pearl-embroidered velvet gleaming in the light, ready for high
The roadway leading from the square of the _Diwan-i-Am _had been lined
with a guard of three hundred male war elephants, each with a cannon
turret on its back. Behind those, three hundred female elephants stood
idling in the sunshine, their backs covered with gold cloth marked with
the Moghurs insignia, waiting to be loaded with household goods from
the _zenana_. Just beyond the gate a host of watermen were poised with
waterskins slung from their backs, ready to run before the Moghul's
procession sprinkling the roadway to banish dust. Near them a small
party of men stood holding the harness of a camel bearing a roll of
white cloth, used to cover and banish from sight any dead animals that
might lie along the route of the Moghuls party.
The courtyard erupted with a sudden blare of trumpets and kettledrums,
and Hawksworth turned to see Arangbar being carried in on an open
palanquin, supported by uniformed eunuchs. A slave walked along one
side, holding a satin umbrella over his head for shade, while on the
other, two chubby eunuchs walked fanning him with sprays of peacock
feathers attached to long poles.
As the palanquin neared the tent, Hawksworth pushed through the crowd
to gain a better view. Arangbar was dressed for a ceremonial occasion,
wearing a velvet turban with a plume of white _heme _feathers almost
two feet in length. A walnut-sized ruby dangled from one side of the
turban, and on the other side was a massive diamond, paired with a
heart-shaped emerald. Around his turban was a sash wreathed with a
chain of pearls. Rings bearing flashing jewels decorated every finger,
and his cloak was gold brocade, decorated with jeweled armlets.
As he descended from the palanquin, at the entry of the pavilion, the
nobles near him yelled "Padshah Salamat," Long Live the Emperor, and
performed the _teslim_. As he moved toward his throne two more eunuchs
were waiting. One stepped forward and presented an enormous pink carp
on a silver tray, while the other held out a dish of starchy white
liquid. Arangbar dipped his finger in the liquid, touched it to the
fish, then rubbed his own forehead - a Moghul ceremony presaging good
omens for a march.
Next, another eunuch stepped forward, bowed, and presented him with a
sword. He stared at it for a moment as though confused, then shakily
ran his finger along the diamonds set in the scabbard and the braided
gold belt. As the eunuch urged it toward him, he nodded and allowed it
to be buckled at his waist. Another eunuch then presented him with a
golden quiver containing thin bamboo arrows and a gleaming lacquer bow.
As he mounted the dais, two eunuchs moved to his side, each waving a
gold-handled tail of white yak hair intended to drive away flies.
Another fanfare of trumpets and drums cut the air as the eunuchs helped
him onto the throne.
Only when Arangbar was seated did Hawksworth notice
that Nadir Sharif and Zainul Beg were already waiting at the foot of
the dais. He also noted Queen Janahara was not present. And then he
realized why. The servants had neglected to erect her screen, the one
she normally sat behind to dictate his decisions. Since the appearance
of Arangbar's solitary rule still had to be maintained, she could not
be seen publicly issuing orders, at least not yet.
Hawksworth smiled to himself, wondering whose head would roll for the
oversight. Then, as he watched Nadir Sharif begin explaining petitions
to Arangbar, he thought he sensed a gleam of triumph in the prime
minister's eye. Could it be the failure to install a screen was
The Persian Safavid ambassador approached with the obligatory gift,
this time an ornamental case containing a ruby on a gold chain, and
then handed up a paper. Arangbar listened to Nadir Sharif explain the
document, then appeared to ponder it a moment. Finally he waved his
arms lightly and agreed to something Hawksworth did not catch. The
ambassador bowed his appreciation, revolved with enormous dignity, and
retreated into the sunshine.
Arangbar was already beginning to grow restless, clearly anxious to
dismiss everyone and begin loading the _zenana _women onto their
elephants. He turned and spoke to Nadir Sharif, who replied quickly and
motioned toward a Portuguese emissary in a starched doublet who stood
waiting, together with Father Sarmento. It was the first time
Hawksworth had noticed them, and he felt his gut knot in hatred as he
shoved his own way forward toward the pavilion.
Arangbar listened with a glazed expression, nodding occasionally, as
the Portuguese emissary delivered an elaborate speech, translated by
Sarmento, and began laying out the contents of a chest he carried. With
theatrical flair he drew out several large silver candlesticks, a brace
of gold- handled knives with jewel-embossed sheaths, a dozen wine cups
of Venetian crystal. Then he produced a leather packet with a red wax
seal. He spoke a few more words and passed it to Nadir Sharif.
