surface of the water, tangled among the drifting rose petals. He looked
about and saw his own wet clothes, mingled among her silks and jewels.
For a moment he felt again the terror of the dream, the rudderless ship
impelled by something beyond control, and then he caught the edge of
the platform and slipped over the side.
The water was cool against his skin and involuntarily he caught his
breath. Then he reached out and wrapped her in his arms, pulling her
against him. She turned her face to his, twined her hair around his
head, and crushed his lips with her own. Just as suddenly, she threw
back her head and laughed with joy. He found himself laughing with her.
"Why don't we both just stay? I don't have to be back in Agra until the
wedding. We could have a week." He studied the perfect lines of her
face, the dark eyes at once defiant and anxious, and wished he could
hold her forever. The Worshipful East India Company be damned.
"But we both have things we must do." She revolved in the flowered
water and drew her face above his. She kissed him again, languorously.
Then she drew herself out of the water and twisted a wrap around her,
covering her breasts. "Both you and I."
"And what's this thing you have to do?"
Her eyes shadowed. "One thing I must try to do is convince Samad he
cannot stay here any longer. He has to go south, where Prince Jadar can
protect him. But he refuses to listen. And time is growing short now. I
truly fear for what may happen to him after the wedding. The Persian
Shi'ite mullahs will certainly be powerful enough then to demand he be
tried and executed on charges of heresy. For violating some obscure
precept of Islamic law. It will be the end for him." She paused. "And
for anyone who has helped him."
"Then if he won't leave, at least you should." He lifted himself out of
the water and settled beside her on the marble paving. "Why don't you
come back to England with me? When the fleet from Bantam makes landfall
at Surat, Arangbar will surely have the courage to sign the _firman_,
and then my mission will be finished. It should only be a matter of
weeks, regardless of what the Portugals try to do."
She studied the water of the pool with sadness in her eyes and said
nothing for a moment as she kicked the surface lightly.
"Neither of us is master of what will happen. Things are going to soon
be out of control. For both of us. Things are going to happen that you
will not understand."
Hawksworth squinted through the half-light. "What's going to happen?"
"Who can know? But I would not be surprised to see the prince betrayed
totally, in one final act that will eventually destroy him. He is too
isolated. Too weak. And when that happens we're all doomed. Even you,
though I don't think you'll believe that now."
"Why should I? I'm not betting on Prince Jadar. I agree with you. I
don't think he has a chance. I'm betting on a _firman _from Arangbar,
"You'll never get a _firman _from the Moghul. And Arangbar will be gone
in half a year. The queen has already started appearing at morning
_darshan _and directing his decisions at afternoon _durbar_. As soon as
she has Allaudin under her control, Arangbar will be finished. Mark it.
He'll die from too much opium, or from some mysterious poison or
accident. He will cease to exist, to matter."
"I don't believe it. He seems pretty well in control."
"If that's what you think, then you are very deceived. He can't live
much longer. Everyone knows it. Perhaps even he knows it in his heart.
Soon he will give up even the appearance of rule. Then the queen will
take full command of the Imperial army, and Prince Jadar will be hunted
down like a wild boar."
He studied her, not sure he could reasonable contradict her, and felt
his stomach knot. "What will happen to you, if the queen takes over?"
"I don't know. But I do know I love you. I truly do. How
sad it makes me that I can't tell you everything." Her eyes darkened
and she took his hand. "Please understand I did not know the prince
would use you the way he has. But it is for good. Try to believe that."
"What do you mean?"
She hesitated and looked away. "Let me ask you this. What do you think
the prince will do after the wedding?"
"I don't know, but I think he'd be very wise to keep clear of Agra.
Nobody at court will even talk about him now, at least not openly.
Still, I think he might be able to stay alive if he's careful. If he
survives the campaign in the Deccan, maybe he can bargain something out
of the queen. But I agree with you about one thing. She can finish him
any time she wants. I understand she already has de facto control of
the Imperial army, in Arangbar's name of course. What can Jadar do?
He's outnumbered beyond any reasonable odds. Maybe she'll make him a
governor in the south if he doesn't challenge her."
"Do you really believe he'd accept that? Can't you see that's
impossible? You've met Prince Jadar. Do you think he'll just give up?
