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Thomas Hoover.

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there."

"It is truly beautiful. The fairest land there is, especially in the
late spring and early summer, when it's green and cool." Hawksworth
watched the sun emerge from behind a distant hill, beginning to blaze
savagely against the parched winter landscape almost the moment it
appeared. Thoughts of England suddenly made him long for shade, and he
took Shirin's arm, leading her around the side of their rise and back
into the morning cool. Ahead of them lay yet another bleak valley,
rocky and sere. "I sometimes wonder how you can survive here in summer.
It was already autumn when I made landfall and the heat was still
unbearable."

"Late spring is even worse than summer. At least in summer there's
rain. But we're accustomed to the heat. We say no _feringhi _ever gets
used to it. I don't think anyone from your England could ever really
love or understand India."

"Don't give up hope yet. I'm starting to like it." He took her chin in
his hand and carefully studied her face with a scrutinizing frown, his
eyes playing critically from her eyes to her mouth to her vaguely
aquiline Persian nose. "What part do I like best?" He laughed and
kissed the tip of her nose. "I think it's the diamond you wear in your
left nostril."

"All women wear those!" She bit at him. "So I have to also. But I've
never liked it. You'd better think of something else."

He slipped his arm around her and held her next to him, wondering if he
should tell her of his bargain with Arangbar - that she had been released
only because he had offered to take her from India forever. For a
moment the temptation was powerful, but he resisted. Not yet. Don't
give her a chance to turn headstrong and refuse.

"You know, I think you'd like England once you saw it. Even with no
elephants, and no slaves to fan away the flies. We're not as primitive
as you seem to imagine. We have music, and if you'd learn our language,
you might discover England has many fine poets."

"Like the one you once recited for me?" She turned to face him. "What
was his name?"

"That was John Donne. I hear he's a cleric now, so I doubt he's writing
his randy poems and songs any more. But there

are others. Like Sir Walter Raleigh, a staunch adventurer who writes
passable verse, and there's also Ben Jonson, who writes poems, and
plays also. In fact, lots of English plays are in verse."

"What do you mean by plays?"

"English plays. They're like nothing else in the world." He stared
wistfully into the parched valley spread out before them. "Sometimes I
think they're what I miss most about London when I'm away."

"Well, what are they?"

"They're stories that are acted out by players. In playhouses."

She laughed. "Then perhaps you should begin by explaining a playhouse."

"The best one is the Globe, which is just across the Thames from
London, in the Bankside edge of Southwark, near the bridge. It was
built by some merchants and by an actor from Stratford-up-on-Avon, who
also writes their plays. It's three stories high and circular, with
high balconies. And there's a covered stage at one side, where the
players perform."

"Do the women in these plays dance, like our _devadasis_?"

"Actually the players are all men. Sometimes they take the roles of
women, but I've never seen them dance all that much. There are plays
about famous English kings, and sometimes there are stories of thwarted
love, usually set in Italy. Plays are a new thing in England, and
there's nothing like them anywhere else."

Shirin settled against a boulder and watched the shadows cast by the
rising sun stretch out across the valley. She sat thoughtfully for a
moment and then she laughed. "What would you say if I told you India
had dramas about kings and thwarted love over a thousand years ago?
They were in Sanskrit, and they were written by men named Bhavabhuti
and Bhasa and Kalidasa, whose lives are legends now. A pandit, that's
the title Hindus give their scholars, once told me about a play called
The Clay Cart. It was about a poor king who fell in love with a rich
courtesan. But there are no plays here now, unless you count the dance
dramas they have in the south. Sanskrit is a dead language, and Muslims
don't really care for plays."

"I'll wager you'd like the plays in London. They're exciting, and
sometimes the poetry can be very moving."

"What's it like to go to see one?"

"First, on the day a play is performed they fly a big white banner of
silk from a staff atop the Globe, and you can see it all over London.
The admission is only a penny for old plays and two pence for new ones.
That's all you ever have to pay if you're willing to stand in the pit.
If you want to pay a little more, you can get a seat in the galleries
around the side, up out of the dust and chips, and for a little extra
you can get a cushion for the seat. Or for sixpence you can enter
directly through the stage door and sit in a stall at the side of the
stage. Just before the play begins there's a trumpet fanfare - like
Arangbar has when he enters the _Diwan-i-Am_ - and the doorkeepers pass
through the galleries to collect the money."

"What do they do with it?"

