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1636: Mission to the Mughals: Chapter Fifteen
Last updated: Friday, March 3, 2017 22:21 EST
Agra, Red Fort, The Harem
“Where is this man you spoke of, daughter?” The question was quietly voiced, but Jahanara recognized the ill-concealed impatience.
“I sent people into Agra to search him out, Father,” she answered, careful to keep her eyes directly on Shah Jahan. He hated the appearance of dissembling in his children.
They were alone but for a few of his body slaves, as he had summoned her to his private chambers to read to him from his favorite book, the Akbarnama.
She had welcomed the opportunity for private time with him this morning, when it seemed they might discuss Salim’s interpretation of the encyclopedia entries he’d copied and brought to Agra, but now
“Trusted servants, Father.” Ones I pray were not stopped by Nur Jahan’s agents.
“Yet he has not come.”
“No, Father. He has not.”
“Perhaps tomorrow I shall send for the Englishmen. They are always sniffing about, hoping for some scraps from our table, are they not?”
“That is so, Father, but I hardly think they will provide accurate translation of the texts.”
Shah Jahan waved a hand, jeweled rings flashing. “They will, given proper incentive.”
“Still, is it prudent to ask the tiger what it prefers to eat?”
The emperor snorted. “Ruler of The World is my title, daughter. I am the tiger, not these red-faced water nomads from the west.” He leaned forward, looking at her closely. “From your words, you trust this man. Why? He is no one, not even one of my commanders of horse, and not beholden to our house.”
“Because he is a friend to Mian Mir, Father, and because he did not have to bring us news of what happened in that place.”
Shah Jahan sat back on his cushions. “Who else would he have brought it to, then?”
Not yet ready to reveal all she knew and suspected, Jahanara answered: “Those who would do you mischief, Father.”
“Their contents are not mischief enough?” he asked, gesturing at the foreign-looking book and slim folio he’d not let out of his sight since Jahanara had given it to him.
“We have long sought to read the future in the stars, Father. That it, or a portion of that future, may be revealed in these foreign texts should not be so great a surprise, I think.”
“Perhaps.” A faint smile, then: “The mullahs who will surely pull their beards and wear out their prayer beads with consternation when they learn that the future was revealed first to those not of the Faith.”
“That is also a concern, Father.”
“The reaction of certain mullahs.”
“I am not the equal of your learned mullahs, but if all this,” she gestured at the documents, “came to pass, then it was because God willed it.”
Shah Jahan pulled at his beard, then pointed at the heavens. “And if it came to pass, who are we to try and shift God’s will from the path He has chosen for us?”
She nodded. “I have given this quandary some thought, Father.”
“Oh?” he asked, gesturing her to proceed.
“If it was God’s will, then it was surely also God’s will that these facts come to us in the now, so we might learn from the experiences of those others who bent to His will in that future that was?”
Father cocked his head, again tugging at his beard in thought. After some time he sighed and released his beard. “Such weighty thoughts are best picked up in the morning, after much prayer to strengthen the soul.”
Disappointed, Jahanara bowed her head obediently. Just please don’t ask them of the supposed ‘learned’ Mullah Mohan. I don’t want him getting wind of what Salim brought us. Bigot that he is, he will call for deaths of all foreigners and use it as an excuse to persecute the Hindus.
He looked her in the eye as she raised her head. “I am very proud of you, daughter. You are a thoughtful and brightest of the ornaments to my throne, entirely worthy of your mother.”
Flushing, she bowed her head again. “Thank you, Father.”
He lay back on the low bed, shoving silken cushions aside. “Read to me of our forebear’s doings, daughter.”
“Yes, Father.” She took up the tome recording the life of Akbar and opened it where the silken ribbon had been left when one of her stepmothers had stopped the night before. She read ahead slightly and began reciting the beautiful words of Abul Fazl.
Agra, Home of Jadu Das
Salim stopped his pacing and settled on the cushions, putting the note from Mian Mir down. He tried to put his frustration away with it, but the contradiction held in its few lines refused to let him.
Mian Mir, ever a friend to all who sought God, had assisted the guru in laying the cornerstone of the Sikh’s greatest temple and was even known to receive the previous guru at his own home in Lahore. Salim himself had been present when the two had publicly proclaimed their amity and friendship. He knew Mian Mir would tell Hargobind Singh of the doom riding toward his people.
Salim had no wish to undermine the Empire in any way, but duty to the living saint came first. Guilt-ridden, he had written Mian Mir of the emperor’s plan to crush the Sikhs.
Written, and received word in return.
He sighed, picked up the note once more, and read it for the tenth time:
Take comfort, my student: there is no resisting God’s will. All things proceed from His plan, in accordance with His wishes.
The Sikhs will not be swayed from their present course. They, too, are moved as God wills, and know it.
Some little blood will be shed, but not as much as might be were we not engaged in foiling the workings of the Dark One.
The sound of a horse in the courtyard reached Salim’s ears, driving him from consideration of the almost prophetic wording of the verse and to his feet again. Jadu had said he would return around noon with word who at court the East India Company factors paid visit to.
Salim returned to the balcony and leaned elbows on the railing before realizing Jadu was not alone in the courtyard. A heavy fellow, whose smooth, rounded cheeks and rich clothing marked him as a possible eunuch, was dismounting next to his host.
Jadu looked up, waved an arm to present the beardless fellow to Salim. “Amir, this one was sent to find you.”
The eunuch bowed deeply, then craned his fat neck to look up at Salim. “Amir Salim Gadh Visa Yilmaz, I am sent by Begum Sahib, who commands you to attend her.”
“Oh?” Salim asked, hoping for more.
A wobbling of neck fat. “I am forbidden knowledge of my mistress’ motives, Amir.”