The prime minister examined it, broke the seal to extract the
parchment, then gestured for Sarmento to come forward to translate. The
Jesuit suddenly looked very old and very uneasy as he adjusted his
peaked black hat and took the paper.
Hawksworth shoved closer, and for the first time Arangbar seemed to
notice him. The Moghul's eyes darkened and he started to say something
in Hawksworth's direction, but Sarmento had already begun the
translation into Turki.
"His Excellency, Miguel Vaijantes, sends this message of his high
regard and everlasting friendship for His Most High Majesty, the Great
Moghul of India. He bows before you and hopes you will honor him by
accepting these few small tokens of his admiration."
Sarmento shifted and cleared his throat. Arangbar's eyes had fluttered
partially closed and his head seemed to nod sleepily at the
"His Excellency asks Your Majesty's indulgence of a grievous misdeed
last week by a captain of one of our patrol vessels. He assures Your
Majesty that the captain will be stripped of all rank and returned in
chains to Goa within the month."
Arangbar's eyes had again opened and he shifted slightly on the throne.
"What 'misdeed' is referred to?"
Sarmento looked at the emissary, who quickly replied in Portuguese. The
Jesuit turned again to Arangbar.
"Your Majesty will doubtless receive a dispatch from Surat within a
short time describing an unfortunate incident. His Excellency wants you
to understand in advance that it was a mistaken order, undertaken
entirely without his knowledge or approval."
Arangbar was fully awake now and staring down at the two Portuguese.
"What order? Did the Viceroy order something he now wishes to disown?
What was it?"
"It's the unfortunate matter of the _Fatima_, Your Majesty." Sarmento
turned helplessly toward the Portuguese emissary, as though he too were
searching for an explanation.
"What about the _Fatima_? She's my largest cargo vessel. She's due in
Surat in two days, with goods from Persia." Arangbar's face was sober
now. "Her Highness, Maryam Zamani, had eighty _lakhs _of rupees . . ."
"The _Fatima_ is safe, Your Majesty. She has only been detained at sea,
on a mistaken interpretation of His Excellency's orders." Sarmento
seemed to be blurting out the words. "But he wishes to assure you . .
"Impossible!" Arangbar's voice was suddenly a roar. "He would not dare!
He knows the cargo was under my seal. I have a copy of the cartaz sent
"It was a grievous mistake, Majesty. His Excellency sends his deepest
apologies and offers to . . ."
"It was done on _someone's _order! It had to be his. How can it be a
'mistake'!" Arangbar's face had gone purple. "Why was it ordered in the
Sarmento stood speechless while the envoy spoke rapidly into his ear.
Then he looked back at Arangbar. "Mistakes are always possible,
Majesty. His Excellency wishes to assure you the vessel and all cargo
will be released within two weeks."
"I demand it be released immediately! And damages equal the value of
the cargo brought to me personally." Arangbar's face was livid. "Or he
will never again have a _pice _of trade in an Indian port."
Sarmento turned and translated quickly to the emissary. The
Portuguese's face dropped over his moustache and he hesitantly spoke
something to Sarmento.
"We regret we have no power at this time to authorize a payment for
damages, Majesty. But we assure you His Excellency will . . ."
"Then 'His Excellency' will have no more trade in India." Arangbar
turned, his face overflowing with rage, and shouted to the guards
standing behind him. As they ran to his side he drew his sword and
waved it drunkenly at the emissary, whose face had gone white. "Take
As the guards seized the terrified Portuguese by the arms, sending his
hat tumbling onto the carpet, he looked imploringly at Nadir Sharif.
But the prime minister's face was a mask. Then Arangbar turned on
Father Sarmento. "If His Excellency has anything else to say to me, he
will say it himself, or he will send someone with the authority to
answer me. I do not receive his _peons_."
Sarmento flinched at the insulting Goan slang for dockhand. "Your
Majesty, again I assure you . . ."
" You will never again assure me of anything. I've listened to your
assurances for years, largely on matters about which you have only
belief, never proof. You assured me of the power of the Christian God,
but never once would you accept the challenge of the Islamic mullahs to
cast a Bible and the Quran into a fire together, to show once and for
all which held sacred truth. But their test is no longer needed. Your
Christian lies are over." Arangbar rose unsteadily from his throne, his
brow harrowed by his fury. "I order your stipend terminated and your
church in Agra closed. And your mission in Lahore. There will never
again be a Christian church in India. Never."