"They put it into a locked box," Hawksworth grinned, "which wags have
taken to calling the box office, because they're so officious about it.
But the money's perfectly safe. Plays are in the afternoon, while
there's daylight."

"But aren't they performed inside this building?" Shirin seemed to be
only half listening.

"The Globe has an open roof except over the stage. But if it gets too
dull on winter afternoons, they light the stage with torches of burning
pitch or tar."

"Who exactly goes to these playhouses?"

"Everyone. Except maybe the Puritans. Anybody can afford a penny. And
the Globe is not that far from the Southwark bear gardens, so a lot of
people come after they've been to see bearbaiting. The pit is usually
full of rowdy tradesmen, who stand around the stage and turn the air
blue with tobacco smoke."

"So high-caste women and women from good families wouldn't go."

"Of course women go." Hawksworth tried unsuccessfully to suppress a
smile. "There are gallants in London who'll tell you the Globe is the
perfect place to spot a comely wench, or even a woman of fashion
looking for some sport while her husband's drunk at a gaming house."

"I don't believe such things happen."

"Well that's the way it is in England." Hawksworth settled against the
boulder. "You have to understand women there don't let themselves be
locked up and hidden behind veils. So if a cavalier spies a comely
woman at the Globe, he'll find a way to praise her dress, or her
figure, and then he'll offer to sit next to her, you know, just to make
sure some rude fellow doesn't trod on the hem of her petticoats with
muddy boots, and no chips fall in her lap. Then after the play begins,
he'll buy her a bag of roasted chestnuts, or maybe some oranges from
one of the orange-wenches walking through the galleries. And if she
carries on with him a bit, he'll offer to squire her home."

"I suppose you've done just that?" She examined him in dismay.

Hawksworth shifted, avoiding her gaze. "I've mainly heard of it."

"Well, I don't enjoy hearing about it. What about the honor of these
women's families? They sound reprehensible, with less dignity than
_nautch _girls."

"Oh no, they're very different." He turned with a wink and tweaked her
ear. "They don't dance."

"That's even worse. At least most _nautch _girls have some training."

"You already think English women are wicked, and you've never even met
one. That's not fair. But I think you'd come to love England. If we
were in London now, right this minute, we could hire one of those
coaches you don't believe exist . . . a coach with two horses and a
coachman cost scarcely more than ten shillings a day, if prices haven't
gone up . . . and ride out to a country inn. Just outside London the
country is as green as Nadir Sharif's palace garden, with fields and
hedgerows that look like a great patchwork coverlet sewed by some
sotted alewife." Hawksworth's chest tightened with homesickness. "If
you want to look like an Englishwoman, you could powder your breasts
with white lead, and rouge your nipples, and maybe paste some beauty
stars on your cheeks. I'll dine you on goose and veal and capon and
nappy English ale. And English mutton dripping with more fat than any
lamb you'll taste in Agra."

Shirin studied him silently for a moment. "You love to talk of England,
don't you? But I'd rather you talked about India. I want you to stay.
Why would you ever want to leave?"

"I'm trying to tell you you'd love England if you gave yourself a
chance. I'll have the _firman _soon, and when I return the East India
Company will . . ."

"Arangbar will never sign a _firman _for the English king to trade.
Don't you realize Queen Janahara will never allow it?"

"Right now I'm less worried about the queen than about Jadar. I think
he wants to stop the _firman _too, why I don't know, but he's succeeded
so far. He almost stopped it permanently with his false rumor about the
fleet. He did it deliberately to raise Arangbar's hopes and then
disappoint him, with the blame falling on me. Who knows what he'll
think to do next?"

"You're so wrong about him. That had nothing to do with you. Don't you
understand why he had to do that? You never once asked me."

Hawksworth stared at her. "Tell me why."

"To divert the Portuguese fleet. It's so obvious. He somehow discovered
Queen Janahara had paid the Portuguese Viceroy to ship cannons to Malik
Ambar. If the Marathas had gotten cannon, they could have defended
Ahmadnagar forever. So he tricked the Portuguese into searching for the
English fleet that wasn't there. The Portuguese are a lot more worried
about their trade monopoly than about what happens to Prince Jadar. He
knew they would be."

