merchantman, with no
diplomatic standing. The Company, for all its mercantile wisdom,
neglected to consider that small difficulty.
So I'll just have to sound like an ambassador. That shouldn't be so
hard. Just be impressed with your own importance. And find nothing,
food or lodgings, sufficiently extravagant.
Then he drew himself erect and unlocked the door of the Great Cabin.
Only one thing remained.
"Mackintosh!" The quartermaster was in the pinnace now, fitting the
tiller, and he glanced up in irritation. "Send the pilot to my cabin."
Hawksworth had scarcely seated himself behind the great oak table
before the tall chestnut-skinned man appeared in the doorway.
Hawksworth examined the face again, expressionless and secure, asking
himself its years. Is he thirty; is he fifty? The features seemed cast
from an ageless mold, hard and seamless, immune to time.
"May I be of service?"
"Repeat your name for me." Hawksworth spoke in Turkish. "And tell me
again the business of your vessel."
"My name is Karim Hasan Ali." The reply came smoothly, but almost too
rapidly for Hawksworth to follow. "My ship was the Rahimi, a pilgrim
vessel on her return voyage from Mecca, by way of Aden, to our northern
port of Diu. We carry Muslim pilgrims outbound from India in the
spring, and return after the monsoon. As you assuredly must know, for a
thousand years Mecca has been the shrine all followers of Islam must
visit once in their life. Our cabins are always full."
Hawksworth recalled the vessel, and his astonishment at her size. She
had had five masts and was easily twelve hundred tons, over twice the
burden of the _Discovery_ and greater than anything he had ever seen
before, even the most ambitious Spanish carrack. But when they spotted
her, tacking eastward across the Bay of Cambay, she was unarmed and
hove to almost before they had fired across her bow. Why unarmed, he
had asked himself then, and why strike so readily? Now he understood.
"And you were the pilot for the _Rahimi_?"
"I am called the _musallim_." A note of formality entered the Indian's
voice and he instinctively drew himself more erect.
"Is that the pilot?"
"Yes, but more. Perhaps it is like your first mate. But I am in full
charge of navigation for the _nakuda_, the owner. To you he would be
"And what was your salary for the voyage?"
"I received two hundred rupees for the trip to Aden, and am allowed two
extra cabins of goods for personal trade."
Hawksworth smiled resignedly to himself, remembering he had
unquestioningly delivered to the _nakuda _a bag of Spanish rials of
eight equivalent to five hundred Indian rupees to buy out the pilot's
contract. Then he spoke.
"Tonight, we go upriver to Surat. You're still in my service and you'll
"I had expected it. I know the river well."
"Will there be any Portugal traders on the river?" Hawksworth searched
his eyes hoping to monitor their truthfulness.
"I would not expect it. Although this year's monsoons are past and the
river has returned to normal, there are new sandbanks. Every season
they shift, becoming more treacherous. Only those of us who know the
river well understand the moods of her sands. I have never seen
_topiwallah _traders in Surat this early in the season." Karim paused,
following Hawksworth's puzzled expression, then continued, with an air
of condescension," _Topiwallah _is our word meaning 'men who wear
hats.' We call Christian traders _topiwallahs_." He fixed Hawksworth
squarely. "And we have other names for their priests."
"Call Christians what you will, but just remember England is not
Portugal." Hawksworth's tone stiffened. "England has rid herself of the
popery that still rules the Spaniards and Portugals. Along with their
fear-mongering Jesuits and their damned Inquisition. It's now treason
to practice Catholic rites in England."
"I have heard something of your petty European squabbles, your
Christian rivalries. Is it your intention now to spread them to India
"All England wants is trade. Nothing else." Hawksworth shifted his leg,
leaning forward to tighten the bandage. "I'm here as an ambassador. To
convey the friendship of my king, and his offer of free and open
"And after you begin this trade, what then? Will you next try to drive
the Portuguese from our ports? So that you can steal away shipping from
our own merchantmen, as they have done, and demand we pay you for a
license to ply our own seas?"
"I told you we only want trade. England has no use for sailing
licenses, or priests. Our only enemies here are the Portugals. And the
damned Hollanders if they start trying to interfere."
