Vaijantes, requesting safe passage on a westbound galleon."
"Damn your Viceroy." As Hawksworth turned back toward Arangbar, he felt
rough hands close about his arms. Before he could speak, he was being
guided through the rear doorway and into the long gallery leading to
the public square.
"Majesty." Nadir Sharif watched the curtains close behind
Hawksworth, then rose and moved closer to the throne. "May it please
you, the Englishman unfortunately remains my guest. At least for a few
more days. As his host I feel a trifling obligation to see he finds his
way home safely. I ask leave to excuse myself for a few moments to
ensure he finds a palanquin."
"As you wish." Arangbar was watching a eunuch bring in a box of opium.
When Nadir Sharif moved toward the doorway, Father Pinheiro rose
unobtrusively and slipped out behind him. As the Jesuit moved into the
hallway, he appeared not to hurry, but his brisk walk brought him
alongside the prime minister midway down the corridor.
"Have you told Her Majesty, as we agreed?"
"Told her what?" Nadir Sharif did not break his pace or remove his eyes
from Hawksworth, still being led by the guards several yards ahead.
"About the ship that would be seized."
Nadir Sharif stopped as though hit by an arrow. "But surely you'll not
take the vessel now! Didn't you see that the Englishman has been
ordered out of Agra? He's finished. There'll certainly be no trading
_firman _for him now, or ever."
"But the warships were dispatched from Surat day before yesterday, just
before the pigeons arrived from Goa with the word of the hoax. His
Excellency, Miguel Vaijantes', message revoking their order to sail
arrived a day too late. They were already at sea. The Indian ship may
have already been seized."
Nadir Sharif inspected him with astonishment. "Your Viceroy must be
mad. To take the vessel now? There's no purpose in it. His Majesty will
be most annoyed."
"But you were the one who suggested it!" The Jesuit's voice rose,
quivering in dismay. "You said that bold measures were for bold men.
Those were your words. His Excellency agreed it would be a decisive
stroke of firmness."
"And what does Father Sarmento think of this folly?"
"Father Sarmento does not yet know. I thought it best not to inform
him." Pinheiro's eyes were despairing. "What did Her Majesty, Queen
Janahara, say about the plan?"
"What do you mean?"
"We agreed you would tell her."
"I've not forgotten our agreement. I've been watching carefully for the
"She does not even know!" Pinheiro seized his arm and stared at him
incredulously. "But I told His Excellency you would-"
"I planned to tell her any day. The time was approaching. But now,
given what has happened . . ." Then he smiled and touched the Jesuit's
arm lightly. "But I think she can still bring reason to His Majesty. It
can all be readily explained as a misunderstanding."
"But you must tell her immediately." Pinheiro's shock was growing. "If
she hears of it before you've explained, she'll think - "
"Of course. But there's no reason yet for concern." Nadir Sharif smiled
again. "I assure you it all can be handled very routinely. But please
tell His Excellency, Miguel Vaijantes, not to do anything else this
ill-advised for at least a week. I can only excuse so much at one
As Nadir Sharif turned to continue down the corridor, Pinheiro reached
out and seized his arm again. "You must also do one other thing. You
must make sure the Englishman is removed from Agra immediately. We both
know His Majesty may well forget by tomorrow that he has ordered him
"This time I doubt very much His Majesty will forget. It will only be a
matter of days, in any case." Nadir Sharif turned and smiled. "And
remember what I told you, that as far as His Majesty is concerned, I
know nothing about your Viceroy's impetuous act. But I do advise you to
inform Father Sarmento, before he hears it in open _durbar_."
"He'll be furious. He'll probably order me back to Goa."
"I doubt it. I'm sure he knows your value here." Nadir Sharif turned
without another word and hurried on down the corridor.
Ahead of him Hawksworth was being led by the guards through the marble
archways. As they reached the end, facing the doorway leading to the
courtyard stairs, he turned one last time and stared back, seeing Nadir
Sharif for the first time.
"What do you want now? My money or my life? Or both?"
"I merely came to see you safely home, Ambassador." Nadir Sharif waved
the guards back toward the _Diwan-i-Khas_, and they bowed with relief
as they turned to retreat. "And to offer my condolences."
"And no doubt to cozen me as well. I intend to find out who played me
false. Even if it's Jadar. Somebody has hell to pay."
