stopped at a closed door at the rear of the mosque. The man spoke a
word Hawksworth did not understand and the door was swung open from the
inside, revealing an illuminated passageway.
Four men were waiting. As Hawksworth and his guide passed through, the
door closed behind them and the men silently drew around.
The passageway was long, freshly plastered, and floored in marble
mosaic. It was cool, as though immune from the heat of the day, and
scented faintly with rose incense that had been blended with the oil in
the hanging lamps.
At the end of the corridor was another stairway, again of white marble,
and as they moved up its steps the man who had greeted Hawksworth
extinguished his lamp with a brass cup he carried.
Beyond the stair was another corridor, then another door that opened as
they approached. Hawksworth realized they were in an upper story of a
large building directly behind the mosque. They passed through the door
and emerged into a room facing a balcony that overlooked the abandoned
In the center of the room was a raised dais, covered with a thick
Persian carpet. The man who had been Hawksworth's guide moved to the
dais, mounted it, and seated himself. With a flourish he dropped his
white hood and the wrap that had been around him. Hawksworth realized
with a shock that his long white hair streamed to his waist. He was
naked save for a loincloth. He gestured for Hawksworth to sit,
indicating a bolster.
"Welcome, English." He waited until the surprise had registered in
Hawksworth's face. "We've been expecting you, but not quite so soon."
"Who are you?"
"I was once a Persian." He smiled. "But I've almost forgotten my
country's manners. First I should offer you some refreshment, and only
then turn to affairs. Normally I would offer _sharbat_, but I
understand you prefer wine?"
Hawksworth stared at him speechless. No pious Muslim would drink wine.
That much he knew.
"Don't look so surprised. We Persian poets often drink wine . . .
for divine inspiration." He laughed broadly. "At least that's our
excuse. Perhaps Allah will forgive us. 'A garden of flowers, a cup of
wine, Mark the repose of a joyous mind.'"
He signaled one of the men, and a chalice of wine appeared, seemingly
from nowhere. "I once learned a Latin expression,'in vino Veritas." As
a Christian you must know it. 'In wine there is truth.' Have some wine
and we will search for truth together."
"Let's start with some truth from you. How do you know so much about
me? And you still haven't told me who you are."
"Who am I? You know, that's the most important question you can ask any
man. Let us say I am one who has forsworn everything the world would
have . . . and thereby found the one thing most others have lost." He
smiled easily. "Can you guess what that is?"
"My own freedom. To make verse, to drink wine, to love. I have nothing
now that can be taken away, so I live without fear. I am a Muslim
reviled by the mullahs, a poet denounced by the Moghul's court
versifiers, a teacher rejected by those who no longer care to learn. I
live here because there is no other place I can be. Perhaps I soon will
be gone, but right here, right now, I am free. Because I bear nothing
but love for those who would harm me." He stared out over the balcony
for a moment in silence. "Show me the man who lives in fear of death,
and I will show you one already dead in his soul. Show me the man who
knows hate, and I will show you one who can never truly know love." He
paused again and once more the room grew heavy with silence. "Love,
English, love is the sweetness of desert honey. It is life itself. But
you, I think, have yet to know its taste. Because you are a slave to
your own striving. But until you give all else over, as I have done,
you can never truly know love."
"How do you think you know so much about me? I know nothing about you.
Or about why I'm here."
"But I think you've heard of me."
Hawksworth stared at him for a moment, and suddenly everything came
together. He could have shouted his realization.
"You're Samad. The Sufi. . . ." He stopped, his heart racing. "Where is
. . .?"
"Yes, I'm a poet, and I'm called a Sufi because there is nothing else
to call me."
"You're not really a Sufi?"
"Who knows what a Sufi is, my English friend? Not even a Sufi knows.
Sufis do not teach beliefs. They merely ask that you know who you are."
"I thought they're supposed to be mystics, like some of the Spanish
"Mystics yearn to merge with God. To find that part within us all that
is God. Sufis teach methods for clearing away the clutter that obscures
our knowledge of who we are So perhaps we're mystics. But we're not
beloved by the mullahs."
"Why not? Sufis are Muslims."
