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Adventure

March 3, 1920

Rose Face

By H.A. Lamb

Author of "The Skull of Shirzad Mir," "The Prophecy of the Blind," etc.

Where is the man who knows what is hidden in the heart of a woman?

—Mohammedan proverb

MY MASTER and Jani Beg, the Uzbek, had been at drawn swords. Jani Beg had built a tower of the skulls of my master's retainers that he had slain. On the other hand, Shirzad Mir, who was my master, had taken prisoner the son of Jani Beg, who was called Said Afzel, the dreamer and eater of opium and bhang.

Verily, it is written that the clashing of bright swords delights the soul of a brave man. Yet in this year—early in the seventeenth century of the Christian calendar—Jani Beg put aside the sword. He took up another weapon. He called upon Krishna Taya, a girl of the Rajputs.

This was because we, the hillmen of Badakshan, led by Shirzad Mir and the English merchant, Sir Weyand, had taken the citadel of Badakshan. It was by a trick, but nevertheless we sat securely behind the high stone walls of Khanjut and ate of the stores Jani Beg had gathered there for himself, and we were content. He could not take Khanjut by storm. No man has done that since the citadel was built under the white peaks of Kohi-Baba at the mouth of the pass that leads to Hindustan.

So Jani Beg, who was a man of guile, thought that he, also, would play a trick. And for this he chose Krishna Taya. He whispered an evil thing in the tiny ear of the girl, and she listened. Since the memory of our fathers, woman has played the part of treachery and her beauty has made blind the eyes of warriors.

Aye, it is so. I, Abdul Dost, the mansab-dar, have seen it. And I watched the coming of Krishna Taya and harkened to her soft words, which were as artless as those of a child. Too late I saw what was in her heart.

She was the one Sir Weyand named "Rose Face." She was no taller than the armpit of my mail shirt and no bigger around than two small shields joined together. She was not a common courtesan, for she was of the Rajputs, who hold honor higher than life. Nevertheless, what is written is true—the face of a fair woman holds a spell.

I saw it all. It could not have happened had we and our men not been idle in Khanjut after many labors. We had starved and grown lean in the hills. Now we ate and slept. At such a time a warrior grows sluggish and his wits become dull and the sight of a shapely woman is not unwelcome.

This is the tale. There be few to tell it, for many in Khanjut died quickly and went to paradise or to the devil, after the coming of Krishna Taya.

The days had became still and the warmth of the sun tranquil, as Autumn spread its arms over the hills of Badakshan. The sheep from the hills were pasturing in the valley as Jani Beg, in his camp at Balkh, sought out the tent of Krishna Taya. I was not there to see, but much I heard from one of the eunuchs of Said Afzel, and more came to my ears from a woman of the Uzbek harem.

Krishna Taya was no better than a slave. Said Afzel had seen her when he was with the Mogul, and Jahangir, the Mogul, had her carried off to please the prince, since Said Afzel's father was Jani Beg who commanded twelve thousand swords and twice that number of horses.

She was playing with pigeons in a pear garden when they took her. She had come from the Rajputs. There she had been a free woman, and high born, yet Jahangir was Mogul of India, lord of the Deccan, Kashmir and Sind. She was given as slave to Said Afzel, who was well pleased, for she was fair of face and body. Many thought—so said the eunuch—that Krishna Taya would slay herself, being of the Rajputs, where no women may be slaves.

Whether it was because she was a child, or for another reason, I know not, but Krishna Taya did not thrust a dagger into her throat. She became the property of Said Afzel and said little, waxing thinner of face as dark circles came under her calf- like eyes.

Said Afzel tired of her swiftly. Those who eat much opium are not firm of purpose. He left her in the tents of the Uzbek harem, where she was dressed in the white silk trousers and cap of cloth- of-silver that the Uzbek women wear. Said Afzel's eunuchs kept her from meeting with the Rajputs who sometimes came from the camp of Jahangir fearing that they might do her harm. By the law of the Marwar, no high-born woman may be a slave to an enemy.

Krishna Taya had broken this law. She had not done as her ancestors, who dressed in their bridal clothes and followed the queen of the Rajputs into the funeral flames when Chitore fell to the enemy.

Yet—so the eunuch whispered—she was but a child and might well fear the cold touch of death. Likewise, she ate opium, which kept her quiet and wrought upon her fancies. She had been partaking of it when Jani Beg visited her.

He sat on the carpet by her and talked. He was a shrewd man and her brain was aflame with the drug.

"The ferang is the shield on the arm Shirzad Mir," he said. "He is like to a devil loosed from the Christian purgatory. Without him, Shirzad Mir would fare ill at our hands. He it was who took my son prisoner."

She lifted up her soft eyes at this and plucked at the cap which she wore instead of the veil of her people.

"Yet he is his own man," continued Jani Beg. "He serves himself. None other. What reward he seeks I know not, save that he has sworn to obtain certain trade concessions from the great Mogul. Jahangir will not see him so long as he fights with the rebels of Shirzad Mir."

Aye, Jani Beg, who was an Uzbek of low birth, dared to name Shirzad Mir, whose father and father's father ruled in Badakshan, a rebel.

"Mayhap," whispered Jani Beg, "Sir Weyand does not know that I am allied to the Mogul. If he knew this—" Jani Beg smiled—"I might forget certain wrongs she has done me. Aye, and Jahangir might also forget, for the Mogul has counted the swords I lead. Say this to the ferang—"

"How?" asked Krishna Taya softly.

The woman of the harem was listening behind the hangings of the tent and heard what passed.

"It is in my mind," said Jani Beg, stroking his long beard, "to send a present to this ferang dog. He is a merchant, and when did a merchant mislike the sight of gold? I will send a Persian sword with gold hilt, certain rubies and woven cloth-of-gold. I will send—" he touched the long hair of the girl and Krishna Taya's cheeks grew red— "you."

The girl was silent, being afraid to speak.

"The ferang," went on Jani Beg, "has a heart for fighting. But now there is a truce. I have willed it so. The men of Shirzad Mir think...

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