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Already an international bestseller, A Kingdom Divided continues the epic story of the Moghuls, one of the most magnificent and violent dynasties in world history.
India, 1530. Humayun, the newly crowned second Moghul emperor, is a fortunate man. His father, Babur, has left him wealth, glory, and an empire that stretches a thousand miles south of the Khyber Pass; he must now build on his legacy, and make the Moghuls worthy of their legendary forebear, Tamburlaine.
But, unbeknownst to him, Humayun is already in grave danger. His half brothers are plotting against him; they doubt that he has the strength, the will, the brutality needed to command the Moghul armies and lead them to still-greater glories. Soon Humayun will be locked in a terrible battle: not only for his crown, not only for his life, but for the existence of the very empire itself.
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ALEX RUTHERFORD is the pen name for Diana and Michael Preston, whose nonfiction has been awarded the Los Angeles Times Science and Technology Prize and been praised worldwide. They are also authors of Raiders from the North, the first book in the Empire of the Moghul series. They live in London.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A KINGDOM DIVIDED (Chapter 1)Riding the Tiger
The wind was chill. If Humayun closed his eyes he could almost imagine himself back among the pastures and mountains of the Kabul of his boyhood, rather than here on the battlements of Agra. But the short winter was ending. In a few weeks the plains of Hindustan would burn with heat and dust.
Drawing his fur-lined scarlet cloak more tightly around him, Humayun walked slowly along the walls. He had ordered his bodyguards to leave him because he wanted to be alone with his thoughts. Raising his head, he gazed up into clear skies that were splashed with stars. Their intense, jewel-like brightness never failed to fascinate him. It often seemed that everything was written there if only you knew where to look and how to interpret the messages...
A firm, light footstep from somewhere behind him disturbed him. Humayun turned, wondering which courtier or guard had been rash enough to disobey their emperor’s expressed wish for solitude. His angry gaze fell on a slight, tall figure in purple robes, a thin gauze veil pulled over the lower face, with above it the raisin eyes of his aunt, Khanzada. Humayun’s expression relaxed into a smile.
‘We are waiting for you in the women’s quarters. You said you would eat with us tonight. Your mother complains you spend too much time alone, and I agree with her.’
Khanzada dropped her veil. The tawny light from a torch burning in a sconce fell on a fine-boned face no longer as beautiful as in her youth but one that Humayun had loved and trusted for as many of his twenty-three years as he could remember. As she stepped a little closer he caught the soft fragrance of the sandalwood that burned constantly in jewelled golden saucers in the women’s apartments.
‘I have much to reflect on. I still find it difficult to accept that my father is dead.’
‘I understand, Humayun. I loved him too. Babur was your father, but don’t forget he was also my little brother. He and I went through much together and I never thought to lose him so soon...but it was God’s will.’
Humayun looked away, unwilling for even Khanzada to see the tears gleaming in his eyes at the thought that he would never see his father, the first Moghul emperor, again. It seemed incredible that that strong, seasoned warrior, who had led his nomadic horsemen down through the mountain passes from Kabul and across the Indus to found an empire, was dead. Even less real was the thought that only three months ago, with his father’s eagle-hilted sword Alamgir at his waist and the ring of his ancestor Timur on his finger, he himself had been proclaimed Moghul emperor.
‘It’s so strange...like a fantasy from which I keep expecting to wake.’
‘It’s the real world and you must accept it. Everything Babur wanted, everything he fought for, had one purpose only – to win an empire and found a dynasty. You know that as well as I – weren’t you fighting at your father’s side when he crushed Sultan Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat to claim Hindustan for the Moghuls?’
Humayun said nothing. Instead he looked up once more at the sky. As he did so, a shooting star sped across the heavens and vanished, leaving not even a trace of its fiery tail. Glancing at Khanzada, he saw that she had seen it too.
‘Perhaps the shooting star was an omen. Perhaps it means my reign will fizzle out ingloriously...that no one will remember me...’
‘Such self-doubt and hesitancy would anger your father if he were here now. Instead he would have you embrace your destiny. He could have chosen one of your three half-brothers as his heir, but he selected you. Not just because you are the eldest – that has never been the way of our people – but because he thought you were the most worthy, the most able. Our hold on Hindustan is precarious – we have been here only five years and dangers press in from every side. Babur picked you because he trusted not just in your courage, which you had already demonstrated on the battlefield, but also in your inner strength and your self-belief, your sense of our family’s right to rule, which our dynasty must have to survive and prosper here in this new land.’ Khanzada paused.