"I know you support him, but for my money he's still a certified
bastard." Hawksworth studied her for a moment, wondering whether to
believe her words. If it were actually true it would all make sense,
would fill out a bizarre tapestry of palace deception. But in the end
his ruse had done Jadar no good. "And for all his scheming, he was
still defeated in the south. I hear the rumors too." Hawksworth rose
and took Shirin's arm. She started to reply, then stopped herself.
They began to walk slowly back toward his tent. "So he deceived
everyone to no purpose."

As they rounded the curve of the slope and emerged into the sunshine,
Hawksworth noted that some of the war elephants had already been led
back to their stables and were being harnessed. He looked across the
valley toward the tents of the Imperial army and thought he sensed a
growing urgency in the air, as though men and horse were being quietly
mobilized to move out.

"But don't you realize? The prince is not retreating." Shirin finally
seized his arm and stopped him. "No one here yet realizes that Malik
Ambar has . . ." Her voice trailed off as she looked ahead. A group of
Rajput officers was loitering, aimlessly, near the entrance to her
tent. "I wish I could tell you now what's happening." Her voice grew
quieter. "Just be ready to ride."

Hawksworth stared at her, uncomprehending. "Ride where?" He reached to
touch her hand, but she glanced at the Rajputs and quickly pulled it
away. "I don't want to ride anywhere. I want to tell you more about
England. Don't you think you'd like to see it someday?"

"I don't know. Perhaps." She shifted her gaze away from the Rajputs.
For an instant Hawksworth thought he saw her make a quick movement with
her hands urging them to leave. Or had she? They casually moved on down
the hill, their rhino-hide shields swinging loosely from their shoulder
straps. "After . . . after things are settled."

"After what? After Arangbar signs the _firman_?"

"I can't seem to make you understand." She turned to face him squarely.
"About Prince Jadar. Even if you got a _firman _it would soon be
worthless."

"I understand this much. If he's thinking to challenge Arangbar, and
the queen, then he's God's own fool. Haven't you seen the army
traveling with us? It's three times the size of Jadar's." He turned and
continued to walk. "His Imperial Majesty may be a sot, but he's in no
peril from young Prince Jadar."

As they approached the entrance to his tent, she paused for a moment to
look at him, her eyes a mixture of longing and apprehension.

"I can't stay now. Not today." She kissed him quickly and before he
could speak she was moving rapidly down the hill, in the direction the
Rajputs had gone.



Queen Janahara studied Allaudin thoughtfully as he strode toward her
tent. His floral turban was set rakishly to one side in the latest
style, and his purple gauze cloak was too effeminate for anyone but a
eunuch or a dandy. She caught a flash from the jewel-handled katar at
his waist, too ornamental ever to be used, and suddenly realized that
she had never seen him actually hold a knife, or a sword. She had never
seen him respond to any crisis. And Princess Layla had hinted he was
not quite the husband she had envisioned, whatever that might imply.

Suddenly it all mattered. It had only been a week since Jadar's demands
had been refused, and already he had taken the initiative. Now, she
sighed, she would have to protect her _nashudani_, her "good-for-
nothing" son-in-law. He could never protect himself, not from Jadar.

"Your Majesty." Allaudin salaamed formally as he dipped below the
tapestried portiere of her tent, never forgetting that his new mother-
in-law was also the queen. "The princess sends her wishes for your
health this morning."

"Sit down." Janahara continued to examine him with her brooding dark
eyes. "Where is Nadir Sharif?"

"The eunuchs said he would be a few moments late."

"He always tries to irritate me." Her voice trailed off as she watched
Allaudin ensconce himself with a wide flourish against a velvet
bolster. "Tell me, are you content with your bride?"

"She is very pleasing to me, Majesty."

"Are you satisfying your obligations as a husband?"

"Majesty?" Allaudin looked up at her as though not comprehending the
question.

"Your duties are not merely to her. Or to me. They're also to India.
Jadar has a male heir now. Such things matter in Agra, or weren't you
aware?"

Allaudin giggled. "I visit her tent every night, Majesty."

"But for what purpose? After you're drunk and you've spent yourself
with a _nautch _dancer. Don't deny it. I know it's true. Do you forget
she has servants? There are no secrets in this camp. I think you'll
sooner sire an heir on a slave girl than on my daughter. I will not
have it."

"Majesty." Allaudin twisted uncomfortably and glanced up with relief to
see Nadir Sharif pushing aside the portiere of the tent. As he entered,
Janahara motioned toward the servants and eunuchs waiting in attendance
and in moments they had disappeared through the curtained doorways at
the rear.

