BigCloset Classic

Jayti Singh: Conclusion
Date: Monday, March 31 @ 00:16:22
Topic Big Closet TG Stories

Will Jayti survive Jihad? What happens to Jayti's friends in the Harem?

by Aardvark

Thanks to those who left all those nice comments. :) I hope my fans enjoy these last(?) chapters.

Chapter 25: Jihad

Rana Pratap and his welcoming committee stood outside the Lion gate as the exhausted party of journeymen, sailors, and traders arrived. Jayti waved to Elizabeth, who was elated to see her after so many months at sea. Jayti noted proudly that Sir Walter and Elizabeth had studied their Urdu during the journey. They spoke with an accent and used some different words, due undoubtedly to their tutor, but they were understandable. Rana Pratap's eyes were mainly concentrated on Sir Walter, evaluating him for possible positions.

After supper, the Maharana decided to put him in charge of the journeymen and work with Hassan, an important position because it meant giving him access to state secrets. Jayti knew that this had to be, at least partly, based on her recommendation, and it humbled her. The Maharana had trusted her a great deal to allow it. Of course, it helped that Sir Walter had come through admirably. He had delivered almost two hundred journeymen and several masters of their professions, most in their early twenties. Rana Pratap was very pleased.

Mark, Jim, Sir Walter, and Elizabeth met in the evening to walk by the water. Many others were out on the cool night, including many of the new arrivals who still looked to Sir Walter for reassurance in this strange land. Mark explained the situation in the Moghul Empire and what Mewar was doing about it; there was little to hide, now; Jim had been brought in on the secret technology weeks ago and Sir Walter was about to be in the thick of it.

Sir Walter was happy to be here; he was in his element. Here was a challenge in a foreign land with a chance for glory; his wife was with him, he had been given a very nice house with a sizable garden, and his good friend James was his neighbor.

When she finally got her alone, Mark asked her how everything was, meaning the IUD. Elizabeth was very pleased with it. After the first day or so, there had been no ill effects. She hadn't told Sir Walter yet, but she would, sometime soon. In the meantime, she would enjoy the control of her own body. Elizabeth was ecstatic; Udaipur was beautiful, her husband was doing what he wanted, and she felt welcome. Mark suggested they try on some Indian clothes in the morning, and after Mark talked to the Maharana, they would go shopping together. Elizabeth happily agreed.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Maharana was in a quandary. What should he do with the Englishmen?

The Brahmans wanted them to be Sudras, a lower class caste normally assigned to peasants and craftsmen, but only after they converted to Hinduism. To them, until they were given a caste, they were just foreigners and shouldn't be permitted to marry, or even have relations with any Hindus. Mark was utterly opposed to putting them in a caste. Many of the Englishmen had been soldiers and had fought in Spain, the Netherlands, or against the Spanish Armada. One could make the case that they were Kshatrias in spirit, even though they were skilled workers, as well.

She was sure they wouldn't convert to Hinduism, anyway. Why would they put themselves under the control of an egotistical priest caste that had already shown hostility to them? They were all young men, and most were attractive. They needed women to stay in India, and to have someone to fight for. Due to the war, there were many young widows around who the Hindus treated almost like outcastes. Why not just declare the Englishmen free from caste restrictions, and permit, and even encourage, the Englishmen, the widows, or whoever else was available, to get together?

She was persuasive. The die had already been broken when the Bhils, a non-Hindu tribe, had been given citizenship status in Mewar. The Brahmans had screamed about that, but had finally relented. Pratap finally decided to let events decide for him. The Englishmen would have to demonstrate the honor and courage of the Kshatrias before he would allow any Kshatrias women, even widows, to marry them. But until then, they could mix with the lower caste women, and to the dark depths with the Brahmans. He owed the Englishmen that much, at least.

* * * * * * * * * *

Aaron Everett loved to hunt. The trip to India was long; he was far away from his home country and his native deep green forests, with their plentiful game and unique solitude. As a boy of 13, he would leave his home behind, sometimes for days, worrying his mother to no end, but never failing to bring back something for the pot and usually enough to give away to the neighbors. Although a blacksmith by trade, now, he had never ceased practicing with the longbow he and his father had made years before from an imported Spanish yew stave. They had cured and gradually carved it over several years, to ensure an especially fine draw and the power suitable for his strong, nearly six-foot frame.

His father had lamented the decision by the Queen to replace archers with gunners. He always insisted that Aaron had the potential to become the best he had ever seen, much more than just maintaining the family archer tradition. When Aaron found forests and game surrounding his new home, he quite naturally unpacked his treasure from its woolen wrappings and entered the woods.

The Bhils quickly recognized a kindred spirit in the soft-spoken man with the blue eyes and deep chest. Although they made fun of his longer bow at first, it was after all, more difficult to maneuver through the forests and required more space to shoot, he silenced them when he put 10 straight arrows into a tree at over 200 yards. Although a few of the best Bhil archers could duplicate the feat, none of them used a bow with anywhere near the power.

Two months after he arrived, a small group of Bhils, along with their new friend, were a long way from Udaipur, tracking deer. They had left the early warning posts miles behind and were closing in on the herd, when the deer unexpectedly bolted. About to curse his luck, Rhun, the Bhil leader, spotted movement at the forest's edge. He froze everyone with a gesture. His keen eyes found five Moghuls, advancing almost silently through the forest in a way that defined a scouting party. It was blind luck that they had spooked the deer. The Bhil leader had to admire the skill that had allowed them to get so close to Udaipur without being detected.

With sharp, precise motions, he directed part of the group to move to a good ambush position. The others would go with him, to take out the horses and rear guard he knew couldn't be far away. They almost didn't make it. The horses were across a wide, flat field hidden in a copse of thick trees and brush. Halfway there, one of the two sentries saw their careful progress and alerted the other. They scattered all but two of the Arabians with a slap to their flanks, and rode away at a gallop on the remaining pair. The Bhils stood, and shot their arrows as fast as they could. One hit a Moghul in the arm, but the rest missed. They were disconsolate; the Moghuls were out of their range, and free to report.

