1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 07
She smiled. “No.”
“Still. Is he not still in Surat?”
“No, Father. I asked him to return here in order to explain to us the discrepancies I noted in my incomes.”
“Well then, it seems you have given this much thought. I grant you permission to manage the affairs of the harem. Let me know when you wish me to announce it publicly.”
She took his hand. “Thank you, Father.”
Red Fort, The Harem
“What is she doing here?” Roshanara asked her younger brother as they watched the massive procession of their kinswoman entering the Lahore Gate. A contingent of sowar led the procession, helmets shining in the sun.
Aurangzeb tossed his head. “Nur Jahan asked to be here for the celebration of Father’s weighing, and he did not refuse her.”
“But she –”
“Is a respected member of the family, and Father wishes us to make her welcome.”
She frowned, spoke the words she believed he wanted to hear: “She has too much to do with the Hindus.”
Aurangzeb looked at her, keeping any expression from his face. “The same could be said of our grandfathers.”
Roshanara ignored — or missed — his tone. “She should have remained in Lahore, maintaining grandfather’s tomb like a proper widow.”
“You prefer her in Lahore, hatching plots with Mian Mir?”
She looked at him, eyes wide. “They conspire together?”
He grinned, shrugged young swordsman’s shoulders. “No, Mian Mir is far too peace-loving to join causes with a tigress like Nur Jahan, not since she refused to heed Mian Mir’s counsel during Father’s rebellion.”
“But you do not deny he plots.”
“No, I do not.” He pointed over the railing at the gilded howdah strapped to a massive bull elephant. “But there sits the true blade. She is not some old sufi waiting to die in Lahore. She is here for some purpose.”
He pulled his katar from his sash and held the double-edged punch dagger up between them. “It cuts both ways, this blade, just like our great-aunt.”
“I don’t understand.”
Aurangzeb returned the dagger to its sheath. “Perhaps you should pray for guidance, then.”
Roshanara stared at him a long moment, reaching for the meaning behind his words. He saw no light of understanding in her eyes as she turned away. “I will.”
Aurangzeb concealed his satisfaction: It would not do to have her — or any of the family — be aware that Nur Jahan was here at his request.
* * *
Jahanara watched as Diwan Garyan made his approach to the open-fronted tent she’d caused to be erected in the garden. He was flabby, as many eunuchs were wont to get after reaching a certain age. Heavy perfume wafted to her on the breeze, announcing his proximity, if not his good taste in scents.
She felt the sheer mass of his presence as he bowed before her, and drew comfort in the presence of her guardians. Even if she decided to spare his life, Garyan would be ruined, and possibly seek to avenge himself upon her. While not as given to violence as full men, the eunuch’s size made her glad of the presence of her warrior women guardians, chief among them Atisheh.
She glanced at the auburn-haired Turki, who nodded almost imperceptibly. If it came to that, her guardian would happily spill the fat eunuch’s guts in the garden. Atisheh bore Garyan no love.
“Speak, Diwan Garyan.”
“Begum Sahib, trade has been excellent this year.” Garyan said, waving a hand glittering with jeweled rings toward the records a slave held in her arms.
Having read the actual reports and planned for this moment for several months, Jahanara knew she could not trust a word the eunuch said. The trading concerns she had inherited from her mother had barely turned a profit this last year, despite having little to no competition. To add insult to her intelligence, the meager returns she’d gained were moved off the books, none too subtly, and into Garyan’s personal treasury.
She would not let it continue: “How so?”
A look of surprise crossed Garyan’s fleshy face. As the harem’s long-established Khan-i-Saman, the Manager of the Household, he had gained far too much power during Father’s long foray into grief. He had secured the position of the diwan responsible for her financial matters as well, and because Jahanara had taken so long to work up the courage to ask Father for leave to take responsibility for her and the harem’s finances, Garyan had no experience of being questioned on matters of finance and trade.
“Do not look at me so, simply answer.”
“We have made profitable trade in indigo, Begum Sahib,” Garyan waved to the reports, his hand glittering with jewels, “but trade in betel has been off this last season.”
“The profits from which are intended to cover the costs of underwriting Hajj passage for those less fortunate than us.”
Garyan nodded, his usual control over his expression reasserting itself. “Such are the vagaries of trade, Begum Sahib.”
Jahanara knew his words for a lie. Incomes from her jagir of Surat had been up this last year. Father had given her the tax incomes from the port, through which the majority of the Empire’s sea-born trade passed. And the tax on betel had shown the strongest return. This, when the reports Garyan prepared regarding her own personal betel farms all pled poor harvest and poorer prices.
“I am not pleased, Garyan.”
“I humbly beg your forgiveness, but Mumtaz Mahal was content to –”
“My mother?” she snapped. “Do not think to bring even her name into this! Did you think I would not learn how you deceived her?”
Jahanara saw dawning fear in Garyan’s eyes. “I — I –” he stammered.
She continued, the words an angry torrent, “Did you think to succeed? That I would not learn how you embezzled funds meant for her support, for my projects? Funds given us by our Father, Shah Jahan, for our maintenance and pleasure?”
Jahanara’s henna-marked hand gestured at his expensive robes and ostentatious rings. “You must think me a fool, to come before me wearing wealth you have stolen from us! I will not have it. I will not.”
“But, Begum Sahib, your father –”
“Has given me the right to dispose of you as I see fit.”
Garyan at last realized how far he had fallen, and threw himself flat on the ground before her.
“Rise!” Jahanara hissed. “I have not given you leave to grovel.”
When he refused the order, Atisheh advanced and stood over the prostrate eunuch. The warrior woman slapped the eunuch’s turban from his head and drew a wickedly sharp dagger from her hip. She grabbed the erstwhile diwan by his hair, pulling him upright with a grunt of effort.
Stifling a cry, the eunuch continued his verbal retreat: “I beg your pardon, Begum Sahib, I am but a humble servant, tasked with great things. Tasks far above my abilities. If I have failed, it was –”
“Stop. Your lies no more excuse your malfeasance than your groveling.”
Garyan spluttered to a stop, encouraged by Atisheh, who placed her blade along his throat.
Jahanara leaned forward, looking him in the eye. “You are removed from your posts and titles, Garyan. All jagirs awarded you are returned to the emperor. All authority lent to you is likewise returned. All wealth that you possess is forfeit. You are nothing and no-one.”
“What is to happen to me?” Garyan cried, tears flowing.
“That is for Father to decide, and the emperor is most unhappy with you.”
Jahanara waved to Atisheh, who, with the assistance of another of her tribe, dragged Garyan bodily from the garden. Atisheh would see to it he was dragged through the harem and into the custody of the eunuch guards at the gate to the harem.
Now, Jahanara thought as Garyan’s cries faded, everyone will know who they will answer to should they choose to go against my wishes.