Jayti Singh

Originally published in parts on Classic BC March 2003 and now presented in its entirety.

What happens when a history experiment gone wrong meets a 15 year-old girl on the way to the Harem of Akbar the Great?

Note: I did try to make this story as accurate as I could within the confines of my research and to give the feel of India and England in the late 16th centuries. This involved giving people of that era 16th century attitudes and beliefs. Other than historical figures, any similarity to any real person is coincidental.

BigCloset has permission to post this story on their website. For permission to use this story in any other way, contact the author.

Warning: This story contains violence, some controverisal positions and relatively mild sex: Rated R

Jayti Singh

by aardvark

Chapter 1: The Experiment

Taking the staff elevator to the 4th floor sub-basement of the Smithsonian, the question in Professor Mark Evans's mind was the same one that he'd had the entire tiring 5-hr. drive from Chapel Hill. Why was he here? Other than the bald order from his old Professor and fellow history devotee to come to his office today for something "extremely important," he had no clue.

After walking for several minutes, he opened a dark brown painted metal door on the right and faced a receptionist more interested in a romance novel than her visitor. Regardless, he soon faced his old friend passing through the back door of the office.

The shorter man in a stiff, starched lab coat extended his right hand and smiled in delight. "Mark, it's great to see you. I'm so glad you could make it!"

After catching up, they entered the fair sized laboratory together, passing a neatly arranged array of electronic measuring equipment and unidentified electrical modules of advanced design, most of them centered around a pair of large cylindrical, exposed electromagnets set up in the center of the room. Mark smelled ozone and heard a muted 60-hertz hum as he walked by.

An array of several mouse cages was assembled horizontally on a long table in the right half of the room, next to a rat maze.

A pair of roll-around computer stations was set up to the left. A petite Chinese woman in her mid-thirties huddled over one of them, peering over black wire-frame glasses at something on the monitor. As they approached, she rose.
She smiled pleasantly, revealing nice, even teeth. "Good morning, Dr. Evans. I'm Dr. Joyce Wu. I'm working with Professor Glendenning on the project. It's nice to meet you."

Mark exchanged pleasantries. Finally, he looked at the Professor pointedly and spread his arms impatiently; Mark was more than ready to find out why he was here.

Professor Glendenning rolled over an unoccupied chair from a test station and motioned for Mark to sit. Dr. Wu turned her chair so that all three could sit in a circle facing each other.

The professor looked intently at Mark, a gleam of excitement in his eyes. "Mark, Joyce and I have been working on a fabulous new way to study history. We've determined that, in a very limited way, it's possible to communicate with the past.
Mark was intrigued but puzzled. "What do you mean? A new procedure like carbon dating or a new forensics technique?" Mark smiled sceptically. "Or are you saying you invented time travel?"

Professor Glendenning shook his head impatiently. "No. No. Time travel is, for all practical purposes, impossible, except perhaps by using a black hole or a worm hole, and who has one of those lying around?" He chuckled, shifting in his seat. "We've discovered that when a rare type of crystal is passed through a magnetic field, it creates a wave that travels through time as well as space. It's instantaneous and detectable by our instruments."

"Professor, you're talking about faster than light communication." Mark was stunned. If true, this would be the discovery of the century!

The professor shook his head. "The instantaneous wave we discovered has some practical problems associated with it as far as a faster than light communications system. You see, it's really more of a time wave, for want of a better term. Once created, it's detectable for many centuries. Who would want to send a message that everyone could see essentially forever?"

He stopped and squirmed in his chair. "But, Mark, that isn't even half of it. Joyce made a huge discovery when analyzing the crystal."

Joyce began. "When the crystal is passed through a magnetic field, it creates a special field, something I call the crystal field, that generates the wave. Electrical fields that exist inside the crystal field, such as brain waves, modify the crystal field and the wave by piggybacking their signature over it, sort of like a radio signal onto a radio frequency."

"As you know, Mark, if you have two radio stations at the same frequency, you are going to hear the stronger signal. And the same thing happens when two waves are generated from the same crystal using the same magnetic field. But due to the nature of the time wave, it doesn't matter when the waves are generated. One wave will affect the other and its crystal field regardless of when they were created. If two separate waves are generated at the same 'frequency' with different brain signatures piggybacked onto them, the stronger wave with the stronger brain signature will change the characteristics of the other crystal field and modify or add on to the brain signature inside. If one wave is really strong, it can even effectively overwrite the other brain signature.

"To do this, one needs to have the crystal, because the characteristics of each crystal are unique, and to make sure that the exact parameters and duration of the magnetic field as the crystal passes through it are identical for each pass. Otherwise, instead of imprinting another valid brain signature into the brain of the animal, the brain signature would just be severely scrambled."

She waved towards mouse cages set against the far wall. "We've tested this on mice already. A mouse that has learned how to negotiate a maze can transfer its brain pattern onto another mouse, enabling both mice to run the maze."

She laughed prettily. "The professor and I sure made a lot of mice crazy before we got it right! Although, for obvious reasons, we haven't tried it on human beings, we think we finally have it down to a workable process."

Professor Glendenning leaned forward, clenching his hands together. "Mark, such a wave was generated in 1587 with a human brain pattern piggybacked."
Mark stared at the Professor.

The Professor considered. "Actually, it was on October 22, 1587 at 10:11 AM Eastern Standard Time, 48 seconds and some change to be precise."

"How do you know that? A wave would exist at everytime, wouldn't it?"

"Yes, Mark! Very good! But the wave signature is very weak. We found it and dated it by searching for it. The Earth and Sun move, Mark. We took the radio telescope at Arlington, the one four miles wide built into the valley, and converted the sensors to detect the time wave. We moved it's sensing array to backtrack the path that Earth has traveled until the signal was strongest. There's no doubt. The Earth was at its 1587 position when the time wave was generated."

The Professor stood. "Let me show you something." He walked over to a cabinet and retrieved a sword and a small black case. He handed Mark the sword, hilt first. "What do you make of this?"

Mark examined the sword carefully, checking the pommel, hilt, finial and inscription on the blade. "It's a typical German hand-and-a-half sword from about the mid-16th to mid-17th century. A Nobleman's sword, by the hilt."

Professor Glendenning nodded in approval. "That's the time frame the sword was appraised as being from." He took a small, orange, jewel-like object from the case, and carefully showed it to Mark, in his palm. "This is a crystal that came from that hilt. We found it by cross-referencing all known objects of that era with jewels of the same distinctive orange color of the crystal. We have tested it. It was the crystal that generated the wave in 1587.

"Mark, after a lot of time on the supercomputer analyzing the time wave from the past and the characteristics of the crystal, we have found the parameters and duration of the magnetic field that the crystal must have passed through."

He carefully put the crystal back into its case and brought it back to the cabinet. He examined Mark's face closely, looking for his reaction.

"We want to use your brain pattern to overwrite the pattern of the person who was caught in the crystal's field. Using the radio telescope as a transmission device on tight beam, we increase the wave power carrying your pattern a few billion times and transmit to the exact place where the Earth was at the exact time over 400 years ago..."

Professor Glendenning beamed. "A copy of you could be in Germany in 1587. Your copy could see Queen Elizabeth, the Spanish Armada, Shakespeare, tour Renaissance Europe, meet Galileo and, when you grow tired of it all, finally plant a time capsule for us in the future. So what do you say, Mark? How about it?"

Mark rose from his chair and paced for a moment, eventually turning to face the Professor. "Professor, I'd love to say yes, but wouldn't I be imprinting my brain over an innocent person in the past? There's an ethical element to this."

The Professor waved it off. "It does you credit to bring it up, but we already know who the person was. That sword has been in the Hoffman family of Mainz for centuries. In 1587, the sword would have belonged to Lutz Hoffman when he was 32 years old and not long before he became the murderous killer of innocents in a local war." He looked at Mark with conviction. "He was not a nice person."

Mark raised his hands in mock defeat. "Well in that case Professor, what can I say? Of course I'll do it! You're just getting a pattern from me anyway. I only wish I could go in person!" He glanced at Dr. Wu. "Congratulations to both of you. This is an incredible achievement."

Mark pointed to the sword. He remembered telling Professor Glendenning of the training he had put in over the years to be a champion with the saber. "So that's why I'm the lucky guy."

"That's right. We need you for your knowledge of history and German, but we also know you can use a sword." He looked at Mark thoughtfully. "You have been keeping up with your martial hobbies, I trust?"

Mark nodded. "I'm still pretty good with a saber. I'm familiar with medieval fighting techniques and I'm a 3rd degree Black Belt in Taekwando."

"Excellent. All we need to know before we begin is where you intend to put your time capsule when the time comes. You should also refresh your mind on European history of 1587."

The Professor handed a paper to Mark. "This is a list of places where jewels and gold were found in the last 100 years in the area of your copy's probable location. The origins of the finds predate 1587, so there should be no problems collecting them. It's a source of wealth to enable your copy to move around as necessary in the past. Memorize this list. We have the radio telescope transmission facilities reserved for tomorrow at 3:00 PM. Please be here by noon."

The next day, just before he lay down in the bulky, large, white cylinder of the transmitter, Mark had a nagging concern. He watched as Professor Glendenning and Dr. Wu set up the transmission sequence. "Aren't you just a little concerned about what my copy might do in the past? He may change history; he might do something that could change our present enough for us to notice, or worse."
Dr. Wu acknowledged Mark's concerns with a nod. "It's possible you could change the past, Mark, but we think the effects would create another time line, not change ours." She smiled. "Aren't you a historian? You're going back to do research, not start a war."

Reassured slightly, Mark lay back. It took only a few seconds to take his pattern. While he was inside the office drinking coffee, his pattern was sent to 1587 Earth.

* * * * * * * * * *
Nigel drove to Plymouth and removed the stone box sealed in bitumen from the ground, precisely where the 400 year-old directions from the Royal archives said it would be. He carefully transported the box back to the laboratory in London where the assembled team of historians opened it together.

As he read the greetings on the ancient paper of the coversheet, Nigel was confused. Who were Mark Evans, Professor Glendenning, and Dr. Wu? Reading deeper into the slightly odd text, still recognizably English, the truth struck them all at about the same time. What had this guy done?

* * * * * * * * * *
Chapter 2: Jodhpur, India, 1587

Jayti Singh studied in the corner, sitting on a cushion, holding a Persian text on medicine in her lap. Her large brown eyes firmly focused on the dry manuscript as one hand idly played with a few strands of her black wavy hair.

Her mother, Arundhati, disapproved of her learning too much. Her future husband would probably not approve of a girl who knew more than he did, after all, and it would be difficult on her if her husband wanted her to stay indoors.

Nonetheless, her father, Arkan, ever indulgent to his dear daughter's wishes, allowed her to be taught alongside her more indifferent older brothers, Veer and Dhirendra, and she was clearly the best student. The rule was simple; as long as she applied herself, was courteous and appropriately demure, she could continue to learn.

The hired Guru instructed his students in the Hindu classics the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Kama Sutra, and the four Vedas. He taught reading and writing, Sanskrit, Persian, and Urdu, as well as mathematics, geometry, and philosophy. As Jayti neared marrying age, her mother had lately been acquainting her with the finer points of the obligations to husband, mother-in-law, and children.

They lived in northwest India in Manwar Province, a few miles south of the provincial capital of Jodhpur, in the heart of the wide area formerly controlled by the Rajputs, a proud and industrious people who built many of the largest fortified cities in the world. In the desert and the plains, they used extensive systems of irrigation to bring valleys and large tracts of desert to life. Jayti's people were rulers, builders, and conquerors in a feudal system millennia old.
She lived in a large two-story structure built on a high point a few hundred yards from the brackish water of the river Luni. It was constructed using the local yellow sandstone, carved with geometric designs in the Rajput style.

The interior had polished light gray marble floors, obtained from the fine quarry a few miles to the northeast and covered with colorful Persian rugs. Both floors were built to be airy in the very hot summers and were constructed with the auspicious Hindu number of 84 pillars. It was large enough for her mother, father, two brothers, herself, younger sister Ahladiti, and their slave Natya, a plain 30-year-old woman bought for a few silver Rupihyas to help around the house.

The well was dug next to the house, far enough from the river to ensure clean drinking water. The servant's quarters, as well as the large stable, were located a couple of hundred yards in back of the house behind a wooden fence. A few families tilled the fields, growing wheat and barley in the rich soil, paying Arkan Singh a percentage of the crops for the privilege. With any luck, Jayti would have been married to a landowner or merchant who would have given her children and a family of her own.

As is typical in life, one seemingly minor incident changed her path forever.
Her family occasionally traveled to the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur to pay respects to Raja Udai Singhji and his family. The fort was an immense yellow structure with high walls connecting cylindrical towers built on top of a sheer cliff. An impressive moat at the base made it a daunting objective for any potential invader. Overlooking the city, it contained the palace, garrison, mosque, harem, storehouses, and housing for nobles and a vast array of craftsmen, servants, slaves, and eunuchs.

The interior was equal to the outside. Rajput designed and built; stylized paintings of plants and animals framed by colored glass tiling decorated the walls. Large numbers of high-arched windows with ridged interior trim cooled the palace.

As mighty as it was, it still hadn't been enough to stop Moghul Emperor Akbar from conquering the province 22 years before. Raja Jodha Singh was finally beaten after a series of fierce battles in 1565. Akbar had forced him to send his son, Udai, to serve him as courtier and only 4 years before had allowed him back to become the Moghul-controlled Raja of Manwar, also known as Mota Raja, the fat Raja. To ensure the new Raja knew his place, Akbar compelled Udai to give him his sister, Jodha Bai, to be the wife of one of his sons, Selim.
On one such visit to the palace, Jayti met one of the Raja's daughters, Shaheen, a haughty and vain girl, slightly older than herself. Shaheen's imperious attitude reflected her mother's. She was beautiful, with the classic soft features and light golden skin of the ruling class.

Like her mother, having grown up under Moghul occupation, she had few illusions of life. She knew that only the powerful, the ones with protection and approval from the Moghuls, could have any measure of security. Being raised in a sea of court intrigue had taught her that a woman's power lay with her body, charm, and usefulness to men. Her goal was to acquire power and marry well.
Jayti arrived at the palace after having chosen her clothes carefully for the occasion; a light tan and gold blouse and light brown wrap matched her tan and brown full pleated skirt with reddish tints. The 15 year-old was a picture of innocence, simplicity, and beauty.

Many of the men, and not a few of the ladies, remarked on how she seemed to stand out. When she was introduced to the Raja, he was entranced with his friend's oldest daughter. He asked her a few polite questions and was even more impressed by her intelligence and depth of learning.

Shaheen had chosen a more formal outfit with gold trim and matching jacket designed to show the wealth and power of her station. It was a startling costume, wonderful in its design, intricate patterns, and workmanship. Standing side by side with Jayti, it made her look overdressed.

After a multi-course feast, the men and women retired to their respective social circles. Shaheen and Jayti were left by themselves to talk and play cards on a thick Persian rug. Shaheen, already irked by being shown-up in her own home, tried hard to intimidate Jayti with references to her privilege, wealth, and powerful friends. It wasn't working.

Shaheen studied Jayti and decided Jayti wasn't being impudent or haughty. It was simply that she wasn't affected by Shaheen's superior status. Shaheen, from her perspective, had met her match. Jayti seemed happy to be who she was and to have what she had. Worse yet, Shaheen suspected Jayti was prettier.

Finally, Shaheen relaxed, and the two girls ended up laughing and discussing the merits of different marriages, a subject close to their hearts at their age. Arranged and love marriages were talked about, but they both agreed that they liked the ancient custom where the women chose their husband from a line of eligible men.

They both had ideas on who they wanted to see in the line and laughed about how they would consider the merits of one over another. They regretted that the practice had been severely discouraged by the Moghuls.

At the end of the day, Shaheen was learning that not everything important was related to power and wealth. They were on their way to becoming friends. Their paths may well have taken them that way, except for an overheard comment made by her father comparing Shaheen unfavorably to Jayti. It was a stray remark, taken out of context, but the damage was done.

Six months later, Shaheen was engaged to be married to Nanda, the second son of the next Raja of Amber, Man Singh. It was an excellent match. Man Singh was a powerful man in the Akbar government in Lahore. His son, a good-looking man of 20, was almost sure to be powerful in the Akbar administration.

Two months after that, Shaheen, now a new bride, found herself in a conversation about Sultan Akbar's harem with her father-in-law. A deeply hidden resentment momentarily surfaced, and Shaheen mentioned that Akbar's latest acquisition, a white skinned, blue eyed Circassian woman, wasn't nearly as beautiful as a certain girl in Jodhpur. She regretted her remark instantly, but it was too late.

The next month, a retinue of ten fierce Moghul warriors on Arabian horses with identical silver-studded livery rode slowly toward Jayti's house. Following them, four bearers, wearing only red and white turbans and a simple white cotton dhoti around the waist, carried an ornate palanquin with blue silk curtains suitable for concealing a person. Four smooth-skinned eunuchs rode alongside.

Jayti's father could see the dust from the retinue from far away and waited outside when they pulled up.

The warriors were fierce-looking men with long mustaches curled up at the ends. They wore long chain mail vests over padding that partially protected their legs, clad in loose red trousers. Their helmets were iron cones over chain mail that flowed down the sides and back of the head. All wore scimitars on their left hip and, except for the last two riding in the two-column formation, all had powerful compound bows and a sheaf of arrows neatly tucked away behind them on their right. The last two warriors carried matchlock muskets with glowing wicks at the ready.

The lead eunuch dismounted from his black mount. He had wide hips, fat arms and a loose waist, normal for eunuchs cut in adolescence. He was attired in courtly dress, a red and white turban on his large head, a red loose long-sleeved shirt and black, silver studded loose trousers gathered at the ankles, secured with an orange cloth wrapped around the waist.

He approached Jayti's father. The rest of the family watched apprehensively through the windows.

"Are you Arkan Singh?" he asked in a pretty soprano.

"Yes, I am Arkan Singh." he replied cautiously, "How may I serve the Emperor?"

The eunuch bowed slightly. "My name is Hassan Faisal. I'm a eunuch in the Imperial House. Today I represent the Emperor." He unwrapped a roll of paper he had carried under his arm and read the order. "By the order of Emperor Akbar, the woman Jayti Singh, daughter of Arkan of Manwar Province, is to be brought to the Imperial Palace in Lahore to be placed in the Imperial Harem." He lowered the Imperial orders and waited.

A horrible wailing of absolute despair came from Jayti's mother inside the house.
Arkan Singh was thunderstruck. This wasn't happening to his sweet daughter! He slumped to his knees, head in hands. He knew there was nothing he could do. Since Manwar Province and Jodhpur had lost to the Moghuls, it was too often rubbed in the faces of the formerly proud Rajputs just how little they could protect themselves or their women.

He returned to his feet slowly and addressed the eunuch in a voice not far from breaking. "How long do I have to say goodbye?"

The eunuch looked on sympathetically. "You have five minutes. We'll come inside and wait."

Hassan and four of the warriors entered the house to make sure the distraught girl and her family were not wasting time. Her father hugged her first. "Jayti, I am so sorry. I can't prevent this."

"Father, I know you couldn't do anything. Don't worry." she cried. Her life as she knew it was over. All her dreams of marriage and family would most probably be gone forever. The only thing holding her together was the philosophical training taught to her by her Guru.

She ran to her mother. "Mother, don't worry. I'll be all right. I'll be so good, they'll be forced to make me the Empress," she joked, smiling weakly.

Her mother's eyes were streaming tears. She wailed. "Oh daughter, I'll miss you so much. Why are they taking you? It doesn't make sense!"

Jayti took her mother's face in her hands. "Mother. Nothing makes sense. Not life, not death, not this. We can only do what we must. Who knows? Something good may still come of this. Please, mother, be strong for me."

Her mother remembered something suddenly. "I have something I must give you. It's time." She unhooked her necklace. It contained a clear orange stone. "Take this. It will remind you of your family." She hooked it around her daughter's neck.

Jayti knew what this meant to her mother. The necklace had been in the family for many generations. Jayti finally said goodbye to everyone in her family, giving an extra hug to her sister and to Natya, the slave girl, who looked at her with compassionate, teary eyes.

Her father caught up with her on the way out the door. He looked in her eyes and said earnestly, "Daughter, you must listen to me. Whatever you do, don't think of this as the end. Take advantage of everything. Enjoy as much as you can. Laugh. Sing. Make friends. Be strong. Promise me this and I will be at peace."

Jayti looked back at her father and hugged him. "I promise, father," Jayti whispered in his ear.

Hassan took Arkan Singh aside. "Sahib, I promise she will lack for nothing. Many women would fight to be in her position." Jayti's father said nothing. Hassan sighed, then turned and left.

The few extra clothes were quickly packed as she sat in the palanquin with the curtains rolled down, concealing her from the outside world. She was now the Emperor's property and not for display to others. The palanquin was lifted by the four, sturdy slave porters, and the procession started down the dusty road to the south to join the royal road to Lahore.

Chapter 3: Jayti Learns of the Harem

It was late in the afternoon. She cried silently for a few minutes before gathering her strength and taking stock of her surroundings. The thin blue silk curtains were adequate for seeing the green grass and trees that lined the river outside, but only fair for allowing breeze to blow in. She found sets of movable louvers beside the openings, obviously made for ventilation. She opened them as wide as possible. After it had cooled off and she had rearranged the cushions to her liking, she found that the slight swaying motion of the palanquin was quite comfortable. She looked up at the rider beside her on a black horse, the eunuch who had talked to her father.

"Excuse me. Is it permitted that I speak with you?" Jayti asked tentatively.

Hassan Faisal looked down to her. "Yes, it's permitted as long as we're alone. Travelling in a city, we'd be more restricted as to what we could do."

"How should I address you? I know your name, but not your title or position."

"I'm a Sandali eunuch and normally reside in the Palace, but occasionally attend to the concubines and wives in the harem. You may call me by name, as I will you.

"Pardon me, but what is a Sandali?" Her education did not cover harems.

It was a touchy subject for him. He looked through the veil as much as was possible, and made a clicking sound. "My, my. I don't think you've been out in the world very long. I suppose living in the backwoods, you don't know very much. It won't go easy for you if you need to be trained for everything."

"I was well taught by my Guru in three languages, reading, writing, and some of the classics. I can do arithmetic and many other things. I don't know details about eunuchs because I never dreamed I would be in a palanquin, traveling to a harem!"

He glanced at the curtains. She certainly sounded sincere. He hoped that she'd remain that way; too often, women who came to the harem lost the habit. "Don't get upset, little one, I believe you. Most women in your position were slaves, or were sold into the harem by their family; they already knew all about the life. Your circumstances are different; for some reason, you were specifically asked for by name."

He considered her request. He didn't like talking about himself, or about the harem, but the girl did need to know something about it if she were to survive for very long. "Very well, I will answer your questions. Perhaps I should start from the beginning and explain what the harem is and the way it's structured."

He cleared his throat, and began on a high, clear pitch.

"The Emperor rules everything. His every wish is a command. His every desire is fulfilled. He owns everything and rules everyone in the palace and in the harem. This is important to remember. All the women in the harem are there for his pleasure and his pleasure alone. No one else besides other women or eunuchs is permitted to see you unveiled. It's accurate to think of yourself as completely owned by Emperor Akbar.

"There are three levels of women in the harem. Other than slaves, servants are at the bottom. They're mainly there to enjoy as food for the eyes and are used to serve the concubines or wives. Occasionally, the Emperor may take an interest in one and bring her to his bed. It's almost always a temporary pleasure for him. If a servant is judged to be of sufficient beauty, she might be trained in the arts of a concubine.

"Concubines are more skilled than servants in the arts of dance, playing musical instruments, reciting poetry, and making love. These women number among the few, besides his wives, who occasionally lay with the Emperor. If a concubine becomes pregnant and has a male child, she is raised in status, but does not usually become a wife.

"Wives currently number about 300 of the 5000 women Akbar currently has in the harem."

Jayti was appalled; this was worse than she had thought. "5000 women! How can any man need 5000 women?"

"Akbar's harem isn't even the largest by far. Sultan Ghias-u-Din of Malwa had a harem of 15,000 women. It's not for us to judge these things.

"Most wives are married through a political alliance. After the first night, they usually don't sleep with the Emperor again. There are a few exceptions. These women have the greatest status in the harem and have the most wealth and privileges. Still, none can leave the harem without the Emperor's permission.

"There are two separate paths of authority in the harem. One of them comes from the Chief Queen of the Emperor; she is the mistress of the harem. Her name is Ruqayya Sultan Begam. She decides which women are in control and determines wealth and status. Under her, is The Keeper of the Baths, who handles that area, The Keeper of the Jewels, who handles the distribution of jewelry and wealth, and The Mistress of the Robes, who controls the clothes and enhancements such as henna, oils, lip coloring, incense, kohl, and the rest.

"There is also the eunuch's line of authority. The top eunuch in the Emperor's harem is the Chief of Eunuchs. His name is Abdul Hassim. He's very powerful and has the ear of the Emperor. His job is to make certain that the Emperor's desires are fulfilled. He settles petty disputes among the servants, concubines, and slaves, and doles out allowances. Here is some advice to you," he said earnestly, "do not cross him."

"As for me, I'm often found in the harem with the women. Only Sandali eunuchs are allowed to do this, of course."

"Why is that, Hassan?"

"It's because we have no parts at all, Jayti. You're going to know this in a few weeks anyway, so I'll tell you now. Sandali eunuchs like me have had all their parts cut off when we were young. When I was a boy, I was captured in a raid in southern Russia.

"I was handed over to a Jew because Muslims are forbidden to do what is necessary to make eunuchs. He cut off all my parts with a sharp knife, put in a tin stopper so that I could not urinate, and then poured boiling oil over the rest to stop the bleeding. Three days later, they finally let me piss; they released the stopper and believe me, it was instant relief. If it hadn't worked, I would have died. Instead, I became a Sandali." Hassan grinned easily. "I'm as smooth as you are, Jayti."

Behind the smile, it was still difficult to tell the tale. Bad breaks were a part of life. It had been over 15 years since he was cut. One of his childhood friends, also captured in the raid, had been cut too, but Hassan was the only one who survived the dangerous operation. He should feel lucky. But after all this time, he still felt the bitterness in his blood; he still hated those who did this to him.

Jayti was silent for the moment. She tried to put herself in his place, but failed. "I've heard of this, but I have never known the difference between the different kinds of eunuchs."

"There are two other types of eunuchs. Some are made when they cut just the lingam off. They have the same urges and look the same as normal men with their clothes on, but can't function in the same way. The other types have the balls removed. Sometimes the balls are twisted off; sometimes they are ripped off; sometimes they are tied up until they become black and fall off; and sometimes they are just cut off. Those kinds of eunuchs can still make a girl happy with what is left, although they can't give her a baby. That's why you'll only see Sandalis in the harem."

"Hassan, I'd say that I'm sorry for you, and I am, but you seem to have more freedom than I do." Jayti said.

Hassan paused for a moment. He thought about the times he left his charges behind. Many times, they had little to look forward to except the dawn. He replied slowly, "I think you're right. My home is in and around the harem, but I can leave, go into town, joke, and get drunk with friends. You'll be pampered and feted, Jayti. You're too beautiful to remain a servant. If you're smart, you'll probably have more wealth and power than I ever will. Still, I would rather be me."

She dreaded the answer, but had to ask. "Hassan, is there any way out of the harem? Has anyone ever left?"

Hassan laughed strangely; it was almost a tittering. "Little one, that's the fastest I've ever heard the question asked. The answer is yes, but only on the Emperor's terms. Usually one leaves when one has done something stupid and has been killed."

"Are there any other ways?" Jayti asked, "I really want to know."

'I think I like this girl,' thought Hassan, 'she has spirit.' "There are two other ways. One is when the Emperor dies; the old harem is sent to smaller, inferior quarters, and is usually kept in purdah until they die. It's possible that the new Emperor could release some of the women, or marry them off, but that's not normally the custom. The other way is when the Emperor decides to give away a virgin servant to a faithful subject of the Emperor. It's considered a great honor for him."

Jayti thought about it long and hard. This was the rest of her life; she had to think. "Thank you, Hassan, for telling me these things. I'm grateful. I have much to think about."

A few minutes later, Jayti called out brightly. "Hassan?

Hassan moved his horse closer to the palanquin. "Yes?"

"My father told me to try to make the best of things and to have fun. Did you hear the joke about the old man and his young wife?"

Hassan smiled inside and out. "No."

"Kamal, an eighty year old who forgets things, married a 20 year old widow. Three months later, he cries to his young friend that he has given his wife a baby."

"His friend put his hand on his old friend's shoulder and they drank chai together. 'I am going to tell you a story, my friend,' he tells the old man.

'Once a man went hunting a tiger, but instead of a spear, he brought a turban. Suddenly the tiger charged. The hunter threw the turban at the tiger and killed him.'

'Impossible!' said Kamal, 'Somebody else must have speared the tiger!'

'Exactly,' said the friend."

Hassan laughed. "That joke is so old, the Pharaohs must have heard it. Still, it was well told."

"Jayti?"

"Yes."

"We'll stop tonight at an inn that the Emperor has reserved for his use. You must use the veil at all times when you're out of the palanquin. We'll eat there and leave in the morning. It will take at least a month to get to Lahore. You'll be guarded at all times. The Emperor would take it very seriously if anyone sees you without your veil, now. I say this because I don't want you to get hurt."

"I understand, Hassan. I'll do as you say."

"Thank you, Jayti."

A few days later, in the hot afternoon, they reached the city of Ajmer, the former home of Khwaja Moinuddin Christi, the Patron Saint of the Moghuls. It was a holy place and the beginning of the royal road to Agra; from there, it went to Lahore. Ajmer was a beautiful city in the desert, a lush place with a lake surrounded on three sides by hills known for its hundreds of Hindu temples and a few famous mosques. Jayti spotted a rectangular temple.

Jayti called out. "Hassan!"

"Hassan slowed his horse and pulled alongside the palanquin. "Jayti?"

"Hassan, I have a request to make. I'd like to go to that central temple on the left. It's called the Sun temple. Do you see it?"

Hassan squinted and saw it in the sun. It was a couple of hundred yards off the road. "Yes, I see it. Is there a reason?

"Yes, I want to pray before I reached Lahore. This seems like a good time. I'd just like 5 minutes in the temple."

"Very well, Jayti. This won't take much time, and most of us were about to break for prayer and lunch anyway. We'll stop at that temple where the inscription reads the 'Gate of Healing'."

"Thank you."

"I'm afraid that you must remain in the palanquin. Would that be acceptable?"

"Yes, that would be fine. I can pray in here, as well as outside."

"Very good, then."

The palanquin was ordered into the Sun temple. The bearers went up the stairs and through a gate made of a dark metal. Magnetic healing properties were known and mentioned over two thousand years before in the Artharvaveda, the healing text of the four vedas. This temple was oriented in the south to north direction. The Gate of Healing was placed at the south side, so anyone entering would be pointing towards the healthy magnetic north.

Out of sight in the palanquin, no one noticed when Jayti collapsed.

Chapter 4: The Meeting

['Where am I,' < A foreign voice speaks in the darkness. > 'Who are you?']

["Who are you? < Jayti was just recovering, still uncertain of what was happening. > "Are you a demon?"]

['You're a girl?' < The foreign voice speaks again. Something is wrong with its speech. It isn't speaking Urdu or any known language, yet still she understands. > 'I am not a demon. Where am I? Please, answer me!']

[< Jayti was surprised; no demon she had ever heard of would say please. > "You're in the Sun Temple in Ajmer. Who are you?"]

['My name is Mark Evans,' said the foreign voice 'I mean you no harm. I come from very far away and I'm lost. Where's the Sun Temple?']

["It's about 20 miles West of Jaipur"]

['India?']

["Of course."]

['And the year is 1587?']

["By the Christian calendar, I think so, yes."]

['What's your name, please?']

[< There is that politeness again. > "My name is Jayti Singh. I come from Jodhpur and I am going to Lahore. Now, what are you, and how are you speaking to me?"]

['I told you my name, Mark Evans. I'm a historian from the distant future, 2005 by the Christian calendar, and part of me was sent back to this time to study this period. I'm not supposed to be here. < pause > Jayti Singh, is there a small orange crystal or stone nearby?"]

[< The voice is a he, and he says these crazy things. Still, I see no attempt to deceive in his thoughts. Strange. > "I have my mother's stone around my neck. It's orange."]

['Damn. The stone was in India.' < pause > 'Jayti Singh, why is it dark in here?']

["Call me Jayti. I have my eyes closed."]

['Would you please open them?' 'Wonderful!' < I can see! I can feel something. I feel her. Her legs, her arms. >]

["Stop that!"]

['I just moved your arm?']

["Yes. Stop it!"]

['Jayti, can you feel my presence here? I can feel you. I can see some of your memories. Here, this is me. Don't be afraid. I won't move your arm anymore.']

["Mark Evans? A Professor in a place called North Carolina. Something called Tar Heel basketball. Two daughters. Wife named Jasmine. That's you?"]

['Yes.']

["This is me."]

[ 'There are so many questions I want to ask!' 'You're on your way to the harem of Akbar the Great?']

["No one calls him the Great except perhaps himself. He's just another murdering Moghul. You know I'm to be in his harem. You can see my memories?"]

['Yes, at least when you concentrate on something. I'm showing you how I came here. I was supposed to be inside the mind of a very cruel, nasty man in Germany, a murderer. I was going to prevent him from doing some very bad things and would have used him to move around Europe to do my research. This is different. I shouldn't be here.']

["Then why are you still here? Go!"]

['I'm truly sorry, Jayti, I can't leave. I'm stuck here. But I promise I won't force you to move, or do something you don't want; I don't have that right. Besides, to be perfectly honest, I know almost nothing of India at this time except the names and dates of a few famous people. If I even tried, I'd probably just get you and me killed.']

[ "Very well, I can see you're stuck. I'm glad to hear that you don't want to move my body around, at least. Don't do it without permission. But what am I supposed to do with you?" "Oh, this is amazing. You know when Akbar will die and that Salim will become Emperor. Oh, no! He will conquer Udaipur and some of the south!"]

['That's what the future says.']

["But it doesn't have to be! I see it in your mind!"]

['It's true. It's possible to change the future. I would suggest you discuss it with me before you try, though. You can read my memories, but you don't understand them all.']

["I can see that. But Mark, if I'm not crazy and you aren't a clever demon, this may not be so bad. You know things that I don't. Don't think that I'm glad that you're here, but I'm willing to make the best of it. With your help, the two of us may be able to leave Akbar's harem. I don't want to be in Akbar's harem for the rest of my, and now I suppose, your life, too."]

['I'd certainly be willing to help as much as I could, Jayti.']

["Very well. I'm supposed to be praying. I must tell Hassan I'm done."]

['Hassan is the eunuch?']

["Yes."]

"Hassan, I'm through praying." Jayti rose in her palanquin and lay back on the cushion. "Did you mention food, before?"

"Yes. We have some spiced tea and rice cooked with vegetables." Hassan looked through the silk parda. "You didn't take long at your prayers. Did it go well?"

"Everything went extremely well, Hassan. I was very pleased. It was as if I had found a new life."

['You have a wicked sense of humor, Jayti.']

["And so few to appreciate it, my little demon!"]

"I'm happy your prayers went well," said Hassan.

Hassan handed her the chai and pulav carefully through the curtain. The Emperor didn't skimp on his spiced tea and rice with vegetables for his property; they both tasted good. A half-hour later, Jayti had to go, and Mark learned first hand what it felt like, squatting as a woman in the outdoors. Jayti was surprised at his attitude, 'Why be embarrassed? Everyone did it, after all, and many more openly than she. People in the cities often crapped on the side of the road. What was the problem?'

Mark showed her a toilet and how it worked in her mind. He showed her how a septic system worked, with leach lines and the proper angle for the path to the septic tank. Jayti was fascinated.

["Mark, this is amazing stuff! One could do it indoors with almost no smell!"]

['Well, yes. Actually, ancient Indian culture had a sewer system about 3000 years ago.']

["I see it! But it wasn't as good as this. This information must get out! My family would be so happy to have one of these in the backyard!”]

['I'll help you draw a picture of the system for you. I don't know how we would get the information out, though. From what I see in your mind, the harem guards are pretty tough.']

["I know. That will be a big problem from now on, I'm afraid. But Mark, I'm not as worried as I was before. I've been looking at your mind, and you seem to be quite nice. We have a lot we can share together. You can learn a lot from me about this world, and I can learn much from you. Even if we're stuck in the harem forever, It won't be so bad. At least I won't be alone. You don't know the Indian classics, and you've never followed the path laid out in them, but you seem to follow some future equivalent of Dharma, right for your time and place."]

['So that's Dharma, right conduct, following the natural law of things. Thank you, Jayti. That's a big compliment. By the way, can I touch your breasts?']

["Mark! Oh, you are joking. Hmm. Well, maybe not entirely. I'm glad I'm not the only one with a sense of humor. Ask me again sometime, and I may let you."]

Ten minutes passed.

["Mark?"]

['Yes, Jayti?']

["Since you asked to touch my breasts, I admit that I am a little curious. From here on, it's likely that I will remain a virgin. That's unnatural. Kama is necessary for life to have meaning. I won't give up Kama for these barbarians who kidnap women for their selfish desires. You may touch my breasts for a short time, and we will feel the results as a test. But please don't touch anything else."]

['Of course, Jayti. I wish I knew what you looked like.']

["What we look like, now."]

['Sure. Here goes.' < holds right breast with the right hand, circles the nipple with her index finger > 'Now, that felt good!']

["Yes! A little too good! It's not the same when I touch myself in the bath, or brush myself when I put on clothes. This is strong."]

['I'll stop now. This is making us both a little hot.']

["I think that would be a good idea. But we must try this later when we're alone, Mark. If these Moghuls have there way, I may never have a man, much less be married and have children."]

['I'll do my best to make sure that fate doesn't happen to you, Jayti. There are many things the 21st century knows that the 16th doesn't.']

["I know that you'll try, Mark."]

Since arriving at Ajmer, they were on the royal road. Tall, white obelisks called Kol Minars stood every 3 kilometers, marking the route to Amber Fort. Every few miles, a Kol Minar had a watering place for horses and men. Inns were constructed along the route for the traveler's convenience. Towns, trees, and fields lined the road.

They made a slight detour to Amber Village to spend the night at an inn. The eunuchs escorted Jayti inside, shielding the view of her with sections of thick cotton, preventing glimpses from passersby. Her night was spent in a room guarded from intrusions. Meals and a night soil bucket were sent in.

In the morning, as the palanquin made its slow journey through the streets of Amber Village, Jayti had a good view of the vendors in their small cubical shops that stood directly against the brick paved street. Women, standing veiled in balconies overlooking the busy venue, shouted to their friends across the way; a beggar in a dirty white dhoti played his flute, hoping for enough money and food to get him through another day. The smells of chai and spices permeated the air. The yellow walls of the large fort on the hill above poked through the gaps in the white, plastered buildings. Jayti could just make out clear blue sky over the roofs of the houses. A few minutes later, they were back on the royal road.

['Jayti?']

["Yes, Mark?]

['What kind of person is Akbar?']

["That's difficult to say. I've never met him. He's the first Moghul Sultan to be born in India. He stopped forcing Hindus to convert to Islam before I was born and stopped the Jaziya tax on non-Muslims. He's put Rajput traitors in charge of some of the provinces and many Hindus to work in his administration.

All that sounds good, but really, all the power is still in the control of Moghuls. They'll always look down on Hindus. Akbar is very clever; he knows that if he tries to convert Hindus to Islam by the sword, everyone would fight him. This way, he has Hindu puppets working for him, and the people are calmed. The people work and pay, but they must work much harder now because they work not only for the Raja, but also the Sultan. The tax for the people has doubled. Don't be fooled into thinking that Akbar is good. He's no better than his mass murderer Moghul ancestors, Babur or Timurlane, who killed millions; he's just smarter."]

['Well, it seems the history I read was a little bit wrong. It showed him as tolerant ruler who did good things for India.']

["If he is so tolerant, than why are we on the way to his harem? He enjoys taking daughters away from Hindus and keeping them for himself, or giving them to his favorites. It's his way of showing his superiority over the Hindus, by shaming their families."]

['What was the rule like before the Moghuls?']

["Each city or province had it's own ruler, a raja who often lived in a fort with a palace. He ruled the people. They worked the land, or had a trade and he taxed them. Sometimes the rajas fought each other. Is this not the usual way?"]

['Yes, for here, and in the most of the rest of the world in the present time.']

["It's to our shame that we couldn't join together to fight the Moghuls when they invaded. Rajputs have been fighting each other for centuries and the old differences die hard. The Moghuls defeated each province, one at a time. How does India look in your time?']

['After the Moghuls lose power, there will be the British. They will control India for over a hundred years. Finally, India will get independence, overcome many problems, and become powerful. It'll eventually be the largest democracy in the world, one billion people. You can be proud of your descendents.']

["That last sounds good, but the British? How could they control India? They're a tiny nation!"]

['Don't underestimate them. They're weak now; England has about 4 million people and all of Europe has perhaps 40 million vs. The Moghul Empire's 140 million, but they'll become organized and learn how to make great weapons. The same thing that caused India to lose against the Moghuls will cost them against the British, lack of unity. Still, who knows what the future holds now?']

* * * * * * * * * *

A few days later, some of the other eunuchs, encouraged by Jayti's friendly attitude, told her some of the latest palace gossip. Aashiq Aziz explained, "The three sons of Akbar are all from a concubine, Maryam Muzzamani. The oldest is Salim, 19. He'll probably be the next Emperor, but drinks and lives in his harem. The next in line is Murad, a year younger, who also drinks and is widely regarded as useless. The third is Daniyal, who is quite young."

He bent low to Jayti's parda and spoke in a conspiratorial voice. "There are always plots and intrigue in the harem. It's not unusual to have several wives or concubines poisoned in a year; such is the rivalry for the Emperor's affections. Sometimes affairs between concubines and eunuchs are discovered."

Jayti asked softy, pressing her face to the curtain. "What happens to them?"

"They are killed, Jayti. Usually their heads are stuck from their bodies. No Emperor would ever permit such a thing."

They passed through the magnificent city of Agra, the focal point of the royal roads. They turned north and soon passed by Delhi. The wondrous palaces and towers were too soon left behind. A week later, they began to approach their final destination, Lahore. The air was cooler as the season progressed; it was late November.

The other eunuchs, Aashiq Aziz, Fadil Muhammad, and Rahmat Ahmud, seemed to be decent people, if obeyed. Their conduct towards Jayti was understandably affected by the knowledge that their lives were on the line if she did something to displease the Sultan.

The Moghul warriors were another issue; they were never friendly to Jayti. When asked a question, they either answered her gruffly, or ignored her. The expedition was nominally under the charge of Hassan, but the Moghuls didn't bother to hide their feelings that eunuchs were beneath contempt. They slept, prayed, ate, and talked by themselves.

Numerous gardens and neat houses announced the nearness of the great city. As they grew closer, larger, more expensive, luxurious estates, with grander gardens in the Muslim cross style became more prevalent. As the retinue made its way, Jayti watched workmen, wearing simple white cotton dhotis, build the large red brick wall under the hot sun that would eventually surround Lahore, a city of about 100,000.

The white minarets and red towers of the Lahore Fort had been visible for many hours. The harem and the Imperial Palace were inside and had been since Akbar transferred his seat of power to Lahore from the political and physical dangers of Delhi and Fatehpur Sikri, the water-poor city he had built more than fifteen years before.

Twenty Moghul guards guarded the open gate to the fort. Attached to the wall and next to the gate stood a heavily constructed guard building of red sandstone. After a cursory inspection of the orders inside, Hassan and the retinue were waved through.

After a ten-minute walk through the winding streets lined with sandstone and mud-brick, plastered dwellings and shops, Hassan halted the retinue just outside the palace main gate. He dismounted and handed his orders to the head of the guard who passed on instructions to a waiting runner, a eunuch boy, who ran inside.

All went well, and a few minutes later the guards allowed the entire retinue inside. The gate doors closed.

The palanquin was taken to the Chief Eunuch's Offices. Jayti was assisted from the palanquin and entered the door to the offices with the eunuchs. They wasted no time; she was conducted immediately to the examination room.

Jayti had been warned of this on the trip. The Chief Eunuch and other eunuchs would inspect her closely for physical defects. If they were satisfied, she would be submitted to the Chief Wife, Empress Ruqayya Sultan Begam, for approval.

Once the Sultana was satisfied, Jayti would be admitted to the harem as a servant, fully owned by the Emperor.

The Chief Eunuch, Abdul Hassim, was already in the examination room. The smooth faced black man of sleek appearance watched her closely as she entered. Jayti noticed most of all, the grim faced man's rich uniform of black pajamas, gold shoes, white choli blouse and red adivasi sash; all were trimmed and detailed with gold. His turban was red and black, again with gold trim. His age, as far as she could tell, seemed to be about 45, although she couldn't be sure; Hassan had told her that age was hard to tell with eunuchs.

She removed her clothes at the Chief Eunuch's command, and she noticed his lack of interest as every part of her body was checked by the waiting cadre of eunuchs, including her breath, teeth, breasts, rectum, and yoni, to ensure that she was healthy and was still a virgin. Finally, they were satisfied. She was told to put on her clothes.

The Chief Eunuch glanced at Hassan. "Come with me Hassan. We'll discuss your trip."

Hassan followed Abdul Hassim into an ornate yellow office on the corner and closed the carved wooden doors. "Well, Hassan, how is she?"

Mirza, she's very smart, has classical learning, and is very honest and brave. You saw yourself how beautiful she is." He held his chin with his hand and thought for a moment. "She is perhaps, a bit na ve. After all, she's only 15, and she's never trained for the harem. She's here because either she, or someone in her family, has made a powerful enemy. Nonetheless, she's determined to fit in. I think she could be a concubine in a very short while."

Abdul Hassim examined Hassan's face. "It seems you like her a lot, Hassan. What if I asked Aashiq, Fadil, and Rahmat what they thought? Would they say the same?"

"Mirza, I wish you would just ask them yourself. I talked to her more than they did, but I believe they would all say the same thing."

Abdul Hassim waved his hand in a gesture signifying unimportance. "I think the Emperor may eventually be well pleased with her. I agree."

The eunuchs conducted her to the chambers of Ruqayya Sultan. Ruqayya wore a red and gold ghagara dress with a matching peshwaz short coat, a dupatta wrap and silk parda draped over the top of her head. She was a bit on the plump side, but she was royalty and actually slept regularly with the Emperor, despite being in her 40's. She had power and commanded the Emperor's respect.

The Sultana had Jayti remove her veil. Her inspection was an examination of her knowledge and character. After a few minutes, she finished her questioning.

The Sultana nodded. "You're satisfactory to me as a servant for the harem. You will be admitted to the harem as a servant to a concubine. But first, you will be trained."

A month went by, as Jayti was trained in palace and harem etiquette. She learned the layout of the harem and palace along with the rules she had to follow. Slaves removed her body hair below the neck with a paste of hot lemon and beet sugar. Finally, she was ready.

Aashiq, the eunuch, guided her through the palace to the viaduct gate. Female guards passed them through, and they walked together down the long path with the 20-ft. walls that ensured purdah. The harem grew in size as they walked towards her new home. Her eyes grew wide at the sight before her.

Chapter 5: The Harem

Jayti's first sight of the harem left her in awe. She stood at the East Side of a huge courtyard: the center of a vast, three-story building called the Major Harem, the housing for the concubines and most of the wives. Lining the courtyard on all three floors were corridors, supported by narrow pillars. The entire building was made from red brick covered in white marble veneer; it almost glowed in the sun.
The entrances to the apartments were protected from the heat by the corridors above. Each apartment had a delicate arch opening with light wooden doors as well as at least one arched window with shutters for bad weather. The courtyard grounds themselves were spotless and constructed of large light polished marble squares with several breaks around the perimeter for leafy shade trees and benches. The Major Harem was square with four entrances, one in the middle of each side.
The South entrance was the rarely opened Major Harem Gate that led to the outside world of Lahore. Behind her was the viaduct entrance to the palace as well as the entrance to the Dining Hall and the Hawa Majal, or 'Wind Palace,' a tall building with fluted domes and large openings designed for breeze and comfort in the dry heat.
Next to her in the shaded corridor were the rooms of the Keeper of the Robes. Directly across the courtyard, lay the entrance to the Main Baths. To her right was the entrance to the Minor Harem building, used mainly by servants and slaves for the concubines and wives, and her new quarters. Female guards who monitored all activity below were distant overhead, occupying open white marble dome-shaped towers. Jayti smelled spice and sandalwood in the gentle breeze.
Throughout the entire complex, Jayti watched hundreds of beautiful women stroll and lounge, some in shocking outfits of the sheerest muslin. Others wore calico cloth, less to conceal than to accentuate portions of the anatomy. Henna stripes of various colors and designs decorated many. One young woman looked like a painting from a wooded scene, with multi-hued green leaves, and delicate branches across her breasts and back. Some women went topless in the heat. Many wore large jewels in their hair, or over their foreheads. Nose rings, some quite large, were common.
Servants and slaves in more basic blouses, dresses, and pants outnumbered the women in the scanty costumes by about three to one. Obviously, the favored women were very well cared for and attended.
["Mark, what do you think?"]
['This is something out of the Arabian Nights. It's a delicate fortress with beautiful women everywhere. Can you feel how I'm feeling?']
["Of course. You're making me want to make love to these creatures. It's annoying, impossible, and the attempt could cost us our life. I believe you said that your science had proven that a place in the brain decided whether one liked men or women. I look forward to the day when you feel that way about men."]
['I don't think that I could have been changed very much in one month. This is a very old fantasy for a man.']
["I know only too well, Mark. My heart beats faster when we look at that woman in the muslin that conceals nothing."]
Aashiq broke her out of her look of wonder with a nudge to the ribs. Chief Eunuch Abdul Hassim and the Chief Empress Ruqayya Sultan Begam were approaching.
As they had been trained to do, they stopped and bowed low to the Sultana and the Chief Eunuch until they passed.
They stood outside the rooms of the Keeper of the Robes, their first stop.
They entered together. Aashiq motioned her on. "I'll wait here for you, Jayti. When you're finished here, come with me."
There was little talk. The Keeper of the Robes, a still-beautiful, medium-sized woman with light brown skin in her early thirties, took one look at Jayti and called for an assistant. She turned and addressed Jayti directly. "My name is Aisha Ram. I am the Keeper of the Robes. You are new here and don't know anything. Listen to me and pay attention. You will wear the clothes that the Emperor wants you to wear. Take off your clothes and put them on the table."
['They certainly take off a lot of clothes in here.']
["And there is more to come, I'm sure. It's been one long, hot day since we've had a bath."]
['And this bath will probably not be alone, which means....']
["Your thoughts follow a path with no forks, as they say."]
Jayti removed her clothes and put them on the table. She kept her necklace with the orange crystal.
"Your hair has been removed, good. Tatyana, find some clothes for the new servant."
Tatyana opened an adjacent door and motioned to Jayti. They entered a medium-sized room with a large window made with delicately designed, geometric shapes. The room contained a variety of fine calico, muslin, and silk clothing. Some were hung on hangers and others were stacked in neat piles, apparently by size. Tatyana brought out an embroidered white blouse, and a long yellow and red dress. She also found some tan kid leather shoes with silver trim.
Jayti was relieved. The clothes were quite nice, but nothing like the extremely scanty garments found on many of the women.
Tatyana ordered Jayti to try them on.
Jayti put them on carefully. These clothes, although more modest than many others she had seen, were still incredibly costly. They fit very well. It made her feel expensive and well kept. Two other similar sets of clothes were brought out and tried on. After replacing one that was too small, she now had three sets of clothes that were appropriate for her standing in the harem.
"You'll wear these for now. They'll identify you as a servant. Later, you'll want to try on some different clothes and experiment with different styles." Jayti looked surprised. "You don't think so?" She laughed. "Wait. After a while, you'll have a strong desire to be noticed. You're a beautiful girl. It's normal."
"What do I do, now?"
"You're done here. You may go"
Jayti went outside where Aashiq waited. "Now we find your space in the Minor Harem, then you must take a bath. After that, you will report to your mistress, Maryam. She'll tell you what to do from there."
She followed Aashiq across the courtyard to the North gate, where the entrance to the Minor Harem lay. They passed through the wide doors and entered a vast courtyard similar to the Major Harem. The building surrounding the courtyard was two stories high and had no true walls. It was open with a series of columns four rows deep. Rooms for the slaves and servants were created by attaching thick colored canvas sheets to large rings on the columns, but left an opening above for airflow.
It made for a very airy and flexible arrangement. There were potentially more than 2,000 small rooms that could be made this way. Apparently, many women couldn't read, because Aashiq told her the women found their rooms by memorizing the color of the canvas and pillar closest to them.
She entered her room with Aashiq and found a plush wooden bed of high quality. She sat on a divan, testing it. Everything there was simple, but comfortable. There were a few embroidered, cotton cushions for visitors on a Persian rug. Ceramic lamps stood on stands in two corners. A small white table and small set of drawers stood next to the bed. She put her spare clothes into a drawer and left with Aashiq to go to the Bath.
The main bath facilities were on the West Side of the Major Harem compound. As she walked towards it, she got a sense of how large it really was; the entrance itself had four large, white, fluted marble pillars holding up a marble beam almost 20 ft. in the air and 80 ft. long. The light from the angled skylights in the large carved dome ceiling illuminated the bath below, but shielded the women from direct sunlight.
The room was like nothing she had ever seen before. Swirling patterns in white marble overlaid with gold decorated the large panels of the walls. The perimeter was partitioned into 20 separate sections; each containing a large veined white marble bowl full of water, constantly being refreshed from brass spigots. Women on high platform shoes used gold and silver bowls to pour water over their hair and bodies, using soap, pumice, and rough sponges to clean, most often using slaves or servants to assist with oils and towels.
The bath was centered directly below the dome. There were at least fifty women lounging in the steaming water, some slightly flushed from the heat. All were naked, relaxed, and unconcerned.
Aashiq directed her to an array of tall wooden platform shoes, and a rack of soap and towels. "You shouldn't take too long. Some of the women stay here most of the day, but you need to see your mistress Maryam soon."
"I won't be long, Aashiq."
She took off her clothes, put on a pair of platform shoes, grabbed a bar of soap, one of the few good things she thought the Moghuls had brought to India, and a sponge. She put her clothes on a hook on the wall, washed and rinsed her hair and body using soap and a sponge and stepped into the bath.
She sat on a hidden wooden bench with a few of the women, submerged to her neck, her body being massaged by a nearby vent of heated roiling water. Other women chose to stand with their breasts out of the water in the shallow pool. Four eunuchs, and at least that many female guards in comfortable red, cotton uniforms, stood or sat on small stools around the bath, watching the women. She noticed some looks of curiosity in her direction and smiled back at them.
The women talked mainly about clothes, dyes, and an outdoor market coming to the harem. She listened, but didn't feel comfortable enough as a new servant to start a conversation on her own. After a few minutes, she walked out of the pool and put on her shoes. Aashiq steered her towards her clothes and another towel.
"Most women finish dressing in the Tepidarium to the left. The steam bath is to the right."
Jayti walked through the left exit, making a clomping sound with the tall stilted shoes. The Tepidarium was a dry room without the heat and humidity of the bath. This room had latticework windows to the outside, allowing a small breeze and an airy atmosphere that contrasted pleasantly with the thick heat of the bath. Women also lounging here, some still flushed, lying on divans wearing long thick, fluffy robes. Full-length mirrors lined the far wall, allowing the women to observe themselves while resting.
Several women talked animatedly with each other, gossiping about the latest scandal in the palace, or the latest love-interest of the Emperor. Many ate pastries and drank cool beverages from trays carried by Tepidarium slaves or personal servants. Jayti dried her hair as best she could, using two towels, asking a nearby slave with a comb and oil for assistance. After about ten minutes of combing and drying, Jayti put on her clothes and left through the bath entrance.
She smiled at the women again on the way out. She hoped to meet some friends soon.
['Jayti, I could get used to this.']
["I think we can both get used to this. It will be the years to come that will be difficult. Somehow, I have difficulty thinking of you as a harem girl, desperate for a man."]
['Where did you learn your sense of humor, Mt. Vesuvius?']
["Where? Oh, I see. Ha. Ha. Mark, you're opening my picture of the world with these images. The world is so big! I wish I could go to England and see Europe with you as you want. I also wish you could see the best parts of India with me."]
['The best part of India is already here with me.']
["Thank you Mark. Accident or not, I'm glad you're with me in this place."]
Maryam lived in the lower Southwest side of the Major Harem. Jayti followed Aashiq through a double door with geometric designs in the Muslim style. Jayti's mistress lived in a medium-sized apartment with bright, ornate walls and a small pool fountain in the middle. Playing chess on the floor were two beautiful women, one tall with light skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair wearing nothing except a very thin muslin choli and salwar.
Her clothes were essentially red colored transparency. She was a blatant advertisement of the skill of the famous Bengal muslin weavers who justifiably boasted they could make a garment so sheer, it could be drawn through a finger ring.
The other woman was of medium height with classic Iranian features. She wore calico to conceal the barest portion of her breasts and womanhood. The henna patterns on her skin were used as art and accentuated the best attributes of her body.
Aashiq spoke to the blond woman who looked up when he entered the room. "Maryam, this is Jayti. She's a servant who's just arrived. She'll be serving you."
Maryam smiled beautifully and said in slightly accented Persian, "Hello, Jayti. You will not find me difficult to please, if you follow instructions."

