decided what to do. He recalled the words of Karim, declaring the
Shahbandar had his own private system of spies.
"We are here for the same reason we have visited the islands. To trade
the goods of Europe."
"But we already do trade with Europeans. The Portuguese. Who also
protect our seas."
"Have you found profit in it?"
"Enough. But it is not your place to question me, Captain Hawksworth."
"Then you may wish to profit through English trade as well."
"And your merchants, I assume, also expect to profit here."
"That's the normal basis of trade." Hawksworth shifted, easing his leg.
The Shahbandar glanced downward, but without removing his lips from the
tube of the hookah. "I notice you have a wound, Captain Hawksworth.
Yours would seem a perilous profession."
"It's sometimes even more perilous for our enemies."
"I presume you mean the Portuguese." The Shahbandar cursed the servant
anew and called for a new taper to fire the hookah. "But their perils
are over. Yours have only begun. Surely you do not expect they will
allow you to trade here."
"Trade here is a matter between England and India. It does not involve
The Shahbandar smiled. "But we have a trade agreement with the
Portuguese, a _firman_ signed by His Majesty, the Moghul of India,
allowing them free access to our ports. We have no such agreement with
"Then we were mistaken. We believed the port of Surat belonged to
India, not to the Portugals." Hawksworth felt his palms moisten at the
growing game of nerves. "India, you would say, has no ports of her own.
No authority to trade with whom she will."
"You come to our door with warfare and insolence, Captain Hawksworth.
Perhaps I would have been surprised if you had done otherwise." The
Shahbandar paused to draw thoughtfully on the smoking mouthpiece. "Why
should I expect this? Although you would not ask, let me assume you
have. The reputation of English sea dogs is not unknown in the Indies."
"And I can easily guess who brought you these libelous reports of
England. Perhaps you should examine their motives."
"We have received guidance in our judgment from those we have trusted
for many years." The Shahbandar waved aside the hookah and fixed
Hawksworth with a hard gaze.
Hawksworth returned the unblinking stare for a moment while an idea
formed in his mind. "I believe it once was written, 'There are those
who purchase error at the price of guidance, so their commerce does not
prosper. Neither are they guided.'"
A sudden hush enveloped the room as the Shahbandar examined Hawksworth
with uncharacteristic surprise. For a moment his eyes seemed lost in
concentration, then they quickly regained their focus. "The Holy Quran -
Surah II, if I have not lost the lessons of my youth." He stopped and
smiled in disbelief. "It's impossible a _topiwallah_ should know the
words of the Merciful Prophet, on whom be peace. You are a man of
curious parts, English captain." Again he paused. "And you dissemble
with all the guile of a _mullah_."
"I merely speak the truth."
"Then speak the truth to me now, Captain Hawksworth. Is it not true the
English are a notorious nation of pirates? That your merchants live off
the commerce of others, pillaging where they see fit. Should I not
inquire, therefore, whether you intrude into our waters for the same
"England has warred in years past on her rightful enemies. But our wars
are over. The East India Company was founded for peaceful trade. And
the Company is here for no purpose but to trade peacefully with
merchants in Surat." Hawksworth dutifully pressed forward. "Our two
merchantmen bring a rich store of English goods - woolens, ironwork, lead
. . ."
"While you war with the Portuguese, in sight of our very shores. Will
you next make war on our own merchants? I'm told it is your historic
As he studied Hawksworth, the Shahbandar found himself reflecting on
the previous evening. The sun had set and the Ramadan meal was already
underway when Father Manoel Pinheiro, the second-ranked Portuguese
Jesuit in India, had appeared at his gates demanding an audience.
For two tiresome hours he had endured the Jesuit's pained excuses for
Portugal's latest humiliation at sea. And his boasts that the English
would never survive a trip upriver. And for the first time Mirza
Nuruddin could remember, he had smelled fear.
Mirza Nuruddin had sensed no fear in the Portuguese eight years before,
when an English captain named Lancaster had attacked and pillaged a
Portuguese galleon in the seas off Java. Then the Viceroy of Goa brayed
he would know retribution, although nothing was ever done. And a mere
five years ago the Viceroy himself led a fleet of twelve warships to
Malacca boasting to burn the eleven Dutch merchantmen lading there. And
the Dutch sank almost his entire fleet. Now the pirates of Malabar
daily harassed Indian shipping the length of the western coast and the
Portuguese patrols seemed powerless to control them. In one short
decade, he told himself, the Portuguese have shown themselves unable to
stop the growing Dutch spice trade in the islands, unable to rid
India's coasts of pirates, and now . . . now unable to keep other
Europeans from India's own doorstep.
