North-West Hindustan, Spring 1606
Blood in the Sand
Jahangir ducked out from beneath the awning of his scarlet command tent and in the half-light peered towards the ridge where the forces of his eldest son Khusrau were encamped. Beneath the clear skies the early morning in the semi-desert was chill. Even at this distance Jahangir could see figures moving around, some carrying flaring torches. Here and there cooking fires had been lit. Banners were silhouetted against the rising dawn infront of a large tent on the very crest of the ridge, presumably Khusrau’s personal quarters. As he watched, a sudden sadness as chill as the morning air ran through Jahangir. How had matters come to this? Why would he face his son in battle today?
Only five months ago, following the death of his father Akbar, everything he had wanted for so long had finally become his. He had been proclaimed Moghul Emperor – the fourth of the dynasty. ‘Jahangir’, the name he had chosen to reign under, meant ‘Ruler of the World’. What a feeling it was to be master of an empire stretching from the mountains of Baluchistan in the west to the swamps of Bengal in the east and from the saffron fields of Kashmir in the north to the parched red plateau of the Deccan in the south. The lives of one hundred million people were subject to him and he subject to none.
As he had stepped out on to the jharoka balcony of the Agra fort to show himself to his people for the first time as emperor and heard the roars of acclamation rising from the crowds cramming the banks of the Jumna River below it had seemed incredible that his father was dead. Akbar had brushed aside difficulties and dangers to create a rich and magnificent empire. Just as Jahangir felt he had never fully won Akbar’s love nor lived up to his expectations during his life, suddenly he had doubted whether he could do so after his death. But closing his eyes, he had made a silent promise. ‘You have bequeathed me wealth and power. I will prove worthy of you. I will protect and build on what you and our forefathers created’. The very act of making the vow had renewed his confidence.
But then only weeks later had come the blow, struck not by a stranger but by his own eighteen-year-old son. Treason – and the climate of distrust it created – was always ugly but how much worse when the instigator was his offspring. The Moghuls had often been their own worst enemy, fighting one another when they should have been united. He could not, would not allow the pattern to repeat itself and now, at the start of his reign, he would demonstrate how seriously he took familial disloyalty and how swiftly and utterly he would crush it.
In the past few weeks nothing had mattered except closing the gap between his own forces and those of Khusrau. Late the previous evening he and his army had caught up Khusrau and encircled the ridge on which he was encamped. The more he thought of his son’s treachery, the more a visceral anger surged through him and he ground his heel into the sandy earth. Suddenly he was aware of his milk-brother Suleiman Beg at his side.
‘Where have you been?’ Jahangir demanded, his tone harsh with pent-up emotion.
‘Hearing the latest reports from our scouts who got close to Khusrau’s camp during the night.’
‘What do they say, then? Has my son realised he can’t outrun us and must face the consequences of his rebellion?’
‘Yes. He’s readying his army for battle.’
‘How are he and his officers deploying their men?’
‘There are a few small sandstone Hindu cenotaphs on the ridge. They’ve overturned their baggage wagons around them and are throwing up earth barricades to shield their cannon and protect their musket men and archers.’
‘So they’re preparing to withstand an attack rather than deliver one?’
‘Yes. They know it’s their best chance of success. Neither Khusrau nor his chief commander Aziz Koka are fools.’
‘Except in defying my authority,’ Jahangir broke in.
‘Should I order our men to form up for an immediate assault?’
‘Before I decide, do we know if there is a spring or any water on the ridge?’
‘I questioned the single herdsman we came across last evening. He said no but he was so terrified he might have just been saying what he thought I wanted to hear. However the ridge is mostly red dust and rocks with only a few dead-looking trees and scarcely a blade of grass.’
‘The herdsman’s probably right then. In that case, rather than attack immediately let’s leave them to eke out what water they have a little longer while they ponder their fate in the fighting. Like Khusrau most are young and inexperienced in war. Their imaginings will exceed even the worse horrors of battle.’
‘Perhaps, but not so many as I expected have taken up our offer to surrender.’
