1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 37

Chapter 21

Agra, Red Fort, The Diwan-i-Khas

November, 1634

Expectations high, Jahanara and Nadira eagerly awaited their first sight of the envoys from the future as Father made short work of the day’s regular business.

Jahanara glanced up as Nur entered the women’s area. Her great-aunt sent a nod Jahanara’s way before sitting with her typical grace.

Jahanara hid her discontent. It would have been nice to have had this bit of excitement to herself. Now she would have to conceal the depth of her interest, lest Nur use it against her.

“Bring them forth, then,” Father said.

Realizing she’d missed an announcement, Jahanara put away her thoughts and looked through the jali.

Amir Salim appeared, a significant party of strangely-dressed men in his wake.

Jahanara forgot Nur’s presence, leaning forward to peer at the foreigners. Almost all of them stood a head taller than the courtiers lining their path. One was of such enormous size she was sure he could crack a skull with but one hand. Two of the men had beards so blond she thought them beardless at first. Craning her neck, she spied several burkhas at the rear of the party.

Amir Yilmaz strode forward and bowed three times before the Peacock Throne. The ferenghi did likewise, some with a good deal less grace.

Father eyed them a moment, his expression inscrutable, then waved permission for Salim to speak.

“Al-Sultan Al’Azam wal Khaqan al-Mukarram, Abu’l-Muzaffar Shihab ud-din Muhammad, Sahib-i-Qiran-i-Sani, Shah Jahan I Padshah Ghazi Zillu’llah, I present to you the party of envoys representing the trade interests of Gustavus Adolphus, Emperor of the United States of Europe.” He made a sweeping gesture that took in the entire party.

One man stepped forward and bowed again, then spoke in a deep voice that was immediately translated by a fellow in his party that looked somewhat familiar. “Sultan Al –”

“Sultan Al’Azam! Sultan!” the shouts coming from somewhere else took everyone completely by surprise, Father’s guards included. Blades were bared and the dais between the ferenghis and Father quickly covered in armed retainers ready to cut down any threat.

Those courtiers closest to the throne edged away, their own retainers closing about them. While not permitted arms in the royal presence, still they stood to defend their rulers and chieftains. Such were the dynamics of power in Father’s lands that there were many who had cause to fear assassination, even at court.

Jahanara looked from them to search for the source of the shouts, eventually spotting a man pushing through the envoys, turban and sash marking him as a post-rider.

She saw the giant foreigner put his weight on the balls of his feet as if preparing to rush the messenger.

Before he could launch his attack and push things even further into chaos, Salim had him by the wrist. He must have found the right words to calm the big fellow, because he settled back on his heels.

“What is the meaning of this interruption?” Shah Jahan shouted, standing, ringed with steel.

“Sultan Al’Azam, terrible news!” the messenger cried, waving the satchel that was as much a mark of his station as the turban and sash.

A muttering like the wind through tall grass swept the Hall of Audience.

Nadira’s hand shot out, clutching hers in a painful grip.

“What news is of such import that you interrupt the court?” Father’s question knifed through the muttering with such menace it stopped the messenger in his tracks.

“Sultan Al’Azam, I bear horrible news.”

Too late, Jahanara saw tracks of tears in the dust coating the man’s face.

Still clutching Jahanara’s hand painfully, Nadira released a slow, animal groan of purest agony, tears coursing down beautiful cheeks.

* * *

Salim released Rodney’s wrist as the wailing of a fresh-made widow reached his ears. None of the envoys moved, quite likely a good thing under the circumstances.

“Lost, Sultan Al’Azam! Your son and nearly all his host were lost!” the messenger threw himself on the ground before the dais, landing beside Salim’s feet.

Mutters of shock and disbelief made the rounds through the hall. He dimly heard Angelo, the Venetian translator, making sure John understood.

Though Salim had trouble understand this himself. Dara, gone? And with him, hope of religious tolerance.

Through his own stunned surprise, Salim saw Shah Jahan pale. “Lost? How?”

“Set upon from ambush and cowardly tricks as they invested Ramdaspur.”

More mutters, though now there was a hot blade of anger and rage cutting between the sobs still sounding from behind the jali.

“My son?” the emperor choked.

This time the man bowed so low it was almost a complete prostration. “Struck down while leading a counter-charge that nearly saved the situation.”

The court groaned as Shah Jahan, Sultan of Sultans, Ruler of the World, swayed on his feet.

“This will not stand!” That was Aurangzeb’s voice, cracking across the hall.

Dragged from his fugue by the cry, Shah Jahan drew himself to his full height and raged: “And it will not! I shall have a mountain of skulls set in a tower to rival the monuments of my forebears! Gather the hosts, I ride to crush this upstart and all his people! Gather them now!”

Cries of, “Allahu Akbar!” and “Sultan Al’Azam!” crashed against the walls of the Hall of Public Audience like waves on stone, doubling back among the pillars and courtiers.

Belatedly, Salim realized that the people in his charge were not only discomfited by the shouts and anger surrounding them, but had reason to fear for their safety.

Like hungry lions, the gathered nobles were looking for something to tear into. The foreigners were not members of the pride, and therefore game to be brought down.

Rodney leaned down, said so quietly that Salim barely heard him, “Things is about to go very bad, J.D.”

“Yeah, I know,” John answered, hands balling into fists.

“Do nothing untoward, gentlemen,” Salim hissed. He turned to the throne and the emperor.

“Sultan Al’Azam, please!” he bellowed, raising his arms above his head. “Sultan Al’Azam!” He had to get the emperor’s attention or things would — “Sultan!”

The emperor turned furious eyes on Salim and barked: “What?”

All of the hall went silent.

Salim lowered his arms, head, and voice. “Sultan Al’Azam, the envoys were in the midst of introducing themselves. They understand what a shock this news is, and ask leave to retire, under your protection, until such time as the Sultan Al’Azam wishes to see them again.”