Salim thought about that a moment. He doubted Mullah Mohan would choose a eunuch to search for him, it was too subtle.
Jadu cocked his head and covered for Salim’s lack of immediate response: “Then the amir will, of course, attend to her command.”
“Within the hour!” the messenger insisted, still watching Salim.
“That may not be possible,” Jadu said, glancing up.
“All things are possible, God willing,” the eunuch snapped, leveling a nasty look at Jadu.
Jadu bobbed his head, raising hands in respectful submission. “But surely you don’t want the amir — favored of both Shehzadi Jahanara and Shehzada Dara Shikoh alike — to go before them dressed as you see him?”
Mention of both royal siblings brought the fit of pique to an abrupt end. The eunuch produced a silken kerchief and mopped his brow. “Pardon, I am tired, having spent the entire night and most of yesterday searching for the amir. Proper preparation for the visit is acceptable, of course.” A fatalistic shrug of round shoulders and a heavy sigh: “I’ll be punished as it is, I am so late delivering him.”
Jadu cast a meaningful glance at Salim.
“I will ask that you be treated gently, having found me as soon as possible,” Salim offered. “It was not your fault that I was so well hid.”
Jadu smiled reassuringly at the eunuch. “And surely the amir’s word will count in your favor! Go, take refreshment while I help the amir prepare as quickly as can be.”
Salim retreated into his chambers once again, waiting for Jadu.
It didn’t take him long, though he arrived with several servants in train. Seeing Salim on the verge of talking, he held up his hands in caution and stepped close before speaking. “There were others seeking you out, hoping to prevent you appearing at the palace. It was all I could do to get that great bag of figs to come here with me. We’ll make you ready and escort you to the palace.”
“I hardly think a slippered eunuch any kind of protection,” Salim said, as Jadu’s slaves started to dress him.
Jadu smiled. “Normally, no, but he made it plain, and in public, that he is on Begum Sahib’s errand.”
“Are there still a great many fighting men on the streets?” Salim asked, as the slaves wrapped him in a rich, but light, over-robe.
“Yes, the wazir has yet to depart, and has not even attempted to refuse his men the chance at the entertainments to be had here. Why do you ask?”
“Accidents are easy to arrange.”
“I cannot believe any would be foolish enough to interfere with someone on a mission for Begum Sahib.”
Absently noting how out of place his worn and undecorated sword belt looked in conjunction with his current attire, Salim shrugged. “What God wills to pass, will pass.”
Agra, Red Fort, Diwan-i-Khas
“Amir Salim Gadh Visa Yilmaz, Your Majesty, answering the summons of Begum Sahib,” the majordomo announced.
Nur Jahan heard the name and immediately looked through the jali at the man being introduced. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with the straight nose and coloring of an Afghani tribesman. The amir wore his rich clothing with indifference but moved with the grace and gait of a trained warrior as he made his way forward to stand within a few gaz of the emperor’s dais.
Nur resisted the urge to look at Jahanara, seated some distance away, and feigned a cough. She had to keep up appearances, after all. She was alone and seated well away from the other women observing the court, secretly welcoming the relative solitude the lingering effects of her recent “illness” granted her.
She smiled inwardly. With such tangled skeins, it was a small wonder that she did not get more headaches.
The amir arrived before the emperor and bowed.
“You are late, Amir Yilmaz.”
A deeper bow followed the emperor’s greetings. “I beg forgiveness, Sultan Al’Azam, and offer no excuse for it save that I came as soon as I learned of the summons.” The man’s voice was resonant and pleasing, his Persian lightly accented but grammatically perfect. More impressive: it held no fear, despite the rather sharp reprimand inherent in the emperor’s words.
“You may secure our forgiveness by translating the texts you brought to our notice.”
Another bow. “Majesty, I have already begun to write the translations –”
“No, I want you to read the words aloud to me, translating as you go. Thus, if I should have any questions, you will be available to answer them immediately.”
And no one else will know what I learn, Nur added silently for the emperor, hiding her displeasure. Such personal access to the emperor was unusual, to say the least. What might have started as a subject of idle curiosity was no longer: the amir was now a clear threat to the balance of power at court.
A further, deeper bow. “Your Majesty does me a great honor I fear I am unworthy of.”
He actually seemed humbled by the emperor’s regard. Nur wondered if that was an artifice.
The emperor waved as if the amir’s words were of no consequence “You have been vouched for at court.”
When? she wondered.
Further up the gallery, where Jahanara sat, there was a sharp intake of breath. She did not intend to vouch for him, then — or she did not expect the emperor to reveal she had spoken for him? Nur carefully controlled a sharp breath. If Jahanara had vouched for Amir Yilmaz at court then Jahanara was the one who moved the slave to poison Nur, if only to be sure she was not present while she laid the groundwork for this introduction.
“Furthermore,” the emperor was saying, “we grant you zat and sowar for your upkeep and a robe you may wear in honor.”
Put it away. Reflect later. You must observe the court now.
Nur slowly moved her head, trying to catch sight of Aurangzeb without alerting those who were undoubtedly taking note of who she was watching at court. The young man’s expression betrayed no particular interest in the proceedings. Nur wondered, for just a moment, whether he knew of Mullah Mohan’s failed attempt on Amir Salim Yilmaz’s life.
He must have known. The question was: did he sanction it?
She let her gaze wander without moving her head, searching out Mullah Mohan.
For his part, the learned Mullah — My, doesn’t he look like he’s eating his own beard?
Such anger marked his desire to kill the amir as something personal — and might prove an excellent lever to move Mohan to Nur’s designs. Foolish religious bigots with an army of fanatical followers could prove useful in certain circumstances, after all.
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