"Your Majesty, there are many Christians in India." Sarmento's voice
was pleading. "They must have a priest, to minister the Holy
"Then do it in your lodgings. You no longer have a church." Arangbar
settled back on the throne, his anger seeming to overwhelm him. "Never
see me again unless you bring news the ship is released, and my demands
Sarmento watched in horror as Arangbar dismissed him with a gesture of
his arm. The old Jesuit turned and moved trembling into the crowd that
had pushed around the sides of the pavilion. As he passed by
Hawksworth, he suddenly stopped.
"This was all because of you." His voice quivered. "I learned of this
only today from my foolish prodigal, Pinheiro. May God have mercy on
you, heretic. You and your accomplices have destroyed all His work in
As Hawksworth tried to find an answer he heard a drunken shout.
"Inglish! What are you doing here? Come forward and explain yourself."
He looked up to see Arangbar motioning at him.
"Are you deaf? Come forward." Arangbar glared mischievously. "Why are
you still in Agra? We were told we sent you away, almost a week ago. I
think I may decide to have you and every other Christian in India
"May it please Your Majesty, I came to request an audience." Hawksworth
moved quickly forward, past the confused guards, carrying the package
he had brought.
"And what have you stolen of ours, Inglish? Have you come now to tell
us it was all a mistake, before I order your hand cut off?"
"Englishmen are not Portugals, Your Majesty. We do not take what is not
our own. What have I ever taken that Your Majesty did not freely give?"
"It's true what you say, Inglish. You are not a Portuguese." Arangbar
suddenly beamed as a thought flashed through his eyes. "Tell me,
Inglish, will your king destroy their fleets for me now?"
"Why would he do so, Your Majesty? You have denied him the right to
trade; you have refused to grant the _firman _he requested."
"Not if he will rout the Portuguese infidels from our seas, Inglish.
They are a pestilence, a plague, that sickens all it touches." Arangbar
waved in the direction of a eunuch, ordering wine for himself. "You
deceived me once, Inglish, but you did not rob me. Perhaps we will have
you stay here a few days longer."
"I have already made preparations to depart, Your Majesty, on your
"You cannot travel without our permission, Inglish. We still rule
India, despite what the Portuguese Viceroy may think." Arangbar paused
and drank thirstily from the glass of wine. "So why did you want an
audience, Inglish, if you were planning to leave?"
Hawksworth paused, thinking of the decision he had made, wondering
again if there was a chance.
"I've come to make a trifling request of Your Majesty." He moved
forward and bowed, presenting his parcel, the obligatory gift.
"What's this have you brought us, Inglish?"
"May it please Your Majesty, after settling my accounts in Agra, I have
no money remaining to purchase gifts worthy of Your Majesty. I have
only this remaining. I offer it to Your Majesty, in hopes you will
understand its unworthiness in your eyes is matched only by its
unequaled value to me. It is my treasure. I have had it by my side for
over twenty years, at sea and on land."
Arangbar accepted the parcel with curiosity and flipped aside the
velvet wrap. An English lute sparkled against the sunshine.
"What is this, Inglish?" Arangbar turned it in his hand, examining the
polished cedar staves that curved to form its melon-shaped back.
"An instrument of England, Your Majesty, which we hold in the same
esteem you grant your Indian sitar."
"This is a curious toy, Inglish. It has so few strings." He examined it
a moment longer, then turned to Hawksworth. "Do you yourself play this
"I do, Your Majesty."
"Then we will hear it." Arangbar passed the lute back to Hawksworth,
while the nobles around them buzzed in astonishment.
Hawksworth cradled it against him. The feel of its body flooded him
with sadness as he realized he would never play it again. Memories of
London, Tunis, Gibraltar, a dozen cabins and lodgings, flooded over
him. He inhaled deeply and began a short suite by Dowland. It was the
one he had played for Shirin that afternoon so long ago in the
observatory in Surat.
The clear notes flooded the canopied pavilion with their rich full
voice, then drifted outward into the square, settling silence in their
path. The suite was melancholy, a lament of lost love and beauty, and
Hawksworth found his own eyes misting as he played. When he reached the
end, the last crisp note died into a void that seemed to be his own
heart. He held the lute a moment longer, then turned to pass it back to
The Moghul's eyes seemed to be misting as well.