But Aaron hadn't loosed, yet. He tracked the rear warrior, and shot. It was difficult, even by his standards: a moving target at more than 300 yards. He hit him square in the back, and he went down, the distance making it a silent fall. There was one left. Four long seconds later, his bow was ready again. This last rider was at what his father called 'stupid range'; it was near the very limit of his bow. Without effort, he eliminated all distractions and concentrated only on the bright retreating chain mail of the Moghul. His fingers released without thinking. The arrow sped high and out of sight until it appeared under the shoulder blades of the remaining rider. A few seconds later, he slumped to the side and dropped.

The Bhils stood and stared at Aaron and his bow. They'd never seen such a shot. Rhun slapped him on the back, and white, even teeth showed themselves. Then they ran for the men. The last man was alive, but only briefly. The shot had punctured a lung and he was coughing up frothy, red blood. He died before they could get anything from him. Rhun was disgusted. He hoped the others were having better luck capturing Moghuls to interrogate. They were.

* * * * * * * * * *

Rana Pratap pointed to the board, showing where the invading armies were forming and explained the Moghul strategy. They would hit Mewar in two parts: The bulk of the army would attack in the North at Haldhigati Pass with 150,000 men. His old adversary, Man Singh, would be in charge. Apparently, they planned to hit Mewar hard and hope that sheer numbers would be the key to victory, as it had been in 1576. If they broke through, Mewar would be open for destruction. Another, smaller force, would be invading from the east through the Aravalli hills to threaten Udaipur, hoping to divert forces from the main battle.

It would have a good strategy a few months ago. Despite Mewar's recent successes against the Moghuls, at that time, they had only about 2,000 rifles and limited ammunition of dubious quality. Working day and night, they now had over 5,000 rifles and hundreds of thousands of rounds. The first battle of Haldhigati had been barely lost with 20,000 of his men against 80,000 Moghuls, but it had forced him into the hills for several long years. Akbar must be desperate to fight before Mewar's strength became too strong for him. It was a good thing that the Englishman had such skill with the bow. That act had given them at least a couple more days to prepare, an eternity in war.

* * * * * * * * * *

Hassan and Sir Walter stood together, as each spoke to their teams. Hassan's team already knew what would happen if they lost. They and their families would be butchered in a bloodbath and Mewar would be a memory. Hassan only reminded them that this attack was done in response to their efforts; that now, the mighty Akbar feared Mewar's strength. Although none of them were of the warrior caste, he knew they would do their duty.

Sir Walter had a different problem. After only two months in India, his men were now unexpectedly in a life and death struggle. Most were here to get away from the restrictions of England and for adventure. Many of the men were here because of Sir Walter's charisma and reputation. A lot depended on how he acted.

Fortunately, Jayti and Pratap had given his men an extra incentive; more than half of his men had girl friends, and they were itching to prove themselves to their Rajput hosts, who weren't quite sure what to make of them. He would set the tone:

"Most of you came here for adventure and a new life. We have found it. We have been treated well and welcomed by the Maharana to this new land. As yet, it's been Mewar that's been doing the giving. We've been treated with honor, something they have in abundance." He paused in his pacing, and faced them, making sure he made eye contact with everyone in the room.

"But make no mistake, they look to us as men with valued skills, but have no idea of our true mettle. There are those who say we aren't as brave as the Kshatrias, and therefor we aren't good enough for their women." Sir Walter was pleased to see that it hit home. Men who traveled 10,000 miles to an unknown future normally didn't lack courage.

"We didn't ask for this fight, but I welcome it. We've been given the chance to show what we're made of, and to make our place in this land. What we do during this battle will affect our children and their children. A hundred years from now, our descendents will look back with pride at what we do; the day we showed the Rajputs that the English have as much honor and bravery as any man alive!"

Hassan didn't understand more than a word or two of it, but if the reactions of the men were any indication, it was a good speech. In the meantime, they had a few last minute things to finish. It would be a long night.

* * * * * * * * * *

Prince Amar hadn't been to Udaipur in some time, spending most of his time either in the field, commanding troops against Moghul caravans, or setting ambushes when he wasn't in the fortress of Khumbalgarh. When he received the telegraph of the invasion, he left as quickly as he could to defend the city his grandfather built. His father would defend the Haldighati Pass with 25,000 men and 4,000 rifles against 150,000 Moghul troops. To him, was left the task of defending Udaipur. He didn't know who had the easier job.

They all met in the Palace, a day before the attack, his Commanders, Hassan, Sir Walter Raleigh, the Bhil commanders, and finally, Jayti, the woman from Jodhpur his father talked about so much. This was the first time they had met.

Hassan's team had come through again. Whatever happened tomorrow, when the Moghul troops attempted to pass through the woods filled with Bhils and cross the Ahar River, they wouldn't be surprised. They had made a hot air balloon with a long rope and telegraph wires attached. Observing the country at one thousand feet over the hills, the enemy would do little he wouldn't know about almost instantly. Claymores, he was already familiar with; he had used them many times on ambushes and knew their effectiveness. Hassan's team and this new group of Englishmen were working feverishly to make as many as they could.

Jayti supervised English metal workers making several large rifles and a small production line of large bottle shaped bullets. They were long range elephant killers, she explained, something the smaller rifles didn't do very well. Most of them would be sent to support his father.

* * * * * * * * * *

Rana Pratap prepared his troops for possibly the last time. He was now much older than that first battle and was nearing 50. His old armor had to be modified to fit his new girth, and his faithful horse, Chetak, was long gone. This new horse, at least, would carry the same well-known colorful armor with the false trunk designed to scare horses and fool enemy elephants; he wouldn't hide from his old foe. Now, all he needed to have a chance were those new rifles Jayti promised him. Time was getting late, but surely the Gods wouldn't let him get this far without granting him the final victory.

* * * * * * * * * *

Man Singh mounted the final hill overlooking the pass. His advance scouts were correct; somehow, Rana Pratap knew they were coming, and his forces were entrenched around the kilometer-wide pass. He knew there would be no success drawing him out from the hills, no more than last time. In fact, with those damn rifles, Pratap actually had the advantage if he sat still. He could pick his troops off at long range, out of range of everything except his cannons, and he barely had an advantage there. It wouldn't matter in the end. Throwing everything at him at once would overpower him. He was outnumbered at least six to one and he couldn't have that many rifles.

* * * * * * * * * *

As far as Muhammad Bakshir, the Moghul Commander of the southern force attacking Udaipur later recalled, the first sign that something might not have been quite right were the sounds of about 50 distant booms. He had no way of knowing they were sighting-in 50-caliber rifles.