Chapter 6: Maryam's Secret

"Thank you, Maryam. I'm looking forward to it." The women on the floor gave each other a brief, knowing look.
Maryam regarded Jayti and said, "We too, look forward to it, Jayti."
['Did you feel that something strange just happened between those two women?']
["Yes. They have a secret, but I don't have any idea what it is."]
She was determined to be polite and respectful. "Pardon me, but I don't know how to address you, Maryam. This is all so new to me."
"Just call me Maryam, for now. Some concubines and most of the wives demand that all servants call them mistress, but it doesn't matter to me as long as you show respect.
"You'll be following me around and doing things for me. You will clean my room, collect my laundry, wash my back, and give me a massage when necessary. You'll help me by running errands and anything else I can think of. Is all that clear?"
"Yes, Maryam. Can I do anything for you now?"
"No. Lunch will be served soon. We'll go together and I'll show you how to behave. After that, we'll come back here and we'll talk and play cards for a while, then, I will show you how to take care of the laundry and where cosmetics and other items I might need can be found." She looked closely at Jayti. "You're very beautiful and very young. How old are you?"
"15 years old, Maryam."
"Very young. Why are you here? Don't be ashamed. I was sold in the slave market in Istanbul after I was captured on a raid in Bulgaria."
"I don't know why I'm here. The Emperor's soldiers and four eunuchs came to my parent's house in Manwar and showed us an order for my transportation here. That's all I know. I don't know why the order was written. Hassan, one of the eunuchs, thinks I have an enemy somewhere, but I don't know of any."
"Hmm. Interesting and mysterious."
The sound of a low-pitched gong rang out.
Maryam rolled gracefully to her feet and clapped her hands. "Lunch. Lets go."
Most concubines and servants went to the hall at various times during the long lunch. These habits were developed by necessity, due to the large number of people to feed. Maryam liked to go early.
Wives almost always ordered special meals from the kitchen and usually ate in their apartments. The kitchen was always open for sweets, sherbets, and beverages, which were often eaten in apartments, gardens or even at the baths.
The Dining Hall was on the other side of the East Entrance of the Major Harem. The building itself was a large hall with huge latticework on the walls, allowing the light to come through in the morning or evening. Sturdy white columns lined the walls and center. Thick carpets, cushions, and divans were scattered everywhere and overflowed out of doors under banyan trees and in the sun for the enjoyment of those who wished to eat in the open. Slaves and kitchen servants lined a long serving table with lamb, chicken, rice dishes, sherbet's of all kinds, and many other dishes of traditional Indian and Moghul cuisine.
Maryam instructed Jayti to bring dishes with Maryam's choices, as well as Jayti's, to a place in the corner of the building out of the sun, where cushions were available to sit on.
Maryam spoke as she ate some spiced lamb with rice. "We are required to eat very delicately. We use only three fingers of the right hand to eat with, if at all possible. If you want more food, you get more. When you're finished, walk away. A slave will remove it."
"Maryam, what is my position here? I've been told that I am to serve you. Does this mean I'm to follow you around all day and night? I'm just not sure why they brought me here. They could have just brought a servant from Lahore very cheaply to do the same thing."
Maryam looked at her curiously.
"Surely, you realize why you're here. You're beautiful. The reason you serve a concubine rather than scrubbing pots is due to your learning and sophistication." She chewed another piece of lamb, washed it down with chai and wiped her mouth with a cotton cloth.
"First, you do not stay with me in my room unless I request you to do so through the Chief Eunuch. That's unlikely to happen. You must sleep where they assign you. If you disobey, you will be beaten. If you do it again, they may have you killed. This place is picturesque and dazzling, but it's also very strict. I won't need you all the time. I'll tell you when I don't need you, and then you can do what you want.
"If you have the talent to do something else, dancing, singing, reciting poetry or the like that may enhance your appeal and value to the Emperor and if the Chief Eunuch and the Sultana approve, then you'll be trained. The harem exists for the Emperor's pleasure. You're here to help increase that.
"Perhaps if you're worthy, the Emperor will take notice of you. If you're really lucky, he might give you to a rich husband, or make you a concubine. The eunuchs or the Sultana might send you to help with the administration of government if you're educated and smart enough."
["What do think, Mark?"]
['I think that we should talk to Hassan and see what our options are. Can you sing or dance, by the way?']
["Yes, I can do both and play a couple of instruments fairly well. I think we should be careful about making an enemy of Maryam, Mark. We should see Hassan, but in our spare time and not in the open, where everyone can see. Maryam is a nice person, and I don't want to get her angry at us."]
['Agreed.']
"Maryam, what does a concubine do all day, if you don't mind me asking?"
Maryam sighed. "It varies a lot, mainly on what we want to do. Fatima, whom you met earlier, studies poetry, and learns new stories to tell the Emperor. She's actually an excellent storyteller, you know. I practice my dancing for about an hour or two every day. I go to the main bath sometimes for several hours, talking and soaking." Glancing at Jayti, she continued. "Sometimes, I'll have you go to the kitchen to bring back something sweet to eat or coffee."
"Mainly, I just have to make sure I look as good as I can, especially at night when the Emperor might call for me. There's a schedule, but sometimes the Emperor doesn't follow it, or he leaves to go somewhere. He's not like some Rajas who almost live in the harem. The Emperor likes to watch me dance. I'm far from the best, but I caught his eye." She shrugged. "Maybe it's my blond hair. If he tires of me, as may well happen, the Sultana will make an adjustment, and I will lose my nice apartment and some privileges to someone else. That's the way it goes here. Either get noticed or serve. Nothing is certain."
"How long have you been here?"
"About 5 years. I've seen the Emperor exactly 15 times during that span. He's very busy."
Maryam and Jayti went to the main bath after lunch. Maryam showed her where to get towels, oil, soap, and the other things necessary to do her job at the bath. Then, Jayti was sent to the kitchen to get a tray of coffee and sweet pastries for her. She met Maryam outside the bath with the food and drink.
They both undressed and Jayti started the real work as Maryam's servant, washing her hair and cleaning her off. When she went to lounge in the bath, Jayti cleaned herself as well. She noticed that eunuchs were seemingly never out of sight, much like the guards. It was too easy to forget them. All conversations would have to be watched very carefully.
She noticed again how beautiful almost everyone was in the harem and saw others looking at her. 'Could it be that after years of lounging around, trying to look pretty for a man who will probably never know you exist, you just look for relationships with people? Does a woman begin to find other women attractive?' She wondered. 'From the looks, it would appear so.' She joined Maryam in the bath, the tray having been set-aside temporarily on a table designed for the purpose.
A question from Maryam interrupted her reverie. "Jayti, would you like to go to the Dance Hall with me this afternoon?"
"Yes, Maryam. I'd be very happy to go. Let me clean up your room right after you leave here, so I can stay as long as you want."
The Dance Hall was on the West Side of the Hawa Majal garden, just past the Music Hall. A low brick wall separated the buildings, and a small fountain lay on the Dance Hall side. They entered through the large, white front doors of the high structure. The fine latticework of the walls was spaced between solid white pillars and went from the floor to the ceiling, angled to allow in the maximum amount of light. The dance floor was set back from the front and made from a polished light-colored wood.
Maryam and Jayti selected a couple of the cushions out of the way of the dancers. The building was oriented so that the dancers would be facing north and away from the sun. The dance instructor had a raised section and a large cushion for her comfort facing the dancers. Three women musicians stood to the side, providing accompaniment.
Two eunuchs lounged on a divan, and a pair of female guards stood by the north opening behind the instructor, leaning against the pillars. Several servants and a few interested concubines sat on cushions or divans, watching the activities.
Four dancers danced on the floor, wearing identical costumes of transparent silk veils, red scarves affixed to the back of their heads with silver clips, light red muslin, long-sleeved blouses, and matching red muslin sarwan harem pants. A small amount of dark red calico was added to their clothing to preserve some modesty. Bells adorned their ankles and wrists.
They used a piece of long, diaphanous yellow and red fabric as a prop, dragging it over their faces and bodies seductively in slow, enticing movements. Graceful hand, arm and foot motions followed the rhythm of the instruments, a drum somewhat larger than a tambourine, a dark brown polished sitar, and a medium-sized woodwind instrument with a large bulb at the base, as they played an erotic Indian composition.
['Now that's a dance.']
["Yes, I feel your urges rise when we see it. I used to train to dance when I was younger, but not this sort of thing. Concubines, slaves, and courtesans usually perform this. Actually, this dance is quite attractive to me, too. I always thought it showed the female form off to its best advantage. I'd like to learn it myself."]
Maryam spoke to Jayti in a quiet voice, leaning close, "This is the kind of dance I do, but Hasseema, the dance instructor, doesn't really think I'm good at it. The hand positioning practice should really start as a child for someone to be proficient. I try, though. I'm in the next group."
The dance ended and Maryam took the floor along with three others. She was right, Maryam was good, but didn't have the finger dexterity of the others.
['She isn't so bad, but I think she's wasted here.']
["What do you mean, Mark?"]
['Look at her legs and arm movement. She looks almost too much for this dance. The others are soft, precise and feminine. She's strong. She looks as if she needs to run or leap.']
Jayti looked hard. ["I think you may be right. She looks much stronger than the other women."]
It became a routine. Jayti became friends with Maryam and Fatima. Jayti was worried. She hadn't seen Hassan the entire time she'd been in the harem. A month had come and gone, and she was no closer to escape.
One morning, after first prayer and breakfast, Jayti and Maryam went to the bath as usual. Fatima decided to join them.
Maryam sat between Jayti and Fatima on the bench in the bath, soaking. She seemed unusually quiet this morning. Jayti noticed Fatima's hand on the inside of Maryam's thigh under the swirling waters.
['Well, that confirms it.']
["I suppose so, although they may not really be doing anything. The Kama Sutra speaks of women in harems making love with their mouths, eunuchs, too, but these eunuchs are everywhere guarding against it. When would they get the chance to do anything?"]
['I'm pretty sure they find opportunities. Maryam trusts you. Notice how she doesn't try very hard to avoid you finding out about them? Lets look around and see who else is noticing.']
There were at least two other women who had knowing looks on their faces when they looked at the pair in question.
['It seems common knowledge. So, is there a way to fool the eunuchs or are the eunuchs in on it somehow?']
A long pause, relaxing in the pool. ["Mark! That big, tall, pot-bellied eunuch just nodded at Maryam!"]
['Are you sure?']
["How could you not see it when I saw it? Of course!"]
['So, some eunuchs are corruptible. We need to find Hassan, to ask him a few questions when we can.']
After lunch, Jayti went to Maryam's room with Maryam. She started to clean the incense pit in the floor, but Maryam stopped her.
Maryam motioned her to the floor to sit with her. "Jayti, can I trust you?" she asked nervously. "You suspect Fatima and I of being lovers, don't you?" She looked in Jayti's eyes. "Ah, I see it. You do. Well, we are."
She stood and paced around the floor.
"I'm unwilling to give Fatima up. We know if we're caught, they'd kill us. We love each other, and we're willing to take that chance. They'd probably have difficulty believing you didn't know about us, so you could be in danger too. I don't want to lose you as a servant, but I have to tell you this."
Jayti reached out and took her hands, gently pulling her down to her cushion. "Maryam, I'd never give you away. I've only been here for a month, but I think I know already what this place will do to a woman after a time. I only ask that you be careful, and tell me everything." Jayti spoke seriously. "I saw a look on a eunuch's face in the bath today that makes me think he knows about you and Fatima. I have to know who to trust and how this works."
Maryam sighed and squeezed Jayti's hands. "You're very observant." She rose suddenly, went to the door and looked around. She began to pace again, motioning with her arms passionately. "You must understand something about eunuchs. They live for petty power. Their parts are gone and they don't really think like men anymore. They're easy to tame, like the geldings they are, but often, they become as fickle as women. Their lives have no normal purpose in a world of women they can't touch, so they become obsessed with the only things left to them, power and intrigue.
"The ones who were cut when their bodies were becoming men, still dream of women. Some like to give pleasure to women with their tongues for the power and control it gives them." She looked at Jayti meaningfully. "And some are very good at it!" She went to the door again and looked briefly, then came back.
She crouched down and spoke to Jayti quietly. "Did you know that some Sandalis enjoy sex? Most don't like men to do it, but will allow a woman to help them. There are two places on a eunuch's body that are very sensitive. When these places are properly stimulated, after a while, usually a long while, they get off! Believe me when I say it makes them very, very happy."
Jayti's mouth fell open.
['Jesus Christ.']
Maryam continued in a low voice. "I'm pleasuring Razak, that eunuch you saw at the pool. He and I meet sometimes at night, when he's sure no one will look for him in his quarters. He likes it so much I have to put a pillow in his mouth to stop him from screaming when he comes. In return, he lets me know when he is assigned to these chambers, and warns Fatima and me on those days if someone, a guard or another eunuch, gets close." She stood. "Now, you know everything."
Jayti shook her head. "Not everything. I saw two women looking at you in the pool, today. One was a dark brown woman from the south and the other sounded Egyptian from her accent. I think they know, or at least suspect."
Maryam looked embarrassed; she was caught. "Is there nothing you don't see? They're friends of mine. I know they suspect Fatima and me, but they don't know for sure. I'm sure they don't know about Razak." She looked at Jayti straight in the eyes and said. "Now, you know everything."
"Maryam, I will not say a word of any of this," Jayti said solemnly. "I swear this to you."
Maryam lowered her head in relief. "Thank you, Jayti. I will not forget this."
['Jayti! Stop and think about it. She's having an affair with her girlfriend and a eunuch with guards and eunuchs walking all over the place. Look at this place; it's wide open. They're barely making an effort to keep what their activities hidden. I like her, but she either controls her behavior, or we will not be alive much longer!']
['Shiva! You're right, Mark. We're in great danger!"]
"Maryam! I'm not through." Jayti spoke sternly. "What you are doing is very, very dangerous. There are simply too many people who know. Look how easy it was for me to find out!"
Jayti ticked off her points emphatically with her fingers. "One night, a guard could follow a different route. She may want to pee, and go past your apartment when Fatima is crying out. The Chief Eunuch may visit the eunuch quarters and find that Razak is missing. Razak may be mistaken about who is covering for him, or a last minute change could be made. Someone could just want to betray you for political advantage. There are a hundred ways to find you out."
Jayti's face was grim. "I'm not going to say anything, Maryam, but I won't wait for you to get caught either, because when that happens, I'm dead. I have no choice. You either stop what you are doing immediately, or somehow, I will find someone else!"
Maryam stared at her for a moment, then collapsed on the divan and started crying.

Chapter 7: Mark and Jayti give Maryam a New Dance

["Mark! Look what I've done!"]
['It had to be said, Jayti. You did well.']
["Well, I hope it woke her up a little. I like her, Mark! I can see me in her in a few years."]
Jayti knelt by her and covered her shoulders with her hands. "Please, Maryam, I mean you no harm. I want to help you, but not at the risk of near certain death. Let's think about this together and work something out."
She looked up at Jayti and saw the concern in her eyes.
"I know this is dangerous, Jayti. I just don't know what to do. I love Fatima. I want to be with her."
"Maryam, you must have thought about this before. How would you and Fatima be safe? Would it be safe if you were a wife, a more popular concubine, have a better apartment?" Jayti took a deep breath. "I'll do as much as I can to help you, but if it's impossible after all we can think of, and if you refuse to stop these dangerous meetings, I'll have to find another mistress. I don't want to; I'm very happy to remain as your servant, but I don't want to die."
Maryam hung her head. Her tears had streaked the kohl. "Jayti, I have thought about it. If my position were more secure and I could keep a better apartment or be one of Akbar's wives, it would be a lot easier. The more popular you are, the fewer restrictions you have to live with. Fatima could even stay in my apartment, sometimes. I'm on the lower level of concubines. I see Akbar rarely, and I can see he just uses me for the night's pleasure. I try, but there's nothing unusual about me. I doubt that he really remembers me in the morning. Without being more popular with Akbar and getting more privileges, I just don't see a way out."
"So, the key seems to me to become more popular with the Emperor. You need to stand out from the rest of the concubines."
Maryam nodded. "That would certainly help. He needs to think of me with passion and lust."
['I may be able to help her. Tell her that you know some very different, erotic dance tunes that would set her apart.']
["Are you sure?"]
['Fairly sure, yes. I have a particular classic in mind, but I've watched enough videos on MTV to have several ideas on how to appeal to a guy's interest. I'm a guy. If it turns me on, it'll probably do the same to Akbar. There's another angle, too; if Maryam is popular with Akbar, she may be able to talk to him about something that could help us in the night, and he may pay attention.']
["All right, Mark, if you're sure."]
"Maryam, I know some wonderful songs to dance to, from very far away. I doubt that anyone here has ever heard of them. If the Emperor would like to see something new and exciting, perhaps I could help you."
Maryam looked interested. "Really, what's the name of it? Maybe I've heard of it."
['Bolero, from Spain. Andalusia, to these people. She hasn't heard of it; it won't be written for another three hundred years or so, but I know it pretty well. It can be very strong, and it's sexy as hell.']
"It's called Bolero, from Andalusia, and it's made for a powerful dancer. But Maryam," Jayti admonished, "you have to stop these dangerous meetings until we've tried everything I can to help you. I'll work with you; you must work with me. Is this agreeable to you?"
Maryam looked at Jayti with a wry smile. "So, who is the concubine and who is the servant? Very well, I'll stop meeting Fatima and Razak until we run out of options." She sighed. "Jayti, you are full of surprises. After breakfast tomorrow, come to my apartment. We'll talk to some of my musician friends."
Jayti said goodbye to Maryam before sunset. It was forbidden to leave the rooms after last prayers and before sunrise without a good reason. The female guards strictly enforced this rule.
After visiting the latrine, which had running water, to Jayti's and Mark's eternal surprise, she went to her small chamber. She heard many of the women talking and visiting each other after the long day. She struck up some conversations, one with a girl next door, Nerafala, from Bengal Province, far to the east. She'd been here for four years and worked in the kitchen.
Neferala was bored and frustrated. She hadn't seen a man in years without a screen between them. There was plenty to eat, and as long as she obeyed the rules, it was barely tolerable, but she was realizing more and more that it was just a slow death. She missed her family, missed men, and desperately wanted to leave. Jayti was the latest in a string of sympathetic ears, and she talked far into in the night. Other women in earshot finally had had enough, and shouted for her to shut up and get to sleep.
Jayti could hear her crying softly into her pillow in the next room. Finally, she slept. Jayti stayed awake for hours, thinking about the sameness of the days, the danger Maryam was putting her in, Neferala's pain and crying. Was there any hope? Was there really a way out? She listened to the snores and other muted sounds of the harem, staring up into the darkness of her gilded cage. Slowly, desperation crept up on her. She wanted out of this horrible place!
["Mark!"]
['Yes, Jayti?']
["Make love to me! Now, before I think too much!"]
Mark knew what she needed; after all, he was feeling every thing she felt. He did something he had wanted to do since he had seen her for the first time in the mirror at on the way to Lahore. He brought her hands to her face, feeling and getting to know her cheeks, her lips, her hair, and neck. Mark would have given almost anything at that moment to be able to hold her and kiss her. He used everything he knew from experience to make her forget the harem for a while. The angles were different; reaching up to touch her breasts was certainly not what he was used to, but the feelings and pleasure from Jayti guided him.
To Jayti, it felt as if a lover was there, touching her gently in ways that were often surprising, but very satisfying. As her demands grew, Mark continued, matching her pace. She started to moan, but Mark was able to prevent her voice from becoming loud enough to be overheard. Finally, Jayti shuddered strongly, and the impulse to cry out became so strong, Mark had difficulty controlling it, especially as he was feeling it too. He did what he could to allow Jayti to come down from it slowly. A warm feeling of contentment gradually settled in. He gave control back to her.
["Thank you, Mark."]
They fell into a dreamless sleep.
The next day after breakfast, Maryam led Jayti to the Music Hall where servant and concubine musicians practiced.
The red sandstone building was approximately 100 ft. square and had four rooms of about equal size. It was not as open as other buildings, stray sounds having the potential to bother the Emperor.
Two of the rooms were occupied, one with Maryam's friends, two concubines and two servants, along with a ubiquitous eunuch and female guard.
["Mark, you have to let me know something now."]
['Okay. The first things we need are the correct instruments. Here are some pictures in my mind of the types we need. We need a flute, a clarinet, an oboe, a small, tight drum, some sort of string instrument that can be loud, and a kind of trumpet or a trombone.']
["Mark. There's a problem. I've never seen a trumpet or a trombone."]
['That's not good, but it may be possible to replace it with three loud clarinets or something. Ask them about a brass instrument that you blow through that plays different sounds.']
"Is there a brass instrument that you can blow through that makes many different tones? It has to be loud."
One of the servants thought about it. "No, not like you describe."
['Well, we'll just have to deal with it then. Maybe it won't be that important. We can start now; the tune is very simple. I need to let you know how it goes.']
["I don't think I can see notes, Mark. You'll have to show them yourself."]
['What? I don't speak Persian.']
["Try. I'll help you. If it doesn't work, I'll take back control and all you'll have to do is sing it when the time comes."]
['Okay, here goes.']
"The song goes like this."
['That was me speaking?']
["Yes, with my help. I'm helping you think in Persian."]
['You can do that?']
["Apparently."]
['Right, stupid question. I'll try again.']
Mark spoke cautiously at first, trying to speak in simple sentences. "The song starts very slowly and softly. It begins with a small instrument, then repeats itself again and again with a different instrument, getting louder each time. This goes on for a few repetitions. Gradually, more instruments are added to it to make it more powerful and a very effective drum set is added in. The pattern of louder and more powerful continues until a peak is reached. Then, the music is changed, the peak is held for a moment, and then it is finally dropped, much like a person collapsing of exhaustion."
Mark smiled at Maryam. "I think a dancer could do the same with the music. She wouldn't have to be very skilled with small, intricate moves, but she would have to be strong and feel the passion of it."
"I'll try to whistle it, first."
["I don't whistle! It's bad manners for women to whistle!"]
"I mean, think I should sing it, first."
Mark began tentatively, looking for command of Jayti's voice. Satisfied, she started the song slowly and sang the two basic haunting melodies.
"That's all it is?" Maryam asked, dubiously.
Mark turned to her. "That's almost all of it, Maryam, but there are some drums that are important, a few sections that are slightly different, and the end is a very powerful climax."
["I may have mistranslated that last word, Mark."]
['If you did, I think they still understand. By the way, I love your voice.']
Maryam and the others looked a little embarrassed.
"Just try it. Believe me, it's great."
They tried it. Bolero was being played for the first time in history. After a couple of hours and especially after Mark showed them how the drums added a beat and additional power, they were excited.
Hajib, one of the concubine musicians, exclaimed, "Maryam, this is wonderful! It's very simple, but different. I can almost see how a dance to this would go. It needs something very strong and loud for the last two or three repetitions, but it's an easy tune to learn."
Maryam was also enthusiastic the way the rehearsal went. This was something she could do! "Do you know any other songs, Jayti?"
['Jayti? You want me to sing?']
["Sure! How often does one get to hear a song from the future? This is your time, Mark. Use it!"]
['Difficult to decide. When I was a guy, I sang guy songs.']
He decided.
Mark sang the first stanza and chorus from Reach, by Gloria Estefan.
"Some dreams live on in time forever
Those dreams, you want with all your heart
And I'll do whatever it takes
Follow through with the promise I made
Put it all on the line
What I hoped for at last would be mine
If I could reach, higher
Just for one moment touch the sky
From that one moment in my life
I'm gonna be stronger
Know that I've tried my very best
I'd put my spirit to the test
If I could reach"
Maryam looked at Mark with surprise. "Jayti, that was beautiful! So strong! Is that song English?"
"Yes, Maryam. It was in English."
"You'll have to tell me what it means."
["Mark. That was beautiful! Did that come from your country?"]
['Yes.']
["And the words, so powerful! Were you singing that song for us?"]
['You may be right. It was the first song that came to my mind that I liked that was sung by a woman, but perhaps I was thinking of the things we still have to do and the problems yet to overcome. I regret the choice of song, now. Maryam is from Bulgaria. She recognized the language, if not the country. Still, I suppose it was better than singing "Like a Virgin." I'm not sure if I could explain that one.']
["I've heard some songs a little like that, but not as forceful. When you sang it, you even believed it. You must come from a country of optimists. Your world and beliefs are even stranger than I thought."]
['I'll be glad to talk to you about it, Jayti, but now, due to my mistake, Maryam is waiting to know the translation. If I tell her, it would mean the Jayti she knows is much more complicated than anyone thought. Can we trust her, or should I tell her I don't know what it means?']
["Just tell her it's a song of power and that the song is about doing the best that is possible, regardless of what happens. Lets see what she has to say to that."]
['Good idea.']
"It's a song that tells you that there is glory in trying to become greater than you are."
"Was the song made for a man?"
"A woman wrote it, but it was written for men and women."
"Hmm. Interesting."
['Please take over, Jayti, I've done enough damage for one day.']
Maryam found a cushion and lay on her back, hands behind her head. "I hope your song and a new dance can help. It's a desperate hope, I fear."
"Come on Maryam! It's a great song. Now, you must do your part, and create the dance to make it work. Besides, I have more things I can show you that we can try."
['Oh? And what might those things be?']
["I'm sure you'll think of something!"]
Maryam brightened and rose. "Come on, let's get clean, get some lunch, and go to the Dance Hall. I want to try out that new song and learn a wild new dance!"
After lunch, Maryam presented her idea to Hasseema during a break in dance practice. Hasseema was technically a servant, an older but very talented former kanchani, or dancer and onetime courtesan, hired by the harem to teach dance. Her rank was below a concubine. Still, it was better to get her approval before a venture. The dance would take time from her duties, and if she felt the new dance was a waste of time, she would be sure to report it to the Chief Eunuch.
In this case, Hasseema was interested. She had already talked to one of the musicians who approached her about this strange composition that seemed suited for the dance. There was little to do for the rest of the day after this next set, anyway. She would listen to it when the dancers left.
Maryam was overjoyed. "Jayti, see if the musicians are practicing next door. Tell them to be here in a quarter hour, if they are there."
Jayti walked the short distance to the Music Building and found two of the four musicians. They were agreeable and very willing to play it for Hasseema.
An hour later, the dance teacher was intrigued. "The music is western, but it has an eastern influence. It's repetitious, and yet it develops. The dance for this will need a powerful girl. Fortunately Maryam, I think you're strong enough. It'll be a series of different dances, each similar to the one before, but adding and emphasizing different things each time. This needs thought. Come back tomorrow at this time and I should have something to start with."
"One more thing, Hasseema." Maryam interjected, "This is Jayti, my servant. I'd like her to be trained in the dance."
Hasseema looked at Jayti critically. She pinched her arms and legs. "You have muscle you must have used sometime. Get on the floor and we'll see."
Jayti took off her shoes and moved to the floor.
"Now, what dances do you know?" asked Hasseema.
"I was taught a few of Kathak dances of the Nritha type. I don't know any of the Expressions."
"Well, that's not so bad. Nritha is popular in the harem. Sometimes the costumes are a little less than you are used to, perhaps." She laughed. She named a dance. "Do you know that one?"
"I haven't danced it for about half a year, but I think I could show you something."
Hasseema motioned for the music to start the dance.
Jayti was a bit uncertain for a few seconds, but quickly adjusted. She turned and moved across the floor, moving faster and faster in an intricate series of footwork and rapid pirouettes, moving her arms in and legs in a synchronized pattern.
Hasseema clapped her hands abruptly, stopping her. "That's well done for someone who hasn't danced for so long. Your hand movement is off, but your footwork isn't bad. If Maryam wishes, and the Chief Eunuch and Sultana agree, I'll train you."

Chapter 8: To Dance for the Emperor

Jayti clapped her hands. "Thank you, teacher. Thank you, Maryam, for doing this!"
"If your mistress allows, Jayti, you should come back here after lunch tomorrow to get started. We'll finish practice when she comes for her new dance."
Turning to Maryam, "Maryam, I'll have to write out an order for more dance clothes for her. Since she belongs to you, you must sign it."
Hasseema wrote out a letter quickly, requesting dance clothes for Jayti. She handed it to Jayti after Maryam signed it.
"Take this letter to the Keeper of the Robes and get your clothes. Do this before you come tomorrow."
On the walk back, Jayti brought up a problem to Maryam.
"Maryam, how do I talk to my friend Hassan the eunuch? I've wanted to talk to him for a month or so, but I haven't seen him."
'Well, if you wanted everyone to know, you could just ask any eunuch and they would tell him. This could cause some gossip and get him into trouble. If you want to be discreet, then I'd come talk to the Keeper of the Robes with me. She's a friend of mine and could talk to him directly."
Jayti did as Maryam suggested. While picking-up her dance clothes, The Keeper of the Robes promised to tell Hassan that Jayti would like to see him.
After dinner, Jayti and Mark had a long talk.
["Mark?"]
['Yes, Jayti.']
["I feel much better now. We work well together. I don't know where we're going in this place yet, but it seems that we're moving in the right direction. I've been thinking about the ways to get out of here and I want to find out how you feel about them."]
['Of course, Jayti. I've been thinking of ways to improve our chances as well. Go ahead.']
["The first possibility I see is to somehow kill Akbar. His oldest son, Selim will probably take over and move Akbar's harem to the Palace of Tears. There, we might be married off or have a better chance to escape. What do you think of that?"]
['I don't see any way to kill Akbar with killing ourselves. It sounds good, but I don't see any way to do it. Selim himself tried to kill his father, according to history, and failed.']
["Really? All right. This is the second possibility. We could throw a rope with a hook on the end over the wall and escape. We should have some jewels and wealth by that time, and that would help get us far away. We could escape to Udaipur."]
['I suppose it's possible. I don't think we have the arm strength to pull ourselves up very far, but we could work on that or put in some knots in the rope that could help us. I haven't seen any weakness in the guards at night, but it's possible there might be. If we did get away, though, the pursuit would be fierce. Akbar would not be happy to lose a member of the harem. It's barely possible, but there are many 'ifs'.']
["Well then, this the third plan, the one I think will work best. Akbar sometimes marries away very pretty talented virgins to people who please him. To work for that, we have to continue to do things that help ourselves, and learn to play politics. If we get permission to learn to sing and dance, we'll be working towards this end. We can't be so good that we are called to Akbar's bed, or we'll just be used goods and probably never leave. We'll be as friendly as possible to powerful people and make sure they whisper our name in his ear at the right time."]
['I've been thinking about this plan, too. It looks like the best way. The only two people who have real influence with the Emperor are the Sultana and the Chief Eunuch. If Maryam becomes a strong concubine, perhaps her, too. We've been doing well so far. I find it strange that I'm talking about marrying a Muslim who would do his best to put us in purdah as an improvement to this, but I suppose it is. We have to get out of here.']
["Yes. That poor girl crying last night and Maryam going crazy have made it very clear."]
['There are other things that would make it easier to escape. What if we're on the outside? Perhaps Akbar wants to move the harem to Delhi or Agra? If we're on the road and we have a chance to run, we would improve our chances if we trained to run long distances. We could also train to swim a river. I'm very good with a sword, Jayti, and I'm trained to fight with hands and feet. I could teach you these techniques. We could be underestimated at a critical time.']
["I think those skills could be handy anytime."]
['Exactly. We don't know when they'd be useful, but we should be ready when the time comes. These guards are here to stop helpless women, not a woman trained to fight.']
["I'm ready to start when you are!"]
Jayti started her training that night, doing upper body strength building exercises and flexibility training. Jayti did pushups, sit-ups, balance exercises, and elementary kicks. By the time for bed, Jayti was sore on her arms, shoulders, and chest, but happy.
After breakfast, Jayti went to Maryam's apartment and met Hassan. He looked the same, still wearing an eternally amused expression on his smooth face. She went to him, taking his hands in hers.
'Hassan, I am so happy to see you!" She enthused.
To Hassan, she looked happy and beautiful, little changed from the road. "I'm glad to see you're so well, Jayti. I know this isn't the easiest place to be."
Jayti's smile wavered. "Well, what you told me on the road was true, but I'm trying to make the best of it. I have something to ask you, Hassan. If Maryam will excuse me, I'd like to talk to you in the garden."
Maryam looked at Jayti and nodded. "Go ahead, enjoy yourselves."
"Thank you, Maryam."
They waited to speak until they were deep in the garden, away from prying eyes. Hassan broke the silence. "You've learned a few things. It was well done getting me here without talk. Is there something you wanted to discuss with me?"
She looked at him awkwardly. "I want to get permission from the Sultana and the Chief Eunuch to train to dance and sing. I already have the approval of Hasseema, the teacher, and Maryam, but I didn't want to dance for too long without permission. I thought that since you knew them, you could ask for me."
She was uncomfortable with his expression. "If this is too big a favor to ask, then I'll understand and try to talk to the Chief Eunuch directly."
Hassan had an aversion to being used. He thought Jayti was honest and sincere on the road, but was she now a victim to the game of harem intrigue? Just how far was she willing to go to presume on their friendship? A test was in order.
"Again, well done. It's often better to use a go between. I'd be glad to do it for you. There's no reason they or I would refuse if Hasseema has a good opinion of you and if Maryam is happy. It's our duty to increase the value of the Emperor's property."
She looked him in the eye. "Is that the way you think of me? Am I the 'Emperor's property' to you?" She growled angrily, "I am Jayti Singh, a Rajput from Manwar. I will not crawl for anyone, not even you, Hassan!" She turned abruptly and walked off.
Hassan walked after her. She was not in the game after all. He had insulted her to no purpose. "Wait, Jayti. I was just seeing if the old Jayti was still there. Stop. Please!" He grabbed her arm. She stopped and faced him. "Jayti, remember when I said you couldn't trust anybody?"
She nodded, her eyes still flashed.
"I can trust the Jayti I heard, the proud, strong Jayti who won't sell out to the nasty games that people play here. And, she can trust me."
He released her arm and continued. "I'll be a friend to you and help you when I can. I can't see you very often and it's frankly dangerous to try. I work in the Palace now. I hear all the nice gossip about the Emperor, his wives, his concubines, and the heir apparent, Selim. I know who's in Akbar's favor and who is out and I'm in good standing with The Chief Eunuch."
"I am sorry I doubted you, Hassan."
Hassan's arms went in the air protesting. "No! It was right of you to doubt! Now, little one, what have you been up to? I've heard rumors of a new song."
Jayti nodded enthusiastically. "Yes. There is a very good song for the dance that I've given to Maryam to try at the next opportunity, perhaps in a month at the Festival. She should be starting practice on it this afternoon. I tell you this in confidence, Hassan. She's very worried about the Emperor losing interest in her, and she wants to become an important concubine. I'm helping her achieve those goals."
"She's right to worry. The talk of the Emperor's interests has all been about other concubines."
"This dance may help her a lot, Hassan, but only if the Chief Eunuch approves to have the Emperor see it. Can you help with that?"
Hassan rubbed his hairless face for a moment. "I'll do this. When the dance is ready, pass on the place and time of the final rehearsal to the Keeper of the Robes. She'll give the information to me and I'll come watch it. If I think it can help Maryam, I'll tell you and try to obtain permission from the Chief Eunuch. He prefers the traditional dances, but if it's good enough, I could persuade him to have it performed for the Emperor. In the meantime, don't call me unless it's absolutely necessary."
She gave him a hug. "Hassan, you scared the hell out of me!"
He laughed.
['That went well. I'm getting to like Hassan more and more.']
["Yes, I'm glad there are a few people you can believe in this place."]
Jayti told Maryam the news about the performance Maryam must put on to gain approval for Bolero. Maryam was determined to do well.
They went to the bath later and lay together in the hot water. Fatima was there, but didn't put her hand on Maryam's leg. She looked poisonously at Jayti; clearly, that's where she laid the blame for the interruption of relations with Maryam.
['I'm worried about her, Jayti. She looks angry enough to be vindictive. It looks like Maryam didn't break it off very well.']
["Maybe, Mark and maybe not. Even if Maryam said the nicest things, Fatima might still hate us for it. It'd be difficult for anyone to be reasonable about that sort of thing. We just have to hope this will pass soon."]
['I just realized something; looking at Fatima or Maryam doesn't interest me the way it did before. I can still tell they're beautiful women, but the urge to do something about it is less.']
["So, it has happened. You are a eunuch."]
['Hey!']
["Sorry, that was too easy. Actually, I've been able to tell for a while. When I went to the bath earlier, I could tell that you saw just a lot of women without clothes, not as a herd of cows to a bull as you normally do. Don't worry, other than that, you haven't changed at all, and I'm glad of it."]
Jayti served Fatima and Maryam at lunch and ate with them. Fatima was still angry with Jayti and made lunch unpleasant. Fatima had been in the harem for 6 years. As far as she was concerned, a lowly servant had taken her lover from her. There was nothing Jayti could say to that, so, with Maryam's permission, she picked up her new clothes and went to the Dance Hall.
The lessons went well. She was in a group of three other women, and even though she'd missed the first several lessons on this Nritha style dance, she was only a little behind the rest when the two hours was over. Jayti and Mark thoroughly enjoyed it.
['I loved it, Jayti. You do that so well! You have a natural rhythm.']
["I think you could do it too, Mark. I wasn't the only one who was moving out there. Dance is a kind of memory, a memory of movement. You felt the movement with me. You should try it some time. Go ahead. Try that series of turns and swirls that you like so much."]
Mark looked around. The rest of the dancers and musicians were taking a break. He tried it. The first time was a disaster, but after two repetitions, he found he had it. The skirt flowed and the turns were fast and sharp.
["Not too bad for a clumsy man, Mark! You had the right attitude at the end. Admit it. It made you feel sexy, didn't it?"]
['Hell yes! I have to wonder what you think of me, now.']
["I think you forget who you're talking to. I'm a Hindu. We worship lingams and yonis, or rather, what they represent. We understand sex and pleasure very well, and we know that there are male and female attributes to everyone. If you weren't more female than male now, you'd be seriously out of balance. I understand your fears, but they're unfounded. You're the same person underneath as a man or a woman. Mark?"]
['Sorry, I had some thinking to do. I'm not ready to worship a lingam, just yet.']
["I wouldn't force you to. I would ask you to just allow yourself to find your own balance. Mark? I hope this Taekwondo will be as easy for me as dance is for you."]
['I hope so. I learned it as a man, though and may have to relearn it as a woman. If there's nobody around, maybe I could try a kata.']
["I don't see anyone. Let's go behind the building and try it. I'm very interested to see how this will go."]
Mark stood at the ready position with the right fist in the left hand at chest level. She went through the forms and performed a kata, blocking, kicking and striking in a deadly dance, simulating combat. Finally, she stopped in the ready position, breathing heavily.
['So, was that good for you, too?']
["That was impressive. I take that back about the clumsy man."]
['Well, it shows that you're coordinated. That didn't feel so far from what it should be. Your balance is different, your arms are weaker, and you could be stronger overall, but if I had to, I think I could do fairly well against the average man.']
Jayti returned to the front of the Dance Building and watched as Maryam and Fatima arrived. Hasseema and the musicians were right behind.
Hasseema went right to work. Maryam was positioned in a variety of slow, soft poses emphasizing her long arms, legs, and natural grace and gradually moved through them. After a few repetitions, Hasseema started the music and Maryam followed the pattern, slowly adjusting.
They went through this a few times until Hasseema was satisfied. The next round of dance changed the intensity and form slightly. At the end of the two-hour session, with a break for prayer, Maryam had learned five sets and was completely happy with the way Hasseema had choreographed the dance. Even Fatima wasn't completely displeased; she didn't emit quite so much hate when she looked at Jayti.
One week later, Fatima liked it and sat next to Jayti. Two weeks later, Fatima was laughing and kidding around with Jayti. Three weeks later, Jayti asked for Hassan to visit the Dance Hall; the dance was ready.
The word had spread throughout the harem of the special dance. Several dozen concubines and even a few wives crowded the Hall to attend the rehearsal. Maryam was confident, and the number of musicians had swelled to 15 for the occasion. Hassan sat in the back, next to Hasseema. Jayti sat on the other side of the room with Fatima.
It went very well, to say the least. At the end, Fatima was gripping Jayti's leg so hard it would leave bruises. She hugged Jayti spontaneously, and they both joined the cheers and shouts from the rest of the audience.
Hasseema was quite pleased. Jayti looked over at a slightly dazed Hassan. He mouthed the word 'yes,' walking back to the palace just before sundown prayer was called.
Maryam and Fatima prayed together at the mosque, and then walked back to the Major Harem together. Jayti left them when she passed by her room. She heard Fatima keep telling Maryam how wonderful she was until they passed out of earshot.
Jayti lay down on the bed and stared at the high ceiling.
['That went well.']
["Yes it did, Mark, thanks to you."]
['Thanks to Maurice Ravel, the man who will never write Bolero in this world.']
["Mark, even if we never leave here, and we will, I'll never forget this moment. If Maryam becomes a wife or a more powerful concubine, I'll be happy, but I'm not going to worry about it. We did our part. I'm satisfied."]
['I know what you mean. We deserve a few moments of congratulations. In five minutes though, we're back to pushups and lunges and stretches.']
["How about 10 minutes?"]
['Done.']

Chapter 9: Maryam Dances Before Emperor Akbar

The day of the Festival arrived, celebrating the Emperor's ascension to the throne. On this night, he would allow the harem to demonstrate their skills in the arts rather than watch the usual professional entertainers he normally hired for his court.

The harem was busy. Female vendors were allowed to come in through the main gate to set up their small shops and stands in the courtyard of the Major Harem. Over a thousand women shopped in the cool morning air. Concubines and wives, the women with the most wealth, bargained good-naturedly for jewels, anklets, cosmetics, cloth, and clothing of all kinds. There were few restrictions. Varieties of birds, sweets and candies, musical instruments, games, and amusements of all kinds were available.

Eunuchs and female guards were out in force to make sure no one was sold anything that could be used as a weapon or sexual aid. A eunuch positioned at the vegetable stand sliced cucumbers, or any other legumes that had the remotest chance of finding their way into the Emperor's property.

Even servants such as Jayti had been given an allowance to buy small items. She, as well as many others, lined up two and three deep looking for bargains and things of interest.

['Do you see anything you like?']

["Just a lot of little items, small jewels and things like that. We can't afford much."]

['We could buy some paper and ink.']

["I suppose so. Why?"]

['We may need to write something to someone. In the meantime, I like to think with my hands. I like to draw ideas.']

["Sure. And perhaps something to help my poor feet from hurting after dancing?"]

['Of course. They hurt me too, remember.']

Jayti bargained for a bottle of ink and a sheaf of paper. She had just enough left for a small bottle of salve. She spent most of the morning in the garden by herself until she met Maryam and Fatima, pleased with their purchases of jewels and candy. Both were wealthy by any standards. As concubines, any jewels in the Emperor's clothes were theirs by right after a night of love. The many jewels they had accumulated over the years could have bought a large estate.

They were horrified that Jayti had spent her money on paper and a bottle of grease. What was she thinking? Maryam insisted on giving her a jeweled pin for her hair. She accepted it gratefully. It was worth a small fortune.

At last, it was time to get ready for the dance. Jayti was a part of a four-woman group doing a fast Nritha. Maryam, of course, had Bolero. Jayti still had to have her hair braided and get her costume ready, a traditional Moghul outfit with yellow leggings, wide anklets with bells, and a medium length, thick yellow skirt that would present well in the turns.

Maryam would wear a diaphanous outfit of matching hip-hugging, tan muslin salwar pants and short choli top, with just the minimum calico preserving her assets. It was a costume suggested by Mark, and surprisingly, approved by Hasseema. She would also keep her hair in thick braids, the better to emphasize her movements when the time came. The performance would take place in the harem. The Emperor would be attending, as well as the rest of the harem, including Ruqayya Sultan Begam, the Chief Eunuch, and most of the wives. The hired musicians, many of them men, would be hidden away behind a solid screen of fabric on a balcony behind the Emperor.

Maryam and Jayti went to Maryam's apartment to braid each other's hair. Maryam started with Jayti's.

"I want to thank you for the song, Jayti. It was hard for me to give up Fatima for this. Fatima hated you for a while, you know. But it was the right thing to do. Even if I fall on my face tonight, it will have been worth it."

["She's talking to you, Mark. You get all the credit for this one."]

['I just started it. You helped finish it.']

["Oh, Shiva, this could go on forever. Please, take the credit and stop pretending to be Buddha!"]

"I just gave you a song, Maryam." Said Jayti. "You did the rest. It's a chance, nothing more. Think nothing of it."

Maryam finished braiding Jayti's hair.

As she turned around, Maryam gave Jayti a hug.

['One of the most beautiful women in the world, and all I get is a warm feeling of friendship.']

["Would it help you to know that I like you more this way? I know only too well, from you, what a man feels for a pretty woman. It's priceless knowledge, but it makes life hell in a harem. This doesn't change my feelings for you. You are the same bright star in my head. If your color has changed slightly, your edges are still as sharp."]

It was past final prayers when the dancing started. The Emperor sat comfortably on a chair raised several feet above the level of the stage. Most eyes in the harem were on him. Emperor Akbar was a fairly tall, stocky man with a small mole on his upper lip above a long, narrow mustache. His gold trimmed turban, studded with large diamonds, had his characteristic royal white heron feather attached vertically to the front. A yellow and gold, long court dress covered him from head to ankles, his legs wrapped in white leggings in the cool night.

He relaxed as he watched the evening's entertainment. A servant stood beside him and to the rear with refreshments if required. Ruqayya Sultan Begam and the Chief Eunuch, both richly dressed, sat next to him on opposite sides.

The singers and solo musicians finished and exited the stage.

Many lamps illuminated the stage in a golden glow. The first set of dancers, in traditional Hindu dress, gave a masterful performance using a series of precise finger, wrist, foot, and hand movements set to traditional music from a sitar and drum.

The second group was Jayti's. Her group performance went well, also. A fast, complex melody directed the women's movements as they swirled and glided in unison around the stage, using intricate footwork, fast spins, quick turns, and elaborate hand movements. Jayti's thick dress spun and wrapped around her body in an enticing display of femininity. She glanced seductively at the Emperor whenever she had the chance. Finally, it was over and Jayti sat down to the side waiting for the final dance, Maryam's.

['That was wonderful, Jayti!']

["Yes it was. I'm still breathing hard. I hate Akbar for what he has done to us, and yet I'm thrilled to dance before him."]

['What do you feel when you see the Emperor?']

["I see the first man with all his parts I've seen for months. I am disgusted with myself to know that I feel some pleasure looking at him. He's a powerful man. He isn't bad looking, either. I don't want to find him attractive, but I do. What do you feel, Mark?"]

['I feel interest. I feel distaste for him. I not so sure I'm attracted to him because of his power; we can do things that he can't. But I see he's a good looking, attractive man, and I'm attracted to him, too, damn it.']

["It's nothing to be ashamed of."]

['I know, Jayti. I've wanted to tell you this for what seems to be a long time. I love you. It's an impossible love, but still, if I were a man, I would make you proud of me. It sounds ridiculous now, but I wanted to let you know, before everything male about me disappeared.']

["I've known this for over a month, Mark, and I feel the same way. I regret very much meeting you like this, and yet I'm happy you're here with me. It's my body making you like men, but the mind behind it is still Mark. But think, Mark, is it so bad to be in a woman's body and to like men? Doesn't it make the thought of getting married and having children, something you want for me, to be something you might want now, too?"]

['You know the answer is yes.']

["Then we've lost something and gained something else. We're even closer than we were."]

Maryam was on stage. Her costume glowed softly in the lamplight.

The Music began, starting with a lone flute in the first pass of the haunting melody. She raised her hands and calmly, gracefully, slowly executed a number of full flowing turns and bends that captivated the harem. From the expression on the Emperor's face, she had his full attention.

The second pass was similar to the first, with a slightly deeper movement at all levels. A stringed instrument played low and clear, matching Maryam's movements.

The third pass was close to the first two, but a new move was added that was a little less restrained, a little more daring. A slightly louder woodwind, similar in sound to an oboe, played this time.

Each successive pass increased in volume and strength until drums, pounding a martial cadence, inserted themselves into the pattern. Other instruments joined together in a harmony of command.

Still more instruments joined in, and the drums beat louder and more persistently. A set of bass drums made their presence felt. The music grew much louder. Maryam matched it with greater power and feeling, the flickering lamps making her motion ethereal.

On the second to the last pass, Maryam's movements stayed just barely in control. Her face was pure passion. She hardly danced at all, now; she reacted.

On the final pass, she was a wild animal on a leash of musical restraints. She moved in a wave of barely suppressed lust. When the climax came, the music held her on the edge, her body demanding release, finally collapsing on the stage as the music died, thoroughly spent, lying in a posture of abject submission towards the Emperor.

It was an incredibly sexual performance. The Emperor was clearly affected. He gripped his chair tightly, and anyone who dared look, could see a small tent under the fabric of his royal dress.

['Wow! If that didn't put Maryam on the path to his bedroom, Jayti, I don't know what will.']

["She was magnificent! If I were the Emperor, I would take her immediately!"]

['Look! The Emperor is speaking to the Chief Eunuch!']

["I believe I'm seeing with the same eyes, Mark. That can only mean one thing. He wants her. It's worked!"]

['Well, I knew it would work, Jayti. After all, I'm from the 21st century.']

["What? You did not! Oh, you're joking. Ha. Ha. Good one. Now, it's all in Maryam's hands."]

The festival ended with the Maryam's dance. The Emperor dismissed the harem. Nobody minded. The obvious enjoyment of the Emperor for the finale was a juicy piece of gossip that would satisfy them for weeks.

Jayti went to bed soon afterwards.

["Mark?"]

['Yes, Jayti?']

["Have you accepted the idea that you are attracted to men, now?"]

['How can I deny it? You know I am.']

["Then I can ask you, what kind of man do you want to marry?"]

['The true answer is someone like I was before I came into your life. Someone who loves you and will protect you, someone who is smart, funny, and will make you happy. But there are a few extra things; he must respect you like I would respect you. That may be hard to find in the 16th century. Most Hindu men in this century aren't exactly what I'd want either. The culture is just too different from what I'm used to. Even in Europe or England, men of the type I would like would be difficult to locate. If such a man could be found, I could accept him as my husband.']

["After knowing you, I believe I could accept no less, but you forgot something; what about good looking?"]

['Sure.']

["Mark, what did you look like?"]