He studied Hawksworth again and asked himself why the English had come.
And why the two small English vessels had challenged four armed
galleons, instead of turning and making for open sea? To trade a cargo
of wool? No cargo was worth the risk they had taken. There had to be
another reason. And that reason, or whatever lay behind it, terrified
the Portuguese. For the first time ever.
"We defend ourselves when attacked. That's all." Hawksworth found
himself wanting to end the questions, to escape the smoky room and the
Shahbandar's intense gaze. "That has no bearing on our request to trade
in this port."
"I will take your request under advisement. In the meantime you and
your men will be searched and your goods taxed, in keeping with our
"You may search the men if you wish. But I am here as representative of
the king of England. And as his representative I will not allow my
personal chest to be searched, no more than His Majesty, King James of
England, would submit to such an indignity." Hawksworth decided to
reach for all the authority his ragged appearance would allow.
"All _feringhi_, except ambassadors, must be searched. Do you claim
"I am an ambassador, and I will be traveling to Agra to represent my
"Permission for _feringhi _to travel in India must come from the Moghul
himself." The Shahbandar's face remained impassive but his mind raced.
The stakes of the English game were not wool, he suddenly realized, but
India. The English king was challenging Portugal for the trade of
India. Their audacity as astonishing. "A request can be sent to Agra by
the governor of this province."
"Then I must see him to ask that a message be sent to Agra. For now, I
demand that my personal effects be released from the customs house. And
that no duty be levied on our goods, which are samples and not for
"If your goods are not taxed, they will remain in the customs house.
That is the law. Because you claim to represent your king, I will forgo
my obligation to search your person. All of your men, however, will be
searched down to their boots, and any goods or coin they bring through
this port will be taxed according to the prevailing rate. Two and one-
half percent of value."
"Our Chief Merchant wishes to display his samples to your traders."
"I have told you I will consider your request for trade.
There are many considerations." He signaled for the hookah to be
lighted again. The interview seemed to be ended.
Hawksworth bowed with what formality he could muster and turned toward
the counting-room door.
"Captain Hawksworth. You will not be returning to your men. I have made
other arrangements for your lodging."
Hawksworth revolved to see four porters waiting by an open door at the
I must be tired. I hadn't noticed the door until now.
Then he realized it had been concealed in the decorations on the wall.
When he did not move, the porters surrounded him.
No, they're not porters. They're the guards who held back the crowds
from the steps. And they're armed now.
"I think you will find your lodgings suitable." The Shahbandar watched
Hawksworth's body tense. "My men will escort you. Your chest will
remain here under my care."
The Shahbandar returned again to his gurgling hookah.
"My chest will not be subject to search. If it is to be searched, I
will return now to my ship." Hawksworth still did not move. "Your
officials will respect my king, and his honor."
"It is in my care." The Shahbandar waved Hawksworth toward the door. He
did not look up from his pipe.
As Hawksworth passed into the midday sunshine, he saw the Shahbandar's
own palanquin waiting by the door. Directly ahead spread the city's
teeming horse and cattle bazaar, while on his right, under a dense
banyan tree, a dark-eyed beggar sat on a pallet, clothed only in a
white loincloth and wearing ashes in his braided hair and curious white
and red marks on his forehead. His eyes were burning and intense, and
he inspected the new _feringhi _as though he'd just seen the person of
Why should I travel hidden from view, Hawksworth puzzled?
But there was no time to ponder an answer. The cloth covering was
lifted and he found himself urged into the cramped conveyance, made
even more comfortless and hot by its heavy carpet lining and bolster
seat. In moments the street had disappeared into jolting darkness.