Man Singh's instructions were clear. He was to take Udaipur if he could, but to be sure he tied up as many resources as practicable to ensure that Man Singh had as much of an edge as possible at Haldighati Pass. To him, the instructions he just tie-up resources were ludicrous. With 50,000 men, a fair amount of cavalry, and 200 war elephants, Muhammad Bakshir thought he could probably conquer the entire province of Mewar after he had eliminated their weapons manufacturing facility in Udaipur.

* * * * * * * * * *

As soon as the 50 caliber rifles were sighted-in, Prince Amar sent eight of the ten rifles, along with 1,000 rounds, to Haldighati Pass under guard, keeping two for himself. He already had reports coming in from the south road, where 50 cannon and supplies were about 30 miles away and moving slowly towards Udaipur. Prince Amar was never one to miss an opportunity; the enemy attack wasn't supposed to come until tomorrow. As far as he was concerned, he had an entire free day to create havoc with the Moghuls. Once again, he praised his father for having the foresight to run telegraph lines throughout Mewar. A wild plan began to form in Amar's mind.

* * * * * * * * * *

Commander Hassim Baktyar had little warning of the ambush, and could hardly believe its ferocity. One of the advance guard cried out a warning when they were halfway through the pass. Suddenly, pandemonium broke out. From the tree line on the right, perhaps 200 yards away, several hundred rifles barked almost as one. The man riding with him, who had just been discussing plans for his new house with him, went down when his head exploded. His own horse reared, and he knew the stallion had saved his life when he felt the passage of a bullet just past his eyes. In less than a minute, more than half of the 3,000 men guarding the train were down. The rest were hiding behind the wagons; their backs against a sheer wall, only partially concealed from the murderously accurate fire.

A few were escaping by riding forward, or returning the way they had come. Riding individually towards their tormenters was met with death. He had to do something. Many of his brave men were already firing back; he heard more than one shriek of pain through the din, coming from the killers in the woods. He couldn't believe their rate of fire; it sounded like a constant stream of bullets. From the smoke, he saw that they were scattered about one every 10 feet, obviously trying to cover the entire supply train. That was their weakness, he realized. There was only one thing to do, concentrate the attack on one point and break their line.

He knew he would see his wife in heaven. "Allahu Akbar! Follow me!" he yelled, and ran towards the trees. Several hundred of his men, apparently, were just waiting for someone to lead the charge. Miraculously, he made it more than halfway to the trees before he went down from a tremendous blow to his chest. Before he faded forever, he just had time to see more than two hundred of his men make it through the rain of fire to begin butchering the faceless men in the woods.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Bhil force returned in the early evening. They had followed battle discipline and destroyed everything they couldn't carry back with them. Casualties were 60 dead and almost 50 injured vs. almost 3,000 dead and an entire Moghul supply train with food, cannon, and gunpowder reserves, destroyed. 'Not a bad day,' thought Amar, 'and the battle hasn't even begun'.

* * * * * * * * * *

Muhammad Bakshir was furious when he found out that evening that in one stroke, almost all his artillery was gone. He didn't believe the men coming back with reports of 500 rifles. It was just an excuse for cowardice, and they were beaten. According to the higher-ups, there were no more than 1000 rifles in all of Mewar. Fortunately, he still had enough supplies to last a week; it shouldn't take anywhere near that long to decide the battle.

The Moghuls moved out before dawn; the main force pushing its way through the center, reinforced by war elephants. The flanks were spread out to the north and south, accompanied by cavalry meant to crush Udaipur in a pincer movement. It would be tough going through the hilly terrain and forest, but almost 50,000 men would surely prevail against perhaps 5,000 men, all Pratap's son could manage.

Commander Akbar Raman of the northern force immediately ran into problems. As a veteran of many battles with the Maharana, he was already familiar with claymores, nasty bombs that spread shrapnel that injured and often killed. The Bhils had laid out tripwires in the night, and in every direction of their advance, the lead troops were dying. In the first few minutes alone, several hundred were injured or dead and the screams of the newly blind and maimed were everywhere. He gnashed his teeth in frustration, but until the sun rose and the tripwires became visible, movement faster than a crawl would be suicide. In the meantime, enemy snipers were picking-off his officers and horses. He could see the flashes clearly in the dimness, each one well out of range. After a while, the smell of the not-quite-gunpowder of their rifles drifted in.

Muhammad Bakshir commanded the center. The trees were far enough apart that he could move his specially armored war elephants just ahead of the troops. The extra plate armor in the front and sides was almost proof against Mewar rifles, and only a solid hit would penetrate, which, more often than not, would just make the elephant mad. Despite their extra weight, they still moved faster than a man and were almost unstoppable; their trunks were equipped with broadswords and the armored howdah contained several loaded muskets and back-up bows for quick firing. Bakshir's forces marched uncontested on a front over a mile wide, for more than two miles. They crossed over the crest of a hill into a valley, the drums and war shouts echoing in the early morning. The very earth pounded with the force of tens of thousands.

Suddenly, two guns on the opposite ridge erupted in fire, and the elephants began to drop. The large blasts were coming from locations about a half-mile apart, so loud they sounded almost like artillery. As his horse passed one of the abruptly dead elephants, he saw a huge hole torn through the frontal armor like it had been made of paper. The mahout knelt by his silent charge and wept, ignoring his broken arm. Mohammad was no stranger to death and would accept it when it came, but even he was appalled, the range of those guns was over a half-mile! Already in the few minutes they had started over the ridge, more than 100 elephants were down and many more, their mahouts dead, were raging out of control, charging his own troops. He sounded the retreat for the elephants, but it was really too late. They were all in the valley and only the ones in the rear had a chance to escape. He concentrated on rallying his unsettled troops, riding up and down the lines, waving his scimitar wildly, shouting for the advance. His pride in them swelled his heart as they responded enthusiastically and charged the ridge yelling, "Allahu Akbar!"

At four hundred yards, the real killing began. Almost 1000 rifles hidden in the bushes opened fire, and half that many of his troops went down, either dead or injured. From then on, the fire seemed to come from everywhere. Almost 3,000 troops went down before they managed to move within range of their own muskets. Many soldiers crouched behind scattered trees in the valley to shoot, but the inaccurate muskets were especially ineffective against men lying prone behind logs; it only gave the rifles on the ridge more time to fire. When the men, already exhausted from running most of a mile in their armor, made it over the top, the riflemen were gone. The few that tried to follow were either cut down by rifle fire from the retreating Bhils, or stopped by tripping claymores.

