1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 35
Agra, Red Fort, The Harem
“Shehzadi, Diwan Firoz Khan humbly requests a moment of your time this morning,” Smidha said, overseeing the slaves as they applied the last touches of henna to Jahanara’s feet.
“Oh? Do you know why? We aren’t due to go over the harem’s financials for several days.”
“No, Shehzadi, I do not.” Smidha shooed the slaves away. “He would only say the matter was of some import.”
“Very well, send for him.”
Smidha nodded to one of the attendants, who went in search of the harem’s diwan.
When they were reasonably alone, Smidha leaned in close. “How are you feeling, daughter of my heart?”
Jahanara shrugged. “As well as can be expected. Father maintains his distance, but has not otherwise punished me for…whatever it was I did to incite his anger the other night.”
“You speak, yet do not answer my question.”
Feeling a smile curl her lips, the first since Father’s outburst, Jahanara explained: “I hurt, Smidha. I do not know why. I have known my place for many years, yet when Father was yelling, it was as if I was hearing those things for the first time…” She shook her head, drew a deep, cleansing breath. “I suppose I had not realized how much hope I still held that he might be swayed from his position.”
“Perhaps he will change it of his own accord, given time, Shehzadi.”
Jahanara nodded, was saved from voicing her doubts by Diwan Firoz Khan’s arrival.
“You wished to see me, Diwan?”
“Indeed, Shehzadi: foreign travelers we have never seen before made landfall in Surat and are now making their way inland in hopes of an audience with Shah Jahan.”
“All foreigners must use Surat if they wish to trade within the Empire. Why should this group rouse your interest?”
“For three reasons, Begum Sahib. One: our spies in service to the English Company report that their factors expressed some consternation at their presence.”
“Wait, something about these folk displeases the English?”
“Yes, Shehzadi. I had suspicions who they might be, but wanted confirmation before reporting to you. Diwan Kashif was able to furnish such confirmation: the strangers are, at least in part, from that town from the future that furnished the papers and books, this –” He had difficulty with the odd word — ‘Grantville.’ ”
“I see now why they interest you! Please continue.”
“Two: the diwan you assigned to oversee your interests in Surat had reason to interact with them.
“Lastly: the emperor met privately with the man he has chosen as mihmandar to the visiting dignitaries.”
“Fascinating. When will they get here? Never mind that! Who else knows of their approach?”
“They are two, perhaps three days from Agra, Shehzadi. The latest information — merely a day old — and learned at your father’s knee: they stopped at one of your caravanserai just five days slow ride from here.
“As to who may know,” he waggled his head, “I do not think a great many, despite the selection of a mihmandar. As you know, the court has been focused of late on your brother’s campaign to punish the Sikhs. Between that and the departure of Asaf Khan’s army, there has been little attention to spare.”
“He what?” Smidha blurted.
“Who?” Jahanara asked, at nearly the same time.
“The emperor has chosen and dispatched a mihmandar to see to the needs of the foreign dignitaries and return them to court. I only know of it because he called upon me to provide riders from the harem guardians.”
“Who did Father choose?” Jahanara repeated, suspecting she knew the answer.
“Amir Salim Gadh Visa Yilmaz, who has also been promoted to command five hundred and given robes so that he cut a suitable figure and the mace for presentation to the envoys.”
“I see,” Jahanara said, glancing excitedly at Smidha.
“Why did Diwan Kashif treat with them?” Smidha asked, caution driving her back to her original question.
“They were unclear on certain of our ways, and thought Kashif the governor.”
“Kashif corrected that misapprehension, did he not?” Jahanara asked, suddenly fearful. The last thing she wanted was for Father to remove Kashif for overstepping his authority. He’d barely taken up the post and finding a replacement would be most problematic.
“Yes, Shehzadi. He also ordered the escort we provided him when you assigned him to Surat — which was to return to Agra anyway — to escort the foreigners here to Agra.”
“Somewhat beyond his purview,” Smidha said.
“But excusable, given the ferenghi’s error,” Firoz Khan offered.
“He was ordered to keep his head down and simply work at improving our holdings in Surat,” Smidha continued.
“And has done an excellent job, even in the short time he has been in charge.”
Jahanara hid a smile. Such public statements of support for the people he’d put up for appointment was one of the reasons Jahanara had chosen Firoz Khan to manage Father’s harem. He was — if not overburdened with too many scruples — at least not inclined to withdraw his support from a subordinate at the first sign of royal displeasure.