That's the one thing he'll never do. He has a son now. The people will
support him." She pulled herself next to him. "I feel so isolated and
hopeless just thinking about it all. I'm so glad Nadir Sharif brought
He slipped his arm around her. "So am I. Will you tell me now how you
managed to make him do it?"
"I still have friends left in Agra." She smiled. "And Nadir Sharif
still has a few indiscretions he'd like kept buried. Sometimes he can
be persuaded . . ."
"Did he know Samad was here?"
"If he didn't before, he does now. But he won't say anything. Anyway,
it hardly matters any more. The queen probably already knows Samad's
here." She sighed. "The worst is still waiting. For him. And for both
He caught a handful of water and splashed it against her thigh. "Then
let's not talk about it. Until tomorrow."
The worry in her eyes seemed to dissolve and she laughed. "Do you
realize how much you've changed since I first met you? You were as
stiff as a Portuguese Jesuit then, before Kali and Kamala got their
painted fingernails into you. Kali, the lover of the flesh, and Kamala,
the lover of the spirit." She glared momentarily. "Now I must take
care, lest you start comparing me with them. Never forget. I'm
different. I believe love should be both."
He pulled her away and looked at her face. "I'm amazed by how different
you are. I still have no idea what you're really like. What you really
"Anything. Everything." He shrugged. "About this even."
"You mean being here with you? Making love with you?"
"That's a perfect place to start."
She smiled and eased back in the water, silently toying for a moment
with the rose petals drifting around her. "I think making love with
someone is how we share our deepest feelings. Things we can't express
any other way. It's how I tell you my love for you." She paused. "The
way music or poetry reveal the soul of the one who creates them."
"Are you saying you think lovemaking is like creating music?" He
examined her, puzzling.
"They both express what we feel inside."
He lifted up a handful of water and watched it trickle back into the
pool. "I've never thought of it quite like that before."
"Why not? It's true. Before you can create music, you have to teach
both your body and your heart. It's the same with making love."
"What do you mean?"
She reached and touched his thigh. "When we're very young, lovemaking
is mostly just desire. We may think it's more, but it isn't really.
Then gradually we learn more of its ways, how to give and receive. But
even then we still don't fully understand its deeper significance.
We're like a novice who has learned the techniques of the sitar, the
way to strike and pull a string to make one note blend into another,
but who still doesn't comprehend the spiritual depth of a raga. Its
power to move our heart. We still don't understand that its meaning and
feeling can only come from within. And love, like a raga, is an
expression of reverence and of wonder. Wonder at what we are and can
be. So even after all the techniques are mastered, we still must learn
to experience this wonder, this sense of our spirit becoming one with
the other. Otherwise it's somehow still empty. Like perfect music that
has no feeling, no life."
He was silent for a moment, trying to comprehend what she was saying.
"If you look at it like that, I suppose you could be right."
"With music, we first have to learn its language, then learn to open
our spirit. Lovemaking is just the same."
She nestled her head against his chest, sending her warmth through him.
As he held her, he noticed lying alongside the pool the garland of
flowers she had worn the night before. He reached and took it and
slipped it over her head. Then he kissed her gently, finding he was
indeed filled with wonder at the feeling he had for her.
He held her silently for a time, looking at the paintings on the walls
of the palace around them. Then he noticed a large straw basket at the
"What is that?" He pointed.
She rose and looked. "I think it's something Samad had left for us."
She lifted herself out of the water and, holding her wrap against her,
brought the basket. It was filled with fruits and melons.
"They're not from Samarkand or Kabul, like you've probably grown
accustomed to at the palace in Agra. But I think you'll like them
anyway." She squinted across the square, in the direction of the
mosque. "I love Samad dearly. He did all of this for me. But he refuses
to listen to anything I say." She handed him an apple, then reached and
took some grapes. "You know, I think he secretly wants to die a martyr.
Like a lover eager to die for his or her beloved. He wants to die for
his wild freedom, for what he thinks is beautiful. Perhaps to be
remembered as one who never bowed to anyone. I wish I had his
"Where's he now?"
