Empire of the Moghul: The Serpent’s Tooth

Agra Fort, North-Western India, 1628 The glint of the sunlight on the dagger’s serrated blade caught Shah Jahan’s eye at the last moment. As he flung up his right arm to protect his neck, he felt the blade slice into the muscle just below his elbow. Blood immediately began to drip down on to his […]



Agra Fort, North-Western India, 1628

The glint of the sunlight on the dagger’s serrated blade caught Shah Jahan’s eye at the last moment. As he flung up his right arm to protect his neck, he felt the blade slice into the muscle just below his elbow. Blood immediately began to drip down on to his silver throne. Launching himself with such force that his throne went crashing backwards, he seized the arm of his assailant before he could strike again. Using all his strength he threw the man, who was only slight, on to the marble dais on which his throne had stood. As his attacker hit the marble with a crash the impact knocked his purple turban from his head and loosened his grip on his dagger. Twisting his assailant’s hand back so hard that he heard the crunch as the wrist broke, Shah Jahan wrenched the weapon from his grasp and dropped with both knees and all his weight onto his would-be assassin’s chest. Immediately his green-clad bodyguards were around him but he knew that they would have been too late to save him.

As he got to his feet again the soles of Shah Jahan’s sandals crunched on rubies and turquoises dislodged from the silver throne by its fall. He looked hard at his attacker who his guards had first dragged roughly to his feet and then, after pulling his arms out tight behind him, kicked to his knees. Shah Jahan half recognised his assailant who was dressed in court garb and appeared no more than a youth.

‘Who are you? Why did you attack your emperor?’

At first the young man did not respond. Then a black-bearded bodyguard kicked him hard in his kidneys twice. ‘Ismail Khan, nephew of Jani. She died because you killed her husband, your own half-brother Khusrau. She could not live without him. I owed vengeance to her. She took me into her family when my parents died.’

Yes, of course, Ismail Khan… After his accession he had allowed him to remain at court at his own wife Mumtaz’s pleading. Clearly he had been too generous, na├»ve even to believe that the divisions of the civil war in which he had come to the throne could be quickly or easily healed. Increasingly aware of the pain in his right arm, he looked down. The gashed gold cloth of his tunic was soaked in blood. It was trickling down his hand and fingers on to the white marble to form a small crimson pool. He must have his wound attended to quickly. He raised his arm to stem the blood flow as he had done when injured in battle. ‘Have no doubt you will die, Ismail Khan, but first you will have a little time to fear death and to repent of your actions while I have the wound you caused your rightful emperor dressed. The manner of your execution will depend on what you tell me of your accomplices.’

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