Jahangir grimaced. The previous evening he had agreed to Suleiman Beg’s suggestion that arrows should be fired into Khusrau’s camp with the message attached that any junior officer or soldier who left Khusrau’s camp during the night and surrendered would save his life. There would be no second chance. None could count on any mercy after the battle.
‘How many gave themselves up?’
‘Less than a thousand, mostly poorly armed and clothed foot soldiers. Many are little more than boys who joined Khusrau’s ranks as they passed in the hope of booty and excitement. A deserter told how one young soldier captured trying to escape was thrown alive into a blazing camp fire on Khusrau’s orders and held in the flames by spear points until his screams ceased. His charred body was then paraded around the camp to deter others from following his example.’
‘How many men does that leave Khusrau with?’
‘The deserters say twelve thousand. I think that’s an understatement but there’s certainly no more than fifteen thousand.’
‘We still outnumber them by three or four thousand men. That should be enough to compensate for our troops, as the attackers, being more exposed than Khusrau’s men crouching behind their defences.’
Pacing his command tent waiting for his qorchi, his squire, to ready him for battle questions raced through Jahangir’s mind. Had he done all he could to ensure success? Over-confidence could be as big a threat to a commander as the lack of it. Was the plan he and Suleiman Beg had devised, talking late into the evening, robust enough to give him victory in this, his first battle as emperor? Why hadn’t he been prepared for Khusrau’s treachery? During Akbar’s lifetime Khusrau had tried to ingratiate himself with his grandfather, hoping to be named his heir. When Akbar had instead chosen Jahangir, Khusrau had seemed to accept it but had only been waiting his moment. On the pretext of inspecting progress in the construction of his grandfather’s great tomb at Sikandra, five miles from Agra, he and his entourage had ridden out of the Agra fort. Instead of making for Sikandra, Khusrau had wheeled north towards Delhi, raising recruits as he went.
The sun had risen high in the sky when Jahangir gathered his senior commanders for their final orders. ‘You, Abdul Rahman, will lead our war elephants, together with a battalion of mounted musketeers and archers, around to the west where the ridge drops gently to the plain. Once there, you will advance up the spine of the ridge, making Khusrau believe that this will be, as conventional strategy might suggest, the route of our main attack.
‘But it won’t be. It’ll be a diversion to tie down as many of Khusrau’s forces as possible. Once I see you are fully engaged, Suleiman Beg and I will lead out another battalion of horsemen. First, we will feign a move west to support you, Abdul Rahman, but then we will wheel and charge up the ridge directly in front of us towards Khusrau’s tent on the crest. Ismail Amal, you will remain here to command the reserve and protect our camp against any attempt at plunder. Do you all understand the parts you are to play?’
‘Yes, Majesty,’ came the immediate response.
‘Then God go with us. Our cause is just.’
Half an hour later, Jahangir was fully dressed for war, sweating beneath his steel helmet and the engraved steel breast and back plates protecting his torso. Seated on his white horse which was pawing the ground as if it scented the action to come, he watched Abdul Rahman’s force advance at a steady pace, trumpets blaring, side drums beating with an ever increasing rhythm and green banners fluttering in the gentle breeze. When they were approaching the bottom of the spine of the ridge, puffs of white smoke rose from the nearest of Khusrau’s positions to them as his artillerymen fired some of his larger cannon towards the attackers.
However the gunners were clearly nervous and unable to restrain themselves from firing too soon, because their first shots fell short, raising showers of dust in front of Abdul Rahman’s advance. But then to Jahangir’s dismay he saw one of his leading war elephants collapse despite its steel plate armour, spilling its howdah as it fell. Another elephant slumped to the ground. To Jahangir the attack seemed to falter but then, urged on by the mahouts sitting behind their ears, the remaining elephants surged past their fallen companions, advancing quickly for all their size up the ridge. Occasional spurts of smoke showed that the gajnals, small cannon, in their howdahs were being brought into action. At the same time, Jahangir could see his cavalry charging up the spine, green banners held aloft and lances extended as they leapt the makeshift red earth barricades and clashed with Khusrau’s horsemen. Men from both sides fell and riderless horses were galloping from the battle, some impeding his attackers. More and more drifting white smoke obscured Jahangir’s view but not before he saw a squadron of Khusrau’s horsemen, breastplates glistening in the midday sun, move quickly out from their positions in front of him and turn to the west to reinforce their comrades against Abdul Rahman’s onslaught. The crisis of the battle was upon him.