Mohammad swallowed bitterly; he knew it was useless. The Bhils would retreat, firing at them all the way, while making sure the Moghul army stayed out of range. He ordered a halt. They would have to do this the hard way. He paused to think, and realized he heard only scattered rifle fire from the north and south. He had to admire the commander on the other side, whoever he was. He was keeping his flanks pinned down, probably with claymores and scattered fire, while concentrating his main force on the center. But now, Mohammad knew their strength. Two could play at that game. Amidst the screaming of the thousands of wounded still in the valley, he heard a shout from one of his soldiers, who pointed to the sky. He followed his arm and saw the balloon. He had never seen or even heard of such a thing before, but he instantly understood its advantages. He cursed his luck; this was very bad.

* * * * * * * * * *

Amar's Rajputs collected about 200 rifles from the jubilant Bhils as they ran back to their temporary base camp in the forest. He barely had time to congratulate them on their victory, before the Rajput cavalry galloped to where the balloon had located the enemy supplies. They rode north, down well-marked paths free of claymores and rounded the still, mostly pinned down, northern flank. After standing off and firing on the helpless supply train guards from out of musket range for a few minutes, many disdained their rifles for swords in the final mop-up. It didn't matter. After taking only a few losses, while killing them all, the supplies were theirs. A few minutes later, they were destroyed in flames.

* * * * * * * * * *

Jayti felt helpless in the field hospital next to the women's quarters. She wanted to be with Jim, manufacturing bullets, but he absolutely insisted she stay away. If the Moghuls overpowered the factory and its guards, they would have to blow up the place to keep it from falling into their hands. Jim didn't want her anywhere near the place. She started to argue, but he wasn't having any. She relented in the end, and gave him the cloth bracelet that Rajput women gave their men before going into battle. They had kissed once and told each other of their love. All she could do here was wipe the brows of injured soldiers and change dressings. Her medical expertise lay with IUD's, and somehow, she was sure there would be no need for it this day. Elizabeth had joined her. The little they could do was appreciated, but it was a continuous heartbreak watching brave men die.

* * * * * * * * * *

Mohammad knew what the smoke from his rear lines meant. The remaining supplies were gone. Unless more came in soon, the only food and water the army had was being carried with them. If there was any doubt before, there was none now. They had to go forward. He rounded up the remaining commanders, and explained their desperate situation. Then, he told them what they were going to do.

The Moghuls attacked hard in the early afternoon. The flanks broke out of their trap at huge cost, the claymores taking more than 2,000 lives and 5,000 injured. They abandoned their armor for speed, and attacked into the teeth of the defenders hiding in the woods with the remaining 35,000 men. It was a slaughter. The rifles killed or injured more than 20,000 men, but they advanced. Inevitably, the Bhils and Rajputs were forced to the banks of the Ahar River, not far from the walls of Udaipur. They were never broken; information from the balloon was passed to Amar, and he made sure the enemy was countered at any possible breakthrough, but they were running out of time.

The English met them on the Udaipur side of the river, giving covering fire with the 50 or so rifles they were able to manufacture that day, as the Bhils and Rajput warriors escaped in boats. It took 5 long minutes before they were all across; they lost over 500 during the passage in the withering fire of the remaining 15,000 Moghuls, many still with muskets. At the end of the day, there were 15,000 Moghuls on one side of the Ahar with little food, and about 3,500 defenders behind the Udaipur walls. They Moghuls really had no choice; they attacked again that night, crossing the river in the early evening.

The Moghuls were reckless from necessity, brave, and knew they would go to heaven. They swarmed the walls with makeshift ladders, where thousands died, before a few lucky breaks broke the garrison at a single point, letting in over a thousand, before the remaining defenders pushed the ladders away at daybreak. The Moghuls inside the walls went through the palace, killing servants and slaughtered anyone they found. Sir Walter led the defense of the women's quarters by the factory after most of the Rajputs guarding the complex had been killed, directing the remaining rifles and ammunition to best advantage, and even defending the door and windows with his sword when necessary.

The Moghuls were split; the main part was trying to kill the defenders at the walls from the inside, but the rest went after the women. The men in the factory were in desperate straits. They were down to firing ammunition from the windows as it was being made. Moghuls were too often free to fire inside, and killed many on the assembly line, although there was always another ready to take the dead worker’s place. Somehow, the Moghuls never quite managed to break in. Ultimately, it became clear to the defenders that they were about to be overwhelmed.

There were still a few claymores left. Many of the men had girlfriends and wives next door, and knew their fate if they didn't act soon. Jim took a claymore, but a larger, older man he didn't know well ripped it from his hands. He growled. "Not you Jim. You’ll not make your pretty wife a widow." The suicide bombers ran together, screaming into the crowd of Moghuls and triggered the claymores, disappearing in separate blasts of red gore, taking out almost half of the attackers and breaking the spirit of the remainder. The rest of the factory managed to manufacture enough bullets to hold on, and then to help the defenders at the wall. The crisis was over.

The rest of the Moghuls inside the city walls were hunted down and killed within a few hours. The remaining 12,000 Moghuls outside heard a huge cheer from within the walls and knew it was over; they were in deep in hostile territory with no food. They started back, taking the south road. When the factory recovered in the late morning, the exhausted men continued to make more bullets, easier this time with all the brass lying around. As the ammunition was made, Rajputs on horseback were sent out to harass the helpless, hungry men all the way out of Mewar, keeping them away from water sources. Few made it out alive.

* * * * * * * * * *

Rana Pratap ordered 500 riflemen on horseback to just within range of the hilltop where Man Singh and Salim stood. The day nearly ended right there; Man Singh felt a tug at his sleeve and Salim's horse was shot from under him. They also fired on the cannon crews, hitting many, and disrupting return fire from the batteries. They rode off after a few minutes, leaving more than 200 dead and 400 wounded before an effective response could be mounted. A clearer statement could hardly be imagined. If Man Singh did nothing, Pratap would keep picking at his forces at the Maharana's leisure.