Karim studied Hawksworth in silence, fingering his jeweled earring in
thought as he recalled the morning's battle. Two small English merchant
frigates had prevailed over four Portuguese warships, galleons. Never
before, he told himself, have the Portuguese been humiliated before our
eyes. Pigeons must already be winging word of this incredible encounter
to Agra. Separately, no doubt, to the Moghul and to the queen. But
Queen Janahara will know first. As always. And she will know her
Portuguese profits are no longer secure.
And what about Prince Jadar? Yes, the prince will already have heard,
hours ago. What will Prince Jadar decide to do? That's the most
important question now.
"Just tell me about the navigation of the river," Hawksworth continued
unable to decipher Karim's distant expression. "How long will it take
for our pinnace to reach Surat? We cast off at sunset."
"The tide will be running in tonight, and that will aid your oarsmen."
Karim instantly became businesslike. "There will also be a night breeze
off the sea. But the Portuguese have no authority on our river. Once
you are inland you are under the rule of the governor of Surat. . . .
and, of course, Prince Jadar, whom the Moghul has appointed to
administrate this province."
Hawksworth heard the first bell and walked to the stern
windows to monitor the slant of the dying sun and to inhale the fresh
evening air. Then he wheeled and examined Karim, the pilot's face
shadowed in the half light.
"And who are these officials? This governor and prince?"
Karim smiled and carefully secured the fold of his turban. "The
governor administers the port of Surat. He collects trading duties of
the Moghul's court in Agra. Prince Jadar is the son of the Moghul and
the military ruler of Gujarat, this province."
"Then who will I meet in Surat?" Hawksworth groped for a pattern. "The
governor or the prince?"
Again Karim paused, wondering how much to tell, before continuing
evenly, "Neither of these need concern you now. The first official you
must satisfy will be the Shahbandar, what the Moghuls call the
_mutasaddi_. The Shahbandar controls the customs house, the portal for
all who would enter the Moghul's domain. His power over the port is
Hawksworth slapped one of the bronze cannon to punctuate his dismay.
In India also! Good Jesus, every Muslin port in the world must have
this same petty official. I've heard that Shahbandar is Persian for
"Lord of the Haven," and if that's true the office is named perfectly.
Every one I've known has had the right to refuse entry to anyone, at
his whim, if bribes are insufficient and no more powerful official
"Who does the Shahbandar here answer to? The governor? The prince? The
Moghul himself? Or somebody _else _you haven't told me about yet?"
Hawksworth tried to push back his rising anxiety.
"Captain, you have, in your guileless _feringhi _way, raised a question
it is wiser not to pursue. I can only assure you the Shahbandar is a
man of importance in Surat, and in India."
"But who should I seek out when we reach Surat?"
At that moment two bells sounded on the quarterdeck, and with them a
ray from the fading sun pierced the stern window, glancing off the oak
boards of the table. A twilight silence seemed to settle uneasily over
the _Discovery_, amplifying the creaking of her boards.
"Captain, I have already told you more than most foreigners know. You
would be wise to prepare now to meet the Shahbandar." Karim rose
abruptly and bowed, palms together, hands at his brow. "You must
forgive me. In Islam we pray at sunset."
Hawksworth stared after him in perplexity as Karim turned and vanished
into the darkened companionway.
Not yet even aland, and already I sense trouble. He fears the
Shahbandar, that's clear enough, but I'm not sure it's for the usual
reasons. Is there some intrigue underway that we're about to be drawn
into, God help us?
He took a deep breath and, fighting the ache in his leg, made his way
out to the quarter gallery on the stern. A lone flying fish, marooned
in the bay from its home in the open sea, burst from the almost placid
waters, glinting the orange sun off its body and settling with a
splash, annoying the seabirds that squabbled over gallery scraps along
the port side. Seamen carrying rations of salt pork and biscuit were
clambering down the companionway and through the hatch leading to the
lower deck and their hammocks. Hawksworth listened to them curse the
close, humid air below, and then he turned to inhale again the land
breeze, permeated with a green perfume of almost palpable intensity.
Following the direction of the sweetened air, he turned and examined
the darkening shore one last time. India now seemed vaguely obscured,
as through a light mist. Or was it merely encroaching darkness? And
through this veil the land seemed somehow to brood? Or did it beckon?
It's my imagination, he told himself. India is there all right, solid
ground, and scarcely a cannon shot away. India, the place of fable and
mystery to Englishmen for centuries. And also the place where a certain
party of English travelers disappeared so many years ago.
