1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 24
Dara Shikoh’s Camp
Dara stepped out into the late afternoon sunlight, striding past his personal nökör to greet Wazir Khan. He allowed himself a moment of pride that these men were his to command.
Grandfather dismounted smoothly. A life spent in the saddle might have given the old Persian decidedly bowed legs, but he remained otherwise unbent and unbowed. “God is great, Amir of Amirs, Dara Shikoh.”
“God is great, Wazir Asaf Khan.” Dara smiled and gestured toward the awning spread above the entrance to his tent. He had come out merely so that his followers could see the esteem in which he held Asaf Khan, and to allow Father’s wazir a chance to inspect the warriors who would accompany him into battle. Such political maneuvers were important, even here among the warrior elite.
“All the sowar are mustered?” Asaf asked, inspecting the dismounted troopers lining their path as the pair walked slowly toward the tent.
Each of the men of his personal guard wore a metal helm over padded armor, a cavalry sword and leather shield, and had a heavy composite bow ready to hand. Their mounts were sleek and well-fed. While the rest of the men of his command were not so well-equipped, they all bore hand weapons and bows, and had at least one remount.
“Yes, the men are ready — eager, even,” Dara answered with a smile.
“All are the proper age and skilled?”
“Yes, Wazir.” There were mansabdars who tried to pass false rolls on to the reporters, hoping to collect pay for mansabs greater than their actual ability to field troops would justify. When called upon to muster, they would try to make up the lack with old men, grooms — even slaves — on mounts good only for the knackers.
“Twenty thousand and several hundred more horses, all up. Fodder for same. Eight elephants. I have no guns, but my advisor indicates such would only serve to slow our advance.” Amir Mukhlis Khan was in a terrible hurry, greedy for the productive farmlands the Sikhs held.
Slaves presented refreshment as the prince and his grandfather turned, more slaves placing cushions beneath them as the pair settled in to watch the camp. It was already smaller than that of the wazir’s army, as the Deccan excursion would require tens of thousands of fighting men.
“I had thought to see matchlock men,” Asaf said, gesturing at the camp.
Dara wagged his head. “I thought it best to avoid any…possible rumors that I used some trick of technology to win against my opponent, rather than through honorable and traditional strength of arms.”
Asaf Khan fixed him with a penetrating stare, taking a persimmon wedge and biting into it.
Recognizing the wazir was considering how best to say something his grandson might not wish to hear, Dara gave him permission: “Speak freely. I value your experience above all but Father’s.”
Asaf swallowed, spoke quietly: “You have read the biographies of your ancestors, have you not?”
“Traditions have their place, but your ancestors put little stock in them, most especially Babur. I would remind you how his twenty-five thousand, lined up behind carts, succeeded against Sultan Ibrahim of Delhi’s hundred thousand.”
“Yes. I can cite other battles won with the tools created by the artifice of men like your atishbaz gunsmith, but I think you get my point.”
“Yes, but Babur was a blooded general with years of experience and on the rise to power by then. I am not…do not…know…my advisor, he…”
“The advisor your father appointed?”
Dara nodded, glad for the sudden change in subject. “Amir Mukhlis Khan has been most helpful.”
“I am sure he has.”
“Indeed, he is most eager to come to grips with the upstart.”
“Be sure not to let his eagerness lead you into folly. He is not known for his restraint. By all reports, his ambition exceeds his ability.”
A twinge of annoyance bit through Dara’s good humor. “Perhaps you should have told this to Father?”
Asaf Khan nodded, jeweled turban glittering, “I did. I can only caution you.”
“Yes. I suspect Shah Jahan wishes to see exactly how you deal with such unpredictable subordinates in uncertain circumstances.”
“All the more reason to restrict myself to traditional forces, commanded in traditional fashion.”
“Success breeds tradition.”
“I don’t think I follow.”
“I do not wish to contradict you, Shehzada, but is it not more important that you take command and win than worry what the court might say about how you secure that victory?”
Agra, Red Fort
“He cuts a handsome figure: my husband, your brother,” Nadira said, as Dara led his men in a long parade along the riverbank before the court.
“He does.” Jahanara smiled, taking her sister-in-law’s hand in her own. Dara was in full military kit, sparkling like a jewel among the barely-more subdued dress of his bodyguard.
“I do not see the gloves I gifted him,” Roshanara grumbled from Nadira’s other side. She was leaning hard against the jali, trying to get a better look.
Trust my sister to try and make this moment about her.
Aloud, Jahanara said: “Do not squint so, sister. It will line that smooth brow of yours with wrinkles. Besides, he bade me tell you that he has set them aside to wear into battle.”
Roshanara sniffed, but said nothing more. She left the balcony a moment later, whether in search of other entertainments or better company, Jahanara could not say.
Jahanara felt Nadira squeeze her hand in thanks, smiled gently at her. To be left behind — pregnant — she could not imagine the fear. Her mother always shared her father’s campaigns; was always there, even when her father was losing, to support him even as he returned to the tent each night to support her in her latest pregnancy.
She turned, saw Nadira wiping tears from her face and tried to comfort her: “He will return victorious, I’m sure.”
“But he has only five thousand, while the wazir is taking tens of thousands south into the Deccan.”
“True, but eight elephants and five thousand troops, all of them mounted, is a significant command. Besides, Father says the Sikhs can barely field two thousand, most without horses. I do not claim to know a great deal about such things, but it seems to me Father would not have sent Dara without sufficient means to accomplish the task.”
“Did the emperor…did he change his mind about giving Dara a command because of –” She glanced around, making sure no one could overhear. “Of what you showed him?”
