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1636: Mission to the Mughals: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Monday, January 16, 2017 11:23 EST



Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe

    Bertram’s coat was still damp when the secretary ushered him into Don Francisco’s office.

    The light Magdeburg rain pattering at the window panes failed to darken the heavy wooden desk Nasi was bent over, a small electric lamp serving to keep the shadows at bay.

    “Don Fransisco,” Bertram said, bowing nervously. He had not seen Nasi since being sent to Geneva, and while they were distantly related, Bertram had never had occasion to speak more than ten words to the man. There were not far apart in age, Bertram being twenty-eight and Francisco Nasi somewhere close to that. But there was a much greater social distance, as Sephardic Jews measured such things. Bertram came from a modest family; Nasi from one of the branches of the sprawling, influential and wealthy Abrabanel clan — or Abravanel, as some people spelled it.

    Nasi looked up from his work, gracing Bertram with a thin smile that hardly settled nerves. “Bertram Weiman. Thank you for coming so quickly, and on such short notice.”

    Bertram held up his hands. “I had no other business.”

    “No, I suppose you had not. Sorry to keep you in the dark, but while that business in Geneva worked to our benefit, it was not without ramifications.”

    Bertram tried to hide a wince.

    Nasi did not miss it, waving his visitor to a chair.

    Bertram perched on the edge of the seat, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    Again Nasi did not miss his unease: “This is not a dressing-down, Bertram. By all accounts you did what had to be done to accomplish the job I set you. You even managed to improve our relations with Geneva and the Confederation as a whole. No, I have been slow to find you additional work because I wanted you out of reach of the church, if possible.”

    Bertram smiled. Please let it be Anatolia, let me practice my skills against the Ottomans…

    What about Monique? The thought made his smile die a quick death.

    “I see you wonder where that might be.”

    Bertram nodded. “Of course.”

    “Ever consider India?”

    “Wh-where?” Bertram stammered.

    “Mughal India, to be precise.”

    “Ummm, no.”

    Another of those thin smiles. “No, you never considered it or, no, you are not interested?”

    Bertram shook his head. “As in, ‘No, I hadn’t considered it.’ ”

    “It is beyond the church’s grasp, at least the part we are sending you to.”

    “Not Goa?”

    “No, Portuguese India has too many churchmen. Besides, Goa does not produce what we are after.”

    “And what, pray tell, is that?”

    “The latest assessment has it that we will soon need significant amounts of opium for the war effort. That, and saltpeter, of course.”

    “But I am no merchant.”

    “No, but you can fake it.”

    “Of course, but there has to be someone trained to be a merchant –”

    “There is not. At least not readily available, not needed elsewhere, and in possession of your language skills. And you will not be solely responsible for securing the trade. There is to be a trade mission made up of several up-timers, you, and your two associates, the…ah, Vieuxponts –”

    “Them, too?” Bertram blurted.

    Nasi patted a stack of papers on his desk. “I read your report, even did some digging on my own. I was most impressed with their résumés…” He looked at Bertram. “Assuming they can be relied upon not to abscond with property that is not theirs?”

    “They can, when suitably motivated,” Bertram said, wondering when he’d agreed to the assignment.

    “And what will motivate them…suitably?”

    An uncomfortable bark of laughter escaped Bertram’s lips. “Money. Lots of it. Some security, but mostly money.”

    “As I thought. Everyone on this mission will be well-compensated. Besides, they need protection from the church as much, if not more, than you. And if we get full value for that protection, why, that’s just good government.”

    “Compensated, how?”

    “Any trade concessions secured will also pay a dividend to the mission…or their heirs. Make no mistake, we are aware how dangerous this will be. That’s another reason you are going.”

    “I’m no soldier.”

    “No, but the hope is that our family connections will be of service along the route, if not in Mughal territory, then in Africa.”

    “Our Cristião-Novo cousins?”

    Nasi nodded. “Exactly so. Are you up to date on who is where?”

    “Not at all.”

    “Understandable. I have a list of our kinsmen who should at least give you the time of day. You’ll have to memorize the names — writing it down risks handing the Inquisition a death list — but some of them may be of critical help.”

    “But aren’t the Portuguese routes all owned and financed by the Spanish Crown?”

    “They are, though that’s changed a bit under Hapsburg rule, but you mistake me: I wasn’t counting on our kinsmen providing ships or other material aid, but rather providing the mission with up-to-date information on the political landscape.”

    “Seems a risk for them to even speak to me.”

    “I will provide funds for you to use in helping overcome any such minor concerns they may have.”

    “How many ships are you sending?”


    Bertram looked away. He thought one ship was not enough. They would have far too few resources to guarantee they could even make it to India, let alone come back safely. The Dutch went out in fleets, and rarely returned with all the hulls they shipped with.

    “I know it seems too few,” said Nasi, “but we will make certain the mission has every technological advantage we can provide.”

    Bertram mulled that over a moment before deciding to change the subject: “And what are we going to offer them?”

    “We have some ideas regarding that…”

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