That should have been a warning, he told himself. It's almost too
ironic that you're the next man to try to go in. You, of all the men in
England. Are you destined to repeat their tragedy?
He recalled again the story he knew all too well. The man financing
those English travelers almost three decades past
had been none other than Peter Elkington, father of George Elkington,
Chief Merchant on this voyage. Like his son, Peter Elkington was a
swearing, drinking, whoring merchant, a big-bellied giant of a man who
many people claimed looked more and more like King Harry the older and
fatter he got. It was Peter Elkington's original idea those many years
back to send Englishmen to India.
The time was before England met and obliterated the Armada of Spain,
and long before she could hope to challenge the oceanic trade networks
of the Catholic countries - Spain to the New World, Portugal to the East.
In those days the only possible road to India for England and the rest
of Europe still was overland, the centuries-old caravan trail that long
preceded Portugal's secret new sea route around the Cape.
The idea of an English mission overland to India had grown out of Peter
Elkington's Levant Company, franchised by Queen Elizabeth to exploit
her new treaty with the Ottoman Turks, controllers of the caravan trade
between India and the Mediterranean. Through the Levant Company,
English traders could at last buy spices directly at Tripoli from
overland caravans traveling the Persian Gulf and across Arabia, thereby
circumventing the greedy Venetian brokers who for centuries had served
as middlemen for Europe's pepper and spices.
But Peter Elkington wanted more. Why buy expensive spices at the shores
of the Mediterranean? Why not extend England's own trade lines all the
way to India and buy directly?
To gain intelligence for this daring trade expansion, he decided to
finance a secret expedition to scout the road to India, to send a party
of English traders through the Mediterranean to Tripoli, and on from
there in disguise across Arabia to the Persian Gulf, where they would
hire passage on a native trader all the way to the western shore of
India. Their ultimate destination was the Great MoghuFs court, deep in
India, and hidden in their bags would be a letter from Queen Elizabeth,
proposing direct trade.
Eventually three adventurous traders were recruited to go,
led by Roger Symmes of the Levant Company. But Peter Elkington wanted a
fourth, for protection, and he eventually persuaded a young army
captain of some reputation to join the party. The captain - originally a
painter, who had later turned soldier after the death of his wife - was
vigorous, spirited, and a deadly marksman. Peter Elkington promised him
a nobleman's fortune if they succeeded. And he promised to take
responsibility for Captain Hawksworth's eight-year-old son, Brian, if
Peter Elkington himself came down to the Thames that cold, gray
February dawn they set sail, bringing along his own son, George - a
pudgy, pampered adolescent in a silk doublet. Young George Elkington
regally ignored Brian Hawksworth, a snub only one of the two still
remembered. As the sails slowly dissolved into the icy mist, Brian
climbed atop his uncle's shoulders to catch a long last glimpse. No one
dreamed that only one of the four would ever see London again.
Letters smuggled back in cipher kept the Levant Company informed of
progress. The party reached Tripoli without incident, made their way
successfully overland through Arabia, and then hired passage on an Arab
trader for her trip down the Persian Gulf. The plan seemed to be
Then came a final letter, from the Portuguese fortress of Hormuz, a
salt-covered island peopled by traders, overlooking the straits between
the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, gateway to the Arabian Sea and
India's ports. While waiting at Hormuz for passage on to India, the
English party had been betrayed by a suspicious Venetian and accused of
being spies. The Portuguese governor of Hormuz had nervously imprisoned
them and decreed they be shipped to Goa for trial.
After waiting a few more months for further word, Peter Elkington
finally summoned Brian Hawksworth to the offices of the Levant Company
and read him this last letter. He then proceeded to curse the contract
with Captain Hawksworth that rendered the Levant Company responsible
for Brian's education should the expedition meet disaster.
Peter Elkington admitted his plan had failed, and with that admission,
the Levant Company quietly abandoned its vision of direct trade with
But Brian Hawksworth now had a private tutor, engaged by the Levant
Company, a tousle-haired young apostate recently dismissed from his
post at Eton for his anti-religious views.