"You won't see him any more. But he's still here. He'll have food sent
to us. He loves me like a daughter, and he's happy when I am. And he
knows now you make me happy. But you mustn't see him here again, even
know that he's here. It would be too dangerous for you. Perhaps
someday, if we're all still alive."
He took her face in his hands and held it up to him. "You have as much
strength as anyone, including Samad. And I want to get you away from
here before your strength makes you do something foolish. I love you
more than my own life."
"And I love you. Like I've never loved anyone."
"Not even the Great Moghul? When you were in his _zenana_?"
She laughed. "You know that was very different. I was scarcely more
than a girl then. I didn't know anything."
"You learned a few things somewhere." He remembered the night past,
still astonished. The way she had . . .
"In the _zenana _you learn everything about lovemaking. But nothing
about love." She rose and took his hand. Together they walked to the
open portico of the palace. Around them the red pavilions were empty in
the early sunshine. The morning was still, save for the cries of the
green parrots who scurried across eaves and peered down impassively
from weathered red railings and banisters. His gaze followed the wide
arches, then turned to her dark shining hair. He reached out and
"Tell me more about it. How did you learn Turki?"
"In the _zenana_. We had to learn it, even though Arangbar speaks
perfect Persian." She turned to him. "And how did you learn to
"In a Turkish prison." He laughed. "It seems about the same to me. I
had to learn it too."
"Will you tell me about it? Why were you in prison?"
"Like you, I had no choice. The Turks took a ship I was commanding, in
"Tell me what happened."
He stopped and looked at her. "All right. We'll trade. You tell me all
about you and I'll tell you everything about me. We'll leave out
nothing. Agreed?" She reached and kissed him. "Will you begin first?"
The imminent wedding of Prince Allaudin and Princess Layla was a
momentous event in the history of the Moghul empire. It represented the
final merging of two dynasties. One, that of the Moghul Akman and his
first son Arangbar, was in direct assent from the Mongols of the
steppes who had conquered India by the sword less than a century
before, melding under one rule a disorganized array of Muslim and Hindu
states. The other dynasty, that of Queen Janahara, her Persian father
Zainul Beg, her brother Nadir Sharif, and now her daughter Layla,
represented a very different kind of conqueror. At court they were
called, always in whispers, the "Persian junta."
Whereas no combination of forces indigenous to India - even the
recalcitrant Rajput warrior chieftains of the northwest - had ever
succeeded in wresting power from the invading Moghuls, this
extraordinary Persian family had, in one generation, come to rule India
virtually as equals with the dynasty of Akman, assuming the power that
the decadent Arangbar had let slowly slip away. With the marriage of
Queen Janahara's daughter to the weakling son of Arangbar, a son she
was carefully promoting to the role of heir-apparent, the last element
in the Persian strategy would be in place. When Arangbar died, or was
dethroned, the powerful line of Akman, who had unified India by a blend
of force and diplomatic marriages, would be supplanted by what was, in
effect, a palace coup. The "Persian junta" would have positioned itself
to assume effective control of India: Prince Allaudin, for so long as
he was allowed to maintain even the appearance of rule, would be
nothing more than a titular sovereign. Queen Janahara, together with
her father and her brother, would be the real ruler of India.
The queen could, of course, have contented herself for a time longer
merely to direct Arangbar from beside the throne, but that could never
be entirely satisfactory. Arangbar still wielded power when he so
chose, and that power could be enormous.
India had no independent judiciary, no parliament, no constitution.
There was, instead and only, the word of the Moghul. Criminals were
brought before him to be tried and sentenced. Offices of state were
filled, or vacated, on his personal whim. The army marched at his word.
And he owned, in effect, a large part of Indian soil, since large
estates went not to heirs but returned to the Moghul when their current
"owner" died. He granted lands and salaries as reward for loyalty and
service. And he alone granted titles. Seldom in history had a land so
vast, and a people so diverse, been held so absolutely under the
unquestioned rule of a single hand. Queen Janahara now looked
confidently forward to the day that hand would be hers.
The power Arangbar now possessed was thought by many to have brought
his own undoing. Originally an introspective if sometimes whimsical
sovereign - whose early memoirs were filled with scientific observations
on India's fauna and flora, and statesman-like ruminations on the
philosophy of governing - he had become slowly dissolute to the point of
incapacity. A man who had forsworn both alcohol and drugs until well
into his third decade of life, he was now hopelessly addicted to both.