"Because Sufis ignore them. The mullahs say we must guide our lives by
the Laws of the Prophet, but Sufis know God can only be reached through
love. A pure life counts for nothing if the heart is impure. Prayers
five times a day are empty words if there is no love." Samad paused
again, and then spoke slowly and quietly. "I am trying to decide if
then is love about you, English."
"You seem to think you know a lot about me. There's only one person who
wanted me to meet you. And she was in Surat. Where is she now? Is she
"She's no longer in Surat. Be sure of that. But at this moment you are
here with me. Why always seek after what you do not have? You see, I do
know much about you. You're a pilgrim." He waved his hand absently.
"But then we all are pilgrims. All searching for something. We call it
different names - fulfillment, knowledge, beauty, God. But you still have
not found what you seek, is that not true?' Samad watched Hawksworth in
silence as he drank from his own wineglass. "Yes, it is given many
names, but it is in fact only one thing. We are all searching, my
English, for our own self. But the self is not easy to find, so we
travel afar, hoping it lies elsewhere. Searching inward in a much more
Hawksworth started to speak, but Samad silenced him with a wave of the
hand. "Know that you will find the thing you most want only when you
cease to search. Only then can you listen to the quiet of the heart,
only then can you find true content." Samad drank again from his wine.
"This last week you have found, so you think, your fortune. You have
received worldly honors from the Moghul, you have news of imminent
success for your English king. But these things will only bring you
despair in the end."
"I don't understand what you mean."
Samad laughed and finished off his glass. "Then let me tell
you a story about myself, English. I was born a Persian Jew, a merchant
at my birth by historic family vocation. But my people have ignored the
greatest Prophet of all, the Prophet Mohammed. His voice invites all,
and I heard that voice. I became Muslim, but still I was a merchant. A
Persian merchant. And, perhaps not unlike you, I traveled to India
search of . . . not the greater Prophet, but the baser profit. And
here, my English, I found the other thing I searched for. I found
love. Pure love, consuming love. The kind of love few men are
privileged to know. The love of a boy whose beauty and purity could
only have come from God. But this love was mistaken by the world, was
called impure, and he was hidden from me. So the only one left for me
to love was God. Thus I cast away my garments, my worldliness, and gave
myself to Him. And once more I was misunderstood."
Samad paused and called for another glass of wine. Then he turned back
to Hawksworth. "So I have told the world my story in verse. And now
there are many who understand. Not the mullahs, but the people. I have
given them words that could only come from a pure heart, words of joy
that all men can share." Samad stopped and smiled. "You know we
Persians are born poets. It's said we changed Sufism from mystic
speculation to mystic art. All I know is the great poets of Persia
found in Sufism a vehicle for their art that gave back to Islam almost
more than it took. But then a poet's vocation must always be to give. I
have given the people of India my heart, and they have loved me in
return. Yet such love engenders envy in the minds of men who know it
not. The Shi'ite mullahs would have condemned me for heresy long ago
were it not for one man, a man who has understood and protected me. The
only man in India who is not afraid of he Persian Shi'ites at court.
And now he too is gone. With him went my life."
"And who was that?"
"Can you not guess? You have already met him." Samad smiled. "Prince
Hawksworth suddenly felt as though the world had closed about him.
"Why did you contrive to get me here tonight?"
"Because I wished to see you. And I can no longer walk abroad. It has
been forbidden on pain of death. But death is something I am almost
ready to welcome. One day soon I will walk the streets of Agra once
more, for the last time.
Hawksworth wondered if the claim was bravado, or truth.
"But why did you want to see me?" Hawksworth studied Samad closely.
Suddenly he decided to ask the question directly. "To ask me to help
Jadar? You can tell him for me that I want no part of his politics. I'm
here to get a trade agreement, a _firman_. That's my mission, why I was
Samad settled his wineglass on the carpet with a sigh of resignation.
"You've heard nothing I have said. I am telling you it would be best
for you to forget about your 'mission.' Your destiny is no longer in
your hands. But if you will open your heart, you will find it has
riches to compensate you manyfold. Still, they can be yours only if you
can know love. But now, I fear, the only love you know is self-love,
ambition. You have not yet understood it is empty as mirror.