This new tutor scorned as dogmatic the accepted subjects of Latin,
rhetoric, and Hebrew - all intended to help Elizabethan scholars fathom
abstruse theological disputations - and insisted instead on mathematics,
and the new subject of science. His anti-clerical outlook also meant he
would teach none of the German in fashion with the Puritans, or the
French and Spanish favored by Catholics. For him all that mattered was
classical Greek: the language of logic, pure philosophy, mathematics,
and science. The end result was that the commoner Brian Hawksworth
received an education far different from, if not better than, that of
most gentlemen, and one that greatly surpassed the hornbook alphabet
and numbers that passed for learning among others of his own class.
To no one's surprise, Brian Hawksworth was his father's son, and he
took naturally to marksmanship and fencing. But his first love came to
be the English lute, his escape from the world of his tutor's hard
numbers and theorems.
It lasted until the day he was fourteen, the day the Levant Company's
responsibility expired. The next morning Brian Hawksworth found himself
apprenticed to a Thames waterman and placed in service on one of the
mud-encrusted ferryboats that plied London's main artery. After three
months of misery and ill pay, he slipped away to take a berth on a
North Sea merchantman. There he sensed at once his calling was the sea,
and he also discovered his knowledge of mathematics gave him an
understanding of navigation few other seamen enjoyed. By then he
scarcely remembered his father, or the luckless expedition to India.
Until the day Roger Symmes appeared alone back in London, almost ten
years after that icy morning the Levant Company's expedition had
sailed. . . .
The _Discovery _groaned, and Hawksworth sensed the wind freshen as it
whipped through the stern quarter gallery and noticed the increasingly
brisk swirl of the tide. Almost time to cast off. As he made his way
back to the Great Cabin for a last check, his thoughts returned again
to London, those many years ago.
He had found Symmes at the offices of the Levant Company, nursing a
tankard of ale as he sat very close to their large roaring fireplace.
He bore little resemblance to the jaunty adventurer Hawksworth
remembered from that long-ago morning on the Thames. Now he was an
incongruous figure, costumed in a tight-fitting new silk doublet and
wearing several large gold rings, yet with a face that was haggard
beyond anything Hawksworth had ever seen. His vacant eyes seemed unable
to focus as he glanced up briefly and then returned his stare to the
crackling logs in the hearth. But he needed no prompting to begin his
"Aye, 'tis a tale to make the blood run ice." Symmes eased open a
button of his ornate doublet and shakily loosened his new ruff collar.
"After the Venetian rogue gets us arrest'd with his damnable lie, the
bastard Portugals clap us in the hold of a coastin' barge makin' for
Goa, in company with near a hundred Arab horses. When we finally make
port, they haul us out of that stink hole and slam us in another, this
time the Viceroy's dungeons. We took ourselves for dead men."
"But what happened to my father?" Hawksworth blinked the sweat from his
eyes, wanting the story but wanting almost more to escape the
overheated, timbered offices that loomed so alien.
"That's the horrible part o' the story. It happen'd the next mornin',
poor luckless bastard. We're all march'd into this big stone-floor'd
room where they keep the _strappado_."
"Tis a kindly little invention o' the Portugals, lad. First they bind
your hands behind your back and run the rope up over a hangin' pulley
block. Then they hoist you up in the air and set to givin' it little
tugs, makin' you hop like you're dancin' the French lavolta. When they
tire o' the sport, or they're due to go say their rosary beads, they
just give it a good strong heave and pop your arms out o' your
shoulders. Jesuits claim 'twould make a Moor pray to the pope."
Hawksworth found himself watching Symmes's wild eyes as he recounted
the story, and wondering how he could remember every detail of events a
"Then this young captain comes in, struttin' bastard, hardly a good
twenty year on him. Later I made a point to learn his name - Vaijantes,
"What did he do?"
"Had to see him, lad. Eyes black and hard as onyx. An' he sports this
sword he's had made up with rubies in the handle. Ne'er saw the likes
o' it, before or since, e'en in India. But he's a Portugal, tho',
through an' through. No doubt on that one."
"But what did he do?"
"Why, he has the guards sling Hawksworth up in the _strappado_, lad,
seein' he's the strongest one o' us. Figur'd he'd last longer, I
suppose, make more sport."
"Vaijantes had them torture my father?"
"Aye. Think's he'll squeeze a confession and be a hero. But ol'
Hawksworth ne'er said a word. All day. By nightfall Vaijantes has
pull'd his arms right out. They carried him out of the room a dead
Hawksworth still remembered how his stomach turned at that moment, with
the final knowledge that his father was not merely missing, or away - as
he had told himself, and others - but had been coldly murdered. He had
checked his tears, lest Symmes see, and pressed on.
