1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 16
Agra, Red Fort
“Shehzada Aurangzeb, a moment of your time, if you please?” The mullah asked, approaching the young prince as he strode along the gallery leading to the stables.
Aurangzeb stopped but motioned for his retinue to continue without him. “Of course, Mullah Mohan.”
As a relatively young man, Mullah Mohan had been given responsibility for Aurangzeb and Roshanara’s education. And since leaving the harem for adulthood, Aurangzeb found the imam’s strict orthodoxy aligned well with his own designs for the future. Especially as that orthodoxy carried with it a core of believers who could very well prove the deciding factor when he and his brothers began the inevitable contest for the throne.
“Peace be upon you, Shehzada,” the mullah said with a nod.
“And upon you, peace.” Aurangzeb noted he was, at fifteen, already taller than Mohan.
“Forgive my lack of manners, but there is a matter I want to broach with your father but I am told the Sultan Al’Azam is not available.”
“That is true. He is overseeing the construction efforts.”
“I see. Perhaps, as one of his councilors, you might be able to advise meâ€¦”
“This is most unlike you, Mohan. I must say I am disappointed. Never before have you come to me in an attempt to gain access to my father.”
“Again, I ask forgiveness for my lack of manners. The matter is very important.”
“Perhaps I can hear it, and better judge what is to be done?”
Was that a look of satisfaction? Aurangzeb wondered, watching the other man as he made his reply: “There is a man who is here, now, in Red Fort, one who has turned his back upon God’s holy message and made mockery of our faith by engaging in worship before false idols.”
“Surely the determination of such is the purview of the learned religious courts?” Those were entirely under Mullah Mohan’s thumb.
A sharp nod. “Normally, yes. However, this man, he isâ€¦favored by certain parties at court and, having been absent the court for years, the case against him has languished because of a lack of complaining witnesses.”
“What is it you would have of me?”
Mullah Mohan edged closer and said, voice tight with emotion, “A death, Shehzada.”
“I would see a sinner dead.”
“Who is this man?”
“Amir Salim Gadh Visa Yilmaz.”
“I have never heard of him.”
“He was sent into exile while you were still in the care of the harem.”
“He returns, despite exile? Surely that is sufficient grounds to have him executed and explain your actions later, if necessary.”
“I misspoke: he, specifically, was not exiled.”
Wishing for a better class of ally, Aurangzeb responded carefully: “Misstated details lead to unintended deaths in such matters, Mullah.”
“Apologies, Shehzada, in my zeal to do God’s work, I overstep.”
“Yes, you do. Who is it that favors this man?”
“Your siblings, Shehzada.”
“Jahanara and Dara Shikoh, Shehzada.”
“I see. I take it, then, that this amir is also a servant of Mian Mir?”
“He was once, yes.”
Therein, clearly, lay the true reason the mullah wished him dead. “But no longer?” Aurangzeb asked.
“Truthfully, I do not know.”
“Yet you would have his head.”
Eyes glittering with intensity, Mohan nodded. “God wills it so, yes.”
God? Or his own pride? Aurangzeb had to turn his head to hide his incredulity. “Take no precipitous action. I will consider what to tell Father,” Aurangzeb said, turning to leave.
Mohan laid a hand on his arm.
Aurangzeb covered the offending hand with his own, pulled it from his arm and rolled Mohan’s fingers back and to the outside of the man’s shoulder, twisting fingers, hand and wrist.
Mohan, eyes wide, went to his knees.
Shifting his grip and pushing down, Aurangzeb thrust his face into the older man’s. “You dare lay hand upon me?”
Pale with pain and shock, Mohan struggled to speak. “I forget myself, such is my desire to do God’s work: please, the man must die.”
“Because God — ” Aurangzeb cut him off with more pressure. He had to lean over, he’d bent and twisted the man’s arm so far. “Your true reason. Tell me.”
Beads of sweat popped from beneath the mullah’s turban. “He refuses God.” The words were halted behind a cage of pain-clenched teeth.
Aurangzeb wondered if he would have to break his arm to get the truth. “That may be, but there is something else. Answer.”
“Mian Mir always favored him.”
“Favored him over me. Loved him, not meâ€¦”
Aurangzeb released the man’s hand. Mohan pitched forward, cradling his arm.
“The truth will win what you desire of me, Mohan. Remember this as you take what you want.”
Aurangzeb straightened. “Do what you will with this man, just be certain the act cannot be placed at my feet.”
Agra, Red Fort
Aurangzeb stepped away from the balustrade and collected a julabmost. He surveyed the people on the balcony as he drank deeply of the cold juice. Roshanara and Nur Jahan were present, as well as a number of the court’s lesser luminaries. Father was off overseeing the construction, again. Jahanara and Dara were entertaining elsewhere in the Fort. There were just a few of Father’s other women present, all of them engrossed in the elephant fight taking place by the riverside.
It was, due to the many distractions, the only time he was likely to get a private word with Nur Jahan.
Roshanara stepped away to tease one of their younger siblings.
He joined his great-aunt, taking a seat among the many cushions.
“Aurangzeb,” she said, handing off her empty drink to rid herself of it and the nearest ears that might overhear their conversation.
“Nur Jahan,” he answered, suddenly wary. Her reputation and their shared history made her loom large in his imagination, despite her current distance from power.
“You are looking well.”
“And youâ€¦smell like the original garden,” he said, truthfully.
She smiled, teeth stained red with betel-juice. “A new perfume.”
“You must teach my wives this art.”
“Wives? I had thought you only married the one time, thus far.”
“I will have many more.” And he would never allow any of them to rule his life as Nur Jahan had ruled his my grandfather’s.
“Indeed, and you will have them, and many strong sons, I am sure of it.”
That might be a genuine compliment — or a barbed reminder of his own position, surrounded by inferior siblings.
Aloud, he asked a different question: “You wished to speak to me?”
“Do you recall Baram Khan?”
“The one who was banished? The last of your allies at court, wasn’t he?”
“I would hope that you speak of past days, and not current state of affairs,” she said, a gentle rebuke he refused to acknowledge.
“I remember him.”
“He is gone to his greater reward.”
“Poisoned, though we do not know by whom” — she waved a hand — “but the ‘who’ is really not that important. Of greater interest is that word has reached me that the amir Yilmaz left Baram Khan’s party without leave. I am told he is carrying information of great import to the court.”
“What news?” he asked, immediately annoyed at how easily his voice betrayed his interest.
“I do not know. The message I received was conveyed in a medium which is, for reasons I am sure you’ll understand, not trusted to keep secrets from parties who would read my correspondence without permission.”
“I see. What did you say the man’s name is?”
“Amir Salim Gadh Visa Yilmaz.” That was the very man Mullah Mohan had petitioned him for permission to slay. Interesting.
“Does the name mean anything to you?” she asked.
“No, should it?” The lie was easy.
“He and Dara Shikoh became fast friends while you both were your grandfather’s guest.”
Anger flashed, made him snap: “Is that what we’re calling it now?”
“I believe it a polite fiction that serves everyone involved.”