"You're late."

"My sincerest apologies, Majesty. There are endless matters to attend.
You know His Majesty still holds morning _darshan _from his tent, and
has two _durbar _audiences a day. The difficulties . . ."

"Your 'difficulties' are only beginning." She was extracting a dispatch
from a gilded bamboo tube. "Read this."

Nadir Sharif took the document and moved into the light at the
entrance. He had always despised the red chintz tents of the Imperial
family, whose doorways were forever sealed with Persian hangings that
kept in all the smoke and lamp soot. As he studied the dispatch he
moved even closer to the light, astonishment growing in his eyes. He
read it through twice before turning back to Janahara.

"Has His Majesty seen this yet?"

"Of course not. But he will have to eventually."

"Who is it from?" Allaudin stared up from the bolster, his voice
uneasy.

"Your brother." Janahara studied him with eyes verging on contempt.
"Jadar has declared he is no longer under the authority of the Moghul."
She paused to make sure the news had reached Allaudin. "Do you
understand what that means? Jadar has rebelled. He's probably marching
on Agra right now with his army."

"That's impossible! As long as His Majesty lives . . ."

"Jadar has declared His Majesty is no longer fit to reign. He has
offered to assume the 'burden' himself. It's a preposterous affront to
legitimate rule."

"Then he must be brought to Agra for trial." Allaudin's voice swelled
with determination.

"Obviously." Nadir Sharif moved toward the door of the tent and stared
into the sunshine for a long moment. Then he turned to Janahara. "We
have no choice now but to send the Imperial army. Your intuition about
Jadar last week was all too correct."

"And now you agree? After a week has been lost." Janahara had followed
him with her eyes. "Now you concede that the army must move."

"There's nothing else to be done." Nadir Sharif seemed to study the
parched landscape of the valley below. "Although containing Jadar may
well be more difficult than we first assumed."

"Why should it be difficult?" Allaudin watched Nadir Sharif in
bewilderment. "His forces were very small to begin with. And after his
defeat by Malik Ambar, how many men and cavalry can he have left?"

"Perhaps you should read the dispatch." Nadir Sharif tossed the
scrolled paper into Allaudin's lap. "Jadar never engaged Malik Ambar.
Instead he forged an alliance. It would appear his 'retreat' north to
Burhanpur was merely a ruse. He never met the Maratha armies in the
first place, so he did not lose a single infantryman. Instead he
intimidated Malik Ambar and struck a truce with him. There's no knowing
how large his army is now, or even where he is. This dispatch came from
Mandu, so he's already well on his way north. I think he'll probably
lay siege to Agra within two weeks if he's not stopped."

"Merciful Allah." Allaudin's voice was suddenly tremulous. "What do we
do?" Then he looked imploringly at Janahara. "I'll lead the army myself
if you want."

Janahara seemed not to hear him as she rose and walked toward the door
of the tent. Nadir Sharif stepped aside as she shoved back the tapestry
and stared out into the valley.

"This morning I ordered Inayat Latif to mobilize and march."

"Without telling His Majesty!" Nadir Sharif stared at her
incredulously.

"I ordered it in his name. I suspected something like this might
happen, so I had him sign and stamp the order four days ago."

"Was His Majesty entirely sob . . ." Nadir Sharif hesitated. "Was he in
full understanding of what he was authorizing?"

"That hardly matters now. But you must place the seal you keep on the
order also before it's forwarded to the _wazir _to be officially
recorded." She did not shift her gaze from the sunlit valley. "It's on
the table behind you."

Nadir Sharif turned and stared down at the gold-inlaid stand. The order
was there, a single folded piece of paper inside a gilded leather
cover. The string which would secure it had not yet been tied.

"You were wise to have taken this precaution, Majesty." Nadir Sharif
glanced back at Janahara, his voice flowing with admiration. "There's
no predicting His Majesty's mind these days. Only yesterday I
discovered he had completely forgotten . . ."

"Have you stamped it?"

"My seal is not here, Majesty." He paused. "And I was wondering . . .
would it be wise to review our strategy briefly with His Majesty, lest
he become confused later and forget he authorized the order? Perhaps
even countermand it?"

"Your seal will be sufficient. It's in the pocket of your cloak where
you always carry it, the pocket on the left."

"Your Majesty's memory is astonishing sometimes." Nadir Sharif quickly
extracted the metal case, flipped off the cover, and with a flourish
imprinted the black Seal of the Realm on the top of the order, beneath
Arangbar's signature and the impression of his royal signet ring. "When
will the army be able to move?"