['Like this.']

["You looked different than what I expected."]

['Really. So what did you think I looked like.']

["Hassan."]

['What? I'd spank you for that, but it would hurt me as much as you!']

Jayti met Maryam after first prayer and breakfast in her apartment. Maryam was there.

She grabbed Jayti's shoulders and jumped up and down, her blue eyes on fire. "We made love twice. He was like an animal and so was I. He couldn't take my clothes off fast enough. He said he had found a tigress in his harem. I'll get a bigger and nicer apartment with more privileges and a balcony overlooking the Diwan-i-am. I can listen and make comments and mix with the wives at the Darbar. Best of all, it will be easier to see Fatima!"

"Maryam, I'm so excited for you! When do you move out?"

"In a couple of days. You'll be going with me, of course."

"Oh, Yes. I'd love to be your servant in your apartment!"

Two days later, Jayti, Maryam, and Fatima stood behind the marble screen of Maryam's new apartment in the bright, clear morning air, watching the beginning of the Darbar, the Emperor's daily meeting with the people, where justice and important decisions of the realm were often decided.

The Darbar was held in the Diwan-i-am and Maryam's apartment view was less than a hundred yards from where the Emperor, bedecked with diamonds and jewels in a gold-lined turban, sat on his throne of gold pillars and red velvet cushions. To his right, watching his every move, sat his oldest son, Selim.

The Diwan-i-am was an area roughly the size of two football fields divided by a wide cross of gray marble, one section leading to the center of a long, single story, open building constructed of sandstone and white marble. There, slightly set back for protection from the sun, sat the Emperor, his throne higher than any point on the grounds.

The grounds were laid out according to rank. In the front, closest to the Emperor, stood the nobles dressed in their finest attire. Behind them, stood the minor nobles and merchants. There was a space in the grounds behind them. Further back, the Emperor's war elephants stood, their foreheads decorated with gold and silver, the mahouts sitting just behind the massive ears. Just behind them were the ranks of cavalry officers on matching Arabian horses, and finally, the commoners were in the very back.

Jayti could just barely hear Mir Arz, the person in charge of official court petitions, read the itinerary of business for the day.

She watched as Akbar dealt with land grants and boundary problems, tax issues and personal disputes. Occasionally, he would wave one of his advisors forward for a consultation. Twice that morning, a man was led off to a nearby marble circle where a tethered elephant, prodded by an executioner, stepped on his head, squashing it flat with a sound like a watermelon being dropped. Waiting slaves using shovels and rags quickly cleared away the dirty mix of blood, brains and hair.

Late in the morning, the time came for personal introductions, appointments, and rewards. Jayti watched this portion closely. The time had finally come to make efforts to know the members of Akbar's administration. Who were the most eligible men to marry? Who found the most favor with the Emperor?

["Mark, what do you think of Faraz? He looks handsome enough and he certainly is showing wealth in his turban."]

['What? The guy has to be at least 40! Sure, he makes us interested, but you can also see how arrogant he is to his servants. How do you think he would treat his wife?']

["Hmm. Maybe your right. I didn't see that last. I'll bet he has a nice big lingam, though!"]

['Jayti, I may find him attractive, but Jesus, stop talking like that. I'm not ready to think about it yet!']

["Hmm. I wonder what size we are. The Kama Sutra lists three levels of dimensions for the woman: the deer, the hare and the elephant. It may be we will only be satisfied with the largest size of a man, the horse. This is something to think about, Mark!"]

['Jayti, please!']

["All right. I'll stop... for now. What about this guy? He seems young and confident."]

['I like him. He has manners, he's very good looking... and I can hardly believe I am feeling what I am feeling.']

["Nonetheless, he is all of those things and we are getting a little bit wet because of it. I'm not surprised. He's the best looking man I've seen for months. His name seems to be Anwar and he's an administrator from Jaipur."]

['He's number one on the list.']

["Agreed."]

Mark and Jayti agreed on several more names before the Darbar ended. Jayti wrote them down, along with the men's personal data, on the paper she had bought earlier, when she was alone. Maryam was also fascinated with the Darbar. She hadn't seen men besides Akbar for months and was visibly flushed. Fatima was similarly affected.

The bath was forgotten. The three women discussed the Darbar and the men for an hour before remembering lunch. At the Dining Hall, Maryam was the center of attention. She was still as nice to her friends as before, but it was obvious that many women were looking at her in a different way. Maryam was now a figure of jealousy and resentment for other concubines who felt robbed by the attention this previous unknown attracted. To Maryam, this was expected; she didn't care.

Jayti and Mark wanted no part of this new tension. Jayti had already asked everyone who knew the origin of Bolero to remain silent. It was too dangerous to draw the wrong sort of attention to herself at this critical point.

Chapter 10: Danger

After lunch, Maryam was given two more servants as a result of her promotion. Jayti liked the tall, slim Inayat instinctively almost as soon as she introduced herself in her sonorous voice. The 20 year-old Egyptian was beautiful, really no surprise in a harem, with black, curly hair, and deep, dark, expressive eyes. She seemed to have retained her spirit after being in the harem for three years and told tales of her native land that stirred the heart. Still, Jayti didn't trust her completely. Jayti caught her looking sideways at Fatima and Maryam together when she thought no one was looking.

Farha was different. She was a shorter and younger woman with fuller hips and breasts, dark brown hair and green eyes. Her story was typical; she'd been captured in a raid on Cyprus, sold in Kandahar, and she still felt lost after a year in the harem. There was something odd about her, too; she had trouble looking people in the eye and wouldn't talk back.

Along with her new promotion, Maryam was now entitled to keep a servant with her at all times. Jayti moved into the small servant's quarters that adjoined the main living area.

It was surprise to all, when a short sleek eunuch was waiting at the door when they returned from lunch. He informed them that Maryam and Jayti were to be presented to Ruqayya Sultan Begam at her bath. It went without saying that he meant immediately. The two barely had time to consider the implications as the eunuch led them away, leaving behind a puzzled and concerned Fatima.

["I'm worried, Mark. I can understand why the Sultana would want to get to know the Emperor's new favorite concubine, but wanting to see me can only mean she knows about Bolero. I don't know if I'm ready to face the Empress, now!"]

['Take it easy. This could easily be a good thing. The only thing she could possibly know is that Bolero is a tune you knew. What's the problem with that? She must be impressed by Maryam's performance. How could anyone not be affected by it? She's probably just curious. In any case, we need to have a good story ready as to how you know Bolero. To be on the safe side, we should make up a story that would be untraceable. If you told her that your Guru taught you, she might have it checked.']

["I could say that a group of visiting musicians were practicing it in Jodhpur and that I heard it. Maybe a group of Jewish musicians, some of them come from Andalusia, I hear."]

['You want to blame it on the Jews?']

["Why not? It sounds good. It would be impossible to find out if it were true or not."]

['I suppose so. It just seems ironic, somehow. Okay. That solves the major problem. We didn't plan it this way, but this could be our big chance to get on her good side.']

["She's the most powerful woman in the world, Mark. I didn't prepare for this!"]

['So? She knows you'll be nervous. She's a woman at her bath, not an official judging you for crimes. Just be yourself; be nice, polite and respectful. All will be well.']

Ruqayya and Selima, Akbar's other favorite wife, shared a two story house together in the middle of a courtyard, north of the Dining hall and east of the Hawa Majal gardens. Like most other buildings in the harem, it was lined in white marble for beauty and protection from the sun in the severe summers. A small bath with descending marble steps lay to the north of the house, surrounded by a small garden with flowers and a shade tree over a delicately carved sandalwood bench.

The eunuch held up his hand just outside the garden, stopping them from proceeding further. "Wait," he said, and entered the garden. Returning almost immediately, he waved them forward. Ruqayya was sitting on the lower step of the bath, naked and chewing on a pastry. Her stately body was totally relaxed. Two slaves wearing nothing except thin muslin salwars stood behind her, one with a tray of sweets. Two tall female guards, one black and one white, in red salwar pants and leather vests over a white blouse, stood guard behind the slaves in the shadow of the shade tree. The eunuch took his place between the guards, who ignored him completely.

Jayti and Maryam bowed deeply and rose together. Ruqayya glanced at the two women and motioned with her pastry for them to sit on silk cushions next to the pool. The Sultana neutrally regarded Maryam with intelligent eyes beneath graying hair. "Maryam, you've really made an impression on my husband. He calls you his tigress. Now why do you suppose he says that?" She took a bite from her pastry and waited patiently.

Maryam went white. "Your Highness, I have to believe that the dance I performed during the festival had something to do with it. I tried my best to be a tigress." The impression the calm sounding answer made was somewhat spoiled when she unconsciously wiped her palms on her salwar.

The Sultana finished the pastry and a slave hurried forward, handing her a cotton napkin as her arm rose for it. 'She's nervous,' Ruqayya thought. 'Well, that's to be expected.' "Yes, the dance. I was impressed by your performance as well. Where did you learn to dance such a thing? Who gave you the idea?"

"I... I wanted to dance a special dance for the Emperor at the festival, your Highness. My servant suggested a new piece that might be used for a new dance. Hasseema, the dance teacher, created the dance from the music."

Ruqayya turned her attention to Jayti. "And you, young woman are more interesting than I thought when I sent you there not long ago. No one here has every heard of that tune Maryam danced to a couple of nights ago, and some of the most accomplished musicians in the world stay here in the palace. Where did you find it?"

"Your Highness, it was a group of Jewish musicians from Andalusia, in Jodhpur a few years ago. They were practicing, and I heard it. I was so impressed with its beauty, I remembered it years later." She added boldly, "It's called Bolero, your Highness. I hope you enjoyed it."

Ruqayya was intrigued; the servant was less intimidated than her mistress. "How old are you, child?"

"Sixteen next month, your Highness."

'Marrying age,' she thought. "You also danced at the festival, as I recall. You've come far in a few months."

"I like to do as well as I can, your Highness. I enjoy singing and dancing." Jayti was worried. 'Where is the Sultana going with this?'

'The girl is more than the simple girl she pretends to be,' Ruqayya thought. She regarded her. "Come back tomorrow at this time, Jayti. I wish to talk to you further." She turned her attention to Maryam. "Maryam, you dance very well. I am pleased my husband thinks so as well." It was a dismissal.

Maryam and Jayti bowed and left.

Maryam was shaking as they walked. "Jayti, I don't think she likes me. She was rude and treated me like a little girl. I don't want her as an enemy."

Jayti stopped and faced her. "Maryam, please don't take it that way. She's the Empress. You don't think she would be polite to someone who is so much younger and prettier than she is, do you? She isn't angry with you, but I don't think any woman would be overjoyed to see you in her husband's bed." Jayti touched her hand. "Think about it. It went fine, considering."

Maryam reflected on her words for a moment. "That's easy for you to say. She wants to see you tomorrow. She likes you." Maryam exhaled suddenly and clenched her fists; she had just come to an understanding. "She wants to take you from me. She's just vindictive enough to do something like that. She knows I like you, so she takes you away."

"Maryam, I truly wouldn't worry about it. Trust me on this."

All went well for the rest of the day. Jayti and Maryam went to dance practice as usual, this time with the other servants. Fatima went back to her apartment to study poetry and memorize new stories. Storytelling had proven to be a critical skill for her on those nights when the Emperor couldn't sleep.

At the bath the next day, Razak watched Maryam and Jayti.

['Jayti, I don't like the way he looks at Maryam or you. He doesn't like us.']

["I'm not surprised. We took away his pleasure. Maryam doesn't need him anymore."]

['Yes, and it's probably nothing, but, in this place, I prefer to be a little bit paranoid. Two servants were killed last month for an affair.']

["But what can Razak do about it? If he tells someone that Maryam and Fatima are having an affair, it would implicate himself."]

['Are you sure? Let's just think this through. If Razak wanted to get revenge on Maryam by accusing Maryam and Fatima of having an affair, what are the chances that Maryam would be believed if she then accuses Razak of having an affair with her? It would look like she was trying to get back at Razak for finding out about them. No. All Razak would have to do to get revenge on Maryam would be to find out what time to catch her and Fatima together, or he could just plant a dildo or some other sexual aid in her apartment.']

["But Razak has no way of knowing when Fatima spends the night at Maryam's. Hmm. Someone could tell Razak when Fatima might meet with Maryam or put a dildo in the apartment. But the only people who can go in the apartment are Maryam, me, Inayat and Farha."]

['Now you're thinking. You don't trust Inayat or Farha, either. Razak could be pressuring either of them to hurt Maryam.']

["We need to talk to Hassan."]

['And get him involved? That wouldn't be a friendly thing to do. You'd have to tell him about Maryam and Fatima and that might put him in danger; the knowledge might force him to do something. The way I see it, we can watch Inayat and Farha as much as we can. We talk to Maryam and make sure she doesn't tell either of her new servants when Fatima will be staying overnight. The big problem will be to make sure there's nothing planted in the apartment. It will have to be thoroughly searched whenever Inayat and Farha leave.']

["And all this on a suspicion?"]

['I admit I'm probably worried about nothing, but look at Razak and please tell me you're sure he isn't capable of doing something like that. Why is he trying to hide his nasty looks from Maryam? I think he's up to something.']

["I'll talk to Maryam tonight, and we can search the whole place."]

After lunch, Jayti made the long walk to Ruqayya's house. The eunuch was waiting for her outside the garden, and announced her to Ruqayya on her arrival. Jayti found the Sultana in a robe on the bench under the tree. She had apparently just finished her bath, and her hair smelled of coconut oil. Jayti bowed to her. Ruqayya gestured for Jayti to sit beside her on the bench.

Ruqayya had a commanding presence, and it took a while before Jayti became comfortable talking with her. She asked Jayti about her family, her friends, and what she liked to do. It finally put her at ease; she began to realize that Ruqayya was not necessarily the terrible, forbidding figure she seemed to be.

"So, you have no idea why you were taken to the harem?" Ruqayya asked. "That's unusual. Are you sure your father didn't make the Raja, or someone here, angry?"

"Your Highness, I have no idea why I was brought here. As far as I know, my father is still the best of friends with the Raja. My family even visited him only a month before I was brought here. When the retinue to take me to the harem came to our house, it was a complete surprise to my father."

"So," mused the Sultana, "it's a mystery." 'And such a mystery can be easily solved here,' she thought. She made a mental note to talk to the Chief Eunuch about it. "Have you had a chance to watch the Darbar, Jayti?"

"Yes, your Highness. It was wonderful. The Emperor is a very busy man. It was an experience to see how the Empire functions."

The Empress knew she could do better than that. "I doubt that was the only thing you noticed, Jayti. What did you think of the men?"

Jayti blushed deeply. 'She couldn't say she was attracted to the men! She was the property of the Emperor!' "The men, your Highness?" She finally replied.

She laughed heartily, breaking the tension. "I think your face tells me what I wanted to know. It's normal for a girl your age to think about such things. Was there anyone there who caught your eye? Tell me."

['Well, here it comes. Do you remember the top three, or do you need me to remind you?']

["I still remember, but thanks."]

"I remember Anwar Mohammad, Ibrahim Ali and Khalid Owasi. They were all quite handsome, your Highness." Jayti was still blushing.

'She was delightful!' "Why those, child? Why not Faraz Pervez or Rahim Aziz?"

"Well, your Highness, Faraz Pervez is a fine looking man, but he is just a little bit old and Rahim Aziz didn't treat his servants well... Please, your Highness, this is making me very uncomfortable."

'But not too uncomfortable to remember names and reasons why she likes or dislikes them,' the Empress thought to herself. 'She'll be a formidable concubine when she gets older, or an asset to the right husband.'

Ruqayya smiled broadly. "Well, I did order you to tell me, Jayti. You can hardly be blamed for that." She stood up. "Thank you for visiting me. It was quite pleasant."

"It was my pleasure, your Highness." Jayti bowed and walked out.

["Shiva! She scares me!"]

['She scares me too, but you were great. Whatever happens will happen, but you were your normal, wonderful self.']

["I hope to never have to go through that again. If she orders me back to talk to her, you can try it!"]

['Me? No way. I have no idea how to talk woman to woman. I'd probably ask her Highness what size lingam she prefers.']

Jayti made a quick search of the apartment before leaving for dance practice, but could find nothing unusual. Later, after dinner and last prayer, when Inayat and Farha had gone back to the Minor Harem for the evening, Jayti brought up her suspicions with Maryam. Maryam wasn't really surprised; she had never trusted Razak, and it was obvious that he wasn't happy when she had broken their relationship off.

They searched the apartment again, this time making sure they knew of every possible hiding place. They spent an hour marking drawers and cabinets with a thin layer of powder, not enough to be obvious, but enough to determine if any were opened. In the morning, before leaving for breakfast, they made sure they knew the position of every cushion and piece of furniture in the apartment.

Satisfied they had done as much as they could, they continued as normal, making sure the measures were always in place. Fatima stayed with Maryam again that night and the small sounds of their lovemaking kept Jayti awake with fear. She could only rest when Fatima finally moved to one of the divans in the main room.

A week had passed when Jayti noticed a cushion had been slightly moved on the floor after lunch. Jayti felt an instant chill. She quickly checked all the drawers and cabinets for telltale smudges. There was nothing. She searched them anyway and finally ended up searching the entire apartment frantically. If something had been planted, the guards or the eunuchs could be here any minute! Maryam and she could be killed!

She wept in frustration. She was missing something!

['Jayti, we have to stop and think.']

["There isn't any time, Mark! I have to keep looking!"]

['Relax a little. Start at the beginning. The cushion in the middle of the floor was moved and nothing else, right? So whatever she planted has to be close by. Whoever was here must have either moved the pillow or accidentally kicked it. Just search in that area. It almost has to be around there.']

["I've already looked there, Mark!"]

['Look again, inch by inch. If it's here it has to be around there. Get on your hands and knees if you have to. Feel something?']

["No. Wait a minute. This isn't right. The liner in the incense hole isn't sealed all the way. It's pushed up on one side, just a little."]

['That isn't a place we thought of, was it?']

["No. I didn't even know you could take it out!"]

['Well, someone did! Lift it up and see what's underneath!']

["There it is, Mark. Oh, there it is!"]

['Grab it and run, Jayti. I doubt there's much time. Hide it in your dance clothes and go!']

Jayti snatched her clothes and left as quickly as possible. As she made her way down the stairs, she saw a contingent of four red-clad female guards with spears, and the Chief Eunuch, ascending the stairs together from the other side. Jayti's heart pounded furiously.

Chapter 11: Payback

['Okay, let's get rid of the damn dildo that fat, sleek, hairless, no-balls bastard planted.']

["The dog won't get away with this. I'll hide it in the garden by the wall on the way to the Dance Hall."]

['Act normally and keep moving. Hide it well, Jayti. If they suspect you, they might search where you go.']

["I will. And I'll look at Inayat and Farha very closely this afternoon. One of those bitches just tried to kill me!"]

Jayti discovered that when she was extremely angry, she became very calm. She became the hunter. She smiled and greeted Inayat and Farha when she arrived at the Dance Hall as usual, but closely analyzed every expression, every word.

Farha was her normal nice, but befuddled self. Jayti wrote her off as a suspect quickly and examined her Egyptian friend for signs, discussing Maryam's dancing, what she had for lunch, exuding the happy Jayti on the surface, but all the while probing ruthlessly. Jayti's fear was gone; ice was in its place. Inayat was nervous. She had trouble looking at Jayti. Her eyes were evasive and she was more quiet than usual. Long after she had decided Inayat did it, Jayti continued to chat. They played a new game, now. Jayti was a cat toying with a mouse.

Maryam's set finished. Jayti strode confidently to her side and told her that she needed to take a water break.

As they were drawing water from the fountain, Jayti spoke to Maryam quietly. "Maryam, don't look around. I have to tell you something important. Everything is fine now, but someone planted a dildo in the apartment. I found it."

"What?" Maryam jolted. "How did this happen?"

"Inayat did it. Also, there's trouble at the apartment. I saw the Chief Eunuch and some guards go up the stairs when I left. They must have gone to the apartment to search."

"Shit! How do you know it was Inayat?"

"She's acting very nervous and scared. You know that's totally unlike her. Farha was her same strange self and I'm sure she had nothing to do with it. I just wanted to let you know that when you get back to the apartment, expect a little trouble, but don't worry. They didn't find it. It's gone. Somebody is going to pay for this, but it won't be us. The Chief Eunuch must be angry right now with the person who tipped him off. Just act indignant and it should be fine."

"That damned Razak!"

"No doubt. Well, Maryam, I am going to dance as usual." Jayti smiled brilliantly and held Maryam's hands. "Maryam, cheer up! We'll be all right! They made their move and we caught them. Now, it's our turn."

Maryam looked at Jayti, as if for the first time. "I wouldn't want to have you for an enemy."

Jayti threw her head back and laughed. "Maryam, you don't know how frightened I was 15 minutes ago! I almost didn't find it. It was under the incense liner. I thought I was going to die! Can't you understand why I'm so happy?" She hugged Maryam and kissed her on the cheek. "Now, go back to the apartment, or watch me dance and we'll go back together. Just don't give it away to Inayat. She's in for a surprise."

Jayti danced that afternoon with strength, grace, and confidence: so much so, even the normally taciturn Hasseema complimented her.

Maryam decided to wait for Jayti. When they came back to the apartment, Maryam had caught a little of Jayti's mood. The Chief Eunuch was waiting inside with the four guards. The apartment had been turned upside down. Maryam, Jayti, and the two other servants immediately bowed.

Maryam carried it off beautifully. She demonstrated just the proper mix of surprise, apprehensiveness at the Chief Eunuch's presence and finally, a subtle tone of outrage and indignation that such a thing, such a rumor of impropriety, could have been attached to her for even the smallest amount of time. Jayti had a chance to look at Inayat. Her face was pale and tense. Farha was bewildered.

The Chief Eunuch finally left. He was boiling mad, but not at Maryam or anyone else in the room.

Maryam waited a few minutes. Her rage built visibly. Finally, she coldly told Farha to go back to the Minor Harem. She left quickly, scurrying out the door. Maryam faced Inayat and slapped her as hard as she could. She fell to her knees and started to wail uncontrollably. Maryam slapped her again from the other side, leaving two very red cheeks. Jayti closed the doors and closed the shutters, leaving it darker, but less likely for others on the floor to hear the cries. Maryam continued to beat her around the ears and back of the head. Inayat didn't dare protest. Finally, Inayat lay on the floor, sobbing.

"You have just one chance to tell me why you did it! Speak!" Maryam screamed at the blubbering woman.

"M, Mistress, I didn't want to do it. He forced me to!" She was broken.

"Who forced you to do it? Don't lie to me! I will know! Who forced you to do it, you worthless bitch?"

['Wow, I didn't know Maryam had that kind of rage in her.']

["It's passion. The same passion she has in her dance. You seem shocked, Mark. Don't they beat attempted murderers like this in your time? She deserves everything she's getting and more."]

['I'm not complaining.']

"Please mistress, I'll tell. It was Razak. It was Razak!" She collapsed, once again sobbing.

"You aren't done, Inayat. You are going to tell me everything! Get your traitorous ass off the floor and start from the beginning!"

Inayat's once calm and confident eyes looked in terror at Maryam. The story unfolded gradually, between sobs and sniffles. Razak caught her in a relationship with another servant almost a year ago and forced her into a sex role to allow her relationship to continue, much as he had done with Maryam. When Maryam refused to see Razak anymore, Razak was enraged at Maryam, but couldn't see any way to get revenge until recently.

Having Inayat assigned to Maryam as a servant was an enormous stroke of good fortune for Razak, but Inayat wouldn't go along with his plot to plant the dildo despite beatings and threats. So, Razak took matters into his own hands and took her virginity with it one night. Inayat was in real trouble. The only way a virgin could become a non-virgin without the Emperor's involvement, was grounds for death. The word of a eunuch would always be taken over the word of a servant. For Inayat, it came down to either do what Razak said and set Maryam up, or die.

Jayti and Mark were sick. Razak had Inayat's life in his hands and would continue to threaten Maryam, Fatima, and Jayti until he was gone.

Maryam's rage was gone. She settled to a cushion and looked in utter disgust at Inayat, her chest heaving on the carpet.

['What would you like to do, Jayti? Is it possible to make a deal with Razak?']

["Razak is a thoroughly wicked man. He's caused great injury to many and will likely do so in the future. You can't trust the word of the truly wicked. We could never rely on Razak's promises. He'd always be a deadly threat."]

['I agree. This has to end.']

["Do you see any way out of this mess?"]

['I have the beginnings of a plan, but it depends on how stupid Razak is. Jayti, how would the harem react if Razak decided to commit suicide?']

["Hmm. Razak is a Muslim, and suicide is forbidden in Islam. He would look like an awful coward. There might be suspicion that it wasn't a suicide."]

['How about if he's found hanging from a tree with a broken neck? Would it be suspicious then?']

["Probably not! Mark, what are you thinking?"]

He told her his plan. After some hesitation and then enthusiasm as the implications hit her, Jayti approved.

It was getting late. Last prayer had come and gone. In a few minutes, the guards would close down the areas and only trips to the latrine would be permitted. Maryam had no choice but to send Inayat back. Her face was a wreck after the beating. She told her to clean up, run back to her quarters before she got into trouble, and be back before first prayers. She left hurriedly, still wiping away tears from her swollen face.

Jayti asked Maryam to discuss Mark's plan with her. She was horrified at first and wouldn't hear of it. Mark had to do part of a kata and break a chair before Maryam believed that she was capable of doing her part. Even after that shock, it took most of the night to convince her to go along with it.

Inayat crept back to Maryam's apartment just before first prayers. Maryam and Inayat were forced to pray together in the thick tension that existed between the two. Finally, the prayers were over.

Maryam looked at her with contempt. Inayat stood silently, her face still swollen and red despite applying heavy make-up before leaving the Minor Harem. Her expression told the story; she was resigned to her fate. She had thought long and hard the previous night and had seen no way out. She fully expected more punishment and abuse. So, she was surprised when Maryam prepared to go to the baths when Farha arrived.

Maryam considered her one more time before she left. There was pity in her eyes. "Jayti will speak to you now. Listen to her, do what she says, and perhaps you will be forgiven." She left, Farha in tow.

Inayat looked at Jayti in surprise. Then, she bowed her head in shame, remembering that she nearly had her, as well as Maryam, killed the previous day.

Jayti was very short with her. "Inayat, look at me," she commanded. "You have a choice. We can treat you like the piece of shit you are until Razak decides to expose you. When that happens, you die. The other choice is difficult and dangerous, but will give you a chance to redeem yourself and eliminate the threat from Razak at the same time. It is far more than you deserve, but Maryam agrees with me that it is the best way."

An uneasy light came to Inayat's eyes. This ray of hope was unexpected.

Jayti saw it and threw a little cold water. "Don't get your hopes up, yet. I have to know some things, first. Can you get Razak to meet you very early tomorrow morning behind the Music Hall? It doesn't matter how you get him there, but he must be alone."

Inayat thought for a short time and said slowly, "Yes. He's probably very angry with me and will want to find out what went wrong. He'll come. He really hates Maryam for some reason and will probably want to use me again, someday."

Jayti sighed in relief. That was the hard part. "Can you get a strong rope at least 30 ft. long by the end of today and hide it behind the Music Hall?"

Inayat nodded firmly. "There's some rope in the Minor Harem to tie the canvas. I can use some of that. During the day, with almost no one around, I can conceal it under a long dress."

"Good. You and I are going to get rid of Razak tomorrow morning."

Inayat began to hyperventilate. She was almost in a panic; her voice rose in pitch. "What? We're just women! Razak is big and very strong! We would have no chance!" The wailing started again.

"Inayat, look at me! Stand still!" Inayat ceased making the irritating noises for the moment and stood up straight.

["Show her, Mark!"]

Mark threw a sidekick to her stomach, and closed in with a knife hand to her throat, lightning fast, missing her by an inch each time. She let the knife hand stay at Inayat's throat, watching her reaction. She was stunned, her reddened eyes wide, her mouth open.

Mark smiled like a feral cat. "If I wished, you would be on the floor, failing utterly to breathe through a broken windpipe. Still think we are 'just women'? That sort of thought will be Razak's downfall."

['Well, that was fun.']

["You're fortunate she doesn't have anything in her bladder yet this morning. She has had too many shocks, one after the other."]

"M, Mistress, I will do as you say." She was completely cowed. "I'll need to leave him a note to let him know where to meet me."

Jayti shook her head firmly. "First off, I am not your mistress. Maryam is. Secondly, don't send him a note. We're trying to make this look like a suicide. If a note were found, it would ruin everything. You must talk to him in person and arrange the meeting before the end of the day. Can you do that?"

"Yes, Jayti. It will be harder, but I can do it." She looked at Jayti with tears in her eyes. "If Allah permits, I hope to pay a small part of my debt to you and Maryam tomorrow. I can never ask you to forgive me. My crime is too great for that, but I want you to know how deeply I feel my shame to betray people who have been so kind to me, especially two amazing people such as Maryam and yourself." She stood, crying in silence, her body shaking; Inayat was a mute picture of abject misery.

Even Jayti was moved by it and hugged her. Inayat resisted initially, but let herself go in the end, crying and sobbing on Jayti's shoulder for a few minutes. When she stopped, Jayti held Inayat's head in her hands. "We'll speak of forgiveness after it's done, Inayat."

The rest of the day went normally for Maryam and her servants. Maryam and Jayti's nonchalance quickly squelched the rumors that might have started from the search. Inayat had a puffy face, but that was mostly written off to crying during the excitement.

Following Jayti's instructions, she sought out Razak in the baths, and he agreed to the meeting. A rope was found and hidden in a bush next to a tall tree behind the Music Hall. Maryam wanted to help by being a lookout, but Jayti convinced her that she had to have an alibi during the event, just in case. She reluctantly agreed.

Jayti stayed awake the entire long, cold night in heavy buskins, hiding behind the tall tree in the back of the Music Hall. An occasional guard passed by, but bushes and darkness concealed her. When the sun began to rise, she was stiff and sore, but worked her muscles out deliberately. Inayat arrived first. Jayti waved to her from behind the tree to let her know she was there. Her deer eyes calmed somewhat. Razak approached a short time later from the east, through the Hawa Majal gardens. Inayat had to lure him close to the tree where Mark would bring him down.

Razak was a big man, a bit over 6 ft. tall and over 230 lbs., even though a lot of it was fat. When Mark was in his prime as a man, Razak would have been nothing. Now, she knew she had to take him by surprise to have a good chance.

['Time for me to take over, Honey.']

["You start calling me sweet names, now? You must be worried."]

['I am, some. We have the quickness and speed and hopefully the surprise on our side, but size counts for a lot. I forgot just how big the guy is. We should win, but I don't want us to get damaged.']

["Do whatever you need to. I just want this to be over."]

['Sure, Honey']

Mark spent the time clearing away all the twigs and leaves from the area, making sure there was no sound to give her away when she had to move. The plan was for Inayat to lure him in a position where she could approach silently from behind and give him a blow to the throat with a knife hand as she passed by. He weighed almost twice as much as Jayti, so a takedown from behind would have been difficult, if not impossible. Razak approached Inayat. Inayat was in perfect position.

"Well bitch, what went wrong?" He inquired in a surprisingly pleasant soprano. "It was an easy thing to do. All you had to do was just plant it and go."

Inayat crossed her arms in the morning cold. "A guard was outside, Razak; she saw me go inside. If I had dropped it off, she could have reported me and I might have been dead along with Maryam. I'm sorry, Razak," she pleaded with him. "I can do it another time."

Razak stopped his advance towards Inayat about 10 ft. in front of the tree. "Come here," he said, pointing to the ground in front of him. "I want to show you just how much I appreciate what happened yesterday." He grinned nastily, revealing red betel leaf stained teeth.

Inayat cringed, but didn't move. "Please, Razak, I really didn't try to make it go wrong. I can do better next time."

"I told you to get over here," he growled. "I meant now, Inayat."

Inayat moved forward slowly, reluctantly. Resignation lay heavy on her face. As she came in range, he cuffed her to the ground. He kicked her in the legs and ribs.

["Go now, Mark. Save her!"]

['Bad time, Jayti. I see what she's doing. She's rolling on the ground, trying to make him show his back to me. That is one brave woman. Just a few more seconds.... Yes!']

Mark rushed the ten feet and hit him with a knife hand to the throat as she went by. The strike was perfect; Razak's larynx was broken, but Mark had to come a little too close. Razak grabbed her forearm with a huge hand and hauled her in. Mark's knee went solidly into the groin in a blow that would have paralyzed an ordinary man for minutes. Razak merely grunted. Mark stepped hard on Razak's instep in a final effort to get Razak to release her. Razak crumbled to the ground in pain, but still held on. His other hand captured Mark's free forearm in a vice-like grip. He was dying and in real pain, but he managed to wrap his arms around her back. He began the process of snapping her spine.

Mark was in agony. Her back felt like it would break at any moment and she couldn't breathe. If anything, the pressure was getting worse. She knew she didn't have long to live, and the thought of causing Jayti's death put her in despair. The pressure broke suddenly as she was passing out, and Mark rolled limply off Razak. Before blackness overcame her, she remembered seeing Inayat holding Razak's throat and pulling his arms away.

She wasn't out very long. Inayat shook her awake. "Jayti! Jayti, please wake up!" Mark looked up at Inayat and smiled. She managed to get to her feet with difficulty; she was sore and dizzy, but everything seemed to be working.

['Jayti, we're still here! Now we just have to string him up.']

["Shiva, that was close! Go ahead and finish it, Mark."]

Mark looked at the shivering Inayat, grinned and slapped her on the back. "You did well, Inayat. Now we need to get him on this rope."

Mark threw the rope over a low, strong branch and made a loop for the noose. She put it over Razak's head and pulled it tight. She then gradually pulled Razak to his feet by using Inayat and Mark's combined weight on the other end of the rope. Slowly, they hauled Razak off the ground until he was swinging 3 ft. in the air. Then, they moved their end of the rope back towards the tree until Mark tied it off with a bowline.

It still didn't look right; Razak's neck should have been broken. Inayat and Mark each took one of Razak's arms and jumped up and down until they heard a satisfying 'snap!'. Mark brushed away the drag and scuffle marks from the area around the tree and was satisfied. Mark took Inayat's arm, and they left the area, walking quickly.

They passed through the gardens and made their way through the east gate of the Major Harem before the call to prayer overtook them. They completed the ascent up the stairs to Maryam's apartment without a hitch. There were already many women walking around and a few guards, but nothing they did aroused suspicion.

Less than a quarter hour later, a guard was the first to notice the hanging body behind the Hall and called the head guard, who called the Chief Eunuch. Later, after a cursory investigation, the official report declared it a suicide in remorse for blaming an innocent concubine of hiding a sexual aid, as there was no evidence to the contrary.

The Chief Eunuch didn't believe it; Razak was unpopular with too many people. The list of suspects included a number of other eunuchs and even some guards. He finally allowed the matter to drop. The thought of two servants being capable of doing the deed was never considered.

Chapter 12: Ruqayya's Decision

Jayti took over from Mark when they entered the door. Maryam was waiting for them nervously. The look in Jayti's eyes told her the news. She hugged Jayti, glanced at Inayat and looked to Jayti, a question in her face.

"Inayat did very well. It was close thing and she almost certainly saved my life. As far as I'm concerned, her debt is paid." Jayti looked at Maryam, pointedly. It was her turn.

Maryam made a production of it, sighing, pacing, and frowning, but finally she turned to Inayat and told her she was forgiven.

Inayat cried as Jayti and Maryam hugged her. A huge weight had fallen from her shoulders. Not only was her tormenter dead, but she had won her friends back. Maryam and Farha went to the baths again that morning, but Jayti and Inayat stayed behind. Inayat's face was still quite swollen and both of Jayti's forearms and back had bruises from the struggle with Razak that would take more than a day or so to clear up.

Jayti noticed that Inayat seemed to have developed a case of hero worship. Inayat was all of a sudden shy around her; Jayti was uncomfortable with it.

"I'm sorry, Jayti. I can't help myself. I still see you in my mind striking Razak in the throat so easily just like (she made a quick motion with her hand) 'thuck!' and then he was on the ground. I've never seen anything like it!"

"Well, we can talk about it this morning," Jayti cautioned, "but never again. I don't want people to know that I have some skills like that."

"It's not just that. You were just so confident you could do it! You are here for a few months and you find an amazing dance tune that promotes Maryam, you danced so well before the Emperor, and when there was trouble with Razak, you (she made the quick motion with her hand again) 'thuck!' and it was over."

Jayti was beginning to get alarmed. "Please, Inayat, don't talk like that! I was very lucky. Please, forget it."

Inayat turned it over in her mind. "No, I don't think so. You were very clever to find the ah, item... in the apartment." She dropped her head in embarrassment. "I'm very happy that you did, but it was like you knew it about it before it happened."

"It was luck, Inayat. We knew Razak. We just suspected something like this might happen. Come on, let's wash and get clean. We're both filthy after this morning."

They had to carefully use the fountain in the floor to wash each other and clean each other's hair. When Inayat was washing Jayti's back, she stopped momentarily, slid around to Jayti's front and kissed her full on the mouth. Jayti was so surprised she hesitated for a few seconds, and found she enjoyed it. She pushed Inayat away in confusion.

['What just happened?']

["I don't know Mark. It won't happen again, though. She caught me off guard. There is a bond between us after this morning, but not that kind of bond."]

['I think she loves you, at least for the moment. You just saved her from death. You must seem to her to be like an Angel that can do no wrong.']

["So what do I do, Mark?"]

['You're the expert on women, not me.']

Jayti faced an embarrassed Inayat and took her hands. "Inayat, that was nice, but don't do it again. All right?"

A mildly chastised Inayat replied, "All right, Jayti. I won't."

"No problem. Let's finish washing."

['That was it?']

["I thought I made myself clear. You could see she was embarrassed. Any more talk and she might have felt really terrible. We have to get out of the harem, Mark. That kiss didn't feel bad. How was it for you?"]

['She isn't you, Jayti. I've kissed someone when I've been in love before, and that was a poor imitation of it. It was nice and if you could kiss her again without complications, it wouldn't be bad at all, but it's just practice for the real thing.']

["What do you mean, 'she isn't me?'"]

['I think you know. I used to imagine kissing you, and that wasn't even close.']

["I knew, I just like hearing it. I wonder what Ruqayya is doing about finding us a husband?"]

* * * * * * * * * *

A few days after Jayti's visit to her house, Ruqayya Sultan Begam remembered to ask the Chief Eunuch to find out why Jayti Singh had been sent to the harem. Jayti was in the back of her mind as one of the several young eligible women to be married off as rewards for good service to the empire.

She also found that she liked her. Liking her wouldn't have stopped her from declaring Jayti unsuitable for marriage if she had come from a bad family, though. Being a Hindu was not necessarily bad. She could always convert to Islam, after all, but a bad family was a stain that would be impossible to erase.

When asked, the Chief Eunuch remembered the order for Jayti to come to the harem because it was unusual. Man Singh, the Hindu slated to become the next Raja of Amber, had requested her personally. Man Singh was currently in Jaipur, so he sent a messenger with the Empress's request for answers.

She had her answer a month later. It seems Man Singh thought that the Emperor would be pleased if an equal distribution of beautiful young women came from all the provinces. He had noticed that Manwar Province didn't have proper representation in the harem. His daughter-in-law had suggested a beautiful girl from Manwar, and just like that, Jayti was sent. Of most importance to the Empress, Jayti Singh came from a respectable, moderately well to do family south of Jodhpur.

The Empress had her answer. Jayti was eligible for marriage. An opportunity presented itself quickly.

Abdul Jamal was a tax assessor from Jaipur. Recently he had conducted a survey of cities and towns in the area that resulted in a substantial increase in tax revenue for the Empire. He was 29 years old, unmarried, not bad looking and most importantly, he had pleased the Emperor. It was a good match.

Abdul Jamal would be summoned to the Darbar and told of his gift. Abdul would find Jayti to be a fine wife.

* * * * * * * * * *

Ruqayya summoned Jayti to her house the following week. When Jayti arrived, the Sultana was in her bath, feeding a parakeet some almonds from her hand. The weather was fairly warm and comfortable for this time of the year, early spring. Ruqayya motioned for her to join her. Jayti took off her clothes, washed herself down from a bowl held by a waiting slave, and walked down the steps to take her indicated place next to the Sultana.

Ruqayya noticed Jayti's slim and firm body. She looked very healthy and strong. "Jayti, you look lovely, but I believe you've lost some weight. I can see the muscles in your legs and arms more clearly now. Have you been ill, child?"

"No, your Highness. I've been dancing everyday." 'And doing pushups, situps, jogging in place, practicing karate, and sword fighting for the last two months,' she thought to herself.

"Well don't lose any more weight. I've found a match for you, Jayti. There is someone you are to marry."

"Really, your Highness? May I ask who it is?"

"Yes you may, Jayti. His name is Abdul Jamal. He's a little older than you, but I'm sure he'll mold you into a fine wife. Now I know you want to know all the details, but I won't tell you everything. After all, he won't be able to see you until the day of the marriage."

"I will just say that it is a fine match and leave it at that. A teacher will be sent to you to train you in Islam every day in the afternoon for the next month. After that, you will need to convert for the marriage. I am excited for you, Jayti. It is the best way for you. You will make a fine wife and mother."

['Convert to Islam?']

["You knew it might be a requirement, Mark. I will say the words, but I will always be a Hindu in my heart."]

Jayti's eyes watered, and she bowed quickly. "Thank you, your Highness! I'm so happy!" Suddenly, Jayti paused, thinking.

Ruqayya noticed the hesitation. "Jayti, is something wrong?"

"Highness, will my family be allowed to come? It would mean very much to them."

Ruqayya snorted. "Of course! They've already been sent for. They should be here in a little over a month."

Jayti bowed deeply. "Thank you again, your Highness."

"Yes, of course." She said impatiently. 'I'm glad to see her so happy,' Ruqayya thought. 'It was the right choice.' "The wedding will be in about two months. Learn well and be ready. Now remember to look your best. That means you shouldn't lose any more weight. Eat more, child!"

Maryam wasn't happy to lose her best friend in the harem. She wept at the news, although she was happy for Jayti. They had been through so much together in just a few months. It was only now that she thought of Jayti and everything she did. She was much wiser than her years, brave, fought like a warrior, sang like an angel, danced well, and was passionate, honest and compassionate.

Inayat also took it hard. She had fought with her in a life and death struggle and they had saved each other's life. Although she had returned to her lover in the Minor Harem, it hadn't been the same. She loved Jayti.

Farha knew she was missing something, but didn't know what. The poor woman had been out of the loop since she had become Maryam's servant. She liked Jayti and would miss her.

Jayti and Mark wanted to leave behind something special for their friends.

"Maryam, do you mind if I teach all of you some special ways to fight? I'd like it to be my gift to you in case you need it. There are some nasty dirty tricks that can prevent you from being hurt. Also some ways to kill and injure. It's up to you, but someday you may be glad you learned."

Maryam and Inayat wanted to learn, Farha wasn't sure, but went along. Mark decided that the simplest moves were the best and went heavy on surprise, nasty tricks and disabling moves. Snapkicks and sidekicks to the knee, head butts from behind, strikes to the nose, eyes, throat, and kidneys.

Not surprisingly, Maryam was the best. She was strong and a natural athlete. The real surprise was that Farha wasn't far behind. The shorter, stockier woman with green eyes had a lot of power behind her strikes and kicks. Inayat was good, but it was clear that with her slight build, she would never rival the power of the other three. She would have to rely on placement and surprise.

They practiced in secret against pillows and posts. It was far too dangerous to practice together, so someone always had to be the lookout, watching for roving eunuchs and the occasional guard.

In the afternoon, Jayti veiled herself and was led away by a eunuch to a nearby location in the palace where her Islamic tutor, Benazir, waited.

["Mark, do you know anything about Islam?"]

['Ten years ago I wouldn't have, but since the US was attacked by terrorists, I wanted to know why, so I did study Islam to a fair extent.']

Benazir was a short, slim Iranian woman about 50 years old with long graying hair and a kindly face. She obviously believed in what she was doing, and the training was intense. She explained that everyone was really a Muslim when they were born. It wasn't Jayti's fault that she wasn't a Muslim now, she stated. The true faith just hadn't been revealed to her yet. To start the training, she explained the life of Mohammad (pbuh), the overview of his ways and teachings.

The teachings he received from Allah through the Angel Gabriel were written down in suras (chapters) in the Koran, the unquestionable book of truth. She had a copy of the Koran. It was written in Arabic, a language that Jayti didn't know, so Benazir translated it to Persian as she went along, explaining passages for Jayti.

The lessons went quickly. Jayti already knew much of the Koran and some of the Sunnah from her Guru. She decided not to interrupt too often. When she had a question, Benazir would do her best to answer it, but there were things that bothered Jayti, such as sections on the jaziya and the treatment of non-Muslims. The sections on divorce interested her.

Jayti asked Benazir to explain why the Koran permitted women to write divorce provisions into the marriage contract, such as a divorce for taking a second wife, and also permitted them to divorce their husband for any reason, yet she had never heard of such a thing happening. It was true, Benazir affirmed. The woman simply had to ask for the right.

There seemed to be contradictions everywhere. What did Benazir know of these things? Sometimes Benazir could resolve them, and often she couldn't. Many such issues seemed to be a matter of interpretation. To really tough questions, her reply was usually the same; submit to Allah, and all would be well.

["Mark? Is Islam still big in your century?"]

['Yes. It's the second most popular religion in the world, just behind Christianity. Well over one billion people follow it.']

["What do they think of it?"]

['It's a complicated subject. Right now, in this time, Christianity and Islam are intolerant religions; in some ways, the Catholic Church today is worse than Islam. At least Islam will permit a Christian or Jew to live in an Islamic country as long as they pay the jaziya. Both religions have caused and will cause millions of deaths in religious wars. The Catholic Church will grow too powerful not long from now. They will go too far and will be de-fanged by kings and others who will force them to give up their power. In my time, almost all governments are separate from religion and people are able to choose what they want to believe.

Islam never changed, and many Muslims still think of the world as two parts, Dar-al-Harb and Dar-al-Islam, the abode of war, where Islam has yet to be dominant, and the abode of Islam. To exist in tolerant peace with other religions, where each person is free to choose what religion to practice without penalty is still not possible in countries ruled by Islam. To question the Koran is heresy. To leave Islam is often a death sentence. That hasn't changed. In my lifetime, many millions of innocent people will die at the hands of people who say they are fighting in the name of Islam.']

["It's the same in India, now."]

['Yes. Aurangazeb, a future Moghul Emperor, will kill millions of Hindus in the name of Islam. Babur killed 100,000 Hindu captives in one day because they were keeping him from campaigning efficiently.']

["Mark, I want to do something to stop the Moghuls and help India."]

['The Moghuls are bad enough, but they aren't the last of India's troubles. The British will starve millions of people to death, not deliberately, but because of their trade policies. They will use India to produce wealth for England and this will distort the Indian economy. They aren't all bad; they'll help lay the framework for India's future government and judicial system and will help eliminate the feudal system, but I can't help but think that it could be done another way.']

["I want to do something!"]

['So do I, Jayti. So do I. Believe me, I've been trying to think of what I remember of future technology, and what a 16 year old girl can do with the knowledge.']

["As long as you're thinking about saving India, I'll be patient."]

['Gosh, Jayti. Thanks a lot! There's no pressure here!']

Three weeks later, Jayti had stopped asking Benazir, questions. She knew that in her heart she could never convert to Islam, although there were some beautiful things in it. She decided in the end to hold onto the beauty and discard the teachings that caused conflict, or didn't make sense to her.

Every morning, she still said the Hindu Gayatri Mantra:

"Oh God! Thou art the Giver of Life, Remover of pain and sorrow, The Bestower of happiness, Oh! Creator of the Universe, May we receive thy supreme sin-destroying light, May Thou guide our intellect to the right path."

During her final lesson before conversion, she discovered something.

["Mark, I find it difficult now to imagine myself as a humble, obedient wife to a Muslim or a Hindu. I think this is your fault."]

['I hope so.']

["No, you know what I mean. I'm absorbing some of your attitudes. You have some strange ideas about individual rights and freedom. I can tell it's very important to you; it's almost like a religion. I doubt now, that I could just accept someone telling me what to do without a reason. I question everything. The longer I'm with you, the closer our attitudes get. Have you noticed that?"]

['Sure. When you dance, the real reasons you like it so much are the attention and the sexy feeling you get. I sure picked up on that one! When I think about guys, I find that I prefer strong men. When you say the Guyatri Mantra, I find myself saying it with you, and I feel the peace from it. That has to be coming from you.']

["So, we understand that we could never be truly happy with our new husband if he wants to put us in purdah, behind closed doors and a veil, no matter how nice he is?"]

['Yes. To some, it may be a sign of respect and chastity, but it would be like a cage to me, almost as bad as the harem.']

["We have to consider something else; if we have a baby with him, it would be difficult to leave. I don't want to have a baby right now, Mark."]

['We'll think of something. I know a couple of old medieval European ways to prevent babies that don't sound too bad. Rock salt and sesame oil is one.']

Finally, the day came for conversion to Islam.

["Mark, may I name myself Yasmeen? It means Jasmine, the name of your wife. I'll be with you always, Mark, and I'd be happy if you would approve."]

['I'd be very honored if you took her name, Jayti. I'll always think of you as Jayti in my mind, though. I... I don't know what to say.']

["You don't have to say anything, Mark. What you are feeling now is enough."]

She stood before the two witnesses and said the words, "I bear Witness that there is no deity but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Messenger"

She asked for and was given her new name, Yasmeen.

The karate dirty tricks lessons continued. By now, Jayti was more than good enough to teach them. Maryam had even convinced Fatima to join them, although the Iranian woman wasn't a very physical person. Maryam was almost as good as Jayti, and Farha wasn't far behind.

The formerly bemused woman was gradually becoming more confident. She would now laugh and joke with the rest of them. The difference now, was that they all prayed towards Mecca at the appointed times except when they were on their period, which was not surprisingly, the same time as the vast majority of women in the harem.

Jayti returned to dance practice after her conversion. Sometimes Mark would dance the entire class. When this happened, Hasseema sometimes noticed that Mark sometimes danced stronger, with slightly greater hand gestures. She would yell at her until Mark refined her dance to closer resemble Jayti's style.

Another week passed, and Jayti was notified via eunuch that her family had arrived in Lahore. They were staying in a rented house not far from the main gates. She would be visiting them the next day for a supervised visit with guards and a eunuch. Jayti could hardly sleep.

Chapter 13: Hassan Discovers Jayti’s Secret

The next day, after first prayers, the eunuch arrived with four female guards. Jayti put on a thick, concealing loose blue muslin covering with a matching hijab, a scarf worn around the head and under the chin.

Jayti climbed in a black palanquin with a dark blue parda. They left through the Harem Main Gate. The short trip was made down a brick street lined with whitewashed mud-brick residences. There were a few curious pedestrians in mundane cotton dress, and veiled women watched them from windows and balconies.

They pulled up to the door of a nondescript two-story structure, and the red and white clad eunuch assisted Jayti out of the palanquin. Her father stood in the door wearing his finest white cotton salwar and long-sleeved kurta with red sash. Her mother stood beside him, dressed for the occasion of her daughter's homecoming in a fine blue sari. Jayti's little sister peeked out between the two. Jayti walked unassisted into the house while the guards posted themselves outside, two at each exit.

Jayti removed the veil; she was with her family again. The eunuch had followed her in. Jayti turned to him. "Excuse me, but would you please give me and my family some privacy? It's been a long time since I've seen them." She saw uncertainty in his face. "You don't think I'm going to run off somewhere, do you?" Her eyes mocked him. "There are guards posted at the doors, if you're worried."

"I'll wait outside, Yasmeen," he said, and left.

Her mother watched him go. She looked into her daughter's eyes and touched her face. "My daughter has grown up. You look like you've seen a lot. Should I call you Yasmeen now? Is Yasmeen your new name?"

Jayti nodded. "I'm always Jayti to my family, mother. I had to convert to Islam for the wedding. It was either convert or stay in the harem, probably forever. Ruqayya Sultan Begam was fairly clear about that."

Her mother's mouth dropped. "You talked to the Empress?"

"Yes. She's the person who decided I should get married, either she or Emperor Akbar. I am a reward to a person named Abdul Jamal who is 'a little older than me' according to the Sultana." Jayti smiled. "Mother, this is a very good thing. You have no idea how it is in the harem."

Jayti talked for an hour, describing the harem and harem life to her mother, father and a gaping little sister. She didn't tell them everything. She left out the part about Razak, but she did talk about her friends Maryam, Inayat, Farha, and Hassan and dancing before the Emperor.

Jayti looked at her father, who was trying to smile, but was clearly unhappy his daughter was a Muslim. She hugged him and whispered in his ear, "I'll never be a Muslim in my heart. I had to say the words to get away."

He whispered back, "I know, Jayti." He pulled back and felt her arms. "Daughter, you are very strong, like an Amazon. You also seem different, so confident. Has the harem changed you so much?"

["Mark, I want to tell him about you, but I can't! He would think you were a demon."]

['I understand. At least let me draw the picture of the septic system for your house.']

["Yes! I can do that, at least."]

"Father, I've learned a lot in the harem. I have a surprise for you, but I have to draw it. Did you bring any paper and ink?"

"Yes. I'll get some."

Mark sat down and drew precise 3 dimensional pictures of an elementary toilet, septic lines and the septic tank and explained how it all worked. Jayti's father understood after a short time and was impressed. "Arundhati, you would like this. Come see this. If we have this built, you won't have to throw the night soil into the river. It will all wash away with water."

Her mother looked at the pictures. "Jayti, you learned to do these things in the harem?"

Mark looked at her. "Sometimes, mother, you never know where you're going to learn new things."

["I'd better take over now."]

['Please do.']

"Mother, where is Veer, Dhirendra, and Natya?"

"They'll be here in a couple of days. They had to stay behind to arrange things for us to be away so long."

