are not ready soon. Look to it."
As Nadir Sharif bowed in acknowledgment, Arangbar whirled to
"Tell me something about your king, Inglish? How many wives does he
have? We have hundreds."
"He has but one, Your Majesty, and I believe she is mostly for show.
King James prefers the company of young men."
"Very like most Christians I've met. And you, Inglish. Have you any
wives?" Arangbar had already finished his first glass of wine and taken
"I have none, Your Majesty."
"But you, I suspect, are not a Jesuit, or a eunuch."
"No, Your Majesty."
"Then we shall find you a wife, Inglish." He took a ball of opium and
washed it down with wine. "No, we will find you two. Yes, you shall be
"May it please Your Majesty, I have no means to care for a wife. I am
here for only a season." Hawksworth shifted uncomfortably.
"You will only leave Agra, Inglish, when it is our pleasure. But if you
will not have a wife, you must at least have a house."
"I am arranging it now, Your Majesty."
Arangbar looked at Hawksworth sharply, then continued as though he had
"Now tell us more about your king. We would know what he's like."
Hawksworth bowed as he tried to collect his thoughts. The wine was
already toying with his brain. Although most of what he knew about King
James was hearsay, he knew he did not care for England's new king
overly much. No English subject did. And idle seamen had reason to
dislike him the most of all. He was not the sovereign Elizabeth had
"He's of middle stature, Your Majesty, not overly fat though he seems
so since he always wears quilted, stiletto-proof doublets."
Arangbar seemed surprised. "Is he not safe? Has he no guards?"
"He's a prudent man, Your Majesty, as befits a sovereign." And,
Hawksworth thought, also a coward, if you believe the talk in London.
What all men know for fact, though, is that he's a weakling, whose legs
are so spindly he has to be helped to walk, leaning on other men's
shoulders while he fiddles spastically with his codpiece.
"Does your king wear many jewels, Ambassador Inglish?"
"Of course, Your Majesty." Hawksworth drank calmly from his wine cup,
hoping the lie would pass unnoticed.
What would the Moghul think if he knew the truth, Hawksworth asked
himself? That King James of England only changes his clothes when they
are rags, and his fashion never. He was once, they say, given a
Spanish-style hat, and he cast it away, swearing he loved neither them
nor their fashions. Another time he was given shoes with brocade roses
on them, and he railed at the giver, asking if he was to be made a
"Is your king generous of nature, Ambassador? We are loved by our
people because we give of our bounty on every holy day. Baskets of
silver rupees are flung down the streets of Agra."
"King James is giving also, Your Majesty." With the moneys of others.
He'd part willingly with a hundred pounds not in his own keeping before
he'd release ten shillings from his private purse. And it's said he'd
rather spend a hundred thousand pounds on embassies abroad, buying
peace with bribes, than ten thousand on an army that would enforce
peace with honor. "He is a man among men, Your Majesty, admired and
loved by all his subjects."
"As are we, Ambassador." Arangbar took another ball of opium and washed
it down with a third glass of wine. "Tell me, does your king drink
"It is said he drinks often, Your Majesty, though many declare it is
more out of custom than delight. He drinks strong liquors - Frontiniack,
Canary, High Canary wine, Tent wine, Scottish ale - but never, it's said,
more than a few spoonfuls."
"Then he could never drink with the Moghul of India, Ambassador. We
have twenty cups of wine a night. And twelve grains of opium." Arangbar
paused as he accepted yet another glass. His voice had begun to slur
slightly. "But perhaps your king can trade with me. When will the ships
from your king's next voyage arrive? And how many of your king's
frigates will we see yearly if we grant him the trading _firman _he
Hawksworth noticed out of the corner of his eye that Nadir Sharif had
now moved directly beside him. The prime minister held a glass of wine
from which he sipped delicately. Around him the other courtiers were
already drinking heavily, to the obvious approval of Arangbar.
He'll not finish a single glass of wine, if my guess is right. Nadir
Sharif'll find a way to stay stone sober while the rest of the room
sinks into its cups. And they'll all be too drunk to notice.
"King James will one day send an armada of frigates, Your Majesty."
Keep Arangbar's mind off the next voyage. He just may try to hold you
here until it comes, or refuse to grant a _firman _until he sees the
next batch of presents. "His Majesty, King James, is always eager to
trade the seas where his ships are welcome."
"Even if other nations of Europe would quarrel with his rights to those
"England has no quarrels in Europe, Your Majesty. If you refer to the
engagement off Surat, you should know that was caused by a
misunderstanding of the treaties that now exist in Europe. England is
at peace with all her neighbors."
A skeptical silence seemed to envelop the room. Arangbar took another
cup of wine and drank it off. Then he turned to Hawksworth.
"The matter, Ambassador Inglish, does not seem to us to be that simple.