Pratap saluted the returning men by raising the ancient banner of Mewar, its crimson field and golden face of the Sun God in its center. A rider approached from the ranks, informing him that the 50-caliber rifles had arrived. Completely satisfied, he rode back to his troops, his back elegantly presented to the enemy.

Man Singh attacked in the early morning. The huge army advanced slowly, but steadily across the vast plain of brush and small trees, the ground rumbling low thunder in the morning air. Their formations gradually narrowed as they approached the kilometer-wide pass. Trickles of sweat rolled down faces in the rising heat. Dust from more than 100,000 pairs of feet rose above the trees in the distance, filtering the sun. As the enemy advanced to 400 yards, Pratap raised his banner. More than 2,000 rifles fired. They could hardly miss; there were rows 10 deep in the enemy formation. They reloaded and kept firing until suddenly, the entire enemy force was on the ground, the last few managing to get within 50 yd. In just a few minutes, the 6,000 were mostly silent, just a few soldiers moaning or wailing on the dusty ground.

Pratap despised Man Singh at that moment; these were Moghul Rajputs used as cannon fodder to determine his firepower. As Pratap suspected, Man Singh wasn't sure of how many rifles he had. If Man Singh thought he knew now, he had miscalculated; Pratap had only used half his rifles. Pratap saw a distant banner wave, giving the order to advance the Moghul Army. They would keep coming until Pratap was destroyed. Pratap was delighted; it was all going to plan. The key would be the elephants.

The next group also consisted of Moghul Rajputs. Pratap was enraged; Man Singh was using him to kill his own countrymen. He had the same 2,000 rifles fire into the huge phalanx of men, but let loose the elephants and 10,000 of his own men, to mop up the disorder in the enemy ranks after half the enemy were down. 'That should bring him out,' he thought. 'He knows my elephants will be going after his own, next.'

Man Singh brought up his own elephants to counter Pratap's. It would be Man Singh's 400 elephants to Pratap's 200, except that Pratap had the 50-caliber rifles. As Man's elephants came within 500 yards, the 50's opened fire and more than half of the fearsome beasts dropped in the first minute with many more left bellowing in rage and agony from the huge holes in their hides. Virtually every shot found its mark; even at 500 yards, it was proving difficult to miss an elephant. Many of the more slightly injured went berserk in their ranks, trampling anything in their path, their tusks ripping and broadswords in trunks slicing unarmored flesh. Pratap's elephants moved on to destroy a phalanx of foreign-born Moghuls, the armored howdahs spewing death.

He released 5,000 more of his troops into the chaos, and the screams of victory and the howls of death were heard across the plain. He felt the impulse to join them as he had done at the first battle, butchering the enemy from horseback with his large two-handed sword and spears, but he suppressed the urge; he was too valuable to lose.

He ordered his elephants to join battle with another part of Man's army, always staying within range of his rifles, firing into the melee. The other enemy groups during this time had been steadily advancing towards his position, hoping to overload his fire capacity. When they were 300 yards from him, he raised the banner and the other 2,000 rifles fired over his head, destroying them as he turned and calmly rode back into his ranks.

Now, Man Singh knew his true strength, but it was too late. His elephants were gone and more than 25,000 of his forces were down. Pratap gave the order to move out with part of his rifles. His commanders in the field moved in wide rows of three deep, pausing occasionally to generate withering fire into enemy ranks while staying out of range of their muskets.

* * * * * * * * * *

Man's hands whitened on the reins as he witnessed the disaster. Akbar's oldest son, Selim, a handsome young man used to the pleasures of the harem and drink, had been sent here to see how battles were fought. Selim was currently wiping vomit from his chin. Man waved for the retreat and the horns sounded. His only hope was to bring his troops back within range of his artillery. He had been wrong not to have them move forward as his army advanced. His stomach was sour, knowing how Pratap had tricked him, making him think at the beginning that Pratap's objective was to kill him and Prince Selim because of weakness on the field. He had held back his cannon to defend against an expected all-out strike to get the command staff. He wouldn't make that mistake tomorrow. The day was lost, but perhaps, not the battle.

* * * * * * * * * *

Pratap called for a retreat; his troops were getting too close to the deadly artillery. With the numbers still in Man's favor, if he engaged Man's troops in range of Man's artillery, Man wouldn't hesitate to fire into his own men to kill some of his soldiers. His warriors and elephants returned to the base to enormous cheering in the late afternoon. He knew it wasn't over; Man would rest, regroup, lick his wounds, and he would be back tomorrow. Pratap knew he was in trouble; half his rifle ammunition had been expended. He wondered how his son was doing in Udaipur.

* * * * * * * * * *

Jayti was overwhelmed by the carnage after the battle. It had been a very close thing, and there was still work to do; the makeshift hospital was fully occupied with bleeding and dying men. Elizabeth was already in tears when two Rajputs assisted her husband inside. He was weak from loss of blood from several wounds, but would recover. She kissed him and they said a few words to each other, but she had to move on; there were others in far worse shape.

When Elizabeth told Jayti that Sir Walter had seen Jim, and that he was only slightly injured, most of her tension dropped away. She was able to concentrate. After watching the overworked doctor sew up a few wounds, Jayti decided to try her hand at it. It was either that, or allow her patients to bleed to death. She sterilized them first as best she could with alcohol and when they ran out, with human urine. None of the injured complained, and many didn't even cry out when the large, curved needle entered their flesh. At the end of the longest day of her life, she was told to go home. Sleep came instantly for her as she collapsed on the bed with her clothes on. She was too tired to dream.

* * * * * * * * * *

Pratap was overjoyed at news of his son's victory in Udaipur. Amar would send whatever aid he could manage, but they were almost dead on their feet. Pratap hoped his son could help, but the old man wasn't out of tricks yet. If Man followed the same pattern he did 13 years ago at the old battle of Haldighati Pass, he was in for a big surprise.

The new morning began much as the previous day with the marching of the somewhat lesser, but still huge army across the grounds. This time, the artillery moved with them and Pratap followed it closely. There were several established paths through the plain suitable for moving heavy artillery. If Man took the same route... It was an awful chance he was taking, but he had always known Man to keep doing something that worked, and he did it again. The artillery traveled down the same road it had traveled so many years ago. Now all he had to do was wait and see if this latest trick of Jayti's worked as well in reality, as it had as a demonstration.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dhurjaya waited in his tiny bunker as enemy troops walked past and over him. He had a wide, but tiny view of the road, just under the flat rock that concealed his position. His hand was on the switch, and he thought to himself that he probably had the easiest job in the army. All he had to do was press a few buttons; the battery at his feet would send electricity to the explosives they planted last night. The thin wires at the end would heat up and fire them off. He hoped the enemy would hurry up a little, though, he had to piss very badly. He watched, as the artillery train slowly came into view. It was almost in position...