‘Now it’s time for us to go,’ Jahangir shouted to Suleiman Beg as he pulled his ancestors’ eagle-headed sword Alamgir from its scabbard and, rising in the stirrups of his white horse, waved it to indicate to his trumpeters to sound the advance. Soon his mount was moving smoothly into the gallop, raising dust as it pounded the ground in the planned feint to support Abdul Rahman.
Jahangir’s pulses were racing at the prospect of action. Despite his thirty-six years he had experienced far fewer battles than had his forebears at his age, partly because his father had refused to grant him military commands, partly because his father’s successes had diminished the number of conflicts the Moghuls had engaged in. Now command was his, as the empire was his, and he would crush all challengers.
He kicked his horse out in front of the rest of his men and then signalled them to wheel to make the frontal attack up the ridge. As they did so, twisting in the saddle Jahangir saw one rider and his grey mount crash to the ground, clearly having tried to turn too tightly. Another horse stumbled over the fallen grey whose legs were thrashing the air as it tried to rise. Within moments both fallen horses and their riders were submerged beneath the charge as it continued to gather pace despite the horses beginning to encounter the rising slope of the ridge.
Crouched low over his white horse’s neck, with his sword Alamgir extended before him, Jahangir concentrated on avoiding the many rocks littering the slope. Then he heard a crackle and a hiss as a musket ball passed his ear. He was almost upon the first of the earth barricades. Slackening the reins, he urged his horse to jump the obstacle which was barely three feet high. The horse stretched willingly and leapt. As he rose over the barricade, Jahangir slashed with his sword at a tall musketeer sheltering behind it who was desperately trying to reload, ramming a fresh ball down into the long barrel of his musket. He never completed his task. Jahangir’s heavy stroke caught him on the nape of his neck, crunching through bone and removing his head from his shoulders.
Breathing hard, Jahangir was galloping on towards the crest of the ridge and what he assumed was Khusrau’s command tent, still about half a mile away, when suddenly his horse’s pace slackened. Glancing down, he saw two arrows protruding from its left flank. Crimson blood was already welling from the wounds to stain its white coat. Jahangir scarcely had time to think how lucky he had been because one of the arrows was embedded only an inch or two from his left knee, before the horse began to crumple and he had to throw himself from the saddle to avoid being crushed beneath it as it collapsed. Losing his helmet and his sword as he fell, he hit the stony ground with a thump which knocked most of the wind out of him.
As he rolled over and over, Jahangir attempted to curl himself into a ball and to protect his head with his gauntleted hands while he tried to avoid the hooves of his men who had followed him into the attack. Nevertheless, a flying hoof caught him a blow on his steel backplate before he came painfully to rest some distance down the slope against one of a group of jumbled rocks away from the charge of the horses and the main action. Dazed and with his ears ringing and his vision blurred, he was scrambling to his feet when he made out a man rise from the shelter of another group of dark rocks nearby and rush towards him brandishing a sword, clearly having recognised him and intent on the profit and glory his killing or capture would bring.
Jahangir reached instinctively to his belt where his dagger had been in its jewelled scabbard. It was still there and he drew it quickly just as the man – a burly, rough-looking fellow in a black turban above a bushy beard – was upon him. Jahangir dodged his first attack but as he did so slipped and collapsed back to the ground. Gripping his heavy double-edged sword in both hands his assailant tried to bring it down into Jahangir’s neck with all the force he was capable of but he was too hasty and his clumsy stroke caught Jahangir’s breastplate and skidded off, throwing the black-turbaned man off balance himself. Jahangir lashed out hard with his booted foot and felt a satisfying yielding of soft tissue as he caught his opponent full in the groin. He in turn by instinct dropped his weapon and doubled up, clutching at his battered, burning testicles.