He felt the palanquin drop roughly onto a hard surface, and
when the curtains were pulled aside he looked down to see the stone
mosaic of a garden courtyard. They had traveled uphill at least part of
the time, with what seemed many unnecessary turns and windings, and now
they were hidden from the streets by the high walls of a garden
enclosure. Tall slender palms lined the inside of the garden's white
plaster wall, and denser trees shaded a central two-story building,
decorated around its entry with raised Arabic lettering in ornate
plasterwork. The guards motioned him through the large wooden portico
of the house, which he began to suspect might be the residence of a
wealthy merchant. After a long hallway, they entered a spacious room
with clean white walls and a thick center carpet over a floor of
patterned marble inlay. Large pillows lay strewn about the carpet, and
the air hung heavy with the stale scent of spice.
It's the house of a rich merchant or official, all right. What else can
it be? The decorated panels on the doors and the large brass knobs all
indicate wealth. But what's the room for? For guests? No. It's too
empty. There's almost no furniture. No bed. No . . .
Then suddenly he understood. A banquet room.
He realized he had never seen a more sumptuous private dining hall,
even among the aristocracy in London. The guards closed the heavy
wooden doors, but there was no sound of their footsteps retreating.
Who are they protecting me from?
A servant, with skin the color of ebony and a white turban that seemed
to enclose a large part of his braided and folded-up beard, pushed open
an interior door to deposit a silver tray. More fried bread and a bowl
"Where am I? Whose house . . . ?"
The man bowed, made hand signs pleading incomprehension, and retreated
without a word.
As Hawksworth started to reach for a piece of the bread, the outer door
opened, and one of the guards stepped briskly to the tray and stopped
his hand. He said nothing, merely signaled to wait. Moments later
another guard also entered, and with him was a woman. She was unveiled,
with dark skin and heavy gold bangles about her ankles. She stared at
Hawksworth with frightened eyes. Brisk words passed in an alien
language, and then the woman pointed to Hawksworth and raised her voice
as she replied to the guard. He said nothing, but simply lifted a long,
sheathed knife from his waist and pointed it toward the tray, his
gesture signifying all. After a moment's pause, the woman edged forward
and gingerly sampled the curds with her fingers, first sniffing and
then reluctantly tasting. More words passed, after which the guards
bowed to Hawksworth almost imperceptibly and escorted the woman from
the room, closing the door.
Hawksworth watched in dismay and then turned again to examine the
If they're that worried, food can wait. Who was she? Probably a slave.
Of the Shahbandar?
He removed his boots, tossed them in the corner, and eased himself onto
the bolsters piled at one end of the central carpet. The wound in his
leg had become a dull ache.
Jesus help me, I'm tired. What does the Shahbandar really want? Why was
Karim so fearful of him? And what's the role of the governor in all
this? Will all these requests and permissions and permits end up
delaying us so long the Portugals will find our anchorage? And what
will the governor want out of me?
He tried to focus his mind on the governor, on a figure he sculpted in
his imagination. A fat, repugnant, pompous bureaucrat. But the figure
slowly began to transform, and in time it became the Turk who had
imprisoned him in Tunis, with a braided fez and a jeweled dagger at his
waist. The fat Turk was not listening, he was issuing a decree. You
will stay. Only then will I have what I want. What I must have. Next a
veiled woman entered the room, and her eyes were like Maggie's. She
seized his hand and guided him toward the women's apartments, past the
frowning guards, who raised large scimitars in interdiction until she
waved them aside. Then she led him to the center of a brilliantly
lighted room, until they stood before a large stone pillar, a pillar
like the one in the porters' lodge except it was immense, taller than
his head. You belong to me now, her eyes seemed to say, and she began
to bind him to the pillar with silken cords. He struggled to free
himself, but the grasp on his wrists only became stronger. In panic he
struck out and yelled through the haze of incense.
"Let . . . !"
"I'm only trying to wake you, Captain." A voice cut through the
nightmare. "His Eminence, the Shahbandar, has requested that I attend
Hawksworth startled awake and was reaching for his sword before he saw
the swarthy little man, incongruous in a white swath of a skirt and a
Portuguese doublet, nervously shaking his arm. The man pulled back in
momentary surprise, then dropped his cloth medicine bag on the floor
and began to carefully fold a large red umbrella. Hawksworth noted he
wore no shoes on his dusty feet.
"Allow me to introduce myself." He bowed ceremoniously. "My name is
Mukarjee. It is my honor to attend the celebrated new _feringhi_." His
Turki was halting and strongly accented.