“Still, what did they offer Kashif, to encourage him to take such risks?”
“Kashif said they gave him a number of high quality sequins. He requests orders as to how to dispose of them. Both the quantity and quality reported by Kashif are confirmed by my independent sources in this letter, here.” The diwan presented a letter.
She waved his proof away, trusting his word on this subject.
The diwan slid the letter back into his robes, but Jahanara did not miss his pleased smile.
Patting the letter, he went on, “Kashif explains that the people from the future did not deign to reveal what they plan to offer in trade, but that they purchased forty pack horses from your concerns there, mounts for a dozen riders, re-mounts for same, and hardly blinked at the costs, which were quite high.”
“Only a dozen in their party?”
“Including the wives of three of them, yes.”
“Wives!?” Smidha and Jahanara chorused in surprise.
He nodded, smile dimpling smooth cheeks once more. “Indeed, Shehzadi.” He waved a hand as if such information was of little import, “There were more men aboard their ship, but they remain there as of the last report.”
“You tease!” Jahanara said.
He wagged his head, put a hand to his breast. “Who, me, Shehzadi?”
“Tell me of these women, you reprobate.”
He pretended a swoon. “Forgive me, Shehzadi!”
Jahanara couldn’t — entirely — prevent a snort of laughter, choked out: “Only if you desist immediately and tell me of these wives!”
“They were respectful of modesty, and went about covered when required, but Khashif’s spies claimed that when aboard their ship one of them displayed golden hair and all of them went about on the ship dressed in clothing completely inappropriate to the climate.”
“Woolen dresses, I think.”
She gestured at her own silk top, one of the class of fabrics called water for its utter sheerness and translucent qualities. “Wouldn’t that itch terribly?”
Firoz Khan shuddered. “I imagine so.”
“Do we have translators for these women when they join us in the harem?”
“Not at the moment, Begum Sahib.”
“Who was it the amir stayed with when we finally found him?”
Firoz nodded, taking her unspoken advice. “The home of Jadu Das, a merchant factor for the English. I shall start there. Thank you, Begum Sahib.”
“Any idea why the women accompany this mission?”
Along the river Yamuna
“When do we arrive?” Bertram asked, trying out his Farsi. He had been practicing intensively with Angelo, but knew he was some months, at best, from fluency. Every member of the mission needed to learn or forever be at the mercy of translators, assuming someone could be found.
“Tomorrow afternoon,” Iqtadar said. He gave Bertram a measuring glance and added, after a moment: “You learn quickly.”
Bertram thanked the chieftain and reigned in to wait for Rodney and John. Both up-timers sent a lazy wave his direction. John even smiled. Smiles had been more frequent from him since he and his wife had survived the bandit attack unscathed.
“Iqtadar says we’ll make the gates of the city tomorrow.”
“Nearly there, at last,” John said, adjusting his seat in the saddle.
“Ever fly anywhere? You know, before?” Rodney asked.
“A few times.”
“The world got a whole lot bigger after the Ring of Fire, though there’s lots of folks in the USE trying to shrink it back up again.”
“Sure, they’re working miracles with what we’ve got,” John said, “but we’ll be in our sixties before there’s enough planes to make even short passenger flights commercially viable, let alone international flights.”
“No argument here.”
Bertram shook his head.
“What?” John asked.
“So much change, so quickly, and yet you complain that things are proceeding too slow!”
John shrugged. “Not complaining, exactly. I always preferred riding rails to flying wherever possible, anyway. It’s just the pace of things was –”
John cut off mid-sentence, looking ahead. Bertram followed the line of his gaze, saw one of Iqtadar’s scouts riding back at the gallop.
“He looks in a hurry.”
Bertram looked back along the line of the column, found Angelo riding with the ladies a hundred paces or so to the rear, giving them their language lessons. He whistled as loudly as he could. Everyone in earshot looked his way. He pointed at Angelo and waved the translator forward, speeding up to a canter to rejoin Iqtadar himself. He heard Rodney and John fall in and was comforted by their armed presence at his back.
The chief was speaking to his second as Bertram rode up. Neither seemed tense, but Bertram had seen how the Afghans could go from seeming indolence to violent action in a heartbeat.
The outrider pulled up and spoke too rapidly for Bertram to understand. From his tone, the man wasn’t distressed, which was some slight comfort.