Seizing his advantage, Jahangir stuck his dagger twice into the hard muscle of the man’s bare calf, causing him to stagger sideways and fall. Scrambling across the dusty ground, Jahangir flung himself on him and buried the long dagger deep in the man’s exposed throat just by his Adam’s apple. Blood spurted wildly for a moment and then the man lay motionless.
Relieved but still on all fours and gasping for breath, Jahangir looked about him. Although it felt longer it was probably less than five minutes since he had fallen from his horse. Most of the fighting seemed to be going on further up the ridge. But then though his vision was still blurred he saw a figure a little way off but fast approaching on horseback and, as far as he could discern, leading another mount. Jahangir rose unsteadily to his feet and tried to brace himself, ready for any new onslaught, but then he heard a familiar voice. ‘Jahangir, are you alright?’ It was Suleiman Beg.
‘Yes, I think so … Do you have any water?’
Suleiman Beg held out a leather-skin bottle towards him. Jahangir seized it in both hands, upended it and drank greedily.
‘You should not have been so reckless in the charge. You outdistanced me and your bodyguard. The emperor should not expose himself in such a way.’
‘It is my fight. My son has rebelled against my throne and it is my duty to crush him.’ Jahangir snapped, then added, ‘How is the battle going? Give me that spare horse. I must return to lead the attack once more.’
‘I brought it for you – and I retrieved your sword,’ said Suleiman Beg, extending both reins and weapon to Jahangir. ‘But are you really sure you’re alright?’
‘Yes’, said Jahangir with more certainty than he felt. With Suleiman Beg’s help he clambered into the saddle of his new mount, a rangy chestnut. To his relief his head was clearing all the time and followed by Suleiman Beg and several of his bodyguard who had regrouped around him he pushed forward again back up the ridge towards the fighting around the tents. Khusrau’s men were putting up stiff resistance. He could see horses rearing as their riders clashed with each other. Some of Khusrau’s horsemen, seemingly recognising Jahangir and Suleiman Beg, broke away from the fighting and galloped downhill to attack them, yelling ‘Khusrau Zinderbad, Long live Khusrau!’. One made directly for Jahangir. As he approached, riding wildly, arms and legs flailing, Jahangir saw it was a younger brother of Aziz Koka. As the youth came closer he aimed a great swinging stroke at Jahangir with his curved sword but the emperor ducked and the blade cut through empty air two inches above his head.
As the impetus of his downhill charge carried the rider onwards, Jahangir twisted in the saddle and caught him with a hard backhand sword slash deep into the flesh and bone of his upper arm, almost severing the limb. Loosing control of his mount, the youth careered downhill towards Jahangir’s camp until he was knocked from his saddle by a well-aimed shot from one of Jahangir’s musketeers, stationed by Ismail Amal behind the shelter of an overturned baggage wagon to protect the camp.
Looking about him with eyes now as sharply focussed as usual, Jahangir saw the other attackers had either been despatched or had retreated back up the ridge. Several bodies were strewn on the ground. Nearby, spread-eagled on his back, he saw a tall, saffron-robed man with a grizzled beard. A lance protruded bloodily from his belly. Jahangir recognised Tuhin Singh, one of his most loyal bodyguards – a Rajput from his mother’s homeland of Amber. The man had guarded him for nearly a quarter of a century and now had given his life in battle for him. Only a few yards away, another slighter figure was twisting and writhing convulsively in the red dust, kicking his heels and clutching at his abdomen from which a skein of blue-red intestines was protruding. He was screaming in his agony for his mother. With a sharp intake of breath, Jahangir recognised the contorted beardless face as that of Imran, an even younger brother of Aziz Koka. He could be no more than thirteen years old and would surely never see another dawn.