"You know about the wedding plans?"

"Yes, it will happen at the end of the week. You'll come here again, and we'll prepare you with henna, dress you in your wedding dress, and we'll all have a party. Your father will meet the bridegroom's father tomorrow and arrange the bride price."

* * * * * * * * * *

Jayti wanted to say her last good buys to Hassan before she left. She left a message with The Keeper of the Robes to meet Hassan in the Hawa Majal garden after sunset prayer. He was waiting for her, lounging on a sandalwood bench under a large, leafy Banyan tree in a secluded part of the garden.

He tapped the space next to him and she sat. His smooth face reflected the fading sun. "So, Jayti, or should I call you Yasmeen, now. You've done it. You're leaving the harem."

"Call me Jayti. My family and my closest friends do."

Hassan nodded at the compliment. "I've watched your time here with interest, Jayti. It's remarkable how much you've accomplished in a few months. You find a dance tune that is unlike any other anyone else has ever heard and give it to Maryam. This makes her a powerful concubine. You dance before the Emperor. And then, there is the matter of Razak..."

Jayti's eyes went wide, and she shifted suddenly in her seat. "What?"

Hassan held his hand up. "Don't worry, Jayti. Your secret is safe with me. Your reaction is just a confirmation of something I suspected."

"I... I don't know what you're talking about!" Jayti face was red. She was shocked.

"You never could lie well. You're too honest. This is what I know. I have a friend who reports to me who works in the bath. There was a rumor that Maryam and Fatima were lovers from the way they looked at each other. Nothing confirmed, but it was fairly obvious. There were also rumors about Razak and Maryam. They were seen speaking to each other many times, but nobody likes Razak. Again, nothing confirmed.

"Along comes Jayti. Fatima and Maryam stop visiting each other. Now Razak hates Maryam and Fatima hates you. Maryam gets a new dance from you and she is suddenly a powerful concubine and can see Fatima again with impunity if she is careful. Fatima likes you again.

"Not long after, Razak tells The Chief Eunuch there is a dildo in your apartment. He comes, but can't find anything. The three people who would have been affected the most, possibly even killed, were Maryam, Fatima, and you. My spy at the bath tells me that Inayat appears to have been beaten immediately afterwards. Her face is swollen.

"The next day, Razak kills himself after talking to Inayat in the bath the day before. There was no connection that I knew of between Razak and Inayat, but now, Inayat, Maryam, Fatima, Razak, and you are now connected in some very bad way. The day that Razak died, I checked all of your clothing on a hunch and found out the laundry had been cursing you and Inayat for having large grass stains on your clothes.

"All this is not proof of anything. It could have been coincidence, until you reacted the way you did. Don't worry about me talking. There's no proof, and I would never inform on you. You did everyone in the harem a favor by getting rid of him. All I want to know is how in the hell you did it and why. I can die peacefully, knowing that."

["I'm going to tell him, Mark. He already knows about Razak. He could have turned us in two months ago after knowing about the grass stains."]

['I agree. He has the right to know.']

Jayti looked at Hassan for a moment. "I killed him with a knife hand strike to the throat. (She demonstrated the stroke) It broke his larynx." She looked at the ground. "He was very strong. He almost killed me. Inayat and I managed to pull him up with the rope together. Afterwards, we yanked on him until his neck broke to make it look good."

Hassan shook his head. "Amazing. You must have been desperate to do such a thing."

"Razak blackmailed Inayat into planting a dildo in the apartment to implicate Maryam. I was lucky enough to find it, and got away just before the Chief Eunuch and the guards arrived. Inayat looked nervous afterwards, so I knew she had done it. Our forgiveness required that she help me kill Razak."

Hassan laughed in his high pitched voice. "I will remember this until the day I die, little one. Another year here, and you would have been Empress." He looked at her curiously. "So, are you a warrior, too? You never would have attacked Razak if you didn't think you would win."

Jayti took a deep breath. "I had help."

['Jayti, are you sure you want to do this?']

["I have to tell someone, Mark or I'll go crazy. I trust Hassan."]

Jayti told Hassan the story about Mark, how they met, who he was and what he knew.

Hassan looked skeptically at Jayti. "You're joking, but it's a strange kind of joke. If this is really true, why don't you allow Mark to talk to me?"

She turned her head to Hassan with a strange smile. The voice was slightly different. "This is Mark, Hassan. It's nice to finally talk to you. Everything Jayti said is true." She sighed. "Go ahead, ask me some questions. Jayti was going nuts, not being able to talk to anyone about me."

Hassan's mouth dropped. They talked well over an hour about everything: medicine, philosophy, music, history, the future, and Mark's country.

Hassan was convinced. He asked hesitantly, "Is there any way for me to become a man again?"

Mark looked at him compassionately. "No, Hassan. There isn't. In my time, we could have added something to you that would have looked like the real thing, but wouldn't have been; it would still have lacked the feeling. The best you can do in this time is to take male hormones regularly. It would put hair on your face, make you stronger and look more like a man. Male urine, wet or dried would do it. The Chinese use it sometimes. It would take a lot, but it wouldn't be impossible."

Hassan looked down. "Well, that's something, I suppose." He brightened. "So, you are the one who made Jayti special."

Mark shook her head. "No, she's special on her own. I just knew a tune that I thought might be helpful. Maryam and Hasseema turned it into a great dance. I've been teaching Jayti how to fight for a few months. She's good, too. She probably could have taken Razak down as well as I did."

"I think you underestimate yourself. Razak was your idea, wasn't it?"

Mark nodded her head.

"That was a brave, bold plan. How is it living with Jayti?"

"Very different and exciting. We talk, and we discuss things. We make a good team and we have the same goals."

Mark studied Hassan for a moment. "Hassan, would you like to go to Amber with us as part of our team?"

It was Hassan's turn to study Mark. "I admit, the idea is appealing. You must be the most interesting person on the earth."

Mark sighed. "It's a lot more than that." She turned to Hassan. "Answer me as honestly as possible. How do you feel about the Moghuls?"

Hassan stared at Mark.

Mark was serious. "Come on, Hassan, our life is in your hands, already. I really want to know."

Hassan said. "I don't like them. I never did. They control the country by force and they are cruel. Still, I see no option to them."

Mark was suddenly cold. "Bullshit, Hassan. That's not nearly good enough." She inched nearer to Hassan's face and glared him straight in the eye. "Jayti hates them for what they did to her, the casual way they took her from her family and the way they treat Jodhpur and India, taking the wealth from the people and making the Hindus kiss their ass."

"I can't stand them, not only because of what they did to Jayti, but because I've seen much better. I know the Moghuls are rotten, even in these times. I know what the possibilities are for the future. I've been there."

["Mark! What are you doing?"]

['This is guy talk, Jayti. Let me handle this.']

"But you have perhaps the best reason of us all. I was a man for 29 years before I shared a woman's body, Hassan, and I know! I know that you hate their guts. They took your balls, your future family and forced you into this life. I know you're still a man in there, Hassan, and no man I know would ever just accept what happened to him. Ever! So I ask you again, man to man, what do you think of the Moghuls?"

Hassan broke away from Mark's stare and stood up. He paced up and down by the bench for a minute. Finally he faced Mark, sitting grimly on the bench. "Jayti, if you're listening, I believe it now. There really is a man inside you." Hassan looked into the darkening sky and sighed. "Yes, I hate the bastards for what they did to me. First a slave, then a eunuch. I never accepted it, but what were my options? If I had had a chance..." He clenched his fists and wiped a tear away before it could fall.

"Hassan, you know I have a lot of knowledge of future things. Your job would be to figure out how to use my knowledge to help bring the Moghuls down. Jayti and I can't do it alone. I'd like to see you there because I like you, but really, we need you, too."

"I don't really have to think about it, Mark. I think I have a good idea how much your knowledge is worth. I'd work with you for that alone, but how does Jayti feel about this?"

The switch in speaking voices was subtle and swift. "Hassan, this is Jayti. Of course I want you to come with us." Jayti looked around for other visitors to the area, reached up and kissed Hassan passionately. When Hassan recovered, Jayti said. "That was from me to you, Hassan, although Mark was there, too. You're more of a man with no balls, than most men with them."

Hassan reared his head back and laughed. "I don't know who was more persuasive, but I like the way Jayti works, better. If it's possible, I'll go with you. Suddenly, the harem doesn't seem to be quite as exciting as it used to be. Why don't we meet back here tomorrow after first prayers? I have some thinking to do."

* * * * * * * * * *

The next day just before first prayers, Jayti told Maryam she was trying to get Hassan to go to Amber with her.

"Is this really important, Jayti? He's just a eunuch."

"It's important to me. He was a good friend on the way to the harem, all the way from Jodhpur. He told me much about the harem that was very helpful. I may ask Ruqayya for him as a wedding present."

"I'll be with the Emperor tomorrow night, you know. I could ask him to give Hassan to you."

Jayti looked at Maryam. "You'd do this for me?"

"Of course, I would! You saved my life at least once and most of this," her arm described an arc that took in most of the apartment, "is due to you. Stop being so modest. You get married in two days. It's the least I can do if that's what you want."

"It's what I want, Maryam and thank you, but could I wait to ask you to talk to the Emperor about it? I want to talk to Hassan, first."

"Sure. Just let me know before tomorrow night."

* * * * * * * * * *

Hassan was waiting on the bench under the same Banyan tree in the garden when Jayti returned. She sat by Hassan in the bright morning coolness.

"Is this Jayti or Mark?" Asked Hassan.

"It's Jayti, but Mark can see and hear everything I can."

He regarded her. "I thought about it last night. Ruqayya or Akbar could give me to you, but the Chief Eunuch could not. Your new husband wouldn't ask for me. I know Ruqayya, but we aren't close. She might talk to you, but a servant has never carried any weight with her. The other option is the Emperor."

"I was going to try Ruqayya, but Maryam is seeing the Emperor tomorrow night. She said she would ask for you as a wedding gift."

"That's very good news. I believe this is the best chance." Hassan grew serious for a moment. "I may never see you again after today, Jayti. If the Emperor turns Maryam down tomorrow night, your wedding is the next day and will be too late to do anything. If that happens, I'll never forget you."

"If the Emperor doesn't allow you to come to Amber with us, we may have to go back and get you." Jayti smiled up at him. "You have no idea how much you mean to us. You're literally the only friend we have in the world we can trust."

* * * * * * * * *

'The Emperor is in for a surprise, tonight,' thought Maryam, as the eunuchs escorted her to the Emperor's quarters.

The red clad female guards guarding the Emperor's life stood relaxed and ready, their spears angled slightly to either side of the ornate double doors. At Maryam's approach, they pushed the doors inward and let her through, closing the doors silently behind.

The large room with the dome of four carved intersecting beams always awed Maryam. The swirled pattern gilded walls reflected the light of the numerous wall lamps into a soft golden glow that was at once comfortable and intimidating. A musician with a polished sitar and a slave with sweets and drink stood silently in the far corner. She crossed the thick purple Persian rug to the window by the balcony door and bowed to the Emperor, pressing the palm of her right hand to her forehead.

The Emperor lay indolently on a divan by the wall, loosely dressed in a white cotton dhoti under a gold and yellow robe. He smiled broadly at her approach. "Ah, my tigress returns to me."

'He looks well rested,' thought Maryam. 'We're in for a long night.' She smiled at the Emperor. "Your Highness, your tigress would like to dance for you." Taking the initiative like that was unthinkable a couple of months ago; it would have been the height of arrogance in her old persona. But since Bolero, a fierce new attitude overlay everything she did. When Jayti had worked her magic at the dance and with Razak, Maryam had taken the tigress completely to heart and had made it hers.

'How could I have thought she was weak and soft?' Thought the Emperor. 'She is anything, but.' "Dance for me, Maryam."

Maryam spoke briefly to the musician. She began in the center of the rug, dancing to a classic Hindu piece, one of the dances that she had disliked for so long, with the difficult finger and arm positioning that gave her so much trouble. With Hasseema's help, she had changed it. The dance was no longer the delicate, stylized thing it was designed to be. It was now the dance of a feline stretching her claws, an arrogant cat dancing to please itself.

The dance completed and Maryam bowed, seemingly unconcerned with the Emperor's reaction.

Akbar dismissed the musician and slave, pausing only to take a sip from a glass on the tray. He pulled the choli and ghagara from her and watched her firm, strong body in the soft light for a moment before he took her to bed. He made love to her twice, the first time as man conquering a woman, the second time more relaxed.

Akbar held her in his arms and was close to sleep. Maryam stirred and spoke quietly, "Your Highness, I have a request."

"Hmm, you want something, Maryam?" Asked the Emperor sleepily.

"It's not for me, your Highness. It's for my servant, Yasmeen. She's getting married tomorrow, and I'd like to allow her to keep a eunuch she met on the trip to the harem. His name is Hassan Faisal."

Akbar roused himself. "You'd like me to give Yasmeen a wedding present of this eunuch?"

"Yes, your Highness. They became friends during the trip."

Akbar considered. He had no objection to it really, but... "No, Maryam. I won't. The husband must know his own house. I won't send him a wife with a servant he doesn't know or can't control."

"Your Highness," she purred, moving her arm down his body.

"No."

"Well, if you won't give her the eunuch, could you give her something in its place?" Her hand continued its meandering path, finally arriving at its destination.

"Are you demanding a gift?" He asked dangerously.

"Never, your Highness. A tigress never demands anything. She just takes." She nibbled his earlobe.

Akbar laughed. "Stop, Maryam. I'll give your servant something. Hmm, say 100 gold mohurs. That should satisfy even you. Now, let me get some sleep."

Chapter 14: Amber Fort

Maryam came back to her apartment before first prayers and gave Jayti the news.

Strangely, to Maryam, she didn't seem happy. "Jayti, what's wrong?"

"Please don't think I'm ungrateful. The money is a very welcome surprise, but Hassan is a friend. I'll probably never see him again." Jayti paced the floor. "I have to give him a package before I go. I have something to give you, too."

Five hours later, Jayti left the harem for the last time. The tearful good-byes had been said. Maryam had insisted the jeweled hairpin Jayti wanted to give Hassan be replaced with one of her own jewels. Fatima surprised Jayti with a gift of her own, a diamond bindi for her forehead, worth a fortune. She'd made a fuss, setting it correctly on Jayti's head.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Jayti greeted her entire family at the door. She hugged her brothers who were shocked at her appearance. Their little sister was suddenly a beautiful woman. They talked excitedly for a couple of hours about the harem and life back in Jodhpur until Jayti's mother kicked all the men out; the women had to prepare Jayti for the wedding.

Jayti talked to her father for a short time, just before he left. He became angry. "You can't just come in on the last day and demand this! I've already agreed to bride price!"

“Father, I have to do this. I won't agree to another wife. If he wants another wife, I must be able to divorce him." She handed him a paper. "Here, please take this. It's clear on the paper that this is my decision alone, and I apologize for the last minute condition. Just explain to him I am just a selfish young girl who wants a husband all to herself. And here is something else."

Jayti gave him 10 gold mohurs. "Give these to him. Tell him I give these to him freely, without condition, because of the trouble I'm putting him through. These are for him to keep, regardless of what he decides." She saw the indecision on her father's face. She started to cry. "Please, father! It's very important to me! The shame will come to me if he refuses. I'm sorry for this, but this is for the rest of my life."

Her father shook his head in agitation. "Very well. I'll do it for you, daughter. It isn't the way things are done, but he seems reasonable. I'll see what he has to say."

It took hours. Jayti's mother had little time to apply the henna to her hands and face to ensure it dried in time for the wedding.

"Jayti, you are so strong and skinny!" she exclaimed after she and Natya removed her clothing to apply the sandalwood paste that would give her body a golden sheen. "Your husband won't like that. Women should be soft and weak, not hard like a man!" Like most brides, Jayti had to suffer through hours of endless nattering. It was easy to ignore; Jayti's mind was elsewhere.

Just after sunset, she heard a voice coming from outside the window. "Jayti. Jayti!"

"Yes, father?" She asked in a trembling voice.

"You have no right to be this lucky! He was angry at first, but he thought about it for a while, and he actually laughed. He said the Sultana had warned him that you were full of surprises. He accepts your apology for bringing this up at the last minute. He also returned the money. He said he didn't want to start a marriage as a bought man. His father was the tough one. I had to apologize to him more than once for your misconduct."

"Thank you, father! I'll try to make this up to you!"

Her mother looked at her curiously, pausing in her application of kohl to Jayti's eyes. "Jayti, you're almost crying. Child, what have you been up to?"

"Mother, I think I've just secured my future."

Jayti made a quick trip into the kitchen during a brief time when she was unattended. She removed some rock salt and sesame seed oil from the pantry and stuffed them in her wedding pack. Pregnancy was not an option.

The wedding preparations were finally complete. The women entertained each other inside the house. Jayti was warned about what to expect on the wedding night, and Mark was surprised to feel Jayti blush. Sweets and appetizers were prepared and eaten. Outside, musicians played happy songs in the small garden behind the house. Her brothers, her father, and many of the men in the neighborhood, invited specially for the occasion, were eating a wedding feast prepared earlier in the day.

The bridegroom and her soon-to-be father-in-law arrived just before dark, riding matching, black Arabian horses. They wore fine turbans and rich clothing appropriate for the event. The bridegroom's younger brother trailed behind on another horse, walking just ahead of the bridal palanquin. Her father and brothers greeted their new in-laws heartily, handing them food and drink as they dismounted.

The party went on for most of the evening. Torches illuminated the cool night. Ribald jokes were told to the groom by some of the local men in a good-natured fashion. Finally, Jayti was brought to a room specially prepared in the house for this occasion. Her new husband, her father, and future father-in-law were already waiting.

["Mark, I am so scared."]

['Don't worry, Jayti, I've been through this before, admittedly from the other side. This will go quickly. The groom isn't bad looking at all.']

["I know. This could've been a lot worse. I think I like him for what he did earlier today. Forcing him to agree to those conditions at the last minute was a dirty trick."]

['I like him too, but it had to be done. Jayti, that was a brilliant idea.']

["I hope so. It may take a year or more to convince him that I'm not producing children, but he will now have to divorce me before taking another wife."]

Abdul saw her for the first time as she walked into the room. She was vision in a gold Zari and red veil; Fatima's gift decorated her forehead. 'This is my wife,' he thought. 'I know already that she's bold, whatever she looks like underneath the veil.'

The Kazi started the ceremony almost immediately. A few eyebrows were raised as he spoke the condition that Jayti had insisted upon, but that was all. The Kazi recited the Fatihah from the Koran and the appropriate Durad. It was soon over.

The new couple were congratulated and sent on their way. Jayti entered the palanquin and was taken to the bridal chamber at her new husband's rented house, not far away.

Jayti felt her veil being lifted by her new husband as he saw her for the first time. His eyes grew large and his face broke into an infectious smile that Jayti found she couldn't resist. "May Allah be praised. Yasmeen, you are beautiful," he said in wonder. Jayti surprised herself by blushing.

He gently removed her clothes in the soft light of the oil lamps and looked at his new wife. She was soft, but firm underneath, much like her personality, he suspected. He removed his clothes and gently lifted her to the bed and lay beside her.

"Abdul, my husband. I'm sorry for..."

He put a soft finger to her lips. 'She is so beautiful!' he thought again. "It is done. I agreed. Now, let's not think about it anymore."

He made love to her slowly. She was nervous, as was expected, but gradually, she warmed to his embrace. He entered her and she winced slightly, but the pain was quickly over. He began again slowly and she relaxed and even moved her hips in rhythm with his efforts. Small, sweet sounds came from her lips until finally, he came too quickly. Her beauty was too much. It was over.

* * * * * * * * * *

Jayti felt Abdul's eyes on her as he removed her clothing. 'I am so nervous, and I want him. I want him.' She trembled at the thought. It was finally happening.

["Mark!"]

['Relax, Jayti. You know you want him. So do I.']

Hers knees grew weak as Abdul picked her up and laid her on the bed. Looking up at him, she tried to apologize for her behavior, but he cut her off easily. She felt his lips against hers; slight razor stubble on his chin and his mustache made it slightly uncomfortable, but not unpleasant. She felt his strength and smelled him. Gradually, she melded to his body and felt the unmistakable maleness of him. When he entered her, she was ready for him, only the expected pain making her nervous. The pain came quickly, but also left almost as fast. 'It's over,' she thought, marveling. 'I'm a woman now.' Gradually and then eagerly, she lost herself in his movements. When the end came, she was still hungry, but not unhappy.

["Mark?"]

['Jayti... I melted. I actually just let him take me. No, make that more like I wanted him to take me. Jesus, I still want him.']

["Mark."]

['Yes.']

["You need to get over this. That was great. Not as good as you, but I think between the two of us, we could train him. By the way, do you think his lingam fits our yoni? Does it, Mark? Does it? Hmm?"]

['Okay, okay. I'm officially over it. I loved it. If that makes me a woman, then so be it. I'm through worrying about it. Hell, let's get him started again.']

[“That's the Mark I know!”]

Abdul was pleasantly surprised when Yasmeen lifted her arms to his face and gently pulled him down to her lips. Her soft lips kissed him gently as her arms wrapped around his back.

* * * * * * * * * *

He awoke early and looked at her sleeping face, a slight smile still upon it. They made love twice more that night. The last time she showed him how to touch a spot on her yoni and was rewarded with cries of pure pleasure. She was certainly no passive woman! The night was only spoiled a little when Yasmeen left him for a moment to visit the latrine for a few minutes.

He woke her up with a playful slap to the rear. She yelped in mock pain, then kissed him. "Husband, shall I make you breakfast?" She asked.

"No, there's nothing here to eat. We'll leave for Amber right after first prayer and get something in town."

"I'd like to say you were wonderful last night." She smiled, shyly.

"Well, aren't you bold!" He laughed. "Just don't say that where someone can hear you."

They prayed together for the first time. After washing, Yasmeen put on her hijab, knelt towards Mecca and performed the raka'ah. Afterwards, they started the long trip to Amber.

* * * * * * * * * *

Maryam still had a hard time believing what Jayti drew for her as a goodbye gift. It was a series of pictures that could not be. One picture was of a peculiar type of house with unusual windows and a tall roof. Outside, a man and woman were dressed strangely, and were about to get into something Jayti called a 'car'. "People drive it," answered Jayti, when she was asked.

Another scene depicted a beach, with a man and woman in scandalous dress walking arm in arm. A sleek looking boat, of a design Maryam had never seen before, was in the background. What impressed Maryam the most was how natural the scenes were, and how good an artist Jayti was. The pictures looked so real, not at all like the flat pictures she was used to.

"What's this, Jayti?" Maryam had asked.

"Our future," Jayti had replied.

* * * * * * * * * *

Hassan felt again, the large diamond in his hand. He'd been bothered by Akbar's rejection of Maryam's request for him to go to Amber with Jayti, but not surprised. When Maryam gave him a diamond and the sheaf of papers, that was a surprise. He even surprised himself and Maryam when he told her that as Jayti's friend, she could count on him for help if needed. Truly, it was a day of surprises; he was about to go, when she remembered something. She took his arm. "Jayti asked me to tell you to 'follow your dreams'."

"That's all she said?"

"Yes."

The drawings were incredible, all the more so, because he knew they were true. They were certainly clear enough. There was a drawing of a city on the ocean with impossibly tall buildings. A small island lay in the foreground, bearing a huge sculpture of a woman in long robes carrying a book in one hand and a torch held high in the other.

There was another drawing of something flying, a plane, Mark called it, sleek looking and deadly, carrying narrow objects beneath its wings. There were pictures of everyday life and a picture of a family in odd dress, a young man in his late 20's, a pretty woman, and two young girls standing in front of an unusual house. The names were labeled. Hassan was familiar enough with the western alphabet to spell them out - Mark, Jasmine, Barbara and Katie. Jasmine sounded enough like Yasmeen to confirm something he had suspected.

Mark and Jayti's meaning was clear enough. The invitation to go to Amber is open. I am giving you the means to do what you want to do. Follow your dreams.

The next trip into Lahore, he asked about Chinese medicines.

* * * * * * * * * *

Jayti knew the end was close as the huge honey walls of the Amber Fort came into view, circling the top of a large, scruffy hill overlooking Lake Maota. The reflection of the fort in the water of the lake at twilight was mesmerizing.

In case she missed anything, her new husband kept up a steady chatter from his Arabian stallion, describing the sights, the houses, the village, and where to buy things. They had considerable time to talk on the way to Amber. He was a Mansabdar, a Moghul noble with a salary and land from which he derived income. 'No wonder he turned down the 10 gold mohurs,' she thought. 'He's rich.'

Her palanquin made it's easy way through the sprawling village at the base of the hills and around the lake, up the steep path to the gate. Passing through the gate, they turned left, passing a huge garden on the right with a Palace behind. Turning right, following the boundaries of the garden, they entered a row of apartments and residences facing the garden and palace, stopping at one of the larger houses.

Abdul assisted Jayti into their home. Four men were lined up inside, awaiting Abdul's inspection.

"Master," said a well-dressed man of medium height, bowing low. "Welcome home."

"Ali, this is my wife, Yasmeen," he said proudly. Turning to Jayti, he smiled the infectious version and pointed to his servant. "And this is Ali. He's been with my family for 20 years. He runs the household."

Two were guards. Both were tall. The swarthy guard's name was Hamid; the other guard was Rustam. The last man in the row was the cook, Tajim, a short, very neat man in his 30's.

Abdul clapped his hands. "Prepare the bath. I expect dinner in two hours!"

The household staff moved to obey. Abdul took Jayti's arm and showed her the bath in the rear, their bedroom on the second floor, the servant's quarters, the kitchen, and the rest of the house. He explained how the household was run. "So you see, Yasmeen, you won't have to do a thing." He tilted her head up and kissed her. His eyes held adoration. "I'll be a good husband, Yasmeen. I hope you'll be happy here."

An hour later, Abdul and Jayti were soaking in the bath, splashing and laughing with each other, like children. Dinner was slightly embarrassing for Jayti. As a near vegetarian, she had to avoid the meat dishes.

Abdul understood. He called the cook. "Tajim, my wife is a vegetarian. From now on, keep this in mind." The cook's face grew red; he was mortified. Abdul calmed him. "Tajim, you didn't know and I didn't tell you. It's my fault."

['Jayti, he's nice. A little bit dominating, but considerate. I like him.']

["So do I."]

The next day, Abdul and Jayti walked to the palace to pay their complements to the Raja. Abdul insisted she wear a heavier hijab that revealed little of her face and a long robe over her choli and ghagara. "You're too beautiful, Yasmeen. Your chastity must be equally great," was his explanation. This started their first argument.

"My husband, it's too hot for a robe or a heavy hijab. I'll be sweating enough as it is."

"Yasmeen," he replied sternly, "I will not permit my wife to appear to be unchaste. I respect you too much."

"Abdul, remember Aisha and what she said to the Prophet about covering herself in public? I will not embarrass you, but I must be the one to decide how much to cover my face. Look at me! The only thing people can see are my hands!"

"That is not the correct interpretation. Besides, is not the husband the shepherd of his family? I must be the one to defend your honor as well as mine, therefor, I will decide what is necessary!"

"But, Aisha!"

"Yasmeen," he sighed, "you've been a Muslim for less than two months. This once, I will allow you to have your way. You're confused. We'll see the Mullah this afternoon and he can explain it to you."

['Jayti, you're going to lose this one.']

["The Koran and the Hadiths..."]

['It's all a matter of interpretation. Many Muslims believe as you do; in Turkey during this time, many Muslim women don't wear veils. It doesn't matter. Here, they think differently. They also give the husband broad rights. Abdul isn't a bad guy. He believes what he's doing is right.']

["Damn it! It's hot."]

The palace wasn't nearly as nice as the one in Lahore. The yellow sandstone was clean, but in need of repair. This wasn't too surprising, as some of the structures were over three hundred years old. As they waited in the anteroom for the Raja, Jayti spotted a familiar figure. "Shaheen!" She waved.

The young woman turned. "Jayti?" she said in shock. "Jayti Singh? So you're the one who married Abdul." She approached them. "Abdul, you're very fortunate. Jayti is a very nice, intelligent, beautiful woman."

"Thank you, Shaheen. It's Yasmeen, now. So, you already know my husband."

"Yes. I live in the palace with my husband Nanda." She smiled and hugged Jayti. "I have to go now, but I hope to see you again soon, Yasmeen. It was nice to see you again, Abdul. Welcome back."

Abdul looked at Jayti curiously. "I didn't know you knew Shaheen."

Jayti shrugged. "I knew her briefly. My father is a friend of her father, Raja Udai Singhji."

They finally met the Raja, a friendly, stout, middle-aged man with a large mustache wearing a court dress jama, who greeted Abdul on his return. The visit ended after a short time. They went back to the house for the palanquin and porters and traveled down the steep path to Amber Village.

Abdul stopped at the mosque in the village to meet Mullah Abdullah Owari. Predictably, things went Abdul's way. The aesthetic, bearded Mullah decided the question with finality, pointing a skinny, slightly crooked finger at his references. He described in a melodious voice that even though the wearing of the veil across the face was referred to by some to be just a preferred way; a good husband was duty bound to ensure that the best way was followed. In fact, the husband was the correct person to decide all issues of chastity and appearance. Her place was to rule the household.

Jayti walked through the bazaar behind Abdul, holding his hand. This was the first time she had been in a true bazaar for several months. The experience filled her with a taste of freedom and home; it was a joy after the disappointment at the mosque. The crowded street by the lake was packed with sellers of vegetables, meats, spices, clothing, cooking utensils, and small jewelry. The stench of unwashed bodies blended with spices and perfumes in a faintly noxious mix.

Even with Abdul to protect her, she was sometimes jostled in the crowd of women with veils, saris, and the tight choli tops and medium length ghagara dresses so common in Rajasthan. Men were there as well, merchants, tradesmen and often, common laborers wearing little more than common dhotis wrapped as loincloths. All did their best to avoid contact with the fine Mirza and his wife.

Abdul stopped at a jewelry store where costly jewelry was displayed. He bargained for and bought a gold bracelet for Jayti. "Please, Yasmeen, I don't want discord between us. I know it will take time before you become comfortable here. Wear this and think of my love for you." He put it on her wrist and snapped it shut. "It's a beautiful day, lets walk down by the water."

With Abdul's hand around her waist, everything seemed to be fine again. It felt good to have a strong man hold her. 'It won't be so bad,' she thought. They saw some children playing with a stuffed ball in the front yard of a house, where a woman in a sari was hanging laundry to dry.

The ball escaped and rolled down to Abdul who laughed and kicked it back. "Nice children," he said, "It's a pity they're going to hell."

Jayti froze. "My family is Hindu," she said icily.

Abdul realized he had made a mistake. "Forgive me, Yasmeen. I shouldn't have said what I did. Your family is very nice and I pray that they convert, as should you. Still, I can't take it back. In a larger sense, you are now in the family of Islam. There are only believers and non-believers."

['Jayti, be careful.']

["I should thank him for that. I think I was beginning to fall in love."]

Jayti looked up at Abdul over the veil. "Yes, Abdul, I understand."

Chapter 15: Jayti's Plan is Discovered

'Yasmeen is just learning what it means to be a wife,' Abdul reminded himself. 'She must be brought along slowly and kindly. She needs a baby to settle her down.'

They went back to the house and made love, but Abdul noticed something was missing.

* * * * * * * * * *

Abdul looked at the evidence on the sheets with confusion. After six months, she still wasn't pregnant. 'Surely, she would have had a baby started after all their efforts,' he thought. His wife of seven months seemed calm and happy, and making love was good, but the passion she had when they were first married was gone. She was obedient, but spent most of her time in the bedroom, the only room in the house where she could remain unveiled, with the door closed. She spent her time drawing, painting, and 'thinking,' as she liked to say. He longed to see her smile the way she had when they had first arrived. He had fallen in love with her months ago, but wasn't at all sure she returned the affection. She kept a veil over her emotions.

Jayti still enjoyed going to the bazaar once a week when she went with Abdul, the only one permitted to leave the house with her. Occasionally, Shaheen visited and they eventually became good friends. Shaheen talked about all the gossip in the palace and the Emperor's court. Jayti showed Shaheen some pictures she was drawing and painting, unusual, wonderful pictures of people in strange clothes and buildings that didn't exist. Sometimes, she would talk of the harem and her friends there. When that happened, Shaheen would get silent and uncomfortable, until one day, Shaheen broke down and told her the story of how she was partially responsible for sending her to the harem.

They both cried and held each other. Shaheen wept for the hardship she put her new friend through, and Jayti cried for a life that was forever lost. In the end, Jayti forgave Shaheen more easily than Shaheen expected. Jayti seemed sadder than she remembered. Married life with Abdul was not her desire, she recalled; it was the price she paid to leave the harem.

One day, the cook surprised Jayti in the kitchen. She was putting some items into a small bag. "May I help you, Sahiba?" He asked. Jayti was utterly surprised. Her look, even though he only saw her eyes, caused him some alarm.

"No, thank you, Tajim. I'm done." Her voice was calm enough, but Tajim thought there was a hint of fear underneath.

After Jayti left, Tajim searched for what she took. It didn't take him long. He was extremely neat and orderly. He knew where everything in the kitchen was. The rock salt and the sesame seed oil jar had been disturbed.

Abdul was livid when Tajim told him. He confronted Jayti immediately in the bedroom. She was painting. "Where is it, Yasmeen? Where is the rock salt and sesame oil?" Jayti's mouth fell open.

['Jayti, he knows. He may beat you. Remember. Nothing lasts forever. Say or do whatever you need to do.']

["Mark. He is really mad. Who can blame him? I think he loves me."]

"I'll get them, Abdul." She went to her cosmetics bag and brought out the bottles. "Here they are. Abdul..."

Abdul snatched the bottles from her hands and threw them on the floor. "You have betrayed me! Why?" Abdul's face was horribly hurt. Jayti could barely face him.

"I'm sorry, Abdul. I... I just didn't want to have children, yet." Her voice tapered off at the end at his expression.

"I gave you everything! I was a good husband. I even loved you." He turned his face and sobbed. A few seconds later, he wiped his tears and heaved a shuddering sigh. When he turned to her again, his eyes were empty. "What did I do to deserve this, Yasmeen? What reason do you have?"

"Abdul, you wanted to have a baby right now and I didn't," Jayti said.

"There was no other reason? You don't hate me?" He searched her face.

"No, Abdul. I don't hate you. I don't even think you're a bad person." She bowed her head.

"Then, there is little choice for me. I will not divorce you and the marriage contract says I can't take a second wife. I've been too easy with you. I've admired your spirit, but it's clear I'll have to break it before you become my wife. You've been lying to me with your body and your mind for months. Any talk at this point would be wasted. To deny you our bed would be meaningless because that's what you want. There is only one option left to me. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. He left the room and came back with a cane. "Lie over the bed, Yasmeen."

"Abdul, no. Please don't do this. I'll do what you want!" Jayti shrieked.

"It's too late, Yasmeen. I know it's difficult for you to believe now, but something good will come from this." Five screaming minutes later, Jayti was a mass of welts and bruises on her back, legs and buttocks and was sobbing uncontrollably on the bed. Abdul came back with some salve and rubbed it into her back and legs.

["Mark, why can't I hate him?"]

['Because you know he's not to blame. If anyone's to blame it has to be me. I'm the one who gave you these ideas on individual rights and put those thoughts of travel and helping India and getting rid of the Moghuls into your head.']

["I can think for myself, Mark. Those are still good ideas. Damn it! That hurt, Mark!"]

['I was there, too, you know. There's a saying that what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.']

["Hah! Such wit should be rewarded with that cane. Mark, it's useless to resist this. If we get pregnant and have a child, it will slow things down, but not stop them. We really don't have a choice."]

['Agreed.']

"Abdul, may I talk with you a moment?" asked Jayti, her voice partially muffled by the mattress.

"Yes, Yasmeen. What do you want to say?" Abdul's voice was gentle. His hands were soft.

"I'll do as you ask. There will be no more resistance. I'm truly sorry for the pain and hurt I've put you through. I won't do it again."

"How can I believe you, Yasmeen?" Abdul's voice was tender, but demanding.

"There's only one way to prove it. If you don't believe me after this, you may beat me again, but my answer won't change. My back is too sore to lie on, but I ask you to take me like this. Please, Abdul. Let me prove this to you."

Abdul was careful. Jayti hardly cried out at all.

It was a month before Abdul would allow Jayti to go to the bazaar with him. Abdul slowly began to recover from the hurt he felt at Jayti's betrayal, and began to view Jayti with fresh eyes. 'She is so sad,' he thought. 'She tries to look happy, but she can't hide it all the time.' One day, he could stand it no more; he asked her what was wrong. Her eyes welled up and he took her in his arms. She cried for minutes, but refused to answer.

They went to the bazaar that afternoon. It was the same as she remembered, with all the busyness and activities as before. Jayti looked around at the stands and shops with idle interest. She stopped at a stand selling pots that she didn't remember seeing before. The bearded man selling them looked familiar. Hassan? What was he doing here? For the first time, Jayti was happy she was wearing a veil. She couldn't stop smiling.

He looked different; he was thinner and looked fit. The beard was well kept and fairly thick, but short. Their eyes met and they both knew! To keep close to him, she pretended to be interested in a pot. Abdul was watching. They bargained for a pot suitable for a hanging plant. During the bargaining, Jayti held up 7 fingers and rolled her eyes towards the sun. Hassan understood: 7 days from now, she would be back. She bought the pot at a low price and Abdul even congratulated her on the deal.

The rest of the week, her whole attitude was improved. They went to the bazaar again the next week and strolled through, but didn't buy anything. Jayti asked to walk along a secluded section of the town by a small patch of trees. Abdul put his arms around her waist and Jayti leaned towards him. 'What a strange woman,' he thought. 'She's different every day.'

Close to the trees, she stopped him with his back to the bazaar. She looked into his questioning brown eyes. "Abdul, you must divorce me. I'll never be happy with you. You're a good man and deserve someone who will love you. I know such a person. Her name is Inayat and she's a friend of mine in the harem. She's 21, beautiful, and would be truly happy with you. I'm almost sure I can arrange this marriage for you."

"What?" This was the last thing he expected. "I'll do no such thing! I'll never give you a divorce!"

"Very well, Abdul, we will have to it the hard way." Even through the long, thick dark blue robe that concealed her from the neck down, it was easy to knee Abdul in the groin when he was standing so close. As his head came down, Jayti grabbed the top of his head and thrust her knee into his jaw. Abdul fell to the ground, unconscious.

Hassan stood to the side and admired her handiwork. "It looks like you didn't need me after all, little one."

She leaped into his arms. "Hassan, I have many questions to ask you, but I have to say your timing could not have been better. I still need you. I need you a lot. But the main thing I need right now is for Abdul, here to give me a divorce."

They put the plan Jayti and Mark had been working on all week, into effect. Hassan bought some thick black cloth, some small diameter rope, and some small men's clothes for Jayti at the bazaar. He wrapped Abdul up with the black cloth and slung him over his shoulder like a sack. Timing was everything. He brought Abdul into his shop close to the center of town near the mosque. After carefully unwrapping Abdul, he removed his pants and made a loop around a distinctive feature of the male anatomy. After making a small hole in the rear of the pants, Hassan threaded the other end of the rope through. Pulling up his pants and tying the sash in place completed the process. He stuffed a rag in his mouth and tied his arms behind him just in case Abdul woke up frisky and then poured water on his face. An ugly set of snorting sounds later, and an angry and confused look appeared in Abdul's eyes.

Hassan detailed his predicament: "Good afternoon, Abdul. The weather is wonderful. The birds are singing. The fish are swimming. And Yasmeen is waiting. But before I go into what she is waiting for, allow me to demonstrate what I have on the end of this rope." Hassan pulled it slightly and Abdul heeled over in pain. "Yes, Abdul, it's attached to what you think it's attached to. You have perhaps the best chance of anyone in your family to become a eunuch."

He leaned over and looked into Abdul's furious face. "Abdul? Are you paying attention?" He motioned with the rope just a bit. Abdul nodded his head firmly, several times. "Good. I'll let you up in a few minutes and you will have just three words to say. 'Talaq, talaq, talaq.' Do you think you can do that, Abdul? If not, I can just make Yasmeen a sad widow and she can inherit your wealth. Would you like that? Ah, I thought not. You're lucky she likes you."

"She asked you politely for a divorce and even found you another wife, but you refused her. That wasn't nice. Now she's giving you another chance. It's simple. If you say nothing, or perform poorly, I pull this and you die screaming. You do the job well and I allow you back inside, where I tie you up loosely so you can get away in a few hours." Hassan ignored Abdul’s glare. Soon, a man was heard calling the faithful to prayer. "Ah, the time is now. Remember. Three words, and three words only." He removed the rag. "Get up. Move over to the door and stand in the doorway. I'm going to release your arms now, but I can pull on the rope much faster than you can escape, so don't even think about it."

Jayti waited across the street. She saw Abdul in the doorway with Hassan in the dimness, just behind. The Muslims in the bazaar were walking to the mosque. The Mullah stood outside. Suddenly, Abdul looked at her with absolute hatred and said clearly, "Talaq, talaq, talaq," the words of divorce that so many Muslim women feared. He was suddenly pulled inside, but an instant later, he was running towards her, groggy, but with obvious lethal intent.

['I'd better handle this, Jayti']

["Please, do."]

Mark swung her fist as hard as she could in an uppercut and once again, Abdul went down at her feet. Mark screamed. "My ex-husband just attacked me!" Hassan was up to the task. He rushed out from the shop and moved to the scene. "I saw it all. This person divorced her then attacked her. The poor woman had to hit him! It's a miracle she's alive!" Even the Mullah on the corner saw it that way. A hakim, a doctor, was called, but not before Jayti was able to shield Hassan's activities in Abdul's pants, completed when he came away with the rope. After prayers, Abdul was carried up the hill to his house with the grieving divorcee trailing behind. A host of witnesses to the unfortunate event followed, including the Mullah.

As the procession reached Abdul's residence, he came to again. He accused Jayti of trying to kill him. Of course, it was dismissed as foolishness. Everyone saw what had happened. Jayti tried to enter the house, but Abdul ordered the guards to keep her out. Jayti wailed. "He has all my clothes and my money! I demand that he give them to me!" Her clothes soon showered the street as well as her cosmetics and paintings. The witnesses were appalled; this was a flagrant violation of the spirit of divorce. Jayti asked the Mullah to escort her to the palace to ask for assistance from her friend Shaheen. He granted her request, of course. Shaheen took only a few moments to come down. Jayti explained the situation and asked for the money she had given her a week before. After a short wait, a servant carried the 100 gold mohurs down to her. She gave them to Hassan, who just shook his head in amazement. The new divorcee had one more request of Shaheen.

"Shaheen, I have to leave now, but I want to thank you for all your help."

"It wasn't anything. Now I understand why you wanted to keep the money here. That was extraordinarily farsighted of you to think he would give you a divorce and might want to hold your money. Really, it was a little too neat." Shaheen looked at her suspiciously.

"There are a few papers I gave you last week. I tried to get Abdul to divorce me because I thought he deserved someone he would be happier with. Those documents state that I was the cause of the divorce and ask the Emperor for another wife for Abdul, specifically, my friend Inayat. Inayat should have been his wife, not me. If you could get your father-in-law, Man Singh to agree to sponsor it, Abdul could have a real marriage. I have no hate in my heart for him. I was simply wrong for him."

"Of course, Yasmeen. I'll do it."

Jayti held Shaheen's hand. "Please call me Jayti. That's what my family and closest friends do. I doubt I'll ever see you again, Shaheen. I wish you the best."

Hassan and a few others were kindly taking Jayti's clothes down the hill. Others had recovered her drawings and paintings.

After a change in the woods, Jayti wore a Muslim man's clothes. It would fool no one up close, but it permitted her to ride a horse. Moghul India did not allow Hindus to ride. After packing her clothes and money, they mounted up. "Where to, Jayti?" Hassan asked.

"Udaipur, to see Rana Pratap."

Chapter 16: Udaipur

Jayti and Hassan rode West for Ajmer as hard and fast as possible, staying on the royal road while trying not to attract attention. They stopped only for water and foraging for the horses. Although Abdul was proscribed by Islamic law from attempting to harm his ex-wife, Jayti had outwitted and even worse, out fought him, and she knew that wouldn't be forgiven. It was likely that he would mount a pursuit as quickly as possible.

The moon was close to full as they rode as late into the evening as they dared, finally stopping to rest, camping a couple of hundred yards off the road in the woods. They didn't build a fire, avoiding any risk of detection at the cost of eating cold rice and vegetables in the chilly night. Less than ten minutes after they decided to camp, they could just make out the profile of two riders bearing a resemblance to Abdul's house guards, leading a group of about twenty riding hard towards Ajmer in the near darkness.

In the early morning, they rode cross-country over the near desolate landscape with only the occasional grass shrubs and stunted peepol trees as scenery. A few hours later, Hassan spotted a major village over a rise. Hassan entered the village alone, sold the smaller horse and brought back a horse cart loaded with their belongings and provisions for the road. Jayti gratefully discarded her men's clothing for a plain choli and ghagara. From here to Udaipur, they would be disguised as Vaisaias on business, a drop in caste for Jayti from her Kshatrias, or warrior caste. It took three long, bumpy days riding on the cart to bypass Ajmer to the south and join the road to Pali, a major trading city to the southeast, and closer to Udaipur.

Hassan and Jayti waited in the open by the road for several hours until a group of several hundred carts, pedestrians carrying goods and mercenaries flanking the procession began to pass by. Hassan asked permission of the caravan leader to join, and a silver coin exchanged hands. They assumed their position behind the last cart while the ungainly pack slowly advanced.

Jayti and Hassan were careful not to associate with the other members on the caravan. There were too many ways to give themselves away. Jayti was a rarity in India; she was an educated woman who could read and write. Even within the four main caste divisions, there were over a thousand sub-castes that mainly associated with just each other. Each sub-caste had its own characteristics of speech and custom. The first time Jayti opened her mouth to say more than the basics, their fellow travelers would probably know her for an imposter. Hassan did his best to look like a forbidding and a jealous husband to discourage conversation. Until they were well on the way to Udaipur, they would be undercover to avoid detection by any Moghuls sent from Jaipur.

Three days later, Jayti and Hassan walked the length of the huge market of Pali. It dwarfed anything she had ever seen. Although reduced in importance since the European Sea Trade had largely supplanted the Silk Road, Pali was still a major trade city. Opium, silk, spice or any of the major trade goods in quantity could be bought here. Jayti and Hassan found copper wire, iron, and magnets among other things, such as a sword for Jayti and a bow for Hassan as protection against the bandits who were known to frequent the desolate region. Jayti, Mark, and Hassan had done everything they could. It was time to find Rana Pratap Singh, the independent Ruler of Mewar.

It took more than three days before Jayti and Hassan could find a caravan heading South across the desert. It wasn't difficult to find the way. Jayti could see the light from their next stop at night more than 50 miles off. This caravan was smaller and more vulnerable, with less protection. The caravan master was understandably nervous. The caravan started out before daybreak. Three days later, the hot, exhausted group pulled into the town in the shadow of Kumbhalgarh Fort, a monstrous, 36km walled edifice 1100 meters high above the plain. After a day of rest and recuperation for themselves and the horse, they continued South once more towards the Aravali hills and forests where Udaipur lay. This time, the group consisted of only 30 people, including 5 guards.

The bandits attacked the caravan late on the second day. They came from the East over a rise, screaming and waving scimitars, mounted on Arabian horses. They singled out the guards first; two were shot down with arrows almost immediately. Hassan had his bow ready within a few seconds of the first rush and was able to pick off two of the bandits. Mark took the sword and long dagger in the medieval two-sword technique. Four of the bandits decided to concentrate on the 'easy' wagon with only a woman and one man.

Two of the four men dismounted in an attempt to pull the fangs of the beautiful woman with the steel toys. The others went after Hassan. Hassan could hardly miss at that range, and had time for an arrow in the chest of a nasty man with a pockmarked face and dirty white turban before the other was on him with a heavy, curved blade.

In the meantime, Mark moved slowly away from the shaking wagon, now with the brakes locked to keep their frantic horse from running. She didn't want to be caught in a place where there was no retreat. The two men advanced toward her from both sides, both displaying near identical toothy grins. They were deep in the throngs of battle passion, and Mark was one of the most beautiful women they had ever seen. They weren't totally stupid. They came at her simultaneously from two sides.

Mark moved to her right and easily managed to deflect down a weak thrust meant to wound from the smaller man. She moved in as fast as the loose sand would allow her and the long, narrow dagger went in to the hilt in a thrust upwards into his heart. She managed to spin the dying man around to protect herself from a slash from the other man to her side. The slash instead buried the blade into the juncture of the smaller man's neck and head. She dropped the now, dead man and faced her enraged opponent in time to lunge just before he could generate another downward slash with his scimitar. Her blade didn't need to go far, just a few inches into the chest. As Shakespeare would write several years later, 't will serve.' He dropped the scimitar and fell nerveless to the ground, his life draining into the sand.

Hassan was having real problems on the other side of the wagon. The mounted man was truly insistent on killing the man who had already killed three of his bandit brothers. The bandit's horse was used to advantage in the uneven struggle. From a height, the scimitar is a formidable weapon. Hassan's bow had practically been chopped to pieces during his frantic efforts to protect himself from the heavy blade.

Mark ran to the other side of the wagon and stabbed the horse in the ass. The Arabian bellowed in pain and reared up impressively, throwing the bandit to the earth. Unfortunately for him, he fell on Mark's side where she skewered him in the neck before he could completely recover from the fall. He staggered to his feet anyway, and walked forward unsteadily, blind rage in his eyes. Mark backed up until the wound finally caused his body to betray his will several seconds later. He slipped to the sand and Mark finished him with a stab through the heart.

Hassan grinned like a maniac. "Let's finish off the rest, Jayti!" he cried, and struggled to get the bandit's bow off the leaping horse with the severe bowel problems. Once he had the bow and the sheaf of arrows, it was easy to pick off three more of the bandits while hiding behind the wagon. Mark was very busy herself protecting what was left of the caravan. She had already hamstrung two horses, bringing down their riders who were promptly killed by the other armed merchants.

There were only five bandits remaining of the original twenty-two when they suddenly realized the odds weren't in their favor. They ran off in defeat, but, in a twist of fate, when one of the bandits wheeled his horse around to escape to the hills, the horse knocked Mark's head hard into the sharp corner of a wagon post. She dropped to the ground and knew nothing more.

* * * * * * * * * *

Mark opened her eyes to a fuzzy, green world. She had trouble moving or thinking. Her head felt like cotton. She had a notion of movement, of sound, and then it was gone. She dropped back into sweet oblivion.

Mark opened her eyes into a world of darkness. No, there was a small light somewhere to the right. She must have made a sound or moved. A dim picture of a head she recognized came into view. "H... Hassan?" she said quietly.

She felt her hand squeezed. "Yes, little one. It's me. You're going to be all right, Jayti."

['Jayti?']

[]

[ 'Jayti?' ]

['Oh, God. Jayti!' ]

She had barely enough strength to cry. "Hassan, this is Mark. I can't feel Jayti. I can't feel her." She said this so weakly, Hassan had to bend low to catch it.

Hassan took her hand and squeezed, but longer and harder. He managed to speak, "Just get well, little one."

Two days later, Mark managed to struggle to sit up unassisted. The back of her head was bandaged, and she had a horrible headache. Her clothes had been changed, and she wore just a loose man's shirt under the blanket. She still couldn't hear Jayti. Hassan was asleep by her bed; he looked exhausted. She looked at her surroundings for the first time. She was in a forest under a wide, open tent. Tents and small wooden structures were to her right. A few very dark men, most in dhotis with a wide band of white cloth draped over one shoulder and tucked in at the waist, walked around quietly. A pretty, dark skinned woman with a high forehead in a wide skirt and loose blouse stared at her from the foot of the bed. Mark smiled at her, although it made her head hurt even more.

She ran for the men, screaming something Mark didn't catch. This also woke up Hassan.

"Mark, I have to say I'm surprised you're alive. You were unconscious for five days."

"Really," winced Mark, having to turn her head to face Hassan. "Just yesterday, you said I was going to be all right."

"That was two days ago." He waved his arm. "This is a camp of the Bhil. We're about ten miles from Udaipur. They're big friends of Rana Pratap and are ready to take you to him whenever you're ready." He looked at Mark with concern. "That may not be for weeks, Mark. Head injuries can be very dangerous."

Mark winced again. Even blinking was painful. "I agree with you, Hassan. I want to give Jayti every chance to recover. I still can't talk to her, Hassan, but she may not be all gone. Before, I couldn't speak Urdu or Persian without her help."

Hassan smiled unevenly. "So, there's still hope for Jayti, then. Good."

Mark finally broke the silence. "So, Hassan, where is the rest of the caravan?"

"Most are dead. The rest are still in Udaipur, as far as I know. They waited a couple of days for you to recover, but honestly, nobody thought you would live. They finally left." Hassan sighed, looking out of the corner of his eye at Mark. "One of them was a pretty good singer. He made up a fine, catchy song of your death. I almost hate to let him know he'll have to change it."

Mark laughed, then covered her face with both hands to steady it; the pain was too much.

A tall, slim man in orange and white loose blouse and salwar approached. He smiled, showing even white teeth in a dark face. He faced Mark. "Good morning. My sister-in-law was frightened at your unexpected rise from the dead. I'm Bhiloo Raja, a chieftain of the Bhils and a friend of the Maharana. So, you are the Jayti Singh who saved the caravan from certain death. It doesn't seem possible that such a beautiful woman could do what they said you did, but they all saw it. I'm glad you're alive. Maybe you can help Rana Pratap, after all."

Mark smiled painfully. "Thank you, Wazir. But really, Hassan killed far more than I did. He's the real hero. I only killed three or four."

"Three or four, she says!" He laughed, and shook his head. "Jayti, please take your time and get well. You're very welcome here." He bowed and left.

