1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 31
“Neither, Sultan Al’Azam. I but seek answers. I would not presume to tell you the mind of God, just as I cannot presume to do so for any man.”
“A politic response.”
Remembering whom he was speaking to, Salim stopped the denial that leapt to his lips. He was less successful stopping the shake of his head.
Again the emperor caught the arrested movement: “What?”
“Politic or not, it is the truth. I do not have the education, inclination, or desire to dictate what is proper in another’s path to God.” Unlike Mullah Mohan and his associates.
“Merely the future of my Empire, eh?” Shah Jahan asked, picking up his drink.
Salim felt his face heat. “Sultan Al-Azam…”
Letting the jeweled drinking cup dangle carelessly from between his fingers, Shah Jahan grinned. “Relax, Amir Yilmaz. I merely jest at your expense. I know who your teacher was. Mian Mir taught many of the family. How is the saint?”
Wondering if the cup contained iced wine or some other forbidden drink, Salim answered: “I have not seen him since departing for Europe, Sultan Al’Azam.”
“Yes, Sultan Al’Azam.”
“Then?” The emperor accompanied the question with another gesture that encompassed Salim and his position in the palace.
“He had not thought to live to see me again. He asked that, whatever I found, I bring it before you and your sons. Through another of his students, he affirmed that request when I arrived in Agra.”
“I see.” The emperor fixed Salim with a hard stare over the rim of his cup and said, “So Mian Mir is responsible for your participation in the mission to Europe. Tell me, what did you think of Baram Khan?”
Sensing something dark lurking in the emperor, Salim chose his words with care: “He was difficult and obstinate. He did not easily adjust to changing circumstances, and he spoke harshly to those he had no need to. He was not, to use the sultan’s own word, politic.”
“No, he was not. Tell me, how did he die?”
“Poison, Sultan Al’Azam.”
“I knew that. How did he die?”
“While I was not present for his very last moments, the khan was in a great deal of pain and distress, Sultan Al’Azam.”
Salim did not offer comment and managed, this time, to keep his disappointment from showing: He had hoped Shah Jahan would be above such dark and petty wishes, but a man was a just a man, be he in beggar’s rags or a sultan’s jewels.
The emperor went silent, brooding over his cup.
Salim, unsure whether to resume reading from the book, let his mind wander further afield while he awaited direction from his overlord.
It seemed the emperor has already changed the course of this history, he thought. Certainly everyone had been surprised by his appointment of Dara to command the punitive expedition against the Sikhs.
There was a click as Emperor set his cup down. One of the hovering slaves saw it instantly filled. Salim didn’t think it wise to know what the emperor was drinking, not being sufficiently practiced at hiding his disapproval should the emperor’s drink prove to be wine.
Turn away from that which offends —
Turn toward…what, though? Salim’s eyes fell on the books again. Shah Jahan clearly believed these contain truths, so why hadn’t the emperor asked the mullahs for fatwas concerning their contents?
Interesting. And why haven’t I asked that question before?
“Are you ready to resume, Salim?”
“I am, Sultan Al’Azam.”
Salim opened India Britannica and started reading the first chapter after the lengthy introduction: “Chapter One: A Quiet Trade, and a Profitable One.
“India was an imperial possession long before the British made it theirs, with the notable difference that it had not become a component in an international mechanism, the rulers having simply moved in from their native soil to put down roots afresh. The ancient conglomeration of Hindu states under their rajas had first known alien occupation at the end of the twelfth century, when Turkish-speaking Muslims invaded the subcontinent and settled around the thriving city of Delhi…”
The emperor listened, his thoughts his own.
* * *
“How goes the amir’s reading, Father?” Jahanara asked as he was making ready for bed.
“What did you learn?”
Father shrugged. “The translation slows us, so we have barely begun.”
“Still, were there many revelations to be had?”
“No, not yet.”
“But Amir Yilmaz is up to the task of translating?”
“Yes.” Shah Jahan sighed. “Daughter, I did not order you into my presence so you can ask me half a hundred questions about Amir Yilmaz.”
“I am sorry, Father.”
He sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose. “It is I who should apologize. I am weary. Things move, and I worry that I cannot see them.”
“Things, Father?” she asked, trying to help him get what pained him out.
“If it wearies you, Father, then it must be of great import.”
“Roundabout flattery will no more pry my lips apart than repeated questions.”
“I am sorry, Father.”
“Why do you press so?”
She spread her hands, stung. “Mother used to listen to your troubles and I thought to –”
“You are not your mother.”
Jahanara swallowed past the sudden lump in her throat. “I know that, Father.”
If Shah Jahan noticed the pain he’d caused her, he didn’t show it: “Further, you have no idea what it is to be me. No idea what it is to be surrounded by people who want something from you at every moment of your life. Even family. Even sons.” He looked at her. “Even daughters.”
“I don’t –”
“Yes, you do. Everyone wants something from me, my children most of all! Your brothers, all of them want — or will want — position, armies, power, all so they can kill one another off and rule when I am gone! So tell me, you, who claims to be apart from all others in my empire, what do you want of me?”
“But Murad is only a chi –”
He cut her off again. “Do not attempt to sway me from the point, to deny what you want of me: you want a husband.”
Bewildered by Father’s anger, Jahanara shook her head. “I –”
“You will have no husband.”
“Father!” Jahanara gasped, feeling tears well. It wasn’t the first time he’d said such things, but his anger and her failure to see anything she might have done to give offense left her wits a tangled mess, her feelings trampled as if by elephants.
Father went on, relentless and angry beyond reason: “Never! The decree was made by Akbar the Great himself. I will not see some upstart pretender use my daughters to claim that which my sons shall have!”
“Father?” she cried.
He was shaking with rage, now. “No. Get out!”
Jahanara fled, unable to prevent tears any longer. She was openly sobbing by the time she returned to her quarters and threw herself into bed.
* * *
Salim, concerned by the timing of his summons, approached the emperor’s chambers. He was normally brought into the Imperial presence after isha prayers and it was barely past zuhr. He’d been a resident of Red Fort long enough to know Shah Jahan was something of a creature of habit, retiring to the harem after noon prayers to eat and enjoy the company of his ladies.