Fury at Khusrau, Aziz Koka and their fellow conspirators for causing so many deaths in their reckless hunger for power before their due time overwhelmed Jahangir. With a shout to Suleiman Beg and his bodyguard to follow, Jahangir kicked the chestnut up the slope. Soon he was smashing into the fray, hacking and cutting around him. A spray of warm blood from the neck of a rider he had struck with the full impact of his sword Alamgir caught him in the face and temporarily blinded him again. Quickly wiping the blood away with the sleeve of his tunic, he charged further into the heaving melee, surrounded by shouts and screams and the clash of weapon on weapon.
The acrid smell of sweat and gunpowder smoke filled his nostrils and red dust in the air stung his eyes so that he could scarcely distinguish friend from foe and But he pushed onward with his bodyguard and Suleiman Beg in close attendance. With a final stroke of Alamgir which caught one of Khusrau’s men full on the kneecap, cutting deep into cartilage and sinew and almost jolting his sword from his hand once more, Jahangir was through the first line of battle. Looking up he saw that Khusrau’s tents were now only four hundred yards away on the crest. However as he watched, a large body of riders left them and disappeared down the other side of the ridge. As they did so he saw – or thought he did – Khusrau at their centre.
‘After them. The cowards are fleeing,’ he shouted to Suleiman Beg and his bodyguard, kicking the flanks of his chestnut mount as he did so. However, the animal was already blowing hard, nostrils flaring from its exertions in the previous fight and unlike the fine white horse it had replaced was not of the highest quality and stamina. By the time he reached the crest, Jahangir found that the fleeing group were already crashing into a line of his men stationed at the base of the ridge. After only a few moments, they burst through, losing only a single rider whose mount galloped on, reins dangling, after the rest who, still in close formation, were heading north across the plain.
Kicking the chestnut on again, Jahangir set off in what in his heart he now thought would be a futile pursuit. His son was going to escape. Why hadn’t he allocated more of his reserve to forestall any break-out? Then to his intense relief he saw another band of horsemen with green Moghul banners – not the purple Khusrau claimed as his emblem – appear from the west on an interception course. Abdul Rahman too must have spotted the move and despatched these men. They were closing fast on the escapees. Jahangir urged his tired horse on down the far slope of the ridge with Suleiman Beg and his bodyguards at his side. But even before he reached the bottom, Khusrau’s men had wheeled away from their pursuers and were now galloping north-east throwing up clouds of dust behind them. Then Jahangir saw four or five of Khusrau’s rearguard turn and waving their swords charge back towards Abdul Rahman’s force in a self-sacrificing attempt to buy more time for their comrades to escape.
Before he had gone more than a few yards, one of these brave men fell, arms outflung, from his black horse, hit by an arrow from one of the mounted archers Abdul Rahman had astutely included among the pursuers and who Jahangir could just make out standing in their stirrups to loose off their weapons. The mount of another of Khusrau’s men crumpled to the ground just moments later, pitching its rider over its head. The others continued their charge and crashed into Abdul Rahman’s leading horsemen who opened their ranks to receive and surround them, scarcely slackening their pace to do so. Less than a minute later they were riding hard again, heads bent low over their horses’ necks, the bodies of several men and horses left sprawling in their wake. Khusrau’s followers had taken at least a couple of Abdul Rahman’s men with them into the shadows of death, but they would not save Khusrau. Abdul Rahman’s men were now almost upon this fleeing group and two more of the hindmost, one carrying one of Khusrau’s purple banners, pitched from their horses, presumably the victims of the mounted archers. The foot of the banner carrier caught in his stirrup and he was dragged through the red dust for a hundred yards, his purple banner fluttering behind him. Then the stirrup leather snapped and man and banner lay twisted and still.
As Jahangir urged onwards his chestnut which, thin flanks heaving, was blowing ever more deeply in pursuit of the action, he saw Khusrau’s men swerve aside once more but then come to a sudden stop near an isolated clump of scrubby trees. At first he thought they had decided to stand and fight but then through the dust billowing around them he caught the glint of discarded weapons lying on the ground. Having sacrificed so many others, like Aziz Koka’s young brothers and the brave men who had attacked Abdul Rahman’s vanguard, they were surrendering in an attempt to save their worthless lives. They would come to regret their decision not to die like men on the battlefield, Jahangir thought grimly as he dug his heels into the chestnut to squeeze from it its last ounce of strength.