Having failed to consider that possibility, Jahanara’s brows rose. “I do not know, Nadira. It may have been that.”
“Then I wish God had seen fit to stop Salim coming here.”
Jahanara shook her head. “Nadira, you must not say such things. Grantville did appear, and Salim did bring back such proofs. We can argue all we wish to with Him, but in the end we must submit to God’s will.”
“I know, it’s just so…”
“Difficult. I know. Take heart. Dara will likely return before you give birth.”
Nadira nodded, tears still falling through long lashes to glisten on smooth cheeks.
Jahanara resisted the urge to shake her head. Her sister-in-law even looked pretty crying! She could never have managed that herself.
They stood in companionable silence for a while, watching the rest of Dara’s troops parade past.
“You said your good-byes last night?”
“Oh, yes, at length.” Nadira’s grin was wicked. “I’m even a little tender.”
A startled laugh escaped Jahanara’s lips. “Is that safe? I mean, with the baby coming?”
“My mother always told me it was good for the baby, but then she was always after father for more pillow time.”
“Really?” Jahanara said, suddenly uncomfortable with the conversation.
Be honest – you are not uncomfortable with it, you’re angry. That I’m to never know what it is that other women experience in the arms of their husbands is an idea I shall never find comfort in.
“Oh, yes,” Nadira said.
“I am sure he will not stop thinking of you while he is away.”
“Nor I, him,” Nadira replied, laying palms across the gentle rise of her belly.
“And you can write him daily, and be sure that he will do the same to you.”
Nadira nodded. “Even so, I shall miss him dearly.”
“Come, we shall tell the astrologers to discern for us when Dara will return to us, victorious.”
Agra, Mullah Mohan’s Madrassa
“Enough. Shehzada Aurangzeb is here for private instruction. Leave us.” The other students and servants of Mullah Mohan, obedient to their master’s will, retreated.
Aurangzeb waited in silence, rolling prayer beads between his fingers as he considered how best to capitalize on the conflict between Father and the guru. Perhaps by stirring religious discord? Thus far, the conflict was between one ruler and another. He glanced at Mullah Mohan. If the proper people could be convinced that the Sikhs were actively opposed to Islam and, perhaps, desecrating the Qur’an, then many things could happen…
But, not now. Such a course would only add strength to Dara’s position by giving him more soldiery to command. But perhaps it would prove useful to Aurangzeb at some later time.
“Should you have stayed at Red Fort?” Mohan asked as the doors closed.
Aurangzeb left his musing and answered: “And watch my brother depart in search of martial glory? I have better things to do with the time Allah has given me to walk the earth.”
A solicitous smile. “Indeed, Shehzada.”
“I don’t know what you are smiling about. The court buzzes with rumors about a pair of deaths in Agra last month.”
The smile disappeared. “Men often quarrel.”
“Men known to be supporters of yours.”
“I’m afraid my supporters are yet men, with all the flaws of common men.”
“Do not think to put me off with such pious mutterings, Mohan. I told you to be discreet.”
“And I was, Shehzada. You know of our conversation, and therefore link the deaths to me. The bystander, however interested, has no such advantage.”
“Did they succeed, at least?”
“God’s work was not, unfortunately, so easily accomplished.”
Aurangzeb spent several breaths resisting the urge to beat the man bloody.
When he had restrained his rage, Aurangzeb spoke: “You used your own men and they failed?”
Mohan waggled his head. “Members of the mosque are many. I cannot be held to answer for the acts of each and every one of them; such are the laws of the land.”
Aurangzeb let slip some of his anger: “I am not concerned with laws, you fool! You should not have revealed your hand in this petty action. Now I have no doubt that this Salim knows who it is that seeks his death.”
Mullah Mohan again wagged his head, holding up a hand. “My men would never have betrayed me: they were faithful, loyal to Allah and to me!”
“You stupid, stupid man. There is active betrayal, and then there is the fanatic’s inability to hide his true nature.”
“What does that mean, b –” Mohan snapped, face darkening with throttled rage.
Aurangzeb heard the “boy” Mohan narrowly avoided uttering.
He let how close Mohan had come to uttering his own death sentence sink in for a moment before resuming: “These men, the ones you set to kill the amir, they were faithful men, likely screaming praise to God and condemning Salim as a heretic as they tried — and failed — to kill him.”
A bit of the angry color drained from Mohan’s face. “I had not thought of that…”
“So, when I say Salim likely knows who was behind the attempt on his life, I am speaking from a greater understanding of the situation. You are a fool to argue with me in such circumstances. Am I understood?”
Mohan nodded, shoulders slumping, “Yes, I understand. I…I fear I have not, until this moment, realized just how much you have matured.”
What, my putting you on your knees with my bare hands was not sufficient sign that I am a man grown? But it would be impolitic to say that aloud, so Aurangzeb continued instead with: “I know it is difficult for you, who was my teacher, to understand the change in our circumstance, but I am no longer the child seeking an education from a learned mullah. I am a man grown, now; and one day, soon, I will rule.”
It felt good to say that aloud, for the first time; made it seem real, somehow.
“I will rule,” he repeated, savoring the words, “and I will bring all those I rule to Islam. I will conquer, and those I conquer will be brought to Islam. I will crush the divisions plaguing our sweet religion, and bring all believers to orthodoxy.”
He fixed the mullah with a steady gaze. “If you would be a part of this great future I would make for our people, if you would be the spiritual leader of all people, then you must listen and be guided by me in these affairs.”
He saw the fire ignite in Mohan’s eyes, knew then that Mullah Mohan would do anything for the future Aurangzeb laid before him.