_"The world is but a waking dream,
The eye of heart sees clear.
The garden of this tempting world,
Is wrought of sand and tear."
Hawksworth shifted and stared about the room. It was darker now but
several men had entered. Few of them seemed to understand Samad's
"So what do I do now?"
"Stay with us for a while. Learn to know yourself." Samad rose and
stepped off the dais. "Perhaps then you will at last find what you
He motioned for Hawksworth to walk with him to the balcony. Across the
courtyard a single lamp burned in the turret of one of the buildings.
"Tonight must be remembered as a dream, my English. And like a dream,
it is to be recalled on waking as mere light and shadow." He turned and
led Hawksworth to the door. The men stood aside for them. "And now I
bid you farewell. Others will attend you."
Hawksworth walked into the marble corridor. Standing in the half-light,
her face warm in the glow of a lamp, was . . .
The night sky above the courtyard was afire, an overturned
jewel box strewn about an ivory moon. They passed through a gateway of
carved columns and ornate brackets, into a smaller plaza. The mosque
was left behind: around them low were empty pavilions, several stories
high, decorated with whimsical carvings, railings, cornices. Now they
were alone in the abandoned palace, surrounded by silence and
moonlight. Only then did she speak, her voice opening through the
"I promised to think of you, and I have, more than you can know.
Tonight I want to share this with you. The private palace of the Great
Akman. The most beautiful place in all India." She paused and pointed
to a wide marble pond in the middle of the plaza. In its center was a
platform, surrounded by a railing and joined to the banks by delicate
bridges. "They say when Akman's court musician, the revered Tansen, sat
there and sang a raga for the rainy season, the clouds themselves would
come to listen, and bless the earth with their tears. Once all this was
covered by one magnificent canopy. Tonight we have only the stars."
"How did you arrange this?" He still was lost in astonishment.
"Don't ask me to tell you now. Can we just share this moment?"
She took his arm and motioned ahead. There, glistening in the
moonlight, were the open arcades of a palace pavilion. I've prepared
something especially for us." She guided him through a wide-open
archway and into a large arcade, illuminated by a single oil lamp atop
a stone table. In front of them, on the walls, were brilliantly colored
renderings of elephants, horses, birds. She picked up the lamp and led
him past the paintings and into the next room, a vast red chamber whose
floor was a fragrant standing pool of water. In the flickering light he
could see a marble stairway leading to a red sandstone platform
projecting out over the water, supported by square stone columns topped
by ornate brackets.
"This is where Akman spent the hot summer nights. Up there, on the
platform, above a cooling pool of rosewater. From there he would summon
his women to come to him from the _zenana_."
Hawksworth dipped his fingers into the water and brought it to his
lips. It was like perfume. He turned to he and she smiled.
"Yes, the Sufis still keep rosewater here, in memory of Akman." She
urged him forward, up the stairs. "Come and together we'll try to
imagine how it must have felt to be the Great Moghul of India."
As they emerged onto the platform, the vaulted ceiling above them
glowed a ruby red from the lamp. Under their feet was a thick carpet,
strewn with small velvet bolsters. At the farthest edge was a large
sleeping couch, fashioned from red marble, its dark velvet canopy held
aloft by four finely worked stone columns. The covering of the couch
was a patterned blue velvet, bordered in gold lace.
"Just for tonight I've made this room like it was when Akman slept
here, with his chosen from the _zenana_." She slipped the gauze wrap
from her shoulders. He looked at her dark hair, secured with a
transparent scarf and a strand of pearls, and realized it contrasted
perfectly with the green emerald brooch that swung gently against her
forehead. She wore a necklace of pearl strands and about each upper arm
was a band ringed with pearl drops. Her eyes and eyebrows were painted
dark with kohl and her lips were a brilliant red
Without a word she took a garland of yellow flowers from the bed and
gently slipped it over his head. Next to the couch was a round rosewood
table holding several small brass vials of perfume and incense.
"Tonight this room is like a bridal chamber. For us."
