The book should be available now so this is the last snippet.
1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 39
“French?” Gervais asked.
“I’m afraid not. Portuguese, English and Dutch are the most common European languages here, and even they are not at all common.”
“I speak Dutch, and we’ve all been working on our Persian,” Monique said.
“I will ask the diwan what servants he can assign you that may be able to interpret.”
The silk-robed man Salim had been speaking to earlier emerged from the shadowed portico, calling the amir to him. After a brief consultation, Salim summoned them and said, “It appears I should not have been so concerned. Begum Sahib is, as usual, a step ahead. She has already obtained a translator for the ladies. It seems everything is prepared.”
John hugged Ilsa, whispered, “Be safe.”
Agra, Red Fort, The Harem
Monique and the other ladies looked about themselves in awe as they followed the eunuch through the harem.
“Mein Gott!” Ilsa whispered.
Everything was either covered in silks, decorated in precious stones, made of gold, or a combination of all three. Thick, luxurious carpets deadened sound and gentled each step.
“A girl could get used to this,” Priscilla said.
“Papa would have a fit, there’s so much gold lying around…”
“It’s no wonder the men are kept out, these girls are wearing next to nothing!” Ilsa said, watching a pair of women cross the gallery ahead of them.
Ilsa plucked at her burkha. “It would be nice to wear something lighter than this blanket.”
Priscilla nodded. “We’ll need to figure out exactly what we can get away with, first.”
Trying to hide her own level of unease with the amount of skin the women — girls, really — were showing, Monique said, “Keep in mind that what is acceptable for the family or their servants may not be for us, or for me, as an unmarried woman.”
The eunuch led them into a square chamber about ten yards on a side with a pair of arches set in each. A young girl of about twelve stood in the center of the room, head bowed.
Monique shook her head. God, but they know how to show their wealth. If the halls leading here had been richly decorated, this room showed so much wealth as to verge on the obscene.
Papa would have a stroke.
The eunuch came to a halt beside the girl and spoke with her a moment before turning to face the mission women and addressing them in Persian. The girl began translating into thickly-accented but understandable English almost immediately, “Diwan Firoz Khan would welcome you to the harem of the Sultan Al’Azam, and wishes you to know that whatever your needs, he will see them filled if it is within his power to do so.”
Neither of the other women seemed to understand what the girl was saying, so Monique stepped forward, “Our thanks, Diwan Firoz Khan, we are most impressed with our…common living area?”
The diwan flushed, stepped over to one of the arches and lifted the silk hanging. Beyond was a boudoir dressed in a riot of silks and plush pillows. “Each of you will, he hopes, be comfortable in your individual sleeping quarters.”
“Of course we will.”
“You have but to call, and someone will answer. Now, he begs leave to depart, as there are a great many…” she paused, looking for the word, “things he must attend to.”
“Of course. We hope to see him again under better circumstances.”
The eunuch left, obviously in a hurry.
“And what is your name, young lady?”
“Monique is my name, and these ladies are Priscilla Totman and Ilsa Ennis.”
Both her companions nodded.
“Where we are from, we like to be on a first name basis with those whom we are closest with.” A white lie, for her part, but one that did no harm. “Now, I would love to know, how is it you came to speak such excellent English?”
“My mother served Sir Thomas Roe, and taught me the rudiments of the language. Later, I was purchased by Jadu Das, a servant of the English Company, to work at their factory, where I continued to listen to that language.”
Both her companions looked uncomfortable at something the girl said. She mentally reviewed the statement, then asked, “Purchased?”
“Yes, Mistress Monique.”
“And were you purchased again for this duty?”
“Yes, Mistress Monique.”
She wondered just how much loyalty a slave had to any master, let alone new ones. “I see. Will there be anyone else to assist you?”
The girl looked scandalized. “No, Mistress Monique! I can do the work myself.”
“Of course you can. I was only worried that speaking for three garrulous women like us might be something of a trial.”
Sahana bit her lip. “Forgive my ignorance, Mistress Monique, but I do not know this word: Garuliss.”
“Garrulous. It means talkative.”
A broad smile drove the girl’s looks from merely pretty to exotic, impish beauty. “If I can manage to understand the drunken louts of the English Company, I durst think I can keep track of the words of a few women.”
“Oh dear,” Priscilla said, “I think we may have stumbled upon a young lady much like ourselves, Monique.”
Monique grinned. “I think you are correct.”
“Well then, on to the important stuff: can we take off these infernal blankets?” Priscilla asked.
Another grin. “Of course. Durst ye have clothing suitable to the harem?”
“No,” the women lamented.
The girl’s smile nearly split her face in half. “Well then, let me offer my first service.” She clapped her hands, calling out in liquid Persian.
Young, attractive attendants came from two of the alcoves, quickly stripping all three naked, then clothing them in garments that were far less modest but also far more appropriate to the climate.
Monique overcame her body-shyness by focusing on the clothes. She had rarely seen such fine silk, let alone worn the like. The feel of the shift was a fantastic experience. She was almost ashamed to don it, sweaty as she was.
“What’s the bathing situation?” she asked.
Another, wider smile and another clapping of hands was Sahana’s answer.
Monique could see how one might grows to like this, despite the hateful nature of keeping free people in bondage.
The other women, while each likely had their separate reservations, were likewise overcome by the luxurious comfort of their clothing and surroundings, at least for now.
Tomorrow for thought, today to ease fear and fatigue.