"That would be most unwise, Ambassador. I'm afraid we were all a bit
too credulous. I readily confess even I had begun to believe your
"It wasn't 'my story'! I knew nothing about . . ."
"But you never denied it, Ambassador. Surely you knew the truth all
along. The truth is always wisest. That's my cardinal rule in life."
"But it could have been true. It was entirely possible. Why didn't you
explain that to Arangbar? You're still supposed to be my agent."
"That would be rather difficult for His Majesty to believe, given what
really happened. But I do suppose it's possible." Nadir Sharif patted
Hawksworth's shoulder. "I'll see if there's anything I can do. But in
the meantime, I suggest you begin preparations to leave. His Majesty
was unusually disturbed tonight."
"He's disturbed over a lot of things, most of which have little to do
"If you mean the matter of the prince, I assure you it's alarming to us
all. No one is certain what has happened in the south. In fact, you
were one of the last men to see Prince Jadar. He seems almost to have
disappeared. All sorts of rumors are working their way to the court.
Where it will end no one can any longer even guess." Nadir Sharif
followed Hawksworth out into the open square of the _Diwan-i-Am_.
"Incidentally, Ambassador, did you yourself know anything about the
fifty lakhs of silver coin spoken of tonight?"
Hawksworth examined him a moment. "Maybe the Shahbandar stole it all."
"That's hardly an answer, Ambassador. It wasn't, by any chance,
traveling with you from Surat to Burhanpur? You know, His Majesty has
demanded a full investigation. I think he may just summon Mirza
Nuruddin to Agra for an explanation."
"Then let him ask Mirza Nuruddin what happened. I'm sure he'll get the
truth." Hawksworth turned toward the large gate at the far end of the
"Very well, Ambassador." Nadir Sharif smiled warmly. "By the way, I
understand Mirza Nuruddin has suggested you may have smuggled it out of
Surat yourself, leaving a worthless letter of credit, in order to
swindle your merchants."
"The truth will surely come out, Ambassador, as you say. So I wish you
good night and a restful sleep." Nadir Sharif turned and in moments had
melted into the darkness.
Hawksworth slowly worked his way down the cobblestone roadway, past the
guards at the Amar Singh Gate, and into the Agra night. He turned left
and headed toward the banks of the Jamuna, hoping the smells and sounds
of water would soothe his mind. When he reached the riverbank, he found
himself looking back at the massive walls of the Red Fort, wondering
again where Shirin was being kept, wanting to be with her. To hold her
one last time. But the high stone walls stood dark and mute as his own
"You are home, Sahib." The servants were waiting, beaming and
immaculate in fresh muslin _dhotis_, as Hawksworth pushed open the
doors of his compound. It was nearing midnight. "Your house is honored
tonight with a special evening."
"What are you planning? My farewell?"
The servants examined him uncomprehending as he pushed past the
portiere of the doorway.
The room was heavy with sandalwood incense. In the lamplight he
recognized Kamala's musicians: the gray-haired flautist in a long
_lungi _wrap and bare to the waist, the drummer smiling widely in a
plain white shirt and brown _dhoti_. Although he had not seen them for
days, they paused only briefly to acknowledge him. The drummer was
absorbed in tuning his instrument, using a small hammer to tap blocks
of wood wedged beneath the leather thongs securing the drumhead. As he
adjusted the tension on the thongs, he periodically tested the drum's
pitch against a note from the flute.
Kamala was nowhere to be seen. Hawksworth stared about the room
quizzically, then turned to the musicians. They responded with a
puzzled shrug and motioned toward a rear door.
"She summoned them here tonight, Sahib. She did not tell them why. No
one has seen her all day. It is very worrying." The servant shuffled
uneasily. "Has the Sahib heard the stories in the bazaar?"
From behind the curtains came the sudden tinkling of tiny bells. The
musicians smiled in recognition.
As the servants edged toward the curtained doorway to look, Hawksworth
extracted a half-empty bottle of brandy from his chest and threw
himself down against a bolster.
What's this all about? Why can't I be alone for once? Tonight of all
nights she does this.
He puzzled a moment over Kamala, her erratic and powerful moods, then
his thoughts returned gloomily to the _Diwan-i-Khas _and to Shirin. He
could not give up hope. Never. He never gave up hope.
There was another tinkling of bells and the curtain at the doorway was
swept aside. Standing there, jewels afire in the lamplight, was Kamala.