He knelt and deftly cut away the wrapping on Hawksworth's leg. "And who
applied this?" With transparent disdain he began uncoiling the muddy
bandage. "The Christian _topiwallahs _constantly astound me. Even
though my daughter is married to one." One eyebrow twitched nervously
as he worked.
Hawksworth stared at him through a groggy haze, marveling at the
dexterity of his chestnut-brown hands. Then he glanced nervously at the
vials of colored liquid and jars of paste the man was methodically
extracting from his cloth bag.
"It was our ship's physician. He swathed this after attending a dozen
men with like wounds or worse."
"No explanations are necessary. _Feringhi_ methods are always
unmistakable. In Goa, where I lived for many years after leaving
Bengal, I once served in a hospital built by Christian priests."
"You worked in a Jesuit hospital?"
"I did indeed." He began to scrape away the oily powder residue from
the wound. Hawksworth's leg jerked involuntarily from the flash of
pain. "Please do not move. Yes, I served there until I could abide it
no more. It was a very exclusive hospital. Only _feringhi _were allowed
to go there to be bled."
He began to wash the wound, superficial but already festering, with a
solution from one of the vials. "Yes, we Indians were denied that
almost certain entry into Christian paradise represented by its
portals. But it was usually the first stop for arriving Portuguese,
after the brothels."
"But why do so many Portuguese sicken after they reach Goa?" Hawksworth
watched Mukarjee begin to knead a paste that smelled strongly of
"It's well that you ask, Captain Hawksworth." Mukarjee tested the
consistency of the sandalwood paste with his finger and then placed it
aside, apparently to thicken. "You appear to be a strong man, but after
many months at sea you may not be as virile as you assume."
He absently extracted a large, dark green leaf from the pocket of his
doublet and dabbed it in a paste he kept in a crumpled paper. Then he
rolled it around the cracked pieces of a small brown nut, popped it
into his mouth, and began to chew. Suddenly remembering himself, he
stopped and produced another leaf from his pocket.
"Would you care to try betel, what they call pan here in Surat? It's
very healthy for the teeth. And the digestion."
"What is it?"
"A delicious leaf. I find I cannot live without it, so perhaps it's a
true addiction. It's slightly bitter by itself, but if you roll it
around an areca nut and dip it in a bit of lime - which we make from
mollusk shells - it is perfectly exquisite."
Hawksworth shook his head in wary dissent, whereupon Mukarjee
continued, settling himself on his haunches and sucking contentedly on
the rolled leaf as he spoke. "You ask why I question your well-being,
Captain? Because a large number of the _feringhis_ who come to Goa, and
India, are doomed to die."
"You already said that. From what? Poison in their food?"
Mukarjee examined him quizzically for a moment as he concentrated on
the rolled leaf, savoring the taste, and Hawksworth noticed a red
trickle emerge from the corner of his mouth and slide slowly off his
chin. He turned and discharged a mouthful of juice into a small brass
container, clearing his mouth to speak.
"The most common illness for Europeans here is called the bloody flux."
Mukarjee tested the paste again with his finger, and then began to stir
it vigorously with a wooden spatula. "For four or five days the body
burns with intense heat, and then either it is gone or you are dead."
"Are there no medicines?" Hawksworth watched as he began to spread the
paste over the wound.
"Of course there are medicines." Mukarjee chuckled resignedly. "But the
Portuguese scorn to use them."
"Probably wisely," Hawksworth reflected. "It's said the flux is caused
by an excess of humors in the blood. Bleeding is the only real remedy."
"I see." Mukarjee began to apply the paste and then to bind
Hawksworth's leg with a swath of white cloth. "Yes, my friend, that is
what the Portuguese do - you must hold still - and I have personally
observed how effective it is in terminating illness."
"The damned Jesuits are the best physicians in Europe."
"So I have often been told. Most frequently at funerals." Mukarjee
quickly tied a knot in the binding and spat another mouthful of red
juice. "Your wound is really nothing more than a scratch. But you would
have been dead in a fortnight. By this, if not by exertion."
"What do you mean?" Hawksworth rose and tested his leg, amazed that the
pain seemed to have vanished.
"The greatest scourge of all for newly arrived Europeans
here seems to be our women. It is inevitable, and my greatest source of
amusement." He spat the exhausted betel leaf toward the corner of the
room and paused dramatically while he prepared another.
