We sipped tea as charcoal dropped through the fire grid and fine dust scattered, disappearing like truth itself. Rashid opened his tale in a low mesmerizing voice, speaking in English which he claimed he learned by listening to the world service and reading school primers. Time was opening a flimsy curtain onto another stage.
‘A little cavalcade wound its way up through the Panjshir valley. It moved through regions with large boulders and mountain walls that were fractured into huge stairways of angled ledges that dropped downwards into wide fans of splintered rocks. Omar, the emissary, was its leader and he sat swaying, feeling slightly ill atop a large elephant, he was thinking about the new bride, the daughter of Mahesh, proprietor of the Dragon teahouse on the street they called Silver Alley, just to the east of the great souk in the centre of Kabul, right here as a matter of fact. Akbar, the great emperor was spending his summer season well up in the hills, away from the dirt and dust of the Indian plains. The emperor’s new painter had spoken vividly of the girl’s beauty, which he insisted he had once glimpsed in this very teahouse…Rashid wafted his long fingers about… She possessed a queenly bearing and would be a perfect wife for the great emperor, a wondrous addition to his harem. He purred like a cat as he extolled her delights. “She’s fourteen years old, oh great lord, of marriageable age and surely a young bride can succeed where other wives have failed. She will give you a child,” he said slyly. “The father is a silversmith. Look, I traded frieze work for these. Look closer.’” Rashid flashed his eyes again, whipped a silver watch chain out of his pocket, and held it towards us. It glinted in the firelight.
‘The painter knelt before the emperor, opened up a coffer and drew out works so fine and delicate Akbar was astounded at their quality. Staring at the jewelry, the warlord thought if the girl matches up to those pieces she will indeed be special. I shall send over the mountains for this little Pashtun princess at once.
Rewarded well for his services, the painter simply disappeared. Traveling deep into the Hindukush, he disappeared across the mountains to other lands…and he vanished for years and years. Later, Lord Akbar inquired but never found him despite his able spies.
So, Omar was sent in search of the girl because he spoke many tongues. He was accompanied by a wizened old eunuch and protected by a party of guards and a mountain guide. Omar was given only a month to find the beautiful girl and bring her intact to the great emperor.
“Bring her back,” Akbar ordered. “I want her before we leave the hills. I want her to learn our ways. She will need training in the traditions of my harem. I need diversions and she will need much instruction in music and dance.”
Omar was told to treasure the girl, protect her with his life and he was given a casket containing coins with which to reward the bride’s father.’
Rashid paused. He raised those great eyebrows and there was amusement in his eyes.
‘You see the great Moghul orders and the servant obeys. He wants a beautiful woman and she must be brought to him. She has no choice. Her family will see it as a great honour.’ Rashid slowly sipped his tea and passed his hand across his mouth, wiping his beard.