But we will examine it more later. Nights are made for beauty, days for
affairs of state." Arangbar's voice had begun to slur even more
noticeably. "You may have heard there will be a wedding here soon. My
youngest prince is betrothed to the daughter of my queen. The wedding
will be held one month after my own birthday celebration, and it will
be an event to remember. Tonight I begin the always-pleasant task of
selecting the women who will dance. Do you know anything of Indian
"Very little, Your Majesty. I have only seen it once. In Surat. At a
gathering one evening at the palace of the Shahbandar."
Arangbar roared and seized another glass of wine. "I can well imagine
the kind of entertainment the Shahbandar of Surat provides for his
guests. No, Ambassador, I mean the real dance of India. The dance of
great artists? Perhaps you have classical dance in England?"
"No, Your Majesty. We have nothing similar. At least similar to the
dance I saw."
"Then a pleasant surprise awaits you." Arangbar examined Hawksworth's
cup and motioned for a servant to refill it. "Drink up, Inglish. The
evening is only beginning."
Arangbar clapped drunkenly and the guests began to settle themselves
around the bolsters that had been strewn about the carpet. An ornate
silk pillow was provided for each man to rest against, and a number of
large hookahs, each with several mouthpieces, were lighted and
stationed about the room. The servants also distributed garlands of
yellow flowers, and as Nadir Sharif took his place next to Hawksworth,
he wrapped one of the garlands about his left wrist. With the other
hand he set down his wineglass, still full, and signaled a servant to
replenish Hawksworth's. Arangbar was reclining now on the throne,
against his own bolster, and the oil lamps around the side of the room
were lowered, leaving illumination only on the musicians and on a bare
spot in the center of the carpet. The air was rich with the aroma of
roses as servants passed shaking rosewater on the guests from long-
necked silver decanters.
The musicians were completing their tuning, and Hawksworth noticed that
now there were two drummers, a sitar player, and a new musician holding
a _sarangi_. In the background another man sat methodically strumming a
simple upright instrument, shaped like the sitar save it provided
nothing more than a low-pitched droning, against which the other
instruments had been tuned. Next a man entered, wearing a simple white
shirt, and settled himself on the carpet in front of the musicians. As
silence gripped the room, Arangbar signaled to the seated man with his
wineglass and the man began to sing a low, soulful melody that seemed
to consist of only a few syllables. "Ga, Ma, Pa." The voice soared
upward. "Da, Ni, Sa." After a few moments Hawksworth guessed he must be
singing the names of the notes in the Indian scale. They were virtually
identical to the Western scale, except certain notes seemed to be a few
microtones higher or lower, depending whether approached from ascent or
The singer's voice soared slowly upward in pitch and volume, growing
more intense as it quavered around certain of the high notes, while the
sarangi player listened attentively and bowed the exact notes he sang,
always seeming to guess which note he would find next. The song was
melodic, and gradually what had at first seemed almost a dirge grew to
be a poignant line of beauty.
Suddenly the singer's voice cut the air with a fast-tempo phrase, which
was brief and immediately repeated, the second time to the
accompaniment of the drum, as both players picked up the notes. On the
third repetition of the phrase, the curtains on Arangbar's right were
swept aside and a young woman seemed to fairly burst across the room,
her every skipping step announced by a band of tiny bells bound around
her ankles and across the tops of her bare feet.
As she spun into the light, she whirled a fast pirouette that sent her
long braided pigtail - so long the end was attached to her waist -
whistling in an arc behind her. Her flowered silk tunic flew outward
from her spinning body, revealing all of her tight-fitting white
trousers. She wore a crown of jewels, straight pendant earrings of
emerald, and an inch- long string of diamonds dangled from the center
of her nose.
She paused for an instant, whirled toward Arangbar, and performed a
_salaam _with her right hand, fingers slightly bent, thumb across her
palm as she raised her hand to her forehead. The movement was possessed
of so much grace it seemed a perfect dance figure.
"May I take the liberty of interpreting for you, Ambassador?" Nadir
Sharif ignored the hookah mouthpiece that another, slightly tipsy,
guest was urging on him and slid closer to Hawksworth. "Kathak is an
art, like painting or pigeon-flying, best appreciated when you know the
rules." He pointed toward the dancer. "Her name is Sangeeta, and she
has just performed the invocation. For the Hindus it is a salute to
their elephant-headed god Ganesh. For Muslims, it is a _salaam_."
Next she turned slowly toward the guests and struck a pose, one foot
crossed behind the other, arms bent as though holding a drawn bow. As
the _sarangi _played a slow, tuneful melody, she seemed to control the
rhythm of the drums by quietly stroking together again and again the
thumb and forefinger of each hand. The explosive tension in her body
seemed focused entirely in this single, virtually imperceptible motion,
almost as a glass marshals the power of the sun to a tiny point. Then
her eyes began to dart from side to side, and first one eyebrow and