1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 32

As Salim presented himself before the guards, a eunuch fled from the emperor’s quarters, the look in his eyes that of a wounded blackbuck hunted by lions. Salim’s concern ticked higher. The harem slaves and servants had been behaving strangely since last night, but no one who knew would tell him why.

Taking a steadying breath, he strode into the lion’s den, ready for nearly anything.

The emperor reclined among silken pillows, a minimum of attendants surrounding him.

Salim made the requisite three bows and waited to be acknowledged.

He did not have to wait long. “Amir. This morning’s reports indicate that envoys from the United States of Europe arrived in Surat some time ago, and even now make their way to us.”

The emperor leaned forward. “Did you know anything of this?”

“No, Sultan Al’Azam.”

“Do you know why it is that I am only now learning that such envoys exist?”

“Aside from an awareness that someone has failed you, no, Sultan Al’Azam.”

“Someone has, indeed, failed me.”

Knowing he could not speak to that without appearing defensive, and therefore responsible, Salim kept his silence.

After what seemed a very long time, Shah Jahan sighed and dropped his gaze. “Do you have an idea what these envoys might bring us?”

Salim spread empty hands. “Many were the wonders of that place. Perhaps one of their many books containing technical knowledge? Or some expertise in an area of endeavor that we have not had success in? Perhaps just more of the history brought back from that other time.”

“No offers of alliance?”

Salim shook his head. “I fail to see what they could offer you for such an alliance, Sultan Al’Azam. They share no borders with your empire or even with powers that share a border with us. Further: unlike the Portuguese, Dutch, and English, they have few ships to contest the seas.”

“Will their envoy be a noble?”

Salim smiled. “I very much doubt it, Sultan Al’Azam.”

“Oh? They would insult me with a commoner, then?”

“No, inasmuch as any of the people from the future are what we would call common, Sultan Al’Azam, they will be of no particular bloodline, but very well educated, in their own way.”

“Will any speak Persian? Be literate?”

“I doubt, Sultan Al’Azam, that one of those people from the future has already learned our language, but they will surely be assisted by those that do.”

“And their religion?”

“Christian, but…” he trailed off, uncertain how to say it without offering offense. Shah Jahan had allowed Akbar and Jahangir’s religious policies to continue, not out of any particular conviction that they were correct, but rather because he had been in mourning so long he had allowed many things to continue as they had been.

“But, what?”

“They are very tolerant of religions, Sultan Al’Azam. It is one of the laws of the land.” He paused, took a slight tangent in the hopes they could avoid the subject of religion. “In fact, their laws are meant to apply to all people within their lands, equally.”

The emperor sniffed. “And yet Baram Khan was murdered and no one executed for it.”

“I would respectfully remind the Sultan Al’Azam that we had already left the territories of the United States of Europe when Baram Khan was killed.”

A dismissive wave greeted that argument. “Despite my disfavor and the intent of his dispatch to Europe, Baram Khan was an envoy of this court and therefore entitled to receive the protection of whatever prince in whose territory he found himself…”

The emperor shook his head. “But your point is taken: these people are not likely to be the author of that insult, and therefore should not be punished for it.”

Salim bowed before that wisdom.

“Still, my brother sultan has expressed concerns about this country and its influence on the states between his and theirs.”

Salim summoned a mental map. “You speak of the Ottoman Sultan, Sultan Al’Azam?”

The emperor nodded.

“An understandable concern for the Ottomans, Sultan Al’Azam. I have witnessed for myself how the technologies from the future can changed the calculus of war.”

“I would not have my Sunni brothers believe I have abandoned them by entering into an alliance with these people.”

“I see the problem, Sultan Al’Azam.” The Sunni powers — Uzbegs, Mughals, and Ottomans — were always interested in limiting Shia expansion, especially that of the Persian Safavid dynasty that sat between them all.

“See, but do not agree with my analysis?”

“I agree that entering into an alliance would not be wise, Sultan Al’Azam, but no sensible person could fault you for having received official envoys.”

“Sensible does not always fall within those terms that define a Safavid. They ever look to take Kandahar from us. I cannot disregard the potential political costs of being seen to support the enemies of either the Ottomans or Persia.”

“All true, Sultan Al’Azam.”

Shah Jahan snorted. “What, no argument?”

“Sultan Al’Azam, since coming to court, I have found reason to thank God that I am not the one on whom such weighty decisions must fall. I have advised the course I think most beneficial, but make no claims to expertise in such matters.”

A thin, grim smile pierced Shah Jahan’s beard. “Does my most honest advisor have anything to add?”

“I cannot think of anything, Sultan Al’Azam.”

Another, broader smile. “I do enjoy your economy of words, Amir. So much so that I think we must find them employment.”

“You are too kind, Sultan Al’Azam.”

“You will have opportunity to prove my words properly weighted in your favor: I grant you command of five hundred, a robe of office and incomes necessary to act as host to the envoys from the USE and send you forth to deliver the dastak to the envoys.”

Salim sat silent, stunned. He had thought himself come into Shah Jahan’s presence ready for anything, only to have the emperor surprise him yet again.

“Did I surprise you?”

“Yes, Sultan Al’Azam.”

“Good. Gather men, and quickly. The envoys are already well on their way.”

“That may prove difficult, Sultan Al’Azam. Between the armies of your son and those of Asaf Khan, there are scarcely more than a hundred men not already in your direct service worthy of the name.”

“You have not called upon your clansmen?”

It was Salim’s turn to smile. “I have. Those are the hundred I spoke of. Most already ride with one of your hosts.”

The emperor returned the grin. “Well then, you have a core of fine riders. Still, we cannot have so small a party greet our guests.” He turned and spoke briefly to an attendant, who left at the run.

“I have summoned Diwan Firoz Khan, who has the care of the harem in his department. He will supply you another hundred warriors to fill your numbers while we await fresh sowar seeking employment.”

Those would likely be eunuchs and Turki warrior-women. Still, each would be a blooded warrior. In any event, if things turned to fighting, then the situation would have truly gone to ruin.

He bowed. “As you wish, Sultan Al’Azam.”