* * * * * * * * * *

Man Singh watched in fury as the earth exploded under the artillery train, blowing up his gunpowder wagons and destroying half his artillery. In one stroke, his advantage was gone. His army was completely open to counter-attack by his hated adversary. There was no option; he would have to retreat before Pratap's accursed rifles destroyed half the forces of the Emperor.

Pratap knew he was watching the beginning of the end of the Moghuls in India when Man Singh started his slow retreat. Of course, he wasn't going to let them just leave. He sent his elephants and 2,000 mounted rifles out on a last mission to wipe out the foreign units in the field. They swept out into the valley, shouting and screaming obscene epithets, justified after the decades of war and this latest Jihad. The Moghuls had come into Mewar to slaughter infidels, and deserved no mercy. He felt no pity as his rifles picked them off at 400 yards. Twenty thousand more Moghuls died that day. The Rajput Moghuls refused to fight for the Emperor any longer. They cheered Pratap as the hated foreigners fell, bled, and died alone.

Chapter 26: Victory and Reunion

When Man Singh reported the complete failure in Mewar, Akbar's first inclination was to dismiss him from service. This was a catastrophe. The Rajputs had been given new heart and were ready to follow Pratap, given half a chance. Akbar could already see everything slipping from his grasp. Pratap had beaten his best and would only get stronger.

* * * * * * * * * *

Mark and Pratap walked by Pichhola Lake a few days after the 2nd battle of Halighati. "You know, Jayti, everything that's happened has forced me down this road, but it was never my intention to be Emperor."

"Pratap, I've thought the same thing at times. It seems like fate was dragging me along, too."

"Well, I can't complain. The path is clear now, and it looks like a great one. I know what I need to do and I have the power to do it. If you want to go back to England with Jim, I won't object. You've done enough. I can see the end in sight. Rajasthan will be mine soon, and Akbar and the Moghuls are finished. I've already heard from Raja Mota about an alliance. The rest will soon follow."

"I'd like to stay in India until you have what I can give, but I would like a vacation. My husband still hasn't met my family." She smiled. "We Rajputs are an independent group, but if anyone can get us together, you can. I hope you've been thinking about the things we talked about before."

"I have, and much of it makes good sense. Just don't expect things to happen overnight, and don't think it will be pretty."

* * * * * * * * * *

The two-day trip to Jodhpur was hot, but fast on Arabian horses captured in the battle of Udaipur. Jayti hadn't been here for over two years, but it hadn't changed much. They went down the same dusty road she had followed so long ago on her way to the harem. Her mother was outside, hanging the wash, when she saw them come down the path.

Their meeting with Jayti's parents was warm and thorough as they inspected each other for changes. Jayti introduced her husband, this strange blond haired, blue eyed creature from a very foreign land. They went inside, where Jayti had a lot of explaining and catching up to do.

They stayed for two days, and Jayti was happy to learn they had a working toilet, the first she had seen in this time. She pointed this out to Jim as something they must have in their home in Plymouth and he agreed. Her parents liked Jim and he liked them. They talked about England and Udaipur where they just heard about the recent battles. "Jayti, I swear you change husbands like clothes!" exclaimed her mother, but she was joking; she liked Jim more than Abdul.

Jayti was more than curious about what had happened to Abdul. Her family didn't know that much. He had come with two soldiers after he had divorced her, and looked for Jayti. The last they heard, he had married a short, graceful woman with large dark eyes. They already had one boy, and as far as they knew, they were happy and still lived in Amber Fort.

Well, that was both a disappointment and a relief. Abdul hadn't married Inayat, after all. Jayti had been sure that a devout Muslim like Inayat would have liked being married to Abdul, and was sad that it hadn't worked according to plan, but she was content if he had found happiness.

* * * * * * * * * *

A year passed, and Rajasthan was finally his. Rana Pratap knew they would be tough, Rajputs always were, but after Akbar, they were willing to accept Pratap and his ideas of near independent states and a united Rajasthan, especially when Pratap had all the military might necessary to impose his will.

The real problems were with the Brahmans. Abolishing the caste system outright was impossible. As bad as it was, it still gave stability to Indian social life. Most Indians liked the caste system; it was inseparable from Indian culture. What they didn't like was the lack of ability to rise within it. What Rana Pratap forced down their sanctimonious throats was their tacit approval for Pratap's plan to encourage willing and able people in all castes to change jobs and caste through personal effort.

Many Rajputs were nervous about this step; after all, the Brahmans as religious leaders had sanctified the Rajputs as the rightful rulers in Rajasthan, if this support was withdrawn, how could they justify their right to rule? It worked out. In the final analysis, Pratap was a stronger force than the Brahmans who spoke out against him. He carefully cultivated division in the Brahman leadership and disconnected a few recalcitrant heads from their bodies. The problem was solved.

After that was in place, he forced everyone to acknowledge the law of the land over religious law. This wasn't as hard as it seemed. Most Indians of all religious beliefs were pragmatic and sick of the divisions and restrictions made by religion.

The telegraph connected all of Rajasthan and made unification and government much easier.

* * * * * * * * * *

It was a hot day in June, when the saffron-robed forces of Rajasthan formed on the Diwan-i-am, outside the Imperial Palace in Lahore for Emperor Akbar's surrender.

The packing for the thousands of wagons required for the journey to Turkey had been done long ago, and most of the train had already left the palace.

'How had it come to this?' wondered Akbar, for the thousandth time. Not long before, he was on the verge of taking all of Northern India. The Imams said that this was a punishment for not treating the Hindus as conquered people, that he had treated them too well, but he knew they were wrong. It was those new weapons of theirs that did it and a device called the telegraph. His spies had tried hard to find the source, but all they could come up with were rumors of a girl and a eunuch.

