sparkling hand. He waited with a broad smile while it was lowered to
the carpet, then without a word seated himself onto the cushions, in
the hunched squat all Indians performed. Allaudin and the _wazir _stood
on either side and steadied him as officials from the mint, all wearing
bright red turbans, approached bearing dark brown bags.
Bag after bag was piled onto the opposite platform, until Arangbar's
side slowly began to levitate off the carpet. When a perfect balance
had been achieved, his side was tipped gently back down by Allaudin and
the _wazir_, while the officials began to remove and count the bags on
the opposite platform. When the bags were counted, the weighing
commenced again, this time with bags of purple silk.
"The first weighing is in silver rupees," Nadir Sharif whispered
through the reverential silence. "Afterwards they are taken back to the
mint and distributed to the poor by His Majesty. Today is one of great
rejoicing in Agra."
"How much does he weigh?"
"His usual weight is about nine thousand silver rupees."
"That's over a thousand pounds in English sterling."
"Is that a large amount in your king's coinage, Ambassador?"
"It's a substantial sum of money."
"Over the following year, during the evenings, His Majesty will call
the poor of Agra to come before him and he will give them the money
with his own hand."
"How far will nine thousand rupees go to feed all the poor of Agra?"
"I don't understand your question, Ambassador?"
"Nothing. I . . . I was just wondering if perhaps King James should do
"It is an old Moghul tradition here." Nadir Sharif turned back to the
scales, where Arangbar was calling for the next weighing. "But watch.
Now he will be weighed against gold _mohurs_."
The pile of bags was mounting, and again Arangbar's platform slowly
began to rise into the air.
"There are twelve weighings in all. You will see. After the gold coins,
he is weighed against gold cloth that has been given to him on his
birthday by the women of the _zenana_. Then bags of jewels that were
contributed by the governors of India's provinces, carpets and brocades
from Agra nobles, and so forth. He is also weighed against silk, linen,
spices, and even ghee and grains, which are distributed later to the
Hindu merchant caste."
Arangbar continued to smile serenely as the weighing proceeded. During
the weighing of silk, he spotted Hawksworth and winked, raising a hand
to flash a diamond the size of a bullet. Hawksworth noted wryly that he
had not seen any of the wealth actually being distributed, that it was
all in fact returned directly to the palace.
When all the weighings were completed, Arangbar drew himself erect and
regally moved to a raised platform that had been constructed at the
back of the arcade. He then signaled for the massive balance to be
removed and in moments it had disappeared into the recesses of the
The crowd had begun to shuffle expectantly. As Hawksworth watched, he
suddenly realized why.
Large covered baskets were being brought before Arangbar, and when
their lids were removed, Hawksworth caught the glisten of silver.
Arangbar took the first basket and stood to his full height on the
dais. Then with a swing he flung the contents over the top of the
crowd. The air seemed to rain silver and the assembled nobles began
scrambling over the carpet retrieving the silver objects. Nadir Sharif
picked up one and handed it to Hawksworth.
It was a silver nutmeg, life-sized and topped with a tiny gold flower.
Hawksworth rolled it over . . . and it deflated to a thin piece of
Arangbar flung another basket and the turmoil intensified. Only
Hawksworth stood firm, as even Nadir Sharif could not resist scooping
up several of the foil replicas of nuts, fruits, and spices that
scattered on the carpet around them. The dignified assemblage had been
reduced to bedlam. Then the beaming Arangbar spotted Hawksworth and
"Ambassador Inglish. Is there nothing you would have?"
"May it please Your Majesty, an ambassador of the English king does not
scramble for toys."
"Then come forward and you'll not have to."
When Hawksworth reached the dais he bowed lightly, and as he drew
himself up, Arangbar seized the front of his doublet and dumped a
basket of gold foil flowers down the front of his shirt.
Before he could move, the nobles were there, pulling open his doublet
and scooping up the worked foil. In moments his doublet was plucked
clean. He looked about in disbelief, and saw that Arangbar was already
tossing more baskets to the turbaned crowd.
When the silver and gold were gone, Arangbar spoke quickly to the
eunuchs, and trays appeared with chalices of hard spirits. The
assembled nobles all toasted the Moghul's health and he joined in as
the drinking began. Musicians appeared, followed by food on plates of
silver worked in gold. Finally hookahs were set about the carpet,
together with more drinks, and a singer arrived to perform an afternoon
"This is an auspicious day for us both, Inglish." Arangbar beamed down
from his throne as he motioned Hawksworth forward. "The news just
reached me. Was this meant to be a surprise?"