‘Bring them before me.’
Ten minutes later, with the sweat of the fight still warm on him and anger still hot in his heart, Jahangir watched from the shade of the clump of trees as his soldiers dragged Khusrau, his commander-in-chief Aziz Koka and his master of horse, Hassan Jamal, forward and pushed them to their knees in front of him. Though the other two did not dare raise their eyes to the emperor, Khusrau was looking imploringly at his father. Behind them, hands already bound behind their backs with strips of cloth ripped from their garments or saddle blankets, were the thirty or so of Khusrau’s men who had surrendered with him. Jahangir’s soldiers were also shoving them roughly to the ground. Among them Jahangir suddenly recognised a tall, muscular man, his beard dyed red with henna. He remembered glimpsing him during the battle, a smile on his face thrusting tauntingly with his lance at a young soldier who, knocked from his horse, was lying helpless and terrified in front of him before finally impaling the youth through the abdomen.
Such a furious rage seized Jahangir that for a moment he could hardly think. When he could it was about how he could punish such callous rebels sufficiently harshly. Then it came to him. For generations the Moghuls had executed the worst of offenders – child murderers, rapists and the like – by impaling them on stakes. His great-grandfather Babur, the first Moghul Emperor, had done it with rebels and robbers too – that was the punishment these men should suffer. Despite the chance to surrender they had continued in rebellion, impaling those who were little more than boys on their lance points. Let them understand what impalement felt like. Let them suffer terror and pain. It would be only just. Without reflecting further he yelled to his soldiers in a voice hoarse with anger, ‘Cut stakes from these trees with your swords or battle axes. Drive them into the ground. Sharpen them as best as you can or tie lances to them and impale these traitors on them. Do it and do it now! Leave only my son and these, his two chief accomplices. Let them watch their men’s sufferings before they learn their own fate. Anticipation of what is to come may instil into them a little of what the suffering they have inflicted on others is like.’
As his soldiers rushed to obey, some hacking at the trees with battle axes, others digging at the ground with whatever implements they could improvise, including helmets, to make holes for the stakes while yet others seized hold of the captives and started hauling them across the ground, Jahangir felt Suleiman Beg’s hand on his arm. Even before his milk brother could speak Jahangir said, ‘No, Suleiman Beg, it must be. They have brought it on themselves. They showed no mercy. Neither will I. I must make an example.
Jahangir saw Khusrau still on his knees watching with an expression of abject terror. At the thought of his son’s treachery, of the needless sacrifice of so many good men, it was all he could do not to fall on Khusrau with his bare hands. After what seemed only about five minutes four of Jahangir’s men lifted the first of the wildly kicking and struggling prisoners – a thick-set, hairy man whom they had stripped of most of his clothing – high in the air. Then using all their strength they brought his body down on one of the hastily erected stakes and lances. As the hard point penetrated his soft flesh near his rectum, his screams – more animal than human – split the air. Spurting blood reddened the ground as, with his men pulling on the prisoner’s legs, the stake emerged near his breast bone. Then as more rebels were impaled the stink of ruptured guts and of the excrement of terrified men who, on the brink of death, had lost control of their bowels began to rise. But Jahangir, still burning with his own anger and intent on harsh justice, barely noticed.