Three weeks later, the headaches were gone, but Jayti hadn't returned. Mark couldn't delay it any longer. With a heavy heart, she told Hassan she wanted to finish the trip to Udaipur. Hassan agreed.

Mark saw Udaipur for the first time as they topped the rise, probably very close to where Rana Pratap's father Udai was convinced by a holy man to build the city almost 30 years before. The city wall surrounded the light granite and marble structures in the city palace. The wall extended from Lake Pichhola on east, to cover a small hill. Udai Singh built Udaipur to be the new capitol of Mewar after Akbar took the ancient capitol, the fortress of Chittor. Udaipur had never been conquered.

Mark was concerned about Hassan and took his hand. Hassan had been down since she had told him about Jayti. "I miss her too, Hassan. I really do have hope; head injuries sometimes take years to recover from. She may well be back."

Hassan was pensive. "Mark, Jayti told me before she met you that her father told her to make the best of things and to just have fun. The best way to remember Jayti may be to follow that advice. I think she would want you to do that. Any debt you had for falling into her body was paid long ago." Hassan looked sadly at Mark. "I've watched you, Mark. You aren't her, but I don't think of you as a man. The way you move, talk, walk, and even what you're doing now by holding my hand tells me you're a woman. I say this to you as a woman and as a friend I respect, if you need a shoulder to cry on when it hits you, please use mine."

Mark nodded her head, wiping a tear off her cheek. They rode the rest of the way into the city in silence.

Mark was anxious to get started. She wanted to have something to show Rana Pratap before talking to him. She minored in Physics at USC several years ago, but it was surprising how difficult it was to assemble some of the basic elements to create even an 18th century level of technology, much less anything close to the 20th. Forget calculus, motion and wave theory. Building a bullet, telegraph, or rifling a gun barrel were specialized skills that she just barely understood, mainly from her historical studies. There was little enough to even start doing the things she wanted to do. Even the copper wire she bought in Pali was crude, uneven, and barely adequate for her purposes. There were so many technologies she didn't understand and she just didn't have the time to experiment.

Nevertheless, she could make DC and AC generators and motors. She knew how to purify lead and make lead oxide for a lead-acid battery. She remembered the basics of nitroglycerine, how to make a crude form of blasting cap and a dangerous form of gun cotton. She could make a workable telegraph and even a crude telephone, given the time. With the help of a local blacksmith, she started on the work for the generators and motors. Hassan and Mark did everything together. Hassan learned electrical theory and elementary algebra as they built the devices. He was astonishingly intelligent and she was an excellent teacher. By the time they were finished, he could explain the principles of each device as well as she.

Three weeks later, Mark had a DC generator and motor, a primitive telegraph set-up and a small, hot air balloon. She was ready to show Maharana Pratap what she could do.

Hassan and Mark made the short trip to the palace gates with the demonstration equipment loaded onto the cart. Hassan explained his purpose to the guards and asked to see someone in authority. Three levels of authority and most of the day later, they were invited to wait in the granite and marble anteroom of the palace for Maharana Pratap.

Mark watched the tall, strong man in red and gold robe and sash as he descended the stairs. Mark felt something; Rana Pratap was an attractive man in his late forties with a commanding presence and a wide mustache. The two guards at either side carried spears and looked deadly serious.

Mark and Hassan both bowed as he approached. Rana Pratap smiled broadly and spread his arms in a welcoming gesture to Hassan. "I've been told you have some wonderful things to show me, Hassan Faisal."

Hassan and Mark discussed what they would say to the Maharana beforehand. In Rajasthan, the Kshatrias women were not generally seen, almost never educated and not heard under most circumstances. Hassan bowed and said. "Your Majesty, Jayti Singh is my associate and is the one most responsible for the creation of the things we have to show you. She could explain them better than I."

Rana Pratap lifted an eyebrow. "So? Well then, lets proceed. Would setting up inside be adequate for the demonstration?" This time he looked at Mark.

"Yes, your Majesty." She started to pick up the equipment. Rana Pratap stopped her and motioned to some idle servants to bring it into an adjoining chamber.

The demonstration went well. Mark cranked the generator and Hassan connected the two copper wires from the generator to the motor. He switched it on and the motor started and ran. Rana Pratap and two of his advisors he brought to the demonstration were impressed and they asked Mark many questions. Mark came prepared with copies of descriptions of the operation and some background theory. The description of electricity and magnetic fields were well beyond anything in science at the time. After a cursory glance at the precise drawings and diagrams, Rana Pratap ordered her to proceed.

The demonstration of the telegraph was the big hit. The implications were obvious to a born fighter and strategist like Rana Pratap. Mark assured him that set-up properly, such a system could reach to Jaipur, creating near instantaneous communication across Rajasthan. Mark handed out copies and diagrams of how it worked as well. The demonstration of the miniature hot air balloon looked like a toy in comparison, although the Maharana saw the advantages to an observation post high in the sky as well. His advisors were stunned.

Rana Pratap sat. He regarded his guests. "Don't think I don't appreciate what you've brought me, but who the hell are you people?"

Mark looked to Hassan who gestured to Mark to answer. "Your Majesty, could we speak in private? With you and just your guards if you think them necessary? This is going to be a long story."

They spoke together long into the night. Mark brought more drawings with her that described the future and what she could do. Rana Pratap had the hardest time thinking of Mark as a man. It was asking his eyes to deny what he was seeing, especially when she described life in Akbar's harem. He was a soldier and leader of Mewar province first and foremost. All this new science and time travel was too much like magic for him to understand. Still, there was no denying what was in front of him. And there was a quick way to check at least parts of her story. He summoned an aid and ordered him to bring back a European who spoke English. There was always the occasional trader from Europe who passed through Udaipur. They waited almost a half-hour before a sleepy and concerned young man in his early twenties was brought before them.

Mark thought the tall, slim man was cute. Then, she considered her reactions to him. She decided she liked it, a lot. Mark spoke to him first, this time in English, and translated for Rana Pratap. They discussed the trade mission he was on, where he came from and information about each other. She noted his name, James Pennington. After a few minutes of this, with the young man stopping to translate for the Maharana occasionally, Rana Pratap stopped them. He asked the Englishman about Mark. "Your Majesty," he spoke in broken Urdu, "I don't know where she comes from. She speaks English fluently, but in no accent I've ever heard. Her words and the way she says things are strange. She says she comes from America, but that would be almost impossible. There are very few Englishmen and fewer women who have ever been there." Rana Pratap dismissed him.

The Maharana thought about it. How different was the language today than four hundred years ago? He had to be sure of their motives. "Hassan, Jayti, why are you here? Why me, instead of Akbar?"

"Your Majesty, I was a historian in the future. I know what the Moghuls are and what they have done to India. I want them removed. You're almost the only person in Rajasthan who is fighting them and I want you to succeed.”

Hassan spoke. "Your Majesty, the Moghuls made me a eunuch. I hate them for that, but it's more than just revenge. I think what Jayti is doing is right and I want to be a part of it." He motioned towards Jayti. "Don't let her fool you, your Majesty. Jayti is being too modest. She fights like a warrior. Bhiloo Raja could tell you stories from the caravan."

Rana Pratap made a mental note to ask his old friend about it. He was far from stupid. Everything that could be verified would be; all this was the stuff of legends. He remembered something abruptly. "You were a historian, you say? Do you know the future?"

"Not exactly, your Majesty. The future changed as soon as I started doing things Jayti wouldn't have. This is the first major change I've tried, though. I know what the future would have been if I had decided to do nothing."

The Maharana had a chilling thought. He looked at her intently. "What would have happened if you had not come here?"

She looked straight back at him. "Your Majesty, you would have fought hard but would never have recovered Chittor. You would have died from injuries from a hunting accident in 1597. Your son would have fought very bravely and hard after you, but he would have been forced to make an alliance with the new Emperor, Selim. All of Rajasthan would be under Moghul rule until the Marathas from the south kick the Moghuls from this area and most of India in about 100 years. Your name would go down in Indian history as one of India's greatest heroes in a losing cause." Mark smiled pleasantly. "But your majesty, I hope all that has changed. The future is a blank page again, ready to be written. I hope to give you the advantage of future knowledge to help you shape it."

Chapter 17: Mark finds James
Rana Pratap rose and paced the floor for a few anxious moments. His only objective had been to defend Mewar from the Moghuls. This... woman was talking about controlling all of India. Why did she have to be so beautiful? It was distracting. "You'd better explain yourself, Mark. I don't have enough information to ask the right questions."
Mark acknowledged Rana Pratap's predicament. "Please call me Jayti, your Majesty. From the view of the future, your Majesty, there are three bad problems preventing India from being a strong country."
She ticked them off on her fingers. The first finger went up. "The most immediate is the Moghuls. They suck the wealth from India for themselves. They will never integrate as the Aryans, Greeks and the Mongols did and will only be able to rule by force."
She lifted the second finger. "If they're kicked out, India still has a major problem. India is not centralized. It's a group of small states like Mewar, Jaipur, and Jodhpur that constantly make war on each other. The reason the Moghuls are here at all is because they are unified and India is not. India needs to be unified to prevent future invasions by foreign powers." Mark looked at Rana Pratap significantly. "And there will be more invasions, your Majesty."
The third finger pointed skyward. "The third problem is the caste system and the Brahmans. The Brahmans look out for themselves first. There's no chance for a smart man to get ahead in India if he's born into a lower caste. This weakens the country and hurts the people. It needs to be changed."
"Your Majesty, with the help I give you, you might be able to defeat Akbar. Once that happens, you'd have a strong chance to control his empire before it disintegrates. That would solve problems one and two. I have some other ideas about the Brahmans."
Rana Pratap laughed. "You talk very large for a 16 year-old girl."
Mark blushed and lowered her eyes. "Forgive me, your Majesty. I was a teacher, before." She spread her hands. "I'll do my best to help you regardless of what you decide. I just hope you give me the chance to convince you to think seriously about what I've said."
'She blushes prettily,' he thought. "Fair enough," was all he said.
James Pennington had a difficult time getting to sleep again. The surprise of being rousted from his bed by two burly guards and brought before the Maharana was bad enough. He had done nothing wrong and the Maharana was thought to be a fair man, but in these times, who knew? When he met the young Indian woman, all that was pushed aside. The strange, beautiful woman with the direct gaze and strange way of speech was all he could think about. Albert McFarlan, the expedition leader, would probably laugh at him for even thinking about her. It could get even worse; "You'll be eatin' it fer sausage if I find out!" was his usual gentle warning of relations with the upper class. But she seemed to like him too, or was it just his imagination? Who could possibly know what goes on in a woman's mind?
Mark was awake, too, but for different reasons. This was the first time she was really attracted to a man without a running commentary from Jayti. She was on her own, and the silence in her head finally brought it home. She had never mourned for her because she had never accepted that Jayti wouldn't be back tomorrow or the day after - until now. It hit her hard and fast. She started to sob. Hassan heard her in the next room and knelt down by her bed. She buried her head into his strong shoulder and cried long and hard. "Hassan, I don't think she's coming back."
"I know, Mark. I know." He held her in the darkness until she fell asleep.
Mark and Hassan were summoned to meet with Rana Pratap and his advisors every day to work out a myriad of details. The new telegraph would need sets of operators trained on a new Arabic script version of the Morse code, the copper lines would have to be insulated and buried, and larger generators would have to be built and tested for long-distance transmissions. Mark requested and received a team of skilled alchemists familiar with acids and metals to research and produce gun cotton, blasting caps and brass works for bullets. Rana Pratap also brought in gunsmiths to rifle barrels and develop a breech-loading design for a bolt-action rifle.
A nice system had been worked out; Mark developed the ideas and ran with them as far as possible. Hassan supervised the overall operation and kept the teams on course. Several times, his active mind suggested solutions to difficult problems that the specialists had overlooked. It was a happy crew and with frequent visits from Rana Pratap, it became a proud crew that even the Rajput soldiers envied.
Results soon followed. As soon as the gunsmiths managed to rifle their first barrel, they were able to show the Maharana the much greater accuracy the gun had. It could now hit a man-sized target reliably to well over 300 meters with gunpowder and a streamlined lead projectile. Several of these guns were made and were put into immediate use as sniper rifles. A few months later, the lab developed primitive guncotton and a few hand-made bullets were made to fit a fairly reliable bolt-action prototype rifle. The telegraph communicated to all the surrounding hills out to almost ten miles in all directions. Udaipur had an effective early warning system. Rana Pratap was delighted.
Mark was making slow progress with the Maharana. They often took long walks with only a couple of trusted advisors and a few guards as company. Mark liked Rana Pratap. He had a deep sense of honor and obligation to his people and land that was very real. His men loved him and would follow him through death. Mark's problem was convincing him to expand his vision to include the rest of India. The Maharana could see in theory where this would be a good thing. It was simply difficult to turn a whole life's dedication to the defense of the homeland to offense.
Mark was not immune to Rana Pratap's charm either. If he had tried, he might have been able to take Mark for himself. Regardless, he restrained himself. Rana Pratap had a hard time dealing with the likable young woman from the future. Her thoughts were sweet but alien. She was nice, but anything but submissive. When he relaxed around her, eventually she would say something that reminded him that she used to be a he.
Mark had an almost equally difficult time with James. The trade delegation lived together in a house on the outskirts of the city. For the first time in her life, Mark wanted to be noticed by someone, but didn't have a clue how to do it. She had never felt so strange when she thought about him. She watched him, and others from the group, work out with wooden swords in the yard every day after lunch. If she were a man, she would have just walked up and said hello. Now she was a woman, and didn't dare. It was so frustrating! Christ! How do you meet a guy? How would Jayti have done it in this day and age of arranged marriages, prejudice against foreigners and caste protocols?
Finally, she decided to do the obvious, just happen to be there when they started practice. Pretending to be vaguely interested in the smelly brutes working their big, sexy muscles in the sun might even get her somewhere. She reminded herself that she didn't want a man that would treat her like some delicate thing. She wanted respect. She would plant her cute butt down on a wall near them and demand respect. Good Plan! She couldn't even convince herself, but she was getting desperate.
James and three others came out to practice on cue as she waited up the street. She would walk by at first; she didn't want to make it too obvious! They wore padded shirts that covered their arms and helmets for protection. A few warm-up strokes and they began, first using the longer hand-and-a-half wooden swords with two hands and then the shorter practice sword with shield. James was holding his own with the exercise at first until he saw Mark. His performance fell off drastically after that, and his opponent, an older man in his early forties, began to pummel him unmercifully.
For some reason, Mark felt pleased in a very pleasant, feminine way. Then, it struck her; it was her fault for distracting the poor man! Without thinking, she lifted the skirts of her ghagara and ran to James who was recovering on the ground. She helped him up. "Are you all right, James?" she asked, concerned.
James Pennington looked up and saw her. He was mortified. His Vision had returned just in time to see him throttled by his Master. She even helped him up! The look on the Master's face did not bode well. He recovered in time to reply. "Yes, Sahiba, I'm fine. I thank you."
Mark smiled brilliantly. "Just call me Jayti if you please, James."
Oh God, what a smile! Jim saw his Master, Albert McFarlan, reddening noticeably. A stray thought wondering if he would be allowed eggs with his sausage entered his mind, but his heart wouldn't let him worry about it. He smiled back. "As you wish, Jayti."
Albert could not have helped misread the situation. It was odd, she spoke English of a sort, but she had the look of a Rajput, and Rajput women were rarely educated. "Sahiba, do you know James?"
Mark turned and looked at the older man with the grim expression. "Forgive me, sir. My name is Jayti Singh. I met James once before when he was brought to an audience with the Maharana a few nights ago. We spoke briefly, then. May I ask you your name?"
Well, the lass had a winning smile. He recognized her. She went for walks with the Maharana almost every day and oddly, seemed to be held in high regard. Her English was strange, to say the least. She said 'you' for 'thou' and 'do' for 'dost' among other things. "My name is Albert McFarlan. I'm the leader of the English trade delegation."
"I'm glad to meet you, Mr. McFarlan." Mark paused. 'Think fast, you don't want to leave James without an opportunity to see you again!' "I understand you're negotiating for a permanent trading house in Udaipur?" McFarlan nodded. "I realize there's been a considerable delay; the Maharana has been very busy with other things. Perhaps I could help both you and the Maharana by speeding up the process a little. I talk to the Maharana almost every day when he's in Udaipur. If you tell me the details of your request, it's not unlikely I could do you some good. All I ask in exchange is that you give me news of England and Europe."
Mark hesitated. "Forgive me for being forward, but perhaps we three could meet on the top of the hill overlooking the palace tomorrow at this time, all properly chaperoned, of course, and discuss what to do?"
"Sahiba... Jayti Singh, is it? We would appreciate any help to ensure the success of our mission, and it goes without saying that we would be glad to satisfy your curiosity. We'll be there tomorrow, and happily." He bowed slightly. This young woman could be the break they needed. He would also make sure he wrung every detail from James about his meeting with Jayti Singh and the Maharana. He understood why James hadn't mentioned her; she was lovely, but still!
Mark borrowed two women servants and some food for a picnic on the hill. She saw them approach her in their best clothes and they walked up the hill together. She was pleased James took part of the burden from one of the servants. He was considerate. They had a wonderful time. She was careful to be polite and respectful to Mr. McFarlan and she brought writing materials to make sure she had all the details of their trade deal. She had also spoken with Hassan earlier that morning to discuss any special items that were in scarce supply in Udaipur.
The trade deal was about what she and Hassan had expected. They wanted trade rights and a permanent, trading house in Udaipur, but they were also feeling out the local market for profitable trade goods. Mark could help them with that, too.
Udaipur needed machine tools, stamps, tap and die kits and a variety of chemicals. She had drawn up descriptions and made pictures of what they needed. She showed the list and pictures to McFarlan, and he thought he could get almost all of them ready made or manufactured easily, if necessary. There would have to be a substantial deposit, but he was more than satisfied with the order; the next trip to Udaipur would be profitable.
The business having been concluded, James and McFarlan told them of home. McFarlan was born in Scotland, but had moved to London at an early age and entered a London trading firm more than a decade before. James came from a large family in Plymouth. His family business was sail making, but he had an urge to see the world and asked to be put on the trade mission several months ago. Mark told them of life as a girl in Jodhpur from Jayti's memories and Akbar's harem in Lahore. They were both too polite to ask her about it, but as a former guy, she knew they had to be fascinated, so she told them in great, vivid detail what it was like, who her friends were and what happened when Maryam danced for Akbar.
Her unfortunate wedding to Abdul, she left for last. This was the big test for James. Mark had liked what she had seen of James so far; he was more than meeting her expectations. But what would this young Englishman of the 16th century think of a divorced woman, and to a Muslim at that? Her heart pounded as she looked for his reaction. The extent of her relief was a surprise, even to herself. He passed. He was sympathetic; there was none of the look of being 'used goods' that she had feared so much.
James was certain he was in love when he got back to the house. Albert had talked to him about it on the way. Despite all his threats to him of mutilation, he knew that James was a good man. He liked him like a son. He also liked Jayti. There was some mystery and some unlikely maturity in her. Rajput women didn't normally act like she did, and 16 year-old girls didn't advise Maharanas. James hadn't realized it, but he had just been tested. Albert caught the look on her face when she told him of her divorce. Her relief at his reaction was palpable. The lad had passed, thank God, for him.
James and Mark managed to get away on their own for over two weeks. James was smart, funny, and had a lot of common sense. They took trips into the woods and sometimes walked for miles, talking and laughing. After a very short time, Mark felt comfortable leaning on Jim and having his arm around her waist. At some point she had surprised herself as thinking of him as a future husband. She reexamined her feelings, but could find no fault in them; it was what she felt. Whoever else she was, she was finding out that she was no loner. When he wasn't around, she felt his absence.
There was just one problem; James was a man of his times. He didn't think women were particularly strong or should normally stray too far from the bedroom or kitchen. It wasn't him; in this day and age, most women believed the same thing. It even made sense for the 16th century. Work was quite physical and generally better suited to a man's strength. Women did have babies all the time. Cooking and keeping the home really was a full time job and acknowledged and respected as the woman's territory. Mark knew in her heart that she couldn't accept that role, though, not completely, anyway.
Mark was sure how Jayti would have handled it. She would have been honest and loving. Mark tried loving and honest. She held her head up to him and leaned against him. He really had only two choices, and one of them was to run. He kissed her deeply, and Mark melted against him. He put his fingers in her hair, and she leaned her head against his hand. She could feel his passion against her lower stomach. She chose that moment to strike.
"Jim, we have to talk," she breathed in his ear. "I'm a little bit different than most of the women you've met before. If you think of me as part Amazon, you wouldn't be far wrong." She looked at him and touched his hair softly. "What do you really want in a wife, Jim?"
Jim was breathing heavily and was half in lust; his mind was lost in thoughts of how this woman felt and how her hair smelled. Continuing such a conversation was not what he had in mind. With an effort, he thought of a reply. "I'm looking for what most men want, Jayti. A mother of our children, someone to keep the home."
"I want that too, Jim. The question is what do you consider the home? My last husband kept me in the house all the time and would only let me out once a week to go to the bazaar with him. He thought he was being a good man. Would you do that to me?"
He was still hot. Disappointing her was far from his mind. Jim snorted. "Of course not."
"You're planning to come back to Udaipur on this next trade mission, aren't you Jim? If we were married and I wasn't pregnant, would you still expect me to stay home in England and not come with you?"
She was getting serious. With a final lurch, he brought his mind back to earth. "Hmm. I'd be concerned about you, but I see what you mean. I could say that the church gives me the right to tell you what to do and that Paul said a good Christian woman is supposed to be submissive to her husband, but I'm not particularly religious, and I doubt Paul had you in mind when he wrote it."
"Jayti, you're not Christian, are you?" Jim peered into her eyes in a supposed attempt to discover the 'Christian element' within. She wasn't laughing; she really wanted an answer. He gave up. "Well, this is what would happen; I'd talk it over with you and tell you that I was worried about your safety. You would consider it and tell me you really wanted to go anyway, and then we would go."
Jim smiled and touched her thick black hair. "I know you a little better than you think, Jayti. I wanted to know more about you after we met on the hill. I was told you were injured, and the Bhils took care of you, so I talked to a Bhil. He told me about your heroism and how very good you are with a sword, hard as it is for me to believe. I talked to Hassan about it and he confirmed it. He even told me you saved his life. We had a long talk about the way you got your divorce, and I know he didn't tell me everything. He's very proud of you."
Jim took Mark's hands and kissed her forehead. "I waited for you to tell me yourself, but you never did. I had to think about it for a while, and then I realized that you were worried about how I would feel if I knew you were so strong. And you were right. I was concerned about it. The man is supposed to be the one with the reputation!" He sighed. "But I got over it. I began to look at you differently. On the surface you're a beautiful girl, warm and loving, but I also see that not far below, is a layer of steel and a very strong spirit. I fell in love with all of you and I have no wish to change you."
He stroked her cheek. Mark leaned her face into his hand automatically. "You have no idea how much I respect you and how happy I am that you chose me, for you were the one who chose me, let's make no mistake about it. And let there be nothing like this between us again."
Mark allowed the tears to roll down her face unimpeded. "You will allow me a secret here and there, won't you Jim?" Mark considered telling Jim right away what her real name was for a mad second, but she wasn't crazy. 'Maybe, after the firstborn,' she thought.
Jim considered that last question. "Well, I suppose so, but I don't want any new secrets, Jayti."
Mark told Hassan of her plans to leave with the trade mission when they went back to England. She didn't try to hedge on anything. It was partly to see if James and she would survive the journey to be married and to satisfy a selfish need to see Elizabethan England, but it would also be a working vacation. She intended on bring back knowledge in metallurgy, chemistry, gun making, and anything else she could think of, to compile a set of Urdu texts on a wide variety of subjects. Hassan approved of her plan wholeheartedly.
Rana Pratap approved the trade mission when she presented it to him two days later. Mark explained her reasoning for going to England. The Maharana couldn't see any reason to deny her. The projects were moving along, and they didn't absolutely need her for anything at the moment. In fact, he drew up papers designating her the Representative of the State of Mewar and gave her a few jewels to give as a gift. At the very least, he decided, she could probably see the Queen with them. Mark was delighted. She kissed the Maharana on the cheek.
Albert McFarlan wasn't completely thrilled with the idea of Mark going back with them on the ship to England. The idea of a woman on the boat, especially a woman as comely as Mark, was bound to cause trouble. It was only after a reminder that she could unmake trade agreements as well as make them, did he grudgingly allow her passage. In truth, he was happy to be talked out of it. He liked her.
It was a long, five-day journey to the port of Surat in Gujurat where their ship, the Silver Fish, waited with its load of silks, spices, and porcelains. When Mark saw it for the first time, she was unimpressed. It had a dingy white foredeck and quarterdeck and a black hull with a scummy waterline, although she had to admit it did look serviceable. The lines seemed to be well cared for and the topside looked clean. It was a medium-sized, three-masted galleon about 100 ft long and 30 ft wide with a crew of 130, lightly armed with 18 guns.
Jayti had made preparations for the trip. She had heard enough horror stories about rotten meat and bad water aboard ships of this era. She decided to carry about 50 gallons of boiled water sealed in ceramic containers as well as a large quantity of nearly incorruptible cooked and salted deer jerky that she had the Bhils make for her.
Mark was also concerned about shipwrecks. Most sailors couldn't swim and had no back-up safety provided. If they went overboard, they generally drowned. She wanted a fighting chance. She had taken a week-long sailing course on the North Carolina coast one summer after college and wanted some sort of fall-back at least similar to what her training boat had. Before she left Udaipur, she had an orange survival trunk. It contained water, deer jerky in a waterproofed pouch, hatchet, drill, knife, over 100 ft of rope, inflatable bladders that could be attached to the side of the trunk to provide a stable, floating platform, a paddle, a sewing kit, and several square yards of canvas for a shelter.
As Representative from Mewar and the only woman on board, she had her own tiny cabin on the port side of the ship under the Poopdeck. Her only daylight was a small window to the stern. The voyage was to last close to six months.
Captain William Bricker was a stern martinet hired by the company who was most assuredly not pleased at Mark's presence aboard ship. He was of the strong opinion that a woman would be only a hindrance to discipline. He had little choice in the matter, he knew, but she would stay below during the day and only be allowed out at night.
It was a ridiculous position, even for a martinet. Mark was furious and would not let it stand. Before they sailed, she demanded a meeting with Albert McFarlan and Captain Bricker. They met in a room she selected on shore, a small restaurant she rented from the owner for the day. Mark was well aware that in 16th century England, the prevailing thought was that people were most definitely not created equal and the aristocracy was quick to ensure that they were treated with suitable respect, using the cane to their inferiors, if necessary. The lower classes had been taught to respect their 'betters' from birth. Mark had decided to play on that attitude to the hilt.
She stood with her back to them when they entered. She turned and they saw her dressed in her finest court clothes with the jewels Rana Pratap had given her for the Queen and the large diamond bindi centered over her forehead. Neither man had ever seen her dressed that way before. The impression was obvious; she was royalty. "Gentlemen, I'm glad you could come." The two men looked at each other briefly. She had demanded this meeting.
"Please, sit down. There are a few items to discuss." They sat. Her assurance was startling to McFarlan; he had never seen her like this. He couldn't help but notice the jewels; she could have easily bought the Silver Fish five times over with what she wore.
"First off, Captain, I will not be spending my time belowdeck in the heat of the day. The idea is absurd." She raised her hand as the Captain attempted to interrupt. "It is absurd, Captain! I will be spending my time primarily on the Quarterdeck and the Poopdeck, most of the time behind a curtain for privacy, and I will not be dictated to like a dog!"
"Captain," she continued in a calmer voice. "I'm not a fool. I have no desire to interfere with your authority on this ship. What I am is the Representative of Mewar and a Rajput. When you insult me, you insult the Maharana of Mewar and all that that implies."
Silence.
"Very well. I'm glad we understand each other. Good day gentlemen." She turned in a swirl of silk and left the room.
A vein in Captain Bricker's forehead throbbed visibly. "She can't get away with this, McFarlan! It was for her own protection, damn it! If she does this, I will not be held responsible for protecting that woman on my ship!"
Albert McFarlan was amused. "Well, if that's your objection, Captain, you can stop worrying. It's hard to believe, but that girl has killed men in battle. She's also said to be a tiger with her bare hands. I pity the man who tries to molest her. And by the way, Captain, I know you got off on the wrong foot with her, but really, what choice did she have? Even for the best of reasons, you wanted to put her in a tiny, hot room crossing the Equator. Disobedient prisoners are treated in similar fashion. What would you have done?" He stood and bent over the glowering man. "She's really a sweet lass, once you get to know her. Give her a chance." He patted his back.
Chapter 18: Jim discovers Mark
James and Mark spent their last day on shore together. They made a holiday of it, visiting the local market and sitting by the water, watching the smaller Indian boats tied together with coconut fibers make their easy way down the inlet. Jim sat, his back against a tree, while Mark's head rested in the soft spot between the arm and chest.
"Jim, do think I'm a loose woman?"
"No, Jayti, I don't." He kissed the top of her head.
Mark moved her hand to the inside of his thigh. "Jim, I want to make love to you before we leave. We won't have another chance for a long time." She could feel him rise instantly. 'Damn, it's great to be a woman,' she thought. She turned her head and looked up at him. "You know, I have that restaurant over there rented for the rest of the day." She spoke very casually, allowing her hand to drift inside Jim's shirt. "It would be a shame not to get full value for an entire day's rental."
Any objections he may have had were swept away by a kiss. They made love in a wide Hammock stretched out in a back room, a little breeze blowing in through the bamboo wicker. Jim was inexperienced, but Mark helped him find those spots she loved. She was amply rewarded soon afterwards, and Jim was pleased and proud he could make her so happy. Mark had given herself completely to him. This was it, she decided; they were in it for the long haul. When they were finally finished, Jim held her in his arms, her light, golden coloring contrasting with his pale skin. He thought, not for the first time, just how lucky he was. They lay in the large hammock together until it was time to go back. Mark made sure everyone saw them together. She wanted no doubt in anyone's mind who she was with.
They left with the tide early the next day. Mark wore a modest choli and ghagara and stood on the very rear of the ship, the Poopdeck, just behind a thin cotton curtain. From there, she watched the dock slowly disappear behind the bend of the isthmus. Her survival chest had been moved to the Poopdeck at her request. Surprisingly, the Captain, always a pragmatic man, had approved. He considered it a sensible precaution.
They weren't clear of danger. To the south and east lay the Portuguese ports of Daman and Dju. Portugal wouldn't be pleased that their near monopoly on the spice trade was in danger and ships from either port could be lethal to an only moderately-armed galleon. They hugged the Southern coast of Gujarat to avoid detection from Daman and passed Dju in the dark under sail. The way was clear, now as they made their way across the Arabian Sea towards Africa, taking advantage of the trade winds from the north west.
There was little to do. The first thing she did was put in a bimini to protect her from the hot sun and install a pair of wood and canvas deck chairs. Most of the time, the curtain was up. She despised it; it reminded her too much of purdah. She filled the time by exercising, practicing katas and doing forms with a practice sword the ships carpenter made from a piece of driftwood. She caught the Captain looking at her sometimes when she practiced. She was hard to miss; the Captain normally patrolled the Quarterdeck, just a few yards towards the bow. She hoped to break the ice with him soon.
The chance came several days later. Late one night, she left the quarterdeck and ventured to the waist, the flat, middle area of the ship, looking over the rail at their slow passage. It was very hot. The ship was close to the Equator and winds were scarce. Unexpectedly, the Captain joined her at the rail.
"Good evening, Captain." She said, giving him her best smile.
"Good evening, Miss Singh."
Mark sighed. He may as well get this over with. The Captain's pride was too strong to allow him to be friendly without some sort of peace offering. "Captain Bricker, I wish to apologize to you. I was very hard on you earlier, and I was wrong to do so. I realize, now, that it was your intent to keep me from harm. I misjudged you. I can only ask that you accept my apology."
"Er. Harumph! Well, Miss Singh, we all make mistakes. I did wish to protect you from the men. Fortunately, I see that you may be able to take care of yourself under most circumstances, and I see you've been trying to keep from underfoot. I accept your apology, Miss Singh."
"Please call me Jayti, Captain. Captain, if I may ask a personal question, where is your family?"
There was a long pause. "I have a son in London. He works as a tanner. He didn't like the sea. My wife died long ago." The sound of bad singing came from belowdeck. "Oh, McCarthy," the Captain moaned low. "Why must you sing like a constipated donkey?"
Mark laughed. "I know a few songs Captain. I wouldn't mind drowning out that sick dog."
He smiled unexpectedly. "Perhaps I will allow it, Miss, er... Jayti, but not right now. Let the lads have their fun."
Jim came by the Poopdeck often and stayed for hours. There was little for him to do. He was a part of the trade mission and not a member of the crew, so he had few duties other than to make sure the cargo was safe. The Captain insisted that they be in plain view of the crew when he did visit. A sign of romance aboard ship could have caused trouble. It was inconvenient, but Mark and Jim followed his wishes.
Once past the Equator, the wind had picked up, this time from the southwest, which slowed things down. The galleon, although better than most of its sailing predecessors, had a problem sailing very far into the wind. The voyage became a series of long tacks. They had been fortunate; the voyage had been relatively uneventful. There had been only two storms so far, and the Captain had been able to find ports to shelter in when they came.
They were making a last tack to the west towards Madagascar to pick up fresh supplies, when menacing, dark clouds formed with unexpected speed in the East. Mark watched the sight from the Quarterdeck. The wind picked up so fast and hard, she brought everything that could be moved from the Poopdeck to her cramped room. She met Jim on the way down. Although he pretended it was normal, he was plainly worried; Mark knew this was something special.
The Captain ordered the topsails and mizzen brought down and the main and fore reefed. He brought the ship around and set the sails to heave to, pointing the ship into the heart of the oncoming storm. Mark grew worried. If they were in the open sea, or in a port, it would probably have been fine, despite the gradual rise in swells, now at 50 ft and rising. The galleon was a tough ship. The problem for the Silver Fish was that Madagascar, although over the horizon, was only 30 miles away. If the storm went on long enough, the Silver Fish would be blown helplessly onto the beach at best, or broken up on an offshore reef.
The Captain knew this even better than Mark, so he set a sea anchor, a parachute-like device on a long line in front of the bow, using the resistance of the water to slow the boat from the relentless pushing action of the now raging wind. Mark stood in the Quarterdeck cabin opening, the salt spray stinging her face, more fascinated by, rather than afraid of, the power of the sea. This was the first time she had ever heard the tough mahogany of the hull actually groan in protest. The waves were routinely coming over the side now, washing the waist on every pass. There was something wrong on the main, she saw. A sailor who had just finished tying down a reefing line was having trouble getting to the deck.
What she had feared, happened. He fell soundlessly to the deck in the raging chaos and blood from the head of the suddenly still man mixed with the latest deluge. Mark had to do something. She left the Quarterdeck door, stopping to hold onto to a line here and a support there as she worked her way towards the helpless man. In the howl of the wind, she heard her name being called, but she couldn't stop to answer. She reached him and began to pull him back. She knew she was in trouble almost immediately. The sailor was a big man and no matter how she strained, she couldn't make appreciable progress towards the door on the wildly rolling deck, but still, she refused to let him go.
Suddenly Jim was at her side, his strong arms and legs taking over from her exhausted limbs. She was gasping and had to stop to rest at a stay. It was then, that a rogue wave dislodged her tired arms, still quivering from fatigue, and swept her overboard. It was a brief fall to the cold sea. She knew her only chance was to swim to the line that trailed the ship, but she was wearing a ghagara that was dragging her body down. In her condition, it was almost all she could do just to stay afloat.
She watched helplessly as the line slipped past her, still straining to untie the wet knot that held her dress to her hips. There was nothing she could do now, except wait for death. Even if she could get the ghagara off, she was moving too fast. She watched as the ship drifted away; she could see the Silver Fish was more than 300 yards distant when the enormous waves brought the ship back into sight. She finally managed to untie the dress and let it fall away into the deep. That would only give her a little more time to think about her life. She regretted the gift of life from Jayti that she had just wasted. She cried bitter tears about the lost future with Jim, knowing it was only her incredible stupidity that made her forget for a moment she was just a medium sized girl, and had no business trying to drag a large man around in a storm.
She had almost made her peace with the world when she heard her name shouted. It was Jim! She waved her tired arms over her head and shouted back, "Over here!" The next time she heard him, he was closer. Then she saw him. He was in the water, swimming towards her. A larger wave of disappointment came over her. He had come to her only to die; she had yet, another life on her conscience. He reached her, and they held each other. His warmth was briefly welcome in the chilly waters. Then she looked at him, pain clearly in her eyes. "Why did you come after me Jim? I wanted you to live."
He snorted. "We aren't going to die, you beautiful, brave idiot. I have your survival chest tied off to my waist. With any luck, we'll eventually blow to Madagascar. Then we can catch a ride back home, eventually."
Mark's eyes lit up. She hugged him again. "Have I told you I loved you today, Jim? That was incredibly brave."
He shook his head. "That may have worked before, but I'm not happy with what you did. What the hell were you thinking? Brave is fine, but I don't want to worry about my wife taking unbelievable risks when they aren't necessary."
Mark grimaced. He was angry and he had a right to be. He had earned her trust. "Jim, I promise if we survive this, I'll tell you why I did it. I'm ashamed of myself for having to put you through this."
He shook his head again. That's not good enough. "I think we can talk about this on the way to Madagascar. Let's inflate the bladders and get out of the water first. I see no reason why my future wife can't give me an explanation as soon as possible, or do you have something better to do?"
When they finally filled the bladders and tied them off, they were both cold and tired. It was a vast relief to struggle on top of the relatively dry chest in the rolling sea. While they were huddled together, shivering from the cold water, she told him. It took her most of an hour to partially convince him, and even then he wasn't sure. The implications slowly came to him. "You're telling me that you're really a man?" He asked incredulously.
Mark shook her head firmly. "I was afraid you'd think that, and that's why I didn't tell you. I am not a man. I am most definitely a woman; I love you like a woman; I cry like a woman; I want to have your babies. I'm a woman with the memories of a man, but I've been a woman for almost two years now." He still looked skeptical. "Jim, please don't let me lose you because of this." Mark dropped her head, and the tears started again. "I just wish Jayti could explain this to you. She knew. It was both of our wishes to fall in love with someone like you." He let her finish and lay back for a time. Mark thought he looked worried and confused. Finally he took her in his arms and kissed her.
"I can't say I am completely happy about it, but I believe you. I can live with it and live easy." He smiled. "It explains a lot. The way you speak English was a complete mystery. The way you fight and how you knew not to tell me about the fight with the bandits... You truly have seen both sides." He looked at her again. "I look at you and try to think of you as a man, but I just can't see it, especially now." He looked down. Her ghagara was at the bottom of the ocean. Mark blushed.
The storm blew over during the night. The sun woke them. Madagascar was in sight a few miles to the west. They opened the trunk and ripped into some of the deer jerky and drank some water. "There are so many questions to ask you, Jayti. Such as how this water is still good after three months in the trunk and why you chose deer jerky instead of beef."
"I can explain the deer jerky easily enough. As a Kshatrias, Jayti could eat deer, but not beef. There's a lot of Jayti in me, and I just felt more comfortable with it. The water is more difficult." She explained germs and bacteria to him.
"You know so much more than us. We must look like little children to you."
She looked at him very directly. "Don’t make that mistake. Think of it as if I had read a book you didn't. I had a chance to read it. You haven't, yet. Anyway, this is the 16th century. I don't know how to make sails, sail a galleon, or even cook with a wood stove. Most of what I know is completely useless here. If I hadn't had Jayti to guide me, I would have died, or ended my life as a slave."
"Still, I think it's a good idea to ask your advice before doing something important."
Mark smiled slyly. "You are sooo smart. I knew there was a reason I wanted to marry you." She shrieked in delight when he tickled her into submission.
Jim used the paddle to clear the reefs and get to shore. They were tired again by the time they dragged the trunk into the lush, green forest, out of sight of the beach. They rested for a few minutes. "Jim, have you thought of building a boat to get out of here?"
"Normally, I would just say no, but I think you have something in mind."
She did. She explained what she could remember of the political climate of Madagascar. It was difficult to say what tribe they would meet. Some were into the slave trade and Mark was afraid they would be sold if found. She drew a picture of a catamaran she used to sail years before, in the sand and explained how the American Indians used to make dugout canoes. Jim was initially skeptical; it was a radical idea. Mark told him how fast a cat like that could sail and he grew thoughtful. "But you must decide, future husband," she said, clutching his arm and looking up into his eyes with innocent helplessness.
Jim did a double take and laughed. "Actually, I think I could build such a boat, but not exactly as you drew it up. We don't have the equipment, although the hatchet and drill you so thoughtfully provided in the trunk will help greatly." He kissed her. "Leave this to me. We only have one hatchet and you don't have the skills we need. You'll have to gather food and cook for us."
Jim saw her roll her eyes and walk away, mumbling something about 'enjoying this too much,' but he caught her smile.
Mark's was worried about being discovered by a hostile tribe. It was likely that at some point in the next few weeks, the time it would take to build the boat, someone would come by. She stood lookout when she was not searching for food, or getting water from the local stream. A series of connected vines were tied to a rock in Jim's work area that would drop on a pull if Mark saw anything suspicious. Burning the interior of the logs Jim selected to remove excess material was done at night to avoid any visible sign of smoke.
Mark inspected the work Jim was doing on the boat. She had to admit it; he was making a fine boat. It was done using post and beam, a difficult, but very strong method requiring precise joints. She made a couple of suggestions, but mostly stayed out of it. Her first cooked meal for them wasn't bad. She found some nuts, a kind of plum that didn't taste bad, and a fat fish in a stream. He came in hot and sweaty from the tropical heat. Eating what she provided for him and actually enjoying it gave her a peculiar feeling. She would definitely make love to him tonight, she thought, as long as he washed himself. He stunk.
She was finally able to help on the boat when it neared completion. She carved out a few pulleys, grommets for the sails, rings for the masts, and a couple of paddles. They still needed the sails cut when they had their first argument. She wanted the standard cat sloop rig. He wanted a, more familiar to the 16th century, lanteen sail. It took her being angrily stubborn before he realized that she might just know how the boat should be rigged, having sailed one before. He shook his head. It was going to take some time before he was used to reconciling her appearance with her knowledge and experience.
Mark pulled the rock in the late afternoon after five weeks of work. Jim stopped work instantly, and covered the boat with the already cut branches. Mark quietly made her way back to the clearing and told him the news; there was an armed tribe of natives with a trussed-up group of people camped on the beach about a mile away. She was positive they hadn't seen her. It was real trouble. The only source of water in the area was close by. It would be real luck if they weren't found out in the morning.
There was only one real possibility if they didn't want to abandon the boat. They would have to leave tonight, ready or not. The boat was almost done, but the mainsail wasn't complete. The problem would be getting the boat into the water. Doing it at night would be very difficult. They worked all night, dragging the boat along through the trees in the near darkness, using the boat pulleys to gain leverage. Once they had it on the beach, it was downhill, although they had to make their way through some tough sand. It was in the water just as the sun began to rise. They paddled their way out past the reefs, dropped the centerboards, and Mark raised the jib. Jim was shocked at how fast and how close to the wind it would sail, even with just the jib. Although exhausted, Mark couldn't hide her smug satisfaction.
They were very sleepy, tired, and sunburned when they pulled in that night many miles down the coast. Jim finished the mainsail the next day, and Mark made a bimini to protect them from the sun from their last piece of canvas. She also made an anchor and crisscrossed native vines to make webbing for the front and rear to give them a place to lie down. The next day, while they were on the water, Jim spotted an enormous bird eating leaves from a tree. It must have been well over six feet tall. It surprised him, but Mark was ecstatic. It was extinct in her time, she explained.
They stocked up for the trip around the Cape of Good Hope, hoping to catch it on a quiet day. Jim had caught and killed a wild pig and butchered it. They baked it dry with some rock salt to preserve it. The trip through the Cape was rough, but fast. They sped up the African coast and raced passed a distant and surprised Portuguese ship making a mere 5 knots to the cat's 12.
Mark saw the Silver Fish first in the early afternoon, as it was lumbering up the Ivory Coast, just after passing an ugly Portuguese Slave Fort. By late afternoon, they had caught them. Mark saw the Captain on the Poopdeck, staring at the strange craft's approach. Mark waved to him and blew him a kiss. They circled the Galleon in a triumphant homecoming and the ship's crew lined the sides, giving them a load huzzah. Ten minutes later, they were aboard, the cat in tow.
At the Captain's table that night, Mark apologized for causing them concern, but the officers laughed it off as mere bravado. Only Jim and Mark knew that it wasn't. Jim was the hero of the moment. There were many toasts to their health and honor. An extra ration of rum was requisitioned for the men who could be heard celebrating belowdeck.
When supper was over, Mark asked to speak with Captain Bricker.
On the deck by the rail, she told him how foolish she was to have fallen overboard. It could have cost the crew and the Captain prestige and money. She asked the Captain his forgiveness again for putting him in needless jeopardy. He shook his head. "It was foolish, Jayti, but you did what you thought you must. Everyone understands that. If you want to apologize to anyone, apologize to James. He jumped in the water to save you."
"I already, have. Still, Captain, I'd like to do something for them. I'd like your permission to dance for the crew. And for me too, Captain. I feel so damned alive this evening."
He laughed. "That, I can understand. You have my permission."
The fiddler was good, if a little drunk. It only took a few repetitions before he had the Indian tune memorized. Mark set up on the Quarterdeck, did the same dance she gave the Emperor so long ago and a couple of others. Then, she sang for them. Seaman Michael Warner would be teased for the rest of his days about being passed out in the hold on Jayti's Night.
Seven weeks later they were in London. The voyage was over.
Chapter 19: Elizabethan England
Mark and Jim watched together from the port side railing as the Silver Fish pulled slowly into the dock. Mark's excitement had been building since they passed the town of Tilbury. This was Elizabethan England! Crewmen wearing freshly cleaned and repaired clothes threw thick lines to waiting dockworkers, who secured them to huge cleats. The men on board finished securing all sails and the long, wooden loading ramp dropped.
Two company representatives in dark hose, striped pumpkin pants, and doublets were on hand to greet the ship. The Captain was the first man off, carrying the ship's log as he met with them. Mark couldn't quite make out what they were saying. It was just too noisy; the docks were next to a busy, cobblestone street. Children in dresses and breeches stood watching the ship, thinking of adventures and far-away places. Women in long, thick dresses wearing long sleeves, kirtles and bodices that pushed up their breasts shared the streets with men in work clothes of leggings or hose and loose shirts. The other side of the street held a line of taverns, inns, tackle shops, offices, and warehouses.
The Captain and the company men stood just out of the way of the flow. Whatever was said, the company men were very pleased. They each clasped the Captain's arm tightly in turn. Only then, did they notice Mark standing on the rail. Captain Bricker waved her and Albert McFarlan down to the dock. After showing them the letters of introduction from Rana Pratap, she followed them into a nearby office. She waved to Jim and then to the men at the rail, smiling brightly. They waved back enthusiastically.
After a brief period of incredulity, they finally believed that this 17 year-old girl really was the Representative of the Maharana. The trade documents were examined and copies Mark had made were passed around. Everything was in order. There were smiles all around.
Mark still had one request. "Gentlemen, I have a supply of jewels for the Queen and some gold I wish to keep safe for the time being. Do you know where I can safely put them?"
They looked to each other. "Yes, Miss," said the taller man, "we have a fine, strong safe in the office where we keep our documents and valuables. Just come by during the day and one of us will be here to retrieve them for you."
She dumped the bag of jewels and gold on the table. "Excellent, gentlemen. I just need a receipt."
Albert McFarlan pulled Mark aside. "Jayti," he said earnestly, "have you given a thought where you're going to stay? A young lady just doesn't stay on her own. It's not done." He motioned to the north. "I'd be very happy to keep you at my house across the river with my wife. I have a daughter about your age who would be well pleased with your company."
"Well, I was hoping to stay close to James..."
"James will be busy for the next few days doing inventory and assessing the market."
"Your wife wouldn't mind, Albert? I’d hate to impose."
"You must be joking. She'd love it! She always said she wanted to see the world. I'm bringing India home to her. Really, it would be a pleasure. You'd have to share a bed with my daughter, of course."
'I'll bet he wouldn't have made me that offer two years ago,' thought Mark. "Albert, I accept your offer, and gladly."
They needed to hire a carriage to carry the luggage with them to Albert's house. Jim was planning to stay in an inn by the dock and completely approved of the arrangements. When he was finished with the inventory, he would see her. Fortunately, he already knew where Albert's house was.
The ride over was amazing. Mark had a tough time at first getting over the smell. She knew they just threw refuse into the streets, but to actually see it happen... The horses deposited their load everywhere and in the beginning of July, the horse flies were out in force. No wonder everyone wore long sleeves! Kites were a menace, flying around picking up the garbage and worse. Mark even saw a few rats on the street. She remembered that the Black Death was due to strike London in a couple of years.
The streets were mainly narrow and winding, the houses were mixed up with shops and restaurants. It was slow going. London Bridge, the only bridge across the Thames, was just ahead. Mark leaned out the window, trying to memorize everything. Narrow houses lined the bridge. There was even a church about midway. A couple of heads mounted on poles, decaying slowly in the summer heat, were just more reminders of how far away from home she was. She was close enough to smell some of the passersby. Didn't anyone take a bath regularly? The smell of perfume mixed oddly with the most foul body odor. She ignored it, and concentrated on the other sights she could see from the bridge. Several churches lay to the east, including a small castle.
They arrived at a well-built, two-story, white house with green trim. Albert walked quickly to the door. His wife, a good-looking, solid woman in her late thirties answered his knock and immediately threw her arms around the man she hadn't seen for over a year and a half. She started to cry. "Welcome home, husband," she said. Mark saw a girl with light brown hair and green eyes waiting her turn, behind her mother. She came forward and embraced him. "My dear father, you have returned," she cried.
Albert introduced her to them. "Jayti, this is my wife, Margaret and my daughter, Erin. Family, this is Jayti Singh, the Representative for the Maharana of Mewar. We brought her back from India. She is James's fiancee. She'll be staying with us for a while." They looked at her closely for the first time; her choli and ghagara weren't exactly standard issue in London.
"Good afternoon. I hope this isn't an inconvenience."
"You speak English!" Margaret was pleased. She'd been thinking the worst.
"Yes Madam, I try, although I've been told I speak it strangely."
"Please, child, call me Margaret and my daughter, Erin."
Mark followed the driver and Albert as they moved her trunk up the narrow stairs into Erin's room, a small room with a sturdy-looking, medium-sized bed, a small chest of drawers with a decorated make-up box, a stand with a large ceramic basin, a desk and straight-backed chair. A pair of small paintings with a religious theme decorated the white plaster walls. Jayti remained upstairs for a while. The family was enthusiastically catching up on news of the last year and a half, and she didn't wish to interfere with their personal reminiscences. She had a good chance to look around, and she leaned over the windowsill, fascinated by the sights of the city traffic, below. When the loud chatter died down, she came downstairs.
They all talked for a few hours about India and the trip home. As his wife made supper in the kitchen, Mark brought down several drawings she had made on the ship of her home, Jodhpur, Amber, Udaipur, and the harem architecture. When Albert told his wife that Mark could use a sword, she looked on in disapproval, but Erin loved it.
"Jayti, what are you going to do for clothes?" asked Erin. "You can't wear Indian clothes in London."
Mark had thought about it. "I was hoping to go shopping tomorrow. I don't know what to buy or where to buy it, though."
Erin looked at her mother. "Mother?"
She looked at her daughter with approval. "Yes, daughter. It would be the Christian thing to do. Help her." She looked at Mark. "I suggest The Exchange. It would be faster."
Erin nudged Mark under the table and smiled. "This will be great fun, Jayti."
A prayer was said before the meal. Queen Elizabeth had forbidden the eating of meat on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday as an act of piety and to help the fishing industry. It was Wednesday, so they had baked cod with garlic and lemon juice, some apples, onions and leeks. They drank ale, as did everyone except the smallest of children, the local water being unhealthy. Mark was slightly drunk when they lit the lamps and sang songs while Margaret accompanied on the fiddle. Noticing the fond way Albert and Margaret were looking at each other, Erin and Mark decided to say good night early, and went upstairs to their room.
Erin was the same age as Jayti and wanted to know all about the shocking details of 'heathen' India. Mark did her best. They sat cross-legged facing each other on the thick goose-feather mattress and Mark answered every question Erin had that she felt wouldn't get her in trouble with her mother, but there were some things that were just too hot to handle. Mark was well aware that the main reason for wars in this era and especially in England was due to religious differences. Not too long before, Mary Tudor, "Bloody Mary" as she was known, had backed the Catholics in their efforts to exterminate the Protestant religion in England. Many Protestants were burned at the stake during her reign. Queen Elizabeth was keeping things calm with difficulty, but hatreds ran deep. 'How could she explain Hinduism to Erin without stirring up revulsion or hatred within her?' she mused.
Instead, she showed her what was in the trunk, mainly clothes. They were close to the same size, so Mark and Erin tried on each other's clothes. Mark had shared clothing sometimes with Inayat and Farha in the harem, but never with someone as enthusiastic as Erin. The silk and expensive fabrics of her Indian clothing fascinated her, especially when Mark unpacked her long mirror so Erin could get a full-length view of herself. "Oh, Erin, you would make the Emperor such a fine concubine," Mark teased. That earned Mark a pleased smile and an extended tongue.
Mark found that wearing a long-sleeved shift, bodice and long dress wasn't as uncomfortable as it looked. The bodice she tried on actually helped support the back as well as the pair of milady's assets. It pushed them up and together in a way the choli, really not much more than a fancy brassiere, didn't. Erin made the judgement that Mark could probably pass for a Mediterranean Italian with a tan.
It was late. The ale had done its job and they were both sleepy. After a trip to the privy, Mark put on her nightdress and Erin her shift and they slept side by side in the bed. In the morning, she found that Erin had turned over during the night; her hand was draped over Mark's waist and her breasts were pressed into her back. It felt comfortable, but it made her miss Jim.
They all slept late that morning, but eventually Albert had to return to the ship and help with the cargo inventory. Margaret wasn't about to allow two sleepyheads lie in bed while she made breakfast, so their fate was sealed. Mark made a trip to get water to wash up. In England at this time, people rarely took baths. They compensated, to some extent, by using a basin to wash. Mark washed her entire body down vigorously and dried off with a towel. Then, she flossed and washed her mouth with baking soda. Erin was curious. Mark told her all about basic dental hygiene. Teeth in India were bad enough, but surely, there never was a country in more need of dental care than England, with all the sweet foods, drinks and meats to be trapped between the teeth.
Breakfast was more ale and a bagel. Albert had already left for the morning and despite her husband telling her Mark was a Representative from Mewar, Margaret couldn't quite connect the title with the 17 year-old girl. Instead, Mark was treated like she was a daughter. That meant chores. They didn't leave the house until they met her strict standards.
They finally escaped Erin's mother. Mark had never felt more like a little girl in her life. She wore her blue silk salwar - kamiz combination, a long-sleeve, loose top with salwar pants underneath. The top was actually so long it was almost a dress, with slits down the side. It was modest, exotic, and easy to remove to try on clothes. She knew she was attractive, so she wasn't surprised at the looks she was getting. On the way to the Royal Exchange, Erin acted as her big sister, showing her the sights, pointing to churches and shops. Mark didn't mind at all; she was gawking like the worst sort of tourist. One group of sober citizens looked at her with distaste and said something to her that she didn't quite catch. Erin whispered to her that they were Puritans.
When they came to Threadneedle St., they turned towards the Exchange. It was a two-story building in the shape of a large, square horseshoe. The openings had classical style arches and a gilded grasshopper was prominently displayed on the roof. Erin explained that the lower floor was taken up by several trade exchanges, offices and had a few shops. The upper floor contained space for feather shops, milliners, wig makers, ready made clothes (drapers), imported accessories, embroidered goods, and perfumes.
Before buying anything, Mark had to change some gold Mohurs for pounds and shillings. The moneychanger was on the first floor in a shop behind a counter. Mark passed a gold Mohur to him and asked for the exchange rate. He looked at Mark for a time, then weighed the coin. "I'll give you ten shillings apiece for them," he replied gruffly.
"Ridiculous," Mark said. She had done some checking. The gold coin actually weighed slightly more than a gold Sovereign, about 11 grams to a bit over 9. This was robbery; he was offering less than half of its true value. "I'll give you one Mohur to one Sovereign as the exchange rate. That's a good deal for you and I won't take less." It was transparent that he was trying to take advantage of her, and she was annoyed.
He offered her 12 shillings. This was getting her nowhere. "Sir, give me back my coin. I'm afraid we can't do business." Mark held out her hand. The moneychanger was reluctant to give it back. He counted out 12 shillings sixpence and tried to give it to her. "No sir," she said firmly. "I want my coin back."
Mark watched out of the corner of her eye, as a tall handsome man in his mid 30's approached the counter, impeccably dressed in long thigh boots, blue hose, matching striped pumpkin pants, and doublet. He wore a sword at his waist. The neat goatee, mustache, and kind eyes were somehow familiar to Mark.
He removed his feathered cap with a flourish and bowed slightly. "Are you having trouble, Miss?"
It was so well executed, so much the picture of courtly manners that Mark was temporarily flustered and felt impelled to reply in kind. She nodded demurely. "Perhaps, sir. This gentleman seems to be slow returning my property."
The man looked at the moneychanger for a brief moment. The moneychanger quickly handed over the coin quickly, as if he had suddenly developed distaste for the yellow metal. "Here you are, Miss."
"May I look at the coin, Miss?" Asked the man.
"Of course, sir." She handed him the coin. He removed a gold Sovereign from his money belt and compared the two.
"It appears your coin is heavier than the Sovereign." He looked at the moneychanger briefly, who cringed. "You were wise, not to make the exchange." He smiled brilliantly. Mark felt her knees weaken, just a little. "Perhaps you would allow me to assist you to get good value. All I ask in return is that you tell me something of yourself. But, forgive me, I haven't introduced myself. I'm Captain Raleigh of Her Majesty's guard."
This was Sir Walter Raleigh! Mark was determined not to show her surprise. It took a little while to get her bearings. When was the last time she had even thought of Erin? "I would be glad to have your help, Sir Walter. My name is Jayti Singh, and I'm the Representative of the Maharana of Mewar. This is my friend, Erin McFarlan, the daughter of the head of the trade mission to Mewar who returned just yesterday."
Erin was quiet, but her eyes spoke volumes. She was delirious. Mark saw they were waiting on her; she was supposed to do something. She offered Sir Walter her hand, as she had seen many couples do. He took it and they began walking south.
"The best goldsmiths are on Gutherons Lane. I know a few who will give you a fair rate." They walked a few paces. Erin tentatively took her place on the other side of Sir Walter, giving him sidelong glances when she thought he wasn't looking. "Miss Singh, I'm at a disadvantage. You know who I am."
Mark laughed. "You put yourself at that disadvantage, sir. You're famous for your travels to America. Please, call me Jayti."
"Perhaps you could start to tell me about yourself by informing me about these coins. I've never seen them before."
Mark explained that they were a gift from Emperor Akbar just before she left his harem, and translated the Persian script on the coins. Like most men, he was intrigued by the word 'harem'. Mark explained that it was a long story and that he would have to buy them dinner to hear it all. Mark could scarcely believe she was playing this game with him. She knew he was a kind of lovable rascal. It was said the Queen called him "water" because of the ease he managed to get out of the trouble his arrogance and ambitions caused him.
The gold appraiser would give them slightly better than the one Sovereign to one Mohur rate she had asked for at the Royal Exchange. By the time she had exchanged 10 Mohurs, it was almost dinnertime, lunch for Elizabethan England. Mark smiled her best. "Thank you, Sir Walter, for your help. It was very kind of you."
He lifted an eyebrow, intriguingly. "But Jayti," he protested, "I believe you offered to tell me a story if I did a certain thing." He made that wonderful practiced sweep of his hat again.
"Only if Erin agrees to go with us, Sir Walter." To which he agreed, gracefully.
Sir Walter was absorbed by her story. She spoke of her abduction by the Emperor's retinue, the harem itself, the story of Maryam dancing for the Emperor and her influence in getting her the Mohurs as her marriage gift. She told him of her escape to Mewar, her trip here, the gift of jewels she had for the Queen that she hoped to present to her in Court, and even her rescue by Jim. Erin was interested, too. She hadn't heard the story in this much detail and her eyes were as bright as if she had used belladonna.
Sir Walter was skeptical. "I don't know if I believe a word of it, but the story was worth the price of the meal."
Erin interrupted. "Oh, Sir Walter, It's true, or at least the parts I know about from my father." She looked at Mark. "But why didn't you tell him that you could use a sword?"
"Captain Raleigh doesn't care about that, Erin."
"Give me your hand, Jayti, if I may." Mark showed him her hand. He examined it carefully. "You have calluses in the right places and your arm is unusually strong for a girl your size. Interesting." He thought for a moment and made a decision. "If you aren't just telling me a wonderful tale, and you truly wish to be presented at court, I could make it possible. I'd be honored to have such beauty attached to my arm, no matter how brief the moment, but why do you want to do it? What would be the advantage for you?"
Mark blushed at his sweet talk, wondering briefly how long it would take to get used to it, or even if she wanted to. "Thank you for your kind offer, Sir Walter. I want to get information this summer to write books on metallurgy, certain issues of alchemy, tool manufacture and a few other things that I could take back to Udaipur. I would ask the Queen for permission to get this knowledge and to talk to anyone I need to get it. In return, I would give the Queen some very effective ways of dealing with Smallpox and the Plague."
Mark smiled sadly at his expression. "Ah, Sir Walter, I see you don't believe me. In truth, I can hardly blame you. It doesn't matter. I can prove the last part, at least. If your offer still holds, I would still like to be presented to the Queen. As I said, I have some gifts from the Maharana to give her in any case, regardless of how well she deals with my offer."
"It does matter what I believe, Jayti." He considered her, tapping his fingers as he pondered. "I'll contact you in a week. Be warned, when I see you again, I'll be asking you for this proof you mentioned. I'll give you my honest opinion and help you achieve your goals if I think it can be done."
This was turning out to be a much more interesting day than he had ever thought possible. When he had seen the startlingly exquisite Indian woman at the Exchange, so different from the English beauties with their whitened faces and wigs, he had no thought except to meet her from curiosity. Instead of the shy creature he expected, she was an unusual mix of femininity and assertiveness. Though not impervious to his charm, she wasn't overawed by it like her charming companion. Her story must be too fantastic to be true, yet he could see nothing in it that was an outright lie. If she was attempting to gain advantage, he couldn't see how.
If she wasn't lying, this could be an opportunity for him to increase his influence at court to counter his rival, Essex, and his manipulations. A large part of her story was checkable. It was probably a waste of time, but on a hunch, he would make inquiries. She had offered proof of new advances against Smallpox and the Black Death. If everything else she said was true, he would take her up on it.
Mark and Erin returned to the Exchange after dinner. Erin now had a little more respect for her friend, but was still exasperated with her at the drapers when she just wanted to try on a couple of gowns, kirtles and bodices. Erin's fashion sense was good, and she wanted to prove it. Mark gave in, and put herself in Erin's hands for the rest of the day. After a while, she began to enjoy it. She came back with considerably more than she intended, including a hat; two pairs of new shoes, and a gold necklace.
Mark asked Erin to keep quiet about the harem and Sir Walter. She didn't want to get in trouble with Erin's mother for being a corrupting influence. Erin agreed wholeheartedly; her mother would throw a fit if she knew everything that had happened.
They were late getting back. Her mother was angry until Mark explained the difficulty getting her money exchanged, and showed her the large amount of purchases. Mark could only laugh at the irony of it. After all her life and death adventures and even a marriage, she had just come very close to being grounded.