"The English fleet is my king's birthday gift to Your Majesty."
"Nothing could gratify me more." Arangbar drank from a large cup of
wine. "We think it might be time we considered sending an ambassador of
our own to the court of your Inglish king. We just sent our first
ambassador to Goa."
"King James would be most honored, Your Majesty."
"Tell me, Ambassador Inglish. When will these ships reach the port at
"It depends on whether the Portugals want to honor the treaty between
Spain and England and allow our fleet to pass unchallenged. Sailing up
from the islands will mean tacking against the wind, but the fleet
could possibly make landfall within a month." Hawksworth paused. "Your
Majesty must realize this adds urgency to the matter of the trading
"Within the week or so, Inglish. Within a week or so."
Hawksworth caught a slight elevation of Nadir Sharif's eyebrows.
"How long now do you intend to be staying with us, Inglish?" Arangbar
popped a ball of opium into his mouth . . . a bit too early in the day,
"Until you've signed the _firman _for trade, Your Majesty. I'll return
it to King James by the next shipping west."
"We would prefer that you stayed with us awhile longer, Inglish."
"No one regrets more than I that it's not possible, Your Majesty. But
my king awaits Your Majesty's pleasure regarding the terms of the
"We have conceived a new idea, Inglish. We will send the ito your king
by our own ambassador. Then you can remain here with us until your king
sends another ambassador to replace you." Arangbar laughed. "But he
must be a man who drinks as well as you, or we may send him back."
Hawksworth felt his stomach tighten. "Who can say when another
ambassador will be sent, Your Majesty? Should Your Majesty approve the
_firman_, my duties here will be _Resolve_d."
"But you must remain here to ensure we keep our word, Inglish."
Arangbar winked broadly. "Else our heart could grow fickle."
"I am honored, Your Majesty." Hawksworth shifted. "But my first duty is
to my king."
"We have been thinking perhaps you should have other duties . . ."
Arangbar's voice trailed off as he sipped on his wine and studied
Hawksworth. Then he looked up and his glance fell on the Portuguese
Jesuits lingering at the back of the courtyard. As he examined them, he
recalled the many long evenings when he had allowed the Jesuit Pinheiro
and his superior, Father Sarmento, to debate with him the merits of
Christianity. And again he found himself marveling how refreshingly
different the Englishman was.
Out of curiosity he had once inquired of the Jesuits how exactly a king
such as himself could become a Christian, and the very first thing they
had said was he must select only one of all his wives and dismiss the
He had tried to point out to them the absurdity of allowing a man only
one wife, without even the option to rid oneself of her once she grew
tiresome. And what, he had asked, was this king to do if his single
remaining wife suddenly became blind one day? Was he to keep her still?
Of course, they had replied, blindness in no way interferes with the
act of marriage. And what if she becomes a leper? Patience, they had
counseled, aided by God's grace, which renders all things easy. Such
patience, he had pointed out, might be customary for a Jesuit, who had
abstained from women all his life, but what about one who had not? And
they had replied that Christians also were sometimes known to sin, but
that the Grace of Christ provided the remedy of penitence, even for
those who transgressed against the law of chastity. He had listened
with mounting astonishment as they next proceeded to describe how
Jesuits scourged themselves to still the fires of the flesh.
At this last, he had realized that Christian doctrines were
incomprehensible and unworthy of further inquiry. From that time
forward he had never bothered to take the Jesuits seriously.
But this Englishman is different, he told himself. A real man, who'll
drink a cup of wine or eye a pretty woman with plenty of unchaste
thoughts on his sleeve.
"From this day forth you'll be serving us, Inglish, as well as your
king. We have decided to make you a _khan_."
Hawksworth stared at him uncomprehending. A murmur swept the crowd, but
quickly died away to stunned silence.
"A _khan_, Your Majesty?"
"_Khan_ is a title given to high-ranking officers in our service. It
carries with it great honor. And a salary. No _feringhi _has ever
before been made a _khan _by us. You will be the first." He laughed
broadly. "So now you must stay in India and drink with us. You are in
"I'm flattered by Your Majesty's generosity." Hawksworth found himself
stunned - by the honor and also by the disquieting implications for his
planned return to England. "What are the duties of a _khan_?"
