1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 30

Don’t know how it happened, but Snippet 30 & Snippet 31 were reversed on when they were to come out.

1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 30

Chapter 18

Red Fort, The Harem

October, 1634

Gargi sighed as she knelt behind Nur. She heard a click as her advisor picked up one of the ivory combs from the tray. Soon after, Gargi’s fingers and comb began the process of separating Nur’s mass of thick hair to expose the gray roots.

“What news of the new spy placed upon us, Gargi?” Nur asked, the scent of the dye in her nostrils.

“Already compromised, Nur Jahan.”

“So quickly?”

Nur could hear the smile in Gargi’s tone. “Kamadeva favored us: the spy is quite enamored of another of the harem guards, Omid. I caught them sharing embraces Diwan Firoz Khan would almost certainly find objectionable. Especially as the guard still had use of a hard member, something that would have him trampled were the emperor to learn of it.”

Nur refused to be scandalized by her advisor’s news or reference to a Hindu god, and calmly opened the last of the mail. “A party of traders from the city of Hamburg,” she read aloud.

The dye-laden brush in Gargi’s hand paused. “I am not familiar with that place.”

“Part of the north of Europe. A city-state like Venice, if I recall correctly. But that is not what is of interest here,” she lifted the paper, “but that they have since embarked inland, supposedly seeking Agra and an audience with the emperor.”

“As all foreigners who wish to trade here must.”

Nur nodded, checked the date. “They should be arriving within the next few weeks.”

Gargi pulled her hair back into line a little ungently. “Why this interest in trade? Jahanara appears to have all the incomes from Surat well in hand.”

Ignoring Gargi’s less than tactful mention of powers she no longer possessed, Nur picked another note from between her toes. “I have here information that they bribed Jahanara’s new diwan in Surat — Kashif Khan — with, quote, ‘sequins the likes of which have never before been seen. Not even the Venetians have ornament of such quality and lightness for sale.’ ”

Gargi didn’t bother to scrub the disdain from her reply: “Still, it seems he was bought cheaply.”

“Perhaps, but a small bit of information included in the report makes me think this particular group is more important than the usual foreigners.”

“Oh?”

“These foreigners had a number of women with them, and many spoke a different language from that of the crew of their ship, one that was at least related to English, but had many words my informant did not recognize.”

“I do not understand the significance of that information.”

“The people from the future, the ones Baram Khan was sent to investigate, they are supposed to speak an English dialect.”

“I see.” The combs paused with a click of ivory. “Then you think these foreigners are from the village Baram Khan was sent to?”

“I do.”

“And what, exactly, does that mean for us?”

“Opportunity, perhaps.”

“What kind?”

“I do not know, yet.”

“Well, I foresee one difficulty already.”

“And that is?” Nur asked.

“Purdah.”

Nur shrugged. The traditions that kept women separate from men had been less an obstacle for her when her husband had yet lived, but even then she’d been unable to sidestep them entirely.

“Perhaps it is time to seek additional allies; ones who might be able to talk with these foreigners, find out what they plan?”

“My options are yet limited by my tenuous return to favor.”

“I know.”

“Yet you have someone in mind?”

“I am sorry, but no.”

“None?”

“None that are worthy of the effort, no.”

“Are my options really so limited?”

Again the hands working at her hair stopped. “As I told you when you went to speak to Jahanara: you should have kept silent about your knowledge of the attempt on your life, and therefore made her see you as less a threat, even a potential ally. You insisted. Here we are.”

Nur cocked her head, looking at her advisor out of the corner of her eye. “I could not let such behavior pass.”

“So you said.”

“Careful, Gargi. You overstep.”

“I know. It is only concern for you that drives me to such extremes. Please forgive me.”

Nur allowed herself a tiny sigh. “No, you are correct in nearly every detail. I let my anger get the better of my judgment and your sound advice.”

Gargi’s hands resumed their work, oiling and combing through Nur’s thick tresses. A few moments passed in silence before she spoke again. “Speaking of anger and poor judgement: perhaps it is time to contact Mullah Mohan.”

“Gargi, surely you would not choose him to try and speak on my behalf to the foreigners?”

A delicate, derisive snort. “Of course not. But he will require some time to adjust to the idea of a woman ally, and you will require some time to develop exactly the right method to manage him properly. Beyond that, there has to be someone among his supporters who has the political acumen required to keep him afloat at court. Perhaps you can learn who that is, and develop them as a go-between.”

“I do not think such a person exists. Since the emperor has…returned control of government to himself, Mohan has not enjoyed the same eminence he enjoyed before.”

“All the more reason to approach him now.”

* * *

“Hard to believe,” the emperor mused.

“Your pardon, Sultan Al’Azam?” Salim asked. Placing a finger in the book.

The emperor waved a hand to encompass Red Fort and the luxuries of his quarters. “That all this will be subjugated by the English — my empire, the people of Hindustan and the peninsula, all of them conquered and cowed in such a short span of years by a people from so far away.”

Salim opened his mouth to respond, but thought better of it. It wouldn’t be wise to contradict the emperor. Not wise at all.

The emperor had seen him, however. “What is it, Amir? I did not order you into my presence so that you can keep your thoughts locked behind those cheap turbans of yours.”

“Sultan Al’Azam, did your own dynasty not do precisely the same thing?”

The emperor gave a snort and smiled broadly. “Indeed they did, though they came riding, not sailing. And what I meant to say was that if it is God’s will that this should all fall to the English, then why resist?”

“With respect, Sultan Al’Azam, I do not think that God has chosen this medium,” Salim tapped the book, “to show us a future set in stone, but to warn us where we are bound, that we might mend our ways and change our course.”

Salim saw the briefest of tightening around the emperor’s eyes. “If this,” the emperor gestured at the book, “is not certain to happen, how do you explain the construction of my wife’s tomb, exactly to my specifications, in the picture from the future?”

Salim cocked his head, considering. “I suppose that some things, improper things, might be changed for the better, according to God’s will. Viewed in this light, your care for the design and construction of the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal cannot be anything but proper in His eyes…”

“Do you ask or tell me, Amir?”

 

 

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