A second garland of flowers lay on the bed next to the one she had
taken. Without thinking, he reached and took it and slipped it around
her neck. Then he drew his fingertips slowly down her arm, sending a
small shiver through them both. Seeing her in the lamplight, he
realized again how he had ached for her.
"A wedding? For us?"
"Not a wedding. Can we just call it a new beginning? The end of one
journey and the beginning of another."
Hawksworth heard a sudden rustling behind him and then a sound. He
turned and searched the gloom, where two eyes peered out of the
darkness, reflecting the lamplight. He was reaching for his pistol when
she stopped his arm.
"That's one of the little green parrots who live here. They've never
been harmed, and they've never been caged. So they're unafraid." She
turned and called to it. "If they're caught and imprisoned, their
spirit dies and their beauty starts to fade."
The bird ruffled its wings again and flew to the top of the bolster
beside Shirin. Hawksworth watched her for a moment, still incredulous,
then settled himself on the carpet next to a chalice of wine that sat
waiting. She reached and touched his arm. "I never asked you what your
lovers call you. You're so important, nobody in India knows your first
name, just your titles."
"My only other name is Brian." He found her touch had already begun to
"Brian. Will you tell me everything about you, what you like and what
you don't?" She began to pour the wine for them. "Did I ever tell you
what I like most about you?"
"In Surat you said you liked the fact I was a European. Who always had
to be master of worldly things."
"Well, I've thought about you a lot since then." Her expression grew
pensive. "I've decided it's not so simple. There's a directness about
you, and an openness, an honesty, that's very appealing."
"That's European. We're not very good at intrigue. What we're thinking
always shows on our face."
She laughed. "And I think I know what you're thinking right now. But
let me finish. I feel I must tell you this. There's something else
about you that may also be European, but think it's just your special
quality. You're always ready to watch and learn from what you see.
Looking for new things and new ideas. Is that also European?"
"I think it probably is."
"It's rare here. Most Indians think everything they have and everything
they do is absolutely perfect, exactly the way it is. They might take
something foreign and use it, or copy it but they always have to appear
disdainful of anything not Indian."
"You're right. I'm always being told everything here is better." He
reached for her. "Sometimes it's even true."
"Won't you let me tell you the rest?" She took his hand and held it. "I
also think you have more concern for those around you than most Indians
do. You respect the dignity of others, regardless of their station,
something you'll seldom see here, particularly among the high castes.
And there's a kindness about you too. I feel it when you're with me."
She laughed again. "You know, it's a tragic thing about Muslim men.
They claim to honor women; they write poems to their beauty; but I
don't think they could ever truly love a woman. They believe she's a
willful thing whom it's their duty to contain."
She paused, then continued. "But you're so very different. It's hard to
comprehend you sometimes. You love your European music, but now I think
you're starting to understand and love the music of India. I even heard
you're learning the sitar. You're sensitive to all beauty, almost the
way Samad is. It makes me feel very comfortable with you. But you're
also a lot like Prince Jadar. You're not afraid of risks. You guide
your own destiny. Instead of just accepting whatever happens, the way
most Indians do." She smiled and traced her fingers down his chest.
"That part makes you very exciting."
She hesitated again. "And do you know what I like least about you? It's
the _feringhi _clothes you wear."
He burst into laughter. "Tell me why."
"They're so . . . undignified. When I first saw you, that night you
came to Mukarrab Khan's palace, I couldn't believe you could be anyone
of importance. Then the next morning, at the observatory, you looked
like a nobleman. Tonight, you're dressed like a _feringhi _again."
"I like boots and a leather jerkin. When I'm wearing a fancy doublet
and hose, then I feel I have to be false, false as the clothes. And
when I dress like a Moghul, I always wonder if people think I'm trying
to be something I'm not."
"All right." She smiled resignedly. "But perhaps sometime tonight
you'll at least take off your leather jerkin. I would enjoy seeing
He looked at her in wonderment. "I still don't understand you at all.
You once said you thought I was powerful. But you seem to be pretty
powerful yourself. Nobody I know could force Mukarrab Khan or Nadir
Sharif to do anything. Yet you made the governor divorce you, and then
you made the prime minister deceive half of Agra to arrange this.
You're so many different things."