"First, Inglish, we must have a ceremony, to invest you properly."
Arangbar seemed to ignore the looks of disbelief on the faces around
him. "You will be given a personal honorary rank, called _zat_, of four
hundred. And a horse rank, called _suwar_, of fifty."
"Does it mean I have to maintain that many cavalry?" Hawksworth
blanched, realizing his money was already growing short.
"If you do, you will be the first _khan _in India who ever did. No,
Inglish, you will be provided salary for that number, but you need not
maintain more than twenty or thirty. We will personally select them for
you after the wedding."
Arangbar turned and motioned to Nadir Sharif. The prime minister came
forward and one of the eunuchs handed him a small box, of teakwood
worked in gold. He motioned for Hawksworth to kneel directly in front
of Arangbar. The nobles around them still could not disguise their
Nadir Sharif moved directly above where Hawksworth was kneeling and
opened the box. "His Majesty, by this symbol, initiates you into
discipleship. It is bestowed only on the very few." He took out a small
gold medal, attached to a chain, and slipped the chain over
Hawksworth's head. Hawksworth noted that the medal had the likeness of
Arangbar imprinted on both sides. "Now you must prostrate yourself
before His Majesty."
"May it please His Majesty, the ambassador of a king must show his
gratitude after the custom of his own country," Hawksworth replied to
Nadir Sharif, then bowed lightly to Arangbar. "I humbly thank Your
Majesty in the name of King James."
Nadir Sharif's face darkened. "You must _teslim _to His Majesty."
"No, not the Inglish." Arangbar waved Nadir Sharif aside. "He must
follow his own custom. Now, give him the pearl."
Nadir Sharif took a large pearl from the box and stood before
"This you must wear in your left ear, where your gold earring is now."
Hawksworth examined the pearl. It was immense, and perfect.
"Again I thank Your Majesty." Hawksworth looked up to see Arangbar
beaming. "How shall I wear it?"
"My jeweler will fit it for you, Inglish."
A wry, portly man stepped forward and quickly removed the small gold
earring from Hawksworth's ear. Just as deftly, he attached the pearl
where it had been.
"And now, Inglish, I will bestow on you the highest favor of my court."
He turned and signaled another eunuch to come forward. The eunuch
carried a cloak woven with gold. "This cloak I have myself worn, then
kept aside to bestow on a worthy disciple. It is for you."
Arangbar took the cloak himself and laid it over Hawksworth's
"I thank Your Majesty. The honor is more than I could ever merit."
"That may well be true, Inglish." Arangbar roared. "But it's yours. You
speak my tongue and you drink almost as well. Few men here today can
equal you. And you have the wits of ten Portuguese. I think you deserve
to be one of my _khans_." Arangbar signaled for him to rise. "Your
salary will begin with the next lunar month. After that you will be
known in this court as the Inglish Khan. Day after tomorrow you will
ride with us in _shikar_, the royal hunt. You may soon decide you like
India better than England. Have you ever seen a tiger?"
"Never, Your Majesty."
"You will soon enough. Day after tomorrow. So you had best do your
drinking now, for tigers require a clear head." Arangbar laughed again
and clapped and the tension in the courtyard semed to evaporate. The
singer immediately began a second raga.
As Hawksworth fingered the earring, the medal, and the cloak, he found
himself remembering Huyghen's burning eyes that day in the London
alehouse. "You'll forget who you are," the old seaman had said. Could
this be what he meant?
But maybe it's not so bad after all, he told himself. It's like a dream
come true. And when the fleet makes landfall. . . .
. . . "Of course I've heard. It was my idea. Although His Majesty
naturally assumes he thought of it all by himself. Making the _feringhi
_a _khan _will confuse the Portuguese. And it will take everyone's mind
off the _firman _for a while." Queen Janahara had received Nadir Sharif
immediately after Arangbar retired to the _zenana_ for his afternoon
dalliance. The balcony of the Jasmine Tower was empty, the servants all
ordered back to the _zenana_. I'm more interested in the English fleet.
Do you know what has happened?"
"What do you mean, Majesty?" Nadir Sharif noted that he had not been
invited to sit.
"There was another message today, a private message from His
Excellency, Miguel Vaijantes." Janahara raised a silver, hourglass-
shaped cuspidor to her lips and delicately discharged red betel juice.
"Can you guess what he has dared to do?"