He noticed the two musicians stare at her for an instant, then exchange
quick, disturbed glances.
She was, it seemed, more striking than he had ever seen her. Her eyes
were seductively lined with _kohl _and her lips were an inviting red,
matching the large dot on her forehead. In one side of her nose she
wore a small ring studded with diamonds. Her hair was swept back and
secured with rows of rubies and her throat and arms were circled with
bands of gold imbedded with small green emeralds. She wore a silken
wrap folded in pleats about each leg in a way that enhanced the full
curve of her hips. Her waist was circled by a belt of beaten gold, and
her palms and the soles of her feet had been reddened with henna. As
she came toward him, the bands of tiny bells at her ankles punctuated
the sensuous sway of her breasts beneath her silk halter.
"You've returned early. I'm glad." As she moved into the light, he
thought he caught a glimpse of some profound melancholy in her eyes. He
also noted her voice was strangely frail.
"Is there supposed to be a ceremony tonight I didn't know about?" As
Hawksworth studied her, he took another long swallow of brandy, its
heat burning away at his anguish.
"This is a special evening. I have decided to dance Bharata Natyam one
last time, for Lord Shiva."
"What do you mean, one last time?"
She seemed to stare past him for a moment, then she slowly turned. "I'm
truly glad you've come. To be here tonight. I would have waited for
you, but there was no time. And I wondered if you would really
understand. Perhaps I was wrong. Bharata Natyam is never only for the
dancer. So it is good you are here. Perhaps it was meant to be. Perhaps
you can understand something of what I feel tonight."
"I haven't understood much that's happened tonight so far." Hawksworth
settled his brandy bottle awkwardly onto the carpet and forced himself
to bring her into focus.
"You do not seem yourself, my _feringhi _Sahib." She studied him for a
moment. "Did you hear sad news of your Persian woman?"
"Nothing. But I'm afraid I've just lost my best chance to save her."
"I don't understand."
"It's not your trouble." He examined her wistfully. "It seems I'll be
leaving Agra sooner than I thought. So dance if you want, and then I'll
wish you well."
"Your trouble is always my trouble." She frowned as she studied him.
"But you are leaving? So soon?" She seemed not to wait for an answer as
she went on. "Never mind, I've never understood the affairs of
ambassadors and kings. But our parting must not be sad. Let my dance to
Shiva be my farewell to you."
She turned and signaled to the flautist, who began a low- pitched,
poignant melody. "Have you ever seen the Bharata Natyam?"
"Never." Hawksworth sipped more brandy from the bottle and found
himself wishing he could send them all away and play a suite on his
lute, the one he had played for Shirin that day at the observatory.
"Then it may be difficult for you to comprehend at first. With my body
and my song I will tell Lord Shiva of my longing for him. Do you think
you can understand it?"
"I'll try." Hawksworth looked up at her and again sensed some great
sadness in her eyes.
She examined him silently for a moment. "But I want you to understand.
Not the words I sing, they're in ancient Sanskrit, but if you watch my
hands, they will also speak. I will sing to Lord Shiva, but I give life
to his song with my eyes, my hands, my body. I will re-create the poem
with my dance. My eyes will speak the desire of my heart. The language
of my hands will tell my longing for Lord Shiva. My feet will show the
rhythms by which he brings order to the world. If you will try to feel
what I feel, perhaps Lord Shiva will touch you and lighten your
"And this is called Bharata Natyam? What does that mean?" Hawksworth
slipped off his mud-smeared boots and wearily tossed them next to the
"The ancient temple dance of India is Bharata Natyam: bhava means mood,
raga means song, tala means rhythm. All these are brought together in
the dance. Natyam means the merging of dance and story. The true
Bharata Natyam has seven movements: some are called pure dance and
these are only rhythms, but some also tell a story. If I were to dance
them all, as I would in the temple, I would have to dance all night."
She tried wanly to smile. "But not now. Tonight I am not so strong.
Tonight I will dance only the Varnam, the most important movement. In
it I will tell the story of how the goddess Parvati, Shiva's beloved
consort, longs for her lord. If I dance well I will become Parvati, and
through the story of her love for Shiva, I will tell my own."
"So it's really just a love song?"
"It is Parvati's song of longing for her lord. The words are very
_"Great with love for you this night.
