1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 14

The prince doubled over on his cushion, laughing hard and loud.

“Yes, Begum Sahib. Our family history claims that Emperor Babur took for one of his ten wives the daughter of one of our greatest chiefs, a beauty named Bibi Mubarika. Thus, he and his army had the way opened for them through the Khyber.”

“Don’t let my little brother — or Father’s generals — hear you say that,” Dara said between fits of laughter.

A delicate sniff from beyond the jali. “Aurangzeb will not hear it from me, Dara.”

Hoping to return the conversation to safer ground, Salim ventured: “It is that marriage, in a roundabout way, which brings me to serve the emperor, Begum Sahib.”

Dara gestured at his guest. “The amir Salim is also a fellow student of Mian Mir’s teachings, sister.”

Salim nodded. “The saint is wise, and asked me to accompany Baram Kahn on his mission.”

Dara looked at the jali. When there was nothing further from Begum Sahib, he gestured Salim to continue.

“Nur Jahan’s man, Baram Kahn, is dead. Poisoned by someone in the kingdom of Thuringia. It was done so that he would not bring back word of the future and what happens to this land.”

Agra, Red Fort, The Harem

“Thank you, Shehzada Dara Shikoh,” Amir Salim Gadh Visa Yilmaz said with a bow. The man turned and faced the jali, bowing nearly as low as he had for Dara.

She willfully turned away from the impure thoughts that rose up as she looked into the man’s pale green eyes, aided by the fact that he could not see her strong reaction.

Nadira, sitting beside her, nudged her with an elbow.

She looked at her sister in law. A great beauty, and cousin through their mothers, Nadira was also a friend to Jahanara. When Mother died, Jahanara had been left with the responsibility of planning Dara’s marriage celebrations, during which she had come to know and appreciate the kind and gentle spirit of her sister-to-be. Such spirit was not common in the harems of powerful men.

Nadira bent close, whispering, not unkindly, in her ear: “Do not make your brother kill the honorable — and very handsome — amir for loving what he cannot have, Begum Sahib.”

Jahanara winced.

Obeisance paid, Salim departed with a horseman’s rolling gait.

The Princess of Princesses tried — and failed — to avert her gaze from his strong, broad back.

Nadira giggled softly, shaking her head.

Dara, meanwhile, picked up one of the books the amir had left behind and muttered, “Fascinating.”

Fingers twitching with the desire to read them for herself, she cautioned him: “And dangerous, brother.”

He glanced at the jali, frowned, “Well, of course.”

“If it is true, how do we present this information to father?”


“Well, I haven’t seen the images he gave, and his story beggars belief.”

Dara, more excited than she had seen him since his wedding day, picked up the books and two flat pieces of paper Salim had called “photographs” and walked toward the jali. One of his eunuchs opened the concealed portal, ensuring his master did not have to slow. A few more strides and Dara was standing over his wife and sister.

He handed Jahanara the image. It was on a piece of paper, glossy on one side, no bigger than a large man’s hand. The subject within was of a large white-marble building of enormous size and great beauty, surrounded on all four sides by matching minarets with a great giant onion of a dome in the middle. Lettering in the latin alphabet, inked in lurid red, lined the top of the image.

Nadira, leaning to look over her shoulder, asked, “What did he say this reads?”

“Greetings from the Taj Mahal! Greatest of The Seven Wonders of the World!” Dara answered from memory, smiling fondly at his wife. “They even have the coloring of the letters the correct red, to honor the colors of the family war-tent.”

“But what –”

“It is a corruption of mother’s title,” Dara answered her question before it was fully voiced.

Nadira even scowled prettily, “Mumtaz Mahal becomes Taj Mahal? How does this happen?”

“I presume it happens after near four hundred years and across several languages, my love.”

“But how do you know it’s accurate, light of my heart?”

“Father’s plans are set and construction begun.” He tapped the photograph. “Mother’s tomb will look like this, though you cannot see the Moonlit Garden across the river.”

Tears filled Jahanara’s eyes. To think her father’s grief had carried across the centuries and thousands of kos to peoples so distant caused her heart to ache — not for her father, but for her own fate. She would, as a daughter of her house, never marry, never know the heat of a love that would make a man like her father grieve so terribly he would build a monument to their love that would last through the ages.

She lowered her head, shamed by the depth of self-pity she felt. It seemed extraordinarily sinful in the face of what the amir had told them the future histories contained: that two of her brothers would be executed and her father left to wither and die, while Aurangzeb expended the strength of the empire in bloody attempts to suppress the Hindu religion and conquer the remainder of the sub-continent.

Fear and concern for the future of her family rode self-pity and shame down under flashing hooves. Jahanara cleared her throat. “I am willing to believe the amir, but how do we tell Father?”

“Don’t you mean what?”

“No, I mean how.”

Dara shrugged. “I didn’t think he needed to –”

She interrupted: “Father will not be inclined to overlook anything less than full disclosure, Dara. The amir told us that the remainder of Baram Kahn’s followers should return within the month.” She gestured at the books, “and that they have more of these.”

“Yes, but –”

She held up a hand. “Father will find out if we withhold information — Nur Jahan will make sure of it — first Aurangzeb, and then Father, will be told what we have learned today.”

Dara sighed so deeply his wife laid a hand on his arm. “I still hold hope that we might yet get Aurangzeb to abandon his religious bigotry and open his heart to Mian Mir’s teachings.”

“An admirable — even saintly — hope, Dara. Unfortunately, there are far fewer saints in the world than sinners.”