"Tomorrow. Most of the elephants are moving out this morning." Janahara
turned back and glanced at the paper with satisfaction. "And tomorrow
we will all return to Agra. The plague is subsiding, and I think His
Majesty should be in the fort."

"I agree entirely. Has it been ordered?"

"I will order it later today. Jadar cannot move his army that rapidly."

"I will begin preparations to go with the army." Allaudin rose and
adjusted the jeweled katar at his belt.

"You will be returning to the Red Fort, with His Majesty and with me."
Janahara did not look at him as she spoke.

"But 1 want to face Jadar. I insist." He tightened his gauze cloak. "I
will demand an audience with His Majesty if you refuse."

Janahara studied him silently for a moment. "I have an even better
idea. Since Jadar has refused to lead the army to defend the fortress
at Qandahar, how would you like to be appointed in his place?"

Allaudin's eyes brightened. "What rank would I have?"

"I think we can persuade His Majesty to raise your personal rank to
twelve thousand _zat _and your horse rank to eight thousand _suwar_,
twice what you have now."

"Then I will go." Allaudin tightened his cloak, beaming. "I'll drive
the Safavid king's Persian troops back into the desert."

"You are as sensible as you are brave. I will speak to His Majesty
tonight."

Allaudin grinned a parting salaam, squared his shoulders, and pushed
his way through the portiere and into the sunshine. Nadir Sharif
watched without a word until he had disappeared into his own tent.

"Was that entirely wise, Majesty?"

"What else do you propose we do? It will keep him in Agra. I'll see to
that. You don't really think I'd allow him to leave? Anyway, it's time
his rank was elevated. Now all he needs is a son."

"I'm sure he'll have one in time, Majesty. The Hindu astrologers all
say Princess Layla's horoscope is favorable."

"The Hindu astrologers may have to help him do a husband's work if they
want to save their reputation."

"Give him time, Majesty." Nadir Sharif smiled. "And he'll have more
heirs than the Holy Prophet."

"All the Prophet's children were daughters." She took the paper,
inserted it into the gold case, and began tying the string. "There are
times you do not entirely amuse me."

"I'm always half distracted by worrying." Nadir Sharif followed her
with his eyes. "Even now."

"What in particular worries you at the moment?" Janahara paused as she
was slipping the case into her sleeve.

"I'm thinking just now about the Imperial army. The loyalty of some of
the men."

"What do you mean? Inayat Latif is entirely beholden to His Majesty. He
would gladly give his life for the Moghul. I've heard it from his own
lips, and I know it's true."

"I've never questioned your commander's loyalty. But now you . . . His
Majesty will be ordering the men to march against Jadar. Are you aware
that fully a third of the army is under Rajput field commanders,
officers from the northwest. Some of the rajas there still bear ill
feelings toward His Majesty, because of Inayat Latifs campaign there
ten years ago. These Rajputs sometimes have long memories. And who
knows what Jadar could be promising them? Remember his treachery with
Malik Ambar."

"What are you suggesting? That the Rajput commanders will not fight for
His Majesty, the legitimate Moghul? That's absurd. No one respects
authority more than the Rajput rajas."

"I'm not suggesting it at all. But I do believe the Rajputs here should
be monitored closely nonetheless. Any discontent should be addressed
before it grows . . . unwieldy. Perhaps their commanders should be
placed under a separate authority, someone who could reason with them
in His Majesty's name if there are signs of unrest. Inayat Latif is an
able general, but he's no diplomat."

Janahara studied him closely. "Do you believe there would be unrest?"

"Your Majesty is perhaps not always fully informed as to the activities
of some of the more militant Rajput loyalists. I have ordered them
watched at all times."

"What are you suggesting then? That the Rajputs should be placed under
a separate top command? Some raja whose loyalty is unquestionable?"

"I'm suggesting precisely that. If there were extensive defections, it
would be demoralizing for the rest of the army, at the very least."

"Who do you propose?"

"There are any number of Rajput commanders I would trust. To a point.
But it's always difficult to know where their final loyalties lie."
Nadir Sharif paused, lost in thought. "Perhaps an alternate solution
might be to allow someone of unquestioned loyalty to monitor the Rajput



Online LibraryThomas HooverThe Moghul → online text (page 44 of 52)