Am I, oh Lord.
Do not avert yourself from me.
Do not tease me, do not scorn me,
Oh great, oh beautiful God
Of the Brihadishwari temple.
Great God who gives release
From the sorrows of the world . . ."
Kamala paused to tighten the straps securing the bells around her
ankles. "The song goes on to say that she cannot bear even to hear the
voice of the nightingale now that she is separated from her Lord Shiva.
She cannot endure the dark night now that he has taken himself from
"It's a very touching love song." Hawksworth found himself thinking
again of Shirin, and of the dark nights they had both endured.
"It is really much more. You see, Lord Shiva is her beloved, but he is
also her god. So her song also praises the beauty of the great Shiva in
all his many aspects: as her own consort, as one who has the Third Eye
of Knowledge, as the great God of the Dance, Nataraj. Through my dance
I will show all the many aspects of Shiva - as creator, as destroyer, as
lord of the cosmic rhythms of life."
Hawksworth watched in groggy fascination as she rose and, clasping her
hands above her head, bowed toward a small bronze statue of the Dancing
Shiva she had placed on a corner table. Then, as the drummer took up a
steady cadence and the flute began a searching, high-pitched lament,
she struck a statuesque pose of her own, feet crossed, arms above her
head. Gradually her eyes began to dart seductively from side to side,
growing in power until it seemed her entire body might explode.
Abruptly she assumed a second pose, reminiscent of the statue. As the
drummer's rhythms slowly increased, she began to follow them with her
body, next with her feet, slapping heel, then ball, fiercely against
the carpet. The drummer began to call out his bols, the strokes he was
sounding on the drum, and as he did she matched his rhythms with the
rows of tiny bells around her ankles.
Hawksworth found himself being drawn into her dance. Her rhythms were
not flamboyant like those of the Kathak style, but rather seemed to
duplicate some deep natural cadence, as she returned again and again to
the pose of the Dancing Shiva. It was pure dance, and he slowly began
to feel the power of her controlled sensuality.
Without warning she began a brief song to Shiva in a high- pitched,
repetitive refrain. As she sang, her hands formed the signs for woman,
for beauty, for desire, for dozens of other words and ideas Hawksworth
could not decipher. Yet her expressive eyes exquisitely translated many
of the hand signs, while her body left no mistaking the intensity of
When the song and its mime reached some climactic plateau, she suddenly
resumed the pure dance, with the drummer once more reciting the bols as
he sounded them. Again she matched his rhythms perfectly.
After a time she began another verse of the song. By her mime
Hawksworth concluded she was describing some aspect of Lord Shiva. When
the song concluded, the drummer called out more _bols _and again she
danced only his rhythms. Then she began yet another verse of the song,
followed by still more rhythmic dance. The aspects of Shiva that she
created all seemed different. Some wise, some fierce, some clearly of a
beauty surpassing words.
As Hawksworth watched, he began to sense some alien power growing
around him, enveloping him and his despair, just as she had said.
Kamala seemed to be gradually merging with an energy far beyond
herself, almost as though she had invoked some primal rhythm of life
into existence. And as he watched the growing intensity of her dance he
began to experience a deep, almost primitive sense of fear, a stark
knowledge of life and death beyond words.
He found himself fighting to resist the force of some malevolent evil
settling about the room, beginning to possess it and all it contained.
He felt its power begin to draw out his own life, hungry and insistent,
terrifying. And still she danced on, now only rhythms, her body dipping
and whirling, her arms everywhere at once, her smile frozen in an
Forcing himself at last to turn away, he looked toward the musicians.
They seemed entranced by her as well, captured by the delirium of her
dance. He finally caught the eye of the drummer and weakly signaled him
to stop. But the man stared as though not comprehending, spellbound.
Her dance had now grown to a frenzy, surpassing human limits.
Summoning his last strength, he tried to pull himself up off the
bolster, but he discovered his legs were no longer his own. The room
had become a whirling pattern of color and sound, beyond all control.
Uncertainly he turned and began to feel about the carpet for his boots.
His grip closed about a sheath of soft leather and he probed inside.
There, strapped and still loaded, was his remaining pocket pistol.
Shakily he took it in his hand, checked the prime, and began trying to
aim at the long drum resting between the musicians. Now the drum seemed
to drift back and forth in his vision, while the players smiled at him
with glazed eyes.