It was time. There were few members of his staff left, willing to stay and suffer the humiliation of having a joint of their finger removed, the decreed penalty for all Moghul administrators and nobles. There would have been even fewer, except for Pratap's amnesty for those loyal enough to stay behind for this one day. He had a fleeting thought about how Abul Fazl, his loyal biographer, would record this event. He walked out to the Darbar for the last time in his finest jawa and turban, his sons Salim, Daniyal, and Murad close behind. He would set an example for them; it was all he could do, now.

He approached the Rajput contingent. He recognized Rana Pratap and a couple of his advisors, but the bearded man, the two Europeans, and the pretty young woman seemed out of place.

Jayti watched Emperor Akbar approach with his sons and closest advisors.

["Do you feel anything, Mark?"]

['I thought I would feel more. I'm very satisfied, Jayti, but I'm also weary. This is what we've worked so hard for, and I'm glad it's over.']

["I know what you mean. There are a few things left to do, but I want to be a baby factory soon."]

['Well, look who's here, our ex-husband.']

["He still looks like he's very angry at us, Mark. He might do something stupid."]

Emperor Akbar approached Pratap and faced him. Pratap was slightly taller.

"Pratap, it looks more and more like it was a bad idea not to have accepted your peace agreement those many years ago."

Pratap's eyes were cold orbs in a grim face. "Yes, Akbar, from your point of view, I suppose so. I'm glad you didn't. I wouldn't be watching you leave India. You declared Jihad on Mewar, Akbar. You're fortunate to be alive. Give me your sword, and let's get this over with."

Akbar’s jaw clenched, but he remained silent. He withdrew his sword, presented it to Pratap, hilt first, and bowed slightly. Pratap took it, and surprised Jayti by giving it to her. “Take this, Jayti. You deserve this more than anyone.”

It was too much for Abdul. He charged her. Jayti didn't think. She caught him coming in with a sidekick to the solar plexus. It put him on the ground, gasping for breath. Saffron-robed guards surrounded him quickly and leveled their rifles at his head.

Jayti sadly shook her head, but remembered to thank Pratap, now Emperor Pratap, for the gift of Akbar's sword.

Pratap broke the sudden tension when he laughed. "What do you want to do with him, Jayti? He deserves death."

"Your Highness, I think we should just let him go. He won't ever live this down."

"I don't doubt that. As you wish." He waved the guards off and allowed Abdul to slink off, following the rest of the Moghul contingent.

* * * * * * * * * *

Maryam, Fatima, Inayat, and Farha were nervous as the new guards came for them. They had all heard stories of rape and torture of these new rulers and there had been a few incidents in the harem when the new guards and gorgeous women, who hadn't seen intact men in years, had met for the first time. It had taken time for some of the women to readjust responses that had been honed for years to attract men.

They traveled the corridor from the Major Harem to the palace, a place she only saw at infrequent intervals, and then only at night. She looked around like a tourist at all the beauty she had missed in the daylight. She couldn't help noticing all the men, some very handsome and young, younger in many cases then she was now. She had a sudden worry that they would find her unattractive. The looks she received relieved her of that brief doubt. They came to a large room in the administrative section, and were guided inside where two people stood, one very familiar and grinning from ear to ear.

"Jayti!" Her jaw dropped. This was absolutely the last person she expected. They were both crying before they crossed the floor to embrace in the middle. Fatima, Inayat and Farha joined them a heartbeat or two later. After a long minute, Jayti turned, teary-eyed, to the rest of the men in the room. She spoke to a very good-looking blond man, in particular.

"Husband, would you please take the rest of the men from the room? I think we have to talk for a while."

He nodded in sympathy, and everyone left, including the guards. Just before he closed the door, Maryam caught a look between them of something she had forgotten. Those two had real love, but there was something else... pride, respect? It was suddenly too much. She knew she was tough; she had to be to rise to her position. She had fought for years to get a look of appreciation from Akbar, working so hard for a crumb of recognition. She had even fooled herself into thinking she was satisfied with her life!

That look destroyed her world; it made a lie of everything she had fought for these last several years. What had she been missing in that place? She would give anything to be looked at like that! Jayti guided her onto a divan, where she sobbed into a silk cushion.

Jayti rubbed her back like she used to do and stroked her hair. "It's over, Maryam," she kept repeating. Did Jayti really understand what had just happened? Maryam rubbed her kohl-streaked eyes and looked at Jayti, appraising her. Jayti was older. She must be almost 20 years old by now. She looked much tougher and even more confident than she remembered. There was pain there, and weariness, too. Maryam felt like the younger woman, now. She noticed the other women looking at her strangely. She sighed heavily and sat up. Self-pity time was over. She would face whatever was coming, bravely, and show the rest how it was done. She smiled at Jayti and shrugged.

Jayti laughed, delighted. "You will never be a delicate flower, Maryam." She stood and spoke to them. "You know you will be freed, soon. There have been a few changes."

'That was an understatement if she had ever heard one,' thought Maryam. She listened as Jayti explained the new laws and their options in this New World. They weren't as wealthy as they used to be; Akbar was forced to take back most of their jewelry and land to pay for the last desperate battles against Rana Pratap. She wasn't surprised to find that Jayti had been working with Pratap for years. Jayti always seemed to be in the middle of the action.

There were almost too many options. They would keep what money and wealth they had. They would be escorted anywhere they wanted to go. Emperor Pratap could find husbands, if desired, and they would have the right to refuse his choice. Jayti was going to her new home in England in a few months. She and Jim, her new husband, were offering their home in Udaipur to relax and decide what to do while they were still in India. If they wanted to, they would even be welcome in England.

* * * * * * * * * *

A month later, six of the most beautiful women in Udaipur walked by the lake in the cool evening. Elizabeth was kind enough to share her house with Inayat and Farha so that no one would be doubled up. This was their time, when the men were left behind. To Maryam, there were just so many new things. The telegraph was the least of it. At first, the freedom to walk down the street without an escort made her feel more naked than if she had been wearing the sheerest muslin. There were some internal changes as well. When a particularly fine looking Rajput soldier caught her smiling at him and smiled back, she realized she had regained the ability to blush and to feel things that she had thought were just memories.

Her love affair with Fatima had died two years before, but they had agreed to remain friends. Fatima seemed to be much more interested these days in a local metalworker. He worked at the factory where they developed new weapons for the Emperor. In Udaipur, it seemed to be a position of great respect.