When Humayun did not reply, she raised her face to the light of the torch and ran her finger down a thin white scar extending from her right eyebrow almost to her chin. ‘Do not forget how I got this, how when I was young and your father had to abandon Samarkand to the Uzbeks I was seized by their chieftain Shaibani Khan and forced to submit to him. He hated all who, like us, have the blood of Timur. It gave him pleasure to humiliate and degrade a princess of our house. I give thanks that I never despaired all the time I was a captive in his haram...never forgot who I was or that it was my duty to survive. Remember that when another woman attacked me and stole some of my beauty, I wore this scar as a badge of honour – to show that I was still alive and that one day I would be free. After ten long years that day came. I re-joined my brother and rejoiced to see him drink to my return from a vessel made from the skull of Shaibani Khan. You must have the same self-belief, the same strength of character, Humayun, as I had.’
‘Such courage as yours is hard to emulate, but I will not fail my father or our house.’
‘What is it, then? You are young, ambitious...you were eager for the throne long before your father fell ill. Babur knew; he spoke to me of it.’
‘His death was so sudden when it came. I left so much unsaid. I didn’t feel ready to be emperor...at least not so soon, nor in such a way.’
Humayun let his head drop. It was true. His father’s final moments still haunted him. Summoning the last of his strength, Babur had ordered his attendants to dress him in his royal robes, seat him on his throne and call his nobles to him. Before the entire court, in a weak voice but firm in his resolve, Babur had ordered Humayun to take Timur’s heavy gold ring, engraved with the head of a snarling tiger, from his finger, saying, ‘Wear it with pride, and never forget the duties it imposes on you...’ But Babur had been just forty-seven, still in his prime and far too young to hand on his fledgling empire.
‘No man, not even an emperor, can know when he will be called to Paradise and in what manner. None of us can predict or control fully the course of our lives. Learning to live with the great uncertainty of mortality as well as the other vicissitudes of fortune is part of growing to adulthood.’
‘Yes. But I often think there is more we can do to understand the underlying patterns behind our lives. Events that appear random may not be. For example, Aunt, you said just now that my father’s death was God’s will, but you’re wrong. It was my father’s will. He deliberately sacrificed himself for me.’
Khanzada stared. ‘What d’you mean?’
‘I’ve never revealed to anyone my father’s last words to me. Just before he died, he whispered that when I was sick with fever a few months earlier, my astrologer, Sharaf, had told him that he’d read in the stars that if he wished me to live he must offer up what was most precious to him. So falling on his face he offered God his life for mine.’
‘Then it was indeed God’s will – God accepted the sacrifice.’
‘No! Sharaf told me that all he intended was that my father should offer up the Koh-i-Nur diamond – not his life. But my father misinterpreted his words...It seems overwhelming that my father loved me so much, saw me as so important to the future of our dynasty that he offered his own life. How can I live up to such faith in me? I feel that I don’t deserve the throne I once so hungered for. I fear that a reign that began in such a way will be tainted...’
‘Such thoughts are absurd. You search too hard for patterns of cause and consequence. Many a reign begins in loss and uncertainty. It is up to you to make sure by your own actions that yours doesn’t end so. Any sacrifice Babur made was done through love for you and trust in you. Remember also he did not die immediately – you recovered and he lived eight more months. His death at that time might well have been pure coincidence.’ Khanzada paused. ‘Did he say anything else to you in his last moments?’
‘He told me not to grieve...he was happy to go. He also made me promise to do nothing against my half-brothers, however much they might deserve it.’
Khanzada’s face tautened. For a moment Humayun thought she was about to say something about his brothers, but instead, with a toss of her small, elegant head, she seemed to think better of it.
‘Come. That’s about enough of these musings. The cloth is spread in the haram. You must not keep your mother and the other ladies waiting. But Humayun...one last thought. Don’t forget that your name means “fortunate”. Fortune will be yours if you will be strong in mind as well as in body and seize it. Banish these foolish self-doubts of yours. Introspection may become a poet or a mystic but it has no place in the life of an emperor. Grasp with both hands what fate – and your father – have bequeathed you.’
With a last look up at the sky that showed him that the moon was now obscured by cloud, Humayun slowly followed his aunt towards the stone staircase that led down to the women’s apartments.
Prostrating himself before Humayun in the emperor’s private chambers some weeks later, Baba Yasaval, his usually blunt, ebullient master-of-horse, looked strangely nervous. As the man rose again and looked up at him, Humayun noticed that his skin seemed stretched unnaturally tight over his wide cheekbones and a pulse throbbed at his temple.
‘Majesty, if I might speak to you alone?’ Baba Yasaval glanced at the guards positioned on either side of Humayun’s low silver chair. It was an unusual request. Security dictated that the emperor was seldom on his own – even when he was in the haram guards were always near at hand, ready to turn an assassin’s blade. But Baba Yasaval, who had fought loyally for Humayun’s father, could be trusted.