"Don't forget. Sometimes I'm also a woman."
She rose and began to slowly draw out the long cinch holding the waist
of her wrap. Her halter seemed to trouble her as she tried to loosen
it. She laughed at her own awkwardness, and then it too came away. She
was left with only her jewels and the long scarf over her hair, which
she did not remove. Then she turned to him.
"Do you still remember our last night in Surat?"
"Do you?" He looked at her in the dim lamplight. The line of her body
was flawless, with gently rounded breasts, perfect thighs, legs lithe
"I remember what I felt when I kissed you."
He laughed and moved to take her in his arms. "But I thought I was the
one who kissed you."
"Maybe we should try it once more and decide." With a mischievous look
she caught his arms and wrapped herself around him. As he touched her
lips, she turned abruptly and the world suddenly seemed to twist
crazily around them, sending his head spinning. In shock he opened his
mouth to speak and it was flooded with the essence of rose.
The pool beneath the platform had broken their fall. He came up gasping
and found her lips.
She tasted of another world. Sweet, fragrant. He enclosed her slowly in
his arms, clasping her lean body gently at first; then feeling more and
more of her warmth he pressed her to him, both of them still gasping.
They seemed to float, weightless, serene in the darkness. Awkwardly he
began pulling away his wet jerkin.
"You're just as I imagined." Her hands traveled across his chest,
lightly caressing his skin, while the lamp flickered against the
paintings on the walls above them. "There's a strength about you, a
roughness." She nuzzled his chest with her face. "Tonight will you let
me be your poet?"
"Tonight you can be anything you want."
"I want to sing of you - a man I adore - of the desire I feel for you.
After we know each other fully, the great longing will be gone. The
most intense moment we can ever share will be past. The ache of
"What you just said reminds me of something John Donne once wrote."
"Who is he?"
"One of our English poets and songwriters. But he had a slightly
different idea." He hesitated, then smiled. "To tell the truth, I think
I may like his better."
She lifted herself up in the water, rose petals patterned across her
body. "Then tell me what he said."
"It's the only poem of his I can still remember, but only the first
verse. For some reason I'll never forget it. I sometimes think of it
when I think of you. Let me say it in English first and then try to
_"I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we lov'd? Were we not wean'd till then?
But suck'd on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers' den?
'Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be;
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desir'd, and got, 'twas but a dream of thee."
She listened to the hard English rhythm and then to his translation,
awkward and halting. Then she was silent for a moment, floating her
hand across the surface of the pond.
"You know, I also wonder now what I did before I met you. Before I held
She slipped her hands about his neck, and as she did he drew her up out
of the water and cradled her against him. Then he lifted her, her body
still strewn with rose petals, and carried her slowly up the marble
stairs to the couch of Akman. He felt her cling to him like no woman
ever had, and as he placed her on the bed, she took his face in her
hands and kissed him for a long moment. Then he heard her whisper.
"Tonight we will know just each other. And there will be nothing else."
And they gave each to each until there was nothing more to give because
each was the other. Together, complete.
He was on the quarterdeck, the whipstaff aching against his hand, the
mainsail furled as storm winds lashed the waist of the ship with wave
after powerful wave. The ship was the _Queen's Hope_, his vessel when
he sailed for the Levant Company, and the rocks that towered off his
starboard bow were Gibraltar. He shouted into the dark for the
quartermaster to reef the tops'ls, and he leaned on the whipstaff to
bring her about, but neither responded. He had no crew. He was being
swept, helpless, toward the empty darkness that lay ahead. Another wave
caught him across the face, and somewhere in the dark came a screech,
as though the sea had given up some dying Leviathan beast. His seaboots
were losing their hold on the quarterdeck, and now the whipstaff had
grown sharp talons that cut into his hand. Then a woman's voice, a
distant siren calling him. Again the screech and then yet another wave
cut across his face.
The water tasted of roses. . . .
He jerked violently awake. On his hand a green parrot was perched,
preening itself and ruffling its feathers. And from the pool below
Shirin was flinging handfuls of water up over the side of the platform,
laughing as she tried to splash his face.
She was floating, naked, below him, her hair streaming out across the