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Adventure, December 3rd, 1919

Saud Afzels Elephant

by H.A. Lamb

Author of "The Rider of the Gray Horse," "The Skull of Shirzad Mir," etc.

Put cloth of gold upon a fool and a multitude will do reverence to him; clothe a wise man in beggar's garments, and few will honor him. Yet those few will have their reward.—Turkestan Proverb.

WE WERE three men with two horses and two swords. We were outcasts in the thickets of the foothills of Badakshan, under the peaks of the Roof of the World. We had earned the wrath of the Mogul of India and there were two thousand riders searching for us.

It was the year of the Ox—the year 1608 by the Christian calendar—and Jani Beg, the Uzbek, had taken Badakshan from my lord, Baber Shirzad Mir, sometimes called the Tiger Lord.

Nevertheless, we three were happy. We had taken Shirzad Mir from the hands of Jani Beg, who had marked him for death.

Aye, Shirzad Mir sat in the clean white robes in which he had prepared to die by a twisted bowstring around the neck, and laughed for joy of seeing the sun cast its level darts of light over the peaks and through the trees that gave us shelter. Our hearts—the Ferang's and mine—were lifted up for a moment by the warmth that comes with early morning. We had an ache in our bellies for lack of food; we had not slept for a day and a night. Also, I was stiff with many bruises.

"Tell me," said Shirzad Mir, fingering his full beard, which was half gray, half black, "how you got me out of the prison of Khanjut."

While I watched, lying at the edge of the thicket on my side, the Ferang—the Englishman, Sir Ralph Weyand—explained how we had climbed through the water tunnel of Khanjut into the walls, and how we two alone had freed the Mir while Jani Beg and his men were tricked into looking the other way by a herd of cattle that we had sent to the gate of Khanjut.

He spoke in his broken Mogholi, but Shirzad Mir, who was quick of wit, understood.

"And whence came you?" he asked.

Sir Weyand told how he had been sent to India as a merchant, and had been driven from the court of the Mogul by the wiles of the Portuguese priests. When he had done, Shirzad Mir rose up and touched his hand to earth, then pressed the back of it to his brow. This is something he has seldom done, being a chieftain by birth, and a proud man. Sir Weyand rose also and made salutation after the manner of his country.

I watched from the corner of my eye, for my curiosity was still great concerning the Ferang: also, for all he had borne himself like a brave man that night, he was but a merchant and I knew not how far we could trust him. While I lay on the earth and scanned the groups of horsemen that scurried the plain below us, seeking for our tracks, the thought came to me that our fortunes were desperate.

We were alone. The followers of Shirzad Mir were scattered through Badakshan, or slain. The family of my lord was in the hands of Jani Beg— upon whom may the curse of God fall. To the north of Badakshan we would find none but Uzbeks, enemies. To the east was the nest of bleak mountains called by some the Hindu-Kush, by others the Roof of the World. To the West, the desert.

True, to the south, the Shyr Pass led to the fertile plain of Kabul, but up this pass was coming Said Afzel, the son of Jani Beg, with a large caravan. I had heard that Said Afzel was a poor warrior, being a youth more fond of sporting with the women of his harem and with poets, than of handling a sword. Still, he had followers with him, for he was bearing the gifts of the Mogul Jahangir from Agra to Jani Beg.

Something of this must also have been in the mind of Shirzad Mir, who had been lord of Badakshan for twice ten years, during the reign in India of the Mogul Akbar—peace be on his name!

"I am ruler," he smiled sadly, "of naught save two paces of forest land; my dress of honor is a robe of death. For a court I have but two friends."

Shirzad Mir was a broad man with kindly eyes and a full beard. He had strength in his hands to break the ribs of a man, and he could shoot an arrow with wonderful skill. He was hasty of temper, but generous and lacking suspicion. Because of this last, he had lost Badakshan to Jani Beg, the Uzbek.

He knew only a little of writing and music; still, he was a born leader of men, perhaps because there was nothing he ordered them to do that he would not do himself. Wherefore, he had two saber cuts on his head and a spear gash across the ribs.

Thinking to comfort him, I rose up from the place where I was watching and squatted down by them.

"There are many in Badakshan," I said—long ago he had granted me leave to be familiar with him—"who will come to you when they know you are alive."

"Who will tell them, Abdul Dost?" he asked mildly. "We will be hunted through the hills. The most part of the nobles of Badakshan have joined the standard of Jani Beg."

"The men of the hills and the desert's edge are faithful, Shirzad Mir," I said.

They were herdsmen and outlaws for the most part. Our trained soldiers had been slain, all but a few hiding out in the hills.

"Aye," he exclaimed, and his brown eyes brightened. "Still, they are but men. To take up arms against the Uzbeks we need arms—also good horses, supplies and treasure. Have we these?"

SO WE talked together in low tones, thinking that the Ferang slept or did not hear. Presently I learned that he understood, for, with many pains, he had taught himself our tongue.

We spoke of the position of Jani Beg. Truly, it was a strong one. He himself held Khanjut, which was the citadel at the end of the Shyr ravine leading into India. Paluwan Chan, leader of his Uzbeks, was at the great town of Balkh with a garrison. Reinforcements were coming through the passes to the north from Turkestan. Outposts were scattered through the plains. Jani Beg was a shrewd commander. Only once did I know him to err badly in his plans. Of that I will tell in due time.

Shirzad Mir, who was brave to the point of folly, said he would go somehow to Agra and appeal for mercy from Jahangir himself. I had been to Kabul and I knew that the intrigues of Jani Beg had made his quarrel seem that of the Mogul and— such is the witchery of evil words—Shirzad Mir seem to be a rebel.


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