Now he thought was the time for Khusrau to witness close up the horrors for which his ambition was responsible. He strode forward and seizing his kneeling son by his shoulders pulled him roughly to his feet. ‘See what you have done. These men are only suffering because of you. Walk through the stakes … go on,’ he shouted, thrusting his face into Khusrau’s. Then releasing his son, he gave him a shove towards the stakes. But Khusrau, his arms wrapped tightly around himself and his eyes closed, attempted to turn away. Immediately Jahangir shouted to some of his bodyguards. ‘Walk him past all the stakes and back again. Take your time. Make sure he looks at the bodies …’
Straightaway two guards seized Khusrau by his arms and propelled him towards the stakes. With each step Khusrau’s head was drooping lower and lower but every few paces his escort halted right in front of one of his dying, supporters, writhing and kicking on a stake and in doing so impaling themselves further and one of the soldiers pulled back his head by his hair, forcing him to look. But Khusrau had clearly had enough. Jahangir saw his son sag in the soldiers’ arms and then they let him collapse to the ground. He guessed he had fainted. ‘Enough! Bring my son back here, together with Aziz Koka and Hassan Jamal.’
A few moments later, Jahangir surveyed the three men on their knees before him again. Khusrau’s long dark hair was wet from the contents of the water bottle one of the guards had thrown over him to revive him. He was deathly pale, trembling violently and looked about to vomit. Raising his voice to make himself heard over the shrieks of agonised suffering still rising from the surrounding stakes where the remaining rebels were still being impaled, Jahangir spoke. ‘You are all guilty of the worst crime a subject can commit against his emperor – armed rebellion. You …’
‘I am not just a subject … I am your son …’ Khusrau pleaded, his once handsome young face a mask of absolute terror.
‘Silence! Ask yourself whether you have behaved like a son before you claim the rights of a son. You deserve no better treatment than those creatures for whose torment you, not I, are responsible or the two men beside you. Aziz Koka, Hassan Jamal, you once swore loyalty to me but you broke your bond.’ Their helpless eyes stared up at him rolling in fear as he went on, ‘Expect no mercy for I have none to give. You have acted with the treachery and heedless ambition of men but also with the blind stupidity of beasts. To symbolise your base animal natures, you will be taken to Lahore where in the bazaar you will be stripped naked and sewn into the freshly flayed skins of an ass and an ox. Then seated backwards on the backs of asses you will be paraded through the city streets in the heat of the day for my loyal subjects to witness your shame and understand how ridiculous were your pretensions to overthrow me.’
Jahangir heard the two men gasp. The idea for their punishment had come to him in a flash of inspiration only moments before he had given the orders. He knew his grandfather Humayun had prided himself on devising novel and sometimes bizarre ways of fitting punishments to the crime. Now so had he. However he had no further time to waste on accomplices and so turned towards Khusrau who was now sobbing brokenly before him, his hands clasped in supplication and muttering something he couldn’t catch but which sounded like gibberish. He drew himself up preparing to utter the words that would send his son to his doom. ‘Khusrau, you raised an army of disaffected traitors with the sole intention of overthrowing me – your father and the lawful Moghul emperor – and seizing my throne for yourself. You are responsible for the blood that has been spilled and in justice you should pay for that in blood.’ The harshness of his voice was real and he meant every word he had said. Khusrau knew it as well and in his fear lost control of his bladder. Jahangir saw a dark strain spreading through his cotton trousers from his groin and urine dripping onto the ground to form a yellow pool.
A wave of pity for the state to which Khusrau had been reduced washed over him. Though moments earlier he had had every intention of ordering him to be beheaded, suddenly he no longer desired his death. There had already been so much bloodshed, so much suffering … ‘But I have decided to spare you,’ he heard himself say. ‘You are my son and I will not take your life. Instead you will be kept in prison where over the long months and years ahead you will have time to reflect on the transgressions that caused you to lose your liberty and forfeit your honour.’ Khusrau was still sobbing but now his tears were those of relief.
As Khusrau, Aziz Koka and Hassan Jamal were led away Jahangir turned to his milk-brother who was still standing nearby. ‘Suleiman Beg, order our soldiers to cut the throats of any impaled prisoners who are still alive. They have suffered enough. Have their bodies disposed of in a common grave, the stakes taken down and fresh earth spread over the ground. Have those wounded in the battle – whether friend or foe – treated by our hakims. Let all the dead have the funeral rites of their religion. I want to forget how much blood has been spilled today.’