Humayun dismissed his guards from the chamber and beckoned Baba Yasaval closer. The man approached but hesitated before speaking, scratching his stubbly scalp which, to remind him of the old ways of his clan, since arriving in Hindustan he had taken to shaving, except for a single lock of coarse, greying hair that swung like a tassel.
‘Baba Yasaval, speak. What is it you wish to tell me?’
‘Bad news...terrible news, Majesty...’ A sigh that was almost a groan escaped Baba Yasaval’s lips. ‘There is a plot against you.’
‘A plot?’ Humayun’s hand instinctively reached for the jewelled dagger tucked into his yellow sash, and before he knew it he had risen to his feet. ‘Who would dare...?’
Baba Yasaval bowed his head. ‘Your half-brothers, Majesty.’
‘My brothers...?’ Only two months ago he and they had stood side by side in the courtyard of the Agra fort as the gilded cart drawn by twelve black oxen and bearing their father’s silver coffin departed on the long journey to Kabul, where Babur had asked to be buried. His half-brothers’ faces had been as marked by grief as his own and in those moments he had felt a rush of affection for them and a confidence that they would help him complete the task their father had left unfinished: making the Moghuls’ hold on Hindustan unassailable.
Baba Yasaval read the incredulity and shock on Humayun’s face. ‘Majesty, I speak the truth, though I wish for all our sakes that I did not...’ Now that he had started, Baba Yasaval seemed to take courage, becoming again the tough warrior who had fought for the Moghuls at Panipat. His head was no longer bowed and he looked unflinching into Humayun’s eyes. ‘You will not doubt me when I tell you that I have this information from my youngest son...he is one of the conspirators. He came to me just an hour ago and confessed everything.’
‘Why should he do that?’ Humayun’s eyes narrowed.
‘Because he fears for his life...because he realises he has been foolish...because he knows his actions will bring ruin and disgrace on our clan.’ As he spoke these last words, Baba Yasaval’s face creased as he struggled to contain his emotions.
‘You have done well to approach me. Tell me everything.’
‘Scarcely a fortnight after His Majesty your father’s coffin left for Kabul, the princes Kamran, Askari and Hindal met in a fort two days’ ride from here. My son, as you know, serves Kamran, who offered him great rewards to join the plot. Hot-headed young fool that he is, he agreed, and so heard and saw everything.’
‘What are my brothers planning?’
‘To take you prisoner and force you to break up the empire and yield some of your territories to them. They wish to return to the old traditions, Majesty, when every son was entitled to a share of his father’s lands.’
Humayun managed a mirthless smile. ‘And then what? Will they be content? Of course not. How long before they will be at each other’s throats and our enemies begin to circle?’
‘You are right, Majesty. Even now, they can’t agree amongst themselves. Kamran is the real instigator. The plot was his idea and he persuaded the others to join him, but then he and Askari came almost to blows over which of them was to have the richest provinces. Their men had to pull them apart.’
Humayun sat down again. Baba Yasaval’s words rang true. His half-brother Kamran, just five months his junior, had made no secret of his resentment that while he had been left behind to govern as regent in Kabul, Humayun had accompanied their father on his invasion of Hindustan. Fifteen-year-old Askari, Kamran’s full brother, would not have been hard to persuade to join in. He had always followed worshipfully where Kamran led despite being both bullied and patronised by him. But if Baba Yasaval’s account was accurate, now he was almost a man Askari wasn’t afraid to challenge his older brother. Perhaps their strong-willed mother Gulrukh had encouraged them both.
But what about his youngest half-brother? Why had Hindal become involved? He was just twelve years old and Humayun’s own mother, Maham, had brought him up. Years ago, distressed at her inability to bear any more children after Humayun, she had begged Babur to give her the child of another of his wives, Dildar. Though Hindal had still been in the womb, Babur – unable to deny his favourite wife – had made Maham a gift of the child. But perhaps he should not be so surprised at Hindal’s treachery. Babur himself had been just twelve when he had first become a king. Ambition could flare in even the youngest prince.
‘Majesty.’ Baba Yasaval’s earnest voice brought Humayun back to the present. ‘My son believed the plot had been abandoned because the princes could not agree. But last night they met again, here in the Agra fort. They decided to bury their differences until they had you in their power. They plan to take advantage of what they call your “unkingly desire for solitude” and attack you when you next go riding alone. Kamran even spoke of killing you and making it appear like an accident. It was then that my son came to his senses. Realising the danger to Your Majesty, he told me what he should have confessed weeks ago.’
‘I am grateful to you, Baba Yasaval, for your loyalty and bravery in coming to me like this. You are right. It is a terrible thi...
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