"I have never heard anything quite like it, Inglish. It has a sadness
we never hear in a raga. Why have you never played for us before?"
"Your Majesty has musicians of your own."
"But no instrument like this, Inglish. Will you have your king send us
"But I have given you mine, Majesty."
Arangbar examined the lute once more, then looked at Hawksworth and
smiled. "But if I keep this instrument now, Inglish, I will most
probably forget by tomorrow where I have put it." He winked at
Hawksworth and handed back the lute. "Have your king send us one,
Inglish, and a teacher to instruct our musicians."
Hawksworth could not believe what he was hearing. "I humbly thank Your
Majesty. I . . ."
"Now what was it you came to ask of us, Inglish?" Arangbar continued to
study the lute as he sipped from his wine. "Ask it quickly."
"Merely a trifling indulgence of Your Majesty."
"Then tell us what it is, Inglish." Arangbar turned and searched the
square with his eyes, as though monitoring the state of preparations.
Hawksworth cleared his throat and tried to still his pulse. "Your
Majesty's release of the Persian woman Shirin, who is guilty of no
crime against Your Majesty."
Arangbar's smile faded as he turned back to Hawksworth.
"We have not yet decided her fate, Inglish. She does not concern you."
"May it please Your Majesty, she concerns me very much. I come to ask
Your Majesty's permission to make her my wife, and to take her back to
England with me, if Your Majesty will release her. She will be gone
from India soon, and will trouble Your Majesty no further."
"But we just told you you are not returning, Inglish. Not until we
permit it." He grinned. "You must stay and play this instrument for us
"Then I beg that her life be spared until the time I am allowed to
Arangbar studied Hawksworth and a grudging smile played on his lips.
"You are an excellent judge of women, Inglish. Perhaps too much so. I
suspected it the first time I saw you."
"She wishes no ill toward Your Majesty. There is no purpose in taking
"How do you know what she wishes for us, Inglish? I think we know
better than you." Arangbar paused to sip again from his wine cup. "But
we will spare her for now, if your king will agree to send warships to
drive the infidel Portuguese from our shores. And if you will agree to
play more for me."
"Will Your Majesty order her release?"
"I will move her to my _zenana_ for now, Inglish. Until matters are
settled, I will order her brought with us to Fatehpur. That is my part
of the bargain. What will you do about yours?"
"I will inform my king of Your Majesty's wishes."
"And he will comply, if he wants to trade in India." Arangbar turned to
Nadir Sharif. "Order a horse for the Inglish. He will ride with us
today. And have the woman Shirin sent to the _zenana_."
Nadir Sharif bowed and edged next to Arangbar, adopting a confidential
"If I may be allowed, Your Majesty, you are aware the woman Shirin
would not be entirely welcome in the _zenana _by Her Majesty, Queen
"Her Majesty is not the Moghul of India." Arangbar seemed suddenly
exhilarated by the absence of the queen. "I have ordered it."
"To hear is to obey." Nadir Sharif bowed low, casting a worried glance
toward Hawksworth. "But perhaps it would be equally pleasing to Your
Majesty . . . and to Her Majesty as well . . . to allow the woman to
travel to Fatehpur under the cognizance of the English ambassador."
Arangbar glanced toward the palace, and his exhilaration seemed to
dissolve as suddenly as it had come. "Until Fatehpur, then. After that
we will decide where she will be kept until the Inglish satisfies his
part of the bargain." Arangbar turned to Hawksworth. "Agreed, Inglish?"
"I bow to Your Majesty's will."
"_Durbar_ is concluded." Arangbar rose by himself and moved to the edge
of the tent pavilion. As the trumpets and drums again sounded, the
fanning eunuchs scurried to stay beside him. He stepped into the
sunshine, stared about the square for a moment, then turned to Nadir
"Order everyone cleared and the women brought. I am suddenly growing
weary of Agra."
Nadir Sharif bowed again and spoke quickly to the captain of the guard.
As the order was circulated, he quietly moved next to Hawksworth.
"So it seems your luck changed after all, Ambassador. For now. But I
fear it may not last. As a friend I suggest you make the most of it."