Chapter 20: To Convince Sir Walter
Mark cursed the 16th century. It was so hard to get anything done! There were so many dead ends. The number one medical problem of the day was infection. The word 'clean' in this time meant 'tidy'. The idea of disinfectant was non-existent. One would think that it would be easy. Iodine was discovered from seaweed ash using hydrochloric acid after removing sodium and potassium, but how did one do that? Carbolic acid, another great disinfectant, was obtained by distilling coal tar, but how did you do it? Mark was a historian, not a chemist. It was so damned frustrating!
Still, there were ways. The science of the day believed that everything in the world was composed of earth, fire, water, and air. She should be able to make a microscope to prove the existence of germs and infection. Alcohol was a fairly good disinfectant. If she could get people to believe in germs, then washing hands and disinfecting instruments should save many thousands of lives.
Erin had decided sometime the previous day, that being with Mark was exciting. She treated her like a long-lost sister and before they left, she insisted in pinning up her hair into a bun like the other fine ladies. Mark didn't mind. She never had a sister, but she welcomed the closeness Erin gave her; she hadn't felt this way since her days in the harem.
After chores, Mark and Erin went to Roger Worthy, a noted glassmaker, and talked about making lenses; the man had a good reputation for honesty and quality work. Roger could make lenses for reading glasses, but told her how very difficult they were to make as well as how time consuming. As far as the tiny lenses she was talking about, he just threw up his hands. Mark was afraid of that. So much for the compound microscope she had envisioned. Fortunately, she had a backup plan. There was a very old type of microscope that Mark had made in High School using a small glass ball as the lens. She drew the type of lens she needed, described the way to make it and smiled sweetly at the sweaty, grizzled man with the leather apron.
She offered him a pound if he could make a suitable glass ball and 10 shillings if he tried and failed. She warned him that it must be very round or it wouldn't be satisfactory and she must have it by tomorrow afternoon. He said he would give it a good try. A pound was a great deal to make in one day; many servants only made 2 - 5 pounds a year.
She had to talk to Jim before she went any further. She really wanted his input. Mark and Erin made the walk across London Bridge and headed east to the docks. This time she didn't get any odd looks on the busy street. It seems that Erin was right and she really could pass for an Italian with a tan. She found him in the office looking over some papers with Albert. Jim had to look twice; she looked so different. His eyes lit up. "Jayti, you look ravishing!" Well, she couldn't complain too much about how she looked if Jim thought she looked good. She decided she would draw the line at English makeup; some of that stuff was poisonous.
She only gave him a peck on the cheek. They were with company, after all. She looked ruefully at Albert. "Albert, could I borrow Jim for dinner? I have to be back at your house in three hours, or your wife will punish me."
Albert grimaced and sighed. "If you expect me to tell Margaret to treat you like an adult, I won't. She has it in her head that you're as good as a daughter and I won't be the one to disabuse her of the notion. Besides, I can't say I disagree with her. You've a wild streak that needs a mother and a father to tame." He nodded towards Jim. "He's yours for as long as you need him, Jayti. We're almost finished here, anyway." He glanced at Erin. "Erin, you're with me for dinner." She opened her mouth to protest. "No, Erin. Leave these two lovebirds alone for a while."
* * * * * * * * * *
In the tavern, Jayti explained the events of the day before, especially her meeting with Sir Walter, and the plan to make a microscope. "He wants to bring me to court to be presented to the Queen. This could be the big break we need to pass on medical knowledge in return for free access to foundries, factories and alchemy shops. I desperately need to know the entire process, from beginning to end. Only then, can I begin to offer improvements."
Jim was worried. "Jayti, I'm concerned that you're getting in over your head. Sir Walter is probably using you to gain power in court. I've heard of him. He's a vain man and often overreaches. The Queen likes him, perhaps even loves him, but she doesn't trust him. He also has powerful enemies that would be more than happy to bring him down."
"Yes. From what I've heard, Robert Deveroux, the Earl of Essex is his current rival. It's fortunate for Sir Walter that the Queen doesn't know he's secretly married to Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of her Ladies in Waiting. But Jim, I don't see what Lord Essex can do if he doesn't know what's going on."
Jim put his hand over hers and looked around warily for listeners. He leaned forward. "How do you know of this secret marriage?" He hissed.
"Oh, that. I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. We studied him in school."
He opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it and took a large gulp of ale, instead. "There's another factor you're forgetting. You're a very young foreign woman attempting to prove something many educated men would vehemently deny. You tell me about Cowpox, Smallpox, and the Plague and I believe you, but no one else will."
Mark looked at Jim and kissed his hand. "Future husband, the only person I really have to convince is the Queen. She has a lot of faults; she's vain, occasionally petty and indecisive, but she's intelligent and loves England. All she needs to do is grant me a demonstration to prove what I say is true. I need to convince Sir Walter before I go before the Queen anyway. He can tell me what I need to know to convince her."
Jim looked resigned. "Future wife, I love you, but I know your mouth. Just be very careful at court and think before you speak, or I could be visiting you in the Tower."
* * * * * * * * * *
Sir Walter waited patiently in the alley for his informer. He arrived finally, giving a last backward glance for anyone following. Sir Walter waved him over casually. The little man scurried closer. "So, Will. What did you find out?"
The man removed his greasy hat and wiped his nose on his sleeve. Satisfied he was presentable; he began his report. "Well, sir. It's all true. The men saw her practicing with a sword the whole trip; say she's bloody good. She does represent the Maharana of whatever and her fiancee did jump into the water to save her in a storm. They made a boat, sailed it around the Horn and caught up with the ship as pretty as you please. I wouldn't have given it credence, but more than one swore to it. They think bloody high of her, they does. They drink to her name, and to her fiancee, James Pennington."
'Amazing,' thought Sir Walter. "Very good, Will. Here is something for your efforts." He handed him a silver coin and dismissed him. 'There's confirmation,' he thought. It was the second such report he had. On impulse, he decided to invite both Jayti and her fiancee if Jayti's proof of her medical knowledge was good enough. His new wife was already jealous enough with his constant proximity to the Queen as Captain of the Queen's Guard. Bringing an exotic young lady to the court on his arm wouldn't improve his domestic tranquillity and even worse, it could make the Queen jealous.
* * * * * * * * * *
Roger Worthy was an anxious man as Mark inspected over two-dozen small glass globes attached to thin glass threads. Over a dozen were rejected, out of hand, but two appeared to be of sufficiently high quality to try. She gave him a Sovereign and thanked him graciously for his good work. She ordered the box, mirror and adjusting spring from a local carpenter using a drawing she made the previous night, promising a very good price for speedy construction.
She met Erin at the company office by the dock and walked home with her. Erin wasn't too pleased to have been forced to stay with her father for two hours, but Mark promised to make it up to her. They made it back just before the deadline, to Mark and Erin's great relief.
Margaret was shocked to learn Mark couldn't cook good English food or use a wood stove. To Margaret, it would have been extremely remiss to allow that discrepancy in Mark's education to remain, especially when she was so close to being a married woman. Mark was in the kitchen the rest of the day, feeding the fire and cleaning and cooking the fish (it was Friday). Margaret moaned about the easy life Mark must have had, as Albert choked on his ale, and vowed grimly that she would make sure Mark would do her James right. Mark smiled the whole time, knowing that she really did need to know how to cook the English way. She thanked Margaret often for the opportunity to learn, taking the wind out of her sails.
After supper, Albert taught Mark a couple of dances. Mark showed them a couple of Kathak dances with Margaret's help on the fiddle. Erin tried a few steps with her and after a few tries and a lot of laughter, she wasn't too bad. They sang some country songs together and Mark taught them an old 1960's song, "Little Red Riding Hood." They howled in laughter as they sang the chorus "owwwwwww!"
Just before Mark and Erin crawled in bed together, Mark began to cry. Erin instinctively went to her and held her in the candlelight. "What's wrong, Jayti?" Erin asked, worried about her near-sister.
"It's all right, Erin," she said, returning her hug. "I just haven't felt that safe or normal in years." Erin held her until she fell asleep.
The next afternoon, Albert gave them all a treat and took them to a bear-baiting. They left early to get good seats. It wasn't far, just across the bridge and then west to the smaller of two oval arenas; the larger was for the bull-baiting. Mark watched as men and women, clustered around a lean, hooked-nose man, took bets on the matches. Mark had heard about these things; a bear chained to a stake in the middle of the arena would fight a pack of bulldogs or mastiffs to the death or until the dogs gave up, which was rare. She had already seen bull fights in Madrid where mistakes had been made and the bull died in horrible, bloody pain, so she didn't expect anything she hadn't seen before.
They had good seats, almost in the front row. After a few days in London, Mark hardly noticed the body odors surrounding her. The bear tender brought the bear out using a stick with the chain already attached to its leg. He quickly attached the other end to the deep-set stake and left. The audience immediately began the jeers and taunting. One or two small objects were thrown into the arena. It wasn't long before the four bulldogs were released. They sprinted for the confused bear that rose to his full seven-foot height just as two of them hit him. Mark first noticed the size of them. These were no small bulldogs of the 21st century, suitable for small children; these were large dogs, born and bred to kill.
One leaped directly onto the nose and held on while another went for an ear. The bear roared in pain and anger; he was confused no longer. He managed to remove the dog on his nose with a swipe, leaving thick bloody stripes down its side. The crowd roared its approval. Margaret stomped her foot in disgust. She had bet on the dogs and was angry that the other two dogs had held back. Mark didn't see much to get upset about. When the dog was ripped off, a part of the bear's mouth had been torn away, exposing bloody teeth.
The injured dog didn't seem to mind the bleeding, although he looked bad. He went for the nose again. This time the bear was ready for it and blinded it in one eye with a well-timed strike. The other dogs had gotten involved by this time, and one had succeeded in tearing a large hole in the bears left calf. A quarter-hour and many attacks later, the blinded dog was dead and another seriously injured, but the bear was tiring from loss of blood. It could barely protect itself anymore and the dogs knew it.
They played with the bear, attacking in tandem until it finally seemed over. The bear rolled over on its side. One of the dogs went for the throat, but the bear still had some reserves left; he snatched it in mid-leap and pierced it with extended claws in both paws. The bear must have pierced a lung because the surprised dog died, gurgling in its own blood. Erin stood and screamed her approval, nudging Mark to her feet where she applauded carefully. That was the last gasp for the bear, though. It was too tired to defend itself when the last uninjured dog tore out its throat.
The audience shouted gleefully. There was no surprise here; the dogs usually won, but the match was closer than expected. The vendors ventured into the crowd as the bear was being dragged off, selling ale and pretzels. Two more matches went on that afternoon. Mark tried to get in the mood and enjoy the action. She felt like she was a little insane; the matches reminded her of professional wresting to the death, but she began to feel the excitement of the crowd. Though she could never cheer for the dogs, she cheered every nasty swipe to the head and stab to the gut. Today, she was a for-real 16th century woman!
They went home happy, holding hands and singing.
Mark left briefly to pick up the box she had made for the microscope. It was finished, and done well. She gave the man an extra vail, a tip, for the fine job. She would try it out that night using candlelight.
Margaret made Mark cook for them again to ensure she knew what she was doing. They went over recipes for different meat dishes until Mark had several memorized. When Mark passed out the salmon with apples and leeks and the pudding, she really hoped it was right. Margaret tasted it first and pronounced it more than adequate. Mark sat down and exhaled, only then realizing how much she had wanted her approval.
Late in the evening, Mark had a chance to attach the best glass ball to the box. She placed a candle where the mirror would reflect the light upward toward the lens and tested the focus screw, using a piece of cloth as a test piece. The cloth came abruptly into focus. It was dim; the light from the candle wasn't really adequate, but she estimated it was around 300 - 400X, strong enough to see large germs. She called Erin over for a look and then Albert and Margaret. "This is what I've had built these last few days."
Albert said slowly, "It's interesting. It makes small things look very large, but what good is it?" He looked at his wife, who shook her head in puzzlement.
"You'll see in a couple of weeks, hopefully."
Mark tried it the next day using a tiny amount of blood and a little smear from a nasty looking puddle. She was pleased. The crude microscope could easily pick out tiny moving objects in the puddle and see the platelets in her blood. She explained what this meant to Erin, about cells and germs and disease. She was slow to catch on; the whole idea was too strange. "This was the proof you were talking about to Sir Walter?" She asked.
"Yes. People in Europe thinks that disease is like a bad mist or miasma. They have no idea where it comes from. This can prove it comes from tiny living things. I didn't think of it, Erin, but hopefully I can explain it."
The next day was Sunday and Church. Mark went to church with the rest of the family, but didn't take communion. She felt odd about being left out, but after talking with a priest, they decided it wouldn't have been legal. "No sacrament is efficacious without understanding and faith." The priest had said. There was a clear undertone in his message; if she stayed in England long enough, she would have to convert, or be in serious trouble.
* * * * * * * * * *
Mark met Sir Walter by London Bridge with the microscope and several slides on Monday in the early afternoon. He took her hand and escorted her to a private room on the bridge overlooking the Thames and motioned for her gracefully to take a seat. "Sir Walter," she smiled. "I'm delighted you've decided to meet with me again."
He inclined his handsome head modestly. "Jayti, the more I learn about you the more intrigued I become, but right now, I am more concerned with this proof you offer me."
Mark acknowledged his impatience with a small nod. "Fair enough, Sir Walter. Let's get right to it, then. I want to show England three very important things: how to stop Smallpox, where the Black Death comes from and ways to reduce its effect, and how to reduce infections from wounds and surgery." She looked at him. "This will be difficult, because most people are taught that flies come from bad meat, rats are created from garbage, and disease is created from nothing, lack of faith or some other nonsense and they will need proof that they are wrong." She handed him a drawing of Louis Pasteur's famous experiment where he boiled two flasks of soup, but filtered the air coming back in one of the flasks. That flask remained unspoiled, proof that something in the air caused disease.
"Sir Walter, this demonstration has been done many times. I've done it myself, but I'm just a weak woman from a foreign land and nobody will take me seriously. A man or men with credibility would have to do the experiments for the results to be acknowledged."
Captain Raleigh laughed. "You are far from a weak woman, but I understand."
"The second part of the proof shows that there really are tiny things that exist that can cause disease and spoilage. That's what that box is for." She set up the box, pointing the opening at the window to attract the light. "It's called a microscope. It's crude, but it will see very small things." She put in a slide. "This is a sample of a stagnant pool of water, Sir Walter. Please, look through that hole and tell me what you see. Move the adjusting screw a little if you need to get the focus correct."
"There are things moving in there!"
"Yes, Sir Walter, there are. They live in the water, but they're so small, you can't see them. It's important to know that these tiny things that we can't even see are also in the air. We breathe them in with every breath. Almost all of these tiny things are harmless; some are a nuisance, but a few, like Smallpox and the Plague, are deadly. Most are too small to be seen with this microscope."
"Say I'm convinced. What does that have to do with stopping Smallpox?"
"Well, first you have to believe that very small things like germs do exist, then you have to believe that they cause diseases. Everyone knows that once you catch a disease, you can't catch it again. If you know all this, it's a small step to think that Cowpox, a similar disease to Smallpox, except in severity, could make you immune to Smallpox, enough to look into the possibility, at least. In this case, it's true. We can't cure Smallpox yet, but after catching Cowpox, we know it's impossible to catch Smallpox."
Sir Walter frowned as the implications hit him. "That's all? How sure are you?"
She smiled. He was asking the right questions. "Absolutely sure, Sir Walter. I'm willing to bet my life on it." She grinned at his expression. "Sir Walter, it's really not a risk. I know it works. Even the English farmers know it's true, although informally. There are country sayings that milkmaids don't catch Smallpox and that if you want a wife who will never have a scarred face, marry a milkmaid. It's mainly true. Milkmaids usually catch Cowpox at some time."
"You may also be interested to know, Sir Walter, that when rats have the Black Death, the rats give it to fleas. The rats die and the fleas abandon them for people and give it to them. There's no cure for the Black Death that we know of yet, but we know that if we keep the rat population low, the problem is reduced."
"Here's another nice tidbit for you. When surgery is done, or there's a wound, the skin is broken. This allows germs, infection, and diseases to enter the body easily. This happens most of the time when the doctor or midwife has dirty hands, or the blade has germs on it. There are ways to kill germs such as boiling clothes and sheets, and using alcohol on the hands."
She placed a pile of papers in front of him. "These are a list of demonstrations, exactly how to do them, and what they intend to prove. Perhaps you could have Oxford or Cambridge perform them. I leave that in your hands. If they do it properly and don't allow wounded pride to interfere with their findings, they should come to the same conclusions I've told you. If they do their job, it shouldn't take them more than a month: two weeks to do the experiments and two more weeks to repeat them when they don't believe the results. They'll need the microscope, too. I'll make another for you if you want to have two groups doing the same tests."
Sir Walter leafed through the documents, reading them closely and examining the diagrams. This took several minutes. He left his chair and looked out at the Thames, deep in concentration. Mark respected his silence. She knew what must be going through his mind. Eventually, he spoke. "If this is true, it's incredible knowledge. Jayti, I don't wish to look too closely at gifts from a beautiful woman, but why me?"
"You mean why you, instead of Essex or Leicester?" He nodded. "Actually, at first, I was thinking of approaching one of those gentlemen. They are, perhaps, more influential with the Queen, and I'm fairly sure either would serve as a suitable conduit. But then, a certain gentleman helped me change my coin when I needed assistance and asked for nothing in return, except to satisfy his curiosity about me. I know you by reputation, Sir Walter. You have a very high opinion of yourself, and you're not afraid of sharing your opinion with others." Mark held a hand up to stop his protestations. "I only mean to say that I recognize a kindred spirit. But underneath that arrogant exterior, lies a man of honor, someone I believe I can trust. It would please me greatly to see you benefit from this."
A little over a month later, Sir Walter sent a courier to the McFarlan household. The young man bowed to Mark, handing her a perfumed note. Sir Walter wished to set up a meeting with her at her earliest convenience, he told her. The courier would wait on her reply. She broke the paraffin seal and read the short sentences. The experiments were successful. She and James would be presented to the Queen at her current residence at Hampton Court in one week.
Chapter 21: A Test to Convince the Queen
Robert Deveroux, the Earl of Essex was worried. He had known his rival Captain Raleigh was up to something, sneaking furtively around between Court, London and Oxford. The man was insufferable at the best of times, but the knowing smirk that was lately planted on his sanctimonious puss was driving him mad.
His friends at Oxford weren't very helpful, either. They had been sworn to silence on a matter that they admitted Sir Walter had brought to them. Something about the origin of disease was as far as they would go. Doubtless, he would find out in Court when the arrogant bastard was ready.
* * * * * * * * * *

Margaret was the most surprised when her almost daughter announced that she would be presented to the Court. Somehow, she never took Mark's position as Representative of Mewar seriously, despite a feeling sometimes that she was more than she appeared. Suspiciously, neither her husband nor Erin was as excited as they should have been, which made her sure she was being left out of something important. This state of affairs would not be allowed to continue.
She snatched a large wooden spoon from the kitchen and whacked Mark sharply on the butt.
"Ow! Why did you do that?" Mark rubbed her bottom. 'That hurt, damn it!' She thought.
"That, for not telling me what's going on!" Margaret wound up for another swat.
Mark squealed. "Wait! Give me a chance to tell you!"
She told her adopted family about meeting Sir Walter at the moneychanger and some ideas about disease that she brought with her from India. She would explain her ideas in Court before the Queen, as well as try to gain certain privileges in England.
Albert looked at the ceiling. It was worse than he thought. The impetuous girl was at it again!
Mark saw the look. She spoke to them both. "Margaret, Albert, you've been my mother and father for so long here, I think of you that way, but I have to do my job! This isn't an adventure! The Maharana needs me to do my best. He's in a life and death struggle with the Emperor and I can't forget that." She turned to Margaret. "Mother, for I do think of you as my English mother, if I told you about meeting Sir Walter, you'd have grounded me. I don't like keeping you in the dark." She spread her hands. "But what choice did I have?" She saw Margaret pause. Impishly, Mark bent over, pointed her rear end at Margaret and wiggled it invitingly. "Go ahead, mother, beat your daughter if you feel she deserves it. She won't protest."
"Argh! Jayti, you're impossible." But she smiled when she returned the implement to the kitchen.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Jayti, I'm not really happy to be going to Court with you."
"Let me guess, Jim. You don't want to be recognized as a hero for my rescue. You don't want to wait in the background while I talk to the Queen about policy and you don't want to go shopping. Does that about cover it?"
Jim beamed. His bright, blue eyes shone with love. "You understand me so well."
"Well, let me tell you something, Jim. I really want you to go for purely selfish reasons. You don't have to prove anything to me, but I want to hold your arm as we walk in past the royalty and hold my head up proudly. I want the ladies at Court to look at the man next to them and wonder if he would jump in the water in the middle of a storm to save them. And, most of all, I want you to see me wear that beautiful, blue silk sari in the Court of England."
Jim smiled. There were many advantages to a woman who was so forward and honest; one of them was that it didn't waste time. "You do sound serious, future wife." He took her hands. "Of course I'll go. I'll always be proud of you, too, even if I will be known as Jayti's husband."
"And I swear, Jim," she cooed. "I'll do my best to make you forget your favorite sheep."
* * * * * * * * * *
Sir Walter met her by the bridge again, and they returned to the room to discuss the final details. He was jovial at first, pacing back and forth in front of the open window. "Well met, Jayti. You and James will be presented in the morning, about 9 o'clock. You will be in the back together. As you are announced, you will walk forward and stand before the Queen. You will curtsy and James will bow at the same time. I'll be there to tell the gripping story of James's rescue of his lady. You will look appropriately demure and rescued. The Queen will say some kind words and he will reply. You may say something and that part will be over. You will both retire until I call you forth again."
His demeanor suddenly grew more serious. "The next part is much more difficult. The experiments went well. There is now a split at Oxford with most of the scholars on your side. Most now admit the strong probability that diseases now come from these small germs. I can't tell you what an accomplishment that is. I confess I led them to believe the idea came from some important physician, perhaps here or on the continent, and I want them to declare their beliefs before the Court before I introduce you as the one having given me the experiments. Most want to try a plan of testing Cowpox and Smallpox on condemned criminals as soon as possible."
He stopped pacing and turned. His sword clanked as it brushed against the table. "As you well know, your appearance is against you. For this one day, I wish you were a stodgy buzzard with a gray beard. You'll have to be adroit and persuasive to have her Grace immediately approve this plan. I love my Queen, but she often has difficulty making up her mind. If her decision is delayed, it will be sent to her advisors and once it is known that I had a role in it, the plan could well be doomed."
He sat and placed his elbows on the table facing Mark. "We have one great advantage, surprise. There will surely be objections, perhaps from many corners. They may use one or many arguments to confuse the issue. You must be prepared for them all. For the rest of this afternoon, we will practice our strategy. You must be very careful what you say, Jayti. I have enemies in court that would destroy you to get at me."
* * * * * * * * * *
Mark hired a carriage for two days. It would take most of one day to travel to a nearby Inn in Surrey where it would be a short ride to Hampton Court in the morning. Jim and Mark spent the wonderful, bumpy, leisurely ride laughing and talking, looking at the scenery by the Thames. Erin was also with them, with her mother's reluctant consent. She would be allowed to enter as Sir Walter's guest and was beyond happiness. Still, the ride wasn't all it could have been. Jim knew Mark was unusually worried. Sir Walter had told her some things even she wasn't forthcoming about.
They arose in the early morning to get ready for Court. Mark helped Erin with her newly bought finery. First, Erin put on the shift, mainly there to protect the clothing from sweat. Next, came silk stockings held on with a garter just below the knee. The corset was strapped on with a whalebone brace insert in front for this special occasion. She was just a merchant's daughter, so she bypassed the hoopskirt. The kirtle and forepart to the kirtle completed the underpart of the dress.
Mark had practiced this with Erin beforehand, fortunately, so it went fairly quickly. The partlet went around her neck and over part of her breasts and included a small ruff. Finally, the gown was laced on and the sleeves were attached. Erin lay back on the bed while Mark put on her shoes. Her outfit, a thick luxurious light blue over dark blue ensemble, was finally on.
It was up to Erin, now. Erin applied the thick white lead base over her face and the visible areas of her breasts. She daubed vermilion for blush and coated her lips. Mark helped her with a thick gold necklace Erin had borrowed from her and, except for her dark blue matching hat with feather and gold hairpin, she was complete.
Mark was pleased. It had taken just over an hour.
Mark had to rely on Jayti's memories. She put on a full-length skirt with a drawstring and form-fitting short sleeved top that matched the dark blue of her sari. She tucked the sari in at her waist, starting from directly under her right shoulder, adjusting the length to the floor, gold trim side down. She went around her waist, pleating and tucking. Then, she folded the remaining fabric, making a pullo, and threw it over her it over her left shoulder, wrapped the excess around her body and tucked it in carefully. Finally, she pulled the excess pullo fabric over her left arm. Only her right arm was completely free, now. She put on her diamond bindi, gold bracelets, and necklace and looked at herself in the mirror. She was truly the Maharana's Representative today.
Jim met them outside. He was wearing a heavily embroidered dark blue doublet that matched Mark's sari, which was why, he now realized, she wanted to go shopping with him. His pants, hose, and long boots showed off his strong legs. His mouth dropped when he saw her. He had never seen her in a sari. Her long black hair was thrown to one side and her golden skin complemented the thick gold of her sari trim. "My God, Jayti, you're beautiful."
Erin nodded her head in affirmation. "Dear sister, there will be some jealous women inside."
Mark had her first look at Erin, made up and complete. "Erin, I think you're going to turn more than a few heads, yourself."
After they arrived, they were escorted across the bridge over the moat into the Base Court, a fair-sized courtyard immaculately kept, surrounded by a building of high, thick red brick walls with tall, elegant windows. There was still about a half-hour before they would be admitted to the Great Hall and the audience with the Queen. Mark, dressed in a sari, was an instant curiosity; most here had never even known of her existence.
A soberly dressed man in a black and purple robe broke the ice. He introduced himself as John Dee, the court astrologer for the Queen. Jim took the lead and introduced them all. The old man's smile and calm speech belied his grim appearance. Amazingly, he had actually heard of Rana Pratap, unusual in the extreme because of so few western visitors to the area, and was fascinated by the descriptions of Akbar's Empire. He was the first of several visitors. Lady Candos, Francis Clinton, approached the three in a thick dress, a large ruff, and very puffy sleeves.
The woman's initial problem was placing them on the social scale. After explaining that her father was a landowner and had indentured servants, Mark was at first placed among the gentry, although being the Representative of the Maharana made her status more ambiguous. The large diamond over her forehead decided the matter; it was bigger than anything she had. Lady Cantos treated her at just a rank below herself and passed the word.
Mark was very happy to see Jim handle himself so well. As a member of a trade mission to a distant country and as a man bringing back such a rich, exotic beauty of high class, men and women treated him with respect, although not as a member of any rank. Erin was having a good time as well. She was dressed as a member of the merchant class, but some of the young lords were giving her glances that did wonders for her ego and a few even introduced themselves. It would take several scoldings from her mother to wipe that self-important look from her face after she returned home.
The time had come to move into the Great Hall. Rank was important. When an uncertain courtier asked her position, she indignantly told the man she was a Rajput. They put her with the minor nobility and allowed Jim and Erin to stay with her.
She had a chance to look around. The Great Hall was well named. It wasn't great in size, but it was very tall and had magnificent hammer-beamed ceilings and extraordinary tapestries. The women were quite often beautiful in strange ways. There were several common themes, derived mainly from imitating the look of the Queen: some women shaved as much as an inch from their hairlines and wore wigs, or had their hair dyed a reddish-blond color. Stiff corsets were pretty, in their way, and the wonderful fabrics they used went from embroidery to velvet to furs. The white base paint on the ladies' faces was everywhere, although some faces showed signs of skin damage. No matter how hard she tried, Mark could never reconcile herself completely to the Elizabethan standard of beauty; their ideal woman seemed to have tuberculosis.
The men ranged from young to very old, but were generally in fine condition and distinguished. She reminded herself that so many of the Tudor family and their associates would come to bad ends, or did come to bad ends in her timeline. Behind this fancy dress lurked plots and betrayals. She noticed a man staring at her from near the back of the room, his placement meaning he was of very high rank. He was a fairly good-looking younger man with dark brown eyes and a mustache. Sir Walter had described him earlier. This was the Duke of Essex, Robert Devereux and Sir Walter's worst enemy.
Trumpets blared. The Royal Guards cleared everyone behind a line. The Queen was about to enter the Hall. Mark wasn't in a position to see her arrive. Her first clue was the bowing and curtsying. She had practiced this until it had become second nature, and in her excitement, it served her well. Her heart raced. She had seen Akbar's Darbar several times, but only from a distance. The arrival of Elizabeth I made it quite clear; she would have to do very well today in front of a legendary Queen for her hopes to be realized. She felt, rather than saw her pass. She didn't dare lift her eyes until she saw the people next to her rise.
Mark first saw the Queen as she was seated in a large, red, square-backed throne set on a dais in the very back of the chamber. The wall tapestry, the objects around her, and even the placement of people put her very definitely as the center of attention.
She was dressed in very thick, elegant, purple velour gown over a hoop skirt and very thick arms pieces with a many-flowered design of a general blue to green. Her thin diaphanous ruff extended more than a foot around her neck, giving her a deliberate halo. Red hair was tightly curled in rows in a vertical semicircle over her head. Her eyes were small, but kind and her nose was narrow with a slight hook. Royal trappings surrounded her including a long neck-piece, thick with large pearls following her contours almost to the floor. Queen Elizabeth exuded the heavy feel of pomp and ceremony.
There was an agenda. An announcer called persons forward to discuss business, settle disputes or once, to be praised and awarded land. Mark tried hard to get a feel for it. The men seemed to use excessive flattery, which the Queen apparently enjoyed. The Queen was quite alert and well informed, but sometimes seemed capricious. She even spat once at a man's feet and demanded he leave the hall for some unknown discourtesy. Mark could only hope to play it straight and honest and hope for the best.
Finally, their names were called. She forced herself to give Jim a smile of encouragement and stepped forward. They walked together and Mark knew she was getting the bulk of attention in her sari. She reminded herself she was a Rajput. They stopped together; she curtsied and he bowed. It couldn't have been choreographed better.
Sir Walter appeared from the side and told the tale of heroism and bravery with very few embellishments, not that it needed any. She couldn't help herself. She looked at Jim with great pride and love as the tale was being told. The Queen was impressed. She asked Jim if the story was correct. He replied that he thought the seas were nearer to 50 ft than 70, but other than that, it was accurate.
The Queen was interested in the survival box and asked for details from Jim. He answered as best he could, but referred the question back to Mark, as it was her idea. A few more questions and she gave Jim a gracious thank you from the Queen to an extremely brave and resourceful Englishman. As they walked back to their places in the assembly, Mark was once again proud to see respect for Jim in some of the nobility, from both the men and women.
She waited another half-hour for her part to come. Two doctors from Oxford in scholar's robes and hats were called forward to explain the findings of certain experiments they had conducted. They did so and requested the Queen's approval to use condemned criminals to experiment with Cowpox and Smallpox. As Sir Walter expected, an immediate argument broke out. One of the court physicians was a holdout for the spontaneous generation theory of life and was extremely vocal in his opposition. The others angrily declared that he was wrong and he must accept the evidence of his eyes, etc. The Queen put up her hand and control was immediately restored.
She looked to her side and asked her advisors what they thought of it. No one was familiar with the controversy except, of course, Sir Walter. He told the Queen that he had sent the experiments to the University to determine if it was feasible to eliminate Smallpox from England. What he had heard so far, he stated, was most encouraging. He suggested that the Queen approve the doctors' request. A low level of chatter passed through the room. Everyone wanted to get rid of Smallpox, especially the women who lived in constant fear of terrible disfigurement.
"Walter, where did you receive these experiments?" Asked the Queen.
Sir Walter bowed. "From the Representative from Mewar, your Grace."
The Queen asked something of Sir Walter in a low voice. The Queen nodded. "Please come forward, Representative Jayti Singh."
Show time. She felt all eyes on her this time as she presented herself before the Queen.
"What name do you prefer, Representative Singh?"
"Jayti, your Grace."
"What do you know of this, Jayti."
She told her about the new knowledge they had in Mewar and that she wished to give it to England. It was too important to keep. The experiments didn't originate with her, but she had performed them and they were valid. Cowpox would prevent Smallpox, but she knew no one would believe this without independent verification.
A cultured voice from close by mocked her. "Your Grace, this is just a girl. She doesn't know anything. She even fell overboard and had to be rescued. She's just passing along useless dreams to make fools of us. Our best doctors and members of the church say what she says is nonsense!"
'Careful,' she thought. 'Be cool.' Underneath, she was fuming. "Your Grace, may I be permitted to reply to the ... gentleman?"
"Lord Essex."
"Lord Essex, you may argue how I fell overboard if you wish. It changes nothing. The experiments work. The next logical step is to test. The doctors and members of the church you mentioned didn't conduct the tests and neither did you."
"Jayti, are you a Christian?"
'Oh, no. He's not getting me into that one.' She was prepared. "You know I am not, but I'm learning the Bible and I will convert when my future husband wishes. I would be glad to discuss religion with you, but is the Court a proper venue? Really, Lord Essex, shouldn't we be talking about eliminating Smallpox?"
"It is one thing to speak of such things," spoke Lord Essex. "It is another to act. You wouldn't have a problem being a part of the test, then, would you?"
Here we go. He fell right into her hands. He made it a personal challenge. "Absolutely not, Lord Essex," she replied immediately. "I am absolutely confident and I'm willing to put my life and face on the line for it. This is just too important to ignore, or to play politics with."
'Your Grace." Interrupted a voice in the back. "I would like to volunteer for the test, too." It was Jim. Somehow, she wasn't surprised. His lack of protocol and rudeness was countered by his message; no one protested his outburst.
"And I also, your Grace." It was Sir Walter.
Mark stared at him. This wasn't a part of the plan they had discussed. When he spoke, one of the Ladies in Waiting gasped. Mark looked at her. She was a very attractive woman in her early twenties. She took a mental note of who Elizabeth Throckmorton was, while the Queen decided to approve the Oxford doctors' plan.
* * * * * * * * * *
The test was conducted with twenty condemned highwaymen. Along the lines of 16th century jurisprudence, they weren't given a choice. They would be the test group. Ten would be given the Cowpox inoculations and ten would not. Regardless of whether they survived the test, they would die.
Mark didn't trust Lord Essex. According to history, he had been hanged for treason. In her mind, he could be capable of almost anything. Lord Essex might try to do something nasty, such as fake the inoculation and give them something that would just cause a fever. She warned Sir Walter and Jim to be watchful.
The infected cow was nowhere in sight as the doctor prepared to infect them with what he said was Cowpox. Sir Walter was suspicious and insisted that Mark do the inoculations. The doctor was angry and probably, justifiably so, but he did as Sir Walter directed and allowed her to scratch the underside of the forearm with material straight from the infected cow's lesions on her udder. She finished the inoculations for everyone, including the selected condemned men. Several doctors from Oxford and a few other interested physicians watched her closely.
In a few days, they all came down with mild fevers and general weakness. About half, including Mark, suffered a few small lesions on her hands that cleared up after a couple of weeks. Everyone recovered easily and was pronounced healthy and ready for the real test.
They chose an old farmhouse in the country in middle Sussex, ten miles south of Hampton Court. All the guards and the doctor in residence were previous victims of Smallpox, some with truly horrible scarring. The convicts were put into two rooms of ten apiece; each room mixed together with 5 inoculated and 5 non-inoculated prisoners. Mark, Sir Walter, and Jim would be housed in a separate room, although not locked up like the rest. No one would be allowed from the farmhouse grounds until the disease had run its course for everyone.
They didn't have long to wait. In less than a week, the guards brought in two men and a woman. The woman went into Mark's room. She was in the beginning stages of the disease and was quite frightened. Some men in the other rooms started screaming when they saw who had been brought in, even though they knew why they were there. Mark felt little sympathy for the men; they had given their victims no choice when they had robbed and killed them. Some of the men wouldn't stop screaming until Sir Walter promised the condemned to deliver 10 pounds, a large sum of money for most people of that day, to everyone's family after they were executed if they would just shut up and behave themselves. The noise ceased for a long while.
Mark tried her best to save the young woman. Her name was Gertrude Norris and she was from south of London. The poor woman had lesions on her face, hands, forearms, trunk, and especially on her palms of her hands and the soles of her feet. Mark kept her as comfortable as she could, wiping her face down with a cool rag and gaving her fluids. They all watched helplessly, as the lesions filled with fluid and then pus. The next week would tell. Mark remembered reading somewhere that most people who died of Smallpox did so during the second week.
Mark asked the doctor what else she could do to help. He shook his head in helpless resignation. He wasn't unsympathetic, but he'd been through epidemics and had seen too many people die, despite everything they had tried.
The next week was hell for the poor girl. The girl's face was covered with small pustules and they were ready to break. Her fever brought her near death. The pustules finally started erupting, bringing a large portion of the underlying skin with it, leaving the skin slick with oozing, stinking nastiness. Her screaming was an agony for the rest who had to live in the farmhouse. They all took turns caring for her. As the only woman, Mark volunteered to wipe her body clean, but it was disgusting and terrifying. She had to remind herself constantly that Jenner's work with Cowpox was already proven. She couldn't get away fast enough to wash herself off with soap and water. Finally, the scabs formed after another week. Gertrude would live, but her beauty was gone. She would have deep pits all over her face and body for the rest of her life.
Sir Walter turned out to have a soft spot for Gertrude. He had taken his turn caring for her with Mark and Jim. When he learned that her parents had died and she had no home to return to and few prospects with her beauty gone, he offered her employment at his estate in Surrey. She gratefully accepted.
This would be the time where new Smallpox patients would be appearing. The incubation cycle was usually about two weeks after being infected. Sure enough, the other rooms started the cycle over with half of them. The fever, the first sign, was just beginning. They had to live through the appalling process again, this time with new patients. Four very long weeks later, the test was over. All the non-treated patients caught the disease and four of the ten died. The rest were scarred to a greater or lesser extent. No one else caught it.
The person who was the most emotional was the doctor. He cried with joy for having seen the beginning of the end of the terrible scourge and cried with grief for the all the victims of the past. Everyone who went through those seven weeks understood what he felt.
Sir Walter, Mark, and Jim made a solemn pact to be friends after the horrible ordeal.
Towards the end, when it was clear Sir Walter wasn't going to catch the disease, Mark talked to him. Sir Walter was an enigma. He didn't have to volunteer. She had read somewhere, that his life was like a stage where he would play a role for a scene of his own choosing, but maybe that wasn't giving his bravery the credit it deserved.
"Sir Walter, I want to thank you for volunteering for this. It was very brave of you. I knew it would work and Jim trusts me, but you had the most reason to fear. I won't forget this."
He snorted. "Hah! After what you did with Lord Essex? It was sight to behold. You didn't hesitate for an instant when he dared you to be a part of the test. The Queen had Smallpox when she was a young woman and must still remember vividly the woman's special terror of being disfigured. You didn't see her face, but I could almost see the thoughts behind it. For a beautiful woman to risk such a fate deliberately with such confidence had to have been very compelling for her. And for me, too, I must admit."
"I don't believe you completely, Sir Walter. I saw the strain on you until it was clear you were immune. It was a brave act and it had honor." She paused; this next part could get touchy. "If you want some advice from a friend who sees a little of herself in you, I would get away from court and settle down. After this is over, you're going to be very popular everywhere, but in court. You should take your acres in Ireland and live life to the fullest. Again, from one friend to another, I've seen how your arrogance has made you disliked, but you don't need them, Sir Walter. Why don't you take your wife, Elizabeth Throckmorton and leave?"
Sir Walter's mouth dropped. "What? How did you know?"
"Don't worry, Sir Walter I'll never tell. In fact, I doubt anyone else knows. I watched the looks you gave her and heard the gasp she made when you volunteered. You just confirmed my suspicions." She smiled, remembering when Hassan had done that to her so long ago. "You're in a fix, you know. When she gets pregnant, as you know eventually will happen, the game will be up. You can imagine the rage of the Queen when she finds out who the father is."
She smiled and took the hand of the worried man. "Or, Sir Walter, it could play to your advantage. I don't know whether or not you've been making love to the Queen and I don't care. But I'll just bet that if I describe the nasty parts of this episode, and put you in the middle of the Smallpox infested gore, the Queen would never be able to look at you as a potential intimate partner again."
Sir Walter thought about it briefly. "And if I'm that disgusting to her, but she feels guilty about treating a hero shabbily..."
"Exactly! She might well just give you your heart's desire. I'd be glad to spread the news of your revolting nastiness, Sir Walter. Just say the word, and I'll play it anyway you like."
They were celebrated as heroes when they were finally released. They burned their clothes, cleaned themselves very thoroughly in lye soap and water, and put on new ones. Mark was very pleased to learn her suggestions about cleanliness and the elimination of rats to prevent the plague were being taken seriously.
Mark was honored before the Court again; this time in Windsor Castle, as the Queen was on her annual summer pilgrimage. This time, Mark managed to give her Grace the set of three matching diamonds Rana Pratap had given her. The Queen granted her unusual request for an order giving Mark permission to ask anyone anything about metallurgy, alchemy, gun making, or anything else concerning skills or manufacture. She silenced the grumbling of the heads of certain Guilds with a stern look.
Mark was granted additional time to praise Sir Walter's actions at the farmhouse in open court. She described in vivid detail, the gore and pus that he was up to his elbows in while caring for the life of innocents. The Smallpox she described in great detail, as she wanted to make sure his valiant actions were put into full context. Three women fainted dead away, as well as one man. The Queen was certainly no shrinking violet. She was known to have had people murdered when necessary and she enjoyed bear baiting, but the look on the Queen's face was satisfactory; Sir Walter was ruined as a lover.
There was one other change; Mark now had to call Jim, Sir James.
Chapter 22: The Banns
Several days after the officially recognized wedding of Sir Walter and Elizabeth Throckmorton, Sir James and Mark were invited to a visit with the Raleighs at their country home in Surrey, not far from Hampton Court.
They came by coach, arriving in the late afternoon after their driver fought the mud and ruts caused by the recent wet, dreary weather. As estates went, it was modest. The two-story gray, stone house on the rise looked to be only large enough to house the Raleighs and several servants. The driver pulled up to the front and James helped Mark exit the coach without too much of the muck getting on her elegant blue dress. Sir Walter and Elizabeth met them at the front; the driver continued on to the stables to put up the horses.
As a maid wiped mud from her clothing and shoes, and the men greeted each other, Elizabeth graciously welcomed Mark into the house. They had met each other briefly at the wedding, but this was the first opportunity they had to talk. Her husband had told her of the role she had had in their marriage and indeed, she was at court when Mark described the horrible events at the farmhouse. After a few minutes, it was plain that they would be friends. Mark knew that she was a brave woman to have married Sir Walter in the first place, knowing that she would almost certainly be thrown in the tower when they were found out. It had happened in Mark's timeline. She genuinely loved him.
Elizabeth had an adventurous streak. Mark's tales of India and her adventures produced looks of envy and many questions. Mark, in turn, was fascinated about life behind the scenes at court. Elizabeth was smart, too. It hadn't occurred to many people what effect the new sanitation measures during birth would have. She knew it would cause a population explosion. And that, she commented, would have a great effect on England, straining her resources.
Mark knew it, too. She'd gradually been identifying with women more and more since experiencing her first period. She knew she was a baby factory now and would live with the consequences of her actions in that area more then men would. Although she loved Jim, and understood him from her memories as a man, it was women like Erin and Elizabeth she really related to. Mark understood the fear of birth now, and the lack of independence and respect inherent in being a woman in this world was wearing. She would change it if she could. She took a gamble.
"Beth, what if I told you there was an easy and fairly safe way to stop women from having babies when they didn't want to?"
Beth looked at her with surprise, wondering where she was going with this. "There already is, Jayti." Beth smiled shyly. "The problem is that you have to think ahead. You and I both know, that can be very difficult at times."
"What I meant was something that a woman didn't have to think about. Until she wanted to have babies and decided to, she wouldn't. There is such a thing. It's called an IUD. It's a very simple thing and it goes in here." She pointed. "A women can't have babies until it's taken out. It has to be put in and taken out by a doctor, or perhaps a midwife who knows what she's doing, but it works very well. Think of the implications if such a thing were available to all."
Elizabeth laughed. "Well, the drabs in the shugging dens would certainly be pleased. The Papists would be up in arms. Except for the most religious, the women would like it very much indeed." She thought for a time. "Maybe, even most of the men. It can make a family poor and the settlement of estates difficult when there are too many children." She frowned. "You really know of such a device?" Mark nodded. Elizabeth's right eyebrow lifted a tad. "Well, then. There are a great many sides to this. I should have to think further."
"Of course, Beth."
At dinner, Mark didn't mind that most of the conversation went from Sir Walter to Sir James and the ladies were ignored. Ladies were expected to have their own interests outside the male realm. They certainly did. Mark could tell Elizabeth was thinking hard.
* * * * * * * * * *
They stayed for two days. The weather cleared up long enough for Jim and Mark to take several long walks together, to just sit, relax and laugh, to talk about whatever they wanted. On one such walk in the early afternoon of the second day, Mark knew that Jim was preoccupied, but didn't think much of it. There were so many things yet to do, so much to think about.
"Jayti, I've always wondered. Why do you say you're a Hindu? You told me you were raised a Unitarian, whatever that is."
"It's a kind of Protestant with very few rules. I suppose I say I'm Hindu because there's so much Jayti in me. She was always more religious then I was, and I felt it. I'm comfortable praying in the morning. It feels right." Mark looked at Jim. "The person I am now is a real mix. Sometimes, I really feel like a 17 year-old girl and sometimes, I feel like I have so many responsibilities that it almost overwhelms me. Jayti was the same way."
Mark put her hands apart and slowly put them together. "We had different personalities and our approach to things was different, but the way we thought about things grew closer and closer. You know, she would have loved you, Jim." She forced a smile. "We discussed marrying a person just like you before you and I even met."
Jim took her hands. "Jayti, will you marry me?"
"You're asking me now? After all this time?" Her eyes moistened and she turned away.
He took her in his arms. "Why are you crying?"
"Because, you idiot, I was waiting to be asked for so long. I was always happy to know you wanted to marry me, but it's not the same as being able to say 'yes' or 'no'. She backed off and looked at him. "Hmm. Maybe I should say 'no'."
"Oh, Jayti," he smiled. "I know you. You're never serious at such moments."
She smiled ruefully. He did know her. "Oh course, I'm going to say 'yes'. Yes, Jim, Sir James. I'll marry you!" She waited for him to put the diamond ring on her right hand, the engagement hand. She kissed him long and hard. She paused. "You still haven't asked me to convert."
"And I won't, future wife. I'm not saying it'll be easy, but if you don't want to be baptized, I'll find a place where we can both live in peace and to hell to all who would deny it to us."
Mark hugged him for a long time. He could feel her tears dampening his shirt. "That was very gracious of you Jim, but I'll be baptized as soon as I can. Saying I'm a Protestant, I can live with. They don't kill you if you drink or show your backside to a priest. I've seen how you English worship. After the required, very boring three-hour sermon, you go to the pub and become maltbugs. You drink "dragon's milk", "go-by-the-wall", "the mad dog" or "lift leg" and nobody cares. I don't think anyone but a bishop, a Puritan or a Catholic would truly care if I say a Hindu prayer in the morning as long as I don't advertise it."
"So, when would you like to be baptized?"
"As soon as possible, Sir James. I want to be married as soon as possible, too."
Jim smiled, wondering if she would ever let him live that down. "I didn't ask to be knighted, you know, and the Queen was kind enough to give me that land close to Plymouth."
She sneered. "She had to give you land, Jim. As a knight, you now have obligations to feed the poor and use your land to pay taxes to the Crown. You ducked my implied question. When are we getting married?"
"If you're baptized this Sunday, you can be married in Plymouth, with my family attending, in five weeks on a Saturday. That is the absolute minimum time we could be married. The banns have to be read for three consecutive Sundays in both parishes or the wedding won't be legal. How does that sound?"
Mark kissed him again. "That seems all right. I have to visit a few places in London to get information for the books. I should be done in a couple of weeks or so. There are so many plans to make! I know Albert will want to give me away and Margaret and Erin will need to be there. Will we get there in time for me to get to know your family?"
"Albert and his family will take a carriage in three weeks. It will take them over a week to get there over bad roads. Oh, by the way, they already know about the wedding. When they leave by carriage, we will take the cat and be there a week before them. You'll have over a week to get to know my family."
"You already told Albert about the wedding? Well I'm not angry; this is too happy a day, but Jim, the cat..."
Jim raised his hand in a calming gesture. "I listened to your "bitchin' and moanin'" as you call it, about the wet ride the cat is in heavy seas all the way up the African coast. It's been completely refitted and repainted. It now has windows and a canvas cabin; I raised the main a bit to make room. It will do fine and we'll be dry for the three days. The alternative is suffering over a week on very bad roads." He swept his hat from his head and bowed elegantly. He'd been watching Sir Walter. "Which do you prefer, my love?"
* * * * * * * * * *
A little over three weeks later, they rounded Stoke Point and headed north into Plymouth Sound. It was a clear day and the seas were low. Jim pulled down the canvas cabin and pointed out the sights as they came in. They saw Redding point to the left and several cannon guarding the harbor on both sides of the channel. The Island ahead with fortifications and guns was St. Nicholas Island. They passed it on the port side and entered a channel past a group of small cliffs and a large fort Jim called the Hoe. A small drawbridge guarding the harbor was down and Jim had to reef the sails and yell his name and business to pass through.
He waved to the man, who recognized him and jeered in a good-natured way at the strange craft. There were several available docks in the small harbor to the left. Jim pulled into the smallest that could hold the 25 ft vessel. Mark could see orderly rows of three-story stone and wood houses and shops lining the harbor and streets beyond. A stone church with a high steeple lay at the far end. Several working-class people walked the cobblestone section of the dock by the water, many stopping to take a look at the cat. Jim yelled at a blond, handsome, teenage boy walking the dock. His head turned and he suddenly ran towards the boat when he saw Jim. He stopped at the dock and nearly fell in when he saw Mark.
"Jayti," said Jim, "This is my brother Eric." They were home.
Jim tied off the cat and helped Mark up the stairs by the dock. Eric and Jim carried the waterproofed bags. The Penningtons lived on the row nearest the dock just a few houses down. The entire lower floor of the house was dedicated to sailmaking. It had five long heavy beams running the length of the house buttressed in the middle by large columns. This allowed for the necessary space to make and repair large mainsails. Jim didn't get far. Eric shouted to his father, a large, fit man in his late forties, who was busy measuring canvas on a broad table.
His father dropped what he was doing and grabbed Jim's shoulders with his large hands. He smiled at his son who he hadn't seen for two years. "Boy there are so many things to talk about. I heard the Queen knighted you!" Then, he saw Mark. His smile grew. "You must be Jayti. I'm very pleased to meet you. Sir James seems to be tongue-tied at the moment. I'm Sterling Pennington."
She smiled her best. "I'm glad to meet you, Mr. Pennington. I see where Jim gets his good looks."
He chuckled. "We'll get along fine." He waved to the rest of the workers making sails. "Come on over here. Come meet your new sister-in-law!" They lined up in loose formation. He pointed them out in order. "This tall, serious one is my oldest, Frank. He'll run this place when I'm gone." He pointed to a smaller man with brown hair. "The next oldest is Thomas here. He has a wife, Judith and they live down the street. And these are two of my daughters, Jill," a very pretty blond girl about 18 nodded and smiled, "and Jenna." A shorter, younger, and more buxom girl waved tentatively.
"The rest of my family is either married off, or at school." He gestured to Mark. "This is Jayti Singh. She comes all the way from India, but you know that already. You can all talk to her later. Now get back to work."
"Good afternoon," said Mark loudly as they turned.
Mr. Pennington shook his head sadly. "Certes Jim, your letter didn't do her justice. She's absolutely stunning, even if she does look Italian." He grinned, revealing a gap in his front teeth. "Come on upstairs and meet the wife. She's anxious to meet you." He took her hand and they ascended the stairs together.
Mark looked at Jim helplessly. This was going so fast and she hadn't had time to say more than a few words. Mark rolled his eyes. "That's my father, Jayti. He's a storm on a calm day."
Mark smelled the bread before she reached the first floor. Jim's mother was in her mid forties, but not the worn-out woman she had imagined after ten children. Her face was lined around the eyes, but her eyes were bright and clear. If she had gray in her hair, she still moved easily with the large, heavy pans of what smelled like wheaten bread. It reminded her that she hadn't eaten in several hours.
Jim's father went in first. "Matilda, look who's here!" She turned and saw Mark and Jim entering the room.
"Wait! Wait a moment!" She lay the pans on some bricks to cool. She hugged her son and gave him a peck on the cheek. "Welcome home, son. We'll talk later." She said. She went to Mark and looked at her for some time, examining her face, hair and clothes. Mark felt like opening her mouth so she could check her teeth; she hadn't been inspected so closely since the eunuchs at the Palace in Lahore.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Pennington." Mark finally said. "I'm Jayti Singh."
"Um, yes. I don't doubt that for a minute." She finally smiled at her. Apparently, she had passed. "Can you cook?" She asked.
"Yes, I can cook most things." This was something she could do. She took off her cloak; it was hot in the kitchen. "Would you allow me to help you?"
This was too much for Jim. "Mother, she just got off the boat 10 minutes ago. You can't just put her to work."
"Really Jim, it's fine. I'm not tired." It was the truth. She wasn't and if her future mother-in-law wanted to test her, she was going to pass. They finished the large meal together, talking about Jim, the family, and most of her non-harem life in India. Two hours later, Mark had learned a lot about Jim including a few embarrassing incidents in his youth.
As in most English homes, the mother served the family at dinner. Mark tried to help, but this time, she and Jim were the guests of honor and her help was refused. The topics they would discuss with the family were determined beforehand by Mark and Jim. They wouldn't say anything about the harem, not too many details about the Smallpox incident and nothing about fighting bandits in India, at least, not until after the wedding. Representing the Maharana and the rescue off of Madagascar was fine, because it was the most believable.
* * * * * * * * * *
Sleeping arrangements were simple. The women and girls were separated from the men and boys. Mark was fortunate this time to have her own bed. The girls talked late into the night. Mark told them that she really did talk to the Queen and that Jim really had been knighted for acts of bravery and service to England. After a while, she grew annoyed at their obstinate refusal to believe that their brother was a hero.
"In the morning, go down to the docks and look at that funny split boat in the first port. Your brother built that boat with his own hands after he jumped in the water to save my life during a storm 30 miles off Madagascar! We sailed it around the Horn and all the way to the Ivory Coast! I was there!"
Jenna broke the silence after her outburst. "I believe you, Jayti."
Jill said. "I believe you, too."
A few minutes later.
"Jayti?" It was Jill.
"Yes?"
"I'm glad you're marrying him. He loves you, too, you know. I've seen him look at you. Oh, one more thing."
"Yes?"
"The walls are thin. I don't doubt everyone in the house heard you."
"Great."
* * * * * * * * * *
They walked to St Andrews Church that Sunday. It wasn't difficult to make out; the large, square steeple stood out from its surroundings. This was the church she would be married in next weekend. Plymouth wasn't a large town and everyone wanted to get a look at the new woman. She smiled at the ladies and acknowledged the men. These people would probably be her neighbors some day. The sermon was not as bad as she expected. This preacher at least, seemed to get through it well enough, and had none of the condescending pontification of the jerk she had to suffer through in her London parish. She happily took communion with the rest. There is more than one way to salvation, she reminded herself. She was double covered in any case; she had done her mantra this morning before she left.
At the end of the sermon, just before ending the service, she heard the last call for reasons why she and Jim should not be married, the banns. She had forgotten that this was the last week of it. She was serene. Next week, she would be married.
"I have something to say!" shouted a man towards the back. "This woman is a liar and a fraud! She is unfit to be married in this church!"
Mark's face went white. Despite her embarrassment, she managed to look around. Most people were staring. Jim's family was in shock. The liked her and now they didn't know what to think. In the depths of anger and despair, resolve began to form. She would fight this somehow.
* * * * * * * * * *