In consequence his judgment and instincts had grown ever more
unreliable. And since all appointments of salary and place depended on
his word alone, no career or fortune was truly secure. It was into this
vacuum of sound leadership that the "Persian junta" of Janahara's
family had moved.
The Persian junta was supported by all those at court who feared
Arangbar's growing caprice, by other influential Persians, by the
powerful mullahs of the Shi'ite sect of Islam, by Hindus who still
habored historic grievances against Moghul rule . . . and by the
Portuguese. The "Persian junta" was not loved. But it did not need to
be loved; it enjoyed an even more compelling ingredient for success: it
was feared. Even those who might have preferred the succession of
Prince Jadar wisely held silent. The tides of history were there for
all to see.
Even Brian Hawksworth saw them.
The private palace of Zainul Beg, father of Janahara and Nadir Sharif
and grandfather of Princess Layla, was more modest than that of Nadir
Sharif, and its architecture more Persian, almost consciously
reminiscent of the land of his birth. It lay on the banks of the Jamuna
River, farther down from the palace of Nadir Sharif, and this evening
it was brilliantly illuminated by bonfires along the riverside. Even
the river itself was lighted. A dozen barks filled with lamps had been
towed upriver from the Red Fort, and now their camphor-oil flames cast
a dazzling white sheen over the pink turrets of the palace. On the
opposite bank of the Jamuna, men were lighting candles and floating
them in hollow clay pots across the surface of the water, where they
drifted gently downstream toward the Red Fort, creating a line of
illumination that would eventually stretch for miles.
Although Hawksworth's money was starting to grow short, he had used a
large portion of what was left to purchase a new pair of striped Indian
trousers, an expensive brocade turban, and ornate velvet slippers. He
alighted from his palanquin at the palace gate looking like a Moghul
grandee, to be greeted almost immediately by Zainul Beg's eunuchs and
ushered into the main hall. As he entered, the eunuchs directed him
toward a large silver fish stationed by the door. It was ornamented
with green lapis lazuli scales and fitted with seven spouts shooting
thin streams of rosewater outward into a large basin. Hawksworth was by
now accustomed to this Moghul ritual, and he quickly removed his new
slippers and splashed his feet in the basin to the minimal extent
acceptable. Then he turned and made his way through the line of nobles
reverently awaiting the arrival of Arangbar. He had become such a
familiar sight at royal gatherings that his presence excited no unusual
The marble walls of the hall were hung with new Persian tapestries and
the floors covered with silk carpets embroidered with silver and gold.
At the corners were immense vases of solid gold studded with precious
stones that sparkled in the lamp light. Incense burners wrought from
silver hung from the walls. Servants circulated among the crowd bearing
trays of rolled betel leaves, glasses of lemony _sharbat_, and cups of
green milky _bhang_. In deference to the ceremonial significance of
this holy Muslim occasion, there would be no wine until after the
Shi'ite mullahs had left. Hawksworth decided to take a glass of
_sharbat _and wait for the wine.
He strolled through the buzzing crowd of bejeweled men and anonymous,
veiled women and reflected on the bizarre ceremonies of a Moghul
His first taste had come only the previous evening, when he had been
invited to the Red Fort to witness and take part in the henna _bandi
_ceremony. The square just below the _Diwan-i-Khas_, where Arangbar's
birthday weighing was held only two weeks before, had been cleared and
made ready for the henna ceremony. Hawksworth had arrived and been
granted a place near Nadir Sharif and Arangbar. The crowd was already
being entertained by music and dancing women. Allaudin was there,
slightly nervous in anticipation of his upcoming ordeal.
