Emperor Jalal stormed through the jewel encrusted golden arches of the Palace at Agra and into his private quarters not looking at a soul. He flung the curtains around his bed aside with such ferocity that Miriam feared they may fall. He sat down and took off his flat cotton crown, being careful not to damage the diamond turban pin or the large peacock feather that protruded from it. He put his face in his hands and sighed deeply. ‘What is it?’ Miriam asked quietly. ‘Theses bloody Afghans!’ came the agitated reply. ‘My warmongering days are over and I can’t afford to appease them! New cities need funding! My dream is unravelling before my eyes and I’m helpless to do anything!’ Miriam shuffled into a sitting position and gently placed a hand on his shoulder. He felt his anger and frustration slowly diffuse. ‘Now now, we have Bairam Khan positioned in the north. He is the finest general that ever graced the Mughal army. The security of this nation is in good hands. Don’t worry Jalal.’ Jalal gave a sceptical nod of agreement and picked up the bedside red flax fan. With one powerful sweep all candles in the room were extinguished and the calming blanket of night engulfed them. The sun rose over another fine Indian morning. Across the crisp air drifted the call to prayer from the mosque. The awakening birds chirped in their nests. Jalal loved the transition period between the frigid nights and blazing days. He began his morning exercises at the foot of his bed when a filthy man in blood smeared tatters stumbled through the doors at the foot of two burly guards. The guards saluted. ‘Shahensha?’ asked the one on the right. ‘Yes…?’ Jalal replied. ‘This man has something to say’ the man on the left said as he threw the man forward to the Emperor’s bedside. Jalal walked over to him and lifted up the trembling man. ‘Not so rough next time, Ali.’ Jalal said to the man on the left ‘same to you Nusrat. You may leave now.’ They saluted and retreated through the curtains. Jalal whispered something to one of the servants and she gave the salaam salute three times and scurried off to another part of the palace. ‘How is it that I can help you my good man?’ replied Jalal cheerfully trying to calm this shaking man. The servant returned with a large gold flagon of a drink known as falooda, milk laced with rose water on a golden, diamond studded platter. He took one noisy sip and began ‘Tafarandazi ke liya maafi.’ Or begging your forgiveness ‘Your Majesty’s armies in the north are crushed the Afghans have complete control over Punjab and Kashmir and now they lay in wait only two day’s march from Agra in Delhi.’ Jalal’s heart sank. His army was crushed and it was too late to escape for the south. ‘How could they destroy an empire overnight?’ Jalal asked. The man replied, ‘They were driven by a strange force. Men were seen in strange black hooded robes rampaging through the cities. They could wield bolts of lighting and hurl fireballs; they could unleash raging torrents of water from their finger tips. I saw one that hurled a large fragment of the smashed wall into a watch tower with just a gaze; I saw another that could summon powerful tempests with just a clap of his hands. There was madness in their devilish red eyes I say! Sheer madness! Complete and utter …’ the man’s voice went up in a crescendo and Jalal shook him violently and said in a tone to match the man’s, ‘Get a grip on yourself man! We have a crisis on our hands and I need as many sane men as possible.’ After a moment the man replied in a daze ‘Thank you, your Majesty. Oh, and their leader Nader Shah also sent you this farmaan.’ The man handed him a grubby bloodstained envelope addressed to Jalal. Not His Majesty, Jalal-u-din Mohammed Akbar, Baadsha-E-Hindusthan, but Jalal. ‘A farmaan?’ Jala’s eyes flared up into a fit of rage like a cobra poised to strike. ‘A Royal Order? Who the hell does this barbarian think he is ordering me around in my own nation!? Go back to him and tell him that Mughal ears are not accustomed to listening to farmaans!’ and he threw the envelope down and spat on it in disgust. The man quietly backed out of the room saying ‘Yes, Your Majesty.’ So quietly that it was hardly audible. He did not want to anger the Emperor further. The day’s assembly in the Diwan-E-Aam was one of franticness. The ministers of the Mughal sultanate squabbled amongst themselves about what should be done some ideas were outrageous and others were just simply mad. ‘We must all pray that Allah will deliver us from this evil.’ Others said ‘We must surrender! All is lost!’ and ‘Perhaps they will leave if we pay them?’ There were some methods to their madness though ‘Before we go into battle, we must seek the blessings of Allah and the Hindu gods.’ Jalal agreed to this, he was not a deeply religious man but somehow prayer gave Jalal the confidence to go to the gates of Hell and back if he had to. He dismissed the court and sat on the throne, blankly staring ahead in deep thought and shock. He tried to fathom how his entire army could have been wiped out in a night. Who were these strange masked men? How could they be stopped? He wished now more than ever to have Bairam Khan at his side. A cool salty tear rolled down his cheek in the scorching heat of the day. The time had come for him to pray, this was one of the rare times he needed to borrow some courage. The elephant stopped at the door of the Agra temple and Jalal took the long jump down. He removed his silk shoes and entered ringing the large brass bell as he went. He took his first steps towards the altar. He turned to his most trusted advisor, Birbal, and remarked on how much he loved these sandalwood incense sticks. He turned his head back to see a deranged looking old man with spiky blue hair, grotesque yellow teeth and long uncut fingernails he had an insanely elated expression. He wore only a tiger skin loincloth. ‘You seek the secrets of the Jadoogar don’t you? The secret to unlock all magic! I sensed that you are the one. You are the Great King that shall master magic and deliver his people from the barbarian horde. You are the one they spoke of. They knew you were coming! Oh yes, they did! Are they not brilliant?’ He let out an insane laugh and was about to continue when Jalal’s hand covered his mouth. ‘Silence heretic! If you wish to speak to me at least speak sense! I am not an unreasonable man.’ The reply came in a more subdued tone that before ‘There is fire in the belly I see… you will not be easy to win over. Still I shall persevere, when your Kingdom lies in ruin come to me.’ With that the strange man crawled back into the shadows deep in the sanctuary of the temple leaving the faint smell of rotting fruits behind him. Three years went by. Jalal was terrorized my memories of that fateful day. He could still hear the cries of his citizens as they furiously banged at the palace gates. The sounded like anguished dog, howling incessantly Jalal closed his ears and mentally begged for it to stop. It was such a terrible noise. With each cry his heart felt as if it was physically ripping. From high upon the fortifications he could still see the tempests and fireballs gradually moving through the city. As they drew closer the screams became more intense so much more desperate, so much more relentless. The people were clawing at the engraved inscriptions clamouring to get a foothold so as to bet slightly safer from the mysterious forces at work behind them. Jalal remembered running deeper into his palace unable to bear the plight of his people further, his mind clouded by fear and confusion, he could not make the quick decisions for which he was renowned in battle. Then Jalal heard rush of one of those fireballs followed by maniacal laughter… then silence. The warlocks had reached the palace gates, the citizens, no longer. ‘What to do?’ his panicked mind thought. His utopia burned before his eyes and he was helpless. ‘Jalal?’ called a sweet angelic voice. ‘Wake up! Afghan patrol, coming this way!’ At these words Jalal sprang up, cold beads of sweat trickling down his face he ducked behind the charred remains of a market stall with Miriam. The robed men walked past the hidden couple holding ropes. They were standing in a square formation and seemed to be carrying something. As they came closer Jalal saw through bleary eyes that they were infact carrying a body. Anger welled up inside him to a point of physical pain and then it was gone. Anger was replaced by deep sorrow and helplessness, for the limp body they were carrying was that of Jalal’s best friend and most trusted advisor, Birbal. ‘No, not you too, old friend!’ Jalal whispered. He felt a painful lump in his throat but for the sake of his wife he held back his emotions so as to not alert the patrol. Jalal and Miriam wandered aimlessly around the remnants of their once great city. The smell of burnt wood reeked from the roadsides. Miriam walked daintily trying to avoid the shards of broken bricks and splinters of wood while Jalal stormed up piles of woods and through dusty areas of ash with the steadfastness of a mountain goat. As the couple came to the peak of the remnants of what was once the fountain in the town square, they saw a beautiful, dazzling building gold leaf shimmering from its façade, completely unscathed by the terrible war. Miriam’s eyes lit up as she recognized it as the Hindu temple. Leading her husband by the hand she raced down the hill and darted in. Cautiously the pair walked up to the altar, their sight and hearing became sharpened with adrenaline as they walked further on watching out for ay potential dangers. Then came a voice out of the silence. ‘So, you have returned, o impatient king?’ Jalal recognized the smell of rotting fruits and he flashbacked to the evening before the invasion. The heretic emerged slowly from the darkness. His hair was longer but still spiky and blue. ‘The time has come. Assemble all the survivors here before midnight we will make our final stand now.’ Jalal gave him a sceptical yet worried look, he has been through such an ordeal had hadn’t the energy to put up a coherent counter argument but blurted out ‘How am I supposed to believe that you, a rouge cleric, will save my empire?’ The heretic squared up to the large strong body of Jalal and looked straight into those deep green pits of eyes, gave a wry smile and said ‘You still doubt me, eh?’ his eyes shot downwards to look at a rat that was scurrying past and with a clap of his hands it was blown through the temple doors, twirling as it went. Miriam gave a shocked gasp and took a frightened step back as it flew past her and she backed up against a colourfully engraved wall. Without saying a word, Jalal took her hand and lead her out into the square. Jalal and Miriam spent the rest of that day scurrying about in the shadows searching for survivors and telling them to meet in the temple before midnight. Some joined them insisting that they shan’t leave their king’s side again while others simply nodded their soot blackened heads in agreement and continued their scavenging, attempting to find sustenance in the rubble like foxes. Half an hour before midnight there were about one hundred people assembled in the temple, the heretic stepped up onto the podium below the altar, cleared his throat and began. ‘Fellow oppressed brothers and sisters, for three years now these Afghans have terrorized us with their magical abilities that to most seem strange and incomprehensible. This evening by the grace of the Mother Goddess, we will have vengeance! We are here today to comprehend the incomprehensible, to make sense of chaos and to bring justice to this unjust state we are currently in. We will wipe out their legions with our bare hands, we few, we special few will rule the new India justly and in accordance with laws that we can obey and we will set taxes that we can pay! Ladies and Gentlemen today we will unlock the secrets of the magical arts that have for so long repressed us and today we will use it to strike back!’ at this a tremendous roar went up from the congregation however there were some more sceptical people who decided to leave, not wanting to meddle with things that they did not understand. The heretic placed a pot of sticks in the centre of the room and with a deft gesture of his fingers they went up in flames. He began to chant thousand year old mantras as he paced around the pillar of flames. The Sanskrit language has always been one that is very much related to nature, the primordial letters mimicking sound that one might hear in the jungle. The vibrations of them venerated in the cleverly designed temple and it gave the congregation a warm feeling in their hearts. At the stroke of midnight the heretic ordered everyone to place a small material offering into the fire and chant a mantra dedicated to the Mother Goddess. After this the flames died down and from the ashes emerged the ghostly figure of a woman with many arms brandishing many weapons, sitting upon a ferocious lion. Her eyes were a blazing red yet serene and calm. Her dark hair was wildly flailing about behind her as if it was being bolstered by a terrible gale and yet it was smooth and silky. She was adorned in red bright red clothes with golden embroidery. Draped about Her neck, were garlands of orange and pink flowers alongside large gold necklaces. Behind Her head was a shining, spinning halo. She raised a seemingly jewel studded hand and a dazzling light erupted from it and flowed across the room engulfing all in it like a golden blanket. ‘Your wish is granted, the secrets of the Jadoogar are yours.’ Said the angelic voice, sweet and lyrical like the strum of a lute. And then She was gone in a flash of blue light. The heretic raced up to the balcony of the temple, stroked his throat with fingers that began to glow red and said in a voice that now boomed so that it could clearly be heard in the Royal Palace where the robed men were encamped ‘Barbarians! Leave this land peacefully now and we may let you live!’ In an equally booming voice came the collective laughter of arrogant men. The heretic came back to the congregation and said in his normal voice ‘They refuse to surrender. Follow me outside and open fire.’ The people gave him a confused look and Jalal strode out of the crowd ‘Open fire? What on earth do you mean? What’s just happened to us? How do we use these so called ‘powers’?’ Calmly, the heretic replied ‘Follow me outside, I’ll show you.’ Obediently, the people formed a semi-circle around the exterior of the temple. The heretic called Jalal out in front of them all. ‘Now, I want you all to pay attention here.’ Jalal gripped the pommel of his sheathed sword tightly and glared at his castle with a terrifying fury. The heretic looked irritated and clicked his fingers in front of Jalal eyes ‘Hey! Concentrate!’ he said with the voice of a teacher instructing young pupils. Jalal’s eyes quickly snapped back to the heretic and he had a dazed look in his eyes. ‘Jalal, I want you to aim at the Palace on the hill with your fingers. Good. Now, focus your mind. What do you feel like doing to the invaders?’ ‘I want to ram one of their bloody fireballs into them.’ Came the reply with a childish frustration. With a smirk of glee the heretic instructed him ‘Now, envision it happening. Imagine a huge ball of fire leaping from your hands and flying into the unsuspecting enemy.’ Jalal closed his eyes and a small spark flickered out of his palm. ‘Come on Jalal! Focus your mind!’ said the heretic. Jalal strained himself, the image of a burning palace was all that was in his mind, he could not hear, see or feel anything. His mind took him to his fingertip and he felt a strange heat in them, Jalal broke into a sweat and with that a huge fireball erupted from his hands with such for that it knocked him off balanced. It flew gracefully through the air and crashed into the palace. Jalal gave a mad laugh and soon the whole group were firing into the palace, fireballs rising and falling like a deadly fireworks display. Large parts of the palace were in flames. The brightness was enhanced by the shimmering, melting gold leaf that now flowed in a river down the hill, past the temple. The heat was intense and when the palace lay in ruins and when Jalal was sure that the robed men were dead, he ordered the population to retreat into the temple to rest. The people had has a trying day…and life. Before dawn the heretic began ringing the temple bells attempting to wake everyone up. ‘Their army is at our door step! Prepare for battle! The entire might of the Afghan army lies in wait outside!’ he cried. The grey eyed population trudged to the balcony and some out to the steps in front of the gate. Both forces stood silent staring blankly at each other until a single Afghan archer launched an arrow that took down a man on the balcony. And with that all hell broke loose. The Afghan archers blackened the sky with arrows and a red headed friend of Miriam’s who was standing on the balcony raised her hand and with that a feint purple wave washed over the sky stopping the arrows in their trajectory causing the to fall straight down onto the Afghan artillery beneath. Chaos was unleashed in the Afghan ranks as they realized that they had lost their men with what they thought were powers possessed by only Afghan Jadoogar and now these natives would do to the Afghans what the Afghans did to them. Vast portions of the enemy broke away in retreat only to be struck by lightening swords gleefully conjured by the heretic up on the roof. Now a force of a thousand maybe contained only two hundred archers and maybe one hundred swordsmen. The defenders were still outnumbered three to one approximately. Men and women were in the fray below the balcony. The defenders fought viciously slaying even surrendered or wounded enemies. Three years of build up rage were released upon the attackers just as a caged and tormented lion will indiscriminately maul those around him when he is released. The Afghan swords were no match for the powers that faced them. The man beside Jalal threw his attackers fifty or so feet into the air with just a brainwave. Jalal was levitating and slinging nearby rocks into the enemy advances. Jalal turned his head to see an Afghan that had crept up beside him and was poised to kill him in an instant when he was swept miles away by a strange green bolt. Jalal followed it’s trajectory to see Miriam on the balcony. He gave her a thankful smile and she winked at him cheekily. Jalal fantasized about the great kingdom that they would rule after this battle. He imagined her as the mother of his children, playing with them in their beautiful new gardens on warm summer days, he saw her boating with him on the new lake that he will build, and he saw them in each others’ arms sitting under the cool pavilion in the gardens watching the monsoons. Then her expression turned solemn. Her face paled and she twisted round to reveal an arrow in her side. It was lodged deep in her stomach and she fell forward over the balcony, her beautiful chestnut hair trailing behind her. She hit the ground with a sickening thud. Jalal’s eyes widened with rage first his best friend had been taken from him now his Miriam, the jewel of his life, the reason behind his success, the woman that he had once said ‘for who the sun doth shine.’ In a blazing, maddening anger he lashed out at the enemy around him not resorting to his powers or even consulting his common sense, he was far beyond the need to worry about consequences. The people, seeing what had happened burst into a fit of new aggression Miriam was not just the Queen, she was their Queen. The people followed their King into the breach in enemy lines relentlessly cutting, burning, and striking any Afghan in their path. The day was now theirs, at a heavy cost but they had done it. India was theirs again. A blood-stained Jalal walked over to Miriam’s body, the beautiful olive skin had become pale white, and the large plump lips became wrinkled thin strips of skin, her large eyes were now cold and lifeless staring into space. Jalal sat beside her and a tear rolled from his face onto her’s. Then he broke down, he began to bawl loudly, beating on her chest demanding that she live. The sympathetic people gathered round and the heretic placed a loving hand on Jalal’s shoulder. ‘We must attend to our dead.’ He said. Jalal shook the ehretics hand of his shoulder and hugged Miriam tightly. The crowd dispersed carrying off bodies on stretchers preparing them to be cremated or buried. Fifty-seven of the one hundred and two defenders died that day. After Jalal regained power, he ordered the temple torn down due to the bad memories. Calls for a memorial to be built at the battle site were rejected and Jalal had all records of the invasion wiped from the histories. Jalal reintroduced discriminatory laws and all free thinking people were imprisoned or executed. Without Miriam, the light of his life, he was a dark, evil man who horded money and soon became the world’s most well known miser. For another three years we have been under Jalal’s oppression. I supposed it is the lesser of two evils, but what will become of the Mughal Empire now?