Jim put his mug down on the kitchen table and glared at his father. "I'm telling you, it's true. Jayti did give Oxford the experiments. She gave them to Sir Walter, and he passed them on."
His father spread his hands helplessly. "Jim, that's not what the news is. Oxford is claiming credit for discovering that Cowpox prevents Smallpox. They say that it was one of their own that did it. I'm afraid she's taken you in. I won't have a liar marrying my son."
Jim's could feel the heat rise to his face. "Father, I was there at Court when Sir Walter told the Queen where the experiments came from. Jayti explained that she brought them from India. She told me what she was doing beforehand. It's all true, father."
"Son, did you actually see these experiments and this microscope of hers?"
"No, but she told me about them before it was ever brought up in Court. She's not a liar, father!"
Mr. Pennington looked at his son, sympathetically. "If it were up to me, son, I might let you marry, but Will Person heard me brag about Jayti from what I read about her in your letter. He swears that the doctor, the one who gave the Cowpox inoculations last week, says that Jayti had nothing to do with the experiments. We heard her state the opposite in our own home. It's a serious charge. With her being a foreigner, and only lately joining the church, it looks bad."
"So, father, 'It looks bad' does it? Well, father, this is really going to hurt her. Is the doctor still here?"
"No. But now she has to prove she was the author of the experiments or get someone like Sir Walter Raleigh to say under oath that he had the documents from her. From what you say, he's on his way to Ireland. You realize, we can't have her in our house until this matter is cleared up?"
Jim's voice dripped bitterness. "How convenient for the doctor. As for Jayti staying at the house, I don't think you have to worry about that; she wouldn't want to be under a roof that didn't want her for any longer than it took to pack her things. I'd be surprised if she was there now, the looks she's been getting." He hesitated. "I'm not staying either, father. I don't 'think' she is telling the truth, I 'know' she is."
Jim sighed deeply. "Father, put yourself in her position. The family that she was going to marry into has abandoned her on the word of a stranger, despite her word and the word of her betrothed. Even when the truth comes out, she will remember that. Oh, she'll forgive you all on the surface and even try hard to patch things up for my sake, but deep down, she'll know what side you chose when her honor was on the line. In a very real sense, this family is on trial, not her."
"Son, we've done nothing wrong. We have our own honor to protect."
"Really, father? She knows me and trusts me. She sees you disbelieving both of us on what we both know is a flimsy lie. This family isn't taking the honorable way; it's taking the easy way! You have no idea how much she values honor, father. You may think that she is just a girl, and mother may think that she is just an extra hand in the kitchen, but she is much, much more. The Maharana of Mewar, the ruler of a country the size of Scotland, and strong enough to fight off the most powerful Empire in the world, has put his complete trust in her. She is a Rajput, a member of the ruling class."
Jim's father was silent.
Jim looked up at his father, alarmed. "There is something else to worry about.
What would you do if someone had impugned your honor, father? Would you rest and hope that your name would be cleared quickly, or would you take action to clear your name as fast as possible?"
"She's a woman in a strange place. What could she do?"
Jim's eyes flashed. "What could she do?" Jim gradually relaxed and sank into a chair. "Well, father, I can understand your reaction. That's what everyone thinks the first time they see her. They don't see what's beneath."
He laughed suddenly, surprising his father. "The solution is to put yourself in her place. She almost always does the most direct, brave, and daring thing possible. She will probably meet with her accuser, and... Oh, Jesus, I think I know what she's going to do! Father, if you want to see your daughter-in-law, you will come with me. I just hope for your sake, we aren't too late!
* * * * * * * * * *

"Hello, Mr. Person, I'm Jayti Singh."
"I know who you are, Miss Singh. I'm not going to retract the banns, so you're just wasting your time."
"Mr. Person, I'm not going to ask you to retract the banns unless you're convinced that I'm innocent. All I'm asking is that you give me the chance to prove it to you. Is that so unfair?"
"I don't have time for this, Miss Singh."
"Very well, Mr. Person, I'll speak quickly. I believe you are being used. This is personally embarrassing to me, but it won't matter in the end. Whatever you have been told is a lie. I don't know who it was, and I don't care. I suspect someone is trying to enact some petty revenge for what happened at court, but I admit I have no proof. At any rate, the truth will come out. I believe you are an honorable person and so I will deal with you honorably. You have a choice to make. If you are absolutely sure that your source is completely honest, then stay here.
"If you have any doubts, then you should come with me today, before any real damage is done. The only way I can prove my innocence is for you to meet someone in London. There is enough time to get there and back for the wedding in the boat I arrived in. It's up to you, Mr. Person. I think we both know the consequences of being wrong. I will wait for you at the docks until noon."
* * * * * * * * * *
When Jim and his father arrived at the docks, they saw the cat round the first bend. They ran to the drawbridge, shouting for the tender to stop them. They were just in time. The drawbridge dropped, neatly trapping the cat. Mark, Mr. Person and his son looked up at them.
Jim knew that look in Mark's eye; she was coldly furious. Jim nudged his father. "Father, if you want to see your daughter-in-law after this, I suggest strongly that you apologize to her, and quickly."
Jim's father gripped his son's shoulder, and began apologizing.
Jim had to admit his father tried hard; he had never seen him so humble before, but Mark absolutely refused to leave the cat. Jim watched as Mr. Pennington received permission from Mr. Person to replace his son as chaperone. The boy left as Mr. Pennington climbed aboard.
Jim had an idea what would happen next and wasn't too surprised when his father, apologizing the whole time, tossed Mark into the water after they passed through the drawbridge. He threw her baggage onto the nearby shore. Just before they raised the main, Jim's father called back, asking for directions.
"Father," Jim shouted, "I believe you are headed to Sir Walter's estate in Surrey. It's about ten miles past London Bridge on the West bank! The dock is black with green posts! The person you are looking for is Gertrude Norris! She was with us during the Smallpox experiments!"
They waved from the boat and raised their sails. In a surprisingly short time, they were far away.
Jim fished his wife-to-be from the water after collecting her luggage. She wasn't as angry as he expected.
She stared at him, challenging him to make some smart remark. "I suppose you're going to say I was being foolish?"
He shook his head. "Jayti, I don't believe I have ever been so proud of you. You did exactly what had to be done."
She held him, soaking him instantly. He didn't mind a bit. "You know," she said, "I would have forgiven them."
"Maybe so, future wife, but I'm not so sure I would have. Fortunately, they came around."
She looked up. "All of them, Jim?"
"They will after I'm through with them," he said grimly.
She searched his eyes. She relaxed. "That's good enough for me."

* * * * * * * * * *
It was late Friday night. Mark was finally asleep in the girls' room. She awoke when Matilda nudged her shoulder. "Jayti," she hissed, "my husband and Mr. Person are downstairs. Get up!"
Mark got up quickly and put on the robe Matilda handed her. Jenna, Jill, and Erin, recently arrived from London, were awake by this time. Mark slipped into her slippers and followed Matilda downstairs.
They were both there, Mr. Pennington and Will Person. Will had his hat crumpled in his hand and looked uncomfortable. Neither of them looked like they had had any sleep. Mark waited.
"Miss Singh... began Will Person, I'm withdrawing my charge against you. I spoke with Gertrude Norris and I believe you. I admit I was wrong to have believed the doctor. All I can say is that it seemed convincing. I ask for your forgiveness."
Mark hugged him, and gave him a kiss on his whiskered cheek. He smelled like sweat and salt. "Mr. Person, as much as I disliked it personally, you were doing what you felt was right. What you did these last several days proves it. There's nothing to forgive." She smiled and took his hand. "I hope you'll be at our wedding, tomorrow."
He mumbled something inaudible, but in the affirmative and left, still embarrassed.
Mark kissed Mr. Pennington on the cheek as well. "Thank you, Mr. Pennington. That was the best gift you could have given me."
"It was the least I could do for my daughter-in-law and my son. I'm glad you were so kind to Will. He really isn't a bad man, just a hard one." He teeth shone in the lamplight. "Before I get some sleep, I want to tell you that your boat is very fast; that was a wild ride."
"Your son built it. I helped a little, but he chopped it out and did the post and beam joints."
"Yes. Actually, I heard you shout that already to my doubting daughters several nights ago. Well, good night, Jayti. I'll see you in the morning."
Erin, Jenna, and Jill woke Mark up in the early morning and prepared her for the wedding, putting on her finest English clothes. Jim waited nervously downstairs. Sterling Pennington and his sons found some musicians at the last possible minute, and they joined the Penningtons and McFarlans as they formed a procession. Jim's old friends followed, and made some marked references to bulls, snakes, and pointers on the best ways to please women, offering thoughtfully to substitute for the groom if he wasn't up to the task.
The church ceremony was fairly brief. Mark carried a garland of rosemary and rose in her hand. They pledged each other, Mark promising to love, honor, and obey, simultaneously praying that Jim wouldn't hold her to it. Jim took the ring from her right hand and placed it on her left as she looked up into his adoring face. She put the garland on her head and he kissed her, perhaps longer than custom demanded, and they walked out into a party most of the town was a part of. The rest of the day was a blur.
They went to bed that night for the first time as man and wife. Mark looked at the ring on her left hand, often. Jim was too gentle, until Mark convinced him she wasn't porcelain in the best way she could. Three wonderful days later, she awoke in the morning with her arm stretched over his chest, still smiling. She was about to drowse off again. They most definitely had the day off.
["Mark?"]
'I must be dreaming,' she thought.
["Mark, are you there?"]
['Jayti! You're back?']
["Did I go somewhere? Shiva! Over a year, Mark? Where are we? And who is he?"]

Chapter 23: Jayti Meets Jim
["Are we married?"]
['Most definitely. I'll try to think of the highlights of the last year. This may take a while...']
["Mark, you have been busy... You've changed. You seem to be much more comfortable with yourself."]
['I had to, Jayti. You were gone so long, I thought you weren't coming back. You know we have a problem.']
["I know. You have a husband who you love very much and I've never met. At least he knows about me."]
['Yes. He'll know you better, too. You would approve of him. I just have to let him know you're back.']
["You're trying hard, but a part of you isn't happy I'm here."]
['I can't hide it, Jayti. I love him. We were just married a few days ago! But if you insist, I'll stick to our original agreement. I just ask that you give me some time with him to say goodbye, and please give him some time to get used to you before you take over.']
["Oh, Mark, the pain when you said that! I won't hold you to our original agreement. All I ask is that you introduce me to him, and let me talk to him when I need to. You stay in charge, at least while we're in England. I'm sure we can work something out."]
['Thank you, Jayti. That means so much to me. I'm glad you're back. I truly missed you, but to have to give up Jim now... I'll wake him and introduce you to him after we get dressed.']
* * * * * * * * * *
Jim's mouth opened wide. "She's what!"
Mark sighed. This wasn't going to be easy. "Jayti came back this morning. She wants to meet you and I want you to meet her." She winced at his expression. "All right, Jim. This wasn't something you counted on, but Jayti actually has more right to this body than I do. I know how difficult this is, but we're a package deal." His still looked stubborn. 'Damn it. This is tough,' she thought. "You're going to get to know her, Jim!"
He sat and buried his head in his hands for a time, emitting guttural, cursing sounds. "All right, Jayti. I'll behave myself. Introduce her to me."
There was a slight shift in expression and sound. She looked awkward. "Jim, this is Jayti. I know this is hard for you. You don't know me, and I just met you." Jayti really looked at him. He was being polite, but he definitely wasn't happy. "Look, Jim. When I'm here, Mark really isn't gone. She feels everything I'm feeling. It's the same when she's in charge. We both like and want pretty much the same things, but we're not the same."
He was already convinced; Jim had just seen this woman use a hand gesture he had never seen her use before. To hear about Jayti was one thing, but to actually see her...
"Allow me to introduce myself. Imagine a smart 17 year-old girl. That's me. I'm the real Indian in this body. My memories are Indian, but Mark has also taught me a lot."
"Mark is more analytical and isn't afraid to get physical. I wouldn't have tried to rescue that sailor on the Silver Fish, for example. I would have asked you to go get him. She thinks big. I'm usually better at figuring people out. We've worked very well as a team, in the past."
"She can get pretty arrogant at times, and she tells me I'm a smart-ass. We both feel love and pain." 'Shiva! This isn't working,' she thought. She squatted down in front of him. They were at eye level. "Jim, could I hold your hand for a moment? I don't want to scare you but may I?"
Jim nodded bleakly. "This is me, Jim." She looked at him as if for the first time. "I see many wonderful memories of you from Mark. I know this is painful for you, but please don't reject me, Jim; let me get to know you."
She stood up. There was a slight change in tone. "That was Jayti."
He exhaled. "Well, I have to admit she's nice. Will I always know who's who?"
"We'll tell you. Usually." Mark smiled.
"And she feels everything you do?"
"Everything and all the time."
* * * * * * * * * *
Not long after the honeymoon, Mark completed her information gathering with a cannon manufacturing plant in Sussex. Jim was almost finished, too; a new cargo with the machine tools and chemicals was almost ready. They said their good-byes to Jim's family, and made a gift of the catamaran to Jim's father. They wouldn't be back for at least two years.
* * * * * * * * * *
They had to get used to the stench of London again, after three weeks away. They rented a small house in the notorious Southwark district to keep close to the company office that was rapidly becoming a hotbed of activity. The company was outfitting a slightly larger galleon this time, the Advance, for its long voyage to India. Jim and Albert were kept very busy with a myriad of details. With little to do for the present, Mark explored London with Erin for the last time; they would be gone in a week.
Sir Walter and Elizabeth were supposed to be in Ireland, so it was a surprise to Mark when they returned to the McFarlans to find a messenger from them waiting for her inside. Sir Walter and Elizabeth wanted to meet Jim and Mark at their earliest convenience. It sounded serious. They were staying at a friend's house in town. Mark didn't like to make snap decisions like this without Jim, but she knew he would understand the urgency. She told the messenger that they could meet for dinner tomorrow, at a local restaurant they had all enjoyed previously.
After making supper, she told Jim about it. He agreed; they would meet.
* * * * * * * * * *
When Mark and Jim arrived, they were already sitting in a corner table by the window. Mark noted that Sir Walter certainly hadn't let his impeccable standards for dress lapse. He was happy to see them. Elizabeth had a certain look in her eye that meant they needed to talk privately.
Sir Walter rose to his feet and swept his hat in that familiar way.
["I see why you like him, Mark. It's good your nipples aren't showing, revealing your interest to the world."]
['He's just eye candy, now. After last night, I don't think either one of us can complain about Jim: you, least of all. When you screamed, I thought you'd given the whole thing away.']
["He caught me by surprise... Mark, don't think I don't know what this is costing you."]
['It has to be done. It'll get easier, Jayti. I really do want you to know him.']
The life in Ireland wasn't all it was cracked up to be, explained Sir Walter. A new war with the Earl of Tyrell was making life difficult with English immigrants. He was bored anyway; life hadn't been the same he left the Court. Mark noticed a change from last time; he held Elizabeth's hand and they were clearly more intimate than they had been. According to Sir Walter, Elizabeth had surprised him by being closer to his nature than he had previously thought. She had been the one to urge him to go to India. They were here to evaluate the options.
Jim wasn't completely surprised. He had offered Sir Walter a joint venture with the company before. Sir Walter still had a wine monopoly the Queen had given him years ago, and was certainly not lacking for wealth or income to go traveling or trading. When Sir Walter started discussing trade options and Indian interests, however, Jim referred his questions to Mark.
"Walter, my wife is the Representative of the Maharana. She made the deal that gave us the mission and the trade rights. Talk to her." He laughed at the expression on his face. "You still make the mistake of underestimating her after all the things that have happened?"
Sir Walter was chagrinned. "I do confess, I did. Jayti, what would the Maharana's position be?"
"Well, Sir Walter, that depends on what you want. The Maharana is currently in a battle to stay apart from the Moghul Empire. Much progress has been made to make his position militarily stronger, but he wants more to make him truly secure. What he really needs are skilled workers, particularly in alchemy - people very good with chemicals - and iron, steel, and brass workers. People who can make tools are the most valuable. These people should ideally be able to stay for a long period of time, perhaps even settle there and be teachers. The Maharana would make it worth their while... and yours as well. They don't need soldiers or adventurers, but they do need able administrators." Mark couldn't help herself. "Everyone who goes should also be willing to bathe more than once a month, Sir Walter."
"Except for your last part on personal hygiene, I've been thinking something along those lines. I believe I could supply a boatload of experienced journeymen in the specialties you require."
"And Elizabeth," Mark said. "You wouldn't be alone. We'd have a great time together and I would introduce you to many of my friends."
She looked embarrassed. "We're still discussing that point about me going, Jayti."
Mark knew Sir Walter was a man of his times and was just trying to be cautious, but Elizabeth was her friend. "Sir Walter, you can't leave her behind. Please, Sir Walter, she would be safe with us in Udaipur."
['Damn him. He's not going for it. Would you try for me, Jayti?']
Jayti reached across the table and took his hand. "Please, Sir Walter. As a woman, I understand these things. She needs to go with us. How can you refuse your wife this urgent need to remain with her husband?" She was almost in tears when she finished.
['Jeez, Jayti, that was a little thick.']
["But effective. He has no choice now."]
"Well..."
"Oh, thank you, my lord husband!" Elizabeth knew when to step in. She pressed her lips to his hand and pressed it to her cheek.
He gradually resigned himself to the inevitable. Mark congratulated Elizabeth on her good fortune in having such a wonderful, understanding husband. When her right to travel to India was unassailable, they excused themselves, while Jim and Sir Walter discussed the trip details.
Elizabeth hugged her when they were out of sight. "Jayti, in truth I was almost sure I would be left behind. Sir Walter is convinced I would a burden."
"Just learn the language, Elizabeth, and you will never be a burden. I would teach you myself, if we were on the same boat, but perhaps I could give you something to give you a good start." Mark stopped. Elizabeth seemed distracted. "That's not why you wanted to talk to me, Beth."
"Yes. I've been thinking about this IUD. This would ease the woman's lot in life, greatly. We would be free to do other things, as well as have children, not that that isn't important, of course. Now that I'm going to India though, there's even more of a sense of urgency. It would be my wish to spread this knowledge as much as possible before I left."
"I thought you might be interested." Mark reached into her purse, attached to the garter at her waist, and pulled out a few folded papers. "I was going to pass this on to a few midwives to get things started, but this is better. If you could write some letters and send some packages to the ladies at court, it would be very helpful. If it should prove that the Queen would be amenable to the idea... but I get ahead of myself. Here is how it looks and this is how it fits."
Elizabeth's eyebrow lifted as she looked at one of the drawings. "Hello, that is explicit."
They discussed it in detail. In his previous life, Mark and his wife had decided on the IUD for birth control after they had their two girls. Mark had researched the subject and still remembered the fine points. In actuality, it was a very simple concept.
"And this copper is good for ten years?"
"Yes. As long as you follow the directions, it's extremely effective."
Elizabeth was suddenly decisive. "Jayti, I want to make some of these immediately." She looked at Mark in a way that brooked no compromise. "I intend to tell Walter that I will go shopping for the rest of the day. Will you help me do this, Jayti?"
Mark was surprised. She hadn't thought that it was so urgent.
["Do it, Mark! Can't you tell she wants one for herself? You always think about these things in the abstract, never personally."]
['When you're right, you're right... I've missed you, Jayti.']
["I know, Mark. We still make a good team."]
Mark grinned. "Of course, Beth. We'll do it right now."
Elizabeth knew of a skilled coppersmith. When they arrived at his shop, Mark drew a picture for him of the small device, complete, with a tiny spring and release mechanism he'd thought of the night before. The smith thought it would be challenging, but not impossible. He could have ten devices made by the next day along with a special tube. The man was naturally curious as to the purpose of such a thing, but didn't argue with two beautiful ladies with money who wished to remain coy.
The next day, Mark met Elizabeth at the shop. They inspected the devices. Mark made him make each as smooth as possible and checked them all for function. An hour later, she was satisfied. Elizabeth insisted that Mark come to her house. She was in a very good mood and almost skipped the way back.
When they were safely inside her bedroom and the servants had been dismissed, Beth explained herself. "Jayti, please don't be shocked, but I would have you put it inside me."
['Jesus Christ.']
["Don't hesitate, Mark. Do it. And while you're at it, have her do it to you, too. You don't want to get pregnant on the way to India."]
['I will, Jayti. It's the next logical step, isn't it? It's just that the idea takes some getting used to.']
"Very well. I'll do it for you, Beth if you do it for me."
Elizabeth had half expected that. She smiled. "Of course, Jayti. Now, what else do we need?"
"I think just boiling water, scissors, and some alcohol for our hands."
An hour later, it was done and their clothes were back on. They both felt very odd and somewhat embarrassed about what had just happened. Mark had to say it: "Elizabeth, will you still respect me in the morning?"
Elizabeth gave Mark a startled look and burst out laughing. Elizabeth hugged her. "Jayti, we will always be the very best of friends."
* * * * * * * * * *
Mark made a small dictionary of Urdu words and phrases for Sir Walter and Elizabeth before they left. They promised they would make copies for the crew and journeymen, and would try to find a native speaker for the trip. Elizabeth had the coppersmith make several hundred more IUD's, and sent them out as kits to friends, midwives, and women of influence.
* * * * * * * * * *
The Advance left with the tide, slowly leaving the dock behind. Mark and Jim stood among many others, waving to family and friends from the rail. Erin and Margaret stood on the dock, waving to Albert and Mark. Mark waved goodbye especially hard to Erin, the closest thing she had ever had to a sister in this world. Sir Walter and Elizabeth were also there. She would be seeing them soon, hopefully. Then, they were gone. It would be more than six months before they would see India again.
They quickly settled into a routine. Captain Rumbold wasn't as strict with Mark as the previous captain. Besides being married, she had a useful role to play, teaching Urdu and customs to the crew and the traders. He appreciated the way she weeded out the crew that only desired to look at a pretty woman, from those who actually had an interest in learning. It was strange though, how she seemed to have two distinct personalities: one fairly serious and one closer to a girl of her apparent age. Even the crew made a joke of it, wondering which Jayti they would get to teach them for the day.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Jim, that's what we've decided. It's going to be a 50/50 split. I'll be Mark half the time, and Jayti the other half. We'll do this on alternating days. If you don't want to see me when I'm Jayti or the other way around, that's up to you, but this is something we had to decide for ourselves." She was contrite; she hated to hurt Jim. "I'm sorry, husband. I truly am. I know this isn't fair to you. You married me; you had every right to expect more."
He waved it off impatiently. "Jayti, I understand what you're doing and why. You're both so damned noble, it makes me ill thinking about it. Believe me, I have thought about it." He laughed hysterically. "It's practically all I think about - who wouldn't, in this insane situation? I believe I would do the same thing if I were in your position. But consider this, both of you. What do you want to happen? I can tell you one thing; I won't fall out of love with the woman I married. I will love her until death."
He turned towards her, pain etched into his face. "Mark, do you want me to fall in love with Jayti? If that happened, my love, would it destroy you? Could you really sit back and watch another woman share your husband's affections?" He looked into the distance, but there was only the Atlantic. "I must know your honest answer before I know how to proceed. I'd like to hear from both of you."
This was the question Mark was dreading. "Jim, I'd be jealous if you fell in love with Jayti. I can't help it. I'm a woman, like any other... well, sort of, but I could handle it. It would make me feel worse if you didn't at least try to get to know her. If you fell in love with both of us, I could find peace with it. I would prefer that ending, most of all."
"This is Jayti, Jim, I want us to get to know each other in all possible ways. Mark chose her husband very well. I'm very attracted to you. I know it makes Mark hurt to think about this, but I know she's strong enough. But for me to be left permanently out in the cold would almost kill me." Jayti started to cry. "I know you so well from Mark's memories. We're being honest here, Jim. I already love you, and it hurts so much to only feel your love second hand!"
Mark nodded his head. So be it. At least he could relax and sleep at night, not worrying about who he had just made love to. They thought they were being clever, but there was a difference. Now that he thought about it, he deserved revenge for what they had put him through.
He put on his most serious face. "Actually, Jayti, I've fallen in love with Captain Rumbold."
"Eeeeeaaah! I'll get you for that!" They both took turns pounding him into the deck.
It took a few months for Jim to get halfway used to the idea of two women in the same body, but finally, he thought he found a solution. He explained it to them this way:
"Jayti, whoever you are today, I love you. The person watching can also be sure that, when she comes into full consciousness, I will love her, too. Since I can only love 24 hours in a day, I feel that I have fulfilled my commitment as best I can. I am, however, perfectly willing to be fought over." He yawned. "I find myself fatigued. Now, who will bring me grapes?"
['He's got us, Jayti.']
["Well, maybe. I think he's trying his best, but he's too much of a one-woman man for me to believe this new attitude. He's never actually told me to my face that he loves me. I'm not going to bring him grapes until he does."]
['You know he does, though. I'll get the grapes, but we can eat them ourselves. We will enjoy them together, rather than give them to an overly content dog.']
["But such a cute, overly content dog."]
['Too true.']
* * * * * * * * * *
Mark had just about completed the books, when they slipped by the Portuguese ports of Dju and Daman. They were home free to Surat. Now, they could only hope Rana Pratap and Udaipur were still alive. Knowing the Maharana, she felt confident. It would be good to see him, and Hassan, again. Hassan would be very happy to see Jayti.
Chapter 24: The Return to Udaipur
They pulled into Surat in the early morning. The crew was concerned by their reception. Ten soldiers in saffron garb, carrying unusual guns, swords, and shields met them at the dock. The Captain was issuing private orders to be ready, until Mark recognized one of troops. She waved her hand until she caught his attention. "Vijay!" She shouted, smiling widely. Everyone relaxed. Vijay smiled back, and explained something to the commander.
"Welcome back, Sahiba." The Commander said. "The Maharana will be happy to see you again. We're here to escort you to Udaipur with the cargo."
Mark was about to translate for Captain Rumbold, when he replied to the Commander in Urdu. "Commander, is it safe here? Could I bring most of my crew with us to Udaipur?" She was pleased; the Captain had been one of her best students.
The Commander smiled. This was unexpected; he could talk man to man with the Captain. "Yes, Captain. This place is secure. Leave a few people here, but you can take almost everyone else. Welcome to India."
The Commander had many heavy carts and horses waiting, ready for their trip back. Three days later, the long procession passed sentries in lookout posts with wires running into the ground. Mark knew they would be expected when they returned. The Captain was curious, and asked the Commander for an explanation, but he politely refused. The Captain looked to Mark, but she was forced to tell him the same thing, explaining that it was a state secret.
"Captain, Udaipur is more advanced than you think. There are just some secrets I can't give away. Only the Maharana could allow me to tell you." She understood his concern. "Please Captain, you're very welcome here. Rana Pratap is in a war. He has to be careful with his advantages." The Captain nodded. Jim, riding alongside, looked at her strangely. "I'm sorry, husband, I didn't tell you because I didn't have the right. I owe my loyalty to Rana Pratap, not the Queen."
He gripped her hand. "I married you, knowing this."
At the end of the day, they topped the hill looking down on Udaipur. The sailors stopped and looked at the walls, gates, and gorgeous architecture of this city by the lake, amidst hills, rivers, and forest. To Mark, it hadn't changed that much, but there seemed to be more soldiers, and they all had rifles. They certainly had been busy in her absence.
The procession made its way slowly down the hill. Rana Pratap, two of his advisors, a small group of high-ranking soldiers, and Hassan were there to greet them. Mark and Jim dismounted and joined the Commander, the Captain, and the Maharana's assembly.
The Commander reported first, then Rana Pratap welcomed them officially. They had had time since the sentries reported them, to prepare rooms and meals for the ship's crew. There would be a feast tonight. The traders, the Captain, and Mark would be invited to eat with the Maharana later that night. Mark and Rana Pratap exchanged smiles before they parted ways. They had much to discuss. Hassan ordered some workers to store the ship's goods. Mark and Jim waited until this was done.
Hassan finally had time to talk. "I'm glad to see you made it back, Jayti. Did you get married?" She raised her left hand with the ring.
"Jim knows about Mark, Hassan. You can speak freely. And, I think someone wants to talk to you."
The subtle change in voice. "Hello, Hassan. I haven't seen your ugly face in a long time."
"Jayti?" he said incredulously.

"Apparently."
"Jayti, I'm very happy to know you're alive." He shook his head sympathetically. "Jim, how do you deal with this? One is bad enough, but two..."
"It's not easy, Hassan. They gang up on me all the time and make my life hell." Jim couldn't hide the slightly grim smile that Jayti caught. "Look, I'll get cleaned up and I'll talk to you later. I think you three have a lot to talk about. It's great to see you, Hassan. You look well."
"Walk with me, Jayti," Hassan said after Jim left. Jayti and Hassan walked slowly to the lake. "So, how is it really, little one."
Jayti explained the arrangement they had.
"Hassan, you're the only one we could tell this to. The fact is that Mark chose her husband very well. We both love him very much. There's tension between us for the first time. Jim isn't happy with it either, although he tries to hide it. He loves both of us, as far as I can tell, but he's never said the words to me, and he doesn't tell Mark directly anymore for fear of hurting me. He was never made for a harem." She spread her hands. "There's enough love and pain to go around."
"Is there more love, than pain?"
"Yes."
"Than accept it, little one. You are more fortunate than most, and there is pain in every life." He stopped and rubbed his beard. "Let me ask you something. Does part of your pain come from knowing that Jim is unhappy?"
"Yes, Hassan, maybe even most of it."
"Then you should convince him that you're happy with each other. I know Jim as a fine man. He would be unhappy, knowing that every time he made love to one of you, the other was being hurt. It must be very hard for him. If you could convince him that everything was fine between you and Mark, then he, at least, wouldn't feel the guilt that plagues him. Jayti, do you consider yourself to be his wife?"
"Well, Mark is his wife. I know Jim thinks of her that way, too."
"Well then, the problem is obvious! Jayti, let me talk to Mark."
"This is Mark. Are you saying that Jayti should marry Jim?"
"Do you have an objection? You and Jayti are closer than husband and wife, anyway. Make it official. This would clarify things in your own minds, as well as Jim's. You work well together. Make this a project. Relax that ego of yours. When Jim is with Jayti, take pleasure in it. Your sister-wife, who you love, is happy! And when the reverse is true, Jayti, do the same for Mark! If a further reason is needed, then think of it as an obligation to your husband. He's doing his part; you owe it to him to do yours."
['Jayti, how did we miss this? I kind of like the idea of having you for a sister-wife.']
["Are you proposing?"]
['I think I am. Yes, Jayti. I am. Would you marry Jim, and be my sister-wife?']
["Yes, Mark. I would be happy to marry Jim, and be your sister-wife!"]
['Wonderful! We need to persuade Jim. Between the two of us, I don't see a problem.']
"We'll do it, Hassan. How the hell did you get to be so smart?"
"Muslims have this problem all the time."
"Well, whatever, I think this will work out fine. We owe you a big one."
* * * * * * * * * *
The supper in the Palace started late. At Jayti's urging, Jim wore a long, embroidered coat over a long-sleeve kurta, salwar pants, and a fine adivasi for his waist. According to Jayti, he looked very nice indeed. He had to admit it was comfortable. The supper obviously wasn't as formal as it could have been. Rana Pratap was a war leader, first and foremost, and preferred a fast and casual pace to slow and formal.
There was reason to celebrate; Hassan had told him earlier that the large inventory of presses, tools, machinery, and chemicals that came from the ship was greater and more diverse than he had hoped. Jayti had done very well.
When the feast was over, Rana Pratap took Jayti and Hassan to an adjoining room.
"Jayti, this meeting is to bring you up to date." He pointed to a board with a picture of Mewar with colored tacks stuck in it, one of Jayti's innovations put into practice. "As you see, we have taken back nearly all of Mewar. Most of the people I sent to the hills ten years ago have returned to their lands. The rifles have been invaluable. We shoot from the hills and passes on supply trains and troop convoys. There are now underground telegraph lines running to all major towns and cities under our control and we move troops throughout the land to stop their every attack and probe. This has caused them great hardship, and has helped keep our treasuries from being empty. Our people are happy and willing to fight to the death, now they have seen that the Moghuls can be defeated.
"That's the good news. The bad news is that we simply don't have enough rifles and ammunition to stop a major thrust. If they attack us in great force, we will lose. They have the advantage in artillery, numbers, and wealth. Now, Jayti, what can you offer us."
"Your Majesty, I tried to find the best ways available to speed up the production of bullets and rifles, and with the new equipment, we should be able to make thousands of bullets a day. I also wanted to get better ways to make cannon. I have thousands of pages of instructions and pictures on how to make complete English style steel plants and cannon factories. Except for the largest guns, I'm confident that we could match them in the quality of artillery in several months, given the manpower.
"I also have a few ideas of my own on how to improve them. Mainly, I've been trying to remember everything I ever learned about explosives, and although I can't remember all the details, I can help start a team on the right path. There's also another ship coming into Surat, expected in a month. It's carrying a load of English experts that could help run the equipment and teach. This ship is under the charge of a good friend of mine, Sir Walter Raleigh, and I hope you can use him, your Majesty; he's a very capable administrator, and a brave soldier and sailor.
"I've also written several books on chemicals, metallurgy, tools, and gun manufacture, from finding the materials in the ground all the way to the end products. I hope to meet with Mewar experts to get their knowledge on the subjects. Then, we can combine the best of each. After this is done, it should be possible to rapidly duplicate steel and weapons manufacturing throughout areas under your control.
"That's the military part of it, your Majesty. There are other areas of health and disease I would like to talk to you about when we can. It's wonderful to be back, and to see you in such good health."
"It's nice to see your face again. I understand you're married?"
"Yes, your Majesty, to James Pennington, the trader you saw me with tonight."
"That's unfortunate. I wanted you to meet my son, Amar. You would have made him an excellent advisor and wife."
['I'm glad we were married before we came back!']
["I agree, but think. If everything goes well, Amar could be the next Emperor of India after Pratap. That would have made us the most powerful woman in the world."]
['Sure, and be forced to die on a funeral pyre when he dies. No thanks.']
"Even thinking about it, does me great honor, your Majesty." She bowed deeply.
"Do you intend to go back to England with him, Jayti?"
'That was loaded question,' she thought. "Yes, your Majesty. We have a home in England waiting for us, but I intend to be here, until you become Emperor."
His eyes were steel. "Are you giving me your terms of service?"
She wasn't about to back down where Jim was concerned. "No, your Majesty, but I hope you won't put me in the position of having to violate my obligation to you, or disobey my husband."
He smiled. "Honorably put! We still have much to talk about. Circumstances are forcing me to consider some of your ideas."
* * * * * * * * * *
"But we're already married!"
"Jim, we've always been as honest as we could, haven't we? You haven't been very open to Jayti, and it's giving us problems. I want her as a sister-wife. You have to marry her and tell her you love her."
"You're my only wife, Mark. However I feel about Jayti, that won't change."
Mark looked at him sympathetically, and ran her fingers through his hair. "And that's what you have to change. This nobility is hurting us. We can both appreciate it, but it just doesn't fit this situation. She's a part of me, Jim. What we feel affects both of us. Look at me, Jim!"
He looked at her. There was no uncertainty in her eyes. "When you feel guilty about loving Jayti, it hurts both of us. I really want this, Jim; we both do. Do it."
"But..."
She sighed in exasperation. "Jim, I am not going to speak to you again until you tell Jayti you love her, and find a way to get married. I'm giving you some private time with her. I'm going to shut myself off completely until Jayti lets me know it's okay."
"You can do that?"
"It's not easy or pleasant, but yes." She kissed him. "Goodbye, Jim."
"Mark?"
"She's gone, Jim. It's Jayti."
Jim was surprised to see that Jayti was suddenly at a loss for words. She even looked shy. That convinced Jim more than anything else that Mark was gone. Jim had known Jayti for several months now. The young woman had grown on him. She was sweet, smart, funny, intuitive, and feminine. She had never made a secret of her feelings for him. He was honest enough to admit that he was very attracted to her. After many nights in her arms, he could even admit to himself that he loved her. She just wasn't Mark.
Jayti knew the conflict in Jim's heart. Mark and Jim had a history; their love had been forged into an unbreakable bond in Madagascar, the farmhouse in Surrey, and Plymouth. Even if she wanted to, she had nothing comparable to make her own connection to him. She admired Mark for what she had done. When the bandit had separated Jayti from her own body, Mark had been left to make her way in the world with the urges of a woman and the mind of a man. Somehow, she had made it work. Mark and Jim understood each other in a way she might never understand.
She knew that Mark and Jim were trying to make it work with her. They were really two of a kind. She was certain that Jim would say the correct things to her tonight and marry her as soon as possible, but she needed more. Shiva, she knew her love for him was no less than Mark's! How could she break through to him? What could she say or do to see something like what Mark saw when Jim looked at her?
If there was any time for clarity, it was now. She went to her knees in the sand and repeated the Gayatri Mantra:
"Oh God! Thou art the Giver of Life, Remover of pain and sorrow, The Bestower of happiness, Oh! Creator of the Universe, May we receive thy supreme sin-destroying light, May Thou guide our intellect to the right path."
Jayti paused before she rose until her trembling subsided. She had her answer, but did she really want to go through with it? Did she have the strength to risk all? Her spirit rebelled at her doubts. She was Rajput. She would not go down easily. Jim's love was worth it.
Jim watched her rise with new determination. Her eyes were clear and soft, the girl was gone, a woman, distinctly Jayti, was in her place.
"Jim, I release you from Mark's promise. I would rather you didn't say something you didn't feel. If you don't want me, then I will accept it. I'll explain it to Mark and make her understand that it wasn't meant to be." She smiled, sadly. "Wait an hour to think about it, Jim. I'll be waiting back in our room." She turned away and walked towards town, leaving Jim dazed, standing by the water, watching her back grow smaller.
'What am I to make of that?' he thought. She had given him an out, one he could use to be true to Mark. For a moment he felt a weight lift from his body, then he thought about it. This was not in character with what he knew of Jayti. He knew she loved him, but even though Mark insisted that Jayti was truly a strong and special person, he had always considered her Mark's weaker sister.
He walked by the shore of Lake Pichhola thinking about Jayti and what she had just offered him. Why had she done it? She had won. He was ready to tell her he loved her. He would have married her in the morning. It could only mean that it wasn't enough for her. He had no doubt that she meant what she said; she wanted him completely, or not at all. Didn't she understand what a chance she was taking? He stopped and sat on a low, flat wall by the lake and held his head in his hands. He had misjudged her badly; he felt like a complete ass.
Almost an hour later, he returned to their room and saw Jayti sitting calmly on the bed, her hands folded in her lap. Even now, her composure was perfect, although he thought she might have been crying earlier. This last demonstration of bravery broke him. He wept unashamedly.
"Jayti, I'm so sorry. I've loved you for months, and never more than now. I am so sorry for treating you the way I have."
She ran to him, but stood for a moment and searched his eyes. She found the truth there and held him close, making his shoulder damp with her tears.
Holding her as she cried in absolute relief was a revelation. He touched her hair, marveling how she was the same, but different. They took their time making love in the early morning. When they were sated and she lay in his arms, he was forced to rethink everything.
"You and Mark are very close."
She nodded against his chest. "Very, very close, Jim. It's like nothing else."
"I'm beginning to understand. Maybe, you're even closer than you think."
"Mmm. What do you mean?" She asked sleepily.
"You aren't as far apart as you used to be. You used to make love in a slightly different way. Last night, it was closer to the way Mark does it. You're speaking English, and if Mark really isn't here, how are you doing it?"
She sat up and stared at him. "Remind me never to underestimate you. First Hassan, and now you, come up with these astounding insights that should be obvious to us." She looked inward, thinking furiously. "If what you say is true, and I think it may well be, we are slowly becoming the same person."
"How do you feel about that?"
Jayti pulled herself back from the depths and focused on Jim. Her eyes were bright and wide. "I don't know. I should be scared, but I'm not. I know I've changed already. I recognize the girl I was two years ago, but I'm not her anymore. It's more like I've added to what I was, rather than having lost something - I'm still me. Mark is like an older sister, now, but I know that even she has her moments when we think very much alike...
"I think that's how it will be in the end - feeling the same way, wanting to do the same thing. I'm changing, but taking on more of who Mark is doesn't scare me." Jayti smiled, suddenly, pulling Jim's face close. She kissed him forcefully, then pushed him to the mattress. "Actually, I think she has more to worry about than I do. For instance, would she do this?"
Jim gasped. An hour later, Jim was begging her to stop. He was drained. Jayti grinned evilly. "When it finally happens, Jim, it will go one of two ways: either we will remain two separate people that feel the same way and want to do the same things, or we become the same person. Either way, I retain my consciousness. I'm not going to leave you and you're stuck with me."
He lay on his back for a time, recovering. 'Just when you think life can't get any more interesting...' he thought. He rolled to his side to face her. "However it works out, Jayti, I'll accept it." Everything seemed to be so obvious, now. "Jayti, will you marry me and be my wife, to share that role completely with Mark until death do us part?"
She went to him eagerly and held him tight. "Oh yes, Jim!"
* * * * * * * * * *
"Yes, Father Murphy, we want to get married again. What's the problem? I'm just asking you to perform the ceremony."
"It's just very irregular. I don't know if it's even legal."
"Well, Jayti. The priest just won't do it. I suppose we could go to an Imam... It may not be legal there, either, but with a little gold, I'll bet he'd do it."
"Wait! How can you risk your souls, even in jest!" He looked skyward. "Dear Lord in Heaven, forgive me if I do wrong." He still looked put out. "Lets get this over with!"
* * * * * * * * * *
Mark showed Hassan the brass stamping and cutting machinery. It was a tough thing to draw brass tubes, but they had managed. She would have preferred to have stamped one bullet per stamp, but pressing the brass tube part of the bullet into the flat base proved to be acceptable, and took only slightly longer. Bullet manufacture increased five-fold. The fulminate of mercury ingredients that she managed to remember were correct, but the correct order and mixtures took a lot of experimentation, and they had a few unplanned-for explosions before they finally got it right. In the end, they made a much better blasting cap than what they were using. The troops were happy; there were far fewer duds.
Hassan had followed Mark's advice and had standardized everything. The bullets were the same caliber and the rifles had interchangeable parts. With the new milling machines and bores, they could turn out a thousand rifles a month. Mark was ready to suggest some rifle strategies to Rana Pratap, but he had it under control. He was already a master of defense and ambushes from years of guerilla warfare with the Moghuls. He didn't know the names, but enfilade and field of fire were second nature to him.
Mark and Pratap resumed their walks by the lake, when he wasn't in the field or training the troops. Pratap realized that his success in resisting the Moghuls had attracted attention to Mewar. Of course, he had nothing to complain about. His army wasn't skirmishing anymore, and his people were back in the towns. Nonetheless, the writing was there to see; Akbar wasn't going to give him room much longer. His popularity in Rajasthan had increased with each victory, and the conquered provinces, now formally pledged to the Moghuls, were reluctant to face him. An undercurrent of Rajput pride was building in the land.
"Jayti, it's not easy to rule an Empire. There are too many people who want to kill you. You have to force people to obey you. I don't see how it would work without destroying the things I love about this land." He pointed in turn to the lake, the hills, and the city. "This is what I love. This is mine. No one can take it away from me! I have no Emperor to tell me what I can't do! Every Rajput would be denied that pleasure, if there were an Emperor."
"Your Majesty, I understand but..."
He stopped her, taking her arm. "Do you? Do you really understand, Jayti?"
Her eyes flashed. "Yes, your Majesty. When I was in the English court, they asked me what 'rank' I was. They were putting only the most important people closest to the Queen. Do you know what I told them? I told them I was a Rajput! I love this as much as you do. I would die to keep it free!"
He paused for a moment. "Well, well. Perhaps I was wrong." He released her arm. He spoke gently. "While we are alone, you may call me Pratap."
Mark was shaken by what she felt. She had never internalized the feeling to that extent. "Pratap, maybe I should describe the Moghul system and what is wrong with it."
She tried her best for the rest of the day to make him see that done properly, he could preserve the proud Rajput heritage, and still leave India strong enough to repel foreign invaders. He paid attention, this time. She wished she knew what was on his mind.
* * * * * * * * * *
Dhurjaya knew it was over when the shot struck his lower back and his legs went. He was the last to fire and the last to leave the ambush position when the call came to retreat. The rest of his unit was surely over the hill by now. He slid roughly down the embankment until he came to rest, wedged behind a boulder, but he held on to his weapon, grimly. He knew he was dead; whoever fired that lucky shot would soon be along to claim his prize. As a warrior, in the end there was only duty, he knew. There were still five bullets in his pouch. If he could fire them off quickly enough, maybe he would just leave them his rifle, with no bullets to analyze for use against Rana Pratap.
It was getting rapidly more difficult to move. His hands were weak as he strained to open the pouch. His rifle slipped from numbing fingers and fell out of reach, just as he managed to slip the drawstring. He looked at his weapon in despair, and then he laughed, painfully; there was still a way. As he swallowed the first bullet, he thought of the Maharana who gave him this chance. The second was for Amar, Pratap's brave son. The third bullet was more difficult, as he thought of his wife and young daughter, the fourth was for Mewar, may she always survive, and the fifth was for Jayti. Some said she was the Maharana's mistress, but he didn't believe it. All he knew was that she was lucky. Since she came, their fortunes had been good. He was barely conscious when the Moghul soldier appeared around the boulder. "Hello, pig," he managed, before the blade entered his heart.
* * * * * * * * * *
Akbar held the surprisingly light Mewar weapon and demanded to know why his gunsmiths couldn't duplicate the infernal thing.
"Your Majesty, we can make it, but we can't make it work. It's very ingenious. This thing slides back and something that looks like this," he held up a spent brass cartridge, "goes into the barrel. This slides forward, locking it in place, and then this trigger pushes a pin against the brass piece and somehow fires the weapon. Your Majesty, we don't know what goes in this brass container; we've never found any of these 'bullets', as the Mewar warriors call them, to analyze, but we know it's not blackpowder."
The Emperor was a confirmed realist. "I refuse to believe that a tiny kingdom can make such a weapon and that we can't match them. How many of these weapons have been manufactured?"
"We don't know, your Highness, but certainly not that many. We're almost sure they make them in Udaipur. It would take a long time for a gunsmith to make such a fine piece, and they must be very expensive. I would say no more than a few hundred. The ammunition must be difficult to make, also."
Akbar had a headache; there was something going on in Mewar. It wasn't just the guns; they seemed to be ready for everything Man Singh tried. He knew the man was far from incompetent, so what was it, spies? Rana Pratap was getting too powerful and far too popular. Much more than just an annoyance, he was becoming a threat to the very stability of the Empire. He decided that he would give Man Singh what he wanted, 200,000 Moghul troops and levies with war elephants, artillery, and cavalry. It was almost half of his available forces, but Mewar had to be crushed. An example had to be made of its people.
The Imams had been giving him an especially hard time since Mewar's recent successes. They blamed it on his haram policies of eliminating the jaziya tax and tolerance of the Hindus. According to them, they weren't people of the book, and didn't even deserve dhimmi status. They had been furious with him when he introduced his new religion, and chafed when he asserted that he, as an Emperor, had the power to make law, even if it conflicted with the Koran. Regardless, it was time for Jihad in Mewar. They had gone too far. The men would die and the women and children would become slaves. He would send Selim, too. It was time his oldest son was weaned from the soft women and alcohol.