"Explain what you mean about the women."
"Let me give you an example from Goa." Mukarjee squatted again. "The
Portuguese soldiers arriving from Lisbon each year tumble from their
ships more dead than alive, weak from months at sea and the inevitable
scurvy. They are in need of proper food, but they pay no attention to
this, for they are even more starved for the company of women. . . . By
the way, how is your wound?" Mukarjee made no attempt to suppress a
smile at Hawksworth's astonished testing of his leg.
"The pain seems to be gone." He tried squatted in Indian style, like
Mukarjee, and found that this posture, too, brought no discomfort.
"Well, these scurvy-weakened soldiers immediately avail themselves of
Goa's many well-staffed brothels - which, I note, Christians seem to
frequent with greater devotion than their fine churches. What uneven
test of skill and vigor transpires I would not speculate, but many of
these _feringhis _soon find the only beds suited for them are in the
Jesuit's Kings Hospital, where few ever leave. I watched some five
hundred Portuguese a year tread this path of folly." Mukarjee's lips
were now the hue of the rose.
"And what happens to those who do live?"
"They eventually wed one of our women, or one of their own, and embrace
the life of sensuality that marks the Portuguese in Goa. With twenty,
sometimes even thirty slaves to supply their wants and pleasure. And
after a time they develop stones in the kidney, or gout, or some other
affliction of excess."
"What do their wives die of? The same thing?"
"Some, yes, but I have also seen many charged with adultery by their
fat Portuguese husbands - a suspicion rarely without grounds, for they
really have nothing more to do on hot afternoons than chew betel and
intrigue with the lusty young soldiers - and executed. The women are said
to deem it an honorable martyrdom, vowing they die for love."
Mukarjee rose and began meticulously replacing the vials in his cloth
bag. "I may be allowed to visit you again if you wish, but I think
there's no need. Only forgo the company of our women for a time, my
friend. Practice prudence before pleasure."
A shaft of light from the hallway cut across the room, as the door
opened without warning. A guard stood in the passageway, wearing a
uniform Hawksworth had not seen before.
"I must be leaving now." Mukarjee's voice rose to public volume as he
nervously scooped up his umbrella and his bag, without pausing to
secure the knot at its top. Then he bent toward Hawksworth with a quick
whisper. "Captain, the Shahbandar has sent his Rajputs. You must take
He deftly slipped past the guard in the doorway and was gone.
Hawksworth examined the Rajputs warily. They wore leather helmets
secured with a colored headband, knee- length tunics over heavy tight-
fitting trousers, and a broad cloth belt. A large round leather shield
hung at each man's side, suspended from a shoulder strap, and each
guard wore an ornate quiver at his waist from which protruded a heavy
horn bow and bamboo arrows. All were intent and unsmiling. Their
leader, his face framed in a thicket of coarse black hair, stepped
through the doorway and addressed Hawksworth in halting Turki.
"The Shahbandar has requested your presence at the customs house. I am
to inform you he has completed all formalities for admission of your
personal chest and has approved it with his _chapp_."
The palanquin was nowhere to be seen when they entered the street, but
now Hawksworth was surrounded. As they began walking he noticed the
pain in his leg was gone. The street was lined by plaster walls and the
cool evening air bore the scent of flowers from their concealed
gardens. The houses behind the walls were partially shielded by tall
trees, but he could tell they were several stories high, with flat
roofs on which women clustered, watching.
These must all be homes of rich Muslim merchants. Palaces for the
princes of commerce. And the streets are filled with dark-skinned,
slow-walking poor. Probably servants, or slaves, in no hurry to end the
errand that freed them from their drudgery inside.
Then as they started downhill, toward the river, they began to pass
tile-roofed, plaster-walled homes he guessed were owned by Hindu
merchants, since they were without gardens or the high walls Muslims
used to hide their women. As they neared the river the air started to
grow sultry, and they began passing the clay-walled huts of shopkeepers
and clerks, roofed in palm leaves with latticework grills for windows.
Finally they reached the bazaar of Surat, its rows of palm trees
deserted now, with silence where earlier he had heard a tumult of
hawkers and strident women's voices. Next to the bazaar stood the
stables, and Hawksworth noticed flocks of small boys, naked save for a