Then the procession arrived: women of the _zenana _rode into the
courtyard on palanquins, in a flower-bedecked line bearing henna - a red
paste extracted from the plant of the same name - and gifts sent from
Layla to Allaudin. The bride was not present; she had not yet been seen
by Allaudin or any of his family, including Arangbar. The women of the
_zenana_, all veiled, spread before the Moghul the gifts that, on this
night, the bride was expected to present to the bridegroom. The eunuchs
bore trays which had been covered with basketwork raised in domes, over
which were thrown draperies of gold cloth and brocade in a rainbow of
colors. They were brought before Allaudin and Arangbar and uncovered
one by one. The first tray was of beaten silver and it held a new suit
for the bridegroom, a tailored cloak and trousers woven with strands of
gold. Others bore gold and silver vessels containing cosmetics and
toiletries - collyrium, kohl, musky perfumes - and plates of sweets, betel
leaves tied with strings of gold, and a confectionary of dried fruits
and preserves. The eunuchs also brought in sprays of flowers containing
disguised fireworks wheels, which were ignited as they entered to
create a startling, fiery garden of color.
Next the women led Allaudin to rooms behind the _Diwan-i-Khas_, where
he was dressed in the new clothes provided for him by the bride. Bamboo
slats were placed across the doorway to enable the _zenana _women to
watch the ceremony. While he was gone, an opening was prepared in the
screen separating the _zenana _from the courtyard and a low stool was
placed just outside. The screen was specially constructed to allow the
hands and feet of the one sitting on the stool to be reached from
When Allaudin returned, he assumed his place again beside Arangbar,
shifting occasionally in mild discomfort from the stiff new clothes. It
was obvious to Hawksworth that he wished to appear bored by the
ceremonies, but his eyes betrayed his apprehension.
Then a eunuch approached and announced to the male assembly - Arangbar,
Allaudin, Nadir Sharif, Zainul Beg, and a retinue of other men with
vague ties to royal blood who were waiting at the center of the
courtyard - that "the bridegroom is wanted."
"Go quickly." Arangbar pushed Allaudin toward the stool waiting in
front of the screen covering the entrance to the zenana. "It's always a
man's fate to be made the fool by his women."
Allaudin marched across the courtyard with as much dignity as his stiff
new clothes allowed, and seated himself with a flourish on the stool.
The air was rich with incense and music from the upper balconies. As
Hawksworth and the other male guests watched, women from behind the
screen ordered Allaudin to insert his hands and feet through the new
holes. He was then teased and fed small lumps of sugar candy while the
women behind the screen began to tie dark red cloths, soaked in a paste
of moist leaves of henna, onto his hands and feet.
"This ceremony is very important, Inglish." Arangbar had beamed with
satisfaction as he watched. "Henna is a charm to promote their union.
The women anoint the bride with it also, in private. It will make him
virile and her fertile."
As the women continued to dye Allaudin's hands and feet with the paste,
musicians and singers began to entertain him. Some of the songs, all
extemporary, lauded him as a prince among men, while others rhapsodized
over the beauty of the bride. Listening to their songs, Hawksworth had
to remind himself that none of the singers had actually seen the bride,
whose beauty they now extolled as that of one woman in thousands. Then
the singers sang of the impending happiness of the pair, as inevitable,
they declared, as that Paradise awaiting Believers after life on earth
After the women had finished their task, Allaudin turned to face the
assembled men wearing a vaguely sheepish expression. Hawksworth had
caught himself laughing out loud at the preposterous figure Allaudin
struck, standing before them with hands and feet dripping red with
Then he noticed a group of veiled women filing out from behind the
screen and approaching. They carried a silver chalice filled with red
henna paste. The women stopped in front of Arangbar, bowed with the
_teslim_, and began to anoint his fingers with henna. Then they tied
each reddened finger with a small, goId-embroidered handkerchief. He
smiled widely and signaled a eunuch to bring him a ball of opium. Next
the women proceeded to Zainul Beg and reddened his fingers also, then
Nadir Sharif, then all the other family members. Finally they stopped
in front of Hawksworth.
A robust woman from the _zenana _seized his fingers and began to daub
them with henna paste. It was thick and smelled of saffron. He watched
helplessly as his fingers disappeared into the red, after which they
too were swathed in the small kerchiefs of silk and gold.
"It will make you virile too, Inglish. This is a great omen for your
good fortune," Arangbar observed wryly, delighted by the confused look
on Hawksworth's face.
The women disappeared back into the _zenana _and the music began again,
now with more dancers. Hawksworth recognized among them the young women
Sangeeta, who had danced Kathak for Arangbar that first night in the