Chapter 25: Jihad
Rana Pratap and his welcoming committee stood outside the Lion gate as the exhausted party of journeymen, sailors, and traders arrived. Jayti waved to Elizabeth, who was elated to see her after so many months at sea. Jayti noted proudly that Sir Walter and Elizabeth had studied their Urdu during the journey. They spoke with an accent and used some different words, due undoubtedly to their tutor, but they were understandable. Rana Pratap's eyes were mainly concentrated on Sir Walter, evaluating him for possible positions.
After supper, the Maharana decided to put him in charge of the journeymen and work with Hassan, an important position because it meant giving him access to state secrets. Jayti knew that this had to be, at least partly, based on her recommendation, and it humbled her. The Maharana had trusted her a great deal to allow it. Of course, it helped that Sir Walter had come through admirably. He had delivered almost two hundred journeymen and several masters of their professions, most in their early twenties. Rana Pratap was very pleased.
Mark, Jim, Sir Walter, and Elizabeth met in the evening to walk by the water. Many others were out on the cool night, including many of the new arrivals who still looked to Sir Walter for reassurance in this strange land. Mark explained the situation in the Moghul Empire and what Mewar was doing about it; there was little to hide, now; Jim had been brought in on the secret technology weeks ago and Sir Walter was about to be in the thick of it.
Sir Walter was happy to be here; he was in his element. Here was a challenge in a foreign land with a chance for glory; his wife was with him, he had been given a very nice house with a sizable garden, and his good friend James was his neighbor.
When she finally got her alone, Mark asked her how everything was, meaning the IUD. Elizabeth was very pleased with it. After the first day or so, there had been no ill effects. She hadn't told Sir Walter yet, but she would, sometime soon. In the meantime, she would enjoy the control of her own body. Elizabeth was ecstatic; Udaipur was beautiful, her husband was doing what he wanted, and she felt welcome. Mark suggested they try on some Indian clothes in the morning, and after Mark talked to the Maharana, they would go shopping together. Elizabeth happily agreed.
* * * * * * * * * *
The Maharana was in a quandary. What should he do with the Englishmen?
The Brahmans wanted them to be Sudras, a lower class caste normally assigned to peasants and craftsmen, but only after they converted to Hinduism. To them, until they were given a caste, they were just foreigners and shouldn't be permitted to marry, or even have relations with any Hindus. Mark was utterly opposed to putting them in a caste. Many of the Englishmen had been soldiers and had fought in Spain, the Netherlands, or against the Spanish Armada. One could make the case that they were Kshatrias in spirit, even though they were skilled workers, as well.
She was sure they wouldn't convert to Hinduism, anyway. Why would they put themselves under the control of an egotistical priest caste that had already shown hostility to them? They were all young men, and most were attractive. They needed women to stay in India, and to have someone to fight for. Due to the war, there were many young widows around who the Hindus treated almost like outcastes. Why not just declare the Englishmen free from caste restrictions, and permit, and even encourage, the Englishmen, the widows, or whoever else was available, to get together?
She was persuasive. The die had already been broken when the Bhils, a non-Hindu tribe, had been given citizenship status in Mewar. The Brahmans had screamed about that, but had finally relented. Pratap finally decided to let events decide for him. The Englishmen would have to demonstrate the honor and courage of the Kshatrias before he would allow any Kshatrias women, even widows, to marry them. But until then, they could mix with the lower caste women, and to the dark depths with the Brahmans. He owed the Englishmen that much, at least.
* * * * * * * * * *
Aaron Everett loved to hunt. The trip to India was long; he was far away from his home country and his native deep green forests, with their plentiful game and unique solitude. As a boy of 13, he would leave his home behind, sometimes for days, worrying his mother to no end, but never failing to bring back something for the pot and usually enough to give away to the neighbors. Although a blacksmith by trade, now, he had never ceased practicing with the longbow he and his father had made years before from an imported Spanish yew stave. They had cured and gradually carved it over several years, to ensure an especially fine draw and the power suitable for his strong, nearly six-foot frame.
His father had lamented the decision by the Queen to replace archers with gunners. He always insisted that Aaron had the potential to become the best he had ever seen, much more than just maintaining the family archer tradition. When Aaron found forests and game surrounding his new home, he quite naturally unpacked his treasure from its woolen wrappings and entered the woods.
The Bhils quickly recognized a kindred spirit in the soft-spoken man with the blue eyes and deep chest. Although they made fun of his longer bow at first, it was after all, more difficult to maneuver through the forests and required more space to shoot, he silenced them when he put 10 straight arrows into a tree at over 200 yards. Although a few of the best Bhil archers could duplicate the feat, none of them used a bow with anywhere near the power.
Two months after he arrived, a small group of Bhils, along with their new friend, were a long way from Udaipur, tracking deer. They had left the early warning posts miles behind and were closing in on the herd, when the deer unexpectedly bolted. About to curse his luck, Rhun, the Bhil leader, spotted movement at the forest's edge. He froze everyone with a gesture. His keen eyes found five Moghuls, advancing almost silently through the forest in a way that defined a scouting party. It was blind luck that they had spooked the deer. The Bhil leader had to admire the skill that had allowed them to get so close to Udaipur without being detected.
With sharp, precise motions, he directed part of the group to move to a good ambush position. The others would go with him, to take out the horses and rear guard he knew couldn't be far away. They almost didn't make it. The horses were across a wide, flat field hidden in a copse of thick trees and brush. Halfway there, one of the two sentries saw their careful progress and alerted the other. They scattered all but two of the Arabians with a slap to their flanks, and rode away at a gallop on the remaining pair. The Bhils stood, and shot their arrows as fast as they could. One hit a Moghul in the arm, but the rest missed. They were disconsolate; the Moghuls were out of their range, and free to report.
But Aaron hadn't loosed, yet. He tracked the rear warrior, and shot. It was difficult, even by his standards: a moving target at more than 300 yards. He hit him square in the back, and he went down, the distance making it a silent fall. There was one left. Four long seconds later, his bow was ready again. This last rider was at what his father called 'stupid range'; it was near the very limit of his bow. Without effort, he eliminated all distractions and concentrated only on the bright retreating chain mail of the Moghul. His fingers released without thinking. The arrow sped high and out of sight until it appeared under the shoulder blades of the remaining rider. A few seconds later, he slumped to the side and dropped.
The Bhils stood and stared at Aaron and his bow. They'd never seen such a shot. Rhun slapped him on the back, and white, even teeth showed themselves. Then they ran for the men. The last man was alive, but only briefly. The shot had punctured a lung and he was coughing up frothy, red blood. He died before they could get anything from him. Rhun was disgusted. He hoped the others were having better luck capturing Moghuls to interrogate. They were.
* * * * * * * * * *
Rana Pratap pointed to the board, showing where the invading armies were forming and explained the Moghul strategy. They would hit Mewar in two parts: The bulk of the army would attack in the North at Haldhigati Pass with 150,000 men. His old adversary, Man Singh, would be in charge. Apparently, they planned to hit Mewar hard and hope that sheer numbers would be the key to victory, as it had been in 1576. If they broke through, Mewar would be open for destruction. Another, smaller force, would be invading from the east through the Aravalli hills to threaten Udaipur, hoping to divert forces from the main battle.
It would have a good strategy a few months ago. Despite Mewar's recent successes against the Moghuls, at that time, they had only about 2,000 rifles and limited ammunition of dubious quality. Working day and night, they now had over 5,000 rifles and hundreds of thousands of rounds. The first battle of Haldhigati had been barely lost with 20,000 of his men against 80,000 Moghuls, but it had forced him into the hills for several long years. Akbar must be desperate to fight before Mewar's strength became too strong for him. It was a good thing that the Englishman had such skill with the bow. That act had given them at least a couple more days to prepare, an eternity in war.
* * * * * * * * * *
Hassan and Sir Walter stood together, as each spoke to their teams. Hassan's team already knew what would happen if they lost. They and their families would be butchered in a bloodbath and Mewar would be a memory. Hassan only reminded them that this attack was done in response to their efforts; that now, the mighty Akbar feared Mewar's strength. Although none of them were of the warrior caste, he knew they would do their duty.
Sir Walter had a different problem. After only two months in India, his men were now unexpectedly in a life and death struggle. Most were here to get away from the restrictions of England and for adventure. Many of the men were here because of Sir Walter's charisma and reputation. A lot depended on how he acted.
Fortunately, Jayti and Pratap had given his men an extra incentive; more than half of his men had girl friends, and they were itching to prove themselves to their Rajput hosts, who weren't quite sure what to make of them. He would set the tone:
"Most of you came here for adventure and a new life. We have found it. We have been treated well and welcomed by the Maharana to this new land. As yet, it's been Mewar that's been doing the giving. We've been treated with honor, something they have in abundance." He paused in his pacing, and faced them, making sure he made eye contact with everyone in the room.
"But make no mistake, they look to us as men with valued skills, but have no idea of our true mettle. There are those who say we aren't as brave as the Kshatrias, and therefor we aren't good enough for their women." Sir Walter was pleased to see that it hit home. Men who traveled 10,000 miles to an unknown future normally didn't lack courage.
"We didn't ask for this fight, but I welcome it. We've been given the chance to show what we're made of, and to make our place in this land. What we do during this battle will affect our children and their children. A hundred years from now, our descendents will look back with pride at what we do; the day we showed the Rajputs that the English have as much honor and bravery as any man alive!"
Hassan didn't understand more than a word or two of it, but if the reactions of the men were any indication, it was a good speech. In the meantime, they had a few last minute things to finish. It would be a long night.
* * * * * * * * * *
Prince Amar hadn't been to Udaipur in some time, spending most of his time either in the field, commanding troops against Moghul caravans, or setting ambushes when he wasn't in the fortress of Khumbalgarh. When he received the telegraph of the invasion, he left as quickly as he could to defend the city his grandfather built. His father would defend the Haldighati Pass with 25,000 men and 4,000 rifles against 150,000 Moghul troops. To him, was left the task of defending Udaipur. He didn't know who had the easier job.
They all met in the Palace, a day before the attack, his Commanders, Hassan, Sir Walter Raleigh, the Bhil commanders, and finally, Jayti, the woman from Jodhpur his father talked about so much. This was the first time they had met.
Hassan's team had come through again. Whatever happened tomorrow, when the Moghul troops attempted to pass through the woods filled with Bhils and cross the Ahar River, they wouldn't be surprised. They had made a hot air balloon with a long rope and telegraph wires attached. Observing the country at one thousand feet over the hills, the enemy would do little he wouldn't know about almost instantly. Claymores, he was already familiar with; he had used them many times on ambushes and knew their effectiveness. Hassan's team and this new group of Englishmen were working feverishly to make as many as they could.
Jayti supervised English metal workers making several large rifles and a small production line of large bottle shaped bullets. They were long range elephant killers, she explained, something the smaller rifles didn't do very well. Most of them would be sent to support his father.
* * * * * * * * * *
Rana Pratap prepared his troops for possibly the last time. He was now much older than that first battle and was nearing 50. His old armor had to be modified to fit his new girth, and his faithful horse, Chetak, was long gone. This new horse, at least, would carry the same well-known colorful armor with the false trunk designed to scare horses and fool enemy elephants; he wouldn't hide from his old foe. Now, all he needed to have a chance were those new rifles Jayti promised him. Time was getting late, but surely the Gods wouldn't let him get this far without granting him the final victory.
* * * * * * * * * *
Man Singh mounted the final hill overlooking the pass. His advance scouts were correct; somehow, Rana Pratap knew they were coming, and his forces were entrenched around the kilometer-wide pass. He knew there would be no success drawing him out from the hills, no more than last time. In fact, with those damn rifles, Pratap actually had the advantage if he sat still. He could pick his troops off at long range, out of range of everything except his cannons, and he barely had an advantage there. It wouldn't matter in the end. Throwing everything at him at once would overpower him. He was outnumbered at least six to one and he couldn't have that many rifles.
* * * * * * * * * *
As far as Muhammad Bakshir, the Moghul Commander of the southern force attacking Udaipur later recalled, the first sign that something might not have been quite right were the sounds of about 50 distant booms. He had no way of knowing they were sighting-in 50-caliber rifles.
Man Singh's instructions were clear. He was to take Udaipur if he could, but to be sure he tied up as many resources as practicable to ensure that Man Singh had as much of an edge as possible at Haldighati Pass. To him, the instructions he just tie-up resources were ludicrous. With 50,000 men, a fair amount of cavalry, and 200 war elephants, Muhammad Bakshir thought he could probably conquer the entire province of Mewar after he had eliminated their weapons manufacturing facility in Udaipur.
* * * * * * * * * *
As soon as the 50 caliber rifles were sighted-in, Prince Amar sent eight of the ten rifles, along with 1,000 rounds, to Haldighati Pass under guard, keeping two for himself. He already had reports coming in from the south road, where 50 cannon and supplies were about 30 miles away and moving slowly towards Udaipur. Prince Amar was never one to miss an opportunity; the enemy attack wasn't supposed to come until tomorrow. As far as he was concerned, he had an entire free day to create havoc with the Moghuls. Once again, he praised his father for having the foresight to run telegraph lines throughout Mewar. A wild plan began to form in Amar's mind.
* * * * * * * * * *
Commander Hassim Baktyar had little warning of the ambush, and could hardly believe its ferocity. One of the advance guard cried out a warning when they were halfway through the pass. Suddenly, pandemonium broke out. From the tree line on the right, perhaps 200 yards away, several hundred rifles barked almost as one. The man riding with him, who had just been discussing plans for his new house with him, went down when his head exploded. His own horse reared, and he knew the stallion had saved his life when he felt the passage of a bullet just past his eyes. In less than a minute, more than half of the 3,000 men guarding the train were down. The rest were hiding behind the wagons; their backs against a sheer wall, only partially concealed from the murderously accurate fire.
A few were escaping by riding forward, or returning the way they had come. Riding individually towards their tormenters was met with death. He had to do something. Many of his brave men were already firing back; he heard more than one shriek of pain through the din, coming from the killers in the woods. He couldn't believe their rate of fire; it sounded like a constant stream of bullets. From the smoke, he saw that they were scattered about one every 10 feet, obviously trying to cover the entire supply train. That was their weakness, he realized. There was only one thing to do, concentrate the attack on one point and break their line.
He knew he would see his wife in heaven. "Allahu Akbar! Follow me!" he yelled, and ran towards the trees. Several hundred of his men, apparently, were just waiting for someone to lead the charge. Miraculously, he made it more than halfway to the trees before he went down from a tremendous blow to his chest. Before he faded forever, he just had time to see more than two hundred of his men make it through the rain of fire to begin butchering the faceless men in the woods.
* * * * * * * * * *
The Bhil force returned in the early evening. They had followed battle discipline and destroyed everything they couldn't carry back with them. Casualties were 60 dead and almost 50 injured vs. almost 3,000 dead and an entire Moghul supply train with food, cannon, and gunpowder reserves, destroyed. 'Not a bad day,' thought Amar, 'and the battle hasn't even begun'.
* * * * * * * * * *
Muhammad Bakshir was furious when he found out that evening that in one stroke, almost all his artillery was gone. He didn't believe the men coming back with reports of 500 rifles. It was just an excuse for cowardice, and they were beaten. According to the higher-ups, there were no more than 1000 rifles in all of Mewar. Fortunately, he still had enough supplies to last a week; it shouldn't take anywhere near that long to decide the battle.
The Moghuls moved out before dawn; the main force pushing its way through the center, reinforced by war elephants. The flanks were spread out to the north and south, accompanied by cavalry meant to crush Udaipur in a pincer movement. It would be tough going through the hilly terrain and forest, but almost 50,000 men would surely prevail against perhaps 5,000 men, all Pratap's son could manage.
Commander Akbar Raman of the northern force immediately ran into problems. As a veteran of many battles with the Maharana, he was already familiar with claymores, nasty bombs that spread shrapnel that injured and often killed. The Bhils had laid out tripwires in the night, and in every direction of their advance, the lead troops were dying. In the first few minutes alone, several hundred were injured or dead and the screams of the newly blind and maimed were everywhere. He gnashed his teeth in frustration, but until the sun rose and the tripwires became visible, movement faster than a crawl would be suicide. In the meantime, enemy snipers were picking-off his officers and horses. He could see the flashes clearly in the dimness, each one well out of range. After a while, the smell of the not-quite-gunpowder of their rifles drifted in.
Muhammad Bakshir commanded the center. The trees were far enough apart that he could move his specially armored war elephants just ahead of the troops. The extra plate armor in the front and sides was almost proof against Mewar rifles, and only a solid hit would penetrate, which, more often than not, would just make the elephant mad. Despite their extra weight, they still moved faster than a man and were almost unstoppable; their trunks were equipped with broadswords and the armored howdah contained several loaded muskets and back-up bows for quick firing. Bakshir's forces marched uncontested on a front over a mile wide, for more than two miles. They crossed over the crest of a hill into a valley, the drums and war shouts echoing in the early morning. The very earth pounded with the force of tens of thousands.
Suddenly, two guns on the opposite ridge erupted in fire, and the elephants began to drop. The large blasts were coming from locations about a half-mile apart, so loud they sounded almost like artillery. As his horse passed one of the abruptly dead elephants, he saw a huge hole torn through the frontal armor like it had been made of paper. The mahout knelt by his silent charge and wept, ignoring his broken arm. Mohammad was no stranger to death and would accept it when it came, but even he was appalled, the range of those guns was over a half-mile! Already in the few minutes they had started over the ridge, more than 100 elephants were down and many more, their mahouts dead, were raging out of control, charging his own troops. He sounded the retreat for the elephants, but it was really too late. They were all in the valley and only the ones in the rear had a chance to escape. He concentrated on rallying his unsettled troops, riding up and down the lines, waving his scimitar wildly, shouting for the advance. His pride in them swelled his heart as they responded enthusiastically and charged the ridge yelling, "Allahu Akbar!"
At four hundred yards, the real killing began. Almost 1000 rifles hidden in the bushes opened fire, and half that many of his troops went down, either dead or injured. From then on, the fire seemed to come from everywhere. Almost 3,000 troops went down before they managed to move within range of their own muskets. Many soldiers crouched behind scattered trees in the valley to shoot, but the inaccurate muskets were especially ineffective against men lying prone behind logs; it only gave the rifles on the ridge more time to fire. When the men, already exhausted from running most of a mile in their armor, made it over the top, the riflemen were gone. The few that tried to follow were either cut down by rifle fire from the retreating Bhils, or stopped by tripping claymores.
Mohammad swallowed bitterly; he knew it was useless. The Bhils would retreat, firing at them all the way, while making sure the Moghul army stayed out of range. He ordered a halt. They would have to do this the hard way. He paused to think, and realized he heard only scattered rifle fire from the north and south. He had to admire the commander on the other side, whoever he was. He was keeping his flanks pinned down, probably with claymores and scattered fire, while concentrating his main force on the center. But now, Mohammad knew their strength. Two could play at that game. Amidst the screaming of the thousands of wounded still in the valley, he heard a shout from one of his soldiers, who pointed to the sky. He followed his arm and saw the balloon. He had never seen or even heard of such a thing before, but he instantly understood its advantages. He cursed his luck; this was very bad.
* * * * * * * * * *
Amar's Rajputs collected about 200 rifles from the jubilant Bhils as they ran back to their temporary base camp in the forest. He barely had time to congratulate them on their victory, before the Rajput cavalry galloped to where the balloon had located the enemy supplies. They rode north, down well-marked paths free of claymores and rounded the still, mostly pinned down, northern flank. After standing off and firing on the helpless supply train guards from out of musket range for a few minutes, many disdained their rifles for swords in the final mop-up. It didn't matter. After taking only a few losses, while killing them all, the supplies were theirs. A few minutes later, they were destroyed in flames.
* * * * * * * * * *
Jayti felt helpless in the field hospital next to the women's quarters. She wanted to be with Jim, manufacturing bullets, but he absolutely insisted she stay away. If the Moghuls overpowered the factory and its guards, they would have to blow up the place to keep it from falling into their hands. Jim didn't want her anywhere near the place. She started to argue, but he wasn't having any. She relented in the end, and gave him the cloth bracelet that Rajput women gave their men before going into battle. They had kissed once and told each other of their love. All she could do here was wipe the brows of injured soldiers and change dressings. Her medical expertise lay with IUD's, and somehow, she was sure there would be no need for it this day. Elizabeth had joined her. The little they could do was appreciated, but it was a continuous heartbreak watching brave men die.
* * * * * * * * * *
Mohammad knew what the smoke from his rear lines meant. The remaining supplies were gone. Unless more came in soon, the only food and water the army had was being carried with them. If there was any doubt before, there was none now. They had to go forward. He rounded up the remaining commanders, and explained their desperate situation. Then, he told them what they were going to do.
The Moghuls attacked hard in the early afternoon. The flanks broke out of their trap at huge cost, the claymores taking more than 2,000 lives and 5,000 injured. They abandoned their armor for speed, and attacked into the teeth of the defenders hiding in the woods with the remaining 35,000 men. It was a slaughter. The rifles killed or injured more than 20,000 men, but they advanced. Inevitably, the Bhils and Rajputs were forced to the banks of the Ahar River, not far from the walls of Udaipur. They were never broken; information from the balloon was passed to Amar, and he made sure the enemy was countered at any possible breakthrough, but they were running out of time.
The English met them on the Udaipur side of the river, giving covering fire with the 50 or so rifles they were able to manufacture that day, as the Bhils and Rajput warriors escaped in boats. It took 5 long minutes before they were all across; they lost over 500 during the passage in the withering fire of the remaining 15,000 Moghuls, many still with muskets. At the end of the day, there were 15,000 Moghuls on one side of the Ahar with little food, and about 3,500 defenders behind the Udaipur walls. They Moghuls really had no choice; they attacked again that night, crossing the river in the early evening.
The Moghuls were reckless from necessity, brave, and knew they would go to heaven. They swarmed the walls with makeshift ladders, where thousands died, before a few lucky breaks broke the garrison at a single point, letting in over a thousand, before the remaining defenders pushed the ladders away at daybreak. The Moghuls inside the walls went through the palace, killing servants and slaughtered anyone they found. Sir Walter led the defense of the women's quarters by the factory after most of the Rajputs guarding the complex had been killed, directing the remaining rifles and ammunition to best advantage, and even defending the door and windows with his sword when necessary.
The Moghuls were split; the main part was trying to kill the defenders at the walls from the inside, but the rest went after the women. The men in the factory were in desperate straits. They were down to firing ammunition from the windows as it was being made. Moghuls were too often free to fire inside, and killed many on the assembly line, although there was always another ready to take the dead worker’s place. Somehow, the Moghuls never quite managed to break in. Ultimately, it became clear to the defenders that they were about to be overwhelmed.
There were still a few claymores left. Many of the men had girlfriends and wives next door, and knew their fate if they didn't act soon. Jim took a claymore, but a larger, older man he didn't know well ripped it from his hands. He growled. "Not you Jim. You’ll not make your pretty wife a widow." The suicide bombers ran together, screaming into the crowd of Moghuls and triggered the claymores, disappearing in separate blasts of red gore, taking out almost half of the attackers and breaking the spirit of the remainder. The rest of the factory managed to manufacture enough bullets to hold on, and then to help the defenders at the wall. The crisis was over.
The rest of the Moghuls inside the city walls were hunted down and killed within a few hours. The remaining 12,000 Moghuls outside heard a huge cheer from within the walls and knew it was over; they were in deep in hostile territory with no food. They started back, taking the south road. When the factory recovered in the late morning, the exhausted men continued to make more bullets, easier this time with all the brass lying around. As the ammunition was made, Rajputs on horseback were sent out to harass the helpless, hungry men all the way out of Mewar, keeping them away from water sources. Few made it out alive.
* * * * * * * * * *
Rana Pratap ordered 500 riflemen on horseback to just within range of the hilltop where Man Singh and Salim stood. The day nearly ended right there; Man Singh felt a tug at his sleeve and Salim's horse was shot from under him. They also fired on the cannon crews, hitting many, and disrupting return fire from the batteries. They rode off after a few minutes, leaving more than 200 dead and 400 wounded before an effective response could be mounted. A clearer statement could hardly be imagined. If Man Singh did nothing, Pratap would keep picking at his forces at the Maharana's leisure.
Pratap saluted the returning men by raising the ancient banner of Mewar, its crimson field and golden face of the Sun God in its center. A rider approached from the ranks, informing him that the 50-caliber rifles had arrived. Completely satisfied, he rode back to his troops, his back elegantly presented to the enemy.
Man Singh attacked in the early morning. The huge army advanced slowly, but steadily across the vast plain of brush and small trees, the ground rumbling low thunder in the morning air. Their formations gradually narrowed as they approached the kilometer-wide pass. Trickles of sweat rolled down faces in the rising heat. Dust from more than 100,000 pairs of feet rose above the trees in the distance, filtering the sun. As the enemy advanced to 400 yards, Pratap raised his banner. More than 2,000 rifles fired. They could hardly miss; there were rows 10 deep in the enemy formation. They reloaded and kept firing until suddenly, the entire enemy force was on the ground, the last few managing to get within 50 yd. In just a few minutes, the 6,000 were mostly silent, just a few soldiers moaning or wailing on the dusty ground.
Pratap despised Man Singh at that moment; these were Moghul Rajputs used as cannon fodder to determine his firepower. As Pratap suspected, Man Singh wasn't sure of how many rifles he had. If Man Singh thought he knew now, he had miscalculated; Pratap had only used half his rifles. Pratap saw a distant banner wave, giving the order to advance the Moghul Army. They would keep coming until Pratap was destroyed. Pratap was delighted; it was all going to plan. The key would be the elephants.
The next group also consisted of Moghul Rajputs. Pratap was enraged; Man Singh was using him to kill his own countrymen. He had the same 2,000 rifles fire into the huge phalanx of men, but let loose the elephants and 10,000 of his own men, to mop up the disorder in the enemy ranks after half the enemy were down. 'That should bring him out,' he thought. 'He knows my elephants will be going after his own, next.'
Man Singh brought up his own elephants to counter Pratap's. It would be Man Singh's 400 elephants to Pratap's 200, except that Pratap had the 50-caliber rifles. As Man's elephants came within 500 yards, the 50's opened fire and more than half of the fearsome beasts dropped in the first minute with many more left bellowing in rage and agony from the huge holes in their hides. Virtually every shot found its mark; even at 500 yards, it was proving difficult to miss an elephant. Many of the more slightly injured went berserk in their ranks, trampling anything in their path, their tusks ripping and broadswords in trunks slicing unarmored flesh. Pratap's elephants moved on to destroy a phalanx of foreign-born Moghuls, the armored howdahs spewing death.
He released 5,000 more of his troops into the chaos, and the screams of victory and the howls of death were heard across the plain. He felt the impulse to join them as he had done at the first battle, butchering the enemy from horseback with his large two-handed sword and spears, but he suppressed the urge; he was too valuable to lose.
He ordered his elephants to join battle with another part of Man's army, always staying within range of his rifles, firing into the melee. The other enemy groups during this time had been steadily advancing towards his position, hoping to overload his fire capacity. When they were 300 yards from him, he raised the banner and the other 2,000 rifles fired over his head, destroying them as he turned and calmly rode back into his ranks.
Now, Man Singh knew his true strength, but it was too late. His elephants were gone and more than 25,000 of his forces were down. Pratap gave the order to move out with part of his rifles. His commanders in the field moved in wide rows of three deep, pausing occasionally to generate withering fire into enemy ranks while staying out of range of their muskets.
* * * * * * * * * *
Man's hands whitened on the reins as he witnessed the disaster. Akbar's oldest son, Selim, a handsome young man used to the pleasures of the harem and drink, had been sent here to see how battles were fought. Selim was currently wiping vomit from his chin. Man waved for the retreat and the horns sounded. His only hope was to bring his troops back within range of his artillery. He had been wrong not to have them move forward as his army advanced. His stomach was sour, knowing how Pratap had tricked him, making him think at the beginning that Pratap's objective was to kill him and Prince Selim because of weakness on the field. He had held back his cannon to defend against an expected all-out strike to get the command staff. He wouldn't make that mistake tomorrow. The day was lost, but perhaps, not the battle.
* * * * * * * * * *
Pratap called for a retreat; his troops were getting too close to the deadly artillery. With the numbers still in Man's favor, if he engaged Man's troops in range of Man's artillery, Man wouldn't hesitate to fire into his own men to kill some of his soldiers. His warriors and elephants returned to the base to enormous cheering in the late afternoon. He knew it wasn't over; Man would rest, regroup, lick his wounds, and he would be back tomorrow. Pratap knew he was in trouble; half his rifle ammunition had been expended. He wondered how his son was doing in Udaipur.
* * * * * * * * * *
Jayti was overwhelmed by the carnage after the battle. It had been a very close thing, and there was still work to do; the makeshift hospital was fully occupied with bleeding and dying men. Elizabeth was already in tears when two Rajputs assisted her husband inside. He was weak from loss of blood from several wounds, but would recover. She kissed him and they said a few words to each other, but she had to move on; there were others in far worse shape.
When Elizabeth told Jayti that Sir Walter had seen Jim, and that he was only slightly injured, most of her tension dropped away. She was able to concentrate. After watching the overworked doctor sew up a few wounds, Jayti decided to try her hand at it. It was either that, or allow her patients to bleed to death. She sterilized them first as best she could with alcohol and when they ran out, with human urine. None of the injured complained, and many didn't even cry out when the large, curved needle entered their flesh. At the end of the longest day of her life, she was told to go home. Sleep came instantly for her as she collapsed on the bed with her clothes on. She was too tired to dream.
* * * * * * * * * *
Pratap was overjoyed at news of his son's victory in Udaipur. Amar would send whatever aid he could manage, but they were almost dead on their feet. Pratap hoped his son could help, but the old man wasn't out of tricks yet. If Man followed the same pattern he did 13 years ago at the old battle of Haldighati Pass, he was in for a big surprise.
The new morning began much as the previous day with the marching of the somewhat lesser, but still huge army across the grounds. This time, the artillery moved with them and Pratap followed it closely. There were several established paths through the plain suitable for moving heavy artillery. If Man took the same route... It was an awful chance he was taking, but he had always known Man to keep doing something that worked, and he did it again. The artillery traveled down the same road it had traveled so many years ago. Now all he had to do was wait and see if this latest trick of Jayti's worked as well in reality, as it had as a demonstration.
* * * * * * * * * *
Dhurjaya waited in his tiny bunker as enemy troops walked past and over him. He had a wide, but tiny view of the road, just under the flat rock that concealed his position. His hand was on the switch, and he thought to himself that he probably had the easiest job in the army. All he had to do was press a few buttons; the battery at his feet would send electricity to the explosives they planted last night. The thin wires at the end would heat up and fire them off. He hoped the enemy would hurry up a little, though, he had to piss very badly. He watched, as the artillery train slowly came into view. It was almost in position...
* * * * * * * * * *
Man Singh watched in fury as the earth exploded under the artillery train, blowing up his gunpowder wagons and destroying half his artillery. In one stroke, his advantage was gone. His army was completely open to counter-attack by his hated adversary. There was no option; he would have to retreat before Pratap's accursed rifles destroyed half the forces of the Emperor.
Pratap knew he was watching the beginning of the end of the Moghuls in India when Man Singh started his slow retreat. Of course, he wasn't going to let them just leave. He sent his elephants and 2,000 mounted rifles out on a last mission to wipe out the foreign units in the field. They swept out into the valley, shouting and screaming obscene epithets, justified after the decades of war and this latest Jihad. The Moghuls had come into Mewar to slaughter infidels, and deserved no mercy. He felt no pity as his rifles picked them off at 400 yards. Twenty thousand more Moghuls died that day. The Rajput Moghuls refused to fight for the Emperor any longer. They cheered Pratap as the hated foreigners fell, bled, and died alone.
Chapter 26: Victory and Reunion
When Man Singh reported the complete failure in Mewar, Akbar's first inclination was to dismiss him from service. This was a catastrophe. The Rajputs had been given new heart and were ready to follow Pratap, given half a chance. Akbar could already see everything slipping from his grasp. Pratap had beaten his best and would only get stronger.
* * * * * * * * * *
Mark and Pratap walked by Pichhola Lake a few days after the 2nd battle of Halighati. "You know, Jayti, everything that's happened has forced me down this road, but it was never my intention to be Emperor."
"Pratap, I've thought the same thing at times. It seems like fate was dragging me along, too."
"Well, I can't complain. The path is clear now, and it looks like a great one. I know what I need to do and I have the power to do it. If you want to go back to England with Jim, I won't object. You've done enough. I can see the end in sight. Rajasthan will be mine soon, and Akbar and the Moghuls are finished. I've already heard from Raja Mota about an alliance. The rest will soon follow."
"I'd like to stay in India until you have what I can give, but I would like a vacation. My husband still hasn't met my family." She smiled. "We Rajputs are an independent group, but if anyone can get us together, you can. I hope you've been thinking about the things we talked about before."
"I have, and much of it makes good sense. Just don't expect things to happen overnight, and don't think it will be pretty."
* * * * * * * * * *
The two-day trip to Jodhpur was hot, but fast on Arabian horses captured in the battle of Udaipur. Jayti hadn't been here for over two years, but it hadn't changed much. They went down the same dusty road she had followed so long ago on her way to the harem. Her mother was outside, hanging the wash, when she saw them come down the path.
Their meeting with Jayti's parents was warm and thorough as they inspected each other for changes. Jayti introduced her husband, this strange blond haired, blue eyed creature from a very foreign land. They went inside, where Jayti had a lot of explaining and catching up to do.
They stayed for two days, and Jayti was happy to learn they had a working toilet, the first she had seen in this time. She pointed this out to Jim as something they must have in their home in Plymouth and he agreed. Her parents liked Jim and he liked them. They talked about England and Udaipur where they just heard about the recent battles. "Jayti, I swear you change husbands like clothes!" exclaimed her mother, but she was joking; she liked Jim more than Abdul.
Jayti was more than curious about what had happened to Abdul. Her family didn't know that much. He had come with two soldiers after he had divorced her, and looked for Jayti. The last they heard, he had married a short, graceful woman with large dark eyes. They already had one boy, and as far as they knew, they were happy and still lived in Amber Fort.
Well, that was both a disappointment and a relief. Abdul hadn't married Inayat, after all. Jayti had been sure that a devout Muslim like Inayat would have liked being married to Abdul, and was sad that it hadn't worked according to plan, but she was content if he had found happiness.
* * * * * * * * * *
A year passed, and Rajasthan was finally his. Rana Pratap knew they would be tough, Rajputs always were, but after Akbar, they were willing to accept Pratap and his ideas of near independent states and a united Rajasthan, especially when Pratap had all the military might necessary to impose his will.
The real problems were with the Brahmans. Abolishing the caste system outright was impossible. As bad as it was, it still gave stability to Indian social life. Most Indians liked the caste system; it was inseparable from Indian culture. What they didn't like was the lack of ability to rise within it. What Rana Pratap forced down their sanctimonious throats was their tacit approval for Pratap's plan to encourage willing and able people in all castes to change jobs and caste through personal effort.
Many Rajputs were nervous about this step; after all, the Brahmans as religious leaders had sanctified the Rajputs as the rightful rulers in Rajasthan, if this support was withdrawn, how could they justify their right to rule? It worked out. In the final analysis, Pratap was a stronger force than the Brahmans who spoke out against him. He carefully cultivated division in the Brahman leadership and disconnected a few recalcitrant heads from their bodies. The problem was solved.
After that was in place, he forced everyone to acknowledge the law of the land over religious law. This wasn't as hard as it seemed. Most Indians of all religious beliefs were pragmatic and sick of the divisions and restrictions made by religion.
The telegraph connected all of Rajasthan and made unification and government much easier.
* * * * * * * * * *
It was a hot day in June, when the saffron-robed forces of Rajasthan formed on the Diwan-i-am, outside the Imperial Palace in Lahore for Emperor Akbar's surrender.
The packing for the thousands of wagons required for the journey to Turkey had been done long ago, and most of the train had already left the palace.
'How had it come to this?' wondered Akbar, for the thousandth time. Not long before, he was on the verge of taking all of Northern India. The Imams said that this was a punishment for not treating the Hindus as conquered people, that he had treated them too well, but he knew they were wrong. It was those new weapons of theirs that did it and a device called the telegraph. His spies had tried hard to find the source, but all they could come up with were rumors of a girl and a eunuch.
It was time. There were few members of his staff left, willing to stay and suffer the humiliation of having a joint of their finger removed, the decreed penalty for all Moghul administrators and nobles. There would have been even fewer, except for Pratap's amnesty for those loyal enough to stay behind for this one day. He had a fleeting thought about how Abul Fazl, his loyal biographer, would record this event. He walked out to the Darbar for the last time in his finest jawa and turban, his sons Salim, Daniyal, and Murad close behind. He would set an example for them; it was all he could do, now.
He approached the Rajput contingent. He recognized Rana Pratap and a couple of his advisors, but the bearded man, the two Europeans, and the pretty young woman seemed out of place.
Jayti watched Emperor Akbar approach with his sons and closest advisors.
["Do you feel anything, Mark?"]
['I thought I would feel more. I'm very satisfied, Jayti, but I'm also weary. This is what we've worked so hard for, and I'm glad it's over.']
["I know what you mean. There are a few things left to do, but I want to be a baby factory soon."]
['Well, look who's here, our ex-husband.']
["He still looks like he's very angry at us, Mark. He might do something stupid."]
Emperor Akbar approached Pratap and faced him. Pratap was slightly taller.
"Pratap, it looks more and more like it was a bad idea not to have accepted your peace agreement those many years ago."
Pratap's eyes were cold orbs in a grim face. "Yes, Akbar, from your point of view, I suppose so. I'm glad you didn't. I wouldn't be watching you leave India. You declared Jihad on Mewar, Akbar. You're fortunate to be alive. Give me your sword, and let's get this over with."
Akbar’s jaw clenched, but he remained silent. He withdrew his sword, presented it to Pratap, hilt first, and bowed slightly. Pratap took it, and surprised Jayti by giving it to her. “Take this, Jayti. You deserve this more than anyone.”
It was too much for Abdul. He charged her. Jayti didn't think. She caught him coming in with a sidekick to the solar plexus. It put him on the ground, gasping for breath. Saffron-robed guards surrounded him quickly and leveled their rifles at his head.
Jayti sadly shook her head, but remembered to thank Pratap, now Emperor Pratap, for the gift of Akbar's sword.
Pratap broke the sudden tension when he laughed. "What do you want to do with him, Jayti? He deserves death."
"Your Highness, I think we should just let him go. He won't ever live this down."
"I don't doubt that. As you wish." He waved the guards off and allowed Abdul to slink off, following the rest of the Moghul contingent.
* * * * * * * * * *
Maryam, Fatima, Inayat, and Farha were nervous as the new guards came for them. They had all heard stories of rape and torture of these new rulers and there had been a few incidents in the harem when the new guards and gorgeous women, who hadn't seen intact men in years, had met for the first time. It had taken time for some of the women to readjust responses that had been honed for years to attract men.
They traveled the corridor from the Major Harem to the palace, a place she only saw at infrequent intervals, and then only at night. She looked around like a tourist at all the beauty she had missed in the daylight. She couldn't help noticing all the men, some very handsome and young, younger in many cases then she was now. She had a sudden worry that they would find her unattractive. The looks she received relieved her of that brief doubt. They came to a large room in the administrative section, and were guided inside where two people stood, one very familiar and grinning from ear to ear.
"Jayti!" Her jaw dropped. This was absolutely the last person she expected. They were both crying before they crossed the floor to embrace in the middle. Fatima, Inayat and Farha joined them a heartbeat or two later. After a long minute, Jayti turned, teary-eyed, to the rest of the men in the room. She spoke to a very good-looking blond man, in particular.
"Husband, would you please take the rest of the men from the room? I think we have to talk for a while."
He nodded in sympathy, and everyone left, including the guards. Just before he closed the door, Maryam caught a look between them of something she had forgotten. Those two had real love, but there was something else... pride, respect? It was suddenly too much. She knew she was tough; she had to be to rise to her position. She had fought for years to get a look of appreciation from Akbar, working so hard for a crumb of recognition. She had even fooled herself into thinking she was satisfied with her life!
That look destroyed her world; it made a lie of everything she had fought for these last several years. What had she been missing in that place? She would give anything to be looked at like that! Jayti guided her onto a divan, where she sobbed into a silk cushion.
Jayti rubbed her back like she used to do and stroked her hair. "It's over, Maryam," she kept repeating. Did Jayti really understand what had just happened? Maryam rubbed her kohl-streaked eyes and looked at Jayti, appraising her. Jayti was older. She must be almost 20 years old by now. She looked much tougher and even more confident than she remembered. There was pain there, and weariness, too. Maryam felt like the younger woman, now. She noticed the other women looking at her strangely. She sighed heavily and sat up. Self-pity time was over. She would face whatever was coming, bravely, and show the rest how it was done. She smiled at Jayti and shrugged.
Jayti laughed, delighted. "You will never be a delicate flower, Maryam." She stood and spoke to them. "You know you will be freed, soon. There have been a few changes."
'That was an understatement if she had ever heard one,' thought Maryam. She listened as Jayti explained the new laws and their options in this New World. They weren't as wealthy as they used to be; Akbar was forced to take back most of their jewelry and land to pay for the last desperate battles against Rana Pratap. She wasn't surprised to find that Jayti had been working with Pratap for years. Jayti always seemed to be in the middle of the action.
There were almost too many options. They would keep what money and wealth they had. They would be escorted anywhere they wanted to go. Emperor Pratap could find husbands, if desired, and they would have the right to refuse his choice. Jayti was going to her new home in England in a few months. She and Jim, her new husband, were offering their home in Udaipur to relax and decide what to do while they were still in India. If they wanted to, they would even be welcome in England.
* * * * * * * * * *
A month later, six of the most beautiful women in Udaipur walked by the lake in the cool evening. Elizabeth was kind enough to share her house with Inayat and Farha so that no one would be doubled up. This was their time, when the men were left behind. To Maryam, there were just so many new things. The telegraph was the least of it. At first, the freedom to walk down the street without an escort made her feel more naked than if she had been wearing the sheerest muslin. There were some internal changes as well. When a particularly fine looking Rajput soldier caught her smiling at him and smiled back, she realized she had regained the ability to blush and to feel things that she had thought were just memories.
Her love affair with Fatima had died two years before, but they had agreed to remain friends. Fatima seemed to be much more interested these days in a local metalworker. He worked at the factory where they developed new weapons for the Emperor. In Udaipur, it seemed to be a position of great respect.
Farha liked a strong Englishman, Aaron Everett, but she had competition; he was a local hero. Women of all kinds, Rajput, local Indian and even Bhil, were sniffing around him like dogs in heat.
Inayat was having the most trouble. Unlike most of the women in the harem, who had been more or less compelled to adopt Islam, she was the real thing. She wanted to go home to Egypt, where hopefully she could find her family and marry into the faith.
Maryam was undecided; she liked the men, but wasn't sure she wanted to live in India, anymore. There were too many memories. She missed people who looked like herself, and she missed her culture. She would probably travel and eventually go back to Hungary.
* * * * * * * * * *
Inayat left a week later, to board a boat across the Arabian Sea. They kissed her goodbye, and they all cried a little before she rode south to Surat. She was the first to go. Jayti gave her a special hug. They had created a special bond during the fight with Razak.
Fatima married the metalworker. They looked disgustingly happy together, Maryam decided. So much for the eternal love they had once pledged to each other.
Farha lost out to a Bhil leader's sister, but was soon over it and married a handsome merchant who had lost his wife.
Emperor Pratap had moved his Capitol to Delhi, to be closer to the center of power and to keep track of some very shifty characters, according to Elizabeth. She would be moving on soon, to join her husband, Sir Walter Raleigh, at Court. Maryam had never met him, but he seemed to have the confidence of Emperor Pratap and his son, Amar. Elizabeth couldn't wait to leave. 'Another lost soul to love,' thought Maryam.
Then, there were two. They walked by the lake for perhaps the last time. Jayti was leaving with Jim soon, returning to England. Jayti tried to convince Maryam to come with her, but she refused. There were places to go, and she had to find out if any of her family still lived. They walked silently for a time.
Jayti stopped her suddenly. "Maryam," she said urgently, "if you run out of money, or get robbed, there's a place close to your home where jewels and gold are buried." She described precisely how to get to it.
Maryam suddenly felt the heat rise to her face. "Enough, Jayti. Who and what are you? There is no way you could possibly know half as much as you do. Elizabeth told me about the IUD. People in town say you're the source of the telegraph and weapons. I feel like an idiot, pretending to be your friend when you don't trust me enough to tell me what's going on!" She stared at her. Jayti bit her lip, and looked awkward. 'At least she looks decently embarrassed,' Maryam thought. She wasn't going to let her off the hook, though.
"Maryam, I swear I was going to tell you before I left."
Maryam wasn't so sure. Jayti didn't sound all that certain. "Go on," she said, impassively.
She grimaced. "This is going to take a while, Maryam. I've been through this before. Let's go back to the house. Jim can make this quicker."
They talked for several hours. It took a while, but with Jim's help and a couple of pints of the local ale, Maryam finally accepted it. Jim went to bed when it was obvious that Maryam wanted to be alone with Jayti. Maryam noticed. "I envy you your Jim, Jayti, very much. He would do anything for you."
Jayti looked on wryly. "If you ever come to England, I'll tell you about a certain event off Madagascar. He's been very patient, so far. When we get back to Plymouth, I plan to pay him back by being a real wife and mother."
Jayti and Jim left two days later. Maryam joined a trading party going up the Red Sea and ultimately to Alexandria. From there, she hoped to book passage to Italy and ride to Hungary.
* * * * * * * * * *
Mark and I are one and the same, now. It took a long time coming, but it's over. It's certainly a relief. I really enjoy waking up to one person in the morning, and I know Jim is happy about having just one wife. Still, sometimes, I miss that other voice.
Jim and I now have two children, Jeremy and Angela, and one more on the way. I don't plan to move away or do anything until the children are older. But Jim has trader blood and I'm part historian, so who knows what the future holds?
I hope that your world is better than my old timeline. I'll never know, but I tried to make a difference for the good.
Good-bye from the past.
Sincerely and completely,
Jayti (Singh) Pennington
Plymouth, England
November 23, 1595
* * * * * * * * * *
Nigel looked at his colleagues in disbelief. They stared back. "Computer. Have you analyzed the paper and ink for dating?"
"Affirmative. The age is consistent with the late 16th century."
Nigel looked at the others. "Well, what do you think?"
Sharon shook her head; she had just finished checking her hand-held computer. "No way, Nigel. I don't even want to think about it. Nobody would ever believe it. I can't believe it, although there is a mention of a James and Jayti Pennington in early 17th century America and even a friend, Maryam Bennett."
Dhiren nodded his head. "Jayti Singh was a name that was briefly mentioned in the history of Pratap the Great, as someone of great importance in the war against the Moghuls. His eunuch genius, Hassan, mentioned her, too. Elizabeth Raleigh wrote that she was a very good friend in her memoirs.
"She was always a mystery to us in India, a woman who appeared and disappeared just as quickly. This is so big I hardly even want to think about it. What's even scarier, is that she is mentioned in other histories as well.
"Her name has also appeared in Ming Dynasty Court documents, although all we know is that she was there.
"It makes you wonder about your own history, knowing that a time traveler has been playing in your past. But Nigel, the whole thing must be a fake. 'Time wave?' 'Crystal field?' It's absurd."
Nigel lifted the last page out of the box. "What's this?" The last page had more writing on the back:
"To those in the future: If I decide to continue my journeys, I will leave a time capsule 30 ft. due West of the location of this chest."
Nigel smiled at his Indian colleague. "So, Dhiren, does that mean you don't want to come with me when I go back to Plymouth?"
* * * * * * * * * *
Jayti watched Jeremy, Angela, and little Maryam chase their father around in the grass by the stone house of their estate. 'They were all such clowns,' she decided, not for the first time.
She heard a voice behind her in Persian. "Well, guess who needs an IUD?"
She turned slowly and saw her best friend standing there, arms akimbo, arrogant and looking great in a bodice and kirtle, remarkably good for a woman Jayti knew was in her mid-thirties. Jayti smiled. "Maryam, you took your sweet time getting here."
Maryam looked like she had something on her mind.

The End



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