"What do you mean?"
"Miguel Vaijantes is a man without courage. The understanding was very
"The understanding, Your Majesty?"
"We have kept our side of the agreement. There has been no _firman _for
the English _feringhi_. But now His Excellency has declared that he
must off-load the arms. He has begun assembling an armada to sail north
and intercept the English."
"The arms, Your Majesty?" Nadir Sharif moved closer. "Miguel Vaijantes
was shipping arms?"
"Surely you knew. My dear brother, has anything ever escaped your
rapacious eyes." She smiled, then spat again. "For Ahmadnagar. Small
arms and cannon."
"You were arming Malik Ambar? Against Jadar?" Nadir Sharif could not
strain the surprise from his voice.
"We were not arming him. The Portuguese were. Miguel Vaijantes was to
have armed a Maratha division on the western coast, off-loading at a
Portuguese port called Bom Bahia, on the coast west of Ahmadnagar. He
had his own reasons, but now it seems he has lost his nerve. I had no
idea how alarmed these Portuguese were by the English."
Nadir Sharifs mind was reeling. Say something, anything.
"If I may inject a word on His Excellency's behalf, Majesty, you must
understand that matters between the Portuguese and the English are
extremely delicate at the moment." Nadir Sharif's voice grew more
statesmanlike as he spoke. He scarcely heard his own words as his mind
plowed through the consequences of it all. And the treachery. "The
English could conceivably interrupt the entire trade of the Portuguese.
All the prince could ever possibly do would be to tighten restrictions
on our ports at Surat and Cambay. The Viceroy's decision is clearly
strategic, nothing more. I'm sure the regard he holds for Your Majesty
"That is a touching consolation." Janahara's voice was frigid, and she
seemed suddenly much older.
Footsteps sounded through the marble corridor and Allaudin appeared at
the doorway. He had changed to a foppish green turban, set off by an
effeminate necklace of rubies. His elaborate _katar _was secured by a
sash of gold- threaded brocade, and an emerald was set at the top of
each slipper. He wore heavy perfume.
"Your Majesty." He salaamed to Queen Janahara and then stood
attentively, somewhat sheepishly, until she gestured for him to sit.
"I was detained in my quarters, Majesty."
Janahara seemed completely preoccupied, unable even to look at the
prince. "The question now is what to do about the Englishman."
"What do you mean?" Allaudin did not trouble to mask his sneer. "It's
perfectly clear. His Majesty adores the _feringhi_. He'll surely sign
the _firman_ for English trade. Then there'll be a war on the seas.
It's really most exciting."
"The _firman_ is not yet signed." Janahara moved to the balcony and
studied the river below. Her walk was purposeful, yet still the
perfection of elegance. "Nor do I think it ever will be. His Majesty
will not have the time. The wedding will be moved forward. Before His
Highness, Prince Jadar, has the leisure to trouble us more."
Janahara turned and examined the two men, one her brother and one her
future son-in-law, finding herself astonished by their credulity.
Somehow, she told herself, the hand of Jadar lies behind all this. The
coincidence was just too great. First, he had succeeded in raising
troops from the southern _mansabdars_. And now the Deccanis could not
be armed. Could he possibly still forge a peace in the Deccan. Still,
after the wedding he would be isolated. Then what he did would no
longer matter. But if the _firman _were signed, there would no longer
be leverage with the Portuguese.
Janahara looked directly at Nadir Sharif. "If His Majesty signs the
_firman _before the wedding, you will be held responsible."
"I understand, Majesty." Nadir Sharif shifted. "When will the wedding
"I think it would be auspicious to hold it the week following the
birthday celebration. Which means the preparations must begin now."
"Hold the wedding immediately after the hunt? There's scarcely time."
"There will be time. For that and more." Janahara turned to Allaudin.
"And you would do well to start spending more time with a sword and
bow, and less with your pretty slave girls. I will know before long if
you are a match for Jadar. I pray to Allah I don't already suspect the
"There, on that hill, Inglish, is where I was born." Arangbar
pointed to the high sandstone walls of a distant hilltop fortress,
outlined against the midday sky. "It's called Fatehpur Sekri. It was a
great city during the time of my father Akman, but now it's abandoned.
It's romantic, but it's also forbidding. I've only been back once in my
life, and that was enough."