"What happened to you, and to the others? Did he torture you next?"
"Would have, not a doubt on't. We all wonder'd who'd be the next one.
Then that night they post a Jesuit down to our cell, a turncoat
Dutchman by the name of Huyghen, who spoke perfect English, thinkin'
he'd cozen us into confessin'. But he hates the Portugals e'en more'n
we do. An' he tells us we'd most likely go free if we'd pretend to turn
Papist. So the next day we blurt out we're actually a band o' wealthy
adventurers in disguise, rich lads out to taste the world, but we've
seen the error o' our ways an' we've decided to foreswear the flesh and
turn Jesuits ourselves. Thinkin' of donatin' everything we own to their
holy order." Symmes paused and nervously drew a small sip from his
tankard of spiced ale. "Vicious Papist bastards."
"Did they really believe you?"
"Guess the Dutchman must've convinc'd 'em somehow. Anyway, our story
look'd square enough to get us out on bail, there bein' no evidence for
the charge o' spyin' in any case. But we'd hardly took a breath of air
before our old friend the Hollander comes runnin' with news the
Viceroy's council just voted to ship us back to Lisbon for trial. That
happens and we're dead men. No question. We had to look to it."
Symmes seemed to find concentration increasingly difficult, but he
extracted a long-stemmed pipe and began stuffing black strands into it
with a trembling hand while he composed himself. Finally he continued.
"Had to leave Goa that very night. What else could we do? So we traded
what little we had for diamonds, sew'd 'em up in our clothes, and waded
the river into India. By dawn we're beyond reach o' the Portugals. In
India. An' then, lad, is when it began."
"T'would take a year to tell it all. Somehow we eventually got to the
Great Moghul's court. I think he was named Akman. An' we start livin'
like I never thought I'd see. Should've seen his city, lad, made London
look like a Shropshire village. He had a big red marble palace called
Fatehpur Sekri, with jewels common as rocks, an' gold e'erywhere, an'
gardens filled with fountains, an' mystical music like I'd ne'er heard,
an' dancin' women that look'd like angels . . ."
His voice trailed off. "Ah, lad, the women there."
Symmes suddenly remembered himself and turned to examine Hawksworth
with his glassy eyes. "But I fancy you're a bit young to appreciate
that part o' it, lad." Then his gaze returned to the fire and he
rambled on, warming to his own voice. "An' there was poets readin'
Persian, and painters drawin' pictures that took days to do one the
size of a book page. An' the banquets, feasts you're ne'er like to see
this side o' Judgment Day."
Symmes paused to draw on his pipe for a moment, his hand still shaking,
and then he plunged ahead. "But it was the Drugs that did it, lad, what
they call'd affion and bhang, made out o' poppy flowers and some kind
of hemp. Take enough of them and the world around you starts to get
lost. After a while you ne'er want to come back. It kill'd the others,
lad. God only knows how I escap'd."
Then Symmes took up his well-rehearsed monologue about the wealth he'd
witnessed, stories of potential trade that had earned him a place at
many a merchant's table. His tale expanded, becoming ever more
fantastic, until it was impossible to tell where fact ended and wishful
Although Symmes had never actually met any Indian officials, and though
the letter from Queen Elizabeth had been lost en route, his astonishing
story of India's riches inspired the greed of all England's merchants.
Excitement swelled throughout London's Cheapside, as traders began to
clamor for England to challenge Portugal's monopoly of the sea passage
around the Cape. Symmes, by his inflated, half-imaginary account, had
unwittingly sown the first seeds of the East India Company.
Only young Brian Hawksworth, who nourished no mercantile fantasies,
seemed to realize that Roger Symmes had returned from India quite
"Pinnace is afloat, Cap'n. I'm thinkin' we should stow the
goods and be underway. If we're goin'." Mackintosh's silhouette was
framed in the doorway of the Great Cabin, his eyes gaunt in the lantern
light. Dark had dropped suddenly over the _Discovery_, bringing with it
a cooling respite from the inferno of day.
"We'll cast off before the watch is out. Start loading the cloth and
iron-work" - Hawksworth turned and pointed toward his own locked sea
chest - "and send for the purser."
Mackintosh backed through the doorway and turned automatically to