The dark sky had begun to show pale in the east, heralding the
first traces of day. Hawksworth stood in the shadows of his tent, at
the edge of the vast Imperial camp, and pulled his frayed leather
jerkin tighter against the cold. He watched as the elephants filed
past, bulky silhouettes against the dawn. They were being led from the
temporary stables on the hill behind him toward the valley below, where
cauldrons of water were being stoked for their morning bath. Heating
the water for the elephant baths had become routine during the reign of
Akman, who had noticed his elephants shivering from their baths on
chilly mornings and decreed their bath water warmed henceforth.
As he watched the line of giant animals winding their way through the
camp, waving their trunks in the morning air, he realized they were not
docile female _zenana _elephants, but male war elephants, first and
First-ranked war elephants, called "full blood," were selected from
young males who had demonstrated the endurance and even temper
essential in battle; those granted Second Rank, called "tiger-seizing,"
were slightly smaller, but with the same temperament and strength. Each
elephant had five keepers and was placed under the training of a
special military superintendent - whose responsibility was to school the
animal in boldness amid artillery fire. The keepers were monitored
monthly by Imperial inspectors, who fined them a month's wages if their
elephant had noticeably lost weight. Should an elephant lose a tusk
through its keepers' inattention to an infection, they were fined one
eighth the value of the animal, and if an elephant died in their care,
they received a penalty of three months' wages and a year's suspension.
But the position of elephant keeper was a coveted place of great
responsibility. A well-trained war elephant could be valued at a
hundred thousand rupees, a full _lakh_, and experienced commanders had
been known to declare one good elephant worth five hundred horses in a
Hawksworth studied the elephants, admiring their disciplined stride and
easy footing, and wondered again why the army had stationed its stables
so near the Imperial camp. Did Arangbar somehow feel he needed
"They're magnificent, don't you think?" Shirin emerged from her tent to
join him, absently running her hand across the back of his jerkin. It
had been six days since they had left Agra, and it seemed to Hawksworth
she had grown more beautiful each day, more loving each night. The
nightmare of the past weeks had already faded to a distant memory. She
was fully dressed now, with a transparent scarf pinned to her dark hair
by a band of pearls, thick gold bracelets, flowered trousers beneath a
translucent skirt, and dark _kohl _highlighting her eyes and eyebrows.
He watched, enthralled as she pulled a light cloak over her shoulders.
"Especially in the morning. They say Akman used to train his royal
elephants to dance to music, and to shoot a bow."
"I don't think I'll ever get used to elephants." Hawksworth admired her
a moment longer in the dawn light, then looked back at the immense
forms lumbering past, trying to push aside the uneasy feeling their
presence gave him. "You'd be very amused to hear what people in London
think they're like. Nobody there has ever seen an elephant, but there
are lots of fables about them. It's said elephants won't ford a clear
stream during the day, because they're afraid of their reflection, so
they only cross streams at night."
Shirin laughed out loud and reached to kiss him quickly on the cheek.
"I never know whether to believe your stories of England."
"I swear it."
"And the horse-drawn coaches you told me about. Describe one again."
"It has four wheels, instead of two like your carts have, and it really
is pulled by horses, usually two but sometimes four. It's enclosed and
inside there are seats and cushions . . . almost like a palanquin."
"Does that mean your king's _zenana _women all ride in these strange
coaches, instead of on elephants?"
"In the first place, King James has no _zenana_. I don't think he'd
know what to do with that many women. And there are absolutely no
elephants in England. Not even one."
"Can you possibly understand how hard it is for me to imagine a place
without elephants and _zenanas_?" She looked at him and smiled. "And no
"No camels. But we have lots of stories about camels too. Tell me, is
it true that if you're poisoned, you can be put inside a newly slain
camel and it will draw out the poison?"
Shirin laughed again and looked up the hill toward the stables, where
pack camels were being fed and massaged with sesame oil. The bells on
their chest ropes sounded lightly as their keepers began harnessing
them, in strings of five. Hawksworth turned to watch as the men began
fitting two of the camels to carry a _mihaffa_, a wooden turret
suspended between them by heavy wooden poles. All the camels were
groaning pitifully and biting at their keepers, their customary
response to the prospect of work.
"That sounds like some tale you'd hear in the bazaar. Why should a dead
camel draw out poison?" She turned back to Hawksworth. "Sometimes you
make the English sound awfully naive. Tell me what it's really like