Hawksworth's elephant was half a length behind those of Arangbar and
Allaudin, even with that of Nadir Sharif. It was the second morning of
their ride, and they were nearing the locale of the royal hunt. It
seemed to him that half of Agra had traveled along. The queen and her
retinue were behind them, as were many of Arangbar's favorite women,
his guard, his eunuchs, the entire palace staff. The location of the
hunt was a two-day ride from Agra.
"What's there now?"
"It's abandoned, Inglish. Except for a few Sufi Muslims. They were
there before, and I guess they'll be there forever."
"What do you mean 'they were there before'? Before what?"
"Ah, Inglish. We had a very romantic birth. You seem to know nothing of
it. You see, my father, the Great Akman, had tried for many years to
have a son before I was born. Many hundreds of women, Inglish, but not
one could give him a son. Once twin boys were born to a Rajput princess
he had wived, but both died a few days later. Gradually he became
obsessed with fears of death, of dying without a lineage, and he began
calling holy men to the _Diwan-i-Khas _every evening to question them
about mortality. Once a Hindu holy man came who told Akman the greatest
duty of a king is to leave a male heir, who can carry his lineage
forward. The Great Akman was plunged into even greater sadness by this,
and he _Resolve_d to renounce everything until he could have a son.
"He walked all the way from Agra to that mountain, Inglish." Arangbar
pointed toward the fortress. "He came to see a holy Sufi living there,
among the rocks and wild beasts. It was a momentous meeting. Akman fell
at the feet of the holy man, and the Sufi held out his arms in welcome
to the Great Moghul of India. In later years many of Akman's artists
painted the scene. Akman told him that he had come to find the peace of
Allah. To find his own destiny. As a seeker after truth. The Sufi
offered this great warrior berries to eat, and gave him his own simple
hut for an abode. Akman stayed for many days, meditating with the Sufi,
and finally, when he made ready to leave, the Sufi told him he would
have three sons.
"And now," Arangbar grinned, "we reach the interesting part. When next
a wife announced she was with child, Akman moved her out here, to stay
in the same abode as the holy man. And, as the Sufi predicted, a male
child was born."
"And the child was . . ."
"You are riding beside him, Inglish. That is the story of my birth.
Akman was so elated that he decided to build an entire city here, and
move the capital from Agra. He built the city, but it was an obvious
act of excess. He never found time to live there, and soon it was
abandoned. So now the mountain is like it was before my birth, home to
wild birds and a few mad Sufis. The only difference is they have a
magnificent abandoned city to live in, instead of straw huts." He
laughed again. "Perhaps I owe my very life to a Sufi. Incidentally,
descendants of that holy man still live there."
"Are they all Sufis?"
"Who knows, Inglish? I think holy men from all over India can be found
there from time to time. It's become a kind of retreat."
"I'd like permission to visit it sometime, Majesty."
"Of course, Inglish. You'll find it's magnificent."
Hawksworth squinted against the sun and studied the distant red walls
of the city-fortress. Something about its remote purity beckoned him.
After the hunt, he told himself, when there's time. Right after the
Arangbar fell silent, and Hawksworth leaned back in his _howdah _as it
rocked gently along. Elephants made better mounts than he had first
suspected. He thought again of the previous morning, and his first
reaction when told he would be riding an elephant for the next two
days. He had arrived at the Red Fort, to be greeted by Nadir Sharif,
who directed him to the royal elephants being readied in the courtyard
of the _Diwan-i-Am_.
"His Majesty has selected one of his favorites for you. Her name is
Kumada." Nadir Sharif had pointed toward a large female elephant, her
body dyed black and festooned with golden bells, yak-tail tassels, gold
"What does the name mean?"
"The infidel Hindus believe the eight points of the earth are each
guarded by a heavenly being in the shape of an elephant. Your English
fleet is coming to us out of our ocean from the southwest, and Kumada
is the name Hindus give to the elephant who guards that point of the
Hindu compass. His Majesty believes this elephant will be auspicious
"I'm most grateful to His Majesty." Hawksworth surveyed the assembled
crowd in astonishment. Around him nobles wearing jeweled turbans and
silk trousers were selecting elephants. He had worn sea boots and a
Nadir Sharif signaled toward the mahout perched atop the neck of
Kumada, and the man tapped her flapping ear with a short barbed rod and
gave her directions in Hindi as he guided her toward Hawksworth. She
lumbered forward to where Hawksworth stood, and then her mountainous