Farha liked a strong Englishman, Aaron Everett, but she had competition; he was a local hero. Women of all kinds, Rajput, local Indian and even Bhil, were sniffing around him like dogs in heat.

Inayat was having the most trouble. Unlike most of the women in the harem, who had been more or less compelled to adopt Islam, she was the real thing. She wanted to go home to Egypt, where hopefully she could find her family and marry into the faith.

Maryam was undecided; she liked the men, but wasn't sure she wanted to live in India, anymore. There were too many memories. She missed people who looked like herself, and she missed her culture. She would probably travel and eventually go back to Hungary.

* * * * * * * * * *

Inayat left a week later, to board a boat across the Arabian Sea. They kissed her goodbye, and they all cried a little before she rode south to Surat. She was the first to go. Jayti gave her a special hug. They had created a special bond during the fight with Razak.

Fatima married the metalworker. They looked disgustingly happy together, Maryam decided. So much for the eternal love they had once pledged to each other.

Farha lost out to a Bhil leader's sister, but was soon over it and married a handsome merchant who had lost his wife.

Emperor Pratap had moved his Capitol to Delhi, to be closer to the center of power and to keep track of some very shifty characters, according to Elizabeth. She would be moving on soon, to join her husband, Sir Walter Raleigh, at Court. Maryam had never met him, but he seemed to have the confidence of Emperor Pratap and his son, Amar. Elizabeth couldn't wait to leave. 'Another lost soul to love,' thought Maryam.

Then, there were two. They walked by the lake for perhaps the last time. Jayti was leaving with Jim soon, returning to England. Jayti tried to convince Maryam to come with her, but she refused. There were places to go, and she had to find out if any of her family still lived. They walked silently for a time.

Jayti stopped her suddenly. "Maryam," she said urgently, "if you run out of money, or get robbed, there's a place close to your home where jewels and gold are buried." She described precisely how to get to it.

Maryam suddenly felt the heat rise to her face. "Enough, Jayti. Who and what are you? There is no way you could possibly know half as much as you do. Elizabeth told me about the IUD. People in town say you're the source of the telegraph and weapons. I feel like an idiot, pretending to be your friend when you don't trust me enough to tell me what's going on!" She stared at her. Jayti bit her lip, and looked awkward. 'At least she looks decently embarrassed,' Maryam thought. She wasn't going to let her off the hook, though.

"Maryam, I swear I was going to tell you before I left."

Maryam wasn't so sure. Jayti didn't sound all that certain. "Go on," she said, impassively.

She grimaced. "This is going to take a while, Maryam. I've been through this before. Let's go back to the house. Jim can make this quicker."

They talked for several hours. It took a while, but with Jim's help and a couple of pints of the local ale, Maryam finally accepted it. Jim went to bed when it was obvious that Maryam wanted to be alone with Jayti. Maryam noticed. "I envy you your Jim, Jayti, very much. He would do anything for you."

Jayti looked on wryly. "If you ever come to England, I'll tell you about a certain event off Madagascar. He's been very patient, so far. When we get back to Plymouth, I plan to pay him back by being a real wife and mother."

Jayti and Jim left two days later. Maryam joined a trading party going up the Red Sea and ultimately to Alexandria. From there, she hoped to book passage to Italy and ride to Hungary.

* * * * * * * * * *

Mark and I are one and the same, now. It took a long time coming, but it's over. It's certainly a relief. I really enjoy waking up to one person in the morning, and I know Jim is happy about having just one wife. Still, sometimes, I miss that other voice.

Jim and I now have two children, Jeremy and Angela, and one more on the way. I don't plan to move away or do anything until the children are older. But Jim has trader blood and I'm part historian, so who knows what the future holds?

I hope that your world is better than my old timeline. I'll never know, but I tried to make a difference for the good.

Good-bye from the past.

Sincerely and completely,

Jayti (Singh) Pennington

Plymouth, England
November 23, 1595

* * * * * * * * * *

Nigel looked at his colleagues in disbelief. They stared back. "Computer. Have you analyzed the paper and ink for dating?"

"Affirmative. The age is consistent with the late 16th century."

Nigel looked at the others. "Well, what do you think?"

Sharon shook her head; she had just finished checking her hand-held computer. "No way, Nigel. I don't even want to think about it. Nobody would ever believe it. I can't believe it, although there is a mention of a James and Jayti Pennington in early 17th century America and even a friend, Maryam Bennett."

Dhiren nodded his head. "Jayti Singh was a name that was briefly mentioned in the history of Pratap the Great, as someone of great importance in the war against the Moghuls. His eunuch genius, Hassan, mentioned her, too. Elizabeth Raleigh wrote that she was a very good friend in her memoirs.

"She was always a mystery to us in India, a woman who appeared and disappeared just as quickly. This is so big I hardly even want to think about it. What's even scarier, is that she is mentioned in other histories as well.

"Her name has also appeared in Ming Dynasty Court documents, although all we know is that she was there.

"It makes you wonder about your own history, knowing that a time traveler has been playing in your past. But Nigel, the whole thing must be a fake. 'Time wave?' 'Crystal field?' It's absurd."

Nigel lifted the last page out of the box. "What's this?" The last page had more writing on the back:

"To those in the future: If I decide to continue my journeys, I will leave a time capsule 30 ft. due West of the location of this chest."

Nigel smiled at his Indian colleague. "So, Dhiren, does that mean you don't want to come with me when I go back to Plymouth?"

* * * * * * * * * *

Jayti watched Jeremy, Angela, and little Maryam chase their father around in the grass by the stone house of their estate. 'They were all such clowns,' she decided, not for the first time.

She heard a voice behind her in Persian. "Well, guess who needs an IUD?"

She turned slowly and saw her best friend standing there, arms akimbo, arrogant and looking great in a bodice and kirtle, remarkably good for a woman Jayti knew was in her mid-thirties. Jayti smiled. "Maryam, you took your sweet time getting here."

Maryam looked like she had something on her mind.

The End

Thanks to you all for making comments and letting me know you enjoyed it. It meant a lot to me and makes me want to do even better the next time.

Editor: If you would like to see MORE adventures of Jayti Singh or more stories by Aardvark with this sort of high adventure and realism, DO write a comment! -- Erin
Chapters 1&2. 3&4. 5-8. 9-12. 13-16. 17-19. 20-22. 23-24. 25-26
TG mind-sharing time travel sci-fi married

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