He heard a hiss and felt his hand fly upward, as though unconnected to
his body. Then the world around erupted in smoke and flying splinters
The shot had been timed perfectly with the end of a rhythm cycle, as
the drum exploded into fragments on the sum.
The smoky room was suddenly gripped in silence. The musicians stared
wildly for a moment, then threw themselves face down on the carpet,
pleading in unknown words needing no translation. Hawksworth looked in
confusion at the smoking pistol in his hand, not recognizing it. Then
he threw it onto the carpet and turned toward Kamala.
She was gazing at him with open, vacant eyes, as though awakened
suddenly from a powerful dream. Her breath was coming in short bursts,
and her skin seemed afire. She stood motionless for a moment, then
tried to move toward him, holding out her arms. After two hesitant
steps, she crumpled to the carpet.
When he bolted upward to reach for her, the servants were there,
holding him back.
"You must not touch her, Sahib."
"But she's . . ."
"No, Sahib." They gripped his arms tighter. "Can't you see? She has the
"What are you talking about?"
"It began late today, in the bazaar. Perhaps they do not know of it yet
in the fort. At first no one realized what it was. But tonight, while
she was dancing, one of the slaves from Sharif Sahib's kitchen came to
tell us. Two of the eunuchs and five of his servants have become very
sick." He paused to look at Kamala. "I think she must have known. That
is why she wanted to dance tonight."
"Knew what? What did she know?"
"The plague, Sahib. The slave who came said that the plague has struck
all over Agra. It has never happened in India before." The servant
paused. "It is the will of Allah. The prophet Samad foretold it. Now it
Hawksworth turned again to Kamala. She was still watching him with
empty, expressionless eyes, as though her life had just poured out of
her. He looked down at her for a moment, then reached for a pillow and
carefully slipped it beneath her head. Her lips moved as she tried to
form words, but at first no sound came. Then, as though again finding
some strength beyond herself, her voice came in a whisper.
"Did you see?"
"What . . . ?"
"Did you see him? The Great God Shiva. He came tonight. And danced
beside me. Did you see his beauty?" She paused to breathe, then her
voice rose again, full and warm. "He was as I knew he would be.
Beautiful beyond telling. He danced in a ring of fire, with his hair
streaming out in burning strands. He came as Shiva the Destroyer. But
his dance was so beautiful. So very, very beautiful."
_From the _Tuzuk-i-Arangbari, the court chronicles of His Imperial
"On the day of Mubarak-shamba, the twenty-eighth of the month of Dai,
there came first reports of the pestilence in the city of Agra. On this
day over five hundred people were stricken.
The first signs are headache and fever and much bleeding at the nose.
After this the _dana _of the plague, buboes, form under the armpits, or
in the groin, or below the throat. The infected ones turn in color from
yellow inclining to black. They vomit and endure much high fever and
pain. And then they die.
If one in a household contracts the pestilence and dies, others in the
same house inevitably follow after, traveling the same road of
annihilation. Those in whom the buboes appeared, if they call another
person for water to drink or wash, will also infect the latter with the
sirayat, the infection. It has come to pass that, through excessive
apprehension, none will minister unto those infected.
It has become known from men of great age and from old histories that
this disease has never before shown itself in this land of Hindustan.
Many physicians and learned men have been questioned as to its cause.
Some say it has come because there has been drought for two years in
succession; others say it is owing to the corruption of the air. Some
attribute it to other causes.
The infection is now spreading to all towns and villages in the region
of Agra save one, the noble city of the Great Akman, Fatehpur.
Wisdom is of Allah, and all men must submit.
Written this last day of the Muharram in the Hijri year after the
Prophet of 1028 A.H., by Mu'tamad Khan, Second Wazir to His Imperial
Brian Hawksworth walked slowly up worn stone steps leading from the
riverside funeral ghats. The pathway was narrow, crowded, and lined
with carved statues of Hindu gods: a roly-poly god with human form and
the head of an elephant, a god with a lion's body and a grotesquely
grinning human face, an austere deity with a pointed head and a trident
in his hand. All were ancient, weathered, ill-kept. Tame monkeys,
small, brown, malicious, chased among them screeching.
The smoke from the _ghats _behind him still seared in his lungs. Only
when he reached the top of the steps could he force himself to look
back. Scavenger birds wheeled in the sky above and small barks with